After a hectic few months – finishing work after 10pm most evenings and then finding ourselves too tired to do anything other than flop, zombie-like, onto the sofa – Chris and I started May longing for a break. So, when Dorian Bowen of The Welsh House asked if we’d like to spend a weekend at Bryncyn, one of his three remote Carmarthenshire holiday cottages, we leapt at the chance.
Last Friday evening we jumped in the car and headed west into Wales, driving to the very end of the M4 before plunging into a series of steep, wooded valleys illuminated by dancing shafts of sunlight. We felt like we were journeying into a hidden land: the road gradually narrowed into a single-track lane, traffic petered out, and our phone signal grew weaker and weaker before vanishing altogether.
Any angst at being disconnected from the outside world faded as soon as we pulled up outside the cottage. Bryncyn is a very special place – part rustic hideaway, part modernist marvel. Dorian was heavily influenced by the work of minimalist architect John Pawson when restoring the dilapidated old building, stripping it back to its bones while preserving its character. He opened up the ground floor to form a living space with a wood-burner, created a bedroom in the eaves above, and added a striking concrete extension whose wood-like patina was inspired by London’s National Theatre. He also installed a sliding glass wall across the back of the house, which means the interior seems to merge with the simple, Japanese-style garden and reed-filled pond beyond.
The whole place is full of contrasting textures: exposed stone walls, gnarled beams, time-worn doors, sheets of frosted glass, and even a faded floral mural in one corner. The furniture, too, is a mix of sleek and antique – there are old dressers, boxy sofas and beds, Welsh blankets, and a couple of classic Mies Van de Rohe Barcelona chairs. But what struck us most as we explored the house and garden was the silence: no passing cars, no blaring sirens, no beeping phones… just birdsong and occasional moos from the cows in the neighbouring field.
We could already feel ourselves starting to unwind as we unpacked and opened a bottle of wine; by the time we’d bubbled away in the cedar hot tub outside, watching the stars emerge overhead, we were positively Zen-like. And that night we slept more deeply than we had in ages, waking to find sunshine burning through the last wisps of morning mist.
The next three days were wonderfully lazy. We read. We lingered over croissants and coffee as frogs croaked outside. We watched clouds flit across the vast sky. We played board games by the fire. We pottered around castles and picnicked on beaches (more on that to follow in a future post). And we spent yet more hours wallowing in the hot tub, chatting about life, the universe and everything. Time seemed to slow down, and we felt a world away from the pressures of work and groaning inboxes.
Now back in Bristol, we have a new-found determination to make space in our lives for simple pleasures – for fresh air, laughter and evenings away from screens. I hope we can recreate just a little bit of that Bryncyn magic at home. If not – well, we’ll just have to go back.
All photography by Abi Dare
Dorian kindly provided a free stay at Bryncyn, but as always all words and opinions are my own. If you want to make a booking at any of his cottages, just head over to The Welsh House for more information.