We returned yesterday from a mini-break to North Wales, staying in a remote converted chapel in a valley near Betws-y-coed. Notwithstanding some shockingly (and, I have to say, uncharacteristically) poor map-reading on my part, we had a very pleasant weekend holed up in our little retreat, with remarkably clement weather for the odd wander.
The place in question was owned by the Landmark Trust. If you’re not familiar with it, you really should be – I hadn’t encountered the organisation until a couple of years ago, when premature middle age and aversion to pub crawls compelled me to book one of their larger properties for my stag do. Its remit is simple: to buy up dilapidated buildings of historical and/or architectural interest, restore them, and then let them out to the public. It’s been going for over 50 years, but possibly needs some better PR – it deserves to be as well-known an institution as the National Trust, given the remarkable conservation effort involved in saving 200 old buildings.
None of the properties have wifi or a TV – instead, there’s a thoughtful selection of books, taking its cue from the location, and maybe a few board games. Many will have an open fire, which in itself can provide diversion for a whole evening. And of course there’s the sense of time not just slowing down but running backwards, as you contemplate the lives of those who once peopled your castle/gatehouse/fort/folly. There appear to be a handful of properties run by the Trust in Europe, but the organisational model should really be exported wholesale to other countries: just think of all those crumbling villas in Italy crying out for such attention!