This Easter holidays we headed back to Snowdonia to celebrate my birthday. For the first time, we booked a Landmark Trust Property, and stayed in the charming Ty Capel just outside Betws-y-coed.
I've always wanted to live in an old church but given that I'm not likely to ever be able to afford to buy a converted chapel, holidaying in one is the next best thing.
Hidden away in a remote and small hamlet called Rhiwddolion just above the popular North Wales town of Betws-y-coed, this former chapel and school is one of three Landmark Trust properties here rescued from ruin after it was abandoned following the end of the slate mining industry here.
Surrounded by rocky outcrops, magical oak trees dripping with moss and lichen, sheep in the surrounding fields and the constant and reassuring flow of the stream as it ambles down the hillside and cascades over small waterfalls, this is truly a place to get away from it all.
There are some downsides and if you're a high maintenance kind of person, then this probably isn't for you - you can't drive up to the doorstep, you won't find a hairdryer or power shower and you definitely won't be able to watch your latest obsession on Netflix. But if you embrace it, enjoy it's tranquility and rediscover the joy of sitting in front of an open fire reading a novel, or playing Monopoly with the kids, then you'll be hard pressed to find a prettier location.
Built in 1860 as a school and chapel, this building served the mining community and was headed up by the lively Bard Griffith Hugh Jones, a lover of music who introduced a brass band, a choir and even it's own eisteddfodau. He served here for 50 years and in 1892 the chapel was extended and an open-air auditorium added for special performances.
Derelict cottages overgrown with brambles and nettles scatter the valley, bringing a sense of other-worldliness. Ty Capel is the first property you reach as you follow the quaint footpath from the forest road track. A delightful walk in good weather, through the trees, passing a kissing gate, across the wobbly slate stone footbridge over the stream, before the climb up the hill. That said, it's not so much fun in the pouring rain and howling wind, slipping on the muddy path while trying to get your luggage to the house. Forget your townie wheeled suitcases, haul everything onto your back and trek like a mule! It was a good 10 minutes from the car to the door, and if you travel as heavy as we do, that meant an hour of unpacking the car with 3 round-trips for the Old Man. You'd definitely struggle with young kids and a pushchair would have no chance. It's slightly frustrating given that there's a very clear road track that goes past all three of the Landmark Trust properties so someone clearly regularly drives up there following a different route, but cars are forbidden for guests to protect the footpaths and even the housekeeper does everything on foot. The plus side of course is that there's no traffic noise and kids can play safely.
Once the car's unpacked, it doesn't take long too settle in. A large hallway allows plenty of space to hang your coats, waterproofs, dog leads and kick off your muddy boots. There's a welcome tray waiting in the kitchen with tea and coffee (a pint of milk in the fridge would have been nice, and if you haven't brought any with you it'll be a trip back to the car and a few miles drive to Betws-y-coed to the nearest shop.
As with all Landmark Trust properties, renovations are sympathetic and in keeping with the character and age of the property, decoration authentic and furniture carefully sourced to blend in. I was worried that a religious building might feel a little austere for my taste, but I found it utterly charming. You will find running water (supplied by the stream) and electricity but that's about as far as the nod to the 21st century goes. The heating is via electric storage heaters and of course the huge open fire, and we found it very warm and cosy. There's an electric oven, toaster and kettle in the kitchen but you won't find a microwave or other electrical gadgets. It was well stocked with cutlery, glasses and cooking utensils, and although small I found it easy to cook breakfast each morning and dinner most nights. The open shelves make beautiful displays of the dinner service and there's enough serving dishes to host a grand dinner party should you want to.
The sitting room/dining room area is very spacious and although there's armchairs rather than a sofa, it's comfy and relaxing. The large dining table is perfect for family meal-times or for playing board games in the the evening. The property boasts a fabulous open fire with one of the biggest grates I've seen so you can get a huge roaring fire going in the evening and settle down in front of it. Because of the high ceilings, there's a real sense of space and airiness.
The MOST charming thing about this holiday property though is the sleeping arrangements. Set up a staircase off from the living room, the bedroom is a galleried mezzanine overlooking the living room. Three single beds all in a row were so much fun to sleep in we felt like the Three Bears - clearly this arrangement wasn't set up with romance in mind, but remember - you ARE in a chapel!
Set in front of the three stained glass upper windows, you awoke each morning to a fabulous view. The wheel back bedsteads reminded me of my nan's dining chairs and the reassuring weight of cosy wool blankets, counterpanes and sheets tucked in with hospital corners had a real sense of nostalgia. We all slept like logs, I think Ruby found it reassuring to have us next to her, but we didn't have to suffer the restlessness of her wriggling about in our bed. I actually really liked the sleeping arrangements!
There's an antique chest of drawers but no wardrobe (although there is some hanging space under the stairs downstairs) so mostly we were living out of our bags that we tucked away under the beds.
The bathroom continues the wood panelling theme that's throughout the property and it's a pleasure to lay in a hot bubble bath gazing up at the trees through the tall window. Fill the bath and you'll notice a slightly coppery green hue to the water. There's no shower but you will find a plastic hose attachment for the taps so hair washing isn't too much of a chore.
Even the hound was catered for with her own dog bowls - one less thing to lug up the hill! Unfortunately she was recovering from an operation so couldn't fully enjoy the surroundings, but it was great to be able to let her use the garden, which is mostly sunken and secured with a stone wall all round.
Staying here really felt like stepping back in time to a simpler era. We loved all the little details, original features, pretty etched and stained glass windows and Victorian artwork.
Of course, if you venture out there's plenty to do nearby. Betws-y-coed is always popular with lots of tea rooms and gift shops. There Swallow Falls and Fairy Glen are close by, and Llanberis is only a short drive away, the gateway to Mount Snowdon whether you chose to do that on foot or via the steam train. Snowdonia's newest tourist attraction Bounce Below is close too at Blaenau Ffestiniog and here you can enjoy giant underground trampolines in a former slate mine. You'll also find the famous Ffestiniog steam railway here.
If you want to eat locally I can recommend the Bistro Betws-y-Coed, unassuming from the outside, and with slightly dated decor, look past that to the amazing menu offering delights such as cutlets of Welsh lamb marinated in Snowdonia honey and balsamic with minted mash potato and traditional lava bread sauce or pan fried breast of pheasant served with butcher's handmade black pudding cake, braised red cabbage and cream of mushroom and Welsh Penderyn whiskey sauce and desserts such as lemon flummery with toasted oats and raspberry cream. I had a fabulous birthday meal there and from the entrees through to the homemade mint fudge served with coffee after the meal I loved every single morsel of my 3 course dinner. There's a great selection of local ales and whiskey too. Book ahead as it's very popular.
If you enjoy walking (and frankly why come to Snowdonia if you don't) then there's a glorious walk from the chapel, through the mysterious Gwydyr forest to Lake Elsi which at the time we visited was teeming with toads. As you approach through the wood, you hear before you see the Llyn - the peculiar sound of hundreds of seagulls nesting on the lake's island makes you wonder if you've taken a horribly wrong turning somewhere and are not in fact miles inland. This is a popular spot with mountain bikers, dog walkers and families. Climb to the top of the hill by the monument and enjoy the view.
Ty Capel sleeps 3 plus a travel cot. It's available from £155 for 4 nights.
Further information and booking here.
What to bring:
Your dog, a good book, stout walking boots and a sense of adventure. Also bring firewood, newspaper and kindling as there's none provided and the logs from the local garage were soaking wet and going mouldy! Whatever you bring, make sure you can carry it.
What not to bring:
Your laptop (there's no wifi and rarely even a phone signal), DVDs (there's no telly), high heels - you'll never get up the hill!
Linking up with Time Traveller.