'Prepare to be immersed in the heat and vibrancy of Florida's natural world, full of such sensual detail that to read it is to breathe it in.' -Jo Shapcott [review of Greyhound Night Service]

Writing Retreat, Llanybydder, West Wales

Today is my first day back to work on the PhD after a twelve-day stint of intense academic writing, followed by a few days off.

In January I went looking online for a cozy place to get away and write while we were due to have some major house renovation carried out in February / March. To add complexity, I needed to find somewhere that would also accept two lovely, well-behaved cats as I needed to take them with me, away from the plaster dust and noise, and to keep the older one on her insulin schedule.  So with all of these requirements, plus my own: that the place be warm, clean, remote, within a four hour drive of home (one cat also gets car sick), and simple to keep up (I didn't want to be de-furring a huge house every day), I went hunting on-line.  After quite a few sessions of looking I came across Ann & Terry's cabin in Wales, quite near Lampeter.  Thank you weacceptpets.co.uk

After a few reassuring emails with Ann, I booked myself in for 9 days and looked forward to it as the weeks got closer.  As packing day came I admit that I panicked a little: if I forgot any of the 25 books or so I needed, if I didn't remember some vital cat accoutrement, if I forgot laptop charger or usb sticks or ____________ (fill in the blank), I wouldn't be able to work, or so the fear went.  When the day arrived, and all of my packing lists were fully ticked, I bundled myself and two wide-eyed cats into my compact car, now loaded to the hilt with catnip mice, scratching posts and bags and bags of library books etc and I set off.

After an easy 3 hour and 20 minute journey, I arrived at the end of a farm track, shut off the car and went into the cabin to see what I'd signed up for (the owners were in town for the day).  I was greeted by beams of sunlight through the kitchen window, a welcome pack of fresh eggs, milk, juice, an immaculate little wooden cabin with a high stained glass window, a red leather sofa and just the right amount of space and quiet for the coming days.  I settled in right away and quickly met the owners when they returned, who were happy to see that myself and the 'girls' had arrived.

And the days were a blur of typing, cooking simple meals in the warm kitchen, waking up to the sound of blue tits nesting in the huge tree outside the window in the bedroom, my cat chittering back.  The weather was wild and weird and sometimes even scary but I managed to get out most days either for a walk along the farm tracks or through the hidden magic of Ann & Terry's small holding: its lake and little wooden bridge to get there, the Hobbit house, the ducks and turkeys and hens and of course Daisy, the ever-vocal sheep who seemed to keep constant conversation with the cats when they sat in the windows to look out.  Every day I woke up and wrote: journal and poems, then started in on the end of my first chapter, beginning of the second for my thesis.  I read book after book, so many library books I wouldn't have thought it possible to read if I had been at home.  And by the end of my time (and due to the house works still ongoing) I extended my stay for another few days.

All in all I am shocked at how much work I completed, at the quality of being in the Cabin for nearly two weeks.  I am grateful for the helpful kindness of my hosts (emergency vet trip, extra laundry washing, miscellaneous advice on solar panels and rescue pets) and I am certain I will find myself heading back there for another wonderful week or two before the end of my PhD.  To find fresh air, a lack of interruption, space to think and plan and write, a warm welcome and the perfect retreat space in West Wales.