We arrive in a storm. It is late, the night time alive with wind and slanting rain. For the previous couple of miles the slender lanes, lit by the automobile’s headlights, have been strewn with a winter confetti of leaves, twigs and branches. In distinction to all this wild motion and scattering via which we’ve been driving, our vacation spot, Llwyn Celyn (that means holly bush) on the mouth of the Llanthony Valley close to Abergavenny, seems as a mass of stillness and solidity, looming darkish above us. With no exterior lights and the rain dashing the windscreen, it’s laborious to make out way more so, with two sleeping youngsters within the automobile, I head into the home to seek out their bedrooms.
Llwyn Celyn map
As I transfer via the home turning on lights, the centuries appear to unfold with every illuminated room. Finely carved, pointed ogee arches, heavy flagstone flooring, a desk etched with historic initials, adorned and elegantly arching roof timbers, a cavernous bread oven.
In the eating room, a 600-year-old bench is mounted alongside the far wall. This is, I later be taught, the place the grasp of the home as soon as sat on the “high” finish of the corridor trying via an open fireplace and a picket display in the direction of the “low” finish of the buttery and pantry, now a boot room and a research. In a cobbled yard between the kitchen and the cider home (transformed right into a bed room and loo) I discover an enormous stone trough receiving a gradual move of the hill’s runoff, its curves, worn over the centuries, making it seem extra grown into being than positioned.
A bed room within the ‘solar’ wing. Photograph: John Miller/Landmark Trust
It’s solely with the morning daylight that the outside of Llwyn Celyn reveals itself in full, its renovated roof tiled in stone from the close by Olchon valley and its new coat of white limewash shiny towards a large view of fields and hedges on the encircling low ridges.
The primary constructing, which has been dated via oxygen isotope analysis by Swansea University to 1420-21, has the basic ground plan of a vernacular medieval corridor home of this space. Attached to it, and making the home an excellent rarer survivor of the 15th century, is a two-storey photo voltaic wing, which housed the lord and girl’s non-public sleeping chambers. Beyond these residing quarters a diffusion of outbuildings converse not solely of the once-high standing of this home but in addition of the self-sufficiency born of this close-knit valley panorama of upland grazing and wealthy alluvial fields – threshing barn, stables, pigsty, beast home, cidery and kiln home for malt and corn.
Llwyn Celyn was constructed simply 5 years after Owain Glyndŵr’s riot towards the English crown (1400-1415), a time when many related corridor homes in Wales had been destroyed. Who it was constructed for isn’t recognized however provided that the land belonged to close by Llanthony Priory (whose cellar bar is these days the right finish level for walks within the space) it’s attainable the primary proprietor of the home was the prior himself.
The restoration ‘walks a fine line between authenticity and modern comforts’. Photograph: John Miller/Landmark Trust
A succession of farming households inhabited the home after that and in round 1690 certainly one of them, the Watkins household, undertook main enhancements, most noticeably inserting a ceiling into the open area of the corridor to create a big higher chamber reached by a picket staircase alongside the substantial chimney stack.
It is to this 17th-century association that the Landmark Trust has, over two years and at a price of £four.2m, “gently returned” Llwyn Celyn, discovering bread ovens, fireplaces, home windows, doorways and even a pair of footwear (to keep off witchcraft) behind layers of 19th- and 20th-century plasterboard. The restoration walks a nice line between authenticity and trendy comforts (most rooms have underfloor heating, the bogs rose head showers and in the lounge a wood-burning range, not an open fireplace, now throws its flame-light over the rafters) however it is usually, as one carpenter who labored on the home put it, “honest”. New inserts and graftings of wooden have been left a lighter shade than the unique carpentry, so the constructing wears the patchwork of its restoration on its sleeve.
The entrance corridor at Llwyn Celyn. Photograph: John Miller/Landmark Trust
Lying on a settee in Llwyn Celyn trying over this play of sunshine and darkish within the construction above, it’s unimaginable to not really feel, at a visceral stage, the decay from which the home has been saved. It’s a sensation amplified for me by the truth that for a few years once I was youthful, I solely ever knew Llwyn Celyn – as I walked, drove or rode previous it – as a tough canvas of emergency scaffolding and sheeting. What precisely lay underneath these coverings I may solely ever think about, so to seek out myself now consuming, sleeping and taking part in with my youngsters inside its partitions is an expertise each unusual and comforting.
Just as Llwyn Celyn remained unknown to me once I was youthful, so did its speedy environment. The Llanthony Valley, a couple of miles up the street, is a walkers’ and runners’ playground, with quite a few paths and trails between the Hatteral Ridge and Offa’s Dyke to the east, and the ridge of Grwyne Fawr to the west. It’s additionally a spot wealthy in historical past, from the intricate 15th-century rood display within the church at Patrishow to the chapel and monastery at Capel-y-Ffin, as soon as the home of sculptor and typographer Eric Gill and, briefly, the artist and author David Jones. The ridges of the higher valley, due to this fact, had been at all times my vacation spot quite than the gentler undulations at its mouth. With this in thoughts we select to stroll from Llwyn Celyn itself, taking a round route via the mature beech, oak and sycamore woodland of Coed y Cerrig then rising up round Twyn y Gaer, an iron-age hill fort, earlier than dropping again right down to the Queen’s Head close to Cwmyoy for lunch.
The kitchen. Photograph: John Miller/Landmark Trust
The woods really feel remarkably in tune with the ambiance and age of the home from which we started our stroll, and as we climb the slope underneath their moss-covered branches, traces of a medieval poem by Llwelyn ap y Moel, To the Greenock Woods, come to thoughts:
Faultless nurture, it’s been good
To have you as my safeguard,
Sweet shut and veil for refuge,
Strong and swiftly sheltering hedge,
beneath me stage greensward,
Green, type earth, gem of a lord,
Trusses of candy leaves crowded
Like a darkish tent overhead
Trans. Tony Conran
During our keep at Llwyn Celyn, I used to be struck by how all of us, mother and father and youngsters alike, saved touching the home as we moved via it – window sills, beams, doorways – as if to try to learn them and their centuries of witness. I don’t know the way efficiently we did it, however actually on leaving my spouse and I felt an odd sense of possession, of a high quality we’ve by no means recognized with different holiday leases. Llwyn Celyn had, undoubtedly, over our temporary time there, contributed to our lives.
• Accommodation was supplied by the Landmark Trust. Llwyn Celyn prices £909 4 nights and sleeps eight
Owen Sheers is the writer of To Provide All People: A Poem within the Voice of the NHS (Faber, £12.99), accessible at The Guardian Bookshop for £11.17