Living Like a Local in Wales
Living like a local for one week in Wales
Living and working in a place can be very different than being on vacation there. When on vacation, we often spend our time staying in hotels, sightseeing, relaxing, and eating out at restaurants. We take our vacations to these fabulous destinations and say, "I would love to live here"! We don't usually have to worry about getting groceries, cleaning, doing laundry, and punching in on a time card. These are things we worry about at home in our normal day-to-day life.
But how do we know we would love living somewhere, if we haven't actually lived a regular home life there?
My trip to North Wales this go around was not as much a vacation as another step in my journey to discover where I am meant to continue my life. Wales, specifically the North West region of Conwy County Borough, is at the top of my possibility list. Therefore, I decided I needed to experience what it would be like living like a local there versus strictly being on vacation. So, during my latest visit, I spent one week living in a stone cottage in the small country parish of Glanwydden in Conwy County Borough, North Wales.
I will admit that a historic stone cottage is not realistically the first home I would reside in if I moved to Wales, but why not dream a little?
The first day at the cottage, named Storehouse Cottage, was spent familiarizing myself with all the nuances of the old house; like low ceilings and doorways! After some painful knocks to the head, I learned quickly that I would need to duck down in some areas of the house. The cottage had one bedroom, a loft, one bathroom, a kitchen, and a sitting room with a gas fireplace. The decor maintained the old style of the house with wood beams throughout and original wood floors & stone walls in the kitchen.
I took some time looking through the kitchen cabinets to take note of what pots and pans were available as I would be cooking all my meals here for the next week. This included having to research the different settings of a "fan" or "fan-assisted" oven, reading the directions for using the central heating, turning the radiators up and down, as well as locating the washer and dryer. Lastly, I needed to set up my home office space as I would also be working remotely from the cottage.
Once I was unpacked and settled in, I decided to take a walk to familiarize myself with the area. As I would at home, I would be running each morning and I needed to find the best and safest route. Small European country villages often have narrow roads in and out, sidewalks are nonexistent. This was the case for Glanwydden and added to its charm. But I needed to make myself aware of blind corners and safe crossings so I would be prepared for my runs. I also wanted to identify nearby footpaths.
Each day, my plan was to live as I would if I were at home. I would get up in the morning, take my run, work remotely for a few hours, make lunch, take an afternoon walk into town or hike one of the nearby hills, then make my dinner, relax, and go to bed. On two occasions I had family members come by for a visit and made them a meal, so I also had to keep the house clean and welcoming.
Countryside Code & Right to Access
A charming aspect of this country village was that it was surrounded by open fields where farmers kept cattle, horses, and livestock. In the UK, a lot of open fields, open public spaces like Bryns (hills), forests, and nature preserves have pedestrian footpaths through them due to the "Right of Way", "Right to Roam", and "Countryside Code" laws.
Most designated right-of-way paths are identified by signs and arrows at the gate to the field, as well as within the field itself.
You can also find designated paths on the local county websites and the countryside ordinance survey.
It is important to follow the Countryside Code if you choose to utilize these paths as I would.
The Countryside Code is fairly simple;
Leave gates as you found them - Most gates are closed to keep in the animals, so be sure to close the gates once you pass through
Give wild animals, livestock, and horses plenty of space. Do not feed the animals - This is for the protection of the animals and yourself.
Keep your dog under effective control - A farmer has the right to shoot a dog that is attacking or chasing their livestock So, by leash or voice command, be sure you keep dogs in sight, in the right-of-way area, and always clean up after them.
Stay on marked paths, even if they’re muddy- Learn & read the sign codes. Also, most fields have obvious paths through them. If you cannot identify the obvious path, always walk around the edge of the field to the other side. This helps to protect crops and wildlife. Look in advance for the next gate or stile you need to utilize.
Do not litter! Be Friendly! Enjoy nature!
Public Transportation & Effective Planning!
You may wonder why it was important for me to know where these footpaths were. Simply put, to save me time.
Only 43% of households in the UK have at least one vehicle per the National Travel Survey in 2021 (by contrast; 92% of households own at least one vehicle in the USA).
Since I wanted the true feel of living like a local, I would be utilizing public transportation or walking to get to shops, etc. The closest bus stop to the cottage was about a mile into the neighboring town of Penrhyn Bay. My only means to get to a bus stop was on foot. Being able to cut through fields, meant that I could get to the bus stop quicker than if I had to walk along the roadways.
Having to take the bus, train, and/or walk to get around made me have to plan my timing effectively. An errand that might take me 30 minutes to accomplish with a car, would take me almost 2 hours without. For example, when I needed to go grocery shopping, I would have to walk to the bus stop (20 min walk + waiting time), catch the bus into town (20-25 minutes depending on the number of stops the bus would make before my stop), walk to the grocery store from the bus stop, do my shopping, walk back to the bus stop, wait for the bus, catch the bus back to where I started, and finally walk back to the cottage. All while carrying my groceries! If I was trying to catch a train, then my timing needed to be on point, and definitely would need some planning ahead. Thanks to the Arriva Bus App and the Transport for Wales App (Trains) I was able to see live bus/train times, and routes, and buy tickets all with my phone. This may sound like a pain, but after the first few trips, it became a part of life.
Taking Part in Local Events & Traditions
Being a local also means you are part of a community. If I am going to live in this "Community", especially since it is a small town, I wanted to understand and support their culture and vibe. Before leaving the States, I signed up to participate in a charity event hosted by a local hospice. I was already familiar with St. David's Hospice as my grandmother volunteers there and I support what they represent in the community. Participating in the St. David's Dip, an event where participants raise money for the hospice through fundraising and then on the specified day take a "dip" in the freezing Irish Sea, was the perfect opportunity to show my support for a local cause while also joining other locals in an annual tradition. It was also a celebration for St. David's Day. A national holiday in Wales. (Like St. Patrick's Day is for the Irish)
I arrived at Porth Eirias in Colwyn Bay the morning of the event nervous and scared. I was about to run into the freezing water on a cold windy day with no wet suit. I had never done anything like this. At summer camp, I never took part in the polar plunge and was not adapt to cold, open water swimming as a lot of people are in the U.K. I can't even recall the last time I actually swam in open water (ocean or sea). As I sheepishly walked toward the St. David's Hospice purple tent to check in, I noticed there were a number of participants that had wet suits and were obvious regulars in cold open water, but I also noticed more participants just like me who were anxious, freezing, and dressed in regular swimsuits, leggings, gym clothes, and other outfits. I was not alone in my inexperience and nervousness. We huddled together until the time came to do what we had all signed up and paid money to do! (Just like the marathon jokes, we paid to do this) As we formed the starting line toward the sea we wished each other "good luck!" and "You've got this!". When the countdown reached one, we raced toward the Sea bracing ourselves for the impact of freezing salty waves as they crashed into us. A joyful exclamation of coldness surrounded me as I strode further into the Sea with everyone else.
We were crazy! This was nuts! However, I immediately felt a sense of community, togetherness, and joy.
After we were all out of the Sea and warming ourselves up with jackets, blankets, and a cuppa, prizes were given out to the Best Dressed, Best Dressed Junior, and Most Welsh Costume. I received a special gift for being the top fundraiser (£610). I was congratulated and made to feel so welcomed by those organizing the event, participants, and supporters. It was an experience I will never forget and showed me that I could fit into this community well.
Another way that I immersed myself in the Welsh culture was by celebrating St. David's Day on March 1. On St. David's Day the Welsh honor Saint David who died on March 1 in 589 AD by wearing Daffodils or Leeks on their lapels (the Daffodil is the national symbol of Wales), eating Welsh foods like Leeks, Welsh Cakes, and Bara Brith (Welsh Tea Bread). Some towns host parades, restaurants have special meals, shops decorate their windows with flags and daffodils, children wear traditional welsh costumes to school, and most Welsh Castles are free admission. I took this as an opportunity to continue my exploration of Wales and its history by taking a day trip to Caernarfon to visit Caernarfon Castle. I pinned my Daffodil flower to my jacket and headed out. Two buses and a train ride later, I was in the town of Caernarfon, Wales.
The further South in Wales you go, the more Welsh is spoken as a first language. I had been studying beginners Welsh for the last 2 months, but I was totally out of my Welsh language comfort zone in Caernarfon. There were definitely more first-language Welsh speakers here than I had ever experienced before. In Conwy County, signs are in English and then Welsh. In Caernarfon, which is a part of Gwynedd County, signs are primarily Welsh and then English. I was getting the full Welsh experience now!
Castell Caernarfon, which was built by King Edward I in 1283, was where the investiture of then Charles, Prince of Wales, now King Charles III, took place in 1969. I spent a few hours climbing every tower (about 43 flights of stairs) and visited the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum which is housed inside. After I explored the Castle, I wandered around the town, grabbed a cup of Tea and a Welsh Cake to go, then headed back to the bus station to catch my bus.
Although it would certainly take longer than a week to really settle into a normal day-to-day life in a new place, I feel my week living as a local in Wales gave me a little glimpse into how life could be if I moved there. I became a "regular" on the running route along the promenade from Penrhyn Bay to Colwyn Bay, I joined local brave souls taking a dip into the Irish Sea, and I felt right at home in the fields, and on the hills that local residents walk every day. It also helped me understand that if I didn't work from home and had a commute to work each day, I would probably want to own a car or live a bit closer to the bus stop. I will take all of these things into consideration as I make my future plans.
Diolch! (Thank you!)
All photos are ©️ Hannah Cossa
For more information on St. David's Hospice please visit https://stdavidshospice.org.uk/