If you told me in 2001, when I moved to the U.K with my Cypriot husband, that one day I would be living in a small Welsh village with a name I can’t pronounce, I wouldn’t have believed it.
And yet, here I am, 18 years later, living in Caergwrle.
There are two sights that warm my heart in a way that nothing else does. The ocean and mountains. Living on the Wirral peninsula for the last 18 years was hugely comforting to me because it meant being near the sea thousands of miles away from my beloved Mediterranean ocean yet somewhat comforting that I was nonetheless near the sea.
But 11 months ago, we found ourselves homeless and living on a friend’s alpaca farm in North Wales. Only us!
This meant living within sight of Moel Famau mountain with views to the valleys and the Welsh sheep grazing below. Wow. I didn’t realise then but it was to begin my new love affair with Wales and to condition me away from my beloved Wirral, preparing me to embrace a new season our lives were about to enter.
My children now aged 16, 11 and 7 didn’t want to leave Wirral.
“We’ll be too far from our friends!” they lamented even though we were just 30 minutes drive away. But to a child it may as well be hours away. The mere frustration of not being able to pop round to their friends, was enough to make them feel we were moving to the other side of the world.
My husband was working as a waiter at a Greek taverna in Birkenhead, Wirral, from 4pm until late and did some self employed coffee barista training work in between. While on the farm and sharing the one car, it meant I had to organise our daily home educating schedules and outings to be back by 3 so that husband could have the car. Then of course we had an old car that guzzled petrol and the long drives were damaging to the bank account.
Living in someone else’s home comes with its own challenges and I learned that smallholding wasn’t my thing despite how much I adore the alpacas, especially little Nugget, the cutest thing I have ever seen. I have highly sensitive hearing so the crowing rooster at the crack of dawn and all through the day, coupled with the quacking ducks was challenging to my (selfish) need for quiet.
The months were rolling by and we couldn’t find a home within our budget. Until one day, a friend asked if we would be interested in her parents’ house as they were moving into a bungalow and would be renting their home. The catch was that the house was in North Wales.
We jumped at the chance though and visited the house as soon as we could. Being the end of Autumn when trees were bare, brown sticks dangling off faded tree trunks and the village looking a bit sad and grey, we didn’t fail to notice that it was also nestled under a mountain which sprawled behind the house, rising high as if thousands of tree soldiers were standing guard over it. I was immediately drawn.
When the owner told me the mountain was called Hope, I knew this was the house for us. I instantly remembered months before, driving to an appointment and passing a road sign pointing to Hope. “I’d love to live in a place called Hope” I thought to myself.
Fate. Meant to be. God’s will…
It led me to an online search to find what Caergwrle means.
Fortress. Wow. A fortress at the foot of Hope mountain. It is meant to be, this is our home. But the children?
The house, last but one at the top of the hill, meant no passing traffic, safety for the children, quiet for me, and with spectacular views. Wonderful.
We entered in. 4 bedrooms. One for each of the children at last. They had never been able to have their own bedrooms. For them, that was the clincher that overlooked the 30 minutes drive to their friends.
For me the confirmation that this was our home came in a different form. While looking around and eagerly announcing we wanted to rent this house, the owner casually mentioned that he was planning to get rid of a desk that they didn’t need. “You don’t happen to have any use for it?”
I glanced at this ‘desk’ and was instantly moved to tears. The most magnificent old fashioned writing desk stood before me. What the owner didn’t know was that, firstly, I love to write, secondly I had never owned my own desk and thirdly, I had always wanted my own vintage writing desk JUST LIKE THAT ONE.
Done deal. But was it?
We agreed to rent this house. Weeks turned to months and frustrations grew as solicitors and red tape kept us longingly dreaming of our new home yet increasingly looking like it was not going to happen.
But just then, at the last minute, in the last week of the deadlines for things to fall into place, just as I was begrudgingly about to apply for another house – in the Wirral – I received that desperately awaited for message.
“The house is yours, we are moving out on Friday, you can move in at the weekend”
Delight doesn’t express how we felt. Within days we were in. It was end of March and by then, Caergwrle was wearing its new season clothes.
Trees covered in fresh caterpillar green foliage, longer days, blue skies with amazing candy-floss cloud formations.
When I open my windows in the morning, I hear birds singing and my lungs draw in the fresh misty dew. I take every opportunity to drink my coffee outside and look at the mountain.
I stand at my bedroom window admiring the castle ruins, imagining life as it would have been hundreds of years ago, the sounds of the blacksmith hammering the iron, the smell in the air from burning wood or coal and all that castle life entails.
Our dog Poppy, adores her walks up to the castle, or Hope mountain and all the others in between.
My little girl enjoys the local playgrounds, three within walking distance from the house. My middle child, confidently rides his scooter to the local skate park, stopping at the corner shop to buy sweets and chat to the friendly ladies behind the till.
On the same row of shops, you’ll find a vet, beautician, optician, carpet shop, sandwich shop, grocer, fish and chips, Chinese take away and more I haven’t discovered yet. The shops are small, with friendly owners and staff smiling as you pass by.
My favourite walk is to Honey’s cafe, a gem I discovered quite by chance on my return from Hope GP practice. Just before the train station, right next to the river, is this little cafe with homemade cakes, scones, food and beverages.
The afternoon tea overlooking the river is a treat to delight in. One day I went with the children and had forgotten they have a limit of £12 in order to use a credit card. I asked the lady if she would like me to leave my kids there while I run to the local shop to get cash out to pay my £5 bill.
“Don’t worry about it, pay me next time” she replied clearly not knowing if I would ever return having never seen me there before!
We have been in our new home for a few weeks. Boxes are still stacked hidden behind the sofa. The garden needs weeding. We are not the most green fingered people. We need to buy recycling bins to separate the rubbish.
I make coffee. My favourite Mexican blend that my husband brings home freshly ground from his new job, a coffee roastery and supplier.
Propped up on the stone steps in my garden – we need garden furniture too- I reflect and one by one I count my blessings.
I could look at the last year with ingratitude and pain at the stress of nine months of homelessness, uncertainty, doubts, the feelings of failing our family, the extreme testing of our marriage and subsequent crisis.
Or, I could look at this last year as the path that led to our new home and new season in life. In these last months, we have known generosity like never before. What person offers you her home for your family of five while she lives in her caravan so as to accommodate you? What kind of friend sees your need and puts herself out of her own home in order to fill your need not once complaining, not pressurising, not making you feel awkward?
I have known that kind of friend. My family and I have been privileged to know a friend that loves us and cares for us as if we were her own family. I have known the meaning of true unconditional love and friendship. The laying down of one’s life for her friends. Priceless.
The smaller things? Those too.
We were able to buy a newer more comfortable and more economical car. Wow!
My husband got a new job as sales and training manager for an amazing small coffee roastery and it comes with a work car! No more car sharing and he does what he loves. Boom.
We are in a home we love, we have peace. We are safe and happy. Invaluable.
The railway station minutes form our home takes the boys all the way to Wirral direct so even if I can’t take them, they can go see their friends. Joy.
I can sit in my bed and look at the mountain outside of my window while I write, listening to bird song. A dream.
My daughter has made a new friend and she is the best friend she has ever had. They have become so close they are like sisters. I know these friendships. They are those that last the ages, these two will grow old together, tell stories, reminisce of the endless hours they spent in each other’s homes playing. Bliss. Double bonus, her mum has become a treasured friend to me too. Amazing.
I keep on listing, each blessing, each thing I am grateful for, my heart swelling with content pleasure.
But I am also reminded that none of it would have happened, if I were not willing to step out of the old and into the uncertain new. Change can be a frightening prospect. The what if’s can be debilitating so we stay where we know and feel safe. But we miss the new. We miss all the what if’s and more. We miss the learning and growth that comes in the dark moments.
The testing of my marriage taught me perseverance, forced me to examine myself, my heart, my faults and unrealistic expectations. It taught him that I am strong but fragile at the same time. The crisis took us to places we hadn’t explored before and showed us how much we mean to each other. How we are willing to sacrifice for each other. And that we needed boundaries as much as needed to let go of things that were holding us back.
It took nine months to move into our new home. It takes nine months for a new life to form inside a woman. The end of the pregnancy, uncomfortable, irritating, exhausting, desperate to just get that baby out.
Then the birth, excruciating before the drunken joy of delivery, relief, exaltation, deliriously ecstatic.
Change can be like pregnancy and childbirth. Change brings it all, tests you on all counts and brings out the best and the worse in you. But change brings also transformation.
The last nine months was not a bed of roses but then again a caterpillar does not become a butterfly unless it goes through the pain of transformation into the new.
Caergwrle is in the county of Flintshire, North Wales. Most famous for it’s castle ruin and stunning country walks. There is plenty to do around Flintshire, from beaches, country parks, castles, manor homes and estates, leisure centres, shopping and even an indoor ice skating rink in Deeside. For more information and to build your itinerary visit the following sites.
http://www.parkinthepast.org.uk to learn about an amazing Roman themed park being built on an old quarry.
Photo credit Mihalis Constantinou – except for the photos of Honey’s cafe & where stated otherwise.