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Refurbish a Remote Derelict Cottage in Wales

Updated on June 24, 2016
Sue Adams profile image

Juliette Kando has lived and worked in over 20 countries with extensive experience in designing and refurbishing property.

Autumn in South wales
Autumn in South wales | Source

Fixing up a derelict cottage on no money, no husband, and three happy toddlers to look after may seem daunting at first. Yet no end of hard work or hardship can take away the benefits of a wild country lifestyle.

Distant from city noise and pollution, the derelict cottage is situated in the Swansea Valley. The incredible, ever-changing views reach from the sea at the South side to the snow covered peaks of the famous Brecon Beacons.


Elwin, a local "builder" odd job man used to look after the place for the previous owners many years ago. Now that I had moved in, Elwin came up to the cottage (which he called ‘the farm’) where he kept some chickens and a pregnant cat. It seemed I had bought the house inclusive of Elwin who loved to get away from his sick wife and five boisterous sons for some peace and quiet. I found out later, that Elwin also slaughtered any unmarked sheep he found on the commons to feed his extended family.

Unmarked sheep in Wales
Unmarked sheep in Wales | Source

Muscle Man

A local Welshman called Elwin had known the previous owner and was a frequent visitor to the cottage. Elwin lived in the village of Pontardarwe a good hour’s walk straight across the descending hills. He was just a little shorter than I with red hair curled up into a sausage on top of his head. With his belly from here to eternity and friendly disposition, Elwin looked like a character from a Charles Dickens book. He became my devoted anonymous admirer and muscle man.

Our Hairpin Bend
Our Hairpin Bend | Source

The Rough Track

The dirt track leading down to the house was too rough for any normal car to drive down, let alone to come back up. With heavy rains the bottom part of the track turned into a torrent. Even the four-wheel drive could not skid up so I usually left the car halfway up on the hairpin bend and we walked down, (and up) carrying Kirsty in the baby pouch, Tomi (2) on my hip and Miko, the big boy of 4, walking with Jack the dog beside us.

For once not raining in Wales
For once not raining in Wales | Source

Living in the Present

It was a nice walk, except when there was a lot of shopping to carry, then I sometimes had to make two or three trips but time was my own in the middle of no-where and the natural surroundings and pleasant sounds amplified the existence of living in the present. At the hairpin bend we would rest and admire the view.

During one of those resting spells, sitting on the grass at the hairpin bend, Tomi was investigating his new surroundings, so very different from what he was used to: a terraced house in Kilburn with a narrow fifty-foot garden fenced in on both sides. The nearest thing to nature Tomi had ever seen was the playground in Queen’s Park.

Rabbit Droppings Looked like smarties in Wales.
Rabbit Droppings Looked like smarties in Wales. | Source

A Disapointing Discovery

Tomi walked around now and sat down on a fresh tuft of grass, concentrating, examining something new he’d seen, something seemingly very interesting. Looking at him I realised what had captured his young mind. Some dry rabbit droppings were glistening brightly in the sunshine. Tomi looked very pleased with himself. He picked one up, looked at me smiling and said, ‘marty?’

Luckily I just managed to grab the piece of rabbit poo off him before he put it into his mouth. Who could blame him? Until then a glistening little round object had always been a candy, a sweet, a chocolate Smarty. Tomi was mighty disappointed to lose his ‘sweet’ as I explained that it was not a sweet, that it was rabbit shit, dirty. Sorry Tomi.

On another occasion while we were enjoying the views from the hairpin bend Tomi saw a real live horse for the first time. He pointed at the animal with great admiration and shouted out:

” BIG Goggy!”

“That’s not a dog, it’s a horse, you stupid!” his four year old brother replied.

“He is not stupid, he is just younger than you.” I reprimanded.

View from hairpin bend in Wales
View from hairpin bend in Wales | Source

Past the Bend

The top half of the track, past the bend, was not as steep and in slightly better condition but it was also covered in loose stones and potholes. Elwin had put in some effort at improving the track by having hardcore shingles and rubble delivered.

The Welsh Cottage

Snow Covered Hills in Wales
Snow Covered Hills in Wales | Source

A Better Solution?

I also put all the ashes and bits of burned coal saved from the stove into the holes at the bottom of the track, but as soon as the stuff was put down, the rain washed it all away and it would disintegrate down the hill. There had to be a better solution. Word had gone round that the public road across the top of the hill was going to be renewed and that the old tarmac, which had to be scraped off with heating machines, could be had for free.

One day...

In mid winter, when the beautiful Welsh hills were covered in snow, we walked up as far as the hairpin bend and got into the Land-rover. I drove up the bumpy road with the kids singing “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” in the back as usual.

Tarmac and Snow in Wales
Tarmac and Snow in Wales | Source


When we got to the top we were faced with a huge white snow-covered heap of dried up tarmac splayed out two meters high across the track. It was now impossible for any vehicle to get in or out. We could not reverse, so had to walk. Well, the children were usually running and rolling down the bracken, back all the way down to the house where I phoned Elwin.

‘What’s that huge heap of tarmac doing across the drive? I can’t get out!’

‘Oh Ai, t’as arrived all reddy all rite Suzie?’

‘Yes, it sure has. We should have been there to spread it while it was still soft, but it’s a bit late now.’

‘Oh Ai! Suzie, They should ‘ve rang you to tell you when they were going to dump it! Never you mind Suzie, I’ll comap in a minit. I’ll bring a shovel ‘n all. Meet ya apta top, rite?’

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Looking Mean

I explained the situation as best I could to the children, gave the boys a child spade each to “help”, and we all climbed up the hill again. When we finally got to the top, catching our breath, Elwin was already busy trying to spread out the stuff. The black tarmac was looking mean in contrast to the virgin whiteness of the less permanent snow. We shoveled and shoveled to no avail, the giant mound of dried up tarmac could not be budged. From then on, the Land-rover had to drive around the lump and gradually it created yet another bend in the winding old dirt track, which remained as bumpy as ever and eventually damaged the suspension of the car and broke its half shaft.

Beautiful Wales

Back to the City

Despite such ‘snags’, once I got the taste for primitive, no conveniences, outdoor life I wished we could have stayed living in rural Wales, in the remote countryside, forever. But without the children's father who was working in London it could not last. So when I was offered a prestigious job as a choreologist for the Paris Opera Ballet, I packed my things, the kids and Jack the dog, and we returned to the insanity of city life.

Competition, dressing smart, bathing every day and having clean fingernails was not really my life style any more. The dream was over. Reluctantly I moved back to the city for work, career, fame and fortune but I never relinquished the happiness and strength I once found living in rural Wales.

Back to the City
Back to the City | Source


© 2016 JULIETTE KANDO - You may link to this article, but you may Not copy it. Copied content will be reported with a DMCA notice and will be removed.



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    • profile image

      sybil mcnamara 17 months ago

      lovely story who ownes the cottage now

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 3 years ago from Andalusia

      This all happened a long time ago Anna. I suggest you Google:

      "Derelict cottage for sale in Wales" to find out more.

    • profile image

      Anna 3 years ago

      you would point me in the direction of where and who I can get the prices of these derelict places from please. contact me on

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 4 years ago from Andalusia

      Thanks for the read LongTimeMother. I love your Hub on living off the grid. I will definitely use your tips on solar powered lighting etc.

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      lol. Nice hub.

      I also dabbled in quiet rural life when I was younger but my career always dragged me back to the city.

      Now that I am older, I have the luxury of living off the grid and pursuing a sustainable lifestyle. It's great to spend all day in the garden, harvesting my fresh veges etc.

      Don't lose sight of the dream. Who knows what the future holds!

      Voted up. :)

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 5 years ago from Andalusia

      Hi Jonnybrake, maybe if you work hard, one day soon you'll be able to move to the countryside or get a holiday cottage to recover from city stress.

    • profile image

      Jonnybrake 5 years ago

      Lucky are those who can live away from the rat race and concrete cities. I wish I could, but my job won't allow it.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 6 years ago from Andalusia

      Yes Harriet, their voices are amazing. Isn't it strange that the Welsh and Irish can express their feelings so much better than their closest neighbours the English?

    • profile image

      Harriet 7 years ago

      I too lived in Wales for a while. I really enjoyed the beautiful scenery and loved the people, with deep voiced men singing in bups for the sheer joy of self expression.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Strange smarties lol. It looks lovely if not a little far out. We have had snow today again and I live in a city :(

    • profile image

      tom kando 7 years ago

      wonderful stories, wonderful pictures. I remember the place well. The hairpin turn, the landrover, the rugged beauty. I never met Elwin, bu I knew all about him. Also, I wasn't there in the snow. In retrospect, the place looks idyllic, but one must guard against romanticizing the past. After all, you do remember why you moved to Spain, right? (and why I moved to California). Maybe snow is nicer as a thought than as a reality...

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 7 years ago from Andalusia

      Hi advoco, thanks for dropping by. When are you going to write another hub? Perhaps something about insurance claims for bad weather damage?

    • advoco profile image

      advoco 7 years ago from cadiz

      Some beautiful pictures - I particularly like the hairpin bend

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