When Dylan Thomas lived in Laugharne he described some of the inhabitants who lived there in his own cynical way. “Some were immigrants, some just got off the bus and stayed, some just came and disappeared, some wandered the streets bemused and some came to escape the police or England.”
Why do people from England move to Wales? It really can’t be for the climate and I doubt very much if it is for the culture and language which they seem to know, very little or nothing about. I sometimes ask myself how I finished up ending my days here. Of course, I know, if one has owned property in England returning will see an immediate decline in what one can purchase. Moving to Wales is often a one-way ticket.
However, for many of those that have remained here and some have raised families; we have come to love everything about the place. Some have even been known to support the national rugby team and even do a better job than John Redwood, ex Secretary for Wales, in singing along in Welsh to the National Anthem.
Reasons vary for moving but owning a property with land or just in a rural setting is often the motive. I arrived to seek a better life leaving behind a secure job, selling a property which would only have continued to rise in value and seeking to buy a small farm where as a family with my wife, two small children and two large dogs could live in peace and harmony in the countryside we had only been to Wales before for a couple of summer holidays and started our married life by a rather dismal honeymoon in Aberystwyth. We ended up buying a small run-down farm outside Trelech. As predicted by the Welsh locals, we lasted there for just five years trying to farm 50 very rough acres. Were we to bury our dreams and return? Of course not, we liked the place and moved to an old run-down rectory, in the hamlet of Llandawke on the outskirts of Laugharne and set about the task of modernising it.
People come here to retire, by the sea or amongst the rolling hills and countryside where they seek peace away from the bustling life back in England. Many English women have dreamt, since they were small girls, of owning a horse, here their dreams can be for filled. The dream can become a nightmare when the lush Welsh grass and wet climate causes severe laminitis resulting in expensive vet’s bills and the necessity for a hard exercise area and stabling!
For me and many of us, influenced by the 60’s we just wanted to opt out of the “Rat race” and become self sufficient. There were large rural areas of Mid and West Wales where our dreams could come true. The rich could build their eco friendly house, others could buy run down property some even grand property, at ridiculously cheap prices, Tally and Laugharne come to mind. With no money at all, one could live in the Preseli hills building shacks living a hippy life and lengthening the queue at Cardigan Unemployment office. The inspiration for us self sufficiency freaks was a man called John Seymour who told how to live in a self sufficient manner. He was a good publicist and made himself rich selling the dream. We came here at a time of radical Welsh Nationalism.
We read of second homes being fired and found signposts that had been torn down, it was difficult finding our way around. Our initial plan was not to follow any small road that had grass in the centre of it, this worked well in England but in West Wales every small road seemed to have grass in the middle! Like many of us we had no idea that in this part of the world Welsh was spoken as the preferred language, yes we had these preconceived ideas but surely normal people wouldn’t be speaking Welsh? We soon found out that North of the A48 Welsh was spoken everywhere in our village and any of small towns we went to such as Crymych, Cardigan, Newcastle Emlyn and Llandyssul Welsh back then was the main language. My children were taught it, my wife tried to learn but I am both dyslectic and lazy so never really took to it.
Like many younger English our ideals were soon shattered by practicality; that is we needed money. Modernising property helped but we needed a job or else do as the hippies did and join the dole queue. So we became entrepreneurs setting up small businesses. There were those who looked for a quick result following in the footsteps of the Cambridge graduates who bought a large country house outside Tregaron and began to make a fortune from manufacturing ecstasy and selling it in Europe. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to keep a secret in Wales and the result of a police raid put them away for some time.
The more usual option was to grow cannabis, which I am told grows extremely well in the valleys and woodlands of the Preselis. Many of us survived, coping with Mrs Thatcher’s rise in interest rates at over 20%, Black Wednesday, when the Pound sank to an all time low, several winters when we were cut off by snow, with no electricity on many occasions, and floods that drowned Pensarn . There were of course the good times, wonderful beach days, beautiful walks beside the Towy and the Tivy and the days on the hill with the warm wind and the cry of buzzard and kite. Would we return to live in England? I don’t think so, it’s alright for a visit but personally I can’t wait to get back for a welcome in the hills.