In the Spring of 1993, I first set eyes on Crickhowell Wales, a small market town that sits in the beautiful Usk Valley where the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains meet. I knew immediately that this was where I wanted to settle.
Crug Hywel (Also known as Table Mountain) an Iron Age hill fort overlooking the town of Crickhowell.
First, some history about how I came to find, live and work in this magical place for twelve years.
Prior to 1993, I had been living and working in the United States for twenty-eight years. From 1972 I had been happily married, raising my two children and establishing myself as a working artist. However, as we all know life can throw curve balls, and so when my marriage came to an end in 1987, I made the decision to stay in the States until my two children were of an independent age and then return to the UK/Europe.
Between 1987 and 1993 along with getting heat and running water into my studio where I was also living (a story unto itself) – I produced an enormous amount of work. Numerous large corporate murals, several series of paintings, and continued to give workshops.
There were those who saw me struggling to survive and living in my studio who thought I had gone mad, but in fact I had gone sane….It was the beginning of a new journey – a major turning point.
The 17th century bridge crossing the River Usk leading into Crickhowell.
In 1992 my cousin Lyn Statham came to visit me in the States. Knowing that I wanted to return to the UK/Europe, she suggested that I come to visit the family in a place called Crickhowell Wales. with a view to settling there…..and the rest is history.
I re-call vividly Lyn and her husband PJ picking me up at Heathrow Airport and then driving me to Wales. As we left England and approached Wales my heart began to leap, and then as we drove over the 17th century bridge from Llangatock into the town of Crickhowell….I knew deep down in my gut that this was the place I wanted to be.
At that time Lyn, PJ and their two younger children, Andrew and Kara were living in the town of Crickhowell and my Aunt and Uncle (my father’s sister and husband) lived one mile from the town. For the first time in a few years I felt as if I belonged and was part of a family again. It was wonderful.
My uncle, cousin Lyn and a very happy me:) 1993During this first visit, I fell in love with Bumble the family dog and through Bumble began to meet the people of Crickhowell. Everyone knew Bumble:). After I moved there permanently, Bumble and I walked for miles every day…..
Tom, Tasha and Bumble at Ty Gwyn Tom, Kara and Tasha putting on a play in the garden at Ty Gwyn…next to a little mural I painted on one of the ancient walls. Before tablets and I phones……Prior to 1993 I had never been much of a landscape painter, however the Usk Valley, and Brecon Beacons were to change all of that for me. The stunning and dramatic shift of light moving over the the magnificent landscape was, and still is mesmerising
This quick sketch of part of the Crickhowell bridge is the first ever watercolour I painted in Wales. I sat in Bull Pit Meadow next to the River Usk and felt as if I had died and gone to heaven:)
Note that in 1993 I was still signing my work ‘Janet C Reed’ (Reed being my married name) After moving permanently to Crickhowell in 1994 I added my maiden name ‘Weight’ to my signature.
I remember the joy I felt when I. made this sketch. l still have the original and the same brush I used that day. Having fallen totally in love with Crickhowell and the surrounding area on that first visit, I returned to the States to make plans for a permanent move home.
I was forty-seven, my son twenty seven and my daughter about to enter University.
One of my first decisions was to stop driving. In the States I always felt as if I had a car attached to my body. In Crickhowell, I could walk everywhere…including to the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. Twenty-seven years later, I still do NOT drive. I have continued to design my life so that I don’t need a car – and can honestly say I have never missed it.
Mist over the Brecon Beacons
Not only could I walk to the butcher, baker and candlestick maker but I could also walk to about twelve pubs – all of which served food – from pub grub to fine dining and everything in between. How about that for convenience?
This is one of the many reasons Crickhowell and the surrounding area is perfect for walkers and artists.
There are many places to stay – from hotels, Pubs, to Air B’n Bs and self catering cottages, and the painting opportunities are endless.
The Dragon Hotel is a personal favourite of mine….and the breakfasts are amazing. The Dragon will be our central meeting place during our VIRTUAL week.
As far as transportation is concerned...Cardiff Airport is about an hour and a half away and of course there are trains from London and other parts of the country. Abervavenny train staton is seven miles from Crickhowell. Plus for those who do drive there are easy routes from around the UK. Also there are some excellent taxi services and so for meals in outlying pubs – or airport pick ups – no problem at all.
I am of course writing this after Covid which is why this trip is a VIRTUAL…..but hopefully it will give everyone a taster into what they can expect when we visit in reality.
During the next few days, I will take you to different places in and around Crickhowell known for their historic interest and beauty – as well as excellent sketching opportunities.
We will sample the foods, wine and local spirits…..all of which can be purchased in Crickhowell’s delightful local shops.
Grenfell’s one of the many local shops – just across the road from the Dragon.
One of the many Air B ‘n Bs in the surrounding area. I couldn’t write about Wales without adding some sheep to the equation.
Tomboy pen, watercolour on a gouache ground.
For those who joined me on the last two VIRTUAL trips – to Portugal and Amish country, USA..the format here will be similar.
Please feel free to make any comments on the blog and sketch along with me.
We are meeting at 11.30 today at The Dragon Inn for lunch and whatever else floats your boat…..
This evening, after a walk around the town, we will eat at The Bear – a few hundred yards from the Dragon…..
We meet again tomorrow at The Dragon and then sketch by the river….
Lechyd Da to one and all..