A Valentines Love Letter to The Countryside

Our beautiful countryside, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways…

Just like love, our beloved countryside is patient with those that ramble along the pathways, exploring the endless horizons. It does not judge when we take a wrong turn, need to consult the map or simply walk with no place to go. It soaks up our laughter, tears and shouts with no complaints; simply waiting, holding those memories for us to return to next time.

With a view to take your breath away around every corner, love is also full of surprises. With every season brings a new wonder, changes that spring up with joyous abandon, and yet like love, we return time after time. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act embodies our delirious romanticism by enabling us, on those rare work-free days, to release the urban shackles and breathe in the fresh air, reinvigorating souls and refreshing minds with calm beauty.

Just like love, our relationship with our rural landscapes takes many forms. Viewed from a window, pounded by hooves and feet, looked down on from great heights of air and rock, and explored from mountain to sea; there's no right or wrong way of enjoying our darling countryside. It's here that no matter how muddy, breathless or lost one gets, there is only one measure of exactly who loves the hills more- the size of your smile.


“What is it about the English countryside---why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?” ― Dodie Smith; I Capture the Castle

Just like love, the countryside is a constant source of inspiration. Take our renowned writers and artists for example, whose muse of moorland and vast hills created classics such as Wuthering Heights or All Creatures Great and Small and paintings by Constable and Turner. Only in the countryside, can one sit in a warm and cosy pub, while looking at the rolling hills, reading Pride and Prejudice and feel completely at home. Local artists can be found tucked away in galleries and workshops across the land. Languishing in the peace and quiet of our rural communities, they enable the nature on their doorstep to spill on to pages, canvas and into other medium, to be loved and shared once more.

Want to profess your love affair with the hills this Valentines Day? Invest in the gorgeous businesses, people and organisations who care and create the culture and atmosphere we love so well. If you are already married to the rural lifestyle, you will know of the community bred out of such a love. Feel the pull of the local shop, school or cafe and hear stories passed down by generations, knowing that just like you - the people are deeply in love with their lifestyle and invested in caring for it for years to come. I encourage you not to flirt with the idea of the country, but to jump in with both feet, embrace your feelings and get ready for a long term coupling to take hold. It is rare that anyone who has courted the countryside has ever received a broken heart, so what are you waiting for?

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Weekends Away in the UK - Why Go Anywhere Else?

I remember when the humble staycation was the option for holidaymakers too adventure-adverse to go abroad - or it was seen as a cheap and cheerful way for families to get some time out without blowing the budget.

In recent years, however, the tide has most certainly turned. The typical Brit choosing to holiday at home has changed, as has the type of holiday experience they’re looking for - it’s less ‘two weeks in a B&B in Skegness’ and more ‘luxurious self-catering with hot tub’ or ‘country house hotel with spa and golf course.’

Weekends Away in the UK - Why Go Anywhere Else?

It seems that TV shows like Game of Thrones, Poldark and The Crown have reminded us that there are plenty of jaw-dropping landscapes, cultural sites and history on our own doorstep, and with the weaker pound and the convenience factor also adding persuasive power, it’s no surprise that 54% of Brits enjoyed a staycation in 2017.

Staycation temptation is nothing new here at The Hills, however - I’ve long been a fan of discovering more of what makes Great Britain truly great. There’s so much of these fair British Isles that is still unknown to me and that I want to discover. When enjoying some down time from day-to-day life, there’s nothing I love more than finding the artisans and creatives hidden away in the community. As you know I am passionate about supporting rural industries, and that goes for those on my doorstep as well as creative industries further afield. From artisanal Scottish tartan, to Cornish pottery and Welsh blankets - there is something beautiful to be found in every corner of our gorgeous country! Of course, I still love a trip abroad, but when there’s so much here in the UK for us to enjoy it would seem rude to give Britain a wide berth. So how can you make your staycation just that little bit more - well, special? That’s easy - consult The Hills’ Directory, and choose from our wonderful variety of crafters to visit, and ways to explore.

For the economically-minded, there are numerous affordable choices available - camping perhaps the most obvious option. But banish all ideas of soggy canvas and naff 70s fabrics: camping kit has evolved thanks to the likes of Hills members Journeyman Handcraft.Think stylish and practical leather pouches, patches, bags and tools - it’s almost enough to convert a trilesalectinophobic (that’s a person scared of camping equipment - ha!).

But who said there had to be a tent involved? Have a look at Snowdonia Classic Campers and take your camping holiday up a gear with a different, distinctly retro feel. All of their campers are painstakingly restored and modernised, so you won’t be roughing it - far from it, in fact.

Chances are, if you’re contemplating any kind of camping you’re probably an outdoorsy type, so how about enlisting the help of some pros to get the most from your outdoor adventure? Two Blondes Walking are a formidable duo: Mountain Training England qualified and experienced walk leaders who love organising guided walks and teaching course participants about wild camping. Pop over the their website and prepare to be awed.

And talking about learning new skills, how about cresting the waves? As adults we don’t often give much thought to learning a new skill or trying out a hobby but we’re desperate to sign our children up to every class and holiday camp - why should little ones have all the fun? Surf Snowdonia is a fab organisation and offer half day and full day suitable for all ages and abilities.

Too many choices? Make Denbighshire Tourism your next port of call - they have two centres in Rhyll and Llangollen and can help you with all manner of decisions, from accommodation options to activities to please every demographic.

Do you have any staycations planned for 2019? We’d love to hear about them - and to encourage you to support local and countryside-based businesses in your pursuit of the perfect break, of course!

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Loving The Hills in 2018

Wow what a year!

As we are settling down after a potentially busy few days of festivities, I am taking a moment to reflect today on our year at The Hills. It really has flown by, and I am confident that is because of the wonderful people and businesses that I have been so lucky to meet and work with along the way. The end of the year is a perfect time for me to remember all the amazing moments, but also look ahead to the New Year and consider what we have coming up, and how The Hills can serve even more readers. Today, I am taking this opportunity to share with you my thoughts on the past year, and my wishes for the year ahead.

Loving The Hills in 2018 - The Hills Countryside Blog

Over on the Blog, I have been joined by a number of talented writers and local correspondents to keep you abreast of rural affairs and explore people's lives in the countryside by getting out and about and writing about who and what we see along the way. Did you know, to date, we have published over 120 blog posts on a wide range of topics, from rural businesses and sustainability to pet care and home style - and that’s just on our own platform! We have also been featured regularly over on other publications such as North Wales Magazine, and we have more exciting magazine partnerships in the pipeline. Our readership continues to steadily grow as we reach more and more of the people who are integral to the thriving communities of our small towns and villages, and who are passionate about helping us spread our sustainability and ‘shop small’ ethos. If you aren’t a regular subscriber, I encourage you to sign up to our email newsletter, and come with me to meet some truly inspirational country folk.

Talking of inspirational people, you will have noticed that we have been busy hand-selecting the very best country-loving businesses to join our valuable Directory. As you know, the British countryside is packed with thriving rural businesses, from local delis and artisan crafters to professional service providers, artists, therapists and much more - and our thriving directory features some of our absolute favourite ethical, local and innovative rural producers. I have had the pleasure of interviewing a number of them for our The Hills Meets feature this year, and know that I have only just scratched the surface! There are so many artisan crafters and creative businesses out there whose stories are so inspirational, and I can’t wait to share them with you in 2019 and beyond.

So what do we have planned for the New Year?

You will have noticed that our country shop is currently having a little overhaul. I am thrilled to be teaming up with crafters and creatives to be able to bring you more exclusive Hills products to accompany our popular luxury throw, all will be made here in the UK and come with the official Hills stamp of approval. I am passionate about supporting our local retailers and collaborating with the best our countryside has to offer, but also in producing quality goods that you will treasure for years to come - so simply ‘watch this space’!

One of my favourite things to do this year, was visit our local fairs and artisan markets. I have found myself constantly inspired by these fabulous rural communities and am planning our own country fair, packed full of our Directory listers and wonderful creative contacts. If personal rather than online shopping is where you love to discover artisan goods, this will certainly be one for your diary.

My abiding passion is simple country living, and The Hills is my home on the internet where I share my favourite rustic discoveries... but it’s time for The Hills to expand and fly out of our little digital roost! Beautiful independent magazines hold such a strong place in my heart when it comes to reading inspiring stories and discovering interesting places. We want to join this growing sector and are busy planning our very own print edition of The Hills. If you would like to feature and share your creative story we are currently compiling the Spring content and would love for you to get in touch.

Finally, if you are following us on social media, you will have noticed that our Instagram feed is edging towards the 1000 followers mark, and we simply love sharing our readers adventures in The Hills over there, so this year, join in our #lovingthehills hashtag so we can see what 2019 has in store for you!

Thank you so much for following us this far, it truly means the world! From all of us here at The Hills, we wish you a very happy, peaceful and exciting New Year!

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats (plus a cheeky regular overnight visitor!), four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

The Hills Meets: MOSTYN Gallery

An article in The Independent once declared that ‘art galleries ought to be amusing’. Not, as we discovered they meant, in a comedic fashion, but instead using the historic sense of the word - entertaining, interesting and enthralling. Unfortunately, research has also found that for many people, the concept of attending art galleries was considered “not for the likes of me”. Whilst art galleries were originally invented as places of leisure for a new urban populace, they are intended to be educative, but just like the theatre or the cinema, the newspaper article claimed that they should also ‘give you the promise of excitement and thrilling engagement’.

The Hills Meets: MOSTYN Gallery - Countryside Blog Wales

Here at The Hills, we wholeheartedly agree, and so does our fabulous local art gallery MOSTYN in Llandudno. I had the pleasure of catching up with Audience Relations Manager, Lin Cummins, and Barry Morris, Retail Manager, to find out more about the nature of the modern art gallery and how the public can engage with artists to create this ‘amusement’ of exciting contemporary art!

To introduce MOSTYN, it is the largest contemporary art gallery in Wales and shows work from all over the world alongside fabulous art and craft from artists and makers based in Wales. As Llandudno is a tourist town, the population grows massively during the holiday seasons and the gallery welcomes many people from all walks of life. However, there's more to MOSTYN than its reputation as the foremost contemporary gallery and visual arts centre in Wales. Behind an impressive Edwardian terracotta facade, topped with a landmark gold spire, the original turn of the century galleries have been merged with stunning modern spaces in an award-winning architectural design. The six gallery spaces exhibit the best in international contemporary art and craft, showing artists and makers from Wales and far beyond. With friendly staff, activities for all ages, a lovely shop and a bright and airy café, there is most certainly something for everyone.


The Hills Meets: MOSTYN Gallery - Countryside Blog Wales

Lin is clear that at MOSTYN, they operate a very ‘open door’ policy and of course culture vultures flock there, but she is keen also to ensure the door is wide open to everyone and anyone. With such a varied visitor demographic, from local families and holidaymakers to international artists and journalists, their new season exhibitions include artists from New York and Zurich but also from artists based just up the street. Thanks to their beautiful shop and café, for some local residents, MOSTYN is now very much a part of their regular social route around the town.

Whilst some people may still think of galleries as places where you have to be intellectual and knowledgeable to enjoy a visit, MOSTYN is working extremely hard to dispel the myth that galleries are only for the knowledgeable elite, and the staff are only too happy to chat with you about the exhibitions. Additionally, events are held alongside their exhibition programme and these are so successful in opening up the conversation in all kinds of ways to include both the community and artists. MOSTYN presents art that is relevant and accessible to all without compromising on a curatorial approach, which is to bring the best in international contemporary art to North Wales.

To further aid accessibility and approachability, the visitor experience team and retail staff are practicing artists or creatives, and so they too are passionate about contemporary art, craft and design. Additionally, MOSTYN holds talks for new exhibitions with the Director, Curator and visiting artists, which are always a brilliant opportunity to gain an insight into works on show, and what goes on behind the scenes.

In an age of digital and social media and online streaming, we would argue that while essential to sharing art to a far wider community, nothing beats viewing art up close and personal. By heading to a local art gallery, you experience not just the exhibition, but the atmosphere, architecture and conversation that you can’t witness online. That said, MOSTYN is excited to soon be launching a digital strand that will be hosted online, as well as shown in the gallery. Whilst the digital world holds a wealth of opportunities in some respects, the shop at MOSTYN allows personal browsing and advice from knowledgeable staff so that choosing that special gift becomes a more personal experience than e-commerce.

With a growing number of shoppers moving away from the mass-produced to the unique, MOSTYN has chosen to keep its store in-house and offline to ‘better support more makers, and provide a more personal shopping experience for customers.’ In North Wales, MOSTYN acts as a hub for the local community and visitors come not only for the galleries and exhibition programs, but also to take part in a variety events, talks and engagement activities. They can learn a new skill at their adult and children workshops or browse for gifts in the exquisitely stocked shop. To put the icing on the cake, the visitors and local community are invited yearly to vote on the Open exhibition, the next one will be taking place in 2019, to present the ‘Audience Award’ to their favourite exhibit. It is a testament to their curation that whilst only one can win, every single work usually receives some votes - there really is something for everyone!

MOSTYN is proud to always welcome individuals and groups to experience contemporary art and be part of wider community. For example, Lin and Barry shared a story of a mother who has been taking her children to the gallery for three years. ‘She often refers to the gallery as “her church”, bringing the children in regularly to experience the exhibitions, take part in workshops and activities, meet with artists at our openings and use our shop and cafe. We’ve watched as the children have grown in confidence and developed their artistic abilities, and their love of contemporary art.’

The Hills Meets: MOSTYN Gallery - Countryside Blog Wales

As a registered charity MOSTYN is dedicated and also proud to support independent makers and small businesses in its retail spaces, and all income generated is invested back into the exhibition and engagement programme. Put simply, MOSTYN encourages people to tell everyone what a fabulous place it is and are always looking forwards to seeing them return with the whole family!

When was the last time you stepped into your local art gallery? You could be in for an unexpected treat!

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

The Hills Meets - Julie Leoni

One of the most pleasurable and fulfilling activities of running my own business is meeting and spending time with talented people. In this week’s ‘The Hills Meets’ feature, and I am thrilled to be joined by my great friend, Julie Leoni. You may recognise her name from her monthly guest posts on The Hills, when she so beautifully explores themes from nature and our lives alongside. She draws on her own experiences and training in bereavement, domestic abuse, mindfulness, meditation, Transactional Analysis and other therapeutic approaches in her writing, and has previously shared her inspirational musings and stories of multitaskingcommunity and priorities.

I wanted to know more about her current work which has been dominated by her new book - Into the Woods; When Love Isn’t Always a Fairytale. Julie is such a valued writer here at The Hills, so I am pleased to be able to share this fabulous endeavour of hers with you, and encourage you all to follow the links at the end of the post to find out more.

The Hills Meets - Julie Leoni

To dive straight in Julie - you are soon to be launching your second book, on a completely different topic, and in a totally different style to your first!

Could you tell us what has brought you to writing a second book now and why this subject matter?

I have been involved in the Freedom Programme (a domestic violence programme), which clearly lays out what makes a ‘Nice Guy’ and what makes a ‘Dominator’. It was such an eye-opener for me and made sense of the experiences I was hearing about - it made me even more passionate about achieving a deeper understanding of domestic abuse. I was curious to learn how women get into these relationships, what stops them leaving sooner and what they learn from this dreadful experience.

My background as a qualitative researcher has given me the skills to gather information so I interviewed women about their abuse. In order for the experience to be truly ethical and empowering for them, I returned the transcripts of the interviews to each woman, the actual recording as well as every draft of the book.

into the woods by Julie Leoni - interview Loving the hills

The first draft of the book was similar in style to my first book, Love Being Me. However, it didn't light me up at all so I put it to one side for a while. Then, through friends of friends, I met Kate Taylor from Middlefarm Press, Shrewsbury. Kate wanted to work with me as my Managing Editor and even offered her service for free. I was delighted to have her support. She believed wholeheartedly in the book. Her years of professional experience, and the fact that she was so interested and engaged made all the difference and I was newly inspired to pick it back up.

From the outset, Kate asked me many questions about what I wanted the book to achieve; who I wanted to read it, why I had chosen this narrative style, and so on. From here we started to play with the idea of fairy tales. I’ve always been a day-dreamer and I love fairy stories, my excitement for the project was totally reignited. I started to write again, and just loved every moment of re-imagining the traditional fairy stories using the interviews as a starting point. The whole process worked with ease and my imagination went wild!. Importantly the fairy tale form allows the interviewees to remain completely anonymous, and fairy tales universalise stories.

It was Kate too who suggested finding an illustrator for the book to complement the written style. I am extremely lucky to be working with Anita Wyatt, who has had her work commissioned by the National Trust. Anita has kindly donated all of her illustrations for the book, just because she liked the stories and wanted to join us in making a difference.

I don’t underestimate the importance of Kate and Anita’s skills and support. In some ways, I feel their generosity has been its own parallel story where women help other women to find their own power.

You have much experience in supporting sufferers of domestic abuse, how common is this problem?

I come across it more often than you might think in my work. When I talk to people about the book, it is shocking how many have either experienced domestic abuse personally, grown up with it, or have friends or family living with it. Refuge says that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.

Domestic abuse is meant to be part of Sex and Relationships Education in schools, but how it is covered is not prescribed so it falls to the school and the individual teacher to decide. Too many people are either uninformed about abuse or just not comfortable talking about it - I definitely don’t think it is covered as powerfully as it should be in schools.

Do you think that the #MeToo movement is helping to open up this secretive world?

I think the #MeToo movement has started some conversations, but because it has been played out in the slightly unreal world of celebrity, I’m not sure what long term impact it will have. I heard one interview recently where men were questioned, a year on, about the impact of #MeToo on them which misses the point as #Metoo was about giving women a voice which is what I hope my book does. It is great to include men in the discussions and cases of domestic abuse will reduce much faster if both men and women work together against it. People have asked me if men can come to the book launch, this couldn’t be better! Men can educate other men and challenge their behaviours.

What do you want your book to achieve?

I would like the book to start conversations, not just about domestic abuse, but about how women give up our power, how we can re-empower ourselves and support each other. I want parents to talk to their children about it (the book is written for adults so not appropriate for young children to read for themselves). I want those who stand in judgement and say: ‘she could have just left’ to start to understand why ‘just leaving’ is so tough and why it takes most women many, many attempts before they eventually take this difficult step. Every week 2 women are killed by their partner and leaving often happens a time when the violence escalates

What are the women on which the stories are based doing now? What has been their opinion of the book?

They have all approved their stories and the illustrations and a couple of them are quoted at the start of the book commenting on it. To find out what happened to each of them, you’ll have to read the book!

Anything else you want to put forward Julie to make your case for buying the book?

Fairy tales are not everyone’s cup of tea and domestic abuse is not the easiest of subjects to open ourselves up to, but 1 in 4 women living in fear is wrong. There is so much shame, secrecy and misunderstanding about domestic violence, I believe the book goes some way to challenging and changing this. I would like people to buy the book to raise money for DV charities, but more than that, I want people to buy the book, to show they care, to learn about DV so that they can help those who are suffering, to educate themselves and those they care about to avoid it and to challenge unhelpful thinking surrounding the topic.

In short, I want this book to make a difference. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a world where DV is as unthinkable as corporal punishment is to us today. People were caned or slippered when I was at school, how unimaginable is that now? Change can happen swiftly and ubiquitously if we all stand together and say “We do not accept DV, there is no excuse for it, there is never a justification or a reason for it, ever”.

All profits from the print copies of the book will go to Domestic Abuse charities to support families who need it. Please buy a copy for all of the reasons I have mentioned, and please encourage others to do the same and spread the word.

More about Julie: Julie Leoni is an academic, teacher, writer, coach, yoga teacher and mum, and she wonderfully juggles all of these so that her work fits around her family life. She moved from Kent to the hills nearly 20 years ago and can still remember the first two years when she thought she would never feel warm again. Now, however, when she goes back down south to visit friends, she heaves a sigh of relief as she sees the Shropshire hills on her return after the chaos of the M25.

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.