Christmas at Pensychnant

For the peaceful appreciation of nature.

Despite driving, walking, and riding past this place for many, many years I’ve only recently visited Pensychnant House and I’m ashamed to confess that the lure of home-baked cakes was one of the primary drivers.

24255021_1556180557799582_1168942086629676364_oThis isn’t a National Trust or Cadw property attracting an entrance fee (although contributions are always encouraged), nor does it house a lot of cordoned-off untouchable valuables. What it does offer is a real, modern experience of a Victorian house. This is partly down to the fact that the house is still very much lived in. The log fires are burned for a great many reasons. Today, Pensychnant works primarily as a conservation centre; holding exhibitions by local wildlife artists, organising guided walks, and of course, the annual Christmas fair when the Welsh dresser is laden with vast quantities of home-baked cakes. The Billiards Room is also available to hire for meetings. Although traces still remain, the original spectator area has since been removed. The idea of ladies watching the men play billiards was pretty much unheard of in those times, proving that the original resident, Stott, was pretty forward thinking!

The Turbulent History of Pensychnant. Today’s resident warden, Julian Thompson, has much to share about the history of the estate. The original house is a simple farmhouse dating from about 1690. Because of the existence of a second storey – probably originally accessed by an exterior stone staircase – it suggests that this would have been the property of a family of some means. Interesting that the draught generated between the front and back doors was utilised to winnow corn, and later, Stott affectionately christened the boot room in this part of the house as the Wellington Room. But it’s the Victorian extension built in the Arts and Crafts style (started in 1877 by Stott) which makes Pensychnant so unique.

Stott & Sons built about a fifth of the cotton mills around Lancashire. Surprisingly, the house had a central heating system from new, and in 1923 it received an electricity supply. Built initially as a holiday home for the Stott family, Abraham’s wife was less impressed with the house, particularly its rural location. Fearing he’d never encourage his family to move there, Stott fell into something of a depression about his investment. He reputedly left candles alight in vats of paraffin in the farmhouse, and took his absence. His desperate plan failed, since residents of nearby Crows Nest Hall spotted lights in the windows and went to investigate. Amazingly, Stott managed to escape being charged with arson despite harbouring not one, but three insurance policies about his person! In 1882 the wealth and standing of this hugely influential family clearly held the greater power.    

When the mill industry collapsed, Pensychnant was sold to the Collins family before it passed to Doctor Tattersall of Conwy. Then, like the stuff of fiction, something wonderful happened when the great grandson of Stott bought back the entire family estate in 1967. Although the estate continued to function as a working farm, Brian Henthorn Stott regarded it as a nature reserve too and as well as planting hundreds of trees; primarily Welsh oak, birch, rowan and holly. He installed a great many nesting boxes and the variety of birds remains prolific, especially the cuckoo. In Victorian times there was a brisk tourist trade in nearby Penmaenmawr based on collectors travelling from all over Britain to see the Pensychnant moths. There are still two species in residence today, so rare they occur nowhere else in the world…

Pensychnant Today. Sitting in 148 acres of conservation land, Pensychnant house is heavily concealed from the access lane on Sychnant Pass (the mountain road which runs from Conwy across to Penmaenmawr, where it eventually joins the A55 expressway) but if you’re interested in local countryside conservation or historical properties, or if you’re simply looking to escape the modern world for a couple of hours, Pensychnant is well worth a visit. For me, the elegant shabbiness of the house adds a richness not quite quantifiable in words. I guess it has atmosphere. And yes, of course there’s a ghost… the maid, who was murdered by the gardener in the chauffeur’s room.

Brian Stott established the Pensychnant Foundation before he died in 1997.   

The Pensychnant Foundation

The Pensychnant Foundation (a registered charity) was established in 1989 by Brian Henthorn Stott to: manage the Pensychnant House and Estate as a conservation centre and nature reserve; for the benefit of its wildlife; and to foster the public’s appreciation and understanding of nature and nature conservation. The house hosts an on-going exhibition of wildlife art by some of Britain’s most talented artists. Proceeds from the sale of drawings or paintings support the charity’s conservation work.

More information about Pensychnant and its programme of events can be found here: http://pensychnant.co.uk/home.html

Words and photography by Jan Ruth

Away For Christmas?

Away for Christmas Cover MEDIUM WEB Jonathan Jones has written a novel. Losing his job a few days before Christmas means the pressure is on for his book to become a bestseller, but when his partner drops her own bombshell, the festive holiday looks set to be a disaster. When he’s bequeathed a failing bookshop in their seaside town, it seems that some of his prayers have been answered, but his publishing company turn out to be not what they seem, and when his ex-wife suddenly declares her romantic intent, another Christmas looks set to be complicated. Is everything lost, or can the true meaning of words, a dog called Frodo, and the sheer magic of Christmas be enough to save Jonathan’s book, and his skin?

Away for Christmas is about the joy and pain of publishing books, the joy and pain of fractured relationships, and of course, the joy and pain of Christmas itself. The festive period is not always fun for everyone, but most of all, this is a story about staying true to oneself and looking for the real Christmas spirit beyond the baubles and the glitter. 

The story is set over three Christmastimes, and because I feel sure you’ll be looking for a few hours of warm and cosy escapism at this time of the year, I can assure you that there’s a happy ending by the time Jonathan makes it to 2017. 

Regular readers will know that my characters tend not to be in the first flush of youth, and that the joy and pain of relationships are often par for the course. Christmas is very much a family time and can unearth a multitude of unwelcome emotions and in the case of my character, present plenty of troublesome hurdles before the festivities can be enjoyed. His ex-wife doesn’t always make life easy, but Jonathan is determined to be a better dad, against all the odds. 

Facebook Xmas promoAnd finally, the joy and pain of publishing books! There are some great publishers out there, ones who achieve results, look after their authors and understand the industry from the ground up. This story isn’t based on them.

A story for readers and writers. It’s no secret that I’ve been round the houses and back again with regard to writing and publishing. Thirty years ago I used to believe that a good book would always be snapped up by a publisher regardless of genre, style, and content. In the real, commercial world, this just isn’t true. I see on a regular basis, writers excited by offers from vanity publishers, or those who operate under the guise of assisted publishing, not realising the implications until it’s perhaps too late. Even contracts from those real publishers with seemingly no pitfalls or upfront costs, can dissolve into a horribly disappointing experience. Of course, my poor character thinks he’s landed lucky when a small publisher offers him a three-book deal. What could go wrong? If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book or maybe you’ve just typed THE END to your manuscript, you might think twice about your next step…

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Bookmuse Magazine: “If you’re a writer you will laugh, despair and sympathise with Jonathan Jones, and the trials and tribulations he faces as he battles to become a published author. And if you’re a reader, you’ll be captivated by the excellent story-telling that weaves Jonathan’s complicated life into a page turning drama. A real feel good novella, perfect to curl up with on a stormy winter’s afternoon…” You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jojo Moyes, Jill Mansell, Erica James. Ideal accompaniments: Hot chocolate with marshmallows and a plate of shortbread.

Away For Christmas: myBook.to/Away4Xmas

In The Chair 65: Ruby Barnes

Merry Christmas, Ruby Barnes!

SantaToymakerChairHow would you describe your Christmas in only three words? 

Ruby: Bloated, lazy, flatulent
 …

If you could have a relationship with a literary festive character who would it be and why?

RubyI would have to go for Mrs Claus because I know the window of opportunity when Mr Claus is going to be away from home. And I know she gets neglected in the run up to Christmas as Santa is too busy minding his elves and petting his reindeer.

If you had to exist for a week in a Christmas story … which one would it be?

Ruby: A Christmas Carol. I’ve always been a bit of a Scrooge and I like having the bejayzus scared out of me.

hannibal_lecter_by_crisvector-d6rnj2aDead or alive literary Christmas lunch: who would you invite, and what would you serve?

Ruby:  I’d invite Hannibal Lecter and serve up a few “friends” who have done me disservice, plus a nice Chianti. Skip the fava beans as I’ve always found them a bit sour. If Hannibal the Cannibal is busy then I would go for a more orthodox Yuletide invite list with Thomas Hardy, Agatha Christie, John Irving, John Fowles, Ian Banks and Emily Bronte. I’d still serve up a few “friends” but would cunningly disguise the meat as local Irish cuisine.

If you had to write a Christmas themed story in your current genre, what would the title be? 

Ruby: 2015 has been the year of the zombie for Ruby Barnes so it would be something biblical but undead – Return of The Baptist.

What do you dislike the most about Christmas?

WP_20140622_003Ruby: Being trapped in a cold and draughty house for days on end with the Outlaws.

Favourite Festive Word?  

Ruby: Crumble. Christmas is one of the few times of the year that there’s always apple or rhubarb crumble available with custard. I like it cold so the whole thing gets kind of stodgy. I also like the word crumble as it sounds a bit like Christmas, but mainly because the “cr” sound makes Mrs R cringe like a crazy cry-baby. Actually now I’m really looking forward to Christmas.

Ruby Barnes was in the Christmas chair: Ruby’s work can be found at http://Author.to/RubyBarnes and he has a little something for ya at http://www.rubybarnesbooks.com/

In The Chair 64: Caroline Dunford

Merry Christmas, Caroline Dunford!

SantaToymakerChair

How would you describe your Christmas in only three words?  

Caroline: Champagne, Children, Challenging…

If you could have a relationship with a literary festive character who would it be and why?

Caroline: I’m sure there was a bit about Mr Darcy at Christmas, wasn’t there? (Actually I’ve always thought that once wedded Mr Darcy would be difficult and grouchy to live with.) I can’t say I have a thing for men with white beards nor am I particularly interested in sitting down and discussing accounts with the charitably challenged. Did Conan Doyle ever do a Sherlock Holmes Christmas story – or can someone write one, please? I’ve loved Sherlock since I was a little girl.

colnut2-blog480If you had to exist for a week in a Christmas story … which one would it be? Caroline: Oh dear, I think I am showing my sad lack of knowledge of Christmas stories from the modern era. I can think of lots set in the past, but honestly if you like your creature comforts like staying warm and having enough to eat an awful lot of those Christmas stories are not where you want to spend time. I think I’ll cheat and go for a ballet – The Nutcracker. I’ve love to see everything coming to life on Christmas Eve.

Dead or alive literary Christmas lunch: who would you invite, and what would you serve? 

Doctor-Who-Christmas-Special-2014Caroline: Steven Moffat (so I could get him so drunk he’d write me a promise I could write for Dr Who), Jane Austen (for wit and incisiveness), Conan Doyle (I bet he’d tell the best Christmas Eve ghost stories), Robertson Davies (the late, incredible Canadian novelist), Dorothy L Sayers (because Lord Peter Whimsy is wonderful). I’d also let my husband and children come too – because Christmas is about family.

I’m vegetarian so I’d be having some kind of dead plant loaf, but I never try to enforce my diet on anyone else, so there would also be turkey (free range), loads of veggies, particularly fine roast potatoes, my signature onion and red wine gravy, followed by profiteroles filled with cream and lavishly coated in chocolate sauce, followed by after dinner mints and a cheese board. There would be Champagne at the start, a good full bodied red for the main and cognac and fresh, black bitter coffee for afters.

image1If you had to write a Christmas themed story in your current genre, what would the title be?

Caroline: I’ve done two. They are both short stories, The Mistletoe Mystery and What the Dickens? I much prefer the second. If I were to write another I think I’d call it – ‘It will all be over by Christmas’. But then my series, The Euphemia Martins Mysteries,is shortly going to crash headfirst into WW1.

What do you dislike the most about Christmas?

Caroline: I love the build up to Christmas. Christmas Eve is my favourite time. I hate the moment Christmas is over – whether that feels like the moment I swallow my last mouthful of Christmas pudding or the end of the holidays with the kids going back to school. For me Christmas is all about the preparation, people embodying the season of goodwill (why not do this all the time?), the buying of gifts and of course the Christmas parties. I love sharing food and presents with the people I love on Christmas, but eventually it’s over and at that point the next Christmas is soooo far away and I hate that!

Favourite festive word? Caroline: Pudding!

Caroline Dunford was in the Christmas chair: Author of The Euphemia Martins Mystery Series.

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Published by Accent Press

Web: http://ow.ly/VCsoO

In The Chair 63: D.J. Bennett

Merry Christmas, D J Bennett!

SantaToymakerChair

How would you describe your Christmas in only three words?

Debbie: Indulgent, family and television. I’d like to say relaxing – but really it isn’t! Wine helps…

If you could have a relationship with a literary festive character who would it be and why?

Debbie: What kind of relationship? And I don’t know any literary festive characters apart from the obvious ones like Scrooge – and who on earth would want to have a relationship with him? Altruism would definitely take a back-seat here – unless of course the BBC decide to do a re-make and cast Aidan Turner as the lead, in which case I’ll be first in the queue! What about one of the ten-lord’s-a’leaping? One of them must be sexy and rich, surely?

If you had to exist for a week in a Christmas story … which one would it be?

Debbie: Oh I think it would have to be The Christmas Story. I’m not particularly religious, but imagine being there – in Bethlehem. Being able to listen in and witness the story first-hand. Imagine having the comfort of that level of belief in something spiritual, something bigger than the world we live in? Right now, that’s a strangely comforting idea at the end of 2015.

tumblr_m8za06Cg9e1qf53zzo1_500Dead or alive literary Christmas lunch: who would you invite, and what would you serve?  

Debbie: The Grinch, of course! And I’d serve green eggs and ham and hand out thneeds as presents. Maybe I’d invite the Cat too, as he has a certain outlook on life … We’d debate Truffula Trees and the existence of Whoville, and at the end of the evening Thing One and Thing Two could do all the tidying up.

If you had to write a Christmas themed story in your current genre, what would the title be?

Debbie: Five Gold Rings. It’d be a Christmas serial killer, and each murder would relate to and happen on the twelve days of Christmas. Urban mayhem – cold and dark, icy canals and  everybody’s too busy celebrating to have time to figure out what’s going on. Hmm. I can work with this…

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What do you dislike the most about Christmas?

Debbie: Disruption and mess. I’m very much a creature of habit, order and routine. Typical Capricorn, really!

Favourite festive word? Debbie: After resisting the obvious it’d have to be TINSEL, because it’s just pretty and sparkly!

D. J Bennett was in the Christmas chair: author of the Hamelin’s Child series 

Web: http://ow.ly/UV6Ml

In The Chair 62: Christina Jones

Merry Christmas, Christina Jones!

SantaToymakerChair

How would you describe your Christmas in only three words?

Christina: Cosy, sparkly, snug

If you could have a relationship with a literary festive character who would it be and why?

Christina: Bob Crachit from A Christmas Carol (I’m a bit obsessive about Dickens…). But Bob Crachit, while possibly not my physical ideal – I tend to think he’s a bit of weed and looks nothing like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, but this is fantasy and a girl can dream! So, bless him… Such a cheerful, positive, hard-working chap despite the drudgery of his poorly-paid job, and the sadness at home (Tiny Tim – not a well child, and to be honest, possibly a bit of a goody-two-shoes – and no doubt getting *all* the attention). Sorry, Mrs C – but I’d like to spend a little festive time with your husband and show him the joyous side of Christmas – long before old Ebeneezer sees the light and sends you the turkey and gives you the pay rise etc. Bob and I could walk the snowy Victorian streets, hand-in-hand, peeking through the lighted windows of the houses we passed, watching the children decking the halls and dressing the new-fangled Christmas trees… And in the lamp-light, as the snowflakes fell, we’d listen to the angelic voices carried on the icy air as the choirs sing Christmas carols in the street for the very first time. And then, in the darkness we’d share a kiss under the mistletoe – and I hope he’d go home to his tumultuous family a happier man.

snowglobe-peppaIf you had to exist for a week in a Christmas story … which one would it be?

Christina: Peppa Pig’s Christmas. I adore Peppa and her lovely, cosy, happy family life. And I’ve read and re-read this story to my granddaughter, and it’s just perfect. Everything about The Pig’s run-up to Christmas is just perfect. Old-fashioned, amusing, chaotic, a little crazy – just like home! I’d be so happy there!

Dead or alive literary Christmas lunch: who would you invite, and what would you serve?  

Christina: Peppa Pig and Charles Dickens and the whole cast of A Christmas Carol for the above reasons. James Stewart so he can give us all the inside info and gossip on the making of It’s A Wonderful Life. And J Jefferson Farjeon who wrote some gorgeous-to-curl-up-with Christmas mysteries back in the 1930s. I’m a rubbish cook but a good hostess, so I’d get them nicely warmed-up and relaxed with whisky-macs and my special snowballs, then serve the full traditional roast dinner – turkey with all the trimmings, and a big Christmas pud made by my mum who was an ace cook – oh, and as I’m a veggie, there’d be a nut roast as well…

redfaceIf you had to write a Christmas themed story in your current genre, what would the title be?

Christina: Christmas Stockings!

What do you dislike the most about Christmas? Christina: Commercialism. And the fact that it all starts so early. I don’t even think about Christmas until Advent. And the fact that the TV advertisers seem to think a sofa or a flat-screen telly is going to make Christmas soooo much better.

Favourite festive word? Christina: Mistletoe!

Christina Jones was in the Christmas chair: author of several award winning novels. Published by Accent Press.

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Web: http://ow.ly/UycOE