Cae Gwyn was in terrible shape when Yuki and Steve bought it; they were essentially signing on the dotted line to try and wrestle a monster into submission. Cae Gwyn was a working sheep farm, but most of the buildings were dilapidated, if not ruined, and many of the hundreds of sheep were in terrible shape and suffering from a worm infestation. However, thanks to Yuki and Steve’s dedication, dogged hard work and probably occasional delirium (?!), the 300 sheep were treated and restored to health, and the buildings were rescued, one at a time, and returned to use.
The old barn became the “main” B+B, and bit by bit the other structures were given a purpose again! First the “camping barn” – a long stone building, simply decorated inside and containing about 12 camp-beds – followed by a shower/washing block, a secure storage space for bikes and so on. The site (also a campsite) is in a spectacular location next to the Rhinog mountains, just a mile or two up the hill from Coed-y-Brenin forest park, which was the main reason for our visits at the time! Coed boasts some of the best purpose-built mountain bike trails in the UK (but boy, do you feel that hill on the way back up to Cae Gwyn after the ride!).
Anyway. I digress. Yuki and Steve created something truly special at Cae Gwyn – in this idyllic spot they set up their organically-run B+B, which featured in the Guardian’s top 5 campsites in the UK in around 2007! I know I visited over a dozen times, and over those five years or so a real rapport grew between us. Each time we returned, they’d built or finished something new, and each time it was a perfect fit with the whole, and with the couple’s organic ethos. However, eventually they decided that it was the right time to move to Japan, before their young children started school, so now, if you visit, you’ll find the lovely Sue and Dave at the helm, still doing a terrific job. Here’s the website, if anyone fancies reading about Cae Gwyn’s superb eco-credentials and/or thinks they might like to discover a gorgeous new place within our British shores! http://www.caegwynfarm.co.uk/
Yuki and Steve (and their three boys – the second is called Cae Gwyn!) live in Yamanashi prefecture, in a town called Yamanakako. When snow arrives in January, it pretty much stays until April! It was wonderful to meet up again, see their two older boys so much more grown up, and meet little number three – a real live wire with an irresistible cheeky smile! I was very much looking forward to spending a few days with them all. Oh, and when they said they lived “near Mount Fuji”, I didn’t realise they meant it’s just on the other side of the town’s lake, and visible from their front room!
Steve recommended something called “dango”: three or four little warm rice balls on a wooden skewer (that lolly effect again!), covered with a sweet coating of miso paste and sugar. We also bought rice biscuits called “osembe” – one sweet, covered with sesame seeds, the other covered with ground chillies and almost inedible as a biscuit! Poor Lewy (eleven) nearly cried when he tried a bit :( However, a piece of it was a lovely warming addition to a savoury soup, where the biscuit sort of melted and the chillies added a welcome, manageable, heat!
Next Steve spotted a stall selling “hoshi”, which at first glance appear to be glacé cherries, but in fact they’re tomatoes! Dried (and presumably glazed); the outside is sweet with a tiny bit of crunch, and they do disappear like sweets if you’re not careful :) And finally, on the way home I indulged in a tofu ice cream – half dairy, half tofu, all delicious! And thanks to our purchase at this shop we were at liberty to take home (for free!) a bag of “okala”, which is the main by-product of the tofu-making process, a crumbly fibre that’s a great alternative to flour. Yuki used it in her bread-baking that night, in fact.