Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Wales Online
Wales Online
Joanne Ridout

Remote off-grid mountain farmhouse where time has stood still

Sometimes a property becomes so interwoven into a family's history that it feels like it becomes an important member of the clan - a constant and welcome bricks and mortar addition to the human gang that features in lifelong memories and unforgettable moments.

In a remote location near Dolgellau a former farmhouse stood silently alone on a hillside, slowly dying of dereliction since it was abandoned in 1948, with the surrounding sheep the only regular visitors to the building, looking for shelter from the weather.

But in 1988 the rundown property nestled into the majestic and sweeping scenery of Snowdonia National Park was found by a local family, and the journey to bring the house back from the brink and revive it into full and glorious life again began - and it has been adored and looked after ever since.

READ MORE: Empty hillside house on stilts with incredible views and a bargain price

Welcome to total seclusion and tranquillity in Snowdonia (Under The Thatch)
The stunning landscape envelopes in the former farmhouse is immense natural beauty (Under The Thatch)

Kathleen and Lewis Holland are the current owners of this much-loved property called Hafod Mawddach, but the farmhouse only came to be at the core of her husband's family by chance. Kathleen says: "Lewis's father and older brother had been evacuated to Brithdir during the Second World War and the call back to the wild valleys in Snowdonia was strong from that time, so both brothers returned to the area.

"One brother permanently moved here and the other, Lewis's father, bought a little cottage, our nearest neighbour, where he took his family every holiday, enjoying pretty much the same simple pleasures we enjoy now! It's where my mother-in-law now lives." The family came across the house whilst on a country walk when it was being used as a sheep shelter and was knee-high in mud and sheep muck.

Kathleen says: "The saving grace was that the roof was still on and the original features such as oak beams and flagstone floors were all intact. My husband's brother was Johnny of Hackett Holland Architects, who 35 years ago was a budding architect specialising in historic houses - he slowly and painstakingly rescued and restored the house from dereliction over a period of 10 years."

Over the decade of hard work at the site Johnny restored and renovated the original features using traditional methods and natural and appropriate materials where possible. He installed plumbing to utilise the water that comes directly from a spring and converted the hayloft into a bedroom and bathroom.

The farmhouse was empty for 40 years (Under The Thatch)
A collection of buildings at the site (Under The Thatch)

Johnny's hard work ensured that the period property and its surviving original features would be preserved well into the future, while being enjoyed in the present by the family, friends and guests. And if you want to see how a derelict Pembrokeshire cottage was saved by comedian Griff Rhys Jones, find out more here.

When the chance for Kathleen and Lewis to buy the property came up, they were determined to keep it in the family and retain this special spot hidden in the hills for the next generation because it had totally captured their hearts.

Kathleen says: "Perhaps it was the surprising similarities between north Wales and my place of birth Peru, where huge monolithic slabs of grey stone, which have also been dragged up a mountain, and set into very lush, tropical forests which made me feel so comfortable and at home.

"As an interior designer and knitwear designer running my business Alpaca Pie, I've always been drawn to colour and texture and north Wales certainly offers that in abundance so for me, it's a place of endless beauty and inspiration."

The initial renovation and restoration took 10 years (Under The Thatch)
The view from the front door easily entices you out to explore (Under The Thatch)

For Lewis, Hafod Mawddach enthralled him with its offering of the extreme contrast to a hectic life; the walks and mountain biking combined with the simple pleasures of off-grid living. From chopping wood from their own woodland and using the water from their own spring - the land provides the couple with practical support as well as a mesmerising location.

Kathleen says: "Lewis's family have deep connections with the area and the house has been in his family for nearly 40 years, so luckily it was a meeting of minds when it became available and we both agreed to take on this project and become custodians of this very special place … it's a place of unworldly serenity."

The fact that the house and land are so unspoiled by present day intrusions, with no light pollution, masts or power lines in sight, is a significant attraction for the many people who have been lucky enough to stay at the house.

The valley and the house look the same as they did decades ago - it's like stepping back in time to a simpler time, and one of the reasons why it has been used in films through the years.

Kathleen is smitten by the location, and all the memories that the area has created for her and her family. She says: "There is a kind of folkish magic to the house and the surrounding area. You could easily imagine woodland fairies and goblins existing here and be sucked into another world where your imagination can run riot!"

The inglenook in the lounge is a beautiful beast (Under The Thatch)
Restored flagstone floors and beams (Under The Thatch)

The house offers a chance for the family to truly relax in a tranquil setting, an idyllic island where life is about spending time together, or enjoying the seclusion and reconnecting with nature.

Surrounded by ancient woodland and the rolling hills and mountains of Snowdonia, shared with far more sheep than humans, the farmhouse is embedded into the landscape and a secluded spot from which to explore the astounding, unspoilt area.

Kathleen says: "I feel the house found us, as it was fortuitous timing that made it become available when we were in a position to take it on. The house has always felt like a ‘being’, with a big personality of its own."

Cosy snug enjoys the additional of a log burner (Under The Thatch)
The decor is welcoming and warm, comfortable and influenced by the age of the farmhouse based (Under The Thatch)

An aspect of that big personality is that the house that makes it a more unique offering is that the house is completely off-grid, and this is a massive plus point for the family.

There were numerous reasons why the couple wanted to own the home, from the family history and connection to the site to the opportunity to make it their place for perfect family memories by transforming the inside, but one aspect stands out for Kathleen and that is the remote and private location.

She says: "The top of my list for buying the house was the absence of technology and the lack of distractions from the loved ones you are spending time with - the house gives you space in your life to breathe, to slow down and reconnect. Once guests stay they understand the true nature of off-grid living and regard it a luxury rather than a limitation."

The heart of the home for the current owners (Under The Thatch)
Many memories shared in this room, from family meals to playing cards (Under The Thatch)

When the family and their friends are not using the house the couple offer it to guests via the website Under The Thatch because they are keen that the property be continually filled with laughter and happiness.

Kathleen says: "We felt bringing the house back into its community, rescuing from dereliction was, and still is, fundamentally important. The house needs and likes to be used and aired and lived in, and it now provides work for local people, and gives guests from outside the area the opportunity to experience the pleasures and treasures of north Wales.

"Its not a typical travel experience and I appreciate it is not for everyone but outdoorsy, nature-loving folk from, young and old, have loved the special time they have had here."

The rustic charm runs throughout the home (Under The Thatch)
Each area of each room has been carefully thought out with appropriately vintage furniture sourced locally (Under The Thatch)

The property has new solar panels that provide electricity for a fridge-freezer and plenty of low level lights and even to power the vacuum cleaner, but with a tapestry of one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes calling you constantly outdoors, hopefully housework is last on the list of activities.

As the property is only found along a grassy, winding, private single-lane track, it feels isolated and remote but the award-winning beaches around Barmouth on the Cardigan Bay coastline are only about a 15 minute drive away if a day at the coast offers a change from discovering the surrounding countryside.

At the house, there's enough power to charge a phone, but no Wi-Fi or television to distract you from being immersed in a digital detox dream, where the distractions are provided by the natural world and your companions, and not a variety of screens.

The principal bedroom is a total stunner (Under The Thatch)
The bed frame was made by a local blacksmith (Under The Thatch)

Inside, the property can boast a huge inglenook fireplace that adds warmth as well as cottage character and a sociable place to gather, plus an oil-fired Aga. Kathleen says: "The house is kept gloriously cosy with the wood burner and huge inglenook fireplace, so we don't really miss mains electrics."

Maybe it's because Kathleen is an interior designer that the farmhouse made an instant connection with her, and her skills have certainly been used to visual effect when decorating and furnishing the home.

And just as Johnny treated the renovation with care to create a house based on the past but comfortable for the present, Kathleen has taken his attention to detail when working on the interior design and furnishing of the home, using local craftspeople and suppliers wherever possible.

Each bedroom offers soft, restful interiors in classic cottage style (Under The Thatch)
The renovated farmhouse sleeps up to six people (Under The Thatch)

Kathleen says: "I do interior design as a job so being able to decorate our home was a total treat. The house was a challenge to decorate as nothing really works if it's shiny and new or off-the-shelf. Everything is a little bit battered or rough around the edges, in a charming way I hope!

"Curtains are custom printed heavy linen and poles and the four-poster bed is hammer beaten and pitted, made by a local blacksmith. Many items are made by friends such as Molly Mahon lampshades, Covelli Tennant cushions, rugs from Joshua Lumley, and the fabrics are mainly by the wonderful Aleta on Line. Delivery vans struggled up the track but it all came together in the end!

"The Welsh dresser with charming remains of wallpaper lining it and the Lloyd Loom chairs are from a local antique shop called Walter Lloyd Jones in Barmouth.

"The large grain chest and other items are from Lewis's parents' house, auction houses or markets like Kempton and Ardingleigh. I have also added touches of South American colour here and there just because I love pops of colour."

The statement bath is the focal point painted a moody dark navy and located on a platform to elevate its status in the main bathroom (Under The Thatch)
The second bathroom continues the commitment to traditional and timeless country farmhouse design (Under The Thatch)

It can be hard to choose a favourite room or space in a home that you've poured your heart and soul into for years, but for Kathleen it is probably the kitchen.

She says: "The kitchen is the heart of the house, with the Aga always cooking up treats and warmth. We love entertaining, my daughter loves baking, and friends love the novelty of cooking and chatting there, so it is well used. Evenings are spent chatting with friends and playing cards or poker into the late hours."

But it's also the original features as well as the smaller details that continually enchant Kathleen at the house. She says: "All the sash windows seem to frame a perfect picture of rolling hills and dramatic mountains dotted with sheep and a kaleidoscope of greens, and majestic ancient oaks. The oak beams and large slate flagstones on the ground floors are obviously beautiful too."

It is a commitment to be the owners of a remote, historic Welsh property with constant maintenance required, and sometimes the site can throw up a challenge, but the couple have become experienced in dealing with any issues.

Kathleen says: "Trades people used to come up once, and 'oh' and 'ah' and say what an interesting lovely house, but then decide it's not an easy job and disappear into thin air! Luckily after years of looking we now have a great team of local people who love the house and give it all the TLC needed."

But no amount of problems to sort out over the years can ever come close to outweighing what the farmhouse and its location has provided the family, an abundance of special memories that are supplemented every year and remind Kathleen of how truly lucky the family are to own Hafod Mawddach.

Pops of colour are informed by the ever changing seasons outside (Under The Thatch)
There's still a barn to renovate (Under The Thatch)

She says: "In the past bath time in the summer for the children was usually a dip in river rock pools and waterfalls near the house, before walking up to the house for a BBQ under the stars. We'd pick bilberries amongst the heather for breakfast pancakes, and have spent some cold, snowy winter wonderland Christmasses here.

"Now our children are teenagers, the limited use of electricity means laptops and mobile phones are used far less and arguments over the use of PS4s just don't exist. They have to find other ways to entertain themselves - in the woods or on the beach or mountain biking, fishing or helping gather logs.

"Once you accept off-grid living is at a much slower pace, even the Aga kettle takes far longer than an ordinary electric kettle, you settle into a different rhythm of life and discover the magic that modernity suppresses.

"Oh, and as for the washing… it's quite easy throwing all the washing into a couple of laundrette machines in one go while having a coffee and a sneaky email catch up at T.H. Roberts in Dolgellau!"

Dolgellau is only about 15 minutes away for amenities and facilities (Under The Thatch)

Owning a 200-year-old property takes commitment but the love the couple, and the whole family through the generations, have put into Hafod Mawddach has been paid back with floods of fabulous experiences.

Kathleen says: "It is a huge privilege being a custodian of this house, it shares the best and most magical times with us.

"It's an ongoing project - we would love to renovate the barn but that’s a huge job! Maybe the next generation can take that one on, keep the family tradition going of caring this gem of a Welsh building that was almost lost."

The Cardigan Bay coast is close too, but you will always look forward to coming back to this idyllic island of peace where Hafod Mawddach will welcome you home (Under The Thatch)

When not being used by family and friends, Hafod Mawddach is available to rent via Under The Thatch booking agent.

And don't miss the best dream homes in Wales as well as auction properties, renovation stories, and interiors – join the Amazing Welsh Homes newsletter which is sent to your inbox twice a week. Also join the Amazing Welsh Homes Facebook group for all the best property content posted by us and by you.


Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.