Brighton author describes five years of solitude

Posted On 16 Apr 2011 at 11:55 pm

A Brighton father of two has published his first book describing five years living in almost complete isolation in a cottage in Wales.

Neil Ansell spoke about his book, Deep Country – Five Years in the Welsh Hills, on Excess Baggage on BBC Radio 4 today.

Mr Ansell said: “I spent most of my twenties travelling the world.”

He said that when he returned he was penniless and living in a squat in London.

At that time he received an “incredible offer” – the tenancy of a remote and rundown cottage in Mid Wales for £100 a year.

He said that he saw it as “a chance to learn how to stay still for a while and a chance to learn how to live alone with myself”.

There was no running water, no gas, no electricity, no time-saving devices, no labour-saving devices. And Mr Ansell was no handyman.

He said: “I’m a botcher, I’m afraid.

Coped

“I got my water from a well down the hill or from rainwater butts. I cooked over a log fire. I had no vehicle and no phone.

He coped well with the solitude: “I forgot myself. My attention was directed outwards at the practicalities of day to day living.

“I grew a lot of my own vegetables but I had to go to the village shop to get supplies.”

He said that when he reached the shop his voice would crack when he spoke because he hadn’t talked for so long.

He said that he “fell in love” with the wildlife – the countryside, the birds and the animals. And he learnt a great deal from a kind tenant hill farmer.

Mr Ansell described the cottage as perched high up a hill on “the edge of the green desert” of Mid Wales.

Views

“It was a thousand feet up with fantastic views including over the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.

“The valley would fill to the brim with fog at night. I would get up in the morning and it would be looking out over an ocean.”

The end when he met and fell in love with his partner Nicki.

“I was on a trip away to a friend’s wedding in Northumberland and I met someone and we started a long-distance relationship.”

They began visiting and staying with each other and, when they were apart, he said: “There was a phone box about three miles away!

“We decided to have a family and now we’ve got two lovely daughters.”

Mr Ansell still stays in the cottage from time to time, sometimes alone and sometimes with his family.

He said: “I’m happy in society and happy alone.”

* Deep Country is published by Hamish Hamilton and costs £16.99.

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