One remote cottage. One week of isolation. One lighthouse. Casa Mia at Strumble Head – a perfect #writing retreat

Rural cottage with one hell of a view

I just got back from a week in a remote cottage in the wild landscape of the west coast, Pembrokeshire.  Total isolation. Had to walk 30 minutes to find a phone signal.  Zero Internet.  Bliss.  Some days shared with great friends and a lot of time working on the new novel.  The Black Lake.  Four weeks into it now, and 47,000 words through.  Aiming to finish it this month.

UPDATE: The novel was later finished in 7 weeks. Guardian gave it an excellent review – called it “Atmospheric and creepy”.  You can read a spotlight about it here.

Strumble Head Lighthouse set dramatically against the night sky a beam of light circling photo by Hagen Landsem

Strumble Head Lighthouse ¦ photo by Hagen Landsem

The lighthouse was set dramatically against the night sky, a beam of light circling around it.  This amazing sight sits a little over a mile from the cottage. It greeted me in the morning when I supped my first mug of coffee, and it enchanted me every night as I stood by the window, staring, supping wine and listening to “Montok Point” by William Orbit.

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It was the Royal Diamond Jubilee celebration.  Rented a cottage for the week.  A fantastic place, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms (master en-suite) and an utterly cosy open plan living room, kitchen and breakfast bar (which became my study for the entire week).  Strumble head occupies a rugged headland on the far west coast, a region called Pembrokeshire.  Insanely beautiful coastline, cliffs, blue sea crashing on rocks, wild birds and seals.  Most wonderful of all was a lighthouse, sitting on a fang of rock sitting out in the surging sea – a stubby metal mesh bridge connecting it to the mainland.

West Pembrokeshire is like Cornwall – without the ten million tourists.

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The cottage sits amongst five small farmhouses, a tiny hamlet hugging the narrow rural road weaving through tall hedgerows and vast, undulating countryside, overlooked by sinister but beautiful crags; the kind of landscape that makes you stop and stare… that taps into some primal part of the brain, the part we inherited from those early humans who probably looked upon such mountains with the awe of mortals gaining a glimpse of their gods.

I travelled there with my girlfriend, her twin sister and our mutual long-time friend Ms Scarlet. Girlfriend and sister stayed for three days then left, leaving me and Ms Scarlet to do our thing for a day, before she too departed.  I had a whole day to myself before Hagen, a great photographer, rocked up a few minutes before sunset (and crashed his car in the driveway). Hagen’s a bit of a vampire.  He typically goes to bed around 4am – about the same time I’m waking up.  Typically he didn’t rise until 2pm. So we had a sort of out-of-phase existence for the next three days.  For me the mornings were all about a routine of coffee with the sun rising, then writing writing writing; then a walk to the nearby lighthouse – savouring the isolation and the raw energy of the landscape and nature all around me.

As with when the girls were there, the afternoons were more about being social.

Time shifted into a seriously low gear.  The week stretched into what felt like a month.

A couple of highlights for me:

  • Driving to Porthgain, clambering up steep steps to high cliff tops and walking along the precipitous edges; passing Victorian ruins of red brick from the days of slate mines.  I actually did this twice, as you’ll see in the photos below: the first time the fog was so dense I could barely see twenty metres ahead of me, creating a fantastically eerie atmosphere and casting the ruined structures into hazy silhouette. The second time was a complete contrast: bright blue skies and sunlight.
  • The first time I found myself alone after all the girls had left, I walked to the lighthouse, whilst the wind buffeted me and rain-swept through in brief squalls.  Squinting, grinning, I stomped through the wild weather and felt totally alive.  I found somewhere to sit overlooking the lighthouse on its isolated rock. Put on my headphones, MP3 player on random; The Thing by John Carpenter came on. Perfect!  I’m thinking through the scene I’m currently working on for The Black Lake, and being here, with diminishing number of people sharing this isolated location, it’s very much in keeping with the story I’m working on.  A unique moment of synchronicity between fact and fiction.
  • Midnight, one night; Hagen and I wrapped up and stepped out into the absolute darkness of the rural landscape – and started walking along the narrow winding road towards the sea. The lighthouse stood out proud on the coast, the beam of its light rotating round with an irregular, flash, flash, pause, flash, long pause, flash, flash, and so on.  Dense fog had rolled in, adding to the potent atmosphere. The fog defined the beam of the lighthouse, making it an almost solid thing sweeping around and around.  We’d just finished watching the horror flick, 30 Days Of Night.  I directed several shots and Hagen caught them perfectly.  Then the rain came in and we had to trudge back, getting soaked, grinning, chuckling at the random sounds that made us say, “What was that?”.
  • Gale force winds and gushing rain struck Wales on Thursday.  My clothes were still wet from the previous midnight mission out in the fog.  I pulled them on with a couple of dry layers beneath then went out on my own to walk to the lighthouse.  Nobody else was around. The landscape was hunched over, everything quivering in the extreme weather. Fantastic experience. Every time the road came up onto an exposed crest, the wind slammed into me and kept hammering, tugging at my clothes, pushing me around.  It was brilliant. The lighthouse was deserted.  The sea was dark grey and furious.  Huge swells struck the cliffs and exploded in 100 metre high eruptions of white water.  Getting back I felt exhilarated and alive. Hot shower.  Then bacon sarnies and beans on toast.

Enjoy the photos and notes below.

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Casa Mia cottage strumble head pembrokeshire wales

Casa Mia cottage – view from front window

My view if I turned my head where I spent most days sitting at the breakfast bar, writing.

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Casa Mia cottage strumble head pembrokeshire wales David J Rodger working on The Black Lake a new novel

Casa Mia Cottage – my temporary “office” for the week

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Casa Mia cottage strumble head pembrokeshire wales view of Lighthouse

Casa Mia Cottage – view of the Lighthouse at Strumble Head

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Casa Mia cottage strumble head pembrokeshire wales view of living room

Casa Mia cottage – a blissful bubble of comfort

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Casa Mia cottage strumble head pembrokeshire wales outside decking seating area

Casa Mia Cottage – quaint decking area

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It was great sitting out here on sunny mornings, supping coffee, or in the evening before sunset, knocking back a beer or sinking through a bottle of red wineWho says writing has to be an ordeal.

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Strumble Head lighthouse Pembrokeshire Wales

Strumble Head lighthouse during daylight hours

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Mist shrouded Victorian ruins above Portgain

Mist shrouded Victorian ruins above Porthgain

Miss Scarlet took us to the tiny little fishing harbour of Porthgain. This is where I discovered one of the best pubs in Wales: The Sloop Inn. Great atmosphere and tasty food. Directly opposite is The Shed – where you’ll experience AMAZING fish and chips. Above the harbour, steep steps clamber up rugged cliffs past the ruins of an old Victorian slate mine. This day a dense fog rolled in, adding a wonderfully eerie atmosphere to the place.

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Beacon overlooking coast at Porthgain Pembrokeshire Wales

Beacon overlooking coast at Porthgain

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Strumble Head lighthouse Pembrokeshire Wales at sunset

Lighthouse at sunset

This was a great moment. I’d gone out on my own, close to sunset – walking along the narrow deserted road as the colour bled out of the sky. It’s that time of the day when the atmosphere shifts noticeably – a time for the willo-the-whisps and the faeries to work their magic.  Mother Nature was watching.  The  landscape held it’s breath.  Night came stalking for the nocturnal game.

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Coastal walk from Strumble Head lighthouse to Goodwick Pembrokeshire Wales

Coastal walk from Strumble Head to Goodwick

The National Authority has opened up several hundred miles of coastal paths around this part of the UK. Utterly jaw-dropping scenery.  Casa Mia cottage provides direct access to this coastal path, intersecting with the lighthouse which is only 20 minutes walk away.

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Beautiful Cumulus Nimbus Cloud

Beautiful Cumulus Nimbus

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White sail yacht

View from the Coast Walk – White sail yacht

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Wind swept tree Strumble Head Pembrokeshire Wales

Wind swept tree at Strumble Head

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The Sloop Inn probably one of the best pubs in Wales

The Sloop Inn probably one of the best pubs in Wales

I went back to Porthgain three times during the week I was in Pembrokeshire. Each time I came here for a drink AND went to the Shed for fish and chips (with mushy peas).

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Beacon overlooking coast at Porthgain Pembrokeshire Wales 2

Beacon overlooking coast at Porthgain

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Hagen Landsem Photographer

My mate, Hagen Landsem

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Victorian ruins on cliffs above Porthgain pembrokeshire Wales

Victorian ruins on cliffs above Porthgain – this time without the dense fog

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Cliffs above Porthgain pembrokeshire Wales

Striking landscape and sky

When I came here a couple days earlier I just couldn’t see where it dropped off because of all the fog.  Now I could see it, I followed it down to a fantastic rocky shelf where the sea surged and pounded. Brilliant. The twin spurs are actually as tall as a house, if not higher; and the incline is so steep that if you lost your footing you risk rolling, bouncing and tumbling to an abrupt drop – down onto rocks and the sea.

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Hagen Landsem Photographer

Hagen Landsem – I took this shot looking up from the gully in the previous photo.

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Victorian ruins on cliffs above Porthgain pembrokeshire Wales

Victorian ruins on cliffs above Porthgain

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Wild flowers on cliffs above Porthgain pembrokeshire Wales

Wild flowers on cliffs above Porthgain

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A view of Pembrokeshire Coast from cliffs above Porthgain

A view of stunning Pembrokeshire Coast from cliffs above Porthgain

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David J Rodger having fish and chips and pint of ale in rain at Porthgain

David J Rodger having fish and chips and pint of ale in rain at Porthgain

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A horse at Strumble Head

Wild Horses – Strumble Head

There’s a lot of wild horses at Strumble Head. Each of them with distinct personalities. Wonderful to watch them galloping around so much free space.  Very curious too.

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David J Rodger at Strumble Head lighthouse Pembrokeshire Wales photo by Hagen Landsem

David J Rodger at Strumble Head lighthouse ¦ photo by Hagen Landsem

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brutal silhouette sinister finger in the rain photo by Hagen Landsem

Concept cover for The Black Lake (novel) ¦ Photo by Hagen Landsem

Hagen and I headed out into dense fog around midnight. Trudged through the dark with the fantastically atmospheric beam of the lighthouse sweeping around.  I picked out a spot for him to set up; he used long exposure – allowing the beam of the lighthouse to saturate the night sky behind the figure.

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Strumble Head Lighthouse

Strumble Head Lighthouse

I have such profound and fond memories of this place – and the whole Strumble Head area.  The cottage at Casa Mia is an oasis of blissful comfort – and an amazing base for a week of writing.  I can’t recommend highly enough that you check it out – just Google: Casa Mia cottage strumble head  – postcode is SA64 0JN

I’m currently 47,000 words into the new novel – The Black Lake – after starting it four weeks ago. I’d just come back from Malta, brimming with excitement about the plot idea which struck me whilst I was over there.  Aiming to have The Black Lake finished by end of June. Check out my official website for more information and details of other books.

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William Orbit – Montok Point

Soundtrack to the week. Once a reminder of deliciously macabre Call of Cthulhu scenario set in Lovecraft country in New England – it’s now a reminder of a fantastic lighthouse at Strumble Head.

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YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY THIS:

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The Black Lake by David J Rodger a science fiction dark fantasy horror story that blends post-apocalypse with Cthulhu Mythos

Available in paperback and Kindle formats

The Black Lake

By David J Rodger

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A remote island haunted by the consequences of a terrible act that has brought new monsters into our world

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AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK AND KINDLE

BUY THE BLACK LAKE TODAY

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Available to buy in paperback from LULU Global

Available to buy in paperback from Amazon UK ¦ USA ¦ DE

Available to buy on Kindle UK ¦ USA ¦ DE

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