Katie Pankowski is a photographer, writer and founder of Neap & Spring. Read her contribution to Stories within Our Isles about how her journeys through the landscape of rural Wales have inspired her to seek a different pace of life in the countryside.
Neap & Spring grew from an all too familiar urge to escape London. As much as I hold the city dear, I’d spend any free time collecting and consuming books that revolved around a landscape, planning a trip with my old analogue camera, then departing for the coast or countryside whenever time allowed.
It was during a trip to Pembrokeshire that my hunger for a more rural existence really kicked in. Its wind-buffeted coast was a kind of paradise. I couldn't ignore the wave of relief felt at being dwarfed by nature and humbled by my surroundings. Back in the city, I started to write about these places that stayed with me after I left them.
It wasn’t long before a return trip to Wales was set for the following February. The sharp air that fractured the monotony of winter was gladly embraced. Out of season the people fell away like leaves. The beaches were empty and there was nothing quite like the welcome of a blazing wood fire in a country inn.
The landscapes of south Wales are rich in beauty and antiquity, scattered with ancient earthworks and brooding castles. We found endless wild spots for a swim in the crisp waters of lonely tarns and glassy falls, then spent a night bunking in a remote bothy hidden in the great wild emptiness of Mynyddoedd Duon, the Black Mountains.
The trip was planned around a stay at Bryn Eglur, a rustic Welsh cottage tucked away in peaceful Carmarthenshire. It was nightfall when we took the turn-off from the road and bumped down a slate-chipped track in search of the old cottage. I could just make out the shadowy shapes of a couple of dwellings ahead in the middle of what felt wonderfully like nowhere. We parked up and were greeted by the truest black of night, where stars seemed to tumble all the way to the ground. No light pollution or noise; the silent dark of the countryside. Having been painstakingly restored and nurtured back to life, Bryn Eglur has interminable charm and an atmosphere that prickles. It is a place where you can’t help but notice every change in the light and weather, and take the time to pick out different flecks of colour from the surrounding landscape. I’ve since been seeking out rare hideaways like it, sympathetic in restoration and furnishing, and towards the environment. Writing about such places helped transport me back to them, providing a sense of escapism from the greys of the city. I started to piece together these words with my photographs, which in turn has become the online journal Neap & Spring; a little space carved out to share the stories of people and places that connect with nature. The lure of the countryside has been ever present for me and, having recently left London, I’m now set on finding a small corner of it to call home. Photographs & Words by Katie Pankowski | @neapandspring