SPECIAL FEATURE A writing retreat at Gladstone’s Library

In search of the perfect writing retreat, Kate Rosevear travelled to North Wales to stay at Gladstone's Library, Britain's only residential library.


A few months ago I decided that I would like to go on a short writing retreat. I asked for advice from members of the SCBWI BI Facebook group, and was given several suggestions, but many of them were either too far away from where I lived, or too structured. A standard hotel also wasn’t going to fit my rather exacting bill, as not only did I want somewhere with comfortable bedrooms and nice food, but I also wanted it to be quiet, provide decent-sized desks, and definitely not have the distraction and irritation of loud voices, music or TVs blasting out from nearby rooms when I was trying to work. I just wanted a ‘writerly’ place where I could stay for a few days… and write.


Gladstone's Library 
[Picture credit: Kate Rosevear]

After receiving lots of advice, I noticed that one place kept coming up – Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, in North Wales. At first I’d dismissed it as being too far away. Ideally I wanted somewhere that was quick and easy to get to – but when I realized that nowhere else fitted the bill, I started looking into it further.


I learnt that Gladstone’s Library is a residential library that was set up in memory of the Victorian British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, with the aim of providing accommodation and a quiet work space for reading, writing and research, the present building being built with a bequest in his will. It looked perfect (apart from the travelling) and seemed to have not only food and accommodation, but – best of all – the quiet, ‘writerly’ atmosphere that I was looking for. It also offered discounts for members of the Society of Authors. It looked like I would just have to put up with a longer drive, and I booked a three-night stay in July. 

Victorian Prime Minister, William Gladstone
[Picture credit: Françoise Price]

You can imagine my horror when, only a few days before I was due to set off, I tested positive for Covid. But I called the Library and they kindly allowed me to move my booking to August. I wrote the new dates in my diary and settled down to (impatiently) wait. But finally, a couple of days ago I waved goodbye to my family – and of course, the dog – and set off. As I’d suspected, there was a lot of summer holiday traffic to contend with and everyone else on the road seemed destined for North Wales, too, but eventually – hot and tired – I arrived, getting out of the car to find a beautiful building in front of me.

One of the bedrooms 
[Picture credit: Kate Rosevear]


My en-suite room was lovely too – up on the top floor of the three story building – and the public areas were just as nice, with a large, airy restaurant with a good choice of meals, a comfy lounge for guests to relax in, and a big garden.


But the reading rooms, occupying the whole of the left wing of the building, were stunning – double-height and galleried, lined with thousands of books, and with desks placed at convenient intervals between the bookshelves. There were also plenty of comfy chairs scattered about. I tip-toed around for a while, before settling in a convenient armchair to read a few chapters of a book that I’d picked up.

The stunning reading rooms 
[Picture credit: Françoise Price]

After strolling around the rest of the building and the garden, I walked to the end of the drive, into the village. It was very pretty and had several shops and cafes, and also included the entrance to a vast country estate, still belonging to the Gladstone family, that was complete with not one, but two castles – one old and ruined, and the other more recent and lived-in. Neither castle was open to the public at the time I visited, but that was all to the good as far as I was concerned – it was nice being able to go out for a little stroll, but I could do without anything more time-consuming, that might increase my risk of running into that old, writerly enemy, procrastination.


Once I’d spent a few minutes seeing the local sights, I went back to the library and up to my room and, as there was no TV there to distract me either, I got out my laptop and switched it on. I was soon tapping away, improving and lengthening my work in progress, and then entering a recently finished novel into a competition, for good measure. A meal in the on-site restaurant, at the end of the day, was my reward for getting so much done.

Outside space and tables near the restaurant at the rear of the library
[Picture credit: Françoise Price]

The next morning I took another walk around the village and returned to my room an hour later, full of fresh air and laden with enough Welsh-themed gifts to take home to my family, for them to start a small shop. As soon as I’d put them all away, I put the laptop back on and got back to work. And so it went on for the next two days; short strolls around the village, nice meals in the on-site restaurant… and lots and lots of writing time.


And so, when I checked out at the end of my stay, my laptop awash with freshly written words, I knew that – if I got the chance in the future – I would go back. So, if you’re looking for somewhere quiet that has everything a writer could want, but without any of the things that a writer could do without, I recommend that you take a look at Gladstone’s Library – and if, like me, you don’t live in either North Wales or the North West of England, it is worth travelling for.


*Header image by Françoise Price


Kate Rosevear (writing as Catherine Rosevearis a children’s writer based in Cambridgeshire. Having self-published two children’s chapter books several years ago, she is now working on Middle Grade books and also writes a regular blog. She has been shortlisted for the Mslexia Children’s and YA Novel Competition, and longlisted for SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices. She can be found at @cathrosevear on Twitter and blogs at www.catherinerosevear.wordpress.com



Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact: deputyeditor@britishscwbi.org 

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad that you enjoyed your experience at Gladstone's Library and it was productive for you! I grew up within the walls of Hawarden Castle and often visit the Library as a day visitor. A great quiet place for writing and thoroughly recommended.


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