Richard and Claire Rees aren’t scared of hard work and believe anything is possible with the right mindset! Having set up their dog sledding school nine years ago, they are living the dream! We arranged an interview with Claire to find out more…
First of all, where are you both from?
Well, I’m from Ynysmaerdy near Llantrisant and Richard is from Bridgend.
What did you both do back home in Wales?
I worked for the council. I started out as a fitness instructor and then went on to become a project manager of large-scale projects, mainly focusing on health and helping people and families in Wales to become fit and healthy. Helping people change their lifestyle continues to be my thing, really!
Richard ran a successful bushcraft school back in Wales. He’s strong and business-minded, but very unorganised. I’m the organised one!
How did you meet?
Through our work back in Wales. Richard moved here to Sweden with his wife and family and I loved in Wales with my husband. Both our marriages broke up and he invited me to Sweden for our first date! Six months later I moved here and the rest is history!
Was it easy to settle in Sweden?
It was and still remains challenging at times. Both countries are beautiful in their own way, but the culture, way of life, the seasons and the people are very different. The Welsh are very open and extroverted and the Swedish are introverted, but once you get to know them they are great fun, too!
So how did the dog sledding school come about?
Richard emigrated here with eight dogs. He’s dog mad and I think he’s a bit like a dog in many ways; he eats like one, sleeps like one…! When I moved over we developed the business together and that was nine years ago. We’re both go-getters and grafters: if you want something it’s all in the mindset, and we’re proof of that.
Is it as magical as it looks on the photos?
Yes, but it’s hard work too! We now have 80 dogs. They come first; it’s like having 80 children as they all have their own personalities and ways. We breed our own and we’ve purchased groups of dogs too. They eat a lot! It costs over a £1,000 a month to feed them; it’s not the business to be in if you want to make lots of money! Unlike humans, they get their energy from protein and they need lots of it as they work really hard. Their welfare is really important to us and that’s what our customers love about us, they know the dogs are well looked after.
Who are your customers?
We have customers from all across the world, from all ages and all abilities. That’s one of my favourite things about the job, getting to meet so many people. We’ve had weddings here, we’ve had groups of ex-veterans with all sorts of disabilities and we’ve had corporate groups and lots of families. We provide them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, some people save for a long time to come here and it’s a privilege being able to provide them with those memories.
Has Covid affected the business?
Yes, it has had an effect on us and the tourism industry. I run the hotel next to our dog sledding school too, and that’s also been hit hard. Richard has been using his carpentry skills to do other work to ensure we can keep the dogs in food through the next few months. Since filming the ‘Escape to The Wild’ programme with Kevin McCloud, our business has been really busy and people book way in advance, so we know we’ll be ok.
You live in the wild, can it be challenging?
It’s part of the attraction for our customers but we are in a village so we have everything we need. When Richard and I were setting up the business, we lived in a log cabin for the first 5 years, we had no electricity or water, that was challenging but also an amazing and wild experience. I don’t think everyone could do it, but we aren’t afraid of challenges! As the business grew, we had to move into the village into an apartment with electricity and WiFI!
Do you miss Wales?
I do, but its more the people and my family. Richard has a 9 year old daughter there and he misses her, especially this year now, he hasn’t seen her for most of the year. We’re in the process of arranging for her to spend more time with us as it’s so hard for blended families, especially with Covid. Emigrating gives you new experiences and enriches your life in so many ways, but there’s always sacrifices and emigrating affects so many people.
Your Welsh accent is still strong, do people comment on it?
Yes, our international visitors are intrigued and the locals here know me as the Welsh lady! It’s actually made me feel more confident, and proud of my heritage.
What’s your overall dream?
We love our life here. It’s hard work and during the winter months you don’t get much daylight, but we love it. Our dream is living in a log cabin once again, but I want electricity and running water next time! We are always adapting, diversifying and thinking up new ideas. I’m excited about what the future has in store for us Welshies here in Sweden.
Thank you so much to Claire and Richard for sharing your story – best of luck with the business!
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Heulwen Davies, Wales International