Through conversations with friends over the winter months of 2017/2018, one particular common ground has definitely surfaced - we all seem to have felt significantly affected by what has been reported to be the darkest winter on record. There has been a universal sense amongst us all to hunker down and hibernate. In essence, this has given us a chance to completely slow down, to reflect, and to have found the time to understand the importance of nourishing ourselves.
There is no doubt that, whilst I feel supremely lucky to be able to withdraw from the outside world when needs be, I am human and there comes a time when physical connection with other like minded folks is necessary to the soul in every sense.
What a treat, then, to have been invited to Elmley Nature Reserve, one of the 600 small, independent and sustainable "unusual places to stay" throughout Europe in a collection carefully curated by Canopy and Stars for a two day slow living retreat organised by Weekend:In, whose mission is to help small, independent businesses find their tribe.
For me, 'slow living' means making the most of every moment, taking time to notice the little things (like the ripples created by the bird in the above right photo); it's also irrevocably tied in with discovering and supporting small, independent brands - those with a story to tell who, like me with respect to my own brand, feel the inherent importance of making things in the most sustainable and heart-centred way; about creating value, through certain values.
Arriving at my destination meant a two mile slow drive through the nature reserve - a perfect introduction to the retreat ahead. Due to obligations at home, I was a little late. To say I was blown away by the barn location for our collective gathering would be an understatement...
I was met by new friends and old, all intently working away at making cosy slippers from Juta Shoes, in collaboration with Aerende, a webshop run by Emily. Aerende is an Old English word meaning 'care' and totally encompasses Emily's vision - to champion products made by folks from all different walks of life who face personal challenges. Aerende provided beautiful ceramics too, filled with much welcome steaming hot coffee... Care indeed!
In the afternoon, we boarded the Elmley mini bus for a tour of the reserve. The sun came out, nature was all around us, and all was well...
The afternoon gave us the incredible story of Moments of Sense and Style from Syreeta. Blimey... Please take a moment to read Syreeta's journey with her husband after his brain haemorrhage and stroke - this is a story of two talents coming together, from the darkest hours to the brightest of lights and everything in between, in order to create a business full of meaning. Syreeta was extremely inspiring, her endeavours a reminder to us all that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel if we only seek it. She is also really good at hugs, because we all need hugs.
Speaking of hugs, is there anything better than a cosy blanket? Even when the weather warms up, a blanket is a beautiful, virtual hug as the sun goes down. As a veteran collector, being the recipient of blanket from The British Blanket Company certainly warmed the cockles of my heart. A blanket wrapped around you at any time of year is akin to a hug from a friend. Big hugs on that score to Catherine Frawley...
Our gentle retreat was made even more special by dinner al fresco prepared by the rather lovely Tom Herbert, who also has rather a talent for bread baking. A champion of outdoor living, Tom's book is well worth a read. After watching him in awe, we sat down to a beautiful table in the barn, styled by Hannah Bullivant, whose eye for simplicity perfectly matched the occasion.
At the end of a fantastic evening, with some rather excellent wine from Most Wanted, we slipped away to our cosy cabins. I lit the log burner and lay in bed feeling smiley and happy.
The next day, after waking to the sound of rain hammering down on my roof, I lit the log burner and got back into bed - it could not have been cosier! Now was the time to do a bit of reading... The Art of Mindful Birdwatching, I thought was particularly apt before taking part in Melanie's wonderful ease-on-into-the-day yoga class.
The old farmhouse at Elmley is currently derelict and we were given the opportunity to have a peek inside. Plans are afoot to turn the house into further accommodation and I have no doubt it will be very special. For now, its years of decay, steeped in history, are fascinating.
After a beautiful lunch provided by Abel & Cole (with delicious foods I had never even seen before, let alone tried!), it was time to meet Katy from Owl and the Apothecary for an inspiring insight into how she came to be fascinated by rituals, and how they can help our wellbeing. We made smudge sticks, crafted from dried plants, herbs and stones such as quartz. Katy explained how different coloured flowers and stones can be used to effect positive change for us according to what we feel drawn to, and how the smoke from the smudge sticks, when lit, can be used to clear negative energy from pretty much anything. I absolutely loved this workshop.
And so, with that sense of renewed, yet peaceful energy, it was time (reluctantly!) to go home.
On my return, I had a chance to explore all the wonderful presents from other small, sustainable businesses - natural handmade soaps and a delightfully simple string tote from Timmy's, the softest socks (with my very own initials!) from Genevieve Sweeney, organic minty tea from Joe's Tea Co. some seriously good chocolate from The Grown Up Chocolate Company, a tiger's eye necklace from Georgie at Wanderlustlife to promote strength and integrity, and beautifully scented toiletries from Evolve - a name which I found very profound; by slowing down, by thinking consciously about the importance of supporting small brands who are trying to do good things in the world, therein lies evolution...