Making it slowly with Weekend:In ...

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...

The barn at Elmley  Photo credit: sophie carefull photography

The barn at Elmley

Photo credit: sophie carefull photography

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!

Photos: Sophie Carefull

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...

Peaceful views

Peaceful views

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... 

The British Blanket Company  Photo: Julia,  Humphrey and Grace

The British Blanket Company

Photo: Julia, Humphrey and Grace

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...

Photo: Sophie Carefull

Photo: Sophie Carefull





A Great British Adventure!

Last weekend saw James, Lucy and I heading off to the Lake District on a Great British outdoor adventure as part of the lead up to the new Swallows And Amazons film launching in cinemas on 19th August.


The wind roared and the skies were filled with dramatic dark clouds and rain, which really added to our sense of adventure. 


King Pocky’s Regatta, held at Crow Park on the edge of Derwent Water was our destination for both days, where James and Lucy helped sail a Viking boat, made small rafts, tried their hand at archery, pretended to be pirates, perfected their stone skimming, and generally had a fabulous time adventuring.


We stayed in a tipi at the National Trust’s beautiful campsite at Low Wray, not far from Ambleside - the most idyllic setting, complete with warming log burner, and perfect for the children to go off and explore without any parental interference from me. Which is just as it ought to be, for that’s when children’s natural curiosity, imagination, confidence, and awareness of how they can be self-reliant really come alive.


These are strong themes explored through the children’s adventures in Swallows And Amazons, which sees them sailing across the lake to a small island, setting up camp, and then finding themselves embroiled in all sorts of thrills, including a run in with some ‘pirates’, a boat race and the discovery of treasure. 


The 21st century and the rise in technology seems to have brought about an increasing amount of life indoors for children. Swallows And Amazons reminds us about the importance of learning life skills in the wilds of nature - it’s exciting and you never know what will happen!


So, get outside this summer and, if you’re looking to head on an adventure with your family, take a look at Visit England’s brilliant Swallows And Amazon’s inspired website here!  


You can enter STUDIOCANAL’s wonderful competition to win a Glamping experience much like James, Lucy and I had in the Lake District, plus a £1,000 cash prize! All you have to do is submit photos of your summer holidays using #SwallowsAndAmazons on Twitter and Instagram! Full details here. Good luck! 


Follow the Swallows And Amazons adventure on Facebook and Twitter. 

Discovering together...

There's no doubt that travel broadens the mind. In the case of children, exploring different cities and countries opens up a whole new world (literally!) of adventure. 

As a home educator, it's very important to me to travel with my children - away from the constraints of the school curriculum, we are free to go wherever we want, whenever we want. It's a glorious way to learn.

So, last Friday, James, Lucy and I ventured down to London to immerse ourselves in the Christmas lights and buzz of the city and experience the new Family Programme from our host - Le Meridien Hotel Piccadilly, right in the centre. 

We discovered that Le Meridien makes children a priority; understanding their need to feel recognised and noticed, their curiosity and thirst for adventure is met by a personalised welcome pack containing LEGO, as well as suggestions for great things to do whilst on your visit. I let the weekend be led by my children so I could really see the visit through their eyes. Lucy was fascinated by all the fallen leaves and the tame squirrels in Hyde Park, whilst James was in awe of the architecture, bridges and the London Eye. 

When we weren't out and about, the children were obsessed with the deep blue waters of the swimming pool. They thought breakfast was pretty fabulous too - it was a banquet and a half and almost too much for them to take in. This was topped, however, by a patisserie tea on Sunday afternoon - cue eyes on stalks!

James and Lucy enjoyed themselves immensely and felt really welcomed all weekend. For my part, it's lovely to stay somewhere where children are treated with the same respect and dignity as adults - we all learn better when we feel good about ourselves...