Notes from Spring in Devon | Bleak House Experiences
Spring in Devon, what a fabulously wonderful week that was. Five glorious days filled with friendship, sunshine, beauty, inspiration, gorgeous countryside, fabulous houses, delicious food and, most of all, fun.
One of the things I love most about running Bleak House Experiences is how different they each are. The unique combination of people, place and time creates a thoroughly individual experience and, despite how well I plan them, I never really know what the defining characteristic of each Experience will be.
For our Spring in Devon experience this March, the word that sums up it up the best is laughter. Laughter of the joyous, full-bellied, riotous, snorting-through one’s nose sort. I can’t remember the last time I laughed that much and so heartily and I enjoyed it immensely. Here is a video to give you a little flavour of what made it so very special.
Devon was magical. Annabel had thought of everything. The day trips were to such interesting places and even the travelling time to those places was fun on trains, boats and cars. It was so relaxing to have everything organised, all you had to do was be there and enjoy yourself. I haven’t laughed so much for ages and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Thank you Annabel!
Four days surrounded by Georgian splendour
Our home for the week was an exceptional Grade II listed Georgian house nestled in the depths of a quiet green valley within whistling distance from the sea, handy for the sea swims that set us up for each day. Spacious, elegant and sumptuous, our new home was the height of rural luxury. With squishy sofas for cosy chats, quiet nooks for contemplative time, a long convivial dining table, free standing baths and roaring fires, we all felt at home the second we walked through the door.
The house was surrounded by a pretty garden which opened out onto undulating green fields full of gambolling lambs and winding, narrow lanes lined with tall hedgerows. Spring ushered in quickly during our stay and we were right in the thick of it. By the end of the week the hedgerows had turned from brown to bright green and the daffodils had been replaced by miles and miles of primroses.
Our lovely house, nestled in the valley, with scones on tap from Bevan
Heaven is a butler named Bevan
One of the real joys my Experiences offer is the chance to take a break from the constant decision-making of our busy, everyday lives. To have someone else make all your choices for you so that you can concentrate on relaxing and enjoying yourself is just wonderful. In Devon we were looked after extremely well by a fantastic butler named Bevan.
Bevan valiantly ventured over the border to cook for us, make us endless cups of tea and serve us with numerous gins and tonic. Within an hour of arriving he’d learnt all of our names and whether we preferred champagne, Seedlip or cocktails before dinner and whether we favoured bacon rolls or freshly baked croissants for breakfast. Each day we’d returned from our trips to find the kitchen filled with the delightful aroma of freshly baked scones and chocolate brownies, just in time for tea. I know I’m not the only person who returned home and had to re-remember how to make food for myself and I think we all missed him terribly.
Some of the beautiful places we visited including our photo walk from Salcombe to Overbecks in early afternoon sunshine
Discovering the beauty of Devon
I am absolutely evangelical about holidaying in the UK and I love nothing more than showing off some of the wonders this beautiful country has to offer. It makes my heart sing when guests return home deciding to spend more time in the UK rather than holidaying aboard, or when a guest who lives abroad tells me how the trip has enthusiastically challenged their perception of what they think Britain is.
With its irresistible combination of seaside charm, smugglers’ coves, undulating green hills, ancient pubs, gorgeous hotels and more history and literary connotations that you can hold in your head, Devon is one of the prettiest and most charming places in England.
Five days is such a very short period of time to spend there but it’s just long enough to sample some of the real highlights. It’s always hard creating an edit of things to do but for me a trip to Devon will always involve a trip on a sea tractor, a swim in the sea, a visit to the wonderful Burgh Island and Agatha Christie’s inspiring home, Greenway, preferably arriving by steam train. On top of this we were treated to afternoon tea in the sunshine in the sub-tropical garden of Overbecks, and ate incredible food everywhere from wonky old pubs to delightful cafes and fabulous beach shacks.
Agatha Christie's home Greenway where having our photos taken with one of her novels has become a bit of a tradition.
A chance to try something new
A key part of any Bleak House Experience is the chance to try something new, something that opens your mind, moves your body and allows you to see the world in a different way. Whether it’s an inspiring photography workshop, learning to sing or the chance to give wild swimming a go, I always include something that might just let you return home with a new hobby and a new perspective on life. In Devon, I ran a travel journalling workshop, we had a wonderful photography lesson with Lauren Keim, we swam in the sparkling sea multiple times and gazed at the incredible night sky through enormous telescopes.
The workshops and activities I plan often have effects long after we’ve said our farewells and it’s been wonderful in the weeks since we returned to see my guests sharing on Instagram and beyond how they are carving out time for themselves in their busy lives and nurturing their creative spirit.
The Bleak House Experience really was the highlights of my year. Part of the allure for me was an opportunity to step out of my normal routine and spend 5 days with women I had never met, be adventurous, meet new friends. It turned out to be so personally rewarding and enriching. All of our activities, excursions and workshops were well organized, meaningful and relevant to Devon. It is evident that Annabel puts a lot of thought and care into planning the Experience. It was truly a wonderful vacation and I look forward to the next one!
Kim, New York
A houseful of new friends
Whilst the house, food, adventures and workshop on Bleak House Experiences are exceptional, the thing that my guests value above everything else is the friendships that they make. Seeing nine woman who arrive as strangers form enduring bonds in front of my eyes, and leave as good friends, is uplifting and heart-warming and for me is what it is all about.
I love how little pockets of friendships form, from the huddle of early risers in Devon who padded down the stairs each morning in their pyjamas to drink coffee together on the squishy sofas whilst the rest of us slept, to the trio of new friends taking an early evening stroll up the lane to photograph the lambs at sunset, to roommates lending each other clothes and swapping red lipsticks.
We shared stories of our lives and had conversations large and small, silly and sincere. It’s enormously satisfying to witness coffee dates being arranged now we are home, and visits to each others’ houses and even a trip planned to the Burgh Island Hotel for a birthday celebration. I think that enriching friendships is one of the true secrets to a happy life and being able to provide a catalyst for these to be formed is an enormous privilege.
By the end of the first evening of my Bleak House Experience in Devon, I knew it was going to be a great week. Everyone got on so well together from the start and there was no shortage of subjects to discuss and a lot of laughter too. This is why Annabel is so clever, she brings together people from all over the globe, who somehow seem to have so much in common. I feel sure some life long friendships were forged during this week. Annabel had planned every element of our stay, her attention to detail exemplary, our every comfort catered for. What a truly exceptional and unique week.
The fabulous Burgh Island where we walked all around the island, had a tour of the famous hotel and a drink in the 13th century Pilchard Inn
I’m so very grateful to the nine incredible women who came to Devon and for everything they added. I loved creating and running this Experience for them, I adored every minute. I came away with new friends and a pocketful of very, very happy memories. I couldn’t have asked for it to have gone better.
It’s two months since we’ve come home and I am still feeling the benefits as I know my guests are too. The chance to step out of our lives for a few days, to meet new people and make new friends, to try some new activities and learn new skills is precious and invaluable. Devon in the Spring was the most wonderful adventure and I can’t wait for the next one.
Coming very soon... Autumn 2019 Bleak House Experiences
How would you like to come on the next Bleak House Experience? I am a whisker away from booking the house September's experience. If you think you might like to secure one of the coveted small number of places available, I recommend signing up to my email list, which you can do here. Both of my Devon Experiences sold out in less than ten minutes and being on my email list means you’ll be the first to know when the places are released. I'd love you to come.
You can read about the first Bleak House Experience to Devon here.
All photos by either me or Lauren Keim