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 By the end of the week the hedgerows had turned from brown to bright green and the daffodils had been replaced by miles and miles of primroses.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
Bevan describes himself as a ‘Country House Butler’ and he absolutely made our experience. He ventured into Devon from his home county of Cornwall for four days to look after our every need. By the end of the first day he’d learned all of our names, whether we each preferred champagne, gin or Seedlip before dinner and whether we favoured bacon rolls or freshly baked croissants for breakfast. Each day after our trips out we’d arrive home to find piles of homemade scones on the table with local jam and lashings and lashings of the necessary Cornish clotted cream. Absolute Heaven.
By the end of the week we were all wondering how on earth we were going to be able to manage back in the real world without Bevan to make us continual cups of tea and present us with delicious food the very second we felt even slightly peckish. This was absolutely not a trip for those looking to restrict their calorie intake.
One of the hardest things to allow ourselves in our busy lives is ‘me time’. There’s always something more important, be that work or family based commitments, and before you know it days turn in to weeks, and weeks roll in to months. Earlier this year I made a conscious decision to gift myself some me time and join Annie on her Bleak House adventure in Devon. And what a gift it turned out to be!
The adventures whilst in Devon, the sea swims, the delicious food and drink, and the time away were incredibly special. For me, the most welcome, and probably least expected element, was the time shared with a group of the most wonderful ladies. I will forever be grateful for the friendships forged.
The gift of time is a precious one, and I can think of no better gift than a retreat with Annie and the wonderful ladies I met.
Lauren Keim ran a throroughly enjoyable workshop on photography composition on the first day. Lauren inspired us all with tips about capturing light and shadow, using leading lines and the rule of thirds as well as other really easy ways to improve our photography, even for those who were just using iPhones. Along with Lauren’s workshop, I ran a little travel journalling workshop which helped inspire everyone to get in the mood for recording our memories from Devon.
En route to Overbecks from Salcombe
As well as our meals at home, we also ate a wonderful village pub Millbrook Inn in Southpool, just a whisker from our house, and the brilliant Beachhouse at Thurlestone Sands. The Beachhouse has a fantastic atmosphere, we all amiably squished around a large table and ate buckets of the sizzling prawns for which they are famous and drank Whispering Angel, rosé wine, the perfect lunch for a sunny afternoon.
It’s really hard to narrow down the ridiculous number of wonderful things one could do in Devon to just a few, especially with trying to build in plenty of downtime to relax and enjoy the house. I chose a handful of trips, to show some of my absolute favourite places in the area, including the sub-tropical gardens and the views at Overbeck’s, Agatha Christie’s gorgeous house Greenway and the wonderful Burgh Island.
We were treated to the most ridiculously sunny, warm weather. Eating lunch outside in t-shirts is more than we could ever hope for at the end of March in England. The weather so utterly glorious and we enjoyed ever minute of the sunshine.
Overbecks is a National Trust house and sub-tropical garden overlooking the Salcombe estuary. We took a photowalk, guided by Lauren to reach Overbecks from Salcombe with Lauren on hand to give us advice and tips. Once at Overbecks we took many, many photos of the gardens and took in the utterly gorgeous views over the water.
Beautiful Devon, full of flowers even in March
Burgh Island is a teeny tiny tidal Island with an iconic Art Deco hotel plonked on one of its sides. We arrived to find the tide in which meant we could rather gleefully cross to the island by the famous sea tractor. Burgh Island is well known as the setting of Agatha Christie’s books Evil Under The Sun and And Then There Were None and we were thrilled to have a little tour of the wonderful hotel and grounds. After a stomp to the top of the island to take in the view we descended to the 12th century pub the Pilchard Inn for a drink before making our way for lunch at the Beachouse.
I had the pleasure of attending a Bleak House Experience to Devon, England. Being from the USA, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I also was a bit nervous with traveling by myself and meeting several women and staying with them, in a house far away from my family. Would we all get along? Would we connect?
The short answer is YES! Loved every minute of it as the house we stayed in was amazingly quaint and beautiful and the service exemplary. The women were wonderful and Annabel was extraordinarily accommodating as well as welcoming. The mini lessons planned were so fun, the food was absolutely delicious and the trips to Greenway, Salcombe, Dartmouth and Burgh Island were so spectacular, that I can honestly say I didn’t want to leave.
If you have a chance to join one of the Bleak House Experiences, run, don’t walk to your computer to plan it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and see how Annabel can accommodate you. She will definitely be the most gracious hostess.
Amy HoyeVirginia, USA
The fabulous Burgh Island
I almost never visit Devon without making a pilgrimage to Greenway and this trip was no exception. We arrived in style, by boat, then steam train and finally descended to the house through the beech woods as if we’d just disembarked from a train from London in the 1930s for a weekend house party.
Greenway house is wonderful, it’s a really lovely house and it’s as if Agatha Christie has just left. The sitting room is as she had it, all of her collections are there and her clothes in the wardrobe. The two Virginians in the group were particularly tickled at the murals by American soldiers during the Second World War depicting their home town of Norfolk.
As much as I love the house, for me it’s about the grounds. They look different every time I visit and having read most of her books it’s easy to spot how so many of them have been inspired by this glorious spot. We took portraits in the famous battery garden, it was so much fun I think this may now become a tradition.
Our trip to the wonderful Greenway
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.
I had invited the Plymouth Astronomical Society to show us the stars and they arrived with enormous telescopes to show us the wonders of the night sky, including two passings of the International Space Station. We were treated to clear skies and warm weather and we marvelled at constellations and the milky way amongst other wonders.
Our four days in Devon went by incredibly fast. Soon it was time for trains to be caught and car journeys to be embarked upon. I couldn’t be happier with how this experience went. It’s been just wonderful to see the friendships kindled being continued now everyone is back home. Taking a few days out of one’s normal life is one of the absolutely best ways to gain some space and some perspective, to meet some new people and make new friends.
In this blog post some of our former students from Learn to Shoot on Film, and some guests from my Bleak House Experiences, talk about the images that thrilled them.
In the last year I have run six Bleak House Experiences and they have transformed my business and my life. Here is a recap and celebration of the first wonderful year.