Posts in Spring
May Flowers
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Returning down the footpath, we follow the hawthorn and its all-consuming blossom – customarily the symbol that Beltane, or May Day, has begun. It reminds me that we have reached another spoke on the Wheel of the Year, another moment to mark.

‘The fair maid who, the first of May

Goes to the fields at break of day

And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree

Will ever after handsome be.’

Symbolic of life and fertility, Beltane is a celebration of spring at its peak, and though hawthorn is traditionally considered unlucky throughout the year, it is brought into the home at Beltane in the form of flower crowns and May baskets. One of the four fire festivals, it is also a time of year to purify, cleanse and bring fertility through the power of the sun. Jumping over the fire – particularly as a couple – was seen as a way to pledge yourselves to each other, and even animals were included: to encourage fertility and protect from disease, cattle were often driven through the smoke from the fire.

This year we’re forgoing the fire and focusing instead of life and fertility in the form of flowers. Later in the day, I head out with a pair of secateurs to borrow a few branches of hawthorn. Though there is life in the veg patch, the garden is lacking in floral displays, but I still manage to pick a few stems: blowsy cream tulips; grape hyacinths; and fat handfuls of cow parsley. 

By four o’clock there’s a line of posies, each with a sprig of hawthorn, tied with garden string on the kitchen table. By six they’ve all been delivered, hanging on door knockers, propped up in plant pots and placed on wiry welcome mats all through the village. We might not have a Maypole or May Queen, but celebrating these ancient festivals isn’t about replication. It’s the drawing together, or even the creation of, a community, helping others pause to notice what’s on their doorstep and in their garden too. Remnants of posy-making remain on the kitchen table when I return, and I take the last few branches of hawthorn up into the orchard, scattering them freely, wishing the chickens a fruitful Beltane.

Extract from Reconnection, the forthcoming book from Eleanor Cheetham.

An Introduction to the Wheel of the Year
Image:  Olena Ivanova

My approach to living slowly and seasonally is to be guided by the Celtic Wheel of the Year, an ancient calendar guided by the transition of the sun throughout the seasons. Many religions celebrate the festivals within the Wheel of the Year (paganism, for example), but my approach is not inspired by any one religion, rather it is rooted in a love and reverence for the natural world.

Each twelve month period is split into eight segments.

The beginning of each season is marked by a Cross-Quarter (or fire) Festival: Imbolc (February 1st) for spring; Beltane (May 1st) for summer; Lammas (August 1st) for autumn; and Samhain (October 31st) for winter. Though these dates may seem early, they are suggestions that a different energy is emerging; the smallest of signs that change is on the horizon.

The height of each season is marked by a Quarter Point (or solar festival): the Spring Equinox (20th - 23rd March); the Summer Solstice (20th - 23rd June); the Autumn Equinox (20th - 23rd September); and the Winter Solstice (20th - 23rd December). These are thought to be non-Celtic in origin, but are celebrated as part of the cycle nevertheless. From each Quarter Point, the season begins to wane, until we reach the next Cross-Quarter Festival that signifies one season has ended, and another has begun.

Using these eight markers provides natural pauses in the year, a chance to consider our lives and choices in a way that makes sense in relation to the Earth. For instance, at Beltane (May 1st) nature is full of life: the dawn chorus is building, flowers are blooming, and everywhere is beginning to look very green. In alignment with the Earth’s increased energy, it is a time to move forward with plans and intentions, for turning the potential of winter and early spring into reality.

In addition to working alongside (rather than against) the energy of the Earth, we can also use these markers to create ceremony, whether alone, with friends and family, or with community. We can use the markers as a reminder to look to the seasons and what’s going on in nature, and perhaps to adjust our own rhythm and rituals accordingly. So for Beltane, that might include waking a little earlier one day to watch the sunrise, eating more meals outdoors, keeping a posy of wildflowers by your bedside; small reminders of the season, but powerful when included in your everyday (or every week).

You can read more about Beltane, the next festival on the Wheel of the Year - in this post from Sarah, in which she explores Cornish traditions.

If you’d like to find out more and discover ways to celebrate the seasons guided by the Wheel of the Year, membership might be for you. In your monthly printed mini book, you’ll find a whole section on celebration, and you’ll also receive additional resources like guided meditations and journal prompts to help you mark the festivals in other ways too.

Spring One Pot Spaghetti with Lemon, Peas and Broad Beans
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Lottie tickles our tastebuds!

The months of March, April and May are often a funny, in-between experience. Some days are bright and kissed with a sunshine so warm, it feels as if summer has arrived, months early. Other days, however, are resolutely, almost doggedly grey and bitter with a sharp breeze, clinging onto the last throws of winter. And of course there are the days in which the weather is neither here nor there and you will choose to wear tights, or not to wear tights, and your decision will ultimately be wrong. As is the way with these undecided days.

Cooking in these months is also susceptible to this odd in-between, where pie or salad could be craved from one day to the next.  

This spaghetti is excellent at bridging the gap between winter and summer eating, boasting both fresh flavours and comforting pasta. It also does not jump the gun on what’s in season, whilst we’re all still waiting patiently for the asparagus harvest.

Frozen beans and peas are to thank for this. Because whilst we’re desperately ready for a change in season, this year’s summer produce is still growing, benefitting from the first warm days of the year just as we are, but still not ready to be picked and stirred into our suppers.

So in spring heat waves, while we still have to wait a little longer for Panzanella, laden with overripe tomatoes and British berries sweet with sunshine, we can feast on this spaghetti. It is ready to satisfy your spring supper cravings as soon as the first warm breeze rolls in and will still comfort you when that breeze inevitably and erratically turns cold once more.

 

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Spring One Pot Spaghetti with Lemon, Peas
and Broad Beans

Serves 4 generously

  • 400g spaghetti

  • 800ml vegetable stock

  • 200ml white wine (or an additional 200ml vegetable stock)

  • 50ml olive oil

  • 1 white onion, sliced thinly

  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced thinly

  • 200g frozen peas

  • 200g frozen broad beans

  • 150g spinach

  • 1 lemon, zest and juice

  • a handful of soft herbs like mint or basil, torn.

  • 40g Parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve

  • salt and pepper

 

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Put the spaghetti, vegetable stock, olive oil, onion, garlic and lemon zest into a large pot and put over a medium for 7 minutes, or 3 minutes less than the packet cooking time, stirring the spaghetti as it cooks.

  2. Add the beans, peas, and spinach and cook for a further three minutes until the frozen beans are cooked through and the spaghetti is cooked.

  3. Remove from the heat and stir through the soft herbs, Parmesan and lemon juice. Leave to stand for a minute or so to let the lemony sauce thicken.

  4. Serve with a little more Parmesan if you like, and additional herbs.

 

You can find Lottie on Instagram and Twitter 

SpringContributor
A Flurry of Blossom

The daffodils have wilted and the snowdrops have long gone. We've had a few days of sunshine and warm weather, so that can only mean one thing: blossom season has arrived. If you haven't already had your fill on Instagram, here's a flurry of blossom images from the lovely Annie Spratt. If you're interested in taking photographs of flowers, or anything in nature, you might find Annie's walking seasonal photography workshop at our Summer Gathering of interest - click here for more information.

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Hellebores: The Subtle Harbingers of Spring
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Spring has just made a tentative entrance, and we all breathe a sigh of relief as the temperatures gradually start to rise. The days become longer and our state of near-hibernation is thrown back like a discarded blanket. First come the snowdrops, bravely flowering despite the chill winds and hail. Then, at last, the daffodils begin to bloom. Those yellow trumpets herald the true retreat of winter. Swathes of gold along the verges; so many bright stars atop grey-green leaves and stems. They punctuate the still bare and colourless garden and join other early spring favourites - pussy willow, Ribes Sanguineum (the flowering currant) and, not long after, tulips.

I’ve always preferred native plants and flowers. Non-showy specimens which would look equally at home in a woodland or meadow as in the cottage garden. One exception would be the dahlia; there’s something irresistible about those oil pastel-bright blooms in late summer, particularly when they’re growing amongst the herbs and vegetables.

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But another personal favourite is the hellebore. A member of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family, it’s a herbaceous perennial which originated in parts of Europe and Asia. It’s fully hardy and easy to grow providing you have an area of rich, well-drained soil and dappled shade. Some hellebores are perfectly happy in containers so most gardens, big or small, should be able to accommodate a plant or two.

Hellebores can easily be overlooked when it comes to late winter and early spring flowers. They’re far more subtle, less attention-seeking than the fizzing sulphurs of daffodils, aconites and Forsythia. Some of the blooms are so dark you might not even spot them at first glance. The flower heads, in most cases, face downwards so you’ll need to lift them gently to take a closer look. But once you do, you’ll be smitten.

There’s quite the array of varieties: single or double-flowered, simple flower forms or deeply frilled. The pure white of the Helleborus niger (or ‘Lenten Rose’, as it’s often known) through pistachio and dusty pink to rich yellowy-creams, claret, deep damson and almost-black of H. hybridus x Harvington Black. There’s even an incredible deep blue-black with an iridescent sheen, H. Blue Metallic Lady.

If rich, moody colour is your thing then hellebores will work for you. But the paler types have beautiful markings: speckles, veining and deeply-tinted edges. The blooms can be displayed by floating the heads in water (their drooping nature means that stems in a vase won’t show the flowers to their best advantage).

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If you enjoy exploring gardens - National Trust properties, stately homes or well-maintained parks - you’re likely to find hellebores at this time of year. Head for shady spots and look out for the clumps of glossy leaves and sturdy-looking flowers, almost like wax specimens which have been fashioned for botanical study. There’s something almost Victorian about them, particularly the gothic darker varieties. Once you’ve seen hellebores you’ll want to grow some of your own, either pale and pretty or deep and dusky.

Note: hellebores can be poisonous if eaten, and can irritate the skin so take care when handling them and ensure children and pets don’t ingest them.

SpringSarah Hardman
A Buzz In The Borders
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It has been a long wait this year, but at last, I’ve heard the sound that for me marks the beginning of spring: that unmistakable buzz of a large, fuzzy bumblebee.

I don’t need to see her. From the sound alone I can tell she’s a queen buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). And then I spot her. She buzzes and bumbles over the lawn in a low, zig-zagging flight. The search for a nesting place has begun.

Bumblebee queens emerge from hibernation in the spring, hungry, and in desperate need of pollen and nectar to replenish their dwindling energy reserves. My first sighting is no exception. She leaves her zig-zagging and makes a bee-line to the patch of hellebores at the back of the garden. Soon she has disappeared into one of the wide speckled blooms.

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Over the coming weeks she will spend her time re-fuel and investigate potential places to build her nest, burrowing into old mouse holes, or the compost heap; crawling under the shed and into piles of leaves. It’s certainly no coincidence that last year a buff-tailed bumblebee colony was established close to the hellebore patch: bumblebee queens often to choose to nest where there is a plentiful source of food nearby to help produce their first batch of eggs.

Elsewhere in the garden, spring bulbs and blossom, lungwort, fritillaries, and primroses all offer early garden forage for bumbles while cheering up the beds and borders through these earliest months of the year. We leave clusters of violets and celandines that have seeded themselves around the garden from the woods beyond, and plant our own choices in clumps and drifts. Planting in this way provides plenty of forage in each place, helping the bees to conserve their energy by reducing the need to fly too far between plants.

Soon other kinds of bumblebee will begin to emerge, and we will welcome the first solitary bees too. The gentle Andrena carantonica that appear each year in the upstairs bedrooms; tawny mining bees (Andrena fulva) who make volcano-shaped nest entrances in the borders; ashy mining bees (Andrena cineraria) with their characteristic grey moustaches; the red mason bees (Osmia bicornis) that like to sun themselves on the south and west facing walls of the house; and the hairy-footed flower bees (Anthophora plumipes) that zip at speed from flower to flower among the comfrey plants.

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But for now, I am content to listen out for that deep buzz of the big bumblebee queens, hoping to spot more before they enter the confinement of their nests for the rest of the year.

 

SpringHelen Duncan
A Slow Start to Spring
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At times it seemed as though spring would never arrive. There have been false starts aplenty, with snow-covered daffodils a frequent sight, but now - finally - it feels as though there's been a shift. 

Snowdrops have given up the fight and have dropped for the last time. Crocuses are starting to be brave. Even the morning chorus is crescendoing. And there's something in the air, or something lacking, more to the point; even in the winds, the sharpness of winter has faded. 

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I've been squirrelled away indoors finishing issue three of the magazine, and the two mornings a week I dedicate to Creative Countryside have been spent editing articles, finalising layouts, and proof-reading. It's always an incredibly busy time, but I love the process of compiling the work of so many talented writers, photographers and illustrators.

These images were taken when I visited Bryn Eglur (@thewelshhouse) back in February, just before the snow arrived. The days were sunlit, and the daffodils were just emerging, and I had a quiet few hours to myself to write, plan and think. It's not often these opportunities arise, so I made the most of every minute. Reading in the bath. Watching the sun set over the fields. Listening for the owl.

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My husband, Dan, took these photos on his analogue camera, also relishing the chance to take some time for himself and a creative pursuit. I love the way he's captured the low light pouring through the window panes. I think it's the light that I'll remember most about visiting the cottage.

If you'd like to see more, Bryn Eglur is also featured in issue 3 of the magazine, available to order here


Collaboration Note:  Thank you to Dorian at The Welsh House for inviting us to stay.  All words, thoughts and images are my own. 

SpringEleanor Cheetham
Beautiful Bluebells

Common name(s): bluebell; English bluebell; British bluebell; granfer griggles; cra'tae

Scientific name: Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Wild flowers are nature’s way of encouraging us to get outside and explore. One renowned sight of Spring, is the blankets of purple bluebells which sweep across UK woodlands, revealing an impressive sight and smell!

Bluebells are a great value to our wildlife and many species of insect feed on the sweetly-scented drooping flower for nectar. According to folklore, legend says that floors of bluebells are complexly entwined with fairy enchantments and it’s their magical appearance that has often been illustrated in books and films. Unsurprisingly, numerous British surveys have reported that the bluebell is one of the nation's best-loved flowers and it's now, in May, that they are in full bloom.

Many choose to visit bluebell spots across the country including The Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, where these photographs were taken. Other locations to discover are Arlington in Sussex, Skomer in Wales, Hole Park Gardens in Kent, Hackfall Wood in Yorkshire and Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey, to name a few. To check out more beautiful bluebell walks visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lists/bluebell-woods-near-you

SpringHollie Crawshaw
Springtime Foraging in the Woods

We’re very lucky in these parts as there’s access to plenty of beautiful woodland and open moorland. That means that as well as the ubiquitous blackberries, we can go picking whinberries (wild bilberries) on the hills in late summer – always something to look forward to and well worth the painstaking job of plucking the tiny, blue-black fruits once you’ve collected enough for a pie or crumble.

But right now it’s the perfect time to go looking for another seasonal favourite: spring greens, in the form of wild garlic and nettle tops.

I live near a town called Ramsbottom. It’s named after the ramson, or wild garlic, which grows prolifically in the area and Ramsbottom translates as ‘Valley of Wild Garlic’ (incidentally, it’s also becoming known as a bit of a foodie destination but that’s another story).

We go picking wild garlic every spring. Last year I made a batch of wild garlic butter, delicious despite its rather unconventional colour. The taste of ramsons is much milder than the usual bulbs we cook with, and it lends itself well to soups, fish and chicken dishes. You can serve it as you would spinach, simply wilted down, or mix the chopped fresh leaves with mayonnaise or soft cheese.

You’ll often smell the plant it before you see it - lush emerald green leaves giving off that distinctively pungent scent. Wild garlic grows in the woods in large clumps, and as the season progresses it produces starry white flowers. These are also edible, but once the flowers are plentiful the leaves will be getting past their best so it’s always wisest to pick early. Here in the North, that’s usually from around early April onwards.

It’s become a yearly tradition to take my little one out foraging over the Easter holidays. We always take a pair of rubber gloves so that in addition to the garlic, we can pick nettle tops. I make sure we take them from above ‘dog level’ for obvious reasons, so fortunately there’s a patch of nettles growing along the top of a dry stone wall where we can pick to our heart’s content.

I’m a great advocate of herbalism and natural remedies. If you read up on the health-giving properties of the stinging nettle, you’ll be very impressed. It’s high in iron, B complex vitamins as well as vitamins C, A, and D, and contains calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and beta-carotene. It’s also known as a diuretic, contains anti-histamine and has many astringent and anti-inflammatory uses. 

Again, it’s a good idea to collect nettles early in the growing season. It isn’t generally recommended to pick and use them once they’re at the flowering stage (and not to take them as a supplement during the early stages of pregnancy, or if you have low blood pressure or low blood sugar).

The leaves can be made into a tea either by steeping them in hot water (try with a little lemon and honey if the flavour’s not to your taste) or by drying the nettles and saving them in an airtight jar for future use.

Of course, you could be more adventurous and use them as an ingredient (always cook them first!) Nettle soup is a pretty well-known option, but as with wild garlic leaves they’re similar to spinach so can be added to risotto or even used as a pizza topping.

Once we’ve gathered our greens we always head home and make a huge pan of soup with chicken stock, the (well-washed) nettles and garlic, lots of chopped vegetables and plenty of seasoning. My little boy gets incredibly excited about the whole process and I’m always amazed when, despite his severe dislike of all things salad, he’ll happily wolf down a bowl of cooked leaves just picked from the woods.

Naturally, it’s all about his involvement in the process: carrying the basket, spotting the plants, scrambling up the banks to gather them. That’s the whole point of foraging. Although much-derided as a middle-class fad, it actually brings you closer to nature and seasonality. Searching for food, finding it, making use of what’s growing. Zero food miles or packaging, pesticides or cost. It’s what’s been done for generations. And if it encourages a four-year-old to eat his greens… well, I’m happy with that.

SpringSarah Hardman
Snow White Petals

Reliably unpredictable was the forecast as the freezing winter turned into a decorative pattern of humble flowers and vast green expanses, eventually blanketed by an unexpected five inches of snow, delivered fashionably late - well past the middle of April.

The transformation of the landscape was gradual, from the ochre, sepia and russet hues to that of a verdant green which magically appeared overnight.

As spring slowly, but surely, takes the main stage, dandelions now cover random fields with a carpet of blazing yellow, while the lungwort and stinging nettles sit in the shade of fruit trees along boundary lines and fences. These unpresuming plants are waiting for the bees, and the humans respectively, to appreciate their pollen and essential minerals.

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In village tradition, the gardens are being ploughed and turned with the use of horse power or tractor. The potatoes are slumbering in neat rows, waiting patiently for soil temperatures to rise; lettuce is planted closer to home, the peas and spinach too. Yet when we look beyond the conventional vegetable fare, we realize that extensive foraging is viable here in Romania. Beyond picking basketfuls of mushrooms and learning to recognize plants that are new to us, harvesting from the wild is also a wonderful way to interact with the land and the multitude of native plants it has to offer.

Already, we are adding alfalfa to salads, drinking hearty broths of raspberry stem tea (the leaves are just beginning to emerge) and dandelion leaves can be harvested by the bushelful – if only people knew what they were missing!

A warmer and sunnier spell in March saw us hiking halfway up to the crest to tap a stand of birch trees for water, apă de mesteacăn, which allowed us to taste for the first time the cleansing earthiness and energy of trees.

Red squirrels, still in their winter black fur, can be seen cracking the random walnut in the lower branches of fir trees, while the cuckoo calls from the depths of the woodlands where the sheep and shepherds roam. The hoopoe, Upupa epops, can be heard where the orchards sprawl to the west as they proclaim ownership to their territory.

All the while chickens are clucking and laying their daily farm fresh eggs, scythes are being honed, wooden rakes are carried on hardened shoulders and the work that stops only on Sundays and holidays, goes on at a steady pace, for there are always animals to feed, equipment to be repaired and seeds to be planted.

Nature is displaying her beguiling abundance with infinite blossoms as the bees and various flying insects do their best to keep up with the wind, the cold, the heat and the constantly changing weather. They must adapt, and so shall we, for although this spring is short and sweet, summer will be quickly upon us. One can already sense it by the amount of tourists coming to visit and fall in love with this quaint and delightful village of Breb.

As we experience one revitalizing season, then another, we know that patience for summer will reward us with fruits from the land and experiences to last a lifetime.

SpringCheryl Magyar
Microadventures: Where the Sea Resides….

As I’m on a quest to Walk 1000 miles this year, I seem to be manifesting some fantastic microadventures to make my quest even more interesting.  I found myself recently heading to the North Wales coastline (one of my favourite coastlines),  to glamp by the sea. Did you know there’s around 250 miles of North Wales coastline?

A trip to the coast is a delight for all of your senses. Take a deep breath in and then release slowly.  Taste the salty air, and let your taste buds imagine what treats are to come.  Stand near to crashing waves and let your skin feel the refreshing spray. Curl bare toes in the sound, letting the grains of rocks and minerals which make up the sand, caress and exfoliate.  Block out any negative thoughts with the sound of the sea lapping lazily on the seashore or the swirl of the waves as they build up, find momentum and then violently spill out all over the rocks and cliffs. Cast your gaze to the gulls drifting idly out to sea or to the boats bobbing to the motion of the ocean.

When I was young, the seaside played a big part in my life. Since my Nan’s ultimate dream was to move to North Wales by the sea, our holidays were always heavily beach related in North Wales.  Buckets and spades, frilly hats, jelly shoes and sun block were on the ‘to pack’ list whilst burying cousins in the sand, over eating ice cream, shell collecting and my Nans’s favourite ‘paddling’ was on the ‘to-do’ list.  As I reached the age of 10 or 11, school friends would holiday in the south of France,  Spain and even more exotic places. They’d ask me why I never went on holiday?  I can remember my favourite teacher stepping in and explaining to them that you didn’t need to go on a plane to go on holiday.

Going to the seaside is a typically British thing to do isn’t it?  The seaside holiday was at its peak in the 1950s and early 1960s.  Families flocked to the coastline to stay in guest houses, B&Bs and campsites,  a stone’s throw from the promise of a splashing good time and a distraction of the previous decade.  I think seaside holidays are coming back in fashion - I don’t think they ever really went out….

The health benefits of spending more time around water and in particular by the sea are of increasing interest to science.   There are many reports of people ‘feeling calmer’ by the sea, perhaps some clue in that is our body is made up of mostly water.  Still, I’m not one for needing hard facts and evidence to convince me that exposure to the sea is good for my wellbeing. I’ve seen it first hand time after time!

Now an adult, I’m extremely fortunate to live so near to the North Wales coastline. These days, beach time is a little different compared to the microadventures I shared with my Nan, but I love her for sharing and passing on her adoration for the seaside.  I lust beaches which offer coastal walks (Aberystwy to Clarach Bay is a lovely coastal walk) so I’ve to trade the jelly sandals in for more sturdy hiking boots.  I prefer to stay in quaint, quirky and more natural accommodation like the Wig-Wam I recently stayed at, which was adorable, rather than jam-packed caravan sites (sorry Nan).   I love to visit beaches out of season when they’re less crowded and dog friendly (Porthor - Whistling Sands being one of my favourites). Although, some things don’t change….  Bel seems to insist on digging herself or me in the sand, and I still over-eat on ice cream!

The UK is made up of such small islands that you’re never that far away from the coast or a beach.  It’s a perfect place for a microadventure combined with a spot of camping or glamping. I’ve not yet satisfied my salty appetite (I never will) so next month, I’m travelling to South West Wales to enjoy the Pembrokeshire award winning coast whilst at The Big Retreat Wales.

You, me and the sea - won’t you microadventure with me?