Thursday, 29 October 2015

A Weekend at The Wood Life

You might question the wisdom of booking a weekend away in a tent at the end of October. But when the tent in question is of the safari variety, and comes equipped with a wood burner and proper beds furnished with thick, cosy duvets, as well as a nice big awning sheltering the outdoor space, the idea doesn't seem quite so crazy. 

So last weekend we found ourselves rocking up at The Wood Life, a woodland camp located just a few miles off the motorway, close to Exeter and the South Devon coast. Armed with a car stuffed with blankets, wellies and all-weather clothing, we were prepared for the quintessential British camping experience involving lots of rain and never quite feeling warm enough. The Wood Life is a bit different to normal camping, though, so we needn't have worried too much - with the aforementioned comforts at our disposal, we were warm, dry and comfortable throughout our stay.

The Wood Life gets rave reviews on sites such as Cool Camping, and has been rated one of the UK's top luxury campsites by The Guardian. Booking out of season proved a pretty budget-friendly way of experiencing its charms and enjoying not just the full glamping experience (cosy, vintage-y interiors, warm showers and roaring campfires) but also the joy of having an entire wood to ourselves. Compared to a half-term stay at, say, Centre Parcs, the Wood Life is much kinder on the wallet. And you get the sort of privacy and tranquility that I don't imagine comes as standard at the big-name family resorts.

For our work/school/life-weary party of four, arriving in the middle of a secluded wood, with just a few sheep in the field next door for company, proved a pretty heady experience. As Amanda - the site owner - showed us the ropes, our two boys ran about the place like kids in a sweet shop, acquainting themselves with the tree house, woodland dens and tree swing. If you live in the city I don't need to tell you how refreshing it is to see your kids mucking about outdoors with abandon, all thoughts of iPads and phones put to the backs of their minds as they get stuck into collecting firewood or making a den. 

There's so much room on site and not having to share it with anyone else offers an added joy, particularly if you find city life claustrophobic sometimes. 

On the subject of space, you may be equating the idea of a tent with overcrowding. Safari tents are different. They are BIG. There's none of that stumbling over each other and tripping over things every two minutes that you get with a standard tent. You get a sofa, dining table, kitchen area, complete with sink, gas cooker and gas fridge. There's a vintage dresser filled with cutlery and crockery, maps and hot water bottles, and a chest stuffed with board games. Oh, and did I mention the wood burner that keeps everything toasty and warms up cold feet?

The tent sleeps four, with one double bed and two singles arranged in separate sleeping compartments. Yeah, they're proper beds. And much warmer and comfier than huddling up in a sleeping bag on a camp bed.

A charming play house-style bathroom houses a compost loo, basin and wood fired shower. It's super-cute and functional too - my favourite kind of bathroom. You do need to get a bit of a hang of the shower and load it with firewood in plenty of time to reach the desired water temperature. And while you might not be able to have a lingering shower, you're having a shower in a PLAYHOUSE. LOOKING OUT ACROSS THE WOOD...a bit nicer than my average morning.

One thing to note about the tent is that there's no electricity - torches and paraffin lamps provide the lighting. It can make checking that you've cooked the sausages enough a tad challenging, but I quite liked living in a cosy half-light for a bit. Obviously, coming in the summer would brighten things up indoors - October just doesn't provide much in the way of natural light. Remember to bring your car phone charger, but leave the iPad behind...

As the weather was unseasonably mild during our stay we were able to enjoy al fresco breakfast and dinner by the campfire. Snuggled up with blankets on the decking or sitting by the fire, toasting mashmallows, we were never cold and stayed outdoors till 10pm each night. We were pretty happy with that.

Locally there is a fantastic pub, the Ley Arms, just a short walk or drive away. It's cosy and friendly and serves great food and Devon ales - highly recommended. You'll find a general store in Kennford Village where you can pick up essentials, and there's a Sainsbury's superstore in nearby Dawlish. We also visited the farm shop at Powderham Castle. 

For places to visit during your stay, take your pick of beaches, towns and countryside - I'll be doing a separate blog post on what we got up to soon. In the meantime, if you're looking for your next adventure in the UK, visit the Wood Life website here to start planning...(you can also check out some indoor photos of the tent - it was too dark inside for me to capture anything useful!)

More photos


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

House Buys For Autumn

Having been a proper homeowner for almost 11 years I've come to the realisation that a home is never really 'finished'. Aside from all the boring maintenance stuff - attending to ceiling cracks, treating mildew and the almost daily task of removing grimy fingerprints from walls - I'm a habitual 'tweaker' when it comes to interiors; if I'm not reconfiguring picture arrangements (and upsetting my other half by knocking more holes into the walls) I might be colour coding the book shelf or reorganising cupboard space in a usually futile attempt to free up room for the piles of clutter that seem to multiply daily in all corners of the house. 

And if I'm not doing that I'm usually faffing about on Pinterest or googling the instructions for chalk painting furniture (more of that in a later blog...Annie Sloan's legendary paint has been purchased and a bedroom overhaul will be commencing soon)

The thing is, my home is a bit like fashion for me - it's a way to inject just a bit of creativity in my very ordinary daily life. And it's quite fun learning skills along the way (a bit of upholstery here, a bit of upcycling there) to help you achieve a new look on a shoestring. It's my belief that the most interesting, stylish homes are born out of slim budgets, and that often the most expensively furnished ones can be the most soulless.

At the moment, my home feels a bit tired and a little unloved so I'm looking forward to getting that chalk paint out and sprucing it up with some new additions here to help me enjoy it again. Here are some of the things I've got my eye on...

Good old BHS always has some gems in its lighting department. This beautiful light reminds me of one I saw in Anthropolgie a while back for nearer the £1000 mark. It's still not cheap but BHS have almost constant sales and at the time of writing, this light was available at almost 25% off. The light also comes in a deep teal colour and reminds me a bit of Abigail Ahern-style interiors. If I had higher ceilings I'd buy this.

Buy here

Another high street store that has some really unusual things amongst the more pedestrian stuff. I recently bought some very chic white bedding for a fraction of the price of The White Company and the quality is excellent. I'm considering buying this to offset the pine furniture I'm renovating with antique white chalk paint for our bedroom, but it would look equally at home above a living room mantlepiece. 

Buy here

I have an irrational addiction to cushions. They just make me happy, and none more so than the beautiful, reasonably priced cushions from Bombay Duck. I've bought several lovely pieces from their collection already and am tempted in particular by this colourful beauty - the nearest I'll get to Mexico for the time being...LOVE.

Buy here

I once bought a Diptyque Candle and I got told off about it...cause spending £40 on a bit of wax in a jar (even if it's a very lovely jar) is a bit daft when you think about it. There's nothing to feel guilty about here - £6 for a very stylish candle that will look most sophisticated on your mantelpiece and add a nice warm, scented glow to your room on a cold winter night. 

Buy here

It's pink, very kitsch and not for everyone...but I kinda like this lamp. Some of the pieces in the Matthew Williamson Butterfly range feel a little contrived but in amongst the rather obvious stuff there are some nice things to inject a bit of colour into jaded homes. There are some more subdued pieces in the current range too - these peacock bowls are rather nice and - given my addition to cushions - I was drawn to this number too.

Buy here
Grayson Entryway Table, £180 - Urban Outfitters

A great place to shop for unusual homewares online. I bought a zinc-topped industrial-style cabinet for £170 in the sale here a couple of years back which sits in our playroom and has lots of drawers for various kids stuff, iPads, and random bits and bobs. This console table is a really reasonably priced addition to a hallway and gives homes a rough-hewn vintage look without the effort of trawling a million reclamation yards or antique fairs. I also love the simple functionality of these storage cupboards, a steal at £65.

Buy here

Chalk Paint, Annie Sloan - £18.95 per pot

You've probably heard about this miraculous stuff - pretty, chalky paints that you can apply direct to your furniture without loads of laborious prep. I'm going to be giving my old pine bedroom furniture a makeover with the stuff soon and shall report on whether it lives up to the hype. Priced at just under £20 a pot, giving furniture a paint job saves the huge expense of replacing everything. I am planning to invest in a new bed and mattress, though, and saving on furniture costs will make that much more feasible. 

Buy here


Monday, 5 October 2015

3 Different Online Shops

A recent trip to Cabot Circus proved a reminder of just how poorly served Bristol is for shopping. With my pay cheque burning a whole in my pocket and a requirement to buy some new jeans, I spent a very frustrating afternoon trawling the shops and inwardly cursing about the lack of choice in our city. I don't understand it - Bristol is a creative, relatively affluent place, so you'd think the retail offering would be, well, just a bit more exciting. Of course, you'll find most big name high street stores at both Cabot Circus and the Mall, but if you're after something a bit different you're limited to Urban Outfitters. 

But on this particular occasion even Urban Outfitters failed to deliver. Not only did I bump into a friend's 14 year old daughter and her gaggle of mates in the changing rooms (a scenario that did rather make me wonder if I'm perhaps getting a little too old for Urban Outfitters) but the jeans I tried on here made me look like a '90s throwback...which is okay if you're not old enough to actually remember the '90s.

So back to the world of online shopping and seeking out those elusive jeans on the world wide web. It's a pretty overwhelming experience, so I thought I'd share three new sites you might want to bookmark if you're looking for an alternative to the standard chain stores (and useful if, like me, you never have any luck finding denim on the high street...)


Not cheap, but the denim is particularly good and you can pick up bargains in the sale, plus Madewell really knows how to do a good vintage wash. I hate the flimsiness of high street denim, so I'm happy to pay a bit more for something that is a bit more heavy duty and shape retaining. 

Embroidered top, £66.12 in the sale

Aside from denim, you'll find great knitwear and t-shirts that have that relaxed but well-made look that US brands do so well. If you ever indulge in the fantasy that you're actually a writer living in Brooklyn (yes, I do) then this is a brand that will fit your style, though unfortunately you do need a little more than a writer's income to afford some of the pieces in the collection. That said, there are bargains to be had in the sale - I tend to buy my summer clothes in the winter and vice versa, so have been stocking up on a few pieces that are heavily discounted at the moment. And if you're after a special treat, the bags are affordable luxuries and have a timeless but cool look. 


Perhaps Paris' Left Bank is more your thing than Williamsburg. In that case you need to know about Sezane, a French site that has just launched in the UK. It's got that sophisticated-without-being-stuffy vibe that characterises French style and prices are reasonable - it's on a par with more upmarket brands such as Whistles or Reiss, but has more affordable t-shirts and blouses in its collection, too. 

Bora Blouse, 65 euros


A bit like &Other Stories, this Spanish brand has more of a fashion-forward edge, so it's perfect if you're looking for something for a special occasion and don't want to look like everyone else. Again, prices are very much at the upper end of the high street (think Karen Millen, Whistles, etc) but, like sister brands Zara and Massimo Dutti, the pieces feature quality fabrics and sharp tailoring that justify the steeper price tags.

Striped dress, £125

All images courtesy of Madewell, Sezane and Uterque
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