Kiri and



June 2nd, 2024 (by Steve)

February half term arrived and with it the opportunity for another couple of nights of retreat. Now you might be getting the idea from our recent blog posts that retreating is the only thing that we tend to do, rather than any kind of advancing… but what is missing from the narrative is the very full life we live, that can only be fueled from a place of rest!

Kiri was still midway through a course at Westonbirt Arboretum, learning ancient skills of turning one birch tree into a variety of products. So the plan was for me to take the kids to Llantwit Major on the train with Kiri bringing the van to meet us there after her course. It’s such a picturesque train ride down the Severn estuary from Gloucester to Cardiff and the weather was glorious, promising beautiful views. Alas, the promise was not to be met, for as we arrived at the station our train had been cancelled! Turning to the kids I asked if they were ready for an adventure… and as they were, we sprinted for an alternative train that would take us down to Bristol Parkway where we could then get a train on to Bridgend and change there instead of Cardiff. Whilst prepared with lots of treats to make the train journey pass quickly, it was enough excitement just to look out of the window… and the kids enjoyed the view too!

Once in Llantwit, we got stuck into a Lego minifigures jigsaw and had some lunch before the youngsters headed down to the beach with grandparents. Meanwhile I wandered into the town centre to stock up on supplies for our short retreat, making the schoolboy error of forgetting about the existence of Farmers Pantry for meat. After some down time, Kiri turned up having made a small table by milling a length of birch, shaping it with a travisher, then working the legs into shape with a draw knife on a shave horse.

(Yes, I know in the second photo that’s not a table – this is Kiri on a sunnier day making a kuksa!)

We bade farewell to the kids (including a false start where we were called back for one more hug!) and then set out to Noddfa – our favourite little off-grid cabin in the woods. We passed through flooding on the way, glad of the extra ground clearance Penny (our van) had over Rosa (our car). I’ve been reading The Secret Garden with our eldest recently, which has a beautiful line about spring:

It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth

Now February is a bit early for spring and it was more rain than sunshine, but the snowdrops in the woodland were an early promise of what was to come, as we pushed the wheelbarrow to the cabin. Very little had changed in the year since we were last there – a new container for muddy boots, new storage for wood and a few different decorations (including a wooden compass on the ceiling). But it still lives up to its name – a place of refuge – in our case a place of retreat.

With the fire lit and a simple dinner consumed, we managed just the one round of crib to accompany our beer before crashing out into bed shortly after 8pm.

When you’re in an offgrid cabin, the important questions in life come into sharp perspective. As we woke with the light (mirroring the rain which also started with the light) after 11 hours in bed, what should we prioritise – lighting the fire, or making coffee? The fire won and as we sat enjoying its warming flickering we had a leisurely coffee accompanied by a fried egg banjo and a constant stream of small birds taking advantage of the bird feeder outside the window. Retreat for us is about resting and intentionally taking time to step back and evaluate. The topic of conversation happened to be our finances; how can we be better stewards of what we have.

By the time we’d washed up, we couldn’t believe it was 1130. But that was OK. I’m a bit rubbish at not being productive, so it’s really good discipline for me to slow down and just be. However… we did want to do some exploring, so had a wet drive to get to Ewenni, where it was too wet to get out of Penny (ooh, that rhymes!). We sat outside the priory whilst the rain lashed the outside of our van and used the time to think about how we could ply-line her and make her into a practical coppice worker’s companion. It was clear after our chat that the rain wasn’t easing (indeed it was possibly worse?!), so we made the decision to brave it.

Ewenni Priory is a fascinating place – it’s a lovely little church with really beefy walls, serving as part of the fortifications of the grounds it’s part of. A lady inside chatted to us about the history of the Benedictine community there and how it was founded as an offshoot of an Abbey in Gloucester. Two of the striking architectural features were a leper window through which those outside the church could observe the services held by the monks, and a much newer glass screen with butterflies etched into – inspired by rare butterflies that had been found in nearby meadows. The acoustics were also stunning, but at the time of our visit consumed by the radio of the builders at work!

After such a strenuous morning(!) we were hungry, so aimed for Happy Days in Cowbridge that we’d missed on our previous jaunt to Noddfa. As with the cancelled train, our plan was foiled so we went on a soggy hunt for an alternative venue.

We think that where we ended up was called “Penny Farthing”, although with the typography on their logo, it could have been “Penny EarThing”… or maybe “Penny Earthling”???. As we ordered our jacket potato and soup, we overheard one of the staff calling out “did you check the ham situation?” and minds spiralled to visions of pigs running amok in the kitchen. However, lunch turned out to be rather uneventful with no porcine interruptions.

We returned to Noddfa via Waitrose (we go all posh when we go on retreat!) to pick up some food for dinner and as we wandered through the Coed Hills woodland, we contemplated the woodland at Bryn Gobaith that we’d visited in October. Might that play a part somewhere in our future? Lighting the fire with the waste product birch shavings of Kiri’s latest creation, we decided not to read anything into the “W” having fallen off the ceiling compass and instead settled into an afternoon of reading and resting.

The evening followed the same trajectory as the previous night – after a tomatoey chorizo one pan dinner, we had a couple of games of crib to accompany our wine and chocolate (Kiri won both… as well as the previous night’s game!) and then we were in bed by 9. And the following morning was much the same – fire + coffee + eggs = satisfaction. We’d even managed an extra hour in bed (12 hours!!!) and we mused over our breakfast that this short retreat time had mainly been about rest. The silence of the woodland was only punctuated by the chesty coughs from both of us and the flurry of small birds at the peanuts.

Wednesday also brought the start of Lent so we thought it appropriate to read together the account of the testing of Jesus in the wilderness before we returned to our wee ones via a different, non-flooded route. We observed a sparrowhawk in a neighbours garden before lunch, then had a soggy trip to the beach with the kids. Luckily Penny is made of strong stuff – with neither the reversing sensor of Rosa, nor the reversing routine we adopted with Bertha, as Kiri reversed Penny she declared “I can’t see the wall”, before the wall promptly making contact with Penny. A scratch. Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch – she’ll be fine!

Following the children stopping by the robot cow juice dispenser and the consuming of some leftover pancake batter, it was time to return home. Time to spring from our retreat and advance into Lent. A time of fasting and further reflection.

One Response

Great! Once again. I love these blogs

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