Winter again!

I just returned from the mainland yesterday and woke this morning to see the island covered in snow again! Twice in one month is almost unheard off here on the Isles of Scilly, but that's not to say we don't love it.

Any slope will do for a bit of sledging.

The view across the roof tops show the island of Bryher beginning to thaw.

Feeding time for the cattle doesn't usually involve a topping of snow.

Dolphin cottage has never looked so pretty.

The churchyard takes on a very different guise when dressed in white.

Looking at this, it's difficult to believe that we're only two weeks away from Easter.

It's funny how different all these landmarks look in the snow.

The daffodils tell the real tale in this winter scene.

I love to see this cottage turned into an alpine picture.

I can't decide if I prefer this view looking out...

...or looking inwards.

Hang on in there, the thaw is coming!

From the top of the island looking towards Samson.

The heart of the village looks so very different under this blanket of white.

I've walked for a couple of hours in the sunshine and the snow is melting quickly now, returning the island to its normal colours. Apologies to those of you who have snow as a regular occurrence, but I hope that you can indulge me this latest weather focused post. I'll be back soon with a round up of my London trip. 

Anna x


Feels like spring

I don't know about you, but I've had enough of winter coats and at the slightest hint of spring I've been embracing a lighter look. I bought this rather fabulous pinstripe trouser suit for £7.50 in a charity shop in Penzance in January. The lining caught my eye before the price, but the combination of the two meant I just had to buy it.

I decided to push the boat out colourwise by adding my favourite floral satin shirt (preloved from Next) which upped the style factor to at least 8 out of 10. 

And to finish the look it had to be these old faithfuls, my silver brogues from Office. Between these and my Quay Australia sunglasses I'm pretty sure this could be a 10 out of 10 outfit today - what do you think?

For this shoot Sasha and I took a wander off the beaten track and ventured onto the boardwalk that leads to the bird hide. Her photographer's eye saw the creative opportunities that lay here. Not only did I benefit from some lovely photos for the blog, but she gave me some lessons with her snazzy camera too. 

At the moment I'm actually on the mainland with Steve on a little jaunt. We're spending a few days in Cornwall catching up with friends and then on Tuesday will be travelling to London. Wednesday will see us at the O2 as we join the thousands of star struck fans gathering to enjoy an evening listening to Paloma Faith. Our tickets for this have been delivered to a guest house in Truro so I'm not 100% convinced that we're really going until we and tickets are firmly together.

I'll be posting on Instagram over the next week, but I'm afraid that there's no blog post lined up for you mid-week this time. The hiccup with the loss of broadband for five days meant that I've struggled to get ahead of the game before I left.

In the meantime, I hope you're having a breath of spring wherever you are. Enjoy your week and I hope to be back with another post next weekend.

Anna x


Mindfulness retreat on Tresco

“Mindfulness is a way of being that helps focus awareness on the present, easing regrets about the past and anxiety for the future, allowing us to understand and accept ourselves for who, what and where we are.”

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to take part in a Mindfulness retreat, held in Abalone cottage on Tresco. The course leader was Caspar Walsh. Caspar has been delivering retreats throughout the UK for over 10 years. His work combines mindfulness, nature connection and personal inquiry to bring about a balanced, healthy, creative and flourishing life. He is a published author and writes for the Guardian and Observer. Find out more about Caspar here.

The retreat, for me, was a chance to slow down, to reflect on myself, the way I live my life and to help create opportunity for change. I'm painfully aware of the irony of this - living on this idyllic and peaceful island - how on earth am I not able to benefit from the slower pace of life? Well, of course, I could if I weren't working full time! The juggling act I perform here every day is no different to any other woman in my position. Sometimes we need a guide to show us the way to realign ourselves and a retreat is a safe haven to discover new ways to approach our lives.

I've undertaken a few courses on personal development over the years and must admit that aside from the content, I think one of the most important factors seems to be the personality of the teacher. Too much ego can sometimes get in the way of what the group needs, likewise not enough charisma can be uninspiring. Caspar is a natural teacher, talking with authority about a subject that is not only a passion, but a way of life. As a young man Caspar suffered hardship and difficult times, but his story is one of triumph over adversity. The perfect advocate for mindfulness, he emanates a sense of  calm and serenity through his peaceful aura. He is softly spoken and talks about treating the earth and each other gently and with kindness. Global issues, green issues, living a sustainable life are all part of his daily manifesto. On spending time with him you see that he is dedicated to treading lightly on this earth to leave as little trace as possible. He lives his life with a humble and gracious heart. 

At the start of the course Caspar had asked everyone what they hoped to gain from the course. We wrote down our hopes and took turns to read them out. Here’s mine – “I would like to find a way or discover tools to help me to be less busy; to stop rushing about, mindlessly, with a lack of focus. I’d like to take time out without feeling I ought to be doing something more important.”

Caspar led us through meditations/visualisations a few times each day with varying degrees of intensity for me. He prepared us all for the inevitable drifting off-course that the mind would do which was a great help. To know that unwanted thoughts will pop into your head the minute you try to meditate was helpful in preparing us to be able to just observe and let them drift away. And the more I practised this, the easier it did become. Silent meditations have been a struggle when I've tried them in the past, but to have Caspar’s voice giving gentle instructions was in itself a focus to block out other thoughts. I’ve been left with some spectacular imagery from one visualisation which had me floating blissfully in deep outer space observing the earth from above, and this vision and sensation remain as clear now as they were in that moment. 

A couple of times a day we were sent off for solitary walks. As we prepared for these we were instructed to be silent throughout. The other rule which Casper put in place was for us to walk at half our normal pace. Little did I know that this one feature would be quite so revolutionary for me. I’m a beetler; I beetle about at a rate of knots because I’ve always got so much to do and so little time to do it in. And suddenly, here I was being told to walk slowly. This in itself was such a revelation! Slowing down to this pace of life, a life that I’ve never experienced was like falling into another world - the world that I see holidaymakers inhabit here, but not one I’ve ever thought I could visit myself. And yet how very simple that was.

With each walk came instruction too, to listen, or to observe or touch - sometimes we documented these things as we went along.  Caspar was aware that we might meet a friend or workmate while we were out and about, but we were encouraged to just smile, nod, walk on and try very hard not to talk. Can you feel a little story coming on? Well, at one stage I found myself “trapped” in a nook at the top of a beach, behind a little shed with no way out, aware of some voices approaching. I was scribbling down my thoughts on the topic of touch when I realised that a group of workmen had cornered me (unbeknownst to them). They were reversing around the corner where I was seated, when one chap spotted me, “Oh Hi Anna,” he said “we need to be here for our meeting, so if you could...” at which I jumped up, clutching my pad and blurted out “I’m on a retreat and am not meant to be talking.” Quick as a flash the retort came back at me – “Well, that will make a nice change for everyone!”

One of the exercises that we did every day was a question and answer session with a difference. The questioner had to learn to merely pose the given question, but then resist the natural temptation to nod, interject a comment or use any body language to encourage the responder. Those who were replying had to talk about the given subject for three or four minutes which turned out to be a long time without prompts, visual or verbal from the listener. I found this quite a difficult exercise, as I’m such a chatterbox and also because I’m aware I do interrupt all the time – but with good reason ( I had always thought) because I know that the thing I’ll want to add to the conversation will elude me if I have to wait for someone to stop talking. It turns out that I’m not the only one who suffers this affliction too.

Caspar encouraged us to give feedback throughout the course and at one stage I was able to share my thoughts in response to the revolutionary nature of life lived in a mindful way. As I sat in the cottage observing the oasis of calm outside, it occurred to me that it was only through having Caspar’s permission that I had been able to experience my life in this mindful way. I was neither at home, at work, nor on holiday, but in this new place where mindfulness was the sole intention of our being. As a group we went on discuss the practicalities of incorporating mindful practise into our daily routines where work deadlines, social pressures and family commitments, in other words just the normal everyday routines, over-ride our good intentions for self care and gentle living.

So now, three weeks on, what have I retained from the retreat?

One very simple and effective tool is to stop and take a moment. Nothing new there then you might say? Well, for me it is new. The process of stopping, for example as I’ve dashed out the door and am about to hurtle along the road to work. Well, by stopping, I can create a space; to breath, to finish the morning rush of trying to get off to work, and to just take a moment. Within that moment, I can relax and put the brakes on that rush and tear that’s my default setting. I can also start again at a new pace, a more deliberate slower pace to enjoy my short commute to work, to take in the wonderful view and within that create a space to transition into work mode.

Silence is the next trick. I used to always have a TV or radio on in the background no matter what I was doing – paying the bills or writing my blog, folding my laundry or eating my lunch, whatever I was up to, there was always a soundtrack of some sort. In my defence, I had used the noise to drown out my tinnitus. One of those doctor’s columns I’d read suggested that you use a low grade noise to counter the sound of tinnitus so that’s what I did. However, Caspar  had asked us to focus on silence when we were inside and of course that meant me listening, really listening, to my own soundtrack. I discovered that this could be visualised as a gentle ringing, maybe even golden in colour, so that I may accommodate it more easily. That’s not to say that I never have the TV or radio on, only now I’m more mindful about making a choice.

Another “brand new” thing for me is kindness, in particular being kind to oneself. In Caspar’s meditations he encouraged us to be gentle with the earth, each other and most importantly to be gentle and kind to ourselves. After two days of his guidance, I did have a “Eureka” moment when I discovered that I can and am kind to others, but not so good with myself.

·         In an effort to create a mind shift I've made a few changes -

·         I’ve stopped writing to-do lists.
·         I’ve instigated a 10 o’clock bedtime so that I don’t get over tired.
·         I’ve stopped feeling guilty about downtime.
·         I’ve stopped seeing life as a competition, a competition with myself.
          I’ve given myself permission to not be the best.
          I'm practising the art of being instead of doing - this may take some time to master!


The final change that’s come about since the retreat is that I’ve managed to stop feeling fragmented and over-run. I have a sense of focus that I’ve never had before. Instead of a to-do list, I acknowledge the things that need to be accomplished and prioritise them. That then gives me one thing, and only one thing that I have to do. By having that one thing as my focus, I don’t allow my mind to fret and wonder how I’m ever going to get everything else done. The feeling of being overwhelmed with how much I wanted/needed to get done seems to have been tied up in that ongoing and ever growing list. Now I finish one job and decide again what's the most important thing to be tackled next. And best of all, I'm also learning to ignore things that can wait. Sometimes it's more beneficial to just rest or read or take a nice leisurely walk on this peaceful island.

Caspar Walsh will be holding another Mindulness Retreat on Tresco in the autumn. For full details of that see here.
Anna x


Yay, it snowed!

Oh my goodness, didn't it snow? We couldn't believe the forecast when they predicted a blizzard here this far south in the UK, but golly it arrived on Thursday evening big time! This was just as it started and by late evening it was laying inches deep on the ground.

I took a walk out after work to capture this unusual aspect of Tresco, but after only about 10 minutes of walking my camera seized with the cold. Once I got home I managed to switch it back on and the battery was fine, so I can only imagine that the freezing temperature caused it to shut down.

You many not recognise this vantage point, but I often take shots from here of the sunset across the bay.

These houses are known at the Flying Boat Club development, but not often marketed like this!

Can you see the snowman in the distance? It's the first time ever for some of the children to be able to play in the snow here.

Probably the first time too for these exotic plants to be adorned in snow.

I realise these photos may mean more to those readers who've already visited the island, but they're still pretty don't you think?

The blizzard was raging now, obliterating the view across the channel where you would normally be able to see Samson and Bryher in the distance.

Increasingly the view became more and a more like a winter wonderland (and it was the 1st of March!)

This was the very top of the island where I was most exposed to the blizzard. You can see by the palm trees ahead that the wind is blasting them sideways as the snow was starting to fall more heavily. It was at this point that my camera seized up, maybe because I turned to face into the wind and it upset the mechanism.

Sasha and I dodged out earlier on that day to take a few outfit shots in between snow showers. What could be more fitting on a day like this than to wear my leopard print faux fur coat? Well, maybe adding a pair of snakeskin ankle boots? These came to me c/o J D Williams a couple of seasons ago and are still available and even on offer here.

The rest of my outfit is pretty low key for a change - just a pair of black skinny jeans from Primark and an M&S cashmere polo neck to keep the chills out. I had layered a long sleeved thermal tee under that, again from M&S. My green leather gloves were a charity shop find some time ago.

The one thing I ought to mention is the disruption that the snow has caused to our Internet connection on across the island as well as Bryher. The fibre optic cable has suffered some damage and it looks like it may take a few more days to restore. In the meantime I'm accessing (non superfast broadband) Internet through a friend. My access to your comments will be limited in the meantime, so do excuse me if I don't respond quickly. 

I hope that life for my UK readers is starting to get back to normal now and wish you a better week ahead!

Anna x

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