Off the beaten track. Tucked up at Growan Retreat Centre, Herefordshire. Early summer. Lockdown lifted. Fields of ripening wheat, whispering rivers and rolling hills. Ancient hill fort walks. Wild food, fire cooked food, soul-nourishing company, songs and storytelling.
Gathered together, nine women. Resting, recharging, resetting.
She Can Do Wild was born several summers ago with the sole purpose of providing time for women to support women in the Great Outdoors. It's about providing time outside to rest a while and re-energise, listen and learn from each other - finding within that time and space a renewed sense of self and purpose. This June, after a year of struggling with the stress, anxiety, heartache and heartbreak that's battered us all, we finally got to do this again.
And it was beautiful.
The weekend was blessed with the very best weather and full of coffee and incredible cake, we began with a story and forage walk. Weaving our way along hedgerows of hazel, hawthorn and hogweed in full flower, we gleaned crowns of cleavers and made burdock baskets. When the sun reached high overhead, we paused a while in the shade of ancient willows to gather aromatic elderflower, pinch leaves from of the still strong garlic mustard and tell tales of the Fae folk. The walk was busy but gentle - backed by a soundscape of singing blackbirds, bees, crickets and the companionable chat of women.
To avoid the hottest part of the day, we dipped into the woods, pausing in places where the trees and the creatures had a tale to tell. The stories came thick and fast - about birds battling for sky high supremacy, salmons of knowledge, curing foxes, milk-thieving witches and children-stealing pixies...
It wasn't long before we were able to tune into the enchantments of that natural world. Women began to point out the ways in which the hazel leaves would dance in the breeze - fluttering like tiny butterflies. Peering deeper into the understory, they noticed delicate webs tethering trees standing metres away from each other like tiny silvery life lines. We passed sweet-smelling cherry, apple and plum trees - born of seeds blown in from the surrounding orchards, swept past the long outstretched limbs of towering chestnuts and bent to inspect carpets of Herb Robert, campion, creeping buttercup and celandine. The environment hummed and buzzed with colour and purpose, and it anchored us. It held us in a very special space that was fascinating, illuminating, nourishing and healing.
After our walk, we returned to camp - our bellies full of home-made focaccia and freshly foraged sheep sorrel. While some of us headed out for a wild swim in the river that wound its way past our camp, others stayed to play with fire. The long, light afternoon gifted us ample time to weave nettle and chestnut cordage, experiment with the whittling of spoons and tempura our thistles and leaves. While we worked, we shared our stories. Busy hands led to quiet minds that could finally find time to breathe to the beat of the birdsong about us - the little wren with her loud voice and the blackbird family nesting next to the barn.
Over the hearth, supper was cooking - a sumptuous meal of vegan deliciousness and the smell was making us hungry.
Feeling full of both delicious food and fabulous company, we returned at dusk to the fire pit for some starry-skied singing and storytelling. I never feel like we sing enough and it was clear that the women really loved celebrating the day through the powerful medium of song. Clutching a sheet of lyrics and looking to Holly as our lead, our voices stretched boldly and beautifully out into the night. 'More', they cried and again we lifted up melodies made all the more magic by the rich mixture of many women singing.
Our story was an old Scandinavian folktale - one of my favourites. A tale of love, loss and loyalty that felt bewitchingly real as we all sat together in the half-light; lanterns flickering in the breeze and bats arcing across the deep indigo sky.
We slept that night in an array of bivvies, hammocks and tents, woken by the overly enthusiastic barrage of morning song that the little hedgerow wrens poured down on us when the sun began to rise. We spent our Sunday cooking, swimming, resting, reading and completing our whittled spoons and cordage, as well as having a play with the fire by friction set (as if it wasn't warm enough that weekend!)
We always begin our retreats with a ceremony around the fire - starting with a story and the opportunity to pause and think about what it is you wish your weekend to be for you. We find that our ceremonys introduce that spiritual sense of belonging that is crucial for us all in a new space with new people. We finish in the same way, coming together an hour from our end to sing and share a story. It's here that we often find we reach the deepest points of the retreat in the sense that this is where our women feel confident enough to talk about the therapeutic
effect of spending time in the company of others outside. It's at this point that they will speak of how empowering it is to be close to other women - in nature - how supportive the wild and the company of others can be. This very special time is often marked with tears, smiles and powerfully emotive moments. It's magic.
It's the magic that happens when women get together to re-engage with both the natural world and their own sense of self in relation to that wild outside.
It's exactly why we started the retreats and it's why we'll continue running them for a long time still.
If you think you might like to join us, visit the website for more information - www.thewildofthewords.co.uk/shecandowild. Our next weekend is this September 18th and 19th 2021, and we would love to have you with us.
Pridie & Holly x