My Favourite Place – Holy Island

Lindisfarne CastleDespite being a Southerner I am lucky enough to have family in the North and, as a result, have spent many a happy holiday in the beautiful county of Northumberland. It’s an often underrated place that many people miss out on their way up to Scotland, and populated by warm and friendly folk who have always made me feel at home there. But I am not going to attempt to describe the entire county, my absolute favourite spot of all is a magical little place called the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

Gertrude Jekyll Castle Garden

It’s a tidal island, just 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, and cut off from the mainland twice a day. It boasts a rich history dating back to the 6th century; the ancient ruins of a monastery; a castle (a Tudor fort refurbished by Sir Edwin Lutyens); a Gertrude Jekyll garden; a working harbour; a former coastguard station; a small village; several churches; sandy beaches and a wealth of natural wildlife to enjoy.

Traditionally a quiet place of Christian pilgrimage, over the years Lindisfarne has become increasingly popular with tourists of all beliefs and backgrounds, especially in the summer months. In daytime throughout August, between low tides, the car parks, gift shops and tea shops fill up with holidaymakers, nature enthusiasts, children and dogs, and the village bustles with life. The local businesses rely on these waves of tourism and the income they bring. But for me, it is when the tide has come in and the day-trippers have gone home, that the island is really at its best.Holy Island wild-flowersPart of me is tempted to keep silent about this place – to hide my passion rather than share it; as if the island is some treasured secret all of my own. But of course I’m not alone in my love for Lindisfarne. Many an artist, poet, film-maker, musician and author have been inspired by it – Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Sir Walter Scott, Roman Polanski, James Blake and LJ Ross, to name but a few.Mist in the sand dunesDescribing the innate tranquillity of this small pocket of the world, and the effect it has on me, is a challenge. It can be cold and bleak in winter, exposed as it is to the winds off the north sea – I thoroughly admire the islanders who live there year-round – but even when it’s under snow and ice and it feels like you might lose your fingers to frostbite, Holy Island has a quiet, raw intensity that inspires and allures. And when I am nestled in the sand dunes of the north shore on an early autumn morning, watching mist creep in over an almost-still sea; or lying on a sun-drenched hillside among summer wild-flowers, listening to the ghostly calling of seals on the wind and waves crashing below; with my notebook in hand … I feel happy.
Holy Island harbourI have never been religious, but I feel Holy Island is my spiritual home. I urge you to visit if you can.

Where is your favourite place?

 

The Natural Ingénue

While exploring the idea of Natural Romance it occurred to me that my own personal style – the way I dress – also fits into this theme.Childhood styleLike most people, as a child, my parents dictated my outfits. In my case that meant wearing clothes that tended towards the tomboyish and outdoorsy – dungarees and checked shirts that were practical, hard-wearing and wouldn’t show the dirt – and chunky seventies style knitted dresses for special occasions. Does anyone remember Clothkits? (I’m really defining my age now).

Later, as a teenager, the garments I picked out were all about copying the latest fashions and trying to fit in with my friends, rather than choosing what might suit me personally. Experimentation was all part of the fun back then, but a glance at photos from that time is enough to prove that mistakes were made.

Grace Lowrie Teenage Years
Grace Lowrie, the teenage years

Trend-following has become far less important to me as I’ve grown older – feeling good in my own skin and not wasting money on clothes I won’t wear, have become priorities. A few years ago I attended a series of three style analysis sessions with Margaret, a wonderful woman from House of Colour, with the aim of determining which colours and clothes would suit me best, thereby making future wardrobe choices both easier and wiser. It was a lot of fun (I went with two friends), I learnt a great deal and I can highly recommend it.Autumn threadsAs a result of this process I was interested to discover that a Rich Autumn colour palette best suits my skin-tone (rather than black) and that and my predominant style personality is that of a Natural Ingénue. Basically I’m the sort of (contrary) person who looks good wearing feminine dresses teamed with chunky leather boots. Of course this is not to say that I don’t still favour the rock chick vibe on occasion, or that I don’t spend whole days in slouch pants and my comfiest, ugliest, slob gear, because I do – regularly – but I never felt less like myself than when trussed up in a smart suit and heels. Since the style classes I no longer feel any pressure to make that look work for me (luckily my day job doesn’t require a strict dress code) and I have more confidence in my own personal style.

Dress and bootsWhat I can’t help wondering is this: did the way my parents dressed me as a child have any bearing on what is now considered to be my style personality as an adult? Or would I always have ended up this way…? I won’t bore you with pictures of my various outfits – that’s what Pinterest is for – but I’m a sucker for a pretty fabric, so here are some of my favourite florals with a hint of romance:Grace Lowrie FabricsWhat is your style? Do you have a favourite outfit for writing in?

Secret Garden – Vanessa Conyers

Vanessa ConyersFor Christmas my wonderful sister gave me a beautiful gift – a small vase designed by ceramic artist, Vanessa Conyers. The vase, a part of her Secret Garden range, is so lovely and so perfectly fits with my idea of Natural Romance that I had to share it with you.

Secret Garden Vase

The original ‘devilishly delicate’ collection… A magical meadow where bunnies bounce and stags bellow under a molten sky…

Standing at just 8.4cm tall and 6.3cm in diameter this vessel is modestly-sized with a soft, slouching, overlapping shape – as if composed of fabric rather than finely-rolled clay. The exterior draws inspiration from nature and is lavished with a lustrous design of rose blooms and gold-flecked grass, while the interior is patterned with blue lace to striking effect. For me this vase perfectly bridges the divide between traditional and contemporary styles and lends a subtle, but glamorous, edge to my bedroom dresser.

Secret Garden InteriorDo you have a favourite piece of ceramic?

My Chelsea Flower Show 2017

I was in two minds about attending Chelsea Flower Show on Tuesday – partly because of the devastating terrorist attack, which had happened the night before in Manchester and left me feeling shaken and emotional, and partly because I usually visit the show with my mother. This year she was unable to accompany me due to ill health, but she insisted I go without her.

And I’m glad I did. It was a wonderful spectacle of colour, sunshine and positivity. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take as many photos as I intended because of problems with my camera phone (gotta love modern technology) but the few I did take I thought I’d share with you.

Chelsea Flower Show 2017

For me Kate Gould’s City Living garden was a particular highlight, as was Kazuyuki Ishihara’s Gosho No Niwa – No Wall, No War. The gardens are perfect illustrations of how even the smallest of spaces can be greened up – something becoming increasingly important in our cities where human population growth is exerting so much pressure. Pictures and details of all the show gardens can be found here:
https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/Gardens

Rogue PrimulaOne of my favourite pieces of planting was the woodland area of Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley garden – where a rogue, red primula utterly outraged a woman next to me in the crowd. The deliberately placed bloom, with its quietly clashing audacity, made me smile and, in my opinion, lifted the whole planting scheme. What do you think?

Natural Romance

While trying to decide what to blog about, I brainstormed a list of random things I liked – things that attracted and inspired me – without analysing or worrying about their importance or relevance as possible topics. So I was surprised to discover a common theme emerging – a sense; an overall tone – linking several of my passions. It seems my unconscious style choices, tastes and aesthetic preferences may not be as randomly scattered as I once assumed and I found myself asking:

What is this common thread, which helps to define me as me?

Girl at WoodsOf course I now have an urge to explore this idea – to name it – as if it’s a genre or flavour, or some kind of philosophy; as if by ordering and making sense of it, I might better understand myself. I’m calling it Natural Romance for now, until I come up with something better, but I don’t think it’s something unique to me; on the contrary I suspect that as a general concept it may well resonate with many other people, women in particular, but do let me know if you disagree. In a nutshell I’m drawn to nature and love and the crossover/interaction between the two.

When I say nature I’m mainly referring to plants (rather than animals or the elements) as that’s the aspect I’m most familiar with. I worked as a garden designer for many years and I am instinctively drawn to green spaces and the beauty of flowers. Humans have long tried to tame and control nature and while our gardens range from highly manicured Zen spaces to relaxed wild-flower meadows, and everything in between, nature’s gritty and optimistic spirit always finds a way to shine through.

Wild butterflyAnd when I refer to romance, I don’t mean a twee, cliched perfectionism, but rather the messy and often beautiful struggle of love in relationships.

Love struggleIt is this emotional mix of nature, love and hope that really appeals to me – especially when expressed through design. Over time I intend to blog about a variety of different topics that fall under this heading. But one of the most obvious examples must be the international style of Art Nouveau, defined in the Collins English Dictionary as follows:

A style of art and architecture of the 1890s, characterised by swelling sinuous outlines and stylised natural forms, such as flowers and leaves.

My mother has collected vintage decorative tiles of this period for years, so it was easy to be swayed by their beauty. It’s only now that I realise just why these 6×6 inch tiles appeal to me so much, and I wanted to share some of my favourites with you.

Art Nouveau Tiles CollageFor me these designs capture the essence of nature with a feminine sensuality that speaks of romance. So are you a fan of Art Nouveau? Perhaps you prefer the cleaner lines of the Art Deco style – there is often overlap between the two. Do let me know.