Sri Lanka

Deciding to go to Sri Lanka in January is probably in my top ten life decisions. On about Monday, I realised that I’d just spent a whole day in which I’d managed to do every single one of my favourite things except singing - and then the following day my friend Gem found a guitar and happiness was complete.

I spent the first week on a yoga retreat with Humblebee Yoga in this amazing villa in Dondra, right down in the very south of Sri Lanka, and the second week exploring Ella and Kandy. We were completely spoiled in Dondra; a kind of magic, jungl-y idyll, with the most delicious food and wonderful people and trips to see elephants in Udawalawe and to watch whales in Mirissa.

Ella was much busier, a mini-town made up almost entirely of backpackers, but absolutely breathtaking once we climbed up into the mountains and tea plantations. Hiking to the Diyaluma falls for a swim was definitely a highlight! Such a tough climb in the sun, but when we finally crept into the chilly water it was absolute heaven.

We travelled by train from Ella to Kandy, which is said to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, and it certainly did not disappoint - although elbowing your way off the train in Kandy is not for the faint-hearted. Hanging out of the train, however, or sitting in the doorway with your legs hanging out, is glorious (the video below is at double speed! I did it for instagram, so it’s not the best quality, but you get the idea).

I loved Kandy too; it’s Sri Lanka’s second biggest city, with a peaceful lake in the middle of all the bustle and home to the famous Temple of the Sacred Tooth, which was eye-gogglingly beautiful inside. By this point my friend Lia and I were on a crusade to find salad (having had our fill of delicious Sri Lankan curries) and thus mostly navigated Kandy via TripAdvisor-recommended cafés, where we sat and read our books and ate avocado in all its forms (Buono was especially good), and a lovely tuk tuk driver who took us to visit gorgeous Gunatilake Batiks and bought us red bananas and mangoes for the journey (devoured at high speed, with juice running up our sleeves). We also travelled a couple of hours north of Kandy, early one morning, to climb Sigiriya Rock, where King Kasyapa built his palace in the 5th century - it’s quite breathtaking. There is SO much to see and do, I would jump at the chance to go back (this hotel, is now on my dream holiday destination list!).

Heavenly Humblebee Yoga

I've just been on an actual, real-life yoga retreat with wonderful Humblebee Yoga. Now admittedly, my previous experience of retreating (yogic-ally speaking) was nil, but I bet this is the only retreat in the world to gift hand-knitted bees to every guest, and I can't imagine you could find a more beautiful setting, more thoughtful hosts, or a lovelier group of people to share it with.

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Last October, my downward dog was more like a lumbering, creaky-kneed yak and my brain was... well, I've talked about the state of my mind on this blog plenty of times over the last few months, so let's instead talk about the appalling state of my hamstrings: NOT GOOD. Sub-yak, in fact.

For the last six months Eden Hot Yoga in Lichfield have basically provided much-needed structure for my working day, stretched my long-suffering limbs and a been a sort of haven when life was at its most wobbly. As a result, my legs recovered from the London Marathon in about 3 days, I can check my blind spot with minimal effort, and even though my hamstrings are still definitely a work-in-progress, I have discovered I have open hips! Hooray! Although alarmingly, I've been known to burst into tears in the middle of a pigeon pose. Apparently this is normal, because hips are where we carry our emotions, and happily I'm usually face down at this point so my tears sort of blend into the sweat (hot yoga is quite a sweaty affair).

Anyway, back to Humblebee. And Devon. When I heard Rachel, one of my favourite teachers at Eden, was planning a whole long weekend of yoga at Crowborough Farm in Georgeham with Jemima, the other half of Humblebee, I couldn't wait to sign up. As it was just a couple of miles away from our favourite beach, I easily persuaded my sister to come along with me so we could relive our childhood on Puttsborough Sands in between working on our warriors.

Each day began with yoga at 8am, and while either Rachel or Jemima led us through sun salutations in the strong morning practice, the other was busy in the kitchen, whipping up a delicious vegan breakfast banquet (things I discovered on retreat include tofu scramble and the heavenly marriage of almond butter and blackcurrant jam on toast). With days spent exploring the beautiful countryside and relaxing on the beach, we returned to the house for evening yin yoga at 6.30pm, followed by another amazing vegan feast. 


I had the most glorious time. Rachel and Jemima are both brilliant teachers and such generous hosts - I can't wait for the next one! I've been thinking a yoga retreat for illustrators would be a brilliant idea - who's with me?

Find Humblebee here, on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


Towards the end of July, I was fortunate enough to be whisked away to Orkney at only a few days notice! I was invited along by Alex, a good friend of my sister's, who had a spare ticket up to visit her family and knew I could do with a break.

View of Hoy from Mainland Orkney.

It turned out to be exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. Fiona and Maggie made me feel so much at home and showed me around Orkney's beautiful Mainland. There is nothing quite like being absorbed into a lovely group of people you've never met before, who make you feel like being yourself is just right. And Orkney really is the most glorious place; I only explored parts of the West Mainland, so I can't wait to go back and see more!

Alex's mum, Fiona Sanderson, is a metal worker and artist, so I even had the chance to make my own miniature aluminium bowls! Honestly, not only a spectacularly beautiful landscape, the kindest hosts, Neolithic stone circles and archeological digs, Viking runes, rhubarb ice cream, the wonder that is the Pier Arts Centre, swimming in the sea, fish and chips, and a lesson in making flat breads, but also metal working!

Fiona's garden studio.

Fiona's garden studio.

And did I mention spotting seals and Scottish primroses? And the leg of lamb gifted to me by North Ronaldsay sheep farmers which I brought back on the sleeper train, wrapped carefully in newspaper by Maggie, who drove all the way to Kirkwall the morning I left to collect it, even though she's a vegan? And the black and ochre lichen and incredible cliffs of Yesnaby, where we ate scallop rolls overlooking the sea? And driving to the Ring of Brodgar at midnight because the moon was full, even though it had disappeared behind cloud by the time we arrived (which actually made for an even more memorable visit as we hunted for Viking graffiti by the light of our phones and got a bit lost trying to find the way in)?

So many wonderful things. I should have written about this straight away but I am, if anything, an unreliable blogger. If I had any regular readers, they would certainly attest to this fact (but of course I don't post often enough to have any of those). I've been reminded that I really must write this because I recently read the brilliant Outrun by Amy Liptrott. Born on Orkney, her memoir of alcoholism and recovery describes how she leaves the islands for the thrills of London, returning age 30 to find Orkney will hold her as she pieces herself back together. It is beautifully written and has already become the book I'm urging everyone I meet to read.

You can find out more about visiting here. We took the sleeper train to Inverness*, bus to Scrabster and then Ferry to Stromness.

*Heavily asterisked because due to an ill-timed strike we were turfed of the train at Edinburgh, in the middle of the night, and had to take a taxi to Inverness. However, it really wouldn't put me off going by sleeper again; the 3 hours sleep I did manage to enjoy were very comfortable!

PS. This has to be the best blue plaque you've ever seen, right?!

PPS. I've also just returned from Top Drawer, my first ever trade show. I'll write a separate post about that SOON, but amazingly my first order of the show was from a shop in Orkney - the beautiful Longship. What are the chances of that?!