The Railway Children (and Me) - Part Three

by Rachel Ashwell

My European adventures continue. The unprecedented heatwave with California skies persisted for most of my visit, I’ve yet to find my raindrops.  With my French trip behind me, the English countryside was calling my name. 

Ever since I watched The Railway Children when I was little, I have always thought of travelling by rail as a romantic adventure. While the carriages themselves don’t have the charm they once did, many of the stations have been kept true to their original form. The sounds of a train on the tracks is just as magical today as it has always been. Still to me, leaving London and seeing the sites of the countryside unfold has a calming quality, and in reverse leaving the countryside and pulling into one of the big London bustling stations is equally as exciting.

As I ventured back and forth between three homes, two in Somerset and one in Suffolk I have felt a shift in my creativity and emotions. My rudderless boat (that I spoke of in part 1 of my journey) has found an anchor. In part to do with the people, the culture and the beauty of the countryside. As I think back to the beginning of my trip, I realize I went from seeing my albeit, blessed life, in shades of black and white to seeing everything through a new lens of color. I didn’t think I would ever feel so much passion and excitement at this stage of my life.

It’s as though coming back to the English countryside is so familiar to me, but also so fresh and new.  Flowers have been the common thread of the three homes that I have frequented. Different flowers, different palettes, different applications and different hosts. But we are joined by our love of femininity, romance and nostalgia. We are all strong but also gentle women. Being able to converse about family, life, business and love in a community where in some aspects time has stood still. This experience has been profound for me. I have found myself very present and in due course my creativity is overflowing. I see inspiration everywhere around me. I sleep well but briefly for my new-found enthusiasm doesn’t leave enough hours.

Pearl Lowe is one of my friends who lives in Somerset. A mama and wife and creative entrepreneur. She has moved around quite a bit over the years, and I have featured two of her homes in my books, (Shabby Chic Interiors and more recently My Floral Affair). She decorates like a symphony. With layers of beauty, some quiet, some taking center stage with an overall complete story. There is not much white in her home, even some black and reds which I don’t normally love, but she uses them gently, lace and velvet's, offset next to her floral wallpaper, (Her wallpaper line is launching 9/18.) I have never seen Pearl in a pair of jeans. She is a true poster child for pretty floral dresses and wears them like no other (typically vintage or from her own range available at PearlLowe.co.uk). As she often says, “things are so hectic today”, but a good hectic that I have treasured being part of including accompanying her to her beloved Frome Antique Market where we both gathered some treasures.

My new friend is also in Somerset, close to Bath which is a heavenly city steeped in history from the Roman times. Its sky line and color of the stone is so easy on the eyes and grounding. Christina Strutt, of Cabbages and Roses has created a world tucked away down a long country lane (two ways made for one) into a valley. I rented a little stick shift car and navigate on the wrong side (or maybe it’s the right side to some), quite comfortably.  Time truly has stood still both aesthetically and with lifestyle choices in Christina’s world. She lives in the main cottage and other family members live in other cottages, independently but with a lovely sense of community.  I stayed in the charming LOFT  which she rents out on Airbnb (however I did overflow into the main cottage as well during my stay). Decorated in signature Cabbages and Roses fashion. With no Internet connection I had no distractions and was able to read my book.  

My beloved Marmite and endless cups of tea are the norm, along with fresh vegetables from her garden all while The Archers and other cultural radio shows play in the background.

The process of laundry, including mine when I visit, is a big part of the day, but to my observation it feels like a meditation. From the array of baskets, to the gathering and hanging on the line, and to its final stage of drying spread out over her age stove. Of course, there are easier solutions, but this one works.

There is a little creek that runs along the property that I am certain fairies visit. Alongside sits a little row boat which to me is priceless, that any fancy yacht in San Tropez could not compete. While the busy work of maintaining Christina’s world goes on, the world of Cabbages and Roses thrives. It’s a quintessentially English aesthetic, and its an important signature English brand. It's had the same ups and downs as Shabby Chic, but like me, Christina never strayed from her vision and has guided her company along with her daughter/partner Kate though some stormy waters. Even though we’ve known of each other across the pond, this summer was our first meeting. She has focused on apparel these past few years, we have both authored several books, and after hours and hours of conversation we have found we have had many parallel life experiences. I love her values of work, lifestyle and family. A meaningful new friendship for me. Her home feels so familiar but inspires me endlessly. Including the colour red/faded red.

And then there is Annablle Daughty, in the countryside of Suffolk. She lives with her Mama and Papa, in a cottage that lacked for nothing but Jude Law knocking at the door (You will understand if you saw The Holiday). Belle was part of the My Floral Affair book team last year. She has a beautiful eye with which she captures her quietly breathtaking photographs. (She has a line of cards and also hosts workshops).

Belle is a forward-thinking girl from the past. She has lifestyle values that are unusual for such a young woman, for which she is truly dedicated. In my effort to extend my stay in Europe, my team back in Los Angeles suggested they send the products from our Fall/Winter 2018 collection to Belle’s country cottage to shoot. There was just me, Belle and her mama, (Normally there is a bigger crew to help keep a shoot going, unpacking boxes, steaming, organizing as we go and remembering to eat), but we were a dream team. The little cottage came with its challenges. Bumping heads on the low ceilings, unable to attach much to the plaster walls, tiny teeny rooms, and we couldn’t light the pink Christmas tree due to electrical issues. But after two, 12-hour shoot days, and I could have gone on for several days more, once again I was endlessly inspired.  My mind was writing a movie as we went along. Partly I am sure because of being in a location that was fresh for me, but I have also realized by stepping back from my day to day routine, and my every day stresses with that black and white filter, it made room to transform all I saw into technicolor.

I am so appreciative of the continued support of my world back home for giving me this freedom to explore my mind as much as my travels. It continues to be a profound adventure.

@Just_belle @cabbages_and_roses @pearllowe


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© 2017 Rachel Ashwell