2021 was a year that changed me forever. On the 24th January my best friend, partner and soul mate, Dave, died. I was left at the age of 33 to face the world on my own.
I fell into depression, my life no longer had any meaning, and the simplest of tasks were too difficult. Just going to the shop could bring on a panic attack. I knew I couldn’t carry on like this. I had to learn to live around my grief. Little did I know that hidden away in the woods at Acton Scott was my salvation - four tents in need of some love and attention.
The site had been closed over the course of the Covid pandemic and there was no one to run it, so I took it under my wing. The run-down site matched my broken, lonely heart and it became an embodiment of my mental health. Each broken piece that was fixed and each bramble cut back made the site more presentable and my mind a little clearer. There was still a long way to go.
Every day I went to the site, I had a purpose - the tents needed me and I needed them. Some days I worked hard, scrubbing the decking, working out my anger and frustration at the unfairness of life. Other days I did nothing but just sat in the peacefulness of the woods, listening to the birds, noticing the insects and watching how the plants grow and change throughout the seasons.
After every day I became a little stronger, both physically and mentally. Some days everything went well and other days everything seemed to go wrong, just like navigating the path of grief.
One moment you are fine, the sun is shining, the weeds have been cut back, and then suddenly you remember and feel guilt for being alive, living when your world has fallen apart. That’s when the storm clouds gather, winds break trees and nature puts obstacles in your way. There was much to overcome before the opening day in April but I am proud that I got there.
Nature strikes back
En route there were three wildlife problems that needed fixing. As we saw during lockdown when wild goats wandered the streets of Llandudno, nature flourishes when humans leave the stage and it was the same at Acton Scott. The tents had become a haven for all manner of animals whilst they were not in use.
First there were the swallows. I was all set to clean each of the showers, but as I opened the door of the first one, there peeping back at me, mouths wide open were four swallow chicks waiting to be fed. Not sure what to do I closed the door and left them to it! No problem, I’ll go and clean the others first, or so I thought. Three out of the four showers had residents, happily living under cover and safe from predators.
Next thing, pottering around the site on a hot day I noticed a high concentration of buzzing near one of the hot tubs, further investigation led me to start running like a maniac flapping my arms about in all directions. A group of bumblebees had made a home within the lining of the hot tub and they definitely couldn’t stay. A local beekeeper was called to help solve the problem, and to prevent it from happening again we filled all the holes with expanding foam.
Finally, there were some four-legged friends who I had to do battle with. Like the bees, mice like to nest within the lining of the hot tubs, I found this out when I noticed a pile of moss that had been dragged into the tub walls, it turns out mice love to nibble on expanding foam. As there is no way to access this area when you are the size of a human (which I am) I had to improvise, and using a stick, I scooped out as much moss as possible and filled the hole with wire wool.
Months had passed seemingly at a snail’s pace but also at top speed, it was time to welcome the first guests, the tents were clean, the brambles were no longer a trip hazard and most importantly all the swallow chicks had fledged. And don’t worry, the mice and bees no longer have a Feather Down home.
I had battled my emotions and got the job done; every booking that came though gave me more confidence and determination to continue. I was starting to get high levels of anxiety and feelings of self-doubt. I had never done anything like this before, I'd had no training. What if it wasn’t good enough? What if the guests didn’t enjoy their stay? This is when I turned to my support group WAY – Widowed and Young, a peer-to-peer group who have all faced losing their life partner at a young age. They knew what I was going though, and how big a step I was taking starting out in a new career. Their strength and belief in me helped calm my nerves and I enjoyed nearly every moment of the summer season.
It was a year of firsts - most of them in my personal life were heartbreaking - but there was also joy, pride and excitement. I have learnt new skills, met new people and have stopped just existing but have started to live again thanks to the four tents in the woods.