I'm Porcelina, blogging about my life and style from the picturesque South Wales Valleys in the United Kingdom. I live in a 1930s' house with my musician husband, and we enjoy exploring Wales and beyond in our free time (usually with a hunt around the charity shops). I write for In Retrospect magazine, but am currently taking a break from that while I finish my psychology PhD.
I promise this is the last installment of the Devon trip! We didn't end up leaving Burgh Island until a little later than anticipated, due to the tides. Once we were back on the mainland, I'd set my heart on a visit further down the coast to Overbeck's sub-tropical gardens. Salcombe is a lovely area of Devon. It's alongside the Kingsbridge Estuary, that's dotted with little sandy bays. We were lucky to have a sunny (but not that warm) day to explore the gardens and the surrounding area. The view that you're greeted with as you step down onto the terrace of Overbeck's takes your breath away.
Overbeck's has passed through the hands of many families, as well as becoming a WWI convalescent home. Its last owner was the inventor Otto Overbeck. The gardens are therefore the work of many generations, and have been expanded over time to form the current impressive layout. There are lots of rare plants, and the microclimate has allowed for unusually exotic ones, such as palms and bananas. I think Chris stole the outfit show on this visit. I'd started the day more glamorously attired but had ended up getting changed in the car park because I was cold.
After enjoying the gardens, we headed down to North Sands to have lunch at seaside restaurant the 'Winking Prawn'. We were both in search of fresh sea food, but their daytime menu is a bit slim on fish and they'd only one mackerel left, so I was really disappointed to end up eating chicken! Ah well.
This year is a bit Devonish - I'm off to Devon again at the beginning of July for a hen weekend 'glamping' on a farm. I somehow don't think National Trust properties will be on the agenda though...
More time travel again today, as I try and catch up with writing about adventures that occurred a whole month ago! The day before my 40th birthday, and our arrival on Burgh Island, we had travelled down to Devon to break up the journey. After our stop at the Killerton Estate, we headed to our accommodation for the night, Beyond Escapes. I quite often pick up cheap deals on luxury self-catering because people tend to want to stay for at least a long weekend. When there's the odd night going spare, I swoop in and get a greatly reduced deal.
It was very modern (not my usual thing), but it was exceptionally spacious (two bedrooms, three bathrooms!), well equipped, and on a quiet site in the pretty countryside from which you could just about glimpse the sea. The rain moved in that evening, so we stayed in and stayed cosy. The bath had coloured lights around the bottom, which was quite fun, and Chris cooked a lovely birthday-eve dinner for me.
My birthday morning dawned a bit brighter than the heavy rain we'd had overnight. Waking early (as I seem to do, even when a lie-in is warranted), I decided I would start the day as I'd like my 40th decade to continue, with fresh air and exercise. I was feeling contemplative, and my solution is always a brisk walk! I wasn't feeling melancholy about the age itself, or about ageing, but these milestones seem to be a natural point to reflect on what you've done with your life so far and what you want to do next. The "what next?" question has been on my mind since finishing my PhD.
I felt much better after a nice long walk. The countryside was very pretty, and I didn't need the umbrella after all. We headed back to our accommodation for a bumper breakfast, before hitting the road once more. To get the most out of renewing my National Trust membership, we had planned a stop on the way to Burgh Island. I picked the country house Saltram, which is just outside of Plymouth.
After a walk around the house, I'd really wanted to explore the beautifully planted gardens, but unfortunately the rain moved in again. Even the cows were sheltering under the trees. We beat a retreat to the cafe for lunch instead, to warm up. We were also conscious of not letting ourselves get too bedraggled before later going to Burgh Island. It wouldn't have done to turn up soggy and windswept!
That's almost it for the Devon trip, but we did squeeze in one more National Trust visit on the way home. I'll save that for another post...
As promised, here are more photos from my Burgh Island Birthday Bonanza experience! Better late than never. The weather forecast was shocking, but miraculously as we drove ever closer to the village of Bigbury on Sea, the sky started to brighten. As befits an island steeped in mystery, even arriving feels a little mysterious - there's poor mobile signal in Bigbury, so they ask you to phone from a village up the road to get the code to the gated garage. We stopped to do so, and also did a classy getting-changed-in-a-car-park maneuver into our especially chosen "arrival outfits". I rang the hotel and carefully noted the gate code in my Art Deco notebook, before we got back in the car and carried on our way. As we turned the corner of the winding country lanes and saw the island for the first time, the view took my breath away.
The tide was out, so our transport over to the island was by Land Rover. The luggage you see here is mid-century rather than deco, but the larger suitcase was rather apt as it is from the Amelia Earhart range. Should have been British aviatrix Amy Johnson really (a room is named after her at the hotel), but you have to work with what you've got!
We were swiftly checked in at reception and informed that when we were ready, champagne would be waiting for us in the Palm Court. I was desperate to get up to the room first and see if the view was as good as I hoped. I'd spent ages analysing photos of the hotel and checking compass directions before I chose our room, Chirgwin. (Some people might think that level of research a bit much, but my younger brother said that he does it too, must be a family thing), and was most pleased that it paid off. The unobstructed sea view was really rather fabulous.
As for the room, it was spacious and comfortable, and the decor was very era-appropriate. I felt most at home. We headed down then for our glasses of champagne in the Palm Court, and felt ourselves start to time travel.
Afterwards, we decided to have a walk around the island. The hotel isn't the only structure, there are also outbuildings that include further accommodation and staff residences, as well as the pub, and the ruins of a fisherman's watch hut at the island's peak.
The bracing sea air prompted thoughts of food, so we headed back up to our room to take our time in changing for dinner. I had a bath with the window open, so that I could hear the roar of the waves.
I wore a black silk Fenn Wright Manson gown, with a black and white Topshop capelet. To accessorise, I wore silver shoes from Faith, and carried a vintage black and white bag. The tiara from my wedding day was the finishing touch, but even though they say it's impossible to be overdressed for dinner at Burgh Island, I thought that the veil may have been a step too far, and detached it.
My jewellery was a recent purchase from an antiques fair in Builth Wells - the very deco style necklace and ring were made by the much-missed shop Past Times (search 'Past Times marcasite' on Ebay and you'll probably find some pieces). Once dressed, we made our way down for canapes and cocktails, stopping for a selfie en route.
Dinner is held in the ballroom, and we were there for one of their live music evenings, which adds nicely to the overall ambience. There was a pianist, singer, and double-bass player, performing a range of songs from the 20s through to the 50s. It was hard to draw my attention away from the food though - it was so, so good. I enjoyed every morsel!
I didn't feel like twirling around the ballroom, so instead we retreated to the basement in search of our own entertainment. We found the snooker room, and enthusiastically began our game. We quickly realised how rusty we both were. It then became the worlds' longest snooker game, we were desperate for one of us to win, but we were both so bad at it!!
The other guests had mostly disappeared by the time we emerged from the basement. We roamed around the hotel a bit admiring just how lovely it was.
The next morning, a beautiful sunrise awoke us before our early morning tea delivery. The staff are very hard-working - it was the same lady delivering our tea at 7.30am, who had been serving us dinner at 9pm!
After breakfast, we were told that the tides were very rough, and that there would be a delay in guests being allowed to leave the island. That was fine by me! I'd read in the hotel information that if you enquired at reception, you could play a murder mystery game. I obtained the paperwork, and the chase was on! We were literally running around the hotel and grounds, desperately searching for clues. The challenge set was to complete the game within 2 hours, but I worked out in about an hour (so very, very satisfying).
Eventually the tides calmed down, and we were able to leave the island - this time by sea tractor, which was noisy and blustery fun, chugging its way across the sands.
The whole experience was incredibly memorable, and worth every penny. I'd best start saving for a return visit, though I'm not sure I can wait until I'm 50!
I am playing catch-up with my blog posts, but it's always better to start at the beginning. Before our visit to Burgh Island I booked another night in Devon, to extend the trip. I wanted to renew our National Trust membership as a birthday present to myself, so on the drive down from Wales we broke the journey with a stop at Killerton. This 18th century property, that was given to the National Trust by the Acland family in 1944, offers a little more than your standard grand house and garden experience, as it houses a fashion exhibition. Far better than a motorway service station!
The outside of the house is the first clue that this is more of a comfortable family home than a stately one. Indeed, there were some lovely rooms that I would have felt quite at home in! Upstairs is the fashion exhibition, drawing on themes relating to the history of the estate, such as the involvement of Francis Acland in the founding of the Forestry Commission. I won't share too many photos of the fashion exhibition in case you're tempted to visit yourself. It isn't huge, but was certainly very interesting and just the kind of thing I enjoy.
Outside there is a small area of formal garden, before the grounds open out into pasture, woodlands, meadows, and a rockery. I had never seen yellow peonies before, aren't these beautiful?
I made a bee-line for this very sweet looking little folly, called 'the bear hut', which was built as a summerhouse in 1808 but did actually house a bear in the 1860s that a family member brought back from Canada. I was glad there were no bears around on our visit!
Wearing: blouse from Shepton flea, gold boots from M&S, Bernie Dexter jeans, 1960s necklace from car boot sale, 1970s leather jacket gift from husband.
The weather was a bit hit and miss as you can see from these photos, and by the time we had reached our accommodation for the night the rain had set in. It was a quiet evening then to gather our energy for the excitement to come the next day... to be continued!
Last week I turned 40 years old in style, by spending my birthday with my husband at the incredible Art Deco extravaganza that is Burgh Island hotel. Originally a resort for the rich and famous, the iconic hotel is situated on its own private island. It certainly was a decadent beginning to my next decade - start as you mean to go on! I will be sharing my experience in full detail but before I can do that, I have hundreds of photos to wade through.
In the meantime then, I wanted to share my first outfit on the island. This was my "arrival outfit", which also included a jacket, hat and bag, that I removed for our first stroll around the island. I'm glad I took the hat off. The wind was quite strong uphill and Chris nearly lost his hat a few times!
We retreated therefore to this charming, secretive little cove, reached by a wooden staircase (I was pleased it's not reached by a rickety 'Jacob's ladder' as described in Christie's novel, 'Evil Under the Sun'). At the bottom is the 'Mermaid Pool', a natural pool filled with seawater and surrounded by high rocks. There's a pontoon moored in the middle that you can swim out to. I would have loved to, but sea temperatures in May are decidedly chilly, so I thought I'd avert pneumonia and give it a miss.
The blouse is UK-made by Heyday, the long-sleeved 'Olivia' in the 'Deco Rose' print. I deliberated for some time between this style, and the similar 'Spellbound' by Freddies of Pinewood. I ended up buying them both, but if I'd bought the Heyday one first, I probably would have sent the Freddies one back. This Heyday one is far superior in fit and quality of fabric. I absolutely love it, and was pleased to get it in their Easter sale for half price.
The hair is unintentionally a bit mermaid, thanks to the lively wind, I couldn't have planned it better for the location! Stay tuned for the rest of our island adventures...
It was a drizzly, misty Monday morning at the estuary in Laugharne, West Wales. There's a short walk from the sleepy town that loops past the castle, along the estuary to Dylan Thomas's writing shed, and then his former residence, The Boathouse. It's the same route we take on every visit, sometimes reversing it for variety. We stopped at the writing shed first. It always amuses me how the first line of the text displayed on the information panel outside is "This is not the Boathouse", because tourists were getting confused. There are also lots of signs along the narrow winding lane warning "Go back now!" and "No turning space ahead" because a few people had tried to drive along it and ended up getting their cars stuck.
The inside of the writing shed, taken through the window
The title of this post is taken from this poem
We were there too early in the morning to go into The Boathouse. There's a museum inside that we've never been to. I'm sure we'll visit again. On this occasion, we just soaked up the quiet stillness of the estuary so early in the day. There were few other people about, just the odd dog-walker, and the only sound was gulls crying. There was something almost eerie about the atmosphere.
THIS is The Boathouse!
We'd stayed overnight at Browns Hotel (another Dylan hotspot, he propped up the bar there) and were walking off a particularly fantastic breakfast. Chris had the full Welsh breakfast, which included laverbread (pureed seaweed) and cockles, while I'd opted for Eggs Royale. After our walk, we headed back to the hotel, and I had a quick photo next to the Dylan artwork. It's been there for years, but they've added a frame to it now.
Wearing: wide-leg trousers from Heyday, 1960s' wool Dereta jacket, Failsworth mariner's cap (charity shopped), 'Chanel' bag (charity shopped), F&F boots (car boot sale), 1970s' slashneck top (vintage fair).
It was a short trip, we headed off to visit a few charity shops on the way back home, and called in to see Chris's Mum. You can see photos from my previous trips to Laugharne here and here.
It's all about the birthdays! I've just begun a whole 11 days off work. Yesterday was Chris's birthday, and I am turning 40 years old next week. Two of my oldest friends have already reached this milestone in the last six months, and we've been having a few little celebrations. Our last meet up was a boozy one, so we felt we should try something wholesome and outdoorsy next. We ended up having a treetop adventure!
My friend Victoria lives ion the edge of the Forest of Dean, so Kelly and I drove across to meet her at Beechenhurst visitor centre. There's a lovely 'sculpture trail' through the forest that I remember going to frequently as a child with my parents and younger brother. However, we were after something a bit more strenuous, and had booked onto a treetop 'high ropes' adventure. We've never done anything like this before, and booked onto the smaller course, as a taster. On arrival, the others queuing for the 'junior' adventure seemed to be aged about seven years old. Victoria was a little embarrassed and in a move to try and save face, told the assistant that she'd originally booked on with her children, but that they were ill and couldn't come. The assistant cheerfully replied "Oh, do you want me to see if there's space for you on the adult course? It's only down the road!". There was space, and to Victoria's dismay, Kelly and I enthusiastically said 'yes' and we headed down the road to the full-on 'Go Ape!' adventure. I didn't quite know what to expect, but it turned out to be immense fun, absolutely amazing, and well worth every penny. The staff were fantastic, the forest-setting was enchanting, and the hours flew by. It was a bit nerve-wracking at times, but by the end even Victoria was flinging herself down zip-wires with zeal. Sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It was a bonding experience too, and our new collective mantra is "40 and fearless!". We really needed the big pub meal we had afterwards, what an appetite we'd worked up!
There I go, down the zip wire!
Very proudly holding our certificates of 'awesomeness'!
For Chris's birthday yesterday, the two of us had a day out of a more relaxed pace. Alas, the weather did not cooperate. When we arrived at Barry Island, we found a parking space immediately, right on the seafront. That was unusual. When we stepped outside, we realised that there was a most chill wind that was probably putting other people off. There were a few people by the shops, but the beach was practically deserted. We found a sheltered spot under the columned promenade and tucked into our picnic.
To eat our dessert, I thought we should stroll out onto the headland and take in a view of the sweeping bay. It was the fastest we've ever eaten cheesecake, blimey! The wind was bitterly cold, and so strong that it spun my camera around on the bench mid-photo. We power-walked back to the car after that, deciding to forgo a longer walk at the seaside, and headed into the town instead to take advantage of the shelter of the charity shops. They proved fruitless, so we continued our celebrations back at the house with some home-cooking, and played Connect 4 in front of the woodburner with a wee dram of Chris's birthday whisky.
The rest of the birthday adventures will continue over the coming week - plans include an antiques fair, an afternoon tea, and a trip to Devon. I'm not approaching 40 quietly!
Have you ever wondered who made your clothes, how much they’re paid, and what their lives are like? That's exactly what Fashion Revolution asks us to do for one week each year, seeking greater transparency and accountability in the supply chain of clothing manufacture. A fairer, safer, and fashion industry is the aim.
"Our clothes have gone on a long journey before they hit store shelves, passing through the hands of cotton farmers, spinners, weavers, dyers, sewers and others. Approximately 75 million people work to make our clothes. 80% of them are women between the ages of 18 and 35. However, the majority of the people who makes clothes for the global market live in poverty, unable to afford life’s basic necessities. Many are subject to exploitation; verbal and physical abuse, working in unsafe and dirty conditions, with very little pay." (Fashion Revolution, 2019)
The issues are just as pertinent in the vintage reproduction ("repro") fashion industry, but I wonder if the sector is actually less transparent than even the high street. From my experiences over the last few years in emailing, tweeting and phoning vintage repro brands about their ethics, I have had wildly varying responses. On Instagram over the last week, I asked a different vintage repro brand each day, "Who made my clothes?". Here are the results.
Response to my Instagram question: A swift response (within minutes), stating that the skirt "is made by a machinist in our Scottish factory. We do 'through work' mainly. I don't know whether she will be happy to be named on social media so for respecting her privacy I will refrain. I will ask her tomorrow xx"
What is says on their website: "We proudly manufacture the majority of our own range of vintage inspired clothing ethically in Britain and Europe." and "Our values are to sell top quality clothing produced locally and in ethical circumstances and using local or regional businesses where possible."
I have always been impressed with the transparency of this brand (they used to manufacture solely in the UK but have been up front that they now manufacture some items in Europe). I once interviewed the lovely owner, Clare, for In Retrospect magazine about ethics. I get the impression that they're really trying their best. I'd love to see some 'behind the scenes' photos of some of their factories, and hope that in future years they can join in with Fashion Revolution by having workers declare "I made your clothes!"
Response to my Instagram question: None at first - they 'liked' my photo, that's all. I then emailed them, and asked my question again on an Instagram post of theirs. I did then get an email back, it stated "All of our factories are audited by V-Trust. We do not use third parties for our fabric construction and we also use ethical dying and printing processing working towards the G8 and G20 promise; as to reduce and not pollute the environment closely effected in China."
What it says on their website: There is no mention of the word 'ethics' at all.
It is great to hear that they are using auditors to independently assess the factories that they use. I'm left wanting to know a lot more about the ethical dying and printing processing that they are using.
Response to my Instagram question: "Unlike some smaller brands who use the 'made through' method our clothing is manufactured by the 'production line' method meaning we have several different machinists designated to making different parts of the final garment. Due to the commercial sensitivity of our business we do not disclose the precise location of our manufacturers however we will be uploading content of our production in the near future to give customers a glimpse into where and how their garments are made, watch this space... We are in full support of #ethicaltrading #fashionrevolution #sustainablefashion."
What it says on their website: There is no mention of the word 'ethics' at all.
This all sounds very good on the surface, and I look forward to seeing the future content they mention. However, I'm left really wanting more information - not an exact location of their factories, but a country, or even a continent would be nice!
What it says on their website: "All Vivien of Holloway garments are proudly made in London."
I was surprised not to get a response - after all, their garments are apparently made in London, so I would have thought that the brand would be quite vocal about their ethics. I'm again left wanting to know more! Pretty Retro
Wearing the "Pretty tea dress"
Response to my Instagram question: "This is our tea dress - made in a factory in Lodz, Poland. Obviously being based in the EU, the factory adheres to all the regulations you would expect. Moreover, we visit this factory regularly and are very satisfied with everything. What is particularly lovely is how happy everyone seems! Hope that helps!"
What it says on their website: "Our garments, where possible, are manufactured in the EU to high ethical standards."
Pretty Retro is run by the same people as House of Foxy, and so the same level of transparency is present. I had a query over their sweaters a while ago too, as they were making them in China at the time and stated that "The factory in China where they were made are very reputable and are a smaller factory than most. We have seen video via whatsapp and were very pleased with the conditions and staff wellbeing. These sweaters will soon be produced in Europe as per our other products. So, if you are specifically concerned before buying - then we would understand if you prefer to wait." Again, they are really happy to answer questions and supply a bit more information than some other brands. Freddies of Pinewood
Wearing the "Spellbound" blouse
Response to my Instagram question: None.
What it says on their website: I couldn't find an ethics statement at all, I really hunted around. Eventually I found that on each garment description, they specify 'Made in England'.
I'm baffled once again why a company making their clothes in the UK isn't shouting it from the rooftops! A little while ago I did email their customer service about where they make their clothes, and was told "One item is made in Turkey,The Grease Monkey, no factories here are up to making it. Everything else is made in London and UK."
What it says on their website: "Heyday is passionate about keeping traditional skills alive, and we only use small manufacturers based in the UK where we are based, and in New Zealand where we started. We try to use authentic style fabrics wherever possible, and also source off-cuts and fabric remnants from designer ateliers so they don't go to waste and can be used to create beautiful, limited edition garments. So not only are our clothes glamorous and well-made, they are 100% ethical and guilt-free! In this world of disposable fashion, we like to think we're making the vintage of tomorrow."
This is reassuring stuff - but I think I would like information on each garment as to whether it's been made in the UK or in New Zealand, as there are quite a lot of air miles difference. A little while ago I did email their customer service about where they make their trousers specifically, and was told "We’re pleased to say that we have two manufacturers, and they are both based in the U.K, Nottingham."
So... what next then? Overall I am disappointed that so many vintage repro brands that appear to be manufacturing in the UK didn't take the opportunity to engage in a conversation about ethics in Fashion Revolution week. It seems as though the conversation about ethics in mainstream fashion isn't as loud in the world of vintage repro - and that needs to change!
What brands can do:
Display ethical information prominently on websites - either on the front page, or in somewhere really obvious like 'FAQs' or 'About us'. Customers shouldn't have to hunt for it!
Provide more detailed ethical information - rather than just say you're "committed to fair fashion", spell out some of the policies and standards that your brand adheres to. What is your brand's ethical code of conduct?
Incorporate ethical information on a more regular basis in your communications e.g. in newsletters, blog posts.
Provide information for each garment on where it is made, if garments are made in a range of locations - the customer can then make an informed choice about their purchase.
I see people on social media breaking out the broderie anglaise and proclaiming that it's the weather for straw bags and even sandals. Well, it may look a little like Spring here with the blossom on the trees and a few days of lovely sunshine, but that wind chill reminds you very quickly that we're in Wales. Ten days ago we had snow!
There's always a tension to balance at this time of year between ditching the winter clothes in favour of something a bit lighter, and not freezing when you step outside. The dress I'm wearing here has turned out to be the perfect dress for Spring. It's a lovely shade of blue, and even though it's short-sleeved, because it's made of Crimplene it's actually warm. Washes and dries like a dream. Before these photos, I ate a clementine and managed to squirt juice down the front of this dress. I was convinced I'd ruined it, with a really obvious yellow stain right on my lap. But, a quick scrub with a wet-wipe, and ta-da! It came out straight away. I'm actually sold on Crimplene and am on the look out for more dresses in zingy Spring colours.
When it warms up enough, I plan to wear this dress with some beautiful blossom-print tights and a cream jacket. Until then, a big coat, thick tights and boots are a necessity.
Wearing: '60s St Michael Crimplene dress from Timeslip Vintage, '60s Fortown coat from car boot sale, Trifari brooch from charity shop, Elle silk scarf from car boot sale, sunglasses and vintage Bally bag from charity shop. Boots and tights from M&S.
The PhD is totally done and dusted. My corrections were so minor, that I completed them and had them signed off within a week of the viva. I now have something called "free time" and it's marvelous! One of the things that I'm enjoying is being able to spend time in the garden. It was very fortuitous then that at a car boot sale in West Wales, my husband found some deadstock (still with tags on) 1950s' chore jackets. Perfect for wearing whilst gardening. For these photos, I embraced a look that wouldn't have looked out of place on the character Barbara from the British TV series 'The Good Life'.
Chore jackets were the kind of thing worn by factory workers. I've seen vintage photos of workers in factories, where they're wearing smart shirts and ties, with a chore jacket or apron over the top as protection. Sometimes there were matching trousers. The style of jacket originated from France in the late 19th century where it was a common workers jacket. It makes sense, with its large pockets and relaxed fit for ease of movement. The jacket I'm wearing is by a brand called 'Harpoon', which is apparently still going today, making workwear and uniforms. I added a new-to-me vintage headscarf (also from the car boot sale that morning).
Wearing: 'Harpoon' 1950s' factory worker's jacket, Converse trainers (charity shopped), vintage scarf, Bernie Dexter jeans, Ray Ban sunglasses (charity shopped, borrowed from Chris!).
Above: the paper label, still attached by staples to the inside of the jacket. "Sanforized" means pre-shrunk. The metal buttons on the jacket are imprinted with 'Harpoon'.
Please note: not my own garden! I was at my mother-in-law's house. My own garden needs some serious work. At least I can look the part now as I tackle it this year. I did feel a fraud, posing in this jacket and not actually gardening, so at the end of this set of photos I did pick up a pair of secateurs and got stuck in to tidying up some borders.
To end, here are some photos of Chris's jacket - his has lovely bakelite buttons, attached by unique metal bits on the reverse. His and hers gardening jackets now, we will give the neighbours a chuckle!