Whatever Floats Your Raft

 
 All bar one of the photos in this post are by www.garethwiwanjones.com

All bar one of the photos in this post are by www.garethwiwanjones.com

 

The Raft at Chigborough, Essex.

Not strictly a vegan destination, unless you make it one yourselves, which Gaz and I are adept at. It was my birthday and to celebrate 35 years stomping about the planet, we booked a log cabin to end all log cabins.

 
 Photo by Gareth Iwan Jones - he's good like that.

Photo by Gareth Iwan Jones - he's good like that.

 

Traditionally, the proprietor leaves a welcome hamper of smoked fish as the raft is situated on one of many lakes in a trout fishery. To fully veganise our experience we called ahead and announced THE VEGANS ARE COMING! Oh how I love to announce that I, Kim Willis, THE VEGAN, am arriving. One less fish caught hook, line and sinker.

I’d never been to Essex before and what I know of it is entirely unfair clichéd snippets from The Only Way Is Essex, which in itself only cemented Essex’s previous reputation as a county of disrepute.

Scrap the clichés. The Raft is a secluded bubble. Been a while since you saw a starry night sky? Come here. Forgot nature exists beyond your urban jungle? Come here.

 
 It's a wild goose chase innit.

It's a wild goose chase innit.

 

Here’s how our weekend went down, with increasingly wondrous moments.

We arrived to a set of instructions, some keys and a wheelbarrow. We loaded the wheelbarrow with our supplies, then followed brilliantly cryptic clues to the Raft. We passed a field full of caravans and campervans, children playing on swings and running around after each other while parents chugged back vino destructo - oh how the other half live.

Onwards we went until we were so sequestered we could easily have gone the next four days without seeing another soul, had we not at one point made the ill-fated decision to go see what the local village was like - full of humans! It was much more fun to pretend there had been an Armageddon and it was just me and him left, living out our days in a log cabin on a lake someone just happened to build for us, safe from the aliens / zombies / apocalypse.

 
 In case you want to pootle about the lake.

In case you want to pootle about the lake.

 

To approach the Raft you board a mini raft, then pull on some ropes to draw yourself along. It was a lovely touch that made us feel the adventure had begun.

Solar powered, the Raft has all the serenity of simplicity, but all the mod-cons a person of my dotage revels in. Built from larch and pine logs, with an outdoor (but hot!) shower, an outdoor kitchen, a hot tub and no television, I did not think my weekend could get any better.

 
 Happy face in a happy place. 

Happy face in a happy place. 

 
 
 The Good Life, right?

The Good Life, right?

 
 
 Adorbs, I know.

Adorbs, I know.

 

But then I saw that one of my most special friends had organised for Prosecco and strawberries to be left for us upon arrival. Beats smoked fish by a country mile! We popped the cork and I declared myself having a very happy birthday indeed. Okay, now my weekend couldn't get any better.

 
 Fizz for me...

Fizz for me...

 
 
 Nanny State for him. Because we're all legends in our own way. My way requires fuel.

Nanny State for him. Because we're all legends in our own way. My way requires fuel.

 

As the sun began to set we watched as a David Attenborough documentary unfurled live before us. A stork pounced on his dinner. Ducks quacked, trout swam, cygnets followed their elegant mother.

Then twenty starlings danced across the sky. A MURMURATION! I yelled, as we watched in wonder. Twenty starlings would have been good enough for me, I was so happy to see to any at all.

But twenty starlings were joined by fifty, then a hundred more. Soon a thousand fluttered across the sky, the gentle, mesmerising whooshing sound of their wings as they flew overhead forever imprinted in my mind.

Who’s in charge here? Why aren’t they crashing? One guy’s at the front, then he’s at the back, then they all decide it’s time to go left, right, up, down, around.

 
 The only photo I took myself and I'm so proud of it I'm making it big!

The only photo I took myself and I'm so proud of it I'm making it big!

 

You, like I, might be wondering how the shit they fly like this, making decisions flawlessly, twisting and turning through the sky without knocking into each other. I googled it. Each starling communicates with the seven starlings closest to himself, so when one decides it’s time to fly left, so too do those closest, and the message flutters peacefully through the flock.

The starlings were dancing as if for us and us alone and then a common tern (googled that too) flew into our lake and dive bombed for his tea. A flock of geese gave us a fly-by, a cormorant preened himself, the sky lit up in every hue of red and orange. I did have to question if this was the work of the same temptress that gave us sunshine on our wedding day, when for five days either side there had been nothing but torrential rain.

It’s enough to make you believe in a god, if only science, chance and nature weren’t much more credible and incredible.

Oh, and despite a choice of numerous lakes sprawled over 53 acres, the starlings settled on the banks of OUR lake. You can’t make this shit up - I don’t think I blinked for an hour.

Our weekend was spent being human beings, not human doings. We read, snoozed, took the dinghy out for a paddle. We chopped wood so we could light the fire that heats the hot tub. The lake is so private that I can confirm you can spend the weekend stark nakeroo. I even did naked yoga, just to know what it feels like to downward dog with my butt on display. I hear it’s what they’re doing at actual yoga classes in London now. I prefer to be clothed while bending in public, but here it felt most exhilarating. My brain is so often a tightly wound coil of to-do’s, this weekend was a cerebral massage.

 
 Look at me being a human being!

Look at me being a human being!

 Not that our roles are antiquated but...

Not that our roles are antiquated but...

 Someone's got to chop the wood and stoke the fire and I'm busy being a human being.

Someone's got to chop the wood and stoke the fire and I'm busy being a human being.

 

Only one complaint. While the weekend sent our appreciation of nature skyward, one small mozzie caused big problems for Gaz. Prosecco must have put the little bugger off my blood. Fizz in the veins - worked a charm. By the third night Gaz built himself a fort (sheets over chairs for a makeshift mozzie net) in the hopes that he’d be able to sleep without that horrible bzzzzz in his ear. He finally slept, only to wake up and see the mozzie sitting just inches from his face, inside his fort, probably smiling schemingly while rubbing his belly full of man-blood.

So, if I’ve inspired you to march your walking feet to Essex, pack mozzie spray.

And say hello to the starlings. They have my heart. 

 
 Bye Birds.

Bye Birds.

 

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