When people think of retreats, it’s often with regards to yoga or detoxing, getting away from it all. For the Flea Retreat I went on recently, it was certainly getting away from it all, but with a blogging and creative slant. Many blogging conferences and events are about hundreds of bloggers in a conference venue, with hardly time to relax or chat at length to friends because there’s so many people you want to see. In contrast, the Flea blogging retreat was something much more intimate. After seeing what people got up to last year, I wanted to try it out for myself this time.
Accommodation: Tyn Rhyd
I was one of the lucky ones, only having a 3 hour straightforward journey out to Wales – just go west and I was pretty much there. The Welsh countryside was beautiful with bluebells on the hills and lush green trees. Tyn Rhyd is a retreat location a few miles outside Aberystwyth, set in 13 acres of land and was much easier to find than I expected despite it being in the sticks. It was peaceful, set in wonderful countryside. The large main building and smaller farmhouse being our accommodation and venue for the 2.5 days we were there.
Arriving Friday afternoon we could check in, find our rooms and relax before the ice breaker, Friday session and dinner.
Having lucked out with a single room, I was in the farmhouse. This was only a few metres from the main building with great views.
With a huge comfy country style living rooms, good sized kitchen and dining area, utility room and hall complete with piano, there was plenty of space if you were looking to book a holiday home with room for 20 people. 1 accessible bedroom is downstairs, while there’s another 4 upstairs. 1 with an ensuite toilet and basin, an upstairs bath and shower room and downstairs wet room. They’ve thought of everything, with toiletries available to use, a huge fridge with ice machine, and plenty of equipment to use in the utility and kitchen.
The main building is huge. We used all of it for the retreat, but there are different areas of rooms which are bookable as a group, then sharing the large communal lounge, games room, and glass fronted main hall. There are several kitchens. All the accommodation is very relaxed and comfy. It would be a great venue to hold a big family get together, or celebration with friends.
Outside there’s a 10 person hot tub (undercover), playing field, various rope swings, a treehouse and BBQ area. You can also walk the grounds, going out to the fields behind. Through the weekend we got to see a bit of the place through the various sessions I’d booked on.
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If you’re starting out on your blogging journey and want to know the ins and outs of SEO, WordPress and social media, this isn’t the blogging retreat for you. But if you go to other events and find yourself getting more value out of the creative sessions and seeing blogging friends, then you’re in luck. Flea Retreat fits that need.
You’re also paying for experts in their field, professional photographers, producers and published writers, rather than it being bloggers running sessions. With only around 20-25 people on the retreat, sessions were small. It was a chance to ask questions and get practical advice.
I’d never say I’m a particularly creative person, but photography is an area I enjoy and want to improve, so that was my big pull for the retreat. The sessions were splits into fun, creative story-telling, video and photography, with some overlap to food and other areas.
The schedule was released in advance so you could book on sessions and change around until nearer the time. I was panicking up to a week before (Sally, the Flea Retreat organiser was probably pulling her hair out at my questions) because all the sessions I’d wanted to do were already fully booked and I was only down for 1 session that was a back-up. But as people had said, don’t worry, because when it gets closer people move to different sessions. Happily I ended up booked on all the sessions I’d been interested in.
Because it’s a much smaller and more relaxed event, I felt you didn’t need to be booked on lots of sessions. There was time to just relax or use the hot tub, go for walks, and catch up or meeting blogging friends without feeling pressured that I should be going here or there.
Run by Derek Lomas, there was only 4 of us in the group I did. Product photography isn’t something I do much of, but we learnt some great tips about placement, backgrounds, and how to bring items to life. We were able to practice with food photography and adding sprinkled icing sugar. And adding water to shampoo bottles. I think I’m too lazy to go to those lengths, but I was able to take away some ideas to use back home, as well as getting advice on settings to try.
Busch craft cooking was one of the fun sessions that were running led by Adventure Beyond, the outdoor company who ran the canoeing and gorge walking as well. We learnt how to start a fire using different techniques. Then had to saw wood and use a knife to make a hammer to chop and feather the wood we needed to make our fire.
It was a great experience and our team won at being the first to build our fire and boil water in the Kelly Kettle to make tea. Then the marshmallows were brought out for s’mores. We had a great time, and it was probably my favourite session of the weekend. It, like the other fun sessions, was something I’d never have tried before.
Low light photography walk
A group of us went for a walk around the grounds to learn more about catching the light, and making the most of the early evening sun. It wasn’t that low light, but Derek gave us tips on grouping people for photos, direction to shoot in and looking out for focal points when doing landscape photography. A few of us finished off by trying out light painting with phones. It wasn’t really dark enough but we didn’t do too badly, and it’s something I’ve meant to try for ages. Now I just need some darker light and to remember to use my tripod.
Our sunrise photo walk with Tom Arber was an early 5am start on Sunday, but we had to abort as the weather was just too cloudy – there wasn’t much of interest to photography. While 2 went back to bed, Holly and I got to catch up and have a good chinwag before breakfast.
Waterfall photography walk
Naomi Campbell took a minibus of us to Hafod to walk through the woods to find the waterfall. It was a long walk downhill (and back up again afterwards), but was worth it to enjoy the pretty woodland flora, the waterfall and rippling river. Again, Naomi was on hand for any tips, and like any photo walk, it’s nice to be able to see what and how others take their photos.
I don’t do much formal photography of children, especially not now N refuses to be on the blog or social media. I tend to just snap away if he’s outside playing. But I found it really helpful to learn tips on photography in the middle of the day, the different ways to group a family or children, outfits that work well, and some options for getting the best photos with setting and lenses. Plus of course where to stand to get the best shots without crowding your subject. I
was really pleased with my photos – thanks to Sally’s daughter Flea who put up with being a model despite struggling with hayfever).
I had a great time at this blogging retreat. The food was great – breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided for each of the 2 meals, and snacks and non-alcoholic drinks were available throughout the weekend. Everything was very casual, although Saturday evening dinner was more of a celebration, as well as being one blogger’s birthday.
If you wanted to relax you were able to chill out in the communal areas, or go and explore, and several used the hot tub. There was no phone signal, and wifi was sporadic (and in the main building only), so you really could switch off. During down time I generally sat around and caught up with other bloggers, although I did manage to get 4 blog posts drafted over the weekend too. It was really nice to spend a decent amount of time chatting to other bloggers rather than online or in passing at a big event.
I know there’s plenty I can take away for my photography, and there’s a group of bloggers I’ve got to know better. The blogging community is really close, and I’m sure many of us will be back for more Flea Retreats in future. Thanks to Sally and her team for making the retreat so much fun as well as productive.
Have you ever been on a similar retreat or event? What did you find you got out of it?