It looks like you're using an old web browser that we no longer support, so some parts of the site may not work as well as they should and you won't be able to make a booking. Please update your browser (view more details) to make sure you get the best experience.

A nature walk podcast with Charlotte Church

A Life More Wild - Series 3 Episode 1

Charlotte Church

Charlotte Church on woodlands, waterfalls and listening to nature

Listen on AppleSpotifyGoogle or wherever you get your podcasts.

In A Life More Wild we walk and talk in the countryside with fascinating people, transporting you to the great outdoors and helping you connect with nature through their unique perspectives. We're back for series 3 and for our first wander, we're in a wooded Welsh valley with Charlotte Church. Famous since the age of 11, it's a wonder she doesn't just want to shut the whole world out and live in peace, but actually she's doing the opposite. Driven by a desire to give something back and help people facing mental and emotional struggle, she's opened the Dreaming - a wellness retreat deep in the valleys of rural mid Wales. 

In this episode, we join Charlotte amongst the woodlands and waterfalls of her retreat as she explains the journey that brought her here and what she hopes others will experience when they visit. 

How would you have responded if you'd been famous since the age of 11? After bursting onto the music scene so young and going through years of misrepresentation and harassment by the press, it's a wonder that Charlotte church doesn't want to shut the whole world out, and live in peace. But actually, she's doing the opposite. Driven by a desire to give something back and help people who are facing mental and emotional struggle, she's opened The Dreaming, a wellness retreat deep in the valleys of rural mid Wales. 

It's situated at the base of a small mountain in the Cambrian mountains. And it's this beautiful view that stretches for miles and miles. Yeah, and it's, absolutely Lush. 

I'm Chris from Canopy & Stars, and welcome to series three of A Life More Wild. In this episode, join Charlotte among the woodlands and waterfalls of her retreat. She explains the journey that brought her here and what she hopes others will experience when they visit. 

We are currently going to walk through to The Moon Garden, we'll go up through the first bit of the forest, we'll cross the waterfall, then we'll go through into The Court of Holly King, and then we'll see. 

So, I was looking for a patch of land basically to start a glamping business. Because I absolutely love camping, love glamping, love being in the outdoors love, like sleeping in the outdoors, having as few walls as possible. And I came, drove up and just, just, couldn't believe it. It was just like, was absolutely beguiled by the scale of it. And by the majesty, like there's something so majestic. You've got these huge, massive, protruding rocks all covered in moss, and this beautiful woodland, two waterfalls! And we didn't even go in the house. We said to the estate agent, oh, can we just go into forest? And he was like, nobody's ever, nobody's come to see it, has ever been in the forest.  

And it was just like that is insane. And so, we had a little walk through the forest. And the guy who owned it at the time, had worked on it for like ten years. And he put through these bridges over the waterfalls, and all these paths to the woodlands. And I just, I, my first feeling was just like, I cannot believe that somebody can own this? Like What a ridiculous concept.  

And anyway, so I fell madly and completely in love. It was like a totally obsessive love relationship when you're a teenager. I just couldn't stop thinking about the place, I was journaling about it. I was, just had ideas, like I was I was just like, completely and utterly smitten. And so then over the next weeks, then I brought my husband up here with my kids. I brought my dad and my mum and different family members just to sort of sense check it just to be like, Am I mad? Am I mad? This is amazing, isn't it? I am about to put, like everything that I have into this place. And they were like you're mad. You are absolutely mad, but it is beautiful. 

Something about the water, and just all of the nature but particularly the water. It just felt so, peaceful, so soothing. And it's like, I feel like when I come here and guests have said the same it's almost like you're stepping into a different world. There's something very otherworldly about it. And yeah, so that's when I sort of started thinking about it in terms of a retreat centre and a place of healing, and of sanctuary. And it all sort of happened from there really. 

It is being a very full project, and stressful at times in the renovation, but now that it's open as the retreat centre, open as The Dreaming, and we're offering people these sort of three-day experiences where they're immersed in nature, and slowing down, resting, being creative, being playful, whatever they need really from there three days with us. It's been, been an absolute privilege thus far. And I'm just I'm absolutely loving being a practitioner here myself as well. 

Yeah, it was just a process of really trying to listen in to nature and the seasonality, and you know how the water ran through the forests and through the land, and just be as receptive as I possibly could be about how, how this this land, this valley, needed to grow and evolve really, whilst you know, trying not to be too imposing. I was a very indoors kid, I was raised like, we didn't go camping, we didn't go for walks, like it was just like, microwave meals and tele, Gladiators, whatever other stuff. And then as, as I had kids myself, and as I got older and had my own struggles and healing processes, then my eyes were just opened to nature. And I just started becoming more and more intrigued, the more I became curious and intrigued, the more I realised, oh my gosh, this is really powerful. And this is where I want to be. To the point now where I sort of hate being inside, I feel really penned in when I'm inside. So, yeah, I'm, I'm pretty sure – towards the end of my life, I'm just going to be in a shack in the woods somewhere? I'm just I feel like I'm just gonna sort of keep you know, reducing and my house being smaller and everything just sort of being less stuff. 

So now we're just walking across our first beautiful bridge over the waterfall, so you can hear the, the tinkling, gushing sounds of the waterfall in the background. Also, you've got these really cool oak and beech trees, really pretty old. But because the soil is so thin, here, you find that the roots like, like grasp around the rocks, or like holding on to the side of the mountain on the rocks. And yeah, it’s very dramatic. 

So, we are currently standing in The Court of the Holly King, which was the first ceremonial space that we put together at the dreaming. It is flanked by holly trees, which are in the ancient Celtic ways, a symbol of protection. So, the idea is that we will hold, sort of, ceremony and sharing circles and nature connection practices, which sort of stem from this place. And then we're going to put one in the south which represents fire, and one in the east, which represents, a, but we're going to sort of let that those, those ceremonial spaces sort of emerge, from how the land is used, guest experiences, and stuff like that, just to allow things to be a bit emergent.  

I came out early one morning, doing my singing to the land stuff, which is basically for me, just improvising, improvising melodies, as I hear them and as I feel them and just sort of, and I just got this message or idea in my mind, or however you want to think about that. Which was just Court of the Holly King. This is the Court of the Holly King. This is a place of reckoning. And it was like, and so I was like, Okay, great. This is The Court of the Holly King. And some of the builders I was working with at the time, I was like I really, this is such a beautiful, I really want to make this the first ceremonial space and we're gonna call it The Court of the Holly King and they were all taking the mick out of me. And I did a bit of research then, I found that it's a really old story, the idea of The Court of the Holly King and The Court of the Oak King being locked in a constant seasonal battle. So that was like, weird. 

There's so many more progressive educational settings and educational communities. There are so many more people who are going to live off grid, you know, who are piling together their money to buy a piece of land or to you know, learn about, how to live sustainably. So, I think that it's like it's a really fast-growing area. And then there are also people who have been doing this for decades, who have been living in intentional communities since the 50s, 60s, 70s. Places like Findhorn, healing, community driven places for people to come and rest and recuperate and live, and live in a way that I think so many of us are really yearning to get back to. And I suppose what I’m really interested in is, you know, how, how this correlates to the future? Like, what tech is so young? And clearly were completely irresponsible with the use of it. But what, you know, what is there to be learned from the past, industrialization, ancient indigenous cultures? And what from tech are we going to take forward? So. Yeah, I'm just fascinated by it already.  

I feel like I've got like a deeply intuitive sense about what's going on. And it's probably because I had to develop that really young, like, I had to really very quickly feel out a situation and different people A), because it was really highly pressured all the time, whether it was I don't know, being on a Japanese morning show, or being on a mad live programme in Brazil or, you know, meeting the Pope or singing for President. So, in a million different situations, dealing with a really tricky journalist at 13. You know, there was, there's lots of really odd experiences where I had to really, I suppose, like, develop an intuitive sense and response. And I think, in turn, that's just made me very sensitive, I suppose. And also, like my own family, and my own, you'd be blind to see if there wasn't a huge problem with what's happening in the world right now. You know, we are literally committing ecological genocide across the globe. And, you know, rampant consumerist capitalism, is just, knows no bounds, but it's not making us happy. It's not making us better. In fact, it's making us worse, it's making us feel less confident, less self-worth, less meaning, less understanding, more anxious. And I see that, everywhere I go, I see it in my own family. I see it in myself, I see it in my friends. And I see it in wider society. And I think part of the dreaming, and the point of the dreaming, was to start living my values, and living my activism. Because this is, this is my manifestation of how, I feel like the world can be helped, and changed, and not just helped and change, but soothed, because actually, that's what I really care about, I care that people are really suffering. And I care that nature is really suffering. And so, part of my drive is just to soothe I think.  

So, sort of the retreat programme, if you want to call it that, is very, not loose, but we are trying to build in as much sort of self-direction as possible. And also, to allow people I think one of the things that we're massively missing from the modern day, is really having the time and space and opportunity to feel into what your body actually needs. Like people coming here, some people want adventure and exploration. Some people want to be really insular. Some people want to really connect with each other. Some people want to go off on the land and do you know solo practices. Some people will just want to rest, some people are just so bone-wearily tired, their nervous systems totally burnt out. So, some people just need to come here and nap a lot. And so, the programme, whilst it's really varied, it'll never be the same, week to week, because we sort of are acting seasonally, nature is our main guide. So, we're trying to sculpt as, as many of our offerings, which is sort of the workshops, if you want to call it something a bit more relatable. Yeah, we try and make as many of our, of our offerings around the show that nature is putting on daily. But we do nature crafting, we do all sorts of sound healing and singing, ceremonial practices, foraging, stargazing, storytelling, cold water plunging, forest bathing, I mean, planting workshops, log splitting, all sorts of different things. But the idea is, that when you come here, you start the process of really dropping into your body, and what is it actually, that I need from these three days, in this beautiful place. But also, again, because most people have been through a process of schooling, and then a process of work, which is very hierarchical, which is very directed, then I think it's really important for the future tribe, the humans of the future, to really have, have that self-direction and self-motivation, where people can think for themselves and they can adapt, and they can be sort of singular, but within a community. And so again, lots of our practices are built around this push and pull and friction of being solo and being an individual, but then also being in community and cooperating, collaborating, and how those two things are really important, for our mental health, to be able to have, have good enough boundaries and empowerment, to really feel who you are, but then also to know that, but you are not alone. And you are not singular by any stretch of the imagination. You know, we are within this complex ecosystem where there's far more that unites us than divides us. 

Well, I hope you're feeling wonderfully relaxed. Now you've sort of been on a retreat. Charlotte's point about nature uniting us, is something that our guest for Episode Two, Nick Hayes, knows all about. Nick is the most prominent member of The Right to Roam Campaign, author of The Book of Trespass, and also the only person I know who has a solid plan to get arrested this summer. Join him next time to climb over a couple of fences, and hear how a community came together to protect the land and the people who live there. If you haven't already, give us a follow on your podcast app. Tell a friend about the podcast, and check out at Canopy & Stars on Instagram to see footage and photos from our days out recording. 

A Life More Wild is an 18Sixty production, brought to you by Canopy & Stars. The producers for this episode were Gareth Evans and Eliza Lomas. Our theme music is by Billie Marten.