Once a year, usually in the darker days of winter, I gather up a few of my closest girlfriends and we head off into the country for a cosy weekend. We don’t go far from home, we’re not desperate for an adventure or a life changing experience; we just want some peaceful time together that lasts longer than a night out but doesn’t turn into a holiday, something to look forward to.
We love to spend a few uninterrupted, lazy hours catching up on what’s really happening in our lives as the years go by. We enjoy lounging by the fire, cosy pub lunches, mornings gossiping in bed over cups of tea and lengthy breakfasts where we discuss our kids, jobs, partners and plans for the future. Sometimes we’ll go for a slow walk, or head into a small town for a coffee but mostly we talk, sharing the smaller details of our lives which get lost in the hurly burly of our day-to-day routines.
This year the four of us chose West Wittering, in Sussex, for our cosy catch-up and settled ourselves into No 8 Coastguard Cottages, a small but surprisingly spacious home which is beautifully decorated and well equipped for 48 hours of gossiping and giggling.
The homely 19th century cottage is a short walk over marshland to acres of glorious West Wittering beach, and wandering this way together at sunset just moments after we’d arrived was a brilliant start to the weekend.
The area is perfect for walks, there’s a café within 10 minutes stroll, a beach shop, a butcher and two fantastic pubs. The Wittering is just down the lane and we enjoyed a great Saturday night supper (with excellent food for the vegetarians among us). You can drive to the larger towns of Goodwood and Chichester (we popped in for a coffee) or you can stay close to Coastguard Cottage and explore East Head sand dunes as we did on a blustery Sunday morning. Cold water dippers can brave the ocean (though don’t go too deep, it’s quite an estuary tide) and there’s plenty to do for water sport lovers in the summer. Everything is within easy reach, and you can even borrow one of the cottage’s bikes for a cycle ride too.
We also enjoyed a lovely walk home in the dark of the early winter evening listening to the birds of the marshlands and following our Starwalk night sky app as we watched the constellations above in the incredibly clear skies.
But we were less active than most.For us the purpose was to do our yearly check-in on each other: a practise I highly recommend for friends when life with family gets busy and often WhatsApp is your only point of contact. I’ve known my friend Claire for more than 25 years and we met working on Marie Claire magazine together. She no longer lives in London and made her way to Wittering from Dorset picking me up at Chichester station along the way. Our friends Victoria and Petra drove from different parts of South London,and we all converged in the late afternoon to enjoy crumpets and tea before our first leisurely potter down to the beach.
We’re all in our 50s now and time together is more precious than ever but we all have so many demands on days that squeezing in a weekend of wine, walks and talks feels extra special, it’s a luxury we know but one that resets our batteries and fuels us emotionally.
The run up to our weekends away are almost as exciting as the trips themselves: we make a playlist together over WhatsApp, we share out the food gathering: Claire brings breakfast, Petra sorts our gin and tonics and I am responsible for luxury chocolate snacks while Vic brings the pre-prepared meals from Cook! so we don’t have to cook!
We bring our books, though rarely read them and we often plan our outfits even though we rarely encounter anyone else on our escapades. We always look for somewhere that feels remote and a little cut off from the busy worlds we all live in and this year West Wittering proved the perfect choice.
Lorraine Candy is an award-winning journalist, editor and best-selling author. She has more than three decades of experience writing about women’s lives and parenting in national newspapers and magazines. She is also co-host of the chart-topping lifestyle podcast ‘Postcards From Midlife’.