A Great Escape

 

Nothing whisks away the seasonal chills quite like some winter sun. So on the advice of a friend who has lived and traveled in Mexico since her childhood we recently made a trip to discover the renowned Guadalupe Wine Valley and surrounding areas of the Baja region. When it comes to wine tasting, I am by no means an expert, far from it, however we had been told that the cuisine there is world-class and the area unassumingly beautiful so naturally we were keen to explore.

 
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For our stay in northern Mexico, we booked a boutique retreat in the mountains at Cuatro Cuatros vineyard, true to our passion for finding quieter places that fuse luxury and landscape. Our journey there included a stop in the small town of Rosarito on the promise that we would find the best tacos in Baja. Judging by the line that backed its way out of the restaurant and onto the bustling street, we were in the right place!

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We arrived at our accommodation as the late afternoon light drenched the surrounding vineyards and olive groves and with just enough time to climb the hillside to watch the sun set over Baja's beautiful pacific coast.

Nestled in the mountains, Cuatro Cuatros is a cocoon of comfort offering a quietly luxurious ‘camping’ experience. Stylish cabanas with well appointed bathrooms offer everything you need. Breakfasts are leisurely and can be taken on private verandas and dinners accompanied by exciting artisanal wines, roll into the night. Food is homemade, local and flavorful and the staff at Cuatro Cuatros are extremely friendly, striving to provide exceptional service and comfort at every opportunity. With horse riding, hiking trails and a brand new tasting room there is something for everyone. Cuatro Cuatros proved to be the ideal place to relax and to soak up the laid back pace of local life while enjoying the vaguely alternative vibe that defines the entire Baja region.

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The nearby Guadalupe Valle has been shaping itself in recent years as the next wine region. On first impression it seems quite remarkable that such apparently parched landscapes can produce such excellent wine with the limited natural resources available. As we traveled between three different boutique wineries the next day we were told by our local guide that the Valle’s arid microclimate was in fact ideal for wine cultivation. Summers are hot and dry; winters are wet and cool and during the warmer months, the breeze from the nearby Pacific Ocean help moderate temperatures. The Valle is not a place where large corporations have nested largely due to the restrictions on water. Rather it is where small ambitious families live and thrive off the land producing exceptional food and wines to meet the demand of locals and international visitors alike.

 
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The abundance of boutique vineyards in this area is just part of Baja’s charm. The surrounding region is an experience in culture, language, tradition and for food aficionados an unexpected delight with restaurants presided over by talented chefs using stellar ingredients. Amongst the rugged landscape a vibrant architectural scene is also creating a buzz with stunning, contemporary designs being completed at a pace.

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The subtle influences that come with cultural and economic change have created an interesting fusion of the old and the new in the Valle. Bumpy local roads interconnect with brand new highways populated by cars, pick-up trucks and shepherds on horseback. Modest dwellings and tin roofed grocery stores sit alongside cutting edge modern homes made from local materials. The state of the art wineries, themselves with pristine wine cellars, are a stark contrast to the jumble of roadside vendors selling olive oils, agave syrups and local wines.

Baja’s success story is largely due to it’s gracious and talented people who have successfully carved out a niche tourist scene while holding on to what makes the region unique. As the area continues to grow in popularity due to the proximity to the United States border and with the increased recognition for the mastery and creativity of the wine and food producers, local people and the forces of nature remain the guardians of this region. As a tourist destination Baja still has that feeling of being slightly under the radar with an absence of polish and abundance of local charm.

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For another great write up on the Valle de Guadalupe and for further recommendations for eating and drinking see Vogue Magazine, linked below:

Why You Might Want to Skip Napa and Visit Mexico’s Wine Country Instead



 

 

Temporary or Timeless

 

There will always be trends that come and go with the ebb and flow of the fashion industry. In recent years Millennials have brought minimalism back in vogue. 

 
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The concept of a minimalist lifestyle, of simplicity over complexity, of freedom over frenzy certainly has its appeal, especially as I gaze around my living room and consider what I could pare down or declutter. I am filled with predicaments. Do I still need this? When was the last time I used it? What would happen if I got rid of it? Could someone use this more than me? 

I am reminded of the piles of books that have amassed by my window patiently waiting to be sorted. Also my mind turns to the untamed “everything drawer” requiring immediate attention. These thoughts bubble up in a virtuous attempt to strip away life’s excesses and usher in a little inner calm. 

 
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I have a few key pieces in my home however such as my coffee table that was crafted from a 500 year old Indian wooden door and my dining table constructed from the floorboards of an ancient ship that do not strictly adhere to the limitations of a minimalist aesthetic. 

For me, these are timeless pieces that sit outside of modern day trends. I also have a few tailored wardrobe staples that fall into this category. For the most part, my wardrobe is an edited collection of simple silhouettes that adhere to a limited colour palette. The pieces that I love the most though are those that are timeless in nature, that work everyday, no matter what is fashionable at the time. I find that we can interact with these pieces on more than one level. They offer an aesthetic and tactile appeal but, more often than not, it is the narrative they are wrapped up in that brings a unique vibrancy to them. I may well be flouting all kinds of minimalist norms here but without this vibrancy, without these stories, these timeless pieces begin to lack significant feeling and character. 

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It is for this reason that I particularly love our Quentin Tote for it’s easy elegance and timeless look and feel. Each Quentin awaits the narrative of its new owner. The weary traveler that catches the last train escaping the city din, the father who presents it to his daughter embarking on the first steps of her career, or perhaps in the next generation the Quentin will be inherited alongside other personal items synonymous with loved ones past. 

When I started RUSKIN my intention was to follow a slower more sustainable approach to design and to create timeless lifestyle pieces made for people who share in our values. My inspiration has derived predominantly from nature, particularly from the earthy colours and tones of my home in the Lake District. I named our company after John Ruskin, a great Victorian critic of art, culture and society and a prolific artist in his own right. In many ways, Ruskin was a man ahead of his time. He believed strongly in sustainability and traditional craftsmanship from natural materials. 

We have placed these same sentiments front and centre in our brand to create timeless products that have the greatest regard for the environment and are designed to outlast the vagaries of fashion trends. 

 

The Luxury of Quiet

 

One would be forgiven for supposing that if we work hard enough, we will eventually find a few solitary moments in our busy day or week that are entirely our own. For many of us, quiet sometimes feels like a luxury we can ill afford as we have become so attuned to the idea that if we are being quiet and doing nothing, then nothing will be achieved. In fact, the opposite is true, humans need tranquility, it allows us to be at ease, to recharge and restore our sense of perspective and equilibrium.

 
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In an increasingly complex, fast paced world where we are bombarded by information, noise and distraction it is easy to lose sight of those rarer moments of quiet that we can luxuriate in and which are uniquely our own. We don’t necessarily need to look far to find the less frenetic cadence of modern life. Some are drawn to the mountains for solitude, to be humbled by nature or for introspection and absolute quiet.  Others find their escape in a favorite coffee shop, taking a drive to nowhere in particular, waking early in the stillness of the morning or diving into a book. The opportunities to relish in the simple pleasures of life are still many and varied but sometimes easily forgotten.

The search for quiet however brings with it an internal challenge, a challenge that is a prerequisite to finding relief from the noise. How much are we willing to unplug, to pay attention and be still, even stop for a while and really listen for those rarer moments that are luxuriously quiet?

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Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to make a last minute trip with my family to Lindisfarne. The prospect of being away for a few days, to unwind and relax in the absence of any digital distraction certainly had it's appeal. Lindisfarne or as it is sometimes called, Holy Island, is a tiny tidal island located off the north east coast of England and just a few miles short of the border with Scotland. It is an isolated island accessible only by one road that appears and disappears twice a day with the ebb and flow of the tide. Go in the high season and the island is inundated with visitors from near and afar. Visit in the low season and Lindisfarne restores its own sense of peace and tranquility, reverting to a sleepy fishing village with a small priory and castle and unassumingly beautiful beaches.

 
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We arrived at the edge of the mainland as the sun was fading and the sky was darkening. The tide was in and the road was completely submerged, prohibiting access to the island until the following morning. After a comfortable night, we breakfasted early and drove back to the edge of the mainland to find the road slowly surfacing out of the water. It is a beautiful drive out across the two mile causeway, flanked on either side by the North Sea and with the outline of the Farne Islands in the distance.

 
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We spent the day immersed in wild coastal beauty, exploring the beaches and rock pools and relishing in the fact that we had escaped everyday life for just a little while. Even with the steady hum of visitors to the island, it is still possible to find a quiet corner of one’s own. Nestled in amongst the rocky beaches, feeling the sea breeze and watching the weathered fishing boats bobbing rhythmically is escapism at its best.

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The departure from the world of running a business, aligning hectic schedules and international travel makes life tricky to navigate. It takes time to shed the layers of stress and strain. In these quieter spaces, however, away from the noise and the interruptions that are so many and varied the necessity for peace and quiet ushers in a renewed significance. Lindisfarne is the antithesis of modern world hustle and bustle. It is the ideal place for introspection, for mind wandering and for slowing down to reacquaint oneself with the luxury of quiet.

 

A Story Behind The Story

 

In many ways the RUSKIN story begins as my own story began in the Lake District of northern England. Growing up there, I viewed the Lake District as a giant playground, where I could play freely, explore, adventure and take risks. I grew up in a small hamlet of eight dwellings and roamed the village in a small pack of friends, building dens and climbing trees. Life back then seemed to run at a much slower pace.

 
 

With its dramatic mountain landscapes and small world charm, the Lake District has inspired and influenced poets and writers the world over. The rugged terrain is peppered with farm houses and barns which sit comfortably amongst drystone walls, clear streams and lakes that serve as natural breaks in the mountainsides. If you look closely enough you'll notice the ubiquitous sheep nibbling their way across the hillside.

As a child I read books by Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl and soon after J R R Tolkien. Later I came of age with the nascent sounds of Brit Pop culture listening to Oasis, Pulp and Blur and all the fervor that surrounded that time.

At secondary school many of the students came from valley farms. They were hardy individuals somehow more self-assured and grounded than the rest of us at that age; if nothing else, they were certainly connected to the land in a far greater way than the rest of us. For my own part, the Lake district left its own indelible impression on me, for its sheer natural beauty and simplicity.

Despite being one of the most breathtakingly scenic places in England, I should caution against over-romanticising life in the Lakes. The reality of cold winters and rugged rural life for contemporary hill farmers is a stark one. While it may not disappear altogether, this way of life is becoming harder and harder to sustain. Farmers exist precariously facing global market forces, selling their wool and meat products while at the same time diversifying their business with other ventures. Some members of the next generation are choosing to escape to urban areas to pursue different employment opportunities altogether.

In the winter of 2014, I spent time with a friend who has lived, breathed and worked the landscape there for her entire life. We held a conversation about the rare breed Herdwick sheep, and the incredibly low prices that their fleeces realise. We talked of the seasons of a farmer's life and culture and of the threats to the unique upland landscape. I shared with my friend the idea of trying to create a usable yarn from the wool of the native Herdwick sheep that could be made into a tweed, with design, performance and visual aesthetics in mind.

Herdwick sheep are considered the most hardy of British hill sheep and the natural protective properties inherent in the wool make it both durable and pliable and give it a waterproof coating. Despite this, Herdwick wool is an extremely difficult fibre to manage due to the complex manufacturing processes involved and the long lead times. I was however, bolstered by the conversation with my friend and so determined to try and find a mill that would consider spinning the Herdwick wool into a yarn of the highest quality. After many phone calls, I found a specialist worsted mill that agreed to the challenge. The process for them was not without complications and frustrations which were mirrored at the next stage of weaving the yarn into a worsted tweed. After many months, however, the first RUSKIN Tweed was spun, woven and then finished in Yorkshire - a true mark of quality.

 
 

Having produced the RUSKIN Tweed, we still had a huge mountain to climb to bring our designs to fruition. Bringing RUSKIN bags to their finished form requires a great number of highly skilled stages of production by experienced craftsmen. Once our tweed was complete we shipped it out to Italy to be crafted into RUSKIN bags. For each bag, the materials are cut, laminated and constructed using traditional methods. Many components require hand stitching and precision work which give a RUSKIN a truly individual finish.

The journey to produce the first RUSKIN collection was inspired by my upbringing in the Lake District; a quiet corner of England that I am very grateful to call home. RUSKIN bags are designed as quietly luxurious, timeless pieces that are both natural and sustainable.

I hope you will enjoy the RUSKIN collection for its distinctive natural beauty and simplicity.

 
 
 
 

I am delighted to credit all photography to Lydia Harper.

 

RUSKIN x Lydia Harper Photography

 

Once in a while we are lucky enough to meet someone who operates within the same frequency in their thinking, their commitment and worldview. I first met with Lydia Harper in the Lake District on one of the most picturesque summers evenings that I can remember. She jumped out of the car, after a long journey from Herefordshire, shouted a really quick warm welcome and then disappeared off in to the fields to capture the sunset! Soon after meeting we agreed on a 4 o'clock start the next morning to capture the sunrise, knowing full well that this weather wasn't going to last! 

 
 

For some time now we have wanted to start our journal in order to share more about who we are and where our inspiration for RUSKIN comes from.  So when we were presented with the opportunity to collaborate with Lydia Harper, naturally we jumped at it. Always immersed in nature and experimenting with natural light, Lydia’s photography is the ideal medium for us to begin sharing our brand story.  

Not only does Lydia’s photography complement RUSKIN but we also love to work with her to create, brainstorm and benefit from her keen insight. For someone who prefers time alone or on the road, Lydia contributes a significant quiet energy and patience that allows her to consistently make stunning images.  

 
 

In an age where just about everyone has a camera and everything is photographed, the ability to capture moments and create the right emotion is borne of experience, skill and perseverance. We are excited to be working with Lydia on a long term project to share our journey.

 
 

The RUSKIN story originates in the Lake District of northern England and so that is where we will begin!