April 11, 2024

Time Will Tell (a story of things)

Time Will Tell (a story of things)

I have been trying to get finger to keyboard for ages to write about something, anything, related to what I and the team at Elmore are working on, and why and how we do what we do. And when I say ages, I mean ages … Like a few years.

Time has been flying past and - I don’t know about you - but it feels like something has shifted since that mental world-shifting thing that happened in 2020. Time ... It is such a curious thing. I’m not going to get into too much of a metaphysical diatribe but I’m hoping you might know what I’m hinting at?

I’ve not really been able to speak clearly about a whole set of ideas and things that mean so much to me, mainly because various things have come at me during recent times that have been what you might call traumatising; the wretched Covid-19 virus being the first of a line of things. Things in both my personal and professional life … I say traumatising, perhaps not with a capital T, but I think we often in our culture find ourselves in a fight, flight or freeze response.

I fight and quite often feel incredibly alive when that happens, but it gets to you and the freeze creeps in; that uncertainty and lack of feeling safe. Loss is a big one in there too. Lack of sleep is a killer. Dysfunctional relationships discombobulate. And so on.

I am writing this, and for the first time in a while feel able to speak clearly. Patience and perseverance work. Time does heal.

So … Time. We have an open day at Elmore Court this Spring called ‘Thyme’. A play on words. Our way of using language and ideas to connect nature, physics, history and stories. And, I thought, what better time to write an account of what the heck has been happening, what we were born from, and where we are aiming to get to.

I have always cared about our world. If I’m honest, it took me a little longer to care about the people on it.

I am not entirely sure whether this world of ours is better off with humans as part of it or not. But whether nature and her rivers and forests and mountains like it or not, we are here. And of course, we came from all of that and so - if we had our heads screwed on and our eyes open - we’d know that we are a part of nature and not, as so many of egos and minds appear to believe, separate from nature and would resultingly treat all things with more love, care and respect.

Anselm & Ruthie Guise on the Equator

But yeah, since I was a wee squib, I have been a nature nerd and animal lover.

I was born in Africa and had the joy of being taken on safari quite a bit as a I grew up. Wilderness and the wild creatures that lived there fascinated me, and many years later and after many turns - some right, some wrong - I found myself back in Africa making trance and techno music, putting on parties, raves and festivals and DJing and dancing out in the bush quite often under the influence of strong psychedelic compounds.

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Those LSD-fuelled technicolour gatherings were a mecca for all sorts of freaks, creatives, thinkers and tinkers, and my mind, eyes and heart were opened to all sorts of wonderful ideas and views.  In some ways I woke up from the dream that western culture's own flavour of education, entertainment, religions and other ‘collectiveness’ sort of hypnotises us into … being OK with separation, fear, control and judgement. No. Fuck that! I choose connection, love, trust, togetherness …  Allow things and people to be themselves. And to enjoy that. To have fun. To dance and laugh … You know??

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So, that’s the cauldron from which I grew into who I am now. At least the person I hope I am now.

Mixmag talking Glade

I have made some interesting choices; some of which are surprising, but I excuse and forgive myself for wandering off. Those adventures in Africa led me to find myself doing what we did there over here – first at Glastonbury festival, and then our own spin off called The Glade, which was completely brilliant and mental and was what I was doing when … well …

I had just returned from a week in the US attending this thing called the Miami Winter Music Conference. I basically hardly slept for a week and had overcooked it - really quite spectacularly - and returned to London where I was living, and decided I need to go and live in the countryside and be quiet and healthy before the wheels completely came off. I sat down to have a look on the interweb to see if I could find a house to live in over in the west country. I was from that way and had mostly grown up there. My phone rang and it was Dad who said that my uncle, Sir John, was not very well at all and I needed to drop everything and get to Elmore. I did and never left … That house in the country was delivered.

The Court In 2007

It was surreal. John wasn’t that old. He was in his seventies and, you know, could have lived another 15 or 20 years. I had always known that Elmore Court and the estate was coming to me since forever. John was a determined bachelor, and I was the next in line via Dad.

But I simply hadn’t factored in this happening just yet. John and I were cut from different cloths in terms of our views. He was old school; charming, fun and loved horse racing. But old school. He still lived in the house with staff and never went into the kitchen as that’s where the servants are… Old guard, old school. He and I had little in common and he thought I was awfully modern. I thought he was awfully old fashioned. There are tales to be told here for another time. I think if there had been another more suitable male Guise (yes, primogeniture was alive and well) then they may have redirected things. But either way it was coming to me, and I had had nothing explained to me as to how anything fitted together. I hadn’t spent much time at Elmore apart from at Christmases, the odd weekend and Sunday lunches. I loved it for its eccentricities and Corgis and Jack Russells, and even its freezing cold bedrooms. But I simply didn’t know much about it, so when John died it was a total headfuck. An exciting one though.

Party time was here. We had some serious fun. Lots of mates came to stay and it became a wonderful crazy and bohemian place. I had a recording studio, out of which some cracking music was produced which was super cool. I was making a great living from my music and events and for a while it felt like nothing could be better. Good times, which were quickly tempered by the fact that my income wasn’t going to cover the upkeep, improvements, tax bills and so on that I slowly and disgruntledly realised I had to deal with. I did a Channel 4 TV show which was a big thing at the time called ‘Country House Rescue’, where it was suggested I commercialise things to make a cookery school. I understood that if I didn’t do something with the house and estate then the almost-750 years of direct and continuous family ownership might come to an end.

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I didn’t think I could do events or weddings then. The Glade was in full swing, and the curious local community had read that it was “Hedonistic” and “Loud” and “Unpoliceable” in various tabloids, and I did have one or two parties. Sorry … Some still haven’t forgiven me. They were rather good … But you know … Complaints from 10 miles away came in. Angry letters from the parish council. And so on. The idea that I was going to get away with gatherings and celebrations every weekend was absurd, so I didn’t pursue this direction for a long time.

But then a lightbulb lit. Some pals run a festival called the Secret Garden Party and at that was a stage in the shape of a roman colosseum made of straw bales (there is a fab full-circle story that links to where I am now that makes me smile which I won’t go into, but a certain special person knows what I mean). Inside was a fat sound system and wicked dancefloor. As I walked out the sound levels on that dancefloor dropped to almost being inaudible and I wondered whether perhaps I could do parties at Elmore after all …

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I never would have compromised my values to diversify Elmore Court. Whatever happened needed to be considerate to our natural world and environment.

That’s why the cookery school that Country House Rescue had suggested appealed; there’s a wonderful sustainable and cyclical way of doing that; Ballymaloe in Ireland is testament to this.

But if I could build some sort of structure out of our own straw bales, then perhaps I could persuade the parish and the council that we could do parties without disturbance.

I had hunted around already for a designer or architect I liked for an earlier rustic spa idea and had met a couple of local ‘Stroudies’ who had cut their teeth building treehouses and had just started an architectural workshop. Tom Howard and Tomas Millar jumped at the challenge of refining my soundproof venue idea and the straw bale structure evolved to cob walls (mud and straw) then finally to rammed earth walls (just mud) … And the concept of the Gillyflower was born. A soundproofed building that would spring up using natural materials from this land to allow people to celebrate, party, dance and have fun without upsetting anyone and save my family heritage. The local community couldn’t stop me now! And we got planning permission and the rest is history….

The Gillyflower Build

The Gillyflower Build

In timelapse

We have not had one sound complaint from music inside the Gillyflower since; in over ten years and with more than a thousand weddings and other events and parties.

At the time, the wider estate was all in tenancies to farmers, which was partly why I decided to ‘sweat’ the house to make money rather than the land and buildings there. I also for a bit lived in the big house with my now ex-wife, Sarah and our two kids, Wylder and Lyra. There’s a whole sequence of things that have happened over the years since we opened about which I won’t go into too much detail, but the main house was renovated in stages. I made more and more rooms available for the business, converted the coach house, and built a state-of-the-art proper event kitchen.

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The woodlands on the estate were not tenanted, so I was free to manage them to provide wood to fuel all the heating and hot water needs via biomass boilers. The wonderful walled garden at the Court was worked on to produce food for our chefs and kitchens, and for a while that was all I could do.

It was a huge success and could not have happened without some amazing people around me. From Tom and Tomas (and their man Milo Mason and more recently, Phil Hurrell) to John Ramsden (who built the Gillyflower and beyond) to Grantly Lucking and Nick Skinner (who led  the crew that initially renovated the house), to the original team that jumped on board to plan and help launch this whole thing; Ati Mathiesen, Jenna Ansell, Jobee Timms, Simon Baring, Pete the Bastard, Boris Harris, Chisholm Barnett and of course, Sarah, who endlessly traipsed around bathroom fitting shops with our newborn baby Lyra, to the first operational team - Lisa and Andy Cole, Louise Jenkins, Stacey Mahon, Dave Deady, Maja Hardi, Emily Pick and Debi Wyatt who were quickly followed by Ronald Dworak, Rachel Terrett, Katrina Seear, Adele Sharp, Chloe Glenn, Luke Price, Mette Warriner, Matt Greene and many more, to the team we have now, led by our fab General Manager Luke Millikin.

Quite a few of those names are still here. Being brilliant as ever with all the newer crew. I also had the unwavering support of my Mum and Dad and my long-suffering sister, Ruthie. Thank you.

But I have gotten ahead of myself. I need to rewind back to May 2018, to shortly after one of the farms on the estate had finally come ‘back in hand’; i.e. out of tenancy.

I had been having a tricky time personally, when some stuff happened. I had a serious motorbike accident, and two books were published. One was called ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree (on the same day of the accident, weirdly) and the other, “How to Change Your Mind’ by Michael Pollan.

The latter is all about using psychedelics as a medicine for depression, and - as I’ve mentioned - I was struggling, and for my own reasons didn’t want to go down the anti-depressants route. The accident had been a painful reality check, and I took a big chunk of time off work to reflect, recover, and try to heal.

Of course, I had already seen the benefits (and dangers) of using psychedelics recreationally but decided to explore these compounds, these plant medicines, and took part in some quite extraordinary shamanic ceremonies. What I learnt, or perhaps - more accurately - was reminded of, is that there is wisdom and real universal knowledge that exists away from our western self-centred view of things. I mention this earlier… but there is, I think, a sort of sickness in human western civilisation born of our inability to not put our own self-importance in front of almost everything else. It really ought to be enough that we are simply grateful to be alive and to realise that we are all part of the same remarkable thing. I have a friend called Burgs who is an amazing healer and meditation teacher, who wrote some lovely words (I urge you to give the whole thing a listen here); and I quote a favourite paragraph: ‘There is nothing we have created, there is nothing we will ever create, that will come close to the miracle that is going outside your window in nature 24 hours of every single day’.

The other book, ‘Wilding’, is a story about a wonderful place in Sussex called Knepp that has led the way with rewilding; a process of returning landscapes to the wild. Until I read that I thought that to get a hit of real wildlife you needed to get on a plane and go on safaris. Suddenly, I realised what it was I would do with the farm and land that had come out of that tenancy.

When we visited Knepp

And I was curious too… I wanted to see what magic might happen if we stopped trying to control things. If we allowed nature to lead the way, if we got out of the way…

And what I was beginning to realise was that this wasn’t just on the land where it would be healthy for that to happen … It was within us too. Perhaps it is us that needs healing the most.

And so, the first seeds of ‘rewilding things’ were sown. You see, there is a kind of gnosis; a knowing, an intelligence even, that if allowed to be - and the conditions are right - is inevitable and is full of colour, abundance and beauty.

What if I was right, and when we allowed the land and all its flora and fauna free reign, it became so noticeably different to the rest of the landscape in England? What if a space could be created in which people could feel that difference, and themselves become curious as to why? What if there could be a place that would fill people with joy and wake them up a little, too?

And so, I went back to my friends at Millar and Howard and asked them to work with me on another project; this time to build treehouses immersed in a wilderness in the British Countryside.

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And then the world went batshit crazy. If we wanted to see how fragile we and our society is in the face of the power of nature, then the Covid-19 pandemic was a belting way of showing us. And it is extraordinary - that despite the obvious and apparent fact that perhaps we should change direction, it has seemingly made no jot of difference to the behaviour of most people; in power or not.

Since then and until now, I have motored on with the vision - but as I said at the beginning of this, I found it full-on and exhausting. The pandemic was a nightmare to navigate through with the main wedding and events side of things. Financially and emotionally shattering, with an after-effect that had a tensioning impact on things right until about halfway through 2023, more than three years later.

But outside of that, I lost my Dad, which completely threw me - and also I had decided to make some changes in my personal life that have been sad and similarly shattering, and of course had decided to build  six high-spec buildings out of wood just as that bloke Mr. Putin decided to order his country to attack Ukraine, driving the cost of all timber through the roof. I had to borrow even more money because of all of this just as interest rates were similarly clambering skywards, along with pretty much everything else; fuel, food, energy and so on. Mostly thanks to that lunacy, the afterglow of the bug, and - if I maybe so bold - the rather conveyor belt-esque nature of our own headless government that had been playing musical chairs and a desperate popularity contest rather than the serious job of running the country properly and with integrity.

So where are we now? It does finally feel that things are settling. The treehouses opened a year ago and have been such a success. Booked up more than I could have ever imagined. Which is a massive relief after everything that came before, and the land within the rewilding project is really beginning to blossom into something truly awesome. For me, just spending time out in that land is balm to my soul; you can feel the magic bubbling up. Particularly at this Springtime of year.

Operating from a ‘nature first’ standpoint is a wonderful place to be. We are trying to produce food more and more in a way that doesn’t cause harm, and - if anything - supports the soil, biodiversity, and so on. It’s a hard one, doing that at scale, and this is not the place for that tale, but I will say the system is not really built to encourage people to produce food that is healthy for people and the planet. But we will persevere.

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I feel hugely excited about the way forward with Elmore. We already have a brilliant central hub of fun, celebration, music and love with the weddings, events and other parties within the Court.

The land that surrounds it is beginning to brim with biodiversity and life and is free from negative human interference, and we have our six stunning treehouses. We have wild swimming, a lakeside sauna and - in time - there will be more opportunity and spaces for connection, wellness and perhaps, I hope, opportunities for deconditioning ourselves from the noise that is causing so much suffering.

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There is, in South America, a lineage of thought and feeling that is supported by the idea of a medicine wheel.

There are four main spokes to that wheel; represented by the Snake to the south, The Jaguar to the west, the Hummingbird to the north and the Condor to the east which in turn represent parts of our psyche; pinpoint focus (snake), emotion and fire (jaguar), joy and lightness (hummingbird) and vision (condor). The downward facing ‘hub’ is Earth representing Mother Nature, soil, the planet, and the upwards is Sky, which is Space, Cosmos, and Spirit. At the centre of it all is the beating heart. The trick is to balance all these aspects and operate with them in harmony; only then can we truly align with all the universe and feel truly alive. I see the Court as the heart, and I named the treehouses after those six external elements, renaming the animals with representatives from our land: Adder, Wildcat, Wren and Kite.

Clockwise from top left - Wildcat, Sky, Wren, Kite, Earth and Adder

Three of those creatures already inhabit the land at Elmore. So, when I think of what to do next, perhaps reintroducing a Wildcat or two would be fun. With some other landscape and biodiversity ticklers as well … A whisker or two might be raised!

Be assured though – there are loads of exciting plans unfurling to extend the nature recovery, fun, music, well-being and all the stuff that underpins what we are here for. It is all wonderful.

Time will tell.

So, watch this space. Come and feel this place.

Perhaps even come and dance in this place.

The team and I can’t wait to see you.

With Love