A Space to Emerge

May 25, 2022

Eight years ago, we asked ourselves: ‘What might happen if we ran away into the woods, in community, for a weekend at Beltane?’

Beltane is the ancient Celtic festival that falls between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It's the point of peak spring when the energy of nature is growth and fertility. When the bird song is at its loudest and the trees are turning green. Our ancestors gathered at this time for festivities, and some of these traditions still survive today, such as maypole dancing. Coming together in community at this time is an ancient thing indeed.

So, we decided to bring people together at Beltane each year. At the outset, I journeyed to one of my spirit guides to ask what we should call the weekend. We were given the name ‘Space to Emerge’.

And so, our woodland retreat Space to Emerge, was born.

The idea is to go into the woods with a bunch of like-minded people at Beltane, when the energies are at their height of growth and manifestation, and see what emerges. We create a space for people to emerge.

Over the years, it has grown from a small group of thirty people to approaching one hundred and fifty folk. We immerse ourselves in the woodland for three nights and four days. Now we have over thirty different workshops ranging from dance to singing, crafting to trance drumming, catering for both adults and children. We have three altars, a labyrinth, stone circle, yew tree grove and a Red Tent. We have creative evenings around the campfire with storytelling, poetry, dance and music, and there are three ceremonies throughout the weekend.

Space to Emerge is always special, but this year something happened to step it up to a new level. Perhaps you were there with us, and have been before and noticed something different too?

Jason and I have been musing since we came home as to why this was. There was a real coming together, and we think there might be two reasons for this.

The first is that having had to cancel for the past two years, it has been three years since we were in those woods. Perhaps everyone was just so relieved to be able to come together once again. The restrictions during the pandemic have made us appreciate even more the opportunity to be in nature in community.

The second reason is that for the past three years, many of us have been meeting together online. This has been through our Mystery School events and the free gatherings we held around the wheel of the year throughout the first eighteen months of the pandemic. So, we have already been in community online, which says a lot about the power of meeting remotely.

Medicine in the woods

It is a big commitment to gather together at Fell Foot Wood, the bluebell oasis that stretches up the hillside from Lake Windermere in Cumbria. Jason and I live in the northwest of England, and so it’s not too far away for us. But many people who come travel a fair way, from all corners of the British Isles. And for lots of folk, it was the first time they had fully stepped out after the pandemic controls ended. It was for us. We have ventured to events in recent months, but nothing approaching this scale.

Jason and I have started to keep a record of what happens in these Beltane woods each year as we gather in our space to emerge. So, after the weekend, we got in touch with all the participants and asked them how they felt before they arrived in the woods compared with when they left four days later.

In the days leading up to Space to Emerge, there was a lot of excitement balanced with apprehension and some nervousness and anxiety, which is entirely understandable. Many people were coming on their own and for the first time. I would feel the same if I were coming on my own. I have attended many spiritual events alone in the past and can relate to these feelings.

Questions arose such as: ‘How might I settle in? Will I feel welcome and included?’ Then there are the practicalities: ‘Will I be able to put up my new tent? What are the facilities like given I have to bring my own drinking water? How will I cope being around so many people?’

Added to this, there are the difficult circumstances of people’s lives. It's a challenging world for many right now. People are feeling tired, stuck, lethargic, stressed and overwhelmed with life. Many are not in the best place emotionally, mentally or physically.

At the end of the weekend, our community felt very different. It is extraordinary to think that people have such a monumental shift in just four days in the woods together. Here are some of the things people shared:

‘Now I feel unstuck, full of energy and fulfilled by the feeling of community - Space to Emerge helped heal my spirit, body and mind - I feel nourished and happy - amazing - really amazing! Like I am home, that I have found my tribe and I am full of love - I am totally invigorated - elated and peaceful - content - nurtured - exhilarated, joyful and expanded - Inspired and nourished - glowing, brimming with warmth and love - positive - a weight has been lifted off me - exhilarated - blissed out - calm and recharged - resilient - full and overflowing with gratitude - healed, heard and connected - empowered.’

Reading these reflections brings home that there is true medicine out there in the woods, in community, with intention.

Magical moments

Another question we ask at the end of the weekend is what the moments of magic were for people. At Space to Emerge, we give a lot of time to the workshops, and many moments of magic happened during these sessions.

After an early morning gong bath, yoga or breathwork session, we start each day with a choice of morning practice sessions that include singing and poetry. Beginning each day in this way is very special, and are moments of magic for many:

‘I absolutely loved the singing with other people in the mornings more than anything, it was so uplifting and just filled my heart with joy and happiness’. ‘I got goosebumps at the Earth Mother alter when singing in the morning’. ‘I loved the morning poetry sessions - it is amazing what emerged for me in those brief five minutes, and amazing to hear what others had written.’ ‘I was moved by the poetry writing.’

Then, throughout each day, we have a couple of two-hour workshop sessions covering a huge breadth of topics. Here are what some people shared about their workshop moments of magic:

‘Jason’s deep nature connection talk in the Yew Grove was incredibly special - I found it so inspirational and emotional, and it moved something in me.’ ‘I received healing during the 'stories we tell ourselves' workshop and discovered a new love of crafting through making a Beltane beater-rattle.’ ‘Entering the Red Tent and walking the labyrinth in Nicola’s workshop were my moments of magic.’ ‘I loved trance drumming in the Yew Tree Grove and having the opportunity to play the gongs in the sound healing workshop.’ ‘I enjoyed the workshops I attended – the ancestral healing, wild medicine and deep nature connection.’ My moment of magic was drawing the resilience card at the mandala meditation.’ ‘I found a real connection in the workshops and saw how I could carry forward what I learned into daily living.’

Then we had the three ceremonies: the opening and closing ceremonies and the Beltane ceremony on Sunday night. Here are a few reflections from people about these:

‘My moment of magic was being smudged at the opening ceremony - smelling the sage and the fire and listening to the drums’. ‘The sense of community was very powerful. I found the explanations of the ceremonies helpful, as was putting our thoughts into the shells, and the subsequent film of them being taken to the shore, and the burning of the sticks.’ ‘It was such a privilege to parade through the lines of drummers at the Beltane ceremony - and then to pass beneath the wings of a swan.’ ‘The drumming and dancing around the fire after the Beltane ceremony was exhilarating.’

And here are some reflections from people encompassing the whole weekend experience:

‘Being in the space and feeling that we were all one.’ ‘It was amazing to meet so many like-minded and caring individuals who passed on tips to help me clear negativity in my life.’ ‘I had the feeling of absolute connectedness the whole weekend.’ ‘I had the most amazing connections with people that, in my daily life, only occur every now and then. It was so special to feel amongst my people.’ ‘Speaking to people who understood my anxieties and also the healing treatments I had.’ ‘The whole atmosphere was amazing with genuinely lovely people.’ ‘I loved the sense of community, of tribe.’ ‘This was probably the most magical weekend I've had. Beautiful people, beautiful surroundings. the feeling of safety to be yourself and the connections, the hugs, the laughter and tears, music and dance.’

Arising themes

Reading the feedback, I began to reflect on the themes that had arisen whilst we were in the woods amongst the birds and the bluebells. Here are three that immediately come to mind, although there are, of course, more:

Healing: People are up against real difficulties in their lives. But, there is great momentum for healing. People are ready to let go and move on to a different way of being and living.

Respite: People are seeking and in need of some respite. It is a challenging world that we live in. Retreating away to the woods is important to find the inner resources to step back out into the world restored and ready for the next chapter.

Homecoming: Creating a community of like-minded people enables folk to step out of the chrysalis of their work clothes and truly emerge into their true selves.


Running a retreat of the scale of Space to Emerge isn’t easy for me. One of my main challenges is that I want to be everywhere at once. I want to see and feel all the experiences that everyone has in this space of emergence. Of course, I can only be in one place at a time, and I treasure every interaction, connection and experience. I want to bottle up all these experiences and feelings and keep them with me to draw on through the year.

Wrapped up in amongst all the richness, there are three moments of magic I can name.

The first is the morning singing around the Mother Earth altar. I have a welcome song that I teach early on in the weekend. It is a song African tribes sing as they walk towards each other across the Savannah. The words mean ‘welcome my friend’. We sang this on the first morning, and I just didn’t want it to end.

The second moment of magic was again when we were singing. This time we were in the stone circle: all one hundred and fifty of us. We had gathered for the Beltane ceremony on the evening of 1st May. It had been raining for the past twenty-four hours, and there was a freshness in the air as the sun finally showed its face once again. It was as if we had emerged after huddling together under canopies for a day and night, and now we were stepping out into a fresh world with new intentions. A metaphor for the past two years living through a pandemic and now ready to step into a new world.

My favourite moment of magic, though, was around the campfire on the Sunday evening. It almost always is. The magic that happens in those moments, when community comes together and shares spontaneously, is just incredible. We had storytelling, music, songs and poetry. The belly laughs seemed to stretch on and on, as we were bent double laughing at moles, voles and clog dancing. What can be more natural than coming together at Beltane in community, in nature? It feels important that we are keeping these old traditions alive, albeit with a modern-day twist.

Healing through nature

It is always hard to leave Space to Emerge: to need to wait another full year until we gather once again. Jason and I have mused many times about holding a second Space to Emerge later in the year. We have even journeyed to our spirit guides to ask the question, should we move this weekend to a time when the weather is a little warmer. The end of April and early May weather is unpredictable at best!

But there is something special about keeping Space to Emerge a once-a-year event, right at the cusp of the spring energies exploding. It sets us all up for the upcoming summer. We have other gatherings, with a different but just as unique energy to look forward to in the meantime. Such as our Summer Solstice retreat up in the upper valleys of the Yorkshire Dales national park, amongst the limestone pavements and wildflower meadows.

Creating spaces for people to connect with and fall back in love with the Earth is what I am for. It is my soul purpose if you like. When I discovered this and set about creating these opportunities, I didn’t realise what impact connecting with the Earth would have on people and their healing. I didn’t understand how creating community in wild places would be so transformative. In many ways it really is as simple as creating a space and then standing back and letting the Earth take care of everything else.

There is so much healing out in nature. Stepping outside and immersing in nature is such a simple idea, yet it is getting harder and harder to do in today's world. Harder to permit ourselves to do this. Harder to schedule time aside away from duty. Harder to even feel like we can drop into a different mindset from the everyday. There are deeply entrenched reasons for this that I talk about in the blog I wrote at the beginning of this year: Attention!

Yet, spending time in nature is more important now than it has ever been, in my opinion. As society, as culture, moves further away from nature, we need to follow that quiet voice within and step closer towards it. It is here where the magic lies: that magic that our souls so desperately want us to go and find.

The spiritual work is to resist the pull of the modern-day noise and move closer to our natural selves outside in nature; however, that looks. It is out in nature, in the calm embrace of the woods, meadows, mountains and sea shores, that we will find our healing. I believe it doesn’t get any more complicated than that.

The intention that I set during the Beltane ceremony in that fiery glade at Space to Emerge was to embrace the new story. Writer and speaker Charles Eisenstein introduced me to the concept of the two stories, where the old story is falling away, and the new story is emerging. It is a hard place to be in the space in between the two stories, waiting for one to fall away and the new one to emerge, and I spent a long time in this place.

I have been in my new story for many years now, as I run The Way of the Buzzard with Jason, yet, there are old patterns and beliefs from the old story, both conscious and unconscious, that I am still holding on to. I am aware of many of them, and I am aware of the conditioning I have experienced through the years, but it is so hard to move through this.

Beliefs such as I need to put work before my creativity, for example. It will probably be my life’s work to move fully into the new story, but I have seen a big shift over the past three weeks since stating that intention at Space to Emerge. I haven’t had to try - it has just happened - such is the power of ceremony, community and intention.

From speaking with many people at Space to Emerge, and hearing the intentions shared just before we went into our closing ceremony on the final afternoon together, it seems that so many of us are working to live that new story: to discard old and unhelpful thought patterns and beliefs so that we can embrace a different way of being in the world. It is an ongoing journey, but one we do not have to walk along on our own.

And It is an absolute privilege to be in this position to be able to create a space like this to emerge. So, a hearty thank you to everyone who came along this year. To all of our fabulous workshop facilitators, healers and crew. To our caterers who nourished us with wholesome food and drinks. To Pete Yankowski for capturing the weekend through his photographs. And to Barry for following through on his vision to create Fell Foot Wood and welcome us into this beautiful space each year.

If you would like to keep in touch about next year’s Space to Emerge weekend, please click here and visit our website, where you can enter in your email address. We also have a Facebook group that you can join here.

The dates are Friday 28th April to Monday 1st May, and super early-bird tickets will go on sale in June.

And if you would like to find out more about our Summer Solstice retreat, The Flight of the Solstice Swallow, please click here.

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in Anglezarke on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England.
Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. It was my 3rd time at Space to Emerge, and yet my 1st not as a lone wolf. My anticipation was there, would my partner feel at home?, luckily she has camped at festivals, although not in the wild woodland of Fellfoot, but I was sure she would enjoy it.
    Our Spirit guides care too much for us, to let it go wrong. We both had fantastic times, I had a very special Beltane birthday, singing, gonging, healing, the list goes on.
    It was a special weekend and we can't wait until next year…Blessings to all who attended.

    1. Just wonderful to read your note here Chris, thank you! It was so lovely to see you both there and share this weekend with you. Happy memories indeed 🙂

  2. What a beautifully worded blog Nicola, to take time to capture the essence of special place, special people, special time for posterity. I entered as a Lone Wolf and emerged with joy of (re)connection to nature and community. To keep stepping out from life to be a lone wolf and keep coming back with new energy and intentions is indeed a way of life; to reconnect with ancestors, wisdom, and more than human.
    Your effort in words, organisation, feelings, and holding space are much appreciated; as is the special presence of all facilitators and tribe/ pack members (human and more than human).
    Blessed be!

    1. Thank you Peter so much for your words and reflections here. Really appreciated. It was just wonderful to share this weekend with you 🙂

  3. So wonderful to relive some of the wonderful moments ftom Space to Emerge from your blog Nicola .For me it was a truly magical life changing weekend like nothing else i have ever experienced before .Every workshop and ceremony i attended was so meaningful to me and i am still carrying the joy of that weekend .Thank you both again x

  4. where the old story is falling away, and the new story is emerging. It is a hard place to be in the space in between the two stories,

    Wow, this hit me right between the eyes, it is where I am now

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