Coffee Chats with Faith Dwight
Meet Faith Dwight! Born in the States and currently residing in East England's, Bedford. She is a writer & portrait photographer extraordinaire; wife to an Englishman, mommy of two handsome little ones, and of course, an Exploress through and through.
"I grew up in the Carolinas (South first, then North). I dreamed of traveling my entire life, but never even got on an airplane till I was 18. My parents bought me a ticket to visit my pen pal in England for my high school graduation gift (fun fact: graduation got pushed back because of snow days, so I missed my own graduation, because I for sure wasn't missing my trip to England!).
That was 15 years ago, and I live in England now, with my British husband, Simon, and our two little boys, Adlai (5) and Koa (almost 3). I'm a photographer and writer.
I've been to South Africa, all over Europe, and this past Summer I took my first trip to Scandinavia, to visit one of my best friends who just moved to Finland from England. I'm IN LOVE with Finland now! It's definitely a hidden gem, and one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.
Our whole family loves cycling, and taking blustery British beach vacations. I'm into reading and binge-watching Parks and Recreation, and baking things that I pretend are for my boys, but are actually for me.
I also play a lot of hand-and-foot canasta with my two grandmas when I'm back home in North Carolina, so when I got back to England after Christmas a few weeks ago, I started a cards club with some girlfriends! We're just like those ladies of leisure from the 60s who used to play bridge while their husbands were at work...except we have jobs and don't wear pantyhose."
First thing anyone visiting should know about Bedford?
Full disclosure: Bedford was once listed on a list of the "100 Most Crap Towns in England". True story. The good news is that was a long time ago, and there are now a lot of people here who really care about our town and have worked hard to turn it from a "Crap Town" to a really beautiful, fun place to live. A London newspaper recently described it as "a perennial wallflower coming into bloom." Not too shabby, eh?
Describe Bedford in three words?
What do you love most about Bedford?
My neighbourhood! I live in a neighbourhood just east of the town centre, called Castle Quarter. It's like our own little village right in the middle of town.
We have coffee shops, bakeries, a convenience store, a Chinese take-out place, a barber shop...I love that I don't really have to leave my neighbourhood unless I need to do a big grocery shop or, you know, venture into the outside world to see friends or go to church.
Bedford is also incredibly diverse. I think I read somewhere that it's the most diverse town in the Britain! 30% of our population is Italian, with large groups of people from eastern Europe, India, and Asia as well. I love that every time I go outside, I hear at least three different languages being spoken.
If you're originally from somewhere else, what brought you to Bedford?
Well, I'm in England because my husband is English. We lived in America for a couple of years when we first got married, and I worked as a magazine editor in Raleigh. But when I got laid off in 2009, we decided we wanted to start our family in England. We moved back with no jobs, no house, nothing - and into Simon's parents' house while figured stuff out. To be honest, we tried really hard to move to London, because we were in our mid-20s and London is cool, right?
We each individually spent time praying about our next step, and we both - separately - felt like God said Bedford. We weren't too excited about it to start with! We wanted to go to London! But all signs kept pointing here, and then in early 2010, we found out we were pregnant with our first son. The exact same day, we got a text from an old friend of Simon's brother, who lived here at the time, offering to let us live with him for a little while we got settled in (he didn't even know we were pregnant!). It felt like a sign we couldn't ignore. So two weeks later, we packed our stuff into a tiny little car we'd bought for £300, and drove to Bedford.
That was six years ago, and it was one of the best decisions we've ever made. Six years later, Simon is the CEO of a homeless charity, I'm running a successful photography business part-time and raising our two boys, we part of a church we LOVE, and we're really, really happy we came here.
Favorite place to eat, drink, and indulge? : We have a new French bakery in town called Délices, and I'm a leeeeeetle bit obsessed with these pastries they sell stuffed with pears and chocolate.
There's also a really sweet bakery and coffee shop called Fancy in the Black Tom neighbourhood. The owner, Saffron, bakes all the cakes herself on-site. The fig, almond, and chocolate cake is my favourite. And the atmosphere is really love too - the tables and chairs are all mismatched and the coffee is served in vintage china.
When it comes to a cheeky grownup drink, you can't beat our local pub, the Devonshire Arms. It's just three streets over from our house, hidden right in the middle of a bunch of Victorian terrace houses. I'm pretty sure it hasn't changed in 100 years. The owners are in there pulling pints every night, and it's just a great, friendly pub with a sweet little beer garden where we like to sit outside on warm summer evenings.
You have 24 hours to lounge around and do anything, how would you spend your time?
It took me a while to convert to Full English breakfasts from my beloved pancakes and maple syrup, but I like them now. So I'd sleep in and then go for a brunch-time full English at the Pavilion in Bedford Park - a cafe right in the middle of our big Victorian park.
If it was raining (which it often is), we'd take the boys to the Higgins Gallery - our local museum. There are great art and history exhibits, and some interactive stations for the boys like a produce market and tea party. We'd pick up lattes from the Italian shop near our house on the way home, put the boys to bed, and order Indian takeaway from our favourite curry house, Bengal Brasserie. Then we'd eat it in our living room while - what else? - binge-watching Parks and Recreation.
On the way home, I stop into my friend Hannah's shop, épanoui. She sells her own gorgeous jewellery along with homewares and gorgeous cards and prints - mostly made by independent British designers.
The Higgins Gallery! It's great for kids and adults, and has a lovely cafe that serves delicious Italian lunches and great coffee and cake.
The Embankment. The River Ouse (pronounced "ooze") runs right through Bedford, and its embankment is the best part of town. Our riverside gardens have won national awards, there are big globe string lights hanging in all the trees. In the summer there are Italian ice cream vans everywhere, and there's a pub - called The Embankment (easy to remember!) - right by the river where you can sit outside in the Summers and drink Pimm's, or inside by the fireplace in the winters.
It's not a permanent thing, but we have a local indie newspaper called The Bedford Clanger that hosts pop-up shops once or twice a year (called BedPop). They're usually around Christmas time, and always have art and cool products from local designers. If you're around when there's a BedPop shop on, you MUST go!
What is the best way for a visitor to travel around Bedford?
Everything's so close together, you can totally walk it. All the best neighbourhoods and the town centre are within about a mile of each other.
Just for kicks, London or Tokyo?
Well, I'd be in trouble if I didn't say London, right?
Anything else you'd like to share?
It's my dream to have a place in North Carolina AND a place in England - to live here part-time, and there part-time, too. I shot some lifestyle sessions in Winston-Salem, Charlotte, and Raleigh while I was visiting over Christmas, and it just gave me the idea to build business in both places. I'm a big believer that our lives don't have to look like the standard, nine-to-five, format. I think we can build whatever we believe we can build. So right now it's just a pipe dream, but maybe - just maybe - it can become a reality.
I'm also a recovering borderline hoarder. Maybe it's because of the nomadic lifestyle I lived for 10 years and how little I had during that time, but when we first settled down in Bedford, I started hanging on to stuff really tightly - my boys' baby clothes, random books I read in college, sticks my kids picked up in the park. I think there was a part of me that wanted to OWN something, after not owning ANYTHING for so long. But now I'm realizing that I hate having a lot of stuff in my house, and that the stuff that's really valuable and brings me joy is doing puzzles with my boys, and playing cards with my friends, and having space to lie down in the middle of my living room floor. ;) All that to say, there are a lot of bags being lugged to the charity shop round the corner lately. I have dreams of being a minimalist, so I'll let you know how they turn out.