I’d only been in New York City for a few days but I thought I’d fallen in love. By night the lights of the skyscrapers reflected off each other’s glass, creating an endless fragmented city in the sky. But I was still searching for another world within a city, and later on did I uncover the ideal weekend in the woods at Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club, New York.
I walked across town at 3am and it was true that the Big Apple never sleeps. The bars stayed open late and the people were loud. But it didn’t take me long to realise it was just lust, the city was energetic but it didn’t energise me. I needed some wild.
MUST PACK ITEMS
My home is aboard a boat on London’s river Lea in the heart of a nature reserve. Not only is it an oasis of calm, but it’s made me a little transfixed with rivers. It’s my antidote to frenetic city living and it forces me to slow down. So with my flirtations with the city behind me, I headed upstate for a weekend getaway New Yorker style – to the small town of Livingston Manor in the Catskills, which I knew was well served with rivers. As my bus turned off the highway and the maple trees got higher, I took no risks of possible good signal and put my phone on flight mode.
It was this same desire to slow down and switch off that brought a young couple and their dear friend this way, to the liberal enclave of Livingston Manor. Tom Roberts, Anna Aberg and Mikael Larsson had developed a love for fly fishing and it became the perfect excuse to get outside, slow down and understand the natural world; ‘When you fish’, Tom tells me, ‘You have to be in tune with the river. There’s a rhythm and once you find it your mind can wander’.
It wasn’t long before they fell entirely under the river’s spell and last year they left the city to open Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club – a boutique hotel-meets-curated wild weekend escape – on the banks of the Willowemoc river. Despite the name, it has as little or as much to do with fishing as you’d like but I found out there is no denying that the Club is all about the outdoors.
When I arrived I made a beeline to the river for a swim. Reached over a wooden footbridge, I stepped into the five-acre magical fairy land that is the Fly Fishing Club estate. The Willowemoc river was warm and crystal clear and I could drift on my back. The gap in the trees revealed a sliver of dazzling blue sky, only broken up by a few wispy cirrus clouds. The woods glowed an incandescent green as the sunlight dispersed through the leaves. Butterflies darted on the riverbank and dragonflies braved the riffle in search of insects. I alternated between the cooling river and a steamy log cabin sauna, exfoliating my body with a homemade body scrub and taking exhilarating plunge after plunge into the Willowemoc.
I wandered along a warren of pathways through the enchanted wood, feeling wide-eyed and alert. I don’t think there is anything quite like swimming to reconnect with your inner child. Shards of light pierced through the tall trees perfectly illuminating a white elephant. The trees opened up into a meadow, where vibrant yellow corn mustard flowers and gigantic ox-eye daisies jostled in the breeze. A fire-pit was surrounded by benches and a nearby cosy tipi was filled with thick Pendleton blankets for chilly evenings. A tiny tent was rigged on a wooden platform over the water and a nearby hammock was strung up above the river beach. The only sound was the whisper of the leaves and tumbling water. I had no watch on and didn’t open my book once. I sat gazing at the water and understood what Tom meant about the meditative rhythm of the river.
I looped back round to the outdoor dining room on the riverbank. The cicadas had started up their evening melody, the lanterns were ablaze and the festoon lights were twinkling above me. The idea is that everyone gathers around one long table to eat together – and this communal spirit underpins the Club.
‘I suppose it’s not your ordinary hotel’, Tom had said when I arrived at the fishing club. Guests book ‘weekend experiences’ as opposed to just a room, and while these are sometimes groups of friends or colleagues, more often than not it’s a collection of perfect strangers. The programme is eclectic and of course optional, with everything from hiking, canoeing, swimming, fishing, chilling in the sauna, farm tours, sunrise yoga, listening to talks or music around the campfire, foraging days and dinners and of course drinking local beer and wine and enjoying dinner on the river. These like-minded folks come together for the weekend – food is prepared in front of everyone as if you’re at a friend’s house for dinner – and new friendships are forged.
The outdoors may be the priority, but they’ve done a stellar job of the indoors too. Housed in the Loft, Cottage and Lodge there are range of rooms, affectionately named after 19th century fishermen, some ensuite and some with shared bathrooms, some twin, some double. Filled with treasures collected from all over the world, one room even has an easel and paints at the ready for any aspiring artists. Vintage tennis rackets and old maps are mounted on the walls and in one living room, there is an easel, with canvas and paints at the ready. The latest addition is a safari tent where guests are woken by birdsong.
Tom and Anna could be forgiven for resting on their laurels, but this summer is the soft launch of their latest venture, The Lady Pomona. The four bedroom boutique B&B is a short drive uphill from the Club amid an apple orchard. The shared drawing room has a wood burning stove for the snowy winters and an antique player piano. Each bedroom is unique and has a corresponding cocktail served when guests arrive. I slept in the yellow room where I pored over a 1935 edition of National Geographic and woke up to golden sunlight flooding in. They’ve succeeded in bringing the outside in, with their sun room that gets the light at dawn and dusk and is full of cacti and billowing emerald green house plants.
The ‘Club Rules’ of the LMFF remind guests that the best forms of entertainment do not involve electricity and to keep the forest green and clean. But most importantly, the creed that mother nature has blessed us with a filter more beautiful than anything you can swipe or tap. I paid heed and left my phone off until I reached the city and as I drove towards the metal and concrete of New York City, I was already yearning to return to the wild ways of the woods.
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