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Spark OUT! Residential centres

The Spark looks at residential retreat centres offering courses year-round to nourish your mind and spirit.

Croydon Hall, Somerset
Standing in the surrounds of Exmoor National Park, Croydon Hall is an elegant country house which was transformed into a centre for meditation in 1998. It’s a popular training venue used by many meditation, movement and personal growth groups. There’s accommodation for 70 people in the house and the Rinzai Hall – inside a lovely old barn – offers training space for up to 140 people. Smaller groups of a dozen or so can use the Zen room overlooking the garden. Croydon Hall is home to a community of 14 people from 12 countries and is known for its excellent veggie food cooked by French, Italian and German chefs (much of it locally sourced). For those seeking a bit of luxury at the end of the day, Croydon Hall also offers a flotation tank, sauna, hot tub, Aroma Spa and mini-gym. 01984 642200

Hawkwood College, Stroud

Set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Cotswolds, Hawkwood is a friendly, soulful, environmentally aware residential centre. A registered charity whose founding ethos is based on the work of Rudolf Steiner, its courses aim to educate, inspire and provide spiritual nourishment. Caring for the environment is also an important aspect of the college, with an emphasis on organic, biodynamic and sustainable methods. Hawkwood run dozens of courses every month including creative courses in jewellery-making, sculpture, painting, working with willow and wool, and more… 01453 759034

Ammerdown Centre, Somerset
Opened in 1973, but fully refurbished in 2005, The Ammerdown Centre is an open Christian community centre, which is “dedicated to peace, reconciliation and renewal”. Housed in an 18th century building, but refurbished with modern facilities, and a conference room that can hold up to 80 people. The Ammerdown centre welcomes people of any faith, and aims to provide a place for people to nourish and develop their own spiritual path, while swapping ideas and insights. Prices range from £13 for a quiet day, with use of a room only, to full board including dinner, bed and breakfast (£52.50 per person). 01761 433709

Gaia House, Devon
A former convent, Gaia House is a Buddhist retreat centre set in the woodlands of South Devon, which offers a number of retreats held in complete silence. Founded in 1984, Gaia House offers guidance on a variety of different meditative disciplines from the Buddhist traditions, delivered by experienced teachers from all over the world. All retreats explore the themes of calm attentiveness, insight and peace. The centre is open to everyone, from complete beginners to those with more experience, of any faith or none, who are seeking to cultivate a path of wisdom and compassion. Over the New Year period, Gaia House are offering a week-long ‘Stillness And Insight Retreat’, for those seeking some time for calm contemplation and inner journeying. Prices range from £23 to upwards of £300. 01626 333613

Taraloka, Wales
A Buddhist centre for women only on the Welsh/Shropshire border, offering courses in meditation and a quiet contemplative space in beautiful surroundings. 0845 330 4063

Earth Spirit, Glastonbury
Set on the edge of Compton Dundon village, five miles from Glastonbury, Earth Spirit offers courses in Yoga, detox, Shamanic training, co-counselling, Tai Chi, personal development and more. 01458 272161

The Lighthouse, Frome
This centre in Frome places its emphasis on “stillness, healing and learning”. It offers courses, workshops and group meditations plus counselling, reflexology, massage and acupuncture treatments, and esoteric healing. 01373 453585

Gaunts House, Dorset
Set in 2000 acres of beautiful countryside, Gaunts House provides an environment for education, personal development, refreshment and rejuvenation. The grounds include woodland, a small lake and a stone circle, with plenty of space for peace and solitude. Lovely views, log fires inside and home-cooked veggie food are other fringe benefits. Gaunts House hosts regular courses in Yoga, psychotherapy, sound and energetic healing, hypnotherapy, regression therapy and Shamanism (their biggest workshop space can seat 150). Regular events throughout the year include art exhibitions, poetry and live music evenings, plus their famous Summer Gathering in August. 01202 841522

Cae Mabon, Wales
Set in the clearing of an oak forest, the Cae Mabon retreat centre is a low impact, sustainable community that provides space for gatherings, celebrations, workshops and storytelling. Built initially without planning permission, Cae Mabon has gradually secured legitimacy through the robust sustainable build ethos at its core and the magical atmosphere cited by many who stay. The retreat welcomes people from any spiritual or religious background, and the foundations of its philosophy rest in providing a place for healing and inspiration. In October 2008 Sustain magazine described it like this: “Cae Mabon is a Welsh Shangri-La hanging on a steep hillside with stunning views across to Snowdon. It has grown organically over many years as storyteller Eric Maddern has inspired people to help build a mini expo of hand-made building methods using straw, cob, timber and thatch…” Next year’s programme includes workshops on singing, storytelling, dance, Yoga, meditation, green spirituality, the Transition Process, Celtic Shamanism and much more... check the website towards the end of the year for more details. 01286 871542

Monkton Wylde, Dorset
by Vicki West
This educational charity is housed in a former vicarage and overlooks eight acres of rolling Dorset hills. A Grade 2 listed building, Monkton’s stone-flagged corridors, high ceilings and huge kitchen Aga give it a country house feel without ever sacrificing cosiness or comfort. The main building houses bedrooms, a communal dining room, a teaching room, a piano/living room and a small shop selling books, incense and crafts by the likes of Glennie Kindred. In separate buildings there’s living space for WOOFers, a performance space and a straw bale hut for storage. Monkton has a couple of on-site veggie chefs among its core staff (meals are delicious). In the warmer months you can camp directly in front of the building on the terrace complete with fire pit and rope swing, and further down the sunny, south-facing slope is a wooded area that’s great for kids. There’s a huge, walled vegetable garden outside and polytunnels full of chillis, tomatoes and fruit. Monkton is also nurturing a forest garden, with their own chickens, ducks and geese on site and a large wildlife pond down the valley that’s part of a nature trail. I did a residential course at Monkton called How To Set Up A Low Impact Smallholding, with Simon Fairlie and Jyoti Fernandez. Both teachers were hugely knowledgeable and delivered a wealth of information gleaned from personal experience, and through working on The Land Is Ours (an organisation which campaigns peacefully for access to the land). We learnt about finding land, earning a living from it, getting planning permission, building, and raising crops and livestock. We visited Jyoti’s farm, watched a slide show of self-build projects from the last 30 years and heard tall tales of Tinker’s Bubble in its early days. An inspirational and welcoming weekend. 01297 560342

Published in Spark issue 59 - winter 2009

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