Muddy toes and messy hair .... I got completely out of my comfort zone and loved every moment of it! In October I joined Claire Winter from The Creatrix Journey on a women only writers retreat in the stunningly beautiful location of Hill Farm near Tintern in The Wye Valley.
Creatrix: a female creator, a woman deeply connected to herself, powerful, witch, beauty and giver of all kinds of life (source: urban dictionary).
I had dreamt of going on a retreat for a few years, well probably since menopause overwhelm had taken on my overthinking brain and I knew I needed to start making more space for me. But I hadn't found the right retreat, then there was a pandemic and I stopped looking. Claire and I chatted and at first I wasn't sure about going, my anxiety was high and I didn't think I could cope with staying in a yurt, but with Claire's reassurance and a few tweaks to accommodation arrangements, I booked my place!
Thank goodness I did, I am so utterly delighted I stepped out of my comfort zone and joined Claire and five other amazing women to embrace my inner creatrix, get out in nature and find space to stop and breathe. The experience was without a doubt one of the best things I have done for me, for my business (my blog) and for my confidence and midlife mental health.
This blog post contains some gifted items and affiliate links.
Awaken the Creatrix, Walk and Write Retreat
Walk in nature, connect back to the source and write the words that need to be written ... four days, three nights and a bonus was the amazing weather. I embraced it all and created a new blog plan, came up with ideas for my writing and reassured myself that my instinct is right, I prefer writing on my blog to the noise and overwhelm of Instagram.
Arrival was from 4pm on Thursday afternoon with the Creatrix Circle officially opening at 6pm followed by a delicious vegetarian dinner in the Shala at Hill Farm. I decided to leave home in good time, I wanted to make the most of my weekend away and not get involved in 'doing' when really I wanted to escape and just 'be'.
Portishead ... I ignored the weather forecast and drove to Portishead, a small town on the Bristol Estuary and en-route to The Wye Valley. It was the perfect location to start to unwind. Despite rain on the way, the sky cleared, the sun came out and I felt at peace. I parked easily, walked on the beach, meandered along the coast path, took in the views, eat fish 'n' chips overlooking the water, enjoyed a glass of white wine and had an ice cream. I loved my few hours away from duty and expectation. More please!
Above: an afternoon at Portishead Beach
The drive onward to Tintern was very easy, only about 40 minutes from Portishead and despite being in the middle of nowhere it was easy to get to, the bumpy access lane just added to the feeling of getting away from it all. I passed Tintern Abbey on my way in and vowed to go back on the way home, it turns out a ruined monastery can look beautiful in the October sunshine.
I was met at Hill Farm by Claire and her assistant for the weekend (AKA Girl Friday) Wendy. I had a little tour and was shown to my room. Having opted out of a shared yurt I was staying in the 'room with a view' which is a studio room attached to the main farmhouse but with it's own private entrance and patio. I've struggled my entire life with a phobia to sickness (emetophobia) and I have never felt comfortable sharing a room with friends or even my sisters so I was very reassured that Claire understood my nerves and was able to offer me my own space.
But I have to admit the yurts did look amazing, really cosy, tucked away in a pretty field with quirky and cottage-style furnishings, each one had a wood burning stove and was well-equipped for a 'glamping' break. My fellow retreaters agreed they were very comfortable and loved experiencing yurt life. Currently there are three yurts with a shared toilet and shower but Tom and Hayley from Hill Farm are planning on adding en-suite facilities in time for next season. Nothing at Hill Farm is purchased new if at all possible and the yurts had a previous purpose, the smallest one was used as a birthing suite and for prenatal classes!
Above: shower and washing facilities in a horse box, the forest spa and hot tub and composting toilets - but plans are ahead for yurt en-suites!
An itinerary for relaxation and creativity ...
Claire had it all covered ... forest bathing, yoga, plant-based food and a pizza and spa night were some of the highlights. And of course plenty of time to slow down and write with daily walk and write sessions in the glorious ancient forests surrounding Hill Farm. I also loved the opportunity to connect and chat to other women creatrixes, not only did I learn more about their businesses, jobs, life and families, but we were able to share ideas, inspire and support each other and of course talk menopause!
Claire also made sure we had lots of time to be alone, to write, relax or sleep! Nothing was too full on and there was an opportunity every day to just think and plan and slow down. I loved the few hours I had relaxing on the bed in my 'room with a view'.
Forest bathing or Shinrin Yoku from Japan
I think the forest bathing experience was the highlight of the weekend for me. Tom leads a 3-hour Shinrin Yoku session and shares his knowledge and insights of this amazing form of therapy to support our mental health.
Shinrin Yoku is the Japanese art of forest bathing, and the experience breaks down your senses so you can switch off, connect with nature and nurture your wellbeing, It is proven to boost your immune system, reduce blood pressure and stress, improve sleep and is used as a natural antidepressant.
And I felt every one of those benefits myself. My anxiety induced heart palpitations disappeared for the weekend, I slept like a baby and I felt hopeful I could tackle my low moods without the use of antidepressant medication. In Japan Shinrin Yoku is prescribed by doctors before considering medication, it is recommended that you practice a forest bathing experience once a month or more
We set off on Friday morning, to go into the ancient forests with Tom, who is a trained guide and knows the forests around Hill Farm very well - it was still a bit drizzly but I was immediately relaxed and welcomed by the trees and surrounded by nature - I felt motivated by Tom's interesting facts about forest bathing.
I was able to connect with the natural fresh air and forest around me, Tom encouraged us to switch off our phones and focus on the sights, smells and sounds. We stopped to forage mushrooms, to admire the moss, to look up and appreciate the size and strength of the ancient trees.
Our first stop was to sit in a small clearing, and just watch. We sat in silence for ten minutes and took it the beauty of the ancient forest around us. We slowed down, it was magical.
Walking further on, we then embarked upon a very special experience - walking barefoot on the cold, muddy, damp forest floor. I wasn't at all sure! But no way was I being left out, so my boots came off and I soon realised how grounding it is to feel your bare feet connect to nature. To feel the elements - water, earth and air - against my skin. My feet soon adapted as I carefully picked my way along the ancient path, a path trodden for hundreds of years by the pagan inhabitants of Wales. I could see the old path, I could feel history around me, the paths are now entwined with trees that have grown up through the old stone walls, I was fascinated by this mixture of man made paths and the natural growth of the trees that will not be hindered. I walked for a lot longer and a lot further than I thought I would, I navigated the uneven stones, and thanked the autumn leaves for protecting me from the harsher ground. It was fresh and wet but oh so exciting! Tom carries wipes and small towels so you can clean your feet before putting your socks and boots back on and feeling the welcome relief of warmth on your toes again!
Another stop was for five minutes of meditative contemplation with eyes closed and listening to the forest sounds around us, from the faraway to the close up. I could hear children playing, birds singing, and the wind in the trees.
Another highlight of the beauty of nature around us, was listening to the stags in the forest around Hill Farm. Stags during rutting season make a wide range of sounds from whistles and wails to screams and grunts. At first I thought a pig farm was nearby! Sadly none of us saw a stag but we could hear them really close to us.
Shinrin Yoku boosts creativity and your ability to deal with stress and trauma and it was a perfect part of our retreat weekend!
Object writing to bring out your creativity
Our first creative writing exercise was to pick up an object from the forest, something that represented the elements, earth and air, to us. Our task was to describe the object, what did it look like, sound like, smell like and feel like. Then Claire encouraged us to embrace all our senses and let the words just flow. I found this really difficult, my writing tends to be more practical and helpful rather than creative! I was in awe of some of the words written though, especially the poems from someone who had never written poetry before. It was beautiful, so calming, to feel connected to nature and feeling alive. My inner creatrix was ready to be explored and I felt at ease with myself and I had forgotten all about the overwhelm of day to day life and deadlines.
With both object writing tasks - the next day was about fire and water - I enjoyed exploring the wisdom behind the task, what was the universe trying to tell me? I learnt how important nature is and how I must learn to take more time out for me, that nature can heal me and give me space to let go of the overwhelm and overthinking. Getting outside, even for just a few minutes, to breathe and let go is essential for our wellbeing.
Pizza and spa night with good friends
This was such a fun night! And hilarious! Thank you Wendy for my umbrella hat! And thank you to Sarah for reminding me that just because it is raining I do not need to immediately go inside, that if I am in a hot tub I am wet already and messy hair really doesn't matter! And to Amanda for being my Cold Plunge Pool buddy, if you hadn't done it, I wouldn't have either. To Wendy for telling us all about Wim Hof and finally to Becka for sharing wine and life stories! Tom you make delicious pizzas in your pizza oven and Claire thank you for organising such a brilliant girls night with a difference!
Yoga, relaxation and the beauty of Hill Farm
Everything about Claire's dream came together and worked during this beautiful weekend, Claire wanted to help other women 'shine their light and share their words and wisdom with the world', and what I saw, felt and experienced was a group of women coming together, previously strangers, to support and encourage each other.
Did you know that you increase your creative output by 60% when you walk? The location Claire chose for her retreats could not be more perfect. Hill Farm is a special place, the breathtaking views, the ancient forests, the peace and tranquility as well as the wonderful activities designed to wrap you up in calm and relaxation, the yoga, the campfires, the spa night, the walking, all encircle you with love.
Hill Farm is rustic but charming, basic but comfortable, Tom and Hayley have worked hard to create an off-grid glamping experience. They share their knowledge, their love of nature, the wildlife and the breathtaking views with enthusiasm and passion.
Having met at university 20 years ago, Tom and Hayley are living their dream at Hill Farm with their two daughters, dogs, sheep and chickens, Farm life is hard work but fun! Tom knows how to fix, repair and reuse just about anything and his Eco-Spa, the hot tub is heated by a log burner, is one of the best spa experiences I have ever had! Hayley is the resident yoga teacher and Tom cooks the most delicious food as well as being a forest bathing expert, I am not sure they ever get much time off!
Claire, founder of The Creatrix Journey
Claire is a journalist, an ICF accredited coach, a Nordic Walking instructor, speaker and award-winner podcaster and she loves being out in nature. She is passionate about sharing the healing medicine of walking and writing, with other people. Her enthusiasm shines through, she is soul-led, spiritual and understands the busy lives we lead, from being wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, having careers, running businesses, and caring for everyone around us, she gets that sometimes we just need to be still and be us. She explains that her soul's calling was to help people connect back to nature and themselves to share their innate wisdom with the world.
And from the moment I met my fellow retreaters ... I saw this happening, I saw my new friends visibly relax and unwind, let go of the to do list and day to day responsibility.
Claire believes you can walk your way to happiness.
When I open my door and step outside and breathe in the fresh air and nature I feel myself relax, I know I am happier. I don't do it often enough. But I will be doing it more. Yes even if it is raining - I have my new hat now!
Nearly three weeks after our retreat, I am loving seeing the updates in our group chat, we are all embracing what we learnt with Claire. Getting outside and finding new places to walk and sharing our experience with our families too.
Above: making new friends was a highlight of the weekend, Claire Winter (centre) put together the most relaxing and reassuring itinerary for us, and right, playing team building games in the forest - this was the 'camera' game, here I was the camera and Amanda was the photographer.
What I wore for a weekend retreat
Of course no blog post I share would be complete without a little nod to style ... I cannot pack light and I still need to dress up even if I am just walking in ancient woodland and doing yoga! The weather forecast had been looking very dodgy so I made sure I had everything covered with waterproof jackets, warm coats, GORE-TEX boots, cosy fleeces and comfortable sweatshirts! It's amazing what you can fit in a mini! But I needed a lot of 'just in case' outfits.
My outdoor gear was all from ACAI Outdoorwear*, my favourite brand for stylish, comfortable and practical outfits for 'outdoorsing'. Their trousers fit so well, are warm, comfortable and water resistant! I was very cosy in both the grey sweatshirt (now on sale) and the new Boyfriend Hoodie in Midnight Blue, it is made especially for outdoor pursuits and has a waterproof hood and shoulders, plus it contains 8% wool for added warmth . I have two pairs of their MAX Stretch Skinny Outdoor Trousers, in Graphite and Khaki, I've also tried their jeans and I have a pair of their thermal trousers for really cold days. My hat is from Laird Hatters in Covent Garden.
You can get £20 off your order (over £50) with ACAI if you use my link! (this is an affiliate link).
I took two pairs of GORE-TEX shoes* from Hotter Shoes with me, but I decided not to wear them in the forest as it was getting quite muddy and my Dubarry of Ireland boots are more practical but for an easy outdoor trainer that is waterproof and comfortable you can't go wrong with this lightweight hiking shoe - the Hotter Valley GTX Shoe* comes in Black Multi (I am wearing) or Wild Ginger Multi.
Above: comfortable GORE-TEX shoes from Hotter, worn with thermal leggings from Sweaty Betty.
Having to go home ...
I really did not want to leave! And yes I did feel quite emotional, but I was told it is a sign of a good retreat if there are tears and we all had a few! But what is discussed on a retreat, stays on the retreat!
In keeping with the whole weekend, nothing about Sunday morning was rushed, we had a last walk, we had brunch, we chatted, we packed and we slowly ambled off! I stopped at Tintern Abbey for a short wander, the sky was so blue and I couldn't resist a final few moments of alone time before getting home. And I even drove back without the radio on, that silence was so sweet.
The last word goes to the 'Water Guardian' angel card I pulled out before I left ....
Take time to understand how you really feel, know that your sensitivity is not a curse but a gift that allows you to receive and understand messages directly from your soul ...
Your angels want you to know that it's okay to feel the emotions that are surfacing in you at this time. It doesn't matter if they are joyous or sad, they are all powerful messages.
Taking time to breathe and acknowledge them, let them flow through you rather than crashing down on you as an overwhelming wave.
Thank you Claire, thank you Tom and Hayley and thank you to my new friends, Wendy, Sarah, Amanda and Becka.
This was my first retreat, but I am not planning on it being my last!
Claire offers online courses, weekend retreats, day retreats and a creatrix writing circle to unlock your creativity! Visit The Creatrix Journey for more details!
Disclaimer: this blog post contains gifted items from ACAI Outoorwear and Hotter Shoes as marked*
Forest bathing was a lasting experience - Becka from Tentshare
This weekend I've allowed myself to stop and be still - Amanda from Sales Growth Expert
It was a joy from start to finish - Sarah from Sarah Kerr Coaching
Rejuvenating - Wendy, IT Manager
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