Review: Reflect, reconnect and recharge at Wootton Park
Looking for a weekend wellness retreat? Muddy surrenders to the healing powers of forest bathing, yoga, meditation and pilates deep in the Warwickshire countryside.
Just before Lockdown I had the pleasure of being invited to Wootton Park’s very first weekend Self-Care Sunday Wellness Retreat among a group of journalists. From the minute we arrived to the moment we left we were treated to the most amazing home-cooked veggie food and an energetic but chilled out programme of yoga, pilates, meditation, and forest bathing (no skinny dipping or wild woodland swimming required).
Immersed in nature on a family farm, in 350 acres of unspoilt idyllic Warwickshire countryside, just six miles north of Stratford-upon-Avon, Wootton Park is within easy reach of Leamington Spa, Coventry, Studley, Birmingham and all major motorways.
As well as hosting weddings and business conferences, you can enjoy a staycation in a range of quirky off-grid glamping pods including; two secluded tree pods with private hot tub, perfect for couples and Aquarius, a bigger family size pod or if you’re a couple looking for a longer stay and a bit more space. The heated glamping pods are open all year.
Wellness Retreats founder Melanie McCall runs the family business with husband Ian Roy. She’s a mother of five grown-up sons – and a picture of health. When her boys were at school she trained and qualified as an exercise instructor, teaching step and aerobics. She has since discovered mindfulness, meditation and yoga – at the end of 2019 she and Ian Roy went to an ashram in India, just outside Rishikesh for a “life-changing” yoga and meditation
She’s designed the retreats for guests to ‘reflect, reconnect and recharge’ meet like-minded people and have some well-deserved me time. Come alone, with a friend, as a couple or in a group. Melanie also runs 48-hour Wellness weekends and retreats for small groups. All government guidelines regarding social distancing are followed.
Our 24-hour Self-Care Sunday retreat started at 4pm on Saturday and ended at 4pm on Sunday.
On arrival there was tea and homemade cakes. Once the introductions have been made and we’d settled into our rooms and unpacked, evening activities begin with Pilates upstairs in a converted yoga room with mats provided. Our teacher Katie, known as the Pocket Rocket, led a really enjoyable class with different levels offered; Melanie then led a gentle guided meditation.
Our small, friendly cohort of eight included two couples, an acupuncturist, radio presenter, newspaper editor, teacher and an engineer. We all got chatting over pre-dinner mocktails in the lounge, then sat down to a relaxed three-course vegetarian meal in the crimson dining room with its period vintage fixtures.
And what a feast!
The amazing Linda is resident chef and mocktail maker extraordinaire, but Melanie too is a dab hand in the kitchen, she created some fabulous cakes and desserts over the two days.
A spot of stargazing outside around the fire-pit drew the evening to a close. And sle-e-e-e-e-e-p.
Sunday morning didn’t begin with birdsong but a ‘cock-a-doodle-doo doo’ from the resident cockerel.
I loved our Akhanda style class led by the excellent Sarah Bates otherwise known as The Motorcycle Yogi, who left a job in global motorbike advertising to travel to India – and train to become a yoga teacher. When she returned home, she set up a yoga studio in Redditch.
Afterwards we tucked into a delicious healthy homemade breakfast. There was a buffet selection with granola and fruits, and a full English with freshly picked eggs from the outside chicken coop.
Mandy, one of the team, took us out for a peaceful (though admittedly drizzly) mindful walk across the farm and fields. If you’re used to pelting around at full speed this slowing down business is actually quite hard. En route we were introduced to the resident alpacas, ducks and chickens. We collected eggs from the coop, fed the goats and offset our carbon footstep by planting a tree.
Then on to a spot of forest bathing in the woods which doesn’t, despite its name, involve getting into any water but is based on the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku developed in the 1980s.
As more research highlighted the benefits of Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese government incorporated it into the country’s health programme. There are now 62 designated woodlands across the country as forest bathing sites. Doctors prescribe sessions to patients with high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. A two hours walk is believed to be more beneficial than an antidepressant, with the calming effect lasting up to 30 days.
Last year the Woodland Trust recommended it should be among a range of non-medical therapies and activities prescribed by GPs to boost patients’ wellbeing here in the UK.
Once inside the woods we were encouraged to stop off in a seemingly hidden glade to take in the greenery, smell the earthy woody scent and participate in a tree-hugging session. In terms of comic timing a countryside rambler happened to walk past and greet us with a cheerful “Morning!” at this precise moment.
Ian Roy met us on our way back on top of a hill in his Land Rover carrying bird cages filled with white doves from the farm dovecote for a dove release – a special treat usually reserved for weddings, much to the bemusement of his chocolate lab. It was a lovely, gentle experience.
We ate lunch in a wooden woodland cabin by the glamping pods – a warming and hearty homemade soup followed by a nutritious halloumi salad and local cheeses.
Melanie ran a laughter yoga session in the afternoon. Originating in a Mumbai park in 1995, it’s a combination of deep breathing techniques, light yoga and laughter exercises. By this we’d all got to know each other well enough not to be awkward, so the laughter came quite naturally not forced.
When you clock the itinerary you might think it’s all going to be a bit full-on; but there’s something about the way the weekend flows that makes it feel like quite the opposite. Yes, you cover a lot of ground, which is great because you get to try lots of new things, in bitesize chunks and soak up Melanie’s knowledge. But I also feel we spent a lot of time eating, lounging and nattering our way through the weekend.
I feel really lucky to have had the chance to try something like this and to meet such a lovely group of people .
The beautiful Tudor farmhouse has eight bedrooms, and this is where we stayed. Each bedroom has a different travel theme inspired by the family’s travels from …from Luxor to Bruges, Singapore to Marrakesh. I was in Provence hence my boudoir had lots of French touches – including wooden blinds and chaise longue. I had a super-comfy king-size bed with en-suite shower room, bathrobes, tea/coffee making facilities, toiletries and bottles of water were all provided.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Now, the food deserves a special mention since it’s incredible! Melanie works with front of house/ resident chef Linda, to put together breakfasts, lunches, dinners and afternoon treats that are so much more than just tasty food on a plate. The food is home-made, locally sourced, organic and vegetarian, also catering for other dietary requirements. Highlights include the fore mentioned three course dinner – and Melanie’s raspberry cheesecake.
A communal fridge is available in the dining room should you wish to keep any personal items chilled.
The next Wootton Park Wellness Retreat is to be announced. Whether you plan to visit on your own or in a couple or perhaps as a corporate company wishing to bring a small team along to rebuild and rebond, please go to woottonparkwellness to register your interest. Melanie will then add you to the waiting list and will contact you in due course with dates.
WHAT TO BRING?
You’ll definitely need your wellies – during our weekend it poured – otherwise leggings, sports or leisure wear is ideal.
Good for: A wonderful peaceful and tranquil location to switch off. If you’re at a career crossroads, your kids are flying the nest, or you’re just feeling a bit meh and unfulfilled, you’ll get heaps from this retreat.
Not for: Those looking for a bootcamp-type experience. These weekends will give you a taster of lots of different exercises and techniques and will give you time to reflect and think.
££: £295 per person includes all activities, classes, meals and accommodation (single occupancy in a king-size, ensuite) or £275 for couples. For the knowledge, quality of food and luxe accommodation alone, I think it’s great value for money. Throw in the invaluable ‘me time’, it’s a total steal.