Review: Wootton Park Wellness
Thinking of kick-starting a new wellness regime? How does a retreat including forest bathing, yoga, pilates and meditation sound? Muddy Warwickshire's Georgina went to check it out.
You can’t get more back to nature than this – 350 acres of unspoilt idyllic Warwickshire countryside. Bliss, right? Wootton Park Wellness is on a family farm is just six miles from of Stratford-upon-Avon and 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. If you’re on a family break or a couple looking for a longer stay and a bit more space check out the ‘super pod’ – yes, it’s as cool as it sounds. 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 glowing 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 “life-changing” yoga and meditation
She’s designed 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 runs the sessions for 24-48 hours with the option of going along for the day.
Our Mindfulness Monday retreat started at 9.30am and ended at 4pm, but there are sessions on other days and weekend retreats available – and I’m booking in, pronto.
I was met by Melanie just outside the farmhouse and handed a glass of freshly squeezed ‘Wellness Juice’ – a delicious blend of pineapple, apples, ginger and lemon. After a brief chat we headed to the yurt to meet the rest of our class – a small, friendly cohort of six with a mix of individuals and friends.
We started the session with morning meditation before taking a pilates class. I am not flexible in the slightest so was pretty dubious, but it really had a mix of everything – relaxation and calming but at times did push you.
Then we headed outside (where we were met by some very cute goats and alpacas – make sure you say hello!) and met our guide for a mindful walk and forest bathing. No swimming costume needed or water involved, it’s based on the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, developed in the 1980s.
Phones were left in the yurt (anyone else feel like a break from technology is a holiday in itself?) and we walked through the beautiful countryside to the forest. We were encouraged not to talk and just take in the views, sounds and smells within nature.
We stopped at various points to look at the trees and feel the moss – it all sounds a bit hippyish I know, but I absolutely loved it. It’s not very often we get chance to slow down in our modern lives so the 90 minutes we spent on our walk was pure bliss. Towards the end we lay down in some long grass for around 20 minutes and I actually fell asleep – a hard day at the office indeed.
If my nap wasn’t proof enough, 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 hour walk is believed to be more beneficial than an antidepressant, with the calming effect lasting up to 30 days. The Woodland Trust has also recommended it should be among a range of non-medical therapies and activities prescribed by GPs to boost patients’ wellbeing here in the UK.
After my siesta we then headed to the top of the hill to take part in a dove release, which sees birds from the farm dovecote released and fly back home. We were told to think of something we’d like to set free that no longer serves us and release it with the dove. It was really therapeutic seeing the doves fly off back to the farmhouse (lucky them – it’s gorgeous!)
We ate lunch in the yurt – a tasty Buddha Bowl and a mug of homemade vegetable soup – with our feast followed by a talk from a nutritionalist who gave some great tips on supplements, simple ways to ensure you have a healthy body and mind and on the best foods to eat. Hint, wine and chocolate is not among them *sob*.
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. It was probably my favourite part of the day and some of us (yes, me) ended up laughing until we cried.
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 retreat 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 extensive knowledge. But I also feel we spent a lot of time eating, lounging and nattering our way through the event.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Now, the food deserves a special mention since it’s incredible! Melanie is a fantastic chef who puts 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 Buddha Bowl – and Melanie’s homemade brownie and carrot cakes.
If you stay for a weekend retreat (lucky you!) The beautiful Tudor farmhouse has eight bedrooms. Each bedroom has a different travel theme inspired by the family’s travels from Luxor to Bruges, Singapore to Marrakesh. The above is based on Provence and has lots of French touches – including wooden blinds and chaise longue. It includes super-comfy king-size bed with en-suite shower room, bathrobes, tea/coffee making facilities, toiletries and bottles of water.
Day and weekend retreats are held a couple of times a month but book ahead as they fill up fast. Check the website for the latest dates.
WHAT TO BRING?
Definitely pack some wellies and some trainers, otherwise leggings, sports or leisure wear is ideal, and make sure you take layers – this is the UK after all.
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.
££: Day retreats start at £115 while overnight is from £225 and £425 for two nights. If you book in early you can make the most of reduced rates but 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.