Retreats for You review
Creative space for writers & artists in Devon, England
The Quick Read: Held in the home of Deborah Dooley and her partner Bob Cooper in the picturesque North Devon village of Sheepwash, Retreats for You offers a relaxing, cosy, creative space for writers, both published and unpublished – other artists occasionally book in too. Why come? Because all your needs will be met, so that you can focus on putting pen to paper. And, if you choose to be sociable, you’ll benefit from the creative chats that arise when you are in a community of like-minded writers. You can also go to the local beach, bike, walk, have in-room treatments and even book a woodwork workshop with Bob, who’s an artisan carpenter. This is a great value retreat that’s open all year, though closed on the 23-30 December.
More on the hosts: Deborah used to be a journalist herself, writing features for newspapers and magazines. She started up the retreat six years ago, after her children left the nest. She thrives on being a caring and conscientious hostess and this is one of the strengths of the retreat. She is an especially good cook, and has published a cookbook called ‘Eats for You’ (£9.99 available on www.lulu.com). Bob is an easygoing and smiley co-host. An artisan carpenter, he works out of his impressive woodworking workshop in the garden, and he and Deborah get on well too, which creates a nice vibe.
More on help with writing: Deborah is happy to offer one-to-one mentoring/coaching/light editing/manuscript feedback for a fee of £18 per hour. She also occasionally hosts novelists and other writers who run one-day writing workshops here. You may also, like we did, find yourself amongst other budding or published writers when you come, and be able to share advice, tips and encouragement – read a word from the queen on her retreat.
More on the outdoor activities: In summer, when the weather obliges, Deborah will organise evening BBQs down on the beach in Bude or time permitting, afternoon excursions to it at no additional cost. You can borrow two bikes for cycle rides on the winding roads or hike in the countryside – there is a lovely path about two minutes from the house that will take you down to the Torridge river, for a scenic 3 mile or so walk. Walking maps and wellies are provided. Bob will also offer (ideally) pre-bookable woodworking workshops – 5 hours for £80, though this is flexible. If you have a car you could drive to Dartmoor, the Tarka Trail, beach or other local attractions.
More on the treatments: You can book in-room treatments through Deborah in advance – holistic Swedish massage incorporating reiki with local therapist Isobel Pinno (around £38 for an hour) or basic beauty treatments such as facials, manicures and pedicures with local therapist Natasha Draper (£27 for a facial). We haven’t tried the treatments – Deborah says that she closes the shutters and puts heaters on beforehand to create a cosy ambience for a treatment.
More on the property: The house is 500 years old and used to be a pub. It’s made from cob, has a thatched roof and heaps of character. It is filled with relaxing nooks and crannies, including a living room with a fireplace, lit every evening, and a piano. Bookshelves overflow with enticing reads (including an author’s shelf dedicated to books published by authors who have stayed – among them, Monique Roffey). There’s an enormous kitchen with a table here too – sometimes guests like to write here while Deborah cooks.
There are two gardens: in the first, you might spot sweetpeas, green beans, lettuce, cherry tomato plants, geraniums, and nasturtiums, a small oak and beech tree. In summer when the sun is out, meals are taken at the garden table – it’s a converted door, complete with door flap – overlooking Bob’s rather impressive woodworking workshop. Behind this is a second, nicely mowed, pristine garden, filled with a cherry tree and palm tree, and home to chirping sparrows. There’s a bench and table here, making it another great spot for writing or reflection.
More on the design features: In the living room, amazingly, are two John Sargeant prints, of Deborah’s great-aunts. (Her grandmother, who lived in the States, she says, was an ‘It-girl’ of her time.) Bob’s beautifully made desks, bedside tables, bedframes, drawers and quirky polka dot wooden lamp stands are dotted around the house. Rugs picked up from antique fairs and skips grace the wooden floors. There’s a cosy, rustic feel to the house.
More on the bedrooms: There are five comfortable guest rooms: three are doubles, and one has twin beds. Two of them overlook the quiet main square, three a quiet residential road. The largest – the one to go for – is at the back and has the feel of an eyrie: restful and uncluttered, it had in it hangar space, drawers for clothes, fluffy towels, a bathrobe, slippers, hairdryer, a kettle for making hot drinks (and tea and coffee), a writer’s desk, a vase full of freshly picked flowers, throws, a heater and extra blankets for use on chilly nights and even ear plugs and sleep balm. Handily there are lots of plug sockets. The décor is uncluttered and simple, there are a couple of framed prints on the walls, which are painted a calming white.
More on the food and drink: This is where Deborah really shines: she adores cooking. Her repertoire include fishcakes, couscous, vegetarian shepherds’ pie with gravy, light-as-a-feather meringues, chocolate mousse, freshly baked wholemeal bread rolls and loaves, colourful and creative salads, and full-English breakfasts. Vegans, vegetarians and those with special diets are catered for with notice. Food is simple, tasty and filling and most definitely not for those who are in detox mode, watching their waistline or view sugary desserts with horror.
Meals are taken communally in the dining room, around a big table, or in your bedroom if you prefer. Guests are invited to help themselves to homemade banana bread and flapjacks, tea (herbal and regular) and coffee all day. Red and white wine (including Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon ) is offered with meals.
Deborah buys some of her food from the volunteer- run village shop which stocks locally grown vegetables, ham, bacon, cheese, milk and eggs. She swaps her banana bread and flapjacks for vegetables from a neighbour’s allotment: courgettes, marrows, cucumbers, peppers, and Bob grows lettuce and tomatoes and runner beans in the back garden. Deborah gets her meat from the local butcher, and buys free-range eggs from friends who run an egg business.
Eco watch: No food goes to waste: Deborah is very creative with leftovers and says the household recycles plastic bottles, tins and papers. Bob uses sustainable timber from a local supplier in making his furniture, some of which can be found in the house. Rather wonderfully, Deborah offers a huge variety of products in the bathroom for guests to help themselves to: cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, lotions and scrubs, though they’re not organic or chemical-free.
Fellow guests: Poets, novelists, creative non-fiction writers, academics writing papers, unpublished authors, artists, scriptwriters, ‘ordinary’ people who yearn to write but haven’t started; people with day jobs who write on the side; business people, teachers, pagans, vicars, flight attendants, painters – all have come through the door of Retreats for You, pen in hand. About a quarter are repeat visitors. Ages tend to range from 30s upward. But not everyone is a writer: occasionally artists, or people who simply need a space to rest and reflect book in.
What’s lowly: It’s low on eco-credentials.
Getting there: Sheepwash is about 50 minutes from Exeter St. David train station, and a four-hour drive from London. Lifts/taxi can be pre-arranged from the train or coach station. The cost is £40 each way.
Costs: £75 a night pp, full board, for a minimum two-night stay or £70 per night for stays of longer than a week. Rate is the same for all rooms. There’s free wifi, coffee, tea and snacks, and they’ll even do your laundry for you.
Reviewed by Jini Reddy
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