All The Good Things beach & wild retreat review | healing holiday, Cornwall, UK
Wonderful wild weekend with yoga, surfing & photography
The Quick Read: All the Good Things is a coastal retreat held a few times a year at Mawgan Port in Cornwall to help you focus on the simpler things in life. Founded by Surf Sistas, which runs women-only surf holidays in the UK and abroad, it takes the usual yoga-and-surfing offering and adds in – brilliantly – wild swimming, hiking, foraging, Polaroid photography and wine tasting. If that sounds frenetic, it isn’t. The atmosphere is chilled and the timetable flexible. Guests can dip in and out of activities (quite literally in the case of swimming and surfing) and the emphasis is on relaxation and escape.
Who it’s best for: This is the perfect trip for anyone wanting to nourish the soul as well as the body. The natural, wild ethos, combined with the creativity of the photography project, especially appeals to city dwellers longing for some simple living, and anyone needing a digital detox will appreciate the release from the tyranny of the smart phone (there is wifi in the main living area only, and there’s no mobile signal).
The trip is ideal for people travelling solo – most of the guests come alone and, apart from repeat visitors, don’t tend to know each other.
What you can do: Guests arrive on Friday afternoon to tea and home-made treats. From there it’s straight out on to the beautiful coastal path for a hike to Bedruthan Steps and back. The main activity is yoga, taught by Hayley Johns who co-hosts the retreat. There’s a yoga session before dinner on the Friday and Saturday and before breakfast on Saturday and Sunday. Hayley describes her style as Vinyasa flow, though she says she uses the term loosely, and adapts each session to the time of day, the mood of the group and even the time of year, taking great care to correct individual postures and address specific issues.
Saturday morning is devoted to surfing, and all levels are catered for (wetsuit and board hire are included in the price). We were taught by Surf Sistas regular, Elaine Uff, who ably coped with the different abilities of the group and had everyone on their feet – even if just for a few moments – by the end of the session. It’s back on the beach on Saturday afternoon for foraging with Hayley, a self-taught but knowledgeable forager, finding the best places to source everything from seaweed to sea buckthorn. Food and wine are the focus of Saturday night. A fabulous four course dinner, with accompanying wines, is presented by Ben Mudditt, one of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall’s current sommeliers.
Most guests return to the beach on Sunday morning for swimming or surfing. Each guest is lent a Polaroid camera for the weekend, with one roll of film, and encouraged to take eight shots, each depicting a word picked out of a hat, under the tutelage of professional photographer Kate Czuczman, the other co-host of the retreat. The resulting images, impressively creative and occasionally hilarious, are displayed on the staircase of the lodge.
Where you stay: Home for the weekend is an eco-lodge within The Park, a magazine-fabulous holiday park featuring everything from airstream caravans to summer houses and yurts, just five minutes’ walk from the beach.
The lodge itself is spacious, bright and decorated in a contemporary style, with possibly the most comfortable sofas on the planet in the upstairs living area (one guest virtually dismantled an armchair in an attempt to find out its make, and at some point everyone was heard wondering aloud if they could move in permanently).
The living area, where yoga, lounging and eating take place, has a giant TV (which, significantly, remained switched off for the weekend), a wood-burner, and French windows leading to a balcony overlooking fields of cows. Kate and Hayley had brought a thoughtful selection of books and magazines ranging from Surfgirl and InStyle to books on photography. This chill-out area and the balcony were where we congregated to chat and relax, and often activities were put back a little if the conversation and tea were flowing.
Bedrooms are comfortable and airy – although we didn’t spend much time in them except to sleep – and bathrooms are white-and-chrome modern, with satisfyingly powerful showers. In front of the lodge is a little garden with outdoor table and chairs and a hot tub, which was great for bringing feeling back into cold feet after surfing. The eco element comes from solar panels that provide hot water and underfloor heating and sustainable materials. The Park itself has a cheerful café serving tempting, healthy food (though at London prices) and both an indoor and outdoor pool, with sauna and steam room, which we would have used if the weather had turned.
How was it for us: I did this Surf Sistas wellbeing weekend late one summer. According to Kate, the main concern most guests have in advance is how they’ll get along with the other guests, as the majority come on their own, but nobody need have worried on this weekend, for everyone – an eclectic bunch with jobs ranging from political campaigner to ballet teacher and fashion PR, and aged from early 30s to late 40s – gelled straight away. Surf Sistas tends to attract like-minded souls. Kate and Hayley set the tone with their laid-back warmth and genuine interest in everybody, and by the end of the first evening it felt like a group of old friends having fun together.
The activities were cleverly chosen to combine wholesomeness with good, old-fashioned fun, the photography adding a joyously creative element, and by the end of the weekend my sides ached as much from laughing as from surfing. Together we discovered artistic talents we didn’t know we had, learned more about the natural world and reconnected with the earth and the sea.
Most of all, the retreat was just as grounding and restorative as I’d hoped it might be. I arrived feeling exhausted and frazzled, and left feeling nourished, cherished, uplifted and soothed, with that feeling of jaw-drooping zen that only comes from immersion in the ocean. Most of us have stayed in touch since and are planning a return visit next year.
What we took home: Although it was the surfing I was most looking forward to, it was the yoga that really inspired me. Without being overtly spiritual – her teaching style is intuitive yet down-to-earth – Hayley’s sessions brought me, for the first time, to the point where emotions began to flow to the surface – an unexpected and welcome development in my practice.
Would we go back: Most definitely. I have unfinished business with the Polaroid and am longing for more yoga with Hayley.
People watch: Kate and Hayley make an excellent double act. Kate has run surf holidays in the UK and abroad for several years. Her local knowledge is matchless and she is endlessly cheerful and friendly, making things run like clockwork without ever seeming hurried. It’s no surprise that she stays friends with many former guests and that repeat visitors are common. Hayley, who teaches yoga in east London, brings warmth, wisdom and wit to the party and her yoga sessions alone are worth the journey.
Food watch: Breakfast consists of fabulous, fresh, raw smoothies, fruit salad, granola, breads and scrambled eggs – enough to power a surf session without making you sink. Guests are left to their own devices for lunch, but the Park café and local shops provide rich pickings. Dinner on Friday is at Scott & Babs at Retorrick Mill – an easygoing restaurant that might be tiresomely hipster if it were in Hoxton, but is charmingly cool in Cornwall. Its pizza oven produces house pizzas oozing with flavour, and the ever-changing menu features local delights like elegantly-served, intensely-flavoured scallops.
Saturday night dinner, with dishes such as pear, walnut and manchego salad, local mussels and beet bourgignon, is made and delivered by local food and wine expert Debbie Warner, formerly a sommelier at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall. Accompanying wines are served in enough quantities to make the evening go with a swing. Vegetarians and vegans are generously provided for, and allergies covered.
What’s queenly: Hayley’s hand-made touches make the experience touchingly personal. Each guest received a goody bag with a hand-stitched lavender eye bag for the relaxation sessions plus Hayley’s own blend of herbal tea, and during the foraging she presented us all with a little bottle of home-made (and dangerously-addictive) sea buckthorn gin.
What’s lowly: If you book late you may be asked to share a bedroom and/or bathroom. If you need your own space, be sure to book early and ask specifically for an en-suite.
Insider tip: Everyone on our retreat just came for two nights, so if you’re keen to stay for three – and we all agreed an extra night would be even better – check with Kate to make sure you won’t be on your own.
Price with a companion: £390 for two nights; £449 for three nights.
Price going solo: £390 for two nights; £449 for three nights.
Value for Money: Although at first glance it might look expensive, you’d be hard-pressed to beat it for value when you take into account the accommodation, meals (including a restaurant meal with drinks), multiple activities, surfboard and wetsuit hire, use of the Park’s facilities and airport or train transfers.
Sister retreats: Surf Sistas offers a similar retreat in Whitstable, and a variety of surfing holidays, some with yoga included, in the UK and abroad.
Reviewed by Patricia Carswell
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