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The Bridge review | personal growth retreats, Scotland & Somerset

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Healing retreat led by Donna Lancaster and Gabi Krueger

The quick read: The Bridge is a 5 night, 6 day highly cathartic healing retreat led by Donna Lancaster and Gabi Krueger which takes place a few times a year on the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland and at 42 Acres in Somerset. This emotional bootcamp offers ample opportunities to boost the share price of Kleenex, but also a chance to rediscover your zest for life and a fresh and positive outlook. You’ll explore how to let go of loss, heal childhood trauma and shift away from faulty beliefs that are holding you back. You’ll also gain useful insights into old patterns and ingrained family dynamics and learn how to let go of painful betrayals and old wounds. One of the big bonuses is learning alternative ways to cope with feelings, without cutting off or hiding behind defensive ‘masks’ like sarcasm, blame or booze.

Budget: ££££

The Bridge Scotland Ardoch House workspace

Tackle difficult problems in The Bridge’s workspace

Who it’s best for: Anyone suffering from heartbreak, loss, anxiety or depression, or who is at a difficult crossroads in life and feeling confused. The programme is especially helpful for those struggling with unresolved grief – not just from bereavement, as the retreat is equally relevant if you’re suffering following job loss, divorce, betrayals of trust, loss of innocence, or youth (check in here before you book that facelift) or even empty nest syndrome. It’s heavy-duty emotional stuff and you must to be willing to delve deep, open up and tell your story in front of others, but rest assured, you’re in safe hands: the Bridge co-founders Donna Lancaster and Gabi Krueger are right there with you, every step of the way, helping you to face your most heartbreaking betrayals and heal your deepest wounds. Plenty of the attendees had come fresh from the Hoffman Process and judged The Bridge to be the perfect prequel or adjunct to The Process, as well as a stand-alone healing experience. It will suit those who have already done some therapeutic work.

The Bridge Scotland view

The Loch Lomond location provides a physical and mental escape

What you can do: The idea of The Bridge is that you complete the course ready to cross a metaphorical bridge, leaving the past in the past, to step into the future unburdened. You’ll be led through an impressive array of healing exercises, from letter writing to African tribal rituals with the aim of clearing blocked emotions to live a more fulfilled life. Donna Lancaster and Gabi Krueger are both immensely charismatic and empathetic women, with decades of healing experience between them – both are highly skilled facilitators who manage to make the whole process feel both safe and effective, and even a lot of fun.

Donna and Gabi have cherry picked the best of what works (in their considerable experience) and you’ll be put through an intense emotional programme of visualisations, meditations, breathwork, movement and dance, working both individually and in pairs, and often witnessed by the group.

It’s a jam-packed schedule, run over five days, starting at 8am and finishing late in the evening, sometimes after 10pm, which can, at times, feel draining, but there are plenty of quiet moments too. You’ll be asked to respect an 80/20 rule, splitting downtime between chatting to fellow Bridge acolytes and silent contemplation, when you can immerse yourself in the healing power of nature aided by the tremendous views across Loch Lomond to the snow-capped peaks beyond.

The Bridge Scotland Ardoch House bedroom

Bedrooms are spacious and have great views

Where you stay: Our course was held at Ardoch House, on the shores of Loch Lomond, 20 miles from Glasgow Airport. The original farmhouse has been refurbished and extended with an impressive contemporary timber and glass wing – floor-to-ceiling glass walls showcase the fantastic Loch Lomond views. The house is a chic mix of old and new; stone fireplaces and traditional comfy sofas nestle side-by-side with contemporary art works and furniture, including a 20-seater dining table that extends through the length of the glass ‘barn’. The 17 bedrooms all have en-suite bathrooms, many boasting spectacular views. Despite its vocation as a healing venue, the house is refreshingly free of joss sticks, crystals and other ‘spiritual’ paraphernalia and as an added bonus the Ardoch Foundation lends the house to children’s charities, which its commercial ventures help support. The Somerset venue near Frome, was originally at 1800’s dairy farm, and outside the 42 acres of private land you have access to 700 acres of ancient forest.

Sharon Walker at The Bridge Scotland

Sharon learnt to understand her emotional life

How was it for us: Totally and utterly mind-blowing. I went to the Bridge hoping to heal the sadness I was feeling following the break up of my marriage but it was only when I got there that I started to understand how my emotional life was still hanging under the big cloud of my mum’s death when I was a child, age 9. All that long-repressed grief was having a massive knock-on effect, amplifying every subsequent loss including my divorce.

One of our group described the course as “Disneyland for the soul”, an apt description given its clever series of ‘rides’ designed to help pop you out of old patterns and release stuck emotions. For me it was Space Mountain all the way; crying one minute, laughing the next, thrilling and frightening in equal measure and ultimately rather wonderful. There’s something very powerful about sharing in group, something I’d resisted until now, being rather Britishly averse to the idea of airing my emotional dirty laundry in public.

I’ve been to a couple of group sessions in the past and found them pretty gruesome but done well, as they were at The Bridge, with skill, empathy and, humour, this kind of work can be immensely healing, a chance to open-up and to be both seen and heard. It was a real privilege to share in other’s stories – a process that was facilitated by letters, photographs and a certain amount of leaping around, as well as some fun games (I won’t ruin the surprise).

If there’s one thing about The Bridge, it sure as hell isn’t boring; this was as compelling as any Greek tragedy or Oscar-winning movie, and it was a privilege to witness all of life’s pain and joy unfolding without artifice or sentimentality, to watch profound and positive changes emerging in others, as well as feel them in myself. Besides the tears and heartfelt revelations there were many wonderful moments of connection, sharing and fun.

Donna and Gabi have a real knack for using ritual, music and movement to help you connect to deep-felt emotions and at times I found myself jumping around like a jubilant nine-year old, at others I was back in 1988, at an illegal party somewhere off the M25 and feeling connected, as I did then, to the Whole God Damn Universe.

For some of the more intense workshop sessions the group was divided, most significantly on the ‘Grief’ day when I worked with Donna. Donna’s attitude is that, if you don’t let go of losses, they won’t let go of you and, in her experience, unexpressed grief is often mistaken for depression, with a knock-on effect that makes any future loss much harder to bear. Both theories certainly rang true for me and I spent much of the retreat deeply immersed in feelings stemming from my mother’s death, many years ago. It was tough, but also a huge relief, as I was able to express those feelings as never before and in doing so a weight lifted.

I also came away with a heap of useful insights and much clearer idea as to why I behave and feel as I do. Donna is a big fan of the work of Californian psychotherapist David Richo and I found his concept of the five As (Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection and Allowing), massively helpful, when it comes to understanding what’s needed to create healthy, happy relationships and how I can go about providing those things for myself.

What we took home: A fabulous feeling of lightness that has stayed with me, one month on. In terms of therapy or healing work, this was the single most effective thing I’ve ever done. The Bridge sparked an emotional shift, which feels very profound.

Would we go back: The Bridge is designed to be a deep emotional experience with lasting benefits, so while I would whole-heartedly recommend it, I would only go back if I felt I had something further to work on. Deep healing work like this can take three months or so to settle (according to Donna), so I’d want to wait and see.

The Bridge Scotland Gabi Krueger and Donna Lancaster

The Bridge founders Donna and Gabi

People watch: Both Donna and Gabi are exceptional healers. Open, generous and passionate about what they do, they work brilliantly as a team, complementing each others skills. Both are qualified Hoffman teachers and taught on ‘The Process’ for many years before joining forces to create The Bridge, which they run as a team with back-up from Sam, their brilliant right-hand man.

Donna started her career as a social worker, specialising in child protection, before going on to teach in women’s refuges, schools and prisons. She now specialises in relationship counselling and is passionate on the topic of grief having suffered from ‘depression’, which she now recognises was, in fact, unprocessed grief, for many years herself.

Gabi studied transpersonal psychology and holds an advanced certificate in counselling with a strong focus on Jungian psychology and the body-based therapies of William Reich and Aleander Lowen. During her time in Singapore she also studied Buddhist practices and is inspired by the work of Dr Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist.

Food watch: Breakfast includes a variety of healthy, hearty dishes including porridge with prunes and berries, boiled eggs and whole grain toast, fresh fruit and yogurt, home made granola or Bircher muesli. Lunch might be soup or salad, homemade vegetable quiche, chicken wraps with fresh mango salsa, stuffed peppers with Moroccan couscous, vegetable or meat chilli with rice or pasta salad with roast olive and red pepper pesto.

For the evening meal example dishes include Thai style chicken breast with stir fry vegetables or grilled Scottish salmon with seasonal vegetables and a selection of health menus. All meals are set menus which are adapted to individual dietary requirements.

crown What’s queenly: The highly individual attention (in spite of the group format) and the fact we felt 100 per cent understood.

What’s lowly: Sharing a room can be pretty hard work on an emotionally retreat like this. Pay the single room supplement of £50 a night to guarantee some privacy.

The Bridge Scotland Ardoch House at night

Ardoch House at night – a peaceful place to heal emotional wounds

Insider tip: This is a digital detox as well as an emotional bootcamp, so clear your inbox before you leave, as you’ll be asked to hand in all laptops, tablets and mobiles at the door.

Price with a companion: £2350 per person for 5 nights, 5 days for a shared room, including everything except transfers.

Price going solo: £2350 plus a single supplement of £250 per person for a standard room alone or £475 per person for a luxury room with a Loch Lomond view and balcony, for 5 nights, 5 days, including everything except transfers.

Value for money: It’s hard to put a price on peace of mind, but think of this as five years of therapy crammed into five days and it’s actually a bargain.

Reviewed by Sharon Walker

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