A yoga retreat with ashtanga classes and wild riverside bathing at ecoYoga in Scotland
Hannah MacInnes reviews this fabulous retreat in Scotland on a yoga weekend with ashtanga teacher Scott Johnson and discovers hands-on teaching, wild riverside bathing and hearty vegetarian feasts
I found myself on the train North to spend a long weekend at ecoYoga in Scotland when I was exhausted from work, stressed and fed up with frenetic London life.
Within minutes of leaving Glasgow station in an ecoYoga minibus we were making our way through the stunning beauty of the Scottish countryside, and the stress was began to seep away. An hour or so later we were winding up the drive to the centre, the glimmering waters of Loch Orr stretching away behind us, a rainbow spreading across the sky. We were ushered inside where mugs of tea, rich vegan chocolate cake and a roaring fire awaited our arrival – I felt an overwhelming sense of childish excitement and knew immediately that this was a very special place.
My time at ecoYoga was everything I hope for from a retreat – miles from modern life, surrounded on all sides by raw spectacular beauty, and both literally and metaphorically refreshing for body and soul. A rare chance to truly escape the stresses of everyday and to relish life’s rustic and wholesome pleasures – warm (or icy cold) spring water on your skin, fresh air, hearty vegetarian banquets and a strong community spirit.
I felt fully immersed in and at one with nature here with everything from the exquisite surroundings to the food as fresh and natural as it could possibly be. As someone with a huge, longstanding passion for wild swimming (so much so I had previously made a film for the BBC waxing lyrical about its benefits) I was immediately in heaven. The place has exceptional range of outdoor bathing experiences inspired by the Japanese tradition of public bathing houses. Leaping straight from a dip in the freezing woodland waterfall into a deep hot bubble bath was one of the most invigorating and magical of experiences. Looking up through the canopy of trees, hot water enveloping my tingling skin and rain drops plopping into the tub, I felt entirely at peace – the waterfall rushed loudly in my ears but my mind was quiet (not something I can usually ever say).
I felt the same mix of surreal serenity and exhilaration after a late night sauna and hot tub, plunging into the ice cold pools of spring water under a sparkling blanket of stars. It was all I could do not to whoop loudly with childish delight but I had to restrain myself so as not to wake the other already dreaming yogis.
The ashtanga style of yoga we practiced every morning here was new to me and I loved the slow intensity of it. Our classes ran for around two hours with Scott Johnson, founder of Still Point Yoga in London. Having dreaded classes longer than an hour, I actually found them immensely rewarding, slowly working through all the moves, learning them properly in a way I never had in my rushed power yoga classes back in London. Both Scott and Laura, the manager of the site and a yoga teacher who was assisting on this retreat, offered amazing hands-on attention.
The abundant fresh air and yoga worked up a very healthy appetite – so thank goodness for the fabulous buffet style feasts which ensured we simply could not go hungry. For brunch and dinner were offered a wonderful array of platters heaped high with colourful and imaginative vegetarian fare – all of which could well be on the front cover of an Ottolenghi cook book. I particularly adored the selection of homemade breads still warm from the oven that were served up with every meal. In the evening, those of us with a sweet tooth were rewarded by moreish vegan puddings such as chocolate tart or tahini fudge.
The bedrooms were in a block of ten to the side of the main house, all the same – small, simple yet charming, wood panelled with kingsize beds and a small sofa. Half looked out over the lawn and half, including mine, faced the woods and the waterfall below. It was kept cosy and warm by a small heater, a beautiful little bunch of wild flowers was a lovely touch and there were thick colourful Egyptian style quilts on the beds. I slept better here than I can remember sleeping in years, sinking into the immense comfort of the huge mattresses and large pillows, the rush of the waterfall lulling me into unconsciousness.
I mainly spent my downtime nipping from one form of bathing to the next, interspersing the blissful hot tub or underground sauna with plunges in the freezing spring water tubs. You could also just chill by the fire with a book or explore the exquisite surroundings.
Winding back through rugged beauty of the Scottish hills in the minibus home, I felt thoroughly reinvigorated, refreshed and alive but at the same time decidedly calmer, glowing from the freshness of the air, lighter after much laughter but happily heavier after all the fabulous food. The ecoYoga experience is a real tonic.