Kate Auld reviews a Sen Wellness pop up retreat in the picturesque village of St Mawes in Cornwall led by osteopath Sam Kankanamge and reluctantly realises it’s possible to energise by slowing down rather than speeding up
‘Don’t come back weird or chanting ok? And if they’re going to do stuff to you, make sure you see certificates’. So spoke my husband just before I left for my four night pop up Sen Wellness Retreat in Cornwall. The promise of escaping the daily grind of a new school term and ‘connecting with my inner compass to clearly navigate the winter months ahead’ – as Sen’s blurb said – was irresistible. While I outlined the schedule, my husband proceeded to list failures to my inner compass, including a recent solo bike ride where I’d ended up on the A59 dodging caravans and lorries.
Packing my case set the pace. It was a wrench swapping my default trainers and gym kit for a yogi friend’s raided wardrobe. Running was my meditation and ‘go hard or go home’ my exercise mantra. But this time I’d signed up for the opposite; a UK pop up retreat from London-based Sri Lankan osteopath and Founder of Sen Wellness Dr Sam Kankanamge and his hand-picked team, promising reconnection with nature via slow food, yoga and herbal remedies.
On arrival at Penvola, our house for the duration of the retreat, the pace shifted. Perched above the rugged Cornish coastline of picturesque St Mawes, enveloped by huge palms and subtropical gardens and with uninterrupted views of the sea and fields beyond, it’s the bolthole of effervescent Austrian Angelika and her husband Simon Davenport QC, clients of London-based Sri Lanka host, osteopath Dr Sam Kankanamge, who set up Sen Wellness and hosted our pop up retreat with his handpicked team.
This elemental backdrop was the setting for our first supper, which thanks to a low lit dining table spread with candles, flowers and potion bottles had the entrancing vibe of a modern apothecary. Chef and herbalist Jemma Foster conjured a taste explosion of deep earthy flavours from benign seasonal fruit and vegetables throughout our extended weekend. My favourites included whole roasted cauliflower with cress tahini and pomegranate and celeriac wedges brushed on huge slabs of Himalayan sea salt. Hearty breakfasts of cacao porridge and vegan kedgeree were delicious; the rosehip lassi and mushroom latte arrestingly tasty. Little touches completed the eclectic ambience, from brown luggage labels on vintage tea pots to oversized Kilner jars loaded with warm lemon juice and pink rhubarb and ginger tonic.
My fellow guests were a well-heeled, international bunch in professions that spanned media and finance, property and parenting. A mix of couples over forty, with a sprinkle of singles, and though everyone is welcome at Sen Wellness retreats, on this one it was mainly Sam’s London clients and their spouses.
We were split between the main house for dining and most activities and a second high spec holiday home a short walk away. I enjoyed strolling along the sea wall and embraced the guilty pleasure of a daytime bath in my room’s standalone roll top, bi-fold doors flung open to panoramic seascapes and billowing onshore breeze. My fellow housemates were less enthusiastic, as some rooms had neither view or an ensuite.
‘It was a real pleasure to reconnect with the natural world and try things that my otherwise speedy, occasionally cynical self might otherwise disregard’
The next day, restorative tissue salts, tinctures and elixirs complemented breakfast. At this point, the absence of coffee, sugar and alcohol hit me hard. Alchemist Jemma prescribed various flower remedies and homemade ‘coffee’ of roasted acorn, dandelion and burdock. Whilst I’d adored the detox soda with apple and liquorice, the mock-coffee nearly sent me bolting to the nearest café for a mocha.
Days centred around morning and evening yoga, complemented by treatments and Mother Nature – from peaceful boat trips to foraging and flower remedies. Sam’s osteopathy took place in the bedroom where the Queen Mother was reputed to holiday. I left feeling suitably regal, with advice to work on my jaw (too tense) and core (not tense enough).
Might yoga help? In my head the slow, flowing vinyasa and intense stretching of yin was on a par with golf in the unappealing-sedate-activities stakes. Yet the effect was transformative. The melodic Dutch drawl of nomadic yoga goddess Pleuni van Hulten kept me focused. This former dancer’s easy going, ‘no right way’ approach to yoga was a revelation for my mental state and posture. She put me immediately at ease and her dedication to helping me focus entirely on how I felt rather than how I looked was infectious.
The most eagerly anticipated session of the schedule was the cacao ceremony, led by Shaman Rebekah Shaman (and yes, that is her name). Hearing Hollywood’s finest have their Shaman on speed dial and the exchange of knowing looks of fellow guests who’d already experienced ‘visions’ put us newbies on edge. The candlelit ceremony involved drinking high potency cacao as bitter hot chocolate, alongside tarot cards and a guided meditation. It left me feeling warm and content, albeit clocking some eyes rolling at the mention of tree hugging and ‘embracing mother earth’ by cuddling a field on a walk the next day.
Jemma’s charmingly dishevelled sidekick John guided us on an invigorating, informative foraging walk amid the raw beauty of St Mawes, discovering new plants to pick and eat safely. Lunch was almost entirely of our findings; from sea beet soup to seaweed salad. I loved the greens but admit salivating at John’s running commentary of a nearby fishermen’s haul, whilst a couple of the alpha males headed for steak at swanky Hotel Tresanton.
Making flower essences later, I felt like a kid in a sweet shop. Herbalist Jemma’s encyclopaedic expertise on the effect flower remedies can have on body and mind guided me as I created my own ‘rescue remedy’, placing the concoction close by the Hydrangea plant to which I was most drawn to for it to assimilate the plant vibrations. and a tincture using foraged nettles to help my son’s eczema. Just like the cacao ceremony, it was a real pleasure to reconnect with the natural world in this way and try things that my otherwise speedy, occasionally cynical self might otherwise disregard.
I left leaner and my skin noticeably brighter on the outside. Inside, I’ve somewhat reluctantly realised it’s possible to energise by slowing down. Whilst I didn’t come back weird or chanting, I confess searching YouTube for pin-up Pleuni’s powerfully calming yoga mantra, sung alongside her hypnotic Shruti box. ‘Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu’ – may all beings everywhere be happy and free. Inner compass? I’ll try it out on the bike in the morning.