Elle Franklin reviews a stylish private wellbeing retreat in Wales and finds space to write, sensitive yoga and meditation teaching, gorgeous mountain walks and moreish artisan bread.
I arrive at the Coach House frazzled after a day of complicated arrangements involving children, work and travel (who knew that motherhood needed a PHD in logistics?), determined to get to grips with my latest writing project. After a short drive from Newport we turn into the narrow lanes that crisscross the countryside and head up through sun-dappled forest. We crest the hill and the retreat comes into view, nestled behind the family home and looking out over miles of wild Welsh Countryside. The autumn sun glints on the windows and I feel the tensions of the day begin to melt away.
Olivia and John greet me warmly and show me around the newly renovated Coach House. It has been luxuriously finished and furnished but still retains the feel of an old building. Downstairs is open plan, and the warm wooden floorboards give a honey coloured glow to gorgeous prints and fabrics. The upstairs hallway is dominated by a huge coach house window, lined with well-chosen books – everything from Buddhism and yoga to literary page-turners. There are many personal touches throughout – vintage china nestles in the cupboards, original art hangs on the walls. Upstairs there is a vase overflowing with sweet peas from Olivia’s kitchen garden.
The fridge in the kitchen has been stocked to my specifications, with some extra treats like raspberries from the garden; and best of all there is a mouthwatering breakfast hamper including local artisan bread, jams and honey, organic granola, yoghurt, and everything I could wish for a delicious breakfast.
One particular parcel catches my eye, with the label ‘oat and treacle bread’ – an absolute treat of dark oaty wonderfulness that deserves its own paragraph. All the bread comes from local company ‘Dough and Daughters’, who are passionate about bread and the process of making it – and it shows. I feel a childish glee at having an entire loaf to myself and wonder how long it will last. As dusk draws in I prepare a simple meal in the brand new kitchen and breathe in the calm, quiet atmosphere of the building.
‘Olivia is very open, warm and easy to talk to and we cover everything from Buddhism to politics to parenthood. Her love for the Black Mountains is evident, and the Yin principle of slowing down – of taking time to be in the moment, whatever that moment may be – is central to her vision for the retreat’
The next day is a golden autumn morning. Olivia arrives for a one-to-one yoga and meditation session and we lay our mats down on floorboards made extra cosy by under floor heating. She has been teaching yin yoga and mindfulness for twenty years and is a skilled and experienced teacher – she’s able to offer me a creative session to accommodate my hypermobile body, allowing me to experience a deep connection with my hara energy centre without over-stretching my joints. We end with a gorgeous relaxation and body scan.
In the afternoon we climb the Sugarloaf mountain, a thirty-minute drive from the Coach House. We walk the path lined with golden bracken, with the view spreading out behind us. I have packed for Wales in autumn and it is disconcerting to strip to my t-shirt and feel the sun hot on my skin. Sheep roam through the brambles and the Black Mountains fold into shadow on the horizon, shaded in purple heather. Olivia is very open, warm and easy to talk to and we cover everything from Buddhism to politics to parenthood. She has a deep connection to this part of the world – her father was Welsh and she grew up in a cottage that we can just spot from the top of the mountain. After a spell living in London and travelling the world she was drawn back to the Black Mountains, and her love for them is evident. The Yin principle of slowing down – of taking time to be in the moment, whatever that moment may be – is central to her vision for the retreat and what she wants to offer, whether it be through yoga, meditation, reconnecting with nature or just taking time out to slow down.
The next day the sky dawns blue and cloudless, with early morning mist in the trees fading into another unseasonably hot day. I could choose to river swim, or forest bathe, or go paddle-boarding – each only a short drive away – but instead I shut myself in the Coach House for the morning to write, and revel in the sense of complete privacy on offer here. By the afternoon I can’t resist the sunshine any longer and wander across the lane to investigate the ancient church with it’s pretty churchyard. Later I spend some time in the paddock next to the house working on my writing, and then in the evening I sit out in the pretty patio garden and watch the sun turn a deep red as it sinks behind the line of oak trees in the distance, casting a warm orange light though the windows. Needless to say the oat bread is soon reduced to crumbs.
On my last morning at the Coach House the weather breaks, with rain shadows lacing the faraway hills and a fresh wind blowing. I enjoy another yoga session with Olivia, who provides me with a handout detailing a routine I can follow every day with diagrams and clear instructions. Afterwards I pack slowly, enjoying my last few hours of being alone. As we drive out through the gate I think of the day ahead, the trains, cars, the pickups and drop-offs of various children. And I realize that I’m looking forward to it. I glance back towards the Coach House, calm and cocoon-like, and reflect that this peaceful, carefully nurtured space provides a perfect haven in which to reflect, recharge and reenergize. The bread definitely helped too.