Learning and laughing at The Detox Barn

Emma Douglas reviews an easy going weekend detox in Suffolk

the detox barn

Emma Douglas reviews a long weekend detox in Suffolk at an elegantly converted barn and finds inspirational hosts, excellent company and a plant-based health regime to love.

Journeying through the Suffolk countryside, I fear I’m a prime candidate for The Detox Barn. A caffeine-rich, sleep-poor lifestyle during recent months has left me wanting to shut-down and re-boot my system.

Sister founders Sharon and Lauretta Gavin are an enthusiastic welcoming party. Bright-eyed and energetic, they set the ideal tone for the long weekend and are the perfect hosts: nurturing yet no-nonsense.

Upstairs in the elegantly converted barn, my bedroom overlooks a farm and the fields beyond. Lavender from the garden hangs above my bed to induce peaceful sleep. A handwritten note reminds me that “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance” (Alan Watts).

Dinner is delicious and insightful. Over Moroccan pearl barley and mango salad, I meet my fellow detoxers and discover what has brought them here. An all-female group aged between 20s and 50s, we include a food historian, a school teacher, a nanny, a city executive and a full-time mother who is joined by her own mother. Some are seeking health improvements, intrigued by the current veganism ‘craze’; others are experimenting as part of a deeper personal journey, or simply lured by the chance to relax and recharge. None of us is a strict vegetarian, let alone vegan, but all of us are looking for culinary inspiration.

Inspiration is in no short supply at The Detox Barn, which is the direct result of personal struggle and triumph. Diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, Sharon Gavin refused to accept a life of prescription drugs and confinement to a wheelchair, so when her research indicated the benefits (experienced by fellow sufferers) of a plant-based, whole foods diet, both Gavin sisters plunged in at the deep end. They eliminated meat, dairy, processed foods, sugar and alcohol, and learned to prepare nutritious plant-based meals. After three years Sharon’s symptoms had largely cleared up, she had discarded her wheelchair, and dispensed with virtually all medication. The Detox Barn was created from a desire to share with others the benefits of their eating regime, together with regular exercise, yoga and (happily for us) the odd pampering, holistic therapy.

After a blissful night’s sleep, I am woken with a knock at the door and a fresh lemon tea. A gentle yoga session gets the blood flowing, before a breakfast of overnight oats and berries with a cleansing green smoothie. Despite my preference for eating rather than drinking breakfast, I’m a convert to Sharon and Lauretta’s smoothies which are flavoursome, refreshing and never bitter nor too sweet.

A personal training session with Helen Thornton of Ardent Sport soon has me jumping, crunching, lifting and lunging around the garden. I finish the hour exhausted, but energised. After digesting a colourful courgetti lunch, it’s time for my first ever Reiki treatment. I emerge exhausted and energised in a different way, and it’s only mid-afternoon.

Saturday night is movie night. After a warming red Thai curry, we pyjama up and curl up to watch “Forks over Knives”. This dense but impactful documentary charts the medical benefits of plant-based wholefoods – over resorting to the surgeon’s knife, as millions do – to combat cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Its core message is in Hippocrates’ mantra: “Let food be thy medicine”.

‘The Detox Barn is the direct result of personal struggle and triumph, and there is no danger of dogmatism. It helps that the Gavin sisters are also a professional comedy act. They prove that even vegans can laugh, especially at themselves’

Sunday morning’s yoga is a detoxifying flow routine, and we twist and turn to ‘squeeze’ our internal organs. Confident that my organs have been sufficiently squeezed, I enjoy banana pancakes and a red berry smoothie, before an outdoor session of weights and kettle bells. Lunch is more smoothie heaven, with someone comparing the experience to ‘drinking liquid Snickers’.

Determined not to skimp on the pampering, I choose a Neal’s Yard facial with calming frankincense products. They work so well that I nearly float off to sleep. When my face and I see the results, we are delighted.

Before sunset, the group enjoys a cucumber and citrus juice and heads out on a silent walk across neighbouring fields. We tune in to our surroundings and observe hares playing in the fields and bees feasting on lavender. We finish with a guided meditation to rebalance our chakras. The serenity is interrupted only by Pia, the Detox Barn dog, who wishes to rebalance her own chakras but is surreptitiously removed.

After a final supper we gather round the fire outside to ‘set our intentions’. We write down our resolutions, then ceremoniously set them alight. We revel in this cult-like ritual, finding it both hilarious and marvellously therapeutic.

On Monday, we rise for a final country walk, invigorated and wishing the weekend would last longer. All of us have slept well and any caffeine withdrawal has given way to a sense of calm. One retreater has – after some dramatic and unpleasant side effects – overcome a 15 cups-a-day tea habit.

In the conflict zone of food regimes and the minefield of ‘healthy eating’, it is easy to feel bombarded with uncompromising and contradictory advice. At The Detox Barn, there is no danger of dogmatism. It probably helps that the Gavin sisters, aka ‘The Funny Vegans’, are also a professional comedy act. Refreshingly, they prove that even vegans can laugh, especially at themselves.

The Detox Barn has introduced me to people I loved meeting, hosts I loved learning from, and a regime I loved experiencing. To extend Hippocrates’ mantra a little: “If food be thy medicine… let plant-based wholefoods be thy prescription”. I’ll raise a juice to that.

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