Recharging with the family at Witherdens Hall in rural Kent
Cherry Casey reviews this exceptional retreat in rural Kent six months after giving birth and finds life-changing therapists and a genuinely peaceful vibe
A stunning ivy-clad house, a silence that can only be found nestled deep in the countryside and a curious cockapoo: the three things that welcomed us to Witherdens Hall instantly suggested we’d be enjoying our stay. After being lead to what would become our home for the next two days – the petite but perfect Retreat Cottage – our hunch became a certainty.
As a new mum to a six-month-old baby, the focus of this stay was for me to unwind before returning to work. So once we’d admired our surroundings, I left Andy (my partner) and Ethan (my son) to settle in while I travelled the handful of metres to the treatment room for a full body massage. Excited doesn’t cover it. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. Debbie the therapist was friendly and funny and after an hour and a half of blissful relaxation, I padded back to the cottage, popped the Prosecco and settled in for the night.
The next morning, even Ethan managed a little lie-in, and after coffee in bed I tucked into the organic breakfast (delicious bread and lovely raspberries and strawberries) before heading over to the treatment room for my reflexology session with Sarah. Like Debbie, Sarah was incredibly friendly, which – despite my foot self-consciousness – made it easy to relax. Having never had reflexology in the past, I was fascinated to learn that my feet conveyed that my thyroid and sinuses needed some care (or, as Sarah diagnosed it – I was a new mum in need of some love).
As it was too cool to use the outdoor pool, the boys just relaxed in the cottage during my treatments. It was so spacious and comfortable they were more than happy to do this, and once my session was over the three of us drove for lunch at a nearby restaurant.
We were back by 2pm, when it was time for my breakthrough therapy session – the only treatment I had been a little dubious about, having never tried anything like it before. Suzi Tyler, the therapist, intuited this as soon as I walked in. ‘You’re not sure what to expect, are you?’ she asked with a smile before we sat down for a chat.
Suzi’s easy nature put my mind to rest and after thinking about what I’d like to achieve from the session (to question myself less), we begin. Using a combination of talking, a ‘tapping’ technique and hypnosis, we delved into a range of topics such as the importance of sticking with our decisions; the freedom allowed us if we forgive and let go; the restrictions we place on ourselves when we judge others, and the importance of looking after our emotional wellbeing. An hour and a half later, my mind was experiencing a strange combination of post-hypnosis fuzziness and absolute clarity. I felt certain – and still do – that I would question myself less from then on. As I hugged Suzi goodbye, I was also certain it was not the last time we’d meet.
‘I came for a relaxing treat to mark the end of my maternity leave. I left with an overwhelming sense of calm and a sense of self-assuredness I can’t remember ever having experienced’
Last on my itinerary was a session with Ben Barnett, a therapist whose impressive reputation has preceded him. On meeting him, it was easy to see why – his passion for his work was tangible and his need to understand his clients, even more so.
Ben explained that when treating his clients in the past, he’d noticed certain body parts tensing up for no apparent reason. In order to unlock the mental barriers to relaxation, he therefore devised his ‘three-dimensional massage’, that combines bodywork with guided visualisation to address the physical, mental and emotional aspects of our wellbeing. I was intrigued.
Ben’s technique involves a Hydrotherm cushion – a bed of warm water – to lie on, allowing for extra comfort and less pressure to the face and chest. Alongside the massage, he spoke in a slow, almost hypnotic manner about how to allow myself to become more relaxed and confident – the states I’d said I’d want to feel most after the session. He guided me through various notions, such as how to allow myself to be me and move away from the desire to ‘fix’ myself – words that rang uncannily true more than once.
An hour flew by and we discussed how I felt, physically, with Ben explaining that my inner legs felt like iron as a result of a new sense of confidence, while the flexibility in my neck (something he had picked up on) is linked to a sense of perceived naiveté, which in turn can lead to a defensive tensing – something I needed to look out for. Both Ben and Suzi’s sessions were recorded, so I could listen to it myself at a later date – a touch that I felt reinforced the sincerity with which these therapists carry out their work.
Back at the cottage I was spilling over with details to tell Andy about my experience – although at a loss to do them justice. While I didn’t have time to use any of the spa facilities, the overarching sensation I felt, which remained long after I left, was that Witherdens Hall gave me a lot more than I bargained for. I came for a relaxing ‘treat to me’ to mark the end of my maternity leave. I left with an overwhelming sense of calm, a clearer outlook and a sense of self-assuredness I can’t remember ever having experienced. As I bid farewell to the owner Louise, to the retreat cottage and finally, to the cockapoo, I wondered just how long I could wait before booking my next visit.