Wild Voice Adventures, Gloucestershire, England
Expert-led voice retreat combining singing with wellbeing activities in nature
Best for: People of any level who love to sing.
Not for: Those looking for me time, or to sit and stare.
Takes up to 35 guests
Sing your heart out in this supportive, expert-led singing retreat on an impressive 26-acre country estate ten minutes drive from Stratford-upon-Avon. The creation of hugely talented performer and choir leader Jess Hunting and mindfulness practitioner, life coach and music lover, Scott O’Callaghan, the retreat combines choral singing with mindfulness and activities such as yoga, tai chi and archery. With the choice of staying in a Queen Anne manor house or glamping in a Victorian walled garden, it balances homecooked food, fun, and camaraderie with being in the moment and letting go. You don’t have to be ‘good at’ singing to come, and you won’t have to sing alone. Expect to explore your voice and learn new songs, in beautiful natural surrounds. Wild Voice Adventures also offer retreats in Italy and Africa, read more here.
Sipping morning tea on the benches outside Talton House, watching birds hop around the manicured lawn. Vases of flowers from the garden and no locks on the bedroom doors, make you feel like a house guest. Jess and Scott have been running these retreats for a year now, and it’s their passion. As well as offering inspiring, top quality teaching experiences, they travelled up and down the country to find the right venues. This one is perfect, with plenty of space and inspiration, across two contrasting places.
The schedule doesn’t allow much free time for processing or contemplation, if you want to take advantage of the additional optional activities. Those craving quiet time and creative space can stay an extra night.
Read our expert review
Nicki Grihault reviews a singing retreat led by talented performer and choir leader Jess Hunting at an impressive 26-acre country estate and enjoys her journey to harmony.
Come for a short expert-led break combining singing with mindfulness and other activities in nature. Retreaters are purposely not told exactly what they’ll be doing until they get here, to encourage them to be open to the experience. The day starts with either a yoga or Tai Chi session on the Talton House lawn (weather permitting), followed by breakfast. Some ten hours of singing-related activity over a three day weekend (which includes singing in nature, and around the campfire), is punctuated by optional afternoon activities such as archery, and a mindfulness walk in the woods. You’ll practice up to three choral arrangements, and record them as a keepsake of your singing journey, and part after tea and homemade cake, and a sharing circle.
A performer and experienced choir leader with a degree in Classical Voice, Jess Hunting leads the singing. Emanating a lovely, feminine energy, she is a talented, supportive and likeable teacher, who gives clear and concise instructions, and is also good fun. She has sung at leading venues from The Royal Albert Hall to the O2 Centre and has supported artists from Kiki Dee to Kim Wilde, and has conducted mass choirs for years. She’s skilled in getting groups to sound harmonious, so if you haven’t sung before (usually around half of retreaters), she will take you under her wing. Visiting teacher, Rick Franssens, is a musician and composer from The Netherlands, with an easy smile, and free-flowing style. Smaller, more intimate master classes in Talton House, offering farm to table dining, are in the pipeline, which will utilise the facilities and resources of the house more fully, and also focus on individual voice work.
Having trained in the ‘school of life’, well-travelled Scott O’Callaghan, originally from East London, has spent eight years as a ‘natural’ life coach and mindfulness practitioner leading people on retreats through the forest in Northampton. He leads the mindfulness walk, in ‘sacred’ silence, with some exercises, through the woods. He is a caring, sensitive presence, on hand to check how people are feeling, and to give a hug if needed.
Devon-based charismatic Simon Mugglestone runs the fun 1.5 hour traditional target archery session, using Olympic Recurve bows, in a field surrounded by woodland at Talton Lodge. Aimed at complete beginners, you’ll learn to aim your scoring arrows at targets, with tips and advice from the entertaining Simon as retreaters compete for a prize bottle of wine.
Friendly and bright, Ali Mitchell, based in Northampton, runs an hour-long yoga class held on Talton House lawn (or if raining, inside). Originally trained with The British Wheel of Yoga, Ali has taught yoga for 14 years, and this well-crafted gentle class for all abilities, blends yoga therapy techniques (she is a yoga therapist in training with the Minded Institute in London) with Vinyasa Flow and a focus on expanding the chest for singing. You are asked to bring your own mat for the weekend, but she provides supportive blocks, bolsters and blankets.
With a radio four voice, and a playful sense of humour, Judith Layhe-Cook, of the Swan School of Tai Chi and Chi Gung in Stratford-upon-Avon, teaches the hour-long Tai Chi class held outside (weather permitting). Her 15 years of teaching experience (including a training in Therapeutic Chi Gung) shows, as by the end of an hour, complete beginners are doing complex Tai Chi sequences, and feeling the benefits. Judith also trains under Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang (19th Generation inheritor of Chen Style) on his annual visit to the UK and is a member of the Tai Chi Union of Great Britain.
Pack an eye mask so you can sleep on in the early morning, even in the main house (which has no blackout blinds), and consider a balaclava or scarf if glamping, as although piles of blankets are provided, and wood for the wood burning stove, your head and face can get cold at night.
Order a cheaper local taxi from Shipston for your return journey (rather than from Stratford-upon-Avon, who will charge you a return from there). Opt for an extra nights’ stay in beautiful Talton House, for some quiet time in nature, or to explore the many attractions. Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, is ten minutes drive, and so are pretty Cotswold villages.
When to Go
The UK retreats are held in the warmer Spring/Summer. Although we were lucky to have blazing sunshine for our weekend, singing in nature means out in all weathers, so you could be ‘Singing in the Rain’. You are advised to bring all-weather clothing, and a blanket for sitting around the campfire.
The meals served up buffet-style by the cooks are eaten on communal wooden tables under two giant 26ft-high open-sided tipis in Talton Lodge’s Victorian kitchen garden/glampsite. Drinking is next door – at the rustic wooden Pavilion Bar, with climbing roses, jasmine and honeysuckle and a communal table under a pergola covered terrace.
With Jess’ lovely mum, Susan – an experienced chef – running the show, this really is home-style cooking. Healthy but hearty, the main dishes and cakes are all homemade, with a few naughty treats thrown in, and food is locally-sourced where possible. All diets are catered for, and vegetarian options always available.
There’s hot porridge with honey at the buffet breakfast and plenty to eat with fruit juice, granola, fruit salad, toast and either boiled eggs or croissants, though the bread, yoghurts and conserves are neither homemade or local produce.
Lunch was healthy and delicious with homemade pea and mint soup, followed by frittata with a baguette and green salad on Saturday and on Sunday, a vegetarian hash, cheeseboard (though not from the farm) with chutney and salad.
Dinner was a richer affair with dishes like salmon with a pesto and parmesan crust with herb buttered potatoes and ratatouille followed by excellent summer fruit crumble, with cream/custard. On Saturday night we had a tasty lamb or chickpea tagine (a thoughtful vegan option) with basmati rice and green salad, and for pudding, eton mess.
There’s a bowl of fruit at mealtimes to snack on (and take away). Retreaters label a mug with their name for the weekend, and can grab a tea/coffee (instant) (or from a selection of pukka herbal teabags) anytime (in the Tipi or Talton House kitchen).
Everyone looked forward to afternoon tea on the lawn with delicious homemade flapjack’s, lemon drizzle cake, tea loaf and the irresistible lime and ginger cake – Mrs H’s specialty.
The Pavilion Bar serves local beer, cider, decent wine from the family cellar and prosecco until 10.30pm/11pm. Drinkers are told to be mindful of bar noise, for those sleeping nearby. With £5 for a medium-sized glass of wine at the Pavilion Bar, it makes sense to share a more reasonably-priced bottle (around £16).
Wild Voice Adventure’s venues are all eco-friendly, with recycling practices in place. Their staff are treated with respect and are considered family (some actually are).
Talton House and Talton Lodge use solar panels for electricity and hot water, and water heaters/stoves use wood coppiced on site. Olivia and Barney, who run the business from their home in Talton Lodge (and can be seen strolling through the grounds with their lurchers) make their own produce from the farm and kitchen garden, sold in Talton Mill Farm Shop at weekends. They also make handmade soap, from foraged plants and flowers with tasters offered in the bathrooms.
Talton Lodge, Newbold-on-Stour, Stratford-Upon-Avon, CV37 8UB
Stratford-upon-Avon or Moreton-in-Marsh from London Paddington.
Transfer Time: 1 hour