Arvon Courses at The Hurst, Shropshire, England
Rural haven once owned by playwright John Osborne for masterful creative writing retreats
The Hurst is one of the splendid venues used by The Arvon Foundation for their inspirational creative writing courses. A 19th century building once owned by playwright John Osborne, it sits amongst 26 acres of Shropshire woodland and boasts 16 bedrooms for friendly group retreats. There’s a diverse range of residential writing courses here throughout the year, covering various genres in Fiction, Poetry, Non-fiction, Children & YA, Screenwriting, and Playwriting. From beginners to experienced writers, all abilities are catered for, courses are tutored by two acclaimed writers, and most 5-day courses have a guest reader mid-week. The nearby Clockhouse offers solo retreat accommodation for budding writers looking for a place to concentrate on personal projects.
Meeting likeminded people in a welcoming, intimate environment that encourages participation and discussion. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn the foundations of creative writing from prestigious authors in a beautiful countryside setting.
Everyone must contribute to chores and follow a strict schedule, such as cooking and washing up, and there isn’t much flexibility in the mornings. Such restrictions can make The Hurst feel more like a commune than a holiday.
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Book onto a group course, which include group writing workshops and one to one feedback with acclaimed writers, or stay at The Clockhouse for untutored dedicated writing time.
There are various 3-day, 4-day, or 5-day writing courses available throughout the year. On 5-day courses, Arvon guests attend group writing workshops led by acclaimed writers in the mornings, while in the afternoons, tutors give feedback on participants’ work during 30 minute one-to-one sessions. These also include a guest reading and Q&A with an author on Wednesday night. The rest of the day is free for reading, writing, cooking and walking. The group then reconvenes for dinner, which is followed by group readings and an optional glass of wine. Arvon also offer two types of short courses, condensed into Friday evening to Sunday evening or Monday evening to Thursday evening. These include all aspects of an Arvon week, other than cooking duties and a mid-week guest. Tutored retreats are for more experienced writers. The focus is on space to progress with current work, plus in-depth support from two tutors available for one-to-one tutorials. A mid-week guest will read on Wednesday. There are no workshops in the morning. The Arvon 1-1 is an online offering where guests can continue the retreat lifestyle back at home.
On group courses in the mornings, Arvon guests attend group writing workshops, which are led by acclaimed writers such as Mark Haddon and Simon Armitage. Topics can include, depending on the nature of the course, analysing poems, watching spoken word videos, practicing ‘flash fiction,’ or learning about the ‘narrative arch.’ In the afternoons, tutors give feedback on participants’ work during 30 minute one-to-one sessions which offer in-depth feedback on personal writing in a private meeting, tailored to individual needs and guarantee dedicated time just for you.
Following two tutored morning workshops, writers are encouraged to spend the afternoons writing by themselves. The Hurst building has plenty of quiet rooms, such as The Hazel Snug, where writers can scribble away. Printers and stationary are available to use at a small cost.
The Hurst owns an impressive collection of literature across a range of genres, including poetry, non-fiction and fiction. Shelves are labelled and feature plenty of work from Arvon alumni, such as novelists Mark Haddon and Viv Albertine. Guests are welcome to borrow anything they like.
On arrival, participants choose a day for cooking dinner and washing up in a team. Recipes are provided to groups of 2-4, which includes nutritious yet simple meals, such as lentil hot pots, bean stew, and butternut squash risotto. The kitchen is well stocked and spacious. This activity acts as an ’ice-breaker’ within the group, encouraging bonding and conversation, but Arvon staff are on hand to help if needed.
Each bedroom features a photo-led map, which explains the walking route to the nearby town of Clun. Following country lanes, the trail takes between 30 and 40 minutes through the rolling Shropshire Hills. The town itself has two cafes, two pubs and a few shops.
The Clockhouse is a dedicated writing retreat, available for untutored time and space to write, set within the grounds of The Hurst. It is most suited to experienced writers looking for uninterrupted time to write. There are no tutorials included – this space is for self-led writing. It offers an opportunity to make serious progress or get a project off the ground. Accommodation is four self-contained apartments, each with bedroom, study and en-suite bathroom, and you’ll share a communal kitchen and cosy lounge with up to three other writers. All food is provided for six-day and four-day writing retreats.
Bedrooms: Rooms offer simple, comfortable accommodation that vary in size. All 16 bedrooms can be accessed by lift, have a single bed, an en-suite bathroom (shower only), writing desk (the ‘Birch’ room is inscribed with an inspiring Emily Dickinson quote), bedside table and lamp. The best rooms present amazing views of the misty Shropshire Hills. Sycamore and Birch have the best views whilst Willow and Larch (on the floor below) also face down the valley. Colours are deliberately soft and neutral, whilst furnishings are simple but comfortable. Bathrooms are basic with a toilet and small shower only. Some offer wet rooms, including Maple, Alder, Coast Redwood, Tulip Tree and Monkey Puzzle. The Hurst artwork includes original posters for John Osborne plays, as well as some photos of John Osborne himself in the front hallway. Sometimes work by local artists is displayed and for sale.
The Clockhouse: This is a dedicated writing retreat, available for untutored time and space to write. The former Hurst coach house, turned teaching centre for Arvon courses, The Clockhouse has four apartments for writers, each with a bedroom, study-lounge and bathroom. It is modern yet comfortable with some historic features, including beams on the ceiling and a lovely wood burner.
Other spaces to be: Above The Hurst, you’ll find a greenhouse and small allotment where the retreat team grow produce. Rarely visited by other guests, it’s a good spot to get some fresh air, admire the views and wander around the budding flowers. And on the walk towards Clun, you’ll find a large spring-fed lake with a bench, where writers can sit, immersed in the quiet of nature. Watching the still water becomes meditative and helps create headspace for ideas.
The programme is available to book from December each year and booking early is advised. Bring your own toiletries. Towels are provided but bathrooms are empty other than hand soap. Basic shampoo, conditioner and shower gel are available to buy for £1, though these aren’t natural or organic. Check out pub life in Clun. If you want a flavour of local Shropshire life, go to The Sun pub for a pint, where they serve fantastic local ales. The nearby Clun Castle is a beautiful spot for photos too. No need to prepare for a total digital detox. Guests receive an email before arrival that states internet is not available and phone signal is poor. However, the staff are willing to provide a wifi password if urgent and signal is fine for most mobile phone providers.
When to Go
Each season offers up its different weather and moods. April/May is a good time to visit as the azaleas in The Hurst garden are in bloom as well as bursts of bluebells.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are eaten in the warm, brightly lit Dining Room where writers spread across two large benches. Guests help themselves in the kitchen (seconds are always welcome) and every meal feels laid-back, full of conversation and laughter.
In the morning, guests make their own hot drinks, cereal, porridge, toast or eggs. Cake, biscuits and coffee are provided around 11am between morning workshops. Lunch is cooked by The Hurst team, and includes piping hot soups, a selection of cheeses, salads and leftovers from the week to make sure nothing goes to waste.
Guests take turn to cook seasonal, carb heavy dinners throughout the week, such as risotto or bangers and mash with cabbage. All dietary requirements are well catered for, including non-dairy milks and gluten free options. Alcohol is not available on the premises but can be pre-ordered from a local wine merchant. All dietary needs are catered for.
The Hurst’s food is locally sourced wherever possible, including fruits and vegetables grown on-site in the retreat’s gardens and orchards. The surrounding woodland and grounds are managed to encourage biodiversity. Arvon is also a charity, providing grants to those on low incomes, and working with young people in care or adults who have experienced homelessness.
The Hurst The John Osborne Arvon Centre Clunton Craven Arms Shropshire SY7 0JA
Train Station: Craven Arms, 8 miles
Transfer time: 1.5 hours