Travel 2022: Find sanctuary from a stressful world

Those seeking some quality “me time” in which to reset and recharge should look no further than Scotland’s many unique retreats nestled among the enchanting forests, vast glens and sandy coastlines.

Meditation at Findhorn. Picture: Mel Butcher
Meditation at Findhorn. Picture: Mel Butcher

Recent global events have highlighted the important things in life and dramatically changed society, so as Covid-19 restrictions continue to ease, now is a good time to pause in a tranquil retreat.

In Wick, Caithness, wellbeing coach Donna Booth runs Vitality, which provides services including therapy, yoga and mindfulness classes, online sessions and residential retreats held in a stunning Georgian mansion called Forse House.

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There are day retreats available among a range of longer retreats held throughout the year, including the four-night Rewild Your Inner Child which is packed with outdoor activities including wild swimming, river paddling, forest exploration and yoga.

Wild swimming on a Wilderness Retreat. Picture: Anna Deacon Photography

“Located in the very far north of Scotland on the North Coast 500 route, [the venue] is completely private and peaceful,” says Donna.

Up to ten retreat-goers each have their own private room and access to three lounges with open fires, plus a yoga and meditation room, craft room, restaurant and shop.

Donna adds: “The retreats are the perfect opportunity to take time for you. The venue and hosts are super relaxed, the activities are optional, and you will leave feeling rested, reconnected and grateful for all the new friends you meet. You’ll also have a new furry best friend in our therapy pug, Frank.”

Find out more details online at www.vitality-retreat.com

For those seeking spiritual growth or just time for peaceful contemplation, the Bield at Blackruthven, a 15-minute drive west of Perth, is a Christian retreat centre that has welcomed individuals, groups and families of all faiths and none since 1998.

There are nine bedrooms, double or twin, and a self-catering gate lodge for families or friend groups.

Manager George Bosworth says: “We are in a rural location in the centre of a 460-acre working farm and estate, about 40 acres is set aside for the retreat. It is surrounded by beautiful grounds, trees, a wonderful walled garden, a small chapel, an arts space, and a large area for exhibitions, theatre, concerts and conferences.”

There is also a massage therapist on site, plus a heated swimming pool and a smallholding where vegetables are grown for the centre.

Guests can attend chapel services if they wish, take on a day or night of silence, or just meet up with friends in a relaxing environment.

George says: “Most people benefit from simply taking time away from business or taking time with nature. They don’t have to do anything but relax and make use of our fantastic facilities.”

To inquire about a stay at the Bield, call them on 01738-583 238.

At Eskdalemuir, near Langholm in Dumfries and Galloway, is the Kagu Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.

Founded in 1967 by two spiritual masters, it was the first of its kind in the West and is named after the first monastery in Tibet.

The striking Tibetan-style temple, built in the 1980s, hosts prayer and meditation sessions, while outside are a kitchen garden, peace garden, and woodland.

This month, the centre is reopening to the public for mindfulness retreats. Held over a weekend or a week, they are suitable for beginners.

In addition, there are centres on the tiny Holy Isle for women and on Arran for men, for longer stays. “They very much offer a retreat experience as they are on an island with only a boat journey to and from it,” says nun Ani Sonam.

Of the main monastery, she says: “We are in the tranquil valley of Eskdalemuir, so compared to places that many of our guests come from such as cities, it is very peaceful.

“There is a wide variety of wildlife here and natural areas suited for contemplation.

“The aim is for people to cultivate positive qualities and reduce their negative qualities, that is Buddhist teaching really. That is what they can take away with them as well as a reset, thanks to the peaceful atmosphere we have here.”

There is a range of accommodation types available at Eskdalemuir and vegetarian meals are served three times a day.

To book a mindfulness retreat, find updates on the monastery’s web page at www.samyeling.org

In the north of Scotland, the Findhorn Foundation operates an ecovillage and spiritual community at its site called The Park, close to the historic Moray village of Findhorn.

The community was founded in 1962 by Peter and Eileen Caddy and has grown to 500 residents who are guided by three spiritual principles: inner listening; co-creation with the Intelligence of nature; and work as love in action.

The Foundation community has pioneered sustainable solutions, while connecting to spirituality and nature, and is now an international centre for holistic education.

At The Park, visitors can create their own personal retreats and hire a range of cosy eco accommodation.

Guests are invited to use their time as they wish and there are plenty of activities on offer, from meditation to guided walks, to helping in the garden and performances in the hall.

“At any time people can come for tailor-made or self-styled retreats,” says resident Dell Horler. “You walk through the forest and dune lands to the beach which is a beautiful expanse right on Findhorn Bay, so the nature setting here is lovely.

“Because it has been a spiritual centre for 60 years, there is a lovely embedded sense of peace. For decades, people have come here to connect with nature and themselves.”

On Iona, off Mull, there are week-long themed retreats for six people due to restart in the summer and on the small island of Erraid, the Findhorn Foundation has a community of ten people. Retreats there are expected to return soon.

To book a visit, check the details on the Foundation’s website.

At the Cairngorm National Park, a unique women-only Wilderness Retreat is being provided by tour operator Wilderness Scotland in August and September.

The seven-day event combines dramatic scenery and adventure while promising a group of eight like-minded women the chance to explore the varied landscape while learning and practising new wilderness skills.

It begins in Aviemore and includes wild swimming in a loch, yoga and hikes in the summits and glens.

The accommodation is a mountain lodge set within Glen Feshie and has a choice of double or twin ensuite bedrooms.

“Whether you’re a group of friends, a couple, or a solo traveller we encourage people from all walks of life to join our retreat,” says Rachael Gavan, head of travel at Wilderness Scotland.

“The retreat gives the guests the opportunity to connect with both themselves and others in a non-competitive, inclusive environment. There is a focus on recharging and reconnecting with what brings joy, after a time where perhaps personal needs have been buried under the needs of others.

“The exhilaration that comes from wild swimming gives space for guests to be present, while a high-level hike can break down perceived barriers, and encourage guests to realise their own capabilities.

“Time spent in nature – an environment that is proven to lower stress and increase a feeling of wellbeing – alongside time spent with like-minded women, powered by humour and support, provides the opportunity to be vulnerable, free and joyful.”

To book a Wilderness Retreat, visit www.wildernessscotland.com

- This article first appeared in the spring edition of Scotsman Travel 2022

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