Creative retreats


In 2015 I worked too many hours. I know I’m not alone in this. As public funding is squeezed, more and more is expected for less. I have no boss, no holiday pay, no reason not to work through most of my weekends. I also find my projects inspiring and motivating, so why should I stop? One reason might be that we need to slow down a bit to make time for rethinking our business model for 2016 and beyond. The other reason might be that I simply need to recharge.

I don’t find it easy to stop. If I take a holiday, it has to involve several cultural experiences or creative outputs. I know that for 2016 I have to get some time in the diary where I am deliberately taken out of my connected screen-based world, but where I can still be creative.

I have been on quite a few creative holidays over the past 10 years. I may even be a little addicted to them. My experiences include:

Three really transformative and enjoyable Tree Planting and Discovery Weeks at Cortijo Romero, with Tai Chi, hill walks, swimming, art-making, creative writing, delicious food, and singing or storytelling in the evening. (Thanks to Trevor Taylor for leading all those weeks.)

Four creative writing courses with Arvon, including creative non-fiction, songwriting, and screen-writing. They have really special tutors and all the houses are beautifully sited.

One amazing week 10 years ago at Skyros filming the Apokries festival and writing poetry.

I’ve also been to Norway, France and Spain with Creative Escapes, where I learned how to take photographs.

All of these are totally recommended, and I would do any of them again but for two issues, one is that they are all more than I can afford, two is that most involve flying. So, I asked my friends for help. Could they suggest a place that offers a Creative Retreat, that doesn’t involve a long journey (i.e. a flight), that isn’t just me hiding somewhere alone, and that isn’t an expensive or highly structured course? Here are their ideas, shared for you all.

Retreats that focus on creativity include:

A Handful of Creativity, organised by Sarah Clare, with 3 days of making and exploring countryside. January’s retreat is full but more are to come. (Thanks Kristina Glushkova)

Anna Sexton, who runs Open to Create, is offering an ‘Ignite your creativity’ retreat in October 2016. She also offers dinners with drawing, which I must try to make this year.

Sarah Jewell shared info about Selgar’s Mill, due to open for guests this summer: “a fabulously beautiful location in 8 acres of water meadows and young woodland very close to Tiverton station…full of birdsong and kingfishers, extremely peaceful, healthy home grown organic food, writing desks and hideaways and music making before dinner.” (I’ve seen the photos as I was planning to go on a work week to help them set up last year. It looks stunning.)

Glenn Le Santo and Laura Andrew replied to say they are planning to develop creative retreats at their vicarage and on their narrowboat in Lincoln, and asked for feedback. It sounds lovely to mix canal trips with warmth and solid walls at night.

This does involve a flight, but I want to mention it as it’s a new venture. Composer and singing coach Tsivi Sharrett is setting up music holidays in a house near Aidone in Sicily. Near the house is an abandoned Greek town called Morgantina, and the host is Gabriele, a concert pianist. Music combines with Italian, Sicilian cookery and trips out.

Sharon Blackie offers creative retreats for women, in Ireland and Wales. She has recently written a book If Women Rose Rooted about Celticity, women, identity and the land, and the courses or retreats explore similar themes.

Sam Lee, the folk singer and song collector is holding a weekend at Embercombe on Folk Song and Nature Connection, March 25-28th (sounds wonderful but a little pricy for me).

There’s also the Canolfen Ysgrifennu Ty Newydd Writing Centre that seems to have an Arvon flavour to it, with a lot of Welshness too. (I’ve booked onto the course of creativity inspired by women Surrealists.)

Other creative opportunities, perhaps more self-created or residencies, include:

Alec Finlay told me about Sweeney’s Bothy on Eigg. It looks amazing for an isolated escape for one or two people, giving you some creative Eigg time.

Arvon does also offer self-tutored or laid-back tutored retreats, and moreover, to help with the affordability issue it does offer grants. I have been a recipient of an Arvon grant in the past, and was very grateful. (Thanks Rick Hall for reminding me of their retreats).

Nick Stewart shared Cove Park, an arts centre in Western Scotland, with self-funded and funded residency opportunities for artists. It sounds good to do if other artists are around, perhaps lonely if not.

Allenheads Contemporary Arts in Northumberland offers self-funded artist (or group) residencies. They have an artist’s flat, and a bigger place that sleeps 12, and other studio spaces. They often hold exhibitions of the work created on residencies. One day we’ll go there as a family of artists!

Makers in Sheffield is planning to offer a residency programme from late 2016, with a flat above the shop, craft equipment (including laser cutter, sewing & felting machines & more) plus creative, technical & design support, if required, for blocks of 1-2 weeks. James Wallbank is keen for input on how it would best work.

Janet Davis made the good suggestion of booking onto a course at somewhere like Staithes Studios (an independent art centre in the North West) but arranging your own B&B.


Some retreats that are more about spirituality, wellbeing or wildness than creative skills per se include:

The Wild Twin weekend run by Dawn Ellis at Wasing Park ‘creativity and misrule within a structure’ (thanks Dave Hampton)

Albion Faeries organise gatherings for celebrations of Imbolc and solstices, at Paddington Farm in Glastonbury (thanks Neil Jewitt)

Anam Cara is a retreat centre in the Scottish Highlands that offers workshops and longer training courses in Shamanism, meditation and so on.

It sounds a little like Findhorn, a long established eco-village and centre for holistic learning. Nick Stewart described staying on the Isle of Erraid, at an offshoot of Findhorn.

Othona is a centre for community and spirituality on the Dorset coast. Sue Thomas, who recommends it, says that each day cycled between creativity and group meditation, and that she was comfortable as an atheist in a Christian environment.

You don’t have to fly to Skyros to get a taste of Skyros as they also run a programme in the Isle of Wight. I thought they would be expensive but £90 for a weekend course, plus c.£50pn for B&B at The Grange isn’t too bad. (Thanks Taragh Bissett and Denise Turner, who also shared this website to find a retreat.)

La Roane in the south of France is a little like Cortijo Romero as it is run by CR’s founder, Nigel Shamash. The emphasis is on things like yoga, but creative elements such as singing and dancing are part of the mix. It breaks my rule for being a long journey, but is reachable without flying.

And, similar, very yoga-focused, La Serrania on Majorca.


For courses and retreats that explore more practical skills for sustainable community living, there are quite a few:

Vinay Gupta mentioned Cloughjordan eco-village in Ireland, where the courses focus on skills for sustainable community living.

Sara Haq is planning to develop a co-curated mindfulness and photography course/retreat at Mia Casa in Arles in January 2017.

West Lexham is a retreat centre in Norfolk that is passionate about supporting all forms of spirituality, sustainability and creativity. They say they prefer ‘thriveability’ as a word, which is great because it’s my favourite word of the moment (and for the future). That said, most of the courses offered are yoga.

Josef Davies-Coates’ idea of co-organising the ideal course or retreat, perhaps combining creative activity with ecology and skills for thrivable living. A possible venue is at The Quadrangle Trust, which also offers some lovely sounding retreats and courses already along these lines.

And finally, the Dark Mountain clan is gathering again, at Embercombe, September 2-4!

So, watch this space. I’m now spoilt for choice!

Do send more suggestions or details of offers or experiences so that I can keep this post refreshed. Check the comments below too as there may be recommendations in there.

Update on creativity: I used some of my holiday time to get creative, inspired by the 64MillionArtists January challenge. They send you a creative challenge every morning. Here is what I’ve done so far on my Graftage site.



7 responses to “Creative retreats

  1. This is an ace resource for those of us who love to get away from it all & recharge our creative batteries… which one shall I go on??
    And do come to Dinner & Drawing this year… plotting out dates in the next few weeks. Happy New Year xx

  2. Hi. I run a retreat in the rueal north east of Scotland. It’s an old hunting castle from the 18th century. We still offer hunting activities in certain seasons. But the retreat is new and offer creative activities in combination with outdoor activities. For further Info, please visit our website:
    Best wishes for the New Year!
    Ingeborg 🙂

  3. Under the heading of spiritual/thriveability I’d add island of Iona and island of Erraid – the latter a Findhorn offshoot. Would also recommend Findhorn, they also have bursaries.
    I really enjoyed a storytelling course at Emerson College also.
    Lammas in Wales run smallholding and economic building courses. Inspiring place.

  4. It’s amazing I bumped into this entry. It all seems like something I would be interested in, yet not quite sure if it’s exactly what I want.
    I’m a recent graduate exploring the possibility to go to a completely different direction than what my degree is but really overwhelmed with the possibilities. I am very creative in lots of different ways, I knit, sew, would like to make my own clothes, come up with my own recipes, would love to create nature inspired jewellery, I make christmas cards, I draw, I ‘ve done different forms of dance, I cut my own hair and do hairstyles, I like matching clothes to create sort of medieval/natural looks,, I write a novel and have a blog. In general I like beauty and try to create it in everything. So, I would like a retreat to help me explore all that to see which one of this areas I’m more passionate about in order to focus, gain experience and attempt to make a living out of it.

    Do you have any suggestions on which retreat might be offering that for me?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s