Two weeks into the Summer Hols and I am bloated on chips and ice-cream and suffocating in a house full of bored, festering teens. I would book a spa retreat, but I’ve been fleeced by the abovementioned offspring. Also, I want to be alone, not in a group, and far from the Madding Crowd (but not too far to feel scared of axe-murderers).
I hit Travelzoo to find a last-minute escape for one. After a brief trawl, I find a luxuriously kitted out Shepherd’s Hut tucked away in picturesque Norfolk country estate, Godwick Hall – they call it Schlamping™. My very own luxury cabin in the woods. Perfect.
Next, I order a Juice Fast from Think Press, a small organic company that presses the freshest veg and fruit in the Kentish countryside for the cleanest of cleanses. They email with advice on how to prep for the cleanse, and deliver a three-day juice fast to my doorstep: 15 x 500ml bottles, each numbered 1-5 for each day with a timetable (juice 1 is at 8.30am, 2 is 11am etc). It couldn’t be simpler. This all goes in the freezer to keep it fresh, to be removed and defrosted the day before.
Sipping Ultimate Green Juice while driving through country lanes listening to Big Magic on Audible, I arrive at Godwick Hall at lunchtime. I follow the ‘Schlamping’ signs behind the Hall itself to a cluster of fir trees and park behind my hut, the Norfolk Horn.
Three huts are placed far apart, divided by willow fences and pine trees. All are a good size, raised on wheels with steps up to the double door French Window-style entrance, each has a chair and table for alfresco dining. All face endless green fields that stretch to the horizon dotted with happily grazing sheep beneath the vast, painterly Norfolk sky.
Opening the double doors, I am greeted with fruity spa scents courtesy of a reed diffuser. There are little candles and flowers too, creating a retreat vibe. To the right is a double bed heaped with cushions and throws, a little window overlooking trees and neighbouring sheep. To the left, the bijou rustic kitchen with butler sink, kettle, microwave, crockery and cutlery, salt and pepper, and tea and coffee. Inside the fridge I find fresh milk, water and a tempting bottle of bubbly. (It is soon filled with my virtuous and colourful juices). In the corner is a narrow boat wood-burner plus a basket of wood and kindling – beneath the sink you’ll find matches and firelighters. A small shower stocked with travel minis and flushing toilet (praise the lord) is separated by its own door. Hanging by the door is a hammock, which you can string up on hooks already fixed to the trees behind your hut.
With reasonably high ceilings, my hut feels spacious, and the rustic chic décor with little touches like dried flowers, books, blankets and lamps make it feel homely. I love it.
I brought plenty to do, thinking I’d be bored. But in fact, I did what I’ve always assumed was beyond me as a flighty minded type – sit on the steps of my hut and simply gaze at the view. For hours. The ever-changing sky is so mesmerising and the scenery so calming, I don’t even need to touch the meditation app. I achieve a state of instant relaxation just by paying attention to what is right in front of me.
After a lunchtime juice, I slip on a cozzie and Birkenstocks and pop over to Godwick Hall’s outdoor pool, heated to around 30 degrees. The water feels divine: I do a few strokes watching swallows swoop below giant clouds sailing across a blue sky. Then back to the hut to think about writing my intentions for the retreat – instead falling asleep in the hammock…
I have never done a juice fast before, I’m a lover of fine foods and wine, so it’s totally against my nature. I have been intrigued since meeting happy, glowing juicers while on retreat in Switzerland. I began assuming I will cave at some point, but this turns out not to be the case. I am surprised to find I am not hungry – the odd pang, but it fades – and the juices are delicious, tasty and fresh.
After the energizing 4pm pick-me-up Pink Roots with beetroot, carrot, apple and lemon, I take a walk around the Lost Village of Godwick. A few intriguing mounds that used to be houses, possibly for thousands of years, abandoned for mysterious reasons (possibly the thick clay soil which makes farming untenable) and now tended by sheep. There is an old mansion which burned down (was a Mrs Rochester involved?), and an ornate, vast barn that survived and is now used as a wedding venue. The ruins of the church were made into a tower folly, which looms dramatically over the spectacular landscape. Newly planted information maps evoke the layers of the past.
The evening juice is cashew and cacao with dates and tastes positively pudding-y. After a shower, I apply the Natura Bissé souffle face mask, which smells temptingly of fresh tangerines, and massage in the dry oil, which has a similar heady citrusy smell. The hut is now gorgeously fragrant, and I am glowing from the combination of sunshine, spa, juice and relaxation. My skin feels incredible. I fall asleep watching the sun set over the distant fields from my cosy bed and, astonishingly, I am not hungry at all.
The next morning, I light the wood-burner and go for an early swim, followed by yoga on the front ‘lawn’. The phone screen is a bit glary, but with the aid of Bluetooth headphones and a bit of previous knowledge, I manage a nicely flowing Vinyasa with a few sun and moon salutations. The couple in the hut next door are luckily still asleep. The sheep are indifferent. By then its time for my first juice of the day, a refreshingly tart lemon and ginger. You can order breakfast to be delivered to your hut in a basket, as well as a barbecue kit and a stargazing kit – things I will definitely try when I return.
Finally, my brain kicks in and I begin to write in my journal...
I think I have learned a few useful things about myself on this retreat. One, that empty spaces and alone time are good for the soul. Two, that not thinking about food or drink gives you headspace to create. Three, I can survive without solid food: maybe it’s the quality of the Think Press Juices, or my awesome will-power, but the juice fast has been surprisingly pleasant. The tide of virtuosity keeps me going, and ultimately glowing. And it definitely helps being far from temptation.