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Far from the madding crowd

26 January 2018

If Jesus took time away from the crowd, how much more do we need to? Alison MacTier picks five places promising rest, solitude, and time with God

A fishing boat visible in the “Garden of Jesus’s Life and Teaching”, one of five themed areas in the Reflections Gardens

A fishing boat visible in the “Garden of Jesus’s Life and Teaching”, one of five themed areas in the Reflections Gardens

Cuil cottage

Where: Argyll, Scotland

CUIL is a simple cottage in the West Highlands, offered by the author and lecturer Sara Maitland. After publishing her Book of Silence in 2008, Ms Maitland began looking for a place to offer others where they could experience silence and solitude; Cuil provided the answer. Cuil is in a beautiful rural location, surrounded by wildlife. The purpose of the house is for solitary silent retreats (although couples are welcome). The self-catering cottage offers one double bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen/living room. It is fully furnished, and generates its own power. There is access to a landline, and emergency contacts are provided. The house is on one level, but requires some physical capacity to carry wood, light fires, and so on. Retreatants may stay from one night to three months.

Costs: By individual arrangement.

Contact: 01581 600334; email cuilbookings @gmail.com; or visit www.saramaitland.com/hermitage


Llannerchwen (Society of the Sacred Heart)

Where: Llandefaelog Fach, Brecon, Powys LD3 9PP

LLANNERCHWEN, which means “beautiful holy glade”, is in a secluded setting with panoramic views of the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains. It is a place of stillness and spirituality, run by lay women and an ecumenical team on behalf of the Roman Catholic Order of the Society of the Sacred Heart. There are eight single en-suite rooms, of which three are individual hermitages. The other five are self-contained units, each with their own private entrance and fully equipped kitchen. The accommodation and ethos are ideal for those seeking solitude, contemplation, and silence. There is also a cabin for creative arts, and a small chapel. Most evenings there is an optional half-hour of silent prayer. Private self-catering retreats in solitude can be made for between two nights to six months (by special arrangement). Ongoing spiritual accompaniment is possible by arrangement; however, owing to two building projects this year, individually guided retreat options are restricted, and accommodation is limited between February and May. Llannerchwen is closed for two weeks in September.

Costs: £30 per night self-catering.

Contact: 01874 622902; email retreats@llannerchwen.org.uk; or visit www.llannerchwen.org.uk

Ty Siwan (Joan’s House), a self-contained cabin at Llannerchwen, named after the founder of the retreat centre in its present form, Joan Scott RSCJ    

Reflections Gardens and Hermitage

Where: Little Hayes, Beaudesert Park, Cannock Wood, Rugeley, Staffordshire WS15 4JJ

THE Reflections Gardens, based on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, link themes of environmental concern and the Christian spiritual journey. In each of the five garden areas, the hedges, paths, structures, and plants represent aspects of the theme. All the areas have seating, and the last two have small shelters. The Hermitage is a free-standing unit in the grounds for self-catering retreatants, and can be booked as a base for a day retreat, or a place to stay and spend time free of distractions. The accommodation is designed for an individual retreat, but couples are also welcome. Prayers are said in the main house most mornings, using a simple ecumenical liturgy from the Iona Community. Spiritual support is also available by arrangement, including Ignatian guided retreats. Visitors are welcome by appointment from February to November.

Costs: no fixed charge for retreats; so no one is excluded on grounds of cost.

Contact: 01543 674474; email polhill@reflectiongardens.org.uk or go to www.reflectiongardens.org.uk


The Portiuncula

Where: St Clare’s Convent, Stretton Road, Clay Cross, Derbyshire S45 9AQ

THE Portiuncula is a Franciscan house of prayer and solitude. The call to solitude lies at the heart of the Franciscan vocation, and this house is a way of interpreting and living St Francis’s Rule for Hermitages. The resident Franciscan community seeks to “preserve St Francis’s spirit of contemplative prayer, littleness, loving service, gospel simplicity, and warm fraternity” as the basis of the hermitage experience. The Portiuncula includes five hermitages under one roof. They are all ground-floor and en-suite, and have a central space for contemplation, a peace garden, and a labyrinth. In the company of St Francis, each guest hermit is invited and challenged to explore the spirituality of a particular hermitage by journeying into the depths of their own heart, and into the heart of God. Spiritual direction is available by arrangement.

Cost: 24-hour full-board rate, £60; full-day visit with lunch and tea/coffee, £15.

Contact: 01246 251870 or 01246 862621; email portiuncula@franciscansm.org or go to www.franciscansm.org

A view of the hermitage at Treargel, in Cornwall

Treargel Retreats

Where: The Barn, Hendersick Farm, Portlooe, Cornwall PL13 2HZ

TREARGEL is a Cornish home of retreat. It is located in five acres of farmland, and has sea views and access to surrounding Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are three self-contained units: a barn and a self-contained flat — both accommodating up to two adults, fully equipped with woodburner — and a hermitage, also accommodating up to two adults overnight (one sofa-bed). All units have access to a labyrinth, woods, and a pond. The hermitage is surrounded by fields; it has no running water or electricity. It has an outside compost toilet and a woodburning stove. A degree of fitness is required to negotiate the fields and woods to reach the hermitage. It is available for day use, as well as self/part-catered overnight stays. Spiritual direction is on offer to all guests. A meditation group runs on most Monday evenings.

Costs: £40-£60 per night B&B, full board is an extra £15, bursaries available.

Contact: 01503 598932; email info@treargel.com; or visit www.treargel.com


Alison MacTier is the executive director of the Retreat Association. For more information phone 01494 569056; email info@retreats.org.uk; or visit www.retreats.org.uk.

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