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Travel: Putting the eat in retreat

27 January 2023

Alison MacTier picks a selection of retreat centres offering sustainable food

Holland House

Chocolate tart at Holland House, in Cropthorne, Pershore, Worcestershire

Chocolate tart at Holland House, in Cropthorne, Pershore, Worcestershire

The Bield at Blackruthven, Perth

THIS haven of peace, healing, and creative arts has its own smallholding, which produces fresh vegetables, herbs, and free-range eggs for the retreat house kitchen.

The smallholding is run by volunteers, and offers therapeutic work for adults with learning disabilities.

Retreatants can expect a vegetarian buffet at lunchtime, showcasing the produce grown by the volunteers. Dinner is a set menu, served in the dining room, and is usually vegetarian, although occasionally includes organic meat.

Rooms: Four twin, three double, and two single rooms.
Cost: Full board per person per night: single £92; double or twin £80.
Contact: Email info@bieldatblackruthen.org.uk; phone 01738 583238; visit bieldatblackruthven.org.uk.


Charney Manor, Wantage, Oxfordshire

THE 13th-century Charney Manor is one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in the country. Yet this historic Quaker retreat centre is mindful of the future, too, and holds the Green Tourism Silver Award for its focus on sustainability.

The team is keen to create consistently good food from the best available ingredients, and this means using local suppliers wherever possible — without sacrificing quality for locality. Some of the seasonal produce is local: rhubarb, pears, plums, peaches, apples, gooseberries, and figs grow on site, and are nurtured with harvested rainwater.

Afternoon tea is a particular highlight, with a selection of sandwiches and sweet treats, including chocolate torte cake and almond frangipane. A vegan menu is also available.

Rooms: Accommodation for up to 35 guests in a range of single, twin, and double en suite rooms.
Cost: B&B single: £70 per room, per night; double or twin: £75 per room, per night. Full board individual retreats are available at £125 per person, per 24 hours.
Contact: Email admin@charneymanor.com; phone 01235 868206; visit charneymanor.com.


Crowhurst Christian Healing Centre, Battle, East Sussex

HOSPITALITY is central to Crowhurst’s mission. Founded in 1928 by Howard and May Cobb, the centre is a non-denominational space where people of all backgrounds can “rest in God’s presence”.

Guests receive a varied choice of meals, all prepared freshly on site. Ingredients come from local suppliers, mostly from within an eight-mile radius, and the menu includes some homegrown vegetables and fruit when in season.

The centre’s café, Howard’s Well, which also welcomes non-residents, offers a broad selection of favourites, including full English and meat-free breakfasts, jacket potatoes, and top-quality beef, chicken, and mushroom burgers. At Crowhurst, food is an important part of welcoming all to encounter God’s healing.

Rooms: 19 bedrooms, two of which are adapted for guests with limited mobility.
Cost: Accommodation and all meals: £95 per person, per night (en suite); £85 (no en suite). Reduced rates are available for carers.
Contact: Email enquiries@crowhursthealing.org.uk; phone 01424 830033; visit crowhursthealing.org.uk.


Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire

THE famous Reading Rooms of this unique residential library give writers, academics, and clergy the space to think and work. Guests need fuel for both mind and body, and they can find it in the on-site bistro, Food for Thought.

Food for Thought features the best quality Welsh produce. Bread is from Henllan Bakery, in Denbigh, and beef comes from Celtic Pride, which uses non-intensive, high-welfare farming methods, and has “Protected Geographical Indication” status. There is no shortage of seasonal options for vegans and vegetarians, too; for example, the winter vegetable pie with a crisp walnut topping, and garlic roast potatoes.

Rooms: 26 characterful bedrooms. Two ground floor rooms have grab handles and wet-room bathrooms for general accessibility.
Cost: Single en-suite room, £120 per night; double or twin, £150. Clergy receive a 40 per cent discount.
Contact: Email enquiries@gladlib.org; phone 01244 532350; visit gladstoneslibrary.org.


Holland House, Cropthorne, Worcestershire

THE motto of Holland House is: “In harmony with creation”, and the retreat house’s food reflects this ethos of sustainability.

Guests eat the same meal together — with alternatives for different dietary requirements — so there is a sense of being part of a family. All food is cooked in-house using locally sourced, free-range, and organic ingredients at every opportunity.

Any food waste goes into a hot composter; the compost is used to enrich the house’s own kitchen garden and ensure a supply of tomatoes, courgettes, and peppers.

Rooms: Nine bedrooms (mostly twin) in the original house, plus 16 single and two twin rooms in the modern block. There is a purpose-built accessible ground floor room with wheelchair access.
Cost: Midweek: £105 a night, full board; 48-hour weekend retreats (Fri-Sun): £230, full board.
Contact: enquiries@hollandhouse.org; phone 01386 860330; visit hollandhouse.org


The Othona Community, Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex

SHARED meals build a sense of community at Othona in Bradwell, Essex, too, where guests can expect simple, tasty food in company with new friends.

Retreatants contribute to food preparation at all levels — from chopping vegetables to cooking, which often gives international guests the opportunity to share dishes from their home countries.

The Sunday roasts are always well received, with guests enjoying a generous plate of local beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, and plenty of vegetables.

Menus are planned with guests’ dietary requirements in mind; so everyone is included.

Rooms: 18 bedrooms providing basic accommodation, plus five yurts.
Cost: Prices for each organised retreat are shown on the website, but the basic rate is £45 per 24-hour stay, or £34 if camping.
Contact: Email: bradwell@othona.org; phone 01621 776564; visit othonaessex.org.uk.


Shepherd’s Dene, Hexham, Northumberland

THIS Edwardian country home, set in 26 acres of tranquil gardens, offers a warm welcome and nourishing home-cooked food.

The chef team aims to produce well-balanced and tasty meals using locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. Portions are planned to ensure minimal waste, and all dietary requirements can be catered for, if notified in advance.

Guests particularly enjoy the home-baked cakes, biscuits, and desserts. Chef Marian’s sticky toffee pudding, and assistant chef, Catriona’s, pavlova, are great favourites.

Rooms: Accommodation for up to 34 people in twin and single rooms, eight of which are en suite. Groups of up to 18 can book the whole house.
Cost: B&B starts at £55 per person, per night.
Contact: Email info@shepherdsdene.co.uk; phone 01434 682212; visit shepherdsdene.co.uk.


Alison MacTier is the Executive Director of the Retreat Association.


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