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Laura Rowe finds calm after the storm at a wellness retreat with a difference. Read her review of Thera-Sea in Cornwall
After six months of not leaving the house, being glued to a laptop with endless video calls and virtual quizzes, and the dubious achievement of ‘completing’ Netflix, three days off-grid couldn’t have come at a better time last autumn. Thera-Sea bills itself as a wellness and rewilding retreat, a place to embrace your adventurous spirit, warrior mentality and inner calm, and it’s an adventure in itself just getting here.
My base for the next three days consists of a 300-year-old stonemason’s cottage, campfire and collection of shepherd’s huts and tree houses, set on the banks of the River Fal and accessible only by boat or a brisk woodland walk. There are few modern creature comforts – leave your phone charger at home, electricity points are scarce and signal is happily non-existent – but the rooms have everything I need for switching off.
There are twinkly fairy lights for bedtime stories snuggled under soft flannel sheets, outdoor showers (with hot water!) and a Kelly Kettle fuelled by embers from the fire for herbal detox teas and coffee as thick as tar.
We start our first day with lunch cooked by ‘the Aussie smoker’, aka pitmaster Adam Kesacoff, who serves up trays of slow-cooked pulled pork and deep dishes of nourishing rainbow salads on a long communal table overlooking the water. It’s good fuel for the workshop that follows, which is hosted by Thera-Sea founder and NHS mental health clinician of 12 years, Katy Griffin. By sharing her six pillars of lifestyle medicine, she aims to give us the tools to look after ourselves – which is essential, she says, if we want to be there for others.
Over three workshops, across three days, we touch on movement, relaxation,purpose, sleep, nutrition and healthy relationships. Katy’s honest about her own experiences (both as a nurse and with her own past struggles) and I’m surprised at how I begin to open up, too, during group conversations. This is the most people I’ve spoken to in real life for the majority of the year – and it feels good. It’s a safe, comfortable space where we can confide as much or as little as we’d like, and there’s opportunity to have one-to-one talks with Katy, too.
We’re encouraged to set goals as a way to keep hope for the future and to embrace change as a positive. We take breaths – real, deep, slow belly breaths – together, to reset. We learn that exercising should be matched to your mood – high-energy HIIT sessions in the mornings, for example, and soothing, restorative yoga in the evenings. As it turns out, my mood that day was craving water. Cold, Cornish water. As the tide pulled away, we chased after it and jumped feet first into the Fal, the weight of a weary year washing away as I sank into the depths. The water is so cold it tingles, but soon I’m swimming around and dipping my head under again for another satisfying shock.
The next morning, birdsong is broken by shrieks of us doing it all over again – this time, though, our bobbing heads are joined by that of a seal, only feet away. It turns out there’s something to this cold-water therapy lark. It’s addictive and I set the intention to make wild swimming a regular part of my routine, come rain or shine.
We’re warmed up by a vat of porridge – thick and wholesome, and while each day comes with an itinerary, there’s plenty of time to reflect, relax and read, or even stargaze and snooze in hammocks. I begin, for the first time since lockdown, to feel connected to myself and others again. We stretch and exhale together, breathing in burning sage and the wet woodland during yoga with local practitioner Katie Austin.
And as we melt, mindfully, into our mats, we’re read a Scott Stabile quote that begins ‘just show up, as you are’ and it stays with me as I head down to dinner (buttery whole salmon, squeaky green beans and crisp potatoes, cooked over the fire) in my joggers and no make-up, my wild curly hair still frizzing from the swim. Sitting in the light of the full moon and a round of flame-licked, cinnamon-speckled wedges of pineapple later, and it’s early to bed for me. There’s more exercise to come – but this isn’t about endurance or competition, it’s yet again about showing up, as we are. Activity leader Mark Kelly pulls out the paddleboards (from the eco-friendly redpaddleco.com).
My confidence builds and I eventually stand. I can do it! But the minute I ask for one of my fellow boarders to take photographic evidence, I fall. It’s liberating, and I jump back up, and fall again.
Our boards aren’t just for fun, but rather to take us to another shore for another adventure, where we’re joined by Cornish Wild Food’s Matt Vernon. Here he reveals just how bountiful nature’s larder really is, with peppery sea radish, sweet and fruity rosehips, salty and bitter spear-leaved orache, lemony sea beet, and minty ground-ivy among the edible flowers, fruit, foliage and fungi.
Matt, who says that locally the interest for foraging boomed during lockdown, takes the time to show us the key identifiers of each plant and explains the importance of being 100% confident in what you’ve picked – telling us about the delicious but deadly water hemlock. We’re also tasked with building our own fires, after an earlier lesson with Mark back at camp, armed with only cotton wool and a flint and steel. His lesson that wood keeps you warm three times – collecting it, chopping it and burning it – rings true.
We’re soon running round collecting as many dry twigs as we can find, and we naturally fall into roles: the stick sorter, the striker and the blower. It’s exhilarating and peaceful to watch the flames flicker. We eat our last campfire meal: shakshuka with sweet roasted squash, blistered peppers that squealed as they cooked over the embers, and a cloud of chef Adam’s own smoked Parmigiano Reggiano, along with mugs of hot cacao for a final reflection and resolution setting. It’s a sweet finish to three days of self-discovery and fresh air. I’ve found sanctuary in simplicity and remembered how powerful nature is.
How to book
Places on a two-night midweek Thera-Sea retreat start from £315 per person sharing - thera-sea.co.uk. This includes workshops, activities and meals. Laura travelled from London to Truro with GWR. Ticket prices start from £52.40 from gwr.com. From there you can get a bus, ferry or taxi to the retreat. (visitcornwall.com).