The events of the past 15 months or so have meant that many of us are feeling more cooped up, burnt out, isolated and overwhelmed than ever before. Although it was launched in October 2018, back when Corona was a beer and Zoom was a camera function, Thera-Sea retreat seems like the perfect solution to these times. Founded and run by Katy Griffin, Thera-Sea is a wellness retreat, but not the pampering kind. So instead of hot stone massages and saunas, sub in wild swimming, bushcraft and campfires. These activities are interspersed with daily 'lifestyle medicine' workshops designed to educate attendees about different elements of wellness.
I joined a group on one of the two-night Thera-Sea stays to see if this blend of wild living, outdoor activities and educational workshops really was the wellness solution we're all looking for. This retreat took place at 7th Rise, a remote location hidden in 20 acres of oak woodland on the banks of the River Fal in Cornwall, and I was shacked up in a forest hut that was officially titled The Hunting Lodge but known internally to me as Casa Arachnid. The bulk of the group stayed in a (broadly spider-free) 300-year-old stone cottage and, to general envy, two of the party even slept in a treehouse.
With outdoor showers and toilets, limited electricity and even more limited signal, this was a strictly back-to-basics experience. Katy announced at the beginning of the trip that while screens were allowed, we were encouraged to take a break from them, a suggestion that was embraced with almost indecent enthusiasm. Some party members all but lobbed their iPhone into the sea before she'd even finished speaking. It seems like everyone is aching for an excuse not to be permanently contactable and open to requests at all hours. Although I probably should have put a proper Out Of Office on.
Thankfully, catering was an area where we weren't required to get back to basics. Food came courtesy of someone called The Aussie Smoker, whose lovingly slow cooked meats and campfire beans were several large leaps above my usual camping trip nourishment efforts.
Thera-Sea retreats run all year round – Katy maintains that the winter retreats are the best, because that's when people find themselves cooped up indoors the most. While my May trip might seem like a cushy option, in between bouts on glorious sunshine we were treated to some absolutely biblical wind and driving rain. My taxi to the train station at the end was soundtracked by coastguard warnings. So you can rest assured I got 'the full experience'.
As T3's Outdoors and Wellness Editor, I didn't need selling on the restorative power of getting out in nature. The retreat's activities, which ranged from daily cold water swimming to stand-up paddle boarding to axe throwing, were the fun kind of challenging, even if not all our efforts were successful (campfire building: trickier than it looks, folks).
Whether it's due to the physical demands or the fact you're focusing your mind on a new skill, these kinds of activities really do make you forget about day-to-day concerns. "The activities get you focused and get you motivated and help you to push through some barriers," says Katy. "It's great to remind yourself you're capable of these things."
Also on the agenda are daily workshops, during which Katy draws on her expertise as a trained mental health nurse to discuss and offer advice on things like managing stress, sorting out your sleep, and improving your relationships.
For me, these sessions were less appealing even than a quick dip in a freezing river (which actually, I very much got on board with in the end). Sure, talking about your fears and anxieties with strangers can be cathartic, but what if one of your fears is talking about your anxieties with strangers?
No one else seemed to feel this awkwardness. Perhaps they were all from those kind of well-adjusted families that enjoy sharing their feelings; I don't know. Anyway despite my general discomfort at the time, we covered a lot of things that I've found myself implementing in the weeks since the retreat, so I'll concede it might have done me some good. “It’s about preventative work," says Katy, "and what you can do in everyday life that just keeps you a little bit better."
Find out more or book a retreat at www.thera-sea.co.uk.