The Story of a Dartmoor Retreat Centre… to be continued
by Jomie Gee
This is an unusual story, more of a plea really. It’s a call to find the person or people who can make use of a magical space for the wellbeing of as many humans as possible.
Ignorance is bliss
We didn’t have a clue about running a retreat centre. In fact, we weren’t really sure that was what we were even going to do. But East Down Centre appeared as if by magic on the screen as we scrolled through the pages of our online property search, and the next part of our journey was sealed.
It’s a cliche, but we did really fall in love with the place as soon as we saw it. Our offer was made even before we had walked around the beautiful fields and discovered the amazing ancient woodland. We just knew.
There was also the added bonus of a gorgeous farmhouse where we could live separately from the centre, and still be close by enough to keep an eye on things and meet many of the special people who came to stay at East Down.
New beds and uninvited guests
East Down had been used as a retreat centre for over 25 years, and although it was much-loved by all its visitors, it was due for a spruce-up in order to make it more comfortable.
A good night’s sleep does wonders for wellbeing, so the first things to go were the narrow bunks which filled all the bedrooms. After a great deal of research, these were replaced with comfy divans and pocket sprung mattresses. The old beds were sent off to good homes or recycled.
The dodgy heating system was also well past its use-by date. A new one was installed, allowing for unlimited hot water -although some dedicated yoga groups have been rumoured to take cold showers at 4am!
The ancient kitchen was prone to uninvited guests of the whiskered, scaly-tailed variety, so that too was removed and sent off for recycling. The modern replacement has been much appreciated by our visitors, especially as they were catering for groups of up to sixteen people.
The whole centre was redecorated and decked out with new carpets. We had given ourselves a deadline for finishing and when the final day came, the guys were all on their hands and knees painting the entrance hall floor as they headed backwards towards the door. The hard work and dedication of everyone involved really paid off, and the place was transformed.
Since taking over East Down in 2013 we have hosted countless groups, each with their own individual take on wellbeing and spirituality. We have learnt from them all and are grateful for their presence.
Mostly arriving for weekend retreats, groups use the space at East Down for all manner of activities. There have been silent Buddhist retreats – one had their powers of meditation tested when Brian, our dog, consumed an entire rabbit in front of the sitting group. A lesson in impermanence.
We have enjoyed listening to the peaceful singing of some groups, and the cathartic shouting of others. People have come to practice yoga, or to learn to teach it, to experience Ayurveda or heart connection. There have been psychologists in training and those who like to commune with the trees. Every activity has been enhanced and validated by the incredible environment of East Down.
One of the many things that attracted us to East Down was the beautiful outdoor space and amazing views. Delivery drivers have been known to park up and eat their lunch there so that they can enjoy the views too!
We have always felt that we are custodians of the place, and as such we were keen to look after it in as natural way as possible. Initially we rented out two of the fields for grazing animals, but in the past few years they have been allowed to rewild and have gradually been filling with more and more wildlife as a consequence. There are deer and foxes, owls and buzzards, badgers and hedgehogs as well as a myriad of insect life and smaller birds and mammals.
Wild flowers are also making a reappearance, providing much-needed pollen for the bees and nectar for the soul.
The night skies are unimpeded by light pollution and perfect for stargazing. Many an hour has been spent, faces upturned, as we marvelled at the beauty above. Groups have also enjoyed the fire pit area, sitting on benches which were hewn from oak using hand axes.
One of the most successful introductions was that of our Healing Herd, comprising two incredible horses and three gorgeous alpacas. During their time at East Down they provided much pleasure and healing for so many of our visitors. We once came home to find an entire group lying on the ground with them in the field, all completely chilled out and relaxed.
The next chapter?
We are writing to give just a tiny idea of the magic of East Down in the hope that you, or somebody you know, might be a part of the continuing story.
Now more than ever, there is a real need for beautiful spaces where people can reconnect with nature and their own awesomeness. This is just such a place.
We are moving on to start a different community wellbeing venture, and East Down needs new stewardship. It has been an integral part of so many people’s journeys of well being and happiness and now it requires help to continue.
Find out more:
Please go to the website at www.eastdown.org for more information.