No, I haven’t turned into a surrender monkey, cheese eating or otherwise. But I did run away for a few days last week, to The Vine at Mays Farm. I heard about it via Penelope Swithinbank, who tweets as @minstriesbydsgn. Mays Farm is a beautiful, and until recently decrepit, farmhouse in a small Wiltshire village. Penelope and Kim saw it, loved it, and rescued it, as part of their vision of running a retreat centre.
I’ve followed the story of the uncovering, rebuilding, and sheer toil of restoring the house with great interest, although I didn’t do anything useful to help. But once it became known that retreats could be booked, I booked.
I had the joy of being the only guest in the house that week. And it is no exaggeration to say I felt instantly at home there. Many of you who know me will know how much I like to “know” where I am, that I like to study the maps, that I can only relax once I have got the hang of the layout of buildings that are new to me. For some reason, this didn’t apply to Mays Farm at all. I did eventually study a map – I went for a walk on one morning, trying to dodge the rain. Penelope had given me a 1:25000 OS map, and some directions for different walks, all in a plastic folder. (The plastic folder is important, trust me.) I set off confidently, and then, yes, it turned into a typical Claire walk. I managed to get myself lost not once but twice, which wouldn’t have happened if I had a) followed the map correctly; b) read the directions properly; and most importantly c) some idea of which side is left and which side is right. And it poured. I was quite literally dripping wet by the time I got back. But I had a great walk, the countryside was beautiful, I scarcely saw another soul, and my soul was restored. Knowing that I could have a hot shower and lunch when I got back helped too!
Practicalities? My room was beautiful to look at, warm, airy, and as comfortable as the bed. Everywhere was not only scrupulously clean, but cared for. The lounge was a haven with its wood burning stove, and the food…..Penelope, you are a wonderful cook!
But the feel of the place is what I will remember. I needed a safe space where I could wrestle with some difficult stuff that has been accumulating over the summer. Penelope helped me with that (she’s a talented priest who does spiritual direction). But what helped even more was the feeling of being in a place filled with love, prayer, a generous spirit and a genuine care for people. I will return.
Penelope, Kim, and Gracie the dog, thank you.