I'm back. The writing retreat which took me away from home for the entire month of September was at Hawthornden Castle, not far outside Edinburgh.
The castle is built from pink sandstone, set on a craggy bit of rock overlooking the river Esk; every day I walked in the grounds, on pathways lined with huge mature trees. Every day I listened to the wind rushing through them, to the noise of woodpeckers, pigeons, crows, to the high cry of a hunting falcon and the scamperings of many squirrels, and - on a few days - was lucky enough to see deer, and a rather bold dog fox - all of which made the place magical... already I miss that contact with nature (not easy to find in my bit of Edinburgh).
Here's a pic of my room's desk on which lies a MacBook my friend Shona
very kindly gave me on the day she drove me out there (the eagle-eyed
will note an old iMac keyboard and mouse, brought along because
I'm not up to speed on trackpads.)
There was no internet, no phone,
no TV, nothing to distract one from work except books, conversation, food, and plenty of sleep. There was a grand dining room, a comfortable drawing room, lots of curious staircases and eccentric (but highly efficient) bathrooms.
I could say a lot more about the place, its ethos, the staff who looked after us, the way we passed our time; I could describe the interiors, detail the antiques, discuss the prevailing atmosphere, name my 5 fellow-retreatists and tell you my work schedule (and resulting word count) - but, for several reasons I'm not inclined to do so - not yet, anyway.
Firstly, because I've only been home two full days, so it feels too soon to dissect any aspect of it; secondly, one of the things I've learned from that month away is that energy focused on the work is better for me than chatter; thirdly, any retreat is what you make it, what you take to it and away from it, and for everyone involved that will be different. I'm happy to preserve some of the mystery for those who have been there and know it for themselves, and for those who've not yet been but might like to.
It's a place run on slightly old fashioned principles; if you're interested in applying, write a letter c/o The Administrator and ask for application details to be mailed to you.