February Reflections!

I think of January and February as hibernation months. A time when nature restores itself making way for the vibrant activity of the Spring and Summer months. I expect January and February to be cold and look forward to wrapping up warm, for snow to fall and preparing, in the event of a heavy fall of snow, for guests of Poulstone to arrive at and depart from the retreat centre with relative ease. I planned very little outside work and most of my time planned for staying indoors, catching up on administrative tasks and preparing the house for spring.

Well, we have had a big surprise, the predicted cold winter never arrived at Poulstone and marched directly to the east coast of the USA. Poulstone has had incredibly windy days, particularly in January, with significant rainfalls in Herefordshire but no snowfall, or cold weather.

The excess rainfall has brought its own idiosyncrasy to Poulstone. The view from south of the house towards the River is nothing short of enchanting. The river has broken its banks and flooded the surrounding plains.

I take great delight in standing next to the Wellingtonia tree, to the front of the house, looking across the fields towards the River Wye as morning begins to break, taking in the vitalising morning dewy air.

I now have a picture imprinted in my mind of the views from Poulstone towards the river on a January morning. It is made up of bright orange skies, clouds stretched out like dough allowing the morning sun to peep through the gaps. A blanket of water over the front paddock reflects the overhanging trees and clouds. Birds and rabbits playing on the green beach of paddock touching the spread of the river.

This vista is completed by ancient trees, whose wisdom lingers in the air. This must be what one of the Guardians of Poulstone, the Wellingtonia Tree, sees and experiences every morning in the beginning months of the year.

Nature must be bewildered by the warm start to the year. Its February and the grass has started to grow, maybe it never stopped growing. The garden has required more attention than anyone planned. The mower has been out for the first cut of grass in 2016. The smell of cut grass in early February has confused our senses, as has mowing grass whilst having to avoid budding snow drops and daffodils.

We are grateful to Malvern Bhavan group for volunteering to do some work in the garden for a few hours as a part of their retreat. This has helped Poulstone catch up on the outdoor garden work and turned out to be a fun and rewarding part of their retreat. If any retreat would like to spend some of its time helping in the garden, please let us know. We can prepare a small schedule of outdoor garden works for your group.

We also organised massage therapy on behalf of a Cultural Leadership retreat. We had to temporarily convert the shop and the overflow dining room into massage therapy rooms. Our therapists, all qualified at the Bristol School of Massage, ended up providing eleven massage therapies. Again, if you wish to have massage therapy during your stay at Poulstone, please let us know in good time and we will do our best to organise a therapists.

A big thankyou to all the groups who have used the house in January and February. It’s been a very pleasant start to the year and spring, it seems, is already upon us. I do not wish to count “my eggs before they hatch” and ever mindful of the fickleness of English weather; my overcoat is at the ready, I am still making plans for guests in the event of heavy snows but doing so whilst “on the mower” in readiness for the next grass cut.

With much love

Rajesh Rai

22 February 2016

Late September sunshine!

Absolutely glorious couple of days here, the sun hot and golden.  Today Gail is out tidying the veg plot while Steve makes some new arches for the veg garden “entrances”.  We made some hazel arches a few years back and over time they rot and need replacing.  It’s a nice job for this kind of day and a good feeling of getting the plot all smartened up ready for autumn.  We’ve all been outside for tea breaks today, making the most of this precious bit of late sunshine and warmth.

At the beginning of September we hosted Manda Scott and her group of advanced shamanic practitioners (http://mandascott.co.uk).  It’s always great to see these guys and feel them blend so immediately with Poulstone.  Apart from a bullock jumping into the garden early one morning (which they gamely herded off for us!), it was a quiet and enjoyable weekend and a nice chance to see these lovely “regulars” whose presence at Poulstone is always appreciated.

We had a quickish changeover and were then joined by the Gordon Moody Association (http://www.gordonmoody.org.uk) for the second module of their programme for women with gambling problems.  It was nice to see everyone arriving and going straight to “their rooms” and we were very touched when a couple of the guests said they would never forget their time at Poulstone because it had meant so much to them.  Sadly some of the participants did not manage to finish the programme or could not come back because of illness or work commitments but we hope very much that the work they all did here will help them in moving forward in their lives.

We’ve had a couple of weeks off since then and have been generally tidying up around the place.  Steve and Mel gave the kitchen yard a much-needed weed and over-haul, Steve did a major spring-clean on some of the sheds and out-buildings and also edged the grass verges outside the office and group room windows which look great now.  Very smart!

Apples are beginning to fall off the trees so Steve has collected them all and Hilary and Gemma are beginning to get them prepped and in the freezer for puddings.  The apple and pear harvest will begin in earnest shortly and most of the fruit will go for juicing.

We were also all due to renew our food hygiene certificates and decided to make it a bit more fun this time.  Usually we go to the local tech and have a nasty sandwich and cup of coffee in the canteen at lunchtime.  Our friend, Jane Brown, now runs these courses and knows Poulstone well from her Tai Chi days here.  She came and delivered the course here at Poulstone for the staff and Mel & Steve cooked lunch as well as a naughty pudding for the pre-exam break.  Everyone also said Jane made the course more interesting than any they could remember!  Anyone needing to do this course or first aid training is unlikely to find a better trainer than Jane, who also offers a variety of courses aimed at businesses and her own “emotional intelligence” courses.  See her profile at: http://www.bodyworks4biz.com/who-we-are.  She also offers courses and coaching in Career Development, Empathy vs Efficiency, Finding the Work you Love and Embodied Communication.

This weekend we are joined by Har Nal Kaur with her Trinity Healing retreat (http://www.harnalkaur.co.uk)and they are really enjoying their first visit to Poulstone.  They are having yoga sessions and wear white for this and it was lovely to come down the drive this afternoon and see two barefoot women in white smelling the mass of white roses on the side of the house.  What a picture – shame we never have our camera on us at these times!  They have all gone for a walk along the river this afternoon and it’s the perfect day for it.  We hope that they will join us again sometime next year.

That’s about all for now.  An hour before supper so time to get a little more done on the admin front before we go home.

More soon!

Much love

Mel & Steve xx

Poulstone Court Retreat Centre

A little breather and lots of rain!

After the departure of Deb Dunning’s Holotropic Breathwork group, we’ve had a bit of a break and a chance to take a little time off.  Gail took a week away for a solitary retreat in mid-Wales, Hilary and her family headed to Scotland for her Mum’s 90th birthday and we had Mel’s brother and family to stay.  It was great fun having the family here.  Mel’s nephews, William, 10, and Oliver, 6, love their annual stay at “the big house” and it’s wonderful to know that this lovely old place will be woven into their childhood memories forever.  We had tennis on the lawn, archery in the walled garden, a barbeque one evening and they took trips out to Eastnor and Goodrich Castle’s and other local attractions.  They also helped us with some gardening one of the afternoons.  The boys loved being driven around in the back of the mower trailer and helping their dad with the fire.

We’ve also had some time to catch up with various jobs.  Gail has been sorting and drying our garlic and onions as well as going general tidying and weeding in the veg garden.  She is also keeping on top of all the harvesting of beans, mange tout, tomatoes and the prolific courgettes!  Mel & Steve have been finishing the blackcurrant harvest.  We now have enough in the freezer for next year but there are still loads on the bushes so we’re offering “pick your own” to the groups coming in now.  Gemma has made some jam from them too.  As we start getting windfall apples and pears, it will be time to pick those before long for puddings and our juice.  We’ve also picked the first plums from the tree on the tennis lawn.  They are delicious.

Last weekend we had a full house with Richard Farmer’s RDTC Living Summer Gathering (http://www.soulmoves.co.uk/classes.php).  Many old friends from our Tai Chi days but also some new faces to welcome to Poulstone.  Despite a power cut on Saturday night due to branches on a nearby power line (luckily most people had already turned in for the night!) and a deluge of rain, they had a great weekend.  Steve and Gemma have been trialing some new puddings and the group were treated to Chocolate Crusted Lemon Tart and White Chocolate Creme Brulee with a blackcurrant layer this weekend.  Yummeeee!

Following on from the rainy week we’ve had, Steve has been up ladders checking the flat rooves for repairs ahead of the winter.  He took this great shot of the back garden from high above the Ash bathroom – good job he has a good head for heights!

Today, Mel has been putting finishing touches to the house.  We don’t have a group in now until next Friday but we have some visitors looking round over the weekend so want to look our best!  All the rain has beautifully greened up the lawns which were getting pretty parched last month.  It’s a lovely sunny afternoon with fresh breezes and time to leave the office for a little cup of tea on the steps before the next round of office work, we think.

More soon!

Mel & Steve

Poulstone Court Retreat Centre

The grass is always greener….

We looked out of our bedroom window at 6.00 a.m. last Thursday morning to find a herd of cattle from the meadow in our garden!  They weren’t easy to herd out again either!  Steve and Mel managed to get them back in the field in two groups with much flapping of arms and shoo-ing. The farmer has now repaired the metal fence so we are not expecting any more unannounced visitors but Steve then had to do some industrial strength pooper scooping before the Tai Chi group arrived!

It’s been a Tai Chi-ish kind of month this month.  We had Richard and Marigold Farmer’s group in at the beginning of the month and then Alec Jones’s Dragon Spring Tai Ji School here last weekend (http://www.dragonspringtaiji.co.uk/index.htm) who arrived with fans and walking sticks and other props for the various forms they practise.  We greatly enjoyed their visit and there were lots of sunny days for working outside. Interestingly, Alec was doing an exercise about “the herd” so the events with the cattle wove into their workshop thematically – they say there is no such thing as an external event!

Between Tai Chi courses we also hosted the European Shadow Work Facilitators’ Guild (http://www.shadowwork.eu/index.php/component/easydiscuss/profile?Itemid=1) who have come here for the last couple of years for their annual gathering.  It’s a peer group and these guys have worked together over many years so there is always an immediate feeling of them being at home here when they arrive.  Easy chairs are wheeled into the group room and we always enjoy the friendly and warm atmosphere in the house.  We hope to see them again next year.

We are now hosting Deb Dunning, Holly Harman (http://www.holotropicuk.co.uk/www.HolotropicUK.co.uk/img_2062.jpg   caitbran

and Cait Branigan (http://spiritwarrior.ie/shamanism-cork-ireland/teachers/cait-branigan-house-clearing/) with their Freedom of the Soul retreat.  This retreat is a blend of Holotropic Breathwork and Celtic shamanism and we have had a great week together.  We were also delighted to see Marianne Murray again who is facilitating the breathwork sessions with Deb and Holly on this retreat.  Marianne brought the original Breathworks groups to Poulstone of which this course is a continuation.

Right!  That’s all for now!

More soon!

Mel & Steve

Poulstone Court Retreat Centre

Summer news!

Well, we have just said farewell to our second group of massage therapists this summer.  BCMB Worcester’s group was followed by her big sister BCMB Bristol!  (http://bristolmassage.co.uk/).  We had a lot of fun with both groups and great to see lots of young people especially  getting involved with healing and bodywork.  We also had our fair share of skeletons!  The Worcester group arrived with “Lucy” in the passenger seat of a vintage car (and Colette was kind enough to send us some photos she took before setting off from home – we expect she had a few funny looks when she pulled up at traffic lights!).  And “Adam” was seen enjoying the view from the group room windows and hanging out with the group in the gardens……!

This weekend we are joined by Richard and Marigold Farmer’s Giant Leap 2 group (http://www.soulmoves.co.uk/ and http://www.tmwtraining.com/).  We have lots of old chums on this group so a nice, relaxing few days – some people even attended Richard’s very first group at Poulstone with us back in 1993!  It’s warm and pleasant outside so lots of opportunity for them to practise Tai Chi outside.

The house is looking lovely especially with Gail’s beautiful flower arrangements with cosmos and sweet peas taking centre stage.  We’re needing to do lots of watering at the moment but it’s a pleasant job whilst watching the swallows and martins around the gables (and later the bats!). This group are particularly lucky as the veg garden is currently overflowing with produce for the kitchen – chard, herbs, courgettes, turnips for the delicious turnip and watercress salad, lots of different salad leaves, rocket and mange tout – yum!  Hilary is doing very well in the kitchen these last few weeks because it is very HOT in there in this warm weather despite all the fans we can throw at the situation!!

We had a little unexpected help in the garden last weekend.  Hilary hosts “woofers” (Work on an Organic Farm) on her smallholding over the summer and brought along Elena from Spain on Sunday who helped Steve weed the stone garden and fairy circle and joined us for lunch.  Thanks so much, Elena! 

We are still searching for new suppliers since Windhorse Trading closed.  Our friends at Lam Rim Buddhist Centre in Monmouthshire have put us in touch with Tibetan Dawn in South Wales.  They supply some lovely gifts, the proceeds from which help Tibetan refugees to make a living, especially those in remote areas a bit off the tourist circuit.  You can see their full range at http://tibetandawn.co.uk/ and so far our small selection in the Poulstone shop is going down well.

Well, that’s about all from us this week!

More soon,

Mel & Steve

Poulstone Court Retreat Centre

Comings and goings and patience rewarded

We are hosting our fourth group since last writing (the blog has rather fallen by the wayside in all the busyness!).  We had a lovely weekend again with Judge Choudhry and Michelle Falcone of Heart2Heart Events returning to Poulstone at the beginning of the month.  They were followed the next day by the Gordon Moody Association (http://www.gordonmoody.org.uk/) with the second of their residential programmes here for women with gambling problems, following on from the success of the first and the securing of further funding.  Ruth and her team work very hard but said they managed to make more time to enjoy the space too this time around.  We were delighted as always when many of the participants expressed their surprise at how scrumptious vegetarian food can be – and bought the recipe book!

The day following GMA’s departure we welcomed for the first time Rajesh Rai with his students of Malvern Bhavan (http://www.malvernbhavan.com/).  Rajesh was introduced into the many different faiths of India including Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Sufism and Buddhism from a very early age. These faiths formed a large part of his upbringing.  His formal training started in 1997, when he was taught a systematic practice of Meditation by the Himalayan Institute. In 2001 he was initiated into the tradition of the Himalayan Masters on the banks of the Ganges at the Maha Kumbh Mela and has been a student of the Tradition since this time. We were interested to learn that Rajesh is also a barrister by profession specialising in Human Rights Law from Chambers in the Temple, London. He is also a humanitarian and environmentalist and has worked with and founded organisations around the world whose objectives are the rejuvenation of land and communities. He also helped found the first Indian vegetarian restaurant in Worcestershire with his family! It was a great pleasure to meet Rajesh and his family and the group of students who came to learn from him.  We are very pleased that they intend to come again later in the year and in 2016.

We are now hosting the Worcester branch of Bristol College of Massage & Bodywork (http://bristolmassage.co.uk/contact/bcmb-worcester/) who arrived yesterday.  It’s lovely to see Sarah, Tara and Colette who are teaching this year’s students on their professional massage training course.  It’s Anatomy and Physiology today and judging by the laughter and hilarity coming from the group room, it’s now taught in a more lively fashion than when we learnt it in the 1990s!

Out in the garden we could use a little more rain for the lawns but generally the garden is looking good  – lots of poppies and roses out and the long borders looking great – and a few more sweet peas appearing for the house.  We are also cropping lovely fresh salad greens and chard and spinach from the garden as well as radishes and herbs.  The white roses on the side of the house look fantastic!  It was a big decision when we decided to take down the old roses from the side of Poulstone and plant new ones.  The old yellow roses were lovely but had a short flowering season and the pink rose was very prone to mould.  Finally, finally, our patience has been rewarded and the new white roses have been flowering for weeks and weeks now in the best show so far since we put them in.  And if previous years are anything to go by, we will be enjoying them till winter.  The ramblers are getting nice and tall and the bush varieties are providing lovely scent through the group room windows when they are open.

It’s Hilary’s birthday today so Steve is cooking so she can enjoy her birthday at home with the family.  He’s cooking up a yummy Asian-style ratatouille with marinated tofu – and we’ll sign off as it’s nearly serving time!

More soon,

Lots of love

Mel & Steve

Poulstone Court Retreat Centre

All hands on deck!

We have just enjoyed a lovely week with Joy Hicklin-Bailey (http://secretgarden.eu.com), her partner Tim and students of her Joyful Loving retreat.  They were treated to a beautiful warm sunny week with lots of opportunity to be out in the gardens.  Joy has team leaders for various aspects of house care and Poulstone felt very looked after during their stay!  Joy left us on Tuesday afternoon and the next afternoon we welcomed Alaric Newcombe with an advanced group of his Iyengar yoga students.  Details of Alaric’s work are at http://www.alaricyoga.com. These guys are mainly from London and say they are loving the fresh air and how quiet it is here, and are enjoying exploring a little of the Herefordshire countryside in their afternoon breaks. We had a wonderful deluge of rain this morning (making Gail and Mel smile as no watering will be needed in the garden tonight after all!) and are now back to blue skies and sunshine with a fresh breeze so everyone can go walking before the afternoon session.

Hilary traditionally takes the end of May off so Steve is at the helm in the kitchen for a couple of weeks.  We are also joined over this period by Faye who cooked for us a while ago before the birth of her first baby, Finn. Faye has cooked in all manner of settings on retreats and camps and is a great asset to the team. We hope she will be able to work with us some more over the year as Finn gets older.

It’s pretty much all hands on deck with several groups back to back now till the middle of June so the garden is taking a bit of a back seat in everyone’s minds.  Fortunately, at this time of year there are lots of plants in bloom so the garden looks great without much help – the white roses on the side of the house are in profusion and all the borders are full of colour and interest. Gail’s managed to get everything planted out in the veg garden already and has reserved Sunday for the final transplanting of the flowers which we eventually use for the dining tables.  She is experimenting with planting according to the bio-dynamic system and Sunday is a flowers day!  We have lovely table decorations this week of aqualegia, bronze fennel, tiny pink gladioli and nigella topped with perky sprigs of the ornamental quaking grass briza maxima which has beautiful seed heads.

We have been taking a lot of inspiration from Sarah Raven’s seed catalogue, a lovely resource if you are interested in growing cut flowers: http://www.sarahraven.com.

That’s about all for now.  We’re all in the office this afternoon, working or taking our breaks – so surely time for a tea-break and some quality controlling of the biscuits in the tea bar tin??!!

More soon

Mel & Steve

Poulstone Court Retreat Centre

The joys of Spring and friends over the border

We’re really enjoying Spring at Poulstone.  The meadow is full of buttercups and cow parsley and looks beautiful, and today it’s fresh and sunny.  As we write we can hear the cuckoo calling in the meadow and are watching the cattle herding themselves up and down the field. On rainy days, Mel and Steve have been camped out in the store under the barn, completing the potting up of all our dahlias to bring them on for summer. We were in there on a particularly squelchy day last week but the reward was a stunning rainbow in the late afternoon behind the stand of beech trees.  The sweet pea wigwams are up with the promise of summer to come.  Gail has finished planting out most of the seedlings in the veg garden and Mel had a pleasant late afternoon diversion from the office putting the courgettes and squash seedlings in under cloches.

Birds are everywhere – swallows, martins, robins, bluetits, blackbirds, wagtails……This year a robin has pipped the swallows to nesting space in the paint store in the kitchen yard. We are enjoying watching the male going in and out to the nest with worms and Mel managed to snap him this morning on one of his visits!

Following on from Clive Tempest’s chi gung retreat, we were joined by a Course in Miracles group last weekend led by Angela Hoskins and Terry Butler. We enjoyed their warm and friendly presence in the house over the weekend and all the singing and laughter around the place.   In both groups even the meat-eaters were very vocal in their appreciation of the vegetarian fare on offer. It is always a real pleasure to feel that we have opened people’s eyes a little to what vegetarian food can be – delicious, varied and satisfying. We are now joined by regulars Jan Adamson and Desiree Emery of Ancient Harmonies with their advanced shamanic student’s group who will no doubt be making the most of being outside over the weekend.

Some of you may remember Ellie who cooked for us a couple of summers ago.  She and husband, Tom, also cooked on one of the work retreats together and Tom came and supplied some much-needed gardening help for Steve. Following their wedding last autumn, they have moved from round the corner in How Caple to Felindre near Newtown, Powys.  Mel went to visit them last week and see their new home which is set in lovely woodland and backs onto heathland with views to Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons and Shropshire hills.  They are in a really special spot and are running two delightful holiday/retreat spaces. If you are looking for a beautifully quiet and regenerating holiday or a place for solitary retreat, check out their agent’s website for details of  Llethrau Barn http://www.english-country-cottages.co.uk/cottages/llethrau-barn-of2 and Long Barn http://www.english-country-cottages.co.uk/cottages/llethrau-long-barn-of6. Mel enjoyed the full tour of the land and the lovingly prepared holiday barns, and it was great to see them both so fully bedded into their new place already. We wish them lots of good wishes for their first year there and look forward to visiting again soon xx

It’s nudging up to lunchtime now, so time to bag a bit of the delicious mushroom soup Hilary is making and her wicked quinoa with sweet potato, rocket and feta. Yum!

More soon,

Mel & Steve

Poulstone Court Retreat Centre


New friends and the pleasure of returning

We have just returned from holiday,  taking our new (we use that term loosely!) camper van around the west coast of Scotland.  Had a beautiful time touring around and staying below the Ben Nevis range, on Mull and Iona and above Loch Ness – even got to test-run the van in some unscheduled snow (and survived)!  We found though that even in remote parts of Scotland we had to work quite hard to find places free of electro-magnetic pollution.  We probably could have happily toured round for another few weeks. We loved the wildness up there but Poulstone welcomed us with its vivid greens, gentle landscape and profusion of blossom and flowers and we were also glad to be home. We made a cup of tea before unpacking the van and sat under the apple blossom and felt very lucky to be returning somewhere so lovely (and without wi-fi)! Mel has been around the garden today and taken some photos of the garden which we hope gives you a flavour.

Before leaving, we hosted the second Gordon Moody Association residential (http://www.gordonmoody.org.uk/) for women with gambling problems.  It was very nice to see the group again and we really  hope Poulstone helped support their process in making the necessary changes to improve their lives and overcome their gambling addiction.

We now have Clive Tempest (http://www.bigger-picture.net/) with us with his Conscious Connections chi gung retreat. The weather has improved yesterday and today, and they have been able to practise outside as well as in the barn.  Two thirds of the group are Finnish and we are greatly enjoying the Finnish vibe around the place! We love it when the world comes to us.  Visitors from abroad often bring us little treats from home and we are now officially addicted to blueberry liquorice which is made by Panda in Finland. We will have to track down a source in the UK!

Steve and Gail are out in the garden in earnest at the moment before we get really busy later in the month with some back-to-back bookings.  Steve is potting on dahlias and preparing the soil for our sweetpeas and Gail is busy planting out all the seedlings that are ready for the veg garden. There’s a brisk wind today but all in all not a bad day to be out there.

More soon!

Mel & Steve

Poulstone Court Retreat Centre

Silly glasses, blossom and lots of yogis!

Bit of a delayed start to the day today as we sat in the garden and watched the eclipse.  Well, you have to, don’t you?!!  Mel had saved the 1999 eclipse glasses (which hadn’t got any more stylish in storage!!…) and Gail, Mel and Steve had breakfast sharing the silly specs and watching the moon move across the sun. With all the little details that need attending to in our lives as in everyone else’s, it felt good to have them all put into perspective by this mighty event. I think it was Professor Brian Cox who said that an eclipse always reminds him that we are living on a very small rock in a very big universe!

And after that we unpacked the grocery deliveries!!!!

Richard & Marigold Farmer (http://www.tmwtraining.com/ and http://www.soulmoves.co.uk/) and their Giant Leap 1 group are arriving tonight and just having their supper.  It’s lovely to see all our old Rising Dragon Tai Chi chums arriving and settling in. Over the last few weeks we have had a steady stream of yogis moving through the house. Burgs and The Art of Meditation (http://theartofmeditation.org/) brought two retreats in, pretty much back to back and it was very restful having the house in silence for that period. And Burgs was followed by Feel Hot Yoga (http://feelhotyoga.co.uk/) who were new to Poulstone and really enjoyed their first stay.  Tutors Nina, Shasha and David were great to work with and Shasha has written a very lovely account of their time here at http://shasharishi.grokbox.co.uk/?p=236. We were particularly pleased that they enjoyed being without mobile phones and wi-fi, seeing it as part of decompressing from busy urban life. We hear news of their return and look forward to it!

Chief amongst our garden pleasures this week is the blossoming cherry plum. This is an annual delight and usually one or two groups are lucky enough to be here when it bursts forth!  The bees were loving it today and the fragrance is wonderful.


That’s all from us right now!

Much love

Mel & Steve

Poulstone Court Retreat Centre