March | Travel

Wild Wellness Stays

Wellness doesn’t just mean fancy spas and pampering; self-care is so much better if you are out in the wilds and keeping your carbon footprint low. From loch-side cabins to stylish treehouses on grand estates, we’ve picked seven of the best eco retreats for a fitness-boosting UK nature escape this spring

Susan Ward Davies

Spring is all about recharging and renewal, which comes naturally when you are out in the wilds. After a long, wet winter, we’re craving green fields, rugged hills, scenic lakes and craggy mountains. For a natural fitness boost, go (almost) the full Bear Grylls with off-grid cabins, wild swimming and alfresco showers, or live it up at a grand stately home or estate cottage for a more luxurious nature immersion. Either way, it’s all about communing with the great outdoors, and we have just the places in the UK to enjoy it.




Hay Barn, Southcombe Barn, Devon


A small art, wellness and nature retreat, Southcombe Barn backs onto the wilds of Dartmoor, giving you miles of moorland to explore as well as Southcombe’s own 16 acres of wildflower meadows, woodlands and pasture. Guests stay in the converted Piggery or the Hay Barn, both sleeping two, and both with access to the Wild Spa, comprising a wood-fired sauna, outdoor bath tubs and a pond for wild swimming.


Hay Barn guests can stay snug with a wood-burning stove, a scenic deck with twin tin baths, a fire pit and barbecue, plus an outdoor four-poster day-bed for afternoon siestas – you have a cosy bed inside for night-time. You can also bag a hammock for a sound bath in the Wellness Barn, sign up for a yoga, forest-bathing or foraging session, go for a dip in the pond or hike down to the village pub.


Further afield, beaches for paddle-boarding and surfing are less than an hour’s drive away. For more arty pursuits, there is a gallery championing local artists in the main house and creative workshops can be arranged.


Eco credentials: The swimming pool is a natural pond, the wood-fired sauna is made from on-site timber, as is the outdoor bed. The owners supply eco bath products and ethical coffee, and the underfloor heating is powered by renewable energy via an air-source heat pump. There are locally sourced products and hampers and a ‘pick your own’ garden. Interiors largely comprise vintage pieces, such as the copper sink and antique French bathtub. The owners run a forest school, support community-based projects and are committed to increasing biodiversity across the site.


From £123 per night, sleeps 2; Canopy & Stars

Images courtesy of Hay Barn


Broughton Sanctuary, Skipton, Yorkshire 


You’ll find holistic wellness with distinct Pemberley vibes at glorious Broughton Sanctuary, an estate that has been in current custodian Roger Tempest’s family since 1097. Broughton’s 3,000 acres lie on the edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park, and Tempest’s main objective is “reconnecting inner and outer nature” through an ambitious rewilding project and the onsite, state-of-the-art Avalon Wellbeing Centre. Here, facilities include an indoor pool, studio spaces for everything from yin yoga to sound baths, a floatation tank, meditation pod and a crystal light bed. Outside experiences include fire temple ceremonies, a meditation labyrinth, moon bathing, wild swimming and ice baths, followed by the reviving warmth of the wood-fired woodland sauna.


You can stay en masse and take over the grand but homely main house with its lavish drawing and dining rooms and 17 characterful bedrooms, or stay in one of 19 self-catering holiday cottages across the parkland. Either way, you have the run of the estate and Avalon, and healthy plant-based breakfasts and lunches at the contemporary Utopia cafe set in a Dan Pearson-designed walled garden.


Firm believers in “healing the land to heal ourselves”, living in harmony with the natural world and rewilding the spirit, the Sanctuary hosts regular transformational retreats such as Earthed Pilgrim and Keeping it Real (with Ruby Wax), as well as classes including forest yoga and meditation, and the chance to take part in nature recovery work and habitat-spotting.


Eco credentials: Tempest has planted wildflower meadows and 350,000 trees since December 2020, restored peat bogs and waterways, and the Nature Recovery Programme aims to transform high-intensity sheep pasture into diverse habitats and ecosystems. The Sanctuary uses regenerative farming techniques, implements rainwater harvesting and wastewater treatment systems, and solar panels and biomass boilers provide clean energy. Even the website has moved to a 100 per cent renewable-energy web host.


From £520 for 3 nights for a 1-bed cottage. Book before 31 March for £200 Sanctuary credit for stays from 19 April to 30 Sept 2024. Exclusive hire of the Hall costs from £9,000 +VAT per night (min 3 nights), which includes exclusive use of the Hall and access to the Avalon Wellbeing Centre; Broughton Sanctuary

Images courtesy of Broughton Sanctuary


Skylark Treehouses, Gloucestershire


Inspired by the safari lodges of owner Anselm Guise’s African childhood, these six treehouses on stilts are hidden away in woodlands of the Gloucestershire estate that has been in his family for centuries, and which includes the 16th-century stately home, Elmore Court.


Built from British poplar and cedar, with cosy cork flooring, the contemporary treehouses feature braziers on viewing decks to warm chilly sunsets, outdoor baths with bathrobes and (except for one), alfresco kitchens. Interiors, by Tracey Boyd, focus on the outside, with open walls in the kitchen and floor-to-ceiling windows in the bedroom, showcasing views of the wetlands. Stock up with food before you arrive, so you only need to venture out to roam the estate’s 250 rewilded acres, or take an icy dip in the spring-fed wild-swimming pond, a restorative blast of heat in the Danish sauna, yoga or a wellness session – pre-booking recommended.


Eco credentials: The treehouses were built with sustainable materials and designed for maximum insulation and to exploit heat from the sun and guests. Beds feature natural mattresses, and each treehouse has full recycling and an EV charging point. The estate is in the process of extensive rewilding to increase biodiversity, improve soil and aid carbon sequestering. This includes the introduction of rare breeds such as Tamworth pigs, red deer and Longhorn cattle, and regenerative agriculture.


From £250 per night, sleeps 2, 3 or 4; Kip Hideaways

Images courtesy of Skylark Treehouse


The Tawny, Peak District 


The Tawny is all about wellness and nature immersion, a kind of glamping set-up with hotel services and an onsite restaurant for the 34 low-impact ‘rooms’ – stylish cabins dotted around the grounds. Set in the Staffordshire region of the spectacular Peak District National Park, next to an RSPB nature reserve, The Tawny is part of the renovation of the Consall Hall Estate’s 70 acres of beautiful lakeside gardens, orchards and woodlands.


Guests can enjoy treatments in a bijou thatched cottage spa, swim in a heated outdoor pool (open all year), and roam through five miles of pathways, woods and gardens, either on foot, or by recycled bike (locks and helmets provided). You can also join an experience such as a private yoga class or stargazing (The Tawny is in a recognised Dark Sky Area).


Every room comes with a private outdoor spa bath and a yoga mat, and some are dog-friendly. Choose from cabins including cosy Wildwood Huts for two, some set in pairs for more living space, with log-burning stove and star-gazing skylights; scenic Treehouses that sleep up to four each; peaceful waterside Boathouses, sleeping two to four; the Lookouts, with wall-to-wall windows showcasing valley views, for up to four each; and sleek cedar cabin Retreats that sleep two apiece. The newest additions are the three self-catering Tawny Fledglings, the first of which, Kestrel Cottage (Farrow & Ball hues, local artwork, a copper alfresco bathtub and private outdoor pool), is now open. A second, Falcon Farmhouse, launches in July.


Eco credentials: Conservation architects CTD ensured all cabins were sensitively built to avoid tree root and plant damage, and created sustainable drainage systems. The hotel’s impressive Plumicorn restaurant sources ingredients locally and from the estate’s kitchen garden, and food waste is composted to use as fertiliser. The Tawny has 15 EV chargers for guest use, plus 108 solar panels and a solar battery – enough to power most day-to-day operations, and predicted to create a 20-ton decrease in carbon emissions.


From £240 per night, inc breakfast, sleeps 2. Kestrel Cottage (sleeps 8 in 4 en-suite rooms), from £1,400, Mon or Wed (2 night min) or from £3,660, Fri-Mon (3 nights min); The Tawny

Images courtesy of The Tawny


Wilderness Cabins, Oban, Scotland


Get completely back to nature by going off-grid on the banks of beautiful Loch Nell on the west coast of Scotland. Even better, arrive in style on the overnight sleeper to Oban, just a 15-minute taxi ride away.


Guests stay in one of three sleek, two-person architect-designed cabins, one made of galvanised tin, and two of corten (weathering steel), each with open-plan living room and kitchen, a mezzanine bedroom, and outside bathrooms with eco loos. You cook on a wood-burning stove in the kitchen, or outside using the Kadai fire bowl or wood-fired pizza oven. There’s even a small camping stove outside for a quick brew, and an icebox instead of a fridge, which is replenished every 24 hours. Fishing rods are provided in case you fancy your chances at catching your own dinner, but a full Scottish breakfast is delivered every morning, as well as food hampers from local suppliers, on request.


Fitness is DIY with kayaks and paddleboards to borrow, and miles and miles of invigorating hiking over gorse- and fern-covered hills, among the beech and oak trees (watch out for white-tailed eagles, pine marten, hen harriers and merlin). And if your cold-water tolerance is at Wim Hof levels, try a dip in the loch before a quick dash to the waterside wood-fired sauna.


Eco credentials: The off-grid cabins are solar-powered and built from local materials on stilts so they can be dismantled and moved leaving no trace. Ethically sourced coffee is supplied along with locally sourced meals. Rainwater is harvested, and toiletries and detergents are organic and biodegradable. The owners diversified from sheep farming to manage the land more ecologically and to plant woodland.


From £200 per night, sleeps 2; Kip Hideaways

Images courtesy of Wilderness Cabins


Wootton Park Pods, Henley- in-Arden, Warwickshire


If you are up for an active wellness retreat, these beautifully designed wooden pods, set in 350 acres of farmland, with wakeboarding, horse riding and wellness retreats onsite, tick all the right boxes.


Built of Scandinavian larch, the 11 self-catering heated cabins are divided into a cluster of four Glamping Woodland Pods for groups of up to eight (which share showers, a hot tub, barbecue and gastro pod for meals); two Mega Pods and two Mega Pod Pluses (with en-suite bathrooms, kitchenettes and private hot tubs); one two-bedroom SuperPod, and two luxe Tree Pods, set high on stilts among the branches, with birds’-eye views of the lush Warwickshire countryside.


Bring wellies for bracing walks, and kit if you’ve booked horse riding, wakeboarding or paddleboarding, or sign up for one of the regular wellness retreats, which includes yoga, forest bathing, mindful walking and dove release, based from the huge yurt.


Eco credentials: The owners grow as much produce as possible in the gardens or use local organic suppliers, and keep beehives to produce honey. Filtered water is provided in reusable glass bottles, cleaning products are sustainable, and the owners are eliminating single-use plastic and becoming paper free, while recycling wherever possible. The yurt has a glass dome to allow natural light and heat, reducing the amount of energy needed, and a biomass boiler supplies heating. The owners plant a tree for every event/retreat to offset carbon footprint.


From £310 for 2 nights, room only, sleeps 2; Wootton Park Pods


Images courtesy of Wootton Park Pods


Nipstone, Shropshire


As remote hideaways go, this is a peach: a standalone cabin for two in the middle of a forest on the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve, near the Shropshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The views through the picture windows are all heathered hills, craggy tors and cows grazing peacefully in the field on your doorstep.


No wifi makes for an enforced digital detox: time to read by the fire pit with a glass of wine, to try some meditation and forest bathing, listen out for the owls and woodpeckers (the owners’ rewilding project makes for plenty of wildlife), clamber up Nipstone Rock for the sunset, or practise your downward dogs (yoga mat provided) on the deck at dawn.


Inside are stylish home comforts with waffle bathrobes, soft throws, sheepskin rugs, a coffee machine and wood-burning stove. If you crave company, there are scenic walks to country pubs, and you can stock up with provisions in foodie Ludlow (around 45 minutes south).


Eco credentials: The cabin was built using UK-sourced materials. Waste is fully recycled and food waste is composted. The owners are introducing broadleaf trees and native varieties, spaced to introduce light and improve soil and biodiversity, and with dead wood piles left for insects. They are also planting bluebells, snowdrops and flowering hedges to help reverse the decline of bees. Native heather and whimberry bushes are encouraged, reducing ferns and gorse. They also help with owl surveying and raise funds for Shropshire Wildlife Trust. Natural England is in the process of making this area a ‘super’ National Nature Reserve.


From £170 per night, sleeps 2; Kip Hideaways


Images courtesy of Nipstone