Looking for uninterrupted writing time in a blissful, nature-surrounded enclave that truly understands what writers need? The Clockhouse by Arvon has you covered.
If you Google the words "writing retreat", you'll likely be served up a list of scenic settings across the globe offering you a cozy place to rest your head, with hearty meals to fuel your mind and soul, camaraderie and support from fellow writers, perhaps a few activities (like sightseeing in the local area) to help you stave off cabin fever, and a schedule that's beautifully balanced between courses, workshops, and dedicated writing time. And they're wonderful. I fully support learning new ways to develop your craft, since I am generally of the mindset that the only way to achieve excellence is to accept that we always have room to learn something new - and that always growing and expanding your perspective in some way is the only way to ever be truly great. But when it comes to writing retreats, sometimes I also just want a place where I can switch off from the world and write - without any guidance. Just some straight-up headspace, a schedule that is a blank canvas, and a environment in which I can let the words and creativity flow with no distractions. And in my experience, that's been surprisingly hard to find.
I spend an inordinate amount of time fantasizing about my perfect home office/writing study (and I know I'm not alone in this!), but the truth is that most writers across the world don't have that available to them - especially in this glorious economic climate - and they still find a way to write. As do I. There's a reason why so many writers end up in that cliché of sitting in a coffee shop as they tap away on their keyboards, pausing every now and then to dreamily look up and stare off into the distance as they simply ponder. In my case, it's because my apartment simply isn't big enough for me to think and write properly when my partner's also in the same space trying to, well, live, and there isn't enough room for us to truly get out of each other's way during opposing activities. There is something wonderfully unique about writing in the right café, with the buzz of activity creating a gentle background hum that is simultaneously lively enough to help stimulate you, while also being constant enough to not be too distracting. I think even if I had that glorious home office someday, I'd still love popping into a café to write every now and then. We live in a world of over-stimulation filled with constant demands for our attention - and our usual home lives offer plenty of distractions of their own, from positive procrastination to the ever-pressing responsibilities of adulthood. When I'm in the sticky parts of writing, my fight-or-flight response kicks in and tries to convince me that I absolutely must do the dishes or laundry first, or that I won't be able to finish this chapter until I've rearranged my entire closet, instead of facing the complicated parts of whatever plot, scene, or character arc that I'm trying to work out. That devious voice in my head manipulates me by telling me, "It's ok because you're still being productive!" even as my writing brain desperately whispers "But... it's not on my book!" As my friend Stacey puts it, "My house is never cleaner than when I have a writing deadline." The struggle is real.
This long-winded spiel is simply to say that for someone who faces these roadblocks in their writing progress, a writers retreat - the kind where you can close yourself off to the noise of the world, or the diversions in your own head, and focus on nothing but your writing - sounds like heaven. A place where you won't have to explain yourself or the odd habits that are part of your creative process, where even everyday errands don't call for you, and you don't have to do anything except let your mind be free to wander into the worlds in your head and get them onto the page. No running away, no distractions, just a chance to gently face down whatever is keeping you from getting into your flow state and let you get the story onto the page. And that is exactly what I found at The Clockhouse by Arvon, which came recommended to me by a fellow writer friend. It felt like a treasured secret handed to me in a quiet envelope by those in the know, and so I saved up the funds, carved out the time, and booked it as soon as I could.
The perfect no-distractions unhosted writers retreat, created for writers by writers
Tucked away in the stunning Shropshire Hills, The Clockhouse sits alongside The Hurst, another writing house that's also run by Arvon, a UK-based charity that runs residential writing courses, events, and retreats, both in a series of rural writing houses in the British countryside as well as online. Their writing houses - in which they hold these hosted writing retreats - include The Hurst in Shropshire (the former home of playwright John Osborne), Totleigh Barton in Devon (a 16th century manor house in a setting so idyllic it looks like it's straight out of Sense and Sensibility), and Lumb Bank in Yorkshire (an 18th century millowner's house that once belonged to poet Ted Hughes). The Clockhouse is a little different from the rest, because they don't hold courses and workshops there - this is an unhosted writing house year-round, officially described as Arvon's "dedicated retreat center for uninterrupted time to write."
Getting there wasn't easy: first of all, I was coming from Dubai, so before I could even figure out the right trains, buses, or roads that could take me there, I had to figure out a flight. This added to the cost of course, but given the UAE's searing heat at the time of year that I went, and my desperate craving for a different kind of nature, I decided it was worth it. The closest two international airports are Manchester and Birmingham, and from both, you can get a train that'll take you to the Craven Arms, which is the closest station to The Clockhouse. From there, you can take a local taxi to the house, which the Arvon team can give you some numbers for. This isn't an Uber kinda 'hood. It's an 8 mile or 12-13km walk from the station to The Clockhouse, so it's a bit of a hike on foot, especially with bags. You can also rent a car, but considering I'm not the most experienced with driving on what is, to me, the "other side of the road", I didn't think that a 2-hour drive in unfamiliar territory after a 7-8 hour flight was the best idea. The Arvon website provides very detailed instructions on how to get there, and the staff are extremely helpful if you ask for guidance - but seeing as this trip was a birthday gift to myself after a very hard year, I decided to treat myself to a third option of hiring a private chauffeured car straight from/to Birmingham airport. I used Excelsior Cars: my driver was friendly and communicative, they were on time, we didn't get lost, and it was a comfortable ride. It actually wasn't as expensive as I thought it would be, and I'm glad I did it, because it was the most comfortable and flexible way for me to get there and back alongside a long-haul overseas flight. If I lived in the UK I'd just take the train, but I think I'll stick with this option the next time as well.
Available to book in four-day or six-day periods from a Thursday-Monday or Tuesday-Monday respectively, prices vary slightly based on the season, and which room you're booking. You can also book for two or three consecutive six-day periods in a row if you'd like to stay for longer (and if so, they'll let you stay for free on the in-between cleaning day - they won't kick you out for the Monday-Tuesday night!). There are four rooms at The Clockhouse, although they're not technically "rooms" - they're actually self-contained apartments, each with a separate bedroom, study/writing lounge, and an en-suite bathroom, with two units on the first floor, and two on the second floor. On the ground floor is a large and sunny shared kitchen-diner area, as well as a cozy shared lounge with a log-burning fireplace and shelves of books lining the walls. Before I went, a friend of mine told me she was surprised at how "basic" the rooms looked from the photos. I preferred "simple". I wasn't looking for something fancy - wild, busy, and delightfully chaotic places have their merits too, but the whole point of this retreat was to go somewhere with minimal distractions. Another non-writer friend said, "So you're going to lock yourself away in a house with all your meals provided, daily yard access, and minimal contact with other humans, to do nothing but just read and write for a week. They don't even have a TV in the room. Isn't that like writing prison?" I cackled, and said "To a non-writer, I know that would sound like hell. To writers, it sounds like Shangri-La. And I can take my iPad if I want to watch something, with headphones so I don't disturb the other writers. There is unlimited WiFi access, you know!" I wasn't going there to take part in exciting activities, or get lost in lush décor worthy of an interiors magazine - I was going in search of a calming cure for life's busy distractions, that would offer me a clean slate from which to turn my mind into a blank canvas, ready for a fresh perspective.
Scroll through to see the writing study and bedroom in the Wilfred Owen suite at The Clockhouse by Arvon, and the house's shared living room.
Each of the suites or apartments is named after a famous writer or literary figure: there's the Mary Web, Wilfred Owen, AE Houseman, and Bruce Chatwin. The former are both on the first floor and are a little more pricey due to the scenic landscapes offered from their windows, while the latter have slightly lower rates but are also ideal for people who find more limited window views to be less distracting, and enjoy the coziness of vaulted ceilings with timber beams. The price of your stay includes all of your meals as well as the accommodation. My favourite was by far the Wilfred Owen, where I was lucky enough to stay for my week-long retreat, but had that been unavailable, I would have opted for the AE Houseman. Why? Because those two are the ones with a bathtub. It's so restorative to be able to draw yourself a relaxing bath at the end of a long writing day, especially when it's chilly outside, and I savored the opportunity to do this at least a couple of times while I was there.
Chicken (or tomato) soup for the writer's soul
All food is provided: you won't have to deal with cooking (unless you want to), finding a restaurant to venture out to eat at when you're in the writing zone but your growling stomach is screaming louder than your brain, or figuring out the logistics of delivery. There are fresh ingredients in the fridge if you'd like to make toast, eggs, salads, pasta, and the like, and there are "fresh frozen" meals made by nearby chefs and using as many locally-sourced, natural, and organic ingredients as possible. They'll cater for any special dietary requirements you have, and after you book, they'll be in touch to ask if you 'll want to eat meat, vegetarian, or vegan options. Alcohol isn't provided, so you'll have to bring your own if you want it - or you can also ask them to provide a number that you can contact to have this delivered at your own cost. The food is provided as a "help yourself" arrangement so you don't have to be worried about being confined to certain limits if intense writing sessions tend to turn you into a hungry hungry hippo, and I found the food plentiful, tasty, wholesome, and hearty during my stay. If you do want anything more, there is a general store, butchers, and supermarket in the nearby Clun and Bishop's Castle, but I didn't need any. I didn't even end up finishing the emergency snacks I'd brought with me (yes, I always travel with emergency snacks, no matter where I'm going). There's also a kettle, mugs, and coffee and tea in your room if all you want is a cuppa and don't feel like going to the kitchen. With room for four writers in the house at a time, all there with the understanding that you're there to spend your days writing above all, there's no pressure to eat with anyone else, and your days are entirely open to write and time your meals as you please - but if you'd like some company, you can agree to join your fellow writers for dinner at around 7pm each night.
My stay took place over a holiday week, so there were only three of us in the house. Since we all had very different habits around our writing process and mealtimes, we didn't end up meeting for dinner at all. We did often see each other around breakfast, lunch, or teatime, however, and the quick conversations we had were a delightful break to the day without taking us too far from our journey - like ships passing by and offering comfort and reassurance simply through the acknowledgement that you're not alone as you navigate the stormy seas of your writing project. This was true even as the three of us worked on considerably different projects: me trying to finish a rewrite of my YA science fiction novel with some major developmental changes, a crime writer polishing her final draft, and a talented poet there to finish some work and gain a fresh dose of inspiration. I too was seeking a way to reignite my mojo - not just with my writing, but also with the rest of my mind, body, and soul. I'd headed there after walking away from a job that had left me with severe levels of burnout, extreme emotional and mental fatigue, and an inability to write the way I could when I'd been more balanced, and my week at The Clockhouse was just the panacea I'd needed.
The house is surrounded by 26 acres of woodland, including a spring-fed lake, a beautiful redwood forest, and breathtaking views of the Shropshire Hills. Although I'd started the week certain that I'd want to make my way down to the nearby village of Clun for a pitstop at the local pub, I wound up only leaving the grounds for nature-filled walks in the crisp, fresh air. The stunning woodland scenery and rolling green hills of Clun Valley provided perfect vistas for me to gaze upon and stroll through, with a soundtrack of sweet birdsong, gentle rain, and the wind rustling through the trees helping me feel more present, grounded, nourished, mindful, and connected with myself than I had been in a very long time. Being immersed in nature and the English countryside was blissful enough, but combined with the wholesome food (including thick warm slices of toast slathered with salted butter and flavorful jams, warm and hearty soups that warmed me up from the inside out served with toasty grilled cheese sandwiches, shepherd's pies, apple and blackberry crumbles, and endless cups of smooth coffees and soothing teas), the cozy quarters very quickly felt like home. It was clear that everything here was designed with writers and their needs in mind, and for the first time in forever, I felt like I'd found a place where I truly belonged. Except ironically, this sense of inner peace and calm was there to help me travel elsewhere - not physically, but mentally, into the world of my book.
And it was there, in that cherished and tranquil space, that I finally beat my writer's block, figured out the key that would make my story finally work right, and was able to set out on my final big rewrite of that novel. It was during one of my walks in the forest, as I breathed in the fresh air, listened to the trickling sounds of the streams, and watched the sunlight dancing in through the trees, that I had the epiphany that enabled me to finally turn my manuscript from something that was always close-but-not-quite with the story I'd been dreaming of, into the book it was always meant to be. The Clockhouse is an incredible writing retreat as it is, but for me, it's always going to hold a very special place in my heart for this reason alone - and I'm already looking forward to the next time I can go back there.
If you're looking for an amazing retreat in which you'll not only be able to switch off from the world around you, but also truly delve into your writing in a way that will reignite your soul, then as Depeche Mode put it, "Here is the house where it all happens".