Crafty breaks: 15 of the UK’s best creative retreats

Crafty breaks: 15 of the UK’s best creative retreats

From pottery throwing to furniture upcycling, these arty breaks are all about learning new skills – or improving old ones – in lovely surroundings

Chair-making, Leicestershire

Spend a week in National Forest woodlands learning to craft your very own chair to take home with you, with Greenwood Days, experts in all greenwood crafts. All levels of experience are catered for – beginners will make a single bow Windsor or a continuous arm Windsor, while the more advanced can design their own or try a child’s chair or Welsh Windsor. All materials are included, as well as lunch and hot drinks. The site is on the Leicestershire/Derbyshire border and accommodation is not included – try The Boot Inn in Repton, a 17th-century coaching inn with microbrewery. Shorter courses include two-day stool making or basketry weaving.

Drawing, North Yorkshire

Learn how to create beautiful pen and ink drawings on this four-day art holiday in the North York Moors. Aimed at beginners, it teaches a range of styles and techniques designed to build confidence and enhance various skills, from composition to perspective. Based at Larpool Hall, a Georgian mansion in Whitby with views over the Esk valley, the tuition is mostly inside but taken outside if the weather permits. The joys of the coast and moors are on the doorstep. Various other options are offered, from Acrylicsor Sketchbook Rambles in the Shropshire Hills to Animal Art in Northumberland.

Wildlife photography, Dorset

Red squirrels, once found throughout the UK, are now very rare in England – but Brownsea Island in Poole harbour is home to a thriving population. On this two-night trip guests will explore the island and learn how to photograph the creatures in the coniferous woodland. Led by Emma Healey and Sean Weekly, the course is an opportunity to explore the island after the day trippers have left and take advantage of the best light of the day to build a portfolio of wildlife shots. In the evening there’s a review of the day’s work.

Clothes mending, West Sussex

West Dean College of Arts & Conservation near Chichester runs more than 300 arts and crafts short courses. It has a particularly wide range of textiles courses, from making belts and lampshades to weaving, embroidery, dyeing and printing. Those who have reconsidered their shopping habits over lockdown may enjoy the Mending Your Clothes course, in which textile artist Celia Pym teaches repair techniques – including darning and patching – on knitted and woven garments. No experience of needlework is necessary, and students are encouraged to bring their own items in need of repair: socks, jumpers, jeans, shirts and skirts. Accommodation options include the Grade II-listed main house – the former home of the surrealist patron and poet Edward James – and the vicarage, cottage and annexes in the 36-hectare (90-acre) grounds.

Modern Cross Stitch retreat, Bristol

Arena Travel’s Stitchtopia holidays range across knitting, crochet, quilting and embroidery. New additions to the UK programme include Stitch Yourself Happy retreats, which combine yarn and yoga or patchwork and pilates (next retreat 27-29 Aug), and Craft Sanctuary embroidery retreats (3-5 Sept). Another new option is the Modern Cross Stitch retreat in Bristol, led by Jamie Chalmers, AKA Mr X Stitch. It includes a guided walk of the city, taking inspiration from works by Banksy and other street artists, and three workshops for stitchers to create their own urban cross-stitch patterns using PCStitch or MacStitch software. The three-day break is based at the four-star Mercure Bristol Grand hotel, with a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and sauna.

Celtic woodturning, County Armagh

Pádraig Carragher is a glampsite owner, woodturner and musician, and he combines all three for his Celtic Woodturning breaks. Guests stay at Bluebell Lane Glamping at the foot of Slieve Gullion in the Ring of Gullion area of outstanding natural beauty, near Newry. There is a choice of cottage, shepherd’s hut, three pods, tipi or safari tent. The three-night break includes a full-day beginners’ woodturning workshop, where participants make their own bowl from locally sourced wood, learning how to use a lathe, sharpen tools, sand and finish. There is also a break for a guided walk through the 11-hectare woodland surrounding the site, where Carragher identifies trees and explains how they are used in woodturning, followed by a night of traditional Irish music.

Adventure skills and photography, Peak District

This new weekend trip is a chance to learn the art of adventure from a master: former Royal Marine commando Ian Finch. Finch has led expeditions all over the world, including a 2,000-mile canoe descent of the Yukon, and is also an outdoor photographer. Over two days of hiking in the Hope Valley, he will share his stories and explain how to plan your own adventure, from navigation to nutrition, footwear to first aid. The trip also includes a sunset photography session. Accommodation is a bunkhouse near Castleton. For those who would prefer more of a focus on photography, Much Better Adventures also runs adventure photography workshops on Dartmoor and the Isle of Skye.

Creative writing, Shropshire, Devon and West Yorkshire

Arvon runs creative writing courses and retreats in three Writing Houses: the Hurst in Shropshire, the former home of the playwright John Osborne; Totleigh Barton, a 16th-century manor house in Devon; and Lumb Bank, an 18th-century mill owner’s house in West Yorkshire that once belonged to Ted Hughes. Among retreats with availability are Starting to Write Fiction at Totleigh Barton (12-17 July), Fiction at the Hurst (26-31 July) and Poetry at Lumb Bank (2-7 Aug). Future courses include playwriting, screenwriting and editing fiction. Most retreats involve workshops, one-on-one tutorials, readings or talks, and lots of writing time – guests have their own room with a desk. There are courses for all levels, from beginners to established authors.

Pottery, Herefordshire

Eastnor Pottery is on the Eastnor Castle country estate, close to the Malvern Hills. Its one- and two-day pottery courses are, it says, “the perfect stress-relieving activity”. Day one is spent at the potter’s wheel, throwing small pots at first, then building up to bigger vessels and different shapes. Those staying for day two will learn how to add foot rings, join handles and attach other motifs, and paint their pots using under-glazes and decorating slips. One to four pots each (depending on weight) are chosen to be fired and glazed, and the finished pots will be delivered to you a month later. Potters can stay on the Deer Park Campsite overlooking the castle, whose fishing lakes are free for campers (£12 per tent, campervan or caravan), or book a holiday cottage in the grounds – or even stay in the castle itself.

Natural dyeing, Pembrokeshire

Coppicewood College is a small charity promoting traditional woodland management, based in Cwm Plysgog Wood, Cilgerran, near Cardigan. Its main focus is a six-month woodland skills course, but it also runs about 50 short courses, in areas such as blacksmithing, coppicing, hedge-laying and green woodworking. Another weekend workshop focuses on natural dyeing. Participants explore the seven-hectare wood, gather plants to make botanical dyes, and create coloured samples on cotton yarn, wool yarn and fleece. They can also experiment with eco-printing using leaves and flowers. The price doesn’t include accommodation, but there are plenty of options in Cilgerran, including glamping at Fforest.

Winemaking, Devon

Learn the art of winemaking on the Crush Course, over a weekend at the Dartington Trust near the River Dart in south Devon. Guests dive into the whole process, visiting a vineyard and touring the winery, getting their hands dirty crushing grapes, sampling different varieties, and come away with their own homemade bottle of sparkling vino. Led by the former head of wine at Waitrose, Justin Howard-Sneyd, and Duncan Schwab, one of the best-known winemakers in the UK, it’s an intensive, fun few days. Accommodation on-site is recommended (participants share meals and talk all things wine) and included. No prior experience is necessary.

Jewellery making, Isle of Wight

Tiny Home Holidays, near Cowes on the Isle of Wight, runs day workshops in a lovely studio with a woodburner. Sessions cover everything from essential oils to pinafore aprons to bookbinding. One inspiring workshop involves making wire-wrapped jewellery from sea glass (naturally weathered glass found on beaches). Using copper- and silver-plated wires, participants will learn various techniques for wrapping sea glass – they can choose from the teacher’s wide collection of glass or bring their own found pieces to wrap. The price of the course includes a silver-plated chain to hang creations on, plus refreshments and a light lunch. Aspiring jewellers can make a weekend of it by staying in one of the four architect-designed, tiny off-grid homes – and perhaps going sea glass foraging on the Isle of Wight’s beaches.




Andy Halliday

Andy is a camping expert with over 20 years of outdoor experience. He shares his expertise through his blog that features on his very own e-commerce camping gear store. He aspires to use his knowledge and experience to help disabled families get the most out of every trip they take.

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