Some things need to be seen and experienced to be truly felt, and Newbold House is one of them. I’d been looking at pictures of Newbold House for months, but seeing it two-dimensionally in pixels didn’t compare to the visceral experience of walking inside the big front doors and feeling the grounded power of the place.
Newbold House, a massive Victorian mansion, was built in 1893 for a single couple: Colonel Woodcock, a retired colonel who served in India made a fortune trading tea, and his wife. The Woodcocks traveled frequently, leaving the house to be cared for by a large team of servants, including 8 full-time gardeners, who tended the 7-acre estate.
After passing into the hands of another childless couple, the house was requisitioned during World War II and was eventually acquired and turned into a bar and hotel.
In 1979, the Findhorn Foundation began to rent the place for additional workshop space. In 1983, an offshoot of Findhorn Foundation established an intentional community on the grounds and bought the property. Since then, Newbold House has become a not-for-profit center for holistic sustainability and well-being. Their mission is to support sustainability at every level: personal, social and environmental, or as they like to say: healthy people, healthy communities and healthy land.
Newbold is currently 90% self-sustaining: running workshops and renting retreat space to groups that support their mission. Ten to twelve residents live on the property full-time; all receive the same salary. And their labor is augmented by volunteers and garden apprentices.
When you tour Newbold House, you can see right away that it was once a house for the gentry–there are two sets of stairs—the grand staircase for the rich owners and their guests—and the narrower and steeper servants’ stairs, hidden more in the bowels of the house. There are beautiful spacious bedrooms for the guests and smaller, more functional rooms for the staff.
As soon as I saw this room, the Conservatory, I knew I would spend hours in here writing:
Everything at Newbold feels old and lived in, but comfortable. The chair cushions all sink a little bit too low, but once you settled into them, they feel good.
Whatever nervousness I had about teaching in a new setting was immediately allayed. This place was made for retreats. I could feel it. Lives had been lived, explored and transformed within these walls.
After we dropped off our bags in our rooms, Robyn and Geoff urged us to come see the garden while it was still light outside. And so we walked around to the back of the house.
It’s not that I didn’t know there were gardens behind the house. Of course I knew. I’d been told repeatedly that most of the food we’d eat would be grown right here on the property. I’d seen pictures—lots of pictures of vegetables and chickens and fruit trees.
But so what? I’d seen vegetables and orchards before. We’d raised chickens in our own backyard.
But this was no ordinary garden and the pictures had failed utterly to represent what we were about to experience. The four of us walked out around the back and through the gate and were silenced. Immediately, each of us began to walk at our own pace through the garden. I wanted my experience to be intimate and personal; I didn’t want to be distracted by conversation or chatter.
Although there was beauty everywhere to see—what surprised me and left me in awe was how much there was to feel. It was as if the power of the garden was rising up out of the ground and enveloping me.
Even though I am from Santa Cruz, California, a place famous for new age wing-nuts, I am not one of those energy vortex kind of people. I scoff at energy vortexes, and yet I could feel the deep unbridled power of this place. I felt held and anchored to the earth and to my own connection to it. It was immediate and compelling. The hallowed earth in this place emanated a deep undeniable force.
And so we moved in silence through the old fence and into the apple orchard, past beds of stunning kale and artichokes and beets. We stood in front of the pigs, Stripy and Spot, and watched them root around in the mud. Everything was flourishing and well tended, intentional and verdant. These plants and these animals were clearly thriving in this earth.
I could have stayed out there all night but there was one more place Robyn said we had to see—the sanctuary.
We climbed up several flights of stairs up into the attic, and there in the eaves was a small room reserved for meditation, devotional singing, and special ceremonies. The four of us entered the room, and once again, were silenced. I knew I could spend the next ten days in that room alone and be perfectly happy.
It felt safe, it felt warm, it felt close, it felt expansive. It felt like everything and nothing could happen in that room. It felt like the concentration of everything I wanted to be and wanted to feel. It felt like home. I knew it was going to be a great retreat. I was sure of it now.