“Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear.
Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important and what’s not.”
At the Foxy Deer we are always excited when we get invited to do a review for a local business, even more so if that business is introducing a new concept to the area.
In August I received a message from Victoria, a good friend of mine. She had just started a new venture and wanted The Foxy Deer to be one of the first to experience it. As she described the concept to me, the famous quote from Wind in the Willows popped into my head: “There’s nothing––absolutely nothing––half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.” But as she explained more about how she combined river life with mindfulness and self-care, my interest was well and truly piqued. I am very excited to be able to share my day with all our Foxy Friends.
River Retreats was founded following a conversation between Victoria and Lesley over a cup of coffee one day. Victoria and her husband run Hope-Rio Wellbeing which offers counselling and wellness coaching to individuals and businesses. They have lived on a barge with their two beagles and cat Thomas for the last 5 years, and Lesley runs the Whittington’s Tea Barge which is moored by Reading Bridge on the River Thames. She is also a professional singer and vocal coach. These two remarkable ladies have done what some only strive to do and have combined their skills and resources to create something which is truly special.
The aim of River Retreats is to create a truly relaxing environment which allows guests to get away from it all for a few hours and experience first-hand the pace of life that comes with river living. They combine therapy with informal sessions on stress relief techniques, pampering treatments and amazing barge-made food, drink and the odd cocktail! The day has a loose schedule, giving guests the chance to wander along the riverbank, read a book or even take a little siesta.
The retreat sets off from the Whittington’s tea barge mooring, conveniently located next to a car park offering reasonably priced all day parking. Reading railway station is also just a 10-minute walk away. I was greeted by Victoria on the bow of the barge and invited into our retreat space for the day. The barge was set up with comfortable reclining garden chairs, each adorned with an information pack, towel, slippers and eye mask.
Once the guests had arrived and we were all fortified with tea (I chose a delicious strawberry fruit tea) or coffee and a pastry, we set off for our day, mooring about an hour up the river. The ideal vantage point to take in the beauty of our surroundings was the bow. We are incredibly lucky to have the River Thames on our doorstep and I think that being on the river is truly the best way to experience it fully. We were greeted by swans, ducks, rowers and other boat dwellers along the route. Conversation was easy and it was fun to be chatting to people about nothing in particular – a great change from nagging the kids to do their homework or moaning about the day job.
Our mooring site was beautiful and gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs. This was to be our base for the next 5 or so hours until it was time to head back. Some took a little walk and discovered a path leading to a beautiful open area while I chose to stay on board and partake in another pastry!!
Before lunch Victoria took us through some relaxation techniques that we could try at home whenever we needed a coping mechanism or downtime. Lunch was prepared by Lesley which was served on the bow, accompanied by a glass of bubbly.
A pamper session is always a treat and a great way to make time for you. Currently you can choose either an Indian head or foot massage to add to the retreat experience and there are plans to add more treatment options in the future. In the past they has been an optional pilates session on the river bank. On the day I visited, we were a small group so most of us chose to have the two treatments – both were amazing. These ladies have healing hands!
Our second session was a bit of music therapy. Before you say “oh no, you’ve lost me,” imagine this… 7 women, only 3 of whom have any vocal prowess, singing in the round! Not only was it fun, but we actually didn’t sound that bad! The techniques needed to hold a note are remarkably similar to those employed to relax – deep controlled breathing, good poise and a strong core. Plus I challenge you to be grumpy whilst singing!
Use of your phone is discouraged – I had mine set to plane mode and used it for nothing except taking photos. Running my own businesses means that I can rarely switch off, so I was determined to embrace this opportunity.
Our cruise back was bitter sweet. It was a shame that the day was drawing to a close, as we had all had such a lovely time. Our last moments on the barge were spent enjoying a cream tea as the sun started to set. I must make special mention of the delicious scones baked by Lesley’s partner Andrew that morning – they were the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve partaken in a few!)
A River Retreat is very much a social affair, I left with new friends and the warm feeling you get after having a good natter with the girls. If you’re idea of a relaxing day is more akin to a day in silence at the spa then this might not be for you. But if, like me, you enjoy meeting people in a safe, relaxed and accepting environment then I cannot recommend this experience highly enough. As soon as dates are announced for next year I’ll be making my booking!
River Retreats are running two more days this year, on Tuesday 24th September and Wednesday 2nd October. They will return next spring, kicking off with Mother’s Day retreats in March 2020. To book contact Victoria on 07533 950651 or message them via their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/RiverThamesRetreats/