At Heckfield Place's new wellness retreat The Bothy, restoring highly stressed minds and bodies to a state of peace is an art and a science. Its approach even offers a surprisingly simple way to tackle insomnia that worked for me
You’re not allowed to call The Bothy, a 17.000 square-foot space adjoining Hampshire country estate and hotel Heckfield Place, a spa. It sure looks like (a very fancy) one, but this place takes your spa and runs with it, fusing the simplicity of its countryside environment with real scientific and holistic thinking behind its treatments and facilities. Described by its creators as an ‘integrated regenerative wellbeing concept’ (the kind of inflated terminology I normally baulk at), my visit convinced me they’ve got in pretty much on the nose. I arrived after 40 hours with no sleep - I've written before about my battle with sleepless nights and some of my insomnia tips - and permanently on the edge of tears, and left with a clear sense of release and understanding of how to cultivate a calmer mind.
The Bothy is an extension of a real bothy – a very basic little dwelling that once housed a family of estate workers. The manager told me when one of the children of the families, “they came to view the conversion and was relieved the see the loving restoration of what was once a happy home.” Instantly, it touches at the heart of what this place wants to be about: a return to earth, nature, slow time and human connection. Basically, everything we have sort of lost touch with in our manic lives, with a surfeit of anxiety and stress as a direct result.
Of course, behind the actual bothy, an enormous structure has appeared – but because it’s designed in step with its surroundings and largely subterranean, it doesn’t rankle. Neither does the realisation that this place, despite having its feet in the clay, is the epitome of understated luxury. The grand staircase is a lime-washed, tactile design triumph, the floors are fossilised limestone, the chlorine-free pool is purified with gold, silver and copper. But all of it embodies comfortable simplicity that feels exclusive and inclusive in equal measure. There’s no whale music, but a specially-recorded soundtrack of local birdsong; nobody could feel out of place in this cocoon’s warm embrace.
But the real point of difference at the Bothy is in its approach to treatments. The menu is concise because every massage, facial or movement class is bespoke and aims to get your skin, body, mind and soul more aligned and in balance. Operations director Reka Seres-Erdei believes in adjusting to the seasons and minding circadian rhythms to help ground the system. She has attracted kinesiology, osteopathy, naturopathy, iridology and reiki Master Practitioners not just to attend to customers personally, but also to weave their knowledge into the face and body treatments.
What I find most interesting is that this place is really all about biohacking -trying to optimise one’s own biology and longevity- but without the hi-tech pretensions. “Breathwork, meditation, hot and cold therapy, touch therapy – they are all proven to boost our physical and mental health, and readily available to anyone,” says Seres-Erdei. “But here, we don’t use sensors and apps or put you in a ‘cryo-chamber’ – we suggest a guided immersion in our freezing lake, take you for a forest-bathing walk in the woodland (with or without a psychotherapist) and incorporate craniosacral holds and reflexology in our massages.” The idea is to root these therapies back into the earth, not remove them from their grounding abilities through whizzy sci-fi technology and alien spaces. The Bothy wants to teach you that incorporating real health and balance into your life frankly doesn’t have to cost a thing.
And so, I talked to the in-house nature-allied psychotherapist (yes, it’s an actual speciality) while looking at trees, and wept. I jumped in the pond with my friend Eve even though it was 4*C outside and a bone-chilling 9*C in the water. It was the equivalent of sitting in an ice bucket, with the same sense of euphoria after (insulation blankets, hot tea and professional support were provided). I left my phone and shoes at the Bothy reception (it’s not a requirement but it’s heavily encouraged) and descended to the womb-like treatment rooms where I had a 135-minute Wildsmith Time ‘reset’ bespoke massage treatment that used kinesiology principles to diagnose what my body needed. Despite the generous treatment time, therapists apparently often run over as they get so involved in ironing out their client’s niggles. I certainly lost any notion of time.
The UK’s best swimming pool
Where in any other spa (and I’ve been to a few) the post-treatment time in the ‘relaxation room’ can feel enforced and usually has me sneaking out after three minutes, the gigantic bulbous day beds here actually had me drifting off before I dragged myself upstairs to ‘The Waters’ - the complex of pools and steam rooms found in most spas, except here they are rather a cut above.
There is no eye-watering public-lido wave of chlorinated air rudely awakening you from your essential oil-induced slumber. The purifying system is ionic and precious metal-based, it means that a swim in the huge pool is akin to a (comfortably warm) freshwater dip. There are no excited screeches and dive-bombing tykes here either; the complex is for the over-16s only and allows no more than 40 guests at a time. The sauna, which comes with a therapist moving the hot, scented air around for a more intense experience (it’s what the Swedes do, apparently), like the pool offers panoramic views over the farmlands, complete with a herd of curious cows that come to observe the peculiar human goings-on. The outside hot tub is, again, non-chlorinated, and allows you to relax to the twitterings of the local fauna and hum of distant tractors.
Food in the intimate Sun Room comes courtesy of super chef Skye Gyngell. It is plant-based and gut health-focused, but don’t let that put you off. The small menu is as pleasing on the eye as it is on the taste buds, inviting you to ‘eat mindfully’ and actually enjoy the experience.
Spa membership will be on offer later in the year, but currently you have to be a guest in the Heckfield Place hotel to partake of The Bothy. You might think that a night in a plush secluded country house would guarantee an epic night’s sleep for anyone, but I always lie awake in these places for most of the night – and again, thanks to my work I’ve been to many. After a day contemplating a slower, kinder way of existing and entrusting my mind and limbs to the care of The Bothy’s experts, however, I had my first solid night’s sleep in months and came away full of simple notions and insights to keep the calm going. And that, even more than my glowing skin and knot-free shoulders, was truly worth the price of admission.
Rooms at Heckfield Place start at £550 per night. Bothy treatments start at £170.