Reviewed by Christine Charlesworth.
Hidden deep in the Dorset countryside between Sherborne and Sturminster Newton, up a small, shared farm track just past ‘Peaceful Lane’ nestles the Grade II listed 17th century thatched cottage and attached converted outbuildings known as Middle Piccadilly.
I arrived on Monday afternoon feeling so depressed that I had even had to wipe away the occasional tear on my drive down from Surrey. My lower back was aching and I felt that my posture was so bad that I would always walk with a permanent stoop, shoulders hunched, head down and neck cricked. Having reached bus-pass age with never even having a simple massage, never mind going on a retreat or having what is known as ‘me time’ I was a little dubious as to how I would enjoy the next two days as I had no idea what to expect.
Middle Piccadilly Spa Retreat is now run by Dominic and Lisa Harvey but it was founded in 1986 as an innovative healing centre by his mother, Eliana Harvey, a gifted medicine woman and healer known as a Shamanka and who is the founder of the Shamanka Traditional School of Women’s Shamanism. Gerry Harvey, Dominic’s father, is an excellent potter and his pots, dinner sets, bowls, jugs and casseroles are all used by the guests who stay at Middle Piccadilly, with larger pieces on display in the bedrooms and sitting areas. Having now reached the age of 88 and with failing eyesight, Gerry has decided to retire and so can no longer replace the wonderful rustic pottery in the kitchen when it gets broken. Both Gerry and Eliana still live at Middle Piccadilly.
Dominic is a talented cook specialising in ‘cordon vert’ and visitors to his retreat will be pleased to know that he is in the process of writing a cookery book which will be available very shortly. During their stay visitors have three dietary options which are:
- Cleanse – detoxing fresh fruit and vegetable juices.
- Vegetarian – unique, mouth-watering vegetarian recipes.
- Raw Food – organic and exciting.
Middle Piccadilly is not a smart 5* traditional health spa but it is definitely a place to visit if you want to retreat from the hurly burly of modern life and find time to focus on yourself. With a maximum of only 8 guests, but usually only 6, every guest is treated as individual with therapies and food tailored accordingly. During my stay I had no TV, no radio, no newspapers, my ‘phone was switched off and my laptop never got taken out of its bag. The gardens are in the process of gradually being tended, although at the moment the weeds seem to be winning. A huge tree at the entrance has recently been felled, opening up the parking area and creating a better vista down to the house. Next on the agenda is work on the inner gravel/paved courtyard area, central to all the accommodation and treatment rooms. Accommodation is in the converted stables and barns which are attached, but not internally linked, to the main house. Although these 6 bedrooms are gradually being redecorated and upgraded, because of the Grade II status they are unable to extend and therefore most of the bedrooms are small and only one has ensuite. I had a small, single bedroom, with a bathroom across the corridor but, as there was no-one using the other single room this bathroom, with its full size bath, was all for my use. My bedroom was due to be re-decorated. It was very light, with French windows out onto the garden and a second window, beside the comfortable bed. Tea-making facilities included a basket holding an array of different healthy teas to try, which were all extremely delicious. During my stay the weather took a turn for the worst so I was grateful for the large warm padded bedcover that I found in the wardrobe and next day the heating was put back on so that no-one would be cold.
Dominic was in the small reception room to greet me when I arrived. After carrying my bags from the car he led me on a tour of the guest and treatment areas, all reached from the central courtyard. The kitchen, which is Dominic’s domain, is where all guests eat together at the scrubbed pine kitchen table. The rustic pitch-pine kitchen was designed and hand-built by a visiting friend from Australia in the 1970’s who was a woodcarver. There is a carved Australian-type tree on the face of the sink unit and the main cooking area is fitted in a ‘room’ with stained glass panels above. All the work surfaces, made from the same wood, are very wide. The whole room had a wonderful peaceful atmosphere. The sitting room, situated in the main guest annex across the far side of the courtyard, had comfortable sofas, exposed beams, antique furnishings and an interesting rustic feel to it. This was the room from which I would be collected prior to each of my treatments.
Each guest, on arrival, is given a consultation form to give full medical and emotional history. This is to provide the therapist with as much background information as possible so that each guest receives the maximum benefit from the treatments. Lisa Harvey is the only therapist to live on site and she visits each guest soon after their arrival to discuss the individual therapies and choose the most suitable. With Lisa there are four other therapists who come in for different sessions.
Four of us were staying at Middle Piccadilly. All female. We were from Manchester, Oxford, Bournemouth and Guildford, arriving for the first night together on Monday 2nd June. I was on a vegetarian diet but the other three were there for a total detox, which meant that our first meal together was spent with me eating a delicious pine nut burger in wonderful sauce, a huge dish of roast potatoes and extremely tasty ratatouille, followed by home-made apple crumble, while the others drank their very large glasses of beetroot & vegetable juice and I tried not to feel guilty. Particularly as two of them had confessed to loathing beetroot. However, conversation flowed, time flew and before we knew it early bedtime arrived. I was the oldest, the youngest being in her 20’s, but I was the only person who had never visited a spa for treatments or had a total detox. Nothing disturbed the peace of the countryside and we all slept well. Next morning I indulged in a relaxing bath, which was big enough for a full stretch relax and was pleased to see that the bath towels were large and of excellent quality. I was first to arrive for the continental-style self-service breakfast, which I had almost finished by the time the others arrived. They all seemed to enjoy the morning fruit-smoothy waiting for them in the fridge as the glasses became empty very quickly, but I was pleased that they hadn’t had to sit watching me eat breakfast for too long.
My first treatment was a 60 minute Therapeutic Massage, with Maya Chandler. This was a deep tissue, full body, massage that worked on all the major muscles and focused on relieving specific points of tension. The treatment room was small, warm and welcoming with relaxing music and wonderful herbal smells. Stripped off to just my pants I lay face down under the blanket on the special table, with my face cushioned in the padded breathing hole. Maya had already read my notes and understood how stressed with life I had been feeling and my worry about my posture and back pain. At first the massage was very gentle as Maya talked to me and asked questions to learn more about me and how she could help with my healing. She noted that my neck and shoulders required quite a lot of work as they were stiff with tension, the muscles knotted and I had one shoulder quite a bit higher than the other. The massage gradually became stronger as she delved deep into the pressure points until, very gradually, I began to feel the tension in my neck and back disappear. Next the back of my legs were given the treatment and then I had to turn over so she could concentrate on my neck, shoulders, arms, hands and feet. During this time we discussed my posture problem and how I could help myself by working from my central core and, when walking, concentrating on my feet and what they were doing, rather than ‘carrying the weight of my worries on my shoulders’. The massage lasted one hour and, once dressed, when I stood to leave I was absolutely amazed to find that I now had no pain in my back and I was standing tall, straight, confident and relaxed. An amazing experience.
Taking a gentle stroll round the garden before lunch I wandered across the lawn area and over a wooden bridge hidden behind the overhanging trees, where I discovered the six-sided Starhouse. This is a tall timber building with one large room inside and good natural light from the many windows. The space is used for Meditation, Yoga and Pilates but, as it is kept beautifully warm, it is also a tranquil place to visit and sit on one of the central mats, or against the wall, if you just want to be alone with your thoughts, or a good book.
Lunch for me was courgette soup, wholemeal bread, tasty salad scattered with different seeds and French dressing, followed by a good selection of cheese, home-made chutney and fresh fruit. The others had extremely brightly-coloured vegetable juice mixes. Yet again the conversation flowed and we had many laughs together. After lunch two of us went on the 70 minute circular walk round the country lanes, starting at Peaceful Lane. It was a great way to get to know each other and we were lucky that the weather stayed dry until we got back. There are quite a few good walks in the area but, unfortunately, this was our only opportunity.
My afternoon treatment was the Facial Rejuvenation Massage with Julia Bradshaw. This lasted 60 minutes and took place in a different treatment room. As it was a face massage we did not talk much after the initial consultation, when Julia explained that her massage would be incorporating Acupressure and Lymph Drainage to gently stimulate the muscles and improve circulation while removing toxins from my face. She told me that her technique used Asian influences and that it involved massage of the face, neck and scalp, working on meridians that run through the whole body to improve general well-being and relieve symptoms of stress. First removing my earrings and other jewellery, I lay back on the couch, closed my eyes and relaxed. Julia gently ran her hands over my face, jaw and neck, sometimes tapping areas with her fingers, then using firmer upward strokes around the temple, pinching and pulling my ears and very lightly massaging my scalp. Once the treatment had finished, feeling very relaxed and happy, I returned to my room where a glance in the mirror told me that this massage really had worked. My worry lines had diminished, my skin looked toned and even my eyes looked brighter.
That evening we all met in the kitchen for our evening meals, but this time I was not alone having the vegetarian meal as one of the girls had been suffering quite badly with coffee-withdrawal symptoms, so Dominic had taken her off the juice detox to give her body solid food. Drinking over 10 large coffees a day for years is extremely addictive. However, it was not an uncommon complaint. We enjoyed our lentil stuffed red peppers, new potatoes and broccoli, with lovely gravy, followed by slices delicious flour-free chocolate tart with fresh berries. The detox juices looked interesting and, apparently, tasted very good. We must have stayed chatting together for at least another hour and agreed that we each felt we had gained new friends during our stay and hoped that we would all keep in contact.
Next day, after breakfast, Maya collected me from the sitting room for my Shamanic Healing. It is the Shamanic Healing that sets Middle Piccadilly apart from other health spas and, although a little dubious, I entered the treatment room with an open mind. I had already heard a gentle drumming sound and noticed a wonderful smell of herbs when I entered, this had been to cleanse the room. There is no hands-on contact during this treatment as it is all in the mind and body so I lay, fully clothed, on the couch under the light blanket. Maya spoke gently to me explaining more about the treatment, then I closed my eyes and allowed myself to switch off from the world around me, just to be aware of Maya’s voice. Using a large feather the sweet-smelling, burning herbs were wafted over my body. Maya then quietly took up her drum (which was rather like a large tambourine) and began a soft, rhythmic drumming which continued throughout the session. Maya’s calm, steady voice talked my body into total relaxation. I imagined myself gently sinking into the warm earth. She worked all the way down my body helping me, with her soft words, to imagine roots growing from various areas down into the soft earth to make channels for all the cares and worries to go away from my body. For one hour I listened to her gentle voice and constant, soft drumming, while my whole body was persuaded to totally relax. I felt immobile, tied by my roots but, near to the end, I had the strange sensation of feeling I was actually floating and being able to look down from my head, through the length of my body as though I was looking through a bright, empty tunnel. At the end of the session Maya discussed my experience and suggested that I would find a few minutes quiet meditation each day very beneficial. I returned to my room feeling extremely relaxed, as all my cares and worries had gone away.
Later that morning I was taken to the Mini Spa room where the Japanese soak tub had been filled for my mud bath. The soak tub is a large square bath and the mud is not mud in the literal sense of ‘gooey muck’ but a cleansing mix that brings out all the toxins from your skin. The water was deep and very hot. I was instructed to add more cold water to the bath as the treatment progressed as it would seem hotter. Also I was to only stay in the water for ten minutes at a time, climbing up out of the bath to take a break, with a glass of ice cold water, between each immersion session. I managed three sessions before feeling that my body was too hot for comfort. I climbed down the steps from the soak tub and, wrapped in a towel, relaxed on the treatment bed before dressing and going out into the welcome, ice cold rain. My body glowed red, my face was bright puce and my hair dripped constantly with perspiration, but I felt really great.
One last tasty lunch, then it was time for me to leave and bid goodbye to Middle Piccadilly and my new friends.
Founded on the core principles of holistic living, with therapies aimed at improving general well-being in body, mind and spirit, Middle Piccadilly has definitely got the perfect combination of ingredients to send each guest home feeling stronger, calmer and more able to cope with the rigours of daily life.
£100 full board per night
Therapeutic Massage £75
Facial Rejuvenation Massage £65
Shamanic Healing £80
Spa soaks are included in full board prices.
Please check the website for packages and special offers. For more information or to make a booking visit www.middlepiccadilly.com.
Middle Piccadilly, Holwell, Sherborne, Dorset, DT9 5LW | 01963 23468