From time to time we all feel the need to escape, to get away from the pressures and information overload that is now so much our modern lives with a chance to relax and recharge. For many the answer is a summer holiday somewhere hot, but there is an alternative on offer right on our doorstep.
Bala Brook Retreat Centre near South Brent offers visitors the opportunity for quiet reflection, and with little mobile phone reception, it really is possible to escape from the barrage of media advertising, endless stream of emails.
On arriving at the centre you are struck by a sense of peaceful calm and tranquillity, not surprising for a site that is dedicated to the practice of meditation and contemplation. Tucked into the valley on the edge of Dartmoor, ‘Bala’ is the name of the Brook that pours down the edge of the property into the Avon, in Celtic it just means stream of water but the Sanskrit term ‘bala’ refers to the power that helps us generate spiritual energy.
Previously the home of the Golden Buddah Centre Bala is now owned by the Spanda Trust who also own Harbour House in the Centre of Kingsbridge. The Trust is a charitable foundation dedicated to preservation of nature, human healing and education by Yoga, meditation and appreciation of nature – something that sits well with the Retreats location within Dartmoor National Park.
The centre has proved extremely popular and visitors range from groups of Buddhist monks to artists and city workers wanting a break. Although the Centre was extremely popular the existing accommodation wasn’t designed to work as a retreat – originally built as a family home and extended bit by bit over the years, it was difficult to manage and impractical to use, feedback from visitors suggested that changes should be made.
Living Space Architects who are based in Exeter were appointed to work with the Trust to create an annex to the centre to replace the existing stable block, which was being used as extra bedrooms when the centre was busy.
The new building has a real sense of place sitting well in the landscape amongst the mature oak trees, with its timber cladding a reclaimed slate roof. The new art studio, which is also used for yoga is glazed around 3 sides with well insulated glazing panels, and allows guests to paint or meditate looking out onto the brook and beautiful wild flower garden.
“We created a new building with a stunning studio space and moved the manager’s office out of the existing house allowing guests privacy and quiet (some of the retreats are silent for their duration). It also provides additional space when the centre is busy.” said Kirsty Curnow Bayley, architect for the new building.
The timber frame is packed full with insulation and solar panels have been installed on the roof, which along with a wood burning stove provide the heating required. It was always the intention of the Trust to keep the energy usage of the building to a minimum, and the position of the building near to the Brook means that in the future power could also be produced using a small scale hydro-electric generator.
One of the most important parts of the brief was to create a flexible building, which could change over time if required. The structural system with large timber trusses allows partition walls to be moved in the future if the needs and space requirements of the centre change.
“Buildings need to be adaptable to meet future needs and requirements. Constructing new buildings uses a huge amount of energy and it seems only right that we should consider how they can be more easily ‘recycled’ and not just demolished and re-built” says Kirsty
A back gate leads out through the woods along the brook and onto the wide open Moor. An exhilarating walk Northwards brings walkers to Princetown in the centre of Dartmoor. Or another walk westwards leads to the famous ancient oaks at Piles Wood alongside the exquisite river Erme.
So if you crave an escape from the stresses and strains of the day or are looking for a way of feeding the soul, Bala Brook Retreat Centre offers both within the wonderful surroundings of the Dartmoor landscape.