In your mind’s eye, picture yourself in a serene space filled with silver birches as far as the eye can see, with only the birds as your companions, as you lie on the soft ground between the trees. Take in the blue sky beyond their branches, and feel your lungs fill with the sweet, fresh air as you breathe in deeply…
This is where my imagination takes me as sculpture artist Simon Gudgeon paints a mental picture of Sculpture by the Lakes, a 26-acre nature park he owns and runs with his wife Monique – or Mo as he affectionately calls her. As he introduces me to their home and passion project over Zoom, I hear birdsong outside his studio and the sun appears on the wall behind him, throwing bright light across an elegant portrait of a swan. I feel my shoulders relax and drop as I imagine what he can see from his window.
I’m hanging on to every word Simon shares about this piece of heaven on earth in Dorset. Even though I’m more than 100 miles away and our conversation is online, I’m happy in the knowledge that soon, I’ll be getting to know the place he speaks so passionately about very well, as Happiful takes up residency in the grounds from 8–12 September as part of thefestival.
This wonderful festival began back in 2019 pre-pandemic, event director Nasreen El-Mariesh (Naz), joins us to explain. She met Simon while running yoga retreats in the park, mentioned the idea, and just like that – Wellbeing by the Lakes was born.
The inaugural programme was phenomenal, with guided meditations from Gelong Thubten, a spectacular sand mandala creation from the Tashi Lhunpo Monks, workshops from Richie Bostock, talks from Liz Earle and Healthy Living James, and so much more.
Simon and Naz agree the first festival was an emotional experience to witness. “There was a joyfulness about the whole event, as well as a sense of tranquility. It seemed to be a magnet for people who wanted to experience something new, beautiful, and mind-blowing,” she says affectionately.
However, all plans for the future of the festival ground to a crashing halt in March 2020, when the gates to Sculpture by the Lakes were forced to close. Simon spent time filming YouTube tours around the empty grounds, occasionally accompanied by one of his six rescue dogs, so that people would still be able to access the park, even if they couldn’t physically walk around its four lakes, or take in his stunning sculptures and carefully rewilded areas, including my favourite, the Dreaming Woods.
Fortunately, Sculpture by the Lakes is open once again and celebrating 10 years of being a much-loved, affordable, and adult-only public retreat.
Getting out in nature and taking time to reflect and unwind seems to be more important than ever right now, Simon says, drawing upon his extensive conversations with visitors who’ve flocked to the park since it reopened.
“So many people come here, and as soon as they reach the end of the drive they say they feel instantly more relaxed,” he says proudly. “There’s something very special about this place. It’s completely restorative.”
There’ll be an abundance of talks about all kinds of things, from the joy of movement, to menopause, men’s mental health, self-acceptance, food and nutrition, how to write a book, and meditation practices. Then, of course, there’ll be Happiful Afternoons each and every day, plus bookable treatments, workshops, yoga, crystal healing, breathwork, gong baths, and sound healing baths.
“We’ll have pop-up events too, like a drumming circle in the woods and tarot card readings in the look-out,” Naz continues, beaming. “There’ll be surprises for people to find when they wander and explore the grounds as well. Then of course, there are the stunning sculptures and the park itself.”
Naz pauses for a moment and the three of us smile at each other in a happy silence over Zoom. There’s a palpable feeling of excitement on the call, as we contemplate the idea of being out in nature, exploring, appreciating, and sharing special moments with friends and strangers alike. What a wonderful prospect after life in lockdown. I can’t wait.
Wellbeing by the Lakes runs from 8–12 September, and entrance is just £12.50 per day for entry to the park, festival, and talks. Additional experiences are also bookable in advance.
All programme and events are subject to change, and dependent
on Covid-19 regulations.
To learn more about alternative therapies, visit therapy-directory.org.uk
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