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How to be happy in 2018

Promised yourself less 'going to' and more 'do' this year? Here are 26 inspiring courses and retreats to help kickstart your 2018.

Here at Muddy, we’re not going to urge you to make new year’s resolutions that you’re never going to realistically keep. (I had ‘write debut novel’ on my to-do list for about five consecutive years. Yeah right!) It is, however, the perfect time of year to pause, take stock and make plans. With this in mind, we’ve collated a bumper list of the best 2018 retreats and courses – from across the Muddy counties and beyond – to inspire, educate and stretch you (quite literally in some cases – yoga in Sri Lanka, anyone?) There’s something for everyone here – which one do you fancy?



Make 2018 Our Happiest Year Yet, FastTrack Fit Camp

hand holding white card smiley face cut out blurry blue yellow lights background

It’s time to drag yourself off the sofa, pack away your comfy pants, ditch the overly ambitious resolutions and focus on YOU. Heidi Strickland-Clark of FastTrack Fit Camp is running a free (yup, totes FREE) 3-hour event on Saturday 6 January at Wokingham Cricket Club that helps you see through the fog and focuses on the positives. Prepare yourself for a lightbulb moment (or three) as Heidi helps you see how great life is right now and how you’re already good enough. All the warm and fuzzy banked, you can then identify what’s holding you back, why and what you can do about it – from family to food, fitness to fun and finances. It’s time to get high on happiness. Space is limited, book up.


New Year Kickstart, My Fit Zone

three tile collage bridge in green woodland fitness instructor grey activewear holding arms up healthy vegetable wrap

No better time to kickstart Operation Smoking Hot, than right now. If you want to reboot, or even start, regular exercise and jump on the wholemeal, 5-a-day train… toot toot! – say hello to Anna Cousins’ of My Fit Zone. A woman with more energy than a puppy. She’s launched a 2018 New Year Kick-Start Plan, available for FREE on her website throughout January– 31 days to become fitter, leaner, healthier and more energised. Anna has prepared 4 days of online workouts, 2 live classes and 1 active rest day that can be streamed to any device – so no excuses. Simply download the fitness calendar and off you go. To take part, register as a Premium member’ using the code MFZKICKSTART. My Fit Zone is a hub for real people living real lives, helping you train at a time that suits you, make better food choices and keep it up. Not sure I’ll be wearing a bra top in public, but I’ll settle for looking OK in Lycra.




be-more, Long Crendon, Bucks

neon pink breath sign amongst green shrubbery on wall

Mindfulness coach Sara Hammond managed to get the rowdy Muddy HQ crew to sit down and shut up for a good half an hour when she visited HQ to give us a taster session (see here) so she’s clearly a miracle worker. Mindfulness meditation is huge news right now as wellbeing is taken increasingly seriously (and rightly so). Sara offers a range of options, from taster sessions to corporate bookings to public or private courses. She has an 8-week mindfulness stress reduction course starting on 25 Jan in Thame, so if your 2018 is all about calming down a bit (I hear you), this would be a great starting point. And relaaaax.


Tech Pixies, Oxford

woman hand pink nail polish holding silver iPhone silver MacBook

I’ve got a lot of time for TechPixies and their mission to help women improve their tech skills – and thus their career prospects – in a fun, supportive environment. Set up by two working mothers from Oxford in 2015, the courses are typically taught in groups of 6-12, during school hours and term time only. (Praise be!) They are ideal for women who want to get back in the groove after a career break. There are two spaces left on their 12-week digital marketing course in January, with another scheduled to start in March. It covers social media, marketing plans and google analytics, and of the first two cohorts in 2015, 100 percent of attendees are now back in the workplace – you can’t argue with that. The 12-week digital marketing course costs £1500, with scholarships also available.


Writers’ Greenhouse, Upper Wolvercote (North Oxford)

nib of silver script pen writing on notebook

Is 2018 the year you will finally write your magnum opus? Oxford novelist and ghost-writer Megan Kerr can help make it happen with her creative writing courses and workshops. Her ‘imaginary worlds’ 8-week course (Tues evenings from 6 Feb 6, £240) is ideal for budding sci-fi, YA and fantasy writers (watch out Philip Pullman), or to drill down into planning out a novel, you could try the ‘story elements’ 12-week creative writing course starting in April (£320). Good luck – and don’t forget to invite me to your book launch party, will you?


Retreat for Mothers, Milton Under Wychwood

woman hands black nail polish holding baby foot on grey wooly rug

A mother’s place is in the… wrong, as a friend of mine used to say. Ain’t that the truth. If you’re utterly frazzled from juggling a million responsibilities then Retreat For Mothers might just be your 2018 safe space (hey, safe spaces aren’t just for millennials!). They offer a range of workshops, seminars, classes and retreats, with an emphasis on self-care and wellbeing (on some of the retreats, they cook you nourishing meals and give you spa treatments too – bonus). Upcoming is a three week ‘calm parenting’ course, starting 23 January in Milton under Wychwood, plus seminars on weaning and optimizing your fertility.


Online and short courses, Department for Continuing Education, Oxford University

Oxford city skyline tall old buildings spires blue skies

Finally you can tell people you went to Oxford University! Who knew that the venerable uni offered a fantastic range of online and short courses open to the public with no application required? This could be your moment to indulge a current passion or find a new one with a massive variety of courses offered including creative writing, archaeology, psychology and counselling and history of art. You can choose a short intensive course, a weekend dip in or weekly learning to push your 2018 into exciting, new learning territory.




Eat Yourself Skinny, Refine Fitness
Refine Fitness yoga instructor pray hands pose on wooden barge on top of river trees in background
After a month surviving on mince pies and Quality Street all washed down with copious amounts of wine the waistband has stretched as far as it will go. Drastic action is required and Lisa Colquhoun, a Personal Trainer, Yoga Instructor and Nutrition Coach at Refine Fitness is an advocate of wellness and healthy living and the Refine 40 Day Nutrition Coaching Course is aimed at those wanting to get back into, and stay, in shape.  Lisa knows her stuff; she was the nutrition coach for Sweaty Betty head office as well as working with London and Cambridgeshire corporate industries and individuals.  For 40 days you will work alongside Lisa, learning to take control of your eating habits and adopt a healthier lifestyle including meal plans, meet ups and accurate measurements. Lisa is super friendly but has a no-nonsense you will loose weight whether you want to or not kind of approach but you need that push in order to achieve results. Refine Fitness is offering clients that sign up to the 40 Day Nutrition Coaching in January access to an 8-week online personal training programme for free.  (£250)



Art Holidays at St Ives School of Painting

women sitting of cliff edge in sun hats painting on clipboards sea in background

Why not combine your hobby with a holiday and brush up your painting skills at St Ives School of Painting? The town has attracted artists for centuries, thanks to its stunning landscapes and incredible quality of light. Whether you are a complete beginner or experienced artist, there is a range of courses to suit, from week-long intensives to creative weekenders. This year, choose from Unlocking Your Creativity, Ocean and Abstraction, The Sensory Landscape, Discover Painting and more. Expect fantastic one-to-one tuition, in the iconic Porthmeor Studios or outdoors in the local landscape. Accommodation has to be sorted separately but there are loads of great options in St Ives and nearby Carbis Bay (see Cornish Gems for stylish self catering), plus plenty of foodie haunts to hit in the evenings. 2-day courses from £175 per person, including all materials.


Perfect Week Retreats, St Enodoc Hotel, Rock 

 perfect retreats St Enodoc rock coast Cornwall blue skies blue sea

In need of an all-round system reboot? Book yourself in for a Perfect Week Retreat. These immersive, holistic holidays are led by wellness coach and master personal trainer Ian Vout, at the gorgeous St Enodoc Hotel, overlooking the Camel Estuary in Rock. The highly personalised programme offers a completely balanced week and addresses everything from sleep and diet to fitness and nutrition. It is tailored to your goals and aims to help you establish long-term healthy habits. Other things to look forward to, include mindfulness sessions, lots of time spent outdoors, hiking, surfing and more and special retreat menus, devised by St Enodoc chef – Masterchef winner, James Nathan. Earlybird price, from £1795, based on double occupancy.




Devon Seaside Wellbeing Retreats, Heart & Sole Wellbeing

Heart and Sole Retreats sun setting on beach women holding sparklers making heart shape in air

Re-energise, refocus, reinvent; basically anything that starts with ‘re’ is good news in the world of retreats and so this one totally aces it. Take yourself away to the south Devon coast for a weekend and reboot mind, body and soul. Aimed at women who feel they’ve become a little lost, need a confidence boost, or just feel frustrated at not quite reaching their full potential, you’ll leave motivated, detoxed and inspired, along with a toolkit of ideas to help set yourself on the path to a better lifestyle. You’ll bed down in a stunning, contemporary beach house in a cracking location and you’ll feast on home-cooked, healthy recipes and juices that taste so far from “healthy”, you’ll actually wonder if you’ve come to the right place. It’s a busy timetable of yoga, beach walks, mindfulness, meditation and heaps more, but there’s plenty of time for some quiet reflection, too. At £395 all in, this one is incredible value for money. You’ll love it.


Women’s Challenge Expedition to Malawi, Orbis Expeditions

Women's Expedition Orbis Malawi women laying in hammock on wood balcony overlooking sea

Have you written it in marker pen that you’re going to make some time in the calendar this year to challenge yourself and do something you’ve never experienced before? This one’s for you, then. Not your typical retreat, it’s an awesome-sounding 9 day expedition to one of the purest parts of Africa, Malawi. Along with a group of like-minded women, you’ll go through an incredible experience that will inspire and empower you. Devon (and Malawi)-based Orbis Expeditions specialise in putting experiential trips together that are part-holiday, part challenge, but they also work closely with young women in schools and villages in Malawi who want to meet and take inspiration from you for their own lives. As well as going behind the scenes in Malawi, staying on a fair trade tea estate and spending time in the villages, you’ll hike up a mountain, take a night-time wildlife safari and round it off nicely at the end with sundowners on the idyllic Mumbo island. If you crave the idea of being parachuted out of the incessant demands of your life and well and truly out of your comfort zone, I have two words for you: DO IT! 9 day expedition costs from £1300pp.


The Yeotox, Yeotown

Yeotown Yeotox bedroom beige bed blankets wood walls wood floors pitch forks on wall

Photo: Guy Harrop

If a retreat can be sexy, then this one is seriously strutting its appeal right now. The award-winning Yeotox is a five-day retreat in an idyllic rural spot that turns the traditional detox on its head. This one isn’t a bootcamp, or a fat farm, it’s  for people who just want to wake up in the morning feeling healthy, energised and ready to cope with whatever life is going to chuck at you (basically like the woman from the Special K advert). Yes, you’ll give your body a break from all the nasties you put in it and yes, there’s plenty of fitness happening as you’ll box and power your way through the day, as well as hike many miles along the coast; but seriously, when you’re somewhere as gorgeous as this, being massaged and given time to be mindful, who’s complaining? If Tatler and Conde Nast Traveller swear by it, then we’re totally signed up. Signature 5-day retreat costs from £1870.




Om Ceylon Yoga & Wellness Retreat, Meda Gedara, Sri Lanka

woman doing yoga in multicoloured leggings on mat Sri Lanka beach palm trees bamboo fence

I know, Sri Lanka at the end of January – that is the dream. And here I come, your fairy godmother, to tell you how to make it a reality at the maiden retreat from Sat 27 Jan to Sat 3 Feb at Meda Gedara, Cheltenham-based Fiona McLeod’s dreamy new colonial villa on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. The perfect place to balance your body and mind, the yoga will be led by Jax Lysycia, voted one of the best yoga teachers in the UK, whose healing methods are all about helping you understand your own body’s requirements and tuning into joyful stillness. An ocean-facing yoga shala is calming therapy in itself, plus there’ll be butlers on hand to bring you fresh coconut, masseurs to ease away any aches and pains and chef-prepared, healthy Sri Lankan meals to nourish you. Expect to return home lean, lithe and the happiest you’ve been at the beginning of February everSat 27 Jan to Sat 3 Feb, from £700 for a shared room or £1,200 for a twin room, including all  food & soft drinks and airport transfers (free taxi bus leaves at 2pm on Sat 27 Jan from Colombo airport taking guests to the villa and returns at 8am on Sat 3 Feb). For more information, contact Fiona at or call 07976 676139.




Zen Mindfulness Course with Kate Rowlandson, Mandala Living

black white headshot Kate Rowlandson mandala living

Kate Rowlandson, Mandala Living

All this new year talk about bootcamps for the body, well how about this brain of ours? Science has now proven that, in the same way that we build muscle, we can also strengthen our neural pathways, building resistance to stress, anxiety & depression, as well as rocket-fuelling our creativity, productivity and focus. Yup, I’ll have me some of that. But how? At its most basic, mindfulness meditation is a mental detox of all the the beliefs, judgements, past hurts, to-do lists and that mental M25 that never stops. The modern research backing up its extraordinary effectiveness is overwhelming, so much so that the NHS now prescribes it. Kate Rowlandson is an Advanced Zenways Instructor, she runs classes, workshops and meditation drop-in sessions around Winchester and also teaches at the Muddy Award winning New Energy Yoga (full review here). Kate’s next set of 8-week Introduction to Mindfulness courses start in the 3rd week of January.


Treetox, Chewton Glen Spa, The New Forest

two women in wood balcony doing yoga on mats overlooking forest

It’s hard to imagine a better venue for your new year detox than one of Chewton Glen’s uber-luxalicious Tree Houses. This package includes four nights in said cathedral of the canopy; a juice cleanse, only for one day mind, on the rest expect alkaline meals (No! Not Alka-Seltzer, ALKALINE — it’s a clean-eating thing Muddies, clearly you need it), plus there’s a healthsome smorgasbord of personal trainiing, Nordic walking, yoga & some gorge sounding treatments including Zen Ritual and the Chewton Glen Balance Wrap. If there’s rooms in your bag for a small-ish Muddy Ed, just shout. From £2,750pp.


A course of chiropractic treatment w. Nick Richmond, Chiros Health Clinic

Chiros Health Clinic chiropractor holding mans bare back on bed

New year, a new excuse to take up some mad-cap activity from hurtling down a mountain on two metal sticks, oh sorry ski-ing, to, I don’t know, capoeira. If you’re bent over with back-pain, though, you can scratch all the above. Same goes for us lesser mortals, even lifting your toddler or walking the dog (oh the glamour) can be torture with backache or the dreaded sciatica. Enter chiropractor, Nick Richmond — a man whose reputation precedes him. I can count five friends & friends-of-friends who sing his praises saying he’s a gifted and natural practitioner, who tries to treat all his patients in just one or two sessions. He practices in Andover, but if you’re not Hants based, don’t be put off. People travel from as far as New York and Cape Town to see him. His base, Chiros Health Clinic, also offers nutritionists, hypnotherapy, counselling as well as, new for 2018, a medical tattooist: this technique has had amazing results for post-mastectomy patients. So fear not, the team will have you dog walking, toddler lifting or dancing a reasonably obscure, Afro-Brazilian marshal art in no time. Initial consult & treatment, up to 1 hour: £90, follow-up treatment, up to 30 minutes: £45.




Rachel Jeffrey Jewellery School, Wheathamstead

rachel Jefferey jewellery school black white tool handles

Channel your inner silversmith as you go hammer and tongs to design and make your own piece of jewellery as a gift or something absolutely brilliant to keep for yourself. And let’s face it, after a day of bashing silver, you would do well to go home wearing your own creation. Rachel James is currently wearing the glittering crown as winner of Best Jewellery Store in the Muddy Herts Awards 2017. In addition to her own bespoke jewellery business, she runs the Jewellery School. These Friday and Saturday courses start at 9.30am and are great if you want to try something different on your own, but equally popular with groups of friends for birthday and hen parties. You can even go as a couple and make wedding rings for each other. The cost for a workshop is £98.00 for the day and you pay for the silver you use. As a rough guide: £15 for a ring and £50 for a bangle. The Jewellery School is based in a converted, listed mill in the charming and quirky village of Wheathamstead, a few miles north of St Albans.





Over-indulged a little and now want to feel all cleansed, balanced and a little Om shanti shanti? Look no further because FLOW, the popular Tunbridge Wells yoga studio, run a mini retreat to kick start the year called YOGA JAM weekend (Fri 26 – Sun 28 Jan). It’s open to all abilities and is definitely not Boot Camp (a glass of wine is fine they assure me!) and takes place at gorgeous Oxon Hoath manor house in Hadlow, Kent. Here you’ll celebrate all things yoga including, vinyasa flow, kundalini, meditation, structural anatomy, yoga nidra, and even a gong bath. All in a very relaxed, take-things-at-your-own-pace atmosphere. It’s £360 all inclusive of 2 nights, yoga and delicious vegetarian meals (single, twin or en suite rooms available). Hurry, spaces are filling up fast and you don’t want to miss out on this opportunity for some much needed me time.




Move Like Shakira, Katerina’s Belly Dance Shop

belly dancer hand on hips red bra dangly gold beads silver jewelled belly button bar

Get fit and shed a few of those extra pounds you piled on over Christmas as you shimmy and shake your way into the new year with some fun, new belly dancing classes. Run by Katerina Wells who has been belly dancing for more than 20 years, her classes are super relaxed and seriously fun and she’ll put you at ease immediately. Her techniques are simple to follow and she runs classes for complete beginners right through to advanced – if you’re willing, she may even get you to perform at a few events with her. Expect the class to be made up of every shape, size and age and Katerina also sells gorgeous made-to-measure skirts and belly dancing belts if you really want to look and feel the part. She’s starting a ton of new classes across Leicestershire in the new year and cost a reasonable £6 per class. Contact her to find the nearest one to you.


Make Your Own Couture Dress, School of Sewing

pink cotton on reel pins pink fabric

Who needs the likes of Dior and Elie Saab when you can create your very own couture dress? Okay perhaps Angelina Jolie won’t be wearing it on the red-carpet anytime soon, but you’ll definitely want to show it off. Alison Smith runs classes from the School of Sewing in Ashby-de-la-Zouch and as the first person awarded an MBE for services to sewing and corsetry, you know you’re in safe hands. This three-day workshop will cover all the techniques required to make a couture dress including how to fit underlining with hand finished seams and hand prepared zipper applications. Best of all, these techniques can be applied to a variety of dresses which will take your sewing a whole new level. The next course will run from Wed 21 – Fri 23 Feb 2018. 




Learn how to knit traditional Fair Isle, The Shetlands

Shetlands fishing dock sailing boats on river

Credit: VisitScotland

Soak up the unique atmosphere of the UK’s northernmost outpost, where Scandinavia meets Scotland and you’re closer to the Arctic Circle than London, as you learn how to knit intricate Fair Isles patterns in the place it all started. Over the five-day course, you’ll knit a throw/lap-blanket and a neck cowl ‘in the round’ and to a specially created design under the guidance of knitting designer and teacher Alison Crowther-Smith (design consultant for Rowan Yarns) and Kathryn Morgan. You’ll stay in The Shetland Hotel in Lerwick, with its 18th century sandstone buildings, old lanes, galleries, shops and a harbour dotted with small boats. When you’re not knitting, you can explore Jamieson & Smith Wool Brokers, local museums and the pre-historic site Jarlshof. Cost from £1,059 p/p for Fri 27 July to Tues 31 July. Fly from Edinburgh or Aberdeen; book before Mon 29 Jan to guarantee your seat. This is just one of the many unusual trips within the UK and beyond from Bath-based tour operator ECT Travel.




Dee Opp SUP Yoga, Sunbury-on-Thames

woman in grey activewear doing yoga on red paddle board on river

Swap your yoga mat for a paddleboard and take your downward dog onto the water. Dee Opp teaches SUP yoga classes – traditional yoga taught on a floating paddleboard, in her home studio on the River Thames. Dee says taking yoga onto a paddleboard immerses you in natures and allows you to turn off your mind and really focus. And by learning to adapt to the motion of the board on the water you enhance your overall yoga experience. Dee offers one-to-one courses in SUP yoga as well as courses. Namaste.




Starnash rural writers’ retreats, upper Dicker, East Sussex

writers retreat MacBook blue teapot white cup of tea saucer stack of books flowers vase

If your idea of a retreat is more about finding the headspace than being tutored, here’s something a little different that might be right up your secluded street. Starnash farmhouse B&B just off the South Downs Way at Upper Dicker near Hailsham and Lewes is specially geared to writers, artists and the like, giving them a supportive environment in which to be creative. Use the garden if the weather’s good; snuggle by a wood burning stove if it isn’t, or work at the farmhouse table, perhaps over a BYO bottle of wine. The One Day Retreat from 10.00am – 5.00pm costs £60 and includes refreshments all day and a home-cooked lunch. If you’re staying over, it’s £150 a night in one of the three en-suite double rooms, or £120 for the attic twin, with breakfast, lunch and supper included. There’s a 25% reduction for stays of three days or more.




Become a TM (Transcendental Meditation) Aficionado

asian woman in green tunic flower crown closed eyes looking peaceful

Transcendental Meditation is having a moment. After the Sixties peace ’n’ love era it largely faded from view, but now everyone from Lena Dunham to film director David Lynch is into it. Jarvis Cocker even dedicated one of his BBC 6 Music Sunday Service’s to TM last month. More than 300 scientific studies show huge health benefits including reduced anxiety and depression. Learning TM involves a free introductory talk, then personal instruction by one of 79 fully accredited, qualified UK teachers, including media lecturer Huw Meads, wife Linda and artist Claire Winteringham, who run courses in Stratford-upon-Avon and Birmingham.


Teen Direct: Set Your Career Compass Workshop

wall of sticky notes business work words teenager on ladder spray painting

Is your son or daughter struggling to decide what to do in the future? There are just a few places left on this highly useful workshop for 15 – 17-year-olds wishing to develop and clarify their ideas of potential careers. Delivered by experienced, professional coaches, workshops create the opportunity to discover where you could fit into the “World of Work” based on strengths, personality and interests. They will be asked to complete a questionnaire beforehand to identify certain characteristics and during the workshops, develop the skills and confidence to act on their chosen career action plan as well as creating a professional CV and learning dynamite Interview Skills. Sat Jan 13 2018,  9.30am – 3.30pm, £150.



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