There comes a time in all of our lives when we stop holidaying with our parents and our phones become our main social lifeline.
But what happens when you stick a mum and (grown up) child together in the middle of nowhere for a weekend – with no technology?
We sent our reporter and her mum to a digital detox weekend at The Detox Barn in Suffolk.
Miranda is a vegan wellness millennial who’s used to all the yoga and raw food stuff…but hasn’t gone for over a decade without her phone surgically attached to her hand.
Her mum Margaret is in her mid-60s and loves nothing better than a roast pork dinner. She also has a chronic iPad addiction and is very definitely not here for any kind of spiritual awakening.
She was more than happy to come along, having been giving the promise of a luxury weekend in the country away from the travails of east London.
The aim? To see if 48-hours of being tech-free, meat-free and stress-free is enough to reconnect across the generations.
Daughter Miranda’s experience:
When was the last time you went 48 hours without your phone? Or the last time you went a week without a cup of coffee? How about the last time you spent 48 hours with your mum with no chance of escape?
Before I took my mum to the Detox Barn for a weekend of ‘gentle detoxing’, I couldn’t answer any of those questions. I couldn’t remember a time I’d gone longer than a few hours without a caffeine hit or a scroll through my phone.
Yet here we are a week later and I’ve managed to swap my morning cafetiere for herbal tea, ditched the sugar for an evening smoothie and haven’t had the urge to supplement my lunch with a bag of crisps. Oh, and my mum and I are now in our first ever WhatsApp group together.
The Detox Barn is a retreat run by sisters Sharon and Loretta Gavin – two actors who split their time between north London and Suffolk.
It’s a relatively common story these days; Sharon was struck down with an autoimmune disease which left her needing to use a wheelchair. Determined to heal herself away from a plethora of drugs, she took up a vegan diet, started juicing and today is the picture of health. It was the same with Deliciously Ella’s Ella Mills.
Their three-day weekender is set in glorious Suffolk countryside, with beautifully decorated bedrooms and communal areas and acres of garden.
We arrived on the Friday evening feeling the way any mum and daughter would having been stuck on the A12 for two hours, largely thanks to the fact that I got on the wrong train from work.
Sharon came out to usher us into a feast of sweet potato cottage pie, wild garlic and bean salad and a raw cheesecake as good as any I’ve had in a restaurant. After that initial bump, we didn’t have cross word again for the duration of the weekend.
Every day begins with a cup of lemon and hot water (which for some reason didn’t taste like the mug of Toilet Duck I seem to end up with when I try to do it at home), before an hour’s yoga led by the wonderful Wendy. Totally inclusive, with a number of modifications, everyone seemed either to improve or to gain more confidence in the practice.
Breakfast was served on the terrace – a fresh smoothie and bowl of oats and berries. Lunch is either courgette or soup (no pudding) and then you had to hold out until a 6.30pm dinner with the help of herbal teas and fruit.
If you’re like me then you’ll be used to eating until you’re really full and going between snacking and fasting.
If there’s been a day free from bloating in the past two years, I can’t remember it – until this weekend. Maybe it was the gut-friendly grub. Maybe it was mindfully eating at a table. Maybe it was binning coffee and snacking. Whatever, it felt pretty miraculous.
In the evening, we set out for a walk across wheat fields either talking and getting to know each other or in complete silence. For the first ten minutes all I could think about was how much of a hit my Instagram presence was taking from not having my phone. But you know how they say that taking a picture of something actually stops your memory from storing it as vividly? Well, I think that’s probably true – for the first time in ages, I think my senses were working around the clock.
The connections you can make when you have no distractions really made me worry about how much we’re missing on a daily basis.
Seeing my mum make new friends, getting her first facial from the visiting therapist, tucking into vegan food and listening to people talking about quantum healing really gave us an opportunity to bond. She gets my lifestyle and is now kind of part of it, even if she’s not ready to swap her roast pork for a nut roast just yet.
For the first time in years, we were able to orbit the same world for 48 hours.
I left her to enjoy the last day on her own (and in peace) as I had to scuttle back to London – but I returned refreshed, focused, and caffeine-free.
Mum Margaret shares her experience:
No one in their right mind would choose to drive out of London during rush hour on a Friday night. However, having picked up my daughter, Millie, knackered from another arduous day in the office, that is just what we did, heading off on the A12 in frazzled silence to deepest Suffolk, for a long weekend of ‘gentle plant-based detox.’
Arriving late and still stressed, at the Detox Barn, we were immediately met by Sharon Gavin, whose delightfully open welcome immediately set us at ease. She and her sister Lauretta, had kindly delayed the start of dinner to accommodate us.
And what a dinner it was. I must say that I had a few reservations about what a largely raw vegan diet entailed but the huge main course of sweet potato shepherd’s pie accompanied by a wild garlic and bean salad was to die for. As was the superb strawberry cheesecake – which was largely eaten in a silence only punctuated by sighs of rapture from each of the ten guests who were all amazed that anything so delicious could possibly be totally vegan as well as sugar-free.
After a superb night’s sleep in a beautifully appointed room, we were greeted with a cup of hot lemon tea before yoga at 8.30. What a way to start the day.
Expert yoga teacher, Wendy Brown conducted the first of two 90 minute sessions on successive days based on gentle and detoxing flow routines from which both beginners and experienced practitioners could benefit equally – and her air of calm and mindfulness set the mood rubbed off onto the rest of the group.
If you’d asked me previously to enthuse about the thought of cold porridge for breakfast, it would have been a no from me – but the pots of overnight oats run through with a generous portion of berries and topped with cinnamon, taken together on trestle tables in the sunshine surrounded by shrubs heaving with bees and butterflies, had everyone groaning with surprised delight.
The rest of the morning was ours, to lounge in the two acres of garden reading and chatting with only the sounds of birdsong, insects and the occasional horse clopping by. It was bliss. Not one phone was seen or heard until the final day. And nobody had missed them.
The rest of the weekend was made up of more yoga and meditation sessions and of walks through gently rolling fields of wheat and rye. Particularly appreciated was the silent walk, led by Sharon, on which one was obliged to listen intently to all the natural sounds surrounding us – completely unpunctuated by engines or other man-made sound of any kind.
How to recreate your own digital detox at home
The beautiful thing about The Detox Barn is that the premise is so simple. It’s a supposed to be a complete break from mental and physical stress. That’s it.
That means turning off your technology and helping the digestive system to repair from all the strain it’s usually under.
Here’s how to do it:
- Carve out a weekend in your diary – from Friday night until Monday morning
- Turn off all your technology. You don’t need an alarm and you definitely don’t need to watch Netflix in bed.
- Start every day with a cup of hot water and lemon
- Try to go coffee-free over this weekend
- Start every day with a yoga session. There are loads of amazing free videos on YouTube like Yoga with Adrienne.
- Take an hour’s walk every day – with no particular purpose in mind. If you can, try to get to an open space like a park. Don’t take your phone or headphones.
- Try to stick with eating between 10am and 7pm. We’re trying to give our systems a break so a weekend of intermittent fasting may be a good idea (if you have no disordered eating history).
- Go for whole, plant-based foods. Give the meat and dairy a rest this weekend and see what vegan goodies you can rustle up. Sharon and Lauretta share lots of tips and recipes on their Instagram.
- Read in bed.
- Set goals. At some point during the weekend, get a notepad and have a think about what it is you really want to achieve. Is your relationship serving you? Are you happy in your job? What do you want to change? We often don’t give ourselves time to actually stop and think about our situations, so use this weekend to do that.
- Watch a documentary. We saw Knives Over Forks and when we got home, we saw Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Both were pretty inspiring films about the power of food and the loss of connection we have to our bodies. Watch something that might inspire you – it doesn’t have to be about veganism or health.
Also very much appreciated was the five mile walk on the Monday morning led by the marvellous Margaret Bull, a stalwart of the local Ramblers’ Association, and a mine of information about local history as well as about plants and their myriad uses. It is also, by the way, Margaret who supplies most of the organically grown produce used by Lauretta and Sharon in their meal preparation.
Come Monday morning, nobody wanted the experience to end. We were a varied bunch – each there for their own reasons – and we had all gelled marvellously. So much so that we immediately created a WhatsApp group, the better to share recipes for the type of meals, smoothies and juices we had just experienced – as well as to arrange new meet-ups in the future.
Of course, everyone wanted to return, at some point, to the Detox Barn. For me, it was a rare opportunity to reconnect with a generally time-pressed and stressed Millie in a meaningful way and without the intrusion of any kind of social media.
Having dropped her at the Stowmarket station the previous afternoon, I made a solo journey back down the A12 on the Monday reflecting all the while on what a rare, delightful and surprising experience it had been. For once, I had had no abdominal discomfort and had breathed more easily than I had in months.
Miranda – a dedicated practitioner of veganism for the past couple of years had been proved right – and I had been set on the road which will hopefully culminate in a lifestyle largely based on an organic plant-based diet.
Going tech-free is a bit tricky at first. You have no idea how much…time you have on your hands – literally.
We fiddle, we stare, we swipe away aimlessly and although ten minutes here and there don’t seem like anything, it all adds up.
Getting rid of your phone actually seems to slow life down a bit.
And as for spending time with our parents/kids when everyone’s grown up? Well, we just don’t do it enough.
We learnt a load of stuff about each other from seeing how we intereacted with other people and from chatting openly while we walked in the countryside. Our lives are very different but this was an opportunity to invite each other to share in a kind of half-way moment.
You don’t have to go to a retreat to reconnect but in an age where we’re having better relationships online than we are in real life, we can’t afford not to take a pretty dramatic step if we want to protect our most valued connections.
The practical stuff
We stayed at The Detox Barn.
Retreats take place once a month, with most lasting three nights.
It’s £395 for a shared room, or £495 for a single occupancy.
All classes, food and drink are included.
There’s also off-site accommodation in the little hamlet surrounding the retreat (a walk away) and that’s available at a discounted rate.
For booking enquires please contact [email protected] or call 07974-329094
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