Getting away from it all: A retreat for writers, singers, poets, in a glorious corner of Devon

Our lesson was accompanied by the harsh squawks of a pheasant outside the window. One student, a lifelong Londoner, looked up impatiently, to ask: 'What on earth's wrong with that chicken?'

Totleigh Barton, Devon

Peace personified: Totleigh Barton is a place to find inspiration

Situated in remote Devon countryside, Totleigh Barton, run by the Arvon Foundation, can be a bit of a culture shock for some. There is nothing for miles but fields, trees, sheep and birds. The students have no television or internet facilities and a mobile phone signal requires a ten-minute walk up a hill. They come to find peace and inspiration; it's sort of unavoidable.

Totleigh Barton, two miles from the village of Sheepwash, is one of four writing retreats run by the foundation. Students work with tutors to begin to write, refine their work or try a new form.

I was visiting as a tutor in radio drama and by the end of the week the 15 students, despite interruptions from pheasants, had all written at least ten minutes of a play.

The students ranged in age from 25 to 70. Some were retired, some wondering if they could manage to live by their writing, others considering a mid-life change of career.

Our course ran on the tried and tested Arvon structure - two tutors in residence for the week and a guest speaker midweek to liven up proceedings. There are group classes and personal tutorials. The students have private time to write, access to hundreds of books in the centre's library and rights of way for strolls across the countryside.

A thatched, pre-Domesday manor house, Totleigh has comfortable rooms. There are excellent meals at a long oak table beside a roaring log fire. Students take it in turns to cook an evening meal in small groups, a good bonding exercise for people who might feel shy in the group. Tradition dictates that the cooking group also provide bottles of wine and by the time dessert arrives everyone's the best of friends.

Ray Davies, The Kinks

Inspiring: Other Arvon centres have offered courses with the likes of Ray Davies

Many of the students were single people using their holiday to try something they'd always wanted to learn. Some were on an escape from children to revive neglected talent. As one student, a doctor on leave, put it: 'I could go for a luxurious, solitary week in the sun. But here I've written half a play, had stimulating company from dawn till way too late at night, and I am going away with 14 new friends.'

The other Arvon centres are in Invernesshire, Shropshire and Yorkshire. The poetry courses have visits-from Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. There is songwriting with Ray Davies; comedy with Lenny Henry; novel writing with Hilary Mantel... the list is awe-inspiring. And the courses just plain inspiring, as well as fun.

Travel Facts

Standard course fee for one week full-board in a single room costs £625. Shared £575.

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