The Retreat is a self-contained space, set in the heart of a beautiful valley at Olchard, south Devon. It is the most recent development to the home and sculpture gardens of Driftwood and bronze artist & sculptor Heather Jansch.

 Heather’s most recent project has involved the renovations of her Devon home of thirty years, transforming part of her abode into a separate dwelling, where people can retreat and spend time amongst nature and sculptures. The contemporary living space named simply ‘The Retreat’ is full of custom-made furnishings that Heather has produced herself over the last three months and offers guests complete tranquility in the peaceful surrounds. The open plan space is an eclectic mix of furnishings, paintings and sculptures with its very own vegetable garden and access to a wild meadow where guests can enjoy a barbequing area in the evening sunshine.

Last month, I was lucky enough to be the official guinea pig and stay at the home-from home retreat.

The setting couldn’t be more perfect, overlooking the gardens and Heather’s working studio, the space is perfectly positioned with just enough privacy. There is a bench to the side entrance hidden by a trellis of sweet peas and another in the vegetable garden, completely tucked out of view and shaded by foliage. It makes for perfect place to while away the time, reading or enjoying brunch or supper alfresco whilst soaking up the gentle surrounding chatter of nature. 

The retreat is uniquely designed, with Heather’s art adorning the walls and shelves. The entranceway is a lovely light and airy bathroom space, with a Belfast sink, freshly picked wild flowers and colourful journals displayed. Inside I delight in the indulgence of a comfy sofa and throw, perfect to ensconce myself in whilst sipping tea and leafing through one of the many books. The main living space is open plan, consisting of a kitchen, diner and lounge with a small log burner for cooler months. The open staircase is painted in a rainbow of colours and upstairs is bright, clean and paired back with a large floor to ceiling mirror and a wide window seat beyond the quilted bed. Here I can take in views of the gardens beyond. I pick peas, rocket and an array of herbs to add to my salad. Lighting candles as the sun goes down, the space has a tranquil quality that is hard to define. 

Breakfast in the well planted garden, partitioned with broken slates, is a must and whilst I could quite happily while away my days lazing here, the real magic happens when I venture down through the sculpture gardens, onto a path that snakes through the hidden valley - past the teahouse - to a gently flowing stream at the bottom. I grab a blanket and walk Partridge through the beautiful woodland, adorned with wild flowers. She’s in her element with so many scents to pick up, running free through the shady trees out into the open meadows before paddling in the cool stream.  The riverbank offers the perfect place to settle and laze on my blanket, taking in the surrounds. To my absolute delight, a little way along the stream, there is a manmade rope swing, where I can swing back and forth in front of the stream, to my hearts content. I relish in throwing my head back in the sunshine and losing myself in the endless view of furs ahead. 

In the valley there is no way to determine which century you’re standing in and this is possibly why you feel a sense of nostalgia, the minds switches to another mode. I think about all the people and their stories that have crossed the paths through the ages. There is certainly a sense of a possibility that anything could happen. It’s a place to lose oneself in thoughts and imaginings, past and present, entering a sphere of life where time seems to stand still. It’s a place where magic can happen, clarity of mind prevails and senses are heightened.

This woodland valley with the gently running stream situated at the bottom is truly a place of wonder and was a vision of Heather’s from an early age, thanks to her passion and hard work, she has enabled the land to come alive for others to enjoy. 

It had always been a dream of Heather’s to create a sculpture garden and although she confesses to having no clue about gardening, she began work on the landscape, focusing on shape and form, creating a way down to the stream in the valley floor that forms the boundary. The land had been untouched for forty years and was virtually impenetrable.

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Creating a private sculpture garden quickly became a work of art in itself and another of Heather’s passions slowly came alive. She realized that creating a place to display outdoor sculpture was essential but had no idea of how rewarding the garden was to become. Heather holds several open days a year, where the public can come and enjoy her sculptures in the peaceful surrounds, with the gardening scheme now in its eleventh year, having raised almost £20,000 for charity, it has been something of a success story and a favourite Devon Sculpture Garden. Everything on display within the garden has been made using recycled materials, something that Heather has been an advocate of, throughout her life as an artist. 

As with the creation of the garden and Heather’s life size horse sculptures, everything within the retreat itself, has been handmade from her own resources, whether it be pieces of weathered wood, corks, copper wire, hessian, slate or bronze. Everything is a work of art in itself from the dresser in the bedroom and the offbeat art adorning the walls (there is an actual sculpture made from bread featured above the kitchen work top) to the dining room table and the television cabinet, made out of spare wooden panels, that Bang and Olufsen were so impressed by that they offered to commission her to produce an entire range to sell along with their flat screens. Heather declined, though was hugely flattered by the interest from the high-end brand.

I ask Heather what inspires her to continue to create. “Its such an amazing adventure, I never want to stop. The art of putting something where there wasn’t anything before – I couldn’t imagine a life where I wasn’t creating,” she enthuses. With plans to design and build a further sculpture garden, it seems Heather’s lust for creating will long continue.

Leaving The Retreat is like stepping out of one world and into another. I am already longing to return to embrace the art of slow living once more, in this idyllic rural haven.

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