Anticipation is a big part of this experience. It starts in January each year when the new brochure arrives on the door mat. Then immediately studying the various offered courses at the four Centres, and deciding which subjects, always led by well known published authors or poets, are the most appealing. After several days of 'chewing the cud' as it were, it is essential to book early to claim a vacancy in a single room. Before this decision is made is the annual debate can I really afford it?
This year courses, which start at teatime on a Monday and close early on the Saturday morning, cost seven hundred pounds. This might seem very expensive, but once you are there there is absolutely no further cost if, between meals you want a coffee, or a tea, or a snack, you just go into the kitchen and make it. The only exception is alcohol, which has to be ordered and paid for on Monday evening for your personal week's supply. The Centres are not licensed to sell alcohol, so the local wine merchant delivers the individual orders on Tuesday morning. On Monday evening the Course Directors provide the wine for the meal that they have prepared and served for the newly arrived, slightly apprehensive, hopeful writers.
The remaining four evening meals are prepared and cooked by the sixteen students in teams of four with much support and guidance from the Course Directors. It might sound daunting cooking for twenty people, but actually it is usually a good experience and creates closer relationships between each of the cooking teams.
I have been to Moniack Mhor, which comprises a large house and a cottage, lying three miles from Loch Ness and overlooking the mountains of Strathfarrar and Ben Wyvis, several times over the years. I have never been to Totleigh Barton in Devon and only once to The Hurst in Shropshire. However, the Centre that I have stayed at many times is Ted Hughes old home, Lumb Bank at Heptonstall, near Hebdon Bridge. It is an easy train ride from here and comfortable and relaxing – I would recommend it to any writer wanting an unique experience.
Contact with the outside world, is more or less cut off for these precious, hopefully inspirational, days. There is no television or internet, though computers are available - basically for word processing. There is a library with a huge supply of books of every sort. There is one pay phone, though nowadays most people use their mobiles, that is when they can get a signal – not always possible in the remote setting.
Grants are available, based on financial need - in 2013 90 per cent of all the writers who applied received this help – first time applicants have a priority. This works really well as the people on the courses tend to come from very different backgrounds which creates an enriching environment.
On the last night of the Course at Lumb Bank, after an enjoyable evening meal, the tutors, the course directors and the students adjourn to the large barn which is furnished with huge comfortable settees and armchairs. Each student reads, for just five minutes, a piece of their work to the group. Numbers are drawn for the order of performance and usually there is a break halfway for a wee and a drink. It is simply amazing the diversity of the stories and poems read out and a wonderful end to what is normally an inspiring week. Some of the students go to their beds just before midnight, but the remainder stay up until the early hours enjoying the last dregs of their wine – reluctant to end the new friendships and their amazing experience of Arvon.
© 2016 Yeadon Writers
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