If someone were to ask what five words come to mind when you hear “Scotland,” it would probably be Scotch, golf, kilts, rain, and 007. Runners-up might include sheep or goats. Alternatively, if someone asked what the top yoga destinations would be, Scotland wouldn’t make the cut—what with the beachy charms of Hawaii, Mexico, and Bali—and that’s part of what makes Scotland an ideal destination for a five-day yoga retreat.
It's true. I recently went on a program through YogaScapes that was set in what might be the most idyllic countryside on the planet. That plus Scotland's charming mix of spirituality and folklore made for a contemplative and enriching yoga trip. Here’s the short list of what makes a yoga retreat in Scotland so compelling.
Truly Being Off the Grid
Our group met in Glasgow and rode through curvy roads surrounded by lush vegetation and waterfalls bursting out of the hillsides (and yes, it rained plenty). The EcoYoga Centre is fully hydro-driven retreat center nestled into a village called Ford near Loch Awe in Argyll. Husband-and-wife owners Rachel and Nick Loening bought the former Outward Bound center, fixed it up, and started running the retreat five years ago. As a result of all of the precipitation in Scotland (what we call rain in California, but they call “Scottish Mist”), this retreat center operates 100% off the grid. However, the retreat uses less than 20 percent of the energy harnessed, so they also supply energy to their village and get paid by the government for it. If that weren't enough, they installed solar panels atop the hydro plant station—just in case.
Bathing al Fresco
Then there are the baths. There are two outdoor tubs, a sauna, and a Japanese hot tub. The Japanese hot tub is communal and is housed in this outerspace-looking glass dome. The sauna is built into the land and easy to miss but there are two ways to get there: via a marked path and steps along the river or by climbing down a ladder. Just outside the sauna door is a cold plunge pool for the brave in search of enhanced circulation. Then there are two waterfall-adjacent tubs. They’re (literally) your run-of-the-mill bathtub set amidst stunning scenery. The higher one is embedded into stones and is tucked next to a waterfall-like stream. The lower one sits across from a booming waterfall, with optional waterfall pool plunge and a more adventurous walk down involving ropes, which reminded me of climbing Half Dome.
Food from YogaBeet and Fresh Lox
The food is all vegetarian with vegan, gluten free, and paleo accommodations per request. And somehow it’s all tasty. Sarah McCaffer of YogaBeet out of Edinburgh did all of the cooking for our retreat. It’s all served buffet style. Breakfast is a feast of porridge and fruit, granola and frittatas, baked eggs, and usually all kinds of scones. Lunch is soup, usually with an accompaniment of bread and maybe eggs from the retreat center’s chickens. Dinner is a smorgasbord of everything—a few grain salads and a hot dish like a tagine, baked polenta, or lentils and rice with eggplant. You won’t miss the meat. However, when in Scotland, trying the salmon is a must, and we had access to impossibly fresh smoked fish just a few miles away. A guy named Rory who runs Murrays sold us salmon that was caught on Monday, smoked hours later, then eaten shortly thereafter.
One afternoon, we hiked where there were no trails. From Ford, took a grassy (and muddy) path straight up to the tallest peak we could see, making our own paths as we went—sort of like sheep moving up a hill. Most of it was “cross country” as they call it in Scotland. Even on the descent, the ground was spongy and the heath was so soft that it was almost effortless—like you were floating.
Early Morning Runs
Every morning before yoga, I’d set out for a run. Given the bucolic setting, it wasn’t uncommon to run 5 miles without seeing another person or car. However, the sheep were another story—there were the usually fluffy white ones with some black ones and babies sprinkled in. In that regard, any runner is going to be severely outnumbered. They’re pretty slow and somewhat curious creatures that try their best to stay out of your way. On those runs along the loch, the sheep were abundant, but so were the rabbits and cats. Sometimes cyclists would pass by, but fellow runners were nowhere to be found. After communing with nature on a jog down the lane in the brisk air, settling into a pre-breakfast yoga practice never felt better.