jilla ad final


Loading Flickr slideshow...

South Lodge, Nature Immersion Experience

We embrace the Japanese art of forest bathing at South Lodge, West Sussex

Exclusive Collections’ South Lodge, a once private home set in ninety-two acres of Sussex countryside, offers the ‘chance to disconnect from your screen and reconnect with your soul.’ The magnificent property was once the home of renowned naturalist, Frederick Du Cane Godman, so the gardens are formidable. The front lawn is home to the largest rhododendron I’ve ever seen, there’s a hidden rockery, a wildflower meadow, a natural swimming pond and they even have their very own vineyard.

Whilst the hotel’s restaurants Camelia and Botanica also have an excellent reputation, it’s most intimate restaurant, The Pass, which has only twenty-eight seats and is set within the property’s ancient walls, has a Michelin Star. Despite this enviable accolade, perhaps the real jewel in South Lodge’s crown is its award-winning natural spa which boasts uninterrupted views, state-of-the-art fitness facilities and multiple swimming pools.

I visit with my mum on a sunny afternoon in early March to experience the spring edition of South Lodge’s Nature Immersion Experience.


There are eighty-eight rooms at South Lodge and they aren’t numbered but are instead named thematically. A porter we meet on the landing confesses that learning one’s way around them is akin to being a London cabby and having to study the knowledge. We stay in Evelyn- on our floor, the rooms are all named after orchids- it’s a theme that’s echoed in the interior design; there is a bold petal-print wallpaper and close-up photographs of orchids on the walls.

The room is vast, with two super-king beds, double sinks, a shower the size of my kitchen and a wardrobe so roomy, you could charge £850pcm for it in London. We’re staying in the modern part of the building, which has been designed to mimic the features of the original, built in 1883. The craftsmanship of the modern woodwork and the masonry is astonishing – it’s rare to see such a detailed finish in contemporary architecture. The attention to detail continues with solid oak shutters on the windows and polished granite in the bathroom. Our room has dual aspect sash windows providing the perfect vantage point from which to watch the resident robot lawnmower ‘Mowby’ diligently keeping the property’s sweeping lawns in trim.

The communal areas in the older part of the building have an opulent feel. The original oak panelling is ushered into the twenty-first century by colourful modern Murano-style chandeliers, striped velvet furniture and original cabinets resplendent with unusual glass sculptures that provide a fun pop of colour amidst all the dark wood.

The Spa

The spa is extremely impressive. There is a beautifully crafted cedar sauna with a view, a salt-infused steam room, a heated outdoor hydro pool, a large indoor pool and a heavenly all-natural outdoor pool complete with reeds and the odd lily pad. I suffer from psoriasis, so I have to be really careful with chlorine. Whilst it was certainly cold in March, it was easily one of the best swimming experiences I’ve had in the UK.

The spa changing rooms are decadent – with tasteful lighting, sofas and brass finishings. The gym is extremely well equipped and whilst exploring, I discovered a state-of-the-art spin room offering classes to hotel guests and spa members alike.

Out and About

South Lodge is set within acres of beautiful Sussex countryside – driving down from London – it would seem remiss of us not to say hello to the big deep blue, so we take a thirty-minute detour to the nearby town of Worthing for a gulp of sea air on the pier.

Here we stumble across a wonderful little beachfront restaurant called ‘The Crab Shack’ serving excellent and reasonably priced fresh seafood. It is in this building, that Oscar Wilde was rumoured to have written ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and we’re reminded that the play’s protagonist, ‘Jack Worthing’ takes his name from this charming Sussex seaside town

Nature Immersion Experience

On the second day, we prepare to unwind and ‘head into the wild’ with Helena Skoog; an expert in the Japanese art of Forest Bathing or Shirin Yoku.

We begin the experience with a two-hour Qi Gong and breath work class in one of the hotel’s conference rooms. Helena guides our group through a series of repetitive full-body movements that are designed to connect mind with body and encourage synovial fluid into the joints. Qi Gong is all about gently strengthening and stretching – increasing to increase the flow of Qi from head to toe, much in the way that acupuncture does. We’re encouraged to treat our bodies as though they’re ‘twenty years older’. I’m something of a ‘hot vinyasa followed by a diet-coke’ kind of gal, so whilst this doesn’t come naturally, under Helena’s guidance I take to this new nurturing M.O. like a duck to water.

After lunch, we tog up ready for the Shirin Yoku and head towards the woods. It’s a beautiful day, but it’s early spring so there’s a nip in the air…

I suspect we’re all feeling a little resistance as we begin – we’re encouraged not to talk to each other and to give each other space (a difficult prospect for my mother, who can’t resist the raising of a jaunty eyebrow every now and then from behind ancient oaks). And so we lie down on the forest floor and attempt to clear our minds. I have to say, even to me, it does feel a little silly at first and I once spent half a day pretending to be a cheese grater at drama school – but once settled in, lying on the earth beneath an enormous pine tree feels like the most natural thing in the world.

I’m starting to drift off when Helena calls us with a little bell- we assemble in a beautiful clearing by a babbling brook and Helena’s soothing voice invites us to connect to our breathing. It’s during this session that my inhibitions completely disappear and I submit to the process. The next meditation session takes place by a waterfall. Squirrels are hurrying around in the trees, a woodpecker taps his diligent tune in the distance and Helena encourages us to feel the earth between our fingers and  have a little taste – I oblige – I’m so relaxed at this point, I’d probably chow down on a whole pinecone if she told me to.

As we emerge from the wilderness, we’re astonished to hear that three hours have passed. One participant suggests that she thought time had stood still – which prompts us to ponder the existence of time in the first place – can it even stand still if it doesn’t exist?

As we stagger back to the car, I try to work out whether I’m in a total daze or in a state of hyper-alert – an important distinction when you’re about to drive two hours up the M23. And on the drive home, we realise that three hours deep breathing in the woods with Helena, made us feel just as relaxed (if not more) than a session in the award-winning spa which reportedly cost 14 million to build. Nature is indeed a wonderful thing.

In a Nutshell

It’s clear that South Lodge has excellent green credentials that are reflected in everything they do. The spa is one of the best I have ever visited and it’s so brilliant that the hotel is embracing the natural assets they have at their fingertips.

More information on South Lodge’s Nature Immersion Experiences can be found here… future dates include Sunday 15th June and Saturday 19th October.

Prices for the day start from £210 per person and for an overnight stay with single occupancy at £615 per room.


Brighton Road, Lower Beeding, Horsham, West Sussex, Horsham RH13 6PS