'One of a kind' outdoor spa opens near Thetford
- Credit: Denise Bradley
Owner of Thompson Hall Amanda Benton knows how soothing being immersed in nature can be.
She has always lived in East Anglia, but spent a decade commuting to the capital and back for work – and says that she always felt a sense of calm descend as she approached home.
“I loved working at Canary Wharf, but I also loved the moment on my drive home when I could see the woods in the distance, knowing a whole different life was within,” she says.
“Working in London for 10 years made me realise how quiet and relaxed Thompson Hall really was and how stressed people were.
"It was my way of coping with the busy world and it was this feeling that made me want to share it with others.”
In 2017, Amanda opened Thompson Hall Retreat, a luxury hideaway nestled in the forest between Thetford and Watton.
Featured on the Channel 4 show Four in a Bed, it’s a bijou site, where guests can truly switch off from their day to day lives and reconnect with nature.
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With just three shepherd’s huts, two cabins and a family safari tent which sleeps up to six, the site never feels busy.
While you might be outdoors, there are all the creature comforts you could need to make it a home from home – from dreamy king-size beds and double ended baths to wood burners and fire pits to keep things cosy.
This spring, Amanda is really putting the glam into glamping and opening their second open-air spa.
The first, the Lilly Pad, opened in 2019 with a hot tub, sauna, relaxation area and solar shower.
And on May 8, the Lotus Spa will open. Construction started in the autumn - and it will really take the concept of forest bathing to the next level.
The centrepiece will be the natural swimming pool, complete with its own ‘beach’, a safari tent chill out area, a barrel sauna, an aqua trainer where you can swim against the current, hot tub, showers, a massage pod, two outdoor baths under a canopy in the middle of the wood and, one for devotees of Wim Hof, an ice bath.
They will have visiting therapists – a massage therapist will be on site every day, and non-residents will be able to book in too.
Or guests can create their own treatments with DIY beauty packs from the Natural Spa Company.
There’s even a stone circle on site, built by Amanda.
“Mental health is so important and introducing the spa and therapists, yoga, sound therapy, cold water therapy and massages, all in the outdoors, is a great way of helping others reconnect with themselves and nature,” says Amanda.
As she explains, it was when she was walking around the site on a hot day last summer, that the idea for the Lotus Spa came to her.
“It was so warm, and I thought what we need is a pool – it started out that it was just going to be a fishpond, and maybe another hot tub, but it grew into this natural swimming pool and all these other bits – you know how it does,” she laughs.
But, as it transpires, Amanda, whose background is in construction, is not afraid of a challenge.
She and her family moved to Thompson Hall in 2004.
She fell in love with the place after seeing it in the EDP property section – to call it a ‘project’ would be an understatement.
“It basically had planning permission for a house on there, but there was a derelict cottage. I was like if we can renovate the cottage, we could do this. The only downside was there was no electric or running water and I had a three-month-old baby. We went for it anyway,” she laughs.
They moved in in the May and got the electricity installed by September – having got through five electricity generators in the meantime.
Amanda decided to change the planning permission to build off the cottage – and she had grand designs for it.
“I went to America, went out to Tennessee and found a log home and then shipped that over in 2007 in four containers and then me and my dad built a house. So it’s a 4,000 sq ft house, built out of solid logs.”
Animals also have a positive effect on our wellbeing and Amanda shares the estate with her 14 horses, many of whom are rescues, who are popular with guests.
“All the horses are elderly now, bless them. We don’t do any riding, but people can pet them and groom them. We have a couple of rescue goats as well and we do goat walks – people can put them on a lead and take them for a walk.”
During the pandemic, many of us rediscovered the importance that connecting with nature has on our wellbeing - and Amanda's great joy is introducing visitors to the wonders of the Brecks.
"It’s beautiful," she says. "We’ve got Thetford Forest, we’ve got the Norfolk Wildlife Trust land behind us and all the Pingo trails. In the reviews we get people can't believe how quiet it is."
Lotus Spa at Thompson Hall Retreat has an open day on May 8. To find out more, visit thompsonhallretreat.co.uk