At Hawthorn Denne: Hawthornden Castle International Writers Retreat

What an unreal start to the year, ensconced in a Scottish castle with another fiction writer, two poets, and the ghost of a parrot.

I posted this later as I was offline most of the time up there. Even phone reception was tricky, especially when there was a gale blowing. I was glad of the poor weather because I just wanted to work work work. Odd to attempt this without the internet. Good and bad. Some day-job type work needed to be brought with me, although I felt guilty about this. Poor form.

What do I remember most? The porridge, the silence, Doris the weekend cook and her stories from the outside world, the snow, Edinburgh all empty and quiet after the new year and full of thrift shops, the battle for sufficient caffeine, the battle to finish my book, the envy I felt when the other fiction writer wrote half a book in the first fortnight… Envy also of the poets who could start and finish a piece in a morning, and take the afternoon to walk and dream. Almost made me get the point of poetry! But if I was not the front runner on word count, I got some stuff done all the same – check out one of the projects I worked on here, if you do not believe me.

Oh yes, and I remember the night we briefly escaped the castle in M’s car… This was a visit to the shops purely for supplies (I tried to get him to drive to the sea but he wasn’t having it), and I remember how stoned we all felt, after not having left the castle for two weeks, as we piled out of the car and into some huge overlit supermarket. Stoned at the sheer quantity of stuff on sale, all that packaging. Eventually I bought crisps and whisky as both were in short supply at the castle. There were plenty good books, though. If I ever had a castle I’d want one with several libaries, too.


If you wish to apply to Hawthornden, be aware they plan quite far ahead. Application forms are available from January to June. Request an application form from the administrator on +44 (0) 131 440 2180..

If you’re looking for a more immediate retreat, why not try a LitCamp retreat for one to three writers, in the Welsh borders. Like Hawthornden, they are set in a hilly wooded part of the world, so plenty of walks to be had in between bouts of writing. Should you prefer you can lock yourself in your room and only emerge for meals. Spaces are open to all writers. All you need in order to book a place is a project you want to work on, and a few days to a week or two free of regular commitments. The cost is very affordable. For more info or to book a retreat at dates to suit you, email litcampinfo    [[at]]


5 thoughts on “At Hawthorn Denne: Hawthornden Castle International Writers Retreat

  1. I just got my acceptance letter today! I’m going for Sept. and would really appreciate any words of advice – or more words about what it was like for you there! I’m still at the I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S REALLY TRUE stage, but will calm down soon, and then perhaps I can ask sensible questions. Glad to hear it was so good for you, though. Cheers, Joan.


  2. Hi Joan

    I’d been thinking of them as I ate a bowl of porridge recently. I even thought of sending a Christmas card to the workers – or maybe a Burns Night one instead, as that will be the true anniversary.
    Two possible pieces of practical advice below. Other than this, the fun is in the discoveries so I’d say just go and enjoy, but work hard too…obviously.


    1. Like porridge. (Or bring secret stash of breakfast supplies).
    2. Bring waterproof shoes if you go in winter (I see you have this one covered, you will probably get off lightly, weatherwise).


  3. Lane, I’m so glad you wrote about being there. I was accepted to go next year. There is so little written about it. I both want to know and don’t want to know too much about it.


  4. Hey Jill, belated congrats, I have not been online much lately. I really hope you enjoy it. Let me know when, as I might be in Scotland at some stage over the summer – not sure yet. Or maybe you will be down south? Not during the Olympics, is it… To email me – laneashfeldt AT yahoo co uk x Lane


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