A Place of Silence

BBC Radio 4, 1998


In 1998 I was invited to present a half hour episode for a radio series in which people choose a place that has special significance for them. I chose the Maenllwyd, the retreat house in mid-Wales owned by the late John Crook

The programme gives a fine impression of what it was like going on retreat there and includes contributions from John Crook, Tim Blanc, James Monks, Phillip Wilson the local farmer, and Simon Child.

We can no longer use Maenllwyd but Western Chan Fellowship now has a new retreat home in the Peak District.


When I posted this in 2015, Simon Child, the Guiding Teacher of the Western Chan Fellowship, wrote this in our Newsletter.

“On the evening before it was broadcast the BBC phoned me to ask how to handle enquiries about retreats or WCF that may be stimulated by the programme, and asked if it would be alright to give out my telephone number. I didn’t really expect much response but to avoid disturbance to my family I said it would be better to give out my address or that of John Crook instead of phone number. Two days later the letters started arriving, about 20 or more per day for the next ten days, and John also received a similar number! Some of those respondents turned up on retreats subsequently, and some are still attending now 17 years later.”

John Crook and Sue Blackmore at John’s 80th birthday gathering, 30 January 2011

The Maenllwyd is an extraordinary place – a tiny Welsh hill farm with no electricity or mains gas, no phone reception and remaining almost as it must have been a century ago. A retreat there really does mean retreating from the busy world.

This is where I went on my first retreat in 1981 and most recently in June 2015. I have also undertaken several solitary retreats there – it is quite some experience not to see anyone at all for days on end in complete silence (except for the sheep).


The Chan meditation hall, a converted barn.


The programme was produced by Mary Ward-Lowery and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in February 1998.