Living and breathing Arvon

Totleigh Barton


‘I’ve been at the field.’ This, spoken by one of the teachers on last week’s writing residential at Totleigh Barton in the depths of Devon. As a line of dialogue it does not say much. But in other ways it says everything about the ‘Arvon experience’, including how hard it is to capture it in words for those who were not there. There is the silent nodding of heads. An anorak is shaken out, a cup of tea poured. ‘How were they?’ says a colleague. ‘Coping?’

‘The field’ refers to a ten-foot stretch of grass beyond the garden hedge where someone has discovered a phone signal. Energy and weather permitting, figures have been making pilgrimage to it, mostly to remind themselves that the world they left behind mere days ago is carrying on without them. That is the power of Arvon. It creates the very tangible impression that the so-called ‘real world’, out there, has somehow become less solid than the one behind these book and art-lined walls, incidental almost, to the extent that checking is required to confirm it still exists. We might call the atmosphere which pervades Arvon writing centres ‘magic’ or ‘mystery’, but here is evidence of a shared, private language with which to describe it (‘I’ve been at the field’) which would make sense in no other context.

photo credit: Teresa Cremin

This is the opening of the latest in a series of blog posts detailing the progress of the Teachers as Writers research project being undertaken by the Arvon Foundation, University of Exeter and Open University.

To read the rest of this blog post please look at the TAW blog page, where you can also sign up for updates as the project progresses.

You can find a full description of the project here.



  1. yeah! I’ve been to Totleigh Barton once (wonderful) and Clun Arvon a lot because it’s close to where I live. And Lumb Bank Arvon once but I’m back again at the beginning of May with Michael Laskey and a lot of friends, can’t wait. Now I’m going to look up all your references.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been on three Arvon courses and gained a great deal from them. I used to accept the ‘no phone’ signal, no wifi’ as helpful, but now I’m not so sure. Plainly, the phone is either there or it’s not, but refusal to provide internet access seems to me to be out-dated and infantilising. We pay large sums (an adult transaction) and can surely be left to make our own decisions about when/whether to access the internet; if we wish, we could cut off from it entirely and leave ‘away from my desk’ messages on email. But it should be our decision. Internet provision is no longer generally seen as an ‘extra’, a luxury, and research can be really helpful for the creative process!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I wonder about the link you make between paying and having no connection via wifi etc. Speaking personally there are so few places I can still be removed from constant connectivity that it feels like a price worth paying. I know something has happened to my attention span in the last few years, which I try to correct by limiting how much online time I have each day. Arvon seems to recognise this I think. But I also know we are all different. With good wishes, Anthony


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