Monthly Archives: July 2013

Spa break at the Marriott St Pierre in Chepstow

Perfectly situated to enjoy the delightful scenery of the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean, I went to Chepstow in Wales to sample the Marriott St Pierre Hotel for the hot tub blog.

Mark tried out the mountain bike track at the Forest of Dean, which he has been itching to get to. I spent most of my time in the spa. Here’s my review:

Stand-up Paddleboarding

I’ve been observing people stand-up paddleboarding, or paddlesurfing, at the beach for some time. It seems a very civilised activity: the closest you can get to having a stroll on the sea. Paddleboarders seem to be very nonchalant, just casually catching a wave and riding it into the beach. Everyone seems to be able to do it. In contrast to surfing, which hardly anyone can.

So when the opportunity came up for a sundowner session at Watergate Bay, I jumped at it. Firstly, it meant that I would get out of putting the kids to bed. Secondly, the conditions were absolutely perfect: the sun was still shining, the sea was glassy and we’d catch a sunset on the way home. Thirdly, after failing at surfing I had a feeling this could be my beach sport.


SUP: a cross between punting and surfing

There were four of us in the group and Carl, who teaches everything from surfing to cardio cycle at Watergate, was our instructor. After a quick run through on the beach, which made it all sound deceptively simple, we took to the sea.

Paddling out through the small breaking waves on our knees, I already liked it more than surfing, as it seemed relatively easy to get into the hallowed territory of outback. Although that might just have been because the waves were so small. Whatever, I managed it without getting my hair wet, which was a good start.

Once we were beyond the breaking waves, Carl told us just to hop to our feet. Mine was definitely more of a scramble than a hop, but the wide board was very forgiving. It might not have looked pretty, but it worked. Carl advised us to use the paddle to help with stability. I was sceptical about that idea working, but it was interesting how the resistance of the water did help with the balance.

Before long, bar a few splashes, we were all paddling down the coastline, enjoying the scenery. Well, the scenery which was directly in front of me, because if I looked around too much I inevitably fell off.

The action reminded me of punting. As long as you kept your knees soft it was fairly easy to cope with the slight swell. Although by the time we’d travelled half a mile, my legs were feeling slightly trembly from holding the squat.


On the way back we were all feeling confident and ready for the next challenge of catching some waves. Carl had instructed us on how to catch the wave: line up the board and paddle to catch the wave. As the wave lifts it up, quickly turn the feet from standing parallel and into surf stance, keeping the paddle in the water on the same side as the lead foot. Easy.

I lined myself up for the first wave, felt the board come up, didn’t move my feet quick enough (it’s definitely NOT as easy as Carl made it look) and made the classic beginner mistake of walking off the back of the board with my arms flailing.

The next mistake was keeping my mouth open as I went in. I emerged with the taste of salt water and my eyes stinging from the sunblock washed into them.

I tried again with the same result: was it me, or had the waves suddenly got bigger? The others weren’t having much more luck either and one of them had got into an argument with a fisherman.

Carl kindly came to help me: I could get in the surfing stance and he’d launch me onto the wave. All I had to do was keep my balance. Just like snowboarding, right? I fancied my chances.

The first time my weight was too far forward, I lasted about a second before diving into the sea. The second time the weight was too far back and I went arse first into the sea.

We had one last try. Surely I could do it. Did I? No. As I said to Carl I’ll just have to go back again.

Rocking a good look, with the endlessly patient Carl


If you fancy a go at paddleboarding, get yourself down to the Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay. This week they are also running the sundowner sessions at £30 for two hours. It’s fun!


Swimming in the sea. Without a wetsuit!


My kids (aged five and seven) don’t know what a hot summer is like, so this heatwave is extra exciting.

I moved back to Cornwall 10 years ago – after feeling stranded inland for way too long – so I could go to the beach after work. Rarely has this happened, either because of lack of time or lack of weather.

Standard beach trips usually mean taking several layers of clothing and a windbreak. We don’t ever admit it, but often it’s not even pleasant. It’s simply a case of toughing it out as either the wind picks up, a massive cloud obscures the sun, a sea fret rolls in or it starts to rain. Swimming without a wetsuit is unheard of.

Now we’ve got a Med-style climate I can’t bear being inside working. Neither do I want to waste time food shopping, cooking, or doing housework, supervising the kids’ homework or taking them to any of their clubs. Even riding the pony is less appealing than jumping in the sea, which is no longer so cold that it takes your breath away.

All I want to do is beach and mentally I’m giving myself weekly targets. Last week I swam four times in the sea. Good. So far this week none, but after today there is nothing stopping me, so please, please, please hang around sun.


Daytrip to Legoland

“Muuuum, I really don’t like this,” screamed Meribel as, already drenched, she got squirted with more water on the Vikings’ River Splash, while her parents laughed maniacally.

“I WANT TO GET OFF!!” added Sonny, standing up and looking for an exit, which wasn’t available, since we were in one of those round things which bounce down the rapids, rebounding off the sides and soaking you periodically.

Since it was the hottest day in about 10 years, getting drenched was what we needed. Usually the British climate doesn’t accommodate such water ride indulgence, but despite getting properly wet, we dried off in minutes.


The rapids made us smile


Our kids found it a little hard core, they preferred the more sedate Fairy Brook, a gentle meander down a river, looking at giant fairy tale characters made out of lego.

Starter coaster, Sky Rider and the submarine adventure, Atlantis, had to be done a couple of times and the Star Wars exhibition, Driving School and the 4D theatre showing the new Chima film, enhanced with snow and fire, were also favourites.


The Aero Nomad was more Meribel’s style. This guy lives there.

The last time we went to Legoland, we had a great time but I did come away feeling like I had spent much of the day queueing. Which is incredibly boring no matter how positive you try to be about it.

So this time, since we had saved so many coupons and special offers three of the four of us got in for free, we treated ourselves to the Q-Bot. We went for the cheapest option, which was £60 for the four of us and added instant access to the first ride for an extra £1 each.

The Q-Bot regular, doesn’t allow you to queue jump, but it does mean that as soon as you get onto a ride you can cue up the next one, get there for a given time and go in a separate entrance so you don’t have to queue. In effect you book your slot. The waits gave us chance to hang out in the shade, have a drink or something to eat, go to the toilet, visit the shop or stroll around enjoying the amazing lego constructions.


Sonny was a bit worried about Chewy pointing the gun at his head

It’s a fantastic, memorable day out for small children, up to the age of about nine. Or older if they’re lego loving and not the white knuckle type, like mine. We’re already planning the next trip.

The expectations were so high that I was braced for disappointment, but luckily, other than the blip on the rapids, it was a great day for all four of us.



Tickets: There are so many offers for Legoland, on food packets and Tesco clubcard, that you don’t have to pay full whack. So get that sorted before you go. If you have a pre-paid ticket with a bar code, you can walk past the queues and straight up to the turnstile, scan the ticket yourself and you’re in.

Queueing: If you’re on a peak day, a Q-Bot undoubtedly enhances the experience. The Q-Bot Express, which costs £30 per person, cuts the queue time in half and Q-Bot Ultimate allows instant access to any of the rides, but is a whopping £70 per person. We were perfectly happy with the Q-Bot Regular for £15 per person.

If a Q-Bot is pushing the budget too hard, the rides which appeal to young children, such as in the Land of the Pharoahs, tend to have short queues. Also the pirate show, the puppet show in Miniland and the 4D theatre are good places to get quick access.

Shop: It’s not cheap tat, there is serious lego on offer here. Luckily the kids had saved their pocket money for months as there are a lot of high ticket items. They were delighted with their purchases and are enjoying playing with them now we are home.


Food: There is loads of choice of food, no shortage of takeaways and several sit down places. For me it wasn’t particularly tempting, but I am atypical as don’t eat meat and don’t really like junk food. Taking a picnic saved a lot of money, but did mean we had to cart it round with us. The Duplo family restaurant offers a very reasonable all you can eat buffet for £11 for adults and kids eat free after 3pm.

Take your swimmers: Or at least get the kids to take theirs. New for this year there’s a splash and play experience, in Miniland, for them to cool off.







Barefoot running

Barefoot running

This isn't me running. But maybe it could be soon....

“You have a pronounced heel strike, which creates a lot of movement for the body to control. Your foot has a long roll on the ground, which wastes energy. And it lands way in front of your centre of mass, which means there are lots of braking forces going on. You don’t extend from the hip, but only use your quads, and none of the big muscles at the back. You don’t use the trail leg to get any speed and have no forward momentum. You have a slow, heavy cadence.”

This was how running coach and physiotherapist, Louise Nicholettos, summed up my running style. You don’t have to know about running to get the gist that I am slow and heavy footed. I’ve always loved the idea of running, I’m just no good at it. However there are some advantages to all the disadvantages: I don’t have a comfort zone to retreat to, which makes me a suitable candidate to convert to barefoot running.

Lose the trainers

Barefoot running is a trend still in its infancy, but gathering momentum. Advocates say it feels euphoric, you can go faster and for longer and it’s more natural. If you watch children, they run with their mid-foot hitting the ground first, but shoes and trainers have converted us all into heel strikers. Which inevitably leads to injuries, eventually.

However, it’s not as easy as just kicking off your shoes. Unless you have training and build up slowly, you’re likely to get injured if you run barefoot. Lots of barefoot runners wear “minimalist” shoes, which offer the foot a modicum of protection against rough ground, while not interfering with the stride.

Barefoot running also has its opponents who say caucasians are not physiologically built to run barefoot and it leads to more injuries. The experts, even at the highest levels, are divided, so I guess it comes down to personal preference and responsibility. I find the idea rather appealing.

Taking off my trainers was surprisingly liberating in itself. Immediately I felt lighter. Going barefoot naturally shortens the stride, which alleviated lots of my faults. To speed me up, Louise made me jump up and down on the spot in rhythm with the ideal cadence – roughly twice as fast as I was previously “running”. Back on the treadmill, I had to focus on staying relaxed, running in time with the beat, staying vertical and letting my heels kiss the ground to give my calves a momentary break.

I did catch a glimpse of the euphoria. After half an hour she said I picked up the techniques quickly and she could make a runner out of me. This is incredibly heartening: running is a skill which can be learned. It’s interesting to think that if I invested in the training (around £300-£400), plus a pair of minimalist shoes (about £80) and put in the practise I could unleash my inner gazelle.


Getting started:

Louise Nicholettos: [email protected] is based in Cornwall and runs workshops for both barefoot and normal running.

Based in London, Rollo Mahon, is a fount of knowledge about barefoot running: [email protected]

Rollo is running an intensive running workshop at Cornwall’s Watergate Bay Hotel in October. Why not combine learning to run barefoot with a fabulous hotel break next to the beach?

For more contacts, expert opinion and the arguments for and against barefoot running, have a look at the feature I wrote for the July issue of Health Club Management magazine, page 38.







Chic at Eden Sessions


La freak c’est Chic

Grooving to seventies dance classics wearing a Barbour coat and wellies. It must either be a county show or an outdoor gig.

It was, in fact, the Eden Sessions and I was witnessing a true legend in action: Chic, featuring Nile Rogers. Despite the inclement weather, I felt like I should have made the effort and found something glittery to wear, fitting for a bit of 70s New York disco.

Despite being diminutive in size, Rogers’ charisma lit up the venue. His huge smile and obvious enjoyment created an immediate feelgood vibe. He made it clear at the start that he wrote every song which would be played. I’m glad he cleared that up, as I had no idea he wrote Let’s Dance, or He’s the Greatest Dancer, which transported me back 20 years to my student bedroom, getting ready to go out and drinking cheap Bulgarian wine with my best friends. Aaah, thanks for the nostalgia trip Niles.

Chic featuring Nile Rogers. I loved the singer on the left.

The XX were headlining. I like The XX but they were no follow up for Niles and his band of ageing, sassy funksters. Chic found the small window of sunshine in a miserable day, but for The XX it started to drizzle again.

After the demise of the mighty Cornwall Colisseum, which was a guaranteed tour stop off back in the day, Cornwall became a graveyard for live music. It was one of the obstacles against dragging my gig loving husband to live in Cornwall. So when Eden started the Sessions, back in 2001, it was most exciting. Especially as the first year included Doves, Pulp and Spiritualized. We’ve since seen some of our favourite bands there: Muse (who made the ground shake), Kaiser Chiefs, The Raconteurs, Badly Drawn Boy….

With a capacity of just 6,000, Eden is an intimate venue. It means that you can see the whites of the bands eyes without getting crushed. And there are some nice touches: cooking paella outdoors, the biomes lit up, pasties at the end after a long walk to the top. The pints of Pimms, although sadly they didn’t seem to be offering them this year.

The lit up biomes add to the atmosphere

The lit up biomes add to the atmosphere. Thanks for the pic Sarah Hugo

According to Eden, 96 per cent of their guests think there is something special about watching live music at Eden. With many of the directors, including Tim Smit, being ex-music industry they know what they are doing and they invest in the best sound and lighting. The pit acts as an amphitheatre and the gardens are a beautiful setting, with the biomes multi-coloured at night. Eden also works with The Sensory Trust to ensure the Sessions are as accessible as possible. They always feel smooth running and safe, with a friendly atmosphere: I remember at an Ian Brown gig someone asked if I could see. If anyone ever dares to stand in the flower beds they are instantly booed.

Although the Sessions have boosted the local gig scene, they also pull in a lot of punters who combine seeing one of their fave bands with a trip to Cornwall. If you fancy it next year you can find out the line up by signing up to the newsletter on Eden website or follow them on twitter @TheEdenSessions.


Top Tips for the Eden Sessions

You have to buy tokens for drinks. It’s best to buy these when you show your ticket to get in. You can top up down by the stage, but sometimes the queue can be a hassle.

Even if it’s raining don’t be tempted to buy an umbrella, as it will be confiscated.

It’s OK to bring a picnic – but no alcohol. However you can’t sit on your blanket all evening to watch the gig.


Where to stay

The Cornwall: Handily placed for Eden, a hotel stay which will feel like a treat, with the option of self catering accommodation too.

Watergate Bay Hotel: It’s a 30 minute drive, but you are rewarded with a fantastic hotel in a glorious setting, right on the beach. Self-catering accommodation is also on offer:

Lower Barns: This boutique B&B, just outside St Austell, offers a great experience, with treatments and dinner on offer at reasonable prices.

Antonia’s Pearl’s: for tasteful holiday cottages in the nearby harbour village of Charlestown.

If you just want a bed for the night, there is a Premier Inn at Carclaze, a couple of miles from Eden.

Innis campsite: The cheapest place to stay within walking distance of Eden: