My Mum has always been a devotee of “well being” when we were small in the 1970’s she was constantly dashing off to aerobics in draughty village halls dressed in a turquoise shiny cat suit and leg warmers. Any small children in tow would be put in a wooden pen at one end of the room and left to ‘play’ whilst the exercises went on energetically at the other end. In the 1980’s Mum was Obsessed with The Green Goddess Diana Moran on Good Morning Britain and would be prancing about in front of the tv whilst we were burning toast in the kitchen..... And in 1990 my Mother discovered Champneys.
If you haven’t heard of Champneys’s of Tring it is a health spa in Hertfordshire. I would argue it is the leading health spa in the UK. When my Mum first came to Champneys it was a “proper” health farm. When you arrived you saw a doctor and a nutritionist and they took your blood pressure and weighed you and measured you. They then informed you if you were to be eating the Light Diet menu or the regular menu at mealtimes. At the end of your stay you would be weighed etc again and you were sent off with a suggested meal plan to take you forward. I was coming up to my 21st birthday when my Mother first suggested she would take me to Champneys. I was living a most unhealthy lifestyle in London. Although I was vegetarian at the time I couldn’t see much beyond cheese or beans on toast. I was driving a van a lot and was snacking on countless chocolate bars throughout the day. And my evenings were spent drinking Guinness. The result was I was very overweight with terrible skin. It was most at odds with My Mothers view of how her daughter should behave or look. I was put on the Light Diet menu and in the week we were here I think I lost about 8Ib. I was thrown into a whirlwind of activity and it was also where I fell in love with yoga.
In those days at Champneys you had a massage included on every day of your stay. It wasn’t quite the aromatic delights we experience today and it went something like this: Exfoliation, wearing paper knickers one of the team of ladies who worked in the spa would rub a salt solution vigorously all over you. Following a shower you would then be put in a steam cabinet which was a little pod that you sat in with your head sticking out of the top. After that one of the spa ladies would collect you and take you to the relaxation room which was full of rows of beds with freshly laid sheets and heated pads and blankets. It was pitch black and you could only detect other beings by their breathing. Once tucked in you would lie waiting for the massage therapist to come and collect you and take you for a twenty minute massage. It was here we met Pauline who was an excellent masseuse and who became a life long friend at Champneys. She worked here for 40 years before retiring last year.
Another place that doesn’t exist now at Champneys, sadly, is The Art Room. I loved spending time in the art room drawing and painting and playing with clay. It was a relaxing and restorative place where you could try new mediums and I felt it completed the holistic circle of the idea of well being.
Following my initial “life changing” visit I have been back to Champneys with Mum virtually every year since. There have been many changes over the 26 years I have been coming. When we first came Champneys was run by a wonderful couple called Tanya and Allan Wheway. Their philosophy was that one should see immediate results from their stay at Champneys that they could build on once they returned home.
They used to sit on The Champneys table ( A wonderful table you can sit at if you are staying alone and would prefer to eat in company or if you are in a couple but would just like to talk to other guests. ) at lunch and dinner times and chat to guests. They always looked incredibly healthy and glamorous and were excellent representatives of all that Champneys can offer. Sadly The Wheways were unceremoniously dispensed with when The Guinness family took over for a short while in 2002. But great news Tanya Wheway has been reinstalled by the current owners, The Purdew family, running her own brand well being retreats. And as for The Champneys Table, that is still there too……These days the wonderful nutritionist Rachael Robinson sits there and dispenses advice with kindness and humour.
Food is an intergral part of Champneys. Everything down to the plates is geared towards healthy eating although this doesn’t mean measly portions. The food is laid out at breakfast and lunch so you can help yourself and dinner is chosen from a menu and you can order wine. Everything has clear guidelines about nutritional content and allergens and I have learned some unlikely pairings from my latest trip….. A little Hoummus goes with virtuallly anything including eggs. Rocket, Spinach and Kale ( dark green leaves basically) is a wonderful food for those of us peri-menopausal ladies. Cashew nut butter is highly addictive although a teaspoon goes a long way when sparingly added to slices of banana…….. Kedgeree is a delicious and perfect breakfast for those of us who don’t like porridge and museli….. just add rocket!
During my stay at Champneys this week I made an appointment to see the nutritionist Rachael as, although I know my diet isn’t appalling due to Matts magic food ( appropriate for fast swimming), I do eat at the ‘wrong times’ resulting in exhaustion, bad moods and poor nights sleep plus I wanted some dietary advice on preparing for the menopause…. oh and I am also growing up and kicking the Quavers addiction……..
I am also determined to cut down on sugar which comes into my diet and life via too much wine, random 3pm chocolate bars and strangely ( to me anyway) bread. I won’t bore you all with my optimistic new regime suffice to say if I make it through it’s trial month I shall let you know how I am faring and any vitamins and supplements I have started to swear by.
Over the years in the evenings we have taken part in all kinds of workshops in the evenings. We have learned to juggle, diabolo and spin a plate on a stick ( My mothers favourite party trick.) We have had talks about CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy), finding the right colours for you and your wardrobe and everything from nutrition to make-up. The thing I love about these events is there are people from all around the world, all shapes and sizes getting together and laughing and trying out new things in an extremely friendly and supportive environment. It is really life enhancing.
Champneys does have its fair share of celebrities stay there, although I haven't seen any with plates on sticks……. We have often stayed there during one of Frank Brunos visits and I once had an in depth conversation with footballer Ian Wright and his wife about still versus sparkling water!! The most famous visitor has to be Diana, Princess of Wales.
The treatments at Champneys are second to none. Over the years my Mum and sister and I have tried everything from being wrapped in mud/seaweed/”clouds” which must have been a cream of sorts and I am sure hay(?) to sublime aromatherapy massages and facials leaving you feeling ten years younger but that …… I have also had hot stone reflexology twice over the years which is a very moving experience and today I had a shiatsu massage for the first time which was incredible and something I would love to repeat regularly.
Exercise is also a huge part and it is often the first place you will find many of the new crazes that hit our gyms and leisure centres. For me the pool is my favourite place. I swim up and down monotonously for hours. I also enjoy water aerobics with my Mum and her friends and often several rather large camel dealers from Saudi Arabia who book themselves in for months on end to lose several stones. I also do yoga on a daily basis which is wonderful and always makes me spurred on to go back ( only next door for heavens sake!!) to yoga in Saffron Walden as soon as I return.
I am under no illusions about how fortunate we have been to have this relationship with Champneys and how lucky I am that I continue to go with my Mum to this day. “The Champneys Way” has become very much part of our daily vocabulary though and we are always trying to remember all the tips and tricks we have learned after each visit. This post was going to be written in my usual flippant humour and whilst there is a little of that here I am actually surprised at how much of an effect coming here for all these years has had on my life. I think it is definitely a place I use to guide myself back to how I ought to live rather than all the bad habits I am prone to slipping into and for that I am grateful.
All the views in this blog post are my own and all the references are my own memories. I have not been paid in anyway to promote Champneys and have written this blog piece purely out of my love for the place and to record my thoughts.