I’ve always wanted to experience a pampering spa break, but never got round to it. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing my friends would be interested in, and I certainly didn’t think it was something The Bloke would be up for, so I was shocked when he suggested it for my birthday. Granted, he did get a huge discount through his Vitality health insurance, and so I was going to have the Champneys Henlow experience!
I read the website details, and noted the lengthy rules, and recommendations. We had to pre-order our robes and flip-flops, and we could’ve specified times for the three inclusive treatments, but I don’t think The Bloke did so. We could also pre-book any classes, but they incurred a £3.00 supplement, so I decided to chance our arm. I wanted to try the stretchy classes, yoga, Pilates, and that. Yoga was an additional £5.00, and I wasn’t sure if the timings suited.
We arrived early (as per usual), about 15 minutes before our scheduled check in time. The building is an old grange, and is very picturesque from the outside. Unfortunately, the area at the bottom of the drive looked more like some of the less salubrious parts of Leicester, although I could have been doing it a huge disservice.
Luckily, our room was ready, and we were ushered via The Board Room, where there was a detoxing shot of pomegranate (spelled incorrectly!) raspberry and green tea waiting for us. I’m not a huge fan of green tea, but this was nice. We had been given our treatment schedule, a copy of the rules, some self-advertising and promotions, and a map of the building that bore no real resemblance, as it’s on two levels that were not translated properly in the illustration. We had to go down stairs, and back up stairs; I wondered how disabled guests accessed the facilities. The ceilings were also fairly low in places, karma for The Bloke calling me a midget all the time (yes, he did bang his head at least once during our stay). The room overlooked the courtyard, and was clean and well-equipped, if a little tired. We had travel sized Champneys toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion), and the towels were decent.
The robes and flip-flops were in the room. The smallest robe size was medium, which was just a bit too big for me. It also had the branded placed so that a leftie like me covered it up when I wrapped it around me, not that I was bothered! As for the flip-flops, I asked The Bloke to order me the small ones. I was bang smack in the middle of the shoe sizes for small and medium, but figured that it was better to have them slightly small than too big. I think there was a misunderstanding somewhere along the line, as I had a pair of medium ones. They were too big. The deal with these is that you can keep the footwear, but not the robes. If you take them away with you, you are charged the £25.00 retail price! I didn’t think it was worth the price, especially as it didn’t fit, and mostly because it smelled washed, if that makes sense? Why would I pay that money for a second (or third, fourth, etc) hand robe?
I looked at the treatment schedule, and we had our first one booked for that evening, a massage. It would mean we would have to miss the ‘Stretch and Relax’ class, but there was a later Pilates class. We made our way down to the spa reception to book, but found out that there was only one space left. The girl said that she would book us both in, though, but the studio might be a bit crowded.
We then made our way up to the restaurant to book our table for dinner. Our package included all of our meals. The Champneys philosophy was that there were no bars, but wine could be purchased with lunch and dinner. We had brought our own. *winks*
We decided to use the pool and spa facilities before the massage. The changing area was small. There was a laconium (a room were the floor and seats are heated) and a steam room. I was looking forward to the latter, as I’d had a nasty chest infection, and knew it would do me good.
It was out of order.
In the main pool area was a spa pool and a sauna. The Bloke said that the men’s changing area had a sauna and steam room, both working. I may have sneaked in to use the blokes facilities in the past, but I don’t think I could get away with it this time (don’t judge me).
The pool was cool. Not as cold as a pool aimed at serious swimmers, but colder than a leisure pool. The spa pool was attached, and was consequently the same temperature. I’m used to spa pools being warmer, for obvious reasons. I lasted about five minutes before having to go and use the sauna, which had room for about six people at a squeeze. At least it was warm.
As I was people watching, I realised that, not for the first time, people really can be ignorant [insert expeltive]. One of the ‘rules’ was not to leave towels on the loungers. There were more loungers out of use than people using the pool and spa area. I wasn’t even surprised.
Another was to leave mobiles in your room, and that they should only be used in your rooms, or in the pay phone areas. Yet everyone who was actually using a lounger was busy scrolling down their phones, or hastily typing away. I use social networking far more than I should, but even I had left my phone in my room, glad to be free of it for a change. I wanted to relax, not be a slave to it!
Having decided I was too cold, and that I needed to wash my hair, I made my way to the changing room. The showers were hit and miss. There were five, not a lot for the number of women using the facility. The shower heads were not the best quality. All had far too much limescale. One shower had a temperature range from freezing to cold only. The products were good. There was shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, but the dispensers were cheap and sometimes dilapidated, and did the products no justice. There was an outer area with hair dryers, and this had face cleanser, toner, and moisturiser. Again, the dispensers did not reflect the quality of the product. The hair dryers were next to useless. No power, but a lot of heat, which meant burning my skin, whilst not drying my hair. It’s now long, but it is really fine. My own hair dryer dries it relatively quickly, but the Champneys ones were a chore.
We went for our massage, a 25 minute inclusive treatment. Shortly after the booked time, a series of masseurs came out calling names. The waiting area emptied, leaving me on my own. I started to worry but I am a quick thinker. My masseur arrived, and led me to the treatment room. After a brief consultation, where I found someone else with the same allergies, and hypermobility issues, she began the session. As a runner, I asked if I could have it focused on my legs. She apologised for not being trained in deep tissue sports massage, but said she’d be glad to have a break from backs, shoulders and necks. For someone not trained in the massage I needed, she did a great job, finding the horrid knots in my calves and loosening them off. As for the shins, ouch!
Which leads me on to my preconceptions versus reality with spa breaks. I expected a health spa to be fairly ‘health and fitness’ oriented. I honestly thought the place would be full of like-minded individuals. It really wasn’t. The fitness room wasn’t the huge, state of the art facility I expected, but a tiny area with a few machines, largely empty. The only drink freely available was water, but there was a couple of coffee bars selling hot drinks and cake.
Could I find a Coca Cola?
I didn’t even have sugar in my room! The tea and coffee in the room was generous, but I can’t have sweeteners. Not providing sugar was pretty shocking. At least the green tea (bleurgh) with lemon tasted of lemon.
That was the thing, the gym was empty most of the time. The Pilates class was far from overcrowded. They could’ve easily fit in a few more! The instructor was clearly a dancer, you only had to look at his musculature, his flexibility, and the way his feet bent. It’s always the feet that give it away. I was more shocked that despite not having done Pilates for over ten years, I didn’t struggle as much as I thought. Tricep presses still need a lot of work *makes mental note*
But I was probably the second skinniest person in the class. Even for me, with my body dysmorphia, I was wandering about thinking, ‘I’m tiny’. Far from the health bunnies I had imagined, the resort was full of older people looking to relax, or groups of women looking to lunch in bathrobes. The fact that there was one changing room for men, yet there was a changing area for female day guests separate to the staying ones said something. The emphasis was definitely more on the ‘spa’ side than ‘fitness’.
Anyway, dinner, what was that like?
It was a near fine dining experience. I’ve done fine dining, and the service moves effortlessly. This had slight hitches. There was enough staff for the tables, but the service was slow, and the staff looked rushed. The food was lovely. I had smoked duck with rocket and Parmesan to start. Then I had braised beef with root veg mash. Then the problems started. My mouth and lips were tingling, and my face and neck started itching. Only when they brought the menu out for dessert did I notice that there were allegen codes, and my main had celery in. I’ve had my suspicions about celery, not just because I hate it, but I was having an allergic reaction, thankfully a minor one, and there were no other allergens in my food. This was actually a bonus!
The next day, we had an early start because we were booked in for the thalossotherapy. I had no idea what this would be, other than being salt water. I envisioned floating in Dead Sea salts. I was wrong. Six of us were booked in, where we were taken to a pool with a variety of jets aimed at providing a massage in the ambient temperature, heavily salted water. We had to move about, as the various jets targeted different areas. It was absolutely amazing, like an underwater deep tissue massage. I now want a bath with jets, so I can have this at home!
It was a beautiful day, so we went for a walk, and enjoyed the sunshine. There was a small trail path around the grounds, and it felt very Spring like. There was an abundance of water fowl on the adjacent river, a couple of squirrels, and lots of frogs. We passed a tennis court, and said we should have brought racquets. You can only imagine my excitement when I saw the table tennis table around the corner. We had a bit of play, both as bad as each other. That little ball doesn’t half swerve, well, that’s my excuse.
We had an ample lunch before the final inclusive treatment, a facial. A facial that had a neck and shoulder massage. This was far tamer than I have experience of, but the shoulder massage went far too close to the boob area than I’m comfortable with. I know I’m a prude, but still. I also opened my eyes at the wrong stage, and had to fight the uncomfortable feeling of having oil in my eyes whilst being too polite to do something about it. My skin did feel, and look, refreshed, but my sleep line was still there (I have one wrinkle that sticks out like a sore thumb, and ages me, but can I get rid of it? Hell no).
I needed to run, and for the fourth time this year, I opted for shorts, and vest for the second (to think I ran in shorts and vest in January, January!), and found it about right. I had asked about running routes, and was given a list of two walks (three miles and two miles). This again summed up how unsporty this spa break was! We opted for the longer route, and we could’ve done both, it was probably better for my knee that we didn’t. The list was fairly descriptive, however, it could have done with some distance markers to help, or maybe an actual map. As it happened, I did find the route on my Maps app before we set off, and so we didn’t have to stop too often to check we were going the right way.
We left the grounds, and headed up a bridleway that seemed to allow cars. Granted, there were houses along the way, but I thought they weren’t allowed! The description pre-warned us of a ‘slight incline’, which I laughed in the face of. Compared with Bradgate, it was a mere speed bump. The path then turned into a field, literally. It appeared to be constructed from tractor tracks, making it an interesting surface. I was glad it was dry, as I only had road shoes. We eventually found our way back onto more solid footing, and into the village of Langford (it was not bonny). The description mentioned turning just before a pub, but it wasn’t really visible before the turn, not very helpful! Luckily, I had remembered the name of the road.
At this point, my stomach reminded me why it preferred running on empty. Even though it had been over three hours since lunch, I felt uncomfortable, and I also had the problem of trying to avoid inhaling flies. I guessed that there was less than a kilometre to run, so I opted for the ‘get it over and done with as quickly as possible’ tactic. The path rejoined the one just after the ‘slight descent’, which I was a bit gutted about. I had hoped to run down it, as the route seemed to have more ups than downs.
It was an enjoyable trot in perfect conditions. I wasn’t happy with my pace, or lack of, but I felt a lot more comfortable now my knee was back in place. We went back to our room via the fitness room, where I stretched a little. I made the mistake of using the rowing machine. I could feel my knee cap ‘flicking’. I carried on until I’d rowed 500m, because my OCD wouldn’t allow me to stop before. My knee was sore. It serves me right, I should have stopped. The bruising has worsened, and it has been painful since. I’ve not been able to run for a couple of days. I am totally stupid, and totally gutted.
We relaxed before dinner. All of this relaxation had taken its toll, I was shattered! When we arrived at the restaurant, it was far busier than it had been the previous evening. We had to wait ages to be seated, which didn’t go down well with The Bloke, then he had to wait ages for his sparkling water. The menu was disappointing. Fish, mushrooms, and celery. I opted for the chargrilled turkey, which came with sweet potato mash, tomatoes and mushrooms, which I asked not to have. To start, I had the cured meat platter, which was lovely. Even the green olives were edible, which amazed me. Normally they are bitter and rancid, but these tasted more like black olives.
My main came out adorned with a generous helping of mushrooms. The waiter offered to take it back, but I thought I’d deal with it myself. I had to remove them, and put them on my side plate as the smell was making me heave. I could also deal with the parts that had been contaminated by mushroom juice, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if it had gone back. Apart from that, the turkey steak was beautifully cooked.
I was limited with the dessert choices, and went with the chilli chocolate mousse. I have watched enough Come Dine With Me to know that nobody can ever taste the chilli, so figured it was a calculated risk. One small spoonful, and I was reaching for the water. It was horrendous! The Bloke said he couldn’t taste it, which is fine for him, but my mouth was ablaze! Either I’d been unlucky in some kind of Chilli Russian Roulette game, or its true, I am a total wuss.
It’s the latter, isn’t it.
Our final morning was spent relaxing in the pool and sauna. The steam room was still out of action. An Aqua Fit class took over most of the pool, and the whooping and hollering, along with the naff music, gave me a headache. The instructor was wearing Hokas, which amaze me. I wondered if she would topple over, into the pool. The headache won, instead of my curiosity, so we decided to get changed. We did think about another stroll around the grounds, maybe find the table tennis table, but the weather had changed for the worse. Gone was the Spring sunshine, here was a cold blustery wind, and mizzle. We went and sat in the conservatory. I picked up the latest copy of Vanity Fair. I cannot believe people pay for this, the first forty pages were ads. Forty bloody pages! By the time I found an article, I was bored. It didn’t get any better. It was aspirational drivel, selling a lifestyle only a few could afford without bankrupting themselves. I imagine people who buy this magazine do so to leave it around, as if to say, ‘look at me, this is me, you know, this is my life’. It is pure fantasy. Even worse, there was a page of modern gripes, dressed up as superhero baddies, one of which slating info ads, you know the ones, it looks like it’s a piece of informative research, but is really trying to sell you something.
I counted at least two further on. That wasn’t even including the style guides, which are really just ads themselves.
I did well to persevere with it. When it wasn’t trying to flog luxury items, it was a pretentious look at something cultural. I barely made it past the strapline of almost every feature. I’m so glad I didn’t buy it.
We had our final lunch, and I remarked to The Bloke that it seemed strange that the only drinks choices were water, or you could purchase wine. I would have expected tea or coffee, maybe some fruit juice, just to break things up.
So that was it, my spa experience. I enjoyed it, but I would have preferred more exercise facilities, maybe some more information about the surrounding area, with more walks.
I couldn’t get my head around people dining in robes at lunch and breakfast. It just seemed wrong. I had to put some clothes on, even if it was sportswear. I know, how is that better than swimsuits and robes, in my head, it just isn’t!
People are rude and ignorant, even in a place where a ‘better standard of person’ is targeted as the ideal client. The pseudo middle classes are the worst. A huge sense of entitlement, coupled with an overriding sense of self that makes people utterly thoughtless and selfish. It went beyond hogging loungers, and being permanently attached to phones. It was the blatant rudeness. Breakfast and lunch were buffets, and every time, I was barged, pushed or shoved out of the way, without a please or thanks, by some greedy guts trying to grab something before I might take it. Yes, the service was slow, and there were times when waiting to be seated seemed to be never-ending, but there were people ignoring the signs, and the queues, and plonking themselves down wherever they fancied, which then made it more difficult to seat those with more manners and patience. It wasn’t like anyone was going to starve to death.
Speaking of which, if I was there for the day, or on the day I was checking in, it would be nice if there were some more food options other than cake. I would have expected some nuts or seeds, you know, that kind of thing.
Would I go back? Probably, but only if I had some inclusive treatments, because otherwise, I would feel like I wasn’t getting value for money. I thoroughly enjoyed the one class I could fit in, and I want my own thalassotherapy room! It was just the tonic after all of the illness and injury woes. Now, I’m off to ice my knee. Thanks for the lovely weekend, Bloke!