The brochure described the facility as “Britain’s only boutique bootcamp”, a term which in my mind conjured up visions of furious amounts of fitness rewarded with lots of lovely pampering.
Yet as I stood at the entrance to the imposing country house, scrubbing all manner of animal mess off my trainers, I did begin to wonder if I’d been duped. Myself and the other bootees had just returned from a vigorous trek to the top of a nearby tor, which unbeknown to city folk like myself is a rocky hilltop. Offering panoramic views over the dramatic north Devon coastline, the spot is the perfect place to exercise. The only problem is that the sheep think so too.
I was rather pleased with myself at having reached the top of the tor only mildly out of breath.
As the landscape leveled out I stopped to enjoy the view, but our personal trainers, Shane and Kieran, had other plans.
“We come here because it’s perfect for interval training,” said Shane, pointing down towards a small hill on the opposite side of the tor.
“I call it the triangle of pain,” whispered a fellow bootee, now on her third visit to Nu Beginnings.
One by one, we took it in turns to carefully make our way down the hill, gently jog a short way across the bottom — then leg it as fast as we could back up to the top. And all the while, having to negotiate the many mounds of sheep droppings.
First time around I surprised myself. I reached the top of the hill while still attempting something slightly faster than normal walking pace.
At the top, Shane asked us to rate how we felt out of 10 — zero being asleep and 10 being Usain Bolt after the 100m dash. My heart was pounding in my chest and my brow felt sticky, so I scored myself a seven.
But the fact that I could speak was a bad sign, according to Kieran who ordered me back down the hill. Four circuits later, and the final stretch felt like reaching the summit of Everest. Sweat oozed from every pore and the power of speech had deserted me.
“When you think you can’t continue, just dig a little deeper,” said Shane. “It’s as much about your mind as it is your body.”
It may not state it in the terms and conditions, but mental strength is something you need by the bucket load. Perched high above the town of Ilfracombe, the setting is surely one of the most beautiful in the country. But don’t go expecting a traditional cream tea of a Devon holiday, as Nu Beginnings is primarily a weight-loss retreat.
After an initial introduction, visitors perform a brief fitness test so trainers can tailor a programme to their needs. Next up is the dreaded weigh-in, but having a long-standing scales aversion, I gave this a miss. Not a problem, said Jennie, who manages the operation with partner David. Like the clientele, motives come in all shapes and sizes. Most want to lose weight, according to Jennie, while others want to get fit or just need a break.
Our first evening began with a relaxation session, which I certainly needed. The schedule for the week was bursting with high-energy activity, but it was the dietary regime that had me stressed. When you sign up to Nu Beginnings, you essentially embark on a detox by default. Forget about sugary treats and salty snacks and there’s not a drop of alcohol or caffeine to be had. None of the lovely bedrooms contain a kettle, so if you want a drink it’s either water or herbal tea in the communal lounge.
Incredibly, I survived my first morning in decades without a black coffee. And the food was pretty good too. Resident chef Gary prepares tasty, nutritious meals. He caters for different dietary requirements, keeping within the framework of the low GL (glycaemic load) diet — an eating plan based upon controlled portions of slow-release energy foods. Staff run juicing demonstrations and give nutritional advice.
The energetic tor climb and subsequent workout were preceded by an hour in the gym. But there was no rest for the wicked. After a light (and I do not use that word lightly) lunch, it was back to the tor for a “practice hike”. Hiking is central to the programme. Led by experienced guides, hikers use Nordic walking poles for better balance and a more efficient workout.
Having somehow survived, the big challenge came the following day as we trekked for eight miles across Exmoor. It was tiring, but exhilirating — or in the words of a fellow hiker: “It hurt so good”. Exercise isn’t hard work when you’re breathing fresh air in beautiful surroundings and sharing the experience with good company. Keeping fit doesn’t have to mean running to a stand still or cycling for hours on a long road to nowhere.
And there was still better to come. Back ‘home’, a masseuse was on hand to work away our aches and pains. Complementary therapies are integral to the Nu Beginnings experience.
Residents enjoy a therapy daily — be it massage, hypnotherapy or acupuncture, and group sessions of yoga and Pilates enhance the overall sense of wellbeing.
At the beginning of my stay I felt petrified at the prospect of this self-inflicted incarceration. I only relaxed after speaking to another guest, who had visited similar bootcamps in the past. “You take something away with you each time — no matter how small,” she said.
How right she was. I have not been up at daybreak each morning, preparing to run several miles before breakfast. And yet my new caffeine-free diet and enhanced exercise regime has left me noticeably fresher and fitter. Presuambly that’s why they call it Nu Beginnings.
A Week’s Weight Loss Programme at Nu Beginnings in Devon starts at £2095 + VAT. (It’s £2,295 + VAT for a deluxe room and £2,095 + VAT per person for a smaller room, or if sharing a deluxe room.) The price includes a full weight loss programme, including hiking, interval training, yoga, Pilates, all meals, cooking demonstrations, three deep tissue massages, two hypnotherapy sessions, one auricular acupuncture session, a personal training session and a one to one with the nutritionist or an NLP session.