Friday 31 May 2019

Keep Active On Vacation [Even At Log House Holidays]

   It may have been our honeymoon, and I may have left my writing behind for the first time in 9 years, but there was one thing I admit I couldn't separate myself from when we went away to Log House Holidays, and that was my fitness. I. Am. An. Addict. I cannot sit still. I love the high and the confidence it gives me, and the assurance on holiday that the change in my diet won't be so 'damaging' (note: I have learned, however, for the record, that 'holiday weight-gain' isn't actually a thing - holiday in terms of both vacation and Christmas. Read it and arm yourself with information!)
   Unfortunately, I'm still learning that, sometimes, a full week away from physical strain can be just as valuable as the exercise itself when it comes down to physical health, but I didn't want to ruin my honeymoon with that kind of fretting and getting inside my head about everything I ate, and given that I had just gotten off of kickboxing training rather than weight training, I wasn't in need of a rest like that, anyway.

   I'm sure a number of you reading this will still say "you're on holiday! Relax!" And I appreciate that, but I'm actually not writing this from an obsessive point of view. My last post about our honeymoon proves how gorgeously lazy Log House Holidays is - with hot tubs, fire pits, wood burning stoves and quiet nature all around. But this post is the other side of it, and the fact that, actually, you could have a pretty fit and active time in this incredibly tranquil place, too!
   First of all, if, like me, you like to start (or perhaps round-off) the day with a good workout, you can feel a little lost without your gym, home kit or even just a trusty DVD. I feel that way every time I go away. And you can't bring any of it with you because 1) it's a small cabin, and 2) are you crazy?! What if you break something?!
   In this case, I remind you of good old-fashioned body weight workouts.
   Think squats, push-ups, lunges, jumping - it's easy to put something like this together yourself, or checkout for a huge archive of free body weight workouts. Do them at your own pace in a standard sequence, or slap it together in a HIIT format (2 minutes slow-paced move, 1 minute fast cardio, repeat with good form) for 20 minutes for extra burn and to turn those basic moves up several levels.
   "But you said the cabin was small!" There's a great deal of space just outside your cabin, and on the veranda. And there's plenty of privacy if you're worried about being watched - very few of the cabins are in sight of one another. Monty's Retreat, especially.

   Once you recall these old reliables, you'll no doubt remember the existence of other forms of holiday-friendly exercise. You can cut down the time and amp up the intensity with Tabata (I recommend beginners start with jumping jacks - 20 seconds as hard and fast as you can, then take a 10 second breather; repeat 8 times), simplify it with calisthenics, or dial it right down for some brutally deceptive fire with some simple isolated barre or Pilates. And remember, of course, that resistance bands are ridiculously portable pieces of kit.
   Or just make the most of the veranda or your jetty with some nice water-side yoga. I genuinely can't recommend that enough.
   There's also the path around the lake - it takes 45 minutes to walk and is perfect for a morning or evening run. It's a private footpath, so only those staying on-site can use it. And considering that there are only 8 cabins on that lake, that makes it particularly quiet. And if you fancy elongating it without doubling the circuit, leave at the Monty's Retreat gate and do a lap around the neighbouring Neigh Bridge Lake.

   But: you're on holiday. Perhaps you want to try something new to go with your new surroundings rather than the usual grind, and that is a very good idea. It won't feel like exercise then, either, but an 'activity'. But what could possibly be available on a quiet lake?
   Quite a lot, actually.
   For £40-£55, you can hire out a few lovely things for the duration of your whole stay that will help keep you active and moving, all while making the most of the gorgeous scenery. Try kayaking (safely, without the rapids) and get your arms, shoulders and upper back moving every morning. Or try paddle boarding and give your core some serious fire before lunch. Or hire a bicycle and give your legs and glutes a good burn in the afternoon. Or take your own private (and included) row boat out in the evening and combine the two - it takes core power, not just upper body, to move that thing well. Then, after all that, make yourself a great, balanced meal in the fully-equipped kitchen and tumble into the hot tub.

   I am a fitness addict, it's true, but in changing my activity in line with being in a new place, I still gave my body - and my mind - a break. Steering away from the same movements and training plans in favour of something new and subsequently more enjoyable can do wonders, and it still reduces the blow of the devilish Ferrero Rocher on the counter, and the super-praline chocolate wedding cake duplicate that I'd made before we went away that sat whispering at us from the cake tin. We both heard it on multiple occasions. We made sure to keep the cake and the chocolates apart.

   So even a super-relaxing holiday can bring with it some great calorie-burn without need for a gym, that keeps you in the fresh air and really capitalises on its beautiful location. It's different strokes for different folks, but this balance is what I look for in great holidays, and only here have I found it with the greatest harmony.

Sunday 26 May 2019

Our Honeymoon In The Cotswolds

   After months spent writing and redrafting the second book of The Devoted trilogy, then writing short stories for Frenone's Tarot project, then writing and redrafting 'Hlífrún', then planning out the third and final book of the trilogy (such a freaking busy year so far), my manic working schedule was quite abruptly interrupted by a honeymoon that came almost a full year late. Don't feel sorry for us, though. It was a conscious decision made so that we could go somewhere wonderful and, ultimately, extremely worth the wait.

   We'd booked our honeymoon back in January 2018, 5 months before the wedding, for what was essentially going to end up a joint honeymoon-first anniversary. We'd selected Log House Holidays in the Cotswolds for the lake, the cabin, the facilities, and, most importantly, the immediate location, and chose Monty's Retreat from among the 8 cabins on site. It was the most secluded - furthest from the other cabins and largely surrounded by trees. And I do love trees. I don't think there were any sprites or ditchlings in these, though. Just squirrels.

   The reason location was important was because my husband and I don't have a car, so we wanted to go somewhere that we didn't feel like we had to escape to enjoy ourselves, and Monty's Retreat was just that: a wonderful place to be. Not a place to sleep, eat and then escape all day, but a place to be.
   Having only ever used caravans and a couple of bungalows when I went on holidays as a kid, the sensation of feeling trapped was a big concern of mine, and while I admit to having two private panic attacks over the first two evenings we were there, I mellowed out very quickly and my sleep didn't suffer for it once. Which is honestly unheard of. So unheard of, in fact, that I usually have to drink some sleepy-time tea or take herbal soothers before going to bed whenever we visit my in-laws in The Netherlands.

   We settled into the cabin very quickly. It was beautiful with its walls of bare logs, vaulted ceilings and lots of natural light pouring in from big windows overlooking the lake, and it smelt gorgeous too - like herbs and wood, but not a thick miasma. The bookcase was filled with all kinds of titles as well as a selection of DVDs, and there was a log burner that heat the cabin beautifully, though it remained the perfect temperature itself anyway due to its traditional Finnish design.
   The kitchen was light and fully-equipped, though we brought our own wok (gotta make stir-fries somehow!), and I got on fine with all the appliances even while making okonomiyaki (it's our holiday staple). The bathroom was, frankly, huge, and the bedroom was simple, and all the curtains were black-out. The bed seemed much too hard until I actually turned in for the night, and, as I said already, I didn't have any trouble sleeping at all.

   The hot tub, though, was a highlight. "I honestly can't remember the last time I've felt so relaxed," said my husband as he bobbed about in it early that first morning, and I admit, I felt the same. We used it so many times. We watched the sun rise, watched it hover, watched it set, and were out there even in the rain. We barely noticed it, as long as we didn't face directly into it. And it was easy to forget not to do that.
   Another highlight was s'mores the fire pit. I watched anxiously as my husband built a beautiful fire, and then I gathered the complimentary marshmallows and skewers along with the rich tea biscuits and the Lindt chocolate bars we'd brought with us, and we got a-s'morin' while wrapped up in the cabin's fleece blankets. Neither of us had ever made s'mores, while I'd never even been camping. My experience with open flames remained limited to Bunsen burners in high school.
   The night we used the fire pit was truly gorgeous, with so many stars. The Roman town of Cirencester is nearby, but not so close as to mar the sky with its light, and watching the lake through the flames was amazing. I didn't take many pictures while we were away - and in fact have none at all of the two of us, which makes me quite sad - but I did take a few pretty ones of the lake that night.

   We had a wonderfully peaceful time, so chilled and connected and totally at odds with our usual life. It was just great. It was genuinely as though there was no one out there on that lake but us, and we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.
   I confess, though: my mind did wander onto my writing a few times, even though I made every effort to leave it behind.
   The only time I ever set it aside is when I'm forced to in favour of keeping on top of Etsy orders at Christmas, so our week away was the first time I'd voluntarily taken any time out from it for about 9 years. But, because I wanted to make damned sure that I was on my honeymoon, not a writing retreat, I didn't even bring a notebook. Which my husband actually said was pretty stupid of me. In the end, aside from jotting a few short story ideas down on my phone (keep your eye on my author website,, for the finished pieces), the only thing I actually wrote while we were away was a brief thank-you in the cabin guest book.

   That said, it really would be a wonderful writer's retreat. The lake - a Site of Special Scientific Interest - is so, so quiet. Noise from other guests is not an issue - no loud music nor shouting nor carousing. It's genuinely peaceful. The worst you'll get are the subdued quacks of ducklings and their mothers as they make their morning rounds for breakfast before coming out of the water on the bank beside the cabin's bench to catch a snooze in the sun. Or the honk of the greater crested grebe that is always in the water just outside. Or the greylags and Canadian geese having an argument before going their separate ways. Or crows chasing off a buzzard, harrying it down low over the lake right in front of the cabin, where it banks and screams back at them while you're sitting ten feet away eating crab fried rice on the veranda.
   Yes, we saw a great deal of birds, including a dunlin, a hobby, an oyster catcher just outside, a woodpecker even closer just outside (which I spotted when I looked up and behind me by chance from the board game we were playing in the kitchen), and, much to my irritation, my husband saw a tawny owl - and he would know what it was. I missed it fly past because I was daydreaming about chocolate.

   That's not to say that we stayed in all the time, though. We actually went out walking every day. There is a private footpath around the lake, which takes about 40 minutes to walk. There are also a number of public footpaths in very close proximity, basically beginning at the end of the neighbouring Neigh Bridge Lake, including the Thames River Trail, which we walked in both directions over a few days. Along that trail, we were meeped at by something hidden in the tall grass about a foot away from us (we didn't see it because, obviously, we didn't go rummaging for it), watched a horde of lambs stampeding back and forth along the bank, head-butting, jumping and bleating so happily, saw a kingfisher fly a good length down the river beside us, and one day, for almost fifteen minutes, we watched two more enormous buzzards circling, stooping and calling to each other until they finally flew away.

   It was a gorgeous place, with friendly owners and wonderful wildlife to admire. We will be going back. Given workloads, home commitments and our general lack of funds (not to mention how quickly they're booked up), it won't be for a while, but if we could get back for our fifth wedding anniversary, that would be perfect.