Two Sundays ago I went down to Darlington to Bannatyne's Health Club to review their 2 For 1 Pamper Day for Virgin Experience Days (£75). Needless to say, I didn't need asking twice. (And if there was ever a time for destressing, this was it. I was this <-> close to doing the crazy dance down the street in the middle of the night, possibly without pants.) The package included a choice of a Swedish Back, Neck & Shoulder Massage or Bannatyne Pick me Up Facial, finished with a scalp massage, plus full use of the health club facilities. When I booked the appointments for myself and the friend I'd invited to join me, I chose the Swedish massage and also took advantage of a half price offer to add an extra half hour service at £15, and I went with the Elemis facial because I had a sinus infection and thought my face could use something nice beyond nasal sprays and tissues shoved into it. (That could have backfired - I'd forgotten that my left eyebrow hurt when touched!) I was so looking forward to this relaxing and fun girls' day, though I did wonder if anything could be capable of chilling me out completely - my homeostasis had become 'hot mess'.
Little did I know the calming powers of this lovely pamper day were going to be truly tested. The day got off to a rough start when something happened on my way down to Darlington and made me see red. I honestly didn't think I'd be able to enjoy it and feared the day was ruined before it began. When I got to Bannatyne's, I checked in and was offered the spa kit of a plush and comfy white robe, slippers and a bag for £3, the latter two you can keep. I took it. Beyond the desk was the cafe which had lots of couches and magazine racks for relaxing with your refreshments, and there were about eight women in their robes and slippers having coffee which I thought was kind of neat - I didn't have to get dressed to have lunch! (Yes, that is exciting to me.) The staff were very friendly and I was taken on a tour of the facilities, then left to do whatever I wanted for the next four hours, at which time I would start my spa appointments. My friend was joining me a little later so I went off to change.
I was already feeling optimistic. Some places meant for relaxation don't feel quite right, as if the spa has been shoehorned into a gym and there are two opposing vibes happening at once, but Bannatyne's has a warm calm that runs through the entire place, it seems everyone is there for the same reason and are respectful of others and so are very whispery. In the changeroom, which is large and spacious with a flat screen TV and wood lockers and benches which made it feel very homey, I noticed straight away how new looking and clean everything is, and very well-attended. Staff were always around taking care of things - no Sunday skeleton crew here. This was consistent throughout the entire complex, and I realised how rare that is these days now that doing the bare minimum seems to be the norm.
I decided I would start with the tough stuff and went up to the first level of the gym. I chose to really challenge myself with a brisk walk on the treadmill. (Ok, I've had a torn meniscus, running and me do not mix. But I did raise the incline!) Then I went up to the floor above for a change of scenery and proceeded to do every single weight machine. I know you're supposed to only work out two or so muscle groups at once but who knew when I was going to have access to a gym again, so I really went for it. I loved the machines - they were more innovative than what I've previously seen despite being in some very modern gyms in the past, working out the muscles in new ways. (I was careful not to load too much weight so that I could move the next day, and I'm glad to say that I did not wake up decrepit and unable to dress myself.)
Once the sweaty stuff was over it seemed logical that I go for a swim and sauna. The pool area, like the rest of the club, looked brand new. For me, and likely every other human being, I can't enjoy swimming if the area is even slightly grungy so I was thrilled at how shiny and perfectly clean it all was. I went into the pool and took the slow lane. I attempted to swim and realised my arms were too tired from doing so many weight machines - big surprise - so I did a kind of slow-motion sprint in the water for several laps and tried to convince myself that it looked totally normal to be doing this. After that I thought I'd have a first-time go at the steam room. I'm not really good with breathing in saunas and therefore had never tried a steam, but I wanted to so I opened the door, couldn't breathe while still standing outside it and said to the woman sitting in there 'Uh, I can't do this!' and closed the door. I'm sure she appreciated that. I wasn't totally giving up and so I went into the sauna next to it. There was a young couple in there and we chatted a bit which kept me in there for a lot longer than I thought I'd be able to do. And then the magic happened. When I walked out, I felt something I'm not sure I've ever felt before: true relaxation - it does exist! That thing that had me so vexed earlier was now like a baby deer prancing around on candy floss in my head, it was all good. And it was going to get better. I got out of the wet stuff and after a huge tuna and veg salad in the cafe - in my robe! - I went up to the relaxation room and decided immediatey that I would like to live in this room. It had those spa loungers that are made of heated tiles, and two waterbeds covered with thick velour blankets, and I wish I had a room at home with one of each. (Lottery tickets.) There was a table that was being replenished of pitchers of ice water and platters of fresh fruit - see, well-attended! - and so I poured a glass, took a banana and a magazine and luckily got a heated ounger after a few minutes. Heaven. My friend joined me a few minutes later and we hung around until it was time to go down to the spa for our appointments.
It says a lot about a place when you're completely at ease before you've even had your services! I had to ask for an upgrade to my massage because my back, well my everything really, is one huge monkey fist and a gentle Swedish massage was going to be like trying to move a ton of concrete with a feather. So I had the bamboo massage for an extra £5 and it was a good compromise between a deep tissue which would have left me really sore, and the Swedish. It was nice, loosened me up without killing me, and then we went straight into the facial. My aesthetician, Gemma, was lovely and gave me the heavenly scalp massage while one of the masks was doing its magic. Afterward, we wanted to let the feeling linger a little longer (forever) and so we went back up to the relaxation room which we now had all to ourselves. I took the waterbed and felt so relaxed that I wished I could somehow ride that bed home all the way home, get it through the front door and stay on it until morning.
Needless to say, my Pamper Day at Bannatyne's was a resounding success - I highly recommend going yourself to your local or buying a voucher as a gift for friends or family. I only wish we had one in Newcastle. But I'll be going back. I've got a steam room to conquer.