To me, Devon conjures images of happy cows chewing on lush green grass to produce fat dollops of full cream that I like to guiltily smear across a scone. So you can imagine my alarm when, having decided to put away my passport and opt for a UK jaunt, the creamy county proved to be the site of a detox retreat – or should that be “Yeotox”?
I book in for a three-day Weekend Warrior session – comprised of yoga, hiking and a plethora of fitness activities – at the award-winning Yeotown in north Devon, co-founded by one of the country’s most sought-after yoga instructors, Mercedes Ngoh, and her husband, the art dealer Simon Sieff.
I arrive at Tiverton Parkway in the early evening and inhale the headily fresh aroma of rain on wet grass as I step off the train. Along with one other Yeotown guest, I am driven for 45 minutes through a light fog, eventually pulling up to a group of barns clustered around an incense-scented courtyard, with doves fluttering about.
The rather dishy Simon shows me to my bedroom, which has all the luxuries of a five-star hotel – sumptuous bed linen, underfloor heating, en suite bathroom and bespoke amenities – interpreted in Devonshire farmhouse style, with wooden floors, beams and barn doors. It is utterly charming.
Supper, in the communal sitting room with the guest I travelled down with, is a delicious vegetarian courgette and coconut curry prepared by holistic chef Julia Waghorn.
I take a shower with the Yeotown fair trade, essential oil products created by London-based aromatherapist and facialist Alexandra Soveral. The smell is a heavenly mix of rose and mandarin. Afterwards, I smooth a dab of eucalyptus and cinnamon oils on my temples to send me soundly off to sleep.
Day 2, 7.30am
In the shared kitchen I meet a guest who has been enjoying one-on-one attention for the past few days, while on a five-day Yeotox. As she is staying for longer she has her weight and measurements taken at the start and end of her stay. She has a tranquil air about her, as though she’s had a thoroughly relaxing stay, but her blisters are testament to the vigorous hiking she’s done. We are three guests in total – it’s a smaller group than usual, as the average is eight people per stay.
We start the day with a 45-minute yoga session in a converted-barn-cum-yoga-studio with a heavily pregnant Mercedes. We work through some basic sun salutations, stretching into a cat pose, then cow, forward bend, downward dog, three-legged dog, cobra, plank, warrior one, warrior two and crescent lunge, all at a calm, relaxing pace. Mercedes is extremely attentive, correcting and encouraging us individually.
For breakfast we are given a choice between a warm porridge-style concoction and a smoothie. Both are purple and made of the same ingredients: Fast & Be Clear and ProGreens powders by Allergy Research, water, organic berries, peaches, plums and pears, ground flax, mixed seeds, hemp protein and lecithin granules. They only differ in temperature and texture. I opt for the smoothie; it’s thick, filling and has the kind of acquired taste that only years of spa junkie dedication can really teach you to love. It’s a full-on family affair as we are introduced to Mercedes’s gorgeous 19-month-old daughter, Rumi, while Simon provides details of our first adventure – a two-hour hike on Exmoor.
We don our waterproofs and hiking boots and pile into a van headed for the village of Simonsbath with our guide, Davy, who, after 25 years in the military, now leads hikes for Yeotown, alongside running retreats in Sierra De Las Nieves and working with The Prince’s Trust in north Devon.
We hike for two hours across hilly, challenging terrain covering just over 11km, pushing ourselves fairly hard, but still able to chat happily – it’s the optimum speed for fat burning and detoxing. We take the valley along the River Barle up to Cow Castle, to an old copper mine: Wheal Eliza. Davy weaves in some local history for dramatic effect, including the chilling tale of Anna Maria Burgess, who was murdered in 1858, aged six, by her father at the mine. We stop en route to admire the landscape, the river and the buzzards flying overhead. We nibble on the vitamin-C-rich wood sorrel (an edible wild plant), which is so moreish I have to ask for seconds.
Later, we are met back at the house with a Yeotini – a freshly pressed juice of carrots, celery, sweet red pepper and cucumber. It hits the spot, but I am still starving.
Lunch is a steaming bowl of spiced lentil and coconut soup, skinny glass noodles with mange tout salad and the most delicious homemade seeded crackers – created by the talented in-house chef Julia. The dietary focus is primarily nutrient-dense superfoods that are free from gluten, dairy, caffeine and refined sugar, and work to support the body as it detoxes. The portions are substantial, but not too heavy, so we can remain active for the rest of the day.
The afternoon’s quadruple hit of intense activities remind Spa Junkie why it’s called a Weekend Warrior break. Check back on Saturday July 20.