Feeling the aftermath of excess seasonal cheer, I found myself reminiscing about one of my favourite places in the world - the Golden Door Health Retreat in Queensland. Over the years I’ve spent a total of eight weeks there, dealing with traumatic breakups, career indecision and/or plain old overindulgence. There’s nothing better than facing your ex (or your boss) a few kilos lighter, with the whites of your eyes gleaming in the dark. So when life in London became a blur of horrendous hours and remedial martinis, it was only a matter of time before I was on the hunt for a Golden Door equivalent; a place to slap my issues into submission.
I prefer my health retreats with a heavy dose of boot camp, and after sifting through a multitude of yoga, meditation and beauty spas, I came across Greyshott Hall. An old Manor house that boasts of being the one time country home of Lord Alfred Tennyson, it was converted during the sixties to a luxury spa. It promised a challenging fitness program, low-fat cuisine and pampering. A week later I was roaring down the A3 en route to salvation.
As soon as I hit the outskirts of London I started to feel better. Speeding through the countryside singing along to Robbie Williams, I was looking forward to throwing on my gym gear and getting physical, with a well-muscled trainer yelling encouragement.
The first twinge of anxiety hit in as I pulled up in front of the Hall. Was this the right place? Had I found the parking lot, or a meeting of the ridiculously expensive car club? A uniformed chappie directed me to park between the Bentley and the Ferrari and scooted off with my bags. My little Audi cowered in such illustrious company; thank God I’d given it a clean.
I looked around for the perky instructors and people running between activities in their gym kit. Instead, walking into the main hall, I was greeted by the tinkle of piano, as a fellow in a burgundy satin waistcoat played show tunes in an adjacent room. The only difference from a normal hotel was the huddle of old dears in white bathrobes and slippers, sitting around in a state of complete dishevelment.
Greyshott Hall was like its guests - very grand, but frayed around the edges. In the residential wing, the place had suffered an extension and facelift that didn’t add much to its appeal. What it did have going for it were magnificent grounds, a top notch spa and training facilities. But there were very few structured activities; I’d have to self-motivate, no well-muscled trainers – horror.
None of the other guests were much interested in exercise. The Hall backed onto a magnificent National Trust estate, but most mornings I was the only one at the seven am power walk. And I was the only one at the fitness classes, or in the gym. Sadly I wasn’t the only one in the pool. It was impossible to swim laps; bobbing ancients floated across my path like icebergs in floral bathing caps.
The lack of activity was odd, given the promotional blurbs and the standard of the facilities. Apparently - at least mid week - this was a place where the rich and powerful dropped a bundle to do sod all except wander around looking like they’d just gotten out of the shower. OK, they spent it on beauty therapies, the hair salon and massages, but in my opinion, all this coming and going from spa treatments justified their real pleasure - having an excuse to wander around with bugger all on.
This made me a little conspicuous. Apart from being a good fifteen years younger than any other guest, I was the only one in clothes. Luckily I am a ‘live and let live’ kind of girl. My only unhappiness was at mealtimes; I’d pray that if nothing else, the old fellows sitting legs akimbo had put on undies for dinner. I had not come all this way for sausage and spuds.
After four days, the weekend arrived and so did Sharon. I hit the gym one morning and found her subjecting the treadmill to the battering of its life. Declaring me of ‘like mind’, she unilaterally best friended me. This involved regaling me with tales of life, work – she was a private nurse to someone whose name I should have recognised but didn’t – and her various health issues. I longed for the solitude of earlier days, interrupted only by occasional pleasantries with passing bathrobes.
Sharon had a competitive nature. If I’d trained for forty five minutes, she’d trained for fifty and so on. Why she felt compelled to try so hard is anyone’s guess. I had very specific plans never to see this woman again; I refused to care about who'd climbed the bigger hill or who'd eaten how many carbs, I was there to relax. The only thing I cared about was that she stop talking.
I’d been offered a free massage when I arrived, but Swedish massage is as a bit half-hearted for me, so I still hadn’t visited the spa. Now, as an escape strategy, I started booking facials, body scrubs and whatever took my fancy, simply to sit in silence for an hour. A Swedish massage suddenly sounded pretty appealing.
The elderly fellow who presented himself as my masseur didn't exactly reassure, but I asked for his firmest pressure and he got to work. He wasn't bad and I was enjoying massage induced mellowness, right up until he flipped me over and whipped off the towel, leaving me exposed on the table. He took his fair time positioning the towel over my nether region, but cover it he did and I calmed down a little. But the covering ended there and my girls remained on display as he worked very diligently around my neck and shoulders. He never touched me inappropriately and I didn't want to over react, perhaps it was the Greyshott technique? I decided to relax and take it for England.
That evening I joined the singles table for dinner. As always people compared treatments and bodily functions, but tonight I had my own question for the spa experts. “So, would it be normal here, for the masseur to leave your boobs exposed?”
The silence was deafening. Sharon included. Finally one lady spoke up in her cut glass accent “Well not for me dear, but I'm afraid my breasts are no longer an enticement to stare."
I suspect, though it can’t be proven, that Sharon’s succession of massage bookings over the remainder of her stay were an effort to smoke out the breast voyeur and have hers validated as stare worthy.
I can’t conclude this tale without saying that this took place nearly ten years ago. The present day Greyshott is in new hands and thoroughly refurbished, so should you be after a fabulous spa resort, you may find it there.