Alcohol-free spirits – the best of the best

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of an ice cold Gin & Tonic – in fact it’s the sort of birthday present I could get every year and always be delighted with. I even wrote this piece on combining alcohol and my love for fitness – I think balance is important and would say my attitude to drinking is ‘intuitive’ – I rarely drink to excess, but enjoy a tipple a couple of times a week. With the advent of great tasting alcohol-free spirits, however, I’ve found myself switching more and more to these when I want something non-alcoholic that’s not water or tea, but also doesn’t taste of Ribena.

In the UK, around 20% of the population is teetotal, rising to almost 30% in 16-24 year olds. Among people who do drink, the amount of alcohol consumed is decreasing too – in 2005, 43% of young people said they drank above the recommended limits, but this proportion had fallen to 28% 10 years later. Needless to say, the popularity and availability of non-alcoholic drinks is on the up!

Common among teetotallers and those who choose not to drink at an event, is the expectation from other people to explain why they aren’t drinking, as though this is some unacceptable breach of social norms. Although this obviously shouldn’t be the case, the increase in non-alcoholic spirits and adult ‘mocktails’ makes not drinking at social events significantly easier. They’re also perfect for those of us who enjoy fitness and don’t want to always feel groggy after a night out/wedding/dinner.

Here are some of my favourite non-alcoholic spirits – I hope you like them too! Please comment below your favourites too.

Ps. Because I am a massive gin fan, I like to have most of these with tonic. I find it very refreshing, but know many people aren’t a fan. Most of their website’s have alternative recipes and cocktails, so it’s worth checking those out if you’re keen on giving them a go!

 

Seedlip

One of the original non-alcoholic spirit brands I was aware of, Seedlip was debuted in Selfidges in 2015, where it was immensely popular as one of the first drinks of its kind. The brand produces three varieties of spirit – Garden 108 (herbal), Spice 94 (aromatic) and Grove 42 (zesty). I like them all, though my favourite is Grove 42. Serve with orange peel, ice and tonic.

“Back in 2013, whilst researching interesting herbs I could grow at home, I came across a book written in 1651 called ‘The Art of Distillation’ that documented distilled herbal remedies – both alcoholic & non-alcoholic. Out of curiosity I bought a copper still and began experimenting in my kitchen.

Three months later I was out for dinner at a nice restaurant in London, not drinking and got offered this pink, fruity, sweet, childish mocktail. I felt like an idiot, it didn’t go with the food, and it wasn’t a great experience. Surely there must be a better way! The dots began to join and I spent the next two years working with my still, my mother on the ingredients, my father on the design and slowly beginning to believe that maybe we could begin solve the ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking’ dilemma with a different approach to non-alcoholic drinks.”

Price: £26 for 70cl

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Bax Botanics

I learned about Bax Botanics via a support system for small businesses during COVID lockdown, and was delighted when I got to try their Verbena ‘spirit’, one of two varieties they currently produce (the other is Sea Buckthorn).  The creators of Bax originally worked in wild foraging, so note that everything about this drink is incredibly sustainable and made in small-batches – even their drinks labels are waste from the sugar industry rather than paper. This drink is perfect with cucumber and tonic – just like a G&T. Thoroughly recommend.

“Our drinks were the product of over 15 years working with wild food flavours. The very first incarnations of Bax Botanics actually used foraged ingredients from our local woodland! The brand is completely sustainable, with Fairtrade organic botanicals – the flavours and the green credentials are our priorities. We would still be working in our wood if we couldn’t make Bax Botanics in a kind and sustainable way.”

Price: £18 for 500ml

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Caleño

Columbian-inspired spirit Caleno is a little different to the other drinks on this list, in that it doesn’t aim to replace a spirit such as gin, but instead is delicious in its own right. It contains Inca berries, juniper (it main similarity to gin) and various spices, and isn’t overly sweet to taste, but a little more fragrant that what you might expect from a spirit. It’s extremely refreshing with lots of ice, some lemon and a little tonic. The packaging is probably my favourite of all of these drinks.

Price: £24.99 for 70cl

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Atopia

This 0.5%ABV drink is extremely close to being alcohol-free, so fits well into this category.  This brand has two flavours – Spiced Citrus and Wild Blossom, both of which are beautifully presented and delicious. This isn’t surprising considering the creator is Lesley Gracie, master distiller of Hendrick’s Gin at William Grant & Sons (one of my favourite gins!).

“Inspired by the more mindful, lifestyle choices of today’s consumer, the exquisite liquid comes in two perfectly balanced flavours. We’ve used our distilling heritage and expertise to ensure no compromise on flavour is experienced when drinking the ultra-low alcohol spirit. The flavour is full, from first taste to finish.”

Price: £25 for 70cl

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Is the Fitness Industry really for the Black community too?

This piece was written by the wonderful Oli from @wellwitholi on Instagram. She is a qualified Nutritionist and Personal Trainer and works to increase inclusivity and diversity in wellness spaces. Oli puts out incredible content, with references, well thought out arguments and inclusive mindset. I also promised to use my platform to amplify voices that deserve to be amplified 1000x over. Go and give her a follow on Instagram!

 

Spoiler alert: the answer is an unequivocal – yes! However, as social media has helped highlight especially over the last two weeks, a lot of fitness brands, gyms and health magazines have a long way to go in assuring racial equality throughout their companies.
For most White people who are active in the fitness world, racial inequality might not be something that is often considered, if at all. As with many things, unless it directly affects you, it can be easy to overlook the significance.

My earliest memory of fitness outside of compulsory P.E. lessons was when I signed up to my first gym membership in my first year of college. Although I went to a gym with predominantly White people, and this definitely did feel alienating at times, this was a reality that mirrored the area I grew up in just outside of Brighton. At the time, I put my head down and got on with it. However, when I moved to London, a city commonly praised for its diversity, I was surprised to find myself in similar scenarios – particularly when going to ‘boutique’ or ’higher-end’ gyms.

Even outside of the gym, whether I’m scrolling through Instagram, flicking through a women’s health magazine or online shopping for some new gym clothes, there is a perpetuating image that lean, White women with ‘perfectly perked’ glutes constitute what is considered the ‘body ideal’ for fitness. If you fall outside of this, especially if you are Black, this space can start to feel very unwelcoming.

You may be thinking, what does race have to do with fitness? Why is it important?

In this post, I’m going to explain some of the racial inequalities that are interlaced throughout the industry. Beyond just over-priced green juices and 5K run challenges, the fitness industry should be one that aims to improve and support the physical wellbeing of everyone, right? I don’t believe we can continue to move forward with this narrative until we address its racial disparities.

It’s no secret that in recent years, the fitness industry has gone from strength to strength. In 2019 gym memberships in the U.K. grew by 4.7% to 104 million, whilst in the same year, the fitness industry was estimated to be worth £5-billion. With this considered, it continues to surprise me that an industry that is thriving – both economically and through popularity – continues to lack diversity and inclusivity.

 

  1. Accessibility

Undoubtedly, one of the key influences of these inequalities is cost.

On average, a gym membership costs £40. In London, where prices of everything are inflated and ‘boutique’ gym memberships are more common, gym memberships can cost as much as £92, with some over £350 per month.

In the UK, Black people make up 55% of the 2 lowest income quintiles. This is reflective of pay gaps between ethnic groups where Black people who were born in the UK are paid on average 7.7% less than white counterparts who were also born in the UK. Similarly, Black people who were born outside of the UK are paid on average 15.3% less than white counterparts also born outside of the UK. To gain an understanding of the reasoning behind these figures, I recommend doing further research on employment gaps and race inequality. However, with these statistics considered, it can be more difficult for Black people to gain access to a gym, especially those that are higher priced. Notably, the latter are typically fitted with better equipment and sometimes have extra perks (e.g. spa facilities).

Research highlights other barriers that can block Black people from having fair access to gyms, including transport difficulties. When looking at which ethnicities are most likely to live in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods, Black people took the lead at 19.6%, indicating minimal disposable income for this group. If these statistics are readily available on the British government website, could gym branches be doing more in terms of research to ensure they are including more gym facilities in economically deprived areas? Moreover, what’s stopping them from doing so already?

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Figures from Gov.uk 

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was suggesting ways fitness branches could be doing more to accommodate the communities they enter. For example, take an area like Hackney, that through gentrification is considered to be ‘up and coming’. According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG),in 2019 Hackney was reported to be in the top 10 most deprived authorities in the U.K. Harmonious with statistics previously shown, a 2011 census shared approximately 40% of this community is made up of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups, with 20% of the BME community being Black. That is, despite gentrification, the community who still lives there reflects income disparities already mentioned. Therefore, it makes no sense why a fitness branch would open a studio in an area such as Hackney, and with all statistics considered, not even try to accommodate to the surrounding community. It continues to push the same narrative that Black people are not welcome in fitness spaces. One idea we shared was the idea of having a ‘community rate’. This would work similarly to a student discount; however, you’d just need to show proof you lived in the area/postcode and you could have your class at a cheaper price.

 

  1. Representation

Pretty much every gym and fitness company has a catchy slogan that pushes the idea they welcome ‘fitness for everyone‘. However, when you consider the actual advertisements these companies show, particularly the ‘boutique’ brands, is it really everyone who is represented? Sometimes Black people are not even included and if they are, it’s often not at the same inclusive ratio as non-Black counterparts. On countless occasions, I’ve seen brands include one ‘token’ Black person in their promotion and pass this off as being ‘inclusive’.

It’s not just advertisements that can lack representation of Black people though. Health magazines and newspaper articles can be just as guilty for pushing the ‘diversity’ narrative, but not actually following through. This includes the lack of diversity on magazine covers. In just one example, following its first launch in the U.K. in 2013, one of the leading women’s health magazines has only included Black women in 4 out of 73 magazine covers thus far. Only… four. There are definitely more than four Black women in the fitness industry, so why the lack of inclusivity?
A figure I think is also important to highlight here is that in 2016 it was reported that 94% of the British journalism industry was made up of White people.

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There have been only 4 Black women on the cover of Women’s Health magazine out of 73 issues. For comparison, Kayla Itsines has also been on it 4 times. 

When you look even further, lack of representation of Black people can prevail within gyms as well. This could echo the fact that Black people have the highest unemployment rate out of all ethnic groups in the U.K. at 9% (research employment inequalities & race); or, it could be harmonious with the notion that these spaces aren’t particularly targeted for Black customers, therefore the desire for Black personal trainers isn’t there either. I share the same experience as some of my Black friends that on several occasions I have been the only Black woman to attend a class full of only White women, maybe one or two other POC, but almost always instructed by a White person. Being in this situation can be daunting. I have sometimes felt a certain responsibility to not take up too much space, be quiet and almost set a good enough impression of myself to ensure that other Black women (as we are often seen as a monolith for each other) will still have access to the space. Whilst I’m not saying it’s imperative that I am surrounded by Black staff or members to have an effective workout, the lack of inclusion does give the message that these spaces are not created with ethnic inclusivity in mind.

 

  1. Fitness Influencers

I’m sure we can all agree Social Media is a powerhouse full of influencers telling us the things we should buying, how we should be eating, and the next best workout plan we should be following. Unsurprisingly, the same lack of representation of Black people exists here too.

For YouTube alone, there are no Black people in the Top 10 paid Forbes list and only 2 POC, whilst on the Top 10 Fitness Influencers list also published by Forbes, there is only 1 Black person and 1 other POC. I’m not trying to dismiss the merit and amount of hard work each non-black individual has put into their niche to achieve these top spots; however, I think it’s really important to challenge the statistics and ask, why are they so imbalanced?

I strongly believe the lack of diversity of fitness bloggers who are at the ‘top of their game’ reflects the same reality that fuels the lack of diversity offline. That is, fitness brands recruit who they consider being the most desirable consumer by endorsing fitness bloggers who mirror that image (think, White skin, washboard abs and perfectly toned bum). The fitness industry as a whole has then gone on to make this an almost elitist standard. It fuels the same narrative that if you don’t fit this image, and God forbid you have Black skin too, then you’re unwelcome. Of course, some fitness bloggers do go out of their way to challenge these ideologies by actively promoting more body and skin colour diversity, however, the fact these bloggers even exist further highlights there is a big representation problem within the industry.

In 2019 it was found 62.3% of adults 18+ were either overweight or obese in the UK and of that figure, 73.6% were Black adults – the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups. With these statistics considered, isn’t it the purpose of the health industry to help improve the health of everyone, but especially those who might need it most? So why, when beyond just anecdotes there’s published social research highlighting the fact that some Black people feel too intimidated to start fitness because of lack of representation, they continue to be so underrepresented?

Just this International Women’s Day 2020, one of Europe’s leading sport’s nutrition brands failed to include ANY Black women in their Instagram feed press photos for their event… zero! (N.b. Whether or not any Black women were even invited is still unclear).

 

So, what does this mean?

The momentum we’ve seen in people supporting the Black Lives Matter movement over the past couple of weeks will go down in history books – it’s a given. But we must continue to challenge and keep the same energy as we continue to fight against racial injustices. As much as I wish these two weeks of trending #BlackLivesMatter now means that racism is eradicated, that just isn’t the case. To be quite honest with you, this is only just the beginning.

It makes me angry that because of the colour of their skin, an individual might not feel welcomed to exercise.

If that doesn’t make you just as angry, I’d have to question your integrity in an industry that should be focusing on the wellbeing for all.

The information highlighted throughout this post wasn’t tucked away in a secret archive. This is information that is readily available to the public and I would recommend everyone in the fitness industry to continue to do your own research.

 

To fitness brands: What are you doing to make sure Black people are equally included? Do you have Black people throughout your team that can challenge racial disparities? Are you making sure you actually represent Black people within your brand, and aren’t just including one ‘token’ Black person?

To fitness branches: are your gyms equally dispersed into lower economic areas? Do prices reflect the general economic status of the community you’re in? What could you be doing to make sure Black people feel just as welcome in your gym/studio as non-Black people?

To consumers: Are you also supporting Black fitness bloggers online? (following someone is free, by the way!). Are you challenging your favourite companies who have been silent regarding the Black Lives Matter movement? Are there conversations you could be having with the owners of the gyms/studios you go to?

Every voice matters and can be used to initiate positive change. Don’t let yours go to waste.

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Ways Black people can experience inequality in the Fitness Industry. (UK based) ~~~ I hope this post can help highlight how systematic racial inequities can have a snowball-effect impact that can block Black from getting some of the same opportunities as non-black people. Just today I had a comment under a post where I had questioned why a specific sports nutrition brand hadn’t included ANY Black women in their International Women’s Day event that said “…maybe pick the bigger battle right now” … I literally: 🤦🏽‍♀️. It’s been BEAUTIFUL and encouraging and inspiring to see so many people (finally) listening more to #blacklivesmatter and taking note. However, I feel like I really want to make clear here that racism and racial inequality isn’t just a thing/object that once you’ve ‘beaten’ it it’s gone. It’s woven throughout society and something we’ll need to continue to challenge daily. When you make a cake you need to get each individual ingredient, weigh them out, mix them together, bake the cake, cool it and then ice it. A lot goes into it right? It’s the same with racism – a LOT goes into it, therefore it’s going to take a LOT of work to even begin undoing it. That is why my reply to the comment mentioned above was “challenging lack of diversity in big brands is part of the ‘battle’”. It’s part of the ‘undoing’. The words ‘educate yourself’ have been seen a lot the past week+ and it’s really important that you (and I) continue to do that. Sometimes even I can find myself baffled by ignorance or racist words that I am actually lost for words. That’s why it’s important to build up a catalogue of knowledge that you can articulate well in response to challenge what you see/hear. #themarathoncontinues . 👇🏽Let me know if you have experienced any other inequalities in the fitness industry. I LOVE healthy discussions & HATE racism so leave it out of my comments ☺️ #shareblackstories

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We all need a little more greenery

There’s something immensely therapeutic about growing plants, whether on a balcony, in a garden or in your room. Studies suggest that being around greenery (even indoors) can help boost mood, relieve stress and anxiety and even boost self-esteem. I don’t know a single person that doesn’t need at least one of these things from time to time, so it’s about time we all got more plants in our lives.

With garden centres shutting their doors and more and more people cooped up at home, it could be difficult to get a regular fix of greenery in the day to day. Those living in big cities especially could struggle. But fear not! My experience of building a little forest in my tiny London flat (65 houseplants and counting) has taught me that no space is too small for greenery, and no human too inept. All you need is some well lit spaces and to pay a little attention to the plants every so often for watering.

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If you’re based in the countryside or are lucky enough to have a garden, now is your chance to practise your skills! I am no professional gardener, and yet this past week I have given my partner’s garden a whole makeover, digging out sedges and clearing dead branches, clearing steps from weeds and uprooting brambles. Now is the perfect time to get sorting your garden and planting new items – it’s spring, so everything will start growing voraciously from now. Any mistakes make will be covered up in a matter of weeks – and no one will be around to see them anyway!

So where to get new plants? Here are some recommendations, mostly small businesses in need of a little help in this time. Please remember – happily, many of these businesses have seen a huge surge in demand thanks to COVID19. Because of this, and because most of these are small businesses, there may be small delays in delivery. Remember this and be kind – good things come to those that wait!

Indoor

Lazy Flora

Lazy Flora (which naturally must come first on my list) delivers both indoor and outdoor plants around the UK. They’re offering all my readers £10 off with the code FOODFITNESSFLORA (not an ad, just trying to help as many startups as possible!). You can choose to set up a subscription, or organise one-off deliveries of both indoor and outdoor plants. I love Lazy Flora’s indoor plants because there is so much choice, including if you want specific items such as terrariums, pet-friendly plants or the ultimate ‘un-killable’ plants. I will also be purchasing their new veg-patch plants for the garden! They deliver nationwide.

Patch Plants

Patch has been all over my Instagram feed for the last year, since I got most of my houseplants from here (see photo in the centre of article). They’re not cheap at Patch, but the price reflects the quality. The soil they’re potted in is designed to feed them for a while to come, unlike so many shop-bought plants, and all of my Patch plants have been growing manically for the year I’ve owned them! My favourite is my Monstera (cheese plant) which refuses to die no matter how long I leave it without water. Patch delivers nationwide.

Bloombox club

Bloombox originated with the goal of using plants to support mental health. They also have a blog filled with advice and information on how best to look after your plants, which you can buy individually or as part of a subscription.  Their subscription plants are perfect if you’re not really sure what you want, and come with a perfect sized pot and a care card, so you know exactly how to look after it!

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🍃 Plants are a great way of maintaining a relationship with nature and the outside world under lockdown. This Spring Edit might be the injection of green you need. 🍃 . 🌿 We've put together some of our favourite green classics here, the Monkey Mask, Peoperomia Hope, and Money Tree. 🌿 We believe that having plants indoors will help alleviate the stress of being isolated at this time 🌿 . 🍃 Bloombox Club is helping people #BringNatureIn 🍃 We want to fill your timeline with uplifting green. AND we want you to join us! 🍃 . 🌱Let's bring some joy to social media feeds by sharing pictures of our plants! 🌱We want as many Bloombox Clubbers as possible to show off their new green friends and spread some positivity 💚 . 🍃 At the end of April, we'll send gift vouchers to our favourites! 🍃Remember to tag @bloomboxclub in all your posts and stories and we'll #BringNatureIn 🌱 . . #keepingitgreen #plantaddict #livingwithplants #plantsmakepeoplehappy #plantcareisselfcare #plantsofinstagram #urbanjunglebloggers #indoorplants #indoorgarden #urbanjunglebloggers #plantsmakepeoplehappy #plantstyling #plantgang #greenthumb #plantparenthood #allaboutthatplantlife #tribeandus #bringtheoutsidein #plantstrong #plantlife #indoorjungle #jungalowstyle #interiorinspo #indoorplantstyling #designinspiration #plantsmakemehappy #greenthumb #bloomboxclub

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Hampshire Carnivorous plants

Looking for something a little different? Hampshire Carnivorous Plants sells carnivorous plants such as venus fly traps and pitcher plants. I have historically found these incredibly difficult to keep alive, but if you have flies in your house, they’re an excellent solution that looks a lot prettier than fly paper!

Wyld Home

If you don’t have a well lit flat, or have a habit of killing plants as soon as you get them, look no further than Wyld Home. A small business currently being run out of founder Krystyna’s house (they usually have a gorgeous brick and mortar shop, which is shut temporarily for obvious reasons), this is the perfect business to support, while simultaneously sprucing up your living space. They deliver to the UK, some parts of Europe, the US and Canada.

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Some plants on my shelves at home

Outdoor

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, spending time in it instead of out on the streets is one of the best ways to stay both safe and sane. Most gardens need constant upkeep, which usually is a bit of a nuisance, but right now is an absolute godsend! Find the neglected corners of yours and fill them up with outdoor plants. You can choose to plant either in flower beds or choose potted plants instead, perfect for a patio.

Long Acre Plants

If you have a garden that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, many plants may struggle. However, shade-plant specialist Long Acre supplies plants for exactly these conditions. They’re also incredibly environmentally conscious, avoiding peat compost, using recycled plastic and paper in packaging, and using renewable energy in their nursery and offices.

Real seeds

Starting your own vegetable patch is no mean feat, but if there was any time perfect for starting, it’s now! This startup sells everything from seed, so the season for planting some vegetables may be over, but if you’re looking for a long-term project this could be for you. They also share some very helpful advice on how to save seeds from vegetables you buy from the shops, so you don’t even have to spend any money if you don’t want to! But if you want to support an amazing startup, this is your guy.

Royal Horticultural Society

The RHS is the UK’s leading horticultural charity, working with adults and children alike to make the UK a greener place. They sell a variety of plants, from vegetables to flowers to entire trees. Whatever you’re looking for, they’ll likely have it.

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Daffodils have long been considered a herald of Spring, and one walk out into the British countryside would tell anyone that the season is here. Remarkably hardy and ever-reliable, once settled in they'll grow year on year with very little attention. They flourish in containers, borders or on grass, find harmony with their surroundings and resolutely brighten up any patch that they happen to call home. There may be one or two things we can learn from these beautiful blooms at the moment. Although our gardens are currently closed, we'll keep bringing you beautiful memories and updates until we open again. This particular photograph was taken at @rhshydehall in April two years ago. #growthisspring #daffodils #gardens #hydehall

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Garden Store

Another huge gardening store from which you can source anything you need for your gardening, from vegetable seeds, to flowers, to garden furniture.  The garden store delivers to mainland UK in 3-5 working days, and provides free delivery for orders over £50. If you want to get all your garden stuff from one place, you’ll likely be able to source everything from here.

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Stunning 3L Chrysanthemums, perfect for Autumn colour.

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Gardening Express

Gardening Express was started by a teenager, who, in the 1990s, saw the potential for mail order plants. Fast forward two decades, he could not have been more right. As with all plant stores, Gardening Express has been seeing a huge rise in demand, but still aim to send out all deliveries within 10-15 days.

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I hope this helps your need for green – I will be buying some little vegetables to build a new vegetable patch in a small but sunny part of the garden. It’s one of the most therapeutic and rewarding activities I can think of right now, so perfect if you feel like you’re drifting a little bit. Don’t forget – you can take cuttings from all your plants (some easier than others) to grow new ones, no need to spend money!

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Some plants soaking up the evening light in my flat

 

10 things to do when you start running

With today’s announcement of the imminent closure of the UK’s gyms, many people will flock to other forms of exercise, from home workouts to yoga, to running. It might not be for everyone, but with limited alternative options, there’s a strong likelihood more people will be giving it a go.

First off: Do it! In terms of stress-busting ability, a good cardio session is unbeatable. Running is hard, and certainly not always pleasant, but the feeling of achievement afterwards is incredible, and while we’re putting our whole lives on hold, a sense of achievement can be hard to come by. So far, it’s still being allowed (and even recommended) by the government, so long as certain precautions are made.

However, there are some things to think about before getting started, not least because if you injure yourself, seeing a doctor or physio may be harder than usual, and there aren’t many alternative exercises you’ll be able to try instead!

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Running doesn’t have to involve seeing anyone or touching anything, so now is the perfect time to begin (if your government allows!)

  1. Start with a programme

If you’re new to running, don’t jump straight in there. In a moment of extreme motivation (or madness, or stress), it can be tempting to lace up your shoes and try to run 10km. Some people may be able to, but most won’t. Trying a couch to 5k, or if you have some experience already, a 5k to 10k, will ensure you progress at a pace that is less likely to put too much strain on your joints and muscles. It’ll also ensure you get out regularly, which is important for mental health.

2. Wear the right shoes

If you only have metcons because you’re a cross fitter, or converses, please don’t run in these! Your chance of injury will be greatly increased  – Emma Kirk Odunubi has some great information on this, so if you’re not sure, ask her! Usually I would recommend getting a gait analysis to find the right shoes for you, but this is unlikely to be possible right now. Since the postal service is still up and running, buy yourself a pair of running shoes that you think will work (I like Asics, Adidas, Nike and Hoka) and run in those. They might not be perfect, but they’re likely to be better than your lifting shoes!

3. Take rest days

If you’re doing a couch to 5k or similar plan, this will be built into your schedule, but if you’re just taking yourself for runs, make sure to allow yourself time to recover! No matter how fit you are, running places strain on the muscles, ligaments and joints, as well as your body’s energy systems. Allowing at least 2 rest days a week if important for recovery.

4. Don’t always go long

Long distance running is one of the only sports that can temporarily weaken the immune system. While exercise of 30-45 minutes a day is beneficial to your immune system, the energy systems required for long runs, and the amount of cortisol (stress hormone produced) can temporarily reduce your immune defence. Pair this with cold weather and a global pandemic, and long runs might not be in your best interest. Of course, the definition of what a ‘long run’ is varies from person to person, but bear in mind that shorter and faster may be better, at least for now.

5. Intervals

I get asked a lot why, when training for a marathon or half marathon, I include fast paced, short intervals. Intervals may make you a better runner, quicker, but also have the power to make your longer runs feel easier. It’s also just a variant of your normal long runs. Having a varied training schedule means you’re likely to work muscles (and your brain) slightly differently each time, building strength and keeping yourself interested.

6. Cross-train

OK, so the gyms are shut and the average person doesn’t have tonnes of equipment at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in other forms of training. More running doesn’t no necessarily make you a better runner, and fitting in cross training twice a week, with 3 runs a week is a great way to build strength and stave off injury. Try bodyweight exercises and physio exercises (prevention is better than cure!). Here are some great people to follow for online workouts. I also did a vlog with my physio where she talks about ways to avoid injury that’s worth a watch!

7. Eat well

This should go without saying, and most people don’t find it too hard once they start running! However, it’s easy to forget that new exercises (even if you exercised before) can be extremely energetically demanding for the body, and you need to eat to replace lost calories. Ensure your plate has plenty of colour (I don’t mean smarties) and dietary fibre, focussing on vegetables and wholegrains, and don’t forget your healthy fats (olive oil is a staple of my diet)! I don’t frequently take protein powder, but if you feel like you’re really struggling to fit in enough calories, this may be good to look into.

8. Sleep

With the start of any new exercise regime, the body can feel tired and sluggish, thanks to  a combination of having to learn a new skill and using up lots of physical energy. Getting adequate rest is vital for performance, but also your long-term health. You may need to sleep more if you are not used to exercising, so try to get to bed earlier and reduce caffeine intake if possible. Not being able to sleep is a symptom of overtraining, so if you’re feeling exhausted but unable to sleep after throwing yourself headfirst into a new running regime, maybe take a step back for a couple of weeks.

9. Keep away from people

It’s within the governmental guidelines (within the UK at least) that running while avoiding people is absolutely fine – recommended even! The benefits are notable, and will be a great thing to keep most people mentally sound. However, as mentioned above, you’re most vulnerable to getting sick for up to 72 hours after a long, hard run due to elevated cortisol levels. Combined with the inevitable bodily fluids from running, especially in the cold (spittle, sweat, snot – you name it, you’ll have it), it’s a really sensible idea to stay away from people as much as possible on your runs, for your own safety and theirs.

10. Enjoy it! 

Running is a love it or hate it sport, but if you’re in the latter camp, it doesn’t have to be that way forever. I used to HATE running, but I forced myself to do it because it was my alone time (and because I wanted to lose weight). Now, however, I am quite obsessed. I’m not even that good, but the sense of achievement and satisfaction I get after each run is unparalleled. I like to share my runs to Strava (a run tracking app) to get a sense of community spirit, even when I’m not running with others. Even in quarantine, we’re in this together!

 

I hope you found these tips useful! If you’d like to share them, please tag my Instagram and encourage everyone you know to take this up! Who knows, we could all come out of this epidemic in far better shape (mentally and physically) than when we went in.  

Top people to follow for home workouts

With much of the world’s population recommended to stay at home, and some even on lockdown, I have been asked where I would look for home workouts. Thankfully, in an age where social media is so built up across society and working out is the norm, home workouts are easy to come by.

I asked you guys which you find the best, so here are my findings! Please do share this with your friends and family. Exercise keeps the brain happy and is a great way to structure the day, which is extremely important when all other structure has gone. You could all come out of this fitter than when we went in!

There are loads of paid apps that you can use/subscribe to which have some really great workouts on, but I personally want to support individuals at this time (albeit some pretty famous ones). I may well create another list of apps that you can subscribe to as I know they’re popular! Let me know your faves and if you’d be interested in a separate list of these 🙂

 

Instagram

Thanks to the advent of carousel posts and IGTV, workout videos on Instagram are pretty common. Here are some of my favourite accounts:

Natacha.oceane

Ironman and athlete Natacha Ocean has always been a favourite of mine. With her evidence-based approach to training and nutrition and ‘training’ style workouts, she is definitely one to follow. Check out her IG for workout inspo.

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Shona_vertue

Another athlete, ex-gymnast Shona shares a very balanced approach to training, far removed from the ‘no days off’ crew. As a yoga teacher, a lot of her sessions are already bodyweight based, and perfect for strengthening supporting muscles. Shona will also be hosting live workouts from her YouTube channel so get involved!

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Aliceliveing

Personal Trainer Alice shares gym-based workouts on a regular basis, but also has more conditioning workouts available too. Also, although she doesn’t post there anymore, you can find some home workouts on her YouTube channel.

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Zannavandijk

Zanna has recently been travelling, but regularly shared workouts before that, so scroll back a little for a wide variety! She also has a YouTube but I can’t find regular workout videos on there (but you might want to check it out anyway) 🙂

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Sophjbutler

Sophie became a wheelchair user after injuring herself during a workout, but if anything, she has become more determined. She shares home workouts suitable for all, and is just generally a delight to follow. Check out her (somewhat sassy) twitter too.

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Lillysabri

Lilly shares workouts on her YouTube (over 300 available!) and Instagram, so choose your platform! They’re easy to follow and she does them in a bikini, so you can pretend you, too, are in sunny Dubai.

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Annieopenshaw

Friend, squash player and all-round superb person Annie shares workouts regularly on her Instagram, including many without equipment. She also has a YouTube channel that may provide amusement.

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Hauptstadttrainer

I met Erik on our little Tour de France trip last summer, and have followed his account closely since. He is incredibly friendly, but also (possibly more importantly on IG) incredibly knowledgeable, and shares home workouts suitable for all. Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 11.01.56

LeenPeet

Not everyone who shares great workouts is instal-famous. Been Peeters is a certified personal trainer who shares home workouts suitable for all on her Instagram. Check it out!

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YouTube

Pamela_rf

I personally think it should be illegal for anyone to have 4.6m IG followers at the age of 23, but looking at Pamela’s Instagram account, she’s clearly doing something right! However, her workouts can primarily be found on her YouTube – she even has a ‘home workouts’ playlist.

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Les Mills

Not technically a person, but well known in the world of accessible workouts. Sometimes a little high-impact, but plenty of options there and all free!

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Lucy Wyndham-Read 

I’m not a huge fan of the aesthetics-based approach of this channel, but for many it’ll be the difference between exercising and not, and benefits are there whether you exercise for mental health, aesthetics or performance!

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Sarah’s Day

Sarah doesn’t strictly do workout videos, but has a wide variety of content. I expect, with the rise of demand, she will be posting more and more home workout content, so stay tuned!

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The Body Coach

If you’re looking for a wide variety of workouts and regular videos, The Body Coach is your guy! My friend loved his ‘7 days of sweat’ workouts, and that was before quarantine. Subscribe to stay sane.

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Madfit

For regular, easy to follow workouts (choreographed to music!), subscribe to Maddie’s channel on YouTube. You won’t get bored with the variety of content on there 🙂

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Sydney Cummings

Personal trainer Sydney shares a multitude of workouts on her channel, arranged by time or category. Want 60 minutes of workout or a no equipment workout? Check her out.

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Heart Alchemy Yoga

Looking for something a little more relaxing? Michelle is catering for those of us with slightly anxious dispositions, sharing yoga and meditations suitable for all abilities.

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Lemon drizzle cake

Lemon drizzle cake was once a staple recipe of mine, but for a long time I didn’t want to make it, because of how ‘unhealthy’ it is. This cake is, however, extremely good for the soul (doctor says so) and cheap and easy to make. Don’t forget to buy unwaxed lemons or you’ll be grating wax into your mixture.

Tag my Instagram if you give this recipe a go!

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Ingredients

  • 225g margarine (I use Flora, obviously)
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1tbsp almond butter
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 250g self raising flower
  • 50ml non-dairy milk (I use soya)

For the drizzle

  • Juice 1 lemon
  • 100g icing sugar

 

Method

  • Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees (fan)/160 (gas)
  • Semi melt the margarine for 30s in the microwave
  • Add the caster sugar and beat (a fork is fine)
  • Add in the almond butter and try to mix in evenly. A few lumps aren’t the end of the world but will affect the final cake texture
  • Add the flour to the mixture and fold in, before adding the zest of both lemons
  • Pour in the soya milk slowly as you mix, until the mixture is a good consistency. I use the full 50ml.
  • Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes before pouring into a lined loaf tin and placing in the oven for 45-55 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. If the top starts to burn but the insides are still wet, place tinfoil over the cake and continue to cook until a skewer comes out clean.
  • While the cake is cooking, mix together the juice of 1 lemon and the icing sugar and set aside
  • Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven and place the loaf tin on a wire cooling rack. Prick the tip with the skewer or a fork, and pour over the drizzle.
  • Once totally cool, remove from the cake tin and serve. Enjoy!
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Don’t forget to let the cake cool before turning it out of the tin!

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This photo was taken for an ad but I liked it enough to post here too!

Exhausted – The effect of air pollution on running

It might be just me, but it seems that air pollution has risen on the agenda of Things To Worry About in the last few months. Plastic pollution was one of the key phrases within eco-conscious circles in 2019, with laws coming into place this year in a bid to control the problem. The term pollution, however, refers not only to plastic, but also the introduction of any contaminant into the environment which may cause harm. This can take the form of noise, light, chemicals or even heat – most of which we cannot see.

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Pollution is an issue in cities (and even many rural areas) around the world

Air pollution has a devastating impact on those living in the cities. While the pollution usually cannot be seen, the impacts are felt by all, with it shortening lives and contributing to a number of health problems. In the UK, pollution is a bigger killer than smoking, and costs the UK economy over £20bn per year. The biggest culprits are Nitrogen dioxide, emitted mainly by diesel vehicles, and PM2.5, fine particulate matter linked to adverse health effects. In the EU the toxic air is causing more than 1000 premature deaths each day from PM2.5– a figure which is 10 times higher than the number of deaths from traffic accidents.

Because of this invisible nature, it has been easy for people (and thus governments) to ignore the issue, focussing instead on highly visible, highly publicised issues and ‘buzzwords’, such as banning straws (good, but of limited benefit to the plastic pollution problem). However, in October 2019, it was announced that the UK would introduce an Environment Bill to “help ensure that we maintain and improve our environmental protections as we leave the EU”, including focussing on air quality and PM2.5 in particular.

For runners and cyclists, an immediate concern, however, is how we can actively work to improve our health (and continue doing what we love) without inadvertently harming ourselves.

Unfortunately, running in heavily polluted air has been linked to inflamed lungs, increased risk of asthma (I experienced this firsthand at the age of 18, when I moved to Paris), and instances of heart attack, stroke, cancer and death. Needless to say, these risk factors are enough to put people off, and encourage them to run on a treadmill (boring), or worse still, avoid exercising outdoors entirely. But is this entirely justified?

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Live pollution meter of London (18/02/2020 10am)

Even the scientists admit the problem is complex. Andrew Grieve, Senior Air Quality Analyst at King’s College London, says “when you’re running, you’re breathing a lot more than you are just walking along the street and your inhalation rate is massive so you’re bringing in more pollution.” In fact, someone running a marathon will inhale the same amount of oxygen as a normal person would sitting down over two days. Most people also tend to breathe through their mouths, bypassing the nasal filters, which can work to reduce pollution intake. The carbon monoxide alone can inhibit the body’s ability to transport oxygen around the body, thus making running that little bit harder too.

On the plus side, running is really good for you. Although I couldn’t find any studies looking directly at the effect of running in polluted areas (other than this, for elite athletes over marathon distance), a study on people walking in polluted areas up to 16h a day or cycling up to 3.5h per day suggested that the benefits of activity outweighed any harm from pollution in all but the most extreme of cases.

Conclusions

The benefits from active travel generally outweigh health risks from air pollution and therefore should be further encouraged. When weighing long-term health benefits from PA (physical activity) against possible risks from increased exposure to air pollution, our calculations show that promoting cycling and walking is justified in the vast majority of settings, and only in a small number of cities with the highest PM2.5concentration in the world cycling could lead to increase in risk. (Tainio, Marko, et al. “Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?.” Preventive medicine 87 (2016): 233-236.)

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Photo by James Purvis

However, there are things we could be doing to both decrease our risk of being negatively affected by air pollution, and also improve the air quality where we live.

  1. Choose lesser polluted routes when walking, running or cycling around cities. Choosing to walk or cycle on a quiet road instead of a busy one can sharply reduce the amount of pollution you take in. Even using a parallel road one block over from a traffic-clogged one can reduce your exposure by 50%. If you’re looking to run or cycle around London, consider downloading Clean Air Run Club on your phone to score routes by air quality.
  2. Run in the morning. Pollution increases throughout the day, especially in summer.
  3. Aim to find green spaces, or roads lined with trees – these are havens from pollution, and even a small amount of greenery between you and the traffic can dramatically reduce pollution levels!
  4. Take note of particularly bad air days using a live air quality monitor. These will often be on hot and humid days. If you can, avoid running/cycling outside on these days, perhaps getting in some cross training indoors, or a run on the treadmill.
  5. Take public transport. Although particulate pollution in tube lines is up to 30 times higher than roadside, Prof Frank Kelly, chair of Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), said people should continue to use the tube given the relatively short time spent underground and lack of evidence of harmful effects. Using public transport also reduces fumes expelled by cars, cleaning the air above ground that we breathe for the rest of the day.
  6. Eliminate wood burners and fireplace usage. Wood fires are sold as ‘eco’ or ‘clean’ alternatives to electric heaters or gas fires, but are far from it, and are a big contributor to wintertime pollution across Britain. Reducing wood burning reduces deaths and pollution-related ill-health.
  7. Switch to clean energy sources and aim to conserve energy at home and work. By switching to a renewable energy that is generated by natural sources such as solar, water and wind, you can help to fight harmful levels of air pollution.
  8. Lobby governments. For real change to be seen, governments need to prioritise pollution and other environmental issues (which go hand in hand), and now is the time to pressure them.
  9. Stop driving (especially around urban areas) unless absolutely necessary. Although you may believe driving a car protects you from the worst of the fumes, pollution levels inside cars are usually significantly higher than directly outside the car on the street, due to exhaust fumes being circulated around the enclosed space.

The good news is that we know the impact of pollution and we know what we can do to reduce it. We also know that even small improvements have substantial and immediate benefits for us all. What is needed now is for global governments to step up and reassess funding priorities. Pollution is the biggest environmental health risk in Europe, and it’s time something was done about it.

 

This article was adapted from a piece I wrote for EcoAge. For more of a deep dive into the issue of pollution, head on over. 

Come and find me on YouTube and Instagram for more running content!

Dharana Wellness Centre, Hilton Shillim Estate, India

Travelling has always been something I love, and spending too much time in one place gives me itchy feet to explore anywhere else, be it the Surrey hills or half way across the world. For a long time, I have wanted to visit India. The cuisine is one of my favourites, focusing heavily on vegetables and plant-based foods, exquisitely flavoured and perfectly balanced.

I recently had the privilege of being able to travel to the Dhahran Wellness Centre (the Dharana at Shillim estate near Mumbai), partly as a birthday present to my partner, and partly for work. With its focus on wellness and conservation, I knew it was the perfect fit!

Shillim was originally a conservation project by two brothers, who bought land to protect it from slash-and-burn, the practise of cutting down forests and burning them in the summer to create more fertile land for agriculture. Over time the brothers were able to buy and reforest more and more pieces of adjacent land. Now the site is around 3000 acres, within which sits the 330 acre eco retreat (of which 70 acres is the wellness facility).

Location & accommodation

We travelled from another local retreat, but the drive from Mumbai airport is around 3 hours. It’s long considering the distance, but compared to some of the other local roads, the journey was smooth and seamless! The hotel provides airport transfers for a fee.

The surrounding forests are what make this retreat so special for me. It creates a supremely idyllic setting, somewhat more humid than the surrounding areas, and brimming with local wildlife. The rooms are tucked away off the road that winds through the centre of the site, and thanks to the fact that they are all low-rise, all of them are quite well hidden in the forest. We were lucky enough to be placed in one of their pool villas, although all the rooms look spectacular – the spa villas have beautiful balconies with views over the surrounding valley.

The villa was gorgeous and spacious, sleeping 2-3 (a spare bed can be added on request). Ours had a private pool and was situated close to the wellness centre – perfect for guests on any wellness programme.

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Not a bad place to enjoy the sunshine! Swimsuit from Davy J

Wellness programme

Dharana seeks to help guests reconnect with nature and their bodies thorough a range of wellness programmes. Whether your stay is 3 nights or 2 weeks, programmes are available for all health goals.

Each stay commences with a questionnaire (completed in advance) and a Ayureveda/naturopathy consultation to determine the best diet, treatments and activities each guest should take on. Once drawn out, the guest is given a daily plan complete with activities, massages, treatments etc., and after the stay there is a departure consultation aiming to provide each guest with simple steps to continue the dharana way of life at home (both dietary recommendations and naturopathic suggestions).

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Treatments are incredibly varied and are planned for you after your initial consultation

Since both Fiann and I already eat healthily and enjoy staying active, our programme was focussed around relaxation (plenty of treatments), increasing focus and enjoying the nature reserve. I couldn’t think of anything better!

Food

One of my favourite parts of travelling is the food! However, in the past I have struggled with ‘healthy’ or ‘wellness’ menus, which provide watered-down versions of dishes, or portions so small they are finished before you know what’s happened. Thankfully, after speaking with our doctor, we were assured that the food would be healthy, but in line with our desires – that is to say delicious, traditional and filling.

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The food was incredible – one of my favourites was the traditional (but healthified) thali

The food certainly did not disappoint. Although the individual dishes were sometimes smaller than I would help myself to (not hard, considering my normal portion sizes), I never came away from a meal feeling like I hadn’t had enough. In fact, I was full for almost our entire stay! This was some of the best food I have ever eaten and a wonderful introduction to all the dishes India has to offer!

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My favourite breakfast was dosa and paratha

One thing I would say is that if you want traditional, large, ghee-filled Indian meals, this isn’t the place – the meals are delicious but delicate. In the Green Table, the dharana (wellness) restaurant, traditional ingredients are cooked using modern culinary knowledge to create traditional-tasting food based on Ayurevedic traditions with modern-day health benefits. All I know is that it tastes blooming amazing.

The hotel has one more restaurant, Terrazzo, which serves a combination of Indian and global cuisine. We ate here once (from the buffet) and it was delicious, but does not compare to the home-grown, fine dining feel of the Green Table. However, if you’re looking for somewhere that serves alcohol or coffee, this is your place (or head to the Mountain Bar & Bistro – bruschetta pictured below). The Green Table is for wholesome ingredients only!

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The Green Table gets many of its ingredients from its on-site organic farm (complete with friendly farm cat).

Activities

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Hike to Shillim peak – we hiked up in 18 minutes and ran down in 9!

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You can also practise yoga on the peak

I was amazed when I found out that most of the activities held at Dharana are privately run. From bird-watching to block painting or pottery, if you choose to sign up you can guarantee a personalised feel. We loved every single activity we tried – I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but so you know, we did:

  • Forest Bathing
  • Birding trail
  • Sunrise hike
  • Hike to shillim peak (above)
  • Cycling trail (below)
  • Block painting (below)

Our only problem is that we didn’t stay longer! We heard about a 6 hour hike on our penultimate day, but didn’t have time to fit it in, which was a real shame!

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We cycled at 6:30am to see the sunrise!

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Our birding trail didn’t just involve birds!

I adored our stay at the Dharana Wellness Centre, and would love to go back for longer after the rainy season sometime, where the activities are focussed around the rejuvenated forests, waterfalls and rivers. I can imaging coming back here over and over again and never getting bored, which is what I now plan to do!

Have you ever been to India? Would you like to visit somewhere like this? Comment below!

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Too many photos, not enough space

This trip was very kindly gifted by Dharana at Shillim, but as always all views are my own.

nb/ I offset my total carbon footprint from general living monthly, and offset the flights from this trip. Although not a perfect alternative to not flying at all, you can read my thoughts on Carbon Offsetting here.

 

The Epicurean Club – New Forest

It was my pleasure to be able to collaborate with The Epicurean Club on this blog post, but, as always, all views are my own.

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The New Forest is reminiscent of my childhood – free-roaming ponies, long country walks and an endless sky. I’ve always felt at home in this gorgeous national park, and have recently taken the time to visit it more and more. With over 218 square miles to explore and 141 miles of footpaths, I’ve never felt like it could get boring.

When I heard that The Epicurean Club had listed a number of hotels in the area, I immediately knew that I had to visit again – there’s something about exploring childhood memories as an adult that adds a new magic to them.

The Epicurean Club lists a collection of the very best boutique hotels, pubs and inns across Britain. Each place is situated in beautiful surroundings and boasts superior food (just wait ’til you see) and interiors. One of my favourite features about The Epicurean, however, is the ease in which they allow you to make the most of the local surroundings. We see so many images of foreign lands and white sandy beaches on social media, forgetting, somehow, that we have so much of our own culture and beauty (and yes, white sandy beaches) just on our doorstep. The Epicurean Club hosts experiences in each location, designed to help you get the most out of your stay, be it riding in the New Forest or a helicopter flight over the South Downs. There really is something for everyone.

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Nothing like an evening stroll to relax after a long drive!

The Mayflower, Lymington

Our Epicurean experience took us first to The Mayflower in Lymington, a harbourside inn known for its al fresco dining and delicious local food.

Upon arrival, Fiann and I took a walk around the local wetlands, tucked behind the yacht harbour. It was amazing to see the yachts, but I loved the fact that despite all the wealth, the wetlands were preserved and protected. If you’re a bird-nerd, you’ll love it here.

Our room was beautiful and cosy – who doesn’t want a huge bathtub in the room? Despite the antique feel, everything was beautifully presented and modern, with a traditional twist. Think low ceilings and wooden beams, but walk-in rain shower, huge double bed and espresso machine. Win-win.

By far my favourite part about our stay at The Mayflower was the food. Forget what you know about pub food – this was deserving of a Michelin star! In fact, the hotel has a one-rosette restaurant, which sources many of its ingredients locally – a big selling point for me, as sustainability is something I’d like to see thought about more in the hospitality industry.

If you’re vegan, fear not. We were handed the vegan menu which is extensive (rare for a British pub anywhere!) and aided in choosing a vegan wine. Our waitress really knew her wines, and we ended up with a gorgeous red and one portion of everything on the vegan menu (I’m not joking).

The food was impeccable, possibly the best vegan food I have ever tasted. We ate three courses each, so it was great that the food wasn’t too heavy, but rich enough to be immensely satisfying and warming. My favourite dish was the smoked celeriac and mushroom orzo (centre image above), which tasted so much like a smoked-salmon dish I nearly sent it back. The sorbets could do with tasting a little more natural, but they were the perfect end to a rich and delicious meal.

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We ate dinner in front of the cosy log fire – perfect for a winter’s evening!

Experience

The Epicurean Club’s specialty is the experiences they combine with local stays, chosen to make the most of the surrounding countryside and towns. As Fiann and I are pretty active, we decided to head out on a self-guided bike ride with Cyclexperience.

Booking includes bike hire for a full day, and we were blessed with such amazing weather we took full advantage of this! Jon and the rest of the helpful crew at Cyclexperience helped us choose a sufficiently challenging route and send us on our way, complete with map, GPS, mountain bikes, helmets (optional) and toolkit. Thankfully they provide a breakdown service for free, so it was good to know we were safe if we got lost/anything broke!

We had so much fun exploring the woods and grasslands on the bikes, saying hi to the ponies and, of course, sampling the recommended local pubs (thanks Jon!). It was also nice knowing that the majority of the route was off the roads – as an unconfident road cyclist, I much prefer sticking to trails so our route was perfect.

I love the pictures we took – it was such a fun day and the perfect way to build up and appetite for what was to come!

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Am I a pro photographer now?

The Mill at Gordleton

After handing back the bikes shortly after the sun went down, we headed off to our final hotel stay, The Mill at Gordleton. After hearing from a few friends this was the place to go in the New Forest, it’s fair to say I was pretty excited!

The Mill is beautifully situated next to a river (hence its name as an ex-mill), with ‘secret’ gardens and lovely interiors with ‘country-house’ charm. Our room was the perfect mix of the original 17th-century cosiness and a totally modern bathroom (the one place you maybe don’t want 17th-century vibes!).

We were luck enough to be able to experience a suite in the main building, which had a bedroom, ensuite bathroom and a living room, complete with a smart TV (we spent our time after dinner enjoying some Netflix in front of the fire).

We moved our dinner earlier simply to be able to enjoy more of it, after experiencing the delights at The Mayflower. We were not disappointed!

Sadly the fresh bread on the menu was not vegan, but we were instead offered fresh focaccia and butternut squash ‘bread’ – more like a cake, but who’s complaining. I could have just eaten the bread all evening, but we moved onto starters and mains after devouring the contents of the bread basket.

In contrast to The Mayflower, the food at The Mill did not feel ‘healthy’ as such – it was a great recreation of British pub-food made vegan. We were pleased with the number of options available, and once again got one portion of everything. As someone who prefers some ‘lighter’ options, the meal was a little more fried than I’m used to, but my boyfriend loved it a lot! Regardless of the level of frying, the food was delicious, which is what I’ve come to expect of hotels in The Epicurean Collection! I have to make a special note here to please try (and devour) the vegan ice-cream. It is without a doubt the best I have ever had.

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We were given a ‘taster’ of each of the sorbet flavours, as well as the new vegan ice cream – the best I have ever had!

Our stay in the New Forest was the perfect getaway from city life, and I truly feel like i could return again and again across all the seasons and explore something new each time. Next time I would go horse riding and perhaps head back to my former stomping grounds, Salisbury Cathedral (I was a chorister there for 5 years).

Thanks again to the wonderful and helpful staff at The Mayflower, Cyclexperience, The Mill and The Epicurean Club for making this stay so perfect – I hope to be back soon!

 

What is green energy and can it save the planet?

There are lots of ways we can reduce our impact on the environment, from cutting out meat and fish to moving our money to an ethical bank to using less fossil fuel. However, when it comes to changing energy provider to live a little greener, the whole industry can be a minefield!

A Which? survey in early 2014 found that energy tariffs are too confusing, despite the reforms brought in earlier that year. For me, changing energy company appeared complicated, not least because of the myriad of tariffs and providers available (known to confuse the consumer into paying more than they have to), and the fact that some providers don’t provide to certain locations. However, I recently switched from Shell to Bulb and it took me all of 2 minutes (via a short online form, since they only have one tariff) – it’s not as complicated as it seems if you choose the right provider!

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I plan to help with each of these aspects! (From 2000+ respondents to a MoneySuperMarket survey)

As most Brits turn their heating on around this time of year, it’s the perfect time to look for a cheaper way to get your energy – and there’s no reason you can’t make it friendlier on the planet, as well as your pocket.

What makes energy green?

Traditional energy suppliers rely primarily on non-renewable resources, such as oil, coal and gas, which are major contributors to climate change through the release of CO2. Ninety-seven percent (or more) of scientists are certain the climate has been warming over the past century and that the pace of warming is accelerating due to human activities — particularly the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. As such, the reduction in our use of fossil fuels is of utmost importance.

Green energy uses renewable resources (e.g. wind power (big in the UK), wave, solar (esp US), hydroelectric, etc.). The amount of renewable electricity used by UK households has increased to overtake fossil fuels this year for the first time, partially because of growing concerns over fossil fuels, and partially because green energy has become much more efficient to produce. In addition to slowing climate change, switching to a green energy provider can help fight harmful levels of pollution, meaning we can all live longer (and healthier). However, we still have a long way to go to make a significant change.

“Renewables are already the world’s second-largest source of electricity, but their deployment still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality and energy access goals,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“As costs continue to fall, we have a growing incentive to ramp up the deployment of solar PV.”

It is important to remember that when you switch to a green energy company, a certain amount of energy sourced from non-renewables is used to fill gaps in supply of renewable energy. However, a proportion of what you pay will be matched by the equivalent amount of energy being fed into the national grid from renewable sources, with the result being a much cleaner way to get energy.

Conversely, whilst many major energy companies can sell ‘green’ energy tariffs, these are not necessarily helping the problem. Big companies are able to buy green energy from smaller companies and sell it on to the customer, without actually having any renewable sources of their own. This article explains it much better than I can – just don’t be fooled when a big company tries to sell you ‘100% renewable energy’.

It is clear that we all need to be making a switch to cleaner, greener energy companies – companies that care about the environment at least as much as their own profits.

To make it easier for you to change over, I’ve compiled some of the most popular providers on the market. All of these companies supply 100% renewable electricity, so you can rest assured that whichever you choose, you’ll be doing plenty of good!

The suppliers

Bulb

Bulb energy was one of the most popular energy providers with my followers when I was doing research for this piece. It’s a fast-growing company that promises to make energy ‘simpler, cheaper and greener’. It rates higher than any of the Big 6 energy companies and 95% of customers have joined in the last 2 years, showing its increasing popularity. It’s also a B Corp (a very highly-regarded certification of sustainability)!

Best for: All round customer satisfaction, referral credit (mine is www.bulb.me/foodfitnessflora if you’d like to use it!).

Octopus

The only company that fared better than Bulb on customer complaints was Octopus. This innovative company invests in sustainable tech, including tariffs that allow customers to run their homes off their electric car’s power during peak energy times, removing some pressure off the national grid. Unlike Bulb, Octopus offers a variety of tariffs, which are some of the cheapest in the UK.

Best for: Innovation and cheap tariffs

Ovo energy

OVO energy has recently published its first sustainability strategy, including plans to reach net-zero by 2030 (10 years ahead of the government deadline). This, partnered with the ambition to halve customers’ total carbon footprint by 2030 make it an appealing option for anyone interested in the environment.

OVO currently has 1.5 million consumers across the UK and is looking to expand (in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory, of course). However, OVO has recently come under fire for not producing its own green energy, and instead purchasing it from other providers.

Best for: Making a political statement

Good Energy

Good energy was the first dedicated 100% renewable electricity supplier, with all of its energy being sourced from solar, wind, hydro power and biofuel from British energy generators. Reviews online appear to be middling, although still better than the Big 6 energy providers. All the above companies provide renewable electricity, but Good Energy was the first to also supply carbon neutral gas, and also owns its own sources of renewable energy.

Best for: Clean gas and ethics

TL;DR

As fossil fuels become more and more scarce, we will have to find new, more efficient ways of getting energy. Already however, the excessive use of fossil fuels is harming the planet and our health. Divesting in your own home as much as possible will help reduce your impact.

Hopefully this shortlist will help you find a way to lower your environmental impact, and your bills too! It is clear that there need to be more transparency about companies’ energy sources, but switching to any of the above companies will be beneficial to the environment.

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This article is an edited version of one I wrote for Eco-Age