The Malvern hotel and spa

After a very exhausting and mentally draining week, I was unbelievably excited to head to The Malvern for a weekend (two days, one night) of relaxation, good food and some peace and quiet. Nestled at the base of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, The Malvern spa looks nothing special from the outside, but when you step inside it’s a totally different matter.

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There’s nothing better than jumping onto a warm and comfy bed after a long day!

Fiann and I arrived at The Malvern at lunch time, and although our room wasn’t ready (they’re not prepared until 3pm), we were given robes and towels and allowed access to their spa and wellness areas. There’s not much that’s more rewarding than heading to the spa after a long drive, and it was so nice to jump straight into relaxation to start the weekend right 🙂

After spending just over 2h between the gym and spa, Fiann and I headed for our afternoon tea, booked in advance. I told the restaurant (a little/very last minute) that we were vegetarian and they managed to pull together a huge and delicious spread of sandwiches, cakes and other desserts (with a decaf soya flat white, of course). The waiters were more than a little surprised when Fiann and I managed to demolish the entire 2 slates of food, without much effort – for 2 VERY hungry people post-gym session, the amount was perfect! For anyone else it would have been a bit much, but they did offer us doggy bags to take away any we didn’t eat (obviously none).

Having finished tea, we were taken up to our room, which was small but perfectly formed. I think the bed is definitely one of the comfiest I have ever slept on, and (possibly helped by the relaxation from the spa), I slept almost 9.5h in the night!

As part of our stay we were offered breakfast and a three-course dinner, both of which were impressive, although they could have done with some more vegetarian and vegan options. As vegetarians we were limited to 2 options for both starter and main, although they were VERY good! The food quality was 5* throughout, but range of healthy options could be bigger.

On the second morning Fiann and I were booked in for our treatments – a 75 minute back, face and scalp treatment, involving ESPA products that you can choose yourself with a little guidance at the beginning. The treatment area is ridiculously relaxing, with a ‘waiting room’ with a fire, fountain and comfy furniture all around. I nearly fell asleep multiple times in my treatment and it was amazing for removing tension built up from work and the gym. Getting rid of tension and tightness in your muscles is very important so you’re less likely to injure yourself through reduced flexibility, especially if you’re working at a desk most of the day and leaning over your screen. Stretching and massages are helpful if you struggle with tightness and pain in your lower back, shoulders and chest.

It would seem silly to not check out the hills themselves whilst in the area, so Fiann and I checked out of the room at 11am on the Sunday and asked directions to the nearest hills. A short drive later and we were walking up some of the steepest but most beautiful British countryside hills I’ve ever been up. It was a clear day (and icy cold) so we could see all the way across three counties (although which ones and where exactly they were I’m still not sure, but it’s the idea that counts!).

For anyone who lives in the west or south-west, the Malvern is one of the top spa destinations around. I would 100% recommend having a visit and would personally recommend staying for the night – whilst you can’t go to your room until 3pm on your first day, you can use the spa facilities from midday, giving you an excuse to relax before you’ve even made it to the room! You also get more for your money, with lots of the deals including a three-course dinner and two-course breakfast. Total review? A roaring 5* – the best weekend I’ve had in a while.

View the website here.

Disclaimer: The Malvern spa and hotel invited me to try their facilities free of charge, but as always, all opinions are my own.

What I’ve learned – uni vs fitness

Finally I’ve finished my three years studying biology at Bristol University! I get messages from people all the time asking for advice of how I balance uni and fitness, and I thought that (slightly ironically) there’s no better time to share how I balance uni and fitness than just after I’ve finished – after three years of learning to get it right.

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University is amazing – especially if you can find friends with similar interests

I understand when people say it’s hard to balance fitness, health and uni, and I get that it can be time consuming, but in all honesty, I think that if you can’t prioritise keeping healthy when you’re at university (or at least while you’re still young), when are you going to? For me I saw university as a good three years where I had a set routine, I didn’t have to worry about real life problems, and therefore it was actually the best time for me to focus on me.

 

I started university with quite a good baseline of fitness – I played squash competitively at school, but took a year out afterwards, so wasn’t very fit (comparatively) when I started university.

 

Year 1 – routine, routine, routine

Year 1 is when you want to start making good choices. If you’re on a budget (who isn’t), I would advise trying to get the best deal for the whole of your time at university – I got a 3 year contract with my university gym for three years for £550. The big one off payment is so worth it if you’re serious about your fitness! But definitely have a look around – the uni gym might not be the cheapest in your city. Make sure you get the best deal in the long run.

Being in a new place with new people is tough, but I really would recommend setting aside an hour 4-5 days a week to head to the gym – at this point routine is everything. It’ll also help you settle into your new life, as sometimes everything can seem a bit up in the air when you’re starting something new. This is the time when you’ll have the least work to do and the least pressure to do well, so make the most of it! Joining sports clubs at this time is also a great idea – it’ll help you meet new people, you might find a new sport you love and it’ll stop you getting bored of the gym.

In my first year I did two athletics sessions (one long run, one track session) and three gym sessions a week. I also met some of my closest friends at this time, so even if you’re a gym bunny, it can’t hurt joining cheerleading, boxing or netball even just for a term 🙂

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Achieving balance in second year – wearing sports kit on a night out

Year 2 – achieving balance

Things start to get academically serious in year 2. You’ve met most of your uni friends, got yourself into a routine and found a sport you enjoy. In my second year I continued running cross-country and track, but became more flexible with my sessions as I started to gym more. As work started to increase (I had 25h of lectures and practicals a week in my first term), I made sure to push myself to gym. For me, once I was on campus it was a lot easier to go to the gym, so I tried to work 10am-5pm every day and then head to the gym. If you make it a routine it’ll be easy. In my second year my old school friend came to Bristol on placement and we started to gym together, which was perfect because it forced me to head to the gym even if I wasn’t feeling it.

In terms of eating, I was much better in second year than first year, making my own food far more often and going out less. Remember if you’re going out: alcohol does contain calories, lots of sugar, and might make a 2am kebab/burger/whatever seem like a good idea (in my experience it rarely is). If you know you’re likely to have food after a night out, remember to budget for it – having a smaller lunch is ideal, as you don’t want to skimp out on dinner if you’re drinking. Again, planning is everything – eating after a night out is ok, but either plan by reducing your daytime meals, or make sure you have something healthy and carry waiting for you when you get back, like a bowl of oats instead of something fatty. And if you don’t eat it, you can just have it for breakfast!

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Veggie lasagne – perfect to make over the weekend for deadline week stresses

Year 3 – continuing the habit

Although work was a lot harder in my third year, the content was less diverse and there were fewer hours of lectures, allowing me to structure my day as I liked. I’m much better when left to my own devices but I know some people can find routine difficult without structure. I always worked 9/10-5 and then gymmed, since that was the routine I was used to. My housemate used to work until 10pm and then gym, but if you need 10h sleep like I do, it’s no use gymming late – the exercise will keep you up later. If you need to work late, either gym in the morning or gym before dinner and then head back to work afterwards.

My eating over the last year has been mostly good. I have proats or 2 eggs on wholemeal homemade bread most mornings, a protein shake or coffee at around 11, and try to make lunch (although realistically I am terrible and always buy a salad with some protein). I usually have to have something sweet mid afternoon before the gym and either go for a protein smoothie or 3 chocolate topped rice cakes (those Metcalf dark chocolate ones are the bomb). Dinner varies a little bit – either an omelette and veg, a stir fry with quorn or white fish or pan fried salmon and mixed vegetables (roasted or stir fried). All my dinners are very quick to make – after going to the gym at 5pm, I want to eat as soon as I’m home, so aside from roast vegetables nothing takes longer than 15 minutes!

Having some meals you know are simple to make but super good for you is the key to eating healthily when you’re exhausted from a long day at uni. If I know I’m going to be too busy to cook, I’ll make a veggie lasagne over the weekend and store it so I can literally just heat it up and have it with an egg when needed!

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Healthy snacking – easy if you plan! Try these post-workout energy bars

The busier you get over your time at university, the more you need habits and planning. Realistically, you’re not going to be able to do everything you want to do to keep healthy, but setting up a good routine in your first year and then planning your food week by week (I don’t necessarily mean meal planning, but having a rough idea) will keep you on the straight and narrow.

I definitely think having friends who are also into health and fitness has helped me throughout my time here – not only for heading to the gym, but also having healthy food in the fridge and not being grilled (no pun intended) about why I am eating fish and vegetables instead of a bacon sarnie. It can be really isolating being healthy if your friends don’t understand. Surround yourself with people who support you and encourage you and university can be an amazing time, without getting in the way of your fitness goals.

 

Most of all, university is supposed to be one of the best times of your life. Enjoy it!

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Chocolate Beetroot cake

This is a recipe that baker Marianne (@mariannebakes) developed for our joint blogger’s event in Bristol recently. The cake is moist, indulgent and chocolatey, without containing huge amounts of sugar or fat! In fact, it’s totally free from refined sugars, gluten and dairy, and tastes absolutely incredible.

In addition, it’s easy to make and doesn’t require huge numbers of specialist ingredients – most of the ingredients can be bought in supermarkets or replaced with those that can.

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Ingredients:

Cake:

  • 225g Beetroot, red or golden – look for good quality veg
  • 65g dark chocolate (dairy-free if required, approx 55% cocoa solids), cut into rough chunks
  • 20g honey
  • 1 tb cocoa powder
  • 150g (3 medium) eggs
  • 150g Biona Organic Rapadura Sugar**
  • large pinch sea salt
  • ½ vanilla pod, seeds scraped
  • 90g ground almonds
  • 35g buckwheat flour
  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • large pinch ground psyllium husk (available in health food shops)*

Ganache:

  • 250g dark chocolate (dairy-free), roughly chopped
  • 60g honey
  • 110g water
  • small pinch sea salt
  • 1 tb coconut oil

*The psyllium husk helps to bind the ingredients together and makes gluten-free bakes less fragile. If you can’t get hold of any, just omit it, as it is not totally necessary.

**Rapadura sugar (dehydrated cane juice) is a totally unrefined form of cane sugar, with a distinctive caramel flavour. If you can’t get hold of any, try coconut sugar or light muscovado sugar

Method:

Cake:

  1. Wash the beetroot (don’t peel them!), top and tail them and cut into 2cm chunks. Place in a microwaveable bowl and add about 2 tb water. Cover with cling film and heat on full power for about 5 minutes or until just tender. Do not cook more than totally necessary, in order to preserve more nutrients.
  1. Tip the beetroot pieces and the water into a small liquidizer or blender, and puree until fine. Add the chocolate and let sit for a few minutes to let it melt through. Add the honey and cocoa powder and blend again until all well mixed.
  1. Crack the eggs and check the weight is approximately 150g (you can use any size eggs as long as you weigh the cracked quantity). Add the Rapadura sugar, pinch of salt and scraped vanilla seeds and whisk on medium-high speed using an electric hand-held mixer or stand mixer for 5 minutes, or until paler and doubled in volume.
  1. Sift together the ground almonds, buckwheat flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground psyllium. Make sure there are no lumps of bicarb.
  1. When the eggs are well whisked, use a silicone spatula to fold through the beetroot puree mixture until it is well-blended. Use a lifting motion to keep the mixing light and retain some of the air. Sprinkle the dry ingredients on top and fold again until no lumps remain.
  1. Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes while you preheat the oven to 140°C (fan setting) or 160°C (conventional). This allows the psyllium and buckwheat to properly absorb the liquid in the cake batter.
  1. Grease the moulds with a little flavourless oil (eg sunflower oil) or coconut oil and place them onto a metal baking tray. Scrape the rested batter gently into a piping bag or jug, snip the tip of the bag with a pair of clean scissors and fill the moulds to just below the top.
  1. Bake immediately in the preheated oven for around 25-30 minutes, or until the tops spring back when gently pressed, but the sponge still feels soft to the touch.

9. Keep the cakes in the silicone moulds and allow to cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, before chilling in the fridge or freezer until quite cold. De-mould the cakes when completely cold, as they are less breakable then. Store in the fridge until you are ready to dip in the ganache and decorate. They will keep for a good 3 days in the fridge, in a covered container.

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Marianne greasing moulds in preparation for the batter

Ganache:

  1. Heat the honey in a small saucepan over a medium heat until it boils and caramelises. This should only take a few minutes, so don’t leave it unattended – the colour will darken and the honey will smell caramelised when it is ready.
  1. Add the water and salt, and place the saucepan back on a low heat to dissolve the caramelised honey. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly while you melt the chocolate.
  1. Place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and melt gently over a saucepan of simmering water or in the microwave on a low heat setting for a minute at a time. Stir occasionally during melting.
  1. Add a third of the chocolate to the hot water and stir gently with a balloon whisk to blend. Add the next third and stir again, then add the last bit of chocolate and blend until just incorporated. Finally, add the coconut oil and blend using a stick blender until completely smooth (about 20 seconds). If you don’t have a stick blender, just use the whisk again. Tap the bowl to release air bubbles to the top.
  1. Remove the cakes from the fridge and dip top-down into the ganache. Lift out, shake off the excess and let them set on top of a wire rack. Top with edible dried petals, such as rose petals or cornflowers. Use a knife to lift the cakes from underneath when you want to move them – this prevents fingermarks from marring your beautiful glaze!

Baking Tip: Any excess ganache can be stored covered in the fridge for up to a week and makes delicious dairy-free truffles. Just roll into balls and dust with cocoa powder.

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Freshly dipped cakes topped with rose petals (ft. @the_honey_jar hand modelling)

This (Bristol) Girl Can

This is an article I wrote for our student newspaper here in Bristol, about the national ‘This Girl Can’ campaign and our very own week of activities at Bristol uni. I’m always looking to inspire people to exercise in whatever form suits them best – I know not everyone enjoys the gym or pounding the pavement like I do, but I think it’s impossible NOT to enjoy exercise once you find the right one. The benefits for your mind and body far outweigh any initial qualms you might have.

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Amalia and I repping Playerlayer (playerlayer.com) outside zumba (check out those personalised leggings!).

 

“Two weeks ago, Bristol University saw the return of the national campaign ‘This Girl Can’ to its campus and Flora Beverley reviewed a very successful week.

‘This Girl Can’, developed by Sport England, is an organisation that provides funding to help people across the country take part in sports at all levels. The ‘This Girl Can’ campaign was born to encourage women of all ages, sizes and backgrounds to get involved in a sport. The initiative also highlights the reality of sport; people sweat, jiggle and may not look their best whilst they exercise, but the message is that this doesn’t matter. 75% of women say that they would like to be more active, yet only 31.7% of women exercise at least once a week.

‘This Bristol Girl Can’ week is aimed to encourage those at the university who might not normally take part in a sport to have a go. This year, a whole week of free activities took place, mainly in the Students’ Union. 15 activities were on offer during the week, including kickboxing, swimming, zumba and self-defence classes, which meant there was something for everyone.

There were two main events: the Maroon Wednesday up at Coombe Dingle and a mass participation Zumba class on Thursday evening. Maroon Wednesday consisted of seven hours of games at Coombe Dingle, showcasing both the men’s and women’s sports teams (including hockey, lacrosse, football and rugby).

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Zumba attracted over 200 students and staff, and wasn’t as horrific as I was expecting (some might even say I had some fun!)

The headliner was, of course, our amazing Women’s Rugby team versus Cardiff Met at 7:15pm. Despite a loss, the girls played extremely well, encouraged by vocal support from teammates, friends and other students on the sidelines. PlayerLayer playmakers were also at the event, handing out personalised leggings to the man of the match and lucky spectators.

The Zumba on Thursday started with a huge queue outside the Anson Rooms in the Students’ Union with lots of students, looking both excited and apprehensive. Over 200 spaces were booked, filling out the Anson Rooms by 6pm. The class was led by two dancers, encouraging everyone to take part in a manageable dance routine, which changed for every song.

For a non-dancer like me, it was hilarious, and I shook my hips and waved my hands around, somehow looking like I was drowning rather than dancing, but the event was the most fun I’d had that week!

Lisa Daley, the official organiser of the week, commented: ‘“This Bristol Girl Can Week” was our celebration of all women participating in Bristol University sport, from complete beginners to elite performers. The whole week was a great success with masses of interest and participation, all tying into the main “This Girl Can” national campaign which aims to promote females to take part, with no worry of how well they do it or how they look doing it.’ The Students’ Union and the department of Sport, Exercise & Health put together a much bigger programme compared to last year. The aim was to offer a wider range of activities that catered for all, helping to reach out to more students than ever before. It was fantastic to see the BUCS Women’s Rugby 1st team in action on Wednesday evening, putting in a strong, passionate and determined performance, proving themselves brilliant role models for ‘This Bristol Girl Can’, alongside our other incredible female BUCS athletes competing in sports from Lacrosse to Volleyball. The active and fun atmosphere was contagious; a true reflection of the whole incredible week of #ThisBristolGirlCan. For anyone interested in getting involved, the fun does not stop with this week. There is still a full range of classes which run every single week, which any student can attend. Find them by following this link: http://www.bristolsu.org.uk/societies-sport/get-active.

So for those of you who enjoyed the week, and for anyone who didn’t get a chance to take part in the events, it is possible to book even more classes to change the statistic that only 31.7% of women workout at least once a week. The benefits of exercise are huge, and it doesn’t mean slogging away in the gym everyday, as the ‘This Bristol Girl Can’ week showed in abundance.”

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