NuBeginnings at Westwell Hall

PUBLISHED: 13:42 20 August 2010 | UPDATED: 15:02 20 February 2013

Exercise equipment

Exercise equipment

At NuBeginnings' 'boutique boot camp' at Westwell Hall in Ilfracombe, you can shed the pounds and re-educate yourself at the same time.

They don't check your bags for illicit chocolate bars; you sleep in the finest cotton sheets, and you don't have to do early-morning drill on the parade ground. But don't let that fool you, for the regime at NuBeginnings is every bit as tough as a stint at a full-on, American-style fat camp.

My first thought on arrival at the rather imposing Westwell Hall is a comforting pot of tea and a chance to thaw out before a blazing fire. But while there are plenty of fireplaces, the grates are bare, and as for the tea, well, forget it - this is a caffeine-free zone.

Over a snack of smoked salmon salad with lemon and ginger tea, I meet the founder of Nubeginnings, Victoria Wills. Motivated by her own struggles with her weight, Victoria has left her career as a management consultant to embark on this brave venture. She believes that it's important to not only tackle weight-loss through diet and exercise, but to get at the underlying reasons for destructive eating habits. "At Nubeginings, we believe in re-educating people about their lifestyle."

Victoria says that since starting NuBeginnings, she has shed three stones. She is still very overweight, but thinks this will be an inspiration to those joining her programme: "If you are struggling with your weight, the last thing you want is to be surrounded by gym bunnies."

One-to-one sessions - a key part

Victoria has trained as a hypnotherapist and one-to-one sessions are a key part of the programme, along with plenty of exercise classes and lots of hiking. The emphasis at Nubeginnings is very much on detoxing. The food is organic and locally sourced, and no chemicals are used in either the cleaning products or the toiletries in the bathrooms.

I have a fitness assessment in which body mass, blood pressure and heart rate are checked. Then it's on to a Qigong exercise class. Using slow, coordinated body movements, this is rather like the Chinese T'ai Chi and works very effectively.

Dinner turns out to be heavily protein-based, with a large chicken breast, some mango salsa and miniscule portions of salad and vegetables. It is, I realise, a bit like the Atkins Diet and is obviously designed to achieve rapid weight loss. We all know better than to ask if there's any pudding.

Following this, we have a group session of acupuncture, whereby several needles are inserted into our ears. We are asked, in turn, to conjure up our naughtiest food, visualise it and then send it away in a puff of smoke, never to desire it again. I conjure up a very appealing bag of crisps.

Birds of prey and a wet hike

Next, it's a relaxation class before bed at 9pm. There's no television or radio here.

In the chilly pre-dawn, we are roused from our beds for a yoga class. Breakfast is two poached eggs and some smoked salmon, then it's off for a 'hawk walk', during which birds of prey land on our gloved hands, and a wet hike on Exmoor.

After a cold lunch in a freezing barn we head back for a hot shower, before a hypnotherapy session with Victoria. I am surprised at how easily I fall into a trance and can see how it is a very effective way of planting positive messages about food and well-being into the subconscious.

Dinner is curried monkfish, with more vegetables than the previous evening, but I am still hungry when I go to bed after the gentle exercise class, and I find myself dreaming about Double Decker bars.

Pilates is on the menu at the crack of dawn the next day, followed by a breakfast of omelette. Then it's a lecture from Victoria on 'mindful eating', in which we are urged to savour each mouthful. This is followed by a deep-tissue massage.

Lunch is salade nioise, after which we go down to the kitchens for a cookery demonstration with the boot camp's keen young chefs. They certainly know how to get around us, producing some divine gluten-free, chocolate and banana muffins. This well-timed sweet treat sends me home happy and without the need to stop at the first garage I come to for a packet of plain salted.


For more information (01271 862792,

Latest from the Devon Life