'I took a 72-hour outdoor fitness tour of Guernsey – and it was one of … – Women's Health UK

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From wild swimming and stand-up paddleboarding to coastal hikes and cliff sprints, this island makes for a serious workout.
It wouldn’t be unusual to find me at the gym on a Saturday morning. A good

strength training sesh, a touch of mobility work and some time on the treadmill is a pretty standard line up. So you could argue that nothing’s out of the ordinary on this particular Saturday. Except that while the burn in my triceps is familiar, my surroundings are not.

Instead of sweat-slicked dumbbells I’m gripping two knobbly, salt-mottled rocks. And rather than my own red face staring back at me from a smeared mirror I’m gazing out on a restless ocean, sunlight glancing off the waves, breeze ruffling the ponytail I hurriedly scraped up at dawn.
It’s not yet 8am (help) and I’m 30-minutes deep in an outdoor fitness session on the beach at Fermain Bay, Guernsey. Under the instruction of local PT Ian Potter I’ve already torn my calves apart doing countless hill sprints up and down a cliff path – I’ll admit the sweeping view across the bay at the top does ease the pain somewhat – and set a gentle ache humming through my muscles thanks to bodyweight exercises performed on a rocky outcrop overlooking the ocean.
Now I’m hurling boulders, kettlebell-swing-style, down the beach in-between yet more sprints. My shoulders are protesting after a hefty bout of lateral raises loaded with (you guessed it) more rocks. But somehow, I don’t tire throughout the entire two-hour session.
Perhaps it’s the cooling spray of the ocean, or the abundance of negative ions in the sea air spurring me on. More likely, I suspect, is the fact that this is quite simply joyful. While it sounds punishing, every aspect of this workout is designed to help us view nature as our fitness playground – from pebbles and coastal paths to sea-fed bathing pools.
Exploiting nature’s gym is a way of life here. Everybody is super fit – if they’re not jogging up hills then they’re plunging into icy water like it’s a warm bath. And it’s a combination of this attitude and the island’s unique environment that makes Guernsey an ideal destination for the outdoorsy.
It’s no surprise then, that the coastal walk Ian proffers post-healthy breakfast is not the gentle meander I’d hoped, but an undulating hike around the island complete with steep climbs and knee-jerking descents. Our path is framed by breathtaking sea views to one side, verges bursting with colourful wildflowers to the other, and ends with a near-vertical climb we’re encouraged to sprint (I can only manage half). Ian usually gives his clients just five minutes to walk down the hill then run back up, sometimes hauling power bags. Yikes.
You might wonder why I’ve put myself through this – ‘this’ being a frankly gruelling three-day fitness tour of Guernsey. I grew up by the sea and, now in London, often find myself yearning for the vast openness and salty sting of being seaside. While I head to a wild swimming spot as often as possible, poking my head through the reeds at Hampstead Heath ponds, while lovely, just doesn’t deliver on that invigorating hit of the ocean. So when an invite entitled ‘women and the waves’ dropped in my inbox, I didn’t think twice.
Serving as both cryotherapy-style recovery and fitness arena in its own right, the sea is a big part of island life. And I’m keen to make the most of it, so sign up for a guided ocean swim setting off from a secluded cove off the Fermain slipway. Led by Jacqui Hunt of Guernsey Swim Adventures, we don wetsuits (ignoring the fact that most island folk scoff at the mere thought of neoprene) and follow her kayak into the waves.
The cold truly does take your breath away, but once I’m over the initial shock, breathing regulated, I can appreciate that this is easily one of the most serene experiences I’ve had in the water. We’re completely alone, quietly puttering around rocks with the sea calm and gorgeous, tingling head to foot and feeling so, so alive. Afterwards we warm up with tea and cake on the beach – because it’s all about balance, right?
The next morning we meet up with local swim group The Mental Tentacles, who are aptly named, to say the least. Dressed in matching octopus-themed swimsuits, they are insanely chipper for eight in the morning and are positively bubbling over with excitement at the prospect of introducing us relative newbies to cold water swimming.
We’re taking the plunge at La Vallette bathing pools; four sea-fed coastal pools complete with changing rooms, hot showers and café. Keen to show off my new prowess, and largely at the Tentacle’s encouragement, I go without a wetsuit this time and opt for a cannonball entrance over a painstakingly slow edge into the water. This is the right call, and while yes, initially it feels like being stabbed by a million tiny little knives, after a couple of minutes I feel perfectly comfortable, verging on fantastic.
With my skin tingling, the sun bouncing off the smooth surface of the pools and the sounds of happy chatter around me, it’s easy to see how people get addicted to this cold-water malarkey. I enjoy it so much I stay in a little too long and start to feel warm (this is apparently a sure sign you should get out). My violent shivers are somewhat seen off in the showers, but it’s not until I’m wrapped in a changing robe with a steaming mug of tea and bacon butty in front of me that I manage to stop my teeth chattering. Nonetheless, it’s the most revitalising morning routine I’ve ever had, and I envy those who’re able to do it every day.
Of course, there’s more to the water than swimming, and the following day I strike out, board under arm, into the ocean once more, for a paddleboarding lesson with Guernsey SUP. It’s an intense core workout in disguise, as the mere act of keeping your balance forces you to engage abs you didn’t even know you had. But you barely notice you’re exercising, as you’re so focused on either the gorgeous views or simply trying to stay upright. Slicing through the waves with my oar I can’t help but feel like some powerful female warrior. The whole experience is bracing and magical – and leaves me with a serious core burn.
Of course, to keep up with Guernsey life, rest and refuelling is paramount. Luckily there’s no shortage of eateries, from the charming beach café at Fermain Bay serving up local crab meat sandwiches and chips, to stylish seafood restaurant La Reunion (indulge in a cocktail, they’re insane) and shiny brasserie Christies, an art deco affair with harbour views and gastronomic delights such as Guernsey scallops wrapped in pancetta and topped with crunchy, salty samphire.
Sweet tooth? Hit up Crepe Maison for French-style crepes drenched in caramel and topped with mountains of whipped cream and generous dollops of ice cream before wandering round the local boutiques for bespoke jewellery and lotions and potions made from Guernsey seaweed.
As well as a plethora of places to eat, Guernsey is also home to Fermain Valley Hotel, which boasts four beautiful treehouse rooms, complete with a terrace hot tub to re-heat your bones between wild swimming sessions. It’s likely you’ll need more than a good nights’ sleep though, so schedule a beach yoga session with local instructor Katie Brock to stretch out aching limbs and leave you feeling grounded.
Handpicked Hotels offers various fitness packages typically priced approx. £215pp. For more information email: reservations.fermain@handpicked.co.uk
Stay at Fermain Valley Hotel or in the Fermain Valley treehouses.
Zip over to Guernsey from the UK with Aurigny airlines, with flight times from as little as 40 minutes. Aurigny operate year-round direct flights to Guernsey from London, East Midlands, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Dublin.
Alternatively Condor Ferries operate slow and fast ferries from Poole and Portsmouth to Guernsey year-round.
For more information on the Islands of Guernsey, please see visitguernsey.com

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