Walk the picturesque South West Coast Path

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Seeking a break from the hustle and bustle of London life? Want to swap the blue light of your always-on smartphone or laptop for the gorgeous, soft blues of the sea and sky, and the greens of nature? The Bank Holiday presents the perfect opportunity to escape.

We took advantage of the first Bank Holiday in May to make our getaway to East Devon. The Dorset and East Devon coast (aka the Jurassic Coast) is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, so what better way to see it than by foot? We’d packed our hiking boots and decided we would cover a section of the South West Coast Path (an easy, gentle, well sign-posted and popular route, we soon found out).

The South West Coast Path is the longest National Trail in the UK – it follows 630 miles of  coastline from Somerset all the way to Poole Harbour – so it makes sense to split it into small chunks and complete it between several holidays!

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Our base for this trip was Budleigh Salterton – a small, sleepy village with a tiny high street lined by charity shops – conveniently located by the beach and the South West Coast Path.

We stayed in the most beautiful annex located only a few minutes’ walk from the beach. The annex came complete with floor-to-ceiling windows, living room, full kitchen, and a big bath tub that was handy a good soak after the big walk – and we were delighted by the cake that the owner had left for us upon arrival!

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The route

Our plan was to follow the South West Coast Path up to Exmouth, stop for lunch there, then return back (approx 5.7 miles each way). It was easy to locate the starting point of the South West Coast Path – it was up a few steps from the beach (which had gorgeous pastel-coloured beach huts and the smoothest, prettiest pebbles) and easy to find.

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From there onwards it was almost impossible to get lost. We encountered an incredible variety of landscapes on our way; endless sunshine-yellow fields of rapeseed flowers; crumbling red sandstone rocks; ancient cliffs (some more than 100 million years old); cows grazing in green hills; blue sea for miles ahead of us – a delight for the eyes and soul!

We were lucky that the coast was bathed in warm sunshine the weekend of our visit – it was actually much hotter than London, where it was pouring with rain! We came across many people on the route: dog walkers, families, walking groups and runners.

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What I loved most about this walking weekend were the opportunities it presented for long, deep chats – uninhibited by smartphones – and the ability to slow down and really take in the colours and beauty of our surroundings. My mind was able to relax and I felt a sense of inner peace.

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The trail doesn’t necessarily require walking boots, but they were still good to have. It took us about 2.5 hours gently ambling along the coast to get to our lunch spot: seafood restaurant Rockfish (reserve a table in advance if you can; we had to wait 30 minutes for ours). The waitress here explained every kind of fish available, what had been caught fresh that day, and even explained the taste and mouthfeel of the lesser-known ones – very helpful. Plus, unlimited portions of chips were available, if you could stomach them… this was wasted on us as we were full after our first helping!

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Next we walked up the seafront to the Exmouth Ice Creamery, its exterior lined by gigantic blackboards listing all the different flavours, for dessert. I’m sure there were more than 40 flavours available! The ice cream only cost £2.50 and went down a treat in the sunshine.

On our return journey, we didn’t follow the South West Coast Path back to Budleigh Salterton but we took a few inroads that led us to another non-coastal path (again, signposted) which was slightly quicker. It’s possible to take a bus back also. Having completed more than 29,000 steps that day in total, it’s safe to say we were knackered come nightfall and I fell into bed quickly after a long hot bath.

Budleigh Salterton pastel coloured beach huts

The following day we spent a few hours at the long, pebbled Budleigh beach. There were fishermen selling their catch of the day along the shore. We explored the seafront and walked right the way to the end of the beach and back before slipping into one of the beachside cafés for a hot drink and slice of cake before heading to our car for the return journey home. If we had the time and energy, we could have followed the South West Coast Path in the other direction towards Sidmouth.

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On our drive home, we happened to pass the Otter Valley Ice Cream & Field Kitchen (EX14 9QN), and boy were we glad we stopped there. This is a family-run restaurant and farm, and their homemade, creamy and indulgent ice cream is definitely worth queueing for. If you’d like more of a sit down meal before the long drive home, the sourdough pizza is a good shout, and don’t leave without having some of that irresistible ice cream!

Have you walked a section of the South West Coast Path? What did you think? I’d love to cover the other sections of the path on future weekend trips!

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Got a head for heights? Abseil down the ArcelorMittal Orbit in Stratford

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Urban thrill-seekers will be able to abseil down the ArcelorMittal Orbit – the tallest sculpture in the UK – from Saturday 31 March.
Abseilers can take in the panoramic views across the city as they step off the tower’s viewing platform in the heart of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford for the 80-metre descent.
Instructors are on hand to guide every step of the way and abseilers have the option to record their experience on a GoPro helmet camera.

The 114-metre tall tower became a recognised landmark after opening as part of the 2012 London Olympics and is now also the site for the world’s highest slide.

To book an abseil experience and to find out more, go to wireandsky.co.uk.

Play ping pong at The Bat and Ball bar in Stratford

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A new ping pong bar has taken up residency in Westfield Stratford – and it’s got an atmosphere as cool as rival chain Bounce.

The premise is fun and simple at The Bat and Ball: play table tennis while sipping on beer and munching on chicken wings (or cocktails and pizza!) in a giant games hall with dimmed lighting and music pumping in the background. With balls flying all over the place and games of beer pong making things a little messy, it’s a recipe for fun and laughter.

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The Bat and Ball is a year-long pop-up set over three floors: there’s a restaurant and bar, a roomy games hall with 12 championship tables, plus a private games parlour.

Don’t be put off when you hear that it’s in Westfield Stratford – it’s a quick five-minute walk from the Tube – enter the shopping centre, go up the escalator and take a right out on to The Street. Walk a few minutes and you’ll see it on your left.

If The Bat and Ball is too far out for you, there are lots of other ping pong bars in London: try one of the Bounce branches or Ping!

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Hydro-spinning in Chelsea

hydrofit bike underwater aqua spin chelseaWorking out at the gym fills me with dread. I’m a self-conscious person, so the idea of exercising in front of others – while trying to look semi elegant as sweat drips down my forehead – really makes me cringe.

So when I was invited to Chelsea’s Hydrofit spa, which offers an aqua spinning workout in the privacy of individual Jacuzzi pods – I was practically skipping there, bikini in hand.

The unique sports concept, which originated in France, involves riding an exercise bike while submerged in a special hydro-massage hot tub. Water jets in the bath generate a steady supply of oxygen atoms to promote natural exfoliation of the skin as you cycle, and the workout is said to help tone the legs and banish cellulite as well as enhance blood flow around the body.

The experience

Arriving at the sleek Chelsea Hydrofit, I’m lead past the juice bar and massage and treatment rooms downstairs into one of the luxury cabin rooms, each of which has a TV and wireless headphones to keep you entertained as you exercise. Drinking water and a towel is provided, too. I strip down to my cossie before being given an extensive explanation of the technology and what to expect.

Hydrofit aqua spin hydro bike chelsea battersea sportsI’m given Croc-like shoes to wear for grip on the pedals, and clamber in to the pod before the door is shut and the water level starts to rise, only ever reaching as high up as my waist. The cabin offers a choice of four chromo-therapeutic lights – I’m shown how to change them, and advised to choose one that takes my liking. I opt for red, which is said to promote vitality.

The timer is set: 30 minutes left, and the jets are bubbling around me, producing a tingling feeling around my thighs. I stick the headphones on and tune into the music channel on the TV before me. At first it’s a bit odd as your downstairs half is warm and upstairs half is a bit chilly, but that soon changes as it’s time to start pedalling.

I’m told to alternate between fast and slow speeds for maximum impact, but it’s not that easy: bike resistance is 12 times stronger in water than air, so it’s a bit more intense than a usual spin session.

One of the lovely Hydrofit assistants comes in to check on me when I’m 10 minutes into the 30-minute session – she encourages me to go faster, and rise up off the chair to help. I reach a maximum of 36km/h, but average on about 26km/h the whole time.

I’m sweating soon enough – it’s uncanny that the upper half of my body is wet with perspiration, but my bottom half is already wet!

Normally I’d be bored senseless sitting on a bike for this long, but with the TV on in the background, I start to get into it. It becomes a game of how much water I can splash around the pod, and I also have a play with the intensity of the jets. I don’t dare touch the bike resistance button though. At 18 minutes, I’m doing a bit of clock watching as my legs are tired, but 30 minutes in and I’m told I’ve burned a minimum of 300 calories. Hooray.

My legs feel strong, and I’m feeling less stressed than when I arrived. I have a quick shower (optional) before heading upstairs where a refreshing juice is waiting for me at the bar.

Hydrofit provides a personal and comfortable experience – sort of like visiting a spa and the gym in one go. I leave feeling light and energised – I wonder if it has something to do with those fancy red ‘chromo-therapeutic lights’…

The next morning, my bum hurts a bit, but other than that, I’m right as rain.

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What’s great about Hydrofit is that you don’t need any specific workout gear to take part – swimming gear will do – and you also don’t have to worry about your body being presentable – it’s just you and the machine *WIN*, although if you do wish to work out with a pal or partner, duo luxury cabins are available, too.

Hydrobiking is considered to be a low-impact, cardio workout that doesn’t provide too much stress to joints, so it’s great for people with injuries. It also stimulates the body’s lymphatic system, thereby improving metabolism in the long run.

One of the Chelsea Hydrofit staff, Michela, tells me the Hydrofit workout is great for people “looking to tone up, lose weight and banish cellulite”.

The Chelsea Hydrofit branch has five luxury cabin rooms, and its next outpost, opening in Battersea in the coming weeks, will have four.

If you’d like to give it a whirl, you can get 50% off your first booking by mentioning ‘The Curious Londoner’.