Muddy reviews: Women’s Wellbeing and Wine Day
Cheers! Or should that be Namaste...Do yoga, wild swimming, breath work and wine tasting mix? Muddy heads to Swanaford Vineyard to find out.
A well-being day, you say? With wine? Can such a thing really exist? I can hardly believe it and yet here I am sitting on a yoga mat with two dozen other wine (sorry, wellbeing) fans at Swanaford Vineyard in the Teign Valley, readying myself for a date with a sun salutation and some English sparkling. Bring it on!
We’re talking rural idyll, in Swanaford’s fairy-light festooned barn surrounded by 10 acres and 10,000 vines. Here you can do a vineyard tour, wine tasting and, if the outdoor oven in my sights is anything to go by, pizza nights.
The day is being hosted by well-being supremos, breath coach Sara Cain of Breathways, core strength vinyasa yoga teacher, Meg Hughes of Your Body Matters and Nat Clarke, a swimming and triathlon trainer. The trio decided to put their well-being superpowers together to create something unique: a morning of yoga, breath work and wild swimming followed by an afternoon vineyard tour and tasting.
Relaxed, as you’d expect – with birds tweeting, Zen yoga music playing and jokey repartee from the teachers. But, there’s also a definite air of adventure with the prospect of the river swim and wine tasting to come.
WELLBEING – THE MORNING
Meg kicks off the day with half an hour of yoga, mostly easy stretches, including child’s and cat-cow poses. It’s nothing strenuous and, although one woman said she preferred it to some “yoga nazis” she’d met (not a phrase I’ve heard before) more experienced yoga bunnies might get fidgety. What I liked was Meg’s easy-going humour and inclusiveness, and she also said some interesting stuff about yoga mudras – hand gestures which stimulate energy – I’d not heard before.
Then, a quick comfort break and it’s on to breath-work with certified breath coach, Sara of Breathways. Is breath ‘work’ you might ask? All I know is since doing a half hour breath-work session with Sara I now have a failsafe way of getting back to sleep when I’m lying there doing the night shift.
Sara’s mantra is you can control your emotions through how you breathe -useful if you need to give a presentation, are struggling with sleep or anxiety problems, or just happen to be going for a cold water swim later. The breathing exercises she teaches are meant as a toolbox you can dip into when you need.
I learn: 1) Yawning is good! It’s not rude, it just a reset button to help you focus. 2) Women don’t breathe deeply enough. Stop holding that belly in, lady! Let it all hang out. 3) Too much breathing can be bad. Yup, if you routinely take more than seventeen breaths a minute, it tells your nervous system you’re stressed, which in turn affects your digestion, immune system and makes you feel in a permanent fight or flight situation.
Having learnt a thing or two about the parasympathetic nervous system and how to clear a blocked nose, it’s on with our cozzies and off to the river Teign with Nat to put what we’ve learnt into practice.
Nat gives us the low-down on the water – it’s 14 degrees centigrade (eek!) so based on the rule of one minute per degree we can stay in for just 14 minutes. Plus, it’s always better to ease yourself in slowly rather than diving in, to avoid giving your system a shock.
Then Nat gives us a woggle each and we’re in. Or rather my feet and calves are. It takes some hand-holding from Jane, a lovely woman who’s been wild-swimming for the last 10 months to get me in to chest height. Her advice is to breathe for 30 seconds at this point and then get vigorously swimming to warm you up.
After a couple of minutes I honestly can’t tell if it’s cold or scalding. It’s lovely to see the inky green water and riverbank from an otter’s eye view with dragonflies dipping as we glide past low hanging branches. All very Wind in the Willows.
I’m just thinking how TOTALLY BRILLIANT life is when our fourteen minutes are up and it’s out for a dry off and some advice from Sara on how to warm up. You literally shake the blood back into your hands and feet to get your circulation going. Then do some squats. Working those thigh and glute muscles are the best and quickest way to get yourself toasty.
SCOFF & QUAFF
We head back to the picnic benches at the barn for lunch – a delicious takeaway vegan box from Exmouth’s Food Ethics, a rainbow mix of rice, slaw, butternut squash and leaves pepped up by spicy dips. No drinks but we’ve been instructed to bring our own water and a flask of something hot to warm us up post-swim. Besides, I’m now eyeing up the homegrown drinks over in the vineyard.
WINE – THE AFTERNOON
Swanaford’s owners, Caroline and Ben are busy grafting away on the vineyard, so it’s knowledgable vineyard assistant George who gives us the lowdown on their white and sparkling wines and the two fields of French and German vines – one called flat and one called fizz, for obvious reasons.
I’ve been on a few vineyard tours (you don’t say) and I admired George’s candour. Vineyards might look like idyllic but they are VERY hard work: trimming back the excess growth (it takes a day to just three rows), stopping everything from badgers to pheasants and wasps from eating the grapes. Owner Caroline gets up in the middle of the night with a radio to scare them off (Radio 4 works best apparently) and when the grapes are picked they have to be pressed the same day meaning vintners don’t get much sleep during the harvest which can take around three weeks.
But then you do get to live in some gorgeous acreage, with 360-degree views of natural Devon beauteousness and drink your own vino – including their Estate White of which I bought a bottle to take home (like a lovely light Sauvignon) so there are some bonuses.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Uplifting, fun and quirky, a veritable yoga retreat in a day. I love the unusual mix of topics and wondering what Sara and co will come up with next – wellbeing and wing-walking? Here’s hoping…
Good for: a quick pick-me-up for busy people; a local getaway; some serious lady bonding over a woggle; sorting out various probs including releasing stress, help with sleep problems, digestive problems; anxiety; bunged up noses; facing fear of cold water; drinking deep of Devon’s terroir; upping your Warrior Woman status “Yes, I swim in all weathers, you know”; seeing the Teign from a whole new angle.
Not for: purists – if you like to keep some space between your quaffing and quality yoga time, not for you; yoga bunnies might find it a bit tame; there is just the one loo and no changing rooms, so non-outdoorsy types might find it a bit rough and ready.
The damage: a snip at £80 for the day, including lunch, parking, the tour and tasting. Well worth it when you consider the insider access to both the expertise and the lovely location.
The next Women’s Wellbeing Day is on Tuesday 23 November at Powderham Castle, Kenton near Exeter where you can enjoy yoga, breath work and an optional ice bath. Costs £57.50.