The long winter season of London brings early dark nights and, more often than not, a lingering damp chill. Yet winter brings bright sunny days with crisp cold air, that make strolling through the city and its multitude of green spaces an absolute pleasure. After months of searing, sweat filled heat out in Singapore, it was actually a welcome comfort to re-immerse myself in frost filled days donning my favourite roll necks, boots and my oh-so-dearly-missed Jigsaw cocoon coat. The parks of London are wonderful reminders of how spacious & green the city can feel compared to many of the world's urban jungles, truth being that even in the centre of town, you are never more than a couple of hundred meters away from some kind of square, park space or waterway. It was a delight to venture once again up to the top of Primrose Hill park to absorb the magnificent and iconic city skyline, highlighted by a cooler sun: This view takes my breath away every single time and fills me with the kind of awe that makes me thankful to be able to consume it all with my eyes. Reflecting on the many memorable days and nights spent daydreaming/laughing/crying on this hillside, I sauntered back down towards the main strip of Regent's Park Road, lungs full of icy air, to while away the remaining daylight with some much needed quiet time and self care at the Cowshed Spa. Let the "aaaaaahs" begin.
The Cowshed have a multitude of spas dotted around London - perfectly located for immediate respite from even the most intensive of city days - but I particularly love the Primrose Hill location, sitting in the village full of lovely shops and eateries and being immediate to both the Hill and Regents Park. The interiors are spacious, housing its own cafe, yet still wrap you up in the rustic cosy ambience Cowshed is known for. The pretty exterior is maximised even on the coldest days for cafe drop-ins and their pups with heaters until the sun vanishes. You can pop in for a coffee, a fresh juice or a light bite and the armchairs are a perfect spot to drift with a book or glossy (or safely deposit the Other Half while you go and pamper...). The shelves are also lined with Cowshed's array of beauty & body care products: Often stocked in many a swanky bathroom, their herbal & essential oil infused ranges are designed to be effective whilst also indulging your senses. At this time of the year when we are looking for any help to detox and to trim down, I would recommend the Slender Cow range to create your own enjoyable home ritual to maximise on all those virtuous new year goals (...and even if you don't have any, time will never be lost in dedicating efforts to your Body Temple).
Priority one: A seriously good, and very needed, fully body massage. Work, Climbing, yoga teaching, which sees me running all about the city and across countries, had been taking its toll on my body especially in the last few months at the end of 2016. So, I was truly looking forward to getting my knots eased out during a signature Moody Massage, which can be tailored to suit your needs and indeed, mood. The lovely and knowledgable Naomi led me downstairs to the low-lit yet ample sized treatment rooms to discuss my preferred choice of oils. I opted for a lavender mix to help me truly release. Little touches really make the difference here, with freshly heated towels to warm & cover up with and a bowl of healing aromas beneath the headrest to further soothe the senses. Naomi took the time to understand my physical condition and body type: Given that I have a decent percentage of muscle, which was now quite tense especially in my back, shoulders and neck, she could see I would appreciate a firmer touch (I've had massages in the past amounting to a stroking sensation which, personally, leaves me more reeling than relaxed). This level of personal attention is something I truly value in the Cowshed environment. Naomi found the balance between using intensive pressure to tackle the deep-rooted tension in combination with fluid sweeping movements to help detoxify and promote full body relaxation. She did wonders on my equally achey legs, finding trigger points that I didn’t even realise needed attention. The rigorous scalp massage was my version of Heaven on Earth : It's something I would have everyday if I could! An hour passed by more quickly than I would have liked but I felt smoothed and renewed by the time we finished. I reemerged in my blissful bubble to tackle priority number two: My feet!
As a former gymnast, and with the last 10 years spent squeezing my tootsies into climbing shoes, my feet have taken quite a hammering. 95% of the time I make do with my less than glamorous dry skin and battered nails, but every once in a while I endeavour to treat my feet to a bit of love and deserving attention. I settled into my oversized armchair, complete with tea in a charming cerulean mug, to experience my foot makeover pedicure. Zaren, my specialist, assured me my feet weren’t actually that bad considering (I’ll take that) and got set to work on scrubbing, buffing, and some serious dead skin exfoliation. Given I genuinely loathe the sensation of someone else filing my toe nails, I felt wonderfully at ease, and had the option of distracting myself further by tuning into re-runs of Friends on the retro TV and headphones, should I wish. The calf and foot massage was highly welcome even if I had spent the last hour receiving head to toe attention. With Zaren’s meticulous skill, and a few drops of finishing oil, the result was a pair of beautifully smooth, perfectly coloured feet that could rival a foot model…well, almost! Much to my joy, the colour actually lasted a good two weeks before I smashed yet another couple of toe nails climbing on the rock out in Thailand, which to me, is rather impressive.
Truthfully, it was hard to leave the soothing sanctuary. The Cowshed is wonderful in bringing luxury services without any of the pretentiousness: It’s a high end offering with a homely, comfortable atmosphere - drawing on its Babington House country origins - that makes spa time welcoming and sociable and where you are treated considerately whether having arrived for a full blown package or dropped in for a tea. I love that it is a very Cow-Bull balanced environment that welcomes any bloke wanting to smooth out his rough edges - indeed, I have sent my brothers and step-dad more than once to get some TLC.
The Cowshed brings its special service to all of its locations and it has grown considerably with locations not just across the UK, but is now present in NYC, Berlin and more. I highly recommend making time to check in and ease out your own aches, groom up and leave feeling lighter and more calm - Especially if you have been neglecting your self care practice in light of all your commitments, personal and professional pursuits that might be leaving you a little ragged.
With that, I took one last warming breath, before setting back out into the now darkness to take one more peek at the top of the hill and absorb the incomparable London night sky. It never, ever, gets old.
Moody Massage from £65 for 45 mins | Cowshed pedicure £60 for one hour | At The Cowshed Spa, Primrose Hill, London and other outlets www.cowshedonline.com
All photography credited to Thom Arnold Photography ©