D&G Life - When the going gets tough...

...The tough get going at the weight loss boot camp for fitness. As I leaned all my weight on my suitcase and wrestled to zip it up, I began to wonder what I had let myself in for.


The kit list for The Camp required me to pack a daunting amount of waterproof gear, thermal layers and sturdy walking boots, none of which I own. A frantic dash around my mum’s house provided me with everything I needed, and fuelled by the guilt of the previous evening’s burger and chips, I made the drive along the stunning Galloway coastline to Penninghame Estate near Newton Stewart.


The sun was shining and the regal 19th century house looked more like a peaceful country spa than a boot camp, but the forecast to come was for rain and gales, and I had heard rumours of very early wake-up calls...

The Camp is the brainchild of Sebastian Morley, who realised during intensive SAS training that working the body hard on little fuel results in dramatic weight loss. That principle is applied for seven days at The Camp, which rises at 0545 and has its clients exercising continually throughout the day, breaking only for food, water and to change out of wet clothes. Aside from that, I had little idea what to expect.

In the grand drawing room I met the 15 other ladies who had signed up to the women-only camp, each a different shape and size, but all just as nervous as the next. A few were from London but there was an international mix, with women from Iceland, Israel, Norway and The Netherlands.


The Penninghame team: instructor Aaron Meikle, chef Maria Salzmann-Lane, chief instructor Dale House, sports therapist Gael Moffat and Pauline Drysdale

Pauline welcomed us all and gave away a little about the week to come: it would be tough, but it would be worth it and we would achieve things we never thought we could. Pauline was the first through the door when The Camp started six years ago. She loved the results so much that she became involved in the running of the business and has been passionate about their ethos ever since.

Dale, a former Royal Marines Commando and personal trainer, introduced himself as the Chief Instructor, which translated to most of us as: “the one who’ll be doing all the shouting”. Aaron, also a personal trainer, with a background in covert security testing, would be our second instructor for the week.
Despite the army fatigues, the boys assured us they were approachable, and with 11 camps under their belts, they had plenty of experience with hungry, tired women.

Gael, the on-site sports therapist, would be there to help with injuries and injury prevention, while Dale, as a qualified trauma medic, would be responsible for our safety.

Dale explained that timings would be crucial throughout the week thanks to the busy, meticulously planned schedule. In order to burn enough calories to lose weight, we had to be exercising for eight hours a day, and breaks between “details” would be short.

Our first detail was an easy one: dinner. All the meals served at The Camp are light, nutritionally balanced and designed to boost metabolism. On the first night we ate lentil and spinach soup served with a smidgen of crème fraiche and a morsel of crispy bacon, followed by sticky grilled salmon and veg.

Our chef Maria was cooking for her first time at The Camp, although she is a professional chef by trade. Her travels around the world have influenced her cooking style and we loved her Asian twist on traditional favourites.

A light physical training (PT) session followed dinner, but the warm-up alone left me feeling defeated. As we stumbled red-faced and sweaty out of the gym, we were met with a cosy bonfire, the perfect backdrop for getting to know one another. Ages ranged from 21 to 62 and there were two mother-daughter duos who inspired much admiration from the rest of the team.

Our campfire chat revealed that everyone had different reasons for coming to The Camp. Most had the shared goal to lose weight and tone up, while a few were there to kick start a whole new life for themselves and one even considered the week to be a holiday of sorts!

Of the 16 in the group, half had been before and had become addicted to the results and their newfound energy. Two or three looked suspiciously like regular gym bunnies and two of the girls could relate to the army style training, having come from military work backgrounds.

The social evening had lulled me into a false sense of security and there was a collective groan of dread when we were reminded about our 0545 wake-up call.

At 0600 hours the next morning, we lined up in three ranks under a dark, rainy sky. In the hour that followed we jogged laps in the pouring rain, lit atmospherically by the headlamps of an army truck. Our clothes were soaked through, gloves were wet, knees were grazed, and all this while dodging slugs as we got down on our hands for press-ups. Thankfully there was no military-style shouting from our instructors, just encouragement and barks of “Change Direction!” and “Press-ups!”

The timings between activities were tight and we raced back to our rooms for a hot power shower before the next detail. By the end of the first full day I could add hill walking, boxing, circuit training, resistance training and a stretching session to the list of exercises that had wiped me out.

The goal was to burn more calories than we were taking in, so all of this exercise was done on a daily intake of around 1,500 calories.

A typical Camp breakfast would be a small bowl of muesli with cinnamon or a poached egg on rye bread, and lunch was a salad with chicken or fish. Dinner was two courses with soup and a small serving of meat with vegetables. The snacks incorporated healthy fats such as nuts and seeds, but they tasted so indulgent: flapjack loaded with fruit and seed balls coated with dark chocolate. We had a visit from The Camp’s nutritionist who talked us through the principles of a balanced diet, and gave us guidance on how we should eat to maintain our weight loss upon returning home.


Getting healthy and making friends

I was shocked to discover my portion sizes are almost double what they should be, so it was no wonder that by the third day I was feeling hungry and tired. A few of us had had a teary moment, which we were relieved to hear was perfectly normal! My legs ached and hiking in my mum’s aged walking boots was like struggling up a hill with concrete blocks on my feet.

The weather had been particularly unkind and doing 100 sit-ups on the sodden grass before breakfast was hard work. The instructors decided a morale boost was in order and prescribed a dose of friendly competition.

Faced with a monstrous tractor tyre, the team task was to race round a loop, flipping the tyre over. By the end of it we were all exhausted but our smiles were firmly fixed.

By day four my body had finally seemed to get in tune with the routine. I was full of energy and pushing myself harder than I ever had before. I came to enjoy pre-breakfast PT and the instructors explained that we were fuelling our bodies with our existing energy reserves, which meant we were burning fat. While I could see other people becoming visibly slimmer, I felt my own stomach getting flatter and was so proud that I could finally do a proper push-up! There was a real sense of camaraderie and we had gone from struggling to remember names to feeling like a boot camp family.

The Camp was the first fitness and health boot camp of its kind in Scotland and has spawned numerous copycats. The luxury accommodation and picturesque, unspoilt surroundings are the perfect location to transport you from the humdrum routine of work and home life. The private grounds mean no disturbances and free reign of the area.

At the end of the week I had lost 5 pounds and was thrilled to finally be back under 10 stone. Losses ranged between my 5lbs to over 11lbs, and we all lost inches from our waists and hips, but the thing I was happiest to lose were my exercising inhibitions.

The Camp proved to me that weather is no excuse not to get out there, neither is a dark winter morning or sore muscles. Since coming home I’ve been jogging in the rain before breakfast on a regular basis and I’ve beaten my fastest time! I’ve even invested in an abundance of lycra clothing...

Ladies, if you’re thinking of signing up, pack an alarm clock, a sense of humour and spare trainers, but forget the lippy and hairdryer, you’ll be too busy making friends and smashing personal bests!

Dumfries & Galloway Life - February 2014

Photography - David Moses


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