While staying at Douglas House in Oxford recently, a friend and I decided to check out a local spa for some chill time and a bit of a pampering.
Fleur, being a spa virgin, left me to research and plan (grimaces hoping to make Fleur’s first experience a good one!). Then again, leaving Fleur to plan it could have been an absolute disaster.Until about 3 years ago, I’d never been to a spa myself, but now I’m becoming a bit of a spa-holic. I try to go as often as possible, (3-4 times a year) but that’s still not nearly often enough!
Before my first spa escapade I’d assumed it would a bit of a waste of time my venturing there, as they can be quite costly and I won’t use any of the main facilities (pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, gym, steam room etc.). I know many pools now have hoists and are becoming more accessible, but I personally don’t really enjoy the experience of being manhandled and out of control.
This was all before I realised how amazing a treatment is, and I don’t even have to leave my chair! (I hate leaving my chair, it’s my legs, would you leave your legs?!).
I’d been to a few different spas in my local area, Norfolk, and the one I’d felt was the most relaxed, friendly and value for money was Bannatyne Norwich, so my theory was better the devil you know, let’s check out Bannatyne in Oxford. Which turned out to be in Banbury, just a 45 minute drive from Oxford centre + traffic and getting lost time. After a tea and chat over the ether, Fleur and I decided on a moisture dew facial with head massage, and a pedicure for Fleur, manicure for myself (nobody’s touching my feet!).
After arriving slightly late (we may have driven straight past Bannatyne) we parked the pamper van easily in one of the many spacious blue badge parking spaces.
Entering the automatic double doors at the entrance, there is just a very slight lip. Then there’s a turnstile entrance/exit system, but to the left near the desk is a wide barrier that can be operated by the staff member on the desk. We checked in and were shown directions to the spa area, which is fairly easy to spot through the door just ahead.
Luckily we’d been super organised (the way I like things!) and had filled out our medical forms before arriving (these are sent to you by email after booking). So as we were already running late we quickly handed these in and were both fetched by our therapists and taken to individual rooms.
My room was of adequate size, once the therapist, Samantha, had moved the bed to one side of the room there was enough space for me to turn around and get into position. I explained to Samantha that I’d had treatments previously and that the position of me tilting my chair backwards usually worked well. Samantha was very helpful, friendly but also did one of the best massages I’ve ever had. Now to a lot of people I may seem fragile, little me sitting in a chair. (And I can be fragile when it comes to bumpy roads etc.). So sometimes this makes people nervous and wary around me, over-protective and over-gentle. This can result in a very ineffective and annoying massage! But not Samantha. She got stuck in and I would say treated as she would any other client. After a replenishing facial and a very relaxing firm head, neck and shoulder massage, I was taken to the manicure area to choose nail polish. The manicure area is fairly small and a little crowded; it was like a nail bar with tables and chairs. So Samantha suggested we could go back to the treatment room for my manicure as it wasn’t being used for another client until later. This was much nicer and more chilled than the nail bar, we had a good chat while Samantha did an excellent job of my nails (no chips for 2 week!).
I explained to my therapist Annmarie that I had never been to a spa, and had no clue what a facial actually was, other than sitting there with cucumber on your eyes. She assured me there was no rabbit food involved, only the extremely expensive products I’d seen available for extortionate prices in reception.
Facials turned out to be quite Karate Kid: cleanser on, cleanser off. Moisturiser on, moisturiser off. Exfoliator on, exfoliator off. Stuff that apparently contains papaya but smells like Starburst sweets on, then off. And repeat.
I am notoriously terrible at sitting still, and started thinking mischievous thoughts. That dressing gown on the door hasn’t been ironed or dried on a hanger lately; it’s all creased. I hope they’ve washed it. I really thought Duncan Bannatyne off the telly would have higher standards… Then again, if you’re lying there with your eyes shut, I suppose you wouldn’t notice.
Why are the lights bubble-gum pink? I understand why they’ve made the lights dimmed to relax the victim, but why pink? What about Caribbean sunset orange or deep ocean blue? Or a gradual cycle of changing colours that mimics dappled shade in a forest in midsummer?
It wouldn’t be all that difficult to put a hoist in here, one of those discreet ones that folds into an “I can’t believe it’s not wood” cupboard. No one would ever need know it was there until it was needed, and then ta da! That’s what I call luxury…
I have the wrong kind of hair for a head massage; is it supposed to sound like that?
It’s so nice not to be reading depressing articles about Human Rights violations. Not that it isn’t an honour to do what I do and I’m actually kind of twitchy because I haven’t done any mathematics in a few days… but this is kind of nice.
That is what spas sell. It’s not beauty or youth or immortality; reaching for the unreachable standard of personal appearance that is considered perfection by the rich and the infamous. It’s protected time. It’s time where even if you felt stressed about something, there would be nothing you could do about it for a set length of time, so you take a short holiday from your life. And that puts a beautiful smile on your face, makes you feel younger, and reduces your blood pressure which might make you live longer.
My toes are tiny and took no time at all to paint sparkly purple, so whilst waiting for Gemma I rearranged some furniture in the cafe and despaired at the unnecessarily healthy menu. Yes, I can see the point of salad in a spa, but what if you’re craving chips? I clearly have a different definition of spa break. As I settled on my selection, Gemma re-appeared, looking like a totally chilled rock-chick spa-goddess. Definitely the right hair for a head massage.
Fleur was done a bit before me, so had ordered a cuppa and had menus ready in the cafe. The cafe situated just near the main reception is small but cosy, just enough room to navigate once a few chairs have been moved. I ordered a tea and some Welsh Rarebit (posh cheese on toast), Fleur had a large slice of chocolate salted caramel fudge cake. I don’t think I’ve spent a day with Fleur when I haven’t seen her eat chocolate in some form!
I would thoroughly recommend Bannatyne Spas to anybody. The two branches I have visited were relaxed and welcoming, the treatment of great quality. I’m already dreaming of my next spa trip!
Sorry Gem, but it’s a lot of money and I really can’t sit still that long. I might take a bar of chocolate and a book and spend some quality time with a tree next time we head to Banbury.
Thank you to friend and guest blogger Fleur Perry.