I spent my birthday naked in a hot tub and I’m here to tell you why you should do the same.
No no don’t be alarmed! Whilst I was trying to capture your attention I wasn’t being sensationalist. I won’t be sharing pictures of my bare bottom or anything like that. It’s not that type of post.
Yet I would like to write just a little bit about the joys of spending some time al fresco in nature if you will just entertain me a little……..
But before we dive into the good stuff I want to talk a little about the birthday discomfort I experience every year right around the time that midsummer is rolling around. At the risk of sounding like a total bore, I don’t like celebrating my own birthday! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love celebrating yours’ and seek to assure you that this discomfort solely pertains to the idea of coordinating my own festivities but the crux of the matter is I don’t relish being the centre of attention and the ideas of insisting people gather round and celebrate moi feels awfully uncomfortable. This year my birthday fell on a Friday and rather than going through the usual excruciating motions of entertaining a small gathering I took full opportunity to spend the weekend away in the countryside with the husband and dog which was exactly what I wanted to do.
A very simple search of Airbnb using ‘own place’, ‘pets allowed’ and < 3 hours travel from London led me to Gwen’s place in the North Downs in the beautiful Kent countryside.
We pull up into the driveway and are welcomed by vast fields of heather, a soon-to-be-setting sun, a large chicken pen complete with clucking chicks and a quaint little sky blue painted chicken house. An ensemble of bird song greats us, resonating through the rapidly cooling almost mid-summer’s evening air and I know I’ve made a sound choice.
I instantaneously feel more relaxed as I stroll towards the pump house which will be the site of our weekend retreat. Life operates at a distinctly more leisurely pace here and I take gentle, dainty steps, there is no reason to stride like I do at home in London.
The advert for the pump house reads “watch the stars from the wood fired hot tub while your BBQ sizzles over the fire bowl. Listen to the owls, watch bats swoop, walk through stunning woodland and meadows, play croquet, or lie in the hammock to read”. It also comes with a warning: this is a “digital detox area’ and wifi can be unpredictable. I know the last part will irk my constantly connected, tech-loving husband but hey, I think to myself, it my birthday and I’ll go sans wifi if I want to 😉
Gwen’s place features the main house which is her own private home and a number of outhouses, two shepherd’s huts and the pump house in which we are staying. The centre point connecting all areas is a shared kitchen/bathroom area and each outhouse has its very own wood-fired tub which is absolutely the USP of this lovely woodland retreat. As I plop myself down on one of the vintage rocking chairs I pause to admire the space. It is the very definition of simplicity and minimalism whilst simultaneously feeling comforting and homely. Complete with a wood-burning stove it has everything you need for a weekend stay with zero clutter the very essence of getting back to basics which is something that will be emblematic of this weekend retreat.
I admire the cedar wood-fired tub, set against a backdrop of thick shrubbery, a few branches wistfully draped over the side of the tub magnifying the sense of this return to and immersion in nature. The right side of the path is framed by a verdure-covered garden arbour complete with brightly coloured middle-eastern style lanterns, several rose coloured petals peaking out through the dense green foliage. I’m told that this beast has taken about 6 hours of wood burning to heat from scratch and as I use the paddle to mix the scorching surface water with the much cooler bottom layers I make homage to this via a gratitude mantra thanking the trees that have provided this fuel for this mean feat, it has not gone unappreciated.
I use the dissipating evening’s rays to play around with one of my newer lenses (Samyang 85mm, 1.4 manual focus) and enjoy the pretty bokeh it produces. With the light rapidly-diminishing I have to pacify my urge to strip off right away and instead turn my attention to dinner. Having brought what feels like an entire deli-counters worth of produce with me I temporarily distract myself by trying to choose which of the 5 cheeses we should tuck into for tonight’s feast. Which will go better with the wine I ponder? I choose the Basque Manchego and a Vintage Gouda which are happily gobbled up together with some Nocellera olives, pulled pork sausage rolls and chorizo all washed down with a few glasses of rose fizz.
Abruptly night is upon us and we are suddenly cloaked in darkness with only the very faintest of fairy lights illuminating the garden path. I can hear the humdrum of the pump working away, (it is a working pump house after all!) The other guests have retreated to their own Shephard’s huts and although we are reminded of their presence by an intermittent flicker of light we are otherwise alone in nature’s very own playground.
At last I strip off my earthly wears and plunge myself into the scathing liquid which at first singes my skin before encasing me in its cinder-lit waters. Feeling the water slip and slide over my bare skin I’m soothed back into a child-like state where nothing really mattered. I am a free being, free of societal norms and expectations, free of responsibility, free of fear, free of the shame I feel about my perfectly imperfect body. As often happens to me when I’m transported back to these child-like states I hear the words of Baloo singing to Mowgli echoing through my psyche: “Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife….”
What feels like an eternity (and almost an entire bottle of fizz later) I’m clambering out of the tub, wrinkled and crinkled and utterly peaceful. I glance at my signal-free phone and realise the hours have evaded me yet again and it is now the wee early hours of the following morning. I meditate to a nocturnal soundtrack of coos and hootsbefore falling into the kind of deep slumber you can only ever get in the quietude of the countryside only to be woken up a few hours later by the sounds of the roosters. I awake with the intention of making this birthday suit wood-fired hot tub adventure an annual pilgrimage.
Nakedness aside, the weekend was full of plenty other restful delights, meditating out by the fairy pond, going full out slumber in my tracksuit bottoms and now almost 10-year-old Peruvian alpaca sweater that never fails to warm me through and through, my skin loving me for letting it breathe free of make-up, almost dreadlocked wilder-than-ever hair do and my precious Mia dog snuggled up on my lap next to the fire reading a book about Jungian archetypes.
And of course there were the inevitable deep reflections that are the natural result of turning yet another year older. Another year under my belt, another year of hard flipping work digging out the trenches of my ever-increasingly complex mind, looking long and hard at myself in the mirror (figuratively not literally), holding myself accountable to my experiences whilst balancing that with trying to cut myself some slack – a hard scale to keep in balance! I conclude that I am constantly humbled, ever-curious but always grateful for the people and experiences that accompany this adventure that is life.
So Ladies and gents, there is my sales pitch, laid bare for your enjoyment (pun most definitely intended)! Strip off, get into your birthday suit get back to basics and let yourself be free. The bare necessities, forget about your worry and your strife. If we can’t let ourselves go and be free at least once a year then when can we?! I can assure you, you won’t regret or forget it 😉
Oh and in case you are wondering what happened to my husband on this adventure. He fell asleep after a single glass of wine, some food and a very long, very tough week at work, poor thing. Not one to deny anyone of the need to sleep I had this adventure, ALL. TO. MYSELF.
You can find Gwen’s retreat on Airbnb here: