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Bend it like Beckham

Usually when I’m heading up a large gravel driveway to a country  barn, I’m dressed in heels and looking forward to a glass of something chilled and bubbly.

Today I’m wearing trainers, leggings and – rather oddly – a pair of shorts to prevent the leggings ending up around my knees, having mistakenly bought two sizes too big thanks to Primark’s inability to match clothes  to hangers!

When I organised my Pilates class in Hickling two weeks’ ago – a tiny village in the Norfolk countryside with both the Broads and the beach on tap –  I expected to get very lost and eventually find myself at a tiny, ramshackle hall with no central heating.

Hickling Barn couldn’t be more different  – new and shiny it could well be the wedding venue I was imagining (and does host receptions, I’m told). Surrounded by green fields, it has a substantial playground out the back and a several rooms inside.


Magnanimously built by the local community, it ticks several eco boxes, with underfloor heating and solar panels on the roof. It’s handsome too: natural day light flooding through floor-to-ceiling windows offering stunning views of the fields out back – the perfect place to exercise.



This is one of six venues used by ex-Londoner Julian Askham who moved to Norfolk with his wife and young girls two years ago in pursuit of a better work/life balance. He now runs three classes on a Tuesday morning at Hickling Barns (at 8am, 9am and 10.15am) and classes throughout the week at Acle Village Hall, Hoveton Broadland Community Centre, Martham Community Centre, Sprowston Manor Hotel and Stalham High School.

julian sign

Clients pay £7.50 for a ‘taster’ session and then book a block of six classes, which can either be at beginner or intermediate level. Don’t fancy communal classes? Book a private session for one-on-one tuition.




As someone who prefers exercise that gets your heart racing, I’ve never really enjoyed yoga and have never tried (yikes) Pilates – am I the only one?. But the benefits of strengthening your core are undeniable as you can see from Julian’s brilliant website – – which lists the following reasons to get off your bum and do Pilates:

– Decreased back and joint ache
– Improved muscle tone
– Improved posture and balance
– Increased flexibility
– Energising and relaxing

Right, that’s me sold, now onto the class:

Being a Registered Exercise Professional (REP) and a Certified Pilates Teacher with Body Control, Julian is knowledgeable and patient in equal measure. As a first timer, I am often in the wrong position, arching the wrong body part or generally not bending enough during the hour, but Julian simply re-positions, re-arches or re-aligns me (and anybody else) with the kind of calmness usually reserved for a childless Sunday morning.

PilatesHickling (19 of 121)

PilatesHickling (45 of 121)

Our little group diligently works pelvic floor, stomach and back muscles through a series of gentle stretches, side leg lifts and planks (why anything so tough is given the same name as of a piece of wood is beyond me) using mats and head rests provided by Julian. We take our socks off when we could slip, laugh when we want and generally spur each other on. When it’s time to do the ‘one hundred’ (one hundred stomach crunches lying on your back with your feet in the air), my stomach almost cries in anger, but I manage all 100 and feel a little bit proud.

The hour skips by, aided by the warming sunshine, and I’m all set for a much-needed cup of tea before a visit to Sea Palling beach (pictured below), just seven miles away. For readers wishing to find a nearby watering hole, Hickling’s Village Pub, The Greyhound, serves hot drinks, ales, lunches and evening meals.

sea palling



So, if you’re after some gentle exercise in the countryside, followed by an afternoon of pub grub, beach or Broads, Hickling is your village – and Julian Askham is your man.

Julian Askham Pilates, Tel: 01692 598114.




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3 comments on “Bend it like Beckham”

  • Jennifer Allen May 24, 2016

    Julian is really one of the good guys. As Maggie has already said, he is so patient, even when we are a bit cheeky, we know we can have a laugh with him, but also feel all the benefits of all the exercises. I always come out feeling warmly stretched and better in myself. I have never really been one for any extreme exercise, but this I so look forward to. After having Lara as my teacher for a few years I was worried about how I would get on with a new and (male) teacher. But he has fitted in so well. Well done Julian. X

  • Maggie May 24, 2016

    Julians classes have been life changing for me. After years of vigorous and extreme exercise including Olympic Distance Triathlon, I find that my back and joints are no longer what they were.
    I went to Julians class out of desperation because my back had become so bad I could no longer assume even a regular walk would continue to be possible.
    He has changed all that. My weekly session puts everything back where it should be so I come out ready to enjoy my week, take moderate exercise and do the gardening and household chores again.
    Julian is kind, patient and humorous, his classes are a real treat and of great benefit, both physically and mentally. I would recommend them to anyone

    • jogardner May 24, 2016

      What a lovely comment Maggie, thank you. I will make sure I pass it onto Julian.
      Did you know that he is up for an award with us for Best Fitness Instructor? Would you like to vote for him? If so, please click on the Awards button on the homepage, type in your email address, find the Best Fitness Instructor Category and type in ‘Julian Askham’.
      Thanks again


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