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.
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 – corepilatesnorfolk.co.uk – 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.
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.
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. corepilatesnorfolk.co.uk