Chalkmarks: Ilfracombe, Devon, England

I CAN’T run up there, I squeak. No one mentioned anything about having to sprint up a vertical sand dune.

I was really hoping that a run on the beach meant a gentle jog along the shoreline, but instead I am breathless half way up this sandy hill with two personal trainers from NuBeginnings* screaming my name to speed up.

The purpose of this exercise was to reintroduce a city girl like me to getting fit in the great outdoors – at the West Country hotspot Woolacombe in North Devon.

It feels painful on my legs and the sand slides away from beneath me with each step forward.

I glare up, take a deep breath and clamber on.

Chalkmarks: Ilfracombe, Devon, England
The stunning Devon coastline

At the top I dump myself on my back gasping. When I lift my head, I look down on a view of surfers riding the waves in the glittery, blue sea. 

After congratulatory pats on the back from the four others on this weight loss bootcamp, I excitedly wait for my reward – an apple and exactly five cashews nuts.

The two bulky fitness instructors are holding them to ransom saying we all have to scramble up twice more before we earn our snack. Aaaaaaaaagh!

While this isn’t a strict military-style bootcamp, we are on the front line of experiencing the burn with the trainers determined to push us hard, so we can get the best results.

They are from NuBeginnings, which is a seven-day weight loss retreat designed by Victoria Wills who has battled with her size since age 8.

Now 37, she says she’s spent thousands of pounds on diets and bootcamps and finally she came up with this unique programme that combines the best bits of everything she’s learned. It has already become a favourite among celebrities including pop star Alexandra Burke and TV presenters Gail Porter and Kirsten O’Brien.

Having lugged myself up the steep incline two more times, I finally get my treat. I wish it’d been a cheeseburger and raspberry ripple ice cream but the fruit and nuts taste good. We then all sit in exhausted silence, staring in to the sun.

Chalkmarks: Natalie Chalk, Ilfracombe, Devon, England
On an early morning hike in Ilfracombe, Devon

This is the first time I’ve taken a holiday to slim down and fight my bad food habits.

It isn’t going to be easy – not by a yoga stretch – but hopefully instead of returning home having piled on the pounds, I’ll be heading back with a smaller waist.

Half-an-hour later and I’m back in my room with its grand chaise lounge in the sumptuous Westwell Hall in the seaside resort Ilfracombe.

The huge house has rooms for only nine guests each week and outside there’s an impressive garden with sea views in the distance.

After a long, steamy bath, I collapse for a light snooze.

There is little time to be lazy though as the timetable includes pilates, boxercise, circuits, the Chinese exercise qigong, and zumba – and that is just for one day.

The week-long itinerary also includes three morning hikes taking in Devon’s stunning headlands, downs and woodland. 

There are daily fitness talks, sports massages and hypnotherapy with evening sessions covering aromatherapy, nutrition, juicing and a one-to-one with the personal trainers, who are keen to pass on their knowledge and the sense that exercising doesn’t have to be an hour each day in a gym. It’s a lifestyle. This a holiday that heals.

They say that just four minutes a day, working on a handful of movements to strengthen muscles is all that’s needed to burn fat. I take a note of that and then highlight it because I really dislike treadmills and HIIT-style classes.

The next big lesson comes by learning that we’re to stop eating quickly. We then sit down to lunch, drink a toast with wine glasses filled with water before tucking in while listening to our bodies.

We are told to put down the knife and fork between each bite, and drink water after most mouthfuls.

The hardest rule of all though is to leave something on the plate, ‘always’.

The chef follows the principles of the low-glycaemic-load diet promoted by nutrition expert Patrick Holford. This is based on slow-release carbs to help even out blood sugar level to end those pesky cravings.

The food doesn’t include wheat or many white carbs like potatoes, which is unlike my meals at home which are laden with pasta or rice. Instead to give us energy the menu includes gluten free blueberry muffins for breakfast, blackened chicken and salad for lunch and Thai green curry with veg for dinner.

There is no chance for coffee and biscuits between meals but herbal teas and two daily snacks that include bitesized pieces of avocado with goats cheese, and mango and strawberries.

The proof though is in the pudding – or in this case without eating the pudding – and by day seven, it happens: I have lost half a stone. That means I have lost five per cent of my body fat on such a short break. I never thought that was possible.

I shriek and swirl around and round.

Not only am I slimmer but I’m now equipped with simple food tips to keep the pounds away.

That is the best souvenir to take home.

*NuBeginnings has since closed down

Chalkmarks: Westwell Hall in the seaside resort Ilfracombe, Devon, England
My room at Nubeginnings at Westwell Hall in the seaside resort Ilfracombe

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