Wildfitness at Alladale review | fitness holiday, Scotland
Get fit the wild way in the Highlands
The quick read: We are more resilient than we think – or so the team at Wildfitness would have us believe – and now you can test out the theory in the Highlands of Scotland. Your base is the remote and splendid Alladale Wilderness Lodge just north of Inverness, where young and knowledgeable instructors devote their energies to getting you moving, eating and living in a better, stronger, healthier way. It’s hard, physical work that will push you out of your comfort zone, all for the best reasons, and all exercise takes place out of doors. Great for anyone craving space, freedom, movement and pure health. Come to access your inner warrior.
Who it’s best for: City dwellers who have lost touch with their wild side and need an injection of nature, anyone who spends too much time hunched over computers or slouched on the sofa, and active types who have got stuck in repetitive movement patterns in the gym or over-familiar fitness routines. The friendly, inclusive attitude of the staff means both extroverts and introverts will feel comfortable and catered for. Ages range from 18 to 60, and comprise singles, couples, even families (on our visit there was a family of four from Korea) but are mainly professionals. Be warned that it’s a challenging week – those who want to have loads of downtime and time alone should look elsewhere. And if you always need guaranteed warm, dry weather to work out in, it’s best to choose Crete or Zanzibar rather than the Highlands where the climate is unreliable.
What you can do: Move – in a nutshell – in interesting ways. The programme is hugely varied – there are home-based days broken up into three training sessions at 7am, 11am and 4pm, and away days that might involve a long hike up a mountain to learn to fly fish in a loch, or a trip to the beach (a two hour drive away so a full day out) to run barefoot on the sand. Between sessions there is just enough time to walk, sit, sleep, read, take a sauna or indulge in a massage or reflexology session (one is included in the week – book ahead if you want more). Evenings usually include a talk on eating, living or moving better the Wildfitness way, when points are grounded in solid research and the latest scientific discoveries.
The fitness sessions are highly unusual and (usually) extremely enjoyable if slightly disconcerting to the uninitiated. The idea is to re-introduce you to those long forgotten parts of yourself that have fallen down a black hole of technologically-overloaded, overly grown-up, caffeine-fuelled, alcohol-dampened, city living. So, play exercises and games re-awake your lost inner child and enable your rigid, inflexible body to move in unstructured and liberating ways.
After the nursery slopes of navigating along planks of wood, for example, you will graduate to fallen tree trunks, improving your balance till you are able to teeter along the top of a thin fence high above a stream. On a circuit – with a jump over a puddle or tree trunk, a shimmy under a low hanging branch, a balance across a log over a stream, a roll down a slope – you will end up bruised, scratched, wet, muddy and aching, with grass stains on your knees, twigs in your hair and sometimes (in our case) stag pooh on your trousers – but you will have moved bits of your body you didn’t know you had, laughed, bonded, had enormous fun and challenged yourselves mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
Where you stay: Alladale Lodge is a sturdily built stone lodge surrounded by woods and lawns on which the local stags come to graze, all set in 23,000 acres of stunning Highland scenery of mountains and rivers with a cutting edge ethos – a re-wilding programme that aims to bring back ancient flora and fauna that have all but disappeared and that perfectly fits the ‘back to nature’ principles of Wildfitness.
The bedrooms are comfortable if a little uninspiring, with good quality wooden furniture and tartan and tweed ‘flavoured’ decor. Ask for a room with a view out to the gorse and heather-studded hills beyond. Beds are comfortable with warm throws and firm pillows, and they’ve got the heating just right. Bedroom sizes vary from large suites to smaller doubles, some with baths, some only showers. The ensuites are all fairly basic and many need an update – on our visit the shower drained very slowly and a neighbour’s plumbing was intermittently noisy (we’re told they’re now dealing with this).
A well proportioned sitting room with a log fire, enveloping sofas and sturdy armchairs is the venue for talks, while meals are eaten in a large dining room appropriately lit by stag antler chandeliers. The elements rule up here, so there’s a drying room stuffed with wellies, walking boots, walking sticks and waterproofs in case you forget your own. At the back of the building is a less attractive modern extension with a sauna, gym and billiards room.
How was it for us: Roly-polying down a hill, gathering grass in my hair and completely losing all sense of direction, despite the ‘safe rolling’ techniques I had learnt only minutes before, I felt all of 8 years old again and I loved it. Put it together with wrestling my companions on the ground, playing tag and leapfrog, vaulting over tree trunks and discovering frogs in marshy ground, and my long-buried inner child was well and truly awake again and having the time of her life.
I used to be an outdoors sort of a person, but age and London life seems to have catapulted me far away from that early connection with nature, and along with it, away from the unselfconscious connection that I used to have with my body and the way it moved without me even thinking about it. Wildfitness reminded me what I had been missing. I loved the food, the scenery, the fact that every day was different, and the sleight of hand that meant that half the time I wasn’t even aware that I was exercising – I was just having fun.
What’s particularly clever is that while my inner child was playing, my outer adult was actually learning stuff too. And it turned out to be rather life changing: the playful wrestling games morphed into valuable lessons on ju jitsu strategy and made me decide to take the sport up more regularly; the balancing and hopping games turned into running skills that dramatically transformed my regular more plodding style once back home; and the clambering – hand over fist – up the hillside felt like a metaphor for the importance of spontaneity and creating rather than sticking to the safety of the paths.
I also learned some less comforting lessons – that I’m not nearly as good at balancing as I thought I was, that I have an over-dependence on my sense of sight which means my other senses have got lazy, and that my natural survival instincts have been dulled by city living. Also that fishing is much harder than it looks – thank goodness the coaches just happened to be able to pull a whole side of salmon out of their rucksack and know how to make a loch-side fire on which to cook it.
What we took home: An approach to eating and fitness that feels both more radical and yet more do-able than any I’ve encountered so far. Also quite a lot of midge bites.
Would we go back: I loved it and would go back in a second. Both the venue and the Wildfitness approach have well and truly captured my heart. I met others who would certainly do a Wildfitness trip again, but who would choose Crete or Zanzibar instead – the uneven ground and unpredictable weather got the better of them.
People watch: The instructors, though young, exude belief and confidence in their product and their glowing skin and boundless energy pay testament to its efficacy. Head coach Nala is supremely strong but somehow makes you believe you are not far behind her if you can just free your body and mind from rigid patterns. Venue manager Valerie can’t do enough for you (though we hear she is moving on), while chef Lesley makes wonderful creations and explains they all in an engaging way before each meal. We were especially glad of tall, burly American Josh on our long walk and steep climbs too.
Food watch: The Wildfitness approach to food follows how our ancestors used to eat before processed foods and grain or dairy became embedded in our culture. Main meals are in the main seasonal and local vegetables and protein, and include local beef, venison, salmon and trout alongside nuts, eggs and loads of great vegetables. Breakfast might be of a bowl of nuts and seeds with honey and yoghurt (an acceptable dairy because it’s fermented and has health giving qualities), followed by pancakes made with almond flour with baked peaches and dates or maybe eggs and mushrooms. There’s plenty of flavour to everything and no limit on quantities. Vegetarians are catered for, but may feel either a little protein deprived or grow a little bored of the nut and egg alternatives. Bowls of nuts and fruit and big flasks of fresh herb and fruit teas are always on offer between meals.
What’s lowly: The weather in the Highlands of Scotland is hugely unreliable – so you could get brilliant sunshine, but then again you could get hail, mist, drizzle and rain – sometimes all in one day. On our visit in May we got some rain, a little mist and some absolutely gorgeous sunshine.
Insider tip: Pack for every conceivable season, from swimsuit to layers to fleece to waterproofs (including waterproof trousers) and expect to experience them all in one day. Don’t skimp on the insect repellent – midges can be plentiful depending on when you visit.
Price per person with a companion: £2400 per week includes transfers from Inverness airport, all food and activities and one massage.
Price per person going solo: £2400 per week as above – you pay the same in a solo or shared room.
Value for money: It’s expensive but effective. We’d like to see two treatments included though.
Sister retreats: Wilfitness also run fitness holidays in Crete and Zanzibar, while you can do day courses on Hampstead Heath in London and weekends in Berlin. Check out our our main review of Wildfitness of Wildfitness.
Reviewed by Sasha Bates
© Queen of Retreats