Sri Lanka

Deciding to go to Sri Lanka in January is probably in my top ten life decisions. On about Monday, I realised that I’d just spent a whole day in which I’d managed to do every single one of my favourite things except singing - and then the following day my friend Gem found a guitar and happiness was complete.

I spent the first week on a yoga retreat with Humblebee Yoga in this amazing villa in Dondra, right down in the very south of Sri Lanka, and the second week exploring Ella and Kandy. We were completely spoiled in Dondra; a kind of magic, jungl-y idyll, with the most delicious food and wonderful people and trips to see elephants in Udawalawe and to watch whales in Mirissa.

Ella was much busier, a mini-town made up almost entirely of backpackers, but absolutely breathtaking once we climbed up into the mountains and tea plantations. Hiking to the Diyaluma falls for a swim was definitely a highlight! Such a tough climb in the sun, but when we finally crept into the chilly water it was absolute heaven.

We travelled by train from Ella to Kandy, which is said to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, and it certainly did not disappoint - although elbowing your way off the train in Kandy is not for the faint-hearted. Hanging out of the train, however, or sitting in the doorway with your legs hanging out, is glorious (the video below is at double speed! I did it for instagram, so it’s not the best quality, but you get the idea).

I loved Kandy too; it’s Sri Lanka’s second biggest city, with a peaceful lake in the middle of all the bustle and home to the famous Temple of the Sacred Tooth, which was eye-gogglingly beautiful inside. By this point my friend Lia and I were on a crusade to find salad (having had our fill of delicious Sri Lankan curries) and thus mostly navigated Kandy via TripAdvisor-recommended cafés, where we sat and read our books and ate avocado in all its forms (Buono was especially good), and a lovely tuk tuk driver who took us to visit gorgeous Gunatilake Batiks and bought us red bananas and mangoes for the journey (devoured at high speed, with juice running up our sleeves). We also travelled a couple of hours north of Kandy, early one morning, to climb Sigiriya Rock, where King Kasyapa built his palace in the 5th century - it’s quite breathtaking. There is SO much to see and do, I would jump at the chance to go back (this hotel, is now on my dream holiday destination list!).

Shorts, Sweets and Serotonin Songs

When the London Marathon emails you a couple of days before the race to tell you that although it's likely to be the hottest on record, the actual Fire Brigade will be on standby to hose you down, you know you'll probably need to ditch the snazzy new tights you bought and go on a last minute, two-day long, short-buying expedition.

I felt so much more nervous this year. I was checking the weather forecast as often as my dad used to before harvest and I didn't sleep for more than an hour at a time the night before the race. The running short fandango would have finished me off altogether if it weren't for the total heroes in Covent Garden Lululemon, who were wonderfully kind as I lunged around the changing rooms in every style they stocked, trusting my sister (hero x a million) to be brutally honest as I tried each pair on nine times. They even gave me a second pair for FREE as a pre-marathon treat! LuluLemon, I love you (I used to think you were intimidating and a bit pricey, but I'm totally won over).

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I have now (and I cannot impress upon you how insane this sounds to me, because in my head I'm still 10, don't even understand how to play rounders and have sneaking suspicion my PE teacher thinks I'm an idiot) run three whole marathons. This one was definitely the hardest. I was tired, hot and slathered in enough vaseline to swim the channel because I was so worried the new shorts would rub (they didn't - have I told you how much I love Lululemon?).

I'd still do it again though! There is nothing like the London Marathon for making you feel utterly invincible and optimistic; a little bit overwhelmed by the wonder of humanity and the power of the mile 19 jelly baby. So far, I've raised £2500 for Refuge - THANK YOU for all your support. A huge thank you to Refuge too, for letting my don that pink vest once more and for the best post-race massage in all of London!

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I'm just going to link (again) to Refuge's page on recognising abuse and this brilliant Woman's Hour programme all about coercive control. If you're going through something similar, or know anyone who is, please listen to it. It really helped me, especially to know that it's normal to still struggle to make sense of it all, long after the relationship is over. One of the women interviewed said, "I know when I left I felt completely inadequate and worthless. I went from being somebody who was relatively confident, to the end of the relationship when I couldn't even look in a mirror." I know that feeling so well. I used to think I might have lost whoever Kate used to be forever. I felt like I was floating above myself somewhere, watching everything through a haze and I had no idea how to get back in again.

Running quite a bit and yoga-ing quite a lot has been my fightback, my way of reclaiming my body and allowing my brain to come home to roost. It doesn't always work, sometimes it hurts so much to just be here... roosting (I feel like I've started a really odd metaphor), but sometimes endorphins can make you sing for joy, or maybe it's serotonin? Either way, it's like magic, especially when you've run 17 miles and it's gone dark because you set off too late and you're thinking it's a good job you know your way round these lanes and that you're not afraid of bats.

I didn't want to write a blog telling you that you can and should run a marathon (even though there's a weird, running evangelist part of me that really, really wants to), because the internet is already too full all that stuff. What I do want to say is this:

There are a million things in this world that tell you your body is not good enough. Whatever it may be, I think everyone should do something that makes their body feel like home.

If you're looking for help or advice about domestic abuse, Refuge is a really good place to start.

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Heavenly Humblebee Yoga

I've just been on an actual, real-life yoga retreat with wonderful Humblebee Yoga. Now admittedly, my previous experience of retreating (yogic-ally speaking) was nil, but I bet this is the only retreat in the world to gift hand-knitted bees to every guest, and I can't imagine you could find a more beautiful setting, more thoughtful hosts, or a lovelier group of people to share it with.

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Last October, my downward dog was more like a lumbering, creaky-kneed yak and my brain was... well, I've talked about the state of my mind on this blog plenty of times over the last few months, so let's instead talk about the appalling state of my hamstrings: NOT GOOD. Sub-yak, in fact.

For the last six months Eden Hot Yoga in Lichfield have basically provided much-needed structure for my working day, stretched my long-suffering limbs and a been a sort of haven when life was at its most wobbly. As a result, my legs recovered from the London Marathon in about 3 days, I can check my blind spot with minimal effort, and even though my hamstrings are still definitely a work-in-progress, I have discovered I have open hips! Hooray! Although alarmingly, I've been known to burst into tears in the middle of a pigeon pose. Apparently this is normal, because hips are where we carry our emotions, and happily I'm usually face down at this point so my tears sort of blend into the sweat (hot yoga is quite a sweaty affair).

Anyway, back to Humblebee. And Devon. When I heard Rachel, one of my favourite teachers at Eden, was planning a whole long weekend of yoga at Crowborough Farm in Georgeham with Jemima, the other half of Humblebee, I couldn't wait to sign up. As it was just a couple of miles away from our favourite beach, I easily persuaded my sister to come along with me so we could relive our childhood on Puttsborough Sands in between working on our warriors.

Each day began with yoga at 8am, and while either Rachel or Jemima led us through sun salutations in the strong morning practice, the other was busy in the kitchen, whipping up a delicious vegan breakfast banquet (things I discovered on retreat include tofu scramble and the heavenly marriage of almond butter and blackcurrant jam on toast). With days spent exploring the beautiful countryside and relaxing on the beach, we returned to the house for evening yin yoga at 6.30pm, followed by another amazing vegan feast. 

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I had the most glorious time. Rachel and Jemima are both brilliant teachers and such generous hosts - I can't wait for the next one! I've been thinking a yoga retreat for illustrators would be a brilliant idea - who's with me?

Find Humblebee here, on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.