Northern Bootcamp in Northumberland

Stuart Forster reports on the experience of attending a residential fitness and weight loss boot camp with Northern Bootcamp in Northumberland.

Who’d have thought that bodyboarding in the chilly water of the North Sea would be good for easing muscles aching from three consecutive days of intense exercise? My body felt revived and invigorated as I squelched out of the waves onto the wet sand of Bamburgh Beach to join the rest of the participants experiencing a residential fitness and weight loss boot camp in Northumberland with Northern Bootcamp.

Disclosure: Stuart Forster, the author of this post, was invited to a four-day boot camp as a guest of Northern Bootcamp and retained full editorial control of this post. Northern Bootcamp did not review or approve this article.

By the time I moved away from the waterline a couple of the group were already huddling in the minibus that would drive us back to Northern Bootcamp’s headquarters at a converted farmhouse near Belford, a short drive from Bamburgh.

We hadn’t met prior to the induction on Friday evening but it hadn’t taken long for us to bond as a team. Our ages varied markedly, from 20-somethings to people ages in their 60s. The gender balance was mixed too. A couple more women than men participated in the boot camp that I attended.

Several of the attendees wanted to lose weight during the boot camp. Others wanted to get on with a concentrated stint of exercise, unhindered by the distractions of friends or family. One woman was present because she’d just split with her boyfriend and simply wanted a change of scenery. Our motivations for being at the residential boot camp were mixed but we had in common the perceived need of a change.

A residential boot camp in Northumberland

Northern Bootcamp’s residential boot camps are designed primarily to promote weight loss and fitness. They are frequently a catalyst to people kickstarting improved regimes of exercise and nutrition.

The timing of the four-day boot camp that I attended proved ideal. Over the preceding weeks, I’d eaten well, drank plenty and got out of the habit of my regular swimming sessions. Following a medical operation, I’d piled on the weight, felt fatter than normal and needed a jolt to get me back into good habits. Spending a few days in Northumberland at Northern Bootcamp was exactly what I needed to instigate positive changes.

I think it’s beneficial that the boot camp takes participants out of their regular environment. Away from the distractions of everyday life people are able to give everything during the exercise sessions.

Dan Smith after dropping Northern Bootcamp participants for an endurance walk in Northumberland.
Dan Smith after dropping Northern Bootcamp participants for an endurance walk in Northumberland.

A typical day at Northern Bootcamp

A typical day at Northern Bootcamp is tough but rewarding. It involves a lot of exercise. The day’s activities start at around 7.30 am and continue until shortly before dinner, at 6.00 pm.

I found that the morning workout sessions at Northern Bootcamp tended to be the toughest. Weight-based exercises, hill sprints (even at my plodding pace, it was still classified as sprinting) and gym sessions feature before lunch. So too did circuit training, boxing exercises and running on the golden sand of Bamburgh Beach.

Afternoon activities tend to be more team-orientated, with an emphasis on having fun. On the first full day, we were divided into two teams and spent the afternoon picking up ersatz body parts, carrying them around on a stretcher and, after adding each new part, undertaking exercises such as burpees and skaters. We then played a game of catch ball, which brought out people’s competitive spirits.

Bodyboarding, stand-up paddle boarding, coasteering and kayaking also count among the activities that participants can undertake at Northern Bootcamp. As mentioned, it’s just a few minutes drive from the Northern Bootcamp headquarters to Northumberland’s beautiful and rugged coast. The weather plays a role in what people can do. If the North Sea is stormy then the trainers choose land-based activities.

The third day saw us undertake an endurance exercise, an 18-mile hike across Northumberland’s Cheviot Hills. The route took in a section of St Cuthbert’s Way, the long-distance footpath that runs 62.5 miles between Melrose and Lindisfarne.

The majority of the pictures illustrating this blog post were photographed during the endurance walk. Why? Ethics. I don’t think it would be fair for me to post images of other participants sweating and grimacing during exercises during the boot camp. Additionally, I was so involved in the exercises that I was unable to photograph…have you ever tried using a camera while wearing boxing gloves?

St Cuthbert's Cave on St Cuthbert's Way, a long distance footpath in the countryside of Northumberland. Monks carrying the remains of the saint are said to have sheltered here while fleeing Vikings.
St Cuthbert’s Cave on St Cuthbert’s Way, a long-distance footpath. Monks carrying the remains of the saint are said to have sheltered here while fleeing Vikings. Pausing to visit the cave was an unexpected bonus of attending the residential fitness boot camp in Northumberland.

Sore Today, Strong Tomorrow

A handful of motivational messages hang on the walls of the Northern Bootcamp headquarters. Books about healthy eating and aspects of fitness are available to read in the communal areas.

The chalkboard in the dining room displayed different motivational quotes each day of the camp: “Sore Today, Strong Tomorrow,” is one that resonated with me.

Waking during the second night at the camp I was thirsty and decided to get out of bed for a glass of water. Yet when I tried to move I felt like a tortoise that had been flipped onto its back. I flailed around for what felt like an age before eventually struggling up and slowly walking across the bedroom with like I was wearing some invisible suit of heavy armour. The pain in my thighs, calves and buttocks was a result of working hard during the boot camp’s fitness sessions.

Rather than regretting the pain that I’d inflicted upon myself, my aching muscles made me question why I hadn’t been undertaking intensive sporting activity on a more frequent basis. The encouragement of the boot camp’s trainers helped me push myself during the training sessions.

Signpost on St Cuthbert's Way on the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland.
Signpost on St Cuthbert’s Way on the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland.

Food at Northern Bootcamp

The food served at Northern Bootcamp is healthy, light on carbohydrates and tasty. It proves that you don’t need to forsake flavour when you eat sensibly and healthily.

On arrival, I was given the option of fitness or weight loss portions. During a dinnertime discussion, the group came to a consensus that most of us had got into the bad habit of eating significantly more than we really needed prior to coming to the boot camp.

Impressed by the flavour and nutritional balance of the food served at Northern Bootcamp, I bought the Bootcamp Kitchen recipe book and have been cooking dishes from it subsequently.

A dish served at Northern Bootcamp. Vegan, Vegetarian and gluten-free cuisine was an option.
A dish served at at the residential weight loss boot camp in Northumberland. It features as one of the dishes in the Northern Bootcamp recipe book. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free cuisine were all options.

A non-military boot camp

Northern Bootcamp was founded by Dan and Caroline Smith, a husband and wife team who ran their first boot camp, for friends and family, in Weardale during 2010. Caroline gained experience of working in the outdoors business in New Zealand while Dan spent 13 years as a British Army physical training instructor.

The camps run by Northern Bootcamp are non-military. That means encouragement rather than shouting to drive participants on during exercise. “I think it’s not for everyone…even when I was in the army that wasn’t always a good thing to do. You can encourage people hard without shouting and screaming every five minutes. People want to feel like they’re being cared for. At the same time, we do push people,” explained Dan.

Dan and Caroline Smith the founders of Northern Bootcamp.
Dan and Caroline Smith, the founders of Northern Bootcamp, outside of the boot camp’s headquarters near Bamburgh in Northumberland.

A boot camp in north-east England

I asked Dan why Northern Bootcamp is now based in Northumberland.

“The landscape,” he answered. “We have everything here on our doorstep: beautiful coastline and the Cheviot Hills on the other side. It’s an adventure playground and we can utilise the landscape. There are so many options for fun stuff, including coasteering.”

“Coasteering involves traversing around the intertidal zone of the coastline. Within that you’ll have caves, jumps into the water if you want to explore the marine life or explore the swell and play in waves in a controlled environment. It’s something that the average person, who works in a city, will never, ever do,” he added.

“Working out does not have to be fixed sessions in the gym or mean loads of kit to exercise. We try to get outdoors. Making it fun is a big part of what we do. We call the adventure hidden exercise. We keep the afternoon sessions active in a fun way, which makes it easier for people to carry on when they leave,” said Dan when I asked him about his approach to fitness.

A pillbox, dating from World War Two, that we walked past during the Northern Bootcamp endurance walk in the Cheviot Hills.
A pillbox, dating from World War Two. We walked past this landmark during the Northern Bootcamp endurance walk in the Cheviot Hills.

What to bring to a residential boot camp

I was sent a comprehensive packing kit list ahead of travelling to Northern Bootcamp, so knew what clothing and footwear to bring.

Participants also need to bring the right attitude. I found trying exercises and activities that pushed me out of my comfort zone to be fun and rewarding. The team of instructors clearly knew their stuff and I learnt a raft of new exercises that I’ve been performing subsequently.

“Come with an open mind and give it your all. Hopefully, on the first day we break down all those fears people have and it’s not that hard. The word ‘bootcamp’ can scare people. Hopefully, the first few hours here relax people and they go for it,” suggested Dan when I asked him for tips on what participants should bring.

The team of instructors who lead the sessions at Northern Bootcamp see a spectrum of fitness levels among attendees. “We get people who have not exercised in a long, long time and people who are new to exercise. Some people have exercised all their lives. They get pushed accordingly,” explained Dan.

Above all, Dan enjoys seeing the looks on people’s faces when they leave. “Some people come and it’s all new to them. They leave willing to go for it and want to change. Seeing people realise how hard they can push their bodies and their boundaries. Seeing that is amazing,” commented Northern Bootcamp’s co-owner.

Northern Bootcamp participants walking on St Cuthbert's Way, a long distance footpath in the countryside of Northumberland.
Northern Bootcamp participants walking on St Cuthbert’s Way, a long distance footpath in the countryside of Northumberland.

Reasons for attending boot camp

“I think there’s a stigma attached to boot camps and people think it’s for obese, overweight people…It’s a bit of a myth that it’s just for people who want to lose weight” said Caroline while we chatted in the dining room.

“We have a growing percentage of clients who come because they enjoy it. They love exercising from morning to evening. There’s loads of variety, so they’re never bored,” she added.

“Lots of people come back and say they do so because they don’t have to think. We give them lovely food, we tell them where to be and what to wear and plan all activities. It’s a very full programme and they go away feeling fantastic,” she said after I’d discovered I’d lost nine pounds and three centimetres off my waistline during a four-day residential camp.

A carved wooden figure depicts St Cuthbert on St Cuthbert's Way. The cross pretty much marks the spot where we paused to eat a flask of soup.
A carved wooden figure depicts St Cuthbert on St Cuthbert’s Way. The cross pretty much marks the spot where we paused to eat a flask of soup.

A boot camp for men and women

David Whittle was a fellow participant at the camp I attended. “I’ve reached a certain age, 61, and just getting gentle health issues. Over the past three years, I’ve put on maybe three stone in weight, slowly, so it’s just crept up on me. I’ve decided to do something about it. Just signing up for the boot camp had an effect. I lost a stone before I came here. It was a chance to take charge of my life and, hopefully, kick-start a new regime,” he said when I asked why he was at Northern Bootcamp.

David spent 11 days at the boot camp: “I think you go through a number of phases. You’re excited when you get here. It’s great to meet a team and there’s a real team spirit as the week went on. It’s probably day three of four — you’re aching absolutely everywhere but the amazing thing is, as you get through the sessions, you get really excited again because you warm up and then it’s okay.”

He cites the satisfaction after a good session of activity as being the principal reward of attending Northern Bootcamp. “I did activities I would never do — coasteering. That’s the thing here, you do strength, endurance and speed, so there’s usually something that gives you a bit of a buzz,” said David.

Weetwood Bridge was one of the landmarks we passed during the endurance walk.
Weetwood Bridge was one of the Northumberland landmarks that we passed during the endurance walk.

Attending Northern Bootcamp

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in a Northern Bootcamp. I found the instructors were good, knowledgeable guys to spend time with and helpful in answering my questions about the exercises we were undertaking. The intense, varied exercises were hard work but rewarding. It was a motivational jolt that reminded me how much I enjoy working out and looking after myself by eating healthily.

Dan and Caroline Smith saying farewell to me as I left Northern Bootcamp.
Dan and Caroline Smith saying farewell as I left Northern Bootcamp.

Getting to Northern Bootcamp

I travelled to and from Northern Bootcamp by train. Participants have the option of being picked up from Berwick-upon-Tweed railway station and then dropped back at the end of the residential boot camp.

Considering driving to the boot camp? The map below shows the location of Northern Bootcamp, near Bamburgh in Northumberland:  

Google map showing the location of Northern Bootcamp in Northumberland, north-east England.

Further information

Visit the Northern Bootcamp (Golden Hill, Belford, NE70 7JT; tel. 01668 260 076) website to find out more about the availability and prices of residential fitness and wight loss boot camps in Northumberland and Portugal. The camps vary in duration from one to 14 days.

To find out more about the regions in which the camps are held, take a look at the Visit Northumberland and Visit Algarve websites.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning journalist. He is based in the northeast of England and available for magazine, newspaper and website commissions.

Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about Northern Bootcamp in Northumberland. You may be interested in this post about the best weight loss retreats in the UK.

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