Body blasted by wind and sand, hair resembling a haystack, and eyes gritty from both sand and sun, I arrived home the other day, and stood for a few moments gazing longingly at my bath. “If only,” I sighed, “I was in Strandhill in Co Sligo now, I could have a seaweed bath.”
You have to know me to understand how weird a thought that was, and therefore how much I’d enjoyed that part of my tour of The Wild Atlantic Way with FáilteIreland last Fall. I may be unique in not enjoying massages all that much, even a manicure can make my skin crawl, and as for lolling in a sauna – all that wrinkled skin afterwards? No way!
So I wasn’t feeling incredibly enthusiastic about a seaweed bath at Voya Seaweed Baths in Strandhill, but it was that or Stand Up Paddle, and remembering my fiasco when I’d tried that with my son, Austin, earlier in the year I thought better of giving it another go in front of strangers, all of whom at least 25 years on me!
I’d imagined something like a jacuzzi, a communal pool, and bought a new swimsuit especially for the occasion, but no, as we entered Voya’s relaxing atmosphere, to be greeted with typical Irish hospitality, what was explained was something entirely different. The premises are divided into cubicles, each one containing a bath. We would find the bath filled with warm water and seaweed, and could strip off and enjoy in privacy. That sounded better for a start – god only knows how many pounds I’d put on over the previous few weeks eating in France and Ireland!
Still, I wasn’t getting the full vibe, and because we couldn’t all go at once I opted for a later appointment, and took myself for a stroll along the beach to admire this town I’d which fallen for the previous evening in a way which had surprised me. Returning a few minutes before my appointed time I was greeted by a smile so dreamy it stopped me in my tracks. Anita of Anita’s Feast had just emerged from her session, and I swear she was walking on air! Her enthusiasm was palpable. Now I began to think maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
For the pictures which follow I thoroughly apologize to Voya and to readers, because I lost the originals, so these are the remaining ones from my phone. Sorry!
I was shown to the inner sanctum, and there was my bath gently inviting me to soak my rather chilly body (it was September late afternoon, and the beach hadn’t been warmest). A charming employee explained about lowering or increasing the water temperature as I liked, and that I should drink plenty of water, which sat near the bath in a carafe. I had a whole half hour to do nothing but indulge myself……..and of course send snaps of my legs drapped in seaweed and my newly-polished toe nails to Instagram and Twitter! I striped off and slid in.
It’s very difficult to describe the feel of the seaweed without sounding just a tad gross, because the word slimy is the first which comes to mind, and yet – it was slimy in a good way! Kind of creamy and overwhelmingly soothing. Snaps done I lay my head back and closed my eyes.
I know that there are different theories about man’s evolution from the ocean, but, whichever you prefer, it’s certain that we came from water, no matter just how long ago that was, or how we managed it. To quote surfing legend, Frosty Hesson, or at least the movie which is based on his relationship with another surfing legend, Jay Moriaty: ” We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea. Those of us who are, we children of the tides, must return to it again and again, until the day we don’t come back leaving only that which was touched along the way.”
Does it seem to you a little over the top to say that this experience, the feel, the smells, the connections appeared more than just a nice relaxing beauty treatment? Well, not to me. It’s true to say that I find it difficult to truly relax, hence the dislike of massages etc I suppose. They bore me. I want to be up and doing something, at least reading perhaps. But this seaweed bath; this was affecting me in ways I’d never experienced before. Whether I floated out like Anita or not, I have no idea. I suspect that I tried to play it down. I might write all sorts of nonsense at times, but I have a dislike of public displays of emotion…….end of the day, I’m English!
This wasn’t the end of my seaweed experiences though, in Eithna’s By the Sea in Mullaghmore, Co Sligo I learned that seaweed could be eaten in more ways than sushi. Eithna makes an amazing pesto from seaweed, and it’s even used in her too-painful-to-remember-because-I-can’t-have-one-right-now deserts! And in the Doagh Famine Village and the Glencolumcille Folk Village I learned about how seaweed was used both for thatching cottage roofs and for manure in days past. Certainly there is much more to this than the fun I used to have as a kid popping the strands of the stuff we found on the beaches near Blackpool in England!
What you may know about me is how passionately I feel about the ocean, so it may seem a given that I like seaweed in all its forms! Rumor in Strandhill has it that no less than Sir Richard Branson buys seaweed for his own baths from them. I had no chance to confirm that (and anyway, would they have told me?), but I like to think he does, because he’s one of my heroes, and I like to think I have this small thing in common with him 🙂 One thing for sure, slipping into a comfy bed at the Strandhill Lodge & Suites that night, with this view from my attic window, I wouldn’t have wished to be anywhere else on earth just then.
I was a guest of FáilteIreland and VoyaSeaweedBaths whilst in Ireland for TBEX Europe last Autumn, cross my heart and hope to die, all opinions are genuine and my own, and I can’t wait to go back there!
April 1, 2014 at 6:15 pm
I’m not really a water baby, as in ocean, but this seaweed bath sounds intriguing. And besides I Love to soak in hot water. Would you say it did anything special for your skin.
April 1, 2014 at 11:21 pm
My god how stupid of me not to mention that! Yes! My skin and also my hair felt marvelous afterwards. We were actually told not to shampoo our hair if we could avoid it until the next day to appreciate the full effect. My hair is a problem in damp weather, and truly, it behaved really well in the days following!
April 1, 2014 at 10:35 pm
how intriguing that your toes have the same kinks and wrinkles as mine! cast your mind to playing on the ‘top fields’. they were magical, with loads of wild flowers including delicate harebells. well in later years, discovering machair in NW Scotland and how it is created realized that those fields were like that because my great grandfather used seaweed to improve his crops of strawberries. seaweed is totally amazing. I really need a seaweed bath RIGHT NOW!
April 1, 2014 at 11:26 pm
LOL! My toes, sadly, are the way they are because of arthritis, and having wedged my feet for years into shoes too narrow (hellish wide feet i have!). Hopefully your kinks are not for the same reasons!
If you get a chance do try it. Like I said, I’m not really into this kind of thing, but it was marvelous! That’s fascinating about your great grandfather. You know we really should write this stuff down for our kids. With our parents’ generation at the stages they are now, soon there will be no one to remember unless we do that!
April 2, 2014 at 8:28 am
snap, I too have combination of arthritis and wide feet/narrow shoe combination. yes, we should record these things. my boys are less interested now. we all get more interested when we get older. do have an oil painting of my great g parents on the wall, so they are ‘with us’!
April 2, 2014 at 11:20 am
How lovely, to have that photo. A sense of family history is a marvelous thing for sure.
April 2, 2014 at 7:14 pm
Oh Linda, so happy I could inspire you into a Voya bath! Happy to know you enjoyed it, and of course that great follow-on of a meal at Eithna’s was no small treat, either. I too am ready to head back to Strandhill!
April 3, 2014 at 1:06 am
I just wish you could have seen yourself! I’ve never seen anyone quite so other-worldly before 🙂 Ireland still haunts me.