The Cotswolds, England: Hillmotts Bootcamp

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The Cotswolds, England: Hillmotts Bootcamp

It was March 2013 and I was sitting in a Starbucks in Richmond, London. You’d usually find me there between appointments with my personal training clients, so my friends jokingly referred to it as ‘my office’. Feeling my phone vibrate in my pocket, I pulled it out to read a message from my friend Louise: “Hey Tim, would you ever consider working at a residential bootcamp?”

“…….What’s a residential bootcamp?” I quickly fired back, unsure of what she meant. It turns out Louise had recently returned from a fitness camp in The Cotswolds, operated by a company called Hillmotts. For three days, she’d stayed on a farm where she’d exercised several times a day, only ate healthy meals, and learned how to lead a healthier lifestyle. She’d since found out they were looking for more trainers and thought I might be a good fit.

I was intrigued by the concept, so Louise put in my touch with Craig, the camp manager. We messaged back and forth, with Craig briefly explaining how Hillmotts operated and what the camps involved. As well as The Cotswolds, they held camps in Dorset in the South of the country and the Peak District in the North. The camps in the Cotswolds happened every week, while a second camp ran concurrently at one of the other two locations, alternating every week. However, in the summer, when demand was high, they’d run all three camps at once. With my curiosity getting the better of me, we arranged a three-day trial in The Cotswolds.

The next week, I headed to the Cotswolds on a Thursday night to prepare for the clients arriving the next afternoon. I took a cab to the farm from the station, where I was met by Doug and Chris, the trainers tasked with showing me the ropes. Chris was a fellow South-Londoner who’d been in the fitness industry for 15 years, while Doug was a former soldier who’d served in Iraq and Afghanistan before becoming a trainer.  I got on with them famously as they took me under their wing for the next few days, and they were pleased to tell me I’d secured a job on the second day of my trial. That is if I wanted it.

You see, on one hand, I would have to suspend my personal training business. At Hillmotts, I’d be working on a three-on/one-off rota; working for three weeks before having an entire week off. So I’d have to give up my clients. I also enjoyed the freedom of being self-employed and was unsure if I was willing to go back to working for someone else.

But on the other hand, I was due to go travelling at the end of the year, so it would only be for a short time. I also figured it would be handy to have a guaranteed income, and living in the camps for weeks at a time would make it easier to save. But the deciding factor was that it offered me the chance to do something completely different. Having to live with my clients would be so novel and well, weird, that I couldn’t possibly pass it up. I decided to take the job and received my three-month rota shortly afterwards.

Each camp ran for either three or six days, with the three-day camps running from Friday to Sunday or Monday to Wednesday, and the six-day camp running from Friday through to Wednesday. A group of clients would arrive on Friday afternoon and, if they’d signed-up for three-days, leave in the late afternoon on Sunday. The remaining six-dayers would have the evening off before being joined the following afternoon by a fresh group of people until Wednesday. Once we’d waved the clients off, we were off until Friday afternoon, when it all began again. That is of course, unless it was your week off, in which case you’d head home.

Hillmotts - Bootcamp

Hillmotts – Bootcamp PIC: TM

Each camp had three trainers, allowing us to alternate between training the clients, preparing their next meal, and taking a break. In addition to Doug and Chris, I got to work with an assortment of great trainers including Tom, a brutally funny, Welsh cycling-enthusiast; Faye, a cute, bubbly, northern Zumba instructor; and Craig, who in addition to managing the camps, liked to occasionally work on them too.

The Cotswolds could accommodate 21 people, while the Dorset and Peak District had room for around 30. The vast majority of our clients were women, with a token male or two every so often. But aside from each group being decidedly female, we didn’t attract a particular type.  This ran contrary to my friends’ ideas of our typical visitors; they assumed I worked at some sort of ‘fat camp’ like in The Biggest Loser. But in reality, our guests were quite literally all shapes and sizes. As well as those who came with the aim of losing a lot of weight, we had middle-aged mothers who sought to lose a few kilos, toned twenty-somethings getting ready for an upcoming holiday, older women who sought to improve long-term health, and that infuriatingly, enviable type that simply loves to exercise for fun.

Each camp started in the same way: we’d greet the clients as they arrived, show them to their rooms, have them complete a little paperwork, and carry out a short, private consultation. This would allow us to discover more about each guest: learning about their goals, motivations, exercise history, and nagging injuries. The consultations could be quite uplifting, such as the occasions when you’d encounter a client who was bursting with energy and enthusiasm about the prospect of drastically improving their health. I warmly recall speaking to a lady who’d already dropped dozens of kilos over the last year, and how she beamed as she regaled me with details of her improved love life. But others were pretty heart wrenching, like the two occasions on which the clients revealed they were there to rebuild their self-confidence – after being jilted shortly before their weddings.

Once they’d all arrived, each trainer would introduce themselves to the group and give them a rundown of what to expect. We began with a quick fitness test:  a short run through the campgrounds to briefly assess their level of fitness. Based on their performance, we’d crudely put them into groups 1, 2, or 3; with 1 being the fittest and 3 the least. The test at The Cotswolds culminated in short run up a hill, where one of us would be waiting to give them their number. It was fairly common for an overwhelmed client to burst into tears when they reached the top of the hill. After offering a little reassurance, they’d join the other clients for a couple of exercise sessions before we served dinner and drew a line under the 1st day.

Hillmotts - Dinner

Hillmotts – Dinner PIC: TM

The next morning, we’d start by giving them a banana for a quick burst of energy, followed by a pretty intense 7:30am exercise class. We’d then serve breakfast, deliver two more exercise sessions, serve lunch and then deliver a short talk on changing their eating habits for the better. Having allowed their lunch to settle, we’d then take them on a seven mile hike. The route varied depending on the trainer in charge, with the one I favoured involved walking downhill for the first half, followed by an upward climb on the way back; punctuated by two small, steep hills. We’d spread ourselves out amongst the group to account for the different abilities, with one of us at the front, one in the middle, and one bringing up the rear. Once, upon being faced with the prospect of having to climb the second hill on the way home, a client at the back of the group simply sat dejectedly on the grass and refused to move.  I tried to encourage her, reasoning that once she was over the hill there wasn’t far to go at all. But she was hearing none of it. Given no other choice, I left her with the two of her cohorts and had to sprint back to camp in order to grab a car to collect them. Imagine my surprise when I made it back, to find them kicking back on the sofa, each with a cup of tea and a rice cake. Turns out they’d hitched a ride from a passing car instead!

The third day began in the same way as the second, with a talk on exercise after lunch. It was then time for their final session – the main event: The Hillmotts Olympics. We divided the group into two teams and had them compete in a series of fun, but somewhat strenuous, events. The Olympics was always my favourite part of the camp, because, without exception, it was comedy gold. I got a real kick watching clients, who up to now had been sweet, polite, and perhaps even shy, morph into screaming savages with the mere injection of a little competition. I spent most of these sessions with my hands over my face in disbelief or clutching my sides in fits of laughter.

Like the hike, the Olympics would vary with the trainer in charge, but typical events included an assortment of relay races, ViPR throwing contests, plank-holding contests (seven minutes, in case you wondered), and an always hilariously intense tug-of-war.

The day would end with an informal, fireside-style chat in which each client would share what they’d learned and a few specific things they were going to do or change when they got home. The three-dayers would leave, while the rest would stay to repeat the three day schedule. But we’d be sure to shake things up to ensure it wasn’t the same thing as before.

Hillmotts - Last Day

Hillmotts – Last Day PIC: TM

All in all, I really enjoyed my eight months at Hillmotts. I grew close with many of my colleagues as we worked in such close proximity for what could be weeks at a time. We relied on each other for support and encouragement when things were challenging or we started to develop a bit of cabin fever for being onsite too long. Each of my colleagues was accomplished and talented in their own way, so I learned different things from each one. I was a vastly improved trainer by the time I left.

I also got to meet scores of lovely and interesting people during my stint at Hillmotts. A few who immediately come to mind are a pair of former Olympians, a lady whose job on the Maclaren F1 race team took her all around the world, the single mother who had made enough money from property by her 40s to spend the rest of her life travelling, and a woman that had cycled around the world. Most clients only came through the camp once, but a few would return and it was great to see them again.

Living in the Hillmotts camp also required me to stay active and eat the same healthy meals as the clients. Don’t get me wrong, I ate pretty well at home, but at the same time, I’ve always had a fierce sweet tooth. But now, a lot of temptation had been removed and choices narrowed, so I felt great as a result. But the sugar binge that followed those first few camps left my face looking like that of Tony Montana’s at the end of Scarface.

But working at Hillmotts wasn’t without its challenges, with the most common being that some clients saw you as always being on call. They viewed you as the help and would seek you if the tiniest thing wasn’t to their liking. Granted, if anything went wrong or they were any major problems, it was up to us to deal with it. But emergencies aside, we were done as soon as we served them dinner. A lot of the time, we’d stick around for a while and get to know the guests better, but if you wanted some time to yourself to decompress, it was best you retreated to your room.

Another challenging aspect of the job was that, being a residential camp, you were stuck with clients; whether you liked them or not. Now, this isn’t much a problem when you’re a regular trainer, as you have a bigger say in who you work with – and if you don’t happen to gel with one of your clients, what’s the big deal? You’ll have them a couple of times a week at most. But at Hillmotts, you had to deal with whoever showed up, in whatever frame of mind they arrived in. It was up to you to find some way to co-exist for as long as they were there. On the whole, the guests were great, but there were a number of times when the other trainers and I would breathe a huge sigh of relief upon a guest getting in their car and driving away.

I’ll always look on my time at the Hillmotts fondly. I learned a lot about myself and other people, made some great friends, and had the opportunity to grow as a person. It proved to be an excellent prelude to the next chapter in my life when I booked a one-way ticket to Asia that December.

Tim Mugabi

Tim Mugabi

Tim Mugabi is a traveler, writer and English teacher from London, England. He’s been traveling for over three and a half years, spending time in Australia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. His interests include food, cooking, reading, photography and professional wrestling. He currently resides in Ho Chi Minh City. His favourite Game of Thrones character is Jamie Lannister.