After the feast, the famine. It is part of the English psyche that, after indulgence, comes the desire to purge. The word "spa" has always struck horror in my breast, but it turns out that if you are feeling done-in, stressed out, run-down and generally in need of some tender loving care, it may be the only answer, or at least the best answer.
Which is why I found myself at Grayshott Spa in Surrey. It may be only a few miles from Guildford, but it feels a world away from the stresses and strains of commuter life. The pace at Grayshott is charming and genteel; an unaccompanied lady with a novel is made to feel completely at ease.
On the night I arrived, I went down to the dining room clutching my book about the Mitfords feeling some trepidation, as if I had been banished to a boarding school against my wishes. The beautiful panelled dining room was packed and I was immediately steered to a table by Airam, the maître d', who throughout my stay was unfailingly attentive.
My greater fear – that the spa might be "dry" – was allayed by the sight of a wine list. And then came the food, of which Grayshott is rightly proud, of the modern British variety: plain but with plenty of flavours to divert you from the fact that it is all accomplished on very low-fat, healthy principles.
It is true that many people go to a health spa to lose weight, but just as many go to de-stress and restore equilibrium. Whatever it was that screwed you up and destroyed your nerves in your civilian life is replaced here by a busy day that makes absolutely no demands on you. It's a completely passive experience (leaving the gym people to one side) where different bits of you are rubbed with unctions, dipped in sea-weed baths, and brushed down. It's like a cult of attentiveness to all the things you usually never have time for.
Peter Wood, the general manager, has added some nice touches. You get a daily newsletter in your room informing you of the duty staff, the evening film (unfortunately, it seemed to be Hugh Grant every night I was there) and the weather forecast. That was important for the afternoon walk.
Of course, there is a quasi-medical aspect to Grayshott. While there are no doctors in attendance, your general fitness and well-being is monitored. I had a food intolerance analysis test in which you are linked up to a computer that can determine whether you are sensitive to one of 131 foodstuffs. It's a very fancy bit of kit operated by the resident dietician, Paula Gilbert, who provides general eating advice and gave a talk on nutrition while I was there. She told me I must drink three glasses of wine a day (and recommended Argentine red) and should eat chocolate at bedtime. What a marvellous woman.
There are other high-end spas in England, but they tend to have a slightly racier clientele. Grayshott is patronised by Dames – Judi is in the brochure – and there were many more ladies, singly or in groups, than gents. Where do the men who need rest and recuperation go? I think they're dead. Every other woman I spoke to referred to "losing" their husbands. Men take note: take a break while you can.
On my last evening, I was sitting in the drawing room, still grappling with the awful Mitfords, and there were two elderly sisters poring over a road-map in the corner. One of them said: "I'm exhausted. I don't know why, I've done nothing but lie around like a great lump all day." The other one said: "Well, you had all your stress before you got here, didn't you? Now it's all coming out." That, I suppose, adequately sums it up.
Grayshott Spa, Headley Road, Grayshott, near Hindhead, Surrey (01428 602 000; www.grayshottspa.com). At the bottom of the conventional Surrey garden lie 700 acres of National Trust land, a rolling gorse- and heather-covered common of great beauty. The first time I saw it I felt I'd gone through the looking-glass.
Time from a mainline station: Haslemere (with direct connections to Waterloo) is about 10 minutes' drive and about £15 in a taxi. Guildford station is about 20 minutes' drive and £35 in a taxi.
It is a rule of hotel architecture that if you are checked-in and shown up the main staircase to a room at the rear of the first floor, you are probably in the best room in the house, and so it proved here. Millions have been spent refurbishing Grayshott by the new owner, Simon Lowe, although it has been a health farm since 1965. Prior to that it was the country retreat of Lord Tennyson, who rented a house on Grayshott Farm and vastly augmented and upgraded the property.
My room was enormous, bigger than my house in London (literally, I measured it), with a fantastic leaded bay window overlooking the garden. The decor is generic hotel (that is, a lot of different things going on) but the effect is altogether anodyne and not upsetting at all. After all, if you have come here at vast expense to unwind, you cannot possibly be disturbed by interior design issues.
There are different spa packages available . Mine included all the lymphatic stimulation, hydrotherapy baths and micronised algae wraps you could ever want. On top of that, I booked facials, manicures, massages and two hypnotherapy sessions to stop me smoking. Then there was the daily light exercise class – Pilates, t'ai chi, yoga – and a daily walk on the heath. There is, naturally, a swimming pool, sauna and gym complex for those who like that sort of thing. The overall thrust is to keep you very busy indeed.
Freebies: Grayshott-branded toiletries in the bathroom.
Keeping in touch: Flat-screen TVs and DVDs in the bedroom, direct-dial phones and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the hotel.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at £199, including breakfast and access to the spa. Two-night spa packages start at £435 per person full board, including treatments. On 6-7 May, Thailand's renowned Chiva-Som destination spa is decamping at Grayshott. The special two-night package costs £435 per person and will include one night's full board accommodation, three Chiva-Som treatments and a cocktail party.
I'm not paying that: Lythe Hill Hotel and Spa (01428 651 251; www.lythehill.co.uk) in Haslemere offers double rooms starting at £140, half board.