Need a health boost? Just let it snow

Jo Haywood enjoys a Finnish tradition at the heart of North Yorkshire PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDY BULMER

There's nowt so queer as foreign folk. While we Brits content ourselves with doing sensible winter things like wrapping a scarf round a pile of snow and calling it Bernard, those strange folk in Finland roll around in the stuff. They claim that they have a sauna and then roll about in fresh snow for health reasons. Much in the same way that I claim carrot cake is a health food and a Terrys' chocolate orange counts as a fruit portion.

Fortunately for the Finns, there does seem to be more than a snowflake of truth in their claim: a combination of extreme temperatures works wonders for your skin and your circulatory system. It brings colour to your cheeks - at both ends if you throw caution and your clothes to the wind - and gets the blood pumping at a rate of knots.

The Verbena Spa in Helmsley has picked up on this Finnish tradition and made it a component part of its treatment programme. Now, when clients have finished their heat therapies they can give themselves a vigorous rub-down with handfuls of snow. As you do.

The ice cave is an enclosure within the 'heat experience', which also houses a saunarium, aromatherapy room, salt vapour room, monsoon shower and a rasul bath (it involves mud, oils and heated throne seats, in case you were wondering). The cave, which is actually a beautifully tiled relaxation area and not a dank, dark hole with seagulls swooping overhead, is home to a whizzy machine that continuously makes ice flakes that clients are encouraged to rub into their skin to snap their pores shut and cool down quickly after the 50C heat treatments.

Jo has a go: 'The last time I had snow rubbed in my face, I was wearing moonboots, a pom-pom hat and my mittens were joined together with string. This time around I opted for a towelling dressing gown and fluffy white slippers - a far more appropriate ensemble for a luxurious spa than over-sized wellies and a woolly hat.

The Verbena Spa has a lovely country-chic atmosphere, aptly reflecting the d�cor of its sister business The Feversham Arms, and I immediately felt right at home as I settled into a big, squishy sofa with a pile of glossy mags, a bowl of spicy parsnip and cumin soup and a trio of the best bread rolls I have ever tasted (they were so good, they didn't even need buttering). But I wasn't here to feed my face, I was here to rub snow in it.

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'First though, I found time in my busy schedule (those glossies don't read themselves, you know) for a cooling hot stone massage and facial. A mixture of body indulgence and skin rejuvenation, this is a deep tissue massage using hot stones and oils (that's hot, not warm, so brace yourself) and cooling creams and lotions. It felt like I was being given a gentle once-over with a steam-iron to get the wrinkles out before being emulsioned with a pot of fridgecool creme fraiche. But in a good way. A really, really good way.

'Then it was on to the 'heat experience': a large salon dedicated to all manner of sensual pleasures, from hot, steamy saunas to cooling, tropical monsoon showers. And of course there's that all important ice cave. After cooking gently on a low simmer for half an hour or so, having a brisk rubdown with handfuls of fresh, icy flakes was a complete treat. It might sound a tad masochistic, but the rush I got from experiencing such temperature extremes was incredible. There was an almost audible 'ping' as my skin sprang back into shape, and I could feel the blood rushing through my body like a train (and we're talking the Japanese Bullet train, not one of those chuggy ones that barely makes it to the east coast and back).

'Next time it snows, I'm not going to build a snowman, I'm going to build my own back-garden spa. I wonder if I can turn the shed into a saunarium?'

For more information about Verbena Spa, call 01439 770766, email or click on

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