|A bathtub full of seaweed??!!|
|Soak spa, located on the lower promenade of Newcastle, Co. Down, Northern Ireland|
|Inside Soak seaweed bath house and spa|
|Soak's lovely front desk room|
|Sip, the Soak group's tea room|
But let's get back to those seaweed baths themselves. Who would take one? Were Dermot and Claire crazy to bring the growing seaweed bath craze to Northern Ireland? Only crazy as the Victorians and old Irish fishermen and farmers of the west coast it seems. Seaweed baths arose in the 19th century out of the Victorian practice of "taking cures" for such problems as arthritis and rheumatism combined with the Irish belief in seaweed and seawater as having especially good benefits and healing properties. Irish fishermen along the coast had long noticed that there was nothing better than seawater for healing the cuts and sores they often got while working. Irish farmers meanwhile knew seaweed was rich enough in minerals and nutrients to use as fertilizer on their soil and even to build up soil when mixed with sand. It was only a matter of time before someone had the idea to find out how well taking a bath in the stuff (both seawater and seaweed) might work for the human body.
|There's a lot of good in this small space. Soak's stock of seaweed.|
|The white spots on this seaweed are little barnacles that exfoliate the skin. The red water in the bath shows the richness of minerals such as iodine found in seaweed.|
|The Irish Sea in Newcastle. What does seawater have in common with our own blood?|
My seaweed bath initiation began with Dermot giving me a back-of-the-house tour of the spa. I got to see where Soak keep its fresh stock of seaweed and how the seaweed is cleaned before each bath. When seaweed is cleaned it changes color from a dull brown to a bright green. After cleaning Dermot takes the seaweed, about a half-gallon per bath, and brings it into the spa and pours it into the tub, adding a few inches of hot seawater to get the oils and minerals working for release into the bath.
|Dermot with a bucket of seaweed for cleaning.|
|Before it's cleaned and soaked, seaweed is a dull brown color...|
|But as it's soaked it turns a bright green.|
|Dermot bringing two buckets of seaweed for two baths into the spa.|
|Victorian-style steam box inside the bath room.|
|My tub of weed.|
After lowering myself oh so slowly and a bit nervously into the tub, I admit at first sitting in a pile of seaweed felt a little weird. I wasn't sure exactly what to do with the stuff. Just sit on it or heap it up on top of me? After a couple minutes, the hot water started working its magic and relaxed me--that and the oils in the seaweed, which felt more silky and almost velvety than slimy. After a few more minutes, I started feeling experimental, even a little playful, and began draping the seaweed over my legs and arms, weaving it through my fingers and toes, piling it on top of me and even on my hair. It's like being Ariel in The Little Mermaid, I told myself, or Daryl Hannah in Splash! A few more minutes and I was more like a jellyfish than a mermaid, with my brain off in la-la-land. At some point I had a moment of clarity and realized my 40 minutes were just about up. But I don't want to get out, I thought to myself. Ever. I want to be a mermaid/jellyfish forever. It's just a life so easy.
|My feet in the bath, seaweed-weaved toes and all.|
Somehow I managed to pull myself out of the bath, take a quick cool shower, get dressed, and rejoin reality. Lisa, a seasoned pro at taking seaweed baths, was already finished with her bath and collapsed in a soft chair in Soak's front room. I joined her on another chair and we spent several silent minutes staring into space and out the window at the Irish Sea beyond, looking at it longingly like two stranded mermaids missing their under-the-sea home. Dermot laughed when he came out into the lounge and saw us, nearly sliding off the chairs in our maximum state of relaxation. He asked me how I liked it. I think it took me about 5 minutes for my brain to formulate a three-word sentence. "It was amazing," I said. "How will I ever get dinner made now?" Lisa wondered. Dermot told us to get takeaway. After opening up Soak, I thought it was probably the best idea he ever had. There was no point in in breaking our mermaid spell and ruining our nice seaweed bath buzz.
|Me before my seaweed bath--standing a little too straight and rigid.|
|Me after my bath, red-cheeked and relaxed.|