My stomach roils after last night's wine. My mouth feels strangely fuzzy. A headache dances just beyond the veil of conscious pain. I feel about as hydrated (and as limber) as a beached whale.
I stumble to the sink and gulp down cool water, revelling at its sudden luxury. Not for the first time in my life do I vow to start drinking less (who doesn't on a regular basis?!)
Except this time, I'm planning on sticking to it - for a month at least. The 1st of February marks the start of a month-long challenge in which I am giving up all alcohol and all animal products to become a teetotal vegan.
You see, I have (like so many of us) fallen off the New Year's Resolutions bandwagon and managed to actually go into reverse on my health goals. I'm running less and eating way more cheese and chocolate than I was before Christmas and I know that the only way to change my habits is to go cold turkey. A friend has also suggested we give the Vegan challenge a go and I've noticed that my eczema outbreaks seem to be linked to my alcohol consumption. It's time for change.
It was also my birthday this week so I'm treating this weekend as a big bingey send-off before turning into a bit of a health angel. Picture me this time next week, living off lentils and sipping green tea before doing yoga by the river.
How the hell am I going to do it?!
Well I've been practicing.
I was very lucky to be sent a big batch of Nakd bars, a healthy snack bar made by Natural Balance Foods. They sent me a box full of flavours to try; Cocoa Delight, Pecan Pie, Cashew Cookie, Cocoa Mint, Berry Delight, Rhubarb and Custard, Caffé Mocha, Cocoa Orange, Gingerbread and Bakewell Tart.
I'd tried a couple beforehand but was more than happy to take on the onerous task of trying a wider range of flavours for the purpose of scientific blog research (someone's got to!) In case you've not come across them before, they're essentially made from dates, nuts and natural flavourings which are then cold-pressed into a bar shape. They're gluten, dairy and wheat free and count towards your five a day - brilliant for me and my vegan challenge!
They're not sugar free as they are of course mostly made from dates (each bar has around 15-18g of sugar in) but they're far healthier than anything else I'd normally reach for when my sweet tooth starts nagging.
As I accepted the bars in exchange for a review, I decided that I didn't want to just take photos of them in my house and write about them - I wouldn't find that interesting and I'm sure you wouldn't either!
So I chucked them in my trusty backpack and used them as hiking fuel over the course of a week!
Hike 1 - Yeoford
The first hike came from this book which is a must for any nature lovers living between Exeter and Barnstaple. It has a number of hikes to choose from that all begin and end at one of the stations along the Tarka Valley line.
We chose a 6 mile ramble from Yeoford on a cloudy but dry day.
Every now and then, sunlight slipped from beneath the clouds and illuminated the colours of the countryside. The recent downpours had given life to the verdant landscape and freshened the air.
Which I really should have thought about more before choosing my footwear that morning!
Less than half an hour in and my feet were soaked through with cold, muddy water! The mud was so deep at points that we had to climb over gates as they refused to budge in the viscous ground.
We made it through to the other side, climbing out of the sodden sheep tracks and onto a nice, solid road, before making the last part of our ascent up to enjoy views of the beautiful Devon countryside; the perfect pit stop to refuel!
I'd grabbed a selection of bars for the walk that morning - in my scrabble to get them all out, I managed to drop one in the mud so ate that one first so that I wouldn't have to put it back in my bag with my clean stuff.
I had the Cocoa Mint and Michele had the Rhubarb and Custard which he had shotgunned the moment I opened the box.
I stole a bite of his and it was very tasty and juicy. The Cocoa Mint was a little drier but it hit the spot perfectly, satisfying my sweet tooth without making me feel too guilty about sugars and fats etc. (it counts as one of your five a day after all! God bless dates!) I'm a huge mint chocolate fan so it's a relief to know that I can quite literally have my cake and eat it.
We began to make our way back down the hillside in the afternoon sunlight.
Our route passed a large copse of fir trees and snaked across the ridge of a hill with fields of sheep dropping off to either side of us.
As the flavour of mint faded from my tastebuds, I decided to try another flavour (I have to say, I really enjoyed being able to eat at the slightest stir of hunger, all in the name of blogging!) This time I tried the Berry Delight which, like the Rhubarb and Custard, was very juicy and had a beautiful raspberry flavour. It kept me going for the rest of the walk, putting my hunger pangs to rest.
As the rain clouds began to roll in once more, we made a dash for the station and managed to catch the train a whole hour earlier than expected. Result!
Hike 2 - Salcombe
This can't really be counted as a hike as we pretty much just ambled around the town looking through the shop windows and gazing at the views across the stunning estuary.
Michele and I left my family in the pretty little shops to go view-hunting along the lanes.
It wasn't too bad at all!
Both Cashew Cookie and Pecan Pie have slightly subtler flavours compared to the others and you can taste the nuts and dried fruit a little more. I enjoyed them but they weren't my favourites - I prefer the bolder, fruitier flavours.
We carried on along the roads out of the town, looking out across the estuary at our dream houses and wondering whether we'd ever get bored living in such a beautiful place.
On our way out of Salcombe, we drove along the coast a little to explore the surrounding area.
As the dusk fell, we watched locals walking their dogs on the beaches and playing in the chilly surf.
The wind was freezing as it whipped around us, forcing us to draw our coats closer to us.
Before long, we could stand it no longer and bundled back into the warmth of the car.
It may have been a short visit but I will most definitely be heading back to Salcombe!
Hike 3 - Exeter
Yesterday afternoon, we waved my family goodbye after a weekend of cake, prosecco and more cake.
One of Exeter's favourite walks is indisputably that between the Quay and the Double Locks pub.
We had a couple of hours to spare so decided to go and burn off some birthday cake by taking a nice brisk stroll beside the river.
We ambled along pleasantly, playing "snitch dog" (a game Michele started a few years ago in which we have to shout snitch dog as soon as we see a dog and then earn points for every dog - double points for puppies and those the opponent says are cute!)
Our conversation then turned to politics (mainly revolving around the migration crisis and cultural tolerance) - it turned into a very in depth debate which led Michele to actually pause the game for the first time in its three-year history until he completely bent the rules and abruptly unpaused the game, snitched a load of dogs and then re-paused it.
I refused to talk to him again for a good five minutes.
To soothe my hurt pride, I tasted the Bakewell Tart Nakd bar which was easily one of my favourites!
I think this one is one of the best for doing what it says on the packet - it tastes just like a bakewell tart! The consistency of the bars isn't too far away from a bakewell tart either so this one really hit the nail on the head for me - an instant favourite!
At the pub, we stopped off for a final pint before my alcohol-free February began.
Please excuse Michele and his inability to pose for a photo without gurning.
It was chilly and we huddled together on the bench, watching robins flit between the trees and musing on life and family, slowly getting drunker and drunker.
By the time we left the pub, our single pint each had left us both a little worse for wear (we really are a pair of lightweights!)
I stopped to take this photo of the pub...
And by the time I turned around, Michele was on the other side of the river, running away from me!
I tried to run after him, expecting him to stop but every time I got closer, he'd see me coming and sprint away again! I couldn't run for laughing in the end - he's just such an idiot!
Of course, being slightly drunk, it was only responsible to have another snack as we made our way back to Exeter. This one tasted of Christmas with flavours of ginger, cinnamon and cloves! So yummy! Even better, as Michele had already sprinted away from me, I was able to enjoy it all by myself without his great beardy face getting in the way!
So now it is the beginning of February and I have renounced all alcohol and animal products! I'm less than 24 hours in and I'm beginning to falter. I can't believe I've said goodbye to cheese for the next four weeks and I'm already craving a glass of wine.
But at least I know that there's a brilliant alternative to chocolate to help me through this next month.
It was a tough call but I narrowed it down to these four as my favourite flavours. Caffè Mocha and Cocoa Orange for their chocolatey hit (and who the hell can say no to chocolate orange, am I right?) and Berry Delight and Bakewell Tart for their delicious, what-it-says-on-the-packet, no-nonsense flavours.
If you're giving the vegan challenge a go, rebooting your New Year resolutions or perhaps considering giving up chocolate and desserts for Lent, I'd heartily recommend giving Nakd bars a go to help you through!
As mentioned earlier, I was sent these bars in exchange for a review and am pleased to say that all opinions are my own. Thank you to Natural Balance for the free food!