Thursday, 15 November 2018

Autumn Must-Haves

You might not have noticed, but it's getting cold out there! Brrr! Cold AND dark! 

Yup, Autumn is definitely in full-swing. Since I can no longer live in denial about the increasingly depressing weather, I figured its about time I got myself prepared! 

The single most important addition to my wintery wardrobe is a toasty new coat. As the prospect of leaving the house without one gets less and less appealing, I know my coat will become my most vital and most worn item - so I'll want it to be cosy, practical and pretty! 

I think I've ticked all the boxes with my newest addition! The Joe Browns Favourite Parka was perfect for an autumnal trip to the woods. I love me a classic coat style (if it's not a duffle coat or a parka, then what is it?) but this one has those pretty little details - like the floral embroidery and jacquard panels - that put it a cut above similar items. 

Plus, the huge fluffy hood! 

You can find this beauty, along with a range of winter coats and jackets, at JD Williams! 

So now that the most important thing is taken care of, what else do you need to see you through the winter season?

Hot Chocolate - I'm a dedicated tea drinker, but when you start to feel that cold right down in your soul, nothing warms it up like a rich sweet hot chocolate. I have a cupboard full of flavoured options. None of that cheap just-add-water instant nonsense, of course, and it goes without saying that you need cream and marshmallows to finish it off!

Netflix - Even with the new coat, I'm happy to stay in when possible over the colder months, and there's few finer ways to wile away the evenings that with a nice big hot chocolate, and hours and hours of TV. Who needs to go out when there's so much still unwatched on Netflix? We've been working our way through Doctor Who as a family, and I've started American Horror Story once the kids are in bed.

Big Stack of Bath Bombs - I grew up in one of those Yorkshire families where we just didn't put the heating on. You might have been able to see your breath, and there may have been ice on the inside of the windows, but you didn't put the heating on. Now, as an adult in my own house? I put the heating on. But never above a '1'. Somehow though, I manage to convince myself that the necessary energy needed to create a bathful of super hot water comes from a difference source.... so sitting in a hot bath is not only totally ok, it's one of the most pleasant ways of warming up (while simultaneously getting some degree of peace and quiet. I love baths, and a big stack of bath bombs just help make the experience more of an 'event'! 

Basically, winter is depressing so finding a way to make those necessary items more pleasurable can do wonders for your happiness levels. A coat will keep me warm, but a coat with pretty embroidery will bring me so much more joy. A bath is nice, but a pink, lavender-scented glittery bath is so much better! 

Have I missed anything important off my must-haves list? What little luxuries help get you through the cold and dark times?

* Coat was provided, but I do proper love it!

Monday, 28 May 2018

A Cosy Scottish Stay

(Again, I'm 'recycling' as this is from a little while ago! We are just looking at similar places to stay this summer though, so this place has been in my thoughts!)

When I first starting thinking about what I wanted to do for our family summer holiday this year, my first thoughts were of sunshine, outdoor swimming pools, all inclusive ice creams and exotic beaches. However, vocalising these thoughts to the children I was met with '....can we go to Scotland instead?'

I wasn't initially besotted with the idea, but I aim to please! Once we'd definitely decided on Scotland, I knew to look at Sykes Cottages for accommodation. I've stayed in a couple of cottages on their books before and was certain they'd have something for us north of the border. As the sole driver in the household, I didn't want to be venturing too far up the country and we were all quickly won over by The Tack Room, Cove Farm both for it's favourable location and general prettiness.

House Tour

I will do away with any suspense by telling you right now that we LOVED our cottage! We really couldn't have asked for more from it. I know that appearances aren't everything, but pulling up to a house this cute sure can put you in a good mood!

Everything was spotlessly clean and tastefully decorated throughout with an emphasis on nautical colours and cute seaside-themed knick-knacks. Clean towels and bedding were plentiful, and a selection of books, CDs etc was also provided.

It's a three-bedroomed cottage, so the youngsters got a twin room each - it's weird how much mess they can make with only a small bag of stuff if the have the space to really spread it out!

They share a room on holidays a lot without complaining but they tend to keep each other up late and wake each other up early so them having a room each was probably more restful for all of us!

The bedrooms and bathrooms were downstairs and the communal areas upstairs, which is a little unusual but the 'upside down' design of the house really worked to make the most of the natural light in areas like the kitchen.

The kitchen was so bright and airy, as well as exceedingly well supplied for making a number of family meals - so much so that I feel like I wasted it by pretty much just using it for putting together sandwiches and making toast, but I was on holiday after all!

It's really only the lack of a bath that made me ok with moving out at the end of the week, otherwise the owners would have never got rid of me!

A Warm Welcome

The house was utterly beautiful but we knew we'd be well taken care of before we even set off. A week or so before our visit we got the most lovely email from the owners, with loads of brilliant suggestions about where to visit/walk/eat in the area .

The email also mentioned a 'welcome pack' of goodies provided to help us settle in - but I was still surprised at how generous the welcome pack was! I would have been over the moon with a couple of tea bags and a drop of milk just to get me through 'til we could do some shopping (there was no ay we could take a lot in the way of groceries along with our weeks stuff in the back of my teeny car!), but as well as the tea and milk we had bread, butter and jam, eggs, orange juice, wine (much appreciated after that long drive!) and best of all, shortbread and teacakes!

Such a thorough pack meant I didn't even have to think about shopping until well into the next day, and could get straight on with my holiday relaxing! Plus, in a brilliant but unexpected twist, turns out that despite their initial excitement about them neither of the kids liked the chocolate tea cake things so they were ALL for the adults!

Lazy Mornings and Relaxed Evenings

We knew we were headed to a rather quiet and secluded area, and though we've gone on family holidays in the past with a heavy emphasis on evening entertainment and kids activities, we were really looking forward to some peaceful downtime. No discos or party games, just us and our biscuits in our nice little house.

We had activity-filled day times, visiting local attractions and exploring nearby towns, but the evenings and the mornings were all about chilling. We read books, we watched TV, we drank tea (ok that was mainly me!), and we just had a really well-needed break. Evenings usually consisted of a DVD and a selection of sugary treats (Irn Bru floats were an inspired highlight!), cuddled up under one of the snuggly blankets provided in the cottage. Perfect.

The View

One of the nicest things to do at The Tack Room though, was to simply sit and admire the view. We had beautiful clear days...

....the odd foggy morning....

...and some truly spectacular evenings!

The Beach

With a sea view like that, we weren't going to be far from the beach! In fact, just a few minutes walk, a nature-riddled path and a secret tunnel were enough to bring us to a pretty little beach.

This was a perfect spot for building sandcastles, exploring caves, climbing on rocks and generally enjoying beachy things, but without the usual school-holiday crowds! We felt so luck to have such a quiet little spot more-or-less to ourselves !

We all had such a wonderful holiday, and the kids both agreed that this was their favourite yet. I wasn't overly sold on their grand Scottish plan to begin with but I'm very glad that the young 'uns got their own way! This was a truly lovely cottage in a truly lovely area and I will (and have) recommend a visit to anyone!

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Belhaven Fruit Farm

So firstly, a disclaimer! I'm totally cheating with this post, as it's an old one posted elsewhere previously (so no, the kiddo's haven't shrunk!) In my defence, I've been meaning to move a lot of stuff over for,.. well the last year or so! Not everything, just the bits that seem to fit here most.... and there'll be plenty of new stuff to come too, so I hope you forgive my 'recycling'! Anyway,....

Unexpected roadside farm shops with attached tea rooms are pretty much the best reason in the world for learning to drive.

So, when I saw the sight for Belhaven Fruit Farm just a stones throw away from our Holiday Cottage in Scotland, I was in my element!

Belhaven Fruit Farm was just the cutest little stop off, with a lovely café, well-stocked shop, outdoor play area, and opportunity to pick your own strawberries!

We all love fresh juicy strawberries (who doesn't?!), and as we passed the farm on the way back from many of our day trips out we tried to incorporate a strawberry-stop into our journey whenever possible!

The kids loved picking their own, with just a little adult supervision for quality control purposes ('There's thousands to choose from guys, they don't all have to come off that one plant!')

Not only where they cheaper than supermarket strawbs (and more fun to pick!), they literally couldn't be fresher. These beauties went from plucked from the vine to home and covered in cream in less than half an hour, and were absolutely gorgeous!

Despite having strawberries lined up for dessert, it wouldn't have been polite of me to not try the onsite café at least once. I was on holiday after all, so two desserts was definitely allowed!

The café itself was pretty quiet when we visited, as most of the customers were taking advantage of the nice weather and had perched themselves on one of the playground-adjacent picnic benches instead.

Our main 'north-of-the-boarder' faux pas of the week was when KC asked for a pot of English Breakfast tea before being informed (in friendly fashion of course) that it's Scottish Breakfast they serve, oops! I played it safe with a pot of Earl Grey!

No matter where we go for cake, no matter the interesting and unique flavours to choose from, the young ones both always go for the most chocolatey thing available - on this occasion it was chocolate brownies for the both of them, neither of which lasted more than a minute once they got them to the table!

My Pear and Elderflower cake was light and tasty, and best of all - no one else wanted to try any!

The shop was full of awesome looking local products, from chocolates to coffee, and more gin than you could shake a stick at! I always want to buy all the jams, I have a fondness for pretty little jars, but settled on a box of Bellhaven Farm's very own IceDelight!

IcedDelight is a frozen dessert absolutely packed with fruit (this can genuinely be counted as one of your five-a-day, not in the same way I tell myself fruit scones count...), it's dairy-free, gluten-free and absolutely delicious! The lemon is sharp and zesty, and the texture is so much creamer than I'd expected from a dairy-free iced dessert. This is no ordinary sorbet!

Unfortunately we didn't get to try any of the other flavours but the stuff is available from a bunch of stockists (mainly in Scotland but a couple of others about!) and I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for it!


Thursday, 3 May 2018

The London Problem

KC started a new job recently which has led to him, on occasion, travelling to London. He hates London with the passion of a proud Yorkshireman, and returned from his first work-based jaunt to the capital and declared 'I am never, ever, going to that city again unless I have to for work'.

And I get where he's coming from, I really do. I have no deep love for London, and I certainly wouldn't want to travel there on a regular basis. The thing is, and I feel weird just saying this, but for a few reasons I can't quite bring myself to hate it either. And while I'd rather cut off my on toes that than actually live there, I don't hate the idea of visiting occasionally.

In the aim of providing a fair, balanced view as to why we shouldn't entirely dismiss any future trips, I thought I'd present him with some of my London pros and cons..

Con - It's Expensive. I know this is a really obvious complaint, especially coming from a Northerner, but my gosh it's true! Three nights in the city's cheapest Travelodge would have set me back more than my monthly mortgage payment, and I don't even want to think about how much I was paying per pint! 

Pro - The Food. I love my home town, but it's not exactly known for its culinary delights. I nearly drowned in a sea of possibilities just looking at London Afternoon Teas alone, and even KC was impressed by how easy it was to find tasty vegan food. Sure beats our local eating-out options of 'the Nando's at the top of town' Vs 'the Nando's at the bottom of town'.

Con - London Underground. It's not that I'm not impressed by a the fast and efficient service provided, but its just so.... so hot and dirty and airless. Going underground genuinely feels like you are getting closer to hell. It's great you can get to so many places so easily but the act of just getting around makes me feel so dirty and gross that I feel I shouldn't be out in public!

Pro - There's SO MUCH TO DO. There are so many museums, galleries and theatres I barely knew how to begin narrowing down everything I wanted to do on our last trip. A quick search for the best things to do on a trip to London really does provide some enticing ideas, and using sites like Groupon can help with my first big issue by helping cut down on the cost. I do like that a lot of the big museums are free too.

Con - I can't drive there. I mean, I know I technically could, but I definitely wouldn't - the very idea of it stresses me out, and that's without even thinking of the parking costs. But the necessity of booking train tickets adds to the expense and levels of organisation needed to consider a trip, where I could just jump in my car and drive to pretty much anywhere else in the country. 

Pro - I can't drive there. Yes, I know I just said this. But there is also joy in not being the one responsible for getting us from A to B. I love that on the train I get to relax for a couple of hours with a cup of tea and a book - something I definitely can't do while driving!

I don't know if I've done more here to convince KC we should go to London again, or convince me that we shouldn't so I think the jury is still out on this one! Is there anything in particular you love about London that could convince us either way? Or any reason we should avoid the big bad city like the plague? 

*Sponsored like, but you know I only speak the truth.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

A Winter visit to Jurmala, Latvia

During my Riga research, I found a whole bunch of sources telling me about what a how popular the nearby beach resort of Jurmala is in the summer. Locals and tourists alike flock to the sunshiny seaside town to soak up the rays and frolick in the sea.

There was no sunshiny frolicking on my visit! But, even in the depths of winter Jurmala is well worth a visit - perhaps even more so. After all, nice beaches in the summer are ten a penny, but somewhere you can walk on the frozen sea? That's pretty special!

I woke up in Riga on the day of my intended visit to find that it had snowed overnight - would the weather affect the running of the trains? We'd have had no chance in the UK, but the Latvian trains were running perfectly on time still. Not only efficient but cheap too, with the one-way 30 minute journey costing just E1.40, and a discount for the way back if you buy as a return.

Don't make the mistake of looking for a train to 'Jurmala' though, as there's not a station with that name. Your best bet might be 'Majori', with a tourist information centre and a ten minute walk to the beach.

The beach is easy to find too - well signposted, and there's a big map just over the road from the station if you need any extra help. I was a little wary, as I'd already gotten a bit out of my way that morning looking on the way to the train station in Riga (I took a short cut that wasn't that short....!) but had no trouble at all finding where I wanted to be. 

And then, there I was. Snow on ice, as far as the eye could see! 

I didn't really know what to expect, visually. With fresh snow covering everything, how would I know I was walking over the frozen sea, as opposed to just snow-topped sand? But even under the snow you could see ridges and waves where the water had frozen solid.

That, and I had an excitable old German chap yelling 'Is water underneath!' at me with a massive smile on his face! 

There was a temptation to keep edging towards the (liquid) water, but even I could see the possibilities for disaster there! 

Of course, the fact that everything was frozen should give you some indication that it was pretty cold, so it wasn't too long before I headed back the relative warmth of the train and the comfort of some of Riga's finest hot chocolate but I'll always be grateful for the opportunity to visit this incredible place! 

I'd love to see it in the summer to compare the two! 
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