Friday, 9 September 2016

48 hours in Bristol - #LittleDiscoveries with CrossCountry trains


Even though Bristol is only about 45 minutes away from my hometown I've rarely taken the opportunity to explore it. I've popped over the Severn bridge to see a few gigs in Bristol but never really been able to get to know the city or get a feel for it and its long history. I was really looking forward to my trip because not only did it mean a rare weekend away with my shift working partner but it also meant I was able to find out more about my neighbouring city. 

Getting to Bristol was incredibly easy. It only took me about 40 minutes on a very comfortable CrossCounty train and I got a strong Starbucks coffee on board to get me ready for the long weekend ahead. *Fat Frocks Tip* If you travel on the weekend you can get a First Class upgrade from £5 which gives you loads of room, reclining seats, free WiFi and drinks and snacks. Perfect if you are making a long journey or just want to feel fancy. 


Our hotel was just a five minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads train station and very easy to find. We stayed at the comfortable Hilton Garden Inn which I can highly recommend because not only are the rooms perfect for a weekend break they also have a waffle iron at breakfast. A waffle iron! I probably didn't need to eat a huge waffle after a full cooked breakfast but it would have been rude not to... We dropped our bags off after arriving at the hotel and set out exploring the city straight away. 


I have to admit we didn't get very far because as soon as we reached the city centre it started to rain very heavily. We managed to walk around Stokes Croft, an area which has quickly gained a reputation as Bristol’s cultural and artistic hub and sought shelter from the rain in the main shopping centre, Cabot Circus. We decided to head back to the hotel to dry off and have some prosecco and nibbles before heading to a gig in the Fleece later that evening. The Fleece is a great small venue and has hosted some pretty amazing artists over the years like Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Amy Winehouse. We had tickets to see Teenage Fanclub who were absolutely amazing. We headed back to the hotel after the gig to get an early night as the forecast for Sunday was much better and I wanted to make up for some lost time and get some sightseeing in before getting the train back home. 

This is a picture of Teenage Fanclub at Bristol Fleece venue

After a filling breakfast featuring the previously mentioned amazing waffles I wandered through the Temple Gardens with the ruined Temple Church (gutted due to bombing during the war) just behind the hotel into the city centre to explore. I didn't really have a plan or a map to follow so I just wandered around admiring the historic architecture and trying to spot some street art which Bristol is famous for.





A place I would recommend visiting is Bristol Cathedral located on College Green. It's Grade I listed and the nave, choir and aisles are all the same height, making the Cathedral a fantastic example of a hall church in Great Britain. The cathedral has also recently been used as one of the main filming locations for the BBC Wolf Hall series. The cathedral is free to visit and offers a calm space to explore in the middle of a bustling city.




If you're visiting College Green and the cathedral you would be silly to miss a pit stop at Swoon just on the other side of the road. The guys at Swoon make gelato in the traditional Italian way using locally sourced ingredients. I had a scoop of both the plum flavour and the honeycomb and they were divine. (photo here)


I also headed to Bristol's Harbourside which was once a busy dock where sailors and merchants would trade goods and set sail on voyages of discovery. Today, this redeveloped are is filled with restaurants, bars and museums. You can visit the SS Great Britain here which is a revolutionary ship designed by one of my heroes, the renowned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel also left his mark on the city with his iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge which I sadly didn't have time to visit.


There's a vibrant street art scene in Bristol, led by now world-famous street artist Banksy, you don't have to look too hard to spot some yourself. I've shared a few of my favourite sightings from the weekend below.



My weekend in Bristol finished at Bristol Temple Meads station. It opened in 1840 as the western terminus of the Great Western Railway from London Paddington. The railway including the station was the first one designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and I love the beautiful span of the timber and iron roof which was the largest of it's type when built. I caught the train back home to Newport with aching legs after a full weekend of exploring Bristol on foot and thinking about all the things I wanted to do, see and eat on my next visit to Bristol.


Would I recommend a trip to Bristol? Yes! More a collection of villages than a city, Bristol makes a perfect location for a fun weekend away. Visit Bristol for 48 hours like I did and you’ll find plenty of independent shops, world-famous street art and lots of green spaces.  It isn't too sprawling so you can get a good feel for the city in a couple of days and you can even walk most if of it but pack a comfy pair of shoes as there's plenty of cobbles and hills. 

What are you waiting for?! Get out there and make some of your own #LittleDiscoveries all over the UK. CrossCountry links up major cities across the UK making it easy to visit a new place including Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Sheffiled, Edinburgh and of course, Bristol. 

*Post was written in collaboration with CrossCountry and Hilton Garden Hill Hotel


Gemma
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Thursday, 1 September 2016

August Roundup

August has been a really fun month where I have explored new places and tried new things but I've also kept some traditions alive and visited places I like to go each year with some of my favourite people. August is always a very busy month for me because it's when I celebrate my birthday but it seems most of my friends have their birthdays in August too. 

At the start of the month I headed to Berkhamsted with a large group of friends for a weekend of camping in an orchard. We spent our time around a campfire, playing games and exploring the surrounding area to celebrate a friends birthday. I find the history of railways and canals pretty fascinating so I really enjoyed our stroll along the Grand Union Canal which starts in London and ends in Birmingham. It is the longest canal in the UK but competition from the railways and its narrow size meant it was difficult to make it commercially viable in in the early 20th Century.  Our walk through the beautiful Chilterns ended in The Boat where I enjoyed a well earned Pimm's. 

My birthday was spent a little closer to home, I enjoyed a meal with Martyn and my family in Junction 28. Junction 28 has a train themed dining carriage and was the perfect start to my railway themed birthday weekend. I also had a lovely day out at the Severn Valley Railway which you can read about here.


August typically means a trip to Torquay with some of my oldest friends. We have a very British weekend away, staying on a caravan site, paddling in the sea and having ice cream and cream teas. It is always a weekend I can count on to be relaxing, result in side splitting laughter and and leave me feeling revitalised. This years trip to Torquay was no exception. We have been going since 2011 and I hope we are still going in 20 years time. 

this is a picture of Brixham Harbour pebble beach

This is a picture of ice cream in a cone



Birthday month also means lots of cake and I've certainly eaten my fair share this month. I made a sponge and bannoffee pie when hosting dinner with my friends and I also found some time to go back home and visit my dog Sookie. 

Things I've been watching: Great British Bake Off, Brooklyn and Gilmore Girls(always)
Songs I've been listening to: Britney Spears - Make Me, Maccabees - X-Ray (gutted they decided to break up) and Ramin Karimloo - Music of the Night.
What I'm looking forward to: My trip to Bristol to watch Teenage Fanclub and seeing Ian McKellan on stage in No Man's Land.
Items on my 'to buy' list: Smiths pin badge, tickets for Funny Girl and Les Mis in 2017



Gemma
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Thursday, 11 August 2016

My day out at Severn Valley Railway

I know a day out to a heritage railway might not be an ideal birthday day out of choice for most people, but I was really excited to visit the Severn Valley Railway for the first time on my birthday last week. The Severn Valley Railway is a steam railway running between Kidderminster and Bridgenorth. It's a 16-mile long track with a journey taking around an hour on a steam-powered train. We passed through some stunning countryside, including a view of the West Midlands Safari Park .(I managed to spot some elephants and rhinos!)
This is a picture of a class 7800 train

This is a picture of a train ticket

If you get a day rover ticket like Martyn and I did you can get off at any station, have lunch at one of several pubs along the railway and river and explore some of the beautiful towns and villages on the route. It really is a full day out and we were there for about 7 hours! We started our journey at Kiddersminster station which was only built in the mid-1980’s (despite looking much older) by the SVR and is modelled on the design used for Ross-On-Wye station built by the Great Western Railway. We headed all the way to the end of the line (on the No. 7812 Erlestoke Manor, Ex-Great Western Railway, built in Swindon 1939, Class: 7800 'Manor'to explore Bridgnorth and decided to stop off at all the stations on the line on the return trip. 


This is a picture of Severn Valley Railway train

Bridgnorth was once one of the busiest river ports in Europe, but today, the Severn is a quiet haven for anglers, walkers and wildlife. The river divides the town into High Town and Low Town, the two being linked by seven sets of ancient steps and a Victorian funicular, the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway.

This is a picture of Bridgnorth town

Bridgnorth really was the most beautiful town and I feel in love with it, its historical buildings and quirky cliff railway.  The cliff railway is the oldest and steepest inland funicular railway in the UK and was opened in 1892. A ride on the railway might not be for you if you are afraid of heights as there is quite the steep drop on the journey from the high town to the low town. 


"If you approach the High Town by the cliff railway you feel you are being lifted up to heaven." - John Betjeman


After a stroll around the pretty little town we headed back to the railway to explore the stations and the engine room. The Severn Valley Railway has its own visitor centre at its Highley station, which is home to their reserve locomotives, fascinating exhibitions, a gift shop and restaurant with panoramic views across the stunning Severn Valley. The railway scenes in the movie The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe were filmed at Highley station.

This is a picture of highly train station on the Severn Valley Railway

this is a picture of a steam train on severn valley railway

The Engine House has a display of full-size steam locomotives, the King George VI royal carriage, a travelling Post Office and much more. It reminded me of the National Railway Museum which I visited last year. There is also a smaller museum at the Kidderminster station with lots of signalling equipment and signs.  I loved having a peek in the royal train. It looked pretty austere compared to the one used by Queen Victoria that I saw in the York museum, King George VI did not want to travel around the UK during the war in opulence whilst the public were being bombed and surviving on rations. 

This is a picture of the King George VI royal carriage



A day out on the Severn Valley Railway is something everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. You do not have to be a train enthusiast to enjoy the Severn Valley winding its way through the stunning Shropshire countryside. It would be a perfect place to visit with kids at Christmas for a train ride with Santa or for a grown up day out enjoying a cream tea in the First Class carriage. The Severn Valley Railway gets a huge thumbs up from both myself and Martyn. 



Gemma
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Sunday, 31 July 2016

I wore what now?

Today I'm delving into my photo collection as part of #IWoreWhatNow with George at Asda and sharing the best examples of crimes against fashion with you. I'm hopefully going to give you something to laugh at because some of the photos below are seriously embarrassing. I'm not even sure why I've decided to share some of these... I always wanted to wear dungarees and my ninja mutant turtles t-shirt because I thought that was super cool but my mam had other ideas... I existed entirely in white and pink with lots of frills and bows and lace until the age of 5 which was the Valleys look in the late 80s. 


Lets kick this off with 7 year old me in coral, everything is coral. My socks were probably coral. Look at my brother, isn't he cute? He REALLY loved Pluto. 


I'm thinking I was about 7 here again and in my Disney obsessed phase. I thought I was Belle and forks really are dinglehoppers. 


This is probably the first and last time I managed to look demure, ladylike and photogenic. I imagine I picked this dress out from the Woolworths Ladybird catalogue for a Christmas party. Little did I know I was anticipating the Peter pan collar trend by about 15 years. This is definitely one outfit that I would still wear now and I actually have a pair of patent shoes just like those and you can get some cute lookalikes for your little ones here.


I don't understand this look at all, green velvet? All lime and shiny... Check out that fringe.


I think this is my 2nd Birthday party and I look really happy because there's coconut cake on the table. Some things never change because cake still makes me smile. 


First day of high school and I'm wearing Kickers,  I HAD to have Kickers.


This is probably the most ridiculous photo of me and the most Shirley Temple I ever managed to look. 

Even though I wore all of these outfits about 20 years ago some of them are pretty timeless. The 90s look is back in, parent still like to make their little princesses wear frilly party dresses and kids always love Disney. 

Do you have fond memories of a party dress you wore as a kid or are you trying to forget a particularly hideous outfit you were forced to wear?

*Post in collaboration with George, all words and views my own as always.



Gemma
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