Friday, 17 November 2017

Scottish honeymoon roadtrip - Nevis Range & Glenfinnan Viaduct

After our first few nights visiting Loch Lomond, Glen Coe and Oban we based ourselves in Fort William. Fort William isn't a spectacularly exciting town but it is great location to explore the Nevis Range and is known as the 'Outdoor Capital of the UK' - the area was full of hikers and and adventurous types looking to make the arduous journey to the top of Ben Nevis. 

I'm way too inexperienced (lazy) to climb Ben Nevis (Pen Y Fan is much more suited to my ability) and Coco has tiny little legs and would need to be carried up a mountain so we took the easy option and took the nevis Range mountain gondola up to Aonach Mor. The Nevis Range in Fort William is home to the UK’s only mountain gondola. 

On our last trip on the gondola back in February Martyn and I were treated to loads of snow on the mountain but there was very little visibility. Luckily this time the sky was perfectly clear and we had fantastic views of the Great Glen, Ben Nevis and the surrounding areas. Once at the top there are some easy trails you can follow which are under an hour return and a cafe to get a hot chocolate to warm up. 

Coco absolutely loved his trip on the gondola and running around and exploring on the mountain. We stayed up there for hours enjoying the views and the sunshine after a few grey days.

We spent a lovely night at the Glen Nevis Caravan & Camping park eating some of our wedding cake and reading. Yes, we took the entire top tier of our cake and scoffed the lot in the first week. The park had everything you could need including spectacular views, a dog walking area, fully serviced pitches and spotless washroom facilities. We loved the campsite so much we decided to stop there on the way back to Wales after we had completed the NC500 route around the north of Scotland. 

After a hearty breakfast which included Scottish square sausage we made our way to the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Both myself and Martyn work in the railway industry and are total train geeks. We spend lots of our days off going to railway museums and heritage railways - the viaduct was an obvious place of interest to add to our itinerary. 

I got my times mixed up and we arrived way too late to make our way to a good viewing point to see the Jacobite steam train go over the viaduct (you may recognise the train and the location from the Harry Potter films). By the time we parked up we had to dash across a muddy field to get a glimpse of the train with the dog running behind us. I'm really annoyed with myself for getting this one wrong but the viaduct is impressive with or without the Hogwarts Express running over it. 

Whilst the Glenfinnan Viaduct is free to access there is a fee for parking in the National Trust visitors centre. There is a small free car park slightly further along over the bridge just after the centre but this gets busy very quickly and you're unlikely to get a space unless you arrive well in advance. 

The spectacular 21-arched concrete crescent is still in use today and forms part of the West Highland Railway line between Fort William and Mallaig which was constructed between 1897 and 1901. The Jacobite steam trains only operate during the summer months but ScotRail diesel multiple units run there all year round. 

After our brief stop at the viaduct we pushed on with our journey to the north coast towards Gairloch and Ullapool which will feature in my next post. I can't wait to share my photos of the stunning Scottish coast!

If you want to view our  North Coast 500 route stops and campsite follow the link. 

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Thursday, 2 November 2017

Travel - Florence photo diary

The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence can boast a wealth of artistic masterpieces including Michelangelo’s "David" and Botticelli’s "The Birth of Venus". Despite it's long and intriguing history and beautiful buildings I just didn't fall in love with Florence during my visit which probably explains why it has taken me so long to write about my trip way back in April. Don't get me wrong, I loved certain aspects of the city but it isn't a place I long to return to. 

Maybe I'm getting a bit grumpy in my old age but I much prefer holidays to remote locations or towns with a more relaxed feel - I loved my trip to Lucca the day after we visited Florence as it was far less busy and I felt like I could take my time to explore and go at my own pace without a crowd of tourists swarming around me.

I would like to be a bit more positive and say that I am glad I visited the city as I was able to view some spectaular architecture and art - it is a very visually exiting city. 

exterior photo of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore with layers of coloured marble

Florence has a history dating back to Roman times. It was founded by Julius Caesar in 59 BC, was dominated by the powerful Medici family and famous Florentines include Galileo and Michelangelo.

The iconic sight in Florence is unmissable - the Il Duomo di Firenze or Santa Maria del Fiore can be viewed from most parts of the city. It is free to visit but expect a queue as the cathedral complex is part of the UNESCO World Hertiage site in Florence. The basilica is one of Italy's largest churches and has the largest brick dome ever constructed. The marble fa├žade is stunning and similar in style to churches throughout Tuscany including those I visited in Lucca and Pisa. 

The Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge is also and iconic sight and was the only bridge across the Arno in Florence until 1218. During World War II the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge across the Arno that the Germans did not destroy when fleeing the city.

Pontivecchio Bridge in Florence

In a bid to keep costs of our day excursion to Florence low I planned the trip to coincide with 'Sunday at the Museum'. In Italy you can take advantage of free entry to state museums on the first Sunday of each month. Entrance to the Uffizi is 12 euros in low season and 20 euros in high season - a considerable saving was made by visiting on a Sunday which meant more in the kitty for Aperol spritz.
The Uffizi is the most visited museum in Italy and has one of the world’s most impressive collections of Italian Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces including The Birth of Venus. The building hosts up to 10,000 guests each day and was originally designed to be a workplace for the Medici family. The unusual U shaped building houses paintings and sculptures by Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Caravaggio and Michelangelo. Not only is the art breathtaking but the building is lavishly decorated too - a real feast for the eyes. 

Uffizi Gallery Museum of Florence, Italy

Uffizi Gallery Museum of Florence, Italy[

Sandro Botticelli's masterpiece, the Primavera

I totally hogged the space in front of this painting for at least 15 minutes - I loved the detail on Flora's gown. If you are short on time during your visit I recommend heading straight for the top floor as that's where the most precious collections are kept and you can then make your way through the rest of the museum if you have time at the end. My two hour stroll around the Uffizi made the trip to Florence worthwhile. 

Overall I enjoyed my day out in Florence but the crowds of people were completely overwhelming for me. If I ever return I think I'll venture out of the city centre or to quieter places of interest like the Pitti Palace and gardens.

Are there any European cities that you found underwhelming? (or overhwmeling in my case)

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Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Celtic Manor Resort Champagne & Beauty Bar #NationalSpaWeek

Our 21st century lives can be hectic and stressful and it seems life rushes by quicker than ever before. We are told to eat wholesome food and exercise to combat stress and fatigue but little treats and time out can also have a big impact on your wellbeing. From the 30th October – 5th November 2017, thousands of spas and salons across the UK are uniting to offer lots of exciting treatments and offers to encourage people to try a spa and enjoy some relaxation. 

I was invited to review the brand new Champagne & Beauty Bar at Celtic Manor Resort to get a feel for the #NationalSpaWeek festivities. Celtic Manor is a five star luxury travel destination which is only a five minute drive from my house. I have visited the resort previously for an afternoon tea  but I've never really been one to get spa treatment or spend too much time grooming myself. 

this is a picture of 100s of bottles of nail polish lined up

this is a picture of a nail technician applying gel polish

this is a picture of a latte at the cleric manor champagne and beauty bar

The beauty bar is the perfect addition to the resort and a pretty spot (love the gold details) to enjoy a little pampering. I was treated to a file and polish using the Jessica nail polish collection. I had gel polish which is hard wearing and is still going strong two weeks later. The selection of colours was a little overwhelming so the lovely therapist chose a cute pink shade for me which is perfect for someone like myself who never gets her nails done and wanted something subtle. My hands were nourished by the oil applied, looked incredibly neat after a file and I had the opportunity to have a natter with my friend who joined me and the team at the Beauty Bar.  

It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience but I would love to return on a day when I don't have to go to work so I can sip on some cocktails and bubbly whilst having a treatment. My coffee hit the spot but some champagne would have been even better.

I highly recommend taking some time out during National Spa Week to do something with your friends or family. Put away your mobile phone, back away from the group chat and enjoy some time face to face. 

*Thank you to the Celtic Manor for hosting me. My treatments were complimentary, opinion and words about the service provided are my own. 

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Monday, 23 October 2017

North Coast 500 honeymoon roadtrip - Loch Lomond & Glen Coe

After a beautiful but tiring wedding day Martyn and I only had one night at home to relax, read all the lovely wedding cards we received and head off on our honeymoon road trip. There's nothing quite like the freedom of the long open road and this is why we chose to embark on a Scottish highland adventure - taking in Scotland's finest coastal scenery on the epic North Coast 500. The NC500 is Scotland's answer to Route 66 and starts in Inverness, weaves its way along the coast taking in Ullapool, Caithness and John o' Groats before heading south again through Dingwall and finally back to Inverness. 

A road trip to remote and peaceful locations seemed like the ideal antidote to modern life and suited us perfectly as we meant we could take our dog Coco with us on the honeymoon - we wouldn't want him to miss out and we would have missed him if he was at home with our family.

View of Loch Lomond from Milarrochy Bay loch lomond campsite

I highly recommend doing some research before you had off to the NC500 and download a free GPS map that you can use offline or with no signal as you will be visiting some remote and rural locations.  Visit the official site at for everything you need including suggested itineraries.

The route is perfect for campers, motorhomes, a motorbike tour or a cycling tour and takes in some of Scotland's must see sights and destinations. We managed to visit the following destinations (I'll break the trip down into 3 posts):
  • Beautiful beaches at Big Sand and Clachtoll
  • Loch Lomond and picturesque fishing town of Ullapool 
  • Smoo Cave and Eilean Donan Castle

Our North Coast 500 route - you can find all of our stops and campsites here. 

As we started our journey in South Wales we had to break up the journey before we could actually start on the NC500 route. Unless you are flying into Scotland and hiring a car I definitely recommend a night in the Lake District or Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park before you head into the Highlands  - it gave us the opportunity to get used to the van and stock up on supplies. 

We used the Campervan overnight parking facebook group and Scottish Motorhome Wildcampers to find a spot to park overnight in Kendall on the way up and for recommendations for the best campsites and spots to wild camp. 

We hired the camper van from Morning VW Camperhire in Newport and it was equipped with everything we needed for the trip - we just had to pack our clothes and food. The first night in the van was a complete disaster! Martyn and I now refer to it as #Poogate as we woke up to the most awful stench as Coco had been sick and had an upset stomach all over the bed. GRIM. A long journey and unfamiliar surroundings must have taken its toll on poor Coco and we bundled everything into a bin bag and drive straight to Scotland and to our first proper campsite to get everything in the washing machine. 

This is a picture of a vw campervan

Our first stop in Scotland was at the Milarrochy Bay campsite on the shore of Loch Lomond. The excitement of the wedding and long journey to Scotland had exhausted both of us and we spent the day looking out over the lake, reading and getting used to setting up the campervan and using all of its facilities. 

The site was very well maintained and had all the facilities you could possibly need but we did pay a premium for a loch side view and if you're backpacking or looking to keep costs down you might want to consider wild camping in this area.  Wild camping is permitted in Scotland but there are some restrictions in very popular areas to protect the local environment - full details can be found here. It's hard to believe that a spot so tranquil is only an hour away from Glasgow. 

This is a photo of my shih tzu lookng out of the campervan window

Our second evening was spent in Oban at the Oban Caravan & Camping Park - another site with spectacular views but the facilities were a little more basic. We had torrential rain all day and had to take cover in the van but we did have a little break in the weather to pop out for a fish supper and take Coco for a stroll on the beach. Oban is an ideal place to stop before heading over to the Isle of Mull and is known at the Seafood Capital of Scotland so a great foodie destination. 

Our third day in Scotland included some pretty epic scenery and drives past Loch Linnhe and Loch Creran on the way to our next base - Fort William. Before finding our campsite for the night we drove through Glen Coe. 

This is a pictre of glen etive near glen coe

Glen Coe really is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland and you may recognise it from films such as Skyfall and a number of Harry Potter movies as well as Braveheart and Highlander. The dramatic landscape matches the locations history and was the site of the Glencoe massacre in February 1692. Chieftain Joseph Campbell and some of his clansmen, accepted the MacDonalds' hospitality and then, under cover of darkness, murdered 35 men. Many fled as their homes were burned and perished in the cold. The attack caused outrage as it violated clan hospitality. 

This is a picture of the three steep ridges in glen coe

I don't think my photography skills capture the scale and grandeur of Glen Coe, it really is stunning. I would have loved to have had more time to explore this area but we only had 11 days to cover a lot of ground and head to the north coast of Scotland so had to push on with our whistle-stop tour.

I thought the views during the first few days of our honeymoon were impressive but the best were yet to come... Next time I'll be sharing my snaps from our time in the Nevis Range area and the grand Glenfinnan viaduct. 

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