Sunday, 14 January 2018

North Coast 500 honeymoon roadtrip - Sango Bay, Durness, Smoo Cave

I hope you're not bored of reading about my Scottish honeymoon because there are two posts left in the series and a lot of photos of blue skies and white sand beaches to share with you. 

Drumbeg loop

After setting off from Ullapool early in the morning we headed to Durness via Clachtoll and Drumbeg. This was another spectacular section of the North coast 500 route with amazing views but we actually found this section a bit hair raising. The 24-mile-long single track loop that follows the coast was narrow, twisting and steep but don't be put off because it is incredibly scenic. There's lots to see on the way to Durness including Stoer lighthouse and the Old Man of Stoer which is an impressive 60ft high sea stack. 

The drive was difficult with a lot of steep climbs and poor visibility all on narrow, single track roads. I did feel for Martyn who did all the driving on the trip as this section was gruelling, I held onto the seat and our dog Coco for the duration of the journey, lots of pit stops and beach walks broke up the journey and allowed us to enjoy this section.

Clachtoll Beach is a popular beach close to a campsite (and a free car park and toilets) with some rugged terrain. The water was turquoise and the sand so white and clean. We were the only people on the beach in the middle of the day and enjoyed stunning mountain views for miles around before it started to rain so we headed back to the camper van for a cup of tea and lunch before hitting the road again. 

We stopped off at a few beautiful beaches on the way to let Coco stretch his legs and get some exercise. He loved digging up sand and running away from the cold water as the waves came in. We met a lovely lady on the beach who told us all about the local Viking history, the Gaelic school system in the area and the affects that the NC500 fame is having on the area. Whilst many people in the area encourage tourism and enjoy the benefits I get the feeling things are getting a little tense Some tourists are not being respectful of the landscape, don't allow locals to pass at passing points on the single track roads and are becoming a nuisance. The infrastructure hasn't quite caught up with the demand and people are not deviating from the North Coast 500 route and exploring other areas meaning that not all businesses are benefiting from the current surge in popularity that this route is experiencing. 

*Preaching time* If you're thinking of visiting the north of Scotland please make sure you support local businesses and don't just stock up in the the major towns and big supermarkets, read this driving guide and leave the land as you found it so others can experience unspoilt landscapes. 

This is a picture of Handa Island taken from the drum beg viewpoint
The village of Drumbeg lies on the north coast of Assynt, looking out across Eddrachillis Bay to Handa Island and the mountains of Sutherland. There is a viewpoint with a car park where you can admire the magnificent seascapes.

Sango Bay & Smoo Cave

After a stressful drive we arrived in the perfectly located Sango Sands Oasis campsite. Sango Sands is a peaceful, ten-acre site overlooking the beautiful Blue Flag Sango Bay beach. The site has basic facilities much like most in the north of Scotland but has everything you need including an on site bar/restaurant, electric hook ups and laundry facilities. It was around £9 per person plus £4 for hook up. Very reasonable in comparison to sites in Loch Lomond which were £35+ a night plus extra for dogs. 

Sango Bay offers panoramic views of the North Minch the channel between the mainland and the Hebrides. With golden sands and dramatic rock formations Sango Sands is breathtaking. The spot we parked up in at the campsite had views over the bay and I would never get bored of waking up to this. 
this is a picture of santo bay in scotland

this is a picture of sango bay beach in durness

A short distance to the east of the Sango Bay is the famous Smoo Cave. The largest cave in Scotland, it was formed by both the sea and a river. The cave can be explored on foot or by boat in peak season. 
The cave boasts a 50ft high opening and is floodlit inside to reveal its depths. The cave name is thought to originate from the Norse 'smjugg' or 'smuga' meaning a hole or hiding-place. 

The caves are said to be haunted and legends and myths say that the devil once hid in these caves. You can read more about the interesting and dark history of the caves here.

this is a picture of the outer chamber of smoo cave

This is a picture of an inner cavern in smoo cave

This is a picture of the north coast of Scotland

That's it for the North coast of Scotland. We headed to Thurso the next day and drove along the beautiful east coast to Inverness and then across to the West coast because we are a bit mad and thought a full day of driving would be a good idea. The scenery changed completely, much less dramatic, rural and remote and it became flatter, more populated but still full of interest in the form of castles and distilleries. 

My final post about our honeymoon road trip will feature a stunning castle and an marvel of industrial engineering. Pop back next week to read more!


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Monday, 1 January 2018

Our Cardiff Wedding - The Ceremony

This is a picture of the exterior of the National Museum Cardiff

This is a picture of me having my hair styled for my wedding

This is a picture of my flat bridal shoes from asos

this is a picture of my sequin wedding dress from asos

This is a picture of a National Museum Cardiff Wedding  - gallery 4

this is a picture of a wedding bouquet with white roses

This is a picture of a traditional white wedding car

Photography – Cross- Jones Photography | Wedding Dress – ASOS | Headband – Jenny Packham Debenhams | Groom’s Suit - French Connection | Venue – National Museum Cardiff | Makeup & hair  – Julie Davies | Car -iDoo | Flowers - Secret Garden 

17th September 2017

On the morning of the wedding I woke up early at my mam's house after a very restless night. I spent the day before the wedding dashing around, getting decorations to the venue and making my favours at the very last minute with my brother and friends. I forgot to get a stud for my nose piercing, left some decorations at home and didn't pack my phone charger - I had a million things running through my mind and all of the lists I made in the build up to the wedding didn't help me get a good night sleep. 

With the ceremony not until 5pm the morning seemed to drag. I missed Coco who was at home with Martyn and couldn't wait to get to the hotel, get my hair and make up done and get to the venue. I chose not to have any bridesmaids which I think helped the getting ready process stay calm and quiet. My mum and I had our hair and make up done together and friends came over to see me just before I was ready to leave and brought me bubbly and a Gregg's corned beef slice (as requested) for lunch. Keeping it classy on my wedding day! 

I visited a few bridal shops and the plus size sections were pretty un-inspiring and featured a lot of strapless dresses and lace which wasn’t the look I wanted. Shopping online was so much easier, and I was able to find a vintage/deco dress I liked for a bargain price from ASOS. I didn't feel entirely confident on my wedding day. I didn't look the best I had ever looked, I couldn't have the dress of my dreams because they only make them for waif people with a lot of money to burn but I did feel comfortable in my dress and I looked like me. There was no drastic makeover or dodgy spray tan. Ultimately the day wasn't about a dress - I was making a commitment to the one I love in front of my family and friends. 

The next part was huge blur. The dog sitter was late because of awful traffic into our hometown and the car going to get Martyn was stuck in the same traffic. I had a bit of a panic when I found out about the delay, downed some prosecco in the bathroom and took some time to just breathe. I barely remember getting in the car to go to the ceremony venue or speaking to the registrar. Martyn ended up taking Coco in the car to the venue with him which we didn't plan but Coco put Martyn at ease and meant we had more time to have photos taken with him. 

The ceremony seemed to take 60 seconds and the only part I have a clear memory of is walking down the aisle to Ceremony by New Order and seeing Martyn waiting for me at the other end. He looked so pleased to see me (or maybe the look was terror?) Martyn thought the 20 minute wait between speaking to the registrar and waiting for me to arrive felt like an eternity and he was shaking when I reached him at the end of the aisle and held my hand throughout the ceremony. 

We both have very different tastes when it comes to music so it was tricky to try and blend the two together. We had Super Furry Animals – Hello Sunshine and The Maccabees - Toothpaste Kisses whilst signing the register and Descendents  - We was our song to exit to as this is one of Martyn’s favourite bands. Despite spending hours agonising over these choices we didn't even notice them playing amidst all the adrenaline, excitement and photos being taken. 

The National Museum made a beautiful setting for our wedding and the museum agreed to keep the lights on in the dinosaur section (they only typically keep the art galleries open). This meant we were able to get some great 'Night at the Museum' style photos. I loved the venue, the vows we chose and pretty much everything about the ceremony, I wouldn't change a thing. 

I've shared a couple of other posts about my wedding which cover some planning tips, what to expect and my feelings after the big day. I'll also share some photos of the reception at some point but seeing as this post has taken my 3 months to write it might not be ready until the summer... 


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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

North Coast 500 honeymoon roadtrip - Gairloch, Big Sands, Gruinard Bay & Ullapool

Posts 1 & 2 of my Scottish honeymoon road trip series focussed on the the long journey from South Wales to Scotland. After a few days on the road and stop offs in the lower highlands we finally reached the official North Coast 500. Hurrah! We thought the views were spectacular in the Nevis range but nothing prepared us for the the drama of the landscape as we headed closer to the north coast. 

The drive from Fort William to Gairloch was simply stunning but you'll have to take my word for it because I didn't manage to get any photos other than this one. I was so engrossed in the changing scenery and holding Coco still on my lap in the camper van that I didn't get my camera out. Some tips for this drive would be to fill up on petrol in Fort William and pack a lunch as there are some beautiful stops and view points along the way. 

On our way to Gairloch we drove past the beautiful Loch Maree which contains over 60 wooded islands. The area has a long history which dates back to the Druids and 8th Century monks and loch even has it's own monster - Muc-sheilche.

A picture of Gairloch with big sands beach

Upon arrival in Gairloch we checked in at Sands campsite which boasted excellent coastal views. You could camp in the sheltered dunes or higher up like we did for a perfect sunset viewpoint. This was another great site on our trip. The site had a well stocked shop with fresh baked bread, local produce and camping equipment and a fantastic cafe open until the evening for takeaways (dog friendly too). 

The big draw of staying at Sands campsite is the Big Sand beach which the site overlooks. The beach has great views of the mountains of Skye and Torridon. Coco absolutely loved the beach, running around and skidding in the sand and he could go as crazy as he liked because there was only one other person on the beach. As with much of our trip I wished we had longer in each location and I would have loved to stay here for another night and spent more time on the beach and exploring the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. We had to push on as there was so much more to cram in to our 11 day trip.

this is a picture of sands campsite in gairloch overlooking big sands beach

this is a picture of big sands beach on a sunny evening

this is a picture of Gruinard Bay on the NC500 route in Scotland

After a short-but-sweet stay in Gairloch we headed back on the NC500 route to move on to our next stop, Ullapool. The views along the drive were amazing again and a highlight was Gruinard Bay which has three pink sand beaches with views of An Teallach and the northern Highlands. There are also lots of interesting rocks and things to see for geology buffs out there - I just thought it looked very pretty. 

this is a picture of Gruinard Bay on  sunny day

this is a picture of ullapool harbour with boats

Ullapool is a picturesque town nestled on the shores of Lochbroom. It's a great place to stop off in its own right but it is also a gateway to the Isle of Lewis with a ferry port in the town. We stayed at Ardmair Point which was a rather basic site but had pitches with a view over Loch Broom and out to the Summer Isles and a curved pebble beach.

The culinary highlight of our trip to Scotland was definitely the lobster and dill potato salad and crab linguine we got from the Seafood Shack in Ullapool. It was on my must visit list months before we set off and it didn't disappoint. The shack has won a BBC Food Award for the Best Street food and serves top quality seafood which was caught and landed locally. The lobster was well worth battling with the cold and windy weather, holding the tray down with one hand and trying to stab at the lobster with a fork to stop it from blowing away. If you ever visit Ullapool you have to make a pit stop at the Seafood Shack. 

this is a picture of lobster served fresh at the seafood shack in ullapool

There are still a couple of Scottish adventure posts left for me to type up. I am really enjoying reminiscing about my honeymoon back in September and I hope you come back to check out my next post about the final stages of my journey to Durness and Eilean Donan castle.

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

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Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Christmas Dangers for Dogs

My fur baby Coco is nearly a year old now and he is spoilt rotten by everyone in the family. I always try to buy his love by giving him the most treats so she will come and sit by me and give me cuddles. I think most dog owners are tempted to treat our furry loved ones to whatever we’ve been indulging on but beware! Not all human foods are safe for you dog and what you think might be a nice treat for them may make them ill. 

There are quite a few human foods to avoid feeding to your dog but there are some Christmas staples  that your dog can safely eat in moderation.

Doggy dinner approved

Turkey - Your dog can eat turkey but make sure you remove the bones.

Potatoes - Dogs can have a little potato but don't give them any with added salt or butter. 

Vegetables - Your dog can eat vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, sprouts, peas and cauliflower etc
Fruit - These can be high in sugar and acidic, which can upset your dog's stomach. Give this in moderation with stones removed. The fruit to avoid is rhubarb as the stalks and also its leaves are toxic to canines.

Coco's favourite festive treats

Don’t feed to your dog

Chocolate - AVOID AT ALL COSTS. It contains Theobromine which can be deadly to canines, even in small amounts. Keep it well out of their reach at all times.

Turkey or chicken skin - This contains a lot of fat which can cause inflammation of the pancreas.

Gravy - Very tasty poured over the dogs dried food but gravy made with animal fat and stock is far to fatty and salty for your dog.

Onions and garlic - Onions are a definite no no as they are poisonous to dogs. A little bit of garlic is not toxic to your dog it can have a dangerous cumulative effect so best to avoid sneaking your dog a stuffing ball.

Turkey bones - They are hollow and can easily splinter and get stuck in your dogs throat. 

Grapes and dried fruits such as raisins, currants, sultanas - These can be fatal to dogs, even in small amounts. It's best to avoid giving your dog any mince pies or Christmas cake as these contain a lot of dried fruit. 

Milk and dairy products - My dog LOVES cheese but research has shown that dogs are lactose intolerant.

 Coco was completely unimpressed each time I tried to have a festive photo shoot with him, hence all the side eye and sass he's giving in these photos. He's has a mind of his own...

If you want more tips for keeping your dogs in tip top shape over Christmas head over the MORE TH>N guide which includes more info including how to make your own treats and how to dog proof your home.

I hope you and your furry loved ones have a lovely Christmas, if you're dressing them up in cute jumpers feel free to sent me a photo on twitter because I love nothing more than wasting hours of my life looking at photos and videos of dogs on the internet.

*post written in collaboration with MORE TH>N

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