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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Tuesday, 5 December 2017

#TooGoodToGoOut - My festive home with DFS

With long, dark Winter nights here to stay for the next few months, colder weather setting in and Christmas shopping crowds filling the streets of my hometown staying indoors during my downtime seems like a great idea. 

Braving the elements at this time of year fills me with dread and I would prefer to be a home with my husband and dog, making our home cosy rather than eating out in restaurants filled with crowds of office party groups and rushing about buying presents that people don't really need. 

The house Martyn and I purchased over a year ago is still a work in progress and decorating was put on hold during the wedding planning period. Since returning from our honeymoon we have been adding lots of finishing touches to the house - getting pictures framed and upgrading our old furniture we had bought separately to higher quality items that suit us as a couple. One thing we had been on the lookout for was a armchair for the bay window in our dining room and DFS came to the rescue with the beautiful velvet number you can see in the photos below - sofa of my dreams! 

This is a picture of the dfs zinc sofa in navy blue velvet

A comfy sofa is a central component of any living space and my new sofa from DFS  gives our home a ‘too good to go out’ feeling. It has certainly turned my favourite room in the house to the most used room in the house. I love the original picture rail and cabinet and the huge bay window in the dining room but we rarely spent any time in there. The only time we ate at the table was for Sunday lunch or Christmas dinner which was a waste of a large, well lit space. 

The addition of what is typically seen as living room furniture into my dining room has changed the feel of the room completely. We now use this room to read, listen to music and just hang out as a couple and the snuggle chair is the perfect size for two and a little puppy. As mentioned in a recent post I'm trying to take more time out to relax and my new sofa is certainly helping with this. 

Photo frames: John Lewis - Plants & pots: IKEA - Cushion cover: eBay

The navy blue velvet ties in perfectly with the feature wall and the mid-century style doesn't look out of place in my Edwardian home thanks to the dark colour and luxurious feel of the fabric. The sofa is from the Zinc collection by French Connection at DFS and you can get these sofas in a more traditional textured fabric (like the ones in my living room) or in velvet  - I was highly tempted by the yellow and forest green options but navy was the safer choice (and less likely to show any puppy stains).

This is a picture of my festive fining room with fairy lights

I can't wait to entertain in this space over Christmas with my friends and family around the table, sipping G&Ts whilst reclining on my sofa and listing to to my records with the fairy lights flickering in the background. 

This is a picture of my christmas tree with red, blue and white decorations

This is a picture of a Mariah Carey christmas record

This is a picture of the dfs zinc sofa in navy blue velvet

Now that I've got the room just how I like it I think it's far too good to go out. If you need to find me over the next few months I'll be curled up on the sofa with a good book and Coco on my lap...

*Thank you to DFS for providing the sofa. As always, all views and words are my own. 

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Wednesday, 29 November 2017

5 Things I Learned Whilst Planning My Wedding (& Pre-Wedding Photos)

Being engaged and planning our wedding was both incredibly exciting and exhausting. These feelings all came flooding back when Martyn and I received our wedding photos and pre-wedding photos from the photographer this week. The photos have let us re-live it all again and got me thinking about the wedding experience as a whole and the lessons I learned whist preparing for this big life event.

I hope you find following observations helpful and can learn from some of my mistakes. 

All photos taken by Cross-Jones Photography

Number 1 - Weddings are bloody expensive

I initially wanted a small, budget wedding. When I say small, I mean small in relation to the average UK spend of a whopping 27k on weddings in 2017. I thought I would invite about 40 people, have street food and a registry wedding ceremony but when I actually looked into prices for the things I wanted everything cost double my original estimate. The price to get married in Cardiff City Hall in the room of my choice was the same price as a gallery in the National Museum Cardiff so obviously I went for the more extravagant setting which was far more in keeping with my tastes. 

The guest list quickly escalated from 40 to 65 for the day and closer to 85 in the evening and finding a venue without a huge hire cost and extra fees for furniture and catering led me to chose a restaurant for my wedding reception. 

I was incredibly lucky to have help from my mum who paid for the reception but a jump from my estimate of £4k to £7k was something I wasn't really prepared for. There were lots of costs I hadn't thought about like a dog sitter, a tip for the venue staff and lunch for vendors. It really helps to have a budget spreadsheet or notepad to get a grip on all of these details and I would highly recommend a budget cushion of a few hundred pounds. If you don't have a budget like Prince Harry and Meghan you may want to do some research about companies like Cash Lady before the big day to help with any unexpected costs and avoid any last minute stress.

Number 2 - Realising what is important & what I was willing to compromise on

I wanted good food, a laid back city feel and a informal day with all of my loved ones. Ultimately the wedding was about sharing my love for Martyn with friends and family. 

There are a lot of add-ons that are thrust upon you with weddings but I learned to say no. I didn't care about expensive stationery and invitations - as most of my guests were around 30 years old I made a free wedding website and everyone RSVP'd there. Venues will try to up-sell packages with more expensive drinks and courses you don't need. Negotiating was key with my venue and I was able to get more for my money by having a Sunday wedding and swapping food in my package for more drinks. 

I also had to compromise with my mum - I didn't really want a fancy car and was going to have a shop bought wedding cake but she really wanted to go all out and hired a vintage car and got me a glittery cake which I did really like but wouldn't have opted for if I was paying... 

Number 3 - Not everything needs to be DIY

I was incredibly anxious before the wedding - my dress didn't fit properly and I had a lot of people to co-ordinate. Making elaborate table decorations and favours would have added to me pre-wedding nerves and I'm so glad I scaled back on my DIY aspirations. 

I bought Welsh cakes from a local baker and bagged those up myself for the favours and bought lots of candles and glitter confetti for my tables which the venue set up for me. It felt like I was missing something the day before the wedding because we only had to pick up the cheese tower and take the decorations to the venue and we were done - very stress free.

Number 4 - Hire suppliers who you trust

We met with our wedding co-ordinator/venue manger on a number of occasions before the wedding and she couldn't have been more helpful (Chapel 1877, highly recommend it!) She decorated the venue for us, added a vegan option to the menu, dealt with 20 texts a day from my mum and ordered in special drinks that family members like. She went out of her way to deliver more than she had agreed to and our wedding day would not have been as special without her. I recommend a face to face meeting with vendors before booking as they can make or break your big day. 

My hair and make up artists came highly recommended from my photographer and members of wedding facebook groups and she instantly put me at ease during my trial and helped to calm me down on the day of my wedding. 

I met my photographer in 2011 when we organised a blogger meet up together and have seen a lot of the photos she takes as part of a husband/wife duo featured on their blog. It felt comfortable to be photographed by people I knew and who's work I admired. 

My only regret is that I used the venue DJ who didn't really get our music taste - camp pop meets sad indie and Martyn's love of punk and a lot of songs we put on our essential playlist were not featured at all.

a picture of my brown and white shah tau puppy

A picture of the tredegar park house gates, Newport

Number 5 - Have relaxed expectations

"It will be the BEST.DAY.OF.YOUR.LIFE" Yes, it really will be but things will go wrong and there's not much you can do about it. I forgot to buy a nose stud and had to wear a basic hoop in my nose all day. The traffic on the day of the wedding was awful, the dog sitter couldn't get to the house so Coco had to go in the car with Martyn - this worked out perfectly and Martyn loved having Coco arrive with him. There are a list of tiny things that went wrong but I real can't remember what they are now. My lasting memories of the day are seeing Martyn waiting for me at the end of the aisle, getting ready with my mum and dancing the night away with all of our friends. 

I hope this rather long ramble about our wedding has helped those currently planning their own wedding or any other big life celebration. If you need any advice about wedding planning or want Cardiff vendor recommendations please leave a comment below. 

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Sunday, 26 November 2017

Me Time

How often do we find ourselves thinking "I need more hours in the day" or "I don't have time for that"? 

We lead incredibly busy lives and it seems that in the modern world we never have time for ourselves despite all the time saving technology we have. I find myself becoming increasingly anxious, stressed and tired all of which takes a toll on me mentally and physically and has an impact on both my relationships at work and at home. 

I find that setting aside as little as 15-30 minutes a day of uninterrupted "me" time can be challenging but necessary. "Me" time allows me to de-stress, unwind and recharge. 

"Me"time is not something we should feel guilty about. Time out can help us come back to responsibilities with greater clarity, focus and enjoyment.

A recent spell of ill health including some swelling in my joints and hair loss (a bit scary) has forced me to decide that I need to look after myself and try to reduce the amount of times I let work stress and and all of my commitments overwhelm me. I'm going to try and focus on the following things:

I deserve time to myself. I can't give my all if I'm not relaxed and in the long run it's better to allow myself some time to unwind so when I am in work or have a task to complete I am fully committed. Guilt can be all consuming so time to let go.

Decide what to do with my "me" time. I used to adore going to Yoga and lifting weights but now I have my dog Coco to look after and my gym buddy has moved away I keep on finding excuses not to go. recently sent me a care package including a yoga mat and yoga book which means I've got no excuse to not set aside 15 minutes a few times a week to stretch away my stresses. 

Evaluate activities that are a waste of time.  I check my work emails at home, I constantly refresh social media feeds and watch far too much catch up TV when my husband is working shifts and I'm at home on my own. I have installed apps on my phone to limit my time on facebook/twitter/instagram, picked up a few new books and some papering skin care treats. 

Learn to say "no". I need to say no to things that don't bring me joy, say no to tasks I don't have time to complete and say no to overtime unless the team really needs my help or I need the money - 37.5 hours a week is more than enough time to be in work. 

Commit to half an hour of "me" time every day. It could be a nap, a extra long walk with Coco or baking a cake - something I love to do but have only managed twice this year. 

Take time out to see friends and travel. I adore spending time with my new husband and Coco but independence is a good thing and we have different interests. Too much time together or giving up activities you love may lead to relationship stress so I'm keen to protect my independence and would encourage my husband to also take some time out for himself too. Some time apart really makes me grateful for the time I have with Martyn and I missed him terribly on my recent trip to France with my friends. I did have a wonderful time away and just a week after returning I'm already searching for some summer sun on jet2holidays and a planning a relaxing UK cottage break by the sea. 

I hope that dedicating a little bit of time to myself will make a huge difference to my health and happiness. 

*pampering and wellness hamper gifted by, all opinions & words my own

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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. 

This is a picture of the nevis range

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. 

This is a picture of a nevis range with cable cars in the background

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. 

This is a picture of the Glen nevis Caravan and Camping park with motorhomes in the forefront

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. 

This is a picture of the Glenfinnan viaduct in Scotland

This is a picture of the Glenfinnan viaduct with a Scotrail train passing over

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. 

This is a picture of the Glenfinnan viaduct with the jacobite steam train passing over

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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