Sunday, 20 September 2015

Travel: Inverness and the Scottish Highlands - Part 2

I thought I wouldn’t leave it too long before sharing the second half of my holiday… which seems like such a distant memory now.

Anyway, on our third day in Scotland we woke early again, and filled ourselves with another hearty hotel breakfast. Maybe not as hearty as the day before, but hearty nonetheless. Today was the day we were going to travel over to the Black Isle and explore the Fairy Glen. The weather was amazing, we couldn’t have asked for anything better to set off the beautiful colours of the brooks, rivers and waterfalls. You know what, I’m not even going to talk anymore about Fairy Glen, the pictures say it all.

Whilst beautiful, and impressive, Fairy Glen isn’t a long walk. Once we had finished we walked into Rosemarkie, and had a drink in a local pub with 3 old local guys. They were so friendly and chatty, and pointed us down a little side street to Rosemarkie Bay. To say we hadn’t been expecting the gorgeous beach we found would be an understatement. Sapphire blue sea, soft golden sand, amazing rock pools, blazing sunshine and not much of a crowd. It was idyllic, I only wished I had my bikini.

Rosemarkie bay
Rosemarkie Bay

You would never have believed you were standing on a coastline so far North on that beautiful hot day, and after a long walk through the rock pools, and the great volcanic rocks that lie further down the beach, it took us all of our effort to drag ourselves away and back to Inverness.

Rock Pools

We finished off our day with steak dinner in the hotel restaurant, and back early to the room to begin packing for the journey that lay ahead the following day.

Our final morning in Inverness and we chose to spend it in Leakey’s second hand bookshop. I had seen pictures of this book emporium on Pinterest and had put it on my list of places to go in Inverness. I don’t think I could have anticipated the array and choice which lay behind those doors. I was overwhelmed as soon as I went in, just perusing the shelves and trying to come up with an idea of what I might like to buy in such a place. First I was looking for some Edith Sitwell, but, surprisingly there was none (although there was lots of Osbert Sitwell), so instead I turned my attentions to my crafts and hobbies, finally coming away with a fantastic book full of cross stitch patterns.

Leakey's Inverness
How many books?

We set off, but decided to take a different route home to the one we came by, taking in another national park, the Cairngorms. Again, a beautiful hot and bright day lay before us, and really made the beautiful purples, greens and browns of the landscape jump out at us. We were awe struck, and decided to stop off in the ski resort of Aviemore. Whilst it wasn’t ski season, it was evident by the nature of the shops and bars that come winter, this would be a really fun place to be. Alas, for us, it was only a short stay as we still had a good 9 hours of driving ahead of us.

We arrived home late in the evening, exhausted, filled with wonder and enthusiastic to plan our next trip back to beautiful Scotland.

Scotland eh?

Monday, 14 September 2015

Travel: Inverness and the Scottish Highlands - Part 1

Hi Folks. Sorry for the hiatus. Ever since I got back from Scotland, and the Autumn has been drawing in, all I’ve really wanted to do is knit, sew and practice guitar. I’m back nonetheless, and ready to regale you with stories of my holiday.  

The river Ness at Inverness

Whilst I’ve been to Edinburgh, I hadn’t visited anywhere else in Scotland, and both me and the hubby had a long standing desire to explore, fuelled by a combination of our love of Celtic culture and the amazing images we had found all over pinterest. We had booked into the grand and luxurious Royal Highland Hotel in Inverness as our base, and started our long (10 hour) drive North in the early hours of Friday morning. By the time dawn was breaking, we were well on our way across North Yorkshire, and heading for the border counties. 

Loch Lomond

It wasn’t really until we crossed the border, and in fact, until we passed Glasgow that the landscape really started to open up. We stopped off at Loch Lomond, the first of many Lochs we would pass on the way, and continued our scenic drive up through Glencoe. It was breathtaking. Vista after vista of imposing mountain ranges, and the colours, oh my the colours, I can easily see how the tweed weavers of the Highlands take their inspiration from the landscape surrounding them.

Gorgeous Glencoe

 Having pulled over at the side of the road on many occasions to gasp in wonderment at the views that filled our eyes, by the time we were reaching Fort William, and the world famous Ben Nevis, there was a mist descending. It meant that we couldn’t see the summit, but we knew it was there.

Beautiful reception at the Royal Highland hotel

 We arrived in Inverness at around 2.30pm, it was drizzly, chilly and dull, but that was fine as we had expected that and dressed accordingly. Having checked in to our lovely room, we headed straight out to peruse the town. It’s a compact town on a beautifully picturesque river. 

Inverness Castle

There is a castle, and the usual high street shops, as well as art shops, book shops and myriad of tartan and tweed shops. 

The High Street in Inverness
The town felt quite bustling, despite its small size, and is obviously an attractive venue to tourists from the world over. After a wander around taking in the sights of the castle and bridges, we retired to a Weatherspoons for our evening meal. We had intended to go, on that first evening to Hootenanny, to enjoy a local Ceilidh, but as the hours passed us by, the early start and long drive we had undertaken begun to take effect. Walking back to the hotel in the pouring rain we decided against it, and bought some goodies and spent the evening in the warm comfort of our room.

The Mr... all set for our hike

The next day we woke early and refreshed to bright crisp sunshine, and enjoyed a hearty Scottish breakfast, yes of course it included porridge. Then we made the short journey from Inverness to Drumnadrochit, a nearby village close to the famous Loch Ness. Again, the tourist factor was evident as the tiny little village welcomed people from everywhere who came searching for the illusive monster. Instead of taking in the tourist sites, the boat trips and visitor centres, we bought a little walkers guide book from the Information Centre, and took off on a walk into the woods. Before we’d gone very far we got talking to a friendly local man who told us of an alternative walk, through the impressive woodland with its giant Sequoas and redwoods, and up onto the hill for a view across Loch Ness. The walk was deserted, for a whole hour and half, we walked uphill, stopping to listen to the silence of the woodland, getting excited at spotting a red squirrel in the trees, and taking in the beauty of our surroundings until we reached the top. We couldn’t have anticipated the view in the clear sunshine across the Loch. It was truly tremendous.

The view across Loch Ness from the top of the hill

Back in the village we stopped for tea and cake and visited one of the many gift shops to buy a souvenir of our stay, before heading back to the hotel to change out of our hiking clothes, and into something suitable for a Scottish Ceilidh bar. 
Tartan and Argyle... obvs

We ventured out into the town and headed straight for an Indian Restaurant. It was one we had passed the night before, and the smell of fresh curry had enticed us back, alas it had also enticed much of Inverness and so it wasn’t possible to get a seat. We carried on perusing, and went to a different Indian restaurant called Cinnamon. It was bustling. We had a gorgeous feast and left hardly able to walk we were that full.

Up at Hootenanny, it had already started to get busy so we bought ourselves a pint of local ale and hovered for a while, until we were able to bag a seat on the end of a table with a group of gregarious Italian holiday makers. They couldn’t speak a great deal of English, but they could speak more English than we could Italian. Somehow we managed to communicate anyway and it made for a very fun start to the night. Soon the band were tuning up their bagpipes and accordions, and at 9.30 the music started. It was lively Scottish folk music that just made you want to tap your foot and sing along (if only I knew the words) you could tell the locals in the bar since they were the ones doing the traditional Scottish dancing on the dancefloor. The bar was packed with Americans, Chinese and Australian tourists as well as locals old and young, but from our cosy little corner on the table of Italians, we had a great view of the shenanigans.

It was a perfect end to a perfect day of new sights and experiences. We snuggled down, content, but excited for what the next day would bring.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Stop, Breathe and think - Meditation app review

you may remember last week, when I was discussing my little healthy lifestyle changes (although I’m sure that all the crisps and chocolate I’ve eaten today do not contribute to a healthy lifestyle… but everyone’s allowed a bad day), anyway, back to the point, remember I mentioned mediation? In terms of the benefits, meditation is a really quick winner. I’ve noticed a more general calmness in myself, better sleep and more awareness of what I am feeling. Can’t be bad, hey? You could, of course, sign up with a meditation class (I’m starting one on futurelearn in a few weeks), but if you want something that you can just incorporate quickly and easily, then why not try an app? Of course, there’s apps for everything these days, and if you look for a mediation app, you will be inundated with choice and variety. For my part, I chose the free Stop, Breathe, Think app.

The app itself is provided for a not-for-profit company called, Tools for Peace and whilst there are in app purchases (additional mediations) these are neither heavily sold, nor totally necessary since there are a good selection of free mediations to start off with. That said, I’ve bought one of the upgrade packs, which is tremendously well priced and just offers me that bit more variety.

There are several things I enjoy about this app. Obviously, the fact that it is always available is a big plus, but the interface itself is really intuitive and easy to use. You can choose your meditations in 2 ways. You can ‘check in’ where the app asks you how you are feeling in body and mind, and what emotions you are feeling. It will then offer a short list of around 3 appropriate mediations for you to try, based on this. I meditate this way most evenings, before bed. I find that this time allows me to really ask myself ‘How are you today?’ rather than ignoring any emotions or feelings as I sometimes do. The meditations are short, around 5 – 10 minutes long but really encourage you to just tune out of your surroundings and into yourself. I find that these are the perfect switch off to the end of the day, and on the few occasions which I have failed to check in and meditate in the evening, I have definitely noticed a difference in my quality of sleep.

The other way to meditate from this app is to select your meditation from the full list. Everything from walking mediation, to engaging your senses or gratitude. I’ve done a few mediations this way, either on the train on my way to work, or even on the walk from the train station. It’s a great way to really make you feel present (the walking meditation is my favourite one for this purpose). After each meditation you can then view your progress and see how your body and mind has been feeling over the past week, or how much meditation you have done altogether.

It's a really good app, and a great introduction to meditating. It makes it really accessible, and especially for those who may have a somewhat pessimistic view of the practice, it’s not too fluffy. If you haven’t tried meditation before, or even if you have and would like something just to guide you every now and again, then I would recommend the Stop, Breathe and Think app.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Robin Hood's Bay

Ever since moving to Yorkshire, people have been telling me that I had to visit Robin Hood's Bay. They regaled me with tales of a beautiful little fishing village, with winding little lanes and a relaxed vibe.

Enticed by the promise of some tremendous views, and seeing somewhere different, I decided to finally pay it a visit, today. On the scenic drive through the purple heather clad moors, I wondered why on earth I wasn't curled up at home with a good book given that the rain was pelting against our windscreen. As we turned into the road down to Robin Hood's Bay, however, the storm clouds receded and the rain stopped.

Robin Hood's Bay North Yorkshire
The view from the top of the village

As soon as we had parked, and started taking in the views over the top of cottages, and down towards a rugged coastline, I was glad that we had arrived. Despite it being Bank Holiday Monday, it wasn't too engulfed with tourists, perhaps the less than welcoming weather frightened them off. For my part, I was armed with my camera and ready to take advantage of the absence of crowds.

Yorkshire Lifestyle Blogger

After having lunch at a gorgeous, and inexpensive pie shop, we followed the winding alley ways whichever direction they led us. Past tiny little gift shops, antique shops and tea rooms, some which struggled to hold more than 2 people at a time.

Yorkshire lifestyle blogger
One of the many tea shops

Down on the beach, the tide was coming in.
Families were rockpooling, precariously stepping amongst thick and slippery seaweed that clung to rocks, with the sea creeping ever deeper around them. They began to help eachother to safer land, and to the ice-cream van that kept moving further up the beach, creeping like the tide.
Yorkshire photographer
A helping hand to cross the divide

Peace, quiet, contemplation
The clouds hung low over the high cliff tops, and made for an altogether moody experience. It was perfect, atmospheric and a welcome break from the heaving crowds of the larger tourist destinations. 

Yorkshire lifestyle and travel blogger
Moody skies over the bay
We finished off the day with tea and cake in one of the tea rooms, before climbing back up the steep hill to the car park, and enjoying a well earned beer at the top. An utterly perfect and relaxing Bank Holiday day out with my family, which has me refreshed and ready to head back to work tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Small Steps to Health and Wellbeing

Healthy lifestyle blogger

I’m moving towards a healthier way of living. I think, however, it’s always best to tackle these things in small increments. Completely drop one way of life for a whole other and it’s too much of a shock to the system to maintain. As such, I’ve been making small changes over recent months. Little movements towards the life I want to live, and so far, so good. I’m not sure that I’m seeing the benefits of all of them yet, some I’ve been doing for far too short a timescale to see any real benefits, but I can still feel assured that I’m making changes and that if I continue to live by those changes I will start to see and feel the benefits over time.

So, what are the changes I’ve made so far?

1.       Cut out Lucozade

About 8 weeks ago, I was sat at the dentists waiting for a check up when I saw a poster on the wall. It was homemade, and had empty pop bottles stuck to it. Under each pop bottle was a bag of sugar, the amount that was in each of the drinks. I was sickened to look at the amount that was in one of my favourite soft drinks. If someone put that much sugar on my cereal, I would refuse to eat it, so why was I regularly drinking it in a bottle of pop? I decided there and then that I wouldn’t drink Lucozade again, and I haven’t since.

2.       Reduce meat

I love meat. I always have done, and always maintained that I would struggle to be a vegetarian. I hold true to that, but that doesn’t mean that I have to eat quite so much of it. I no longer buy processed meats (packets of ham etc), I try to have at least 2 vegetarian days per week, and always select a vegetarian option now when eating out. I’ve been doing this for 3 weeks, and it’s getting easier as the weeks go on. It’s not just the health benefits of eating less meat that attract me, but the environmental impact of farming is something that always makes me feel a bit guilty. Okay, so I’m not completely forgoing my contribution to that industry, but I’m reducing it and that makes me happy. What’s more, I find that opting for more vegetarian options expands your horizons, last weekend I tried beancurd at a Chinese restaurant for the first time in my life… and I liked it.

3.       Meditate

I recently invested in a new smartphone. Having had my iPhone 4, second hand, about 3 years ago and with it getting painfully slow I thought it was time. One of the first apps I downloaded was a meditation app, and I love it. You don’t have to sit for hours on end cross legged on a cushion meditating, I manage to fit in around 2 ten minute sessions per day using the app. Always before bed to rest my mind, but other times I’ve meditated in the morning on waking, on the train and even on the walk to work. It’s funny how many meditation gaps you can find when you start looking. I feel mentally more calmed and rested, less anxious and with clearer thought processes and that is only after 1 week of regular meditation.

4.       Join the Gym

I’m quite lucky in that we have a free to use gym in our office. I’ve avoided it since December when I joined the organisation, but this week I have taken my induction with the intention of spending around 2 lunchtimes per week working out. I have clear aims for what I want to achieve (tone and fitness) and since a few of my colleagues may join me on occasion, I have added moral support too. I’m pretty lazy when it comes to exercise, so being able to incorporate it into my working day will be helpful, and will also force me to move away from my desk at lunchtime instead of working through as I often do.

5.       Less coffee more herbal tea

I wouldn’t say that I’m a coffee addict, although I do love a cup. My regular routine, however, was to have a cup of coffee on waking, another cup of coffee later in the morning, and possibly another cup of coffee in the afternoon. Mostly, these would be filter coffees too, so pretty potent. I have realised however, these really are more out of habit than desire, and once you break the habit it’s easy to make other choices. I’ve changed my morning coffee for lemon in hot water, which is very refreshing and means I don’t fancy a coffee until around 9am, when I get to work. From there, I don’t usually have another coffee or even a standard black tea again during the day. I sip on water, peppermint, chamomile or green tea and find I feel much more refreshed and hydrated throughout the day. Not to mention, less edgy since I’m not powered by caffeine.

By no means is the end of my healthy living movement. In fact, it’s the beginning. The first few small steps to achieving the wellbeing which I want to experience. I’m not sure what my next step will be, although I’m still fighting an ongoing battle with diet cola (giving it up that is). 

What small steps are you making to improve your wellbeing? Are you a one step at a time sort of person, or an all or nothing type? 

Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Holistic Lifestyle

For sometime I've been interested in leading a more holistic lifestyle. By holistic I mean the yoga loving, meditating, natural remedying, healthy eating type lifestyle that is the subject of so many instagram accounts across the planet. It's not a new fad for me, having studied Aromatherapy about 8 years ago, and dipped my foot in a whole load of other subjects in between, it's something I have a longstanding interest in.

Of course, this lifestyle isn't a one dimensional thing, it incorporates everything from exercise to spirituality. From respecting yourself, to respecting the planet you live in. If anything though, I find the internet a bit of a disheartening place on this topic. Healthy lifestyle bloggers have a tendency to portray a life filled with sunrise yoga sessions, lazy tofu lunches and bohemian nights around beach bonfires. A life without offices, public transport commutes or cares in the world. Great if you can get it. If you can make a living from blogging, bag yourself a lucrative book deal or creatively generate the income you need to pursue the idealistic life, then more power to you.

For many of us, however, we do the daily 9-5 (I even enjoy it) we pay mortgages and have to deal with days when simply getting out of bed in time for the train is an effort and morning yoga sessions are no more than aspiration.

That doesn't mean that we aren't living 'authentically' or being 'mindful' in our every day lives, it just means that we have other priorities too. Granted, when those other priorities take precedence, as they often do, all of your holistic good intentions go out of the window. It doesn't mean they completely fall by the wayside though.

I intend to pursue a healthier, holistic lifestyle. To be more in tune with my body, mind and the world around me, but guess what? I'm not going to give up on my career, my home or my responsibilities to do so. I believe that one doesn't have to be exclusive of the other, that I can be both bohemian and corporate. I dont't care if people think that's a contradiction, I am being true to myself because I am multi-faceted and to deny one aspect of my personality would be to stagnate my continuous development and life experience. To restrict my potential. So, while its lovely to see those sunrise yoga sessions, and I certainly don't rule them out, they aren't an essential ingredient to a healthy, natural, authentic lifestyle. Not being able to dedicate yourself 100% should not prevent you from dedicating at all.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Bespoke Dog Food... Delivered

I love my dogs. I’m sure most of you dog owners agree, there’s nothing quite like having the little hairy people around. The welcome you get when you come home from work all waggy tails and bouncy bodies. The snuggles on the sofa and the excitement of going for a walk on the beach. I don’t think I could ever be without a canine companion.

My two are getting on a bit now. Bailey is 10, with some bad teeth and, from time to time, a weight problem. Alfie is 7 and has always had sensitive skin and tummy. Recently, I was reading the Metro free paper on the train when I found an advert for a free 2 week trial of a new mail order bespoke dog food. I ripped the voucher out, and headed to where I decided that, since Bailey was the oldest, he would get the free trial. Once I’d registered, I was asked lots of questions about Bailey. Everything from his age and breed, to whether he has any snacks (maybe a few) and how long his walks are each day. My answers to the questions generated a bespoke mix for Bailey, filled with the right amount of nutrients for his needs, which arrived less than a week later.
My post
Bailey loves post. His favourite daily hobby is to bark at the post man and to try to get to our letters and eat them before we can get there. You can imagine his joy when a courier knocked the door with a box labelled BAILEY and a mysterious smell of dog food about it. Inside was everything to get him started on his new food. Information about his mix, a bespoke measuring cup and instructions on EXACTLY how much to feed him each day, and of course a bag of food with his name emblazoned all over it. Ok, I know he can’t read… but I like to believe that he knows that’s his bag of food.

Over a fortnight on and Bailey has taken to his food really well. He has started to lose some of his podge (that’s another thing, you can update your dogs details anytime to reflect weightloss etc and your food will be tailored to adjust), he’s energetic and bright eyed, and Alfie keeps trying to rob this exciting new food from Bailey’s bowl, so I’m guessing it must smell good too. I’m pleased with it, and I’ve now added Alfie’s details too, so this week there will be a dinner bag delivery for each of them. At around £10 a bag for each of our 2, it’s not the cheapest option, but it stacks up well against the IAMS, which was their previous food, and the fact that I don’t have to actively remember to buy dog food (because does all the thinking for me) means that this one is a bit of a no brainer for me.

If you think that this is something you would like to try out, then follow this link to the tails website where you can claim your 2 week free trial of food for your dog, using the code LOUISLH9 you only have to pay for postage.

NB: This post contains affiliate links.