Archive for August, 2013

August 30, 2013

The Bivouac

I promised a review of The Bivouac, and finally, here it is!

The Bivouac is a selection of yurts, log cabins and a bunk barn, just outside Masham in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, with a cafe and small shop. Just along from the site is a folly known as Druid’s Temple and it’s also along a long-distance walk route, so attracts plenty of day visitors as well as overnight guests.

We stayed for four nights in ‘Foxglove’, one of the yurts. All the yurts are situated together in a field close to the cafe, toilets and lovely shower block, which is handy when you’ve got small children. Despite it being the height of the summer holidays, some of the yurts were empty and so it was relatively peaceful – even though they’re not exactly soundproof! We had decent weather most of the time which was a bonus too, as it meant we were able to sit outside once the kids were finally in bed, and enjoy the stars, and on one night, watch the lightening flash across the sky in the distance, which was fascinating to watch – until the rain arrived in the middle of the night and woke us up!

Inside the yurt was lovely and welcoming, from the chalkboard with our name on, to the cosily made up beds, rustic-chic furniture and giant beanbag. I loved all the tea light lanterns dotted around the place ( it was off-grid, so we needed them!) and wood burning stove, complete with enough logs to last our stay. It has to be said that one yurt with four people in can get a bit overwhelming. Anyone with small children knows what it’s like to try and get them to bed, and when there are no doors to shut and bedrooms to creep away from whilst crossing your fingers that they’ll go to sleep, it can be tough. But they did love sharing a room!

Our time at Bivouac

Our time at Bivouac

Walking to Druid’s Temple was an easy, short walk, and the thunderstorm we’d had overnight provided sufficient mud for my obsessed son, with the ‘hedgehog hunt’ map keeping my six year old daughter entertained. Druid’s Temple itself is a fascinating, eccentric folly, and we enjoyed looking around it and playing at monsters!

We also paid extra for them both to attend a drumming workshop one day, which they both enjoyed. If there was one problem, it was the sole tyre swing. Which my kids both loved. And you know what one swing between two kids leads to? Yes, endless arguing over taking turns. A few more pieces of wooden, sympathetically integrated play equipment would have been great, although I did appreciate the low-key feel of the place and they did find friends to play with, which helped enormously. I was very happy to see them go off and play in the field and use their imaginations instead of relying on being entertained. That feeling I had of being comfortable with letting them wander a bit was lovely and refreshing too – no ‘cotton wool’ parenting for me!

Once they’d found friends, the kids did settle down from the first day’s over-excitement, which meant, joy of joys, that I was able to go for a shower on my own! The shower blocks in Bivouac are far removed from many camping shower blocks, with warm flooring, interesting slate tiles, hairdryers and wooden doors and luxurious smelling handwash and lotion. There was evidence of lots of environmentally friendly practices being used as well, which was impressive. I’m planning to adopt some of their ideas at home.

We mainly cooked for ourselves, using the gas stove provided in the yurt, but we did eat in the cafe one evening and the food, from superfood salad to burger and chips, was all really great; obviously fresh, interesting to eat, but not too expensive. They have a weekly ‘community supper’ which sounds like a lovely idea. I was happy to see that they had ‘plain pasta with parmesan’ on the kids’ menu too, proof that it’s not just my girl who loves that! Someone who works there clearly understands what many young children will and won’t eat.

The Bivouac is a wonderful place to stay. I’d happily go back for a return visit, though next time I might make it a romantic yurt stay for two, instead of a holiday for four! I think it would make for a lovely, relaxing adult-only holiday, as well as being a great place for kids to leave a bit of the modern world behind and play. I’d also love to stay in one of the wooden cabins, as they looked interesting, with eclectic furniture, more cooking and washing facilities and hidden somewhere nearby is a hot tub! Something for my next visit, perhaps…

August 28, 2013

Three Good Things: Week Six

Hello! After a week of holiday, Three Good Things is back for the usual dose of positivity amidst a busy week. It’s a pretty brief post this week, because I’m still recovering from a week in a yurt (which I’ll tell you more about on Friday) and am surrounded by laundry that I really should do something about.

So without further ado…

One: Collective nouns.

The first thing bringing me joy this week is collective nouns. I know, it’s perhaps not quite what you were expecting from Three Good Things. But I love the English language for collective nouns, especially those for animals and birds. There appears to be several variations for some animals, in many cases where it’s a group in a different situation, such as a hive of bees and a swarm of bees. We’ve all heard of a pod of whales or a pack of hounds but how about a shrewdness of apes? Some other favourites of mine are a glaring of cats. A business of ferrets. A murder of crows.  And I defy anyone not to smile at a flamboyance of flamingos. If you’re ever stuck for something to do, I highly recommend looking up collective nouns. It’s most entertaining!  Here’s a parliament of owls. We made them this week out of loo roll inners. I’m becoming quite the loo roll art expert…

A Parliament of Loo Roll Owls!

A Parliament of Loo Roll Owls!

Two: Cheese!

Second up this week is a new cheese, discovered by me, and lots of other people, during a tour of the Wensleydale Creamery on our holiday. It’s called Bishopdale, and it’s a cheddar. But, oh what a cheddar. Utterly gorgeous. Sadly, only available from the Creamery shop, not even online. So, a regular trip to Hawes is going to be needed. Ah well. Any excuse for a trip to the Yorkshire Dales! Alas, I have no photo to share with you because I’ve eaten it all. Sorry about that. But you can all imagine what a block of cheese looks like, can’t you?

Three: Playmobil silo.

My third thing this week is the most utterly perfect toy I’ve ever found for my son. Like many young boys, my son is a huge fan of farms. Tractors, combine harvesters and other machinery feature high on his list of loves. But absolutely top of the list is grain silos. I know. Don’t even ask. I have no idea why.  Before our holiday last week, I told the kids that, rather than buying loads of holiday rubbish, I’d buy them one decent toy each. And my son wanted a toy grain silo. Cue a spot of panic, until I came across the Playmobil catalogue and lo and behold, a grain silo. Thank goodness for Playmobil!

Now, if this was a weekly ranting post, I’d tell you all about how it comes with a bag of teeny, tiny plastic grain that gets spilled all over the floor every time he plays with it, and that are soon to be put in the bin and replaced with red lentils that I can just vacuum up. But its not a ranting blog post, so instead I’ll concentrate on telling you that he loves his grain silo so much that he takes it to bed with him alongside his toy monkey. And that makes me very happy indeed.

Toy grain silo. Weird, but he loves it!

Toy grain silo. I know, its weird, but he loves it!

So, those are my Three Good Things this week. What are yours?

Don’t forget to visit Hello Kirsty and Mummy Plum  to see what they’ve chosen as their Three Good  Things this week too.

August 23, 2013

Microadventure: a few lessons learnt.

I posted recently about Alistair Humphrey’s inspiring microadventures, and how I was planning to have ‘Micra’ Adventures. That plan was recently put into action with the first of what I hope will be many (tiny but nonetheless brilliant) adventures around our fair Isle.

We set off on our journey with a borrowed tent, not much specialist kit and little in the way of a plan. Which, naturally made  the whole thing far more exciting. Happily, the campsite we kind of thought we would end up in had a space for us, and so we spent the first night in the lovely Lake District before a morning spent walking up Castle Crag and then, after admiring the stunning lakeland scenery from the top, walking back down and eating giant cream teas. Splendid.

After a spot of shopping (for the amazing new jacket in the photo, which was in an equally amazing sale!), we then set off for Scotland, with a meandering drive through beautiful scenery. We pitched up somewhere outside Edinburgh – after a tiny worry about finding somewhere to stay, but happily it seems that wild camping is far less of a problem in Scotland, so we’d have been fine. Then we went onwards again to Aberdeen for a couple of days before coming home, via a walk up Clachnaben.

Climbing Clachnaben

At Clachnaben.

So, what did I learn?

Above and beyond, that I need to spend time outdoors. I need fresh air, exercise and a bit of freedom – I know, I’m making myself sound like a zoo animal or something, but it’s true. A few days away from the stresses of everyday life have given me a bit of spirit again.

I also learnt the following truths:

1: Adventure doesn’t have to happen in places far away, nor take up long periods of time. Adventure is waiting for me, to fill the tiny gaps in my life whenever I want it to happen.

2: Waiting for everything to be perfect means waiting too long. Thanks for my lovely family and friends, we were able to beg and borrow some kit, but for a larger part, we just made do with what we had, and hacked it to make it work.

3: Planning ahead means that I can be spontaneous later. So, knowing what I really need beforehand, what I can do without (see number 2 above) and, crucially, where it all is means I can pack up at the last minute and go!

Do you have micro adventures? Is there anywhere that you’d recommend for camping, walking, adventuring? I’d love to hear from you…

August 19, 2013

Top Tips for Stress Management

Last week, I asked my Twitter followers for their top tips for stress. I’ve been a bit frazzled and faced with competing demands on my time, energy, money and attention.  I’ve got a lot on my plate and when I think about it all at once, it feels somewhat overwhelming.

I’ll admit that I’ve been having a cry more often than I’d like and my blood pressure, which is always high (an ongoing complication following pre-eclampsia) has been a bit of a worry. I know that I’m generally well, but I also know that I could feel better. The joy that is ‘Three Good Things‘ certainly helps me to concentrate on the great things I have to be thankful for, and now I want to build on that momentum.

The replies that I got were really interesting, and followed many common themes.

  • Being outdoors, in nature, especially near water.
  • Gazing out to sea.
  • Exercise – releasing endorphins to improve your mood.
  • Giving yourself time, even if that means saying ‘no’ to things that might be fun, in order to create some space for yourself.
  • Drawing, because it concentrates the mind on what you’re doing.
  • Trying not to do everything at once! Break things down into individual issues, tasks, or problems. This makes them easier to manage than looking at everything you’ve got to do as one giant problem.
  • Delegate responsibilities where possible.
  • Eat well. Don’t rely too much on alcohol or sugar.
  • Trying to get more sleep and quiet time.
  • Meditating and remembering to breathe…

Since asking Twitter, I’ve tried to take up every single tip I’ve been given. Giving up sugar and alcohol is hard, but I’m trying to reduce my intake at least! Most things I already knew, but it’s all to easy to forget or ignore things when you’re in the middle of a period of stress instead of taking the time to really look at yourself, examine how you’re feeling and behaving, and then take steps to help yourself.

At the top of Castle Crag

Getting fresh air and exercise! At the top of Castle Crag, The Lake District

I realised a long time ago that in order to cope with stress, I need to move. A sprained ankle has put paid to most activity for the past couple of months and it’s only really hit me how much I’ve missed it. A fortnight of swimming and hill walking has really improved my mood and also my blood pressure. I took a reading this week, and it’s lowered to normal levels for the first time in months and months.

My plans for managing my stress now involve regular exercise, trying to look after myself a bit better, spending time with the people who bring me joy and going to bed a bit earlier! Oh, and regular camping trips to the sea or to the hills. More on that later this week!

What are your best tips for coping with stress? I’d love you to share them.

August 16, 2013

Tim Walker: Dreamscapes

I recently had the pleasure of visiting The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, specifically to see a temporary exhibition ‘Tim Walker: Dreamscapes’, a collection of images by the legendary photographer.

The museum has a fascinating history as it’s never been a home – it was purpose built by John and Josephine Bowes in the 19th Century as a museum with the aim of introducing the arts to the people of the North East. The building is based on a French chateau and is an utterly magnificent creation, which sadly neither Josephine or John lived long enough to see finished.

My initial impression, on arriving at the room hosting the exhibition was one of understatement, as the room was darkened, with the images shown in front of light boxes. From the outside, it’s not terribly impressive. However, once we went inside and really looked at the photographs, that impression was completely reversed and I was transfixed by the photographs on display.

Walker is best known for his flamboyant fashion and lifestyle photography, which has long graced the pages of the most famous glossy magazines. The collection of photographs on display included works featuring well known models, such as Lily Cole, Stella Tennant and Kristen McMenamy. However, even they, in their beauty, are somehow secondary to the incredible sets, props and landscapes used in each image.  The surrealist and eccentric feel to the photos reminded me of Alice in Wonderland on more than one occasion and the colours and detail in each one is just stunning.

Self-portrait with eighty cakes

Self-Portrait with Eighty Cakes (leaflet from the exhibition)

What’s remarkable about the photographs is that Tim Walker doesn’t use digital media to manipulate what you see. So, if the photograph features a bed in a tree, then there really was a bed in a tree. Likewise, a bathroom transported to a woodland stream, balloons billowing from the windows of a country house, eighty cakes in a bedroom or (in a collaboration with Tim Burton) a giant, crying skeleton. Many of the images were taken at close-by Eglingham Hall, in Nortumberland, so it seems quite fitting that they’re on display here.

We didn’t get much chance to look around the rest of the Bowes Museum, as we decided that tea and cake in the Bowes cafe on site was more urgent (sorry!), but it feels safe to say that admirers of silver, porcelain and textiles would find much to please them in the permanent and internationally-renowned collection.

Tim Walker: Dreamscapes is exhibiting until 1st September.

August 14, 2013

Three Good Things: Week Five

Hello and welcome to week five of Three Good Things!

One: My tomatoes.

My first good thing this week is the first home-grown cherry tomato of the year. Earlier this year, I sowed a whole packet of seeds that promised to be a new variety of tomato that was small enough to sit on a windowsill. The grand plan was for me to grow them all and then share with the folk who come to the Sage and Thrift cookbook swap.

Things didn’t quite go according to plan when most of the seeds turned out to be some mysterious brassica (they all look the same at seedling stage!) and only three tomato plants. So I didn’t have enough to give any away. However, the two plants I still have left are doing really well. They’re petite, study and have a healthy crop of fruit that has just started to ripen. I ate the first tomato very ceremoniously yesterday and it was lovely. So, I’ll have a go at growing these again next year and hope that I get the tomatoes I’m promised! The mystery brassicas, by the way, have been planted on the allotment and are romping away. They may well be brussels sprouts…

Spot the first ripening tomato!

Spot the first ripening tomato!

Two: Scones in the Lake District.

I had a camping microadventure last week, and I’m going to blog about it separately, but there are a few things that really stood out for me. And one of them was this moment. At the risk of sounding like an Enid Blyton character, food always tastes especially nice when eaten outdoors. And when I feel as though I’ve really earned a treat by doing some exercise, it’s absolute heaven. So these freshly-made and still warm scones, eaten after climbing Castle Crag in The Lake District, were truly a high point of this week!

Giant cream tea...

Giant cream tea…

Three: Borrowing a tent.

The last thing that has made my week is a tent. Or, rather more specifically, the loan of a tent. Without which I couldn’t have had the microadventure that has given me lots of happy memories, made a huge improvement to the way I am feeling and set in motion a plan for the rest of the year. As I said above, I’ll tell you more about the trip later this week, but for now, huge thanks go to my marvellous, tent-lending friend Lyndon, without whom I wouldn’t have woken up  here…

Beats waking up at home...

Beats waking up at home…

Now, do go and see what Three Good Things  A Hell of a Woman, Mummy Plum, Asbestosbitch and Nyssapod have chosen this week and let me know what yours are!

Three Good Things is taking a break here next week, as I’ll be spending the week in a Mongolian Yurt at Bivouac. Hopefully, I’ll have lots of adventures to share with you on my return though…

August 7, 2013

Three Good Things: Week Four

Welcome to this week’s edition of Three Good Things!

I can’t believe it is week four already, time really does fly…

One: Orange is the New Black.

My first good thing this week is a TV series. And when I say a ‘series’ its because I watched every episode pretty much back-to-back! ‘Orange is the New Black‘ is a show created by Netflix, which means that you have to subscribe in order to watch. But given that this series, based on a true story and set in a women’s prison, manages to be simultaneously funny, heart-wrenching, terrifying and endearing all at the same time,  it’s completely worth it. Or you could do what we did and get a free month’s Netflix trial to watch the show!  Though, we’ve ended up keeping Netflix, because it’s actually great for those of us without a TV.

I do love it when a TV show steals my heart so much that I want to completely immerse myself in it. I can’t remember the last time that happened to me. Maybe it was The West Wing?

The show is now multi-Emmy-award nominated and series two is already in the pipeline, which I’m already impatient about. Highly recommended.

Orange Is The New Black (image: netflix)

Orange Is The New Black (image: netflix)

Two: My new bag!

My second good thing this week is my new Fjallraven Kanken bag. It was a gift to me, and I love it. In my humble opinion, it’s an iconic design. It’s really simple,  with one large main section, a smaller front pocket and an extra zip-out part at the back which increases the capacity to be big enough for me to fill it with enough stuff that I can barely carry it. Each Kanken comes with a little seat pad too, which came in very handy this week when I had to wait half an hour on a seat-free platform for a delayed train…

Me with my Fjallraven Kanken Maxi waiting for a train...

Me with my Fjallraven Kanken Maxi waiting for a train…

Three: Cardboard Lions.

My last good thing this week is a cardboard loo roll. Well, several loo rolls, in fact. Covered in yellow paint and made into lions, they are the proof that I am ok at craft. And a decent mother to boot. I’m going to blog a bit more about this later on, but I wanted to share this today, because I’m really happy with how they turned out, and the kids were thrilled. The inspiration for these came from a lovely blog called  A Patchwork Life, and we are hoping to keep going through the summer holidays, with a different animal each week until we have a cardboard safari!

Fabulous cardboard lion!

Fabulous cardboard lion!

Do have a look at the lovely ‘Three Good Things’ posts from Nyssapod and A Hell of A Woman.

What are your Three Good Things this week? 

August 2, 2013

Tattly

It’s summer holiday time and I’ve been planning lots of fun things to do with my kids. Recently, having discovered it was celebrating its second birthday with a 50% off sale, I got carried away on the Tattly website and so we’re going to spend the summer covered in fake tattoos.

I remember when temporary tattoos were things that used to be included in the wrapping of mysterious tasting bubble gum. Remember that stuff? Tasted a bit like Germolene. Horrible and yet oddly nostalgic. And the tattoos themselves were awful.

However, Tattlys are so utterly brilliant,  I’ve felt the need to try them out myself before letting the kids loose on them. And I bought a couple specifically for me … well, why not? The company was founded by Tina Roth Eisenberg, aka Swissmiss, who realised that all the temporary tattoos that her daughter wanted to  wear were rubbish and so decided to create some better ones. What a great business story – I love start-up stories like this!

IMG_7489

Me (on the train) with a mini rainbow Tattly!

I chose the watch collection, the rainbow collection, and some polaroid cameras. But in all honesty, I could have carried on and on, because the designs are just awesome. The designs are really varied, mostly bright and colourful (and there are some that are just simple black text) and loads of fun. We’ve tried a watch and one of the rainbows so far and they were really easy to apply, and stayed on the skin for a good few days before gradually wearing away. Expect to see more blog posts and Instagram photos of us wearing them, because I love them and I know that my kids will too!