Exploring Singapore

Highlights of my ‘Singapore Fling’

Singapore is one of the most exciting cities in Asia. I’ve visited Singapore on two occasions, not as a main holiday destination, but as part of a cruise. Singapore is a small city state that is certainly big on personality. It was formerly a crown colony of the British Empire which went on to become a part of Malaysia before gaining independence in 1965. It is the world busiest port in terms of shipping tonnage and on sailing in our captain informed us that some ships can be anchored outside port for up to three months waiting to dock! On our first visit for a day in 2012, I wasn’t sure what to expect as my only experience of Asia at this point had been Pattaya in Thailand, which bears no resemblance except similar weather. I can honestly say it’s one of the nicest cities I’ve ever visited which is the reason why we took advantage of adding a 3 night stay to the end of another cruise which disembarked in Singapore. It is easily reached from the UK with several regional airports offering flights via Dubai with Emirates Airlines.

The city is clean and very modern, the local people are very friendly and it’s easy to get around which is great as there’s so much to see and do. From both visits, I have several fantastic memories and these are my highlights which you could easily fit into a 2 or 3-night stay.

Gardens by the Bay

Before we visited Singapore for the first time I researched where to go as our time was limited. The Gardens by the Bay were recently opened and sounded really interesting, so they were top of our list and we weren’t disappointed! It is a national garden and first class horticultural attraction for locals and visitors alike. The aim is to showcase the plant kingdom in a totally new way with garden artistry and horticultural innovation and to offer a calendar of exciting events to both entertain and educate including Christmas Wonderland of which I’ll cover more later.

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Admission to the beautiful and extensive outdoor gardens is free however, there is a charge to enter some areas such as the conservatories, flower dome and skywalk. The gardens are home to the ‘Super Trees’ and it was love at first sight for me (how can someone be smitten by giant metal trees? I don’t really know myself but I am!) hopefully you can see why from these photos! These Super Trees stand up to 16 storeys high and over 200 species of plants form a ‘skin’ growing vertically up the trees. It was wonderful to see the difference in growth between our first visit in 2012 and our second in 2015!

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Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay

On our second visit to Singapore we were joined by my son and daughter-in-law and we were keen to introduce them to some highlights of our first visit. So along with a daytime return to Gardens by the Bay we went along in the evening to enjoy the spectacular Christmas Wonderland…and wow! they certainly don’t do things by half in Singapore!

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The rather grand entrance to Christmas Wonderland

This was an extravaganza of all things festive including stunning light installations, an ice rink, Christmas market, fairground stalls, live musicians and more! Best of all admission is FREE although some attractions inside had a charge such as the ice rink.

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This picture below is of a really cool attraction where people were positioned on the floor beneath a huge mirror. This, in turn, produced the image you see in this photograph which could be purchased as a momento.

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This was Christmassy heaven and felt a bit like I was walking through Disney World, humming along to the festive music that filled the air and with a warm, happy feeling inside. We also enjoyed listening to a choir singing Christmas Carols in the most magical of settings! click here to see the video on my YouTube channel!

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Marina Bay Sands Hotel

This architectural gem of a building is located right next to Gardens by the bay with a elevated walkway into the Gardens. This is accessed from an external glass elevator which is an experience in itself!

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The hotel has its own retail experience too – The Shoppes – a luxury shopping centre with a canal running through it on which you can take a gondola ride. The MRT station here connects you to many areas of Singapore.

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The hotel has several appealing bars and restaurants which are open to the public.There is a viewing platform on the 57th floor too and from there you can enjoy spectacular views over the bustling shipping lanes of the Singapore Strait. Entry costs SD$23 Adult; SD$17 Children (Singapore dollars) at time of writing however, here’s my tip to enjoy most of the same view for FREE!  From the lobby take a lift in tower one up to level 57 where you’ll step out onto a smaller viewing platform right next to the bar and restaurant on the bay side.

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If, like us, you want to enjoy a Singapore Sling while in town then it’s a good idea to try one in the bar here. This way you get to enjoy the outdoor seating area which curves around to the other side of the hotel and offers fantastic views over the city itself and a chance to check out the 57th floor infinity pool.

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Newton Food Centre

This fantastic food court was a recommendation from a helpful Australian guy living in Singapore who we chatted to in the MRT station. How fortunate to have that chance encounter as we wouldn’t have known about this place. This is one of what are known as Hawker Centres, where you are approached by hawkers from each stall offering you a menu and asking you to sit at a table and…as there are lots of stalls, there are lots of them! We were approached almost immediately by more than one hawker and this can seem a bit overwhelming when you haven’t even had the chance to look around, especially as the atmosphere is quite bustling. If like us, you want to check out some of the stalls before making your choice, just politely decline.

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The large outdoor dining area is surrounded by a perimeter of stalls (over 50) selling a variety of Asian and Singapore dishes, so there’s something for everyone. When you’re ready a hawker will escort you to a table and from there they will look after you with all your food and drink orders. As it’s a while since we visited I can’t remember exactly what we ate but it was all lovely and reasonably priced. One of the most popular dishes is the chilli crab which I didn’t try but others in my company enjoyed it. On our visit this dish was priced by weight rather than by serving, so it pays to check before you order. The hawkers were friendly and the atmosphere was lively. Popular with locals and visitors, it’s a great unfussy place to relax with a cold beer and sample local food!

Chinatown

We had been recommended to visit Chinatown by relatives of ours. This historic area is a melting pot of old and new where you’ll find an abundance of traditional shops and markets alongside trendy stores and cool cafes all vying for your attention. This area is home to the colourful and ornate Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Here you’ll find Chinese temples sitting alongside Hindu temples and Mosques.

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On the day we visited China Town we weren’t really prepared for the amount of rain  we encountered which meant our exploration of the area took the form of hopping from one shop awning to another as we tried to keep dry. The rain soon developed into a ‘mini monsoon’ just as we’d decided to sit down in a cafe…phew! what great timing! It’s a shame we didn’t see more of this historic district however I was happy just to take in the atmosphere through a curtain of rain at this point!

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Little India

This is a vibrant historic centre where traditional trades rub shoulders with modern boutiques, hotels, restaurant’s, temples, churches and mosques. It’s very busy with a great atmosphere and fabulously colourful! If you like shopping or sniffing out a bargain then you could spend hours here. Shopping isn’t a pastime high on my list when on holiday but observing day to day life is something I enjoy, so a spot of people watching while enjoying some fabulous Indian cuisine was the order of the day after we’d finished exploring.

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It’s hard to know where to choose as there’s so many great looking (and smelling) options. Usually a place where you see several locals eating can be a good indicator, so that’s what we did! The dishes on the menu weren’t what you’d typically find in the UK, so we asked the server to recommend a good mix of dishes for the four of us. The result was that we enjoyed probably the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted. This wasn’t a flash place but that wasn’t the experience we were after. What we got, more importantly, was great authenitic Indian cooking.

Raffles Hotel

This is one of the most famous hotels in the world so while in Singapore we just had to visit out of curiosity! If you haven’t heard of the hotel here’s a potted history: This beautiful colonial style hotel opened its doors in 1887 and is named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles the founder of Singapore. It is synonymous with luxury and renowned for the famous faces who have frequented the hotel over the decades including celebrities, dignitaries and royalty. Azamara Asia Cruise 572.JPG

The popular cocktail ‘Singapore Sling’ was also created in the Long Bar of this hotel and to sip on this famous cocktail at bar is on many a traveller’s ‘Bucket List’. We didn’t do this for two reasons firstly, we’d already tried a Singapore Sling while enjoying views from Marina Bay Sands hotel and secondly, I don’t particularly like them so preferred to save my $15!

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The Long Bar

It is a traditional hotel which surprises you with its oasis of tropical planting around the central courtyard and grounds. Many of the bedrooms opening out onto verandas surrounded by exotic plants. It’s certainly a contrast to the modern high rise buildings surrounding it. Azamara Asia Cruise 587.JPG

It’s perfectly OK to walk around the public areas of the hotel and enjoy a drink or food in the beautiful restaurants, bars and coffee shop should you wish. If you like a spot of shopping (or window shopping in my case) The Raffles Arcade features around 40 speciality boutiques with beautifully decorated window displays. This is where I had my second ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ moment..the first was in New York..although I wasn’t eating breakfast at the time like Audrey Hepburn in the movie. We had a spot of brunch in the coffee shop Ah Tengs where you can choose from a visually appealing range of sweet and savoury treats.

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The stunning festive Tiffanys window display

At the time of writing the hotel is undergoing a restoration programme in certain areas so a quick of their website ahead of a visit I advised.

Clarke Quay

Hugging the banks of the Singapore river, Clarke Quay is a thriving hub of bars, restaurants, live music, street entertainment, shops and more. We visited twice enjoying a great value set lunch on one day however it’s in the evenings that it really comes alive and you are spoilt for choice with numerous restaurants featuring a variety of local and international cuisines and bars for enjoying a live music and entertainment or just conversation and a quieter drink. The atmosphere is fantastic with visitors being a mix of ages and made up of locals, city workers and tourists. There are shops aplenty too, although you’ve probably gathered by now that I don’t really shop much on my travels! In many of the bars the drinks were on the pricey side compared to other areas with a pint of lager coming in at around SD$15 (about £8.50 at the time) so it pays to ask first, especially if you’re on a budget. We could walk to Clarke Quay from our hotel however, you can reach the area by public transport such as taxi, water taxi or MTR (I won’t comment on the bus system as we did not use it).

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Singapore MRT Trains

The MRT (mass rapid transport system) is modern, clean and efficient and a fast way to get around the city with many of the major attractions of Singapore within walking distance of an MRT station. It really was a pleasure to travel on the bright and airy trains. The stations themselves are spacious and clean with most featuring colourful décor and interesting artwork which make your journey to the train a more enjoyable experience. We bought an EZ-Link card which gives you unlimited travel on the MRT and bus network for 1, 2 or 3 days at a great value fixed rate, find out more and current prices here.

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There are a multitude of attractions to explore in Singapore but there’s only so much you can squeeze into a 3 night stay!. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my highlights and that I’ve given you an insight into this amazing destination. Have you visited Singapore? I’d love to hear your about your favourite things to do so drop me a comment.

Thanks for reading and bye for now. June x

 

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Warden Hill Circular Walk, Northumberland

In the beautiful Northumberland National Park

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Trying to keep my balance in the wind atop Warden Hill

I always knew I was lucky to grow up in Northumberland, hailing from a mining town near the beautiful coast. What I didn’t realise in my younger years was just how much there was to discover in this beautiful county, especially in the countryside and that is how, in my 5th decade, I’m still finding new and delightful areas to explore.

Last year I was lucky enough to enjoy a tour of Northumberland National Park with my local Travel Massive group (a group of like minded travel enthusiasts) and it reignited my love for my home county. I now return to explore more regularly, especially on foot, making a point to visit previously unseen areas as I did today.

My walking partner was or rather, always is, my husband Ron and our destination on this occasion was the village of Warden near Hexham. I’d read a lovely write up about this area and a quick internet search brought up this 6km/3.5 mile circular walk. As luck has it, the walk actually started from the delightful Boatside Inn which we had visited and enjoyed before. This obviously was meant to be so and we decided to book for Sunday Lunch at the end of the walk! and off we set.

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As we’d made reservations for Sunday Lunch we parked at the Boatside Inn and set off on the walk described in the literature as ‘This pleasant walk involves a steady climb up to Warden Hill where you will get a panoramic view of south-west Northumberland’ with a walking time of approx. 2 hours.

This sign posted track began about 70m from the Inn where we walked parallel to the Newcastle to Carlisle railway line for a short while. Luck was on our side this day and with the sun shining we were able to appreciate the landscape unfolding before our eyes. The wind didn’t bother us too much either as we we’re sheltered by the trees, although a few low swaying tree branches relieved me of my hat on three occasions!

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The walk is straighforward to navigate with several finger posts and waymarks. I used a photosnap of the map and directions on my mobile phone as opposed to a printed map. The walk comprises tracks, pasture and tarmac roads. The tracks were fairly muddy in part but that can be expected this time of year as the ground hasn’t had time to dry out. You’d need to wear appropriate clothing and footwear for this walk.

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The Newcastle to Carlisle railway line winds through the landscape toward Fourstones

You are taken on a steady climb with views across to the village of Fourstones and the river Tyne. At every turn another lovely scene opened up including a couple of rainbows, even though it hadn’t rained! We mused about how the landscape must have looked to those who lived here in centuries gone by. Small worked flints have been found along one of the tracks which date back around 10,000 years!

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View toward Fourstones and the river Tyne

It really is such a pleasure to walk in this area. It’s so beautiful and peaceful. I would think it is normally quiet but the wind was whipping up quite a bit as we got higher. We only passed one other person along the way and there were no livestock in the fields we crossed until we reached Warden Hill which was dotted with sheep.

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Rainbow without the rain! viewed from Warden Hill
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Stunning blue skies and panoraminc views from Warden Hill (an Iron age Hill Fort)

The views that met us when we reached Warden Hill made the walk totally worthwhile. The term ‘Big Sky’ really applies here as you slowly turn 360 degrees to take in the stunning views…Wow! and as the countryside of south east Northumberland stretched out for miles I was acutely aware of the history beneath my feet as I was standing on the site of an Iron Age hill fort. Coming back downhill we spotted something more ‘gruesomely’ recent in the form of an animal skull and bone, possibly a sheep, which had us wondering about its demise!

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From Warden Hill the walk took us through the quaint village of High Warden with it’s handful of stone houses and random beds of snowdrops. A tarmac road meandered downward, ultimately leading us back to the Boatside Inn and the promise of a hearty meal. To that end we weren’t disappointed and we both enjoyed a roast beef dinner with probably the biggest yorkshire pudding I’ve ever seen!  So although this isn’t a review of the Inn I would still recommend it as a great place to eat.

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Ron and I found this walk to be really enjoyable despite the muddy tracks being tricky to negotiate in parts, we just had to take a bit more time and care…and hold onto a few branches at times!

I hope our experience has inspired you to enjoy walks in Northumberland and the National Park area. I’ve only shared a snap shot of this walk in photos as I don’t want to spoil it for you! I love reading your comments so if you’ve already tried this walk or have a favourite walk in this area I’d like to hear about it.

You can view the map and information for this walk here and read the highlights of my tour of Northumberland National Park here.

Thanks for reading. Bye for now, June xx

 

 

 

25 Facts About My Travels And Me!

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Favourites, Firsts, Scary Moments and more!

In the first yeat of writing my Travel Blog I’ve really enjoyed the interaction with my readers especially when I read responses to questions I pose such as what destination is top of your Travel wish list; your favourite holiday spot or travel tip; most memorable experience? etc. I’m regularly asked about my about my own travel experiences too so I thought I’d be nice to share some of my Travel Facts with you. Here they are:

No. of Countries visited – 51 (I don’t think I’ve missed any)

No. of Cruises taken – 28

It’s certainly a fantastic way to see the world and get a taste of destinations you may like to explore further.

Favourite Travel Destination Abroad – The Greek Islands.

I’ve visited 9 plus the mainland and it’s hard to choose a favourite although for beauty it has to be Santorini!

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Favourite UK Destination – The Lake District.

One of my favourite walks is around Derwentwater (shown).

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Favourite City – Sydney.

Sailing into Sydney Harbour on a cruise ship was fabulous and the city itself is great to explore and relax in equal measure. I just wish it wasn’t so far from the UK.

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First Holiday Abroad – Magaluf, Majorca…well, it was the 1980’s!

Age first travelled abroad – 20

Favourite Travel Tip – Have a printable ‘Holiday’ checklist to tick off items as you pack

Mostly travel as – A couple

Although we’ve had some fantastic family holidays to celebrate ‘Big’ Birthdays! including mine!

I Took My Honeymoon in – London for 4 nights (running a business meant no time to go abroad)

It’s Hard To Believe But – I didn’t visit the Lake District until  I was 30! especially being from Northumberland! and we loved it so much we returned the following weekend and visit regularly now. I didn’t visit Wales until my 40’s either.

Favourite Holiday Cocktail – A great Mojito

My Holiday Rituals are – Wherever possible the first alcoholic drink I have on holiday is a Pina Colada. It’s not my favourite cocktail but it’s a proper taste of the Tropical and symbolises the start of fun times ahead!

We always holiday in December and never leave home without an advent calendar!

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Favourite Airport – UK Newcastle; Overseas Singapore

Favourite Holiday Outfit – A shift dress and wedge sandals

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Cruise evening wear…

I’d love to – Fly first class return to New Zealand

Worst ever flight delay – 23 hours!! From Newcastle to Cyprus

I missed a flight to – London…for my honeymoon!

I thought our 10.40am flight was 11.40am. The lovely folks at BA understood and put us on the next flight in 2 hours. I was so tired following the 2 day celebrations that I wasn’t too bothered and sitting down for a coffee we both agreed it was the first time we’d had to ourselves to catch our breath and reflect on the lovely wedding we’d had.

Favourite Holiday Reading – I love a great crime thriller so anything by Peter James. If you have any reading recommendations I’d love tho hear them.

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Most Memorable Holiday Moment – Being proposed to on the deck of a cruise ship under the Caribbean stars!

I love that my Husband had the forsight to carry out such a romantic proposal and you can read more about that magical moment and our Disney Cruise.

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Scariest Holiday Moment – getting stuck in a strong current while swimming in Cyprus.

It was such a horrible experience and proved that effortless swimming out can turn perilous in the most calm and blissful setting.

A close second was on a visit to a farm in Honduras where I was scratched and bitten by a playful Oscelot who decided to use my leg as a sctatch post! One year on I still have the scars. Word to self – never enter a cage with a wild animals! (just to be clear I wasn’t mauled but I got a canny shock!).

I’ll Never – drink Tequila again!

Enjoying great company on board a cruise in the Caribbean I had what I now refer to as ‘My Tequila Moment’! I’ll spare you the gory details but it was messy…I’m sure you get my drift! it became the first AND last time I’ve ever drank the stuff!

I Dream of – Seeing the Northern Lights in Norway.

Upcoming 2017 Travels – South American Cruise; Sandals Resort stay in Jamaica; Cruising the Norwegian Fjords with Cunard.

This image is from our visit to the beautiful town of Stavanger in Norway.

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Destinations I’d love to visit soon – Abroad: Hawaii, New Orleans and Austria; UK: Peak District, Kent and more of Scotland following my visit to Dumfries and Galloway. You can read about my visit here.

So there you have it, just a few random Travel Facts. Do you share any of my experiences or favourites, have a book recommendation or maybe a ritual or tip you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them.

Thanks for reading and bye for now.

June xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Jam ‘About The Young Idea’ Exhibition Review

I recently visited a fantastic exhibition ‘About The Young Idea‘ showcasing the journey and success of Punk Rock/Mod band The Jam. It’s located within the beautiful Cunard Building in Liverpool. The popularity of the exhibition has seen it extended until the 6th October 2016. Just typing the words The Jam fills me with happiness and transports me back to my youth, so before I start daydreaming I’ll tell you more.

The Jam and me


I fell head over heels in love with The Jam as a teenager in the late 1970’s. I know! I’m sort of giving my age away, but I don’t care, it means I’ve had years of listening to their brilliant music which is as relevant and popular as ever and would not be out of place in the music scene today. They famously disbanded in 1982 at the height of their fame to the shock and utter dismay of their millions of fans. Yes, tears were shed, not as in sobbing (no hysterics, a la Take That!) just quietly in the company of my fellow Mod friends.

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A sad day for The Jam fans

So…you can imagine my excitement when I heard about this exhibition coming to Liverpool following a successful run at Somerset House in London.

Visiting the exhibition in London wasn’t an option due to life’s commitments, so I was wondering if I’d run out of time to go along, then I had an idea! We were due to go on holiday flying in and out of Manchester Airport in September so on our return we could head straight from the airport to Liverpool. Now, on landing at Manchester Airport any ideas I’d had about visiting the exhibition followed by al fresco food and drinks at the Albert Dock (not to mention an overnight stay) were dashed by…yes you’ve guessed it, the good old British weather. How silly of me to think such indulgences I’d just enjoyed abroad would be a reality in the UK. Never one’s to let rotten weather spoil any fun, Ron and I headed to Liverpool.

The Jam – About The Young Idea Exhibition

The exhibition was taking place in the beautiful Cunard Building, one of three Iconic buildings sited at Pier Head on the river Mersey and collectively known as the Three Graces. The others being the famous Liver Building and Port of Liverpool Building.

 

I was so full of anticipation and excitement and the exhibition didn’t disappoint. On entering the building, I was met with ‘In The City’ by The Jam filling the air. There was a real buzz about the place even before we paid our entrance fee (£9.50 weekends/£5.00 weekdays) and headed ‘Down In The Tube Station…’. Yes, the entrance is a genius tube station tunnel! leading into the exhibition.

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Fan’s will recognise  the figure of John Weller and the words he bellowed at the start of every The Jam concert

The exhibition, named after a lyric from single In The City, has been curated by Nicky Weller (Paul’s sister), Russell Reader and Ben Davis who have unearthed unseen content and exhibits from the bands extensive archives. A fantastic new interactive element has been added to the show , thought to be a world first,  where a new free app allows you to engage with the exhibits by scanning V Codes. You can also download five of your favourite exhibits to enjoy at your leisure. Details are provided when you purchase tickets. Here are just a few of the fantastic items on show.

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Concert footage is screened over a stage complete with original kit

 

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Just hangin’ with the band!

I love the fashion associated with the Mod era and The Jam. It still forms the basis of my style today. Obviously not on this occasion! I would rather have been wearing my ‘coughs’ ahem!…35 year old concert T Shirt instead of a pink top with a frilly heart! (well I do like to fly in comfort you know!)

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I’m just glad it still fits!

Now that’s what I call style! There was a fantastic selection of clothing on display including items worn by the band members. The scooters, which had been kindly loaned to the exhibition by their owners, were works of art.

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img_8561I still dream of owning a Lambretta or Vespa and Ron and I keep meaning to take lessons. Oh, if only we had the continental weather to go with them.

As we strolled around I was impressed by the variety of items on display. There were lots of interesting elements and I couldn’t resist posing with a giant  centerpiece of the album All Mod Cons. I loved checking out the  personal items belonging to the band members which included photographs spanning the years. There were room sets and much more so you really got a sense of the bands journey to stardom.

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I wonder how many of these badges I have
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A selection of the bands guitars including Paul Wellers ‘Whaam’ Rickenbacker 330

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The score to this classic anthem and something to aspire to with my guitar lessons!
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Personal items including cartoon type sketches of ‘Paul The Mod’ by Paul Weller
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Hey! I used to have this poster (and many more) in my bedroom

The huge wall art depicting the NME reader choices of 1982 showed the popularity of the band at this time with the band, band members, singles etc. topping the majority of the categories including Best Group. Paul Weller was even voted Most Wonderful Human Being, such was their influence (Margaret Thatcher was Creep of the Year!).

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The Jam were the voice of a generation, with their lyrics echoing everyday realities as well as a desire for change. They were loved by their legions of fans and I genuinely feel that The Jam loved them back. As a fan you really felt as though you were a part of some exclusive club, just a club with millions of members. The was great camaraderie among fans too due to their shared love of the band and all they stood for.

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To be honest I could have spent a lot longer admiring the shear number of exhibits but I’m the fan not Ron so it wouldn’t have been fair, also he had the 2 1/2 hour drive back home!

I’ve just shown you a snap shot, there’s so much more I could’ve shown you but I don’t want to spoil it for those who’ve not yet visited. The exhibition was everything I hoped for and more. It reinforced my love of this iconic band and their music and reminded me just how big a part they had played in my young adult life (They even got a mention during my brothers speech at my wedding!). It also reinforced my love of Mod Culture as some people, me included, slip away from that once adult life and responsibility comes along. So I’m off to hunt down a boating blazer and a lovely new parka!

Have you visited this exhibition or have plans to go? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for reading and bye for now, June x

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Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire

A Jewel in Yorkshires Crown

Driving to Yorkshire in the glorious sunshine, I was glad we’d chose this weekend for our stay at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, a luxury Scarborough Hotel. We left home early on the Saturday morning to enjoy some delights of North Yorkshire and Scarborough before heading to the hotel later in the afternoon.

Exploring the North Yorkshire and Scarborough area

My husband Ron and I love Yorkshire and have visited many highlights of the area including Scarborough, a fantastic seaside resort with an amazing array of attractions and only 2 miles from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel. We had decided in advance to visit somewhere new and being lovers of a countryside walk, chose Forge Valley Woods National Nature Reserve, a short drive from the hotel. Heading along the A171 toward Scarborough and knowing we were nearing Robin Hoods Bay, we realised we couldn’t continue without paying another visit to this beautiful seaside town. It’s picturesque twisting streets, which tumble down toward the family friendly beach, were once the scene of cloak and dagger smuggling operations.

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These days it’s the perfect place for a day out with breath taking views towards the sea at every turn. There’s an informative visitor centre along with a good array of independent shops, pubs and places serving fish and chips and ice cream.

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After standing to soak up the glorious views, we took an unexplored path down toward the bay where the tide was out. We passed people sitting on benches sketching the coastal scene, while others were enjoying beach and perhaps looking for fossils, as Robin Hoods Bay is home to the Dinosaur Coast.

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We visited an interesting shop selling fossils and marvelled at the displays of real and replica dinosaur bones. It’s hard to believe these creatures once roamed our planet.

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After we’d finished exploring, we continued our journey to Forge Valley Woods National Nature Reserve where we planned to enjoy the scenic trail along the river Derwent. It’s only a short drive from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, which we passed on the way. We initially parked in the wrong spot which meant we had an unexpected but pleasant uphill walk and back through a different part of the woodland.

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When we arrived at the correct location and joined the trail via a bridge over the river, we were so pleased we’d decided to visit. The linear route of 2.7km (there and back) is a wooden boardwalk which skirts the river as it winds its way through spectacular woodland. It’s an enjoyable, easy going walk with many seats along the way and passing points which are also used as viewing platforms. The sun shining through the trees cast a beautiful dappled light on the clear water creating a peaceful atmosphere.

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The woodland has an abundance of plants large and small and is a haven for wildlife including the elusive deer. The area also forms a link to the ancient wildwoods of the past when much of England was hidden beneath broadleaf woodland. We weren’t lucky enough to spot any wildlife on this occasion but that didn’t take away from our enjoyment. During our walk we chatted about the many interesting places we have visited in Yorkshire which include the coastal delights of Scarborough, Whitby, Staithes, Fountains Abbey, Rievaulx Terrace and Goathland with its gushing waterfall ‘Mallyan Spout’. All these and more are easily accessible from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, making it an ideal base for exploring. There really is something for everyone. Leaving the woodland feeling happy and looking forward to the next part of our adventure, we made the short journey to Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

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On arrival we were certainly impressed by the look of the hotel where a lovely pathway led us through the gorgeous front garden toward the hotel entrance. At this point I instantly felt that we were in for a real treat staying here.

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Entering the reception, I noticed it was well stocked with leaflets and literature regarding local attractions. We were quickly checked in by friendly staff who confirmed our dining preference before escorting us to our suite and explaining the hotel facilities along the way.

Our accommodation, the Skipton Suite, was located on the ground floor with sweeping views across the hayfields from the separate lounge area.

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The spacious suite was neutrally decorated with quality oak furnishings providing a classic country feel. We felt immediately at home in the comfortable lounge which featured a flat screen TV and music system. Complimentary bottles of still and sparkling water were a welcome touch.

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Centre stage in the bedroom was a gorgeous king size sleigh bed which was longer than some we’ve slept in making it comfortable for Ron who’s tall. The storage was impressively plentiful too, making this ideal for a longer stay.

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The luxurious feel continued into the fantastic bathroom. I was delighted to see one of my favourite features, a twin vanity area along with a lovely deep bath, walk in rainfall shower and a plentiful supply of quality toiletries from Gilchrist and Soames.

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Tempting as it was to just relax in our suite, we were eager to explore the beautiful hotel grounds which feature well maintained gardens and courtyards.

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It is evident the gardens are designed to be fully enjoyed by guests. There are numerous well placed seating areas to enjoy a relaxing drink, the company of friends or to read the Sunday papers as we did.

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Pathways featuring rose covered pagodas lead you around the gardens toward interesting sculptures and views of the surrounding countryside.

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As we’d checked in early afternoon we decided to relax in the bar/lounge area which was comfortably furnished and featured a welcoming inglenook fireplace. It’s a great place for a social gathering or relaxing conversation.  The Bistro can be found just off the bar area too. We found the drinks to be reasonably priced and  chatted with staff who were very friendly including Jay, the operations manager, who explained the hotel has just had plans approved for a luxury Spa at the Hotel. I’m sure this will be a popular facility once completed.

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After spending the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the comfort of our suite we headed to the Courtyard Restaurant, our choice for our evening meal.

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We were shown to the lounge area by Jay where we made our choices from the menu. While the description of the dishes was unusual, we were offered an explanation of any dishes when presented with the menu.  The restaurant, with its vaulted beamed ceiling, wonderful feature tree and courtyard views, felt like a special place to dine.

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On being shown to our table, I noticed the tables were well spaced out allowing for great conversation. This restaurant, which is recommended in the Michelin Guide, is known for its innovative menus and the quality of its food and is regarded by many as the best restaurant on the Yorkshire coast. The restaurant holds 2 AA Rosettes for culinary excellence and head chef David has worked in top Michelin star restaurants.

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David has an ethos of creating simple dishes that showcase the flavours from ingredients which are mainly locally sourced. We certainly agreed that all our courses were wonderfully flavoursome and of a size that allowed us to enjoy all three courses along with Amuse Bouche and great bread with homemade butter.IMG_8175 (3).JPG

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I enjoyed: Yorkshire Carrots with Hay, Goats Curd and Olive; 100 Day Salt Aged Beef with Onion, Miso and Seaweed; Opal White Chocolate with Vanilla and Green Tea

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Ron enjoyed: Pig Head with Preserved Vegetable, Apple and Coriander; North Sea Pollock with Leek & Potato, Yeast and Hens Egg; The Summer Pudding with Clotted Cream

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The Courtyard Restaurant has a lovely atmosphere which added to our wonderful dining experience and I can understand why it is so popular. Feeling relaxed and happy we headed back to our beautiful suite.

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Following a great night’s sleep, helped I’m sure by the quality bedding, we arose to the peace and tranquility of our countryside setting. We headed off for an early breakfast to allow time to enjoy the gardens. This was served in the Courtyard Restaurant and offered a simple but inviting continental buffet to compliment the hot breakfast menu. Ron chose the full Yorkshire breakfast while I opted for an omelette which we enjoyed immensely along with the quality fresh coffee…perfect!

We collected our pre-ordered newspaper from the reception and headed into the garden to enjoy a relaxing read. We’d got our eye on the perfect spot the day before and fortunately for us no one had beat us to it!

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Looking out over the peaceful gardens, we could easily have spent the whole morning enjoying the tranquility of our gorgeous setting however, we had an hour and a half drive to get back home to attend a surprise birthday party that afternoon, so feeling both disappointed to leave mixed with looking forward to the party, we said our goodbyes to Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

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I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone looking for a relaxing break, to explore the surrounding area or host a celebration. Ron and I even mused that it would be amazing to hire the full hotel for a special celebration for family and friends.

Have you visited Ox Pasture Hall Hotel or enjoyed special days out in North Yorkshire? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks for reading and bye for now, June xx

Our stay and meals at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel were complimentary in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dumfries and Galloway

Putting the ‘Bonnie’ into Scotland!

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I’m always saying I’d love to see more of Scotland, another country that’s can be reached in under 2 hours from where I live, but like many others, I let my travels take me abroad to guarantee some warm weather to accompany my cultural experience.

So after spotting a 2 night hotel deal, we booked a stay in the Dumfries and Galloway (D&G) region and after visiting areas mainly to the east, I was looking forward to be heading west.

The route we took was a bit unconventional due to hubby’s work and saw us travel from Wearside to Belford in Northumberland then through Northumberland Park before joining the A69 to Carlisle and onwards. This meant a lovely little stop over for me at Sunnyhills Farm Shop and Café to enjoy coffee, cake and a bit glossy magazine reading to pass the time. The café had a welcoming atmosphere with views across the countryside and served good quality coffee (and free refills which was unexpected but great as I was there a while) and the cake portion was so generous I actually kept half for Ron.

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I’d love to say something positive about the next part of our journey as we were driving through the beautiful Northumberland National Park however, car trouble put paid to that! So concentration was the order of the day and our car, which has never let us down, tried its very best and managed to get us to within 100 yards of our hotel before coming to a halt. I won’t bore you with the details but I’m happy to say our recovery service were amazing, providing us with a nifty hire car and taking our beloved car back home. So on with the weekend.

We were staying at the Hetland Hall Hotel and while it needed some updating  it more than made up for it with fantastic service, wonderful food and some of the friendliest staff I’ve come across.

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We decided to meander our way to the Solway Firth, a designated coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and our first stop was Sweetheart Abbey in the Village of New Abbey. This pretty village was voted Best Small village in Scotland 2012 and a stroll around revealed sights which will have helped it take the title, including cottages with quaint kerb appeal and a tranquil Mill Pond with its sun dappled water and seating for a moments quiet reflection.

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The 13th century Abbey, though partially ruined, has a quiet beauty to it and is bound with a story of enduring love. Following the death of her husband Lord John Balliol, Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway had her husband’s heart embalmed and placed in an ornate ivory casket which she carried wherever she went.  The abbey was founded by Dervorgilla in his memory, and named Dulce Cor (Latin for ‘Sweet Heart’). When she too died, Dervorgilla was laid to rest in front of the abbey church’s high altar, clutching her husband’s heart to her bosom.

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The Abbey was a recommendation from Abbey Cottage Tearoom after I mentioned my upcoming visit on Instagram, so where better to enjoy a coffee before continuing our journey. We relaxed in their sunny courtyard garden and although we didn’t eat here, the food being served at other tables looked lovely and the staff we’re welcoming and friendly. I would certainly return.

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I must add at this point that I had downloaded a nifty little app from ‘Welcome to Scotland’ (as mentioned in the hotel literature). This was an invaluable source of information and a quick look during coffee had shown us that Rockcliffe would be a nice place to visit and do some walking. On the way we spotted a large advertising board in a field for The Steamboat Inn and with its promise of fresh seafood we found ourselves heading for Carsethorne.

Carsethorne is a small ‘one way in and out’ fishing village on the banks of the Solway. The Inn was full of character and packed full of coastal and countryside ‘nick nacks’ and the outdoor space on the edge of the water was a relaxing area with floral displays, plenty of seating and shady umbrellas. It was sunny but breezy so we opted to eat inside and sat in deep armchairs beside the unlit fire (it still felt cosy though) and because of our seating arrangement we decided on the sharing platter of various seafood items, chicken, wedges and dips. It was all very nice but I’ve no photo to show you so you’ll have to take my word for it.

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We headed outside to finish our drinks and sat marveling at the vastness of the Solway Firth and beauty of the countryside surrounding it. Then, feeling pleased with ourselves that our chance culinary find had turned out to be a good decision, we headed to Rockcliffe.

Rockcliffe is a very small coastal village situated on the eastern side of the river Urr estuary and on arrival we could see immediately that we’d made a good choice. The small car park had a very useful information point and a short stroll led us to a shore that was stunningly beautiful.

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At low tide the water is so shallow there’s not even a ripple and it seems frozen in time plus the firm mud and a natural causeway means it’s possible to walk over to Rough Island however, it’s important to check the tide tables in advance.

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We opted to walk one of the circular routes to Kippford and back. This was an easy to moderate walk of approx. 3.25 miles on well signed and maintained footpaths throwing up beautiful scenery along the way along with gorgeous houses and gardens.

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We definitely had a touch of ‘location envy’ and we weren’t alone in enjoying this area with people passing us at intervals and all with a friendly greeting.

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What I wasn’t expecting was a ghoulish hidden Grotto full of items not out of place in a ‘Ghost Train’ ride. So was the sense of humour of one local who had opened up this little part of his land to the passing public.

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Walking into Kippford was one of those ‘who’d have thought this place was here’ moments as we were met with whitewashed cottages, a harbour of sailing boats, cafes and a pub! Yes a Pub! I mean, don’t we all dream of a lovely country pub at the end of a lovely walk? Well, halfway through in this case but we like a pit stop! and so we had one at the Anchor Hotel. It was lovely to sit outside the in the sun and take in the ever changing  green of the landscape as the sun and clouds tussled with each other in the sky. We even had a bit of company!

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The return part of the walk would take us along the Jubilee Path on more elevated ground away from the water but just as pleasant. At the end of this walk we mused about how lovely it must be to live somewhere like this, and at that point I realised I was in danger of checking out Rightmove and hauling my belongings across the border!

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The joys of the day had taken its toll so relaxation was the order of the evening with room service food (again so tasty and well presented) a few drinkies.

The following morning after waving bye bye to our car, which was being transported back home, we decided the head back in the direction we came and pay a visit to Gretna Green. Even though I’d heard it had become very commercial since its humble beginnings I still had to visit the site of many an elopement, a beacon of hope for many and the end point of many a carriage chase…The Blacksmiths Cottage!

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Yes, it is very busy with tourists in abundance but I must admit the whole ‘complex’ as I’ll call it is very well designed, looks nice and welcoming and has lots of shops and facilities. However, I was only really interested in the history of The Blacksmiths Cottage so headed straight for the Gretna Green Story Exhibition. Here the story was brought to life and with interactive elements, story boards, memorabilia and more. For me though, just to stand there in the spots where so many hearts had been united in love was worth the visit for me.  I could feel something special about the place and even shared a couple of quick kisses with Ron while holding hands and striking the famous anvils (there’s more than one and the original is housed in a glass case).

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We’d didn’t hang around to find each other again in the Courtship Maze or shop for souvenirs instead choosing to drive to Carlisle as I’d not been there before.

To be honest I don’t even have a photograph from Carlisle. It wasn’t easy to find your way to the car parking and even the castle didn’t inspire me to walk up to its walls (I LOVE castles, but strangely this one held no draw for me, was it not picturesque enough after the beauty of the D&G? Was I just weary, I can’t put my finger on it)? A quick walk around the town centre had me impressed with Carlisle as a great place for a day of shopping and lunch with friends, with its many eateries, al fresco seating and a good mixture of shops.

We had such a great time that heading home we were already talking of a return to D&G. We’d like to visit areas including Kirkcudbright, known as the Artists’ Town and the Galloway Forest Park which is a haven for walkers, cyclists, adventurers and Dark Skies enthusiasts.

If you’ve visited any of the areas I’ve enjoyed/plan to visit or have any recommendations let me know. Did you or someone you know get married at Gretna Green? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks again for reading, bye for now. June xx

 

 

My Holiday Keepsakes

…and the ‘Beach Hut’ full of travel treasures!

I regularly bring a reminder of my travels back home, be that an entry ticket to a fantastic experience, a handmade craft or beautiful pebble/shell from a favourite beach. Whatever the item, it’s always a happy reminder of a certain moment or place in time. I often buy items that can be displayed in my home and love the feeling you get..you know the one..when you’re transported straight back in time, with a fond smile spreading across your face! this could happen when you walk into a room and your eye is drawn to one of your fabulous finds, when you pick pick up an item to dust or put on a piece of handcrafted jewellery.

Apart from the reminders of happy holiday moments and travelling tales, I love the individuality that keepsake pieces bring to your home. They add personality on our spaces in a way that some chain store items can’t (that’s not to say they don’t sell lovely things) and there are some beautiful treasures to be found on your travels at home and abroad.

One of my all time favorite keepsakes is this cuddly toy from a visit to Loch Ness about 15 years ago, not long after I’d got married. It still makes me smile and now my Granddaughters love it too!

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As far as interiors go, the ‘Nessies’ live in my Granddaughters room. Throughout the rest of the house you will find homewares from a variety of countries including some favorites shown here from visits to Vietnam: Lacquerware (Vietnam is famed for its lacquerware or ‘son mai’), wooden animal puzzles and a silk lamp; and from Tortola in the Caribbean: a Cat ‘trinket box’ puzzle.

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Some decorative items I bring back are smaller and usually displayed in the ‘Beach Hut’. No, I don’t actually own a beach hut, but there is a special little room in my house which has affectionately been given that moniker. I’ll let you guess which room it is. It’s safe to say it puts a smile on all our visitors faces.

The items on display come from places including Hong Kong, Mexico, Greece, Barbados, Curacao, Grand Turk, St. Kitts, Vietnam, and more…even Northumberland!

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My keepsakes find their way into the garden too.

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Of course, many keepsakes don’t go on display. It’s those little items which hold great memories, like a key card to beautiful hotel room, ticket to an event, a guide book, restaurant business card or a well worn map. Some people love to make a scrap book, for me it’s my ‘holiday box’ which holds a whole host of treasures from which I won’t be parted. I love to rummage through this box from time to time in a way that you used to look through holiday photographs, you know, the printed ones! This particular photo is for presentation purposes only, everything has now been piled..I mean placed…back inside!

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Jewellery is another treasure I often bring back from my travels and I have pieces that I wear often and always with a smile. Most are inexpensive, brighten up my outfits plus jewellery is a perfect way to mark a special occasion on holiday such as a birthday or anniversary. Here are two of my favourites which were bought just because I loved them: Bracelet from the village of Plaka in Crete; Hematite necklace from Samana in the Dominican Republic.

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Sometimes I bring back treasures that I can eat or drink (they never last long enough to be called keepsakes!) such as preserves, good wine from a vineyard or sweet treats such as Greek Baklava and Kataifi. Pictured here are treasures from vineyard visits: the bottle from a delicious wine from Italy and a (full) bottle of Cotto, a grape syrup from Kefalonia .

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I’m also a big fan of all things Disney and have some special keepsakes including these two: A fabulous Cinderella’s Carriage musical snow globe, a wedding present bought at Disney World for my husband Ron and me; and one of our world hopper passes from our visit during Disney World’s 25 year celebrations.

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Other favourites include this handwritten scroll, a gift from an artist during an excursion in Vietnam; a wooden strawberry I bought for Ron on the Caribbean island of Dominica which, when opened had the message I Love You on a sticker in the lid (which has since been lost) and was a bargain at only  $1 USD; a playing card which was used during a magic trick I helped with in Spain.

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I’ve so many fabulous finds that are special to me and evoke memories of romance, fun, excitement, fear (tower of terror anyone!!), fabulous sights, smell, taste and more.

I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing in some of my memories and I know you’ll have lots of your own. I love your comments so it’d be great to hear about some of your favorite holiday keepsakes.

Thanks for reading and bye for now. June xx

 

Northumberland National Park

It’s truly a National Treasure

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It was no surprise to hear that Northumberland National Park (NNP) was voted National Park of the Year at the COUNTRYFILE magazine awards 2015/16. The area is well known for the famous Hadrians Wall and Fort remains however, there is so much more to see and do in this beautiful part of North East England which covers an area of 1,049 km or 405 square miles. I regularly enjoy days out and short breaks here with my husband Ron.

I’ve always loved Northumberland. I was born and raised in one of its many mining towns only leaving to join Ron in Sunderland, which was actually a part of the old Kingdom of Northumbria many centuries ago.

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So, you can imagine my delight to be invited along, as a guest of NNP Authority, to experience  some highlights of what the park has to offer. I was part of a small group from Travel Massive (Newcastle) and our host for the day was Duncan Wise, Visitor Development and Marketing Manager for NNP. His friendly manner, enthusiasm and knowledge helped make our day a big hit.

After setting off from Newcastle with my fellow travellers, including Ron, we headed to the first stop on our itinerary, Rothbury, on a road I’m very familiar with. This time however, neither of us were driving so we could enjoy the fantastic scenery even more. One point to add is that the main road into Rothbury, the B6344 road at Crag End, has now been reopened after being closed for major repairs.

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Rothbury, on the edge of the NNP, is one of most popular and picturesque towns in Northumberland, It’s also close to many major attractions and the coast. On arrival we headed to Tomlinson’s Café and Bunkhouse, a fantastic base from which to enjoy the surrounding area with many public footpaths and cycle tracks starting only metres from the property. It is also perfectly placed for cyclists wishing to enjoy all or part of The Sandstone Way, England’s first long distance mountain bike trail. It’s approx. 120 miles/192 km long and runs along the Sandstone Ridge in North Northumberland. Starting and finishing at two of Northumberland’s most historic towns, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham, the route will take you through a landscape full of beautiful scenery, breathtaking views, historical sights and charming villages.

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The café is large and airy with a welcoming atmosphere and the modern rustic décor suits the building perfectly. We were welcomed with hot drinks in the comfortable lounge area where Duncan gave us an overview of the NNP. We were joined by owner Jackie who told us of the buildings origins, it was formerly a school house, and explained the wonderful facilities on offer. A tour of the Bunkhouse showed it is ideal for families, groups and solo travelers, offering comfortable rooms with en-suite facilities. 21 people can be accommodated over the three light and airy rooms of 6,7 or 8 beds. There’s also a Double en-suite room.  The communal lounge has amazing views toward the River Coquet along with a large TV, Sky and WIFI which is free for guests, plus a small kitchenette. The rates are purse friendly too at £20 per bed or £25 with mini breakfast, tea or coffee. It’s easy to see why it was awarded a Trip Advisor certificate of excellence in 2015.

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They also have a range of bikes for hire catering for all abilities and will soon be introducing electric bikes for hire. I took the opportunity to try one of these bikes and liked the idea of the little surge of power just when you need it. I enjoyed it so much I’m considering buying one.

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Leaving Rothbury, we headed to the Simonside Hills and Lordenshaws. I’ve not visited this area before and its beauty was evident immediately even in the inclement weather. Climbing one of the footpaths gave fantastic views toward the Cheviot Hills, Sandstone Ridge and the coast. The landscape is home to the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, Bronze Age burial grounds and prehistoric ‘cup and ring’ rock carvings made by our ancestors although it is still not truly known what the carvings mean. There are posts pointing to areas of interest, with QR codes to scan with your smartphone for more information.

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From Lordenshaws we headed toward Greenhaugh for lunch. We drove through the Grasslees Valley and Otterburn Ranges which are used for military training and are home to the second largest live firing range in the country. The ranges can be explored and have some of the most spectacular views in the NNP, although visitors should be aware that parts are closed when the red flags are flying.

We had a brief informative stop in Elsdon, the largest village within NNP with a population of around 240 people! NNP is the least populated of The Parks of England and Wales, having a population of about 2000, that’s just two people per square mile. Elsdon features lovely stone houses in a picturesque setting surrounding the village green and is home to a popular tea room which serves the legendary homemade Gibbet cake. Popular with cyclist and walkers alike, it’s a starting point for many countryside walks.

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We also stopped briefly to view the remains of a Tosson Tower, a Peel Tower built around 600 years ago as a home for the Ogle family and a defence against invasion by the Scots.

We arrived in Greenhaugh, which is one of those places that makes you want to move to the countryside. It’s only small but as one local told me, It the equivalent of their ‘city’ in a parish with a population of around 160 people. This area is home to some beautiful Hay Meadows which have an abundance of wild flowers and would be ideal to explore on foot. Our venue for lunch was The Holly Bush Inn which promised a lot with its Kerb appeal and it certainly delivered once inside. Passing a welcoming open fire in the bar, we were seated in one of the two dining areas. Both are decorated stylishly in differing themes. We were introduced to owner Mary and her son Frankie who run the Inn together. As well the bar and dining facilities the Inn offers 7 beautifully decorated en-suite rooms and a Stargazers Apartment.

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IMG_7324IMG_7310For lunch, Ron and I opted for the Lamb Stew using local produce. I love stew and this did not disappoint, it was accompanied by crusty white bread and was comfort food at its best, both delicious and warming. Ron and I then headed into the rear gardens as the sun had put in an appearance at last! The gardens feature a large fire pit and have fantastic views across the countryside and expansive sky, perfect to enjoy some Stargazing. At approx. 580sq miles, the skies over Greenhaugh are the darkest in England and were awarded Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark Skies Association. A quick chat with the chef who was enjoying a break, revealed how passionate he is about creating great home cooked food.

IMG_7332IMG_7334Returning inside Mary offered us desert and needing no persuading, we opted for Eton Mess (me) and Rhubarb Crumble (Ron), both were scrumptious and served at the large trestle table which is placed to encourage people to mix. It works, as we enjoyed a chat with a couple who were staying in the area.

In a nutshell, this Inn serves up great food, facilities and friendly service and I’m happy to say, at the time of writing I’ve already been back! (but that’s a story for another day).

Our itinerary took us next to Hesleyside to experience a new event known as Mestival

Hesleyside is the ancestral home of the Charlton family. Their beautiful country house is set in woodland and has grounds designed by Capability Brown. This made for a stunning, if not unusual setting, for a 10k fun run of mud, mud and more mud with various obstacles thrown in to add to the challenge.running-81715_1920.jpg

 

It really did look like Muddy Good Fun (as the promotors put it) and if I’d been younger and without neck issues, I’d have loved to give it a go. But as a spectator, it was great to see the huge smiles on the muddy faces of the participants, especially the kids, who were bombarded with water bombs by family members.

We didn’t have much time to enjoy the live bands and stalls but the atmosphere was great despite the weather. Sheltering from rain, we observed people taking part in games and even Ukulele lessons. We even bumped a friend who was there to take part.

Last stop on our tour was The Battlesteads Hotel and Observatory. I was looking forward to this for two reasons. Firstly, I’d already had the pleasure of enjoying a few drinks in their sunny garden so was looking forward to returning; secondly, I’ve always wanted to visit an Observatory.IMG_7359

There was no sunshine this time but at least the rain had stopped. The garden had been enhanced even more since my last visit and was very impressive! It still had the raised herb beds I remembered and these are just a small nod to the wider sustainable tourism ethos of the hotel. Beyond this, further gardens of homegrown produce blended into the countryside views and the Hotels own carbon neutral heating system, the first to be installed in the county, is discreetly tucked away.

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We were joined by Astronomer Roy Alexander who delivers the various Stargazing courses available. He explained that the Hotel and Observatory are located in the Dark Sky Discovery site of Wark Village. This combination offers the beauty of the dark skies with the comfort of modern day facilities. These include an inviting bar with restaurant, 22 individually decorated en-suite bedrooms and 5 newly constructed eco lodges.

Moving on to the observatory we were seated in the warm room, where you could help yourself to tea and coffee. From the very beginning, Roy held our attention with his enthusiasm for his subject as he spoke passionately about his background in science to the present day, before talking about the delights of the dark skies.

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Many people have a dream to see The Aurora Borealis or ‘Northern light’s’ and he explained they have been visible clearly on many occasions before providing information about apps which can help identify the best place and time to view them.

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As well as Pointing out easy ways to identify popular constellations using binoculars Roy then explained how to adjust them correctly before sending us outside to have a go. I also held a piece of meteorite and touched a piece of Mars. This thrilled me no end and Roy helped me photograph the Mars fragment using my smartphone and a microscope!

IMG_7355.JPGThe conclusion of our visit was an introduction to the centerpiece of the Observatory – the impressive Telescope, which can be set up for multiple visitors to use at the same time. Unfortunately, the rain meant the roof could not be opened so we were unable to take a look into the late afternoon sky.

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On asking Roy what he liked to observe the most, he replied The Moon without hesitation. He loves the way the sun, at various times of the day, casts shadows over the mood highlighting the landscape to great effect. I can honestly say I could have sat there for hours listening to his pearls of astronomical wisdom and myself and Ron would love to return.

The whole set up at Battlesteads lends itself to delivering a fantastic experience for both residents and non-residents alike. I cannot comment on the rooms and food, however the hotel is renowned for both and holds a Trip Advisor certificate of Excellence. Although we did not stay overnight, I can imagine it would be extra special.  We were so impressed that we’d love to return to stay in the Hotel to enjoy a real twist on Sleeping Under The Stars!

Plus, as Roy says, how many observatories can boast their own bar? who could resist?

 

Our tour was now at an end and we returned to Newcastle having had a fantastic day, learning new facts about the regions history along with forming new friendships. I feel that there’s so much of this area just waiting to be discovered an on writing this myself and Ron have already paid a return visit..

If you’d like to plan a visit there’s lots of on information on the user friendly NNP website including information on their Events.

Hope you enjoyed reading about NNP and if you have any favourite places in the park I’d love to hear about them.

Bye for now, June x

*Our tour of the NNP was organized by Kate, who leads our group of travel enthusiasts Travel Massive Newcastle, in conjunction with NNP Authority and Round Table Solutions. **Group photo courtesy of Kate.

 

 

 

Holiday ‘Night To Day’ Wear

Yes, you did hear right!

Now, I like to get the most out of my wardrobe on holiday for two main reasons: to minimise how much I pack (pesky weight restrictions) and how much I have to wash on my return and with that in mind I’m an big fan of Night to Day wear…yes that’s the right way around for me…it’s one of my travel saviours.

I’ve yet to master the effortless day to night trick that I read about in the glossies. I’d be more likely to be sporting the flat haired, sandy toed look! However I’m quite good at the reverse trick as I mainly wear things on a night which (unless I’ve boogied hard and got them all sweaty!) I can wear another day when out and about. Some of you may already apply this method, but for those who don’t its very practical.

That doesn’t mean to say you’ll find me on the beach in a ball gown following a cruise formal night!

Here’s some examples:

I’m a big fan of the shift dress as the shape is flattering and I find they are less likely to cling in the daytime heat. Also choose fabrics which are less likely to crease and you’re good to go. Opt for dresses which will work equally well with luxe accessories for the evening and more casual options for daytime. Of course this applies to all clothes.

Shown here, I had travelled in the red trousers which were perfectly clean and ideal for the following days sightseeing.

My husband takes the same approach as you can see.

What about sunscreen I here you say. I’ve personally had no problems with sunscreen on my daytime clothes (I don’t use any tan enhancing types) however, it does pay to be aware that all sunscreens are different. If you have a particular favourite or expensive item of clothing and you’re worried about wearing it with sunscreen, then you’d have to perhaps exercise caution depending on your chosen sunscreen.

So, the overall benefit is that when you inevitably have go come home, you won’t have as many clothes to wash and because you’ve packed lighter in the first place, there’s more room for your holiday souvenirs!

Now, what if you could reduce your washing even further? and give yourself more time to catch up with family and friends/relax before returning to work.

Many of the Cruise Lines offer a fixed price deal for a laundry bag full of clothes (prices vary but are normally quite reasonable). It’s not as usual to find hotels offering this type of deal although many will offer laundry services for a cost.

Now this is actually quite a fun challenge and has seen us roll T-shirts to the size of cigars!! its amazing how much you can fit in a bag when you get creative. Our laundry bags usually resemble a ‘punch bag’ when we’re finished, but hey, if its in then they’ll wash it (ironing is not always included). This is great if you are leaving the cruise for a ‘Stay’ afterwards or just to bring clean clothes home and save on your washing.

I hope you’ve found this post useful. If you have a favourite Night to Day outfit, I’d love to hear about it.

Oh! and if you ever see a woman in her ballgown on the beach…it could be me and means I ran out of clean clothes!

Thanks for reading. Bye for now.

June xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Flight Essentials

Where Comfort Is Key

air-84603_1920 Aeroplane and Palm Trees

I’ve been lucky enough to take many a flight to reach exciting destinations, including the big one, Australia to UK, so I know what I need to be comfortable on a flight. My holiday starts the minute I leave the house so the flight itself if a huge part of that holiday experience for me and probably most of you too.

I rarely sleep for longer than an hour at a time on flights but just taking time to relax or sit with my eyes shut can work just as good for me as long as I’m comfortable. It pays dividends to be prepared and with the weight restrictions in place for hand luggage these days it’s worth paying more attention to the items you carry on board. Here are a few things that I never fly without.

Dressing in Layers

I cannot stress the benefits of dressing in layers to travel, especially if you are heading for some much anticipated sunshine. Most people believe that flights are really cold (I mean, there’s a reason why they give you those scratchy, felt like blankets right?) well yes, they are to keep you warm but the temperature can fluctuate quite a bit in either direction so it makes sense to be prepared. Yes, it was freezing when you left the house so you had to wear your favourite chunky sweater and jeans but your body won’t thank you for it when you get to the other end. Nor will it thank you if you decide to wear your strappy dress and flip flops. So think of wearing loose separates that are light enough to wear or stash in your hand luggage to have you looking stylish on departure and arrival plus shoes without buckles or straps so you can pop them on and off with ease (ballet flats are ideal in case your unfortunate to arrive to rain too). Dressing like this is perfect if you suffer from hot flushes too. Here’s an example showing how a simple vest top and sheer shirt can be worn open or closed with or without a pashmina/cardigan.

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I went for the black vest top but the pink works well if you like your shirts buttoned up (clothes from Next)
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shawl scarf from Laura Ashley
Pashmina

These are fantastic to take on board as they are light to carry, still look good if they’re a bit crumpled and will help keep you warm when the cabin temperature drops. Lets face it, draping a pashmina around your shoulders beats the blanket hands down in the style and comfort stakes. You can ditch the cardigan on arrival in sunnier climates and step of the plane looking good with the added benefit of having something to protect your shoulders and neck from any harsh sun.

There are lots of designs and materials to choose from and these two  from Marks and Spencer are my current favourites as the subtle sparkle can be worn on any occasion during your holiday.

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Water

This is most important on a flight as it will keep you hydrated especially if you enjoy a wee drink or two as I do. It works wonders for the way your skin, eyes and even nails feel whilst on board and helps you feel and look fresher when you reach your destination. I drink at least 500ml but try for 1ltr or more depending on length of flight, just sipping it throughout (in 500ml bottles or less) As you cannot take liquids of more than 100ml through passport control you’ll need to buy your water air side. It can be a bit pricey in places however I find that Boots are usually quite reasonable. Some of you may not like the idea of drinking lots of water, thinking it may entail more trips to the toilet. That’s not been my experience and I see it as an ideal opportunity to have a spritz of my favourite facial mist as mentioned in my next must have item.

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Facial Mist

After many years using Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream when flying, I have been converted to Facial Mists. A mist has many benefits for your skin as most of them can be used on bare skin and over make up to either ‘set’ it of refresh it. I have normal skin, which felt dry and tight in flight so applying cream regularly used to work (along with the water) however, this meant removing the makeup I’d arrived in then swiftly trying to reapply it before landing. Some creams that are up the job on flights can also leave your skin feeling and looking greasy as mine used to.

My personal favourite is Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic Spritzer which is formulated to ‘revitalise, soothe and tone for instant radiance’. There are many on the market so there will be something to suit everyone’s skin and budget. You don’t need a lot so decant it into a 100ml bottle which will fit nicely in your handbag ready to use. My top tip is to take your spray when you nip to the toilet and spritz it whilst in there, more as a courtesy to any passengers sitting around you.

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Vaseline

This is a great all round product and I have a tin of Vaseline Lip Therapy in my bag at all times at home and on holiday because of its many uses, too many to mention here. On a flight apply it to lips and rub into nails to prevent them drying out, it will give lips a subtle sheen too (to keep your hands super moisturised pop a miniature tube of moisturising cream into your bag too, the type you get as free samples are ideal). Many people apply a little bit of Vaseline to the inner edge of their nostrils believing this will ‘trap’ cold giving germs which may be circulating in the confined cabin however it’s not known if this actually works.

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a moisturiser of your choice in a handy 15ml size is great to pop in your bag
Tinted Moisturiser

Tinted moisturiser is an everyday staple for me (although I occasionally flirt with foundation on an evening!) and is perfect to wear in flight. If you like to travel in makeup, as I do, the main advantage is that you can easily reapply at intervals without suffering the cakey look you get applying foundation on top of foundation. Using tinted moisturiser combined with a regular spritz of facial mist delivers triple benefits as you should arrive with your skin, makeup and you looking and feeling fresh. Once again, decant a small amount into a small container for your hand luggage.

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Clear Mascara

This is great as it stops you waking up looking like Alice Coopers sister! (or with Panda eyes if your not familiar with rocker Alice) It also tames eyebrows too. I love this double duty mascara from No7 but there are others out there from other popular brands. As I have my eyelashes tinted for holidays I use this most of the time.

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Neck pillow

I love a neck pillow on a long haul flight, it’s the grown up equivalent of taking your cuddly toy on holiday. Some planes have the little ‘wings’ on your headrest that you can adjust to support your head, others don’t but either way having your neck cocooned in comfort is bliss. Even when it’s not around my neck I sometimes rest my arms on it to read or nestle my ‘cuddly toy’ under my arm when relaxing.

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 Kindle/e-reader (or book)

I love reading fiction on holiday and will usually start a new book on the flight out. I prefer a kindle these days but whatever your preference and avid reader or not, the fastest way to pass the time is by reading a good book (or your favourite magazines if a book is not your thing). This added benefit of this pastime is the relaxation factor and it’s often after a good read that I actually nod off.

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Music (phone/ipod)

There is an increasing variety of on board entertainment available these days but you can’t beat listening to your own favourite music. If, like me, you struggle to sleep during a flight, reclining with your eyes shut listening to relaxing music is the next best thing. Make sure you have comfortable earphones too. I take two iPods away with me, my small one can be clipped to my clothes so if I do fall asleep there’s no danger of it slipping onto the cabin floor (how awkward is it trying to retrieve dropped items from the floor below your seat??!!!)

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 Boiled Sweets

Not being a fan of boiled sweets there’s only one reason why they are a staple on a flight and that’s because I suffer from ear pain. The change in cabin air pressure as the plane takes off and lands can cause pain as your ears adjust. Sucking a boiled sweet, chewing gum, yawning and swallowing can help. The last two don’t work for me so I choose sweets as once they’re gone they’re gone, unlike gum which you then have to dispose of. My usual choice is mints but at the time of writing I haven’t bought any for my holiday so I’ve borrowed these from the grandkids sweet tub – might just take them, you know, just in case I forget the mints!

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Hand Sanitizer

This is another item I have in my bag at all times but is an essential for a flight. The two main reasons are this: On many flights you’re in a confined space of around 200+ people and some may not have the same hygiene standards as you around washing of hands after visiting the WC or sneezing into their hands not a handkerchief for example; On some occasions I’ve found that the tray tables haven’t been wiped down particularly well, if at all depending on aircraft turnaround time, so a quick wipe down with a paper hankie and sanitizer is a good idea.

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Miniature Perfume

Lighter on your luggage (and your purse) is the handy miniature perfume tester readily given out as a freebie. Pop one in your bag and now that you’ve arrived feeling and looking great the final flourish is a dab of a beautiful scent before you pop on your favourite sunglasses and descend the steps ready to HOLIDAY!!

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There’s a BIG difference so pack your larger bottle in your hold luggage

I’ll leave you with a less glamourous, but useful ‘optional’ essential. I wear flight ‘compression’ socks (like pop socks) that help the improve blood flow and circulation in your lower leg helping to prevent swollen ankles, leg fatigue and DVT (deep vein thrombosis). If you for any reason find your feet/ankles puff up on a flight, these socks should help to combat that. (I have an old injury on my right foot and consequently this foot would puff up and feel tight, which not only feels odd but also looks odd when your left foot is fine!) So I don my flight socks, not the greatest look but hey the aisles are so narrow no one’s going to notice my feet anyway, and off I go….Sorry, no photo of me in these!

I hope you found this useful. All of these items are great to use during your holiday too not just on the flight. These products are my own and what I enjoy using however, I’m sure you’ll have your own favourites too. If you’ve any flight essentials you’d like to share, please comment below.

Thanks for having a read. Bye for now, June xx