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Exploring Blair Castle and Killiecrankie, Perthshire

By 17 October 2014 Life, Lifestyle, Scotland, Travel
Blair Castle through the trees

I decided that it couldn’t possibly by right to visit Scotland without going to a castle. The nearest to where we were staying was Blair Castle.

Blair Castle, Perthshire

Situated outside the village of Blair Atholl, near Pitlochry, stands the pretty white castle with a history that spans 700 years. The current castle is Victorian and the east wing is still home to the family of the Duke of Atholl.

We arrived at Blair Castle just in time for the piper.

Piper at Blair Castle

The rooms accessible to the public are beautifully decorated and take you back in time. There’s something a bit voyeuristic about peeking into the lives of others but, perhaps because I’m extremely nosy, I love it! Just like Through the Keyhole or the fabulous home tours on The Everygirl! (By the way, if you want to see how young, professional women live in America, you should definitely check out The Everygirl!)

No photography was permitted inside the castle, except in the ballroom but that was one of the least interesting rooms. The main stairway was adorned with weapons and there were stag heads lining the corridors. This was most definitely home to some serious hunters. But then hunting is one of those country pursuits that is still very much enjoyed in this part of the world. Deer stalking is carried out between July and February to both bring money into the estate and to keep the deer population under control.

After we ate our lunch sitting on a wet bench (picnics and Scotland in September don’t really mix!), we got to exploring the grounds a little. Close to the castle itself is the Hercules Garden. This walled, ornamental garden is gorgeous. It’s full of bright flowers, fruit trees, topiary and sculptures, all surrounding a huge pond.

I love photographing flowers. The colours always come out so well.

Flowers at Blair Castle

Blair Castle is sat within the expansive Atholl Estates. We walked just one short path that took us through ancient woodland, alongside a gorge of a river and inside a Victorian folly.

River in the woods Blair Castle

We just about spotted a red squirrel before it scuttled back up the tree. This meant spending a long time with our necks craned trying to find more squirrels but to no avail. We did meet a friendly German Shepherd though!

View Atholl Estates

Having spent a few hours at Blair Castle, we continued down the road towards Pitlochry and visited the famous Killiecrankie. Here at ‘Soldier’s Leap’ a fleeing Jacobite soldier evaded the enemy by leaping from one side of the gorge to the other. I think it was about 17 feet! Aside from being a place of historical significance, the Pass of Killiecrankie is a pretty stunning location.

Killiecrankie

Pass of Killiecrankie

Soldier's Leap, Killiecrankie

Before heading back to our cosy cottage, we did pop by Pitlochry but the shops were closed and it was starting to get late so we didn’t stop long.

Pitlochry main street, Perthshire

We loved our holiday in Scotland. This is just one of the days out we enjoyed. Have you been to Scotland? Where did you visit?

If you like castles, you might also want to read about Dover Castle in Kent.

Rachel x

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Day Out in Brighton – Lomography Style

By 6 September 2014 General, Life, Lifestyle, Photography
Brighton beach from the pier

In the spring, I was lucky enough to be invited to Brighton by Pinterest. They’d arranged a workshop with Lomography UK. As hubby will attest, I love taking photographs. I get that from my Dad. I grew up in front of the camera, loving the attention until I was about fourteen.

Pinterest Pin

So I got the 6am train to get to Brighton on time. I only just made it! We were introduced to our cameras for the morning. The lovely La Sardina lomography camera. It’s a simple film camera based on a sardine can, hence the name. They come in a variety of designs, this was my loan camera:

La Sardina lomography camera

Two lovely ladies from Lomography UK explained how to use the cameras and helped us to load the film correctly. It had been a while! We were then sent on our way to capture Brighton in all its glory.

I attended the workshop alone as hubby was working. Luckily, I was adopted by a group of friends who invited me to tag alone. We spent our time along the beach and promenade, enjoying the sunny weather.

Carousel at Brighton beach

Smoke House Brighton beach

Brighton Rock

The pinnacle of the day was lunch at the Palm Court fish and chip restaurant on the Pier. The meal was on Pinterest (thanks guys!) and it was delicious! I had battered cod and chips with mushy peas.

Fish and chips

I’d never used a lomography camera, and to be honest I had to Google what lomography was. It’s basically a really simple point and shoot, manual camera with a fixed lens. I really had no idea how my pictures were turning out, which is something you get so used to with a digital camera. Only having 36 shots is a bit restricting but it makes you think about the composition more.  I only liked a few of the photographs taken with the lomography camera but I think it’s probably a case of practice makes perfect. Not sure I’ll get a lomo camera though as the La Sardina is one of the cheaper ones, and it costs £50!

Growing up, I would take two 24 exposure films with me on holiday. For two weeks! Nowadays, I can take over 100 shots a day. Its pretty crazy really. Perhaps during our holiday this month (yay!) I’ll try and think more about what pictures I’m taking and then perhaps they’ll be less editing to do once we get home.

The day was really enjoyable, of course I spent the afternoon shopping before taking the nearly three hour trip back home. There’s also a write up on the Pinterest blog. You might spot me in a couple of the pictures! I can only apologise that it’s taken me so long to write about this experience.

Have you tried lomography? What did you think?

Rachel x

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A Walk in the Woods and Back in Time

By 25 August 2014 Life, Lifestyle, Outdoors
Purple heather in Joyden's Wood

I’ve not lived in Folkestone all my life. I actually grew up on Joyden’s Wood estate near Bexley. Many days were spent running around, cycling and generally exploring the ancient woodland less than 200 yards from our front door.

My grandparents still live in the area and yesterday we headed up there to enjoy a tasty lunch and spend some quality time together to celebrate my sister’s birthday. Having eaten at Birchwood Park Golf Club (tasty food if haphazard service) we changed into suitable shoes, i.e. not the 3-inch-heeled boots that I was wearing!

Rachel Birchley's walking boots

You can access the woods from the golf club, which is pretty handy, so we left the cars there. Following the footpath took us off the exposed golf course and into the shaded woodland with its dappled light.

I love being in the woods as you get a proper feeling of being ‘outdoors’. Hubby was like a big kid, swinging off trees, climbing up banks and throwing stones into ponds just so he could take slow-mo video on his iPhone! He even found a den!

Wooden teepee den in Joyden's Wood

The woods have changed a bit since I was a kid. The Woodland Trust has installed information boards and created walks. Previously you could wander around for hours and had to rely on your memory to get back out where you started! Now you simply have to follow the waymarkers and look out for the handy boards with maps on them.

Running through the middle of the woods, which is a combination of broadleaved and conifer trees, is the Anglo-Saxon Faesten Dic. This is a defence structure that would have protected the settlement over 1000 years ago. The strong dike is now a scheduled ancient monument and you can learn all about it in Joyden’s Wood by reading the interpretation boards.

Path through fern and heather by Faesten Dic Joyden's Wood

Acorn from one of the ancient oak trees in Joyden's Wood

We passed our old scout hut and popped out of the woods just up the road from our old house so we had a nose. Apart from the silver birch tree out the front now being about 50ft tall (it was once the same size as me!) the house looked almost the same as it did when we moved out over 13 years ago.

It’s really strange to see your old home that is filled with so many memories. But what I have come to learn, having lived in a few houses since then, is that memories are not attached to the brick and mortar, there are in your mind and your heart forever.

I’ve always been a bit of a ‘wherever I lay my hat that’s my home’ kind of person. I don’t tend to get homesick, even when away travelling for 9 months, and will quickly refer to wherever I’m staying as ‘home’.

Having walked through our old estate, past the shop where we used to fill up on penny sweets, past the library where I read all the Point series of books (remember those?) and the doctor’s surgery where my sister and I would go with Mum in the evenings when she was working as a cleaner, we headed back into the woods to walk back to the cars.

Going back into the woods to get back to the car, we left the past behind and walked back to the cars and the present. It was time for tea and birthday cake back at my grandparents’ house! We all sang ‘happy birthday’ as she looked slightly mortified! Happy 27th birthday little sis. God, that makes me feel old!

The next time we’re going to be in the woods, we’ll be in Grizedale Forest in the Lake District. In 3 weeks’ time, hubby and I will be whizzing through the trees on a zip trekking adventure!

What’s your favourite thing about the woods?

Rachel x

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Blogstock 2014: Camping, Blogging, Rain and Rum

By 12 August 2014 Life, Lifestyle
Blogstock festival

Last weekend was mainly spent in a field. But not just any field. This field is normally reserved for boot fairs and forms part of Aldenham Country Park in Hertfordshire.

Blogstock 2014 is the first blogging festival organised by Traverse Events. They normally organise the Traverse travel blogger conference but this year decided to do something different.

Blogstock was open to any genre of blogger but there were mainly travel bloggers there. It was really weird to see so many familiar faces, but of course they had no idea who I was. I’ve followed some blogs for ages so some bloggers are almost like celebrities in my eyes.

Blogstock 2014 my tent, the Lonely Planet booklet and my wristband

Friday at Blogstock

The compromise for my taking the car was having to drop hubby off at work Friday morning. Annoyingly this left me over 4 hours to do a 2 hour journey.

To pass the time I had a Maccy D’s breakfast and stopped at two motorway services along the way. I realised at South Mimms, when I saw the travel pillows, that I’d left my lovely pillow on the bed at home. Cue a wander around the biggest Tesco ever in Borehamwood.

I was still the first to arrive at the Blogstock site so I had plenty of time to pitch my tent and get settled in. An hour or so later, more bloggers began to arrive. Many turned up on the Contiki bus that was put on to convey bloggers from central London. Most of these people were staying in the already put up tents included in the tent tickets.

I am so glad I didn’t opt for this ticket. Seriously the smallest tents I’ve ever seen and they didn’t look very waterproof.

Friday sessions

There weren’t many people on Friday afternoon and not many sessions. I attended two.

Tipee session

The first was hobby blogging to full time “pro” blogging with Helen Best-Shaw of Fuss Free Flavours. It was sweltering in the tipee but everyone was listening intently ready to learn as much as possible from a pro. Helen’s ranked #4 on the Foodie 100 list. The main takeaways were to be professional in all your dealings, ensure your site is up to scratch, make the most of your ‘about me’ page, and include the best possible photos.

I missed the start of the second session as the first overran somewhat. Alison Perry‘s talk in the Debate Tent was how to get paid to write. There were so many wanting to listen that more chairs had to be found. Alison talked us through how to pitch to editors. The best advice she gave was to focus on ideas and not to give up.

 

Rain, rain, go away, come again another day

Just as I was about to tuck into my steaming pile of noodles and other yummy delights the rain came down. Little specks turned into sheets of rain accompanied by wind. Luckily, we were sheltered under a gazebo but the horizontal rain meant we were confined to a very small area.

Some other bloggers were under a very small gazebo and were trying to fight with some sides to keep the rain out but they ended up making a run for it.

Fighting the rain at Blogstock

After taking it in turns with an umbrella, to get to the tents to find waterproofs and wellies, we headed to the disco tent. The marquee had turned into party central. The organisers were offering free drinks to keep everyone entertained and the DJ was on the decks.

Disco tent Blogstock 2014

Being the party animal that I am, I went to bed at ten.

Saturday at Blogstock

After a night of rain, I awoke on Saturday morning to pure blue skies. I was glad of my kettle and stove when I made a cup of coffee to enjoy while sat in my folding chair enjoying the peace and quiet while the rest of the campsite woke up.

To get charged up before the sessions I treated myself to a bacon and egg bap. It was awesome.

Saturday sessions

First up Saturday morning was getting noticed by travel brands presented by Alexis Sitaropoulos from Contiki. Basically, it seems the way to get noticed, by Contiki at least, is to get on YouTube. They’ve been working with YouTubers on campaigns since 2010.

Alexis told us that YouTube is much more than just a video hosting site. It’s where the audience is most engaged. In the last few years, there has been a huge increase in both audience and engagement. As a bonus, there’s great potential to make money on advertising.

It got serious for the next session: from blog to business by Rosie Slosek of One Man Band Accounting. Rosie helps bloggers, and others, to complete their tax returns and keep on the right side of the scary tax man. I think I left the session a little more confused than I was previously. I think an email might be in order to clear a few things up.

Back in the tipee, about thirty other women and I waited eagerly for Andy Jarosz to help us improve our skills in his session from blogger to writer. Andy has been blogging for many years at 501 Places and is a renowned freelance travel writer. He gave us a great list of things to avoid in our writing including empty words, marketing speak and bullshit facts. I also learnt that exclamation marks aren’t required if you’ve written your article well enough. Avoiding these could be tough as I am more than a little fond of the cheeky chaps.

Next, I was intending to go to another session but to be quite frank, actually not frank, hank. Hank Marvin to be exact. A cheeseburger and chips later and I was feeling much better and ready to tackle the Hertz track.

Go kart and Fashion Galleries at Blogstock

Now I thought I was pedalling pretty hard but I got the second slowest time on the race track. Very disappointing. I blame the fun practise laps.

Next up was do what you love by Jeannie Mark of Nomadic Chick. Jeannie had us meditating and imagining our own creative space. Everyone else’s space seemed to involve nature in some way. Mine was a cushion-filled den. I don’t even think there were windows. Not sure what that says about me.

Back in The Fashion Galleries, it was time to hear Monica Stott speak. I’ve been following Monica’s blog The Travel Hack for a couple of years so it was strange to see and hear her in real life. Monica’s talk was from fashion to travel: working with travel PRs and brands. Although I’m no longer focusing on travel blogging, travel is still my passion and I’d love to work with brands one day. Monica’s talk has given me something to aim toward. Unfortunately, it seems that the dreaded networking is required. I’m not one for schmoozing but it seems I might have to learn.

I didn’t really fancy any of the other talks so I just hung out with my new mate Emily. We bounced on the bouncy castle, attempted to knock down coconuts on the coconut shy and had our picture taken at the GENLOVE fair sponsored by Generator Hostels. It was great fun.

Pics Emily and I

We also found the most comfortable seats in the field. The Expedia airline seats in the VIP area. We were asked to choose our dream destinations. Bit different, eh?

Expedia polaroid

The last session of the day was the future of blogging debate on the main stage. Sitting in a field with rum cocktails on demand was awesome. All we had to do was tweet. Unfortunately, it’s also the last time I remember seeing my umbrella…

 

 

The evening was spent enjoying cocktails and chatting with new friends, Helen and Fran, before retiring to my cosy tent for the night.

The next morning it was raining. It was just drizzle until the time came to put my tent down. The rain starting really coming down as I was extracting the pegs so I hid inside for about five minutes. I had no idea how long the downpour would last so I thought “sod it!” and decided to just get out there and get the tent down.

The minute I stepped outside the tent, the rain came down even harder and I was soaked through to my skin within mere minutes. There was nothing I could do except laugh and carry on. I ended up driving home in my wellies, dripping wet.

Aside from being slightly soggy, it was a fantastic weekend. And, it’s given me the kick up the backside that I was after. Roll on Blogstock 2015!

Rachel x

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Camping Packing List: What I’m Taking to Blogstock

By 5 August 2014 Life, Lifestyle, Outdoors, Travel, Travel Tips
Camping packing list: what I'm taking to Blogstock

This weekend I’m going to Blogstock! Apparently, it’s the world’s first blogging festival and I, for one, am really looking forward to it!

Blogstock is a cross between a blogger conference and a festival. I’ve never been to either! The interesting part is, I’m camping for the weekend, by myself. Well, in a field with loads of other people but still, I’ve got a tent to myself.

I’ve bought a new tent especially. My tent is a massive 4 man one that takes forever to put up. There’s no way I could put it up by myself even if I wanted to. So, I’ve opted for a funky pop up one from Quechua at Decathlon. I’ve heard good things about these tents and am assured that they are one brand of pop up tent that actually doesn’t leak.

Quechua breton

Luckily, I’m driving to Blogstock. My packing list is pretty long and there’s no way I could carry it all otherwise.

 

 

Here are some of the essentials I’m intending to pack:

Essential camping equipment

– Tent – obvs!
– Sleeping bag
– Mallet to hammer those pegs in
– Self inflating mattress
– Folding chair and mini table
– Gas stove
– Kettle – I don’t want to have to shell out every time I want a coffee
– Torch

Food and drink

I know there’s going to be food available but I want to save a little bit of money on the basics.
– Nescafe 3 in 1 sachets – these are coffee, sugar and milk all in one – not the most amazing cup of coffee but not bad.
– Massive bottle of water!
– Pot Noodle – festival staple I think.
– Bread for toasting
– Cup a soups

Toiletries

– Baby wipes! I’m taking regular wash bag stuff too but baby wipes are essential for quick clean ups, removing make up, cleaning dirty feet before getting into your sleeping bag, etc.
– Quick dry travel towel
– Sun cream (fingers crossed I’ll need it!)
– Hand sanitiser gel – ‘cos you never know what the toilets are going to be like

Clothes

– Flip flops
– Wellies
– Warm socks for the evenings
– Cosy jammies
– Fleece to keep warm after dark
– Waterproof jacket

Optional extras

I’m trying to glamp it up just a little bit. I may be essentially sleeping on the floor but I’d like as much comfort as possible!
– Ikea rug I found for £1.75 – perfect for use as a doormat.
– Picnic blanket – I’m going to use it as a tent carpet. Yup.
– Glow sticks to hang from the front of the tent
– Cute pink pin wheel I found in Sainsbury’s to put outside!

See, told you it would be too much to carry!

Who else is going to Blogstock! Anyone else flying solo? I’m leaving hubby at home for the weekend. Please say ‘hi’ if you see me!

Rachel x

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