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What Not To Worry About #23

What Not To Worry About #23

Hello all! The North is expecting a heatwave later in the week and I am already looking forward to the following:

  • Pasty folk comparing their sunburn
  • Supermarkets selling out of disposable BBQs and aftersun
  • Seeing evidence of water fights on the neighbourhood streets
  • Constant media updates on the current temperature
  • Having the window open at night to feel the breeze coming in

 

While I will be gasping in the office this week, I’ll also be planning a weekend filled with activities so I can make the most of every sun-filled moment. The weekends have been fairly quiet recently and it isn’t until Sunday evening, faced with the horrors of the Monday ahead of me, that I realise that I’ve been slacking.

 

Last weekend was especially quiet with the highlight being a morning spent researching for this post followed by an afternoon skiddling with my camera. It was one of those days where the rain kept threatening to pour which made it very easy to seek refuge inside and do a spot of pottering. Now that the evenings are well and truly stretching, we hadn’t realised the time until it was 7pm and we’d barely moved all day! We decided to take ourselves home to Armagh for the night to catch up with family so we felt like we’d accomplished something with our day. No complaints though since we were fed pretty much constantly!

 

I suppose there is nothing wrong with a weekend spent indoors but with the Irish summer lasting all of about a minute, it’s best to savour the dry bits to prevent some bitter regret on a cold October evening. With that in mind I’m thinking of making an Irish-specific summer bucket list so keep your eyes peeled for that later this week!

 

In the meantime, here is my weekly roundup of the little irks and quirks that I am choosing to let go of this week…

 

Spiders

I mentioned in this post how the influx of flies has been an unwelcome sign of the summer but now the spiders have decided to seek refuge in every room of the house. I can’t bring myself to kill them so I’ll try and pretend they’re not here until they move and then I’m on the other side of the room.

Ice Cream Van Music

Why does it have to be so creepy?? I swear they’ve been playing the same melancholy song since the Victorian era.

The Sound of Nails Being Clipped

A fella in work was clipping his nails beside me in work today and I nearly heaved on to my desk. Keep the personal grooming at home please!!

Baby on Board Stickers

The most passive aggressive behaviour on the roads. It’s not like people would be ramming in to the back of you if you didn’t have that sign on the back of the car! If anything it probably incites more anger so please for the love of feck take them down along with them stupid family cartoons.

Hayfever

Ah yes, ’tis the season of a million sneezes a day and constant itchy eyes. I’ll be knee dip in Piriton until November now.

 

Have a great week folks!!

 

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My 5 Favourite Belfast Bookstores

My 5 Favourite Belfast Bookstores

As I push open the door, I am transported back to my great Aunt’s house in Antrim. I’m leafing through pages, browned from years of use and neglect, wondering who had held them before me and where they had been. But it’s the smell that evokes the most memory. The smell of adventures, laughs, tears and lives lived. The smell of dusty corners and forgotten words. For me, entering a bookshop is akin to the devout entering their place of worship.; this is where I come to kneel.

 

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In a society where there is so much uncertainty, exploring a bookshop can provide us with the solace that we are robbed of in the outside world. In here we can gain anonymity and lose ourselves in someone else’s story. When I read the first few pages of a book I wouldn’t have discovered while browsing Amazon, I disappear in the aisle I’m standing in. I can’t hear anything but the words of someone who poured their heart and soul in to the pages I am holding in my hands.

 

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Being relatively new to Belfast meant that I had to go forth and discover places to while away a rainy afternoon and I was delighted to discover that there were plenty of literary caves to disappear in. Researching for this post also introduced me to a few more places that weren’t on my radar before and I feel like I’ve been welcomed in to a new clan. Because it’s not just about the shop, the smells and the books. It’s also about the people who inhabit them, who strive to keep the place alive and reignite that flame that may be lying dormant in the online traitors amongst us. For these people have stories of their own that are worth listening too just as much as the books that surround them.

 

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With the Belfast Book Festival approaching (7th – 17th June) I thought I might share a few of the bookshops and the community of bibliophiles I have joined since I moved here. And it is a community worth joining since this wee island has spawned the world’s greatest scholars, bards, poets and legends. I feel like I am in good company.

 

No Alibis

Located in Botanic Avenue, No Alibis is an established institution in Belfast, most renowned for their savage collection of crime fiction novels. Dave, the owner, is something of an institution himself as he supports and engages a whole community of literary lovers in the area. He hosts a wealth of events; book readings, poetry readings and caters to the future Heaney’s of Ireland through Saturday morning kids readings.

 

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You wouldn’t miss the front of No Alibis

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Some of their beautiful displays

On my last visit I found a signed copy of a collection of work by Paul Durcan (for £16 quid!!!) as well as my favourite local magazine, Freckle. Noticing my purchases Dave casually informed me that a local favourite, Sinead Morrissey, was reading her poetry up in Queens that evening and that I should take myself along. I could barely contain my glee that I had met this man!

 

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Making trees happy

As I was about to leave Dave asked me what genre I was in to – a question that induces a cloud of panic to come down over me because I never quite know the best/right response. Watching my eyes glaze over, he handed me a first proof copy of an historical fantasy he thought I might enjoy. I asked if it was anything like ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’ – a beast of a book which took me months to finish but adored completely. His eyes lit up and answered, “Spot on – it’s serendipity, you have to take it!!”. And what he meant was for free. No charge. For a first proof! I stumbled out of his shop with my books, in a lovely cotton bag which was also a freebie, giddy with excitement that I might have just joined a community I had been yearning to be a part of for quite some time.

 

Keats & Chapman

What struck me the most when I walked in to this joint on North Street was the depth of the place. Keats & Chapman looks quite pokey from the street but the shop carries on down a long and book-crammed corridor right to the most niche genres. You could easily spend a day in here if you had the time and the owner Bill is well aware of that since he has placed a few random chairs in quiet sections so no customer feels rushed.

 

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The shopfront of Keats & Chapman

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And on and on it goes

The second hand books here are very well priced (usually around £2) but with such a selection you will no doubt come out spending more than you had planned. My personal favourites were the amazing collection of old Irish wildlife guides, such an Instragrammers dream! Although be warned – there is no card machine so you will have to stick to traditional cash to pay for the armful of books you decide to take home.

 

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Books from floor to ceiling

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A favourite guide!

Belfast Books

John of Belfast Books is a man whose passion for literacy and community is contagious. Born and bred in North Belfast, he decided to open a bookshop on his home turf as a way to engage the local community and to bring some footfall to the streets he grew up in. North Belfast is an area of the city that has been neglected in the past but it’s locals like John that keep the spirit of the place alive and there is no better way to strike up a conversation than over a decent book.

 

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The shelves of Belfast Books

John runs his law firm from the top floor of the three storey building and the bottom two floors are dedicated to the housing the thousands of books they have constantly streaming in. The shop is a sight to behold and steps need to be taken carefully as to avoid the tower of classics as you come through the door. To a customer this would be seen as charming but John explained how desperate they are for volunteers to step in and help catalogue the high volume they are struggling to cope with.

 

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“Cheaper than that South American river”

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Peter, a loyal customer with a love for World War aircraft books, stops by the shop for a coffee and a chat

And there really is something for everyone in Belfast Books. The shop is mostly known for it’s huge collection of books on the Troubles (hello tourist trap) but there is pretty much everything you can think of; ancient history, ecology, classics, sci-fi and horror (the latter being hidden in the back of the first floor like a dirty secret) which you can all buy using your trusty Belfast Books loyalty card. If that wasn’t enough, John also helps host creative writing workshops, hosts a wicked Twitter account, provides book reviews and is working with the community to start a farmer’s market in a nearby warehouse. North Belfast won’t be short of footfall for much longer!

 

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The Bookfinders

The outside of this popular student hole in the wall may not look too appealing but inside lies a gem that is infamous among the students of Belfast. You’ll find the overgrown shopfront of Bookfinders just a stone’s throw from Queen’s University which boasts a surprising collection of second hand books as well as a wee café down the back.

 

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Worth the hoke if you have the time! 

The shop itself is a bit through-other but if you have the patience and time to have a hoke then you won’t come up disappointed. It’s worth all the energy spent for a slice of cake and a big mug of tea to enjoy your new purchase – and try and squeeze in amongst the students draining the place of their Wifi!

 

Waterstones

I know, Waterstones is a dirty chain and shouldn’t be included in list of esteemed independent bookshops but I can’t ignore how much of an impact this shop made on me. I still remember visiting the Dublin store as a child and being completely overwhelmed with how beautiful it was to see so many books in one shop – on multiple floors!

 

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The Belfast branch is just as lovely today and I like to go for a wander on an afternoon when I want a few hours to myself. I might not be quite as likely to pick up a bargain like in the other shops (or be able to stay for a half a day cross-legged on the floor) but I am still as inspired by the beauty of so many books as I was as an eight year old.

 

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Happy reading!

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Not so long ago a friend of mine took me to a secret woodland that lay hidden from the walkers of the nearby park. We followed an indiscriminate path that suddenly opened up in to a cathedral of trees and a carpet of bluebells and wild garlic. The scent was incredible (and my sense of smell is shocking) but it was the colours that moved me the most. It was as if the saturation was turned up wherever I looked as the sun streamed through the birch trees.

 

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We were there to forage for wild garlic before we reached the end of it’s peak season. I’d been wanting to start foraging for food for a while and wild garlic was a good place to start since it’s an easy substitute for other fresh herbs like basil. It’s also incredibly simple to find since you’ll find the stuff in abundance in pretty much every woodland. Luckily Rebecca (an extremely talented photographer/blogger who took all of these amazing woodland photos you see in this post) knew the perfect patch that was off the beaten path and on a slope which meant there was little human or animal footfall which makes it a little nicer to eat!

 

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I was planning on using the leaves in my recipe but you can add the flowers to salads to save any waste. Young leaves are the tastiest so I picked leaves with flowers that were newly opened or hadn’t quite opened yet. There was so much to choose from that I came away with a basketful – plenty to use for my pasta recipe!

 

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You can use the leaves in so many different ways; pesto, dip, soup, you name it. I chose to reinvent a favourite pasta dish that I cook by introducing a few cupful of leaves hoping that it might elevate it a little. It definitely did the trick! There was more of a kick of flavour (I used kale in previous recipes) and the smell when cooking was delicious. Cooking with ingredients that I hand-picked made it a little more special and I can’t wait to head out and collect more before the season finishes in a few weeks.

 

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I would recommend this dish for one of those spring evenings that has a chill in the air. We know this kind of evening well in Ireland; after a full day of sun the temperature suddenly drops and we find ourselves reaching for the winter blankets again. It’s warm, filling and a little bit indulgent but using foraged ingredients makes it a little less shameful!

 

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Happy foraging!!


Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta 

Feeds 2 – 3 people – depending how hungry you are! 

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 x chicken breasts, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups penne pasta
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 cups of chopped wild garlic leaves
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in a pan over a medium heat
  2. Add onion and stir for about 3 minutes
  3. Add chicken and stir until cooked all over
  4. Stir in garlic and cook for an additional minute
  5. Add uncooked pasta, chicken stock, water, wild garlic and bring to boil
  6. Stir and bring to boil, then reduce to a lower heat, cover and leave to simmer for just over 20 minutes
  7. When all liquid has been absorbed, remove from heat and stir in cheese, double cream and lemon juice
  8. Serve with crusty bread

 

 

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Local Favourites: Hillsborough

Local Favourites: Hillsborough

OK so I was supposed to make this a monthly feature but I am still getting to grips with actually running a blog and this whole consistency thing – and it’s SPRINGTIME! So forgive me please? Thanks.

 

Up next in this not-so-monthly series is Hillsborough, a wee village that’s just a stone’s throw from the big smoke. But despite it being so close to Belfast, I only visited Hillsborough for the first time last year – gasp! When I strolled through the pristine, flower-lined streets I felt a quiet, simmering rage knowing I had gone 27 years without the place. The shopfronts are flawless, every door is a dream and there are cafés-a-plenty to wet your thirst in.

 

There are so many reasons to visit this wee gem and I’ve listed a few to help you avoid the rage I had last year…

 

Architecture

A bit like Armagh, Hillsborough is well known for it’s Georgian buildings with townhouses to drool over. The main attraction is the Georgian mansion found on the top of the hill which just so happens to be the Queen’s place of residence when she takes the rare jaunt to the North. Lizzie has good taste because the building is beautiful and you can even take a tour of the house and gardens if you want to see how the other half live.

 

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Hillsborough Fort is where the town started Colonel Arthur Hill built it back in 1650. It’s a good place for a view of the town and the countryside around it as well as some creepy gothic additions.

 

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I’ve already mentioned the beautiful townhouses in Hillsborough but my favourite street has to be Arthur Street where, as it turns out, my Aunt used to live when she was a young thing. The wee cottages and their colourful front doors is a good place for a photo opportunity (if you’re anything like me and can’t resist a pretty house).

 

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Of course you can’t visit a town in Ireland without a church or two and St. Malachy’s is a symmetrical dream. It’s a good place for a dander up to the fort and then on to the lake.

 

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Space

Right behind the fort lies the lake and Hillsborough Forest Park which I had no idea existed until my last visit. Within a few minutes you can find yourself in a woodland getting lost amongst the oak trees.

 

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As Hillsborough is only a small village, you can find yourself in the countryside in no time at all. Just make sure to bring a good walking partner with you because mine bailed and went for a nap in the car!

 

Eat & Drink

Hillsborough is the perfect spot to take your Mum for a lunch because there are so many places that do a good scone and a cuppa. Out of Habit is a great spot for a break along with with Humble Pie and Meet & Thyme. Really you could do a scone crawl and taste them all which sounds like an ideal way to spend an afternoon.

 

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If you’re after something a little more filling then the Hillside offers a bit more on the menu – it should do as it’s the oldest pub in the town. The Parson’s Nose is also a favourite for a meal worthy of unzipping the old trousers.

 

Shop

My Mum told me recently that she bought her wedding dress in Hillsborough over 30 years ago and it seems like it’s still a favourite spot for brides making big choices – hopefully luckier ones than my Mum (haha divorce joke)! If you’re not a new bride there’s still a few wee places to bide a while in.

 

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Every time I’m in Hillsborough I have to call in to the Cheshire Cat to have a gander at what’s new. It’s the best place to pick up a gift for someone, usually for myself.

 

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Twig & Twine is another place to buy things you have to have but don’t really need. The shopfront alone makes me feel giddy with the flower arrangements and the general loveliness – Andrew wasn’t quite as excited.

 

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I hope all these reasons are enough to entice you to Hillsborough next time you’re stuck for an idea for a day trip. If you have been – go back! If you haven’t – go now because there’s nothing prettier than Hillsborough in the Spring.

What Not To Worry About #18

What Not To Worry About #18

Hello friends. How are we this Tuesday? Feeling fresh as a daisy or did you reach for the covers this morning to hide away from the morning light? I’ve been feeling a little knackered lately and my body has been telling me so in a few different ways; cough is a little worse, I have developed a very attractive rash on my belly and I have been in my PJ’s before sundown the 3 few evenings. Hot stuff.

 

So overall I have been better but at the same time I have definitely been worse. There are so many wee things that are lifting me back to where I am happiest – a few little ailments won’t tear me back down. The last few weekends have been permeated with sunlight, the coats have been shed and I have definitely welcomed the return of daytime cocktails. It’s all good right here.

 

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Last weekend was a mix of good and bad behaviour. Friday was spent with friends tasting delicious beer at a local brewery which escalated in to a night of dancing and a few too many whiskies. I tried to exonerate myself on Saturday with a yoga workshop at Flow Studio which was nothing short of tingly loveliness. I learned so much and forgave myself for the debauchery the night before until I wolfed a chicken goujon supper after and then I was right back on the road to Guilt Town.

 

On Sunday we discovered a new slice of heaven at Mahee Island which blew lots of good sea air in to my lungs and made me smile from ear to ear. I love stumbling upon new corners of this country especially when they’re so close to home. Mahee Island is actually a part of a bunch of tiny islands in Strangford Lough and is only about 15 minutes from Belfast so it’s the perfect Sunday escape from the city. The islands are connected by narrow bridges with water surrounding every view from the road – it felt like we were so much further from home.

 

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Having a quick jaunt to the water is the best way to clear the head of negative thoughts and these are the thoughts that Mahee Island cured me of this week…

 

Hearing My Voice Recorded

There is truly no other sound that can make me want to pull my own ears off than the sound of my own voice. When I hear it recorded I try to imagine why anyone speaks to me or why I have any friends at all. The reason I mention this is because I have recently started to record myself on Insta stories and so the fear is very real but like any fear I just have to get over it and hope that I don’t drive followers away in their hoards!

Hospital Appointments

I have THREE hospital appointments this week. THREE. Three times I will have to wait in a crappy waiting room with nothing to read but Woman’s Own or ancient posters about COPD. Three times I will have to talk to medical staff who have been whittled down to a point after years of listening to the moans of others. Naturally I’m super excited about it especially the extortionate car park charges which I never seem to have the change for. But I will not let the negativity get to me!

Man Cables

Andrew is a hoarder. He hoards the most random of technical stuff which he stores in most corners of our tiny house. He thinks if he puts a lamp on a drive drive he can try and disguise it as a table but he ain’t fooling anyone. This week I decided that his pile of cables/keypads/LED lightbulbs will no longer torment me so I shoved them in the cupboard under the stairs like a good housewife.

Itchy Feet

No this isn’t another ailment but refers to my wanderlusting ways of the last few weeks. In my spare time (and by spare time I mean when I’m shovelling my lunch at my desk) I have been researching a new adventure and emailing Andrew links and ideas. He seems to not care quite as much and every evening I browse Airbnb beside him in the hope it might interest him a little. I think I’m just going to have to book his flight to the Philippines which I think he might be OK with.

Deseeding Avocados

Is anyone able to do this without fear of decapitating their fingers? I can barely look down when I’m making my guacamole! Scary business.

 

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And that’s it for this week folks. Wishing you a super lovely week filled with copious amounts of cherry blossom pictures and a little more sunshine 🙂

 

Local Favourites: Armagh

Local Favourites: Armagh

Up here in the North we have the fortune of having scores of towns and villages that can be so full of character and yet can go unnoticed by so many who may only live a few miles away. Cobbled streets and buildings older than Australia are just on our doorsteps however we choose to keep our heads down and take for granted what we have in front of us. I have decided to put some of my favourite towns in the spotlight to help encourage a little appreciation for these gems in our own backyard.

 

I live in Belfast but I’m an Armagh girl born and bred so I’ve chosen the Cathedral City as the first in this new series. Although the town is technically a city, the population is only around 15,000 so it can’t exactly be described as a metropolis. There was definitely a small-town vibe growing up here; I knew most people when I walked through the streets and I always felt incredibly safe even when I was a teenager running amok. Nowadays I feel a little more like an outsider after living away for so long but I think this allows me to see the town in a different light and admire the qualities of the Armagh I grew up in.

 

Here are the things I love most about my hometown…

 

Architecture

Armagh is built on seven hills which can be hard on the old thighs but can give you wonderful perspectives of the city and it’s countryside. The most notable buildings are of course the two cathedrals which dominate the Armagh skyline like two imposing grandfathers. Both cathedrals are named after St. Patrick (he was a popular man in these parts) however the older cathedral belongs to the Church of Ireland denomination and the younger is Roman Catholic. I adore both of these buildings for different reasons. The older dates back to 445 AD and has withstood monumental changes in Irish history – it even has a High King of Ireland in it’s grounds! The younger cathedral which dates back to the 19th century is also special because my own family history is tied to it. My parents were married here, I was christened here, made my first Communion and Confirmation here and I said goodbye to my sister all in the same colossal space. It’s gothic walls contain so many local memories within them and the intricate ceilings have my jaw hanging open every time.

 

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St. Patrick’s Cathdedral (The Older)

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral (The Younger)

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Armagh is also know for it’s Georgian architecture which can be best found around The Mall. The Mall is a public space with the Gaol on one end and the Court House on the other. Alongside it there are some beautiful Georgian houses as well as the Armagh County Museum – the oldest county museum in Ireland! Another example of some Georgian architecture is the local library found on Market Street where you can pick up a few spuds, a carpet and a bunch of flowers if the mood takes you.

 

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Georgian House by The Mall – swish!

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The Library on Market Street – a great place to people watch!

The Palace Demesne is another great place to explore especially during Autumn. The grounds are lined with trees that turn the most amazing colours around October and behind the palace itself are some gardens that many locals don’t even know about. By the gates of the Palace you can find ruins of a Franciscan friary which is a great place to take some snaps before nipping to Friar Tuck’s across the road (it’s a fast food joint so don’t get your hopes up).

 

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The Palace from the Palace Gardens

History

Armagh was named after the ancient goddess Macha (the Gaelic translation of Armagh is “Ard Mhacha” or “Macha’s Height”) who appears in a few different Irish myths. My favourite story of Macha is when she appears as a wife to Cruinniuc who boasted at a chariot race that she could run faster than even the King’s own horses. She begged him not to but she was forced to run despite her carrying twins. She won the race and gave birth on the finish line to Fir and Fial which means ‘True’ and ‘Honest’. She then cursed the men of Ulster to suffer her labour pains in the hour of their greatest need. What a woman!

 

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Armagh was also once the ancient capital of Ireland and you can actually witness a little piece of that history by visiting the Navan Fort, a ceremonial monument that was a royal site in Pre-Christian Ireland. There is a visitor centre here that has lots of information on the importance of this site and you can climb to the top and imagine yourself as a Gaelic warrior looking out over your lands. Or you can just take a wee photo for Instagram.

 

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Me pretending to be an Irish warrior

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View from the Navan Fort

Food

For breakfast you can’t beat a bagel and Armagh has the infamous Bagel Bean to ensure you start the day off well. There are now two Bagel Bean’s in Armagh on Market Street and English Street in case you needed a choice but most importantly the bagel you have to choose is the BC because it is AMAZING! They do some pretty tasty smoothies too in case you need to wash it down with something nutritious.

 

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There are more and more wee lunch spots popping up around Armagh including the Craic’d Pot which is an absolute gem. It’s not like anything else in town and to top it all off it moonlights as a wine bar at night – hurrah! Other great places include Embers and Rumours that both serve hot food that will warm your tummy in the chilly weather. The 4 Vicars is another wee gem that’s behind the Church of Ireland cathedral. It’s a tea room with quaint decor and great views at the back.

 

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If you find yourself in Armagh to catch a play or concert at the Market Place Theatre you will surely need to refuel beforehand. The Moody Boar is a favourite of mine even just for the surroundings alone. The restaurant is in the Palace Stables and the courtyard is just a little bit lovely on the off chance you get some good weather – and the food is super tasty! For a good steak then the Aussie restaurant Uluru won’t disappoint or The Castle Tower both a stone’s throw from the theatre for the wino’s amongst you.

 

If you are a hallion like me and might still have room for something sweet after a day of eating then please head to Macari’s for ice cream. The place is an institution in Armagh and I will forever have space for a tub of vanilla ice cream topped with melted marshmallow (insert pig emoji here).

 

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Armagh is not short of pubs although there are a few that I would recommend more than some. Red Ned’s is an establishment that is a regular for many in the town. It’s argued they serve the best pint of Guinness in the town and they have regular folk and traditional music in the corner to keep the spirits up.

 

The Hole in the Wall is another classic and has been voted Pub of the Year on numerous occasions. The pub is set in an old jail that dates back to 1615, hence the bars on the windows, and is steeped in history. The pub is said to be haunted but what should give you more of a fright is the pub’s pet parrot, Casper, who will scare the bejaysus out of you when you come through the door!

 

Space

The beauty of a small town is that you don’t have to travel too far to be surrounded by fields and silence. There are a few beautiful locations so close to town where you can shower the head and see the county countryside at it’s best. Since Armagh is the Orchard County of Ireland, I have to recommend a visit during the apple blossom season in May when the county’s roadsides turn different shades of pink. Come again in September when the apples are ready for pickin’ and you get some of the best weather of the year.

 

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Some other great spaces are Gosford Forest Park or The Argory which is pictured below – no matter how many times I was dragged to this place for school trips I still love it.

 

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Well that’s Armagh in a nutshell. If you haven’t had a dander around the streets of saints and scholars yet then I hope this post might give you a bit of encouragement to get in the car and make the trip. It will be well worth it I promise 🙂

My Top 5 Beaches near Belfast

My Top 5 Beaches near Belfast

You’re probably wondering why on earth I’m writing a post about beaches in the guts of Autumn, when the beaches are abandoned and avoided for fear of whiplash from the sea winds, but I think this is almost the best time to explore our coastline. There is something about standing on a beach, feeling the hair whip around your face while breathing in the salty air that seems to lift the weight of the world off your shoulders. At times when I feel overwhelmed and I feel I can’t escape my own thoughts, the only place that will subdue me and sweep away the worries is the beach.

 

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^^ Obviously not Ireland but inserted for my own torture ^^

I grew up in Armagh so the only time I got to a beach was during the summer or when we went abroad. It wasn’t until I lived in Australia that I learned how hearing the waves crashing against the beach could have a powerful affect on me. Any time I felt overcrowded when I lived there, I would get in the car and drive to the nearest beach, park myself in the sand and watch the sea pull back and forth from the coast for hours. It’s funny how at a time when I felt like I was drowning I was actually drawn to the sea to calm me.

 

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Now that I’m home I’m not quite as free to jump in and let the water envelope me like I did back in Oz but the draw is still there. We’re lucky to live within a 10 minute drive of some lovely beaches and I have been able to take full advantage of losing myself for an hour or two by the Irish Sea. Sometimes I bring Andrew along with me so we can catch up on our days and most of the time I will insist that I take my shoes off so I can feel the sand beneath me. Other times I’ll come on my own with a blanket or towel, watch the ferries slowly gliding out of the Lough and wonder how many people have sat where I have over the years, thinking the same thoughts and seeing the same things. Those waves have surely swallowed many tears.

 

If you’re in need of some inspiration, I’ll clue you in on a few spots close to where we are in Belfast and a bit further beyond. There are hundreds of beautiful beaches around the northern coastline but these are just a few of my favourites…

 

Helen’s Bay

This my hiding place. I will take myself off here and do a bit of a yoga, reading or just staring at other people’s dogs so I can play with them. Not pathetic at all but I hope that if Andrew sees my pitiful ‘I reallllly want a dog’ face for the millionth time he might give in. It’s only about a 10 minute drive for Belfast so it’s perfect for us city slickers when we need a decent head shower. Crawfordsburn Park is right behind the beach as well and is a great place to take cover if the rain ever descends.

 

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Seapark

Just beside Holywood, Seapark is a bit of coastline that makes a great wee walk and takes you past the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club – a century old institution with original buildings. Watching the yachtsmen haul their boats in after a day at sea is quite lovely and I like to walk out to the end of the jetty so I get a good view of our wee Belfast.

 

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Groomsport

About 25 mins from Belfast, Groomsport is a very cute village with a lovely harbour hidden within it. The beach is small but delivers just what is needed along with plenty of places for a wee ice cream after. Even if it does have to be eaten in the car because it’s Baltic outside.

 

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Murlough Bay

Without doubt my favourite beach in the North! It’s to be found just outside Newcastle so about 50 minutes drive from Belfast. It’s a perfect sandy stretch you can reach after climbing over some very old dunes and once you’ve reached the top, you can look up to find the Mourne Mountains towering over you. It is everything I love about Ireland – wild and vacuous that makes you feel like you’re the first person to discover it.

 

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Ballygally Beach

About a half hour north of Belfast, this wee beach is found along the Causeway Coastal Route. We stayed in a haunted tower within the hotel across the road back in January which was so beautiful. In the morning we walked along the beach in the freezing cold, blinded by the white mountains covered in snow. In the summer it’s a little more accommodating but I loved that feeling of numbness taking over my face and ears and breathing in the freshest air.

 

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So tell me, have you got any favourite beaches of your own that you escape to?

 

 

 

Down in the Orchard County: An Armagh Apple Tart

Down in the Orchard County: An Armagh Apple Tart

While I was growing up in Armagh, I never fully appreciated the landscape that surrounded our wee town because I was too busy being a moody teenager and showing too much enthusiasm for anything would have been detrimental to my social reputation. Now that I’m older and realise that I will never be cool, I eagerly await the harvest season when the countryside comes to life and the orchards, for which the county is known for, are teeming with fruit.

 

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Armagh is famous for its apples with the Armagh Bramley being the most common variety to be grown throughout the county. The history of apple growing in Armagh dates back around 3000 years with St Patrick himself planting an apple tree at Ceangoba, an ancient settlement found outside the city, so a love of apples is expected amongst those of us born and bred here!

 

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Luckily we have a friend whose family own an apple orchard so we are able to go down at this time of year and pick our own apples to take home. Picking or gathering your own fruit and vegetables is always so rewarding and being able to turn them in to a delicious meal makes it that bit more special. I have been wanting to make my own apple tart for a while so last Saturday we booked in a few hours of pickin’ down at the Glass Orchard just outside of Loughgall.

 

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Andrew and I drove down and met up with Marianne and Fergus, two lovely new friends of ours who were delighted to get a day out of the city and in to the orchard. Marianne is a photographer and all the photos in this post were taken by her. She’s got a great eye for it and has started branching out in to engagement and wedding photography so make sure and follow her Instagram page here if you want to see more!

 

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The weather was amazing considering it was the first day of October –  we had the suns on our backs the whole time and not an umbrella in sight! Even got a go being pushed on a tree swing which I haven’t done since I was a child and was like a giddy 5 year old as I was getting higher in the air.

We gathered a basketful of Bramleys along with some plums and a wee sneaky box of Katy apples that our friend’s Dad smuggled in to my car as I was leaving. Naturally my Mum confiscated the box of Katy’s the divil so I was left with a dozen Bramleys for my tart!

 

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We had a friend over for dinner last night so it was a great opportunity to get baking. I decided to try a smooth tart recipe – pureed apple makes me feel like a happy little baby and tastes amazing! It was also extremely easy especially since I was a complete cheater and bought ready made pastry! Please don’t judge me.

 

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The tart went down well thankfully with everyone although it was a little runny so bowls had to be used! Still so many apples to use though so I think I might have to bake up some more treats this week – let me know if you have any recommendations on how I can use them up!

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Homemade Apple Tart

Ingredients

  • 3 Bramley apples, peeled, cores removed, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 450g/1lb ready-made puff pastry
  • 1 free-range egg yolk, beaten
  • 1 Bramley apple, peeled, cores removed, thinly sliced
  • 75g/3oz butter, melted
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar

To Serve

  • vanilla ice cream
  • icing sugar, for dusting

Method

Hello Autumn: 10 Activities for the Golden Season

Hello Autumn: 10 Activities for the Golden Season

As a wee girl in school, my teacher asked me why I thought the leaves turned orange and fell from the trees every year. My reply was, “because they’re magic!” and to this day I feel like there is something a little bit magical about this time of year. There is a new briskness in the early mornings and late evenings that wasn’t there before and an air of preparedness seems to descend among everyone as we pack away the summer clothes and bring out the blankets, wool jumpers and scarves.

I was born and raised in Co. Armagh in Ireland, better known as the Orchard County, which may be the reason why I love autumn so much. Or maybe because I was born in the season (I turned 28 on Friday!!) but when the 1st of September arrives, it feels like we can almost hear the seasons snap. When I was living in Australia, experiencing that change in the season was something I missed dearly. I longed for the darker evenings, the walks through amber forests, the crunching of the leaves underfoot. There’s a reason we Irish seem to talk about nothing but the weather – it’s ingrained in us to experience all kinds of seasons and to look forward to the changes.

There is so much to do in the autumn, we just have to wear a few extra layers and have an umbrella within reach at all times! If you’re local or experience the seasons like we do, then have a gander at a wee list I made of fun activities to get you in to the autumnal spirit.

 

Go For A Walk

Now I understand that this isn’t the most creative suggestion but in Ireland many of us take for granted how amazing our woods and forests are this time of year. There is so much colour showcased all around us not to mention that it’s an absolute Instagram delight! Collect some conkers and jump in to piles of leaves to let your inner child be free and if you’re stuck for inspiration for where to places in Belfast, check out a post I wrote a while ago for my favourite walks here.

 

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Forage

It’s the time of harvest so go out and reap the benefits (with permission of course)! Armagh is home to the apple and there are plenty of orchards that will let you pick your own fruit to take home if you ask them. There’s also plums, damsons and blackberries to make jams and pies that would make aul Mary Berry proud!

 

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Host a Scary Movie / Pumpkin Carving Night

I love scary movies – LOVE them! I get some weird enjoyment from sitting with the blanket up around my eyes wondering why the hell I do it to myself. Hallowe’en is the perfect time to take advantage of this masochist hobby of mine and last year we had our friends Thomas & Rebecca over for a bit of carving too. Turns out Thomas was a bit of a professional and the competitiveness made it a great night. Will be doing it again this year for sure!

 

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Start a New Hobby

Spring is better known as the time to start something new but I think autumn is perfect because of the darker evenings pulling us indoors. We too often get sucked in to a routine of going home after work because it’s rainy and we’re feeling tired but having an activity which gets us out of the house helps break the week up and lift the spirits. This autumn/winter I’m going to start learning how to knit – expect photos of something resembling a scarf next summer!

 

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Visit Your Local Oktoberfest

The Belfast Oktoberfest has really taken off in the last couple of years with this year’s festival taking place every weekend in October – plenty of opportunity to sample all those brews then. I’m yet to have experienced it so I’m keen to make my way to the King’s Hall for a stein or 10!

 

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Volunteer at Homeless Shelter

Not to bring us all down but the figures for homelessness in Belfast these days are scary with the number of those sleeping rough increasing consistently year after year. However it’s not just those we see on the streets that we need to be concerned about. The number of those couch surfing, losing their homes or those vulnerable to abuse are also increasing. I’ve decided to sign up to assist the Welcome Organisation and help out where I can during these harsher months and if you feel like you would like to as well, just visit their website here.

 

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Bring the Autumn Inside

The Danes have a word called hygge which means the creation of a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life. I feel like I can definitely identify with this because in autumn, I love to make my home as cosy as possible. What I like to do is bring as many blankets out as I can for the living room, collect leaves and pine cones to decorate the table and fireplace and swap my art and pictures around so the colours are a bit earthier throughout the house. Andrew is just overjoyed when he sees me bringing more and more pieces of nature inside – not really, he doesn’t seem to have the same appreciation for dried leaves! Mel Wiggins, a fellow blogger, recently wrote a lovely post for the Smashed Avocado blog on how to create the perfect autumn table which you can read here for inspiration.

 

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Gather Your Clan

A roast is difficult to beat on those rainy Sunday afternoons and if you can’t meet your friends or family outside then why not gather inside for a feast to warm the bellies? My friends and I are choosing this option more and more now that we’ve reached our late twenties – we’d much rather sit around the table with a bottle or 5 of wine, eat good food and talk about dogs (to the dismay of our partners)! I wrote a post about what I cook for my roast dinner here but it’s also good to have a pot luck dinner where everyone brings their own dish because it eases the pressure and allows more time for wine drinking. Priorities people.

 

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Make Your Own Mulled Wine/Cider or Hot Whiskies

Any excuse for the Irish right?! I love curling up by the fire with my hands wrapped round a mug of warm alcohol. Making mulled wine is super easy and will make your home smell like an incredible winter wonderland! Whisky mixed with hot water, lemon, honey and some cloves are great too after a long day at work or if your throat is feeling a bit rough. Just don’t get plastered on a school night.

 

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Go To A Festival

Festivals aren’t just for the summer and there’s still lots happening in the autumn if you keep your eyes open. Culture Night is happening both in Belfast and Armagh this weekend, there’s also comedy festivals, harvest festivals, exhibitions. To find out what’s happening close to you, check out the Discover NI website here – don’t be tempted to hibernate and lock yourself indoors!

 

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Wishing you all a cosy, happy autumn!!

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10 Activities for a Rainy Day

10 Activities for a Rainy Day

You would think in the height of the Summer Solstice we would be frolicking in meadows until the late evening, unable to choose from an abundant amount of activities available to us during our weekends. Alas, we live in Ireland and the summer is fleeting and usually very wet so we have to be creative with our summer plans i.e. be very flexible or very close to indoors!

 

If you’re ever feeling at a loss of what to do as you wake up to yet another grey Saturday, I’ve thought of a few wee ideas to give you a bit of inspiration to get you out the door. If that fails I’ve also got a few ideas to keep you busy if you’re dead set on not leaving the house! Either way, having nothing to do should not be an option!

 

Visit Your Local Museum

The Ulster Museum in Belfast is right beside the Botanic Gardens but on a rainy day you might want to make a bolt straight inside. The museum always has a good exhibition on; right now it’s ‘Remembering 1916: Your Stories’. The exhibition celebrates the centenary of the Easter Rising and draws on the experiences of those involved in the Easter Rising including lots of local stories. The museum also has dinosaurs to keep the kiddos happy, artefacts from Ancient Egypt and a fantastic collection of modern art. Definitely plenty to keep you occupied for a few hours!

 

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St. George’s Market, Belfast

 

Stroll Through St. George’s Market

I love this market with all my heart. I go in to a bit of a consumer frenzy because there’s nothing better than buying local products and meeting the people who have grown/caught/made them. The atmosphere is always great; usually there’s a bluegrass band singing in the centre where you can find a spot to chow down your Cuban pulled pork sandwich (note: this is amazing and even more amazing if you’ve been out the night before!). Go along, buy some fresh flowers to brighten your damp day and restrain yourself from buying a crate of homemade fudge.

 

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Flow Yoga Studio, Belfast

 

Book Yourself In To A Class

I hate feeling like I’ve wasted a weekend when the weather has been bad and I’ve nothing to show for it come Monday. One way to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile is to think ahead and join a class to teach you something new. James Street South have a range of cookery classes teaching the amateur chefs amongst us how to bake bread or how to cook the perfect steak. If you feel like you cook enough during the week (I hear ya) maybe you could try a pottery class, yoga or even sewing. I have enjoyed a few sewing classes with Shanti at the Magpie and loved it!

 

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Explore Your Local Bookshops

This is one of my favourite things to do on a rainy day. I can spend hours upon hours wandering around the aisles, flicking through all the pages and, if they’re second hand, imagining who owned them before they graced these shelves. In Belfast I would recommend visiting No Alibis, Belfast Books and The Bookstore then bringing your new purchase to a coffee shop for a read while you watch everyone outside getting soaked – mwah ha ha!

 

Tour Your Local Brewery

Hilden Brewery in Lisburn is the oldest independent brewery on the island of Ireland and can be explored by us laymen who get thirsty on the weekends. You can learn about the local craft from the master brewer and taste the whole collection if you have the stomach for it. Molly’s Chocolate Stout sounds amazing! Make sure to book ahead on their website.

 

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Create Your Own Indoor Herb Garden

I have a windowsill which gets all the afternoon light and is the perfect spot for growing some herbs that don’t require an awful lot of TLC. The herbs I have had great success with so far are thyme, coriander and basil – all low maintenance which is an absolute must for me. I’m thinking of branching out to mint and or maybe going completely mad and getting my own little chilli plant. On a rainy day it’s a brilliant chance to pick up a few from the local discount shop (Home Bargains is a great place to start), get some pretty pots while you’re there and get to potting. If you’re feeling extra creative, get some clay pots and chalk paint to make your herbs extra chic.

 

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Homemade Coconut Oil Scrub – Recipe Here

 

Get Those DIY Projects Done!

We all talk about how we will get those chairs painted/cushion covers sewed/candles made but we never make the time. A rainy day is the perfect opportunity to get a start on these and make a whole day out of it. On my next rainy weekend I am hell bent on getting shelves up in our dining area – the brackets we bought in a sale have been sitting in the corner gathering dust for the last 3 months! Making something for your home is a great way to add your personality, especially if you’re renting like me, so feel free to release your inner Picasso!

 

Create A Den

Now I know full well that I’m 27 and that making a den in the living room may no longer be socially acceptable but when it’s raining and all you want to do is watch movies and eat salty popcorn and maltesers (the world winning combo) then why not? Get all the cushions in the house on the floor, make a tent from a sheet and snuggle up with your duvet and download all your favourite childhood classics. My personal favourites are The Goonies, The Father of the Bride and Cool Runnings – they will never get old!

 

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Bake Up A Storm

Maybe there’s someone’s birthday coming up, you’ve a mate that’s got the flu or you just feel like making 5 different kinds of bread. This is the day to make a complete mess in the kitchen, cover yourself in flour and eat batter from the bowl. Andrew has recently taken up baking which is a bit strange because he’s not known for his cooking skills (I once had to help him make a Caesar salad for which he’d forgotten to buy Caesar dressing) but it turns out he’s a great baker! I think it’s the scientific side of things that he enjoys, measuring everything out to the exact gram. Anyway, if it’s raining today, watch an episode of Great British Bake Off and go get your Mary Berry on.

 

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Make A Scrapbook

Last year I made a commitment to start printing off photos and keeping them in albums and scrapbooks rather than losing them to the social network stratosphere where they are forgotten about. I realised that if Facebook ever randomly crashed I would lose so many memories because I have gone through so many computers and hard drives over the years. Bearing this in mind I printed off all my photos from Cuba and bought a scrapbook in preparation for a rainy day when I could glue in all my photos along with bits and bobs that I had kept from the trip. I enjoyed this so much that I decided to print off my favourite photos from 2015 to make another scrapbook!

 

Good luck with whatever you decide to do this rainy weekend – fingers crossed our summer will come back!