What Mickey Taught Me (Take 2)

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For some reason, that I’m still trying to work out, the original version of this post was deleted from my blog. I stressed about it for an evening and tried to find it saved somewhere else before accepting it was gone and deciding to just write it again.

I wrote the original post in my favourite coffee shop during the ‘Beast from the East’ storm at the beginning of March. It was a post I’d panned for ages, but had so much to write about that I needed those days of unexpected time and quiet to be able to type it all up. I remember writing about it all did emotionally drain me. All those memories with so much feeling attached; spending days reliving them and typing them up in a way you guys could enjoy reading was hard but I was so pleased with it and it received really positive response.

So here we go again, hopefully it can be just as good this time…

This time I’m writing it at the beginning of January, in my pyjamas, hiding in the flat and savouring the last few days of the Christmas break. It seems strange that at a time other bloggers are publishing posts about their ambitions for the year and their new challenges, I’m writing about something that happened 4 and a half years ago (?!?!). But I think writing this and reliving the memories and achievements of my time at Disney will give me the motivation to succeed in this new year…

This is all about my 2 summers as a cast member at Walt Disney World Florida in 2013 and 2014. All about what I learnt, how it’s changed me and the memories that still make my tummy flutter.

Let’s go back right to the very beginning on my Disney journey.

Summer 2012, )the summer after my first year at uni), crept up on me quite quickly and I had officially no plans, except to spend a lot of time at the gym to try and lose my freshers weight. I did have a good summer that year, some good stuff happened while I was back living at home but I did pine for something a little bit more.

Walt Disney World was a holiday I did with my family a lot growing up and a place that means a lot to us. So when I found the Disney summer job application on the Yummy Jobs website it was a no brainer. Also, Camp America wanted a video application the idea of which made me cringe so that was a definite no…

I sent off my application for summer 2013 in 2012, so it is something you do need to think about well in advance if you’re considering giving it go.

To do the ICP (International College Programme), you need to be attending a UK university at your time of application. On this programme you can be placed anywhere in Disney World and have the option of lots of different roles, from housekeeping, costuming, food service, merchandise and attraction operations. (There is another option- the CRP  (Cultural Representative Programme) which you can apply for at any time. This is a year long programme where you are placed in the UK pavilion in World Showcase.)

In Autumn 2012, I  was invited to the first stage of interviews in Manchester. For the first stage we were all put into groups of 10 (I think) for a group interview. If I remember correctly, this was the first interview I’ve ever done and doing it in a group is even harder. I remember everyone fighting so hard to be noticed and say the right things and you had to really speak up to be heard and stand out from the rest. I was so sure I’d flunked it. Everyone else was linking their degrees to Disney, like events, management, business, performance. But, I was a nutrition student, and nutrition is not something really that relevant to Disney World, where even the apples are covered in chocolate, icing and sugar. So to say I was blagging is an understatement and I somehow was invited to the next round. By this point we had submitted our top 3 role choices and had been measured if we had selected character performance roles (height is really important for characters). I definitely considered it and was asked if I’d like to; I’m quite small so would have been in the main character bracket, but was 100% sure I’d be the character to faint in the heat or fall on a child so didn’t go for it. I chose to select housekeeping, operations and costuming. I’d heard on the grapevine that they think highly of anyone brave enough to select housekeeping and when I thought about it, it definitely had perks, early starts and sensible time finishes, air con, tips…

The second stage was a face to face interview, in Manchester again,  with a member of the Disney World management team. I was interviewed by one of the hotel managers who was lovely and made it seem quite easy…

There’s a line my cousin taught me to use at the end of interviews. When they ask if you have any questions, you ask if there is anything else you can say to make them see you are right for this role. It’s cringey and hard to get the words out but it has a really high success rate. And it worked! That’s still the only time I’ve ever managed to get that line out. It felt right for Disney and the cheesy American lady took it well.

The night the interview results emails were sent out, around mid-November I think, either rejection or acceptance, I was sitting in my student kitchen eating dinner with my flatmates. I checked twitter and saw a girl I had met at the interviews had tweeted about her heartbreak at being rejected. I knew my email would be in my inbox too so sneaked off to check my laptop. I had been accepted and offered a role in housekeeping. I can’t put into words how I felt in the moment. I rang my Mum and Dad (who blubbed like a baby) and it took me ages to stop the tears and face my housemates to tell them the news.

After the initial delight, it all seemed to calm down and in all honestly what was going to happen that next summer was far from my mind day-to-day. There was the chaos of uni and the sudden increase of work in second year and a long-distance relationship which broke down quite badly in the spring. I was also setting myself a lot of unhealthy weight loss goals, which were unattainable because of cheap alcohol and the 24 hour McDonald’s next to out flat. The fact I was about to move to Disney World for 3 months was far from my mind until a couple of weeks before we set off.

In around the April, when I was starting to get things in order such as my Visa and buying the things I needed, I realised I didn’t know anybody else who was going. I’d spoke to a few people at interviews and kept in touch but none of them had been successful. I emailed Yummy Jobs and asked them to send out my email so I could chat to some others about their preparations, they did and I received a few responses, one of whom added me on Facebook and invited me to join the ICP Summer 2013 Facebook group…

A whole new world was opened that afternoon. I remember opening the group on my laptop to see posts about me. People asking who the random girl was who had failed to make friends at the interviews, how was I only trying to make friends now and why hadn’t I been in the group all along? I had made a friend, she just didn’t get in and I just figured I’d make friends nearer the time rather than months and months before. I was busy enjoying my uni friends rather than trying to make new ones and I just didn’t know there was a Facebook group, hadn’t occurred to me for a second. Anyway, I remember writing a sassy reply explaining this and managed to connect with some lovely people I’d be going with. However, you realise quite fast when you get there, friendships will happen with flatmates, workmates and people you meet on this bus and often you never see the people you connected with online beforehand; not out of being rude, but just because you get placed in different apartments, different shifts, days off and you prioritise doing different things in your free time. I wasn’t so naive the second year and didn’t attempt to make any friends through the group before setting off. It all happens so naturally once you get there that you’ll feel silly for putting so much pressure on yourself to force online friendships in advance. I made some amazing, lifelong friends those summers and I don’t think I had spoken to any of them before I arrived at Manchester airport.

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Top Tips if you’re thinking of applying for a Disney work programme:

  • Loving and being passionate about Disney will help in a way, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. I know people who lived for Disney before who really struggled working there and people who had never been before or who didn’t really understand it who gained so much from it. It is a job, not a holiday, and really hard work. It has magic moments, of course it does, and is an amazing experience that I’d recommend to everyone, but it’s not all smiles and magic; there’s blood, sweat and tears (literally).
  • Be really open-minded about the roles you select. Think about the positives and negative of each. Consider the hours you’ll work, what best suits your personality, where you could be placed. And  don’t be naive thinking it will all be magic and glamorous. You could be in a fast food kitchen smelling of chip fat. But that fast food kitchen could be in Magic Kingdom and you can watch the fireworks with a funnel cake post-shift. It’s worth it. But I saw so many people leave the programme due to having very different expectations to what it actually is. You won’t be a Disney Princess, Visa limitations won’t allow it, so be prepared to be less than glam.
  • Swat up before interviews, read about new Disney World attractions online, read blogs from cast-members, learn all about Disney life and the guest experiences to really stand out in an interview.

At the end of May, in the space of a week, I went from avoiding revision and binge watching TV shows in my uni room to standing in front of Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom as a cast member in the space of a couple of days. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the feeling. I was in a haze of jetlag, sunstroke, excitement and disbelief. But there I was, in my clammy Traditions dress, standing in Disney World and about to become part of the magic.

Traditions is kind of  every cast member’s initiation, hours of talks on Disney history, expectations, the importance of the roles and a tour of the Magic Kingdom and the cast tunnel network below. It’s cheesy, very full-on and very Disney, but really does succeed in making you feel driven and valued. I completed Traditions twice, once each summer, and I still blub thinking about watching the videos of children finding out they’re going to Disney World and seeing my name badge for the first time.

For the summer of 2013, I worked in Housekeeping in Old Key West Resort. I was the only English person in Housekeeping at Old Key West and was treated like a bit of celeb, however, I wasn’t great at housekeeping. Well I was OK, I do quite like cleaning and it was nice to be working in air-con, in my own space and making rooms magical for guests, but I did work at about 1/5 of the pace of the Haitian and Latino women. I took on the role flyer, which is where you go and help the people falling behind the time schedule, making sure suites are ready for guests and adding the finishing touches such as Mickey shaped towels and cupcakes and delivering requested items to guests. I was given a golf cart to drive around the resort to help with my efficiency and to save my tired feet which permanently felt broken. Word even got around that I wasn’t getting time to eat at work and hadn’t been to the supermarket for snacks so the other housekeepers began bringing me food in. I was quite spoiled but I really did give it my all, I’m just not a strapping Haitian lady who can do things at 50 miles an hour. The main thing I gained from housekeeping was the cultural experience as the housekeeping team were phenomenal and were from all over the world. The job was so hard and came with so much pressure, but there was always quite a happy atmosphere. I made really good friends who made that summer for me and allowed me to experience something completely different to what others on the ICP were experiencing.

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That summer I lived in Vista Way in a flat of 6, 2 per bedroom. I shared my room with a Japanese girl who worked in Pizza Planet in Hollywood studios and who loved One Direction. There were 2 other girls from the UK in my apartment, another girl from Japan and one from Puerto Rico, its definitely enlightening living with people from different cultures…

My Most Surreal and Happiest Memories of Being a Cast Member:

  • In 2014, a month into working at Hollywood Studios, I was bitten by a poisonous spider while at work. I nearly died, but was so pumped up on adrenaline that it did take a while to realise what was happening and how serious it was. I finished my shift and went off to MK to watch the fireworks. It wasn’t until I was starting work the next morning that I really realised what was happening and was quickly whisked off in an ambulance to Celebration hospital. It was all very very surreal, particularly because Celebration hospital is nicer than a lot of hotels I’ve stayed in and I was fighting to keep conscious all the time. I was fine though, and I had a lovely few days of bed rest. 
  • I touch on this again later, but Jelly Rolls on Disney’s Boardwalk, because of that place I still go fuzzy when I hear Wagon Wheel, Chicken Fried or Piano Man.
  • In 2013, I saw an armadillo that had been struck by lightening outside my apartment building and in 2014 a raccoon tried to steal my bag of crisps while I was having a late night dip in the pool. The nature in Florida really is beautiful.
  • In 2014, while working at HS, I was given some firework shifts for the Frozen fireworks that were happening in the park that summer. On my first shift, we were told we were there to stand in the cleared areas making sure that no fires start from firework fall-out. A fire is referred to as a signal 25 in Disney lingo. We were assured they were very rare….but guess who got a signal 25 in their area that night? Me! What a drama!
  • Engaging with characters off stage, when they’re half in costume or talking normally through the head. I never got used to that, so bizarre. 
  • Extra Magic Hours Dance Parties happened once a week and luckily I was often scheduled to work them. For a few hours on an evening the Disney Junior theatre became a character party for Disney resort guests. It was definitely at these parties that I really felt ‘is this actually my job?!’ They were just so happy! I was basically paid to stand there and dance.

 

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I  was lucky in Housekeeping in that, although I did start at the crack of dawn, I always had evenings free. I used to spend evening in the parks, chilling out at the hotels or in Downtown Disney (which I know isn’t called that anymore but it will always be Downtown Disney to me). It became a bad habit to stay out so late that when I got back I would shower, put on my work costume and have a couple of hours sleep before waking up ready 5 minutes before I had to be on my bus. Burning the candle at both ends is an understatement, I’m not sure I could physically do that now. By the time my parents and brother came to visit at the end of that July, I was so ready for a break and to feel like I was properly ‘holidaying’.  I still had to do some shifts while they were there but just staying in their hotel with them and being able to get a Starbucks and a taxi to work on a morning just made me feel so much better and that little lift really got me through the last weeks. We also discovered Ohana and Jelly Rolls that holiday which I’ll go on to explain later- they were a real game-changer in my Disney life.

By the time I got to the end of the programme in August, I did feel very settled and couldn’t get my head round the fact, as hard and surreal as it was at times, this wasn’t actually my life and it was all going to stop and I was going to have to go home. That felt weird and I still felt I had some energy left in me so I changed my flights to stay a little bit longer. In those few weeks, I went to Miami with a group of friends I’d made on the programme, I went to Universal and spent a few days chilling by the pools at the Disney Resorts. By the time it was time to go home, I felt ready and like the experience and what was to come next was a lot clearer in my head.

 

My Top Tips for those who are successful in getting onto to Disney Programme:

  • In the majority of roles, you’ll be asked to buy your own black, logo free, trainers to wear with your costume. Invest in the comfiest you can find, no matter the cost, your feet will thank you so much. I also found it good to buy a size bigger as feet do swell in the heat.
  • Carbo-load, take vitamin supplements, drink plenty of water and eat fresh whenever you can. Working such long hours in the heat, partying hard on an evening and trying to keep yourself alive and employed takes a massive toll on your body. Look after it and give it what it needs to survive. I lost a lot of weight both summers and probably had the same nutrient content as a sock. Maybe I’d have been able to give it even more if I went to Walmart to buy some fruit and veg rather than having Mickey Cookies for dinner while playing in the parks.
  • Just before you arrive, you’re asked to select your accommodation preferences, and there’s a cheaper option of a room of 3. Take it. It saves you so much money per week and as you are very very rarely there it really doesn’t matter and trust me, you’ll be so tired you’d sleep on the floor in a room of 20 people.
  • The cast buses are (well were, they might have improved), a nightmare. They break down, get lost (?!) arrive late and get crammed way too full of sweaty, tired bodies all needing a cold shower and a sleep. You just gotta grin and bare it. You can use them for days out in the parks on yours days off too which is a plus! But once you get to one park use the guest buses, boats or monorail to get to anywhere else on Disney property (as long as you’re not in costume of course).
  • Use your cast-member perks. If you feel you need a reboot, a bath and a good breakfast use your big discount to book yourself into a Disney hotel for a night. Same for restaurants, it is hard to find time to get to the supermarket and prepare food in your apartment so use your discounts to eat out when you really need a proper meal. Ohana is my favourite place to eat in Disney, treat yourself to a night out there and watch the fireworks from the beach with a cocktail afterwards.
  • Spend as many evenings as you possibly can in Jelly Rolls on the Boardwalk. Jelly Rolls is my favourite place in the world. Some of my very very happiest memories happened there. From going with my Mum and Dad when they came to visit in 2013 and many times with friends in 2014. It’s a duelling Piano Bar where pianists perform your requests and everyone in the bar joins in the sing along, they will play and sing everything from Eminem to Billy Joel to Showtunes. It is the happiest place in the world right in the middle of the happiest place in the world.

 

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I wouldn’t say I was 100% sure I was going to try and return the next summer. Although part of me wanted more, the other part was very much, ‘no Kate, you’ve ticked that off the list now do something else’. But once Autumn came, I found myself sending off an application, I just made a promise to myself I’d only go if I was offered a role very different to what I did in 2013. I had to go through the same application and interview process the second time round, only this time the second stage of interviews was held at the Disney Headquarters in London. I stayed quite true to what I learnt the year before and was very single-minded going into it. If I got in again I’d make friends once I got there or reconnect with others who were successful once again. I was in my final year of uni trying to keep my head down and didn’t really talk to anyone about the fact I was trying again. Part of me did think I’d had enough luck and I wouldn’t be selected again, but I also knew I had an advantage as I knew the ropes and how to talk the talk at interviews. The night before my interview at the Disney Headquarters, I travelled to London and stayed in quite a dingy hostel in a 20 bed dormitory with a large group of Italian ladies all job searching in the capital. On the day of the interview, I didn’t really talk to anyone; that sounds quite sad doesn’t it, and not usually what I’m like at all but for some reason I did just have a real ‘head down and get on with it approach’. The only person I remember speaking to was the security guard in the lift while he was taking me to the interview room because I somehow got lost. It was an awkward conversation because I remember ‘Under the Sea’ was playing really loudly at the same time, which is strange because I ended up working on the Little Mermaid show that summer-maybe it was an omen. The approach I took for the interview was that I had worked my arse off (literally) in the resorts the summer before and now wanted to experience work in the parks. I made clear operations was the role I was really going for and it all paid off and that was what I got. When I found out I’d been successful, I didn’t quite celebrate like I had the year before, it felt more relief than surprise and excitement. Although I pretended to be chill about it, I would have been gutted to be unsuccessful. But once again, I brushed the my summer plans to the side for 6 months and concentrated on my life at Uni in Sheffield.

When April came around, it was Visa time again. This is a long story, one I don’t think I can type as just typing it makes me anxious all over again. Needless to say, this time it wasn’t so smooth. It was actually very stressful; I touch on it a bit I think in my Disney blog I’ll share a link to at the end. But the ordeal came off well and I was granted a Visa and returned to Florida once again for the Summer of 2014.

It instantly felt easier. I didn’t have the nerves or the anticipation or the fear of the unknown as I had the year before. I was instantly settled. This time I had vitamin supplements with me to keep me going and I told my Mam I had learnt my lesson and was going to try and sleep more than 4 hours a night (I didn’t).

 

Ways Disney changed how I work:

  • Being grateful. That sounds cheesy I know, and grateful is definitely not how I feel on the 7am 91 bus to work on a Monday morning. But at Disney, we all felt so grateful to be there and to have been given the opportunity after fighting so hard for it. That is something I try to bring to the work I do now- just feeling grateful and lucky. Whatever job you do, there’s probably someone else who really wanted it, so appreciate it and give it your best shot.
  • Stamina. I did 16-18 hour shifts on a 6inch Subway and a bottle of coke with a couple of hours sleep. I stood and smiled, did magic moments, spieled, said the same thing over and over in crazy heat with ridiculously sore feet. Now, I struggle to get through a day at work if I accidentally stayed up past 10. 26- year-old-Katie needs to start being more 21-year-old-Katie, I was hardcore back then.

 

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In summer 2014, I lived at Chatham Square in a 6 person, 2 bedroom flat. Three per bedroom sounds a squeeze, but was honestly fine and saves you some pennies you can spend on other things like cocktails or plush toys. I worked at Hollywood Studios dotting between the Voyage of the Little Mermaid Show and the Disney Junior show. I also worked some shifts in their Temporary Frozen attraction and fireworks shifts too. Working in the parks was very different to working in the resorts; both have good points and bad points. I loved the guest interaction within the parks and seeing the children’s faces when you do a magic moment or they see a character, but you do have to say the same thing over and over and there’s a lot of standing in the heat and dealing with tricky guests. I had to spiel as a part of my role at Voyage of the Little Mermaid which really pushed me out of my comfort zone and took me a fair few attempts to get right. Other duties included seating guests for the show, counting them into the theatre and quickly getting them out ready for the next show, dancing along with the songs at Disney Junior show and repeatedly asking children to remain seated and explaining where the nearest restrooms are.

Things that’ll never be the same after working at Disney:

  • The word ‘bump’. At Disney, when you get your ‘bump’ it means that someone has come to take over your position and you’re free to spend the last 15 minutes of your shift wandering, smiling and telling guests where the restrooms are. Bumps were a great thing you used to spend all day looking forward to. Now when someone says they’ve had a bump it’s my instinct to be like ‘oo yay’, but out of Disney bumps aren’t that great.
  • The smell of popcorn. If you know, you know.
  • Strollers! A big part of a lot of Disney roles is parking strollers for guests. I became a stroller expert. Even now I look at strollers and think how easy it would be to park, where the brakes are and how well it will turn on its wheels.
  • The song ‘A Star is Born’ from Hercules. It’s played around Hollywood Studios when the last guest has left on a night and it still fills me with a bit of elation, a bit of panic about completing the closing paperwork and a bit of impending doom about having to catch the last cast bus home.

 

That summer, I had more amazing experiences such as travelling to Miami to see Beyonce and Jay-Z and in my last few days of work my friends from home flew out to meet me in Disney before travelling around America together.

One of the most emotional moments of my life so far was when I walked out of the Magic Kingdom for the last time at the end of Summer 2014, and anyone who knows me knows I’m not that much of an emotional person. The fireworks had just finished and the Mainstreet USA music was playing and I walked away from the castle and out of the gates for the last time. I decided to do it on my own because I knew how hard it would be. Weirdly, I stopped half-way and asked a stranger to take this picture of me. Typical Katie- in the midst of the most emotional time of my life and I could still pose for a photo.

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Being a cast member and my life in Orlando is so far from where I am now that it feels strange to think about. I’m very different to how I was back then (and about 2 stone heavier). I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, a good thing or something that was just inevitable. The feeling of ‘Oh my gosh, that actually happened to me!’ and the flippy tummy feeling I get when I look back, comes over me often; when I’m cleaning the flat, on the bus to work, or when I’m tipsy in a bar. It’s always hard to put into words what Disney World means to me now. I know some other ex cast members still holiday there at every opportunity and keep up to date with new attractions, resorts and pine for that life. And I’m just not sure I do. It’s the most magical place on earth where my family and I have had some of our happiest memories. It’s where I’ve learnt so much about myself and made some of my best friends in the world. It gave me amazing experiences and stories I’ll love forever. But mentally, that door is half shut for me now. I still peak through it every now and then for old times sake but there are so many other places to see and to experience and a life outside the Disney bubble to lead.

Maybe when I have kids, we’ll go back. I can’t imagine how it would feel to walk back into the Magic Kingdom again with my own family. I could give the attractions hosts a knowing smile and would really appreciate the cleanliness and towel arrangement in my hotel room. But do you know what? If that doesn’t happen and we decide to take the kids camping in Scotland every summer instead then that would be pretty magic too. I’ve had enough Disney Magic in my life time for 40 people.

We’re good me and Mickey.

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There we have it.

I think that almost sums it all up, but I’m sure I’ll keep remembering things and adding bits to this post for the next couple of weeks.

You can read the blog I kept over my 2 summers as a cast member here:

http://www.mickeyminnieandkatie.blogspot.com

I still have a flick through it often to remind myself of things I’ve forgotten and to give me a little bit of a pick me up! This blog took off so much while I was out there and still remains my most successful work, but I guess I had a lot of good content to include! There’s not quite so much to say these days!

Thank you for reading,

Katie x

Our Perfect Spa Break at Rudding Park.

Hey guys,

Really excited to share this post with you! Earlier this week we got back from a dreamy spa break at Rudding Park which was the best last minute pre-birthday treat!
This week we were going to go on a boating trip on the Thames but the forecast was just looking so shocking and the river current so high we decided to postpone until August. Cue frantictically searching last minute.com and air B&B for a weather proof alternative.

I remembered about Rudding Park in Harrogate, only 30 minutes from our flat but I’d heard about their new rooftop spa and great food so gave them a call. They are currently running a midweek spring time offer which was too good to refuse and took the original quote for a full overnight spa package down by a significant amount. I rang Max while he was out at football to check I was ok to go ahead and book and luckily he was super keen (the boy loves a Spa).

We set off to Harrogate the next morning (with a pitstop to get a new tyre and an M&S meal deal) and had a little wander around the shops and picked up a little birthday treat in Jo Malone, but really we just couldn’t wait to get to Rudding Park and check-in.

When I rang them to book they asked if it was for a special occasion and I’d said its a last minute holiday alternative but also in the week of my birthday. When we checked in we were told we’d been upgraded to a suite as a ‘Happy Birthday’ from Rudding Park and were walked to the suite by a member of staff. I knew even the more basic room we had booked would be beautiful but the suite was even lovelier and we really were overwhelmed by what we were given.

The suite had a bedroom, lounge, a huge bathroom and a balcony which ran the whole length of it. They’d even left a bottle of pink fizz and a birthday card for me in coffee table.

I felt like I was walking around in a dream world and once I had finished taking snaps and popping open the fizz, I ran a bath in the beautiful rolltop tub complete with TV and Molton Brown goodies. I was unbelievably content lying in that tub with my glass of fizz watching the men’s gymnastics at the commonwealth games.

We then got ready and headed down to dinner at the Clocktower restaurant, a meal that was included in our package. The food in the Clocktower restaurant is a modern twist on British Comfort food, the food and service were perfect. We particularly loved the rhubarb cheesecake for pudding which was served in a perfect pink sphere on top of the biscuit crumble base. We then headed to the bar which had a very impressive gin collection and great cocktails. I had a lovely rhubarb gin and elderflower tonic but by the last few sips I was rushing as I was so excited to get into the massive bed.

That bed was honestly the best place I’ve ever watched Masterchef and I slept a dream on the soft sheets. Breakfast the next morning was just as lovely as the meal the night before, but really to me, you can’t go wrong with an smoked salmon and scrambled egg muffin.

We then headed over to the spa for the spa day. We could choose either the Monday or the Tuesday to use the spa but opted for the Tuesday. On arrival we were given a tour of the spa and bands to access our lockers with our towels, robes and flip flops inside. The spa really is beautiful, it’s kept in great condition and there’s plenty of staff about to order drinks and ask questions. The facilities are lovely and the spa wasn’t too busy so you really felt you could relax and make best use of all they have to offer. The new outside area is beautiful and I’m sure will be even better in the summer. There’s different saunas, steam rooms and pools as well as foot spas and heated relaxation beds where we enjoyed a read and a drink.

When we arrived at the spa we booked to have an additional treatment (because we hadn’t already been indulgent enough). We went for a do it yourself thermal mud treatment. The treatment and what to do was explained to us first by a member of staff and then we were left in our own private room. Laid out were different bowls of mud for different parts of the body as well as flannel mittens and a herbal salt scrub. Once the treatment started and we had started to apply the mud, the room then began to get hotter and hotter for the next 15 minutes. You can feel the mud cleaning out your skin as your pores open in the heat and it feels so good! After the 15 minutes showers then come on from the ceiling and using the flannel mittens and salt you can rub off the mud. I couldn’t recommend this treatment enough and will definitely be doing it again, my skin has never felt so good and it was a great experience to do as a couple.

It was a perfect 24 hours and I’m already dying to go back.

Maybe at May half term Maxie?

Katie x

Our Perfect break at Howgill’s Hideaway.

Happy Half Term holidays! Well actually mine is now coming to an end… It went way too fast but I am feeling ready for Autumn 2 half term and for the countdown to Christmas to really begin! I’ve had a lovely break catching up with friends, giving the flat a big Autumn clean and a lovely glamping mini-break with Maxie.

I’ve written in the blog before about how much I love camping/glamping and I love it most in the Autumn when it’s colder and cosier and the countryside looks beautiful and colourful.

We found this trip’s site on Air B&B. Me and Max have a bit of love/hate relationship with Air B&B, I love it, he hates it and doesn’t understand why we just don’t book a hotel. But even Max admitted Howgill’s Hideaway was a brilliant find and has soared to the top of our list of favourite glamping sites (followed closely by the yurts at Mason’s in the Yorkshire Dales).

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Howgill’s Hideaway is in the Howgill fells (unsurprisingly) just between the Lakes and the Yorkshire Dales. The scenery is beautiful!

They have 3 pods which all face out to the beautiful views. The pods are so cosy inside with a mini kitchenette, double bed, sofa bed and a mini desk. Even a TV which was a real surprise and came in very useful for checking in on the Strictly results! They each have their own firepit too, which we loved. And as they provide the wood, matches, fire starters, marshmallows and skewers, via the honesty shop, it was really easy to get it started and get toasting marshmallows and drinking beer around it (not singing campfire songs, Max refused).

The three pods share a toilet and shower block which is a short walk from the pods but behind them as to not ruin the view! There were 2 showers and 4 toilets which were kept really clean and quite toasty warm which was lovely!

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I think I love glamping so much because it’s just so acceptable to do all the lame but relaxing things you always kinda want to do but never really have time. And when you’re camping its totally fine drink more hot chocolate than you’d ever drink at home with all the squirt cream and marshmallows you can fit on. This camping trip we took a jigsaw. A jigsaw! We’re in our mid twenties! But, although I don’t think we’d ever properly admit it to eachother, we really enjoyed it. We did terrible, barely even got the edges finished in the 48 hours we had there but the subdued project in our cosy pod really did feel lovely.

One of the biggest perks of Howgill’s Hideaway was the breakfast hamper deliveries. You do have to pay a bit extra for them (£5 pp per morning) but they’re fab, presented so beautifully and having one dropped off outside your pod for you feels such a treat. You do have to cook it all yourself but the little kitchenettes in the pods are really well equipped so it’s easy to do so. On arrival we even had some home baked cupcakes waiting for us in the pod and more freshly baked cakes and biscuits, fresh eggs and sweetie bags were available to buy in the honesty shop.

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On our only full day out in the Howgill fells we drove to Kendal, one of the nearest towns to the site. To get there we had to (actually there was probably another route but we were feeling quite daring) drive over the narrowest bridge in the world (probably not an official title). It was only 6ft and a little bit wide, the parking sensors were doing a constant beep all the way across and the bridge wall was just centimetres away from the sides of Max’s precious car. But we made it across with no scrapes thanks to Max’s good driving and we successfully did it another 2 times coming back and heading out the next day. Kendal is a really pretty little town with a fab chocolate shop and tearoom called The Famous 1657 Chocolate House. It has an insane hot chocolate menu, we spent a lovely hour in there keeping warm!

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On our last day once we’d left our little pod we drove to Keswick which is about 45 minutes away from the site. I’ve always loved Keswick and it just looks so pretty in the Autumn! We went to the Pencil Museum first (Max’s idea) which was actually pretty good but heaving as it was a misty cold day in half term! We then walked around the town and shops to the lake before going for a pub lunch. The Dog and Gun pub is in the town centre and was recommended by my Mum and Dad who have very regular day trips to Keswick to go walking and stock up on Mr Vikki’s chutneys and Curry Sauces (they are the literal best and sold in most of the delis and gift shops in Keswick).

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Like everywhere the shops in Keswick are starting to get very Christmassy! This picture I took in a shop called the Orchid House, couldn’t resist buying a bauble from there! Christmas is getting so close now and I’m already feeling festive and starting to get things sorted. I think my next few posts will have a real christmassy theme!

Katie xxx

Mother’s Ruin. (The Botanist’s Gin Masterclass)

This week, I was lucky enough to be invited along to a Blogger’s Gin Masterclass at the Botanist in Leeds. I’ve always loved the Botanist, a great place to stop for a cocktail and a bite to eat while shopping or as part of a ‘Cocktail Tour’. The one in Leeds city centre is below the Trinity Centre on Boar Street, it’s quite hidden, I’d been visiting Leeds a while before I found it, but that doesn’t stop it filling to the brim on a weekend evening! The Botanist has such a good reputation for great cocktails, gorgeous branding and decor and good looking bar men in braces throwing bottles between each other really coolly. So safe to say I was really excited to be invited to try their Gin Masterclass!

I have to admit, although I love Gin my Gin repertoire is quite small. I know Edinburgh Gin quite well, after lasts month’s tour and tasting at their distillery, and we do have a fair few different ones on our bookcase (A lot of Edinburgh Gin, Masons, The Lakes Gin, Bombay Sapphire) but when these are with a tonic I find it hard to tell the difference! Gin is Gin right?! We do have two flavoured Gins, Opihr (Oriental Spiced) and Ginger Ninja Gin I picked up at a farmers market which is lovely with Ginger Beer. But that’s all I’ve got so far on the Gin front. I’ve always been keen to try new ones, when in a bar I’m always tempted by all the interesting looking bottles but then just bottle it and ask for a house gin- partly because of the fear of pronouncing the name wrong I think I’m showing I’m clueless! I am still a newcomer to the Gin scene. I avoided it for years after my Mum told me it made her so angry she once through her engagement ring at my Dad in a club and he had to crawl around on the floor to find it. But luckily, so far, it hasn’t had that effect on me! But anyway, the Gin Masterclass at the Botanist was a brilliant way to try new Gin’s without feeling awkward and just looking for the prettiest bottles! I definitely have new favourites now and will avoid the panic and asking for a house gin!

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The Gin masters (?) were fab and gave us a brief history of gin and how it is made while we sipped on the Botanist’s signature cocktail. And then we got tasting, we were given a shot of each gin first to try straight before trying it mixed with a tonic.

The first Gin we tried was Tanqueray, I am quite sure I’ve had this as a house gin before, this is probably what I’m thinking of when I think of a standard Gin. Is good with a tonic, tastes nice, and gives you the nice warm feeling you want from Gin! (not the feeling it gives my Mum!) Next, we tried Thomas Dakin Gin. One I’d never heard of before but it has been made in Manchester since the 1700’s (not always to the recipe that’s used today!).  I think this is the first gin I’ve ever tried straight that’s made me genuinely saying ‘Oooo’ rather than grimace and reach for the tonic. I could drink this on the rocks no problem. It’s lovely and zesty and fresh with notes of horseradish, really refreshing! We then tried Langley 8. I’ve definitely seen this one before but think this was my first time trying it. From a bit of reading I’ve been doing since I learnt it’s branded as a ‘Male’ Gin. I’m feeling a bit guilty I don’t remember much about this one, but I definitely don’t remember it being awful either. Soo..lets just say it was nice. Next came Brockmans, I loved this one! The bottle is sexy, it tastes so smooth, another one I think I could just drink on the rocks. Although I have heard it’s lovely with Ginger beer! We then had Gin Mare. This is one I’ve really never heard of this one before but was by far my favourite! We had it has a perfect serve with olives and rosemary and it was sooo goood! The best gin I’ve had and can’t wait to have it again! I’ve heard you can buy it in Marks and Spencers (another subtle accidental M and S plug!) so I’ll be off there to treat myself shortly! We also got the chance to taste two different Gin martinis using different gins and garnishes. Gin with grapefruit is now one of my new favourites! The masterclass also included yummy nibbles from the Botanist menu to help soak up some of the Gin!

So there we go, that was a bit of brief one, hope I got the point across and inspired you with some new gins, or for presents for gin lovers or to book a Botanist Gin Masterclass for you and your friends! The masterclasses can be done at selected Botanist’s and a booking enquiry can be sent through the website, I would definitely recommend for a really fun and tipsy evening and to open up new gin doors!

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Gin Connoisseurs, you say?

So it’s finally my summer holidays from work! How exciting! Except, unfortunately not every working adult gets 6 weeks off for summer. My boyfriend being one of them. I’ve quickly got used to waking up when his alarm goes off and smiling smuggly at him from underneath the duvet while he drags himself to the shower. It’s also given me chance to discover this whole new world that exists after 10pm on weekdays, a world which involves a lot of snacking and Louis Theroux documentaries.

Max did manage to get some holidays from work for my first week off which matched up well with his birthday and our 2 year anniversary (I know this isn’t really that significant but I take literally any excuse to celebrate).

We decided to do a little bit of a roadtrip for a mini celebration getaway, I’ve got the roadtrip bug a bit since driving around Australia and New Zealand at the end of last year. We started off just driving to my parents in Yarm and joining them for a celebratory meal out (at what age do you stop optimising every chance of a free meal out?).

The next day we set off to Northumberland, we’d planned to stop here on our way up to Edinburgh. We didn’t really have a plan of what to do in Northumberland we thought we’d wing it which stressed my mum out a lot, she got on her IPad and  gave us loads of options of what to do. We decided to head to a Roman fort on Hadrian’s wall and near our campsite for night.

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It should have been quite an easy journey except the Northumberland road people (?) chose last week to close every useful road in the region and divert cars on totally unreasonable routes. We (when I say we, I mean Max. I can drive, I would just never ever trust myself to drive his pride and joy. My driving is much more suited to old micras or golf buggys) drove about an hour extra than we were meant to in the pouring rain, but hey, the country views were pretty, if not a bit soggy.

Funnily enough, the sun came out when we eventually got to Housesteads Fort. Me and Max are National Trust members (don’t judge, we are very fun and happening people) which means we got in for free, it’s free English Heritage members too if any readers are English Heritage members. If you like days out it is definitely worth joining one of both of them, you don’t need to use it that many times to get your money’s worth but it gets you free entry/parking to so many nice places around the country. We’re in our second year of being members now and we didn’t use it anywhere near as much as we should’ve last year so this year we’re going to really make a point of going.

 

Housesteads Fort is an old a Roman fort, which now unsurprisingly is just piles of stone. It’s still really pretty and has lovely views over Northumberland. There’s a museum and signs explaining what everything used to be and what it was like living there and it’s all really interesting. Well worth a visit if you’re ever in Northumberland.

That night we stayed in a WigWam at the Wigwam orchard at Northside Farm just outside Horsley. I LOVE camping/Glamping, I think it comes from it being my parents worst nightmare and me being quite naturally rebellious. I just love getting all cosy and passing hours away playing games, doing activities like giant dot to dots and colouring in which you’d never think of doing on an evening at home but you actually really enjoy doing, and straining your eyes trying to read in really poor lighting. I even think I love the running to the loo in the cold and the dark and letting personal hygiene slip a bit. I love camping food and hot chocolates and plastic plates and shivering myself to sleep. We only did one night of it this time but are planning another trip later in the year I’ll no doubt blog about then.

 

The Wigwam Orchard was a great bargain stay in Northumberland, you do need to take your own bedding, cooking utensils, crockery and towels but the wigwams are very sturdy and cosy. There’s a fire pit outside each of them and a microwave and mini fridge inside. They sleep plenty too, I could have slept metres away from Max if I wanted to but I needed him for warmth. There’s a public kitchen and bathrooms to use in the main farm building, just with it being the summer they were full of really excitable kids, which is quite nice but kind of broke the romantic getaway road trip vibe we had going on.

 

The next day we drove to Alnwick to go to Barter Books, a second hand book shop in a converted old railway station. If you love books, you must must go to Barter books. Go tomorrow, go now, stop what you’re doing, call in sick, you all just need to go. It is HEAVEN. It smells like toast and old books, and is so cosy and beautiful. There’s a little train that goes around the top of the shelves, there’s sofas all over encouraging you to sit down and read, there’s book quotes written on boards and cabinets full of rare books and special editions for collectors. They have sections of books on pretty much anything and such a good selection. I managed to find nearly all the books I’ve been eyeing up in Waterstones and on Amazon and for a fraction of the price. I love the idea of second hand books and the thought of someone enjoying them before me and then passing it on.

Theres a cafe in there too and as we’d just come straight from our night in the wigwam we were ready to devour a hot breakfast. It’s all really tasty and you eat in the old station waiting rooms which are really cosy. Honestly couldn’t recommend this place enough, we spent HOURS in there and it’s gone straight up there on my list of favourite places.

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We then carried on driving upwards to Edinburgh, with a few more diversions and stressed shouts at the SatNav. We got there eventually…

We stayed at the Murrayfield Hotel, a booking we made quite last minute when we bottled staying in the bargain but potentially quite dodgy accommodation I’d originally booked. My original thinking was well if we go cheaper we can spend more on food, drink and shopping and we’ll hardly be there will we? But as it got closer I began to really fancy a treat so we decided to splash out a little and hold back a bit on the shopping (not on the food and drink, you may notice). It’s a very prettily decorated hotel and it did really feel like the treat I felt we needed.

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Our first night in Edinburgh was Max’s birthday eve so we decided to hit the town and go to some of the reccomendations Max got from his friend who’s from Edinburgh. We started off at a fab pizza place called Civerinos, it’s just off the Royal mile and the pizza is really good, so are the fries and the beer choices. It’s very casual which we liked and you all sit on long tables, potentially next to strangers, and I guess it could get quite snuggly when it’s busy (there is less snuggly outdoor seating or takeaway available, and a couple of tables for groups of 4-6). Some may not like this but we quite enjoyed making friends with the Japanese couple next to us, they even took pictures of us.

 

We then went on a bit of a cocktail tour. ‘Cocktail tour’ is one of my favourite phrases, it’s really just a bar crawl but a bit fancier and you Instagram every drink in every place. We started off at the Dome, I think most people who have been to Edinburgh will have been to the Dome, and if you haven’t you definitely need to call in for a drink. It is BEAUTIFUL, really gorgeous and it feels such a treat to be in there.  Drinks are sensibly priced concidering the setting and cocktails are good but it’s the look of it that’s the real reason to visit.

 

Next, we went to Lucky Liquor Company, a cute quirky little bar we heard about from a friend. The cocktails were really tasty and quirky, if not a little small (very strong though!)

We then walked to Panda and Sons which was definitely our favourite! It’s in a basement underneath a prentend barbers shop and hidden behind a bookcase. It’s all very cosy inside with dimmed lighting, sofas, barber chairs as seats, candles and really great cocktails. We LOVED it,even on a Monday night it was buzzing. There was even a very helpful waiter who helped me cure my cocktail hiccups by making me drink a glass a water upside down with a sharp knife in it, I was a bit bemused but it really did work! Definitely go here if you’re out drinking in Edinburgh or if you need help with chronic hiccups.

The next day was Maxie’s birthday. When it’s my birthday I’m awake at like 6 opening all my cards and presents and ready to totally revel in a day that’s all about me, (actually more than a day, sometimes the whole of April). Boys don’t really do that though do they. I had to wake Max up and pretty much force his pile of presents and cards on him. Once we’d got opening them out of the way we had a full Scottish breakfast and went out for the day.

We started off at the National Gallery at birthday boy’s request, we both do really like a gallery, particularly free ones. Once we’d gone round we went to the gift shop (obviously) where I learnt something about my boyfriend which I never really knew before, he is the only person in the world who can spend longer in a gift shop than me! I’m going to guess at 50 minutes. I read every book on art for children and every story in the kids section, I touched every postcard, print, flicked through all the big coffee table picture books, smelt some candles, read some books on art and Edinburgh in History while he was still looking at one small section of the art books. But he had a great time and bought some books and it was his birthday, so that’s all what matters. And it probably did me good to experience it the other way round, he’s probably felt like I did a lot of times in Home Sense.

We then had a walk up the Royal mile to see the castle and the 100,000 Spanish and Japanese tourists buying kilts before stopping for a Pret and to pick up a White Company reed diffuser (really funny we ended up walking past there, really did not plan that all).

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We then headed to Edinburgh Gin Distillery for the afternoon. This sounds quite casual like we just popped in but in reality I had to book it months ago! It was the main thing we’d sorted in advance for our trip and the main reason we were heading to Edinburgh. It certainly did not disappoint, we did the Connoisseur tour and had the best (and tipsiest) afternoon! If you or a loved one loves gin it’s a must do treat!

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The distillary is in quite a small basement but the design of it is just gorgeous. It starts off with a talk about all the botanicals of gin, where they come from what they do and about the history of gin which is so interesting! I won’t type out the whole story of gin but it really is hilarious, give it a google maybe, or maybe bbc2 will do a little feature on it soon, we really were Lolling! You then get a tour and talk about the gin making process and then the good bit, tasters! They were very generous with tasters (hence the tipsiness). We tried all the different gins they do, all the liqueurs and tried them with different tonics to see what goes best with what. For in between the different tasters they provide a glass of their standard gin with standard fever tree tonic as I guess a bit of a palette cleanser. At this point I was already thinking it has been great value for money and then our tour guide announced get to choose a standard sized bottle of a gin or liqueur to take home. Max chose their Elderflower liqueur, which in the tasting we actually really enjoyed just drinking straight. I chose their Plum And Vanilla liqueur which was so Yum! Saving it for Autumn/Winter/Christmas time when I’m probably going to add it to most things, Prosecco, puddings, cocktails… We then got the nice surprise of having discount in the shop so bought the 2 other flavours of liqueur they do (Rhubarb and Ginger and Raspberry), cos it’s rude not to have the full set and a large bottle of their standard gin. Our already quite impressive alcohol collection is now looking even more so, and luckily it’s my holidays so a midweek G+T is totally acceptable. Honestly couldn’t recommend the Edinburgh Distillary enough, you must go if you love gin and are planning are trip to Edinburgh or even maybe worth just heading to Edinburgh for.

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After the Distillary we went to a great steak restaurant I booked as another birthday treat, it’s called Wildfire and is only a 2 minute walk from the Distillary. I’ve eaten there with my family before and knew Max would love it, really good steaks and mash and chocolate cake which are always winners and definitely needed to soak up all the gin.

We drove straight back to Leeds the next day, this time with no super complicated diversions but with one extended Costa and M+S sandwich stop, has to be done though doesn’t it.

Since we got back I’ve been spending my days doing all those jobs that I’ve spent the last few months putting off until now, I’ve also been trying out some new recipes, zofloring everything and doing quite a lot of crafting (trying to get ahead with Christmas crafts so the flat is going to be humming of cinnamon oil!). We have a new MacBook too (it’s like mine and Max’s first born baby) so going to be blogging a bit more now it’s easier to do so! I’ve also signed up to a bit of nannying for a family friend cos I can’t last 6 weeks away from kids apparently, but so looking forward to it. Hoping for some sunnier days to what we’ve been getting this week so we can spend a lot of time in Roundhay Park, been eyeing up the big climbing frame from my bus to work since March so might finally have an excuse to play!

Thanks for reading, sorry that was a very long one…

 

 

 

 

So, I’ve got this thing with Saltaire.

It’s bloody typical that I’ve travelled around America, Australia, New Zealand and Italy and the place I feel most at home is a small little suburb of Bradford made up of terraced houses and an old Mill, but that’s how it is. Saltaire is my happy place. I must have been a mill worker there in a previous life, or even Mrs Titus Salt.

Cue a little history lesson. Saltaire  was built by Titus Salt in 1851, he was one of the leaders of the Yorkshire textile industry. He built the huge mill and the village around it to house the workers. The village was pretty fancy for its day and workers were pretty lucky to be working and living in Saltaire rather than in a Bradford slum. There were wash houses, a hospital and a school and a rather fancy town hall which now houses great craft fairs.

The mill has now been converted into shops, an art gallery and a really good diner. It is quite literally heaven.

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The first shop is full of sophisticated picture books that you convince yourself you need for your coffee table and also art books and supplies. Every time I go I end up feeling annoyed with myself that I don’t sketch and paint and way too easily get absorbed into taking on new hobbies. On our most recent visit we left with a book on calligraphy and all the pens and ink and paper needed to get started. We spent a whole evening doing it once we got home, Max of course is ridiculously good at it, while I might be a little too left handed for it. I am feeling quite competitive about it though so won’t give up trying. I want to atleast be able to write ‘Merry Christmas’ in fancy writing by the end of the year.

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On the next floor there’s the book shop of dreams! Ooo it’s good! Could spend a full day and a months wages in there. There’s books on everything and special edition of books and the most amazing children’s book section. I do love children’s books there’s something so magic about them and I love buying meaningful children’s books for people as gifts. The interior design section and the cookery book sections are also amazing!

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Theres also the diner on this floor where the food is fab, would be rude to visit Salt’s Mill and not eat lunch there, really good pizzas, and salads and cakes.

image(Beetroot, Butternut Squash and Goat’s cheese pizza, literally all my favourite things together. And a really good beer from the Saltaire brewery).

Theres also a home shop on this floor, a really edgy one, full of stuff you’re not sure where it would go or what you’d do with that but stuff you just really really want. I bought a match box with a dove on last time we went. Did I need it? No. Did I think I needed it? Yes.

They have a great selection of mugs, candles and soaps in this shop too which anyone who knows me knows are my favourite things. They also have a cabinet full of crockery antiques and we were really chuffed to see our tea and coffee jars in there. Our little charity shop find would be worth a fortune if we ever wanted to part with them (except my mum did some really dodgy wood staining on their lids).

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There’s a full antiques shop here too which is literally just like acorn antiques. I don’t have any photos of it because there was a no photos sign and Max has NO flexibility to rules. I think the antiques shop might be my favourite bit though, full of stuff you’d never actually want in your house but you really want to look at and touch. Last time we went I was very bemused about the Cath Kidston luggage tag being in there, I have one of them, which I remember getting for my birthday, I must be old!

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The top floor is the art gallery which has a permanent David Hockney exhibition of pictures of Yorkshire he’s drawn on his iPad. I’m far from an art expert but I like them. We even have a copy of one on our living room wall. They’re really impressive, all I really do on my iPad is play FarmVille and Internet shop.

So there we go, I hope I’ve sold it to you and you’re planning a trip. It’s the perfect rainy day out and I particularly recommend going in the weeks before Christmas, it’s so festive and lovely!

And I’ll keep on holding out for Max buying me my Saltaire terrace house. (subtle hint).

Katie x