Our trip around France.

The idea of travelling around France in a car with your boyfriend and his 2 best mates might not appeal to some gals. And to be honest when it was decided that that would be our main summer holiday it didn’t appeal to me that much. But it turned out to be so fun, chilled and we made so many happy memories (thanks guys).

Wedding photo by @curiousprovence

The whole plan came about as Max and his friend Joe were asked to be groomsmen at a wedding in Provence. The wedding of their uni friend Luke and his Fiancé, El. I’ve never really been to France before, except for Disneyland Paris and a half day in St Tropez on a cruise, so was pretty excited about the idea of a long weekend in Provence, flying in and out, a nice hotel and a really chill weekend to kick off the summer. But this was all a bit flattened when Max announced he was going to drive…

I’m sure Max won’t mind me saying that he’s not a good flyer. He told me pretty early on when we started dating that he didn’t like it but he’s also spent summers in San Francisco and Sweden so I didn’t think he could be THAT scared. But then we flew to Copenhagen in 2016 and I saw it for real, he didn’t speak to me or make eye-contact with me from entering Manchester airport to getting out the airport in Copenhagen, except to snap at me when I tried to make up some reassuring figures about unlikely it is that the aeroplane will go down. So really I shouldn’t have been THAT surprised that he’d much rather spend hours and hours driving than hopping onto a plane. He is also very attached to his car.

To make the straight drive down to the town of L’isle-sur-la-Sourge, where the wedding was, would have taken 15 hours from Leeds which would’ve been a long slog but not impossible, I guess. But then we wouldn’t have been able to see much of France which seemed a bit of a waste. So instead we planned an 8 day roadtrip that would break up the driving and allow us to see some of prettiest towns and cities in France while still having a long weekend in Provence for the wedding.

At first the plan was to travel in 2 cars, me and Max and then Joe and Chris (Max’s other good friend who Joe chose as his plus 1 for the wedding). But it was decided, to save money on petrol and the tunnel, we would squeeze into 1 car. We were so glad that we did too as the road tolls were a killer and something we didn’t really budget for.

We set off really early on Monday the 23rd to drive 5 hours to Folkestone to get the 13.20 shuttle through the channel tunnel. I’ve never been to the tunnel before and was expecting something really industrious and cold. And yeh, ok, the actual shuttle and tunnel are like that, I mean how festive can you make a tunnel going under the sea, but what I didn’t expect was the holiday vibe, organisation, and airport style terminal with restaurants and shops. I don’t know why I was so surprised by that. As it was the first Monday of the summer holidays it was busssyyy and our shuttle was delayed roughly an hour but it didn’t matter to us. The shuttle was not at all like I had expected, it was so easy, fast and efficient. It felt magic driving out in France 30 minutes after we set off. Honestly, my parents were missing a trick taking me to Disney World all them times when I was little, I’d have been quite content with a return journey in the car on the Euro shuttle (joking obviously, I love you Mickey).

Once we’d arrived in France we drove 4 hours to our first stop, Bernieres-sur-Mer in Normandy. Like most of the places we stayed we had booked our accommodation on Air B & B (that thing that I still really love and Max is still quite sceptical about). We’d booked a 3 story holiday home with 2 big bedrooms. It was beautiful, and in the the prettiest little town near the sea. We were so knackered though, and feeling so grim from hours and hours and hours in the car. After I quickly went out to take some sunset pictures we just ate the baguette, ham and cheese we’d bought from a supermarket en-route and stuck to beers and games in our little house.

The next morning we set off early to Mont St Michel. It was around a 2 hour drive from our overnight stop but was somewhere we all wanted to see. Mont St Michel is a castle on its own island just of the Normandy coast, kinda like Holy Island. It’s very beautiful to look at and is set up really well for tourists. Everybody parks in the car park and then can either use the free shuttle to the island or pay to take a horse and cart (or walk which would’ve been quite achievable on a cooler day). At the end of your trip to the Island you just have to pay for your parking which was quite reasonable. You would also have to pay a little more to go into the castle, we chose not to because the whole appeal really was looking at the castle from the outside. On the island while working your way up to the castle you walk through beautiful tiny streets with little shops, restaurants and creperies with colourful signs and cobbled floors. I thought it felt quite Disney, but I’m starting to realise Disney is now so deep-routed in me I see everything as a little bit Disney. After having a wander and admiring the views we then took the shuttle back to the mainland for some lunch before setting off to La Rochelle.

It was a long 4 hour drive to La Rochelle but was very much worth it. I think La Rochelle was my favourite place that we visited and I’d love to go back for a longer holiday. We booked to stay at Hotel St Nicolas, a pretty mid-range hotel a 5 minutes walk from the port. We checked-in a got changed before heading out for the evening to celebrate Max’s birthday eve. La Rochelle really is beautiful and a lot more lively than I expected, there were street performers and market stalls and the bars and restaurants were all overflowing into the streets, it was so sunny and the atmosphere was great. We had a lovely night drinking beers and eating really good food. We chose to eat on Rue St Jean du Perot, the street recommended to us by the receptionist in the hotel. The street was pretty, booming and had musicians playing accordions all the way down and seemed to be where everyone in La Rochelle was heading to, despite this it was all still really reasonably priced with most restaurants offering set menus.

The next day we set off for Bordeaux, 2 hours from La Rochelle. We had decided rather than heading into the city we’d head for a restaurant in the vineyard area for Max’s birthday lunch. When travelling I use tripadvisor a lot to plan where to eat, I’ve got this weird phobia of wasting a holiday meal opportunity on somewhere not that great, so always try to find the best, even if just for a sandwich or a coffee and cake. Where we ate that lunch time was a place I’d found on tripadvisor, and the reviews were right to be so good, the food was great. They did struggle with us being English though but luckily showing 4 fingers and saying ‘burgers and beers’ is pretty universal. How lucky that there isn’t really much variation in different languages in the words for beer and burger. After the burger I the accidentally ordered a very extravagant dessert platter, no idea how that happened but was very happy it.

That night we were staying in 2 different places, Joe and Chris had hired their own villa while me and Max had booked to stay in a Vineyard Chateau.

I’ll giggle for ages thinking about how excited Joe and Chris were for their villa with a pool and how much Max was trying to rearrange our plan so he could have some time in their pool. Only to find they were actually sharing the pool with the family who lived with in house and the families 14 year old twin girls were in the pool the whole time.

Me and Max were staying at Chateau de la vieille Chapelle, a place recommended to us by a friend. There are only 3 rooms at the chateau and only 2 in the chapel itself. We were lucky to get a beautiful room in the chapel. The rooms were huge and really tastefully decorated with beautiful views over the courtyard and the river. The bedroom and bathroom were all in one room which freaked Max out a little but I actually quite liked. There was a toilet, in its own corner with 3 walls around but no door, I see why, it was in a nook of the roof of the chapel and it would have been hard to tastefully put door on and I really didn’t mind it, (there were more private toilets in the courtyard), but Max was traumatised…I’ll explain more in a minute.

At 6.30 every evening in the chapel they do a complimentary wine tasting of the wines they make on their vineyard. The owner did the tasting with us, he was fresh from a day at the vines and covered in squashed grapes and mud but it was lovely to be with a guy so passionate about good wine and his own produce. The wines really were amazing, I’m not a massive non-fizzy wine fan, and especially not keen on drinking red (usually I just use it for bolognaise sauce), but their reds really were delicious and so fruity. We tend to run a gin and beer only flat at home but got all wrapped up in the wine hype and ended up buying a lot of bottles of their wine to bring home with us (my pasta sauces are going to be even more banging for the next year).

After the wine tasting we made use of the chateau’s beautiful sunny courtyard and sat out and read and ate the snacks we’d bought earlier that day (link back to this in a sec). Before heading back to our room to shower and enjoy the feeling of the chapel, and watch a few episodes of Dark Tourist on Netflix (you need to watch, so good!)

So here’s a sub story. Key points: the toilet in our suite didn’t have a door. Snacks had been in the car a while and it was hot. Most snacks were fine, crisps, baguette. Max took a risk and tried the butter that had gone through a few heat processes while sitting in the boot. French butter is a lot more dairy and heavier than ours and it didn’t settle well in his tummy and there was an interesting event next morning. Let’s just say we’re closer now than we’ve ever been and the morning in the chateau after the dodgy butter and with the toilet without the door will be story that will mentioned through our entire relationship. But we’ve come out the other side and we can have a good laugh about it.

Don’t worry about him, literally a couple of hours later he was pulling over to pick himself up a baguette and a pain au chocolat.

That day we headed to Carcassonne. We had hired a villa for the night through Air B & B, 10 minutes drive from central Carcassonne. We dropped off our bags and headed into the city for a wander. Carcassonne is a pretty city dominated by the castle on a hill in the centre. There’s also a street with multi-coloured umbrellas hanging above which is a must see, so pretty! We had a good wander, took plenty of photos, stopped for a drink and picked up some groceries before heading back to our villa for dinner , cards agaisnt humanity and a few hours of being eaten alive by bugspray-defying mosquitos.

From Carcassonne we travelled to L’isle-sur-la-Sourge where the wedding was held, 4 hours from Carcassonne. We hired another villa through Air B & B for us to stay in for the long weekend. That evening we went out to celebrate the wedding eve with Luke and El and the wedding guests at a really lovely restaurant in the town. L’isle-sur-la-Sourge was a lot bigger than I was expecting with loads of bars or restaurants, it would be a great place to head to back to if we ever holiday in Provence again! Although getting around was a little tricky, we obviously relied on taxis when Max was drinking and they were a bit thin on the ground. There was one uber, opening the uber app was just watching one guy drive around and when we did get through to someone his wife rang us and said he was at home but he’d get ready and come and get us, before just cancelling a few minutes later.

The next day was the wedding day. Max and Joe has to head to the venue earlier to get into their suits and do some groomsman duties so me and Chris had a lazy morning reading and sunbathing before being picked up by a minibus to head to the venue. The wedding was just outside L’ilse-sur-la-Sourge, on Luke’s family’s property. They’d turned a big field into a perfect outdoor wedding space. It was so hot that day but we stood with hand fans sipping champagne waiting for the ceremony to start. I am very emotional at weddings, I cry at Say Yes to the Dress, Don’t tell the Bride, soap weddings, I just love them, so invite me to yours if you want a token sobber. Luckily, I had sunglasses on and a really good waterproof mascara so think I got away with it. We had such a lovely day celebrating in the sun, drinking really good wine, playing beer pong and enjoying the lovely atmosphere.

It was a late night, so we literally did nothing the next day, except read, catch up with Love Island on my Ipad (important), eat carbs and sunbathe. That night though I did have a real paranormal experience…

The villa was very modern but was a converted out-house in it’s past life I would say, definitely a converted something, built between two houses. Me and Max had our bedroom door open as the air con hub was in the main lounge where Chris was sleeping. I was woken at 3 a.m. up by something stroking my leg (wasn’t Max, he was flat out at the other side of the bed), to sit up and find the TV in the living room on the no signal screen with the remote next to it, so it couldn’t have been that Chris had rolled onto it by accident. I lay there sh*t scared for 40 minutes, too scared to wake Max as he has a big drive the next day, the TV turned off after 40 minutes only for the shower to turn straight on for a few minutes (not dripping- ON!). It was very freaky. I was too scared to go for a wee so lay there, busting, until the sun came up at 6. I don’t think I believe in ghosts but it was all just a bit weird.

We had a massive drive the next day, 7 hours back up to the champagne region to stop-over on our way home. We stopped for Maccies of course, no roadtrip is complete without them, me and Sophie pretty much travelled round New Zealand from McDonald’s to McDonald’s. We were staying in a town called Verzenay, in a one roomed Air B &B in someones converted garage. It was smart, and had everything we needed, but very cosy, and cosy isn’t something you really look for when its 35 degrees. That day, from a supermarket, we picked up the most extravagant cream-filled, chocolate topped brioche tear and share which I think was the highlight of that long day in the car.

The next morning we drove back to Calais to catch the tunnel home. It wasn’t so busy that day and we arrived earlier than expected, so we were offered an earlier shuttle home which was a great help, as we still had a lot of driving to do on the other side. Those travelling days were hard, even I, the backseat napper and Netflix watcher, was exhausted so I can’t imagine how Maxie was feeling. Once we were home in our flat in Leeds we got a Thai takeaway and I think were asleep before 10.

Max drove around 2500 miles that holiday and didn’t complain once, he wasn’t even ever in control of the music or podcasts we were listening to. What a good guy. Such a good job I didn’t see Mamma Mia 2 until I came back, otherwise those car journeys would be very different…

Tips for if you’re planning a similar European Roadtrip:

  • Be prepared for the tolls! When we could we dodged them on smaller country roads but in times we were on a stricter time limit we had to grin, bare it and pay it. They can only be a couple of Euro’s but were often above 20, most only accepted card too.
  • When travelling in a group of more than 2, hiring a whole villa through Air B & B is cheaper than booking out more than one hotel room. The only place this wasn’t the case with was in La Rochelle. Booking.com were offering a special discount on the day we were booking and all of the available whole house Air B&B’s were far from the port which is where we wanted to be, so only on that occasion did a hotel work out better.
  • If travelling over the summer holiday period book your tunnel slot and accommodation plenty of time in advance, by May I was realising Air B & B choices for 4 people were thinning out a bit in certain areas. 
  • Take a pillow from home to get comfy and sleep in the car (mainly because it passes the time), except of course, if you’re the driver.
  • If travelling in the Summer, check the Air B & B’s have air con, the majority don’t but you can usually find one that does, if you want to get a good nights sleep, it’s a must!
  • Never underestimate the importance of bug spray and citronella candles for an evening if travelling in the summer.
  • If you’re ordering beef, even if you like it medium/rare , ask for medium/ well- done! They tend to cook beef for a lot less than we do! I love it quite rare and really like steak tartare but I think the boys were quite shocked by very red burgers!
  • Whenever you have wifi download as many readly magazines, podcasts, games, audiobooks, netflix shows as you can to keep you entertained on the really long car trips.
  • Eat as much baguette and brioche as you possibly can.
  • Don’t eat butter that’s been sitting in a hot car all day when you’re staying in a suite in a chapel without a toilet door (Max!).

Katie x

(You can see more photos from our trip in the Instagram highlights, there’s a whole highlight for France! @katiejade_natterfornowtblog)

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