Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Ladies who spa: A weekend of luxury at Appleby Manor Hotel & Garden Spa

Appleby Manor Hotel & Garden Spa

Sometimes ladies just want to pamper themselves (even ‘crazy chicken ladies’ who wear wellies and clean out hen coops like myself!) And after 18 months of lockdowns and Covid restrictions, my friend Caroline and I decided to take advantage of a special offer we spotted – three course dinner, bed and breakfast, a 25-minute spa treatment and use of the spa facilities. For a four-star hotel, it was surprisingly good value.

The venue was Appleby Manor Hotel in the Lake District, the Eden Valley to be precise. Even though the Lakes aren’t far from me, this was a location I had never visited before. Our treatment was at 3pm and we met at 12.30pm, assuming we would have plenty of time, judging by the distance. It was just as well we met early as the M6 was busy with traffic. What a difference to earlier in the year and last year during the lockdowns when roads were silent. After a brief stop at Truckhaven (which seemed to have more much personality than the bland but convenient service stations of these modern days), we continued on the journey up the M6 and off an A road, where, not too long after, we came across Appleby. Noting the castle, we made a note to come back the following day. But right now we had an appointment to make.

Appleby Manor Hotel & Garden Spa

I was delighted with my first sight of Appleby Manor Hotel. It was a beautiful old house surrounded by Eden Valley countryside. Lake District mountains could be seen in the distance. It’s also not far from the North Pennines and Yorkshire Dales. I thought the building was very old, especially when we went into the reception and was greeted by traditional, cosy surroundings. It actually dates from 1871 (hence the name of the 1871 Bistro) and was built for a wealthy solicitor, John Alcock Heelis. Its original name was Garbridge House.

We beat the traffic to get to our beauty treatment in time. Mine was a Skin Booster Facial and was very relaxing. My face felt so refreshed and revigorated afterwards! We had an allocated time of 5pm to 7pm to use the spa facilities, so after a relaxing cup of tea in our room, we ventured to the Garden Spa. Because of the time allocation system, it wasn’t busy. I suspect this was put in place because of Covid but as someone who doesn’t like crowded places at the best of times, it suited me very much indeed.

After the weekend, I looked at the website and it explained that each heat experience is taken in turn ‘to slowly raise your body temperature whilst you relax, repeating the holistic and therapeutic benefits of water and heat’. Apparently the experience started with the ‘gentle heat’ of the aroma salt inhalation room and finished with the ‘intense heat’ of the sauna.

Well, there was no order to what we did. We enjoyed the pedidarium (a warm bath for the feet), sauna, salt room, jacuzzis (although we did have trouble finding the start button. Thankfully another spa user helpfully came to our aid!) One jacuzzi was in a courtyard garden which was a very nice setting indeed. The hydrotherapy pool with its water jets and bubble pools was our last stop.

After our lovely afternoon, we got ready for our meal at 8pm. The menu had prices attached but as our meal was included in the special offer, we didn’t have to think about the cost. (Although the bottle of wine wasn’t included).

After a leisurely breakfast the next morning (we could have spent more time in the spa facilities during our second time allocation but we decided not to), we set off to explore Appleby.

Appleby

As it was Sunday morning, everything was closed but the castle was open. It was a little pricey to look around, so we only paid to look around the grounds. One day when I have more time I will look around the castle as I think there’s a lot of history here.

Appleby Castle
Appleby Castle

At one point, Caroline pointed and said, “look a squirrel”. I expected to see a cute but frequently seen grey squirrel but was excited to see a rare red squirrel darting off. Phone camera in hand, I followed, taking a photo where, if you squint, you might just see him or her.

Spot the red squirrel…

The 27-acre grounds were beautiful and it was very pleasant indeed to wander around. But all good things come to an end, as they say, and we were soon back on the road. First a stop at a chocolate shop in Orton (we had thought there may have been a chocolate factory open to look around but it was closed) and then back to our favourite service station – Truckhaven, where to mark the occasion we bought Yorkie bars.

People in the UK may remember that Yorkie bar adverts once had the tagline ‘it’s not for girls!’ (For some reason, it seemed to be marketed at truckers). Well, in this case we decided to defy gender norms and enjoy a delicious bar of chocolate. The right ending for a weekend of luxury I’d say!

Fact of the Day

The Keep (which can be seen in my photos) is one of the few intact Norman Keeps in Great Britain and at over 900 years old is the oldest part of Appleby Castle. The castle has been held by Kings of Scotland and England.

https://www.applebycastle.org/

Posted in Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

A trip to Butterfly World

En route to Pembrokeshire in Wales, Simon and I enjoyed spending time in a wondrous world where the unusual, exotic and vibrant reigned supreme. We humans were giants wandering through a cloud of fluttering and gliding butterflies, who went about their everyday business of travelling, feeding, mating and often simply resting.

It was well worth stopping off at the Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo at Ross-on-Wye, near the Welsh/English border. After paying a reasonable entry fee at the reception-shop, we were loaned laminated identification sheets about butterflies and a magnifying glass.

As it was October, and nearing the end of butterfly season in Britain, Simon enquired, “Will we still be able to see them?”

“Oh yes, there’s plenty to see,” was the response.

Malachite butterflies come from Central and South America and have green markings underwing
(hence the name)

Before we entered the world of butterflies, we watched a short information film (did you know a butterfly landing on you meant good luck?!). It also urged us to look in the mirror before we left to make sure there weren’t any butterflies clinging on to us. We then walked through the plastic screen into a warm, tropical environment, akin to a hot greenhouse with pathways and tropical flora. The minute we stepped onto the path, we were met by bright blue butterflies fluttering by, so many I lost count.

“They’re blue morpho,” I concluded, looking at the info we were given. I’m disappointed that despite the morpho being the most numerous and the most iridescent, I hadn’t taken any pictures of their radiant colours. Typical!

The vivid blues were the most obvious but as our eyes acclimatised to the world of butterflies, we encountered more camouflaged varieties flying past or sitting among the foliage, most notably the almost transparent glasswing. This unusual variety comes from the rainforests of Central and South America. They lay eggs on nightshade plants, which glasswing caterpillars eat. Needless to say, both adult and caterpillars are poisonous.

The Flame – reminiscent of a superhero’s name – was another colourful type, while a group of blue morphos (the under side can be seen in the picture below, with their owl-like eye spots) were spotted gorging on a ripened banana feast. Yum!

We saw pairs mating, butterfly eggs and young caterpillars – many of the important stages of life for these fascinating insects could be seen in this hot house. I have no idea what variety of butterfly the eggs and caterpillars are but I think it might be great yellow mormons mating?

Alas, it was time to leave and say our farewells to the beautiful creatures, making sure we didn’t take any new friends with us. It was an uplifting experience and it made me realise how butterflies always bring a smile to my face – and judging by the other visitors, I’m not the only one.

I think this may be a Mexican longwing… If I’m wrong, please correct me!
Pictures: Simon Hunter

Fact of the Day

Lepidopterans (butterflies) pass through four distinct stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult.

The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Butterflies and Moths by Sally Morgan
Posted in Writing

NaNoWriM 2021 Writing Challenge

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Ideas would come into my head on and off over the years, acquaintances would translate into potential characters, and I would feel in turn envious and inspired by others who wrote and published novels. But I always made an excuse not to write, from ‘maybe tomorrow’ to ‘who would want to read my stories?’ Everyday life, work and ‘stuff’ would get in the way and, like exercise, writing would take a back seat in my life. But when I started a blog and got back into writing, the idea of writing a novel became more and more insistent. It was not for glory and riches, but a creative urge to, well, create, but what idea to choose? Which characters to write about? And more importantly, how to even start?!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last year a friend of mine mentioned that her friend had taken up the NaNoWriMo challenge. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and it begins in November. Participants aim to write every day with the aim of reaching 50,000 words by the end of the month. That’s an average of 1,667 words a day but it can be more or less, what counts is the total at the end of the month – that’s the first draft of your novel.

At the time I was told this, I thought, ‘that’s inspiring’ and hoped I would remember in time for this year when I may have chosen what to write about. That time is nearly here… do I sign up or not…

To find out more, visit https://nanowrimo.org/

Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Gardens, Nature

Learning about trees and shrubs: The Butterfly Bush/Buddleia

Why is the buddleia also called the butterfly bush? Answer? Well, see the above photo of a buddleia in my garden – butterflies love it! I have four of these, two in my back garden, one in my side (the chickens’ territory) and the fourth in my driveway.

This summer, the same as every year, butterflies were drawn to every buddleia I have. If you want to attract these beautiful insects to your garden, this hardy shrub is a must-have.

Butterfly Bush

The type I have is the fragrant and popular buddleia davidii which can have white, mauve or purple flowers. It can grow to 8ft or more if not pruned and ‘bears tiny honey-scented flowers in cone-shaped spikes’ (Dr D G Hessayon, The Tree and Shrub Expert). It flowers between July to September so a very welcome flowering hotspot for butterflies during summer. According to Dr Hessayon, buddleias prefer sunny locations and well-drained soil. Not sure how well-drained my soil is but none of the four shrubs seem to mind and flower each year.

Other varieties include buddleia alternifolia and buddleia globosa.

The buddleia is actually originally from China (and named after an English botanist called Rev Adam Buddle). It’s often found in the wild in Britain, on derelict sites and along railway lines. It could be classed as ‘invasive’ which usually has negative connotations for nature but in this case it looks like the benefits outweigh the drawbacks to this useful and beautiful plant.

The butterflies certainly seem to appreciate it anyway.

Posted in Reblog, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

A Dirty Dancing Weekend in Llandudno – Part 2

This is the second part of my look back at my Llandudno theatre trip, back in 2017. 🙂

Facts of the Day

1. Llandudno Pier (2,295 feet/700m) is the longest in Wales.

2. The pier was opened in 1877.

3. Alice Liddell (the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland) first holidayed in Llandudno in 1861.

Will They Make It? 

It was a lovely meander up the hill of Great Orme via the quaint heritage tram. We had, it was thought, enough time to fit in this charming journey before our 7.30pm trip to watch Dirty Dancing.

Our brief trip was a reminder we were here for such a short stay and a pity we would have to miss many attractions, such as the intriguing bronze age mine which we passed by.

Here’s what we could have gone to see…

A quick changeover at the half way station (and if you do have the time, do check out the history on the display boards) and we boarded our second tram for the next chapter of Great Orme.

At the summit were scenic views, a visitor centre and wildlife garden. Alas, no time to ponder. A few quick snaps and back on board, along with a much larger, noisier crowd than the one which came up with us.

But Llandudno, we have a problem.

The driver’s voice broke into pleasant thoughts, telling us there was a failure with the emergency brake on the tram below us. It would only take 10 minutes, the driver told us.

Those minutes stretched…

The horn honked. Our hopes raised.

The horn blasted again. Our hopes raised again.

But we weren’t going anywhere.

We speculated on whether we had enough time to leave Great Orme (by tram or by foot), get changed, eat at a restaurant (devouring fish and chips on a seafront bench in our theatre finery was rapidly becoming an option) and find Venue Cymru, our destination for Dirty Dancing?

The horn tooted again and this time we were off. A cheer resounded in the carriage. If wine was available we would have raised a glass. Cheers!

After a tasty fish and chips meal at the restaurant across from the tram station, we quickly dressed and headed down to the Promenade for a scenic walk beside the sea towards Venue Cymru. With the sea, wide prom and beautiful grand buildings, I would rate it as my number one walk to a theatre of all time.

And as for Dirty Dancing? Magnificent. So much energy and passion. How wonderful it would be to dance like that. Or just be able to dance…

Back to Zumba for me!

(Pictures showing various scenes of Llandudno, including a delightful pot of tea for two at the Alice in Wonderland inspired Lemon Tree cafe)

Posted in Reblog, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

A Dirty Dancing Weekend in Llandudno – Part 1

This is another look back at a fun weekend in Wales, back in 2017. It actually fits in quite nicely with my fourth blog anniversary as this is one of my first posts! 🙂

Facts of the Day

1. The tramway up Great Orme is the only cable-hauled street tramway in the UK.

2. It’s a one-mile journey to the summit of Great Orme (which is a country park and nature reserve).

3. Back in 1901, the tramway was built. In 1902, the first paying passengers travelled on the tram.

We gazed out through the open air ‘window’, a cold breeze chilling our faces and hands. In the distance, behind us, as we climbed steadily up Great Orme,  was the under-rated splendour of Llandudno Bay. We passed pleasurable scenes of hardy sheep grazing, hikers clambering up along the path, pretty little lopsided cottages, a long-defunct bronze age copper mine…

Yet there was a tense feeling in the air as we changed trams at the half way station. A cloud had emerged over the journey…

It started from my friend’s desire to watch Dirty Dancing. The popular musical had already been and gone at theatres closer to us. But it was due to be performed at Llandudno, some three hours away. Too far just for a day at the theatre, but we could always make it a weekend adventure?

Following our Thelma and Louise style Road Trip (perhaps with fewer exploits than our Hollywood duo, unless they too queued for half an hour at a Costa Coffee for a tea and toastie), we arrived at our seaside destination.

Llandudno, nestled between scenic hills and a beautiful sea backdrop, is a town of interesting historical buildings, Alice-related statues (apparently Alice of Wonderland fame used to holiday here), quaint cafes and independent shops galore, and a close proximity to stunning Snowdon.

DSC_0124

Five minutes away from our Victorian hotel, which was the old town hall no less, was a path to Great Orme. And a tram for those who were pressed for time or too weary for the climb. We opted for that as we had an appointment at 7.30pm with Johnny and ‘Baby’. Calculations told us that a 45-minute round-trip, leaving at 4.20pm, gave us plenty of time to get back, get changed, eat at a restaurant near the Venue Cymru and be on time for the show.

So we thought…

To be continued….

DSC_0119

Pictures showing journey up Great Orme

Posted in Blogging, Writing

Blog anniversary – four years old!

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Back in 2017, I started my blog – and now it’s 2021! I deem it highly successful, not because it makes me any money (it doesn’t) or because I have thousands of followers (I don’t) but because I enjoy it.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s reopened my creative side which has laid dormant since I was a teenager. I enjoy thinking up ideas, writing my blog posts, taking photos and merging pictures and words together. I love the fact that my blog helps me to learn, that whenever I include facts for readers to (hopefully!) enjoy, I’m enjoying learning those facts too. Maybe it’s trees or history, chickens or guinea pigs, it’s all a learning curve. On a subtle level, I would love it if my writing inspired a love of nature and an understanding of why it’s important.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

This year I have tried to branch out by creating a new podcast channel! Some of my posts are more picture-led than others but others are wordy enough for a podcast. An issue I had was the sound of my voice. Do others dislike the sound of their own voice or is it just me? But I found Anchor had its own audio voice I could use as a substitute so no embarrassment there.

This is more of a creative adventure rather than a money-making one. It was interesting to see how easy it was to do via Anchor and WordPress but I admit I get more enjoyment of putting a blog post together rather than a podcast of my blog posts. Still, it’s always interesting to learn new things. The web address is https://open.spotify.com/show/4p3kPV2T20jcPTErXoj2WI

To mark this ‘blogiversary’, later today I’m going to revisit two posts I wrote about this time four years ago. They were two of my very earliest posts. Happy memories of Llandudno…

Posted in Chickens, Pets

The broody season

Mabel with her friends

It’s broody time again and, like last year, Mabel is the lone candidate for ‘Mother of the Year’ at Cosy Cottage Coop.

To be fair, she deserves a rest after a hard-working spring and summer, supplying delicious eggs nearly every day.

But head girl Jemima does not approve (despite going through the same process herself a couple of years ago).

When I take Mabel out, Jemima saunters over to give her a sharp peck to tell her off or maybe it’s to try and snap her out of her grumpy dreaminess.

“Cluck, cluck, cluck,” responds Mabel.

Back in the coop, she is accompanied by Ava and Dottie, two ladies who have never felt maternal in this way. They have sympathy for her plight though.

Not so Jemima, who keeps a beady eye on proceedings. She does not want the rest of her flock to go the same way…

Jemima keeps an eye on the situation
Posted in Environment, Nature

Caring for a hedgehog

Snuffling around

“I heard a growling outside my kitchen window…”

So started Simon’s encounter with a rather spiky garden visitor. Unfortunately this particular creature seemed to be rather poorly, it was wheezing and wasn’t moving much.

Simon put the prickly creature in a cardboard box containing water, and rang up several wildlife rescues. Nobody answered but then again it was after 10pm. Hedgehogs may have been up and about but many humans were heading to the Land of Slumber.

Understandable maybe, but it still left a dilemma for Simon. What to do now? Was the hog hungry? Thirsty? Should he keep Mr/Mrs Tiggywinkle overnight in his house? Should he try and feed the hedgehog?

He decided on the latter, buying dog food at a late night supermarket. Surprisingly, when he got home, the hedgehog was trying to climb out of the box. So Simon found a bigger box and, along with the water and now dog food, back in popped the rather large Mr or Mrs Tiggywinkle.

The following morning, the hedgehog kept escaping.

Simon told me: “It broke out of the cardboard box and hid under the bookcase in the spare room. I found it a couple of hours ago. So I put it in a plastic box. It’s done the same thing again.”

It ate some of the meat so that was one good thing, although food and animals can have consequences. Especially escaping ones.

Meal time

“I don’t mind the hedgehog on the floor,” continued Simon, “although I’d prefer it didn’t poo on the carpet.

“It went exploring in the night. I found poo in front of the TV. I thought I could smell something but presumed that it was just the dog food I’d left out.”

The hedgehog turned out to be an avid reader with a great love of books – or at least that was the way it seemed considering how often he/she headed towards the bookcase. Unfortunately hedgehogs are quite tricky to free from hiding spots under bookcases.

Checking out the book collection

That morning Simon got through to a nearby rescue sanctuary. Taking the hog for a check-up, the hog expert told Simon he had done the right thing by keeping the creature in overnight and recommended he released it that evening as it may have a litter nearby. There was no way of finding out if Spike was male or female as he/she had rolled into a ball when being examined.

The hedgehog slept that afternoon, tucked up in Simon’s fleece. In the meantime, Simon was busy constructing a new home for his house guest. He made the hedgehog house out of wood and stuffed dried grass into the sleeping area. To keep cats and other potential predators at bay, he covered the house with raspberry canes.

Creating a hedgehog home
The finished house
A house for hogs
Fast asleep

By evening, the hog’s breathing was less laboured and noisy. Simon released the still-sleeping hog into its new home, along with food and water. In the morning, the hedgehog had upped and left, back on his or her rounds once more. If you would like to build a hedgehog home for your garden, visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/nature-on-your-doorstep/garden-activities/giveahogahome/

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond – a wee Scottish break: Part Three

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond was the highlight of our short break and on Sunday we had the full day to discover Luss and Balloch, which sit next to the lake. Loch Lomond is the entry point to The Trossochs National Park and not that far from the urban metropolis of Glasgow (roughly one hour and 20 minutes by car). Saying that, when you’re at Loch Lomond, thoughts of city life are very far away indeed.

And if you’re ever asked what’s the largest loch in Scotland, Great Britain even, the answer is Loch Lomond (27.5 square miles). This is handy to know if you’re taking part in a pub quiz. It also crosses the Highland Boundary Fault, a geological zone which divides Scotland into the lowlands and the highlands. So many interesting facts about such a beautiful lake!

The village of Luss was simply idyllic with old fashioned cottages, cafes and shops. These cosy little homes were actually built for slate quarry and cotton mill workers of the 1700s and 1800s.

Our path from the large car park outside the village took us to the water’s edge where we could see the pier. The views of Loch Lomond were absolutely stunning, the mountain of Ben Lomond can be seen from the shore.

Judging by the numbers of people enjoying the loch, it’s a popular place and no surprise.

We had a delicious cream scone and pot of tea at a lovely little cafe, served by a waiter wearing a kilt, and explored the little parish church.

One fact I didn’t know until later was that the Scottish soap Take the High Road was filmed here in the 1980s and 1990s. I used to watch it as a teenager with my parents many years ago. I’m happy to find that episodes are now on YouTube so I can rewatch episodes when I feel nostalgic.

River Luss

We strolled along the beautiful river and came across a charming faery trail for children. Luss is home to faeries and their homes can be seen here. I didn’t come across any faeries today but maybe given more time, who knows? 🙂

The Faery Trail

I was asked by blogger The Electric Contrarian if Loch Lomond had its own distinctive critter living in the waters? Nessie of Loch Ness is famous but she’s not the only unusual inhabitant possibly living in Scotland. According to Wikipedia, there are possible monsters lurking in several of these lochs. The website https://livedinopedia.fandom.com/wiki/Loch_Lomond_Monster says: “Two descriptions exist, one of a plesiosaur, the other of a large crocodilian, unique of Scottish lake monsters.” Is there a large crocodile living in Loch Lomond? Or an ancient plesiosaur (a large extinct marine reptile with a long neck and small head, a bit like how we imagine Nessie!) Whatever the case, on this occasion I’m afraid I didn’t see Lomo the Loch Lomond Monster, but again, maybe next time? 🙂

Balloch is a recreational wonderland for families with a Sea Life Aquarium, boat trips, stalls, a shopping complex, among other facilities. There were plenty of woodland trails dotted around and an aerial Go Ape type adventure which my godchildren may have loved but wasn’t really my thing, or my mum’s for that matter. Sculptures were placed around the trails too.

Maid of the Loch

We saw the Maid of the Loch, the Clyde-built steamship my mum went on a school trip many years ago. It’s actually open to visitors to look around but looked closed when we were there, maybe because of Covid. The Maid was built in 1953 and was the last paddle steamer built in the United Kingdom.

That was our last excursion and the following day, after our little three-day trip, we headed home. After the last year, I feel less like taking little breaks for granted. We don’t know what’s around the corner and so, when the little things feel good in life, I like to make the most of it.