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Local Favourites: Crawfordsburn

Local Favourites: Crawfordsburn

It’s been a while since I put one of these wee guides together and I had forgotten how much fun it was to show off a place a few of you maybe haven’t explored yet. For such a small island it’s amazing how many hidden secrets there are that don’t require hours in the back of a car. All you need is a free afternoon and a thirst for a bit of adventure!

This guide is dedicated to the village of Crawfordsburn. Located only a few miles from Belfast on the North Down coastline, it was a place I had never even heard of before I moved to the city a few years ago. Now it’s my favourite haven for winter walks on the beach or for an afternoon spent over a coffee and a scone. There isn’t much to the village itself but there’s enough character to charm the pants of you – well worth a weekend trip this Autumn!

Loaf Pottery

This café and pottery is worth a trip all on it’s own to be honest. It’s part of a wider social enterprise that started in Belfast over 10 years ago that helps  young people with learning disabilities and autism receive training and jobs in the catering industry. Creating these employment opportunities has been made an incredible impact on the community and has revived an old pottery that locals feared would fall in to disrepute.

The pottery studio at the front of the cottage hosts classes 7 days a week as well as a variety of pop-up events that have garnered popularity in the few months they’ve been open. This autumn and winter there will be pizza and pottery nights, supper clubs and Italian wine sampling evenings of which you can find out more about here. Anyone fancy a date to the autumn supper club??

If you don’t make it to a class then you can at least enjoy a delicious coffee out the back which is perfectly cosy on an autumn afternoon.

The Old Inn

This thatched piece of loveliness is like something straight out of a George Eliot novel – I half-expect a horse and cart to pull up alongside it rather than the Range Rovers the folk drive about the village! In fact the thatched portion of the hotel is it’s oldest part – around 400 years if you don’t mind. Plenty of ye olde celebrities frequented it’s doors including Swift, Tennyson and the very man himself – Charles Dickens.

Nowadays the hotel is a favourite among locals for a Sunday roast and is especially cosy in winter with the fires lit and the lights low. It’s still as popular as ever amongst the travellers though and was voted AA Hotel of the Year in 2018 – good job folks. For me it provides a perfect nook to enjoy a quiet pint before a long walk down on Crawfordsburn beach. Sure ye couldn’t beat that.

Cottage Crafts

This wee gem is found right beside Loaf Pottery and is full of beautiful pieces to buy. It’s not open on a Sunday so be sure to pop down on a Saturday when you might be tempted to make a few selfish purchases.

Crawfordsburn Country Park

Ah, my happy place. This woodland never fails to clear my head and each time I go there’s another new path to explore. There’s no better time to visit than in autumn when the leaves turn gold and the evening light is that bit more golden. My favourite part is the beautiful archways that carry the train overhead, like ancient brick giants.

If the woodland itself wasn’t enough to make your heart swoon then all you have to do is inch yourself a bit further to the coastline until you hear the sound of crashing waves. Soil gives way to sand and suddenly you’re out in the fresh Irish sea air trying your best not to hug ALL OF THE DOGS. This is where I take Andrew each time I try to convince him to get a pupper but then all he sees is the absolute mess the dogs make of their owner’s car. Sigh.

I hope this guide has tempted ye up to the coast but if you have your own hidden gem then why not share your secret in the comments below? Share the love! 

Summer Staycation at Titanic Hotel Belfast

Summer Staycation at Titanic Hotel Belfast

There are some moments in life when the littlest of things can seem so deliciously self-indulgent. Moments that feel almost laughable at how gorgeously simple they are. Drinking a cold glass of wine in a hot bath. Spending a long morning curled up in bed with breakfast and books. Sitting on the back step to soak in the last golden light of a blissful day. But do you know what I recently discovered to be the ultimate summer indulgence? A staycation at a luxury hotel a stone’s throw from my house!

Titanic Hotel Belfast is really the dream hotel if you want to experience the old and new of Belfast. Despite only opening in September the hotel has helped transform the Titanic Quarter in to the tourist haven it is today and has encouraged a multitude of businesses to spring up around it. As a local I have witnessed the impact the hotel has had but would never have dreamed I could play tourist there so when the lovely folk from Titanic Hotel kindly invited me to experience my very own staycation you bet your Jack Dawson I jumped at the chance!

Driving the 0.8 miles from our wee house in Sydenham to the hotel was a strange journey since it’s the route I take every day from work but as soon as I walked through the huge glass doors I instantly felt a million miles from home. The staff welcomed us both like we were newcomers to the city which was a real treat and made us both feel like we really were on holiday. What surprised us even more though was the level of detail in every inch of the building. Belfast’s history poured out of every corner and it’s charm out of each and every one of the staff we met.

Authenticity has obviously been crucial in the success of the hotel. In a city that has received flack for milking it’s Titanic connections, the Titanic Hotel has managed to strike a balance between celebrating the past and welcoming the future of Belfast. The building itself was once the bustling headquarters of Harland & Wolff, the shipbuilders who turned Belfast in to an economic empire in the early 20th century (and whose yellow cranes still form the city skyline today) and it’s unique features have not only been conserved but celebrated throughout.

While the Titanic is the shipyard’s most famous commodity, hundreds of ships were designed in the Drawing Offices of the building that now act as a function room and a bar in the hotel today. The Victorian barrel-vaulted ceilings have been preserved and updated with skylights allowing natural light to flood both rooms making them an absolute dream to photograph (while drinking cocktails of course). In fact, the tiles that decorate the front of the bar are the same tiles that were used in the Turkish baths of the Titanic (and were found in dusty boxes while the building lay derelict!).

After checking in we were shown to our room by Paddy, a bell-boy who knew more about the building’s history than most tour guides. He was even generous enough to give us a quick tour of rooms that hosted key moments in the past before he clocked off; the Presentation Room where plans were dissected and bought (and where you can enjoy Afternoon Tea today), the old telephone exchange which acted as the communications hub for the shipping offices (and where the first call announcing the sinking of the Titanic was received) and the original staircase decorated with the flax flower to commemorate Belfast’s textile industry.

While artefacts and paintings line the corridors of the main building, upstairs the design cleverly shifts. The halls are long and dark and the doors to each room are bolted like that of a ship. Inside the room the style is very much art deco but with subtle nautical accents that doesn’t feel too try-hard. We were lucky enough to stay in room 401, a spacious suite looking out to the sharp lines of the Titanic Museum (named the top tourist destination in Europe in 2016) as well as the shipping channel and Belfast hills.

It was tempting to cosy up here for the night and watch the sun set over the mountains but our bellies were rumbling and the Wolff Grill was calling. The fine dining restaurant of the hotel is another interior design feast for the eyes and was drenched in the evening light as we were shown to our table. The menu boasts local ingredients that were kindly explained by Norbert our waiter, an absolute gem of a man who had both of us laughing and grinning all night. I started off with cod & caviar (if you don’t mind) while Andrew went for arancini balls; both very delicious and both wolfed down faster than I’d like to admit. We both went for beef for main (we were on our holidays after all), a decision neither of us regretted. Full to the gills we decided to share dessert, a white chocolate pot with homemade peanut butter fudge which we almost licked off to finish but decided not to for fear of judgement from Norbert (although I’m sure he would have loved that).

After dinner we waddled out to the slipway for a dander and to watch the sun set. I had worn my fancy dress and thanked the heavens I wore Spanx even though I could barely breathe and needed to sit down after a few steps. Once the sun had gone down we found ourselves at the bar with the speciality cocktail list in our hands. The bartenders clearly liked to experiment and encouraged us to let them make us something off the menu (although the Jack & Rose did sound delicious). We were treated to the tastiest drinks (Andrew particularly loved is strawberry-decorated delight) and parked ourselves there for an hour or two chatting with other guests until even the Spanx couldn’t contain me.

The next morning we felt refreshed taking our time to enjoy the room while we still had it. The bath was a particular treat for me since my own resembles something your Granny would have sported in the 1980’s (lemon, it’s lemon – damn rental). We pottered down to the Wolff Grill again for a huge buffet breakfast; an impressive selection that I got shamefully excited about. Looking out over the slipway we felt relaxed and almost forgot how close our journey home was.

We took another walk round the building before we left not wanting to cut the trip short just yet. I found myself thinking about all the memories that the marble walls held and how much this city has changed since then. These stories would have been lost if the building hadn’t been preserved so thoughtfully and as a local this was something I felt very proud of and wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t have stayed there.

Staycations are a real treat not just because it feels super luxurious but also because it can help us fall in love with our own city. For me it was an absolute game changer and I’ve a feeling I’ll be good at playing tourist in Belfast from now on especially with hotels like the Titanic to welcome me.

Note: the Titanic Hotel invited us to stay and have dinner however all opinions in the post are of course my own! If you would like to experience the maiden summer packages the hotel are offering this season then you can check out the special offers here

 

Summer at Helen’s Tower

Summer at Helen’s Tower

It took me a few wrong turns and nearly becoming a trespasser before I finally found this place. It was a Sunday afternoon and I had one of those mad impulses to take my camera out on my own and explore but not really having any particular destination in mind. I get like this sometimes; restless to explore a place I haven’t found yet with an impatience that’s hard to contain. I poured over the map on my phone while I sat in the front seat of my car, my foot on the pedal ready for adventure. I didn’t have to search for long until I saw a pin for Helen’s Tower, a Victorian piece of history only a few miles away that I’d amazingly not hunted down yet. It was perfect! So off I went, tripod in the backseat just in case I got lucky.

Google maps took me in the direction of Newtownards and then up a tiny country road that I knew instantly I didn’t belong on; the big red letters saying “Private Road” being enough of a warning. But oh my the views! I could see right over Strangford Lough and hills that rolled for miles, peppered with the bright yellow gorse bushes that take over this time of year. I even came across deer roaming between fields and rolled down the window holding my breath to get a better look.

Realising that I’d have to find an alternative route to the tower without having an angry farmer chasing me down the lane, I took a few random turns before finally noticing a tiny, completely missable entrance on Crawfordsburn Road with two or three cars parked beside it. Swinging the tripod over my shoulder like Huckleberry Finn I optimistically made my way up the windy path, hoping I was heading in the right direction (there was no real sign letting me know I was in the right place!).

A few minutes in to the walk I was smitten. The path shone gold ahead of me with the summer afternoon light speckling through the leaves above me. Every now and again the trees would give way to something new; a meadow full of wildflowers or a lake full of nosey swans with a path cutting across the middle. The further I walked the more lost I felt in this new Narnia land that I had all to myself.

Eventually the path turned in to a hill and I knew I was coming close to the tower. Panting and cursing the tripod that was now burrowing a hole in my shoulder, I climbed over root-covered paths that threatened to trip me if I wasn’t careful. Rhododendrons seemed to spring up out of nowhere and bluebells were out in full force. Sweating like pig I wasn’t exactly feeling princess-y but I could see the roof of the tower between the trees! It was beautiful and I gazed up at it while I splayed out on the grass recovering from the unexpected hike.

This place is a true gem and each time I’ve been it’s been practically deserted of people. An even bigger surprise was learning that you can actually rent this spot out via the Irish Landmark Trust – can you imagine?!! It would be the perfect romantic getaway for two with the rooftop providing the perfect spot to survey “your” land while sipping on a few glasses of wine. While I was forced to make do with being a lowly civilian I could still see why there were numerous poems written about this place (Tennyson himself penned one in honour of the tower); the woodlands surrounding it are full of magic and even today it feels like you’re a million miles away from anyone else.

I started to make my way back to the car when the sun started to fall low and I remembered with a panic that I was all by myself in a place devoid of people. I half-ran half-skipped back to the car and promised myself that this would be my secret space this summer (a secret that I definitely couldn’t not share it seems!) and that I would be back to explore more. But maybe with Andrew next time as my Tower bodyguard/photographer…

P.S. The Irish Landmark Trust have a tonne of properties you should have a look at if staying in a ridiculously romantic location is your thing! It’s not an ad but just a vital piece of information I’ve newly learned!

 

 

 

The Best Local Places to Find Wildflowers

The Best Local Places to Find Wildflowers

Fun fact: one of my first jobs was in a florist. OK maybe not that fun but it’s true! Back in yesteryear when I was 16, I worked each Saturday and Sunday in a wee shop called The Flower Bowl in Armagh for the grand whopping sum of £3.50 an hour. While the money sounds like absolute pittance now, in my mind I thought I was rich (it funded my addiction to Natural Collection lipgloss).

What brought me the most happiness though was the fact I was being paid to be surrounded by all kinds of beautiful flowers. Each weekend my fingers turned green and numb making up bouquets in a room that was freezing cold to keep the flowers fresh. I got to know the names of weird and wonderful exotics (Bird of Paradise, Proteas) and discovered that there were about a million species of Chrysanthemum. I beamed as I saw the bouquets I had created being sold because I saw how they brought such a simple joy to people’s day. As a teenager it was the beginning of a lifelong passion for flowers and nature and was probably one of the reasons I ended up studying Ecological Science at university a few years later.

Now that I’m an old lady that love for flowers is still there. I buy fresh flowers almost every week, breaking up a bouquet in to glass jars and dotting them around the house. I’ve even been known to dabble in a bit wreath making if you don’t mind. However when Spring arrives I stop buying and start foraging. Our woodlands, gardens and even roadsides come to life this time of year which makes it an absolute dream for gathering. ‘Tis the season for colour and beauty and in light of this I’ve decided to share a few of my favourite local spots with you lovely lot!

While it’s OK to pick flowers in most of these places, some of the areas are protected so the wildflowers are just for gazing lovingly at (and for plenty of Instagram pics of course). If you’re ever unsure about picking a wildflower in case they could be endangered, it’s best to look it up or just leave it but don’t worry, there are plenty of flowers that are free to collect (within reason, please don’t go mad and completely devastate a patch to fuel you’re habit, OK?)

Happy foraging pals!

The Best Places to Find Wildflowers

Lagan Meadows (for an urban oasis)

This oasis in the centre of Belfast provides the best spot for foraging and for finding a quiet place for a picnic in the city. The place comes to life in Spring with butterflies everywhere but just mind the local cows since they’re known to wander around the meadows too!

Loughgall Country Park (for wild garlic and apple blossom)

In my native Co. Armagh there are a few local woodlands to explore but this is one of my favourites since you’re so close to all the local orchards that come to blossom in the Spring. If you’re feeling brave you might find the courage to ask a local orchard farmer for a photo and some blossom to take home with you! I foraged for wild garlic here last year with my pal Rebecca taking the photos which you can see more of here as well as a wee recipe for wild garlic pasta too.

Rowallane Gardens (for manicured gardens rustic woodland)

While you can’t pick flowers in the gardens, this remains one of my favourite gardens in NI which comes to life in the Spring. There’s even a rustic conservatory with climbing foliage, a perfect Instagram scene! To find the wildflowers you have to walk up around the house to the woodland that spreads behind it. This is my favourite part and is a lot quieter than the gardens.

Cavehill Country Park (for bluebells)

A carpet of bluebells dominate the floor of the woodland for only a few short weeks but it’s worth a visit this time of year to see the sea of blue. Make sure not to pick the Spanish bluebells though since the species is endangered! You can find wild garlic here too which you will probably smell first since it’s so sweet.

Crawfordsburn Meadow (for diversity)

This reserve is protected so unfortunately you can’t forage here but it’s a beautiful place to admire this time of year and take plenty of photos! There aren’t many meadows left in Ireland so this place is really special especially since the woodland connected to it is just as beautiful. You can even hear the waves crashing on Crawfordsburn beach too!

Rathlin Island (for abundance)

This has to be my favourite place to scour for wildflowers since there is just so many different species to discover. The remoteness of Rathlin Island means that the wildflowers have the opportunity to really take over the island so while everyone is searching for the puffins, you can hunt for all the pretty flowers on the rest of the island!

Local Favourites: Newtownards

Local Favourites: Newtownards

After the last big chill of St. Patrick’s weekend, Spring has decided to grace us with her presence here in Ireland – finally! The days are suddenly a wee bit longer, a wee bit warmer and a wee bit sweeter. Maybe we can all stop talking about how freezing that winter was now?!

We had the Monday off after Paddy’s Day and after waking up to snow in Dublin the day before, our expectations were fairly low for weather at home in Belfast. You can imagine my giddy surprise then when I saw actual sun-rays beaming through the curtains the next morning; I could even hear birds singing outside! Andrew wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I was about the glorious day that stretched ahead of us as he tends to be fairly melodramatic in the mornings. He even purchased a black-out eye mask recently for his delicate peepers and wears ear plugs so the kids next door don’t wake him up – not exactly a morning kind of guy (and a guy who will get a major shock when he becomes a Dad one day).

After he managed to peel himself from the scratcher I immediately told him we were headed for an adventure in the spring sunshine (he is so lucky to have me, I know). I knew he wouldn’t have wanted to head too far but lucky for us there are tonnes of pretty spots within quick driving distance of Belfast.

I chose to heads towards Newtownards which is about 15 minutes from Belfast and sits at the very northern tip of Strangford Lough. It’s a town I’ve enjoyed getting to know a little more and the area around it is full of places to explore, some of which are fairly unknown to those living in the city up the road.

I’ve listed a few of my favourite locations in the area for food, photography and views to help entice you towards the Lough. It’s definitely a place worth venturing to now the brighter days are among us, even just to catch a glimpse of an Irish golden sunset melting in to the Mourne mountains on the other side of the water.

Scrabo Tower

The tower is an imposing presence above Newtownards and can be seen from pretty much everywhere in the North Down area. This means that there are killer views the lough and on a good day you can even spy Scotland in the distance if you squint hard enough!

The hill is a bit of a steep climb so your thighs won’t thank you but you can rest them at one of the picnic stops on the way. You can actually wander inside the tower during the summer months to learn a bit more about it’s history too but mostly I like to admire it from outside where the wind isn’t blowing and the sun is shining.

Mahee Island

About a 5 minute drive outside of Newtownards lies Mahee Island, an island connected to the mainland by a tiny wee road that seems to lead to hundreds of wee islands. There is something very secretive about these islands, most of them are privately owned so you can’t be too nosy but Mahee Island itself is welcome to tourists and is perfect for getting to know a completely different side of Co. Down.

There are castle ruins to explore, empty beaches to stroll on and clear blue waters to canoe your way through to get a better view of all the islands. There’s even a wetland centre too which showcases the huge variety of wildlife in the area too. It’s definitely a hidden gem on the banks of the Lough and a perfect place to take the bikes out to if we’re ever blessed with a good day.

Haptik

Do you know those cafés you visit for the first time that make you think to yourself: I would love to run a place like this? Well Haptik is one of those places. We ate there for the first time recently and as soon as we walked in I knew I would be back many times.

The industrial décor was right up my street (anyone who follows me on Instagram will see this in my stories!) but the food was what impressed us most. The menu had an Australian brunch feel to it with Andrew practically licking the smashed avocado off his plate. Johnny (who runs the place along with his wife) was super friendly and told us they do monthly supper clubs too so I’m now following them on Facebook to make sure I can book on to the next one!

The best surprise of all though was upstairs where they have an ongoing art exhibition and amazing children’s shop call Wu Concept. It’s the perfect place to pick up a gift for a wee one or just to go and feel extremely broody (which was what I did).

Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart is a National Trust favourite and a popular summer destination epecially among families. The gardens come to life in the warmer months with a lake to stroll around away from the crowds.

The house is now open for tours too if you’re feeling particularly aristocratic with events running throughout the year too. I tend to visit the house in the late afternoon because it has the perfect sunset view over the water which is always the perfect way to end a day of adventure.

Local Favourites: Linen Hall Library, Belfast

Local Favourites: Linen Hall Library, Belfast

When I enter a library I think I get the same feeling that many religious people might feel when they enter a beautiful church or cathedral. There’s a sense of calm that envelopes me and I almost feel like every cell in my body relaxes, as if I’ve arrived home. Being from the land of saints and scholars means that a love of literature is in my blood and to my luck I live on an island littered with beautiful libraries to explore, many on my very own doorstep!

 

With Valentine’s Day looming I thought it was apt that I visit the place that housed the oldest love stories in my city, the Linen Hall library. It was my first time visiting last Saturday and I almost missed the entrance entirely it was so neatly tucked between modern retail chains. Originally the library was located across Donegal Square where the City Hall now sits and while it’s current residence is a little more understated, it is still one of the most beautiful buildings in Belfast.

Founded in 1788, the library is the oldest in the city and is the last subscribing library in Northern Ireland. Inside there are beautiful desks with antique bankers lamp for the members to read their latest literary find as well as cosy chairs in different nooks and crannies for those who want to hide away from the city. You can people watch from the old stained glass windows that let the natural light flood in and spy on the folk sprawled on the grass outside City Hall.

The library was initially founded by the Belfast Reading Society but in 1792, the library became the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge whose aim was to ‘improve the mind and excite a spirit of general enquiry’, an ethos that has managed to live on and ensure the library’s survival despite attempts to crackdown on such free thinking throughout Belfast’s troubled past.

 

Their collection is impressive with the oldest book dating back to 1490 (De Avina written by Eastern physician Avicenna) but it’s their collection of Irish culture and politics that is truly remarkable. In fact, the first librarian was Thomas Russell, a founding member of the United Irishmen and a close friend of Wolfe Tone. The importance of maintaining and preserving Irish culture and her language lives on with weekly gatherings held each Saturday morning for Gaels to meet and speak in their mother tongue.

 

To find such a peaceful sanctuary in the chaos of a busy city is a rarity and one that should be cherished and protected. Thankfully the library has been able to move with the times and hosts a range of exhibitions and events all year giving more reason to return again, even if it’s just to find a quiet place to enjoy a cup of tea in the quaint café.

With free admission there is really no excuse not to visit this urban refuge. I know I’ll be back for sure, most likely on a rainy day when I can curl up on one of the armchairs and read while looking out at this ever-changing city.

All photos were taken by Marianne from Perfect Opening Line, a true local talent who I couldn’t recommend more! 

10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas

10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas

Happy Monday friends! Has your week started off the way you had hoped? Tired already? ‘Tis the season for constant tail-chasing after all which can often lead to us forgetting to just be and enjoy everything wonderful the festive seasons brings along with it. There is a lot of pressure, especially on parents I think, to have the most-absolutely-amazingly-fun-Christmas-ever turning moments that are supposed to be fun and light-hearted in to this mess of forced memories we are intent on making for ourselves.

How about instead of rushing around trying to tick off a crazy festive bucket list, we make time for the wee moments and not berate ourselves for missing out something that would have stressed us out? Don’t feel guilty if you don’t make it to the big Christmas light switch-on (crowds of people gathered in the freezing cold ain’t for everyone) or feel like standing in queue for another freakin’ grotto (for a photo that will probably scar your child). How about doing something that won’t stress you out or your family?

I’ve created a list of things I know will personally bring me a wee bit of happiness in between all the shopping and innumerable social gatherings (I am even socialising midweek now!). Feel free to take a few ideas for yourself but remember, don’t put the pressure on to do it all. Think about why you’re doing it and if you’re not doing it for the pure joy of it then strike it off the list.

Go Ice Skating

It’s not for everyone but I love the adrenaline of trying to stay vertical while giving my thighs the biggest workout they’ve seen all year. It’s fun (to me anyway) and is a real winter novelty that I have no shame in indulging in. For those local to Belfast there is always the trusty Dundonald rink that I’ve been going to since I was a youngster but there’s also a rink opening for a few days over the winter break at the SSE Arena OR if you want to go really crazy, grab some tickets for the Winter Wonderland at the Clandeboyne Estate which would be a real festive treat.

Christmas Crafting

For me, making a homemade wreath or crafting presents to hand out to my loved ones is something that can bring the most happiness at this time of year than anything else. It’s a quiet time for just me amongst all the noise which is imperative for me to keep my sanity (while making a complete mess).

Sing Carols

I am no singer and not a church-goer and yet there is something hauntingly beautiful about attending a carolling service. If you’re not part of a church like me then try something different like attending a night at the orchestra at the Ulster Hall? My favourite is ‘Fall On Your Knees’ all because of Home Alone, of course.

Local Christmas Markets

The Belfast markets can be complete madness and can actually be more stressful than fun. However smaller local markets can be just as enjoyable and filled with tasty treats that you don’t have to queue an hour for. Have a wee nosy at the Discover NI website to see when your local market is next on.

See a Pantomime/Play/Musical

Local theatres are packed with festive productions which we should make the most of getting off our couches to see. I have the best memories of sitting on the floor watching a pantomime at my local leisure centre as a kid (while losing all feeling in my ass). I’m trying to find children to borrow so I can see this musical otherwise I’ll be the eccentric lady on her own who brought her own snacks!

Watch old Christmas movies

You can do this at home of course with the fire lit and the family cocooned in a mass of duvets but some cinemas play the classics which can be a fun way to see the old favourites. I love watching It’s A Wonderful Life in the Queen’s Film Theatre each year. The theatre is a Belfast institution and has these old vintage cinema seats that feel about a hundred years old (probably because they are). They also cater for people with disabilities (dementia, autism) so everyone can delve in to a bit of nostalgia on the screen.

Celebrate the Solstice

Step back in time and celebrate the arrival of the Winter Solstice at the Navan Fort centre in Armagh. My hometown is steeped in ancient Celtic history and the Navan Fort are mirroring the customs of our ancestors through a morning of traditional celebrations followed by a lantern-lit walk up the fort were re-enactors will welcome the breaking of the dawn. The whole event is free unless you want to nibble on a bit of breakfast afterwards which you can enjoy for 4 quid – bargain!

Make homemade mulled wine

Or cider! Here’s an easy recipe for mulled wine that will scent your house like a friggin’ Christmas perfumery. Make a batch and keep some for the visitors that stream through the house. Not too much though or they’ll never leave.

Look out for others

Without sounding like a TV ad, this time of year can be tougher on those who live alongside us, especially the elderly who can be a tad more vulnerable in the colder months. We’re lucky to have Maureen as our neighbour and while she’s fully capable of looking after herself (she looked at me like I was mad when I asked if I could help her with the 10kg box of washing powder she was lugging in to her house the other day), it’s still good to check in once in a while. I would hate to think of my Granny on her own with no one looking out for her so it’s nice to treat those around us with a little more care.

Forage for decorations

We can all go a little crazy with the decorations this time of year which is the last thing our wallets need. To try and save pennies I’ve been bringing a few things back from my winter walks. A wee bit of holly, some ivy or even pine cones to roast in the oven (an idea I stole from my friend Caoimhe, you can find a way to do it here). I’ve been decorating the fireplace, the dining table and coffee table with these foraged finds which feels a bit more special than wasting money on another garland from a chain store.

 

Oh writing this list got me a little bit excited! What about you? What festive activities are you hoping to do this year??

 

What Not To Worry About #37

What Not To Worry About #37

Happy Tuesday friends, the last Tuesday in September… How did this happen?! Despite writing this from a hospital bed, I am feeling more invigorated than ever after a weekend full of creativity and inspiration. It is truly amazing how things land in our lap in abundance when we need it most and what I needed more than ever was to feel inspired in this little moment of vulnerability.

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I was admitted to hospital on Wednesday evening and although it’s never a nice experience being hooked up to an IV drip or to sleep on a squeaky plastic mattress, it has been a restorative week and I am feeling more like myself again. Thankfully I am not chained to the bed and I’m allowed to ‘escape’ for a few hours during the day to inhale real fresh air (man, hospital air can drain the very moisture from your bones) which has saved me from going a bit mad.

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And so I took myself off on Friday evening to the streets of Belfast and decided to explore everything Culture Night had to offer. For those of you who maybe aren’t local to the city, Culture Night is a one-night-only event that happens every September and sees Belfast come to life with over 250 free events taking place in venues scattered across the city. The organisers were expecting up to 100,000 people to attend this year and I think they might have been about right as I squidged myself between hoards of people carrying maps in their hands, hunting down the next event they wanted to get to.

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The night was a real success and walking through the streets reminded me of the reasons why I love Belfast. It is a city that is at it’s best when celebrating diversity and rejoicing in the unique. Over the space of a few hours I roamed from a cathedral hosting a youth jazz orchestra to watching a swing dance competition, to listening to psychedelic rock in a hairdressers bathed in red light, to an Afro-Caribbean festival, to a drag queen street concert.

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I went on my own as a last minute decision which was possibly the best way to experience the night since I could wiggle my way between the crowds and pick and choose what I wanted to see while stumbling upon events I had no idea were happening. It was a fantastic night and could possibly be the most positive and happy event the city has each year.

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Keeping in tune with my new love affair with Belfast, I visited the Tesco Taste Festival at Custom House Square with my cousins on Saturday. A love of food is in our genes and we fully encouraged one another to eat as many samples as we could fit in our bellies – not an ounce of shame between us! The scale of the festival was a real surprise, I hadn’t expected such variety and there were Michelin chefs cooking for an audience live – not something you see every day!

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And then Sunday happened, a cherry on the top of a weekend that made my soul happy. Emma who writes the Life at Littlewood blog (beautiful writer – go read her work!) had organised an event for other bloggers called the ‘Country Blog Retreat’ which was aimed at bringing a group of creatives together who are perhaps needing a little inspiration with their blog or in any part of their lives. We can all struggle with believing that our voice has the right to be heard and the event was full of like-minded people who had this common desire to create something of meaning to themselves.

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As we found our seats (and practiced some self-control with the gift bags) there was a collective murmur that descended within the room. People began exchanging advice on where they were at with their Instagram account, how they were struggling with photography, how disillusioned they sometimes felt with writing blog posts and whether they should be writing at all. There was an immediate atmosphere of support and it felt like a community had just been created within that room that only strengthened as the afternoon wore on.

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The knowledge the speakers had was invaluable and I know that it definitely shook me out of the ‘creative coma’ I’ve been feeling for a number of months. I had been struggling massively with writing good content and feeling a little adrift in terms of what I wanted to be writing about so when Mel Wiggins spoke about writing for ourselves, writing content that we would want to read, it felt like a switch went off in my head!

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So here I am, feeling rested, inspired, invigorated and ready to write more than ever. As well as that I have a few more worries that I will be leaving behind this week. Here they are:

Knowing how to cool down a cup of tea – I am one of those people that leaves their tea for a few minutes so it’s just warm and then I drink it all in one go. The danger in this is that I often forget I have the tea to drink and when I go to drink it I’ve left it too long and it’s like dishwater – the horror! I recently read this article about lessons readers had learned and I found that adding 2 ice cubes is perfect for cooling down tea quickly – who would’ve thunk it?! Read the article for more ingenious insights and lessons.

On having regrets – We all have them don’t we? One of my biggest regrets is missing all those lectures in University because I would give anything to immerse myself in knowledge like that again. The lesson is to learn from these regrets and here are some amazing women who have their own thoughts on how to do that.

Attractive physiotherapists – I had a not-too-shabby physiotherapist pop in to my hospital room on Sunday to perform some physio on my chest which would have involved him actually laying hands on my chest. Eh, don’t think so pal! I kindly told him to come back in a while and then promptly did my own physio to avoid any embarrassment and humiliation. Crisis averted.

Having a purpose – turning 29 has made me very contemplative and wondering where I fit in the grand scheme of things. I think this is fairly normal the older we get and it’s nice to know I am not alone in this. I’ll probably write something of my own regarding this communal symptom of age but for now, read this if you fancy delving in to something uplifting.

Hospital food – Because no one wants to have to slice their mashed potato like it’s a cake.

 

Have a great week folks! 

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What Not To Worry About #32

What Not To Worry About #32

Happy Monday folks!

A new week is here and I am clinging on to this so-called summer with dear life. The sun has almost certainly been taking too many breaks behind the clouds and in the midst of an overcast-induced temper tantrum, Andrew and I impulsively booked flights for a holiday in less than 3 weeks. Yes, we are jetting off to freakin’ BALI people!! I am beyond excited and every day since I have woken up with butterflies just thinking of palm trees and crystal clear waters to swim in.

I promise I won’t torture you with too much gloating because I know a lot of you have already been and gone on your main trip of the year and are more than likely experiencing a very real case of the post-holiday blues. For this I would prescribe a weekend break in the autumn. Book it now so you have something, anything to keep you going until our Indian Summer arrives (she better). In the meantime try and enjoy the fact that it’s still warm enough to hear lawn mowers on a Saturday (my favourite summer sound) and there are still a few festivals happening to keep us occupied even if the rain clouds do decide to break.

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Bali-madness aside, things have been pretty dandy in all other areas and I am determined to ride this wave of positivity for as long as I can because I know life ain’t always this easy. I tend to be not so great at letting myself enjoy the good times because there’s always that bitch on my back telling me that something is going to come along and screw the whole thing up (is this an Irish thing??). That bitch has been fairly mute recently and man it’s nice to get some peace. I am happy with work, happy with Andrew lecturing me on his newest philosophies (his newest one is that we are living in a simulation – no joke), happy with my friendships and happy with my car that has no exhaust or working driver’s window.

With this lucky streak in mind I have decided to add a few things to the list of things I won’t be worrying about. Check it out:

How wonderfully united Northern Ireland really can be
Belfast Pride took place on Saturday and the city was tarted up in exactly the way it should be for the festivities. Rainbow flags were adorned on buildings and business, balloons and glitter filled the streets. Gay marriage isn’t legal here yet and the fight will continue until it is but seeing a city so united in and inclusive of all people was so uplifting. Plenty of hope here!

Being a fridge control freak
I accidentally chucked out a slice of pizza that Andrew had been saving for his evening snack last night and almost died. I tend to gut out the fridge on a Sunday and just wasn’t thinking of the consequences of my actions apparently. The man barely spoke to me for a good hour afterwards and I quickly learned that no matter how old the pizza is YOU DO NOT THROW IT OUT BEFORE CONSULTATION. EVER.
People who don’t leave back shopping trolleys

I saw a friend post a Facebook status about this and couldn’t have agreed more. And then this article came in to my life and blew my mind. Return your trolleys people!

Never feeling at home
As a person who has lived in a fair few places since leaving my childhood home at 18, I struggle with the concept of home. I could dedicate a whole post to this but until then I give you this article. This piece of writing warmed my heart so much so that it felt like home in itself. And she talks about tea which is just about perfect for me.

Not having my own home
We rent our wee house and although it suits us for where we are right now, there are times that I would just love to rip everything out and renovate it as my own. It’s so difficult to add personality to house that you can’t necessarily to do too much to especially when you have a lemon-coloured bath suite (barf) but when I do have my own house I want it to look a little like this one.

Have a great week!!

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12 Places to Eat Breakfast in Belfast

12 Places to Eat Breakfast in Belfast

It’s Friday folks; we made it! I am feeling a lot more human today after a few days of feeling very ‘meh’ and being largely confined to my bedroom with nothing but Love Island to keep me company (get off your judgement pony, the show is chewing gum for the brain!). Now I am raring for a weekend full of plans and hopefully a little bit of dancing thrown in for good measure!

 

I have a work BBQ tonight which I am nerdishly excited about (I’m on the Social Committee so extra nerd points for me, thanks) and I am just praying that the rain clouds do the cool thing and feck off for a few hours. The rest of the weekend might involve a wee local festival or an afternoon drive but will definitely include brunch with my little sister who is coming up for a wee visit to the big smoke.

 

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Since moving to Belfast over two years ago it feels like there has been a new café opening every other weekend; the options are endless and there are still plenty of places that I am yet to try. Having visitors is the perfect excuse for exploring new spots and this weekend I’ll be taking Shannon for a feed that will no doubt be a cure for the night before.

 

Venturing out of the house for breakfast is a real treat and not something we do too often but when we do I like to really take my time to enjoy it. There are a few places that I definitely would recommend and so I thought I would include them in a post for those of you in need of a little inspiration for this weekend or for the next time you’re visiting this vibrant wee city of ours. I’m no fibber though so there are a couple here that are still on my hit list but that I’ve heard such good things about them that I’m sure you are bound to love them too. I hope.

 

Wishing you all a lovely weekend filled with whatever makes your heart and face happy 🙂

 

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If you’re lookin’ for a fry…

It wouldn’t be an Irish breakfast post without a mention of the Ulster Fry. When we were growing up my lovely Mum used to cook a full fry for us without fail every Saturday morning with enough carbs to fill a horse. Soda bread, potato bread, pancakes… no wonder I was an absolute puddin’ as a child. If you’re in the mood to have a feast then definitely give this lot a go…

Baker Street

This joint is in East Belfast so might not be too handy for some of you but for the likes of me on that side of town, this place is perfect for a weekend treat. There is a great variety on the menu in case you’re after something different but I would definitely recommend going the traditional route!

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Café Conor

An old reliable found in the Queen’s Quarter of town that always has a great wee buzz about it. It’s a handy place to go before going across the road to the Botanic Gardens or Ulster Museum to walk off the feast.

Town Square

Found beneath the trees of Botanic, this corner spot is a place I keep returning to. The food is always delicious and they have plenty of events on in the evenings in case you find yourself staying on for an all-day session!

 

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If you’re lookin’ for something guilt-free…

Going out for a heavy fry can sometimes feel a bit too much, especially when we’re supposed to be maintaining these summer bodies (ahem). The places above still offer a few healthy options but if you’re after some fresh seasonal ingredients then be sure to try either of these two.

The Skinny Kitchen

I’ve been hearing really great things about this from my healthy friends and I keep meaning to give it a whirl but I never seem to make the trek across the city. It’s on Boucher Road so it’s perfect if you’re planning on doing some shopping after but since it’s on the opposite side of town, I haven’t quite made it yet. Soon though!

 

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The Little Pink Kitchen

If you’re in to something a little bit different then you should check out The Little Pink Kitchen where you can enjoy a healthy home-cooked breakfast in Sarah’s very own kitchen. I’ve been lucky enough to taste Sarah’s food before at an Assembly Gathering I went to last Autumn and I practically licked the plate (her wild garlic dip was the talk of the event). You have to book but for £15 you will be fed very well. The next breakfast is on the 9th July and I think there’s a good chance I will be there!

 

If you’re so hungover all you can stomach is coffee…

As a non-coffee drinker (SHOCK! HORROR!), I tend to go by Andrew’s feedback as to which places do the tastiest coffee. There’s even a Belfast coffee map app now which is proof that the city is a hotspot for coffee-lovers!

Root & Branch

These guys have their own roastery on site so there was no doubt that their hole in the wall would go down a storm. Here you can grab a coffee, tea or small snack before exploring the rest of the Ormeau Road.

 

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5A

When I lived in South Belfast this was my Sunday favourite despite it always being so busy. There is a reason why customers come in their droves because their coffee is the best in the area but my reason was because of their foccacias which are unbelievable. Definitely worth a try before going on a wee dander down the Lagan towpath!

District

The second place in the list from the Ormeau Road but another popular coffee joint. There are plenty of others that are cropping up nearby too so you could do a wee coffee crawl if you’re tempted (although maybe go decaf for one or two stops).

 

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If you want to be really naughty…

Sometimes you want to just skip breakfast and get straight down to the bad stuff. There’s no judgement here. If it’s doughnuts, gelato or waffles stacked with sugar then these three are good places to start.

Guilt Trip

This joint is the new kid in town which is popping up everywhere on my Insta feed. I don’t know why I haven’t tried their doughnuts yet but it is something I’m very ashamed of so I will have to remedy it this weekend!

Indigo Coffee & Gelato

Another new-ish café to the scene but as someone who has recently tasted their salted caramel gelato, I can truly attest that this will be a firm fixture on my summer circuit.

 

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The Pocket

The waffles here should be enough to entice me but the chance to people watch by their window is an added bonus. As an avid tea drinker, I fully appreciate the wee hourglasses they bring out so you can time how long to stew your tea for. It’s the little things!

 

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Have a lovely weekend!