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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! 

Apple & Blackberry Muffins

Apple & Blackberry Muffins

September is my January. Maybe it’s that crispness that suddenly arrives out of nowhere (crisp air, crisp leaves, crispy-clean duvet sheets after a summer without one) or maybe it’s that back-to-school-ness I still feel aged 30. Whatever it is I feel ready to start all over. Fresh new notebooks are bought by the armful and immediately filled with lists and ideas that I was too busy to write down all summer. And this renewed sense of purpose doesn’t just stop at stationery my friends. Oh no, no, no. I also remember that I have a kitchen! And that I love baking! I think! Unsurprisingly this newfound desire to cover myself in flour also coincides with Great British Bake Off arriving on our screens to help welcome in those dark cosy nights and when I, yet again, truly convince myself that I am a domestic goddess.

The thing is though, I’m a bit of a crap baker. There is no rhyme or reason with the way I create anything so baking for me is a step too scientific. I prefer to whack things in a bowl rather than measure too accurately which sometimes works but sometimes really doesn’t. With that in mind I dusted off the cookbooks that had been deserted (geddit?!) and leafed through until I would come across a recipe that didn’t seem too easy to screw up.

When that failed I knew I needed to think smaller and instead re-focus on easy ingredients. With it being September I realised that it gave me the perfect excuse to pretend that I am a real forager and head home to Armagh to pick some apples, one of my favourite autumn things to do. My home county is bursting at the seams with fruit this time of year and I always head to Andrew’s friend Thomas’ orchard (#connections) to pick a few Bramley’s to bake with and to just generally take a gazillion photos of apples. His Dad is pretty used to this kind of thing since his daughter-in-law is a fashion and lifestyle blogger herself and when we popped down last weekend for the annual visit his face fell in apparent recognition. “I remember you”, said he with a painted smile.

David is a dote though and he very kindly pointed us in the direction of the trees with the best fruit (he’s well trained) and we skipped AKA drove down the lane to pick a few while taking a few very causal and very natural snaps. Only thing is I forgot an Instagram-friendly prop to collect my Bramley’s in – d’oh! So I collected a few using my dress like a basket – cute, right? What’s not so cute is climbing apple trees in tights – those darn things will catch like nobody’s business.

I picked a fairly modest dress-load of apples and headed back up the road to Belfast with them thrown in the bottom of my camera bag. The next evening, with still no recipe in mind, I went for a wander round Crawfordsburn Country Park and spotted blackberries out of the corner of my beady eye. They had arrived early this year and I was warned by Andrew’s parents that they’d likely be all gone by mid-September. They’re usually right on the money with this sort of thing, like a pair of botanical forecasters they are but thankfully they were wonderfully WRONG this time. There were loads!! I hit the freakin’ berry jackpot and again ripped more tights as I tramped through brambles to get to them (also stung myself with nettles which was sort of lovely because it made me feel about 8 again). I collected them in a nifty old pick ‘n’ mix bag I found in my car door (note to self: buy some cute props for next years forage) which then proceeded to seep all round my fingers staining them bright purple which again made me feel about 8.

Now that I had the perfect autumnal crop to bake with I went back to the drawing board and tried to find an unintimidating recipe. This time I used the power of social media and asked if anyone knew of any good recipes that a gal like me could use and holy smokers did I get recipes o’plenty. There were dozens of crumble requests but since I gave that a whirl last year I decided to try something new. I finally landed on Apple & Blackberry Muffins since these could be easily shared with my work chums or else just eaten entirely by me while I watch another Bake Off episode – let’s not think about which option I went for.

If you fancy trying your hand at some apple pickin’ too then you might just be interested in the Armagh Food & Cider Festival that’s happening this weekend. There are heaps of events across the entire weekend including foodie film nights (The Godfather is being shown in an actual pizza joint, I mean?!), sunset markets, harvest suppers and so much more. What’s really great is that a few local orchards are hosting tours so you’ll get to have your very own orchard photo shoot if you so choose. Otherwise you can take a few Bramley’s home and try your hand at this recipe which thankfully, tasted amazing!


Apple & Blackberry Muffins

IngredientsMakes 12 muffins
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup superfine sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium grated Bramley apples
  • ½ pint blackberries (washed dried and floured)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ cup brown sugar

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 and paper a 12 cup muffin pan.
  • Combine the dry ingredients.
  • Combine the liquid ingredients (I measure the milk in the measuring cup and then add the butter and egg). Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and combine in a few strokes.
  • Add the blackberries and the grated apple and mix quickly. Spoon the batter into the cups. Mix together the brown sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle over the tops of the muffins.
  • Bake at 400F/200C for 25-30 minutes.

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!

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Happy foraging!!


Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta 

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

What You’ll Need:

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

Method:

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

 

 

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