A home away from home? 

Air BnB. What a great idea! You get to stay somewhere you’d never considered before for quite a reasonable price and someone gets to make some money by converting their spare room/outhouse/garage into bespoke or quirky accommodation. 

We first used Air BnB around three years ago on an impromptu weekend away to Brighton. We stayed in an apartment that belonged to Pete* and it was blatantly obvious that he actually lived there. We’re still not sure where he stayed that night but it was a lovely place and we had full access to Pete’s CDs, DVDs etc so you get a full insight into their personal tastes. 

Since then we’ve stayed in the guest wing in a house in Chester, which had its own bedroom, little sitting area with lots of books to borrow, a shower room and a huge bathroom. It became a bit awkward when the owner accused us of letting the claw foot bath, which sat under a slanting window, overflow! It hadn’t, it was only about a quarter full but I then felt uncomfortable using it and that was one of the reasons we decided to book that place! 

We’ve also stayed in a very quirky little mews house in Bruges on a Christmas market trip, where the owner, who we never actually met and didn’t come anywhere near the place the whole time we were there, left us a fantastic review about how tidy we were before we’d even checked out!  

Oh and there’s also been the two converted garages which were snug, but had proper beds, working showers and wifi so a great use of space. 

But the best by far was one we stayed at in the Lake District recently. It was a recently renovated outhouse so all the fixtures and fittings were modern, but it was the personal touches that really made the experience. We arrived to two freshly baked scones with jam and cream, a welcome message on a blackboard, cereals, yoghurts, a variety of teas, filter coffees and little chocolates on our pillows. There was even a foot spa! 

We’ve found that generally Air BnB accommodation is that little bit cheaper and more value for money than a hotel, although you have to be ready for the awkwardness that you are in fact staying in someone’s house, albeit their converted garage or shed! 

*Name changed to protect identity! 


Cooking up a storm!

Those who know me well know that I have had little interest in cooking for pretty much all of my adult life. 

I’m not sure if this stems from cookery lessons in middle school with a slightly impatient teacher who just assumed I had cooking experience as I was an eleven-year-old girl or whether I just didn’t understand why someone would want to slave over a hot stove for hours just to have the food eaten within minutes. So I carried on with my simple menu plans of pasta, jacket potatoes and pretty much anything you can shove in the oven.

Until early 2017 when my other half Daniel bought me a student cook book for Christmas, mainly as a joke, but I took that as a challenge! 

And off I went! For a student cookbook, it had some really good, quick easy recipes and I went from a basic spaghetti bolognaise to chicken pesto pasta, shepherd’s pie, chilli con carne and spicy risotto. Daniel was my main guinea pig but I worked my way up to having my parents over for dinner one evening and then just before Christmas managed to feed five people all at once with no mishaps or post-dinner illnesses! (Well none I was aware of) Result!

Not that I didn’t have any cooking disasters! How was I supposed to know the difference between a bulb and a glove of garlic? Luckily Daniel did and intervened just in time! And I did manage to mix up a recipe by getting distracted halfway through and started following the recipe on the adjacent page and so ended up with a bolognaise risotto. 

There was also a mishap with the sauce I needed to add to the moussaka and I managed to bugger up the dough for the chapattis, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed. Well except the chapattis – they were resigned to the bin! 

A year on I have now progressed to Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients, which I’m really enjoying and my ultimate goal for this year is to cook a roast dinner all by myself! 

Oh and I also discovered I make a great lemon cheesecake! 


Spa wars!

The infinity pool at Aqua Sana, Centre Parcs

It’s no secret that I love spas. And it’s no secret that one of my life goals is to visit as many spas as I can as much as I can.

I’ve had lots of different spa experiences, some just for the day, others have included an overnight stay, some with treatments, some just lounging by a pool and a dip in the jacuzzi and I’ve experienced pretty much every type of sauna and stream room going, thanks to Aqua Sana¬†at Centre Parcs in Woburn! I’ve even tried flotation tank therapy and a roller message machine, but not sure if they count.

At this point in time, my two favourites have been whittled down to Whittlebury Hall near Towcester and Champneys Henlow Grange. In fact me, my mum and sister spent the weekend before Christmas at Champneys and are currently debating whether to go back there this year or experience what Whittlebury Hall has to offer over the festive season.

Having already been to Whittlebury Hall twice – the first time for a hen weekend and the second time with my friend Kate – I’ve always thought you get a lot for your money. Both times we paid around ¬£100 each and that includes an overnight stay, use of all spa facilities, the heat and ice experience, a 30-minute treatment, buffet lunch, a three-course dinner and breakfast the following day.

Swing chairs at Whittlebury Hall

Getting to waft around in a soft white dressing gown and slippers is my idea of heaven and I like the fact that there are magazines dotted around so you don’t have to bring your own.

The Quiet Area has those wicker swing chairs, which look divine, but are a bugger to get in and out of in an elegant fashion, whilst wearing a dressing gown! The spa is set apart from the hotel and also has a conference area and a gym, which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t set foot in – my excuse is I can go to the gym any day of the week!

So three things to note about Whittlebury Hall:

  • The food is amazing
  • There are water beds to nap on in the Quiet Area
  • The bedrooms have fridges so you can bring your own wine – bingo!

Moving onto Champneys, I have also been to Henlow Grange twice. The first time was a day spa with the female members of my extended family and the second time, as mentioned above, was an overnight stay with my mum and sister.

It’s a bit more expensive than Whittlebury Hall, but on arrival we were offered a mulled wine, what’s better than that? Oh a full 24 hours of doing nothing but relaxed. Bring it on!

Set in an old manor house, Henlow Grange has lots of lovely gardens and a weir, which our bedrooms overlooked, and there are guided tours throughout the day, provided you bring your wellies.

The pool at Champneys Henlow Grange.

I also had the chance to experience a very rigorous game of water netball. Now playing on-land normal netball, I have never scored a goal, but I discovered I was a whizz at water netball Рseven goals! There are also lots of lovely places to relax Рa conservatory, a grand sitting room with an open fire and loungers by the pool of course.

Treatments are an added extra but I was lucky enough to have been given a voucher from the boy for my birthday so I was all set.

OK, three important things about Champneys Henlow Grange:

  • There are classes throughout the day that are free to guests
  • You can take advantage of the lovely grounds and garden, weather dependent
  • It has a gift shop!

So many spas and so little time! Is visiting one every weekend really that extravagant?

She who dares…

imageEver heard the phrase ‘life starts at the end of your comfort zone’? Well two years ago I decided that this did actually ring true and made the decision to add some new daredevil activities to my life CV.

So along with my friend Becky, we had a go at segwaying and indoor sky diving, which were both really cool and gave me an appetite to try more.

Then came the ultimate challenge Рan abseil down the Northampton Lift Tower to raise  money for a charity called  Canine Partners. At first I said no, but some of my work colleagues said they would like to try it and our big boss also agreed to do it and even offered to pay the fees for us so how could I say no?

When the day arrived, I didn’t think much of it until I was actually stood in front of the 418ft tower. I could barely see the top with all the mist of the clouds surrounding it. OK, perhaps that was a slight exaggeration but it was definitely a damn sight taller than I anticipated. Unfortunately as there was a group of us taking part, there was a lot of waiting around. I didn’t want to be the first or indeed the last one down. So I went second from last.

Once I was harnessed up and at the top with yet more waiting, I had more of an idea of what I had to do. No one told me you have to climb onto a ledge and then lean back. That was truly terrifying and of course that’s the time where they decide to take your souvenir photo. Somehow, I look quite relaxed in mine, despite being 418ft above my comfort zone. So the descent began. For the first few minutes I kept my eyes closed and just focused on feeding the rope through as fast as I could, which is bloody hard work! At one point I felt reeally isolated as I was too far down to hear the coaches at the top and not close enough to the ground to hear my friends and family. So I kept going until I saw the windows and knew it was almost over. Then I heard the whoops and cheers and finally my feet touched the ground. And then I almost fell on my bum. What a dignified landing! But what a great feeling! I couldn’t believe I’d had the guts to do it and I was apparently one of the fastest down too. No wonder my arms hurt!

Since then I have tried my hand at the Aerial Extreme high rope course, taken part in  an outdoor learning centre challenge, which involved a leap of faith, a smaller abseil and a swamp challenge, managed to get all the way round the Grand Canyon Sky Walk, zip-wired across the Welsh valleys, had a wake-boarding lesson and given white water rafting a go. Next up is the infamous 02 Climb.

Not bad for someone who isn’t keen on heights or hates to be under water!


Why it’s hard being a good Catholic girl

My mother would say that I’m a high days and holidays Catholic and she’s a fine one to talk. Despite going to three Catholic schools, making my First Holy Communion (although I never made my Confirmation) and knowing a good number of hymns off my heart, the last time I set foot in a church was five years ago for my godson’s christening. But I’m not the only one – only one of my four Catholic school friends got married in a church and even my own sister (who only went to one Catholic school, rather than all three) opted for a civil ceremony.

However when Lent comes around, my Catholic guilt tends to get the better of me and I make the decision to give up something good in my life – usually chocolate. There’s no way I would be able to cope for 40 days and 40 nights without wine or cheese, or even Diet Coke, so chocolate seems the easiest option. Last year I managed two and a half weeks before giving in. I think a work colleague make Cadbury’s Creme Egg brownies and it felt like I would miss out big time if I didn’t at least sample one and then that was it. I’d failed. Oh well, at least I’d tried.

So this year I thought I’d try again. With my year of challenging myself already in full swing with my running, this should be relatively easy, and it really was for the first four days. This is where I admit that I had two Celebrations while at my parents’ house the first Saturday in Lent. I completely blame my mother as she just waved them in front of my face when I was busy chatting about my week and I didn’t realise what I was doing.Funnily enough it wasn’t until I was bragging 20 minutes later about how I’d managed to get an M&S Dine In for Two meal with chocolate-less desserts as I had given it up for Lent and she glanced at the Celebrations wrappers that I twigged. But do two teeny weeny chocolates really matter in the grand scheme of things? I had a quiet word with God and we agreed, it’s not the winning, but the taking part that counts so I carried on regardless.

I’m very proud that apart from that one little hiccup I have been chocolate-free for 23 days ¬†now, with only another 24 to go.

Amen to Easter Sunday!


Trying to run a marathon

OK,so maybe not a marathon, but a 5k run. My first to be exact which is a big goal for me considering I have previously shunned taking up running due to reasons, such as my bra straps falling down, my leggings falling down (this seems to be a common problem with sports leggings for me so I’m sticking with my ordinary day leggings!) and the fact that I run out of breath after approximately 10 seconds.

So my running challenge started one Sunday morning when I volunteered to go out running with Daniel (aka The Boy) and found out it wasn’t the worst thing in the world and I could run for a bit without dying. He then issued the challenge that I train for the next five months and take part in a 5k park run in May, in fact the same one I cheered him on safely from the sidelines last year, and if I don’t run in under 40 minutes, he’s going to take my Facebook away for four days. Anyone who knows me will appreciate that not having access to Facebook for four whole days would be harder than the actual running so I agreed. There is also a reward up for grabs but that’s still being negotiated. I have my eye on a Cath Kidston bag but may have to pay for that myself!

I decided to take this challenge seriously and give it my all. A trip to Sports Direct later and I had new leggings (they fall down and have been relegated to my BodyBalance class), a couple of tops and a iPhone armband. I have also been looking for trainers but no luck yet and it’s an excuse to keep shopping! I also downloaded the NHS Couch to 5k app, which is a series of podcasts promising to have you running 30 minutes in nine weeks. OK, if Laura the Podcast Lady has faith in me, then maybe I can do this!

Right, all set and off I went. I started with one minute running and one minute walking for 20 minutes, so quite easy so far and didn’t feel like the cross country runs I loathed at school! Well not until it was upped to three minutes, then five minutes and then eight minutes! But I persevered and after each run I felt immensely proud of myself. Then Laura the Podcast Lady announced in her usually soothing voice that I had to run for 20 minutes. With no walking breaks! Say what now? I made the decision to at least give it a try. If I could do 10 minutes then that’s a good start and I could always try again another day. But when I hit 10 minutes something told my tired legs to keep going; that it was probably only another couple of times around the block so I carried on and on until I hit 19 minutes. That was when it started to hurt. Just a measly 60 seconds left which seemed to last forever but I did it! What a proud moment that was! So proud I had to share it on Facebook, despite rolling my eyes at people that post their MapMy Run routes. But I got over 30 likes so it made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Although that could have been the post-exercise glow!

As well as my 5k park run in May, I have also signed up to Race for Life in July and I have already smashed by ¬£50 target. I’m already looking forward to wearing lots of pink stuff as I’m hoping pretty deely boppers will distract me from the task ahead.

And who knows, maybe one day I will be ready for that marathon!