Edinburgh Adventures pt.1 – Castle, Kismot & Countryside

I’ve been back over a month now and I still can’t stop thinking about this beautiful, magical place. And by magical I mean literally because Edinburgh is the birthplace of Harry Potter himself, something my other half was ridiculously excited about… But let’s start at the beginning.

Whilst our early morning flight might have at first seemed like a bit of an inconvenience, it did, however, mean that we were leaving Bristol airport as the sun began to rise. It was absolutely beautiful – talk about early morning views!

This also meant that we arrived in Edinburgh and got to the hotel around 8am, way earlier than the standard 3pm check-in, although once we arrived to drop off our bags the man working on reception was kind enough to check us into our room straight away hassle-free – if we hadn’t have been so tired, dazed and confused we’d have acted as delighted as we were! We chose to stay in The Village which was a convenient 15 minute drive into town, also hosting a spa and very well-equipped gym which suited us perfectly. After a last-minute room upgrade, we also had Sky TV and a king-size bed – perfect! A quick recovery-nap later, we set out to explore the city and headed straight for the top of our list: the castle.

File_006 (2)

We were v big fans of the cute theme

Edinburgh Castle is situated right at the top of the Royal Mile, the buzzing main hub of Edinburgh city centre. The architecture of the whole city especially in this area is astounding; everything has original character and you can walk around and perfectlyFile_003 (3) imagine how it all was back in Victorian times, Edinburgh has managed the miracle of modernising and keeping up with the times whilst retaining and glorifying its originality, history and authenticity. On our approach to the castle we stopped by the Luxury Scottish Ice Cream van, this was a real treat.

As we got chatting the vendor proudly told us of how this was a family business for generations, 100% of the ingredients used are sourced locally within Scotland, many of them coming from Edinburgh itself and surrounding areas, even the flavouring used was naturally and locally produced and how this and the process itself was a best-kept family secret which created the rich, creamy texture that made this ice cream so special. And it was rich, creamy and special – we loved it! I’m a big fan of responsibly sourcing local ingredients (and ice cream, of course) and it makes me so happy to see it proudly advertised like this. It really does make a difference in terms of taste, in my opinion.

The castle itself was great fun to explore and has amazing views out over the city. Standing proudly is a huge cannon named ‘Mons Meg’ who has an incredible history having been capable in her hay-day of blasting a whopping 150kg gunstone two whole miles! There’s also all sorts of passages and look-outs as well as live demonstrations of historical practices, yet our visit wouldn’t have been complete without a quick tea & scone stop and a browse through the gins and whiskeys in the castle shop. I came away with small bottles of two types of Edinburgh Gin and a Stag’s Breath honeycomb whiskey, all of which were delicious, as well as a fridge magnet for my mother’s ever-growing collection.

File_003 (4)

Next was our dinner stop which I’d chosen based on a recommendation from a friend and which I could not wait for: Kismot.

Despite being a little away from the main city centre, this family-run independent business is an absolute gem and deservingly highly rated on TripAdvisor. It hosts a wide variety of unique dishes such as the protein passanda, the deshi khani, the Kismot killer and the chocolate massallam as well as the exclusive haggis, marshmallow or chocolate naans. There are still plenty of regular Indian and Bangladeshi dishes to choose from but it’s always great to try something different and this was certainly a treat; I choseFile_004 (3) the marshmallow naan and a king prawn chocolate massallam (featured right) aka grated milk chocolate in a tandoori yoghurt and cream sauce. Although this sounds strange, like a bowl of chocolate sauce, it was actually deliciously creamy and rich and the chocolate added texture rather than overpowering with its sweetness. Genuinely an incredible dish, I would 100% recommend.

Also, the marshmallow naan I have been preaching to everyone about since my return as it was absolutely amazing! Again, sounds strange but I loved it, without a doubt File_005 (4)my favourite naan I’ve ever tasted despite its sugary stickyness. The other half chose the exclusive homemade deshi khani (featured left) which comes with its meat on the bone for extra added flavour. All in all, we both had brilliant plates of food and would definitely go back again – although maybe don’t order too much if you go because we struggled to finish and I was very upset that we couldn’t take it home and save for later (due to the obvious lack of microwaves in hotel rooms).

File_002 (6)

Next day, full of fuel for the adventure, we decided to take on Arthur’s Seat in the (temporary) glorious sunshine. There are two different routes you can take and being the seasoned, bold adventurers we are we went for the more challenging route up, saving the leisurely stroll for the way back down. The views were incredible, looking out over the city with the castle standing proudly over it, this was a city we had instantly fallen in love with. A bit of a scramble and what felt like several thousand steep steps later, we made it to the top and almost fell back down again – the winds were whipping up a right old frenzy and I clung to the summit for dear life. But, views were totally worth it. 4 kilometers, 6036 steps and just over an hour very well spent and would certainly recommend to anyone visiting Edinburgh.

To be continued in part 2…

 

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Wonderful Welsh Heritage at The Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenavon

Cultural heritage is something to be proud of wherever you come from. This weekend, we decided to tick one of my many Welsh adventures off the list and go explore The Big Pit National Coal Museum up in Blaenavon – and we had the best time!

The weather kept changing its mind between momentary glorious sunshine and overcast with outbursts of rain but nontheless, the scenery was beautiful – The Big Pit is actually located in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. My proud little Welshman stood gazing lovingly over his homeland and I can’t deny that I felt proud to be an honorary Welshie. My own family has mining history too back up in County Durham, so it filled me with questions to ask my mother and grandad when I next see them; it was so interesting learning about stuff that’s so relevant to your own life and background yet still so fresh in historical terms. Anyway, back to the museum & tour itself.


Rob and the other tour guys we can’t speak highly enough of; so friendly and chatty and so so knowledgeable about their subject being ex-miners themselves. They carefully strapped our harnesses & headlights on and locked away our valuables before we squished like sardines into the lift, ready to go below-ground (very authentic). Rob went on to tell us how fast this lift was descending and how much faster it would’ve been back in the day – and still is in other much deeper mines – as well as how many would fit into one of these lifts in a typical day, which alone was enough to make me glad not to have to do it everyday!

At the bottom lay one of the trucks the horses used to pull through the mines, 72 of which resided at The Big Pit, each truck carrying 1 tonne of coal which was sent up to the surface and away to peoples’ homes. These horses were allowed out ‘on holiday’ for 2 weeks of the year and the rest of their lives were spent underground working the mines. I’m not a big fan of horses but the extremity of the constantly damp conditions and fellow resident rodents down there gave me a huge respect for these animals, lugging tonnes and tonnes of coal miles through the mines day after day.
On top of that, children as young as 5 were sent down to work in the mines opening and closing the ventilation doors, until at about 9 years old they were old enough to work the mine face itself. Young girls weren’t exempt it turns out; their job was to crawl on hands and knees up and down the steep mine faces tugging along a trolley which men could dispatch their coal into, so I can only imagine how heavy it must’ve gotten and how realistically quite terrifying that must’ve been, crawling on your own through sweaty older men all day. (This is in fact why young girls were banned from working the mines some years later – it was deemed inappropriate for them to be around men who were often half or almost fully naked due to the heat of working at the deep coal faces at such a young age and I can’t say I disagree).

Rob said to us “hold your hand out in front of your faces and when I count to three, turn your headlamps off. 1, 2, 3.” Darkness. And I mean seriously: Pitch. Black.
When you think about it, when was the last time you truly couldn’t see anything? Not even the tiniest fleck of light or at least the outline of your hand in front of you? If it hadn’t have been attached to me I can honestly say I’d have had no idea where my hand was, and I can imagine after hours on end of this darkness which the children on the doors went through I definitely think I’d have been going mad and starting to lose it. We were told that the shift patterns were 12 hours long both for the men and the children, meaning that in the winter these miners never saw daylight; so much of their lives were spent underground that these horses became their children and these fellow men became their family. The camaraderie that stems from such close-knit communities in such extreme conditions is something that always remains truly admirable to me and something totally key to survival, I imagine. A problem shared is a problem halved an’ all that.

Further along the line came a small railway track which the carts were transported through the mines on once the demand became higher than the horses could physically take. This was incredible in itself because of the way it was operated: one child would be placed at the top of the track and the other would go along the track with the cart to the coal face – which could have been miles and miles away. Once full, the child with the cart would simply squeeze together two electrical wires running along the wall adjacent to the track, generating a bell ringing at the other end so the other child knew when to withdraw the cart. These electrical wires themselves were live, including those Rob showed us on the day, which if they sparked when methane gas was present (a by-product of coal extraction) led to potentially huge explosions within the mine itself. This was sadly the case with the Senghenydd colliery disaster of 1913 which killed 439 miners, men and children alike. As cliché as it sounds, this really brought it home for us as we stood in a mine… surrounded by people… underground… almost pitch black… nearest exit literally miles away…

File_000 (49)As I said, heritage is so important. When something really relates to your own now privileged life it not only makes it so so interesting but also so so real. Back at the surface there were several other reality checks such as the showers and lockers with personal stories and contents within them that really made everything so touching and inspiring. My boyfriend was beaming with excitement the entire time and even came out of there wanting to be a miner for crying out loud… but the sense of pride in their work was what was really touching; these men went to work day after day after day knowing that their suffering and intense hard work was fuelling a growing nation, heating homes and powering trains, driving the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom which we have relied upon to develop our lifestyle today. This pride shone through from Rob and the other ex-miner tour guides and really made the day for us, we had the utmost respect for these guys; they were there, they lived this.

File_001 (10)

Sadly, I couldn’t buy these due to card machine problems but look how cute they are!

I’d really recommend a trip to The Big Pit National Coal Museum if you’re ever in South Wales, or perhaps you live here and you’ve just not had chance to go yet. It’s free entry just like the other National Museums in Wales, though there are donation boxes around the place and a lovely cute shop at the end filled with Welsh-ness; local beers, Welsh silver jewellery, cheese and chopping boards (above), that sort of thing. You also don’t need good weather for the underground bit, just make sure you’ve got a few layers on cos it can get pretty chilly down there. There’s just so much to see and learn about we were absolutely fascinated; I think it’s so important to understand and appreciate these things, history is a part of us after all.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*featured image courtesy of Visit Wales

Weekend workouts & waterfalls in the beautiful Brecon Beacons

This week I focus on fitness once again, purely because I wanted to make the point that getting in a weekend workout does not have to mean dragging yourself out of bed to the gym before 11 o’clock in the morning. I mean, great if you can do that but who’d rather have a lie in? Me, that’s for sure.

There are so many simple easy things you can do to make your weekend workouts fun, especially if you feel cooped up in work during the week and struggle to reach your 10,000 steps per day Monday to Friday. You don’t even have to think of it as a workout, just think of it of getting outside and getting some fresh air – the great outdoors!

If you’re a runner, fab. You’re already pretty much there, just do your thing. If you’re a cycler, that’s fab too. Just pack up your car and head off somewhere stunning for a ride, why not! But if you’re a gym bunny like me these may not be the right options for you. My weekend workout of choice was a humble hike through the hills of South Wales; I can’t imagine a better one. I’m a born adventurer and (as we know from my Iceland post) a very keen geographer, so I’ll happily take any chance to go exploring in nature. There’s a long list of things to tick off my Welsh adventures bucket list but this weekend I picked waterfall hunting in the Brecon Beacons National Park – the Four Waterfalls Walk to be exact.

IMG_2623.JPG

Looking down the path of Four Waterfalls Walk

One of the absolute beauties of living in Cardiff is that Brecon isn’t even an hour drive away, it’s quite literally on your doorstep. It’s also the place that gets all the cute snow and ice when we don’t see it down here in the city, which makes winter walks all the more enjoyable (I especially enjoy the crunching sound of thick ice, why wouldn’t ​

​you?!). The only issue with this walk was that we found it very easy to get a little bit lost on the trail, only finding our way to 1 of 4 waterfalls before the cold and dark started setting in. However, this added to the sense of adventure and was all part of the fun if you ask me! Nothing wrong with getting lost in nature just so long as we find our way home in the end.

Crunch, crunch, slop, slop. The other thing of significance to note was that appropriate footwear was absolutely necessary. My company thought otherwise until, much to his surprise, we found ourselves on a mucky, sludgy path for which my walking boots were perfect and his trainers were not so much… Let us at this point remember the Scouts motto: Be Prepared.

IMG_3310.JPG

Sgwd Yr Eira looking lush

Anyway, we clambered through the mud and found the first (and in this case, only) waterfall: Sgwd Yr Eira. It was stunning as the sun shone through the trees beginning toimg_3309 set. This is also the one you can walk behind (see photo, left), reminding me of Seljandsfoss in Iceland although on a much smaller scale – still seriously cool though! The steps to and from the waterfall were a challenge in themselves, however, (I might have slipped over… but gracefully recovered injury free, of course) and this is where the real workout came in; I deliberately took long strides up in order to make it more of a challenge for my legs, even a throwing in a few squat jumps, but I’d recommend doing this without DOMS next time – did not ease my soreness! (DOMS = delayed onset muscle soreness, the pain you sometimes feel after a cracking workout) Still, a good way to get your glutes, hams and quads working away. I’d also recommend power-walking part of it if you want to feel a bit more benefit and get your heart rate up a little, or even bounding (safely) downhill every so often if you like to be a giddy little kid like me.

All in all, this 3 hour winter walk adventure racked up 14,488 steps alone – making my total for the day over 16k – and burned a whopping 825 calories, according to my Fitbit blaze. I don’t know about you but I’d class that as a great workout, whether you feel sore afterwards or not! Even better if you don’t feel it and just enjoy the ride, which is one of the best things about going walking in my opinion.

img_3301

Views from the path

As I said, there are many other Welsh adventures on my list, Pen-y-Fan currently at the top, but this was a great one to tick off and I’ll certainly be back to find the remaining 3 waterfalls. It seems silly to me not to explore all this beautiful countryside when it is right on our doorstep/such a short drive away, just get outside and go wild! If you don’t live near a National Park then there are plenty of other beautiful parks to walk around of a weekend, Roath Park and Bute Park being just two beautiful examples in Cardiff city centre. Most importantly, the weekends are about relaxing and a workout doesn’t always have to be hard work, life is about balance after all…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Iceland Adventures

Snow! The first time some of us had seen it in years! I mean the proper, good, solid kind of snow that makes that amazing crunching sound when you walk on it.  It was awesome, I had way too much fun finding all the fresh patches that hadn’t yet been trodden – perfect for crunching. We fumbled our way into town following the tourist maps to the best of our ability and so the adventure began. (I apologise here for the length of this one, I had a whole four days to squeeze in!)

First stop, food. Obviously. It’s important to note, however, that when eating out in Iceland, shopping around for the best deal is vital unless you’re an absolute baller. In fact, finding the best deals for anything in Iceland is highly recommended because whilst it’s undoubtedly a stunning and amazing place, it’s definitely not cheap in the slightest – just accept this before you go. You will spend a lot of money. No way around it. (Especially with the currently decreasing value of the GBP…)

I’d heard from others who’ve visited Iceland before that eating out for a big lunch was cheaper than dinners if at all possible, so on this first day of finding our way around Reykjavik and getting our bearings we found a nice warming curry for late lunchscreen-shot-2017-01-10-at-20-54-00 courtesy of a cute place called Hradlestin. What really drew me in was the Thali on offer that I’ve seen tweets about from the new Chai Street in Cardiff (yet to visit but it’s on my list). It’s a type of Indian street food made from a selection of small dishes which looked absolutely delish (see opposite photo, courtesy of their Instagram).

Upon entering the restaurant, however, it turned out there was a special offer on tikka masala that day and asimg_2344 previously mentioned, tourists have to take up all the offers they get! These came with an individual rice and a couple of small naans each; mine was chickpea and the others were chicken. Personally, I very much enjoyed my curry although some of the others made the good point that there wasn’t enough veg to pad out the sauce. The way the food came in small metal pots all stacked together was cool though, overall it a good 7/10 on the food for me. Despite the inevitable expense, I also obviously couldn’t have gone on holiday and not tried the local beers… this time, the classic Icelandic Boli. As usual, absolutely no complaints from me; it was smooth, bubbly, no jazzy after-taste just proper good, honest beer – loved it!

img_3183

After a wander round the harbour and some more of the town, we then did what many tourists do as the next best way to keep things as cheap as you can: find the nearest budget supermarket and stock up on supplies. This is especially useful if you’ve lots of day trips planned like we did which involve hopping on and off buses; taking your own packed lunch and snacks can really help to keep your overall spending down by trying to only buy 1 meal of the day. Plus, it can help keep you energised for all the walking (which I loved as sad as that sounds!) and keep you awake – four hours of daylight per day in November-time really makes you sleepy when you’re not used to it we discovered! Although I’m a very keen sleeper anyway so I, of course, took full advantage of every possible napping opportunity. (Who doesn’t?! Y’know, when in Rome…)

Day 2 and it was adventure time: the Golden Circle tour.

GoPro and headstrap on, lunch supplies in our rucksacks, we were good to go. Whilst the first stop of Thingvellir National Park was some lovely scenery, the incredibly cloudy weather and low pressure that lingered during our stay unfortunately obscured what I’m sure was a lot of the natural beauty in the distance. But I did get a cheeky selfie with some Icelandic sheep (see left) so y’know, swings & roundabouts. img_9477-2

The next stop was Gullfoss Waterfall which was absolutely stunning! Even in the foggy weather. It’s glacier fed and you can see it rolling down from the outlets into a smaller waterfall which in turn feeds the larger one – it was incredible! See selfie below, I was absolutely loving life. But, let’s be honest, the big guns here were the geysers

The main attraction is Strokkur, the most regular geothermal hot spring in the world, erupting on average every 5-8mins. Everyone crowded around nervously waiting for the big event… after a while you begin to wonder if the expression ‘a watched kettle never boils’ applies here… but then POW up it goes! Outstanding natural beauty at its finest – I was in geography nerd heaven (and managed to get some good footage too! Follow this link for a cheeky slow-mo). More than this, the snow on the ground everywhere fills you with the instinctive giddy excitement that kids get on their first white Christmas – you can’t help but beam with delight and giggle with excitement that you’re in such a (naturally) magical, beautiful place.

To round off the tour we went to see some Icelandic horses which are apparently a big thing. They were very pretty to be fair but personally I was much more interested in the farm cat that was hanging around as horses really aren’t for me, but I did face my fears and stroke one or two. Anyway, it was then time for dinner again.

img_2166Barber Bistro Bar was our host tonight and had a nice, slightly more elegant feel to it (a lot more elegant that we were dressed in our walking boots and thermals!). A good menu left most of us all spoilt for choice: I went for a vegetarian club sandwich consisting of Goats cheese & caramelised onion (one of my favourite food combinations ever), a grilled pepper and salad, with a side of sweet potato fries. Despite the bread bun itself being a little too floury for my liking this meal did hit the spot, but I found myself wishing I’d gone for the teriyaki salmon my friend had which looked and apparently tasted incredible. Also around the table was Icelandic fish & chips and a chicken risotto which also received good feedback. All round a good, hearty meal, a good bottle of prosecco between us and great customer service – 8/10.

Day 3: The Blue Lagoon.

This was the day we’d been waiting for. Rest, relaxation, natural face masks – what a girls holiday is usually all about! Plus it’s the thing you always see looking amazing on Instagram… only problem was the thick fog and mist still hadn’t shifted so unfortunately our views didn’t look quite as good as this one!

IMG_5297.JPG

Nevertheless, the comfort of such naturally hot and healthy bathing waters was pure luxury after being wrapped in so many layers for the past few days! We also quickly realised that the blue lagoon could act as a natural floatation pool; great entertainment as we star-fished to our hearts content, feeling our troubles drift away for a moment. Bliss. The face-masks were also great fun mostly because people-watching was hilarious – some made as much of the free one as physically possible, with one lady who must’ve gone back at least 7 times, whilst some seemed to think that if they covered as much skin as possible that it would benefit them more than just applying to the face… we weren’t convinced but a glass of bubbly, some blurry photos and several hours later we were thoroughly pampered and getting peckish. But with the whole rest of the afternoon to ourselves what were we to do?

The Phallological Museum. Obviously…

In other words: it was literally a museum of penises. As huge and as hideous as you can imagine. Personally, I found it hilarious entertainment – and it wouldn’t be a true girls holiday without something rude, right? I won’t go into too much detail but here’s some photos of me having fun!

Still full from our burgers and seafood pasta prior to the phallic entertainment (which was a lovely and very filling meal by the way, no complaints) we decided to grab a few drinks at a cool-looking local whiskey bar before heading off on the half-hour walk home. Dillons had a rustic, cute and cosy feel to it, dimly lit with fairy lights draped across great wooden beams and bar that was lit up spectacularly with funky coloured back-lighting. By this point we were looking to spend a bit of money as it was nearing the end of the holiday, so I didn’t mind forking out for a couple of whiskey sours and a single on the rocks. Most of the others opted for glasses of wine, cider, or G&Ts, most of it all reasonably priced as well – by Icelandic standards!

fullsizerender-2

The bar at Dillons shining like a beacon of hope and joy

To finish we played card games and ‘Heads Up’ – which, although I know sounds wild for a group of girls in our early twenties, was and always will be a great way to spend an evening with old friends. There’s a great kind of nostalgia about playing games on holidays that will never get old.

Day 4: The Big Adventure. South Island Tour.

This was the day we got to walk behind a waterfall and see the black sand beach – we could not wait! It got off to a great start with our insanely cool tour guide Iris (who we all had a bit of a woman-crush on by the end of the day); she was just so cool and chill and told us stories of her growing up in the area with her family and how she likes to go hiking and camping with her friends around here… all we could think was “please take us with you!”. Driving through the land of Thor really brought home how incredible Icelandic scenery really is, the whole landscape is fascinating varying from great open green plains to mighty mountains and glaciers… and waterfalls.

Skogafoss and Seljandsfoss to be specific; the first of which has a very impressive 60m drop and the latter of which you can walk all the way behind, pretty awesome! Both get you slightly soaked but that’s all part of the fun! Next was Reynisfjara, the black sand beach. Watching the North Atlantic come crashing down onto the shore with such immense natural power and beauty was very humbling – but also slightly terrifying. Not just because I’m still working through my fear of deep and open water, but because the rip tides at Reynisfjara are well known for being deadly powerful and must be treated with the utmost respect. The sculpted basalt coastline was equally as awe-inspiring, featuring impressive columns similar to those seen at Fingal’s Cave in Scotland which were also great fun to jump off! Coming up next, however, was the true star of the show for me…

Solheimajokull, a sublet of Myrdalsjokull glacier. I freaking love glaciers. This stop was essentially just getting off the bus, walking up the valley and looking at/taking photos of the glacier but it’s impossible not to take another few minutes to once again stare around in awe of such insane natural beauty and phenomena. I had such envy for the lucky buggers who can afford to go hiking on this glacier, I would’ve absolutely loved to as I couldn’t when in New Zealand due to instability; but alas, that’ll have to remain an adventure for the future.

That evening our last supper was not what you’d expect, but we came across an Icelandic tapas place and couldn’t resist. SmakkBarinn was joined onto BarAnanas and just up the road from Reykjavik chips, all of which we visited and enjoyed. There were two options: 4 pots of tapas or 6 pots of tapas. Both came in individual little jam jars and all slotted into the appropriately sized board, it was super cool! (And very convenient for someone like me who isn’t really down with the whole sharing food thing). I dived in head-first and went straight for the 6 option; 4 mains and 2 desserts. I regret nothing.

My choices were along the lines of: some breaded cod goujon-type things, petite langoustines fried in a vodka batter (both very good); a mini lobster soup which wasn’t very nice, the balance of flavours had gone wrong somewhere; some deep-fried cheddar with red onion jam (amazing); and for dessert I chose a chocolate caramel pudding with coconut and blueberry ice cream with praline. The pudding had a very mousse-like texture and was nice but the ice cream was the real star of the show, smooth and creamy and the blueberry flavour was just right, not too tart. All in all everyone was very well satisfied and it was such a lovely final supper in Reykjavik; a perfect end to a brilliant holiday with my best friends!

fullsizerender

Yummy Icelandic tapas: our final meal

Here’s to many more! I hope this helps any of you who may have Iceland on your bucket list, I can’t recommend it enough as an amazing place to go! Plus, there’s different things to do in each season so you can kind of go whenever depending on what you’re after. Yes, it’s very expensive, but worth the experience in my opinion. Go on, treat yourself…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

img_2869

Squad goals? I think so.