My Favourite Cotswold Villages

The Cotswolds are fast becoming known as the cutest place to visit in England. And by cute I mean beautiful countryside, charming cottages, and sheep galore! It is the perfect place to stay if you want a quintessential breakaway, this is the Little England so many dream of.

Below are just a few of the most picture-perfect villages you can visit. It is important to note that the Cotswolds covers a large area, spread over multiple counties. Unless you have a week or two, you won’t be able to fit in absolutely every place.

  1. The Slaughters, Gloucestershire

The name doesn’t sound so pretty, does it? This is not a place in which there was any sort of mass slaughter, the name actually comes from the word ‘slough’ meaning ‘wet land’. Once you realise this, the name is pretty fitting. Both villages (Lower and Upper Slaughter) are located on the River Eye, a small tributary to the River Windrush. It is their location on the river that makes these villages so charming.

Upper Slaughter is the smaller and less well known of the two villages, other than a country hotel the village is mainly just homes (beautiful ones at that!). Lower Slaughter is the place you would find on a postcard, with a mill museum, country inn and pub, the village brings in a lot more visitors.

2. Blockley, Gloucestershire

During the eighteenth century when the wool industry was in decline Blockley turned to silk production in order to keep its wealth going. The Blockley Brook ended up powering six silk mills, providing employment for 600 people.

Today, Blockley is a beautiful, typical Cotswold village, although perhaps a little more golden in colour. In the centre of the village is a shop and restaurant where you can enjoy a cream tea or something more substantial. The village itself is of a good size, the only downfall really is the number of parked cars! A negative of many Cotswold villages, remember the houses were built before cars were a thing, so no parking spaces or garages were included in their construction.

3. Castle Combe, Wiltshire

How could I not include probably the most recognisable villages in the Cotswolds? In the opposite direction to Blockley is Castle Combe, a beautiful village in the far south of the Cotswolds, closer to Bath than Oxford. The name of the village comes from the 12th-century castle that once stood 1/3 of a mile to the north. The 14th-century market cross still stands in the centre of the village, dating back to when the village was granted a weekly market.

Today this sleepy village is well and truly on the tourist path, receiving busloads of visitors during the peak summer months. Thankfully some carefully painted double yellow lines mean cars can’t park all over the village, thus offering you a car-free view that wouldn’t be out of place in a picture book. If you want the village to yourself, visit early in the morning, or in winter!

4. Lacock, Wiltshire

Close to Chippenham in Wiltshire is Lacock, a village that looks much the same as it did 200 years ago. With a famous abbey, who’s former resident contributed to the invention of photography, and a selection of independent shops, pubs and eateries, Lacock has become a popular spot for day trippers.

5. Painswick, Gloucestershire

Between Gloucester and Stroud is Painswick, a town which like many others in the area, grew from the wool trade. The village has been built from locally quarried Cotswold Stone, creating a stunning collection of narrow streets.

If you want to see a bit of history, head to the tower of St Mary’s parish church where you can see the scar from two small cannonballs that were created during the first English Civil War of 1642-45.

6. Snowshill, Gloucestershire

Once captured in a scene for Bridget Jones, Snowshill is everything you imagine an English village would be. With a pub, a church, and a grand manor, Snowshill is surrounded by breathtaking British countryside and is home to a handful of golden, chocolate box cottages.

7. Great Tew, Oxfordshire

Relatively new to me, it was only 2019 in that I discovered the pretty village of Great Tew. Situated off the main road, the village is rather quiet, yet home to a very popular pub. The thatched cottages are spread mostly down one street and whilst you do find a few cars parked around, there is a main car park to try and keep the village vehicle free. The village is currently home to Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Beckham’s also own a country pad here, so if you like celeb spotting, this place is your best bet.

Britain’s Oldest Home is For Sale!

The thing I love most about England is the period housing. I won’t claim the whole of England is filled with picture perfect cottages, it’s not, and nor do I live in one. However, I do think the housing in England is among some of the most beautiful and characterful in the world.

The home that claims to the oldest continually inhabited home in England is for sale, William the Conqueror’s brother even lived here! Located near Cobham in Kent, Luddesdown Court is on the market for an eye-watering £3.5 million. That is $4.4 million! However, it does come with 26 acres of premium countryside less than 40 miles from London.

The Grade I listed property is thought to date back before the 1100s, constructed of flint and stone. The most impressive feature in the house is the 30ft long Great Hall boasting solid oak beams across a vaulted roof. Other period features include a Tudor chimney, Norman corbelled fireplace and unique murals scratched into the plaster of the Great Hall and one of the bedrooms.

There have been some modern additions of the years, including a beautiful pool house which is home to a large pool (obviously) and his and hers dressing rooms.

Formal gardens immediately surround the main house, with more land spreading out further into the countryside. There is a walled garden that is thought was constructed originally as a remembrance garden, complete with alcoves, built-in benches and sunken pools of water. There is a charming rose garden, orchard and fenced paddocks, there is even a croquet lawn!

If your interested in this house and want more details, it is listed with Knight Frank.

Norwich, England

Located in the far east ‘bulge’ of England, Norwich is a city you might not know to visit unless you have a reason to go there. Even though I have lived in ‘East Anglia’ my entire life, albeit, in the west of it, I have never visited Norwich, and have only been to Norfolk (the county) once!

My friend Hannah from university, who has been living in Australia for more years than I would like, is from Norwich and so this Christmas, when she flew back to England for a couple of weeks, seemed the perfect time to take that drive.

I had heard horror stories about ‘that drive’… “there are no dual carriageways in Norfolk” I have been told many times. But I would like to squash this rumour, it is simply untrue. In fact, the A11 from Cambridge was a dream, barely a car on the road and dual carriageway the whole way! So please, if you have been put off visiting because you are worried about the drive, let your worries float away. I live in Hertfordshire, a few miles north of the M25 and it took around 1 hour 45 minutes to drive there. I know for my friends across the pond in the US and Canada might think a 1 hour 45-minute drive is nothing, but trust me, in a country as compact as England we class that as a long journey!

Heading through the outskirts of Norwich I instantly thought that it was a place that I could live. Not only is there a large hospital and university to provide a decent amount of jobs, but the city is also one of the largest in eastern England. Located 100 miles from London, Norwich is the county town of Norfolk, a predominantly rural part of the country with a fabulous coastline. Norwich itself is just 20 miles from the nearest coastline which stretches 84 miles. This makes the city perfect for a quick weekend break or part of a longer holiday to Norfolk.

Although it isn’t the most well-known settlement in the UK, it used to be one of the biggest, from the Middle Ages up until the Industrial Revolution it was the largest city in England after London. Today it is the most complete Medieval city in the country and you can expect to find many cobbled streets lined with half-timbered buildings. In fact, Elm Hill is frequently voted as being one of the prettiest streets in England, and rightly so.

Elm Hill is a classic olde English street flanked by Tudor buildings dating back to the 1500s. The street itself is thought to date back to the 1200s, possibly further. Sadly there was a terrible fire in 1507 that destroyed 700 houses in the area which is why the buildings standing today do not predate this. However, there is one exception. The Briton Arms miraculously survived the fire, it was built in 1420 and remains the most imposing building on the street. The Briton Arms serves delicious meals (including afternoon tea!) using local and seasonal produce, and whilst the official date of the building is 1420, there is evidence to suggest it was actually constructed in 1347. The plan and layout of the building are untypical of the age, whilst the style relates more closely to the buildings of the Netherlands, reflecting the strong links which Norwich had with the continent.

Today Elm Hill is around a 5-minute walk from the centre of Norwich, whilst there are a few shops and a hotel along the street, there is not a huge reason to walk through unless you want to visit. It was once an important thoroughfare which ran alongside the river. I do think it is a blessing in disguise that this isn’t as busy as it once was, I almost had the place to myself and it was wonderful, I imagine it’s a different story in summer though… Elm Hill declined rapidly in the 19th century due to the increased quietness in the once thriving wool industry, becoming a slum by the end of the century. The houses were left neglected and decaying. Thankfully, in 1927 the Norwich Society put the argument forward to the council, proving the historic importance of the street, stating that it could become an area of interest if it was cleared up. Luckily the council listened and renovation and restoration started in 1927, meaning we can all enjoy the beauty of Elm Hill today!

There are other areas of historical importance in Norwich. The Cathedral Quarter located to the east of the city centre surrounds Norwich Cathedral itself which dates back to 1096. By 1094, Norwich had firmly marked its status as the urban centre of East Anglia and an impressive castle was built in order to exercise royal power. The Bishop’s seat which was originally held in nearby Thetford was moved to Norwich, where a new cathedral and monastery were set to be built.  In doing this the Bishop was following William the Conqueror’s practice of consolidating both secular and religious power in one place.

In 1272 an argument broke out between the prior of the cathedral and the people of Norwich when the prior wanted to collect tolls for a fair. The escalating argument led to violence with the prior leading a band of armed men through the city. The townsfolk fought back, throwing burning brands onto the roof of the cathedral and the monastic buildings, leading to a destructive fire. Thankfully, the Lady Chapel roof remained untouched by the fire, however, the rest of the cathedral and monastery were left roofless. The city paid a heavy fine which was then used to rebuild the church.

The Cathedral Quarter itself is now largely inhabited by Norwich Cathedral School, one of the oldest schools in the country with a traceable history to 1096! The school now educates over 1000 pupils but at its founding was instructed to teach 90 sons of Norwich citizens.

Opposite the cathedral, you can find Tombland Alley, but blink and you’ll miss it. Upon entering the alley I mentioned to my friend it gave me the spooks, it definitely felt like there could be a ghost lurking in the shadows. I later looked up the history and was not surprised to find out that it is in fact supposedly haunted!

The most recognisable building here is Augustine Steward House, dating back to 1549. Augustine Steward was a wealthy merchant, Member of Parliament and three times mayor of Norwich. His house was willingly used as the headquarters for the Earl of Warwick’s army during the suppression in 1549 of Kett’s Rebellion, a revolt against the enclosure of common land by rich landowners, leaving peasants with no place to graze their animals. Legend says the occupants died from an outbreak of the plague in 1578 so the house was boarded up and sealed. Sadly though, one girl was still alive but subsequently starved to death as she couldn’t escape. Rumour has it she continues to haunt the house and alleyway with her legs fading away below the knees.

Whilst Norwich is full of historic gems, it is important to note the modern day city offers a lot to visitors. The city centre offers a good selection of well-known shops as well as independent businesses, plenty of places to eat and drink, and a fantastic covered market. For those wanting a delicious afternoon tea, head to the Assembly House, they offer a traditional afternoon tea but they also regularly offer themed afternoon teas too! For coffee lovers, head to Strangers, supposedly the best coffee in the city, I wouldn’t know though as I am not a coffee drinker; Alchemista Coffee Co also has a superb array of coffees and hot drinks. For those who want something a little more substantial, Benedicts offer fantastic local dishes. Not only is the food fantastic, but they cater for those with many different dietary requirements.

That’s all from me for this city, I am heading back up there in just over a week for my birthday though, so perhaps there will be more to come on Norfolk in the coming weeks…

Editing with Lightroom Presets

I receive a lot of messages on Instagram asking me what filters I use on my photos or what app I use. I use ‘Lightroom’ which can be used on a phone or on a computer, and for me, it is easy to use and super effective in getting the look I want for my photos.

So what is the big deal? I used to use Snapseed and A Color Story to edit my photos, A Color Story offers cheap bundles of filters to get your feed looking consistent. However, I found both these apps pretty limiting and I was unable to get my photos looking how I wanted them to be.

I downloaded Lightroom around a year ago, I almost gave up with it but something kept me going. Lightroom offers a range of editing tools, you can create particular looks you want and then save the editing settings as a ‘preset’ – just another name for a filter. Over this last year I have created hundreds of different presets, all for different scenarios, particularly locations. I have divided these presets up into different groups, this makes it quick and easy when I haven’t got all the time I want to edit a batch of photos.

For example, I created a set of 10 London presets, each preset is based on my interpretation of the different neighbourhoods. This has made it so easy when it comes to editing photos after a long day of walking around London and snapping shots. Below you can see some examples of how the different areas of London differ, and how you can create your own perception of each one.

The above photos are all taken in different areas, and each of these four are the original photos I began to create my presets with. You have ‘Notting Hill’ which I chose a more bright and colourful editing style, bringing out the pinks, reducing the contrast, and bringing up the whites. For me, the houses of Notting Hill are like another world, the hidden mews and courtyards could even be better suited to a fairytale than inner-city London.

Next is Artillery Road, between Liverpool Street and Spitalfields. I named this preset ‘Spitalfields’, one of my absolute favourite pieces of London. Here I tried to represent the area’s past, for Jack the Ripper would lurk in these shadows and the Victorians had to deal with a rather dark and dingy living experience. I wanted to create a gritty, raw filter that suited both the area’s history and architecture.

The bright and colourful style of my ‘Little Venice’ filter is also a nod to the area’s past. Little Venice, whilst surrounded by the hustle and bustle of central London, was once just another part of the countryside. And whilst just a stone’s throw from busy Paddington, this relatively small area has stayed rather tranquil, with the canal still giving you a country vibe. Beautiful at all times of the year, the Little Venice preset brings out the rich tones of autumn whilst nurturing the subtle pink hues of spring and summer.

You might recognise this last picture, located just outside Covent Garden’s Piazza, this small corner really suits a vintage feel. In order to replicate a photograph that would have been taken back in the 40s and 50s, I brought the vibrancy right down and the grain up, giving it that mid-20th-century look.

It was whilst creating these London presets that it dawned on me, no two place is the same and no two filters should be the same, whilst cities and countries might not be human, it doesn’t mean they are not brimming with personality that should be nurtured.

So who would I recommend Lightroom presets for? Beginners. It is not easy finding a look or a vibe that you love, that’s why it has taken me over two years to really enjoy editing my pictures. When I first started I felt frustrated, faced with very basic editing apps that just weren’t getting me to where I wanted to be. I bought my first preset a year ago and never looked back. From 8 presets I began to enjoy looking at my photos, I would look forward to the editing process, and for the first time ever I felt proud at the outcome. Fast forward to now and all the presets I use have been created by me from scratch, but I would never have learnt what I had if I hadn’t started with those first 8 filters.

Are presets for lazy people? No way. I wish I could bless all of you with all the time in the world to painstakingly master a look you love, but life doesn’t give us that opportunity. Presets offer the user a fast track to a look they want.

Does this mean everyone’s photo will look the same? Of course not. Different cameras, lighting situations, composition and photographers will all give their own look to a photo. My photos all have an individual look, even when using the exact same settings In fact, when I first started creating my presets I would get hugely frustrated that each photo did not turn out exactly like the first. I soon learn that firstly, I shouldn’t want all my work to be a carbon copy of the previous, and secondly, each photo will need tweaking, even with a preset added to it.

Below are a couple of examples of some photos I have taken and the process of editing them. The first photo is the original, the second is the photo with the preset added, and the third is the final piece having spent no more than 2 minutes tweaking it.

Why is the exposure so messed up? This was my first ever question when I bought my first presets, why oh why were my photos SO overexposed? It was purely because the settings on my camera were not the same as the settings on the original photographer’s camera, all I needed to do was bring the exposure down and I could calm down again! If you still struggle with exposure issues when you have tried bringing the exposure slider up or down, try playing around with the highlights or whites instead.

Do I have to buy presets to make my photos look good? No! It is so rewarding creating an editing process from scratch, however, not everyone has the time and not everyone knows how to do it.

Can you use presets on mobile? Yes, you can. You may have noticed some photographers offer ‘mobile presets’ as well as ‘desktop presets’. However, the updated versions of Lightroom mean you can download a desktop preset and sync it to your mobile, you just need to be logged into the same Adobe account on each and Lightroom will do it all for you. You do need a subscription account for this which is currently £9.99, this not only allows syncing between computer and phone, but you also have access to more editing tools that are otherwise locked on the free version.

Conclusion: Lightroom presets offer individuals and businesses the ability to create a consistent look and feel to their Instagram feed. By creating a range of presets within one bundle, photographers can be assured there is a preset for almost every situation. Presets offer an individual the ease of creating specific effects that they may have not known how to create from scratch. They are quick to use and whilst I advise tweaking photos when needed, this can often be done in under 5 minutes, making it a viable editing option for those who do not have the time to spend 30 minutes editing each photo.

All my own presets are available to purchase here.

Christmas in London: 2018

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Last year I wrote a blog post about Christmas in London, this year I am doing the same! No it won’t all look the same, because with each year that passes, the displays get bigger and better. Although that being said, sadly Cartier (one of my favourite festive facades) is currently undergoing renovation so no big red bow this year!

The displays start going up on 1st November, however, if you want to see the city in full decorative swing, I would wait to visit until December as this is when everyone seems ready! There seems to be pockets of the city that go all out, I would say if you want to see the best of Christmas then Mayfair is the place to go, covering Oxford Street, Regent Street and up to Hyde Park. However, you will see a few photos from outside that area, as Leadenhall Market is my favourite spot throughout December.

I got the tube straight to Oxford Circus, accidentally walked out a different exit to usual, got delirious and realised I had walked up the wrong road. Once I pulled my brain back into gear I headed straight for Liberty London, a large department star with a gorgeous facade. Hidden behind Oxford Circus you would be forgiven for missing it completely, but this is one definitely for the Christmas lovers. Head up to the fourth floor and find a beautiful Christmas shop filled with the most beautiful decorations! There is also a stunning Christmas display with a large hot air balloon filling the hollow space between floors. Continue down Maddox Street and your head will be turned by the beautiful flower front of the Maddox Gallery, with every season they make a huge effort to make their gallery stand out, it is always successful.

A short walk from here is Claridges, a well-renowned luxury hotel, Claridges has been on the luxury London scene since the 1850s, attracting royal guests, movie icons and popstars from around the world. Christmas at Claridge’s is always an exciting affair, with a hotly awaited unveiling of their Christmas tree each year it’s no surprise many tourists head to the hotel to feel festive.

Next on the list was Annabel’s probably 2018’s most photographed display. Annabel’s, a world-famous private members club have gone all out this year with a huge, lit up Christmas tree facade. If you hang around here long enough you might spot a celebrity heading through its doors.

This next display, at Pulbrook & Gould is tucked around the corner from the main street. Beware if you are easily spooked, get close to Santa and he will start moving and singing at you!

Mount Street, just up from Hyde Park is lined with brilliantly decorated shops, restaurants and private clubs. One of my favourites was George’s a private club and decorated with candy canes and gingerbread men! Annoyingly it is one of those places that I think looks better in person than on camera so I guess that is a good excuse to go and see it for yourself.

Another display tucked into a quiet corner was the pink and purple festive butterfly wreath at Sophia Webster, an absolutely gorgeous designer shoe store. The butterfly wings are a great addition due to the brand’s famous angel wing shoes. One day when I have won the lottery I will buy my own pair!

I then left Mayfair and got the Tube up to Old Street because my stomach was rumbling and I have a worrying addiction to Penang Curry, specifically from Grab Thai. Whilst I don’t think the city has quite cottoned on as much to Christmas displays, there are a few gems hanging around. One being the Zetter Townhouse, a small hotel that always creates a charming seasonal display.

Last but not least, my favourite tree in London, Leadenhall Market! The tree is not huge but it is the perfect addition to a gorgeous covered market, one that can be spotted in Harry Potter!

Christmas at Blenheim Palace

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I have known all about Blenheim Palace ever since I was a single digit age, my parents used to go there for an annual ball, I remember being in awe of the fact they were getting to hang out in a real-life palace! I never actually visited myself until this year, I went to see spring bloom at the palace in March, it was lovely!

Now it’s December (just about), I am fully on the hunt for cosy, Christmas interiors. I struggle with the outdoors, and anyone who lives in the UK knows that all it has done for a week straight is rain, so this Christmas it is all about the indoors for me. I find Google pretty useless sometimes, I have been searching for ‘Christmas decor English country homes’ and it never seems to tell me anything useful other than bringing up Blenheim Palace time and time again.

The palace is around 1 hour 30 minutes from me, not too bad really, so yesterday I took an impromptu trip to see what all the fuss was about. For those who have visited before, you can turn your entry ticket into an annual pass when you donate the cost of your entry to the Blenheim Palace Heritage Foundation Charity, this is great because it means you don’t have to pay £27 everytime you want to visit. I do want to point out, however, if you are an annual ticket holder, try and get to the palace before 12pm as parking will be free, if you arrive in the afternoon, it will cost you £10. I was pretty miffed at being charged at first, simply because I arrived a little later, but once I got inside I didn’t mind at all, they have to pay for these exhibitions somehow!

On arrival, you will need to take a trip to the ticket booth, even if you are an annual pass holder, as you need to book in a time slot for the house. The time slots come around every 20 minutes and it stops the house getting overcrowded, you can enjoy the decor without a million people in your way. My time slot was 1pm, I was lucky they had availability straight away!

If you are a family with young children and you are worrying whether it will be age appropriate or enough to entertain the kids, fear not! The first courtyard had a few kiddy rides, nothing too thrilling but for a 4 or 5-year-old it would be pretty fantastic. You can watch your children ride the rides whilst the smell of freshly cooked doughnuts wafts under your nose, quite honestly my favourite thing about a funfair. Through the next courtyard if where the adults can have fun, a full-blown Christmas market! I was so impressed at the number of stalls, from Christmas decorations, to soaps, to scented smelly things (!??!), to food, to pottery, to… I will stop now, you get the idea. Blenheim Palace has quite honestly created a whole day out, and I haven’t even started on the Christmas decorations inside the house yet.

This year, Blenheim Palace have gone for a Cinderella theme, great choice in my opinion. As soon as you walk through the palace entrance you can feel in the pit of your stomach you are about to enter something beautiful. The room opens up into a bright and airy reception hall flanked by two huge Christmas trees either side of a banqueting table, all dec’d out for Christmas and with Cinderella’s mice joining the meal too. You will probably find yourself hanging out in this room for a while, not only does it take time to soak in every detail, but you will think to yourself it can’t get any better than this!

However.. it does get better. Wind your way around the right of the reception hall through a corridor lined with Christmas trees and into Cinderella’s Stepmother’s drawing room, all set up for afternoon tea.

Then it is through to the Ugly Stepsister’s dressing room, you are immediately hit by a shock of pink and purple lights, with clothes and shoes scattered around the room as the sister’s try and chose a dress for the ball. This was one of my favourite rooms, not only because it reminded me of the state of my own wardrobe, but I loved the way the tree lit up in the dark and dingy room.

Next was Cinderella’s room, a much less opulent affair with a much more simple tree, surrounded by pumpkins and broomsticks!

Next, we enter the den of the Fairy Godmother, with two roaring fires with Christmas trees either side, a huge Christmas tree in the corner, and of course the dazzling carriage that will take Cinderella to the ball.

Other rooms include the time room, a huge triangular tree embellished with clock faces, and a room filled with invitations and scrolls, once again with Cinderella’s mice running around.

The last, and possibly the most spectacular room, is Prince Charming’s Ball Room. Dimly lit and set up like a lavish wedding, the room glows through the Christmas trees and the centrepieces on each table. Walkthrough and stumble upon Cinderella’s glass slipper, decorated with winter flowers and butterflies.

As I walked out of the palace I honestly wished I could turn around and go back in. I have never seen such brilliant attention to detail, it was like another kingdom and as an adult, I can only imagine how magical it would all feel for a child.

Please note, if you are an annual holder or not, it is required you make a booking in advance to enter the house. Entering the Christmas market is free of charge, but you will need to pay for parking after 12pm. There are also night attractions, a Christmas light trail, which unfortunately I did not have time to visit. You can book your tickets here.

The Christmas even is on until 6th January, it is open until 8pm, last entry into the house is 7pm. The Christmas market closes on 16th December.

This blog post is in no way affiliated with Blenheim Palace.

Can You Really Turn Instagram Into a Career?

I have been on Instagram (in a professional sense) for 3 years now! I created InstaBritain in September 2015 for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was in Liverpool for the weekend and decided I wanted to share my photos in a space away from my personal Instagram. The second reason was I had started watching a TV show called ‘Hunted’ which showed us all corners of Britain, this inspired me to learn more about my own country, and InstaBritain was born!

For a year this Instagram was just me posting photos, many of these photos were features as I was a full-time travel consultant and had no time of my own to create any content. Then I got married and wanted to start out married life happily, this meant quitting my job which was making me extremely anxious, I was becoming a person I didn’t recognise. However, quitting meant I didn’t have a job, and this was 2016, I was living just outside of London and life didn’t cost nothing, I had to do something.

I started up my own social media management business where I began taken care of travel brand’s Instagram and Facebook accounts. There is an increasing market for this as it is a much cheaper alternative for businesses than employing a full-time social media employee. I was happy with what I was doing and had so much more time on my hands, my work was all on my phone so I could finally go out and create content of my own. This is when I started postcardsbyhannah, my second Instagram account (and my favourite).

Whilst I have half the followers on here than I do on InstaBritain, this is the account I find myself permanently logged into. This is a space in which I have created an amazing relationship with my ‘followers’ (a word I hate!), I can be myself, and I can share some of my innermost thoughts. It is through this account that I started earning money through Instagram.

I now earn 70% of my income through brand collaborations through Instagram, and I have many people messaging me asking how I have reached this point and is it a viable career choice? So below I will go through 5 main points I think one needs to consider before heading down the Instagram career path…

1. The income is often unreliable

There are peaks and troughs throughout the year, for me January-April is pretty quiet, things pick up over summer and throughout the rest of the year. Luckily for me, I do not live in central London, I live in Hertfordshire, meaning living costs are much lower than if I was a true city girl. You have to be prepared to make sacrifices and save your money! The last year has taught me how to budget and how to save money better than when I was in full-time employment. You absolutely HAVE to hold money back because you might hit a month where you don’t work with any brands. I am now saving more money than ever before and I actually like myself more as a person for it! I am no longer spending all my money on clothes and makeup which is better for both my self-esteem and for the environment.

Tip: Don’t rely JUST on brand collaborations, take other bits of work such a freelance photography or copywriting.

2. Be choosy with who you work with

If you want to maintain an authentic relationship with your audience and your own content, you must only work with brands you truly believe in. I was asked by Tribe, a social media influencer platform, why I had such a high success rate with brands I pitched to work with. The answer is simple, when I read a brief, I will only submit work if it is a brand I actually use or a brand I think will benefit my audience. I have had some great collaboration quests with some fantastic companies, however, I have had to turn down good money because if I don’t believe in something for myself, why would I want to promote that with the people who are reading what I write?

3. Engage with your audience

If you don’t take the time to talk to and get to know your audience, why should they take the time to get to know you? Some of my favourite posts have been those in which I ask my followers questions, whether it be what decade they were born in, where their favourite country is or where they are from, I am a nosy person and I love learning about other people. I appreciate every like and comment I get, I want to reciprocate that.

Tip: Don’t forget to ask your followers questions about THEM, we can all learn something.

4. Maintain a healthy balance between sponsored and non sponsored content

I don’t mind seeing sponsored content on my feed, even if it isn’t a product I am interested in, I can appreciate others can be inspired by it. However, when someone is posting sponsored content every other post, or some even every single post, I tend to unfollow. I like to keep a circle of authentic people around me, not people who will flog anything to anyone for a few bucks.

Tip: It is normal to see an increase in sponsored posts at certain times of the year, particularly over Christmas and other holidays, but don’t let the thought of extra Christmas present money overtake your moral compass.

5. Don’t be scared to take a break

What a lot of people don’t realise is that Instagram can take up a lot of time and can also dampen people’s creativity. Unlike a 9-5 job, there is no end to the day when it comes to Instagram, it can become very easy to let Instagram trickle into your everyday life a little too much. I have spent nights on the sofa next to my husband, watching (or not watching) TV whilst mindlessly scrolling and commenting on social media. This isn’t okay and I hate myself for it. I now no longer post on Saturdays so I can enjoy the day with friends/family without the distraction of Instagram.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to take some time away from your social media accounts, loyal followers won’t leave you. Many creators often find their passion reignites after taking a break.

December Top Picks: English Country Homes

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Whilst summer might be over, there is nothing quite like a country home all bright and airy during those summer months. Lucky for some, there are a number of properties for sale throughout winter for houses that can be enjoyed all year round, meaning we can have a good snoop! I have picked 5 of my favourite properties that I have seen on the market, just to give our foreign visitors an idea of what they can buy if 1) they move to England and 2) maybe win the lottery!

1. Barford St Michael, Oxfordshire

If you are lucky enough to be searching for your perfect country home, you don’t have to look too hard in Oxfordshire. The county is brimming with charming cottages, stone houses, and even large country estates. And what’s better is you have one of the most historical cities in England right on your doorstep. Oxford is a world-renowned academic centre with excellent schools, universities, healthcare and plenty of jobs!

With its honey-coloured stone walls, this beautiful home in Barford St Michael, close to Banbury in Oxfordshire, it the home of any family’s dreams. Dating back to the 18th century the home isn’t as old as most in this part of the world, but still oozes in charm from times gone by. I can just imagine the Christmas tree you could erect on the driveway, welcoming visitors from far and wide! Opening the front door letting out wafts of freshly baked mince pies and mulled wine.

The interior, just a homely from the inside as on the out, is cosy and inviting, with a large log burner to keep you going through those winter months… And the kitchen, Mary Berry eat your heart out, this is what an English country kitchen should look like!

2. Snowshill Gloucestershire

Located in one of my favourite villages, Snowshill, any man and his dog would be lucky to live in this magical Cotswold house. Accessed through a country lane, guests can enter the property into a beautiful stone living area with a roaring fire and ceiling beams from a time gone by. This is the sort of place I can imagine myself growing old in, sitting in a rocking chair, reading a book and chomping on some lemon drizzle cake, I can almost smell the remnants of the fire before I have even entered the building.

The property boasts its own stableyard, cottage and barn, for young families this could mean spoiling your little darlings rotten with the prospect of a horse or creating an outdoor office space for some work motivation. The views over the surrounding hills are spectacular and enough to make anyone take on a few extra shifts at work in the dream off affording a place like this one day!

3. Barford St Michael, Oxfordshire

Yes, I am featuring this village again, it’s too good not to. This time a more modern twist on a Grade II listed cottage in a beautiful village environment. Most people can be turned off as soon as they see the words ‘Grade II Listed’, myself included, after all, it takes mountains of paperwork to be able to change anything in your house. However, this property is different, the previous owners have renovated the space, making it bright and beautiful with all the modern amenities you could need, including a stunning egg shaped bath. They have literally done all the hard work for you!

With beams galore, this is quite honestly the house of my dreams. The bespoke kitchen comes with painted maple and oak fitted units and the staple of any English kitchen, a breakfast island, because we all need to eat breakfast in its own designated area am I right? The AGA also means you will never be cold, not even on the chilliest of January days, and in summer you might just get a little overheated, but that’s what open windows are for surely…

4. Slapton, Northamptonshire

To the east of Oxfordshire is the less well known Northamptonshire, why this county slips under the radar time and time again I will never know. Whilst I am not a huge fan of the larger towns, the countryside and villages of Northamptonshire are some of the best in the country, and I’m not just saying that because I grew up here. I suppose the good thing about this is the price point, you can get a lot more for your money in this unsuspecting East Midlands county, starting with Fellyard, a beautiful Georgian family home.

Dating back to 1731 you would be forgiven in thinking this home lives on a movie set… it doesn’t, it is a real family home and could be yours for £2.2 million. Ouch… that is a lot of money, but pick this home up and plonk it in Surrey and you would be looking at double the cost!

Owned by the same family since 1994 I can only imagine the memories this residence contains, the interior gives a nod to the family life that once was with a rocking horse in the corner of the hallway, but I am guessing the children are now long grown up and the owners are looking for a family that can create their own special moments here.

My favourite part of this home is the orangery, the perfect place to enjoy a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon, rain or shine. Oh, and did I mention this place comes with its own pool?!

5. Langham, Suffolk

Now, this sweet home looks like it could house a number of fairytale characters rather than real life humans, and with a 10-acre garden, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was the odd magical creature lurking around.

This cosy cottage, perfect for a couple or small family comes with 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, so if you are a large family of 5 this might not be your place! With a treelined driveway and acres of land, this home would be any gardener’s dream!

I hope you enjoyed my first instalment of country homes! I will be back in January I guess. Please note this blog post is in no way affiliated with Strutt & Parker, but I found all homes via their website and all photo credits go to them.

Top 5 Day Trips From London

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Whilst the UK has so much to offer any traveller, most will make their way to London, a magnet to tourists from all over the world. I get so many questions on Instagram from people who want to know where they can visit easily from London on a day trip, so I thought why not create a blog post for it?

Whilst expensive, London is well connected to the rest of the country via train, making a day trip pretty simple. Whilst there are ample places to visit, here I list my top 5 easy places to visit from the capital.

Windsor

Of course, I will start for the most tourist-friendly place! Windsor in Berkshire is home to Queen Elizabeth II and has become famous around the world in recent years due to multiple royal weddings! There are actually two ways to reach Windsor by train, so which to choose? I personally would just choose the train station that is nearest to your London hotel. Waterloo runs direct services every 30 minutes into Windsor & Eton Riverside, taking 57 minutes and costing around £12.40 for an off-peak adult return.

The journey time from Paddington is slightly shorter, but don’t forget to weigh up how long it will take you to get to either Waterloo or Paddington so you can look up the trip as a whole. Paddington to Windsor requires one change at Slough (everything is signposted, it is very easy), the trains are timed up with each other so the connection is just a few minutes. This route will take you into Windsor & Eton Central Train Station, my favourite station out of the two, it is rather quaint! Total journey time is between 26-40 minutes and costs around £11.70 for an off-peak adult return.

So why visit? Not only is this super sweet town super sweet, but it is steeped in royal history. Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century, the castle has been home to 39 monarchs! Lucky for you the castle is open all year round, tickets cost £22.50 for adults, £13 for under 17s and free for under 5s. Not the cheapest but you get a lot of castle for your pennies.

Once you are finished exploring the castle, I urge any visitor to head over the bridge and into Eton, home to Eton College, one of the most famous schools in the world.

Rye

This Instagram gem is just 1 hour and 8 minutes from London St Pancras, with one train change at Ashford International! Tickets cost £34.70 for an off-peak adult ticket and trains depart every hour, so make sure you don’t miss yours!

Most of you will have seen photos of Rye dotted around the internet, but it is one of those rare places that is even prettier in person. I have visited a couple of times, those half-timbered buildings and tea rooms draw me in over and over, and I have never found crowds to be an issue, even in the height of summer.

Located next to the sea, Rye offers a mishmash of Georgian and medieval houses spread along cobbled streets. This is one of those towns that makes you feel like you are taking a step back in time, and with plenty of places to eat and lots of independent shops to poke your nose in, you will be able to fill the whole day.

Don’t forget to check out the view from atop St Mary’s Church tower, and grab a scone or a bit of cake from Cobbles Tea Room. If you do find yourself having some spare time, most likely in summer, hop on the train to Winchelsea, a nearby village oozing in English charm. The train takes just 3 minutes, but only run every 2 hours, so time it wisely!

Cambridge

It’s no secret that Cambridge remains to be my favourite city in the UK, and in good news, it is so easy to visit from London! Train duration varies but you are best off getting the train from London’s Kings Cross Station and it is possible to do it in just under 50 minutes. Trains cost £25.40 for an adult off-peak ticket, and trains are pretty regular, departing around every 10 minutes. As I said, train times vary, there are slow and fast trains, so please check on National Rail before travelling!

Home to one of the world’s most well-known universities, Cambridge is a feast for the eyes for those who have any sort of interest in architecture. Whilst you might think this would be a city overrun with students, it is quite the opposite. The students remain fairly contained due to the entertainment and social options within each college, the city is far more overrun by tourists so be careful with the times you choose to travel.

My favourite season in Cambridge is autumn, the summer crowds have died down, especially during the weeks, and the colleges are blooming in red leaves. Unfortunately you never really know when peak autumn will hit, its largely down to the weather during summer, but this year (2018) late October was blooming brilliant.

Winchester

Did you know Winchester was once a capital city? You can visit this historic city from yourself on a 57-minute train ride from Waterloo Station. Tickets cost around £37 for an off-peak adult return and trains run between every 10-20 minutes. Train times do vary so check before you travel.

Winchester developed from a Roman town and it is thought the first permanent residents arrived even before then. By the 3rd century, Winchester had grown to be the fifth largest town in Roman Britain. After the Romans left the city went into decline before the Germanic tribes arrived, by the mid 7th century the first Christian church was built within the Roman walls. A few years later Alfred ‘The Great’ triumphed over the Danish and the Saxon king declared Winchester to be the capital of his kingdom.

With a population of just 45,000, Winchester is a fairly market town. However, as you meander your way through the historic streets you can’t help but notice you are walking through what was once the ancient capital of England. Visitors can explore the 1000-year-old cathedral, built by William the Conqueror. Day-trippers can also expect to find Jane Austen’s house, her grave, Winchester City Museum – depicting the city’s rich history from the Iron Age, via the Romans and Anglo-Saxons, to the present day. Also the Hospital of St Cross – the oldest charitable institution in the country, founded in 1132 by the grandson of William the Conqueror, Henry de Blois. Today, it’s roamed by elderly black- and red-gowned brothers, who hand out the Wayfarer’s Dole – a crust of bread and horn of ale (now a swig of beer) from the Porter’s Gate. Wolvesey Castle, also built by Henry de Blois offers the crumbling remnants of an early-12th-century castle, and  Winchester College, a prestigious school that you can poke your nose into.

And for those who truly love history, the Great Hall and Round Table, the only parts of Winchester Castle that still stand, boasts a 700-year-old copy of the Round Table (still as fascinating as the original!). Historians say this was constructed in the late 13th century and then painted in the reign of Henry VIII.

Bath

You have probably heard of Bath before, or will at least recognise photos. The city is one of the most beautiful in all of England and just 1 hour 30 minutes away from London on the train. Okay, I say ‘just’, but it could be further, right? Make sure you wake up early as there is a lot to see, trains run from Paddington Station every 20-30 minutes, tickets are sadly not the cheapest, you are looking at £50-£60 for an off-peak adult ticket and for the early rises tickets cost £70 at peak time (before 9:30am).

Is it worth the money? Yes! Not only does the city offer a perfect example of a Roman city, but it is great for shopping, eating and seeing. Other than gawping at the stunning sandy coloured stone that the entire city is constructed with, no trip to Bath is complete without seeing the beautifully preserved Great Bath. The city gets its name from these baths, the Romans built them as part of a spa in 43 BC, naming it ‘Aquae Sulis’ meaning ‘the waters of Sulis. You cannot swim in the original Roman baths but you can take a dip at the nearby Thermae Bath Spa which uses the same water.

What else is there to see? Loads! Pulteney Bridge is one of just four bridges in the world that houses shops and cafes inside, the Royal Crescent is one of the best examples of Georgian architecture in the world, number 1 Royal Crescent is now a museum. Prior Park, on the outskirts of the city, offers not just stunning landscaped gardens, but breathtaking views over the city.

Last but not least, for those that don’t have a fear of heights and have a fair bit of time to kill, I would highly recommend taking a hot air balloon over the city and the neighbouring Mendip Hills, absolutely magnificent. Balloon rides are dependent on weather and can be booked via Bath Balloons.