Portofino: Finding My Ability to Travel Alone

For years I was desperate to visit Portofino, so much so I was trying to get my family on a boat from Cinque Terre during a storm in 2015 to take me there. Alas, they wouldn’t come with me. So it seemed fitting that my first visit was by myself.

The trip I made has been one of my favourite travel moments, and most memorable, in more ways than one. It was my first trip to a non-English speaking country on my own, ever! It began with sitting on the plane for 2 hours before it got the go-ahead to leave, then circling before landing because there were birds on the runway in Genoa

See for me, things tend to end up a little disastrous. I am known as a scatterbrain, I am the youngest and most spoon fed child of six. My family refer to me as Dosie Rosie, and they are spot on. But through the strains and the stresses, I enjoy it, because when things aren’t always straightforward, you accidentally end up somewhere even more exciting.

I rose early on a warm October morning and walked to the train station in Genoa, I got lost along the way but let’s move on… Trains in Italy can be somewhat, surprising. And by surprising I mean they turn up when they want to turn up, not when they are meant to turn up. But that is something I love about Italy, the confusion and the chaos seems perfectly ordered to the Italians themselves. The country is so beautiful it doesn’t really need to be particularly efficient, that’s not why people travel there.

I got on the train with excitement in my belly, it was finally time to see Portofino with my own eyes, a place I had built up in my head over so many years!
It’s important to note that Portofino doesn’t have its own station, instead you will need to take the train to Santa Margarita, you can then walk (if you feel like a long walk), or get the bus. I got the bus, the excitement was too much and I didn’t want to wait any longer if I’m honest. But also, the strap had broken on my top when I was meandering my way through Genoa when trying to find the station, so the less the public saw of me, the better.
I’m not usually a bus kind of girl, I hate having to stand up when it moves, but I managed to actually get a seat on this one. As the road winds round into Portofino you still have no idea what’s coming as it’s hidden in a small bay. Only when you walk down the hill to the waterfront can you really start to appreciate the place.
I always thought Paris was the best place to people watch, but I was wrong. If you want to see how the other half live then get yourself to Portofino, where a Diet Coke and a bowl of crisps costs €10. But don’t let this put you off, you don’t have to spend a penny if you don’t want to. Earwigging into other people’s conversations and admiring the view doesn’t cost a thing. So that is what I did (other than the Diet Coke and crisps…).
If you want to see this multicoloured village at its finest, head up to Castello Brown, a beautiful manor house set above a cliff overlooking the entire bay. From here you can see the way the old fishing houses circle their way around the coast, and you can watch the super yachts sail in and out, dodging ferries as they go.

To sum it up, Portofino was as beautiful, if not more so, than I imagined. It is one of my favourite destinations not just because it was attractive and I liked watching other people go about their day, but because I mastered it by myself. My family wouldn’t come with me the first time, so I took it upon myself to go there anyway. Since then I have been on another European trip by myself, as you may have seen I went to Belgium and Amsterdam this Spring and loved every minute of it. The great thing is I no longer have any hesitations in travelling solo, and I look forward to planning more trips in the future, just for me! I will always be thankful to Portofino for offering me that realisation that it is okay to go solo, it’s okay to get on a plane by myself, I CAN do it and I can do it well! Had I not had that push to pack my bags and leave Alex at home keeping our house together, I’m not sure I would be so confident about going abroad by myself in the future. It was a proud moment for sure, and one that worked wonders for my confidence.

Travelling Alone as a Woman

This is a blog post I have been toying with for a while. I was originally going to write about travelling solo but decided to focus on travelling solo as a woman. There are many people out there (sorry men!) that might ask why I would focus on a specific gender, but to tell you the truth, there is a difference.

This week was International Woman’s Day. I am not very vocal in regards to politics or hot topics over on my Instagram, I am a fairly lighthearted person with a love of history, so I focus on that instead. Oh yes, and one time I wrote something negative about Donald Trump and got told off a few times, it was then I took my political hat off and put it into a drawer under lock and key.

However, seeing as over 75% of my followers are women and of a similar age to me, I thought I would write a quick list of all the things I do, as a woman, to keep myself as safe as possible so I can enjoy my travels.

I am a big believer in solo travel, whether you are in a relationship or not, it is a great experience. I get people messaging me on the daily asking how I cope by myself, do I feel safe? Do I got out and eat alone? Do I ever socialise with anyone?

The first time in my life I realised men could be scary (not all men, I know) was when I was 10 years old practising for sports day on the school field. My all female class was approached by a middle-aged man, wearing nothing. That’s right, he was completely starkers. I am pretty sure this is the first time in my life I had seen the anatomy of an adult male, and what a way to be introduced to it. This man had broken into the school grounds through a hedge and thought it was a good idea to chase some ten-year-old girls and show us what his mother gave him. Gross. The police came and we were offered counselling. Luckily I found the whole thing amusing, immaturity saved me, as at that age it never crossed my mind it would have been motivated for sexual reasons.

There have sadly been many times since this I have felt intimidated, been touched inappropriately, hollered at, and seen a man naked without asking for it, all in public! Because of this, I tend to be on high alert a lot of the time, and this does affect the way I travel.

Chatting to Strangers

One of the reasons I like to travel alone is because I like peace and quiet, I am very happy in my own company. For this reason, I put my headphones in when using public transport as it helps me look unavailable. This isn’t for everyone, so if you are up for a conversation, smile at people and put those headphones away, a scowl won’t get you anywhere. I actually ended up having a fantastic conversation with a man on the Eurostar home from Brussels the other week. As soon as I removed my headphones to ask for a cup of tea, he started talking to me. See, the headphones really do work as a deterrent! Perhaps I am cutting myself off too much, but I tend I feel fairly vulnerable when I’m alone.

After Dark

Another thing I tend to avoid is walking around after dark, but this is much easier said than done when it’s winter and the night is drawing in at 4 o’clock. I am a big believer in trusting your instinct, I plan my travel so that I arrive into a destination in the morning or early afternoon. It gives me a good few hours to suss a place out so I can make an informed decision on whether I am happy walking around in the dark or not. For example, after spending a day in Florence (a city that I love by the way!), I chose to go back to my hotel at 5 o’clock and not leave again, my gut told me not to go back out. However, when I travelled to Bruges and Amsterdam, I was more than happy to trot around in the evening and felt safe doing so. On days I choose to stay in at night, I will either eat at the hotel or order a takeaway to my room!

What To Wear

No matter where in the world I am travelling, I will take a bag that I can strap across me. This means no one can run up to me and snatch my bag out my hand or off my arm. Luckily for me (touch wood), I have never been mugged or even pickpocketed whilst abroad or at home, but I have met people along the way that have had their bags stolen. Whilst travelling through Asia, my husband and I met more than one person who had their bag stolen by people driving past on mopeds.

Also, be mindful of where you are travelling to and what jewellery you have on. The UK is a first world country so walking past someone with a diamond on their finger is not out of the ordinary. However, we are extremely fortunate to have been born into a country where that is normal, there are plenty of places in the world in which people are starving, living in poverty, and crime is their only way of getting by. My friend had her watch stolen in Rio de Janeiro without even realising. She didn’t feel a thing when a stranger used a knife to cut her watch off her wrist, he was long gone by the time she had processed what just happened.

On top of that, you need to be aware of the religion of the country or area you want to visit. You must respect other cultures, if you want to travel to the Middle East for example, it is polite to cover your knees and shoulders, if you are going to enter a mosque then cover your hair too. It’s not about being suppressed, it’s about respecting the country you are visiting. In many South-East Asian countries, you must remove your shoes before entering a temple, and cover your shoulders as you would in a Catholic Church. Make sure you check what clothes you will need before you travel.

Be Prepared

Accidents happen, things get lost, so make sure you have a copy of all your important documents. During the day, store your passport in a secure place like a hotel safe. Make multiple photocopies of your ID, passport and travel documents that you can take out with you, or use if the unthinkable happens to the original documents.

It is also useful to keep important numbers stored in your phone, such as your country’s embassy number, local emergency number, and a contact for your travel insurance.

Learn Key Phrases

Coming from England, I don’t speak other languages very well. However, I would advise you to learn specific phrases, keep them stored in your phone if you don’t think you will remember them. These could be simple phrases such as ‘Where is the train station?’, or it could be more serious ones like ‘where is the nearest police station?’, or telling someone you are in trouble.

Opportunist criminals will be on the lookout for vulnerable women, keep confident. If you are approached by someone that is giving you the creeps, be firm, and try as hard as you can to tell them to go away in their own language.

Know Where You Are Going

Due to recent law changes, those living within the EU can use their phones in any EU country at no extra charge. This is fantastic but it is easy to forget when we leave the EU, data becomes expensive again. Make sure you load offline maps before you travel, that way you don’t need to rely on strangers or taxi drivers for directions. I feel much safer if I get into a foreign taxi and know exactly where I am going. I am not saying they will drive off, kill you, and dump your body if you don’t know where you are going, but they can take advantage of your naivety and either take you somewhere else or take you on a wild goose chase and charge you for it. Be aware of your surroundings and note down places you should be passing, so if you don’t recognise the route, you can speak up.

If you do get lost, go to a public area and walk into a restaurant or cafe and ask for directions, don’t just walk up to a stranger in the street. There are countries where people will take advantage of your lack of knowledge. I have heard horror stories, particularly in Marrakesh, in which women (and men) have been led down strange alleyways and then harassed for money in order to help them get back out again.

Eating Alone

This is one major hurdle I had to overcome. I was embarrassed to go into a restaurant and ask for a table for one. I used to hide behind a book or my laptop so I could look busy. I genuinely believed all the waiters and waitresses assumed I had been stood up or had no friends, but let’s be real. They are doing their jobs and could not care less whether you are a table of 1 or a table of 25. I have actually had some great conversations about my travels to interested waiting staff.

Using Dating Apps

I understand that we all travel differently, and some like to travel alone whilst meeting people along the way. I know people who use dating apps like Tinder to meet up with local people, learn more about them, and enjoy dinner with someone else. If you want to do this, make sure you are meeting up in a public place. Sadly, there are women who have ended up on Tinder dates abroad, gone back to their hotel/home and not made it out alive. Recently there was a story in the media about a British girl backpacking through New Zealand. She ended up on a date with a guy that appeared very normal, tragically she did not make it out that hotel alive. That was not her fault, but it is a warning to all men and women that not everyone is who you think they are. Please exercise caution, no matter the temptation. Think about the information you are giving out too, there is no point in being cautious and meeting in a public place, to then let them know where you are staying and how you are getting back.

Chat to Hotel Staff

If I ever have an issue, the first people I go to is the hotel staff. It is important to also inform them you are travelling alone, tell them when you are leaving the hotel, where you plan on going, and when you plan on coming back. I would rather give this information to female staff than male. If you don’t come back to the hotel at the time you say, or at all, the staff will be able to contact emergency services on your behalf and give them as much useful information as possible.

Keep in Touch with Friends and Family

Every morning I am away, I will tell Alex my plan for the day. Similar to how I would tell hotel staff, this just means he will be able to sense when something is out of the ordinary, or if I go off the radar. Hopefully, none of this is necessary, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Conclusion

Reading through this you might think it is all a little extreme. However, I would rather be overcautious than under. I have never had anything horrific happen to me, but I have been groped (this seems to always happen on public transport), I have been purposefully intimidated by men who were angry that I did not accept their advances or show interest back, and I have felt generally unsafe on numerous occasions.

I enjoy my solo travel and I would encourage anyone else to try it. It is liberating and can really help build your confidence. You are your own boss and for that time you are away, you can pace yourself exactly how you like. For those who worry about me when I am away, please don’t. I enjoy it, I am happy, I like my own company, and I am very happy to get into bed at 7pm after a long day exploring and catch up on TV that Alex does not want to watch.

The Most Picturesque Locations in Bruges

Bruges is a beautiful city but one of those you might find yourself in for a disappointingly short amount of time. I spent an entire day exploring the city without stopping so I could let you in on the places to head to if you haven’t got time to spend three days meandering your way through the Bruges’ charming streets.

Bruges (also often spelt Brugge or Brugges) is in the Flanders region of Belgium, a region with absolutely fascinating war history. Close to the northern coast of the country, the city is reachable by train from Brussels, in which you can connect to many major European cities relatively quickly – Paris, London and Amsterdam.

The city is mostly known for its cobbled streets, chocolate shops, beer, waffles and an abundance of beautiful buildings. You can navigate your way around easily on foot, however, if you want to blend in with the locals I would recommend renting a bike!

So, back to the task in question, below are just a few of my favourite spots to take photos…

  1. Rozenhoedkaai

I thought I would kick off with the most obvious and well known. The view over the canal and Belfrey from Rozenhoedkaai (Quay of the Rosary) is a picture that will probably sum up your entire trip to Bruges, so you must go and see it. This is also where you can join a boat tour – a great way to see parts of the city that you can’t on foot.

2. Chocolatier Dumon

Chocolatier Dumon began in 1992 , creating a small scale production of artisan truffles for bakeries. In 1996 a shop was opened in the heart of Bruges, located in a picture-perfect medieval building, it is this shop that now sees a torrent of tourists every day, desperate to try these delicious artisan chocolates. The shop is located on Eeirmarkt.

3. Markt

The market square in Bruges is central to the entire city, bringing many of the winding streets together. This is one of the busiest spots in Bruges so I would recommend visiting early morning or evening, luckily I was visiting in February so it wasn’t too busy, I imagine July is a whole other level…

The Markt is flanked on one side by the 12th-century belfry and on the other a row of multicoloured gingerbread type houses. Did I mention it’s a great spot to sit and eat a waffle or some frites.

4. Grauwwerkersstraat

Dating back to the 1200s, Grauwwerkersstraat was named after the ‘gray workers’. If you’re lucky you can get this whole street to yourself, on a sunny day the sun streams through the joining alleys and shadows dance across the dwellings.

5. Burg Square

Next to the more well known Grot Markt, Burg Square hosts a variety of architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Neo-Classicist. Here stands one of Bruges most stunning buildings – the Town Hall, dating back to 1376.

6. Genthof

Just another beautiful street in Bruges, I loved these dwellings along Genthof, a great route to take if you want to walk further up the canal.

7. Carmersstraat and Spiegelrei

Meander your way up the canal and take some time to stop and soak in the views. The canal here is great for people watching, especially in summer when tour boats whizz up and down. The Spiegelrei watercourse you see here was an important trading route in the Medieval times.

8. Mariatraat

Located close to the famous Bonifacius Bridge is Maariastraat, a typical Belgian street with a nice collection of cafes and restaurants, and a hot chocolate shop!

9. Minnewater Park

I won’t lie, when I first googled pictures of this park I didn’t feel particularly inspired to visit. However, I arrived just before sunset, I happened to walk through it when I was going somewhere else. The sense of calm and tranquillity I got after a long day of travelling and walking was exactly what I needed. This is a truly beautiful spot, if you are travelling as a couple I imagine it would be a lovely place for a romantic picnic!

10. Begijnhuiseje

This is not a place I will even attempt to pronounce, but it is definitely one for the itinerary. Founded in 1245, the ‘Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde’, once home to the beguines, emancipated lay-women who led a devoutly religious and celibate life.

The houses you see today are still inhabited by nuns of the Order of St. Benedict, as well as women from Bruges who have decided to remain unmarried.

I hope you enjoyed the read! No matter where you go in Bruges you are faced with beauty and history. In order to find these spots I just walked around the city for the day, 30,000 later I had built a collection of over 500 photographs! Let me know where your favourite spots are!

72 hours in Aberdeenshire

If I asked you to think of Scotland what would you think of? The historic streets of Edinburgh? The Highland mountains? The Isle of Skye? What if I told you to think of Aberdeen, then what? A lot of people don’t know what this northeastern county has to offer, so below I hope to offer you an insight into how I spent a very full three days here.

Aberdeenshire has become most well known throughout the last 40 years as being the hub of the oil industry in Europe, causing a population boom from 1975 onwards. However, this corner of the UK is so much more than this. It was settled thousands of year ago by Bronze Age people so is home to a large number of fascinating archaeological sites. In Medieval times the area saw many important battles between clans, most famously  Clan MacBeth and the Clan Canmore, and yes, that is the MacBeth that Shakespeare made oh so famous!

Getting there

For those living in the UK, getting to the area is particularly straight forward, it is served by Aberdeen International Airport which takes regular flights from major cities across the UK including London, Manchester and Birmingham. I took the 8am flight from London with British Airways which took just over an hour. Aberdeen Airport is fairly small and as if you are arriving on a domestic flight there is no need to deal with passport control, you can walk straight through. The whole process took me around 10 minutes, including picking up my baggage. I then picked up my hire car from Sixt and I was off out the airport completely, all within half an hour.

It’s not just the UK that sees flights up to Aberdeen, there are many European cities you can get here from easily, Copenhagen, Bergan, Corfu, Geneva and Paris are just but a few.

You can also get the train into Aberdeen, however, it will take you around 7 hours from London. Direct trains from Aberdeen serve Glasgow, Perth and Edinburgh, so for me, unless you live in Scotland already I would suggest travelling by plane.

Day 1

Peterhead Prison

The first spot on my itinerary was Peterhead Prison Museum, a 40-minute drive from Aberdeen itself. For me, this was a great place to see, I absolutely lovely true crime and the more grizzly, the better (seriously, what does that say about me?). The museum is housed in the old prison, and you pretty much have free reign to walk around and have a snoop at home convicts once lived. Visitors are offered a guide and audio commentary so you can understand exactly what you are looking at and what went on here. The whole tour takes around 1 and a half hours and offers a great insight into the living conditions and dramas that occurred within Scotland’s first convict prison.

Pennan

Next was Pennan, a sleepy fishing village set along a beautiful stretch of coastline. It wasn’t just the village that pulled me in, it was the drive to get there. Aberdeenshire is home to a stunning coastal trail that spans 165 miles, taking you past dramatic clifftops, picturesque fishing villages, coves and beaches, it really is a sight to behold. Of course, this will be at its finest during summer, but even in February, I was blessed with blue skies and sunshine.

Pennan itself is hidden in a cove, a short drive off the coastal trail. It is thought the fishing village came about in the 1800s in which most families had small boats for their own personal use. Back then, the men would head out to sea and catch the fish, whilst the women and children would then go out and sell it. Throughout the last 50 years, the population of the village went into decline, and many of these houses are now holiday homes, a perfect place to spend by the sea.

In the village, you will stumble across a red telephone box, made famous as being one of the main filming locations in the movie ‘Local Hero’. This telephone box was removed after filming, but uproar meant it was returned and became a listed (protected) building since 1989.

Crovie

A short drive from Pennan is a second fishing village, Crovie, possibly even more charming than the first. The houses in Crovie are set amongst a piece of land so narrow that cars cannot drive through. Villagers must park their cars in the car park and walk to their homes, not ideal if you are laden with groceries, but it’s just a small price to pay to be in this wonderful place.

As I was visiting in low season, I had the whole village to myself, bar one other couple. I spent a good hour wandering through the houses and watching the sun start to dim behind the surrounding hills. Like Pennan, Crovie is popular with holidaymakers rather than many full-time residents, but there are still plenty of locals around.

The village was originally inhabited by crofters that had to move off the land to make room for the landowner’s sheep. A harsh storm in 1953 is what sadly drove away many residents.

The Knowes Hotel

That night I stayed at Knowes House Hotel in the town of Macduff, just 15 minutes from Crovie.

The Knowes Hotel offers incredible views over the town of Macduff and the North Sea beyond, I was lucky enough to be staying on the top floor so watched the sky change from blue into hues or pink and orange, all from the comfort of my own bedroom.

This is the kind of place you receive service with a smile, there is no stuffy business, no ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’, just friendly and genuine service that makes you feel right at home.

Prices start at £80 per nights and can be booked here.

Day 2

It was an early start on day 2 as I was heading off to the Cairngorms so I chomped down poached eggs on toast, (I thought I saw Idris Elba having his own hotel breakfast (to my disappointment, it was not him), said my goodbyes and left.

Deans of Huntly

On my way into the Cairngorms, I stopped off at Deans of Huntly, an excellent place to visit if you are partial to a bit of shortbread. Dean’s was started by Helen and her husband Bill, Helen baked the delicious shortbread and her husband would sell it to raise money for the local pipe band. The touring meant the word of the shortbread spread far and wide to the point Helen had to start her own bakery to keep up with the demand. One thing led to another and Dean’s is now one of the leading Scottish shortbread providers and remains a family run business.

Visitors to Huntlys can buy their own shortbread and other baked goods, have a peek through the window into where the shortbread is made, or enjoy coffee and cake in the bistro.

Craigevar Castle

This one wasn’t on my itinerary but I knew it wasn’t too much of a detour and that I simply could not miss it! Craigevar Castle was supposedly the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle.

The castle is closed from October to April so I couldn’t look around it, but just from the outside, it was an incredible sight to behold. Tours around the castle run from Spring through into Summer and are the only way of seeing what’s inside.

Balmoral Castle

40 minutes from the fairytale castle of Craigevar is Balmoral, a real-life royal castle and one of the Queen’s favourites. Like Craigevar, Balmoral Castle was closed for winter, but luckily the tourist board was able to book me a private tour of the grounds.

I was shown around by Kathleen, an extremely knowledgable guide who has lived in the area all her life. Her father also worked at the castle and she is lucky enough to have met the Queen a number of times. The castle is located in the small village of Crathie between Braemar and Ballater in the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park.

Balmoral Castle was purchased by Prince Albert for his wife, Queen Victoria in 1852, after leasing it since 1848. It was bought a few years after Victoria made her first visit to Scotland in 1842, they loved the country so much they made the decision to buy a property here. Whilst Victoria fell in love with the Highlands, the location was too damp, thus bad for her health, so they chose the ruggedly beautiful region of the Cairngorms instead.

Due to a large amount of staff, Victoria decided the property was too small and needed to be rebuilt, so the castle you see today has always been owned by the Royal Family. Visitors can see the foundation stone left by Queen Victoria, this sits above a time capsule also left behind by her.

Visitors are offered an audio commentary as they walk around. If you would like to visit, please check their website here for opening dates and tour times. Guests can also choose to stay within the grounds of the Balmoral Estate in the charming holiday cottages that have been built on site.

The Fife Arms

Seeing as I was in the area, I decided to visit The Fife Arms, Scotland’s most hotly anticipated hotel openings of 2018. My visit was on a bit of the whim, located in the nearby town of Braemar I contact them that morning asking if I could have a look around, they were more than accommodation.

Braemar is the birthplace of the Highland Games, one of Scotland’s most well-known traditions. It is also the birthplace of The Fife Arms, a property that reminded me somewhat of the exclusive Cotswold Properties in Oxfordshire, but without all the Londoners. The hotel is owned by Hauser & Wirth, Swiss gallery owners with all the connections of high society Europe.

Stepping into the hotel is like stepping into the mind of someone on the same level as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice and Wonderland, but it really works. I have never seen so much art, fabulous wallpaper, stag heads and tartan, all mixed together, yet looking so beautiful. I was shown round by events manager Louise, who was an asset to the team. Every member of staff I stumbled across had genuine smiles on their faces and seemed happy to be there, this came across in their 5* service which wasn’t stuffy, but friendly, like it should be in Scotland.

Tor-Na-Coille Hotel

Midway between the Cairngorms and Aberdeen is Tor-Na-Coille Hotel, a country house hotel located in the sweet town of Banchory. The location is perfect for those limited on time but wanting to squeeze in the Cairngorms as well as the Aberdeenshire Coast, even I was surprised with how much I could squeeze in before the sun went down. It is important to note the hotel is located on the popular Castle Trail, similar to the Coastal Trail but this time for those who are more interested in a slice of Scottish history than seascapes.

The welcome at the hotel, like others, was very friendly, warm and familiar, making guests feel instantly at ease. My room was everything you could want from a country hotel, complete with rolltop bath, huge wooden bed, and perfectly heated for a chilly February night. The restaurant in itself has become a destination for visitors. Located next to one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the UK, the restaurant uses fresh, local produce to make delicious, seasonal dishes. Head Chef, Colin Lyall has even been a finalist in Scottish Chef of the Year.Rooms start from £79 per night, hotel bookings can be made here.

Day 3

Aberdeen

On Day 3 I headed to the city that gave Aberdeen its name. Aberdeen has been lovingly named ‘The Granite City’ due to its locally quarried granite stone, also used to build London’s Houses of Parliament and Waterloo Bridge. Because of all this granite, the city is somewhat grey, however, the city is home to some fantastic street art, located all around the city centre. The Nuart Festival is the only street art festival in Scotland and one of the UK’s best. Click here to see all the artwork on a map.

The city is the hub of the county and therefore offers the greatest amenities, transport links, shops and restaurants. Guests can expect to find well-known shops such as John Lewis, Debenhams, Marks and Spencers, Topshop, River Island and many more. The relatively concentrated city centre makes everything pretty walkable.

I visited on a pretty grey day, unfortunately, and whilst Scotland might be known for its rain, the east coast is a lot drier than the west, so you can often find sunshine in Aberdeen. When the sun does shine, the rays reflect off the granite which is why you might find some referring to it as the ‘silver city’.
Old Aberdeen, just north of the city centre, has been an important political, ecclesiastical and cultural centre since the end of the Middle Ages. It is home to the University of Aberdeen so is filled with fabulous coffee shops, students and a general lively buzz. At the heart of the university stands King’s College which was founded in 1495, as you walk past the grand buildings you would be forgiven in thinking you had stepped into Oxford or Cambridge.
The area is characterised by old cobbled roads and beautiful granite buildings, noticeably older than those in the main city.

Footdee

Footdee, pronounced ‘Fittie’, is a charming fishing village at the mouth of the River Dee that has been somewhat swallowed up by the expansion of Aberdeen city. However, although so close to the city, any visitor will see this collection of houses by the sea has retained its old school, small village feel.
The first recorded reference of the village was in 1398 when it was a little further north than where it is now. The village you see now was laid out in 1809 by John Smith to help re-house the city’s local fishing community. The village still lays next to the sea and in 2012 the village became covered in sea form due to strong wind and rain, making it look like it was covered in a blanket of snow!

Skene House

Whilst in Aberdeen I stayed at Skene House, this is great for those looking for an affordable yet convenient place to kip. Here you have the option of staying in a fully functioning apartment in the city centre, you have your own kitchen, living area, bathroom and bedroom, whilst it isn’t the most luxury place in Aberdeen it is clean, comfortable and modern.
Prices start from just £79 per night, you can click here to book.
Please note this trip was made possible thank you to Visit Aberdeenshire who organised travel and accommodation for me. You can learn more about Aberdeenshire by visiting their website.

6 Mindblowing Houses For Sale in the South West

With fresh air, countryside, great schools, beautiful villages and stunning towns, the South West ticks many boxes. With house prices in the UK ever rising, today I am going to have a look at some of the most epic houses for sale in this corner of the country!

  1. Winchcombe, Gloucestershire – £16,500

At an eye-watering price of over £16 million ($21 million USD), this 8 bedroom home in the Cotswold town of Winchcombe was definitely built for England’s elite. Surrounded by quintessentially English countryside, the only thing that will threaten to wake you up here is a rogue sheep or passing owl.

Set within 519 acres, it is the land that is setting you back here. For what better place to graze a herd of cattle, or even better, to play a game of hide and seek!?

The current owners have embarked on an extensive renovation project, with two phases still yet to complete by the new buyers. So have you got what it takes? And by that, I mean a cool £16.5 million in the bank and the time and money to continue the renovation project! Oh, did I mention the property includes not one but THREE separate cottages?!

2. Bledisloe House, Gloucestershire

On sale for a cool £9 million, Bledisloe House near Cirencester in the south Cotswolds is a Grade II listed home with 5 beautiful bedroom suites, 2 cottages AND parkland. Exceptionally attractive, the house has been recently updated, including a brand new roof.

Stun your guests with a tree-lined driveway, electric gates and extensive grounds.

3. Lechlade, Gloucestershire

Here’s one for the water lovers, and those more contemporary in their tastes. This property near Lechlade in Gloucestershire is situated right on a link, offering breathtaking views and the ability to partake in many water-based activities. This is a house I imagine would make a perfect second home for city workers wanting to relax on the weekends, I certainly wouldn’t say no to this one!

On sale for £4.6 million, the property is situated in a private estate and is the ultimate pad for the outdoorsy. My favourite thing about this house? the outdoor decking that overlooks the water, the only thing it’s missing is a hot tub.

Built in 2013, the house offers underfloor heating, air conditioning, electronically controlled blinds and a built-in Sonos music system!

4. Whitfield House, Wood Stanway, Gloucestershire

This 5 bedrooms Cotswold country house might be Grade II listed but the owners have refurbished it to the highest spec. Making the most of the natural light, this family home is best seen in summer. With a separate coach house, owners can either rent it as a holiday letting, or it could make a brilliant guest annexe.

Whitfield House was once the vicarage to St Peters Church, built in the 12th century. The house dates back to the 18th century but offers all the modern amenities you would want in a home today. The house was sold by the church in 1932 and sits in 5 acres of land, paddocks and all!

5. Chesterfield House, Great Pulteney Street, Bath

Situated in one of the most beautiful cities in the UK, this townhouse in Great Pulteney Street is perfectly located for those wanting to enjoy all the city has to offer. Typically Georgian in style, Chesterfield House spans over 6 floors and 6,000 ft of space and has recently undergone an extensive refurbishment programme overseen by English Heritage.

6. Warberry Lodge, Lansdown Road, Bath

All yours for a whopping £3.5 million, this beautiful Italianate Victorian offers a large detached property on the edge of Bath. With sweeping views of the city and beyond, the property benefits from a good sized garden and ample parking, rare in such a historic city.

Warberry Lodge was completed in 1852 and boasts over 5,800 square feet of family space.

**Properties and images from Knight & Frank, Savills, Sotheby’s, Crisp Cowley and Hayman Joice. Please note this article is not affiliated to any of the agencies mentioned.

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.