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If we go away anywhere in the UK we always try to find a local heritage railway. Steam trains are a real favourite for the small boy and we are very happy to indulge him. This year part of our summer holiday was spent at Burnham on Sea in Somerset, so naturally we checked out the local steam train scene and settled on the West Somerset Railway. We were not disappointed.
We travelled by car to Bishops Lydeard, parked up and bought our tickets at the bustling station. Children under 5 travel free and a day rover ticket for an adult is £18.50, which I think is great value, especially if you want to spend the day hopping on and off exploring the various stops and stations.
West Somerset Railway is the longest heritage railway in England and runs from Bishops Lydeard to Crowcombe Heathfield, Stogumber, Williton, Doniford Halt (request stop), Watchet, Washford, Blue Anchor, Dunster and finally Minehead, and back.
The twenty mile journey from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead takes around 90 minutes and is a lovely, restful chug through pretty Somerset scenery. From the window you can spy the Quantock Hills as well as farms, pretty villages, historic buildings and the coastline, including the pretty harbour at Watchet.
Of course the real star of the railway are the trains themselves. On the way from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead we travelled on one of their diesel trains. West Somerset Railway generally run more steam trains than diesel, but we thought we’d try them both, on our return journey we came back by steam train. It’s always quite charming to see the soft puffs of steam stream by as we speed through the countryside.
The diesel was a handsome engine and the heritage carriages were clean, comfortable and well maintained. The railway boasts ten stations, all of them well kept, attractive and bedecked with flowers. The steam train was equally comfortable, but had the added charm of being a steam train, with all the romance that steam travel conjures up (Brief Encounter anyone?).
We got off at Minehead, not really expecting to find anything but a slightly tacky seaside town, but we moved in the opposite direction to the throng and walked towards the pretty harbour, which is nestled under North Hill. We were hungry, so stopped off at The Old Ship Aground pub on the harbour. The pub was a brilliant discovery, serving an interesting menu of local, seasonal and very delicious food. Round the corner from the pub, at the back of the harbour is the Minehead Lifeboat Station, where we sheltered from the wind and rain and had a good look at the lifeboat and learned a bit about the work of the RNLI, which the boy particularly enjoyed. We were charmed by Minehead and we will be back.
We raced back to Minehead Station to catch the steam train home, we were all tired from our walk and full from our fantastic lunch. We were glad of the comfort and warmth of the carriages and both boys dozed off while I enjoyed a bit of peace and some pretty Somerset scenery.
It was a really wonderful way to spend a rainy day, with over three hours of combined train travel time, beautiful English countryside and a proper heritage railway experience, all three of us woke up the next day wanting to do it all again.
Note: We paid for our tickets in full, this is just a personal reminder of another one of our railway adventures.
I used to have a general feeling that my mood, my mental health went in cycles, often dominated by the extremes of hormones rushing through my body each month. To some extent I think that’s true. It became normal for my mood to dip, for anxiety to pulse through my veins, for wild swings of rage and despair to appear and to feel the unrelenting panic of an anxiety attack. I never really mentioned this to my GP for fear they’d put me on the pill, something I’d like to avoid at all costs thank you very much.
Sometimes I found that I just was depressed or full of anxiety. Sometimes there was a trigger; maybe a comment or action by someone towards me. Something that would just edge me closer to falling into the black hole of my mental health. Swirling. Spinning. All consuming.
Sometimes there was nothing. No rational explanation for why everything was black.
I woke up yesterday and everything was black.
What I want to do is go to bed and cry it out. What I want to do is be held tight while the darkness seeps from my body, the little girl inside me wants to stop being frightened and fearful and anxious. She wants daddy to make the demons go away and to kiss it better. But I’m 38 and I’ve been standing on my own two feet for twenty years, so my two feet need to find their way out of this.
What I want to do is go to the pub and to drown the noise with drink. I want to sit and talk through the blackness with someone who knows and to laugh a little, cry a bit and go home with a grey heart, not a black one. But I can’t do that.
What I want and what will happen are two different things. It’s the school holidays, so I go to a soft play centre, the worst place imaginable if you’ve got a head full of negative noise and a heart as heavy as lead. So I force myself to go for a walk with the boy, who runs ahead laughing and chatting his head off about fire engines and dogs, and I try and focus on that, because it makes a small dark corner of my black heart glad. I make myself engage with people, because my silence and introspection achieve nothing but more darkness.
I do what I can to force myself into normal patterns of behaviour, edging slightly further back from the edge of darkness and negativity with each positive action.
But what I need, what the little girl inside me really needs, is a cuddle from my daddy to soothe the anxiety, and for him to shoo the dark demons away.
PS. I am often reminded of the artist in The Fast Show whenever I get like this, strangely watching a clip or two on YouTube can often brighten my mood. Top tips for depressives with a sense of humour there.
I love scented candles. My work room at home is filled with them. If I’m going to be at my desk for a few hours invariably I’ll light one to invigorate my mood, often I’ll light them in my bedroom to help me wind down before bed, hardly a day goes by without me lighting a candle, especially now the boy is a bit older and can be trusted near naked flames.
I was sent a summer fragrance Yankee Candle to try out, I received the Blueberry Scone large jar candle (rrp £21.99). It’s a big jar which should burn for 110+ hours or more. The heavy glass lid keeps the candle fresh for when you’re ready to light it.
The fragrance is lovely and really does smell of freshly baked blueberry scones. Warm blueberry scents with a soft undercurrent of fresh from the oven scones with a hint of vanilla, just a hint, because vanilla can be an overpowering fragrance.
Often with scented candles they “throw” the fragrance only a short distance from the actual candle. Some scents travel better than others. I lit the Blueberry Scone Yankee Candle and it quickly filled the room with the smell of fresh blueberry scones, the smell travelled reasonably well but didn’t fill the house, which to my mind is fine, but I know others prefer a lengthier throw.
This candle has a home in my work room now and will be burnt on a regular basis. If you like a fruity, warm scented candle, then this is worth looking out for. I adore the warm spiced autumn candles full of cinnamon and apple, but this is a good summer version, smelling of kitchens and cosiness.
Yankee Candles are widely available online and in gift shops, you may have to hunt a little for the Blueberry Scone Yankee Candle, but it’s worth hunting down and having a sniff to see if you’d like it. Fragrance is such a personal thing, these remind me of a trip to America I took when I was a teenager and I briefly became obsessed with everything blueberry.
Note: We were sent the Blueberry Scone Yankee Candle free of charge for review purposes. All images and opinions are my own.
Since joining “the motherhood” I’ve had to get acquainted with my mixing bowl. I’ve never been a great baker of cakes, but seemingly the minute you become a mother, someone thrusts a whisk into your hands and asks you to bake two dozen fairy-cakes for some occasion or other.
My go-to cake has been a Victoria Sponge and my Vicky-Sponge is generally pretty well received, but I have failed in my attempts to make a good chocolate version, until now that is. There was always something missing, a lack of depth of rich chocolateyness and I couldn’t figure out why. I was sent a jar of Rayner’s Classic Malt Extract to try, my first port of call was to tentatively add it to a chocolate sponge cake, and by Jove I’d cracked it!
My easy chocolate malt cake recipe is by definition easy, quick to throw together in a cake emergency and tasty enough to offer the Vicar for tea. It probably won’t win any prizes for innovation or decoration, but it’s a delicious stand alone cake, or it works well with a dollop of ice cream and some fruit.
I am really pleased to be able to offer my blog readers the chance to win a £20 hamper of Rayner’s Malt Extract and other brilliant goodies. To enter just complete the rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Terms & Conditions:
1. The competition is open to residents of the UK only.
2. There is no cash alternative offered.
3. To enter, please use the rafflecopter widget above. Please ensure you leave some contact details or I will not be able to contact you if you win.
4. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a £20 Rayner’s Malt Hamper.
5. The competition will close on 14th September 2015.
6. The winner will be asked to provide a full UK postal address with postcode for delivery purposes.
7. Address details will be passed onto an agency to post the prize out to the winners, and is therefore beyond my control. I cannot be held responsible for prizes being lost in the post although I will endeavour to liaise with the agency.
8. HodgePodgeDays decision is final in all matters relating to this competition.
Back in July I got to be a Judge at the International Cheese Awards and I came home with enough cheese to make a colony of mice very happy indeed. Between us we’ve been slowly working our way through the South Manchester Cheese Mountain™, with me commandeering the lovely Brie type cheeses I generally adore.
We seem to have a surfeit of cheddar style cheeses, which is fine, they’re a good multi-purpose cheese and a nice mature cheddar always has a place in our fridge. It’s tempting to cook up a big extra cheesy macaroni cheese or something similar, but when it comes to it, I don’t think you can beat a plate of cheese on toast. Not just any cheese on toast though, but posh cheese on toast.
This is one of my favourite quick meals. Take the comforting loveliness of cheese on toast, add a bit of frippery and it suddenly becomes more of a meal. It’s easy too and doesn’t take much longer than your bog standard cheese on toast.
Posh Cheese on Toast (feeds one hungry person)
One individual ciabatta, split in two lengthways
A handful of rocket
A dollop of your favourite relish, I’ve gone with Ballymaloe original relish
Some Seriously Strong Extra Mature Cheddar
1. Toast one side of your ciabatta (the crust side), once toasted remove from grill and spread over your Ballymaloe relish on the untoasted side. Thinly layer your rocket (or baby spinach if you prefer) on top, then evenly cover with Seriously Strong Extra Mature Cheddar. Pop under the grill.
2. Grill until the cheese has melted to your satisfaction.
3. Remove from the grill, leave for a minute to cool slightly, then devour.
It’s simple, but the best things often are. I guess in some ways it’s a bit like a pizza, but quicker and for my money nicer.
Note: We were given a block of Seriously Strong Extra Mature Cheddar Cheese to try free of charge on the proviso I used it in a recipe and blogged it. All images and opinions are my own.
Towards the end of each month I get a lovely text telling me that my Degustabox is on its way. It’s a lovely tombola of a box, filled with new, interesting, exciting and limited edition foodie treats. It’s a chance for me to discover new things all for the princely sum of £12.99, though the contents are worth more than that.
Of course, the law of averages means that I probably won’t enjoy everything in my foodie Degustabox, but the boys who have wildly differing tastes to me happily hoover up the things I’m less keen on, and vice versa.
The July Degustabox contained something very new, in some boxes they’ve started to include a special item for families with small children, this month the “Db’s Discoveries” was a pouch of Quinola Mothergrain. I have seen these before and they seem like an interesting quick ready meal style option for those times when you need a quick meal for your little one.
We were sent the Quinola Mothergrain Mediterranean Quinola to try, these 150g packs cost £1.99 each and seem like a healthy option, being organic, gluten free and packed with slow release carbs. The Mediterranean Quinola contains tomato, courgette and carrots. I served it with a side of meatballs. As you can see it doesn’t photograph particularly attractively, but the small boy cleared his plate.
The Degustabox July 2015 also contained…
Weetabix on the go (£1.49 each) two bottles
FRU Snax (£1.25) two packets
So Strawberry Lambrini (£3.29)
Say Yes to No (£1.49)
Newton’s Appl Fizzics (£1.20)
Tasty Little Numbers (£3.49)
Taking the Pea (£1.50)
Jele Vitamin Jelly Drink
My favourite new discovery was the Newton’s Appl Fizzics, which is a fizzy apple juice. I chilled mine, as per instructions and poured it over ice. I love apple juice and a fizzy apple juice is something of a rare treat. This was zingy, refreshing and full of crisp apple flavours, and perfect to drink on a hot sunny day.
I also enjoyed the “Taking the Pea” which was a crunchy dried pea snack, along the lines of the wasabi pea, but with different flavours. As a lover of a wasabi pea these were a very welcome addition to the box.
Another big hit were the “Tasty Little Numbers”, two 200 calorie ready meals. We had the chicken tikka masala and the beef sausage and beans. Both hubs and I are on the 5:2 diet and sometimes it’s easier to ping a low calorie ready meal than faff about counting the calories in everything. There were a tasty little solution, leaving me with 300 calories to play with the rest of the day.
If you’d like to give Degustabox a try, I have a discount code giving you £3 off your next box, just enter 8MDEO at the checkout, this code is valid until 31st October 2015. You can find out more about Degustabox on their website.
Note: I was sent a Degustabox free of charge for review purposes, all images and opinions are my own.
One of my favourite times of the day with the small boy is bath-time. He loves a bath, he enjoys playing with all of his bath toys. He has a selection for every mood – planes, trains and auto-mobiles; ducks and seafaring stuff and a big tub of foam letters we use to spell our names out. One thing he does insist on, but doesn’t always get, is a very bubbly bath. We were sent some Paddy’s Bathroom products to try, so we put them to the test on holiday in Devon.
Paddy is the brother of Ella from the popular Ella’s Kitchen range. With such a pedigree I was expecting really good things from this brand. We were sent almost the full Paddy’s bathroom range including –
We packed it all for our holiday, I always think it’s nice to take new toiletries away and these looked really good for all of us, so I didn’t even pack any “grown up” stuff.
I like the packaging, especially the products in pouches, these seemed like a really good idea to me and I’d like to see more bathroom products in pouches. The “squirty stuff” bottles are a little fiddly to open until you get the knack, but they’re a great design which foams the gel as it dispenses. The range is colourful and has a lot of information about the product on the packaging, which I find useful.
Paddy’s bathroom contains No SLS, Parabens, Phthalates, Sulphates or GMO ingredients. I am increasingly aware of parabens and the other nasties we find in skincare and bathing products, so this is good to read.
But what did the small boy think? I ran him the bubbliest bath he’s probably ever had. He stayed in there until his fingers and toes were wrinkly and he had a great time. He particularly loved the foaming products, the foamy hair and body mousse was a real favourite (he’s washing his hair with it above). He came out of the bath squeaky clean and very happy.
The Paddy’s Bathroom range all have fruity scents, which is some products would smell really fake and cloying, but these are made with as much natural and organic ingredients as possible, and they smell really uplifting to me.
Both the boy and I have very sensitive skin and I was pleased that neither of us came up in a rash, or had any dry skin as a result, we’ve all used them for a week now and we all really like them.
Paddy’s Bathroom products are really fun and well thought out. I’m really pleased we discovered them, a foamy hand wash will only encourage him to wash his hands, which is a nigh on impossible task. He loves the bubble bath – which may well be the bubbliest bubble bath ever, so we’ll be buying that again. And even I love the squeaky clean lemon shampoo, which makes my hair shiny – again, an almost impossible task. Paddy’s Bathroom gets the thumbs up from us!
Note: We were sent these products free of charge for review purposes, all images and opinions are our own.
This was taken on Crooklets Beach in Bude, Cornwall. A rare sunny day where we swam in the sea, built sandcastles and did some beach-combing. Bliss.