Like practically everyone, I’ve been trying to reduce my plastic usage. Although I’ve always recycled since I was responsible for my own waste disposal, there’s a lot of stuff I never considered, and whilst being so concerned with finding vegan, cruelty-free shampoo brands I completely disregarded the fact that they come in plastic packaging.
Shampoo bars seem like the perfect solution but I’ve been reluctant to invest because it seems messy and ineffective. But I’m giving it a go now! I’ve bought a shampoo and conditioning bar from Lush to try over the next few months to see how I get on. I also bought one of little silver tins to keep it in to manage that worrisome mess.
A visit to Lush is a very sensory experience – there are so many interesting smells and pretty sights. I always want to try everything or at least sniff it all. I went into the shop specifically for a shampoo bar so I tried not to tempt myself with anything else. There is an impressive selection of shampoo bars, which are all around £6-8; this does sound pricey but when you consider it’s going to last you months and months it’s a good investment.
I went for the Godiva because it’s smells great and conditions as well, which saves me buying an extra bar. Not only is everything in Lush cruelty free (and cute and amazing!), many of their products are vegan, and the Godiva bar is completely vegan. It has a jasmine scent and contains a variety of oils and butters to give a soft shine to the hair.
It lathers up really well and it’s actually really easy and convenient to use. It’s not messy like I expected and I was impressed with the amount of lather you get out of these shampoo bars, and how long they last – 80-100 washes, so I’m told. I’m not totally convinced it’s going to be provide sufficient conditioning to my hair though so I’ll probably use a leave-in conditioning spray or a bit of coconut oil as well (which I already do.)
This shampoo bar is going to be really handy for travelling and for taking to the swimming pool as it’s so small and fits snugly into its little tin.
I also bought a milk bottle shaped shower gel but more on that later!
The garden took 15 years to create when the late Lord and his team of gardeners began to restore the house and land after the war. The spectacle is quiet strange; almost current-less waterways cross the garden, and rooms of hydrangeas and camellia merge. There were plenty of ducks and their young, dragonflies and damselflies, and schools of thousands of sticklebacks.
I’d love to know what kind of funghi are these?
The foxgloves were out in force.
An Egyptian goose spotted.
I don’t feel so bad about the green skud on the surface of my pond – the water here is covered in it, you feel like it’s grass.
The fields of wheat.
We were really impressed to find that in the tearoom not only was there vegan cake in the form of a delicious chocolate and marmalade slice, but also there was a sandwich option. It doesn’t take much to add an easy hummus sarnie to your menu but it makes such a difference!
Recently I made these easy vegan blueberry muffins for a neighbourhood gathering and they got some compliments so I thought they were worth sharing.
I never have much luck with baking – something always goes wrong – so I enjoy my successes when they occur. This time something did also go wrong – I was following a recipe online on my iPad and the app crashed before I could find out how much oil to use! So I had to guess as I couldn’t trail through all the Google results (it wasn’t in my history – the crash removed it, I don’t know why.) It worked out just fine regardless.
I made these vegan cheese and chive scones this weekend for a street party and they went down surprisingly well.
I had to use a variety of vegan cheeses as I ran out but I think the mixture of cheddar and parmesan worked well as it gave it a stronger flavour. In future I would like to try a dairy free alternative to red leicester as it gives a redder colour.
I used chives I cut from my garden – I’ve been growing a lot of herbs this year and the chive plants needed a hair cut.
My final post in my series on glamping in Wales will look at the activities we took part in. You can catch up on my previous posts here: Sleep and Eat.
Day 1: Check In
After a 6 hour train ride that involved several changes and delays, I checked into Hidden Valley Yurts for a week of comfortable glamping and fun activities. The first evening was really about having a brief look around the immediate site, settling into the yurt, and getting to know some of my fellow happy glampers.
Day 2: Wye Valley Walk
We drove to Tintern and met John Bosley of Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Tour Guides who took us on a guided walking tour of the Wye Valley. John was an excellent tour guide and provided plenty of facts about the local history of the area and also pointed out some of the local attractions, such as the Tintern cafe station and the Anchor Inn, in which we had later enjoyed tea and cake. The route we took meandered along the River Wye past Tintern, past the old Tintern train station (sadly defunct though once a hive of industry), through the notorious Brockweir, once famous for its debauchery, and up hill to take in views of Tintern Abbey, before winding up at the Abbey itself.
The landscape was absolutely stunning and following the river via wildflower meadows, with dandelions out in full bloom, was a beautiful sight, even in the torrential rain. And it really did rain, though this didn’t put off John, who is a real trooper! The tiny village of Brockweir was really interesting as it used to be a centre of industrial activity when the river was the main channel of commerce in previous centuries. Brockweir had more than its share of criminality and immoral living, so much so that local Christians managed to persuade the Moravians to finance the building of a Church in the village to rescue these lost souls from depravity. The church was very simple and interestingly the gravestones were all flat and tiny as part of the Moravian tradition – we are all equal in death.
After Brockweir we walked uphill to look down at the valley and from here you can see the river Wye on your right and the river Severn on your left. You can also just make out through the trees the ruins of Tintern Abbey and it’s easy to imagine how Wordsworth was so inspired by this view that he chose it to explore themes of the sublime in ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’.
Day 3: Farm Walks & Gorge Walks
In the morning, Mike, the owner of Hidden Valley Yurts, took us on a guided tour around the farm, meadows and woodlands. He explained how a previous owner died in the stream when returning home drunk from the pub, and how the Roundheads hid a foundry in the hills and disguised the path to Trellech as an old waterway. It was never discovered and is thought to be the reason the area is called ‘Hidden Valley.’ It’s easy to see how you can stay hidden in an area as remote as this.
As we walked, Mike pointed out the highland cattle that are used on the farm for conservation grazing. Magnificent creatures with longhorns and floppy fringes, they were a firm favourite amongst the photographers in our group, though unfortunately I didn’t get many good shots as I had to use my phone and not my camera at this point. We walked through some of the ancient woodland and took in the bluebells and wood anemone and tried to spot the fleeting woodland birds sheltering from the rain.
Further down we came across a rope swing attached to a tree and all spent some time on this. It was a lot of fun!
In the afternoon the rest of the group went with Inspire 2 Adventure on a gorge scrambling adventure. Unfortunately, with my heart condition this is not a suitable activity for me as it’s just too strenuous but it looks like a lot of fun. They climbed up waterfalls, scrambled through tunnels and generally got very, very wet! This looks like a fantastic activity for those up for a real challenge and you can find more information here.
Instead of the gorge walk, I had some time to myself and as the sun had finally decided to show its face I went for a long walk around the farm. I took my binoculars and hoped to do some birding but Tilly the dog had other plans – she decided she would take me for a walk instead. I think she may have frightened off the birds but I still had a fantastic time hanging out with the sweetest of spaniels and the cutest of companions. There’s nothing better than walking in woodlands, especially ancient, natural woodlands like the kind you find at Hidden Valley Yurts. A previous owner planted an arboretum in the 70’s to re-tree the area and the canopy is very impressive already after such a short time. It’s clearly very valuable ecologically as there’s evidence of badgers, birds, bugs and all sorts in the woods, as well as rare wildflowers.
Day 4: Canoeing on the river Wye & storytelling in Trellech
On our final full day of activities we set off by minibus to Monmouth to catch a canoe ride down to Whitebrook. I’ve never been canoeing before but we were in safe hands with Graham from Monmouth Canoe and Activity Centre. This is a really popular activity in the are as travelling by river is a great opportunity to experience the landscape from a different angle.
I took up position in the front as paddler, though the river was quite fast and really there was very little need to paddle. Graham steered the boat around the known hazards you might find in rivers – difficult bridges, random rocks – so we were in very safe hands. We even picked up a bit of litter along the way to help keep the environment healthy. Graham had a lot of knowledge to share about the river and pointed out all the bridges and towns along the way. We had beautiful sunshine for most of the journey and it made canoeing very relaxing. There was, of course, a sudden shower that lasted about 10 minutes in which we just let the river drift us down stream rather than using our very cold hands to paddle onwards.
Along the way we spotted martins nesting in an old dilapidated bridge, buzzards circling the woods, mandarin ducks by the banks, and swans sitting on their nests. There’s plenty of wildlife along the river and kingfishers and otters are occasionally seen, though sadly not by us.
The Boat Inn is a really nice pub you can stop at along the way but we didn’t have time. You can do full days canoeing and go further up river and take in this pub or others along the route and I’d definitely love to come back and do a full days canoeing one day!
On our final day we wound down with a bit of very pleasant storytelling with Jan from Strolls ‘n’ Stories. We met in Trellech and she led us to the old Norman castle that is now just a large mound with a very big tree on top. We climbed up and got good views of the surrounding countryside and I could see the first swallows of the year darting in and out of barns.
Jan is a fantastic storyteller and she told us about a character named ‘Old Nell’, a well-loved herbalist who met a sorry end when the plague struck Trellech and she suffered the anger of the mob who decided she was a witch. Jan made this sad tale really come to life and it’s a great way for children to learn about local history with a personal touch. Next we moved onto Harold’s stones, which are 3 stones stuck in the ground and no one is really sure why! Theories abound – are they druidical time-telling devices, ceremonial stones, the work of giants or a communication tool with aliens?!
Finally after another short stroll past the sun dial sculpture we went to the virtuous well, which was historically been used for its healing powers. Many people still place offerings here but it’s not advisable to drink the water any more. Here Jan told us the story of Lady Amberley, who is famous for being Bertrand Russell’s mother but should really be known for her suffragette activism and her own merits. This was a firm favourite amongst our group and we all loved listening to Jan tell this story about an inspiring woman lost to history.
Day 5: Lake House Tour & check out
Before our departure we took a tour of the new Lake House, which is soon to be open on site. The owners have been developing this new accommodation for some time – they’ve converted a previous owner’s summer party house into luxury accommodation. It’s a converted cricket pavillion and you can see all the stud marks on the floorboards from the cricketers’ spikes.
The Lake House is absolutely stunning and everyone wanted to move in straight away! It’s set by the lake, as the name suggests, so it’s a really tranquil location. It’s ideal for those who want to experience life in the Hidden Valley but want a little more luxury and privacy, as the Lake House will have its own driveway and is separate from the other yurts, though of course residents can still go to the main yurt area.
The accommodation is really beautiful and the location is so peaceful and perfect. There are two bedrooms, one with an immaculate en suite and beautiful tiles for the shower. The furniture is all boutique, unique specimens and it all fits beautifully together. The kitchen and living area is really spacious and the kitchen has everything you need – cooker, butler sink, Smeg fridge, and all the worktops and units are tastefully made. The sofa is very large and comfy and be converted into a bed if needed, meaning that the Lake House can sleep 4-6. There’s more in the way of technology here than at the yurts as there’s a TV and WiFi (though you don’t have to use it if you still want that digital detox experience!)
The outdoor area is really special as well. There’s a BBQ and seating, and a wicker fence surrounding it in front of the lake. You’re right in the woods as well, with the stream nearby as well as your own lake, which attracts ducks, otters, and toads in the breeding season.
After the tour of the Lake House (which I am totally booking one day!) we packed up our stuff, straightened out the yurts, said our goodbyes to Tilly the dog and gave our heartfelt thanks to Mike for accommodating us and Alex from ALS Marketing for organising and driving us all over. This has been an absolutely fantastic break in nature and a much needed digital detox. I’ve got to know some fantastic people and done some really amazing activities – I want to take up canoeing now! The woodlands I can wander in for days and never get bored, and the yurts could easily be my home for weeks without discomfort.
Welcome to my second post in my series of three Sleep-Eat-Do blogs on my recent trip glamping in Wales. You can catch part 1 Sleep here but today I’m talking about the food I ate and the places I dined.
One of the most convenient aspects of this trip was that many major supermarkets deliver to the site and my shopping was already unpacked when I arrived. So there was little else I needed in a fully stocked and fully equipped semi-outdoor kitchen. There’s a bit more detail on this in my previous Sleep post so here I’ll talk about eating out in Tintern and the home cooked vegan curry that was cooked for us on site by a talented chef.
The Anchor Inn at Tintern
After a long walk through the stunning Wye Valley on our first full day in Wales we stopped off at a cute pub called the Anchor Inn, right next to Tintern Abbey. When we arrived we were wet – and I mean wet – so the staff let us leave our sodden coats at a different table while we ate. We took the large table in the centre by the fire that was placed over these really cute tiles that I fell in love with.
Tea and cake was served: red velvet cake, victoria sponge… And for us vegans we got some tasty vegan bites and a really delicious poached pear with sorbet. I rarely go for fruit as desert but this was so perfectly sweet and beautiful cooked and flavoursome that I would definitely choose this again – even over cake, and that’s saying something from me. I also got a really good decaff soya cappuccino to warm me up after the long walk and the Anchor was a lovely environment to relax and recuperate in.
We briefly explored the outdoor area, which has a lovely garden terrace with views of the abbey, so it would be a great place to sit with a pint in the summer. The pub itself dates back to the 12th century so it’s steeped in history – it was even the cider mill and grain store for the abbey.
Home cooked food by Infamous Catering
On Wednesday evening we were treated to an absolutely stunning vegan curry cooked for us on the yurt site by Ian from Infamous Catering. This is a really unique feature of Hidden Valley Yurts – that you can get a chef to come visit and cook you dinner without you needing to travel to a restaurant. I don’t know of anywhere else that can arrange this!
Ian cooked us a fresh vegan curry using the kitchen facilities on site. When we arrived nibbles were already being served and Ian turned out to be a friendly guy and passionate chef.
Ian provided several dips, most of which I have now forgotten the names of but I can assure you they were all delicious. The stand out was really the wild garlic crostinis, which we completely devoured. Ian foraged the wild garlic himself and makes a specialty of using foraged, local seasonal ingredients.
Normally vegans are an afterthought to chefs cooking for a group of omnis, so I was so pleased and impressed that Ian decided to take on the challenge of cooking a delicious vegan curry for everyone. This makes a lot of sense for a chef as they only have to cook one meal that everyone can eat, and Ian said he enjoys cooking vegan food as it’s a new challenge and he always finds people are impressed that vegan food doesn’t have to be bland.
Raw chocolate torte
Kudos to the brave chef who attempts a vegan desert. I won’t pretend it’s easy if you don’t know what you’re doing but we were in safe hands. We enjoyed an absolutely delicious raw chocolate torte that, despite being quite rich, we easily devoured it.
Ian ‘Barney’ Barnes from Infamous Catering is all about seasonal, foraged, local ingredients, and this really came across is the freshness and flavour of the food he cooked for us. What’s more, Ian is brilliant company and we all learned a lot about local ingredients and how to experiment with cooking. It’s quite an unusual concept – Infamous Catering doesn’t have its own restaurant but does workshops, events and private dining experiences, so Ian is really versatile.
In the final week of April I took on a challenge that was so far out of my comfort zone as to be in a different postcode. I spent 5 days glamping in south Wales, an area of the UK I’ve never visited before.
I was invited to stay with Hidden Valley Yurts, a glamping site in the Wye Valley, near a tiny Welsh village named Llanishen. I was promised a back-to-nature digital detox experience and I was not disappointed.
I’m going to share my experiences with you through a series of three blog posts focusing on the accommodation, the food, and the activities. So first of all I’ll start with the site.
Hidden Valley Yurts is located on a farm in the Welsh hills, with access to tourist hot spots like Tintern, the river Wye, Monmouth and the Brecon Beacons. I can’t call it “easy” access as the roads are as to be expected – narrow, hilly, and not for the faint-hearted. You can read all about the history of the site here but to summarise: the new owners took over in 2015 and have given the yurts and facilities a full makeover and created a really special place to stay.
Mongolian yurts are a really cosy concept. The decor inside is intricate and the beautiful furniture gives it a homely feel. The beds and futons are ridiculously comfortable and, despite being out of my comfort zone, I had some of the best nights’ sleep I’ve had for a long time. Partly this was the incredibly comfortable mattress but I think the darkness also had something to do with it.
Each yurt comes equipped with a log burner and all logs, kindling, paper and firelighters required to get a roaring fire going. This sometimes presents a challenge for many visitors but I’m pleased to report it’s a skill we all managed to master. It didn’t take long for the log burners to heat up the yurt and we were soon cosy and warm – a very essential feature in rainy Wales!
This is camping made easy. The yurt site boasts a fully equipped kitchen with all pots, pans, cutlery, washing up materials, so you really don’t need to bring anything like that with you – there’s even an espresso machine! The communal kitchen is really beautifully made and although it’s covered it is partly open air, so whilst you’re waiting for your food to cook or the kettle to boil you can gaze at the impressive canopy opposite and try to see how many birds and squirrels you can spot.
I did, of course, end up bringing too much food with me and had to leave some behind for the next guests. One of the most helpful aspects of this trip was that most major supermarkets deliver to the site and when I arrived Mike had already put all my shopping away in the kitchen for me. This meant I could eat well and easily, especially as there is a fridge and freezer in the kitchen.
The bathroom and toilets are really quite posh for a glamping site, let alone a campsite! The water was always warm and there’s even a bath if you fancy a long relaxing soak after a hard day’s hill hiking. There are also some compost toilets for yurts 1 and 2 and yurt 1 has its own smaller kitchen so if you’re not into communal campsite living you can always book yurt 1 and enjoy a bit more privacy.
There’s a lovely little campfire area with BBQ and outdoor seating but sadly we never got to try this as the evenings were either rainy or windy, which was a real shame as I can imagine it would have been so nice to sit by the fire roasting vegan marshmallows.
The yurts are located on Lower Glyn Farm, an old working farm with woodlands and meadows. I would have loved to have seen the wildflower meadows in full bloom but I visited in April; I did, however, see plenty of bluebells dotted about the site and they put on a particularly good show in the ancient woodlands with the wood anemone. In fact, there are plenty of wildflowers to be found so it’s a botanists dream. (Please don’t pick the wildflowers though – the bees need them.)
There are plenty of excellent walks around the 80 acre farm for all abilities. I have to be honest and point out that this is a valley and there are hills so some of the walks are quite steep. I’m a Norfolk girl so this was quite challenging to me! (For all my non-UK readers, Norfolk is known for being completely flat.) But after a few days I adapted to hill-walking and I even think my ankles might have changed shape.
Throughout the site runs a stream that children would love to play in. It’s very shallow in places and provides a very relaxing sound when drifting off to sleep. There are quite a few bridges across the stream throughout that you come across when walking and we even found a really attractive little waterfall. I’m told that occasionally kingfishers and otters can be spotted though I didn’t have such good luck. On one of our walks we came by a tree swing near the stream in a really private area – a really good find for families!
Speaking of families, there is also a large supply of board games and outdoor games, including a boules pitch and a football pitch. There’s plenty of space to run around in and explore and I can’t imagine any child being bored here.
The farm uses some animals for conservation grazing on the meadows – highland cattle, soays sheep. I even came across a pony. But by far the best animal on site is Tilly the dog – the friendliest, most lovable spaniel! She likes nothing better than just hanging out and having her belly rubbed. One afternoon she took me for a walk through the woodlands!
Hidden Valley Yurts has been a wonderful place to stay to get away from city life and reconnect with nature. It’s so easy and welcome to have a complete digital detox here – for a start, there’s no WiFi and phone signal is poor. This is of course camping for those who like a few mod cons, like a proper kitchen and clean bathroom facilities. I was so impressed by how cosy and comfortable the yurts are! I also really liked the fact that there are endless walks on the farm and in the local area so you don’t even have to travel anywhere if you don’t want to – you can just stay on site and explore the natural world and get away from modern life. The landscape is truly stunning and the woodlands provide so much wildlife to enjoy – it’s a birder’s and nature lover’s paradise.
I’ll admit it, I initially attempted to make granola bars but I got the liquid ingredient measurements clearly wrong – basically, the bars instantly disintegrated.
But I’m an improviser so I made granola instead. Yeah, I just let it crumble a bit and used it as normal granola. I’m still a legit food blogger, right?! I’m sure I could make an inspiration quote out of this story.
You’ll notice from the recipe below that I don’t believe in measurements. Put in as much as feels right to you and seems to level out to create balance. I’ve used Biscoff spread because I absolutely love the caramelised flavour (it’s great on toast as well) but you can use peanut butter or any other nut butter, depending on the kind of flavour you’re after.
Mix up the dry stiff, gently heat in a saucepan the wet stuff, then combine it all together. Spread out and flatten on a baking tray (with parchment or greased) and bake for about 20 minutes. Serve with (vegan) yoghurt and fresh blueberries.
The nuthatch has got to be one of the most elegant woodland birds. The way it feeds upside and hops acrobatically along the branch is really quite artistic. It’s colours are muted and simple – grey on top, chestnut underneath, that stripe of black across the eyes like the Mask of Zorro.
I took these photos at the woodland hide at Pensthorpe in Norfolk on a Spring-like day in February. This is one of the most satisfying hides I’ve ever visited and it never fails to perform – there are so many birds that it’s almost too much to take in.
The New Year brings new challenges and having already undertaken the Veganuary challenge I decided to try a weight loss challenge as well. I used Nutribuddy’s breakfast shakes for 14 days to see what effect they would have on me and my body and this review is all about that experience.
I chose a 14 day supply of Nutribuddy’sVanilla Breakfast Shake and with it came a glass jar to store the shake powder, a bottle to drink from, and the shake itself. Nutribuddykindly sent me this package to review their breakfast shake and I was already expecting to enjoy it because there’s so much I like about the brand and their standards, but I was surprised to find that the shake is also really tasty and filling and it’s so convenient for me to just make this for breakfast before rushing off in the mornings.
So what do I love about the brand? Let me list the ways.
Vegan friendly and gluten free
Soy free & sugar free
121 calories per shake
Source of fibre
Organic, natural ingredients
31 day happiness guarantee
Recyclable glass packaging
This breakfast shake contains oats, seeds and coconut and is completely organic and vegan friendly. It’s free from preservatives, emulsifiers and stabilisers, so no nasties to be found here.
When I received this product in the post, I found the glass jar was wrapped in the most impressively sturdy bubble wrap I have ever seen – I’m going to save it for future house moves for sure. Also, can I just take a moment to congratulate Nutribuddy on using glass as a storage jar – in this plastic-frenzied dystopian world, it’s so reassuring to see a company taking the effort to send fragile glass jars in the post because they recognise that we need to move away from plastic storage and embrace recyclable packaging. Plus, it’s a great storage jar, so if you don’t replenish your stock of Nutribuddy shake (why wouldn’t you?) then you can reuse it to store pasta, rice, grains, etc.
What about the taste?
I’ve used a well-known weight loss shake before and using their powder forms I had a lot of trouble shaking it enough to make it all mix in – I would always get unpleasant lumps of powder, no matter how vigorously I shook the damn thing. Not so with Nutribuddy– it blends in instantly, and because it’s made with oats, you do get flakes of oaks as you drink so it feels like real food but it’s part of the drink and not a horrible lump. The vanilla flavour I used is really nice, very subtle and not too sweet (I don’t always like sweet things in the early mornings.)
What I loved most about Nutribuddyis the convenience – their breakfast shakes have given me an extra 20 minutes in bed every morning. I cannot understate how valuable this is to me. To be able to prepare and drink my breakfast 5 minutes before I need to leave the house for work is an absolute godsend.
So thanks, Nutribuddy, for sending me your delicious vegan breakfast shakes, helping me to lose a little bit of weight after my festive indulgences, and thanks so much for giving me a lie in.