Outdoor Adventures: Time for Segway!

I love the outdoors – and I love trying new things. So when I got the chance to go on a Segway adventure this month, I jumped at the opportunity! Up until this point, I’d only ever seen Segways on the television (or on hilarious YouTube compilations of people falling off them…) and usually they’d been zooming around cities or transporting security guards around shopping centres. Bumbling around the woods on one sounded absolutely brilliant – and, actually, yes it was!

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Segways aren’t without their challenges to overcome, however. For starters, they’re actually pretty intimidating beasts up close, and they can go pretty darn fast if you want them to. And, there’s a lot of safety equipment involved – helmets, elbow pads, shin pads – plus a fairly serious talk which basically dissuades you from acting like an idiot on them. These things are heavy, fast, and they have no brakes – all of which makes them enormous fun to ride on when you’re dodging between trees and zooming down hills.

After the safety briefing, we were invited to trundle up and down in between some cones to get the hang of maneuvering these beasts. While some people are cursed with bitchy resting face, I appear to be cursed with terrified resting face, because all the way through my practice (and the resulting rally through the trees) people kept asking me if I was okay. Firstly, I was concentrating on not falling off, but secondly, I was also having a blast, so I have no idea where the aura of terror was coming from, but I shall put it to good use this Halloween.

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To start with, I found it difficult to get my head around how to move the Segway around. Even getting on it for the first time was a pretty intimidating experience, as you use your body weight to direct the movements. If you’re not centered, stepping onto the Segway can cause it to go forwards or backwards, which is hilariously terrifying the first time you get on one. But it doesn’t take very long at all to get used to it, and once you do, it becomes almost second nature. It’s almost like learning to ride a bike, except you don’t fall off, and your dad’s not standing there shouting at you. (Or was it just my dad that did that?)

So, the Segway moves forward when you move your body weight towards the front of the machine, and it stops when you rock it backwards. It’s almost counter intuitive to move this way to start, as your mind is telling you you’ll fall forwards if you tip so far, but after some practice it’s easy to master. Turning works in a similar way, you tilt your body weight in the direction you want to go in. Although it seems strange at first, by the end of the session these body movements, plus the speed, made it feel almost like you were flying through the trees like some kind of magical Disney princess. Of course, the men can just imagine they’re Superman or something – or a slightly hairy princess if they want, I’m not going to judge.

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Once we had proven our mettle by not falling off our Segways, running over our own legs, going backwards into a ditch, or mangling ourselves in unlikely accidents, we set off on a short jaunt at high speed across a field and through some trees to a circular trackway in the woods. We then spent the remainder of our session looping around this circuit – firstly rather gingerly, and then with more and more confidence, until at the end it was entirely possible that one of us could have taken off if we’d had a big enough gust of wind behind us.

By the end of the session, everyone was grinning from ear to ear, as they returned their safety equipment and picked up their certificate. There’s just something about a Segway rally that makes you feel exhilarated and upbeat, and I can’t wait to go again. If you’re used to the same old outdoors activities and you want to try something different, or you’re looking for something fun for a birthday, hen party or team-building exercise, I’d definitely recommend it. It’s impossible not to have fun – and it’s also pretty hard to be really bad at it, too. And by the end, you feel like you’ve achieved something. I shall definitely be listing Segway Operator on my CV in the future.

You can book a Segway session from Activity Superstore. You can also book loads of amazing other activities on the site, from spa days to supercar drives! Check it out at www.activitysuperstore.com. I received a complimentary session for the purposes of my review, but my opinions are my own.

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Visit Downton Abbey at Christmas!

I had a blast visiting Highclere Castle in the summer – and now the home of Downton Abbey has opened ticket sales for a very limited number of dates in December! Or rather, they will do today – I (hopefully) bagged mine when the system was working earlier this morning, but due to overwhelming demand the sales are on temporary hold until later today. Get your finger ready for a refresh session!

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Head on over to the website here to bag yourself tickets for the Christmas fair on Wednesday 4th and Thursday 5th December. They cost £20 each and will give you a chance to do a little Christmas shopping while you’re serenaded by carol singers! And, you can upgrade your ticket to visit the bedrooms for an extra £2 or the Egyptian exhibition for £5 on the day.

Or, you can visit the house itself during the weekend in December – again, limited dates – and tickets will be available here for £18.

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Visit the website at https://highclerecastleshop.co.uk/home.

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Shopping the French Sole Sale: A Mini Tour of London

As I may have mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of French Sole, and when a pair of sandals I’d been lusting after for weeks came up in their sale – but not in my size! – there was nothing to be done except to get myself posthaste to my nearest FS store in order to bag a pair in person. The only issue with that is that my nearest FS store is in King’s Road, about an hour and half by car or between two to three hours on public transport. So, of course, this meant a day trip to London, and negates any savings  I may have actually made on buying the shoes full price. But that is just a minor detail, so there’s no need to bring that up.

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In order to get to the French Sole shop on King’s Road via the Tube, you face a pretty long walk from Sloane Street or a shorter one from Kensington, which then takes you along Fulham Road. This then takes you past an Amanda Wakeley store (Kate Middleton fans take note!) and a Butler & Wilson shop, which is a treasure trove of gorgeously over the top accessories. You then can then pass through any of the residential streets that connect Fulham Road to King’s Road, and soak in the beauty of Chelsea living – I am so jealous of some of these beautiful front doors!

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King’s Road itself is a stomping ground for the Middleton sisters (and their glam mother, Carole, of course), and Bluebird has hosted many a cosy family lunch and is definitely worth visiting. Quite a few of the shops on King’s Road will be recognisable to a Kate Middleton fan (like an awesome L.K. Bennett clearance store!), but it was one shop in particular that I was honing in on!

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Inside French Sole’s Chelsea branch, the sales were in full swing and the sales assistants were run off their feet getting different sizes and styles for their customers – always with a smile, I have to add. Luckily, they had a pair of the beautiful sandals I was lusting after in my size, so after purchasing I immediately put them on in order to get some wear out of them before autumn well and truly took over!

After that it was time for me to run loose in London – I didn’t have a lot of time, but I was able to visit the Burberry store on Regent’s Street (more on that in another post!) as well as to pop into Fortnum & Mason!

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I adore honey (on toast, mixed with yogurt and fruit, eaten straight from the honeycomb… Love it!) so I was really excited to see the display celebrating London honey (this festival continues until 13 October). Plus, there were loads of gorgeous Halloween goodies – and the Christmas store was open on floor three as well.

Yup, it was a pretty good day…

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Bicester Village: Chic Shopping at Bargain Prices

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One of fashion’s best kept secrets is Bicester Village – a shopper’s paradise located in Oxfordshire. Part of the Chic Outlet Shopping group, the Village is home to luxury brands like La Perla, Mulberry, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Temperley London, Anya Hindmarch and more – along with high-end high street stores like L.K. Bennett, Hobbs, Ted Baker, Reiss, Links of London, and French Connection. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather spend the day shopping!

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I recently went for a visit as Bicester Village is very conveniently located halfway between my house and my in-laws’ (near Birmingham), so a spot of retail therapy breaks up the trip nicely…

The Village itself is beautifully laid out – a long walkway lined with shops and restaurants, and it’ll take you a couple of hours at least – at a brisk, no-dawdling pace – to see everything. If you’re planning some serious shopping, you’ll probably want to take all day! There are some lovely places to eat – Busaba Eathai, Carluccio’s, Starbucks and Pret A Manger I can all vouch for, while I’m dying to try out Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts, and the Creperie Angelie and Amorino Ice Cream kiosks.

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Strategy is the key for a successful shop at Bicester – make sure you set yourself a budget, although if you’re like me, you may well blow it on some serious bargains. There’s always something new here as the stock changes fairly regularly, and each company has a different policy about what makes its way to the outlet stores, and when.

Needless to say, everyone will be after something different from their visit. I always like to pop into Jimmy Choo (last seen with some wellies on offer for £50!), and to lust after the gorgeous wedding dresses in Temperley. Scarves and clutch bags are the order of the day in Alexander McQueen, and I just love to check out the huge range of beauty products at the Cosmetics Company Store (including Bobbi Brown!). No visit would be complete without checking out the bags at Mulberry or the scarves (and trench coats!) at Burberry, although with some of the high street stores you’ll certainly find items priced at most budgets.

If you’re a massive fan of the Duchess of Cambridge’s style – as I am (could you guess?) – you’ll be pretty pleased to find many of the brands she’s been pictured wearing all in one spot. If you’re ever visiting the UK, you really need to put this on your ‘must-do’ list – there are even luxury coach services from London, as well as regular trains from London and Birmingham. In fact, if you fancy, you could charter a chauffeur service too – check out the options on the site here. (Of course, it goes without saying that driving there is very simple – it’s just off the M40 and A34, and again, if you want to make your trip even more luxurious, Bicester has just the option for you – valet parking!).

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One of my favourite shops to stop in at is L.K. Bennett, and during my trip I noticed the Natalie clutch and the Maddox wedge (heir to the Greta) on sale, and previously other acquaintances of mine have scooped up some coats the Duchess has worn in both Hobbs and Ted Baker. Sadly for me, I already owned the Natalie and the Maddox (yes, in both colours!), but there was plenty to tug at my purse strings on my visit.

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I came away from my trip with a beautiful Fox Charm necklace from Mulberry (£90 reduced from £150), a red purse from Anya Hindmarch (£61 down from £175, I believe – can’t believe I forgot to check!) and a free – FREE – dotty umbrella from Jaeger, courtesy of my loyalty card voucher. I can definitely attest that that’s one scheme worth signing up for! I would have come away with a beautiful deer brown Lily bag from Mulberry (which was just over £400), but let’s just say I’ve been buying too many designer bags recently and people are starting to notice…! (By that, I mean my bank manager specifically.)

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Sunglasses, eBay / Bondi Font Bracket Necklace, Maqaroon / Tangerine Michelle Top, hush / Grey Trousers, Next / Vectra5 Studded Slippers, TopShop / Lanesley Bag, Hobbs / Bloomingdale’s Charm, Bloomingdale’s / Dog Zodiac Bracelet, Mulberry / Lucky Charm Camera Bracelet, Maqaroon

Bicester Village has recently launched a new campaign for autumn called Touch of Chic, which I’ll post about later in the month – in the meantime, make sure you check out the site for Bicester Village at www.bicestervillage.com to find out more about the brands, offers and services available, including travel information and a list of shops!

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If you’re visiting, get there early to get into the big name shops without queuing (these are easy to spot by the velvet ropes outside!). On my visit I arrived promptly at 9am on a Saturday in the school holidays and managed to get into all the shops I was aiming to without having to wait – but by the time I was leaving, just a couple of hours later, the queue were starting to form. Well, good things do come to those who wait, right?

Find Bicester Village at 50 Pringle Drive, Bicester, Oxfordshire, OX26 6WD. You can also give them a ring at +44 (0)1869 366 266. And, check out the visitor information at the site by clicking here.

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Highclere Castle: Home of Downton Abbey

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Last weekend, my folks and a couple of friends and I all piled into a car to head to Highclere Castle, home of Downton Abbey! I actually live just 40 minutes up the road from the location, but it’s so hard to get tickets – we actually booked ours in February. It’s been a loooong wait.

When we got there, it was drizzling, and surrounded by mist – which was very atmospheric, but not very good for photos. Unless you wanted photos of atmospheric drizzle…

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The neat little folly was called Jackdaws Castle – basically designed to look nice from the castle rather than do anything – it didn’t even have a roof! I didn’t remember it from the show, but my friend recognised it from a scene with Lady Edith and a certain imposter who turned up as a patient at the Abbey during the war…

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Unfortunately, photography is banned inside the castle, so I don’t have any pictures of Countess Grantham’s bedroom or the lovely foyer, but we did have a trip around the gardens I can share with you – by the time finished touring the house and the excellent Egyptian exhibit, it had definitely brightened up!

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I definitely recommend going if you’re a fan of the show – for one thing, it’s really neat to see how it all fits together in real life. And who could resist having their photo snapped at Downton Abbey? Not me, that’s for sure!

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Kitten Cateye sunglasses, ASOS / Blue jumper, Hush / Dog friendship bracelet, Mulberry / Black and copper friendship bracelet, Links of London / Rose gold cherry blossom sweater necklace, C/O Maqaroon

Tickets for Highclere Castle can be purchased in advance from the website here. The summer season is currently sold out, although tickets may be available on the day subject to capacity – best time to try your luck is 2pm. £18 gets you an adult ticket to see the grounds, the Egyptian exhibit, and the castle interior. Tickets for just the grounds are also available at a cheaper price.

If you’d like to see any of my photos in more detail, check out my Flickr set here!

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Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace

On Saturday, the girls and I got up at stupid o’clock so we could head to London to celebrate the  Coronation in her Madge’s fine gardens at Buckingham Palace.

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The gardens are beautiful – although I obviously didn’t see them in their full glory, as they were covered in marquees full of stalls set up by Royal Warrant holders – everyone from the providers of locks and boilers, to high-end fashion designers, fabric shops and the now-famous Hunter wellies!

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This gorgeous display is from Stewart Parvin, who was the designer of my lovely lace wedding gown, so I had to snap a picture. Check out that beautiful dove grey coat!

It was blisteringly hot all day, so it was time to break out the big floppy hat!

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Bianca Hat, Hobbs Invitation / Slinky Facet Bead Drop Earrings, Accessorize / Green Gathered Dress, Zara / Gold Necklace, Peacocks / Gold Leaf Bracelet, Etsy / Barely There Non-Slip Tights, John Lewis / Patent Kate Bag, Jaeger / Maddox Wedges in Patent, L.K. Bennett

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I love the neat gathered detailing on the Zara dress!

As you can see, my shoes got very dusty from the lawn, I do hope her Madge gets the sprinklers out this week before the grass pops its clogs!

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Here’s the stand from Lock & Co Hatters, with some beautiful creations!

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Absolutely gorgeous (and incredibly expensive) fabrics from Joel & Sons.

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Beautiful blooms outside one of the eating places.

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Of course, the food tent was my favourite!

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The King’s Ginger had an amazing stand with some miniature bottles from the doll’s house at Windsor Castle. Their liqueur was absolutely top drawer too!

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This was a neat display from Gordon’s Gin.

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Ever wondered how Stinking Bishop is made? Wonder no more – this is one of the first stages, apparently.

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Check out this beautiful display of French bread from Shipton Mill – I love bread, it’s one of my major weaknesses. I’ve ordered a selection box of organic flour from this company, and I’ll be baking up a storm when it arrives!

For lunch, we treated ourselves to fish and chips – it was delicious, if a little greasy… But hey, eaten in the shade on the Queen’s lawn – I don’t think you can beat that!

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After our tour of the Warrant holders, we took a look around the gardens a bit more, and there were some lovely plants – as you would expect, of course!

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If you’d like to visit Buckingham Palace and see the gardens for yourself, check out this site for details including prices and access information!