My Top Ten Things To See And Do At Exbury Gardens

Take Sensible Shoes, Wear Fabulous Sunglasses…

The New Forest is one of my favourite places on earth, and Exbury Gardens is one of the jewels in its crown. Situated on the banks of the Beaulieu River, and part of the breathtaking Exbury Estate, the gardens are open to the public from March until November. Whether you’re a local or you’re visiting the area on holiday, I’d definitely recommend you stop by to see one of the most spectacular collections of its type in the country.

You could spend all day at Exbury and not see everything (believe me, as this is from personal experience!), so I decided to put together a list of my top ten things to see and do there, so you don’t miss out on some of my favourite parts of our visit! (Please note, the gardens are ever changing, and different varieties will bloom in different months of the year.)

1. Take The Train

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Camping and the Art of Hygge: Favourites This Week

Hygge is the buzz word of 2016 – or at least, it is in my house. I say it all the time, at any opportunity, because I have no real idea how to pronounce it and it’s funny to say it out loud. Hygge basically means a sense of cosiness and happiness, a state of mind conjured up by warm socks, hot cocoa, and a wood fire.

So, when my friends invited me on a camping trip, I thought it would be the perfect time to do a post about hygge, and how you can invoke its spirit in the great outdoors!

First of all, you will need a tent. I had some great advice picking a tent, and found a cheap two-man one for £45 (the item is the Eurohike Tay Deluxe Two Man Tent). The best tents have an interior sleeping area that’s seperate from the rest, which reduces the amount of condensation inside. They also have a small porch area to store your items – and believe me, you need a stupid amount of stuff to go camping, even by my standards.

If you’re going with experienced campers, you probably won’t need a lot of other stuff, but if you’re camping alone, or for any length of time, you’ll probably want to invest in a tent you can stand up inside, because if the weather is bad you’ll be hunched inside your tent like Gollum otherwise…

The best part about camping, of course, is the nighttime firepit. We had a portable Weber and coals, but if the camp site lets you, you’ll want to break out the log-fuelled fire for sure. Sticks and marshmallows are a must, and copious amounts of cider is optional, but recommended.

Lighting is really difficult at night in a campsite. You’ll want to bring as many lanterns, fairy lights and head torches as you can find. Fairy lights with battery packs are so awesome for brightening up a camp site – and as an added bonus, you can use it to find your way back to your tent after a midnight toilet break!

Trust me to claim that a pair of Charlotte Olympias are essential campsite necessities, but bringing flip-flops is the best tip I got. You’ll be showering in a central block, and drying yourself and walking back and forward from your tent is so much easier with flip-flops!

You’ll probably notice in my tent picture at the top that I have a lot of blankets and throws. This is my best hygge tip, after ‘bring fairy lights’. I’ve got a blanket scarf from Joules (the Heyford, check them out here) which was a perfect dual purpose item – worn around the neck or over the knees, it was a great way to keep toasty! I also had some red checkered throws from Next, as well as a tartan picnic blanket, which makes a perfect carpet for the foyer of the tent. These small touches go a long way to making the experience as cosy as possible!

We went camping in the New Forest, one of my favourite places, and somewhere I wish I could spend a lot more time. On the Saturday, we went to the Otter and Owl Sanctuary, which was huge, full of awesome animals, and even had a giant adventure playground that adults were allowed in! (Seriously, it was probably the part I enjoyed the most!)

The campsite we ended up at was Ashurst. I definitely recommend it for some amazing views like this one! It’s pretty central in the New Forest, making it handy for loads of great days out.

And if you’re in the New Forest, I definitely recommend you visit Burley. It’s got a great history of witches and magical activity, and a couple of lovely themed magical gift shops. It’s also got a New Forest Cider shop, where they produce their own cider, as well as sell a variety of great local products, and there’s even a cafe!

So, are you going to bring a bit of hygge into your next camping trip? Don’t forget your flip-flops and blanket scarves!

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Scorchio! Summer Happiness Part One

Summer is definitely here… at the moment… don’t hold your breath, just enjoy it! In order to celebrate the heat-wave, I thought I’d share some of the things that are making me happy this month!

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Summer trips to London: it takes me a couple of hours to get to central London from my house, and although it’s not as though I’m a local, I’m still a fairly regular visitor. No matter how many times I go, I love every bit of it, from the cheesy tourist sights to the upscale department stores.

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There’s never a bad time to visit London, but when the sun is shining and there are flowers and bunting everywhere, it’s just that extra bit special.

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I’ve also recently taken up the challenge of walking a minimum of 10,000 steps a day, and since I started two and a half weeks ago, I’ve walked over 90 miles all in all (yes, really!). It gets boring going on the same old walks, so I’ve started going out in the evenings with my husband, taking advantage of the great weather to visit some places I rarely go (and playing Pokemon Go of course! Do I get hipster points for saying I used to play Ingress as well?)

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Living on the coast, and in between two beautiful national parks (New Forest and South Downs), there are loads of local places to visit – but even closer by we have some pretty views, and Southampton Common is one of my favourite places to go (especially since I worked out several routes depending on how far I want to walk or run!).

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I’ve also been enjoying going on family trips, most recently to Bath – including an awesome, super spooky ghost walk through some of the most haunted areas of the city centre!

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I also had to snap this shot of this canopy of colourful umbrellas in the town – a reminder that even when the sun isn’t shining, you can still bring a bit of brightness into your life!

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A trip to Lordington Lavender Farm allowed me to break out my new Ray-Ban aviators (been lusting after a pair for ages and finally snapped some up in the Next sale!), and dream of ambitions of opening my own lavender farm – or at least, planning a trip to Provence again!

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And speaking of accessories, all this summer heat makes me long for the days of cool nights, long strings of pearls, and sweet perfumes like La Vie Est Belle from Lancome. But you know, just because safari prints and neon accessories are in, doesn’t mean I can’t indulge myself from time to time, even if I look a little weird hunched over the BBQ wearing Chanel pearl earrings… I bought these from Harrods with some money my grandmother left me – my mother-in-law always told me to use inheritance to purchase at least one good keepsake to remind you of someone, and I think that’s great advice.

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I’ve also been making a ridiculous amount of smoothies thanks to Natural Blender, the smoothie delivery service, and my brand new Nutribullet, which I bought after yet another blender broke on me at the beginning of the month. I wish I’d bought one sooner – this baby is seriously good, and blends everything to a perfectly smooth consistency!

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And finally, where would I be without my favourite summer flower – the hydrangea – and my favourite ballet flats, from French Sole?

Let me know what’s making you happy this summer in the comments!

Sunday Sky Ride through the New Forest

One of my favourite summer activities is cycling with friends – especially through the New Forest! So, when I saw that there was a local Sky Ride organised for last Sunday, I jumped on the chance to sign up immediately! Sky Rides are an amazing initiative from Sky and British Cycling – local tours supported by ride leaders who lead the group on organised routes through gorgeous cycle paths and roads. Check out the site here.

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Winsor by Compass

Yesterday, I took part in my first Sky Ride Local led ride, which was awesome. What wasn’t so awesome was the stress involved in buying a bike rack for the car, finding out how to install and use the bike rack, and tracking down a false cross bar for my Trek Allant WSD to get it onto the bike rack. We ended up spending a lot more on it than we intended, and then spent the entire journey watching the bikes bounce perilously up and down in the window. And we wound up late (thanks to having to take a last minute trip to town to get said crossbar when my local cycle shop’s offering turned out to be totally unsuitable), which stresses me out more than anything…

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This is the route we took, and the ride was called ‘Winsor by Compass’. It was a 14.3 mile course called ‘Ride Steady’, which is a long, yet relaxed, trip.

This was our leader, explaining a bit about the journey and giving us some basic safety rules. Basically, it boiled down to: pay attention!

This is Rachel, kitted out with her Sky Ride tabbard. Her mountain bike had the distinction of having the fattest tyres in the group. There was a real mix of bikes there, from Dutch style bikes (complete with a pink wire basket, which I think you can see above in the group shot!) to racing and mountain bikes.

This is Omar – he bought his bike through the Cycle to Work scheme – something I’d love to do but is not really happening when you work from home!

We travelled on the Test Way for part of the trip. Coming to this from a bit of a walking background I always find it amazing how much ground you can cover on a bike compared to walking. Obvious, I know, but the pace is so much faster and you just get to see so much more! On the other hand, on a trip like this, you don’t get much of a chance to take photos or stop and look at the scenery. Mind you, considering these organised rides are completely free, I’m more than happy to forgo taking endless snaps on my phone!

Most of the ride was along pavement or roads, but we did have a section that was pretty rocky and covered in sharp stones. Someone ended up getting a puncture, which was pretty scary, to be honest! Luckily they had equipment to fix it with them, but I didn’t have anything, so I spent the rest of the stretch worrying about what would happen if I got a puncture too… I really need to get a repair kit!

This was far more typical of the sort of road surface we were traveling on – my bike likes this better, and so do I!

As you can see, I’m still wearing my blue helmet – I haven’t got a replacement for it yet (news on that later, I hope!). The good thing about it is that it is very breezy and doesn’t make my head get all sweaty!

Also, my bike computer decided to stop working yesterday too, which is pretty irritating considering how new it is. I’ll have to take it back to the shop and see if there’s something that can be done about it… In other news, I have a new bag (which you can still buy in the sale here, if you’re interested!). I totally wouldn’t have had a new bag if the bike rack purchase had happened first…

So. my first led Sky Ride Local was a blast, and I can’t wait for Sunday for the next one, which is in Itchen!

Hythe to Bucklers’ Hard

A lot of my friends have bicycles. In fact, if it wasn’t for Rachel, owner of a delightful Trek mountain bike, I don’t think I would have had anything more than a passing interest in biking at all. Once she bought her bike, it wasn’t long before her twin sister Lorraine, picked one up, and now I have four friends who have bikes. So they decided to plan a trip from Hythe (using the ferry) to Buckler’s Hard and back, a round trip of about ten miles or so (I think it wound up being more like eight in the end!).

After rediscovering my love of cycling last year at the Sky Ride, I wanted to join in, and so I arranged to hire a bike from a shop near the ferry terminal (and a good job I phoned in advance, because they weren’t open on a Sunday, the day I needed it, and the guy had to come in especially for me – what a sport!). He asked me where I was going and I explained the trip – then he asked me if I was cycle fit, because I guess that’s a ways to go if you’re not.. I had no idea if I was, but told him that I cycled on my exercise bike quite a lot and was pretty confident. I think the longest I’ve ever cycled on that thing was 100 minutes, because the counter goes up to 99 and I wanted to see what happened when it ticked over… Anyway, that’s a different story!

I have to say, cycling after a long break feels really intimidating. Even more so if you need to cycle in traffic. Even if you’re a confident driver, as soon as you get on that saddle the roads become roaring death-traps, full of cars ready to mince you into pieces. Luckily, the trip was down relatively quiet country roads, and the only time I got slightly nervous was when I cycled past a foal (giving it wide berth, I have to add!), which got startled by the group and started to gallop along the verge right beside us. I was concerned that it would run in front or bash into one of us, which could have turned into a nasty accident, but luckily it slowed down and stopped after a little bit. Hopefully it learned not to be scared of bikes in the future!

If there’s anything that’s going to get you enthusiastic about cycling, it’s a leisurely trip in the sunshine through some beautiful parts of the countryside near you. You get to see so much more than you would in a car, and have the added bonus of actually exercising whilst doing so – therefore more than earning yourself a slap-up pub meal halfway through. (But maybe not the two servings of ice cream I had both to and from the pub… sigh.)

I was also pleasantly surprised at how fit I was from all my cycling on the exercise bike. Turns out I must have had the resistance turned way up, because cycling up a hill was a pretty familiar feeling for me! Cycling on the flat was like heaven. A couple of my friends were struggling, but I guess the more we go out for trips, the fitter they’ll get – and the more ice cream we can eat! Right?

So, it was this trip that convinced me I really needed to buy a bicycle. The only question was really – which one?