Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Spooky Activities To Add To Your October Bucket List

I have always loved Halloween. As a kid, I would plan my costume way in advance and experiment with red lipstick and fake blood to make sure my look was just right. We would usually go Trick Or Treating around the neighbourhood and then spend the rest of the evening handing out sweets to the Trick Or Treaters who came to our door and gorging on them hard-earned goodies ourselves. As I have gotten older, my love for Halloween hasn't died down. Last year, eight months pregnant me took a train from London to Devon just to spend Halloween with my family. And this year, I want to go all out. I have mother and daughter costumes planned for Ava and I (maybe Isaac too if I can talk him into it) and I want to make this day really fun for us. So, I have been trawling the internet to find the most fun and spooky activities that the UK has to offer and I really haven't been disappointed (although I think I'd need more than a month to fit all the activities in).

Black Cat Trail at Bodiam Castle
When building Bodiam Castle in Sussex, the builders went to great lengths to incorporate all manner of things into the castle and its grounds in order to ward off evil. The ruins of the castle sit in the middle of a large moat and give off an eerie feeling of times gone by. This October, they are running a black cat trail around the grounds which is great for kids but also great for anyone wanting to stop for a minute and really look at their surroundings.

Dolaucothi Gold Mines
Can you imagine anything spookier than being deep in an abandoned gold mine in the dark? No, me neither. Dolaucothi Gold Mines in Carmarthenshire are a great day out for all the family (although kids under 1M tall aren't allowed in the mines) and a real historical experience too. Definitely something near the top of my spooky bucket list.

Dunster Castle School of Magic
Dunster Castle in Somerset is somewhere I have been itching to visit for ages now and I am really running out of excuses. Dunster Castle is nestled on the top of a hill and has true Hogwarts vibes - something they are using to their advantage this Halloween with their School of Magic. This one is great for kids - you follow a trail, answer questions, and get admitted into the School of Magic if you get it all right. I mean, this is the closest thing to being accepted into Hogwarts as you can get so I am really here for it.

Wicklow's Gaol
Based in Ireland, this is a bit more of a spooky one for the adults. Wicklow Gaol is an abandoned prison turned tourist attraction and, after watching Orange Is The New Black, I am desperate to visit. They have original prisoner records and the guides will tell you what life was like living in this prison.

Jamaica Inn
This hotel and restaurant in Cornwall is probably best known for its paranormal activity. It featured in a Daphne Du Maurier novel about smugglers and that was just the start of the folklore that surrounds this place. Book a table and take in the slightly creepy atmosphere or, if you're feeling brave, book in for the night. If you do, you're really a braver person than I am.

Jack The Ripper Tour
Since we studied Jack The Ripper at school, I have been intrigued by the mystery surrounding this unknown serial killer. And taking a walk in his shoes through the streets of London is bound to get even the bravest person a little spooked. I have been on one of these tours myself and I can vouch for how they will have you looking over your shoulder as you hurry along the dark streets and through alleyways that Jack The Ripper himself once walked.

Wookey Hole
And finally, the place that I went last year and absolutely loved - Wookey Hole. Based in Somerset, Wookey Hole is a large network of caves that, according to folklore, once had a witch as resident. Murdered by the village priest, her ghost is said to still haunt these caves. Pretty spooky, right?

What are your spooky plans for this Halloween?


Thursday, 11 October 2018

My Top Tips For Building Your Confidence

As a teen, I was painfully shy. And, at the time, I never thought I would be able to overcome that. I thought I would be that shy my whole life. I used to panic about what career I would go into when I grew up because the thought of going to an office and talking to people everyday literally left me in cold sweats. Looking back, my shyness did really limit me. There are so many opportunities that I wish I had taken that I just didn't because I didn't have the confidence. The years I should have spent secretly drinking Tesco Value cider in the park and going to parties in outfit my parents definitely wouldn't approve of and kissing boys behind the bike shed were actually spent reading about other people doing those things. But it wasn't just the crazy, rebellious stage that I kinda wish I had embraced at the time. I wish I had made the most of other things too. Things like mountaineering trips abroad that my sixth form offered or just getting the train into London with my girls. I had so much freedom back then but I never really made the most of it as I was always so scared of mucking up and being laughed at. I remember feeling like the world was just waiting for me to do something embarrassing. So, I hid. And I regret it.

Flash forward a few years, and my life is completely different and I don't feel like that teenage girl anymore who was so scared of what everyone else might think of her. But getting to this stage wasn't easy. Growing your confidence isn't easy. And there are days when I still get those little pangs of panic again - that voice in my head that tells me that I can't manage to do something. But I have really come a long way.

Work on your self-esteem
For me, my confidence is really linked to my self-esteem. When I feel good about myself (be it how I look, what I'm wearing, or what I have achieved that day), I feel so much more confident. In the same way, days when I feel a bit down make me want to curl up in a ball under about 30 blankets with only my arm free to spoon ice cream into my mouth. So, if you are having more bad days than good then your confidence is likely to suffer. And there's no easy solution for that. Just try to remember that even the most confident, cool people who seem to be breezing through life also have bad days and blips in confidence.

Say yes more often
We have all heard of FOMO but I think, for shy people, we have the opposite fear. We love cancelling plans and our go-to response when invited anywhere is almost always no. But it was only in my second year of uni that I realised that I really had been missing out - and it sucked. I had just moved into a shared house with a group of people I didn't know. One evening, I got a text from one of the other girls inviting me out. I was already in bed watching TV and I was so tempted to say no but I pushed myself and said yes. And that was the start of an amazing friendship that lasted for the rest of my time at uni and is still going strong a year on. You don't know what great things are out there if you always say no so the best way to start building your confidence is to get out there more and experience different things.

I once read an article on how to gain confidence that recommended listening to people's conversations on public transport and imagining what your response would be to everything that say. I mean, this never really worked for me but it did give me amazing spy skills. One thing that did work for me though was working in people-facing jobs. As a teenager, I volunteered in nursing homes and charity shops and that started to bring my out of my shell. Since then, I have worked in many customer service roles and it really has helped. I mean, you have no choice but to talk to people when its your job. So, my bit of advice is to try to do something like that. Volunteer in a charity shop one afternoon a week. Join a language group. Do something where you have to meet different people and chat with them.

Celebrate little wins
Chances are, you won't read this post then suddenly transform into a social butterfly (I wish I had that kinda power, trust me) but you can start to make little changes. And, as you push yourself to try different things, you will have a few little wins. They can be as simple as asking what the waiter recommends in a restaurant or having a chat with the old lady next to you on the bus just because. Each little win is an achievement and a sign that you are moving in the right direction.

Stop searching for the answer
This last point kinda goes against the point of the post but, if you are anything like how I was, you have probably read about 100 different articles on confidence that haven't made a slight bit of difference to your life. That's because there is no magic cure unfortunately. It all comes from within you. That's the scary - but kinda amazing - thing. You are the one that can make this happen.

What are your top tips for building your confidence?

T-shirt: ASOS (here)
Jacket: Topshop (similar)
Scarf: Primark (similar)
Jeans: Primark (similar)

Friday, 5 October 2018

Places To Eat In Exeter: Sacred Grounds

On an average day, my insta feed probably contains at least 10 pictures of people sipping on colourful lattes and eating their weight in pancakes and waffles. And, in all honesty, pictures like these make me want to up sticks and move to South London asap so that I too can spend my days relaxing in a coffee shop with a book and rocking a fedora (without looking like I'm playing dress up in my dad's clothes). I mean, we never really had anywhere like that in Exeter. And lattes that were anything other than brown and from Starbucks seemed like a wild fantasy.

Until now.

I recently came across Sacred Grounds online and I would be lying if I said I didn't let out a bit of a squeal when I saw that 1) they were opening up in Exeter's McCoy's Arcade and 2) they do pink lattes and lush, plant-based food. Oh, and the whole place is mega instagrammable.

So, I made an excuse to head into Exeter with the baby and even timed her nap perfectly so that she slept all the way through my brunch. As it has only recently opened, the place was pretty busy but I gladly sat outside (not outside outside - just in the arcade). They had highchairs and little blocks for the kids to play with - I even saw other mums with babies which is a far cry from these kinda cafes I have been to before which were always more geared towards professionals rather than families. There was a great mixture of mums and business people in suits and a fair few students too.

The menu was short and simple. It had a few types of waffles and then some interesting Scandinavian items too. The drinks menu had all the classics but I was feeling adventurous (read: wanted that pic for the gram) so I went for the beetroot and orange latte. Admittedly, I really didn't have high expectations for the taste of this latte. I mean, it is made from beetroot. But it really wasn't that bad. It was smooth and really creamy (I think it was made with oat milk). It had a bit of an earthy taste but it wasn't horrible. A bit of an acquired taste maybe but nice for a drink made from beetroot.

Food-wise, I went for the sweet waffles. And they were so good. The waffles were topped with maple syrup, cinnamon roasted apple, whipped coconut, and frozen berries. I kinda wish I could eat this every morning - it was just that nice!

Overall, I think Sacred Grounds is the place that Exeter was crying out for. Plant-based goodies in a gorgeous café run by lovely, friendly people. And they appreciate pink coffees just as much as I do. What's not to love?

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