Discover Orkney: 5 Tips for a Wild Adventure

WINDSWEPT and remote, the desolate beauty of these islands offers wild scenery, empty beaches, puffins in summer and, in winter on a clear night, the otherworldly beauty of the Northern Lights.

Untouched by centuries of change, the islands’ glut of ancient treasures cause the mysterious remains of our ancestors to rise from the land in all directions: their homes, their standing stones and the fabled dwellings of creatures from folklore.

Acccessible and affordable – here are 5 reason you should put Orkney on your wish list:

 

The oldest standing stones in the British Isles:

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The Ring of Brodgar

Forget Stonehenge: the standing stones on Orkney, at Steness and Brodgar, are the originals, predating their southern cousins by at least 500 years. Thanks to an almost total lack of trees and an undeveloped landscape, the stones – which stretch across the landscape from Hoy to the Mainland – form part of a huge astronomical calendar, protected by UNESCO and considered one of the most important Neolithic sites in the whole of Western Europe.

 

Viking graffiti
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Viking villages are scattered across the landscape

The Vikings left their mark on Orkney and the countryside is littered with the remains of their lives – and their graffiti. The ancient passage tomb of Maeshowe is a sophisticated piece of Neolithic engineering. Lined up with the standing stones which criss-cross the countryside it is also an ingenious astronomical calendar, coming into its own at the Winter Solstice.

However, its crowning glory is the graffiti that hiding Viking raiders have etched onto it’s hallowed walls. As well as the names of their girlfriends and what amounts to ‘I was ‘ere’  there are some ruder pieces including the legend ‘Thorni f*cked. Helgi carved.’  Just going to show that teenage boys are teenage boys, whether in this century or a thousand years ago.

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Maeshowe, lit by the light of the Winter Solstice, is also full of Viking graffiti

 

Raw beauty

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The Old Man of Hoy, the island’s iconic sea stack.

If you’re a keen photographer you’ll have no end of weather beaten scenery to capture here. There are a plethora of islands to choose from, all boasting rugged beaches and rare wildlife – including a pair of sea eagles on Hoy.

The iconic sea stack known as the ‘Old Man of Hoy’ makes an easy walk and island hopping is simple – there are regular ferries leaving from the mainland so you can take your pick – Sanday and Shapinsay for the coast, Rousay for archeaology or wild North Ronaldsay for wildlife.

 

Sunken German World War 1 Fleet

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If you’re a history buff you’ll have heard of the scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow. Seventy-four German ships were sunk here as the last shots of World War 1 were fired. The British Navy tried in vain to prevent them sinking and some of the boats, which are now part of an internationally acclaimed diving spot, are still visible as you drive across the bridge.

Just beyond this, stop at the Italian chapel, built by 550 Italian Prisoners of War sent to the then uninhabited Island during World War 2.

 

And lastly, because this is a real place…

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I don’t think I need to add anything here.

Top 5 Delhi Sights Not To Miss

 

With temperatures in the UK dropping below freezing and staying there, what better time to start planning your sunshine get away? Delhi is the first part of the Golden Triangle and the cheapest place to fly in and out of. A room in a hotel can cost you as little as £15 a night so once you’ve arrived, the world is your oyster…

Here are my top 5 things not to miss:

 

  1. Old Delhi

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Hire a rickshaw and head into the bustling heart of this crazy city; electrical wires zigzag across the streets at eye level; sequins and spices nestle alongside street hawkers, taxi drivers and fifteen lanes of traffic all moving in apparently random directions, beeping and swerving around rickshaw drivers as they head the wrong way around the traffic islands: Delhi is a feast for the senses – and a total culture shock.

Being one white face in a city of 18 million people you’d think you might disappear, but – like a penguin in a cage full of flamingos – you are instantly obvious and anyone who spots you will try to ‘befriend’ you in hope of giving you some sort of information which warrants a tip. Walking down the street is an adventure in itself; dodging the cracked pavements, random cows and the one thousand other people hurrying about their business. From the grinding poverty of makeshift homes on the side of the road to the holy Sadus, dressed in orange, crouched on street corners, or tuk tuk drivers sleeping on mats in the sunshine, what will strike you most about Delhi is its seemingly endless mass of teeming humanity.

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After a day in the old town you can head to the Gates of India, a remnant of colonial British rule, set in a huge park which even by night is filled with families and vendors selling food: the perfect end to a perfect day.

 

 

  1. Qutb Minar

 

minaret detail

The minaret is made from plundered Hindu temples

Built in the city’s trademark red sandstone and started in 1193 by the first sultan this five story, 73 metre high tower is the crowning glory of a World Heritage Site which contains the oldest mosque in northern India.

An inscription over the eastern gate, left by the victorious army, boasts that it was constructed from the ruins of 27 Hindu temples. The highest tower in India, Qutb Minar commemorates the defeat of Dehli’s last Hindu ruler and an ancient iron pillar stands as silent testimony to almost 2,000 years of history in this – one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.

The hassle factor in India is enormous. In the centre of Delhi it can be quite annoying and at its major attractions there is an endless supply of strange men attempting to offer you ‘tours’. Whilst it is wise to rebuff most of these don’t be too upset if you are approached by strange people who want to take your photo – it isn’t a con, (unlike everything else!), they really just think you look funny and want you to pose with their mum. Relax, be polite and enjoy your temporary celebrity status.

 

  1. Humanyan’s Tomb

 

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A family pose in the grounds of the tomb

Wild green parrots and screeching peacocks are the sole inhabitants of this lovingly restored garden tomb, the first ever to be built on the Indian sub-continent.

The inspiration for the Taj Mahal, unlike a lot of other historical buildings in India, the colours and patterns are bright and the tiles and dome still intact.

It can be reached via the Indian equivalent of the London Underground, which is swish and modern and surprisingly clean, (bins are non-existent elsewhere). However, a word of warning – as a women – even travelling with a man – avoid the packed tubes at rush hour as there are a few men who will try to take advantage of you; I had a nasty experience with a man who tried to rub himself against me, despite being with my husband at the time.

 

  1. The Red Fort

 

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The fort is now a war museum

The ultimate symbol of Mughal power, this impressive octagonal fort was created by Shah Jahan after he moved his capital from Agra to Delhi in 1638. The man responsible for creating the Taj Mahal, it was originally built in white and red, but after a century of occupation by the British, who used it as a barracks, it lost its original colour, although this is gradually being corrected.

The downside of visiting sites in India, aside from the fact they are unlikely to contain much furniture or other remnants of the people who occupied it, is that they all smell of …wee. A combination of no public conveniences and a slightly different take on hygiene means you are never far from a stinky corner of an ancient monument. Nice.

 

  1. Jama Masjid

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Dominating Old Delhi this giant mosque – The Friday Mosque – is the largest mosque in India. The courtyard can accommodate 25, 000 worshippers and climbing the 121 steps to the top of the minaret offers spectacular views across a city of 18 million people, – how far you can see depends on the air quality, which is amongst the lowest in the world.

What is wonderful is that all around you are Hindu, Buddhist and Jainist temples, Sikh Gurdwaras and Christian churches – Delhi is a place where all of India lives alongside one another, a true melting pot where animal and humans of all types huddle together. A visit to India will change your perspective – for the better.

8 Reasons to Visit Georgia

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Where East meets West, this tiny Asian country is the furthest outpost of the European Union. Boasting the jaw dropping Causcasus Mountains, it’s known for it’s fine wines and hospitality.

 

Here’s 8 reasons why you should put Georgia on your travel itinerary.

 

1. For the simple life. 

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Outside tumbledown houses, cows and pigs wander lazily across the highways, framed against a backdrop of snow capped mountains.

In Kutaisi wild horses reclaim the streets late at night, whilst packs of stray dogs race the cars. Almost every house you pass is selling something – set up on a small table outside – homegrown veg and honey or bottles of brown, pear-drop flavoured lemonade.

Wood must be bought to fuel the stove; chickens reared and live birds bought at market for eggs or Sunday lunch. Leather faced old ladies, dressed in head scarves and wearing traditional long black skirts, keep watch whilst the men, dressed in beanie hats and sturdy jackets against the worst of the Winter weather, advertise Ladas full of logs to passers by.

IMG_8858.JPG          Kutaisi Market

 

2. It’s now a budget destination

It may be nearly 3,000 miles away but Kutaisi is the latest town on the WizzAir flight path and at February half term it’s incredibly affordable – return flights cost around £85; if you’re travelling in the Summer expect to pay around £70 extra.

Apartments go from as little as £16 per night and a pizza is £2 each so Kutaisi is a cheap date. However, with 20% of the population living below the poverty line don’t expect all mod cons, unless you’re booking a fancy hotel.

Fabulously, interior decoration hasn’t changed much since the days of the USSR, so if you brave a private apartment you may find yourself waking up in a delicious remnant of a bygone Soviet era.

IMG_8782.JPG                    Step back in time to a bygone era…

 

3. Georgian Hospitality

Even looking slightly lost in Georgia will attract the attention of a helpful passer by. There is nothing to worry about: honesty is valued and unlike other countries in Asia, they aren’t on the take. In fact, they can boast of being the least corrupt country in the region and the only one with a free press.

Oddly enough, last year they were granted inclusion in the Schengen zone; despite being completely disconnected from any other EU country!

IMG_9032.JPGFebruary in the mountains

 

4. Natural beauty

IMG_9018                   Okatse Canyon

The white peaks of the Caucasus form the backdrop to almost every scene in Georgia. An hour’s travel in any direction will take you to into breathtaking countryside.

For some gentle exercise head to Okatse Canyons for stunning waterfalls and explore the Sataplia Nature Park to see the dinosaur footprints, taking time to admire the view from it’s stylish glass walkway overlooking the surrounding hills.

Get up early and you can also fit in a trip to Prometheus Cave (about 30 mins outside the town). These impressive caves stretch for 1.4 km, visitors can see 6 of the chambers, each large and simply dripping in stalactites and stalagmites.

IMG_8990.JPG                    Prometheus Caves

 

5. The Katskhi Pillar

The 130ft high home of a lone Stylite monk. He only leaves his home twice a week so supplies have to be winched up to him and he spent the first few months living in a fridge. When he wants to go home he has to spend 20 minutes climbing an extremely long, slightly dodgy looking ladder, and believes the height of the pillar brings him closer to God.

IMG_8884.JPG                        The Katshki Pillar

 

6. It’s A Soviet Museum

Dangle precariously over the mining town of Chiatura in a Soviet era cable car. These slightly terrifying remnants of a time gone by are unique and fabulous. Shut in the dark with only a metal grill for a window, it’s no wonder these contraptions were nicknamed ‘metal coffins’.

The town itself is unchanged since Stalin died; rows of concrete housing line the river and it’s easy to imagine yourself in another era. Not to be missed.

DSC02870.JPG                      Dangling in a metal coffin above Chiatura

DSC02877.JPG                      Chiatura is a mining town

 

7. Rock Houses

Hiding from Mongol attack in the 12th Century, Queen Tamar ordered this amazing cave labyrinth to be hewn from the rock. Boasting 6,000 apartments including a still inhabited monastery, this mountain hideaway is a fascinating place to explore.
IMG_8960.JPG                Hewn from the rock: Vardzia Cave Homes

IMG_9177.JPG               Snow in the Caucasus

8. It’s A Secret

With the advent of cheap flights it’s almost bound to catch on. The much needed injection of cash is sure to bring change and Georgia will lose some of it’s other-worldly charm.

Get there ahead of the hoards and experience this rustic haven whilst you still can.

IMG_9047.JPG                Georgia is working hard to attract tourists to it’s natural parks

 

Sharpie shells

My garden is full of shells. They are from all the beaches we have visited as a family and over the years they have started to take over – the pebbled area around the bench is now a beach – they have sneaked into the borders and adorn every pot plant. This evening, we decided to colour them with our Sharpies. 

I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them now (I’m guessing they’ll end up back in the garden!) but it was fun and a good way to keep bored children away from the gogglebox! So if you’ve been wondering what on earth you’re going to do with all yours, get scribbling!

10 Tips for Dealing with ‘Difficult’ Children

Any child can drive you nuts but a child who doesn’t seem to care about the rules or has no fear of adults can be a real test of the mettle. As a parent it’s hard because, well, you know you were frightened of your mum, so you’re expecting a bit of respect. As for teachers, we are prime examples of the sort of kids who meekly did as we were told, lapped up our education and then promptly regurgitated it to the next generation. It can come as a shock to realise there are kids out there who actually hate academic study, don’t have ambition and frankly find the entire situation so gawd awful they’d rather be down ‘t’ pit than stuck in a classroom full of people who don’t understand them.

So, after years of working it out on other people’s kids, here are my top tips for dealing with the ones who make you want to tear your hair out..

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, be tempted to raise your voice. This will have one of two effects, neither of which are desirable. The child will either (a). retreat completely and become unreachable, possibly for the rest of the day, or (b). lose it completely and you will spend the rest of the day trying to scrape them off the ceiling. That doesn’t mean you can’t be firm, just don’t shout.
  2. Be crystal clear about the consequences and stick to them. Don’t make threats you can’t keep because you may very well end up having to keep them – if you can’t think of anything then just remind them there will be a consequence, (even if you haven’t come up with anything yet), this is far better than threatening something in the heat of the moment and having to climb down. Consistency is key so if you change your mind about the consequence you will find it much harder to convince them you mean it next time.
  3. Allow ‘cool down’ time. Don’t ask for too much, too soon. Give the child time to cool off then you can have a reasonable conversation. Trying to get to this stage too early will be completely counter-productive and possibly reignite the entire situation.
  4. Don’t expect to intimidate your subject. Yes, you were scared of your mum and teachers and, yes, if they just appeared scary enough, or shouty enough, you immediately became a wobbly pile of jelly and apologised. A child with difficulties isn’t going to automatically respect you just because you are older, or louder so let go of this one, pronto.
  5. Give three clear warnings before you give a consequence. This is clear, consistent and, crucially, allows time for a pride climb down. For example, ‘I’m going to give you three warnings, this is your first warning. If you get three warnings you will have to (insert consequence here)’ Repeat this, in your calmest voice, exactly the same way each time. If you get the sneaky feeling you’re going to need to save that consequence for something worse,  you can even give a warning for the warning…for example, ‘If you carry on I will have to give you your second warning and you’ve only got 2 warnings left.’ I know, gazillions of warnings, but sometimes this is the best way and will actually get you what you want instead of creating a show down in which everyone loses.
  6. Be quick to spot the good stuff. It might be something everyone else can do right away but if you notice anything – a child who can’t usually say sorry uttering the words, a kid choosing to calmly take themselves to cool off or a shouter managing to keep it calm – compliment them.
  7. Be funny. This is by far the best way to be reprimanded so long as it is done in a way which includes the child, rather than being designed to encourage others to laugh at them, (I know this goes without saying but it’s important so I’ve said it anyway).
  8. Make it private. A quiet word in their conch-like is far better than broadcasting it to the world. The kind of children who are challenging you are also usually the children with the biggest self-esteem issues. Let them hang on to a modicum of pride and you’ll reap the rewards.
  9. Smile, smile, smile! Make your feelings very clear with your facial expressions, remember, kids who are likely to explode may well have some trouble reading body language so help them out by being obvious.
  10. Stay calm. Remember, you are the adult and no matter how rude or disrespectful they are being, they are just a child. You don’t have to ‘win’ to save face because you automatically hold all the trump cards.

 

 

Decoupaged cheese boxes

Things to keep the kids busy in Spring…part one. 

This is so simple and fun to do with great results. Ideal for children to store their precious little bits and bobs and you can even line it with felt if you feel like over achieving! 

You need this: 


Cheese box

Mod podge or PVA glue

Temporary glue (you can just use a glue stick)

Stack of old comics

Paint brush

1. Rip interesting words or pictures from the comics and use the temporary glue to stick them to the box. Allow them to overlap. 

2. Trim the edges with a pair of scissors then paint over with Mod Podge. Leave to dry and add two more coats. Finished! 

Anagram Fudge (for cryptic but yummy messages!)

Mix the letters up to send a secret (and yummy message). 

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Fudge is so easy to make and I love to do little packages for my friends and family spelling out a secret message or word – a private joke or love message.

So here’s how…


1 can of condensed milk

1 edible food pen

150ml milk

450g Demerara sugar

115g butter

Greaseproof paper, non stick pan and a shallow dish

Throw everything in and heat!

1. Line a sandwich box or tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Fill a glass measuring jug with cold water and place in the fridge.

3. Throw everything in together and heat up, nice and slowly so it doesn’t burn. Make sure you stir the whole time or, non-stick pan or not, it’s going to burn!

3. It should be done in 10-15 minutes but the best way to find out is to grab your jug of cold water from the fridge, drop a spot of mixture into the jug and see if it turns into instantly to fudge. Whatever the outcome of your first try don’t be tempted to cook it for too long because the fudge will dry out very quickly.


3. Once that is done pour into your sandwich box or tin and leave to cool.

4. Once it is cool you can cut into slices and use your edible pen to add a cryptic message before bagging it and giving it to your loved one. Ta-da!

Aquarium Soap (the easy way!) 

Day 2 of easy homemade gifts, the perfect accompaniment to yesterday’s tea cup candles!

Homemade soap? Wellll….sort of. This is melt and pour soap so you’re not going to have to muck about getting the mixture right, you’re just providing the design and the scent, the rest is done for you. Perfect for a beautiful and simple gift!

You will need:

The basics

  • Melt and pour soap (cheaply bought from eBay) clear and opaque, (clear for the blue layer only)
  • Small plastic fish
  • Glitter (fine)
  • Fragrance
  • Blue soap colourant or food dye
  • Silicone loaf style mold
  • Isopropanol spray
  • A microwave
  • A bowl and spoon

Method

  1. Cut half your opaque soap into cubes.

    Cut your soap into cubes

  2. Place into the microwave for around 3 minutes until all the soap has melted.

    Microwave for 3 minutes

  3. Now you can add your fragrance, colour and a little glitter. Stir in gently so you don’t get bubbles but not too slowly in case it starts to set!

    Add fragrance, colour and glitter!

  4. Pour slowly (to avoid bubbles) into your mold.

    Pour slowly

  5. Leave to cool for around three hours then spray with Isopropanol . This will stop colour leaking from one layer to another.

    Spray between layers to avoid colour leaching

  6. Once the first layer is hard you can add the other layers in the same way, just make sure you leave enough time for the layers to harden before adding the next one. You can now add your fish. 
  7. As you add the next layer (using the clear soap with blue colourant this time), just remember the fish are going to float so pour gently. Leave for three hours then add the final layer (the opaque soap with glitter in, as before).
  8. Once it has all set you are ready to remove it from the mold and slice into beautiful soap! Easy peasy and very rewarding!

Teacup Candles

Over the next week I’m going to show you some cheap ideas for gifts which are pretty easy and enjoyable to make.

First, tea cup candles, which are always beautiful and when put together with the soap I’m going to show you tomorrow look very vintage and good quality.

First, the basics you are going to need:

  • Wax (can be bought cheaply from eBay)
  • Tea cups (hit your local House Clearance shop, they’ll be very cheap – I got a full set of six with saucers for £3)

    Trawl the house clearance shop for pretty little bargains

  • Wicks
  • Wax dye or crayons (don’t use food dye, the oil and water won’t mix)
  • Hair dryer or embossing gun
  • Bowl, saucepan and wooden spoon

Basic equipment

  1. First, put your wax into a bowl.

    Fill your bowl with wax

  2. Fill the saucepan with boiling water and place the bowl of wax in the water.
  3. Heat until all the wax is melted. Be careful not to let it boil because you don’t want water in your wax!
  4. In the meantime, you can get your cups ready. Wait until the wax has nearly all melted then use your hairdryer or embossing gun to heat the cups. This is an important step as it reduces the chance of the wax sinking in the middle, (one of mine still sunk this time, it’s quite tricky to get it bang on, in this situation I usually cheat – wait until it has cooled and add a sneaky bit on top to cover the hole, shhhh!).

    Heat the cups to avoid sinking

  5. Place your wick into the cup and secure in place with two pencils to stop it moving around when you pour.

    Use pencils to keep your wick in place

  6. Now the wax is completely melted you can add your frangrance, make sure you use a good quality fragrance and lots of it or you won’t be able to smell it!

    Add lots of scent to make sure you can smell it!

  7. To add your colour either scrape off a little of your dye or use your crayon. Be sparing, these candles look best when the colours are delicate.

    Be sparing with colour for a delicate effect

  8. Once the scent and colour are stirred in you can pour into your cups. Pour slowly to avoid bubbles.

    Pour slowly to avoid bubbles

  9. Leave to cool. Ta-da!