A Postcard from Argyll

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Over the last few years as part of our effort to simplify our lives and downsize our possessions, my husband and I have eschewed buying gifts for each other in favour of treating each other to experiences instead. This year for my birthday, my husband whisked me off to the Argyll coast for a little adventure together.

We traveled to the Isle of Seil about 20 miles south of Oban as my husband had booked a wildlife spotting trip by speedboat for us. We were provided with waterproof trousers and jackets, as well as a life-jacket and binoculars by our guides before boarding our vessel. Skimming along the waves in a speedboat turned out to be a thrilling albeit turbulent way to travel, and we were very grateful for our waterproofs by the end!

The tour lasted two hours and took us from Easdale, past the lighthouse on Fladda, before passing round Luing and Scarba.

We saw grey and common seals on Luing and Scarba. I’d only ever seen seals in sea-life centres or aquariums before this so it was lovely to see them wild and in their natural habitat, and they were not at all bothered by our presence. The seals were one of the highlights of the trip for me and I could happily have spent the whole day watching them laze on the rocks and splashing in the water.

The porpoises that sometimes visit the area were too shy to show themselves on the day we visited, but there were wild goats, as well as red and fallow deer grazing on Luing. Our sharp-eyed guides also pointed out a female hen harrier among the trees on Scarba, though she was a bit too far away for me to snap a photo of, but it was still wonderful to see such a rare bird of prey.

The final part of our speedboat journey took us to the Corryvreckan whirlpool which lies between Scarba and the tip of Jura. Local legends state that it was an old witch washing her plaid that created the whirlpool. This part of the experience probably wasn’t much fun for anyone prone to seasickness but it definitely impressed upon me the raw power of the Atlantic Ocean, and the skill of our skipper.

Back on dry land, we stopped to admire the Clachan Bridge, also known as the Bridge over the Atlantic, which connects the Isle of Seil to mainland Scotland. At first glance, it looks like a bridge over a river, but closer inspection reveals seaweed clinging to the rocks at the water’s edge and a narrow section of the Atlantic Ocean flowing between the two banks.

The nearby pub is called the Tigh na Truish Inn (or the House of Trousers) because defiant islanders used the inn to change out of their kilts into trousers before travelling over the bridge to Scotland, where the wearing of kilts and clan tartans had been outlawed following the Jackobite’s defeat at Culloden.

We stopped in Oban for something to eat, and as it’s been several years since we last visited, wandered up to McCaig’s Tower, which offers a view (Scottish weather permitting!) of the harbour below and the islands of Kerrara, Lismore and Mull in the distance.

I often lament that I live in a beautiful country with fascinating landscapes, wildlife and history but have explored so little of it, so it was a lovely birthday adventure and an experience that already stands out in my memory. Have a lovely week.

Liebster Award ❤️

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It was just over a year ago that I started my little blog, and last week I was surprised and delighted when the lovely Typewriter Girl contacted me to let me know she’d nominated me for a Liebster Award. Liebster is a German word meaning dearest, sweetheart or beloved, and the Liebster Award is a virtual honour passed from blogger to blogger as a way of supporting and promoting each other.

The rules of the Liebster Award are:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog
  • Answer the questions your nominator asked you
  • Nominate 5-11 other blogs (and don’t forget to let them know)
  • Ask your nominations up to 11 questions or facts about themselves.

Here are the answers to the questions I was asked:

What is your favourite part of blogging?
I really enjoy taking photos for my blog, but I also love being part of such a friendly and welcoming community.

What country, city or continent would you most like to visit and why?
There are so many places I’d love to visit but at the moment I’d really like to visit Mexico, I love the cuisine, culture and I’m interested in the history. I’d also love to tour the Scandinavian countries in a camper van chasing the Northern Lights and maybe even spotting a troll. 😉

What was the most inspirational time in your life so far?
Probably around our wedding as we made most of the decorations and favours ourselves, some of it was a bit rough around the edges but it was a really fun and crafty project. After the wedding, I knew I wanted another creative project and started scribbling ideas and thinking about this blog.

What are you passionate about?
My family and friends, my cat and practising gratitude every day.

What is your favourite book and why?
This is such a difficult question! Maybe the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling because I re-read them more often than any other books. I also love A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, it’s very moving and I love stories within stories.

What is your favourite time of year?
My favourite season is autumn, I love the colours of the leaves and the gradual transition from the fading light and warmth to the first frosts and cosiness.

What are your other interests besides blogging?
Reading, cooking (and eating!), gardening, walking and exploring new places, photography and yoga – all the things I blog about.

Do you prefer the beach or the mountains?
As forests aren’t one of the options, I’ll have to choose the beach.

Where did you go for your most memorable vacation?
We visited Japan for our honeymoon, and it was a dream come true because it’s a country I’ve wanted to visit since I was a child. I loved the food and the contrast between the old shinto shrines and the neon skyscrapers. I hope we’ll go back one day.

Do you prefer a sunny or rainy day?
I’m from Scotland so definitely sunny days because they’re so rare!

If you had a day all to yourself, how would you spend it?
Pottering about in the garden in the morning, visiting a bookshop in the afternoon followed by a peaceful and refreshing stroll along a beach or through a forest, then curling up at home with my cat and a book to read.

In no particular order, I nominate:

If you would like to accept the award (and there’s no pressure to at all!) feel free to answer the questions below and nominate up to 11 other blogs.

  1. What advice would you give to other bloggers?
  2. Other than blogging, what are your hobbies?
  3. Do you have any pets?
  4. Tea or coffee?
  5. What’s your favourite book and why?
  6. Where in the world would you most like to visit?
  7. What’s your favourite quote or personal mantra?
  8. Have you ever won any awards or trophies offline?
  9. What’s your favourite weather?
  10. Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Once again, thanks to Typewriter Girl for nominating me. Wishing everyone a happy Monday and have a lovely week!

 

Sun, Sea and Starfish

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There have been a slightly disappointing number of cool, overcast and rainy days in our part of the country this summer, but there have also been some lovely days with clear blue skies and warm sunshine, and we recently took advantage of one such day to visit our favourite beach.

Croy Shore is not the closest beach to us, but it is lovely in any weather and every season, and always worth travelling the extra distance. Despite the nearby caravan park, the beach is rarely busy and we usually only have to share it with a few dog-walkers, the odd family picnicking and children building castles in the sand.

I have so many happy memories of time spent at this beach, from sharing a flask of hot coffee with my husband on a bracingly cold New Year’s Day walk, to relaxing strolls watching the sun set together in the weeks before our wedding, and picnicking with friends last summer.

We often walk south towards the castle perched on the cliff (that always reminds me of Manderley from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca) but on this visit we decided to walk north towards the rocky outcrops so that my husband could explore the rock pools for starfish, crabs and sea urchins.

Carefully picking our way across the slippery rocks, it was lovely to pause and notice the salty tang in the air, the sound of the waves lapping against the beach, the sunlight sparkling on the water and a clear view of the Isle of Arran across the sea.

I feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful country and there have been many times over the years when the sight of towering, snow-capped mountains, the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves of wise, old trees or waves crashing against the shore have given me a sense of perspective and reminded me how transient most of my worries and stresses are.

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Isle of Arran

It’s been a while since we’ve had a holiday, and though we’re hoping to have a few days away around our anniversary in the autumn, spending a leisurely day together meandering along our favourite beach was so refreshing and restorative. Have a lovely week.

Very Berry French Toast

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A light and fruity breakfast for summer mornings.

Ingredients: (serves 2)

500g of soft fruit (strawberries, raspberries and blueberries)

3 medium sized eggs

1 tablespoon of milk

1 tablespoon of sugar

4 slices of white bread

Method:

Remove the stem from the strawberries and cut into quarters, cut the blueberries in half, leave the raspberries whole.

Mix strawberries, blueberries and raspberries in a bowl, add 1 tablespoon of sugar and stir until the sugar starts to dissolve in the fruit juices.

Crack the eggs into another bowl, add 1 tablespoon of milk to the eggs and a pinch of salt. Whisk the eggs and milk with a fork.

Pour a splash of oil into a frying pan on a medium heat.

Coat slices of bread in the egg and milk mixture, draining the excess before putting into the frying pan. Cook each side of bread for about 2 minutes, then once lightly browned, turn over.

Spoon the fruit over the bread and enjoy.

Review of ‘Close Encounters of the Furred Kind’ by Tom Cox

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Close Encounters of the Furred Kind starts not long after where The Good, The Bad and The Furry (reviewed here) left off, with Tom Cox and his partner contemplating moving their lives and their four cats from Norfolk to rural Devon.

Much like his blog and other books about cats, Close Encounters of the Furred Kind is laugh-out-loud funny in places as Tom describes the upheaval and stress of moving across the country with his four beloved felines, his attempts to domesticate and adopt a local feral cat, taking up dog-walking as a hobby, conversations with his parents and interactions between his feline friends. Yet I find Tom is at his most eloquent when contemplating the ageing and mortality of the cats with whom he shares his home and around which his life revolves, it is perhaps the knowledge that most of us will outlive our pets that makes us love them all the more fiercely.

Sadly since this book was published, two of Tom’s cats, The Bear (a soulful philosopher) and Shipley (a cantankerous chatterbox) have passed away, but they will live on through these books in his vividly captured descriptions of their personalities and mannerisms.

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It was about six months ago that we found a mast cell tumour on our own cat’s tail, and although it was removed before it spread, she is still at a higher risk of developing another tumour than other cats and is currently in a period of monitoring. As grateful as I am to all the vets who have treated Mara, I always feel anxious whenever she goes for check-ups and tests (which are not without risks), and about what the results might reveal, but I’ve drawn comfort from reading books like this from other animal lovers who understand just how much our lives are enriched by the affections and companionship of our pets.

After a busy week I’ve enjoyed spending a lazy weekend at home curled up on the couch with my husband, Mara snoozing across our laps and Close Encounters of the Furred Kind to amuse me. Have a lovely week.

Little Home Comforts

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It was six months ago today that my husband and I received the keys to our house (though we delayed spending our first night here until the 30th of December when we were ready to move our cat Mara across) and with our downstairs renovations finally nearing completion, we are all feeling very settled in our new home.

As much as I have fond memories of the little flat we rented, which was the first home my then boyfriend (now husband) and I shared together, after three and a half years we had outgrown it and were ready to move on. Over the last six months in our little house, it has often been the simplest things – easily overlooked and taken for granted – which I’ve noticed and appreciated the most.

The novelty of being able to park the car outside our house every day instead of circling round our old street searching for a space to squeeze into has not yet worn off. It has been a relief to watch Mara adjust her old routines to the new location without any fuss or distress, and she seems to enjoy having more space to play and explore. The washing line in the garden and the pulley we fitted above the stairs seem like luxuries after so many years of trying to dry clothes on radiators and clothes airers in rented flats. I enjoy drawing the curtains open every morning to check the weather outside and watch the seasons unfolding in our garden. I love the sunlight streaming through the South-West facing windows, bathing our home in warmth and light from dawn until dusk. Our little garden is a constant source of delight, from al fresco breakfasts in our pyjamas at the weekends to weeding and watering our raised beds, making salads with the lettuce, spinach and radishes we’ve grown, and sipping refreshing gin and tonics with friends on warm summer evenings.

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After renting for so many years, we also appreciate being able to make changes to our home without having to ask the landlord for permission, and every change we’ve made – from hanging a key rack by the front door to installing a wood burning stove in the living room – has made our house feel more and more like our own.

The first half of 2017 has been turbulent, but whenever world events or personal struggles and upheavals seem overwhelming, I’ve been grateful to close the front door at the end of the day, to enjoy the simple comforts of our home and immerse myself in the easy intimacy of my little family and all our daily routines together.

Happy summer solstice and have a lovely week.

Sweet Potato and Black-Eye Bean Tacos with Simple Salsa

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Ingredients (serves 2)

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into cm cubes

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

4 tsp of ancho chilli powder

1 400g tin of black eye beans (drained)

Method:

Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil into a medium sized pan and heat. Once the oil is warm, add the sweet potato to the pan and shallow fry for 15 to 20 minutes or until it starts to soften, stirring occasionally.

Add onions and garlic to the pan, mix well and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the onions start to turn translucent.

Add ancho chilli powder, stirring to ensure vegetables are evenly covered. Add more oil if necessary to prevent the powder from sticking to the pan.

After 1-2 minutes, add the black eye beans to the pan and stir thoroughly. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes until beans are mixed in and warm through.

Serve with warm corn tortillas and sprinkle with grated, mild cheese (optional).

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Simple Salsa Ingredients:

100g of baby plum or cherry tomatoes

1 onion, peeled and diced

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely diced.

Handful of coriander, cilantro leaves

Method:

Fry onion, garlic, chilli and half the tomatoes in a small frying pan with a splash of oil for 3-5 minutes. Once the onions start to turn translucent, transfer to a food processor along with the other half of the tomatoes and a handful of coriander or cilantro leaves and pulse until coarsely blended. Strain to remove the excess fluid.