The Enchanted Forest ~ Lighting Up Dark Nights

The Enchanted Forest

Last weekend we made our annual jaunt to Pitlochry for the Enchanted Forest, which remains one of our favourite traditions, and a seasonal midpoint marking the transition into the colder, darker months of the year.

The theme this year was ‘Cosmos’, inspired by the skies above the forest and commemorating 50 years since astronauts walked on the moon. Now in its 18th year (and this was our 8th year visiting), it still impresses me that the creative team continue to explore new ideas and technologies, never content to just repeat what they’ve done before, and always striving to make it an immersive and interactive experience.

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It’s so refreshing and restorative to have a night away at this time of year, from watching the scenery change as we cross the country with trees lining the roads already various shades of red, amber and gold, to treading the familiar paths around an illuminated Faskally Woods, pausing to take photos and appreciate the displays, sipping hot chocolate and treating ourselves to a little Christmas decoration from the merchandise stall, before returning to the hotel for a well-earned rest and waking up to marmalade on toast and porridge with honey for breakfast.

The Enchanted Forest is the first of a few seasonal activities we’ve got planned over the next couple of months, and as the nights draw in and life moves indoors, it’s lovely to wrap up warm and get outside for events like this that light up the long, dark nights. Have a lovely week. X

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The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

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The story begins in Cairo where a young woman called Nahri is working as a thief and con-artist, though she dreams of becoming a physician. During a ceremony to exorcise a demon possessing a young girl, she accidentally summons a warrior Djinn (or rather a Daeva) called Dara, and is pulled into a world of flying carpets, mythical beasts and simmering tensions between the different races of Ifrit, Djinn, Daeva and half-human Shafit. One of the things I loved most about The City of Brass was that it drew from Arabian folklore and mythology which was such a refreshing contrast to the countless medieval European inspired fantasy stories that dominate the genre.

The narrative switches between two perspectives, Nahri, and Ali, a Djinn Prince in the city of Daevabad. The three main characters, Nahri, Dara and Ali are all flawed and victims of circumstance in their own way: Independent and used to fending for herself, Nahri finds herself caught between feuding factions all plotting her future with little consideration for what she wants; Dara was enslaved by the Ifrit to serve human masters and is weighed down by the guilt and shame of all the lives he’s taken and the things he did while enthralled; while Ali – as the second son of King Ghassan – has been trained as a warrior, when he longs to become a scholar and end the injustice and hypocrisy he witnesses.

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The City of Brass is probably the best book I’ve read this year, though it’s not perfect as there are some pacing issues and a few slightly predictable twists, but I was still captivated by this tense, political and character-driven drama as Nahri and Ali discover just how ruthless King Ghassan is and how far he has gone to hold on to his throne and maintain order in the city of Daevabad. This is the first book in The Daevabad Trilogy and I’m looking forward to finding what happens next. Have a lovely week. X

Happy Anniversary to Mara

It’s been far too long since I last wrote about Mara, and as it’s just a week shy of four years since we adopted her from the Scottish SPCA, it seemed fitting to share a wee post about our beloved pet cat today.

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I’ve often wondered what Mara’s life was like before she came to us, what she looked like as a kitten and how she got the scar on her nose, but she settled in with us so quickly, establishing her own little routines that it’s hard to remember what life was like before we adopted her.

Caring for Mara has provided a grounding consistency to our daily life, and in return she’s been a constant source of affection and companionship. Mara can still be shy and skittish around strangers, but she actively seeks out our attention and company, from rushing to the front door to greet us when we return from work to following us around the house as we go about our chores and squeezing herself into the smallest gaps to snuggle up close.

Much has changed since the newly-wed couple just back from their honeymoon adopted a squeaky, tabby and white cat from the rescue shelter – we’ve moved house, we’ve both changed jobs (and the whole direction of our careers), and just as significantly Mara herself survived cancer. We’re now preparing for another significant change, but so far Mara seems oblivious to my pregnancy. I’m not sure how she’ll react to having a noisy, little human infant in her midst but we couldn’t have imagined a more gentle, playful and cuddly family pet (such a contrast to the rough and tumble cats my husband and I had growing up!) and we hope Mara will take this latest shift in our little family’s dynamic in her stride.

Happy anniversary to Mara, and wishing everyone else a lovely week. X

An Urban Wildlife Garden

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There’s a definite sense of slow down in the garden as the daylight wanes and temperatures drop. We’ve harvested the potatoes, carrots and kale from the veg beds though we’re still waiting for the sprouts and squashes. Most of the annuals have died back and in the next few weeks, we’ll plant snow drop, iris, daffodil and tulip bulbs to give us some spring colour until the summer flowering perennials like hardy geraniums and scabiosa start filling the border.

The scabiosa has been one of my favourites this year as it’s low maintenace with a long flowering period (prolonged by dead heading) and it’s a magnet for the bees and butterflies. This summer seems to have been a good one for our fluttering visitors as I’ve spotted Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Painted Lady butterflies in the garden, as well as cabbage whites nibbling the brassicas in the veg beds.

We feed the birds all year round, and in addition to the sparrows, blue tits, starlings, magpies, pigeons and the odd grey squirrel that visit regularly, we’ve also seen long-tailed tits visiting our feeding station for the first time this year. Apparently, long tailed tits are very vulnerable to cold winters and I suspect the population has only just recovered from the Beast from the East last year, but I hope they’ll become regular visitors to our garden.

Given that we live in an urban environment, I’m always delighted by the diversity of wildlife that inhabit and visit our garden. Have a lovely week! X

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

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Set four months after A Darker Shade of Magic (reviewed here), Kell and Lila have parted ways, as Kell tries to return to his duties as Prince of Red London while the delightfully rogueish Lila has chosen to make a fresh start in Kell’s world and has almost fulfilled her dreams of becoming a pirate (technically a privateer) on board the Night Spire under the charming Captain Emery Alucard. Meanwhile a new King rules White London, waiting and plotting revenge against our heroes.

Kell, who was never completely comfortable with his notoriety and privileges as both Prince and one of the last of the magical race of Antari, is now also struggling with the distrust and suspicion of his family and subjects alike in the aftermath of the night black magic ran through Red London consuming and killing those who came into contact with it.

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A Gathering of Shadows follows Kell, Lila and Alucard as they compete in the Element Games against magicians from across the world to find out who is the greatest, though the tournament at times feels entirely secondary to the slow-burn romance as Kell and Lila try to resist their attraction to one another, yet their eventual reunion is worth the wait and I just love the chemistry between them, like a pair of magnets constantly attracting and repelling each other.

The middle book in a trilogy often has a hard time defining itself but A Gathering of Shadows finds a balance between giving us greater insight into the characters and developing their relationships while setting the scene for the final book, and when the White King finally makes their move, this ends on a cliffhanger that left me desperate to know what happens next. Have a lovely week! X

By the Sea

On a windy, overcast day, we took a trip to the little village of Portencross in North Ayrshire, somewhere we’d never visited before, but somewhere we’ll definitely be returning to.

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There is a small castle at Portencross, which is free to explore, but a little underwhelming compared to some of the other sprawling castles steeped in history around Scotland. The top of the castle does offer some lovely views of the coastline, the islands of Wee Cumbrae and Great Cumbrae, and even the CalMac ferries transporting passengers from Largs to Millport and back again.

From Portencross we wandered north to Hunterston Power Station. It’s a short walk, only a mile each way on a relatively flat and straight path with crocosmia, aster and yarrow growing wild on either side. We probably walked a little further as we deviated from the path a few times to scramble closer to the sea to watch the waves crashing against the rocks and so my husband could search the rock pools for crabs and other marine life – always the highlight of a trip to the seaside for him.

With everything else we’ve had going on this year, we haven’t had much time for day-trips or adventures, but we both felt refreshed after our day by the sea, enjoying the fresh air and the chance to explore somewhere new, chatting about everything and nothing, and just letting our minds and feet wander. Have a lovely week. X

Twists and Turns

Today is the start of autumn according to the meteorological calendar, and I’ve been taking some time to reflect on the year so far. It’s been a turbulent one for us, full of changes and unexpected challenges as both my husband and I started new jobs, a member of my family spent four and a half months in hospital, I temporarily lost sight in my left eye, there were two deaths in my husband’s family, and my 92-year-old nanna moved into a care home. Yet in the midst of all the stress, sorrow and upheaval, we received one piece of very welcome good news – we’re expecting a baby in February. I’m not one to count my chickens before they’ve hatched but with every passing week, we feel more hopeful and excited about starting this new chapter of our lives.

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Our journey to parenthood has taken longer than expected, long enough for ten colleagues, three close friends, two cousins and my sister-in-law to announce their own pregnancies and welcome their babies into the world; long enough for us to be diagnosed with “unexplained infertility”; and long enough for us to imagine that children of our own might not be in our future at all. Our little miracle has taken longer than expected, but we’re so looking forward to meeting them.

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I haven’t written about this before – and I’m very aware of how lucky we are – but too often online we only see the celebrations and successes from the graduations, new jobs and new homes to the engagements, weddings and baby announcements without any context or mention of the hard work, stress or uncertainty that often preceded them. Yet there have been so many times over the years that I’ve drawn comfort and inspiration from seeing how others have coped with and overcome adversity, from illness and infertility to redundancy, divorce and grief. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, I’ve been humbled more time than I can count but I’ve been overwhelmed with joy and gratitude just as often. Have a lovely week. X