Returning to the Japanese Gardens

We’re in the midst of a summer heatwave at the moment, and while we’ve been spending most of our time in the garden splashing in the paddling pool and enjoying the shade of the summerhouse, we’ve enjoyed a few daytrips out of the city as well. We recently combined a long overdue family reunion with a visit to the Japanese Gardens at Cowden Estate in Clackmannanshire. My husband and I visited the The Japanese Gardens in 2018, and it was lovely to return with our toddler in tow to see how it’s grown and changed since our first visit.

The main path follows the edge of the lake with two bridges, one arched and the other zig-zagging allowing visitors to cross from one side to the other. There’s also a dry-garden with patterns raked into the stones, a moss garden, and stone lanterns scattered around. The gardens are elegant, tranquil and wonderfully combine the Japanese aesthetic with the surrounding Scottish landscape.

After exploring the gardens, we treated ourselves to coffee and freshly baked scones from the cafe. The Japanese Gardens are a little of the beaten path, but well worth a visit. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Back Again

As soon as travel restrictions were lifted in Scotland, we took a trip to our favourite beach, Croy Shore in South Ayrshire. We’d normally visit in January, often on New Year’s Day for a bracing walk along the coast, but that wasn’t possible this year due to lockdown; instead our first visit of 2021 was on a sunny Spring day with blue skies above, waves gently lapping the shoreline, sands stretching out for miles ahead and temps just hitting double figures. I was so glad to see the familiar sights of the curving coastline, Turnberry lighthouse (now part of a luxury resort owned by a former U.S. President), Culzean Castle to the South and the hazy outline of the Isle of Arran across the sea.

We had to planned to let our daughter just toddle about on the sands but she surprised us with her fearlessness by running straight towards the sea and splashing about in the waves grinning and squealing with laughter.

Croy Shore has been the setting for so many memories between me and my husband, we’ve come here to gather our thoughts, clear our minds and contemplate some of our biggest decisions, yet on this day we were just content to stroll along letting our little girl dictate the pace and direction, making some new memories as a family, and savouring the first taste of freedom after so many months of lockdown.

Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Sculpture Trail at Cairnhill Woods

Last week was a busy one for our family as I started my phased return back to work after almost 14 months off on maternity leave, and our 13 month old daughter had her taster sessions and first full day at nursery. It’s a big transition for all of us but one that I’m feeling positive about as our daughter will get to play and socialise with other toddlers during her three days at nursery, something she’s missed out on through national and local lockdowns over the last twelve months. I couldn’t be prouder or more relieved about how quickly she’s settled into nursery, and I’ve so enjoyed getting photos and little updates about her snacks, lunch, naps and activities through the day from the nursery staff, and she brought home her first stamped artwork for Mother’s Day much to my delight.

As we adjust to our new routines, I feel we’ve got a good balance between work, nursery and family time, and despite the lockdown we’re still enjoying little adventures together.

We recently took a wander around Cairnhill Woods for a change of scene from our local parks. Even on a cold, grey day with the trees still bare and the paths muddy, it was a pleasant place to explore and I was delighted to see so many signs of spring in the forest from frog spawn in the little pond to daffodils, crocuses and primroses lining the paths. The highlight of the trip though was finding all the wonderful wooden sculptures hidden around the forest, from toadstools and fairies to the Green Man and various animals, and as Cairnhill Woods is near Bearsden we also spotted lots of bear sculptures.

It was a short walk but one we all enjoyed, and somewhere I look forward to visiting again when it’ll be lush and green. Take care and have a lovely week. X

Midwinter Moments

January has been full of cold, crisp days and subzero temperatures with the sun casting a golden glow over everything it touches but barely warm enough to thaw the frost. I started the month feeling at a low ebb with rising infection rates and increased lockdown restrictions, but there have been some lovely, little moments that have lifted my mood along the way.

We’ve continued to take daily walks, and we visited the Botanics on a very frosty day, our first visit there since March. A turn around the Botanic Gardens used to be one of our regular walks when we lived nearby, and it was lovely to spend some time wandering the familiar paths after so long, feeding the grey squirrels and spotting witch hazel flowers that always remind me of party streamers. I did take an embarrassing tumble on the ice but luckily my bum provided a padded landing.

Walking has become a part of our daily routine and our main form of exercise over the last year. I’m not at all sporty but I’ve always been fairly active, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I’ve managed to lose the baby weight just walking a few miles every day – though I reckon crawling around and chasing after my 11-month-old daughter probably burns off a few calories too. I’m missing my old yoga class though, which I’d attended almost every week for the last five years and right through my pregnancy. Lately, I’ve noticed tension, stiffness and aches creeping into my body, and I’m determined to get back to my yoga class even if it’s only on zoom for the next wee while.

A couple of weeks ago, we woke up to find an inch of snow had fallen overnight, and skipped an afternoon walk for some time playing in the garden instead. Our daughter was delighted to be crawling around in it, pulling herself up to lean on the raised beds, tugging off her mittens so she could feel the snow and giggling at the strange transformation of our garden.

I’ve been making more effort to read books instead of doom-scrolling through the news, and there have been lots of cosy evenings spent snuggled up with our cat Mara and books. On the coldest nights she burrows under the duvet with me, which is like having a furry, purring hot water bottle.

On so-called “blue Monday” I attended the NHS Louisa Jordan for my first dose of the Covid19 vaccine, and my husband received his first dose a few days later. We’re incredibly fortunate that we’ll both receive the vaccine through our work. Seeing the SECC where I’ve watched concerts, attended wedding fayres and other events transformed into a field hospital and a steady flow of people receiving their vaccinations was a heartening insight into the extraordinary, collaborative efforts that are being undertaken to save lives and bring the pandemic under control.

We also had an exciting visitor in the garden this week, a sparrowhawk. It’s only the second time we’ve seen a sparrowhawk in the garden, but it sat on our fence opposite the kitchen window just long enough for my husband to snap a photo.

Despite the pandemic and lockdown, we’ve had a pleasant start to 2021 full of wrapped up walks, golden sunshine, glittering frosts, powdery snow and little midwinter moments. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Autumn in Big Tree Country

We’d planned to have a little getaway to Perthshire in October, our first with the baby. However, between our cat’s sudden illness in September and rapidly changing travel guidance around Coronavirus, we decided it would be safer and less stressful to cancel our reservations and have a little day trip there instead.

Travelling north on the A9 is always a bit nostalgic for me, as it was the route to Aberdeen back in my undergraduate university days, but more recently because of our annual trip to the Enchanted Forest. We managed to time our journey around the little one’s naps so she slept most of the way there (and back).

Our first stop was at Pitlochry, and no trip there is complete without calling in at the Christmas Emporium to choose a few new decorations and the independent sweet shop, Love Your Sweets, to treat ourselves to some rosy apples and soor plums.

We decided to bypass Faskally Woods where the Enchanted Forest takes place, and visited the Hermitage at Dunkeld just a few miles south of Pitlochry instead.

We followed the muddy paths along the River Braan to the charming Hermitage Bridge admiring the roaring Brack Linn Falls, stopping to investigate the so-called Wishing Trees (fallen trees and stumps that have coins hammered into them over the last few years) and taking a peak in Ossian’s Cave before looping back on ourselves, and heading back to the car and home again.

This wasn’t the trip we expected to take but it was a lovely one regardless, and as travel restrictions have tightened it’s likely to be our last trip for a while. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

The Enchanted Forest ~ A Retrospective

The Enchanted Forest ~ A Retrospective

Back in May the Enchanted Forest team made the difficult decision to cancel the event due to the pandemic. It’s a shame as we were so looking forward to taking our daughter to see it for the first time but we’ve already booked our tickets and lodgings for next year as the team are optimistic that it will go ahead in 2021. However, as I’ve been visiting the Enchanted Forest for almost a decade, I thought I’d share a little retrospective of highlights from previous years.

My first visit to the Enchanted Forest was in 2010, after I saw it advertised on the Glasgow subway. The first year I went with a friend (though every year after with my husband, and we got engaged during our visit to the Enchanted Forest in 2013), and I loved it so much that I’ve faithfully returned to Pitlochry every October since.

The Enchanted Forest roughly follows the same figure of eight path around Loch Dunmore and Faskally Woods but the design team choose a different theme every year and always make the most of the natural and permanent features such as the towering fir trees, the Loch and the bridge, as well as building temporary viewing platforms for projections and synchronised light displays around the forest.

It’s an incredibly creative and innovative light and sound show, and given that it runs for the full month of October in all but the very worst Scottish weather, and attracts 80,000 visitors, I’m always impressed by how smoothly the event runs.

I’ve shared posts from our visits in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but enjoyed this little trip down memory lane, seeing how the Enchanted Forest has grown and developed – though my photos don’t do it justice at all. It’s one of my favourite events, it’s been the setting of some wonderful memories and I’m very much looking forward to returning when we’re able to. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Chasing Waterfalls at Finlaystone Country Estate

We’ve been under partial lockdown since the start of September, with restrictions around socialising indoors, but thankfully we’re still allowed to meet other households outside and to travel for leisure. We’re still enjoying getting out for our daily walks, more often than not just around the neighbourhood or to a local park, but we did venture a bit further afield recently when my husband suggested a day trip to Finlaystone Country Estate, which he used to pass on his commute to his previous job but never visited.

It costs £5 per adult to enter the gardens and grounds, and seems popular with families as there are swings, slides, a full scale wooden fort and pirate ship for children to play on. There’s also a cafe on site, though we took our own picnic of homemade quiche and a flask of coffee.

There are a few different walks around the grounds, but we followed the Burnside Path to see the waterfalls, giving me the chance to play with the aperture setting on my camera. It was a sunny day when we visited but had rained a few days before so the waterfalls were flowing.

We also stopped for a look around Hootenanny Owls, a volunteer-run social enterprise with a selection of birds of prey including a few rescue birds, which is based in the grounds. The staff were very enthusiastic and gave us a guided tour showing us the birds and telling us a bit about each of them, and I’d love to go back to handle them.

Finlaystone Country Estate was a lovely place to wander with plenty to see and do, and we all enjoyed exploring somewhere new. In contrast, we’ve spent this weekend cosy at home, lighting the fire for the first time since last winter, catching up and quizzing with family and friends over Zoom while the rain fell outside. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Capturing Castles at Mugdock Country Park

Situated 10 miles North of Glasgow and just a short drive for us, we’ve only visited Mugdock Country Park a handful of times, but I can see it becoming one of our regular jaunts because it’s such a fun place to wander and explore.

We’ve generally avoided parks and crowded places during the pandemic, and Mugdock Country Park seems to be popular with young families, dog walkers and cyclists, as well as people walking the West Highland Way, which cuts across the park, yet the only crowded area was the visitor centre where the toilets, cafe and children’s play park are all located, while the paths and walks around the grounds allowed plenty of space to keep a safe distance from others.

We followed the path from the Visitor Centre past the ruins of Craigend Castle through the woods, around Mugdock Loch before having a ramble about – and a little picnic – in the Mugdock Castle ruins before returning to the visitor centre and car park. It was a lovely family day out giving us a chance to stretch our legs and clear our heads while we explored.

With national and local restrictions around socialising in place and so much uncertainty hanging over the rest of the year, I’m so grateful that we’re still able to get out for little adventures around our beautiful country. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Summer Walks, Slugs and Sprinkles

Just sharing a quick update as I worry my posts have become a bit repetitive of late, though I still want to document this period of our lives and to remind myself that there’s much to be grateful for.

HimalayanHoneysuckle

Our daily walks have often been the highlight of my day since lockdown began. Being confined to a five mile radius has enoucouraged us to explore the local area more thoroughly than we would have when we were more likely to go to a park or drive to a forest or beach. We recently stumbled across a network of hidden lanes and have spent the last week exploring them. On one of our walks we spotted one of my husband’s favourite plants, Himalayan Honeysuckle, growing wild and I couldn’t resist taking a cutting for our garden along with a handful of Honesty seed pods.

Walks

We’ve been growing pea shoots on the kitchen window sill for a quick-growing and tasty addition to salads and stir-fries. Unfortunately, cool weather and rain has encouraged an army of slugs and snails to invade the garden, and they’ve been devouring my squash and courgette plants one by one. However, the brassica bed is doing well, and I spotted the first head of broccoli developing.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve celebrated both my husband and father-in-law’s birthdays. Ordinarily, I would take my husband out to dinner but as that wasn’t possible this year, instead we treated ourselves to takeaway from one of our favourite Japanese restaurants, which was delicious. We also had socially distanced coffee and birthday cake in the garden with the in-laws – though my mother-in-law went a bit overboard with the sprinkles!

Sprinkles

We’ve had intermittent sunshine and showers here, but hoping now that travel restrictions are being relaxed, we’ll be able to have a few summer adventures soon whatever the weather. Take care and have a lovely week. X

Rainbows and Scenes from Lockdown

Raimbows

Our world has shrunk since the lockdown began nine weeks ago, and life now revolves around our daughter, the garden and daily walks around the local area.

Despite the lockdown, life at home is bright and colourful as our nearly 4 month old daughter is alert, curious and animated, amusing us everyday with exaggerated yawns, sighs and sneezes, and delighting us with big, gummy grins and babbling.

Toys

Over the last few weeks we’ve been playing with rainbow ribbons that help with her visual development as she tracks movement and fine motor skills by grabbing them. I use a set of soft blocks as a visual and tactile prop when I make animal noises or sing ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm‘ – though I’ve no idea what sound a tortoise makes or what one is doing on a farm. We’ve also been watching colourful propellers spin in the wind in the the garden. Simple penguin and polar bear finger puppets have also been a hit with our daughter smiling and babbling at them like they’re little friends.

I haven’t been able to join any baby groups but a few friends had their babies just before and after me, and it’s been great to have some peer support, share experiences and ask for advice from other new mums albeit through messages and calls.

We’re missing getting out to beaches and the countryside but still enjoying wandering around the neighbourhood for some exercise almost every day whatever the weather with the wee one in the pram or sling – depending on her mood.

In addition to the rainbows and chalk art we’ve seen decorating windows, fences and pavements, we spotted a Lime Hawk Moth on one of our walks recently, a reminder that nature is carrying on oblivious to the pandemic. We also had an exciting nocturnal visitor in the garden this week, a hedgehog!

One of our neighbours dropped off a homemade stained glass leaf as a little gift, which I’ve hung in the living room. We’ve really appreciated chatting to our neighbours from a safe distance over the garden fence, a little bit of face-to-face contact and community spirit that I value so much more now than before the lockdown.

Shelf

I’m missing our families and friends terribly, but I’m so thankful for the technology that makes it possible to keep in contact, and phone and videocalls have become a regular part of life under lockdown that help to bridge the distance with loved ones until we can meet in person again.

Hope everyone reading is safe and well. Take care. X