Five frugal things to do in February

frugal things to do

As I type this, we have blue skies and sunshine outside. So weird when we had snow a week ago!  Climate chaos rules. It has made me think of getting outside again in the fresh air, so here are my ideas for five frugal things to do in February.

A bit of heritage

We usually have a membership to one organisation at a time that will give us interesting days out. As long as we we use them regularly they give us great value. We have done the National Trust, the RHS (a lot) and also English Heritage.

I love visiting old landmarks and houses, as you can see from my posts from Holkham Hall and Powis Castle. I was perusing English Heritage’s website and found this article, Days out for under £20.  You can save more money by joining though. There are some good places to go! You can join English Heritage here for £4.67 a month as an individual or £8.25 for a joint membership.

If you fancy joining the National Trust, you can currently get up to £8.40 cash back via Top Cashback (this is my refer a friend link). It is so worth checking Top Cashback for every online purchase you make. I currently have £115 sitting in there earned since I last cashed out in November.

Visit a wildlife trust

Another charity that we are happy to support is the Essex Wildlife Trust. They have all kinds of events locally, from a beach litter pick, to an eco jewellery workshop, family pond dipping, nature trails and bat walks. Generally, we just get our wellies on and have a walk around one of the reserves nearby.

You can visit even if you aren’t a member and pay a small fee. It makes a nice frugal thing to do in February, or any time. You can find out about your local wildlife trust and how to locate nature reserves in your area here.

Cheaper days out in London and beyond

frugal things to do

My parents bought Mr S a St Paul’s Cathedral visit for two for Christmas from BuyaGift.com. They do a lot of different days out quite cheaply. One of my presents to him was a trip for two to Windsor Castle with a cream tea thrown in, which I also bought on BuyaGift.com. Yes, you guessed it – I basically got two extra presents for myself! We are going to book them up once my neck and shoulder are better. There are some really good online deals, but remember to book your train fares up well in advance to get the cheapest deals. Otherwise they can mean it’s not such a frugal day out at all.

Find a good garden centre

This could end up NOT being a frugal thing to do if you can’t resist temptation! However, we love to take a wander around, looking at the plants, laughing at the exorbitant prices on some of the pots and furniture and just generally getting ideas for the garden.

A gorgeous one is Perrywood in Tiptree. It is so popular you even get coach loads of people turn up!

Visit a jumble or table top sale

It is too early in the year for a boot sale to be one of my frugal things to do.  However, if you are a bargain hunter like me, you will love a good rumble at the jumble!  But jumble sales are quite hard to locate these days and I thought they were a thing of the past. Recently I have discovered that a search on Facebook can yield good results. Scout groups seem to still run a good jumble.

Table top sales are more common, but are generally more for those interested in collectables, curiosities and antiques. A Google search will usually show a few, as well as Facebook.

I hope you enjoyed my ideas for frugal things to do in February! What are you doing?

This week I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

This post contains affiliate links.

A Valentine’s meal on a budget

Valentines meal on a budget

Valentine’s Day can be an expensive time. Even if you are careful, you could spend £60 plus on a meal out with a glass of fizz, another £30 on flowers, £60 on some aftershave… whatever takes your fancy. Of course, you could just choose to ignore it altogether and save your money! We tend to go for the mid ground and eat a treat meal at home. So, if you want a Valentine’s meal on a budget, what could you go for?

I don’t want to have to do a lot of fancy cooking for a meal in. It’s not a treat if I have to spend ages preparing and clearing up. So I will be looking at easy options at the discount supermarkets, Aldi and Lidl. We will have two courses with some nice olives and nibbles to start with and, of course, some fizz.

Nibbles/starter

Aldi do a nice pot of Greek olives with feta or some stuffed cherry peppers with ricotta, both for a mere £1.49. We have eaten these before and they are lovely. Alternatively we might chop up some cantaloupe melon from Lidl for 99p.

Main course

Lidl do a delicious looking Cheese and dill salmon wellington at £3.99. Fish would be a good choice for us, as I eat fish but not meat. Mr S eats pretty much anything!

Another Lidl choice might be two Deluxe salmon fillets for £3.75.

If you prefer a steak, as Mr S would, Lidl have two rump steaks with mustard butter for £4.99.

All of the above could be teamed with Aldi’s steak cut chips for 99p, or some baby potatoes from Lidl for 72p. Lidl also do a nice speciality broccoli for £1.15.

Dessert

Lidl Deluxe continental apple tart for £1.99 or maybe a Deluxe Belgian chocolate cheesecake for 2.99.

Aldi offers a heavenly chocolate fudge cake for a mere £1.29 or a double chocolate gateau for £1.69.

Belgian chocolate luxury mousses are only 49p each at Aldi.

Bubbles

Aldi’s cheapest Prosecco is pretty good – we had some at Christmas. Castellore Prosecco Frizzante DOC comes in at just £5.49 a bottle. If you prefer your bubbles to be pink, Lidl do a very good Cava Rosado Brut at just £4.99.

Our Valentine’s meal on a budget

Valentines meal on a budget

This is what we have chosen for our Valentine’s meal on a budget this year.

Starter

Greek olives with feta          £1.49

Main course

Salmon fillets (Lidl)              £3.75

Baby potatoes (Lidl)             72p

Hollandaise sauce (Lidl)     65p

Speciality broccoli                £1.15

Dessert

Aldi heavenly chocolate cake   £1.29

Drinks

Castellore Prosecco Frizzante DOC  £5.49

Our pretty luxurious three course meal with fizz comes in at £14.54. OK, we have to do the washing up ourselves, but it should be pretty minimal! A meal like this would cost a lot more in a restaurant, so I am happy with our Valentine’s meal on a budget.

As reader Laura points out, Tesco also does a mean meal deal of a main, a side, a pud and a drink for a tenner so it’s worth seeing if you fancy the choice there. We have tried both the Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer’s meal deals in the past and they are pretty good and excellent value.

Alternatively, you could go super cheap and have pizza and cola for £1.92, as suggested by Skint Dad in this post! Don’t think Mr S would be too impressed, but in the end if you were with your one true love…

Do you aim to save money on Valentine’s day, ignore it all together, or push the boat out on a restaurant meal?

How to get everything cheaper

get everything cheaper

They say the best things in life are free and to a large extent that is true. The things I truly value – my family and friends – are there no matter how much is in my bank account. I am grateful! However, we live in a world where you need money for many of the things you want to do. But it is also true that with a bit of thought and creativity you can get hold of a lot of great stuff and experiences really cheaply! Here are my ideas on how to get everything cheaper.

How to get everything cheaper

Cheaper holidays

get everything cheaper

You can save a ton of money on your holiday accommodation if you are prepared to do a little work for it. For example, Trusted House Sitters connects pet loving travellers with pet owners who want their beloved animals and houses looked after whilst they are away.

Today’s favourites are asking for someone to look after a family cat in Twickenham, someone to travel to Fiji to look after a pair of dogs (with free use of a car) and reliable people to take care of dogs, cats and chickens in a fabulous barn conversion in Shrewsbury.

You still have to get yourselves there, but these are real home from home holiday experiences that could save a fortune on your accommodation so you can get everything cheaper.

Another way to get your holiday accommodation free is to do a house swap. There are a plethora of organisations online that you can sign up with to do this. I have personally tried this 5 times with great success.

If you just want a holiday through an organisation, we have found the prices on Teletext Holidays to be very competitive and travelled through them to Majorca a couple of years back.

For more of my ideas to get cheap holidays read this post.

Cheaper clothes

get everything cheaper

Dress for less! (credit @makeupbyisobel)

The best way to get everything cheaper when it comes to clothes is to have a rummage at the boot sale. I have found brand new designer gear for just a few pounds on a regular basis and love it when the boot sale season comes around. Charity shops can be good too, although I have found that some have started charging a lot more than they used to. Incidentally, if you can’t be bothered to trudge round the charity shops for your vintage bargains, Oxfam now have an online shop!

If you prefer to purchase your clothing new, my favourite discount fashion site is easily everythingfivepounds.com. It does what it says on the tin – every item, even footwear, is just £5. I have found some great bargains on there.

Auction sites like eBay are still good for picking up second hand and new items at ridiculously low prices. Just don’t get carried away with the bidding. You can use Auction Sniper to set your top bid and then forget about it.

I have a post on frugal fashion here.

Cheaper make up

get everything cheaper

Making up is hard to do…

The first thing I would say about makeup is to use up what you have first! We often have a ton of stuff that gets purchased but never used. I have three daughters with a passion for the stuff and it drives me mad! One of the best sites my daughters visit regularly is Beauty Bay, particularly their outlet section where everything is 50% off.  You can pick up some massive bargains.

Cheaper glasses

Annoyingly, my once perfect vision has gone downhill in the last 10 years, meaning frequent changes of spectacles as it changes. They cost a flipping fortune! The next time I need glasses, I swear I am going to get my optician in town to give me the prescription and buy them online more cheaply. They have had enough of my money to keep them in holidays!

One site that offers good value on glasses is SmartBuyGlasses. If you like designer brands, you can pick up a pair of Raybans sunglasses on there for less than £90 or, if you aren’t fussy about a brand, many of their Smart Buy prescription specs cost less than £30.

Cheaper pets

Our beautiful rescue, Lola

We Brits love our pets. However, if you buy a pedigree puppy or kitten they can cost you the proverbial arm and leg. You can easily spend £1000 plus on one pampered mutt or kitty.  However, if you go to an animal rescue you can re-home a pet in need for a donation of around £100. You get a new pet and the animal gets a loving home, which is a win-win in my book.

I have never had an animal that wasn’t a rescue. Even when I kept chickens, they came from an egg farm down the road.

Cheaper exercise

It is lovely to have membership of a fancy gym if you can afford it and will use it regularly (and if you do sign up for a gym chain check to see if they are on any of the cash back sites first. See below for more details).

get everything cheaper

However, there are many cheaper ways to exercise. Many people buy brand new gym equipment that they swear they will use but never do. If you have the space for an exercise bike, cross trainer or running machine, it pays to buy second hand. I picked my cross trainer up for £40, used it for a few years and got bored with it, so sold it again for £30. Gumtree and Facebook are good for buying second hand gym equipment locally.

You can find pretty much any exercise class you like on You Tube. Here is a nice, gentle yoga class for beginners.

Walking and running are free, or at least once you have paid for a decent pair of trainers or walking boots. We walk a lot and like to use an app such as Map My Walk to track how far we have travelled. My 58 year old sister started running using the Couch to 5K programme a couple of years ago, and is now running half marathons! She puts me to shame….

And who has bicycles gathering dust in the shed (hides head in embarrassment). Pump up the tyres and go for a cycle! This is nice for all the family to do together on a sunny day.

In the New Year there are also lots of bargains to be found on exercise mats and clothing. They have some cheap, eco-friendly yoga mats on Amazon, such as this Calmia Lotus Print one, as well as a huge choice of sports gear. Some of the supermarkets are good too. Tesco’s have a decent range of items such as jump ropes, resistance bands, exercise mats, weights and gym balls at very good prices.

Staying fit doesn’t need to cost a fortune and you don’t need a personal trainer!

Cheaper hair and beauty treatments

get everything cheaper

The best way to get cheap hair and beauty treatments is to find a student willing to practice on you! You can get everything cheaper, from hair colouring to massage to eyebrow waxing. I recommend checking out your local further education college.

At mine, you pay £7.50 for a cut and blow dry, a luxury manicure or pedicure for £10, a bikini wax for a fiver and a slim and firm body treatment for a tenner.

Some hairdressers also have evenings when their students are cutting hair and they frequently charge nothing at all. Be prepared to book up well in advance though.

Cheaper meals out

Again, the best way to get a first class restaurant experience at a massively reduced price is to find some student chefs to cook for you. Again at our local FE college they run a restaurant, staffed by the students but supervised by the tutors.  You can have a fine dining three course lunch with coffee for £15.  Here is a sample of their current menu, which I think looks splendid!

get everything cheaper

Another way to get everything cheaper when eating out is to sign up as a mystery shopper. Sometimes you even get the full cost of your meal refunded. There are loads of mystery shopping sites, but one that is aimed at diners is Mystery Dining by HGEM. They don’t need shoppers in my area at the moment but I keep checking! Francesca over at From Pennies to Pounds has a good article on mystery shopping here.

Cheaper food

I am a big fan of the discount stores such as Lidl and Aldi. They sell goods that are of excellent quality, but they really are much cheaper than the bigger supermarkets! I reckon I save around 30% on our grocery shop.

Yellow stickers are another obvious way to get everything cheaper when it comes to food. However, you have to get your timing right! Late in the day, especially on a Sunday or bank holiday, is the best time to shop. Make sure you are prepared to eat or cook and freeze your cheap goodies though. Wasting even yellow sticker food isn’t going to help you save money.

Approved Food is another great place to shop for bargain food, especially branded items. I like the ethos behind this company. The food is beyond or close to its best before date so you save money and help prevent food waste at the same time! I find it is an excellent place to stock up on store cupboard basics such as pasta, rice, sauces, biscuits and snacks, drinks, etc. They also have amazing one day deals. I recently saw full boxes of Cadbury’s Milk Tray for £1 each, reduced from £4.25. Brilliant if you have a present to buy.

Another fantastic idea for reducing food waste that means you can get everything cheaper from cafes, restaurants and retail outlets is Too Good to Go. It’s an app that links you up to places that are selling their food cheaply at the end of the day. For example, I can see that Yo! Sushi will let me have a magic bag of sushi for £3.50 between 9.30pm and 10pm or I can rescue a selection of sandwiches, pastries and cakes for£2.50 at a local bakery this afternoon. This works best if you live in a city, and is worth checking out.

Free coffee or tea

Even better than cheap – it is possible to pick up some freebies if you sign up for a few loyalty card or apps. Waitrose still give free coffee and tea to loyalty card customers if you make a purchase, but there is no lower limit on this, so you could just buy a carrot or something. It’s quite nice to get the Sunday papers from them and read them with your free coffee though!

If you sign up for a Family card at Ikea you can get a free hot drink without a purchase.

Cheaper utilities

When it comes to your utility bills, always shop around and don’t be afraid to phone up any of your providers and threaten to leave if you see a better deal. They suddenly become amazingly flexible on price when they think they may lose your custom.

I heard a lady on the radio recently who had spent 2 hours on the phone to all of her providers and saved £800! That is time well spent. However, if you do decide to switch, make sure you go through a cash back site (see below).

Cheaper housing

Housing is a huge cost to most of us. Unless you still live with your parents, your mortgage or rent could take up to 40% of your monthly income.

There are ways to reduce this. One is to become a property guardian through an social enterprise organisation called Dot Dot Dot. They make renting in London and other cities more affordable by matching empty buildings with guardians. The catch, if you can call it that, is that you have to volunteer for 16 hours a month at a charity of your choice. Dot Dot Dot states:

“On behalf of owners, we take good care of buildings that would otherwise be empty. We provide guardians with good quality housing which is much more cost effective than the private rental market. And we make a positive difference to communities by ensuring our guardians are great neighbours who volunteer for good causes while preventing the blight that empty buildings cause.”

You could also help cover the cost of your mortgage by renting a room to a lodger, by hosting foreign language students or via Air B&B.

Don’t forget the cash back

Whatever you are purchasing, don’t forget to see if the merchant you are buying from is on a cashback site. This is money for free! You get cash back on so many things, from switching your utilities or buying a holiday, to banking, buying clothes or shopping for home ware. I love Top Cashback but also use Quidco from time to time.  These are my refer a friend links and we can usually both claim a reward if you choose to click through from them to make a purchase. I earned over £85 just for doing my Christmas shopping through them.

Swagbucks is also worth checking out. You earn Swagbucks points with your online purchases then redeem your points for free gift cards for retailers such as Amazon. Alternatively you can get cash back from PayPal. You can even earn Swagbucks points just for doing a an internet search!

I hope you like my tips on how to get everything cheaper. You can live well without busting the budget! Please add your money saving tips in the comments.

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Our frugal life at Shoestring Cottage #5frugalthings

I haven’t blogged as much as usual this month. Life has been really busy. So what has been happening at Shoestring Cottage? We are still living a frugal life but having lots of fun too!

A short break

frugal life

Sea Palling

We finally had our two night stay in Norfolk. It was Mr S’s Christmas present from last year. We had to use it before it expired. We chose a place close to Hickling Broad called Dairy Barns, which was absolutely gorgeous. If you are ever in the county I can’t recommend it highly enough.

frugal life

It was immaculately renovated, completely spotless and in a lovely area. The staff couldn’t have been more helpful, greeting us with a pot of tea and two huge slices of cake. They also gave us lots of information about good walks around the Broads and places to visit.

frugal life

Going away isn’t frugal in itself, of course, but booking through buyagift.co.uk was a cheaper way to get this deal and for such a luxurious venue it was great value. We always try to balance our frugal life with plenty of treats. Living frugally most of the time helps us to pay for the things we enjoy doing.

The best place for tea

frugal life

One day on our trip away we went looking for a reasonably priced place to have lunch. We had a lovely walk around Hickling Broad so we were starving! We tried a pub nearby but it was heaving and we didn’t want to wait an hour just for a sandwich. It was also very expensive! Fortunately a helpful lady recommended the Prima Rosa Cafe in nearby Salhouse. It was an absolute gem!

frugal life

We had a very reasonably priced panini each and some tea. We didn’t have room for any cake, although they did look delicious. As well as being a vintage style tea room, Prima Rosa is a gift shop, specialising in crafts made by local artisans. It is absolutely jam-packed full of treasures. Every nook and cranny displays items for sale, even the loo!

We had a long chat with the lady who owns it, Judith, who told us it was her dream to create and run Prima Rosa. She and her husband completely gutted and renovated the shop three years ago and have been steadily building it up ever since. It was a labour of love that has really paid off. So worth a visit! What a lovely place.

 A frugal life – Up early for the boot sale

We got home on Friday night, then got straight onto preparing to do a boot sale the following day. I was fairly reluctant and didn’t have that much to sell, but my daughter persuaded me. So, we were up at 5.15 and off by 6 am.

frugal life

Darling daughter freezing her bits off at the boot sale

It wasn’t a great success in terms of selling. The weather was quite chilly first thing and there weren’t enough customers. However, we discovered a chap selling off all his barely worn and in some cases new designer clothes so we bought loads! I am washing and ironing the used stuff today and hope to list some of it on eBay tomorrow.

I was a bit shattered so the rest of my day wasn’t that productive. However, I did manage to make spaghetti cheese bake for tea, which is quick and easy. I will stick to this week’s frugal meal plan whatever.

Plums from our tree

We have a small Victoria plum tree in our front garden, which we planted a few years ago. It was a free one, when the council ran a scheme giving a way three trees or fruit bushes to whoever wanted them. I don’t think they would have the money to run this now but we took advantage of it for three years in a row.

Anyway, the plum tree is doing brilliantly this year. If it stops raining today, I will get out there to pick a few more. My daughter plans to make this plum and hazelnut cake, which looks delicious. They should also freeze well to make a decent crumble or two over the winter.

Paring down the shopping list

I always make a shopping list based on my meal plan, chucking in a few treats like some snacks and some wine maybe. This week I pared it down to the absolute minimum. If I am going to save more money for Christmas I need to cut back to the basics now. I could also do with reducing the vino as it is making me fat! I associate a glass of wine with a bag of crisps and if I do both too often my waistline suffers.

I have probably mentioned that all our spare pennies are going in the back door fund too. The patio doors are very old and draughty in the winter. Hopefully we can pin our chap down to doing it in the next few weeks. He works full time for a local firm fitting doors and windows but does extra in his own time. He was the cheapest of the three quotes we found and was recommended by a friend.

So this is our frugal life this week. We have had a really lovely, if tiring few days so I am glad it is a bank holiday weekend. Hopefully the weather will improve tomorrow as we plan to pack a picnic and head to the Countess of Warwick’s County Show. It is a great day out and we go most years.

What are you up to this weekend? How is your frugal life?

As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in this week’s Five Frugal Things I have done this Week linky.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Budget family holidays: Majorca and beyond!

This is a collaborative post.

budget holidays

A family holiday at home or abroad can be such a wonderful experience. The opportunity to relax and spend quality time together is precious when life can be so busy and stressful. However, vacations also often come with a hefty price tag. Flights to your destination, accommodation, food and spending money can soon add up to make a family holiday unaffordable for many people. So how can you have budget family holidays that won’t break the bank?

How to have budget family holidays

We love to travel but we never spend a fortune when we holiday. There are lots of options for budget family holidays that mean you can treat your family. I have tried all of the following at various points in my life.

Camping

You do have the initial investment in the equipment when you start camping, but after that you are good to go. My daughters loved the freedom of camping as children, but went off it as teenagers when there was nowhere to plug in their straighteners and hardly any Wi-Fi signal!

House swaps

We had some extremely interesting holidays swapping houses with families from France and Spain. You can find more information here.

Go self catered

It definitely saves you money to go on a self-catering holiday. We did this on our recent trip to Wales. OK, you do need to cook and wash up, but we kept our meals very simple. We treated ourselves to things we wouldn’t normally buy much. Mr S loves a good steak or a lamb chop and I enjoy a really fresh piece of salmon. Kids will happily eat pasta and sauce or pizza wherever they are. Much cheaper than eating out!

Youth hostels

Think youth hostels are just for backpackers? That’s no longer the case. It is possible to book family rooms in youth hostels all over the world. You can find more information here.

Staycations

If money is really tight, plan a staycation. Treat yourselves to trips to your nearest theme park or the zoo, a day at the beach or a picnic in the woods. Visit the cinema or go to local galleries and museums. You will be surprised at the tourist attractions on your doorstep.

Last minute deals

If you can hold your nerve, you can often get some fantastic last minute deals. I have to say, I wouldn’t have done this with small children but it could work with adventurous teens! Holiday Gems has a range of super value holidays for those who can travel at the last minute.

Saving money on holiday

Here are some other ideas to stretch your holiday funds whilst you are away:

Buy supermarket sun cream before you go.

Find the local supermarket for ingredients and pack a picnic for your days out.

Always take water and drinks out with you.

Research attractions in advance to find discount codes. Often if you prebook, tickets are cheaper.

Hit the library for books before you depart rather than buying them.

Take some small games to keep the kids occupied whilst travelling.

Stock up on cheap magazines from your local market stall to read round the pool.

Going abroad

We may have had a heatwave in the UK this year, but we can’t usually guarantee the sunshine. Sometimes we just want a sandy beach, blue skies and warm, clear seas. Last year we found a great deal and travelled all-inclusive to Majorca. We loved this beautiful, sunny island and plan to go again.

Another place I am desperate to visit is Kefalonia in Greece. Its mix of mountains, beaches and olive groves, not to mention its relaxed atmosphere and slow pace of life, look just the thing for a frazzled office worker.

I’m quite impressed by the range and pricing at Holiday Gems. They specialise in holiday destinations closer to home at affordable prices so are worth a look if you want a budget holiday.

Do you ever have budget family holidays? How do you achieve this and what are your favourite destinations?

Powis Castle – an absolute gem! UK days out

powis castle

It was a boiling, sticky day when we decided to visit Powis Castle during our recent holiday in Wales. What were we thinking? We should have been crisping up on a beach somewhere! However, a beach is a just a beach and Powis Castle is one in a million. We have visited some great historical places on our travels, but this was one of our favourites.

Firstly  it is old. Really old. The original castle was built in the 13th century by a Welsh Prince. It has evolved ever since, and in the last 400 years has been added to and  remodelled to become the impressive building it is today.

Secondly, it is stunningly beautiful, especially its lovely terraced gardens. If you are ever in North Wales it is well worth a visit.

History

Powis Castle

In the late 1600s, Powis Castle was purchased by Sir Edward Herbert, who was responsible for creating the Long Gallery, which is now decorated with the coats of arms of his ancestors. The Castle stayed in the family for a couple of couple of hundred years, during which time the palatial interiors were created. These include the Grand Staircase (and it really is grand, no exaggeration!) and the state bedroom.

In 1784 Lady Henrietta Herbert married Edward Clive, whose father was Robert Clive, a controversial figure known as the conqueror of India. During the 20th century the castle interior was redecorated in Jacobean style and the gardens were improved.

Surprisingly, it is still owned by the Clive family, although these days it is in the care of the National Trust.

Inside the castle

Powis Castle

As you would imagine, the interior of the castle is as impressive as the exterior. There are hundreds of family portraits exhibited throughout, which we found fascinating. Each generation of the Herbert and Clive families has added to the collection of paintings, sculpture, furniture and tapestries. 

The Castle also houses the Clive Museum, with lots of Indian treasures on display, from weapons to textiles and ornaments made of precious metals.

No pics from inside the castle though – they weren’t allowed. This is always my complaint when we go to National Trust properties. I can’t see how taking a few photos of the interiors hurts?

My other slight gripe was that it was very dark inside. I know that the furnishings are damaged over time by light, but you need to balance this with the fact that visitors are paying to see things and keep these places going. Another visitor commented on it and was told that it was especially dark that day because the sun was shining so brightly outside.

Because I have been to other historical properties where the blinds are up AND you are allowed to take photos (for example, Holkham Hall in Norfolk), it makes me wonder if the National Trust aren’t being a little over protective?

Cellar tour

We booked in for the free guided cellar tour. Two guides, in character as the butler and the housekeeper, gave us some fascinating insights into what went on downstairs and how the Clive family lived. I would recommend doing this if you can.

Gardens

The best feature of Powis Castle is by far are the stunning terraced gardens. They are really extraordinary in design and the modern planting is fabulous.  They are absolutely immaculately kept too.

We sat under a shady tree to eat our picnic and just admire them. I think I will let the pictures do the talking here!

Powis Castle

Powis Castle

Powis Castle is in Welshpool in Powis, SY21 8RF. Admission costs £13 for an adult, £6.50 for a child and £32.50 for a family. Obviously it is free if you have a National Trust membership.

Cheap children’s activities that won’t cost the Earth 

This was first written for Zoe over at EcoThriftyLiving. The school holidays will soon be upon us and you may be on the lookout for some cheap children’s activities. I hope these eco-friendly suggestions help.

Cheap Children's Activities

Cheap children’s activities

 Leaf printing

This is a lovely old fashioned activity.  Leaves are easy to find wherever you live. It is really two cheap children’s activities in one as you will need a fun walk in the fresh air to collect the leaves first! Choose plenty of different shapes of leaf and don’t pick up the brittle ones as they will crumble too quickly.

Paint is cheap too, especially if you buy the powdered stuff and mix it yourself.  Simply paint the leaves in different colours and press them onto card or paper. Very simple and effective.

Pond dipping

I loved doing this with my kids. Obviously you need to pay attention when you mix kids with water. All you need is a body of water – your own or a neighbour’s pond is a good starting point – a sieve, a jam jar and a large light coloured tray. There are some very good instructions on the Freshwater Habitats Trust website.

Recycled crafts

Save toilet roll tubes, sweet wrappers, bits of wool, wrapping paper, foil, fabric, etc and make a craft box. Invest in some PVA glue, some glitter and any other craft supplies you find at reasonable prices. On a cold, wet day your craft box will come into its own, allowing your children to be messy and creative.

You can take a more organised approach to what you are making and have a look on Pinterest. It is a fantastic source of inspiration and there are loads of ideas for crafts and other cheap children’s activities for every occasion.

Geocaching

The modern day treasure hunt, geocaching is hugely popular and very addictive. You used to have to purchase a GPS device to take part, but now there are apps available for your smart phone very cheaply. Some are even free. There is a great beginner’s guide to geochaching on the Ordnance Survey website.

 Beach combing

Cheap Children's Activities
If you are lucky enough to live near enough to the sea or are having a beach holiday, beachcombing is so much fun. Finding little treasures such as shells, sea glass and pretty stones costs nothing and kids love it. They can explore the wildlife in the rock pools whilst you are there. I always like to take a spare carrier bag to pick up any rubbish on the beach as well. I find this maddening!

Charity shopping/boot sales

I love a summer boot sale. You can buy pretty much anything at a fraction of the as new price. Charity shops aren’t as cheap, but you are supporting a charity, of course, and they are still great places to find bargains. Both offer an inexpensive opportunity to teach your children about money and budgeting. Buying second-hand is also good for the environment as you extend the useful life of the items you buy and stop them going to landfill. I used to give my daughters five pounds each and let them spend it as they wished. However, they weren’t allowed to go on the very expensive inflatables you tend to find at the boot sale these days! This was a pleasant way to while away some time and their finds entertained them back at home too.

Visit your local wildlife trust nature reserve

Joining and visiting a wildlife trust is a superb way to encourage an appreciation of nature in your children, as well as supporting the preservation of wild spaces. They offer the chance to run around and let off steam as well as to learn about the wildlife in your area. The Trusts are a campaigning organisation and have huge influence.  Find your nearest Wildlife Trust reserve here.

Delve into a museum

One of the best decisions this government has ever made was to make entry to our national museums free. They are a fabulous way to teach your family about art and history. One of our favourites is the Natural History Museum in London, but there are lots of smaller local museums that may be free too. Have a look on your council website. You can find UK museums here. We have a lovely little toy museum and a natural history museum locally, both of which have free entry.

Have a cookery session

Children love to cook! There are so many reasons why you should teach yours this essential life skill. At its most basic level, it is fun and will while away an afternoon or two. However, it also gives you the opportunity to discuss where food comes from and slip in some information about good nutrition. Cooking from scratch is cheaper and healthier than buying packaged meals and allows you to avoid excess packaging. You could let your kids plan a meal and buy the ingredients as well, so that they get that food costs money. If you want to read about more reasons for teaching your children to cook have a look here.

Plant something

You don’t have to have a garden to grow things with the children. Cress is so easy to grow on your windowsill, along with various herbs. You can also attempt to sprout avocado seeds or try Zoe’s instructions on how to regrow celery.  If you are fortunate enough to have a vegetable patch, involve your children and give them a bit of earth to grow a few bits in. They will get the same satisfaction as you do from growing their own food.

Having fun with your children doesn’t always have to involve a huge amount of expense. With these ideas for cheap children’s activities you may find the most enduring memories you make are those that cost very little.

 

Save money on holiday: five frugal things

frugal things

If you have been reading my blog for a long time you will know that we love Wales! We have been staying at a particular small holding near to Machynlleth for many years. We are off again next week and I cannot wait. But will it be possible to achieve any frugal things whilst on holiday?

Of course it will! Watching the pennies throughout the year is what enables us to go away as often as we do. Old habits die hard. Our holidays aren’t usually in luxury resorts, we don’t eat at fancy restaurants every night. We don’t spend a small fortune on theme parks and attractions and we won’t come back with expensive souvenirs. However, we always have a lovely time, make the best of the beautiful locations we choose and return relaxed and refreshed.

Five frugal things we plan for the week

Walking

With so much stunning scenery in Wales, we will be planning some interesting walks. We both feel a bit unfit at the moment, so walking on hilly ground will be good for us. I love being outdoors in quiet, green spaces. It is better than a spa for my peace of mind. Although we occasionally have to pay for parking, walking is free!

frugal things

Taking coffee and lunches

We almost always pack a flask and a picnic for our days out. Having said that, it is imperative at times to stop at a pretty little teashop for a piece of barabrith or a scone and jam. The odd treat is allowed of course, but mostly we enjoy some home-made salads and sandwiches. There are some breath-taking picnic spots in Wales!

Perusing the charity shops

I find it almost impossible to pass a charity shop without going in. Mr S is very tolerant! There are some really good charity shops in both Machynlleth and Aberystwyth, so we will definitely be doing a tour at some point.

We usually come home with more than we took when we stay in the UK. At least we don’t have to worry about our baggage allowance….

A magical cinema

The Magic Lantern Cinema in Twyn is a great little community cinema. We usually try to go when we are there. It has such charm and character and, best of all, only costs only £6 a ticket. They have a well-stocked bar and I usually have a glass of Prosecco with the film! There are no noisy teens with their feet on the seats either…

Eating local

frugal things

As I said, we don’t eat in fancy restaurants every night, as some folk seem to on holiday. But we do like to explore local produce. Machynlleth has a great little market on a Wednesday, as well as an independent butcher. Mr S loves a bit of local lamb. We will also get some seafood in Aberystwyth. We generally take it back to our little bolthole and eat in, with our view of the mountains and the sound of the stream next to us.

No doubt we will find a good restaurant. I rather like the Quarry Café in Machynlleth, which is vegetarian. Even confirmed carnivore Mr S enjoyed it last time we visited. It’s great value too.

I hope you have a great week, whatever you are doing. In the meantime, please feel free to share your frugal things.

As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in this week’s Five Frugal Things I have done this Week linky.

The Sandringham Estate, Norfolk: UK days out

Sandringham Estate

Our recent trip to Norfolk took us to the much loved country residence of Her Majesty the Queen, the Sandringham Estate. We went with my parents, who both have restricted mobility, and 23 year old daughter. Everybody loved it. There really is something for everyone. I can understand why the royal family find it such a special place.

A stunning house

Sandringham EstateSandringham has always been a royal residence. It was built in 1870 by King Edward and Queen Alexander. Strangely, it manages to feel both luxurious and informal at the same time. Many of the downstairs rooms are regularly used by the family.  You almost expect see them sitting on the sofa reading or doing a jigsaw puzzle in the drawing room! It was noticeable how full of light they all were – there wasn’t much dark and dingy dark wood here. It is not as grand as nearby Holkham Hall , but you feel it was built to be a comfortable home rather than to impress.

There was a fabulous collection of jade in the dining room and many splendid royal portraits throughout the house. There are also lots of interesting gifts from overseas heads of state and European royalty, notably two small cannons from Napoleon III. The Great Hall, which the guide told us was sometimes converted into a cinema for the royal family and their guests,  has walls lined with a huge collection of Asian arms.

We particularly enjoyed the informal sketches of the royal family enjoying the grounds, tucked away in the corridor to the Great Hall.

Sandringham EstateI would have loved to have taken some photos inside the house, but unfortunately it isn’t allowed. As with Holkham Hall, the guides all seemed to love their jobs and were very knowledgeable and helpful.

Beautiful gardens

Sandringham Estate

I felt that the most impressive part of the Sandringham Estate were the 60 acres of beautiful gardens. We took the pretty stream walk to Prince Andrew’s residence, York Cottage.  The view up to the house from the lake is absolutely stunning.

Sandringham Estate

Queen Alexander had a lovely little summer house built over the second lake, surrounded by a rockery. It was a riot of colour when we visited last month. I particularly enjoyed the big gold Buddha statue at the end of a little tree lined walk near the house.

Sandringham EstateUnfortunately we missed the walled garden, which can only be visited as part of a pre-booked tour. They are currently growing produce for use in the restaurant. Next time!

The Museum

Sandringham EstateMr S loves vintage and classic cars, so he was in his element in the museum. It houses a large collection of royal vehicles, including working miniatures the children played in and a very impressive fire engine. The Daimler appears to have been favourite and there are several fine examples.

The museum also houses a large collection of commemorative china, as well as tiles from the now demolished Sandringham dairy. Next to the museum is a very sweet tea room, where we enjoyed some tea and cake to revive us.

Country Park

Sandringham EstateThe great thing about the Sandringham Estate is, if you are on a tight budget, you don’t even have to pay to wander round the  600 acre country park. It is also free to park your car. We didn’t explore as my parents can’t walk miles and the house, gardens and museum was enough for us. Another time we will for sure. There appeared to be lots of locals walking their dogs, popping into the visitor centre and using the restaurant.

There are two nature trails and a sculpture trail in the country park, or you can take a scenic drive.

it costs £16.50 per adult to visit the Sandringham Estate, including the house, museum and gardens. Children’s entry is £8 and concessions are available. The house is fully wheelchair accessible.  Full information is available on the Sandringham Estate website.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like our trip to Brighton and tales from our Welsh holiday.

The Holkham Estate in Norfolk: UK days out

We recently returned from a holiday in north Norfolk. One of the many highlights of our week in this glorious county was a trip to the Holkham Estate near Wells-next-the-Sea.

holkham estate

The Parrot bedroom

We loved our visit to the Holkham Estate. Apart from the wonderful landscape and beauty of the buildings, the atmosphere felt so welcoming and relaxed. We were allowed to take photos throughout and the blinds were up. Sometimes when you visit such places you feel you have to walk around talking in hushed tones in the dark!

At Holkham, the staff were all incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. They were really keen to guide you and give extra information. Even the woman on the gate selling ice cream was super helpful and gave us advice on where everything was. We got the impression that it was a very happy place to work.

Holkham Hall

holkham estate

The marble hall

The jewel in the crown of the Holkham Estate is, of course Holkham Hall, a grand 18th century Palladian country mansion. It is absolutely stunning, from the beautiful marble entrance hall to the fabulous ‘Parrot bedroom’, still used to accommodate guests at the hall. Fabulous artworks and tapestries hung in every room. There was so much to see we didn’t know where to look first!

holkham estateThomas Coke (pronounced Cook), who built Holkham, collected a variety of treasures on his Grand Tour of Europe as a very young man. They are scattered around the house. We particularly enjoyed the Statue Gallery, which displays some of his purchases. Not quite the holiday souvenirs most of us go for, but stunning nonetheless.

holkham estate

The library

The library was amazing, packed to the rafters with priceless books and manuscripts, many collected by Thomas Coke on his travels. The guide explained to us that university students come in to help clean and conserve them and that they are still used for historical research.

The old kitchen was huge and full of copper pots, pans and kettles. We really enjoyed the portraits of the estate staff commissioned by the 7th Earl of Leicester, painted in the 1990s into the early 2000s. These showed the people who continue to maintain the estate and make it the beautiful place it is. The guide surprised us by telling us that the kitchen staff did not mix with the upstairs staff at all. It wasn’t like Downton Abbey! They didn’t speak to each other except to communicate when food was ready to be taken upstairs and it was passed through a small hatch.

Farming at the Holkham Estate

holkham estateWe had a long chat with the guide in the Field to Fork exhibition. He explained that the Holkham Estate is a fully functioning farm, which helps to support the house and grounds. The estate grows a lot of barley, much of which goes to breweries such as Adnams in Suffolk. They also produce the malt that goes into Maltesers! Other crops include oilseed rape, potatoes, wheat and sugar beet.

Conservation

holkham estateThere is a strong emphasis on conservation at the Holkham Estate.  It employs six gamekeepers and a conservation team, aiming to preserve the park and woodland for the benefit of  wildlife and to protect natural habitats.

You can feel how the environment benefits from this careful management. The grounds were full of bird song, and we were thrilled to see all the tiny goslings along the lakeside.

Walled garden

holkham estateThis was the largest walled garden we have ever seen, covering six acres. It is very much a work in progress. Some of the spectacular Victorian glass houses have already been restored, although the ‘sunken greenhouses’, which look like huge long cold frames, are a future project.

holkham estate

Part of the walled garden

When we visited, the vegetables were just starting to take off and the lavender was at its fragrant best.

Wheel chair accessible

We were impressed by how accessible the house and grounds were to visitors with limited mobility. There were ramps everywhere, nearby parking for blue badge holders and you could take a buggy from the house to the walled garden.

Beach

holkham estateAfter our long and very pleasant day wandering around the Holkham Estate we decided to make our way to Holkham Beach. What an absolute gem! Part of the Holkham National Nature Reserve, the beach is as huge as the sky. Totally unspoilt, you walk through a pine wood to get to the sand and, depending on whether it is high tide or low tide you then walk a long way or a really long way to find the sea. It is fabulous! We were blessed with evening sunshine when we went and had a paddle in the warm sea.

holkham estateThe admission price for Holkham Hall, the Field to Fork Experience and the Walled Garden is £16 for adults and £8 for children. A family ticket costs £44. You do have to pay for parking on top of your entrance fee, both for the house and for the beach, but I think it is a price worth paying to contribute to keeping both the Holkham Estate and the beach in such great condition.  We bought a couple of things in the gift shop: if you spend £12 you get your £3 parking charge back. You can find further details at the Holkham Estate website.

The Holkham Estate was kind enough to give us complimentary tickets. However, this post contains my own unbiased and honest opinions.

Visit a beautiful garden with the NGS Open Garden Scheme

The NGS Open Garden Scheme offers a great day out

NGS Open Garden SchemeNow that the weather has finally improved in the UK, we are keen to get out and about. Fresh air and, hopefully, some sunshine does wonders to lift the spirits. I mentioned that we found a lovely National Garden Scheme open garden by chance last week. Now I am leafing through the NGS Open Garden Scheme listings looking for more.

Now in its 90th year, the NGS Open Garden Scheme supports around 3,700 gardening enthusiasts to open their gardens to the public annually. Where ever you live in the UK, you should be able to find a garden or two to visit. Many also sell plants, tea and cakes, so you can make a day of it.

Charity fundraising

The best thing about the NGS Open Garden Scheme is that it raises a lot of money for loads of different charities. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are raised for the Queen’s Nursing Institute, MacMillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Carer’s Trust, Hospice UK, Parkinson’s UK, Perennial,  plus other guest charities.

The benefits of gardens on health

NGS Open Garden SchemeThe NGS Open Garden Scheme recently commissioned some research on the benefits of gardens for your health and wellbeing. I have experienced this for myself. Both working in our own garden and visiting some of the beautiful gardens we have been to on our travels prove a great way to unwind.

Respondents reported that gardening benefitted their physical and mental health, kept them mobile and active and was a great way to get fresh air and exercise.

During August 2017, the RGS launched their first ever week dedicated to promoting the positive impact gardens can have on health and wellbeing. All of the gardens taking part opened free of charge for a small, private group of people who would not usually get the opportunity to enjoy a garden, either because of health or social reasons.

Volunteer

NGS Open Garden SchemeThere are also lots of opportunities to volunteer with the NGS Open Garden Scheme. If you have a little time, this gives you the chance to meet like minded people and make friends. You could help out at an open garden event or behind the scenes.

If you have a beautiful garden yourself, why not open it up and show it off? You can enjoy chatting to visitors in the knowledge that you are helping to raise money for good causes.

For more information on this great organisation and gardens to visit in your area, go to the NGS Open Garden Scheme website.

Gardener’s World 2 for 1 offer

Whilst we are on the subject of gardens, if you are quick you  might still be able to buy a copy of BBC Gardener’s World magazine. The May issue features its annual 2 for 1 pass. There are hundreds of amazing gardens all around the country that will allow 2 for 1 entry with the pass. We fancy Kew Gardens!

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A trip to Brighton

trip to BrightonWe had a fabulous trip to Brighton last week. We were so lucky with the weather! It wasn’t exactly a heat wave but we had clear blue skies and sunshine. Darling daughter no 3 is at university in Brighton, so was there to show us around.

Brighton is a fine seaside town in the south of England in East Sussex. It seems to be really buzzing and thriving, with loads of interesting shops, restaurants and bars.

A fine hotel

We stayed at the Queen’s Hotel, right on the seafront, booked through Booking.com. It was a nice hotel with really helpful staff on reception. They upgraded us free of charge from our studio room to a rather swanky apartment. It was up some creaky stairs though, so just as well we are both pretty fit! The breakfast buffet was good too. I didn’t tell them in advance that I am vegetarian, but there was plenty of choice.

It also has a spa in the basement. Because it is an old building they are restricted on the layout, however, so this was quite small. It had a nice little pool (which could have been a bit warmer), a gym and a sauna. We had a swim and sauna before breakfast. The changing rooms are tiny though and got a bit crowded as more people arrived.

Shopping

trip to BrightonThere is loads to do in Brighton. We only had two days so we packed a lot in. First stop was a look around the shops in the Lane, a maze of little alleyways. There were a lot of jewellery and antique shops! As we weren’t in the market for jewellery we had a little browse and came across Choccywoccydoodah, an amazing chocolatier. My daughter tells me they featured their own TV show a couple of years ago, which can still be viewed on You Tube.

trip to BrightonThis was strictly special occasion stuff,  and very expensive. Incredibly clever and impressive nonetheless. The chocolate dog was amazing.

There is a big modern shopping centre at Churchill Square too, full of swanky looking shops. We didn’t bother as we can do a shopping centre anywhere.

The Prince’s Folly

trip to BrightonNo trip to Brighton would be complete without a visit to the Royal Pavilion. It looks like some crazy wedding cake from the outside! George IV turned it from a modest farmhouse to a palace, inspired by India on the outside and China on the interior.

Entry costs £13.50 for an adult and £8 for a child, although there are various concessions and family tickets available (details here). If you buy a history pass you can visit the Pavilion, Brighton Museum and Preston Manor for £16.50.

A trip to Brighton Museum

trip to BrightonYou will find Brighton Museum in the grounds of the Pavilion. We loved this, especially the display of furniture as you walk in. The Salvador Dali sofa in the shape of a pair of red lips was particularly striking! The Transology section was an eye opener too, reflecting the journeys of some of Brighton’s trans gender community.

Adult tickets are £5.20 and children’s cost £3, but you save money with the aforementioned history pass.

Eye in the sky

The British Airways i360 tower is difficult to miss, sitting as it does on the seafront and 450 feet high. We didn’t have time to do this but it looked quite an experience. It’s quite steep though in more ways than one: adult tickets start at £14.85.

Food for Friends

trip to BrightonA friend recommended a vegetarian restaurant called Food for Friends, situated on Prince Albert Street just off the Lanes. We understood why she raved about it. The food was fantastic. Delicious, sophisticated and unusual.

trip to BrightonI had the yummiest chocolate pudding I have ever tasted, a gluten free one with a molten, dark filling. We all enjoyed our food and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. The staff were also lovely – our waitress, Hannah, couldn’t have been more enthusiastic and helpful. She even made me a little happy birthday in chocolate!

You need to book, though, as Food for Friends is unsurprisingly popular.

The beach and piers

trip to BrightonWe had sunny days, but it wasn’t exactly beach weather. However, there were plenty of people out for a stroll along the seafront. Brighton has a shingle beach (Wikipedia tells me it is 5.4 miles long) with little shops, clubs and bars in the old boat sheds along the front.

trip to BrightonBecause it was the Easter holidays, the Palace Pier was packed with families. There were loads of rides and eateries. My kids would have loved it when they were little, although you could very easily spend a shedload of cash.

The derelict West Pier can still be seen from the beach. It is a shell of its former glorious self, but apparently the most photographed place in Brighton. We couldn’t resist either!

For more information on the sights and attractions of Brighton go to the Visit Brighton website. If you fancy a break, a trip to Brighton could be just the thing.

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Tales from a Welsh holiday, land of sunshine and rain

Welsh holiday

South Stack

I woke up with a start this morning, thinking the alarm was going off. When I opened my eyes I was surprised to find I was still in the caravan on my Welsh holiday and I didnt have to get up for work. Excellent!

Back to Aberdovey

Welsh holiday

The guillemots through the telescope

We shall make the most of the last day of our Welsh holiday and have a walk along the coast at Aberdovey. We have been there 4 or 5 times but never actually walked the coastal path. Generally, we head to Aberdovey when the sun is out and tend to hang around on the beach but today a mix of sunshine and showers is forecast.

Then we will drive into Machynlleth and buy something nice for dinner and food for the journey back to Essex tomorrow. I love it here and I am always sad to leave. How lucky we have been with the weather! Only one day of rain and one rather dull day. The rest of the time has been full on sunshine, although it rained a river in the night!

South Stack, Anglesey

It was a beautiful morning when we headed out to the RSBP South Stack reserve at Holyhead yesterday.  Our Airbnb hosts left our breakfast on the table with a note to help ourselves. What a strange experience that was! I am sure if I was renting a room for the night I would get up and give my guests breakfast!

We didn’t linger. The fridge was completely filthy, we couldn’t find any juice and the only milk was the bottle we had bought the night before. We couldn’t get the toilet to flush either…We made some tea and toast and were on our way by 9.30. At least the shower was hot and the bathroom was clean.

South Stack was absolutely stunning. The cacophony of noise from the birds nesting on the cliffs was so loud. It was a bird city! We spotted some very rare choughs and thousands of guillemots. We probably also saw puffins but couldn’t be sure as we had no binoculars with us. If we ever return we will take them for sure.

Didn’t we have a lovely time…

…the day we went to Bangor! Mr Shoestring was curious about the long pier from the mainland that we could see when we were at Beaumaris the previous day. It seemed to be at Bangor so next we hopped over there – well, we drove again back across the Menai Bridge.

Welsh holiday

Bangor pier

Bangor is apparently the UK’s smallest city and it certainly didn’t feel like one. It had some nice little shops and a very large cathedral. We had a quick look around, and some very good fish and chips before talking a windy walk along the pier to the tea rooms. There were fantastic views across the estuary back to Anglesey.

I even managed to pick up some more charity shop bargains. I have two carrier bags full but think Mr S may have run out of patience so no more charity shop browsing today 😀.

Our Welsh holiday has been another good one. I wish we could stay another week! My next blog post will doubtless tell a tale of too much laundry and giant courgettes!

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey and the perils of Air B&B 

cheap accommodation on AngleseyWe have left our lovely caravan to spend the night in some cheap accommodation on Anglesey. It was a long drive up and we wanted to get the best of our time here so it seemed a good idea.

Beautiful Plas Cadnant

Anglesey certainly has some gems. We had a wonderful visit to Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens
followed by a trip to Beaumaris. Today we were blessed with beautiful sunny weather. What a gorgeous day! We even saw a red squirrel!

cheap accommodation on Anglesey


The gardens were gorgeous. They are in a gentle valley which creates a warmer micro climate than is usual for Wales, and the planting is stunning. The walled part of the garden is quite formal with triangular trees and deep flower beds on each side. The second half of the garden is more naturalistic, consisting of wild woods with dappled shady areas and  lots of little water falls. There were many places to sit and hear the relaxing sounds of trickling water – totally magical.

Cheap and cheerful

We found cheap accommodation on Anglesey and are staying overnight at a house on the island courtesy of Air B&B. This is the first time we have tried it and it is certainly  a very frugal sort of accommodation. Only £43 for the two of us.

However, it is a bit like a student house! The landlady is very sweet but the house smells of her two dogs and the mattress sags so badly in the middle so we have had to put some pillows down the centre so we don’t end up squashed together.

She has very kindly left us teabags and a kettle and told us to help ourselves to milk from the fridge. However, the fridge stinks and the milk was lumpy so we had to buy a bottle when we went out to dinner. Still, it is very cheap and only for one night 😀. Thank heavens!

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey We had a delicious meal out as a treat. Both of us had fish. Mr S had sea bass on a seafood biriani and I had a beautifully cooked piece of plaice. Followed by the hugest puddings ever! We went to Sullivan’s restaurant and we would recommend it.  The staff were lovely and the food was simple but delicious. Massive portions too if you are feeling hungry!

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey We had a walk along the beach at Rhosneigr after dinner. The sunset was amazing. What a great day. Worth sleeping on a lumpy mattress.

Anyone else familiar with this fabulous part of Wales? Have you tried Air B&B or found cheap accommodation on Anglesey – or anywhere else for that matter?

Bargain hunters on holiday! Back in Wales

Bargain hunting in Wales

Huge sky at Aberdovey

We are back in our little Welsh caravan. It really feels like a home from home, but without work, noise and traffic!

 We are on a smallholding a few miles from Machynlleth. There are trees and hills all around us and the sound of a stream just a few feet away. Everything is green and lush and all is quiet, apart from the sounds of birds, ducks and sheep. It is bliss! We love it so much we have been each summer for the past five years.

Yesterday we got up to beautiful sunshine. As it was clearly a beach day, and you can’t guarantee many of those in Wales, we packed up our picnic and drove the few miles to Aberdovey. What a glorious little place, a long sandy beach with a backdrop of hills and a huge sky. Aberdovey is really just a row of colourful shops and houses on the front with a few gorgeous cottages on the hills behind. It is small but perfectly formed and in a delightful location. 

Bargain hunters on the rampage

Today we woke to heavy rain. A bit of a change but we expect this in Wales. We took ourselves off to Aberystwyth for the day, with Mr S showing great patience as I dragged him around the charity shops. Well, it would be rude not to. I can’t resist a bargain even when I’m on holiday!

The Barnado’s shop was the best. Almost everything was £1.99, and I picked up a Karen Millen dress and a Coast silk basque top. In the Salvation Army shop I discovered a really beautiful Monsoon 100% silk dress for £4. These will be cleaned and sold on eBay.

I found a nice quality black skirt for work for £3 and a smart office top for £2.50. Frustratingly, I have been looking for ages for a decent pair of leather sandals but I had no luck. I even looked in the Clarks’ sale. Wide feet witch narrow heels are not a great shape when you are searching for strappy sandals! Oh well, I will keep looking.

Simple living

We haven’t had wifi much so far, hence the lack of blog posts. One of the disadvantages of staying in the wilds – but also one of the great advantages! It means we talk and read rather than sitting in our phones or laptops. Yesterday I even managed a lovely outdoor yoga session behind the caravan. I will be so relaxed by the time we leave.

Life is so simple when you can spend your days doing yoga and scouring the charity shops. Are you a family of bargain hunters, even on holiday?

Think you can’t afford to go on holiday? Ideas for frugal holidays

frugal holidays

Mr Shoestring and I work hard all year. We scrimp and save and live a frugal lifestyle to make sure bills are paid and no debts accrued. One thing we insist on, however, is at least one vacation a year.  We know we can go on our frugal holidays!

Building it into our budget

Building a holiday fund into our budget is important to us. We don’t run a fancy car, have lots of nights in the pub or wear designer clothing. Because of this, for the last few years we have managed two holidays every year. It depends what your priorities are and this is what we like to do.

A Welsh idyll

However, we still can’t afford a luxury 5 star hotel in the Maldives. We have our holidays but they have to be within our means. For several years we have spent a week in Wales at an organic smallholding, staying very cheaply in an old but comfy caravan. We mostly self cater (always treating ourselves to some superb Welsh lamb and other local produce) and have a great week walking, wild swimming and perusing the interesting towns and villages nearby. This costs us around £350 for the week, including accommodation, food and transport.  You can see our gorgeous Welsh home from home here.

We generally also have a holiday abroad and have found all inclusive works well.  However this is more expensive. So if the all inclusive package holiday doesn’t suit your budget, what other frugal holidays are there?

My cheapest holiday

Years ago,  I hitch hiked through France and into Spain with my then boyfriend. We stayed in the most basic campsites en route and occasionally pitched the tent in a random field. We once slept behind a pile of rocks on a motorway as we were dropped too late to find another lift. I wouldn’t recommend that! This holiday cost barely anything, but would I let my daughters do it? NO WAY! I mention it just to prove you can have some kind of break away on the tightest of budgets. Instead of hitching, I would get them to explore Interrailing. This seems still to be a great way of travelling in Europe. There is an interesting article about the pros and cons of Interrail here.

House swapping

I have done house swaps several times in France and in Spain. The big advantage is that your (usually comfortable and well-equipped) accommodation is free. In addition, someone is looking after your house as well. However, you do still need to get there. We drove to France and Spain. The latter was a long journey with relatively young children and we did need to stop over at a cheap hotel on the way, which obviously added to the cost. However, there is no reason you can’t house swap in your own country, especially if you live somewhere generally popular with tourists. I used a now defunct house swap organisation aimed at teachers, but there are many, many on the internet these days. This is a good option for families.

A disadvantage of house swapping is the amount of work that goes into getting your house ready. You need everything to be very clean and tidy, and your house needs to be in good decorative order.

Sun £9.50 holidays

Each January the Sun newspaper runs its £9.50 holiday promotion. You collect 10 tokens from the papers and can book a 3 or 4 night holiday for 4 people for (in theory anyway) £9.50. In fact. as this article from Money Saving Expert explains, they generally cost more than this, but are still very good value and worth investigating.

WOOFing

In case you think I have gone barking mad (geddit?), this means Working On Organic Farms. If you are in good physical and mental health, you can volunteer to work on farms throughout the world in exchange for your bed and board. You do need to pay a subscription to the host country’s WOOF organisation and your own travel costs. However, this can be a great cultural experience and you are likely to make many friends from around the world. Tom and Liza, who own our lovely Welsh smallholding, take in WOOFers every once in a while.

Camping

Camping as a family is probably the cheapest holiday option of all. However, it can be expensive to buy all of the gear to start with. You will need a large tent, inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags, lights, a gas cooker, and utensils like kettle, pots, pans, plates, cups, etc. as a minimum. I would also go for a fold up table, a wind break and some comfy chairs. A friend insisted on camp beds, a fridge and a loo as well! If you are going to go away regularly you will soon recoup the costs as generally campsites are so much cheaper than other forms of accommodation.

If you are camping in the UK you all need a decent set of waterproofs! You are at the mercy of the weather. We had some fabulous camping holidays when the kids were young. However, If I am being honest, we also baled out of two. One because of continuous, heavy rain and the other because the winds were so bad our tent almost got blown away!

We bought our tent in the sale at the end of the summer and managed to pick up some other bits second hand. We even managed to pick up some gear on Freecycle. Overall, camping is a great frugal holiday choice for families.

Hostels

Years ago, I belonged to the Youth Hostels Association. YHAs were always an excellent frugal option for accommodation. It was basic and you had to do some jobs to stay in them, such as clean the loos or sweep the stairs. They appear to have moved on apace and now the YHA prices are for private rooms similar to hotels, with much of their accommodation upgraded. However, they still have some more traditional dormitory hostel accommodation. Their Brighton hostel is advertising rooms from £11.85 a night.

I had a look at hostels more generally as an option for frugal holidays. Some of the foreign language students have used them to stay in places such as London and Cambridge. They are super basic but cheap. You share a room with a lot of strangers, not all the same sex. Sometimes they aren’t as clean as you might ideally like! However, if I was young and travelling on a budget I would definitely do my research and give some of them a try. You can stay in a dorm at a backpackers hostel in Birmingham, with free breakfast, from £13 a night.  More information  on frugal holidays in the UK and abroad can be found at Hostel World.

Become a house sitter

This is one I would love to try! Offer to look after someone’s house and pets for free and you can stay in their house for nothing. Trusted House Sitters can put you in touch with those who would like their pets and accommodation looked after. There are opportunities worldwide. According to the promo video, it is possible to families, couples or solo travellers to do this. You do have to pay your own travel costs, however, and obviously love animals.



So – my ideas for frugal holidays in a nutshell. What are yours? Have you ever house swapped or what is your experience of camping?

Cala Dor, Mallorca: the pros and cons of a package holiday

the pros and cons of a package holidaySo this is what we work all year for! A holiday in the sun. We are having an all-inclusive week in Cala Dor in Mallorca, where we are experiencing the pros and cons of a package holiday.

We fancied some sunshine and that is exactly what we are getting! The views are also stunning here, with clear blue sea and bright blue skies. Gorgeous. Check out the face in the rocks in the pic below!

As with anything we buy, we searched for a good deal before booking. We found the best price on Teletext Holidays. I didn’t know they still existed! Incredibly, when we looked, the all-inclusive was a cheaper price than half board. How can that be? It seems holiday pricing structures move in mysterious ways.

the pros and cons of a package holidayHidden extras

We flew with Ryanair. The flight was absolutely fine with no problems or delays. However, I found the online check-in process frustrating and misleading. They wouldn’t let you check in more than seven days in advance unless you paid, and you couldn’t reserve seats until you had checked in, which they also charged for. I wanted to make sure we sat together so we had to pay more – around £50!

I think this could have been reduced or avoided but, as I said, it was bewildering. We also had to pay a 15 Euro local tax when we arrived, which we weren’t expecting. We had a cup of tea on the plane but  brought some fruit and baguettes with us to save a bit of money on food whilst travelling.

the pros and cons of a package holidayGreat food and plenty of it

I have never been on an all-inclusive holiday before. I usually like to self cater to keep my budget low. I wasn’t sure how the food would be, but so far it’s pretty good. Lots of salads, fruit and veg, free wine or beer, and you can have as much or as little as you fancy. However, this hotel is busy and so is the dining room, so not the place for a quiet meal.

As well as your meals, you can have drinks and snacks throughout the day as part of the all-inclusive deal. We will be putting on weight!

the pros and cons of a package holidayI am British; give me a kettle!

The room is good, clean and basic, but there is no kettle! We couldn’t find a cup of tea anywhere when we arrived yesterday – something of a crisis for us tea swilling Brits 😀. We did have a very strong coffee at the hotel beach cafe in the afternoon, but there was no tea there or in the restaurant. Apparently we had to find the sports bar, but we were too tired. Having been up to catch our flight at 3.45 am, it had been a long day.

Which brings us to our next problem: our room overlooks another bar, where there was loud entertainment until midnight. This will be ok when we are out in the evenings, but not when we want to relax in our room. I guess they intend you to chill in the sports bar with your evening cuppa! We asked them to move us and they did. The staff here are great.

Although this post is headed the pros and cons of a package holiday, we found more advantages than disadvantages. It helps that the hotel has its own private beach complete with sun loungers at 12 Euros a day. Being money savers, we opted for a couple of towels on the sand. We stayed at the Hotel Barceló Ponent Playa. If you want a good basic hotel and value for money, you can’t go far wrong.

Free and frugal ways to spend a bank holiday

No money? Wondering what to do this fine bank holiday weekend? How about these ideas to keep you and the family entertained? There are lots of free and frugal ways to spend a bank holiday.

Get the April issue of Gardener’s World magazine. They have a 2 for 1 offer for over 400 gardens around the uk. Plus you have a great magazine to read when you get home😀.

Go to the park and play on the swings (preferably take a child with you, lol), or take a football or cricket bat.

Play rounders! I have excellent memories of family holidays doing this when I was young.

Go for a walk at a fast pace and you won’t need to bother with the gym. Do it with a buggy and you are resistance training!

Check your local museums and art galleries – some will be free.

Head for the hills

Pack up a picnic and head for the hills. If we have a day out anywhere, Mr Shoestring and I always take a flask and sandwiches – whatever the weather. It saves so much money and also means no queuing in crowded cafes for over-priced food of variable quality.

Check the country parks in your area. In Essex we are blessed with some great open spaces, ideal for a family walk: Visit Parks. It’s easy to find where yours are at your local Tourist Information Centre.

Go find a bluebell wood. This is a good time to go! You can find some listed on the Woodland Trust website here.

Check out your local wildlife trust. They have all kinds of activities going on, from a family pond dip to an twilight bat or owl walk.

Garden centres for green entertainment

Go to the garden centre. We have several locally that have so much to see for free, and the kids love their displays. However, don’t be drawn in to the café, and don’t buy anything unless you need it and it is a good price.

Visit your relatives and friends. They are an under-rated and often under-valued form of entertainment and support.

Find a boot sale and get yourself some bargains.

There are lots more family ideas at dayoutwiththekids.com as well as great offers and deals at  Moneysavingexpert.com.

We will find some free and frugal ways to spend a bank holiday, as we always do. I can see us meandering around a garden I should think. Maybe see you there!

No battle at Hastings

HastingsThanks so much for all your recommendations yesterday on places to visit in and around Rye. I wish we had longer so that we could have done more. It has been lovely and we were blessed with two beautiful sunny days.

We had a huge breakfast in the hotel this morning – muesli, fruit and a full English. We knew we wouldn’t need any lunch! We made do with punnet of strawberries then a sandwich in the way home at tea time.

HastingsWe drove to Camber Sands first. I was expecting it to be really pretty and scenic but, aside from the glorious sandy beach, it was disappointing. It seemed to consist of lots of tatty chalets and static caravans.

Hastings

Hastings Pier yarn bombing

Beautiful Hastings Pier

We moved onto Hastings, which was lovely. The new pier was wonderful and, even better, it had been yarn bombed! I always love a good yarn bombing 😀. We then walked into the old town and up to the castle, where we sat and munched our strawberries, looking out to sea. Glorious!

Hastings

We yarn bombed each other!

What a lovely town and a superb break. I am confused now as it feels like it should be Sunday evening instead of Thursday. Still, I only have one day to work and it’s the weekend!

We’ve got a ticket to Rye!

RyeIs there anywhere cuter in Sussex than beautiful Rye?

The point of living a frugal lifestyle to me, being  very careful with our money most of the time,  is to be able to afford the odd treat. We would love to travel more than time or money allows, but we do get out and about as often as we can.

RyeToday is my birthday and Mr S treated me to a night in a beautiful hotel near Rye to celebrate. It’s not an area we know at all but it was recommended by my brother and his wife and we found an excellent deal online. Rye certainly seems very quaint and picturesque – full of cobble stones (hard to walk on!), pretty little shops and antiques warehouses. 

Rye
RyeWe had the most delicious meal at Webbe’s Fish Café in Rye. It wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t crazily expensive either and the food was excellent. I rarely eat out – I resent paying big bucks for mediocre food, and prefer to eat at home, but today our meal was perfect.

Rye
RyeThe hotel has a spa, so we came back about six to have a swim, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna – well, we thought we would get our money’s worth! You often get excellent value with a mid week break and our luxury hotel cost about the same as a cheap B&B.

RyeWe recommend a visit to Rye if you are in the area. You can find more information here. Tomorrow we are going to look at Camber Sands and Hastings – a whistle stop tour! Let’s hope the sun shines 😀.

St Albans: A frugal day out

St AlbansWe had an impromptu day out yesterday to St Albans in Hertfordshire. Darling daughter 3 needed a lift to South Mimms services on the M25 to meet her friend so that they could drive together to Sheffield. They have gone to see an old school mate at university.

http://enjoystalbans.com/Since we drove an hour to get there we thought we might as well make a day of it and head another 20 minutes into St Albans. It is a very interesting place, a Roman town like Colchester, where we live.

St AlbansIt has a fabulous cathedral and a fantastic street market – absolutely huge! Honestly, it went on forever and sold practically everything. I wish we had a good market. Ours is better than it used to be, but is still pretty mediocre.

St AlbansAs I am still on a no spend month I didn’t buy anything and just browsed. I also avoided the charity shops – far too much temptation. St AlbansWe did pack some coffee and a picnic, but after walking round for a few hours we were starving and gave into some Pakistani street food – chicken tikka in a wrap. It was really filling and delicious so it did for dinner.

We had a quick walk around Verulamium Park, but the weather wasn’t great so we didn’t see it at its best. I imagine it is rather lovely in the summer.

St AlbansThe cathedral itself was stunning with some wonderful stained glass windows and ornate wooden and stone carvings everywhere. Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area.

So, a pretty cheap day out in St Albans. All it cost was the petrol, £4 to park, a donation to the cathedral and £6 each for dinner. I’m glad we went. I love moseying around new places. Anyone else got any interesting trips planned?

Ilfracombe: Glorious sunshine in Devon 


Ilfracombe

IlfracombeWhat a difference a day makes

The weather has been getting better and better here in Devon and today it is glorious – sunshine and blue skies. We could be in the Mediterranean. We have come back to Ilfracombe as it was rather grey and wet when we came on Monday. What a difference!

IlfracombeI am writing this on the sand at Tunnels Beaches, a private Victorian beach in Ilfracombe accessed by a series of hand carved tunnels. There are two tidal swimming pools, but the sea is too cold for me to do more than paddle. It is very quaint and interesting, especially the etiquette guides on the way in which made us giggle.

We have been packing up picnics and flasks and mainly eating at home. Tonight, however, we will push the boat out and have a restaurant meal. We walked past a little place called Starters, a kind of English version of a tapas bar. The food smelled so delicious we immediately booked a table. Let’s hope it tastes as good. There are few things that annoy me more than a poor restaurant meal when I have stretched my budget to eat out as a treat.

Ilfracombe

IlfracombeIlfracombe charity shops

We had another quick look around the town centre – it is a lovely little place full of independent shops. We even found a couple more charity shops. I have found two pairs of almost new flat pumps for work for £2 each, an M&S cardigan in immaculate condition (£5 but I reckon it would have cost £25 new) and a lovely black dress, again M&S, for £3.50. The girls have also found a few bargains 😀. I think we are a funny bunch as we head straight for the charity shops wherever we go!

I love Ilfracombe and hope to come back here. This is a beautiful Devon town and I recommend it. You can find more information about the area here.

I hope the weather is fine where you are. I shall pop on again tomorrow.

Devon: Beach walks and charity shops

We are in North Devon! I wish I could say we are bathed in sunshine but that’s not quite the picture. It drizzled most of the day yesterday. We made the best if it and donned our raincoats to visit the historic pannier market in Barnstaple. It was rather disappointing. I suppose they don’t have the most interesting stalls there in a Monday morning and there was little of interest to any of us. We cheered ourselves up with a delicious cream tea with local clotted cream and then drove up to Ilfracombe.

The statue Verity in Ilfracombe

We particularly wanted to see Damian Hurst’s statue, Verity. Even in the gloom it looked magnificent on the harbour but is rather disturbing – a huge naked and pregnant woman, holding her sword proudly above her head but with the scales of justice behind her. Most disconcertingly, the skin and muscles on one side are stripped back to reveal her skull and the baby curled up in her womb.

Opinion is apparently divided in Devon but we liked her. We liked Ilfracombe altogether actually and will go back on a nicer day. We had a walk through the town centre in the rain dodging from charity shop to charity shop and picked up a few bargains on the way. This is typical of us – the girls love a bargain just as we do!Devon - Ilfracombe

It has been quite bright today and this evening the sun has been shining here in Devon. We spent the day at Croyde Bay just up the road from our little wooden chalet. It was lovely. We had a good hike up to Baggy Point and a picnic on the beach, then drove to Braunton and hit the charity shops again. More bargains!

DevonThe chalet itself is perfect, on a very quiet and well maintained site. It is cosy but large enough for the four of us for the week and much better than a tent on those rainy days! I love not having to get up early for work, taking each day as it comes and spending a bit of time with the family. Tomorrow the plan is to visit RHS Rosemoor. We are members so will only have to pay for the girls to get in. We are hoping for a little more sun but will plan for all eventualities, as ever!

The Countess of Warwick’s Country Show, Essex

A great day out at the Countess of Warwick’s Country ShowCountess of Warwick's Country Show

We had a fantastic day out at the Countess of Warwick’s Country Show at Little Easton in west Essex. What an absolute gem of a place and a really excellent traditional show set in the beautiful Essex countryside. There was a great live band, vintage cars and tractors, livestock, dog shows, more food than you could eat in a life time and a horticultural show – I am a sucker for these! I love the displays of veg, cakes and jams proudly displaying their winning rosettes!

Countess of Warwick's Country Show
Countess of Warwick's Country Show


Countess of Warwick's Country ShowIt was just what we needed – a respite from the past week’s DIY efforts to get us into the next working week. The band at Countess of Warwick’s Country Show played for hours, giving us an excuse to sit in the sunshine and drink Prosecco!

Countess of Warwick's Country ShowThe Countess of Warwick’s Country Show is an annual event held over the August bank holiday. If you get the opportunity to go, do! It is a fabulous day out for the whole family. We will be there next year!

Hyde Hall Gardens, Essex: An RHS treasure

Hyde Hall GardensWe had a lovely day out today using our RHS cards for free entry to Hyde Hall gardens near Rettendon in Essex.

There was a great sculpture trail:

Hyde Hall Gardens

Hyde Hall Gardens

Superb displays of summer flowers:

Hyde Hall Gardens

The pond lilies were beautiful and this was such a restful place to eat our picnic.

Hyde Hall Gardens

The Hyde Hall Gardens vegetable patch was very productive, as you would expect:

Hyde Hall Gardens

Hyde Hall Gardens
RHS Hyde Hall Gardens are such a nice place to spend a pleasant Sunday! We have been RHS members for yonks and thoroughly recommend joining and visiting as many gardens as you can.

Incommunicado – almost


One thing staying in a very basic caravan in the middle of nowhere with no phone, tv or wi-fi tends to remind me is how little I really need these things. I think this is why I love coming here. It is so quiet and peaceful and the endless chatter and noise of every day life – the TV programmes, the lure of the Internet, emails, the radio – just don’t exist. We don’t have even a phone signal! I find I miss them very little, although we have had a fix of wifi on our travels most days for a quick check on Mr S’s business and have been able to text the kids and our parents.

It also reminds me how much time I waste online! Facebook, Instagram, blogs – and I sit in front of a PCs all day at work so you would think I would want to get away from technology when I am home. It’s never that easy, of course, as the world is run by the Internet these days and it is a wonderful tool in many respects.

A root around the charity shops

As I say though it is great to have space from it. I remember a time before the Internet – yes, I am getting on a bit – when you went on holiday and your only communication to anyone at home was a postcard! You knew what was happening in the world by buying a newspaper. My girls would think that a bit antiquated!

We have another sunny day here in Wales so need to make the most of it. This is a quick stop for a coffee and a bit of free wifi in the library. But I’m throwing technology aside now – off for a blow along the beach and a root through any charity shops we come across. Yes, some things don’t change just because we are on holiday!

Beautiful north Wales

North WalesForgive the lack of blog time recently. I had a busy work week and then a mad rush to get us ready to come away on holiday to stunning North Wales.

North WalesWe are back in Wales. I love this beautiful country. I am sitting looking at Caernarfon Castle as I type this on my phone and we are about to head off to Anglesey Island. It is a rather grey day today but the rain has held off so far. Yesterday we had a glorious sunny day and drive up the stunning coastline to another castle at Harlech.

North WalesLow impact life in North Wales

Our base is once again at a  permaculture small holding near Machynlleth, the fourth time we have stayed – it is starting to feel like a second home. Our accommodation for the week is in a caravan next to a stream with ducks and some ponies for company. It is amazing value at £180 for a week and our hosts Tom and Liza couldn’t be friendlier. They also have a tiny campsite with a covered kitchen and compost toilet which is even cheaper. Check it out here.

There is a freezing pond too and Mr S loves to take the plunge. Not me – I am a wimp and prefer yoga on the veranda.

North WalesPeace and relaxation

It is just the peace and relaxation we need at the moment as life is so busy at home. I will breathe in the green and the quiet and take it back with me. Wish I could bottle it. Will blog again when I find some Wi-Fi but in truth it is lovely to have a break from technology too.

Pin Mill: A bracing Mother’s Day walk in Suffolk

Pin MillWe had a lovely walk out yesterday by the coast. It was very cold in the wind but we wrapped up warm. The girls were making us dinner, so we left them to it and drove up to Pin Mill near Ipswich. It’s a lovely little place with a great pub – the Butt and Oyster – an array of bohemian looking houseboats and some lovely walk through National Trust land with some spectacular views of the River Orwell.

Pin MillWe took a flask and a picnic (frugal as usual) and had a good walk in the winter sunshine. The water was an amazing colour – a kind of glacial blue-green. We treated ourselves to a couple of drinks in the pub after. Well, it would have been rude not to!

Pin MillYou can’t help but dream when you see a cosy looking house boat with piles of logs stacked neatly outside, but I bet they are actually quite cold and damp potentially, and very exposed to the elements. They also command ridiculous prices that I guess only rich Londoners looking for a second home can afford – we found one that had sold for £345,000 last year!

On the other hand, this amazing hippy bus was advertised on Facebook recently for £6500 – hugely under-priced in my view and the seller went viral and was overwhelmed with the response she had. I hope she got a bit more for it. It is a work of art!hippy bus

One day I will get my camper van and the time to go wandering in it. I doubt it will be so pretty, but as long as it gets me from A to B and is comfortable I will be happy.

We came back to a gorgeous dinner cooked by the girls: roasted vegetables on a butterbean mash, paella and a huge fruit salad with chocolate mousse. Bang goes the diet! Everybody needs a day off and it was Mother’s Day.

Back to eating sensibly this week.

Anybody else dreaming of escape on a hippy bus or an idyll on a houseboat on the river?

Carfest 2015: Mud and music

CarfestWe had a fantastic long weekend at Carfest, despite the odd and changeable weather. The highlights were Paloma Faith, Take That (I was surprised to find I knew ALL the words!), Jools Holland and the Feeling. It is definitely a family festival and the lack of the usual idiotic  drunks and drug-takers made for a really lovely and relaxed atmosphere.

 Petrol heads at Carfest

There was lots to do if you had children. Mr S, being a bit of a petrol head, loved all the cars. There was pretty much something for everyone. We even watched Chris Evans do the One Show live on Friday evening!

We were pretty organised and took most of our own food and drink. It is hard to stick to a budget when you can spend £4 on a single cup of coffee! By Sunday morning I had spent a mere £8. We did treat ourselves to a burger that night as the line up was so good we didn’t want to go back to the tent to cook.

Some folk with families who were less organised must have spent a fortune.

We didn’t bother with showers at all as there was a constant queue. I always think a packet of baby wipes is almost as good for a few days 😏.

 No rain! No rain!

It poured on Sunday night and Monday morning and the site was a sea of mud in no time. Packing up in the rain certainly speeds things up. We were on our way home by 9.30 am.

If you are lucky enough to get tickets for Carfest next year I would recommend it, and you are even supporting a good cause as the event makes loads of money for Children in Need.

You have to be very quick off the mark as the even always sells out super fast. The tickets aren’t cheap, but there is so much to do and see and the acts are great. We found Carfest to be excellent value for money and hope to go again.

Tower of London: A River of Red in an Ocean of People!

Tower of LondonWe had a trip at the weekend to the Tower of London. It was a great experience!

I will never ever be a person who enjoys city life. I don’t mind a visit to a beautiful and interesting city: Barcelona and Amsterdam are two of my favourite places. But generally, I don’t like the noise or the traffic, I don’t enjoy crowds, I am not a fan of the hustle and bustle and I can’t wait to get home. If I had to live or work in a large city I think I would struggle. I find Colchester stressful enough in the rush hour, and it’s hardly a metropolis!

Tower of LondonHaving said that, I did want to visit my daughter and see her new student house share in the East End, and I really wanted to see the poppies at the Tower of London.

LondonWith four of us going, driving was by far our cheapest option. The roads weren’t too clogged up being a Sunday, but it was busy enough. We managed to park near her house, had a very reasonable roast at the local Wetherspoons (£6.95 each including a drink), then set off on the underground to Tower Hill. It was packed! Every one had the same idea it seems. The poppies really are stunning; they are very beautiful and rather moving, so if you are able to get there before Armistice Day on 11th November, you really should.

imageI don’t know who had the idea to make a porcelain poppy for every man who fell in the First World War, and then plant them in a stunning display around the Tower of London, but it was a great one.

So I was glad to get home, but even happier to have been :-).

A week in the glorious Lake District

imageWe have just returned from a week’s holiday in the Lake District in Cumbria, possibly my favourite place in the world, and what a glorious week it was. It is a beautiful place anyway, but we were blessed with warm weather every day – the raincoats never came out of the bags, which was a first for me – I have been coming since I was 16 and expect to get rained on as part of the deal! The heavens did open on our last evening and it bucketed down all night and most of the way home, but we didn’t mind that.

We did some fabulous short walks. I would have happily dragged everybody a bit further, but I know there are limits when persuading teenagers up hills and across the fells. We walked around Rydal Water, popping in for tea at William Wordsworth’s house en route. imageWe visited the John Ruskin house overlooking Coniston Water and had our lunch in his gardens. We went up to the waterfalls along the edge of Ambleside to wear everyone out, then drove to Glenridding in Ullswater and snuck into the grounds of a hotel to get to the water’s edge and admire the fabulous views of the lake and mountains beyond. We ate delicious cakes at Chester’s Cafe at Skelwith Bridge, just behind the caravan park we stayed at, recommended by my Mum. It was certainly very busy and popular. imageWe also went to Wordsworth’s birthplace at Grasmere and saw the family graves in the local church. Grasmere is a pretty enough place, but these days really just a collection of gift shops.

We had a lovely short boat trip across Windermere to Wray Castle and then the visitor centre at Brockhole. However we made the mistake of paying to go into the castle. I am usually a fan of the National Trust but we were not impressed. It is in the process of being restored and is unfurnished. There is really nothing to see except a lot of rooms waiting to be refurbished and mostly covered in woodchip wallpaper. They had tried to make it more of a family attraction by filling the rooms with toys and dressing up outfits, but that wasn’t much good to us. I resented paying the entrance fee to be honest and felt we had been duped. I would say don’t bother unless you are NT members – just have a look round the outside for free.image

If you have a camper van or tourer caravan I can absolutely recommend the Skelwith Fold caravan park just outside Ambleside : lovely generous pitches in a beautiful setting and the park itself is spotlessly clean and tidy, with a good shop and helpful staff. I am very lucky to have my generous cousins who don’t mind letting the extended family stay in their static from time to time.

I brought the ingredients for many of our meals in advance from Aldi, and most of the time just had to buy meat or salad to go with the pasta, salad or rice we already had. We also bought fresh bread every day from the campsite shop and took a picnic and flask out with us. We had one big blow out, eating at Zeferelli’s restaurant in Ambleside. I had forgotten it was actually a vegetarian restaurant, and thought there might be a mass walk out when the family realised, but they stayed and we a had a most delicious meal (for example, I ate a wellington filled with nut roast and DD3 had a most creamy and delicious blue cheese lasagne).

My holiday fund is well and truly depleted and it is frugal all the way now. Fortunately I have a language student coming for three weeks from Sunday, so I need to prepare! Onwards and upwards! Are you going anywhere nice for your holidays, or planning a staycation?

Woodbridge: A Message from the Suffolk Tourist Board

I am an Essex girl, but live very close to the Suffolk border and absolutely love to venture into some of the beautiful market towns: Woodbridge, Bury St Edmunds, Saxmundham, Lavenham, Clare, Long Melford – I could go on! They are all lovely interesting little towns and well worth a drive out if you aren’t too far away.

A trip to Woodbridge

Yesterday, we decided to take a trip to Woodbridge. What a beautiful place. It is sited on the River Deben, close the Anglo Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo. You can walk past all the little boats along the quay to see the tide mill, which is the last working tide mill in the UK. There are lots of nice shops and cafes, including some great (but pricey) charity shops. We went in them all!

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

WoodbridgeSt Mary’s church is worth walking to – it is a lovely building and there is often something going on inside it. The cottages that overlook it must have one of the best views in town. We had a peep in the estate agents window, but you don’t get much for your money if you want a character cottage in Woodbridge. That will have to wait for my lottery win I think.

Mr S was also rather impressed with Woodbridge town hall, which is a super old building in the centre of town. We took some good pics. Enjoy – and if you are ever in Suffolk, take a detour!

House swap: could you?

So, you would love a holiday but even a campsite seems too expensive? How about a house swap?

Camping is the cheapest holiday accommodation. But perhaps the great outdoors isn’t your thing and, if  you have to purchase the gear, it is only a cheap option if you plan to use it every year. Don’t get me wrong, I love camping and had some brilliant holidays in the UK and France when the kids were younger.  However, sometimes a few home comforts are nice!

house swap

A house swap is not so terrifying

The other thing I have done for a cheap holiday is house swap. I know it sounds terrifying and many people would be nervous about letting complete strangers take over their house for a fortnight, but in my experience it can work brilliantly.

We had two lovely holidays in Brittany and one in Normandy. Another in Segovia in Spain didn’t work so well but that was more the weather than the accommodation. Nice apartment but no air con and the hottest summer Europe had seen in years (2003). We couldn’t come home because of our house guests! Fortunately we were able to  visit friends in Barcelona who had a pool to cool things down. It was still hot but you could actually move during the day!

All those we did a house swap with were respectful of our home and left things clean and tidy, although one of the properties in Brittany was a bit on the grubby side when we arrived.

house swap

The upsides of house swapping

The accomodation is free.
It is a real home from home – better equipped than any holiday apartment would be.
You have someone looking after your home so that it isn’t left empty.
You can even exchange pets! Our cats were fed and we became foster carers to some chickens!
You can save on car hire and exchange cars too, although we never did this.
If you exchange with a family your kids get to play with all their kids’ toys (you need to put away anything precious).
Your hosts will usually leave you lots of local tourist and bus information
You can exchange in the UK or abroad

The downsides

It is a risk – although it is your interests and theirs that they look after your stuff you can’t guarantee that they won’t help themselves to your best silver.
They can pull out even if you have already booked your travel.
You need to give your house the biggest clean of its life so lots of work before you go.
Your house needs to be in good decorative order.

Use an agency

I would advise you to use an agency – there are lots on the internet. Be realistic about who you try to swap with; the proud owner of a villa with a pool in the South of France probably won’t want your three bed semi in Ordinaryville. Be honest about your property – you want your swappers to be truthful with you. Have a neighbour keep an eye and someone they can contact if there is an issue. We had problems with the plumbing at one place but our contact sorted it out.

When my house is in better shape I will definitely be doing a house swap again!