a letter from: bangor

With my workload about to creep up, and the magic of Christmas and New Year fading out, I really wasn’t looking forward to January. A ten minute discussion with Meg, a quick scout through AirBnB, and a double check of the calendar, and we’d booked a trip to Bangor. The plan was to start the year on a high, outdoors, and doing something fun and spontaneous. And it was exactly that.

We found a cheap and lovely looking AirBnB in Tregarth (I’d much rather be somewhere homey where I can fully relax and not be bothering anyone) deciding on North Wales as we’ve both been before and loved it. Meg actually went to Bangor Uni and it was my second choice, pipped to the post in the end by Bath.

I’d already set my mission of more adventures and spontaneity at this point, so I was excited to be booking something for a weeks’ time, and only vaguely planning out possibilities of what we could do.

With it only being a couple of hours away, we decided we wouldn’t rush to set off after work on the Friday, and instead managed to miss the rush hour traffic, enjoying a scenic (very dark) drive to our destination. We’d packed a crate of prosecco (emergency rations, just in case…) and spent the Friday night planning our next two days.

We decided as we were only 10 minutes from the centre of Bangor to head into town on the Saturday morning, before driving up to Anglesey to visit Newborough beach (where we ended up going for a swim – much to the amusement of everyone around us), then headed up to South Stack Lighthouse, eating chips whilst watching the sun go down, before driving back to the house. If you’ve never been up this neck of the woods, I’d definitely recommend. As a creative person, there is so much inspiration on every road, or in every building (or sheep) you drive past.

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Newborough is fab, and the tide is never fully in so there is always beach to be played on. Top tip: there’s a rope swing nestled at the very end of the woods on your right as you’re walking to the far end of the beach. It’s close to the edge of the trees so you can see it when you get near, and it is incredibly fun. Surprisingly, not many of the people we saw knew about it. We couldn’t resist giving it a spin (and I can vouch for it being lots of fun!) The parking is £5 for all day, and it is very clean and well maintained. There was even a hot drink/food van, too, for after our January dip!

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South Stack is about a twenty minute drive from Newborough, and neither of us had been before so we thought it would be a good chance to go. It was fab, and we deliberately timed it so we’d get there to see the sunset as backdrop.

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We stopped at a local chippy on the way, stocking up on chips with curry sauce to keep us warm whilst we sat, practically on the edge of Wales, watching the world fall asleep. There’s not a huge amount around to do, but the views themselves are stunning. Definitely worth a pit stop if you’re in the area.

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A few of Meg’s friends from uni were around that evening so we planned to meet them in Bangor for a few drinks and some boogieing. A pizza, some prosecco, and a film later, we got ready and headed out to meet them. I love the simplicity of Bangor town. There’s nothing extravagantly fancy, and if there was it would quite simply be out of place. It’s homely, and welcoming, and the pubs we went in were all full of character (and sold Guinness – a definite win.)

On the Sunday we got up, said goodbye to the lovely cottage we’d made our home (and the most amazing beds in the WORLD!) and headed back to Bangor to collect Meg’s friend, Rob, who joined us on our adventure up the Watkins Path of Mount Snowdon.

A top up of oil and some screenwash (for the car) and we were on our way, tootling up and down, around the windiest roads with the prettiest views. After a reasonably chilly Saturday, we were surprised by the mildness that arrived on Sunday (good news as the whole point of us going up this route was for a dip in the Watkin pools on the mountain.)

We parked on the A498 outside of Beddgelert, just at the bottom of the path. There is a proper car park on the opposite side of the road, but there’s also a little lay-by you can stop in just before the path on the left side. We arrived around lunchtime and there was lots of space left. We took lots of layers with us (prepared to be freezing after our swim) along with snacks and flasks of tea, and set off.

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We weren’t planning on summiting Snowdon, our main aim was to manage a swim in the pools before coming down to warm ourselves back up. The walk up to the pools is only about half an hour. You follow the donkey track over several bridges and woodland until it opens out and you are fully surrounded by mountains. To get to the pools you need to take a path that cuts below the main path, towards a bridge and waterfall which you can see from the main trail. We crossed the bridge, went over a style and we were there. The water in the pools was a Mediterranean blue and looked so beautiful in the surrounding mountains. We already had our swimming cossis on, prepared for a quick dip without getting too cold. The main path up the mountain was slightly above us so we were passed by lots of interested walkers who were a bit surprised to see three eager swimmers in January.

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Rob braved it first, dipping his feet in and paddling around the rocks to the edge of the main pool bit. Meg followed, and then me.

It was freezing, there’s no denying that, but the adrenaline meant I felt on top of the world and was having the best time, ever.

I was first to properly get in, sinking my body under the water a little at a time so it wasn’t a huge shock. Meg and Rob also joined, and we spent fifteen minutes giggling, pulling the weirdest faces, and gasping in response to the freezing temperature.

After ten minutes laying in the pool, I was bright red and frozen. I looked like I’d been sunbathing without suncream for a whole day. Luckily we’d brought several thick extra layers and so we all got dressed and then sat on a rock across the bridge, overlooking the ‘valley’ like view surrounding us. We had brought mini bottles of prosecco (this seems to be a growing theme to the trip…) and enjoyed sipping between them and the flasks of tea, warming up with food and full winter accessories.

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I’d definitely recommend doing it (although I’m sure it’d be more comfortable if it was above 1 degree in the water). If January is your bag, don’t forget the flasks and extra layers (and I’d recommend the prosecco for celebrating being complete nutters after.)

Let’s hope the New Year continues this way, with lots more wild swimming, prosecco drinking, and spontaneous adventures! And here’s to visiting Bangor again many times, because it was blooming marvellous!

love sophie

a letter from: the east coast

I can’t remember exactly where we went this weekend, but we stayed in a gorgeous house up on the east coast for my grandma’s birthday. There was lots of tea and cake, along with a rose wine tasting to help with Emily’s ‘revision’.

I picked my Grandma up, driving home to meet the others and go to the house. It was a fab house – modern but with a lot of period features and all on one level –  which suited what we needed. It turned into a giant family sleepover, with me, Em and Jonathan all bunking in one room.

When we got there we had a mooch around the local village where we were staying, petting the donkeys in the field opposite, before getting the monopoly out. We got a lovely Indian takeaway and had a really chilled night just chatting and catching up.

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We got the train from Pickering to Whitby on the Friday morning, which was lovely. It was a steam train so the seats were old – as were the carriages – but it was atmospheric, and something my Grandma wanted to do. It only took about 45 minutes and the journey was through gorgeous countryside. The sun was absolutely scorching, and after fish and chips in a restaurant once we arrived, we walked right to the end of the pier.

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Mum and I went to the top of the old lighthouse and got some amazing photos of Whitby and out to the coast, giving the rest of them at the bottom a wave. We got the train back shortly after that, something we found to be popular with locals too, as the train was packed.

That night we tested Em on her wines with a blind tasting, before heading to bed.

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The Saturday was wet and cold so we stayed in the house, playing games and entertaining each other, and went for a drive later on when it cleared up a bit. We had a homemade veggie spaghetti bolognese for tea, with garlic bread and trimmings, and watched a bit of TV before calling it a night again.

The Sunday was my grandma’s birthday, and although I was first up my grandma was still in bed just before ten, along with everyone else.

We had decorated the living room with banners and balloons, and once she was up we did birthday breakfast and then headed out. We drove around the moors, stopping in Bakewell and some other places for an ice cream break as it was so hot.

That evening we sampled more wine and planned what we’d be doing the next day: heading to another beach on our way back home.

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We had ice cream, went on the pleasure ground rides, ate more fish and chips, before heading home.

The hardest goodbye was to Archie the golden retriever who lived next door. He greeted us every morning and was often sat at the gate when we got back from our day tripping. I think that was my grandma’s favourite part.

love sophie

a letter from: pembrokeshire

Our biannual Kilimanjaro took place on the south coast of Wales at the end of March. We meet from right across the UK and go for two or three nights just to reunite and keep in touch. I love the reunions because you don’t have to do anything but just be, go walking and laugh endlessly with each other (prosecco is often involved, too. So there’s never a dull moment!)

We’ve touched down in most places nearish to people, hitting Snowdonia, The Brecon Beacons, and now Pembrokeshire, and in the future I’m sure we’ll hit up the south and maybe even head further north into Scotland…

I’d absolutely love to do a week long trip to Cornwall, but trying to orchestrate a group of eight to twelve people is blooming difficult, and a lot goes on behind scenes to make it run smoothly.

With a lot of us now in full time jobs, it makes finding a good time to go quite difficult, and it’s hard to make it possible for everyone to go. Fortunately this time we had a good turn out, and we had an absolute blast.

I drove up from Bath with Luke and George, picking them up and then heading across the Severn Bridge (my first time driving across ever) a couple of hours later arriving at our bunkhouse, where we found Alex.

We usually go for bunkhouses as they’re easy and usually fit majority of us in, but they’re surprisingly hard to find anywhere outside of Wales, so unless you know one, or have been to one, it takes a lot of effort to track them down!

We’d got two parts of the same barn, the boys in one end, and the girls in the smaller end. Each with separate access, and kitchens and bathrooms, it was ideal for a big group. We stayed at Pembrokeshire Bunkhouse which I would shout from the rooftops about because it was great. Well located within reach of towns, shops, and the beach, and walks. It’s on a gorgeous working farm, and there are several different sized bunks to suit different groups.

We spent the majority of our down time upstairs in the guys bunk as theirs was bigger. The beds and bathrooms were all downstairs, easily accessible to everyone, and the whole of the upstairs was one big open plan room, ideal for a large group. There was WiFi and a TV, and bed linen was provided which was a bonus!

We spent a day at Stumple Head, walking around the lighthouse and falling over in slippy mud (if you’re me). I love the drives on our reunions, they’re always on gorgeous country roads, and in the most beautiful places.

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We stopped at one point so Sam could say hello to some horses, ate in a pub decorated for Easter – who knew – and then had a late walk on the beach whilst some people went to the pub. We ended up climbing up some rocks on the beach, and getting a fab group photo in front of the sunset. Sam even gave us a lesson in marine biology (a staple on any reunion) before we headed back to watch a film and celebrate with prosecco.

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The next day was spent in Dale, after Meg (egg chef) made us breakfast. The seaside on this side of the country is just stunning. The sea is so blue. We walked around the coastline, following pro Alex and George who had both got maps and presumably knew where we were heading. There was a gorgeous secluded beach we walked to, accessed only by boats or the path we’d walked along, so we stopped there for a while, skimming stones and talking, before heading back for famous fish pie at a local restaurant.

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Before we left for the bunkhouse, we made our way to another cove, secluded from the main seaside, and watched the sunset which was gorgeous. Luke decided he was going in for a swim so stripped off and got waist deep before coming back to find us. We then headed back, deciding to watch School of Rock back at the bunkhouse with yet more prosecco!

The next, and final day, we packed up the bags and headed to Tenby, deciding to head off from there so we could do another activity and make the extra day worthwhile. We walked along the coast, went into the lifeboat station and museum, before saying our goodbyes and heading off to our homes until the next time.

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I headed back to Bath with Luke and George, dropping them off and then heading straight back up to Sheffield for an extended reunion (something that’s becoming a routine).

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I was surprised by the weather, which was fab the whole time, other than a bit of a grey sky as we were leaving Tenby. I’d definitely recommend the bunkhouse and area, especially if you like walking and are a big group!

love sophie

a letter from: dublin

I spent the last weekend of February in Dublin with some friends. I have a huge crush on the rolling green hills of Ireland (and the Guinness) and I enjoyed being in the city for a change.

We did lots of initial exploring, with us all arriving at different times, and from different places, Meg and I (who arrived first) decided to find the accommodation and put our bags down before the others arrived.

The flight was grand, everything was going well, we managed to get the right bus to the centre of Dublin, and we had screenshots and an address of the accommodation. Very organised.

We headed out of the centre to the flat, using Meg’s phone as map, towards the rugby stadium which wasn’t far from where we were staying.

As we were walking along we were both in awe of the stunning Georgian terraces which lined the streets, four or five storeys high and absolutely gorgeous. There were several comments exchanged about how cool it would be to live here, and how soon we could get a job in a bar with live music. This continued for most of the weekend.

When we arrived at the supposed flat, we couldn’t find it. It had every number, every address but ours. But the map said we were in the right place. We spotted a pub across the road and made ourselves at home inside, the locals being super helpful and letting us borrow chargers, and their phones to try and find the flat. They were even looking themselves, and asking each other around the pub if anyone knew where it was. They were so warm, and welcoming – the classic Irish – and Meg and I were both grateful!

We set back on the flat hunt (after having a pint of Guinness whilst the phone charged) and were embarrassed to find it, quite easily, exactly where we’d been looking for about twenty minutes. Great start!

Dublin itself is busy, jam packed with buskers, travellers, back packers, tourists, families and young people. It is a city that has something for everyone, and the twinkly lights on Grafton Street reminded me in part of London, but the Irish charm gave Dublin the edge.

Once the others arrived (with ease) we talked over what we would do for the weekend, as well as headed over to the pub, so they could witness Dublin in full glory.

Over the course of the weekend we headed out to various pubs, bars, and restaurants, making a name for ourselves in Temple Bar.

The main reason for our visit was the Ireland vs Wales Six Nations match on the Saturday. Arriving on a Thursday meant we had loads of time to fit things in beforehand.

We scouted out the Guinness Factory (a must whilst in Dublin – I would recommend heading up to the top bar for a pint to watch the sunset – we did it by accident and it was ace!), as well as Cathedrals and shops.

With the Factory, I’d leave more time than you think. We walked from the flat into the centre and then went to the Factory after seeing some of the centre. Altogether we were in the factory for about four hours – it’s really interesting and interactive and you get to see all sides of Guinness as well as learn to pour a pint yourself.

The Temple Bar area was where we spent most of the evenings, or in the pub by the flat, if not the flat itself.

The Ha’penny Bridge is also a must see, and once you see it you’ll see why. It’s tiny, and in amongst lots of other bridges, but if you research into it, it’s actually really interesting.

We also found a Keats monument in the square near the flat which was well worth a look. People had attached lots of quotes and letters to it and I found it really interesting to read them, and see what people had written.

On a previous trip, I also visited Dublin Zoo, The National Museum of Ireland, and a Leinster vs Ulster match at the Ricoh arena.

These are also places I’d recommend to anyone going. It’s mainly all within walking distance, and easy to locate with a map of the city.

The live music in the bars on an evening is just amazing, and something I wish we had more of at home. Jigging around the dance floor and singing along to Irish classics at the top of our lungs became commonplace.

When the time came to leave on the Sunday, after watching Ireland beat Wales on the Saturday, we were all in high spirits and didn’t want to go.

I have no doubt I’ll be back again. It’s one of those places you can go many times as there’s so much to see and do.

Where have you been recently that you’d recommend?

love sophie

a letter from: belgium

Five weeks of my June/July were spent in Belgium this year, teaching and supporting children who were learning English as a second language.

Other than a good couple of books, my lightweight camera, and a light backing track on my phone, I didn’t take much with me.

I was so excited to be so isolated from the world again. It does wonders to just take some time out to be away from it all. Whatever ‘it all’ actually means.

A quiet walk alone around the winding path of the forest, or an evening playing cards with beer around the bonfire are great ways of feeling comfortable and just at ease (after hours, of course.)

As well as countless evenings spent playing beach volleyball under marmalade skies, I got to see the world. I travelled Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, France and Germany. My French improved and I got to speak it (questionably) to people who had patience and replied. I might have been working, but I gained a lot more than just a paycheck.

I met the three men in the picture, who I now call friends.

The moment I captured is at the very beginning of the five weeks, prior to a tonne of embarrassing moments, drunken laughs and wild (unforgiving) bonfire conversations.

We didn’t know at the time how well we would get on and how much laughter we would encourage in one another.

I like the thought of that.

love sophie