Saturday, 22 July 2017

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

You may already have spotted the fantastic bargains to be had in the Not On The High Street summer sale at the moment. Many items are up to half price so I thought I would concentrate July's TreatYourself post on showing you my favourites. I love that Not On The High Street shops are independent artisan businesses and craftspeople who make high quality products. I have kept Plastic Free July in mind too!

Click on the photos to buy!

Dust And Things, based appropriately enough in Caerphilly, have their wooden Commemorative Cheeseboards at half price in the summer sale. Reduced from £34.99 to £17.49 these make perfect wedding gifts as they can be engraved with the couple's names, special date and venue. The cheeseboards come complete with a grio of cheese knives and a fork.

If you need a last minute coach, tutor or teacher's gift, you might just have time to receive a Thank You For Helping Me Grow kit from Kutuu. It's reduced from £15 to £12 at the moment. Inside the gift box which is personalised with your chosen message you will find a mini terracotta plant pot wrapped in tissue paper, an expanding coir compost disc, a seed ball of your choice, “thank you for helping me grow” pewter plant marker and instructions.

Unsurprisingly, discarded plastic toys make up a significant proportion of landfill waste and most can't be recycled. Alternatives are available though and I liked this adorable six piece train which is made by Twenty Seven in Edinburgh. Made from long-lasting wood, it can be personalised with a child's name and a date and is suitable for children aged three or older (perhaps much older!) The train is 20% off in the sale, reduced from £27.95 to £22.36.

I thought this rugged canvas holdall would be ideal for travellers or gym bunnies alike. The strong holdall bag is made from washed canvas with detachable retro stripe webbing strap in cream and chocolate. It can be personalised with your choice of initials or name and this printing is done by Sparks Clothing in Somerset. Make the most of the 50% discount by buying now at £30, reduced from £60. Sparks Clothing have a matching cross-body messenger bag currently at a 60% discount too!

And, after all that shopping excitement, I chose a relaxing Lavender Infused Silk Eye Mask for my closing suggestion. Made in West Sussex by StephieAnn for the ultimate luxury, these beautiful eye masks, infused delicately with lavender oil, were created for the perfect night's sleep. Each one features a floral front printed with your choice from one of four of Stephie's paintings, a black silk reverse and comfortable elastic strap. Eye masks are perfect gifts for mums to be, jet setters and spa or relaxation weekends - or treat yourself! They are currently discounted by 50%: £11.50 each, reduced from £23.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Exploring Ironbridge, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution

Back in 2015 Dave and I began our thirteenth year together by visiting a historic bridge in Northumberland. At the time of its construction in 1820, the Chain Bridge was the longest carriage-carrying suspension bridge in the world. This year, entirely unintentionally, we spent the first day of our fifteenth year together strolling around the village of Ironbridge near Telford in Shropshire - the site of the world's first cast iron bridge.

Now preserved as a historic monument by English Heritage, the bridge itself was originally basically a giant advertisement! It was constructed over the River Severn in 1779 to prove the point that iron was perfectly suited as a material for large scale architectural projects. Local foundry owner Abraham Darby III had the bridge built and, from a promotional point of view, it was a roaring success as people straight away began travelling to Coalbrookdale to see it and iron became a popular choice for further bridge manufacture. We had even seen a quartet of small iron houses a few days previously at the Black Country Living Museum. A village grew up around the bridge, Ironbridge, and the new name is now used to encompass the incredible industrial heritage trail along this short section of the River Severn.

Ironbridge Gorge model 
We visited the Darby Houses situated uphill from the bridge itself and home to several generations of Abraham Darby III's family. These two buildings, side by side, were rescued for preservation pretty much in the nick of time as they had been allowed to get into a very poor state of repair. Now partially renovated (and with more work planned) the houses host a small museum to the influential family and their Quaker faith. It was very interesting and a well laid out museum with helpful staff. There is even a dressing-up room where we tried on period clothes of both society and Quaker fashion. It turns out a bonnet rather suits me!

One of my favourite exhibits was down in Ironbridge itself at the Museum Of The Gorge. There an intricately detailed  twelve-metre-long model of the Gorge as it was in 1796 shows the various industries concentrated there, how the River Severn was vital to their success and how they interlinked. The Ironbridge can be seen in the centre.

Ironbridge Gorge model 
Of course most of the industry that made Ironbridge famous has now gone so the Gorge we visited is once again a clean, peaceful place. Paintings up at the Darby Houses showed images of the valley partially obscured by smoke or with the polluted night sky glowing orange. I imagine it is a far more pleasant place to visit these days - and certainly a healthier one in which to live! The main business these days seems to be Afternoon Teas and we did partake in a cuppa and a slice. Eighty Six'd is an independent cafe uphill and a little away from the main tourist street. There's slate art on the walls and I loved their brightly coloured crockery! We can certainly recommend you to the Coffee And Walnut Cake (pictured) and the warm Apple Cake With Ice Cream. Sitting up in the bay window watching the world pass by made for a reflective end to our Ironbridge day.

Tea and cake at Eighty Six'd 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The RAF Museum at Cosford

I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed our visit to the RAF Museum at Cosford. Exhibits are crammed into three large hangars and despite our being there several hours we only managed to do justice to two of the three. Like York's Railway Museum, Cosford's RAF Museum is free to enter and is a magnificent display. It felt as though we should have paid handsomely for the privilege of walking around!

Once past the cafe and gift shop - to which we returned at the end of our visit! - the first hangar concentrated on a history of the RAF and military flight beginning with a statue of pilots from three eras. Superstitious artefacts including soft toys and a rabbit's foot lay alongside guns and uniforms. The only woman I saw mentioned was Jean Lennox Bird, the first female pilot to be awarded full RAF pilot's wings, and the museum has her St Christopher necklace. From a feminist perspective I was encouraged to see cadet groups touring the museum included significant numbers of girls so women are becoming more equally represented. From a pacifist perspective though I found it difficult to reconcile the museum being located on an RAF base. Its historical bubble swiftly bursts when one realises that the destruction and violence depicted in archived videos are still business as normal in the next door hangars.

The museum has examples of Second World War planes from various countries including the earliest surviving Spitfire and this pictured Japanese Ohka, one of the Kamikaze planes. It's tiny! We also got to view numerous experimental aeroplanes and Dave particularly was appalled at the amount of money spent on creating prototypes that never flew or that became outdated within a very short space of time.

The pride of this museum is its Cold War exhibition housed in a specially designed hangar that is a work of art in its own right! Exhibits here include a variety of airborne and landbased vehicles as well as video and sound installations, contemporary posters, newspapers and magazines, and some great propaganda slogans from both sides. I particularly liked the Albert Einstein quote pictured at the top of this post. With the recent UN resolution to ban nuclear weapons soon to be ratified by so many nations - although not the UK of course - this exhibition depicting how bravado and bullishness had so nearly brought the world to nuclear disaster relatively recently was chillingly relevant.

Monday, 17 July 2017

My second week of #PlasticFreeJuly

Coming away camping for a fortnight has added different pressures to my Plastic Free July challenge. I am still pleased with my reduction in plastic usage, but being in unknown towns makes finding plastic free options that much more difficult.

I am delighted with the performance of my homemade toothpaste. Firstly the jar hasn't leaked at all which was a slight worry in a washbag! My teeth still feel just as clean as with commercial toothpaste and their extreme sensitivity didn't immediately return which I was also concerned about. Instead my bleeding gums problem has completely stopped so I have concluded that it was caused by something in the commercial toothpaste - perhaps it being too strong for me? Now, not only can I save plastic and money by not buying that, it looks like I can dispense with sporadic Corsadyl purchases too. That's even more plastic and cash saved!

I made myself a batch of Lentil and Onion Spread before departing home and have the makings of another batch with me. This made for easy lunches on crackers or bread. However now being without an oven means I can't bake any more crackers. I should have brought my metal-pan slow cooker to bake bread! But didn't so today's loaf had to be a plastic-wrapped purchase. I assuaged my conscience a little by buying from a local bakery though and it is a particularly delicious loaf.

We're actually in Harlech now (my touristy posts will take a few days to catch up!) and I found boiled sweets that were Not individually plastic wrapped and weighed out into a paper bag. Yay for Harlech Sweet Shop! I was disappointed last week by the Black Country Living Museum displaying loose sweets in jars, but then actually selling individually plastic wrapped ones already weighed into paper bags so I couldn't see that what I had bought was different.

I was cheered up by a message from BeeBeeWraps, one of the artisans I featured in July's Top Five Etsy Finds. She offered to send a pack of her plastic free food wraps for me to try out and review so I am looking forward to receiving them when I get home.

Otherwise cheese, meat and fish are proving to be the trickiest to find plastic free and so far I have failed on all these and oats too. I bought the huge bag of oats from the Coop so reduced plastic wrap and their apples and tomatoes were at least in cardboard trays (then wrapped in plastic). We were in Shifnal at this point and I was disappointed to have missed the greengrocers by only five minutes - until I peered through the window and spotted plastic a-plenty there too. Oh well!

Fingers crossed for a better third week ...

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Black Country Living Museum at Dudley

A street at the museum 
Our Shropshire stay has been incredibly educational with three days of museums and historical visits! We started with a day at the Black Country Living Museum situated in Dudley. Initially conceived as an idea in the 1960s, the twenty-six acre site started out containing forty-two mine shafts, a few derelict kilns and not much else. Over the past forty years all but two of those mine shafts have been closed off, a canal spur has been fully dug out and dozens of historically important buildings have been moved from their original locations to form a mostly Edwardian era town. It's an impressive achievement and an unfinished one at that. Plans for further streets illustrating Black Country life through each of some half dozen decades are just awaiting sufficient funds to be realised.

Our visit didn't actually start out particularly well. A long slow-moving entrance queue was very frustrating, especially when we finally got to the front and realised most of the delay seemed to be caused by staff having to input everyone's name and address details for their obligatory annual ticket, whether that ticket was required or not! If possible I would recommend booking your tickets online in advance as you can then skip the queue. I would also suggest, if there is a one part of the site you are especially interested in, that you phone ahead to check whether it will be open on your visit day. We had plenty to see on our Wednesday visit, but I did notice some demonstrations not happening and the trams weren't running.

Once inside, we took our time exploring the many buildings that were open for us to view. Most of the rooms have been decorated and furnished to represent the Elizabethan era and there are both urban and more rural homes, poor worker's cottages, back-to-backs, and more affluent dwellings that had housed foundry clerks or managers and their families. Some homes were attended by costumed Characters and it was fascinating to chat with them about the original inhabitants, where the buildings had been moved from and the history of the museum itself. We learned that while the jumbled in together positioning of homes and small factories was as it would have been - imagine living just feet away from a foundry! - the amount of greenery, noise level and clean air is somewhat misleading! In fact if the museum replicated the pollution levels these people lived with every day, I don't think it would be allowed visitors!

We liked being able to wander into traditionally laid out shops which are stocked with historically accurate wares and, in a few cases, with modern-day produce for sale. The fish and chip shop was doing a roaring lunch trade! We stopped for a ginger beer in the pub and a bakewell tart each at the bakery (although these were disappointingly dry. The sweet shop seemed perpetually inundated perhaps because Wednesday is School Trip Day at the museum. There are also canal boats to peer inside, a working fairground and a garage of vintage vehicles. We baulked at the idea of going down a mineshaft!

All in all the Black Country Living Museum made for a good day out. We spent a good four or five hours there and came away with a strong impression of what life could have been like in the Black Country's industrial towns. The museum gives value for money and it would be interesting to visit again in a few years when even more streets and exhibits have been added. They're hoping to get a library!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Celebrating our 14th Anniversary!

Sunset over our campsite 
Can you believe it? We're amazed too!
Yesterday was Dave and my 14th anniversary of 'two-getherness' (we're so cute!) and we're celebrating with a fortnight away in our trailer tent starting with four nights on a largish campsite at Sheriffhales in Shropshire.

Ted's Caravan and Camping site covers some ten acres and is a neatly mown green field with no defined pitches so there's lots of space. It's beautifully peaceful with practically no traffic noise other than vehicles heading to the campsite or Hunger Hill Farm just over the track. A portacabin houses toilets and showers, and we have both water and electricity points near to our pitch. The site is a little pricey at £20 a night including electricity and I would have liked the shower block to be cleaner for this cost, but the location is ideal for nearby Ironbridge which we are keen to visit. We've visited the Black Country Museum at Dudley - about an hour from here - yesterday and I will blog about that soon.

Our new neighbours at Ted's are a pair of pretty cows and two friendly chickens - at the first hint of any food on offer the birds come running! We also heard and spotted a peacock, but it was too distant to get a good photograph.

Yesterday evening we dined at Shifnal Cottage, an excellent Indian restaurant about a five minute drive from the campsite. There are several Indian restaurants nearby so Dave plumped for this one based on its TripAdvisor rating, proximity, and unusual menu. It certainly didn't disappoint! I had a delicious vegetarian combination platter - smaller portions of Palak Uri Khumbhi Jhool and Dhum Aloo Zeera - and Dave had a lamb Malai Makhani Mawa with a rich coconut sauce laced with paneer. Great food, attentive service and reasonable prices. If you're ever near Shifnal, we highly recommend the Shifnal Cottage restaurant!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Top Five Etsy Finds - #PlasticFreeJuly

The Picnic Pack by BeeBeeWraps 
We're almost half way through the global Plastic Free July challenge now and I hope your efforts are going at least as well as mine? I haven't managed complete liberation from plastic here yet, but it's fun searching out alternatives to ingrained plastic usage I hadn't previously given much thought to. For this Top Five post I enjoyed browsing Etsy's artisan-made reusable products of which, of course, there is a tremendous array on offer! I considered items that are usually made of plastic and also ones which aren't, but do incorporate disproportionately large volumes of plastic packaging. Here's my favourite solutions:

BeeBeeWraps shop is based in Cambridge and specialises in creating the beautiful cling film alternative pictured above. BeeBee Wrap is made with 100% organic cotton food wrap infused with beeswax and plant oils. This well-honed recipe makes it tacky and perfect for wrapping cheese, sandwiches, bread, fruit, picnics, salad, bowls and jars, pockets for snacking nuts and trail mix, and you even have the perfect 'plate' to eat from! The wraps are available in various sizes and I have chosen to link to The Picnic Pack which comprises of five: two small, two medium and one large.

The Picnic Pack is for sale at £18 plus shipping.

Reusable Lunch Bag
by InTheTwine
Also on a food theme, InTheTwine in Brighton have a selection of long-lasting Reusable Lunch Bags in their Etsy shop. The hand crafted reusable lunch and sandwich bags are made out of burlap, cotton and canvas and I love their bold colours. As well as the teal shown here there is also an eyecatching canary yellow bag! They have a solid look when filled up and are non see-through. The easy fold means each bag flattens for no stress storage and they feature a simple roll and close system with the help of twine and a hand-made wooden button. The approximate size of the pictured Lunch Bag is 10 inches high by 5 1/2 inches wide.

The Reusable Lunch Bag is for sale at £9.99 plus shipping.

Reusable Cotton Facial Pads
by TidelineStudio
Why keep buying plastic-wrapped disposable facial cleansing pads when you could be using such pretty reusable ones as these packs sewn by Tree of TidelineStudio in Saltburn-by-the-Sea? The Reusable Cotton Facial Pads are made with double layers of super soft organic cotton for more absorbency and backed with a patterned fabric. Tree sells them as a week's worth - seven facial wipe pads presented in a matching cotton storage bag. Simply use them with your favourite skin cleanser, then pop them in with your usual wash load. Smooth out and dry flat. Each round measures 8 cm or 3 inches in diameter.

Each Reusable Cotton Facial Pads set is for sale at £7.50 plus shipping.

Reusable Menstrual Pad
by Ecosewer
Ecosewer of London also creates reusable cotton pads, but intended for a different purpose. I bought one of her Reusable Menstrual Pads to complement my Mooncup and am delighted with both the quality of the work and the beautiful fabric print. (You can see mine in this post.) Each pad measures approximately 8 1/2 by 3 inches when the poppers are snapped together and there are dozens of different prints available. A flat cotton top with absorbent towelling in-between, backed with breathable waterproof PUL.

Each Reusable Menstrual Pad is for sale at £5.50 plus shipping.

Reusable Washable Kitchen Roll
by LittleSomethingSewn
Amy Read is based in Bodmin and is the creative force behind LittleSomethingSewn. I loved the fun flamingo print fabric she has used for her Reusable Washable Kitchen Roll. Kitchen roll is another disposable product that is usually swathed in plastic wrap so a reusable alternative is a great idea. I learned the fabric version is known as 'unpaper' and Amy's consists of printed cotton with an absorbent bamboo towel backing. The towels are approximately 9 inches square and can be made with the snaps so they snap together to form a roll or with no snaps so they can be left in a basket. They are sold in sets of four towels.

Each Reusable Washable Kitchen Roll set is for sale at £12 plus shipping.

I love these inventive ideas and hope you find them useful in your Plastic Free July challenges!