Saturday, 21 April 2018

Where to stay in the Beautiful Scottish Borders

I've travelled all over Scotland over the years - east coast, west coast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, the Highlands. But until recently I hadn't really spent any time down in the Borders. I'm not sure what I expected but I was surprised by the picturesque rolling hills that make up the beautiful Scottish borders landscape. Our destination was Biggar. 

Biggar Kirk

Biggar

A small town in South Lanarkshire, Biggar is a gateway to the Borders, with a rich history and a strong Polish connection dating back to WW2. If you have time, visit the nearby Polish map of Scotland! We enjoyed a walk around the town centre, admiring the 16th century kirk. The purpose of our visit though was a night at the Elphinstone Hotel.

The Elphinstone Hotel Biggar
Elphinstone hotel room Biggar

The Room

A warm welcome and a large, comfortable bedroom gave good first impressions of the old coaching inn. The room was spotless, with even enough space for a bunk bed (ideal for families)! The curtains, in my opinion, looked a little dated - a nice new set would bring the room bang up to date. Maybe a little tartan touch for a true Scottish welcome!
drinks in the Elph Bar

The Elph Bar

Dinner was booked in the restaurant for the evening but we made our way to "the Elph" bar for a drink first. Among the locals, we were made to feel at home and Gordon enjoyed a pint of Orkney Brewery's Red MacGregor while I sipped an Edinburgh Gin with light Fever Tree.

black pudding dish at the elphinstone, Biggar
smoked scottish salmon at the elphinstone, Biggar

Restaurant

Dinner was served in the spacious restaurant at the back of the building. Proper, home cooked pub grub in a relaxed atmosphere, the restaurant seemed popular with the locals too. Our starters were a treat - battered black pudding for me, and a smoked Scottish salmon dish for him. 

Haggis chicken dish at the elphinstone, Biggar
Three Hop Lager at the Elph Bar, Biggar

Three Hop lager from the Caledonian Brewing Co also proved to be a hit with the other half! A healthy whisky selection was admired too, and he couldn't resist a nip of Balvenie's 12 year old single malt.

fillet steak at the Elphinstone, Biggar

I kept to the Scottish theme and enjoyed a delicious haggis stuffed chicken breast in a whisky and mustard sauce. His fillet steak was devoured, and he just about managed to polish off the chunky chips and onion rings too! Dessert was a no go - we were stuffed!

Drinks at the Elph Bar, Biggar

Our evening ended with drinks in the cosy lounge bar. I appreciated the gin list but was disappointed when my Carrounn G&T arrived with a slice of lemon & regular tonic, rather than the apple wedge & elderflower tonic stated on the menu. Instead I moved on to the peach & hibiscus Boe gin topped with prosecco, as recommended by one of the lovely, friendly waitresses!

Scottish breakfast at the Elphinstone Hotel, Biggar

Breakfast

Served in the same restaurant space, breakfast was a hearty affair packed with all the best Scottish produce. Black pudding, haggis, lorne sausage (for him), tattie scones and all the rest, cooked to perfection. A choice of cereals, yoghurt and fresh fruit was available too.


We really enjoyed our stay at the Elphinstone hotel - if you ever need to know where to stay down south, this is it. From here you can explore the castles, abbeys and rolling hills of the beautiful borders, then relax and enjoy an evening of good Scottish hospitality!

*We were invited to stay and dine at the Elphinstone Hotel in exchange for an honest review.
As always all opinions are my own and 100% genuine.

Friday, 20 April 2018

A to Z Dating | O is for Outlander!

O is for Outlander
Obstacle Course Race - Opera - Orienteering

I'm sure I've said this before but some letters are much easier than others in this A-Z dating challenge. "O" was actually fairly simple! There weren't many options but my first choice was Outlander - living in Scotland makes it really easy to hunt out filming locations for the TV series (there's a whole map of them!) so that's exactly what we did.

Culross Village
culross palace gardens

Culross

As we were heading down to the Borders for a weekend break we decided to go via Fife and stop off at two of the most picturesque locations. First up was Culross - the most complete example of a 17th century Royal Burgh left in Scotland. It's no wonder the streets of Culross were used multiple times in Outlander, mostly as the village of Cranesmuir where Claire is tried as a witch!

Culross Palace
Culross Palace

The village and it's attractions are maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, and we paid £10.50 each to explore Culross Palace and it's gardens. You can buy seasonal herbs, fruit and veg here - which makes it fairly obvious why they chose this spot as Claire's herb garden at Castle Leoch.

Culross Village

The village is lovely even just to stroll around the colourful, small houses and cobbled streets. We packed a picnic and ate overlooking the River Forth before moving onto our next Outlander location.

Blackness Castle known as Fort William

Blackness Castle

Playing a more sinister role in the series, Blackness Castle is better known to Outlander fans as Fort William, where Jamie faces that flogging from Captain Jack Randall. You can enter the castle, which is run by Historic Scotland, for a £6 fee.

Blackness Castle Firth of Forth
Blackness castle looking to the Forth rail bridge

Located on the other side of the Firth of Forth, Blackness castle is nicknamed "the ship that never sailed" for it's ship like shape. You can just about see the Forth Rail bridge in the picture above! We were able to climb the towers and walk along the curtain wall of the 15th century fortress to appreciate the views.

Blackness Castle or Fort William in Outlander
Blackness Castle

With it's history as a state prison, Blackness was the ideal choice as a stand in for Fort William in season one. I'm a total castle geek and really enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies and learning about the history here.

Blackness Castle view

Fife boasts a number of Outlander filming locations but we only had time to visit two on this particular day. We passed quite a few others along the way though so if you're in the area I'd also look out for Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway, Linlithgow Palace and Hopetoun House!

Are you an Outlander fan?

Friday, 13 April 2018

North Hop Aberdeen | A Look Back at the Final Fling

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the North Hop festivals, and this last year as their North East Ambassador has been so much fun! The Easter weekend saw North Hop Aberdeen, as we know it, come to an end and I couldn't let it pass by without taking a look back at the final fling...

Food and Drink at North Hop Final Fling in Aberdeen
North Hop Aberdeen Final Fling Glass

As always it was a weekend of excellent booze, top food, a fab little market and an epic line-up of local music acts. I sampled my fair share of goodies over the three sessions so, while it's a struggle to choose, I thought I'd share my favourite food and drink picks.

Liberty Kitchen Horsebox North Hop Aberdeen
So On Fire Beef nachos at North Hop

The Food

We were spoiled for choice with the Liberty Kitchen, Melt, So on Fire, Aye Love Real Food, Harajuku Kitchen and Wild Fig exhibiting. First up, and a particular highlight, was the loaded nachos from So - topped with braised beef and mixture of chilli and herbs, they tasted absolutely unreal!

So On Fire Loaded Fries at North Hop

Their salt and pepper fries were a big hit at the festival too but it was Wild Fig's beer fondue chips - topped with a pancetta and parma ham crumble - that stole the show for me! Gordon's favourites included the haggis grilled cheese from Melt and haggis scotch egg from Aye Love Real Food - sensing a theme here?

Aye Love Real Food Scotch Egg at North Hop
Melt Haggis Cheese Toastie at North Hop

The Drinks

Porter's take on a Floradora cocktail and Carroun's blush apple martinis were a treat, but it was the North Hop Bar I couldn't keep away from! Gordon discovered new beers from Top Out Brewery and Out of Town Brewing, sampled Finnieston's whisky cocktails and became a big fan of Fierce Beer's Café Racer - a coffee and vanilla porter.

Finnieston Distillery Company North Hop Aberdeen

This was the first outing for North Hop's own bar and it went down a storm. With spirits from Berry Bros Rudd, mixers from Lamb & Watt and local Aberdeen bartenders Adrian and Connor on board, it couldn't go wrong really. Not to mentioned the incredible ice sculptures from Edinburgh Ice Co!

North Hop Bar

Perfect serves and cocktails were both on offer - the Penny Royale and Clover Club were my picks, but Gordon was a big fan of the Forsyth Boilermaker made with the Glenrothes Vintage Reserve and Beer Story's On the Road IPA. I genuinely can't wait to hear where they'll take the North Hop Bar next!

North Hop Bar Cocktail Making
North Hop Bar Cocktail

I couldn't write this post without a big shout out to the market retailers! Never 25 stood out from the crowd with their fruit flavoured spirits. Michelle kindly gifted us a mini bottle of the strawberry eau de vie, which I'll be pairing with a basil tonic from Lamb & Watt. 


Aberdeen's Etsy Team had a plethora of creative goodies available from handmade jewellery to quirky illustrated prints. I had good fun screen printing my very own canvas bag with Orange-ade and couldn't resist the enamel mug from Juniper Press - it'll be perfect for our NC500 camping trip!  

Gordon and Christy at North Hop

The Final Fling was an absolute joy and a privilege to be a part of. I'm gutted that this is the end of North Hop Aberdeen - for now - but firmly believe that when one door closes, another one opens. The North Hop brand is hugely popular with the Aberdeen crowd and will surely be back with a bang! 
Watch this space!

*I am an ambassador of North Hop and atteneded the event as a crew member.
All views are my own and 100% genuine as always.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Thailand | How to do Railay Beach in a Day

Railay is a small beach near Krabi, almost entirely surrounded by water and limestone cliffs, meaning it's only accessible by boat. As we were short on time for island hopping, we stayed in Ao Nang on the mainland and did various trips from there to the Phi Phi islands, beaches and hills in the area. We only spent one short afternoon here but I really wanted to share how to do Railay Beach in a day.

longtail boats on railay beach

Getting There

The easiest way to get to Railay from Ao Nang is by longtail boat, with a service running constantly from 8am-6pm every day. Simply pop down to the kiosk by the beach to pay for your ticket - about 100THB each way. Once there's enough people to fill a longtail (usually 6-8 people) your boat will set off. It's only a 15 minute journey and an enjoyable one too, sailing between the towering karsts.

railay beach
phra nang princess cave railay beach
Read on for d*ck pic explanation...

Three Beaches

Railay is actually made up of three beaches - East, West and Phra Nang. You arrive on West Railay but I recommend taking one of the little pathways lined with bars to get to the East beach. There are signs but I seem to remember one pointing in the wrong direction so don't pay too much attention!

massaman curry railay beach

Our first port of call was something to eat - climbing the 1237 steps to the Tiger Cave Temple that morning got us pretty hungry! We ate a deliciously spicy Massamman curry at a random hotel's outdoor restaurant heading towards East Railay. Luckily they were happy to offer us shelter when a torrential downpour started - the ground flooded within minutes! 

We suddenly realised how ridiculous we were for hiding from the rain when we remembered we'd come to Railay to swim...

rock climbing railay beach

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is popular at Railay due to the abundance of limestone cliffs. Nearby Ton Sai beach is the most well known spot but you can hire gear and take lessons on Railay too. We spotted a few climbers once we made our way to Phra Nang under the overhanging rocks that make the walkway feel almost cave like. 

railay beach caves
Believe it or not, this is me with a tan!
railay beach

Phra Nang Beach

I'm not going to lie, Phra Nang isn't as pretty as West Railay (and East is only worth passing through) but it is the most interesting beach by far. If we'd had more time I would have loved to hike up to the lagoon! As it was we only had time for a dip in the sea, which was grey-ed by the passing rain clouds but still warm and pleasant to swim in. 

phra nang princess cave railay beach

The Princess Cave

The other thing about Phra Nang beach is the Princess Cave - or as I like to call it, the Penis Cave. Local fishermen believe the cave is home to a mythical sea princess and leave offerings of flowers and incense to bring them luck and protection when fishing. Others bring carved phallic symbols to help with fertility!

railay beach

Had we had more time, I would have climbed to the viewpoints or hired a kayak to explore more caves from the water. As it was, we had enough time to take a quick dip in the sea and grab a tasty rum cocktail from one of the beach bars back on the West beach, then jump back on a longtail to head home to Ao Nang. 

Rainbow on Railay Beach

An afternoon was enough to tick the boxes for Railay but to get the most out of your visit I definitely recommend you spend a whole day there - or even stay overnight in one of the many resorts!
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