17 October 2019

There is more to Scotland than Edinburgh: 5 things to see outside the capital

Edinburgh is an amazing city and well-worth visiting but don’t be fooled that it is the only place to see in this beautiful country. As a lover of everything Scotland has to offer, I have come up with 5 places to visit outside of the capital.

This is a post from Caroline, a travel blogger whose thoughts can be found at breaks.com.

Loch Ness
Set your sat nav for Inverness and discover the mythical lake that is home to myths, legends and maybe even a monster. There is a trail and museum dedicated to the Loch Ness Monster and they offer something for adults and children alike.

Once you’ve found (or given up looking for) the famous Nessy, it is time to take to the water. There are boat tours and adventure sports on offer to help you escape from everyday life and lose yourself in the dramatic backdrop of this Scottish gem.

Fun fact: there is more water in Loch Ness than all of the lakes in England and Wales combined. Okay, that wasn’t fun but a good pub quiz answer perhaps?

Ben Nevis 
The first suggestion on this list showed you the depths of Scotland and #2 will take you high above sea level. Ben Nevis is part of the Grampian mountain range and attracts over 125,000 hikers a year. Soaring above all other peaks in Scotland, Ben Nevis is an icon in every essence of the word.

The volcanic formation of this great peak is the primary reason for the stunning scenery that surrounds Ben Nevis. If you choose to visit and aim for the top, you have two paths to choose from: the Mountain Track (most popular with tourists) or the Carn Mor Dearg ArĂȘte which is for the more experienced climber.

Whichever path you take, you will be on a route of beauty so make time to stop and admire as you go.

Hogwarts Express
Arguably the most famous Scottish writer of the 21st Century, J.K.Rowling’s magical world of Harry Potter has ignited the imagination of millions. Fans of this wizarding world can now board the Hogwarts Express!

Book yourself a seat on the Jacobite Steam Train that runs from Fort William to Mallaig to see this magical route for yourself. Hop off for lunch when you arrive in Mallaig to refuel before your 43 mile trip back on the West Highland Line.

This is one that must be booked in advance as, unsurprisingly, it is extremely popular!

Island Hopping 
You may not associate a trip to Scotland with island hopping but it is a reality for those who choose to go off the beaten track! Put any thoughts of Greek Islands to the back of your mind and you’ll find a unique experience much closer to home.

The key islands to consider are Inner and Outer Hebrides to the west and Orkney and Shetland in the north. No trip to Scotland would be complete without sampling a dram of whisky; complete the full Scottish experience by having yours on the Isle of Islay. Home to 8 working distilleries, Islay spoils its visitors for choice.

Want to go further afield? Isle of St Kilda is for you! This abandoned island is so special it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home to the highest cliffs in Britain, this island is an important breeding ground for sea birds. Most notable are the impressive flocks of guillemots who cover the cliffside with their striking black and white.

Just Drive 
Fill your car up and hit the road! There are some stunning driving routes across Scotland; the hardest part is to choose which to tackle first!

It is no secret that Scotland is littered with Castles and a road trip is a good opportunity to explore some of the lesser-known structures. If this interests you then Aberdeenshire is the county for you. With more castles per acre than anywhere else in the UK, a roadtrip in Aberdeenshire is the way to castle-hop.
Ready to start planning your road trip? You can find a handy guide to the castle trail from Visit Scotland. 

Wherever you choose to go in Scotland, make your next trip a true adventure but exploring each corner of this majestic country!

This is a guest post from the lovely Caroline at breaks.com.

15 October 2019

Review: The Elphinstone Hotel in Biggar

If you're looking for a fab cosy hotel just outside of Edinburgh then look no further. The Elphinstone Hotel is situated in the centre of Biggar which is thirty miles outside of Edinburgh, or a relaxing 40 minute drive. The hotel is a traditional Coaching Inn with lots of charm and steeped in 400 year old history. With smaller hotels such as this one I always look at how welcoming and friendly the staff are since it's so intimate and honestly they couldn't have been more accommodating or warm and friendly if they tried.

The hotel has eleven rooms all with digital televisions, free Wi-Fi and tea and coffee making facilities. There is also access to a hairdryer and ironing facilities which is very handy and saves you lugging loads of stuff with you on your travels. All the bedrooms are different and the hotel can host families, couples or individuals and it's even dog friendly!! This was a highlight for me as it meant we could take our girls with us and enjoy a little family stay together.

Being near the centre of Edinburgh the Elphinestone Hotel is a great base for exploring Scotland. There's free car parking directly at the front of the hotel and since being situated on the high street it makes for a great little walk with the dogs to explore the local shops. The staff at the hotel also told us of a golf course nearby and a local museum which is amazing for the kids.

When we arrived at the hotel we checked into our room first and unpacked our things. We had room number 9 which is massive with a comfy double bed and decent sized bunk beds for the kids. We had a little table with 2 small comfy chairs to sit in as well and the bathroom was clean and quite big with a bath and shower. We got the dogs settled and relaxed with their dog bed and some water then us humans headed down to the bar to chill before dinner.

The bar is lovely and bright with plenty of seating and a massive roaring fire to keep you cosy on these creeping cold nights. The kids loved the pool table and there was also a dart board if that takes your fancy. I personally loved all the art on the walls and the quotes, some were hilarious and kept us amused. The bar had plenty of different drinks and snacks available, I opted for a pineapple and raspberry cider whilst the husband had a draft cider. The kids tucked into some peanuts and played their gadgets and we took turns to play games of pool. It was lovely family time and the dogs are allowed in the bar as well, we just left ours to chill in the room after a busy afternoon. As well as the bar there's a beer garden outside which is a decent size with lots of tables. Perfect for soaking up the sun with a wee tipple.

Soon everyone was getting peckish so we popped through to the lounge to have some dinner. You can sit in the restaurant if you wish to have something to eat but the lounge was so cosy and cute with the fire so we decided to stay there. Harlow liked looking at the small fish tank too which kept her happy and Logan liked chilling. There's loads of choices on the menu to choose from and there are kids menus available as well. My two picked from the childen's menu with Logan going for pizza and chips and Harlow deciding she wanted macaroni. She was desperate for chips with her macaroni as it normally comes with garlic bread but the staff were brilliant and swapped it no bother for her.

The husband and I took a wee while to decide what we were going to have to eat as there was just so much choice. Everything looked delicious but we finally decided on prawn cocktail and brie melts to start with then a juicy sirloin steak and haddock mornay with prawns for main. I can't stress enough how delicious the food was when it arrived. Everything looked and tasted homemade, even the kids pizza! I was very impressed. Harlow's macaroni was delicious and the chips were to die for. Our starters were perfect and our mains even better. The hubby had the steak rare, and I had a little bite, and it was to die for. I haven't tasted a decently cooked rare steak like that in ages. As you can imagine he scoffed it down. My mornay was amazing too, the fish was cooked just right with lovely prawns on top (and loads of them) and a side of boiled veg - potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower cheese. All super tasty. We were so full we couldn't even manage a dessert. Maybe next time.

Feeling full and happy we headed up to our room to feed and water the dogs then take them for a nice evening walk. The town is well lit and it was lovely stretching our legs and getting some fresh air. The dogs enjoyed sniffing all the new smells and the kids were happy taking turns walking them. Once the dogs were happy we retired for the evening as the kids were feeling tired. We chilled in our room and got snug in our pjs watching some programs on the TV. Logan was very impressed with the Wi-Fi as he could play his games on his iPad and I was impressed with it too. The signal never dropped and there was plenty of coverage no matter where you went in the hotel.

Everyone got a great night's sleep as the beds were super comfy. There was extra pillows as well which was handy. Breakfast was being served between 7.30am and 9am so I had a shower and got ready quickly as the kids are always starving in the mornings. When we popped into the restaurant for breakfast we had a table all set waiting for us. The lovely gentleman showed us to our table, got us some tea and coffee and showed us where everything was that we'd need. He then popped away to bring us some fresh toast. The kids really enjoyed their cereal and toast whilst us adults opted for a hot breakfast. The hubby went for haggis, black pudding, tattie scone and poached eggs and I went for bacon, black pudding, tattie scone and poached eggs. Everything was cooked to perfection and had us set for a good day ahead.

Overall we absolutely loved our stay at the Elphinstone Hotel. The staff were friendly, attentive and happy to chat away to us and answer any questions. Service was good and timely and nothing was too much bother. The room was clean and perfect for families and dogs and we enjoyed our time in the bar and the lounge. It's a lovely hotel to relax in after a busy day exploring. Nice, cosy and friendly. The food was 100% ace! I'd deliberately pass by just for a meal. We often travel up and down the country and now I know a lovely place to stop when heading back from down South. We can't wait to come back!

This was a gifted stay in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

14 October 2019

Review: Thunderbirds Are Go Toys from Bandai

Hands up! Who remembers watching Thunderbirds on the telly when they were younger? I remember being absolutely fascinated by the way the puppets moved on screen and the suspense of the story unfolding. It brings back great memories and ones which I can now share with my own kids as the new Thunderbirds Are Go series has launched on ITV/CITV for everyone to enjoy. Not only that, there's now a brand new Thunderbirds toy range being introduced from Bandai. Double the fun if you ask me.

The kids and I were lucky enough to receive a lovely box of goodies to celebrate the new Thunderbirds Are Go series and I cannot wait to show you what we got. I think we'll go with the bad guy first of all, he's called The Mechanic. He is the toughest opponent international rescue have faced yet. An inventor who uses his creations to cause chaos, destroy and disrupt, the mechanic takes what he wants, from who he wants, whenever he wants it. He sounds like quite a mean guy doesn't he. He is a very cool large 30cm action figure though suitable for ages 4+ and has some lovely features such as sounds and phrases, search and destroy light, firing weapon and is highly poseable. All great for the kids recreating some action scenes in their own bedrooms.

Next up is Virgil Tracy, he's the kind of guy who could probably stop The Mechanic. He's a skilled engineer and mechanic, Virgil's artistic and musical talents reveal a surprisingly sensitive side. This is probably what makes Virgil the peacemaker of the Tracy brothers, in spite of his 'tough-guy' appearance. Virgil Tracy is also a large 30cm action figure with cool sounds and phrases, search and rescue light and detachable rescue claw. These action figures retail at £19.99.

Thunderbirds wouldn't be complete without the awesome vehicles and the kids were sent the very cool motion-tech Thunderbird 1 and Thunderbird 3. Both are smaller models with lots of sounds activated by moving the rockets around. Thunderbird 1 has a press on/off switch then you simply fly the vehicle around the room for maximum sound impact. Thunderbird 3 has a twist on/off switch and the same applies, fly around the room for cool sounds. There are different vehicles to collect and the range in price from £9.99 to £12.99.

Last but not least is the Thunderbird 2 & Virgil Tracy rescue mission set. You get a Virgil Tracy action figure included which means he can sit in the Thunderbird 2 and pilot it. There's a grappling hook and zipline for daring rescues and some retractable wings and light up thrusters as well as some sounds and phrases. There's different rescue mission sets to collect and they retail from £16.99 to £19.99.

My kids loved all their Thunderbirds Are Go goodies. Harlow's favourite was the Thunderbird 2 & Virgil Tracy rescue mission set as she could use it to rescue her little animal figures and make up some cute games. Logan loved the motion tech vehicles as the sounds came on when flying them around. I think he liked that they reacted to his movements. I personally liked the 30cm action figures as they're sturdy and seem quite durable for small hands.

Overall everyone was happy with their Thunderbirds Are Go toys and have already asked for some of the other toys they don't have. That'll be going on the Santa list I think!

These toys were gifted in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Robozuna © 2019 ITV Global Entertainment Limited/KidsCave Studios Limited

12 October 2019

HALLOWILD at Blair Drummond Safari Park

October has to be one of my favourite months because of all the fantastic Halloween celebrations. The family and I were invited along to a fabulous event today, HalloWild at Blair Drummond Safari Park. As you know we love the safari park and we couldn't wait to get stuck into all the Halloween fun. The event runs from 12th to 27th October so plenty of time to pop along and join in.

When we arrived at the park we did our usual of driving around the animals first. They were all on top form and quite playful today actually. My fav, the rhinos, were out and about getting stuck into some tasty grub and the lions were chowing down on some meaty delights. After parking the car we decided to head straight to the Spook Tent marquee where all the Halloween events were taking place.

The Spook Tent was brilliantly decorated and inside there was a pop up cafe with lots of hot drinks, sweeties, cakes and even paninis. Us adults grabbed a cuppa whilst the kids enjoyed the magic show and got some face painting. There was a slime making station and a forky making station too which Harlow loved and it was just a nice place to chill and hang out.

Outside the Spook Tent is the lovely pumpkin patch with the fab Farmer Alan there to help you select the perfect pumpkin. At only £3 it's a lovely little treat for the kids and they had a good selection of sizes to choose from. Next to the patch is The Tomb! It's a spooky walk-through which you only enter if you dare. Open 12pm-5pm it's an experience not to miss. It's sort of glow in the dark inside and you wear 3D glasses so everything pops out at you. It's really cool. There are of course actors inside The Tomb so be prepared to get a wee fright.

There's another Trick or Treat Trail this year which means you have to following the clues, find the wooden pumpkins around the park and unscramble their letters to spell the mystery word. Once completed take the form back to the Spook Tent and present to a member of staff to receive a prize. Brilliant to get the kids practicing for the big trick or treating night.

We treated ourselves to lunch in the restaurant today and we all went for the mac n' cheese. It's just so good and the kids literally have it every time we go. The restaurant was all dressed up for Halloween which is quite fun and in fact there's lots of pumpkins and spooky decorations dotted around the whole park. Even some of the animals have pumpkins in their enclosures which is super cute. They seem to love them.

Blair Drummond Safari Park always has loads to offer and we have so much fun that the time goes by so quickly. You'll never be bored here and with all the extra activities it just makes for even more family fun. Remember HalloWild is on from 12th to 27th October so get along for a visit soon. Tickets can be booked online from as little as £13.50 so there's no excuse.

I was gifted tickets in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

27 September 2019

Perfect Gifts for Autistic Kids with Wicked Uncle

With so many more boys and girls (and adults) being diagnosed with autism these days, my son and husband included, I thought I'd put together a little blog post with some perfect gifts for autistic kids. I've been working with Wicked Uncle recently and they honestly have an amazing selection of toys and gifts on their website for children of all ages and abilities. I've selected a few of my favourites which I think would be perfect for children on the spectrum.

I've tried to select gifts that are maybe a bit different but still great and something you wouldn't perhaps have first thought of. So read on to see what you think and do check out the Wicked Uncle website for more brilliant gift ideas.

Kinetic Sand
I know some children struggle with the sensation of sand on their feet and hands but this kinetic sand gives all the feelings and fun without the mess. We have this exact Sandcastle Set and it's great to get you started. It's perfect because it sticks to itself and not to you, flows through your fingers leaving them completely dry, cleans up easily and is wheat, gluten and casein free. This particular set comes with 3 moulds, a scoop and a tray to keep everything in. Kinetic Sand is a great tool for stimulation children's imaginations and just giving such a lovely sensory experience as well, plus it never dries out. We've had our set for a few years now and it's still going strong. I highly recommend this as something different for kids on the spectrum.

Infinity Loop Flow Rings
My son absolutely loves knowing how things work or how things move so he'd definitely be interested in these cool Infinity Loop Flow Rings. I've never come across them before so was really intrigued by what they are and how they work. Luckily Wicked Uncle provide a short video clip on their website beside each toy to show you how it works. I think this is a fantastic idea and helps you make an informed decision to see if the product is suitable for you child. The Infinity Loop Flow Rings are an interactive, mesmerising, kinetic spring that's addictive fun and the latest craze. You basically slip it over your hands and let it flow easily across your arms, creating a captivating bubble of movement. I can just imagine now how much my son would love one of these as he likes to repeat nice soft sensations.

Wicked Uncle describe these rings as "incredibly tactile, will cascade around just about any object and you can even pass it from your arm to a friend. The interlocking flow rings fold flat and pop open, a 3D kinetic spring that can do tricks. Great fun, like a springy slinky for your arm!". It sounds amazing and I'll definitely be getting one for my boy.

Pocket Vortex Howler
Co-ordination isn't always a strong point for kids who have autism however my son has been attending inclusive sports classes to help improve his skills, and he's really enjoying it. One thing they use at his classes is an object very similar to this Pocket Vortex Howler. It's a little bigger so easier to catch but I thought I'd get this as it's smaller for the house and could help put in some extra practice for my son. He's gradually getting better at catching and co-ordinating his moments and his confidence is growing with it. I think this would be great to help him only get better and something a little different for kids on the spectrum to use for play time. Sometimes there's nothing better than throwing a suitable toy back and forward with Mum or Dad.

Ultra Dash
Another fun toy to help with co-ordination is Ultra Dash. It's a game that can be played on it's own or with multiple people. It's very easy to get the gist of as well so straight forward to explain to others. It's an energetic game where you race to match the colour of the flashes on your baton/tagger with the colour of the target. When you place the tagger on the first target, the colour immediately changes to identify the next target. And so on and so forth, so you race around to match the colour before the time runs out.

It's a great form of exercise as well as my son can be quite lazy when he wants to be which isn't good for him. You can design your own course too with the five different coloured targets and choose which game you want to play. Play solo in Beat the Clock, head-to-head in Target Tally or in teams with your friends in Relay Race. With light and sound effects and a timer on the tagger it's enormous fun.

Wicked Uncle have a massive range of sensory toys on their website as well as lots of advice, cool jokes and their very own blog for you to read. These are just a small handful of toys which I think are great for kids on the spectrum but do check out the Wicked Uncle website for lots more ideas and gift options. They can even gift wrap for you taking away that bit of stress.

I received a gift voucher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

23 September 2019

Disney On Ice Presents 100 Years of Magic

We had such a lovely weekend last week and one of the highlights has to be getting to see the fabulous Disney On Ice show - 100 Years of Magic. We've seen quite a lot of Disney On Ice shows but they honestly never get old. And now that Harlow has grown up a bit it means she can enjoy them all the more and get into the singing and dancing along with her Mum haha.

This time the show is being held at Glasgow's Braehead Arena which is so easy to get to and has ample free car parking. There's also lots of shops and restaurants so you can browse and grab a bite before the show begins. We saw someone doing face painting for the kids too and there was a busker singing Let It Go - amazing!

We arrived around and hour early to collect our tickets and grab some fast food for the kids. A little treat before the main event. We didn't have to queue to get into the arena, it was a quick check of bags etc by security and we went straight in to find our seats. Also really easy to do as clearly marked seating and lots of stewards to show you where to go. There's lots of stalls and Disney merchandise available to purchase at each show if you want to treat the kids (or yourself). Vendors also walk around the seats selling popcorn, candy floss etc so no need to miss out.

This is the first time we've sat really close to the ice and the kids loved it. It was fab seeing the characters so close, Harlow was especially delighted as she got to have a good look at all the princesses. The show itself kicked off with a bang, lots of amazing Disney music and good old Minnie and Mickey along with their group of friends. Disney On Ice is great because you get little snippets of some brilliant Disney stories. It brings back so many memories of my own childhood.

Finding Dory was the first story of the day followed by Beauty & The Beast then lots of princesses and princes skated onto the ice. This was Harlow's favourite part as she got to see all the princesses at the one time. She loved pointing all of them out to me. Logan quite liked the Beast and how he transformed back into a man. I personally loved the tiny cheeky turtles who swam around Dory and played chase.

Next up was everyone's favourite sisters, Anna and Elsa. The kids cheered with joy when they heard the familiar Frozen music and we all started to sing along. Frozen takes up quite a big part of the show but the kids love it, as do I. After this we had appearances from Aladdin and the genie as well as a special appearance from the Toy Story team and Forky! It's the first time we've seen Forky skating around the ice but he was great.

The show was fast coming to an end sadly but not before we spotted Mulan and the crew from the Lion King. Again both amazing Disney stories, it's reminded me to check my collection for what I can introduce the kids to. We've watched a few Disney movies but not them all. Time to get started on that.

Well all had a fantastic time at the show and it's running until this Sunday 29th September so plenty of time to grab those tickets and pop along. Check out the Disney On Ice website for more details and ticket information. At weekends there are usually around 2-3 shows running per day so a time to suit all the family.

We received tickets to the show in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

17 September 2019

Review: Belmio-Cafe Coffee Pods

It's become increasingly popular to have your own coffee machine at home these days, which means coffee lovers can experience great tasting coffee without leaving the warmth and comfort of their house. Gone are the days when you would have to buy tasty coffee from an artisan cafe. Now you can indulge at a fraction of the cost. The lovely Belmio-Cafe have sent us a selection of their Nespresso compatible coffee pods to try out and I can't wait to tell you what we thought.

Belmio-Cafe's goal is to deliver the highest quality coffees and most ultimate coffee experiences with maximum convenience to the consumers. Their aluminium capsules offer the best protection of the coffee against air, light and humidity, and the Nespresso compatible pod has the same coffee flow as a Nespresso capsule. The first thing that drew me to the brand was indeed the fact that their pods are compatible with existing Nespresso machines. This meant I didn't have to buy another machine to try their coffee, although they do have their own machines available for purchase.

We were sent 5 different coffees to try and they come in a handy cardboard sleeve with 10 pods inside each, so 50 altogether. Each sleeve gives you some information on the coffee inside which is very handy. It tells you the intensity level (from 1 to 12) the roasting flavour (light/medium/dark) and also how it is suitable to drink i.e. lungo, espresso, ristretto etc. For someone who isn't as experienced with coffee as my other half I found this information very handy when serving visiting guests.

Each sleeve of coffee is easy to open as it's very similar to Nespresso, you just pop it at the top and out come the pods. The pods are also similarly shaped with a patented design and fit into my Nespresso machine with no issues. The coffee poured normally and tasted great. My other half was delighted with the coffee and was impressed that it was so much cheaper than Nespresso. He said he would be very happy to purchase these pods in future.

Belmi-Cafe have a handy section on their website to show you which Nespresso machines their coffee pods are compatible with. I have the Citiz which is compatible but so it; Inissia, Magimix, Essenza, Cube, Lattissima, Maestria, Pixie and Kitchen Aid. Do check the website though before ordering to make sure your machine is definitely compatible.

There are lots of different flavours of coffee to try from Belmio-Cafe, we were sent the Belmio Intense Collection which retails at £16.50 for 50 pods. I think this is such a reasonable price and definitely worth trying if you drink a lot of coffee. They also have an organic range to try, as well as specials such as flavoured coffee with chocolate and vanilla hints.

I think these pods are great and will definitely be purchasing some in future. My parents and family members also have Nespresso machines so these would make great gifts to give for special occasions. With such reasonable prices and great tastes I'll be recommending to my coffee lover friends.

I was sent a selection of coffee pods in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 


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