The last of summer

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I absolutely love summer and am one of those moaners that complains about how I don’t like dark nights and cold mornings and bad weather. I reluctantly acknowledge that Autumn is indeed beautiful with all its golden colours and, thinking about it, I do absolute love December. All that winding down for the year, then Zs birthday, then Christmas and New Year galore. That month ends up being a huge whirlwind in our house. Maybe this is why God gave me babies in Autumn and Winter. To stop me acting like a bear with a sore head for a quarter of the year. I promise to do try to enjoy it all a bit more, especially as I’m going back to work in two weeks. Two weeks! A whole year of maternity leave has gone by. How did that happen? It’s actually a week and a half, but being in denial about it is easier for now.

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Little Z is settling nicely into Year 1 so far and we’ve found its a bit of a leap from reception so need to carve some time to do our daily spellings and all the bits and bobs that come with homework. I think that he might be ready for a bit of Roald Dahl after watching Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory movie and loving it. I’m tempted to start with Georges Marvellous medicine but I’m slightly paranoid he might want to test it all out on one of his own grandmas. Hopefully not.

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In the meantime, I’ve been savouring the last of the summer by squeezing in some last minute day trips to places I kept meaning to go to over the year and having coffee dates with good friends. I believe all good things should be dragged out as long as you can, preferably until the next big good thing. Like maybe a holiday somewhere before the end of year if we can sort it out in time. It would be absolutely lovely to extend summer a bit more right now, but I suppose I am ready for Autumn now.

Piccolo organic baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

We’ve recently been reviewing the new Piccolo baby food range for the last month and it’s been a bit of a yummy experience. Mostly for him. I got a few finger licks on the way whenever I got it on myself. I was initially going to turn the whole review down as Baby E is a very baby led weaning baby. By that, I mean he loves swiping food off our plates and will smack his lips together whenever he sees anyone eating anything! Little Z was always our purée feeding baby. Baby E doesn’t really have too many purées but when it was pointed out I could use them as snacks through the day it sounded like an ideal way to fill this food loving baby up and not have him launch himself at all our food all of the time.

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Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

The range has been really well thought of and founded by Cat who grew up in a family with strong Mediterranean roots. Her upbringing and varied diet formed the basis behind Piccolo and the her range was thus founded. 10% of all profits go to food education and you can join the Piccolo family online if you want to keep up with news of their new products.

All of their current releases are suitable from 6 months and are suitable for vegetarians and you can quickly see they’ve cleverly combined both fruit and vegetables to give good strong flavours that would suit a baby’s palate. I really like how they’ve taken even potentially strong tasting vegetables like kale and turned them into appetising little pouches by adding flavours such as mango to it. All of their range come in pouches and are made with natural ingredients and flavours and each one has surprisingly been liked in our house. I was completely expecting the baby to turn his nose up at maybe a couple but he likes them all which is great as it means none of them have gone to waste.

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

With Baby E at a year old, I’ve found that I can hand him a pouch and he will happily start squeezing it into his mouth. I always sit and watch (as you should with all young children eating) and I usually need to help him squeeze from the bottom up once he reaches that stage as he doesn’t quite know how to do that yet. If you like Ella products then you’ll notice that this range is a slightly thinner consistency but is thick enough that it doesn’t suddenly shoot out of the packet. Little Z, at 5 years, is enjoying having the odd packet here and there and they were particularly useful on our Scotland road trip as it was a good nutritious snack on the go and fit quite neatly in the pushchair basket or our bags. They’re now something we always take with us and they compliment baby led weaning perfectly.

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

Piccolo baby food range

I’d definitely recommend these if you’re on the baby weaning journey. Both my fussy child and the one who eats everything really like them and I’ve found they’re great for snacking or as a meal with something else too. Baby Es favourite is the Squash, red pepper and chickpea (I think!), although he seems to open his mouth like a little bird for pretty much all of them. They’re currently available to buy from Waitrose, Ocado, Cheeky Rascals, Planet Organic, Booths and Wholefoods and are priced at £1.10 each. They are currently on a 3 for 2 offer in Waitrose.

We were sent a range of the piccolo products to review. All views are my own.

Now you are 1 – Happy Birthday Baby E

imageNow you are 1 – Happy Birthday Baby E

A whole year has absolutely flown by and I can’t believe I have a one year old. Our huge bonus baby who came along a year ago today after the hospital decided the original date (two days earlier) just wasn’t happening. I still remember sitting there all nervous and excited. We were met with very apologetic faces explaining that they’d had a last minute emergency section to perform and it had meant we were being bumped to two days later. They were really surprised when our reaction was surprise, then a simple “oh ok, we understand”. After all, we had been that emergency 4 years earlier when little Z had to be pulled out in a huge rush.

It was such a different birth and different everything. You didn’t have reflux like your brother and that made everything about a million times easier. Even the countless nights you kept (and keep) waking up. I thought this time round I might be blessed with a sleeper as Little Z was so rubbish at it. It wasn’t to be and you still wake once a night without fail. I’m now convinced any future babies we may have will also be crap sleepers. I think I’ve aged about threefold in the last year as a result of it. The bags under my eyes now tell my real age and I would seriously consider some under eye fillers about now.

You’re so feisty compared to your big brother. He’s our happy placid one that (mostly) listens when you say no. You, on the other hand, will scream in our faces and do it anyway. You’ve made a bee line for the bin, fireplace, TV, anything you shouldn’t. He ignored all of that and pottered about whilst you get into every nook and cranny we have around. We now have so many child locks everywhere, our house is like a low budget version of the crystal maze. I constantly get both Little Z and your Daddy grumbling about yet another lock on something. Amazon must be wondering why I need so many. You don’t care though and will keep trying to get into things. I’m now considering chaining the TV to the wall as you keep climbing onto it and shaking it.

I think you love your big brother more than us. I should get you a cardboard cut out of him for your birthday as you miss him when he’s at school. You usually try to grab him as soon as he comes out of class and slap him in the face repeatedly. It’s your way of saying you really like him and he relishes that he’s your favourite person. He asked me tonight if you’ll be able to speak “like us” now that you’re turning one and he can’t understand why its taking you so long. You’re both so mischievous when you’re together and that big age gap doesn’t seem to matter at all at the moment.

We’ve put baby gates up to stop you clambering up the stairs constantly, only to find Little Z sneaks you upstairs whenever you want. Neither of you is very quiet about it so we keep busting you and telling you both off. He always invents some story about how you overpowered him and you always just squeal with delight, as if it’s all part of a fun game. I’m not quite sure how terrified I should be of what you’ll both get up to together when you’re a bit older. It’s lovely to see that you finally like and understand each other though. I hope it lasts forever.

As always, we said we would do “something very small” for your birthday. That’s now turned into a bigger family meal with cake. I’m currently making last minute pass the parcels and I’d forgotten how mental party planning can be, no matter how small the party. I hope you enjoy it even though you won’t remember it. It’s a refereeing rollercoaster with two. But the kind where you’re tempted to put your hands up during the scary bits, except of course when you wonder how the heck you’ll ever manage two.

May there be many many more adventures to come x

My Random Musings
Photalife

Zouk Tea bar and Grill Cookery School

Zouk Tea bar and grill restaurant and cookery school

Zouk Tea bar and grill restaurant and cookery school

My mum is the best Indian cook in the world. We weren’t really allowed to have takeaways very much growing up. It was always “good home cooked food”. Not really what you get in most restaurants. It was healthy, good for you, authentic dishes. So I’ve grown up very fussy about Indian restaurants and can count of two hands the good Indian or Pakistani restaurants that I actually like. And I’ve eaten at a LOT through my years of eating out (without my food judgey parents). Zouk tea bar and grill is one such very good restaurant I’ve always loved. It’s now 7 years old and serves excellent authentic food. So when they asked if I’d like to come to their cookery school, I accepted very quickly.

Taken from their press release….


Zouk Managing Director, Tayub Amjad commented; “The people who come to our cookery school are at all stages and levels of cooking ability, from the novice to the trained chef, we welcome them all. We particularly enjoy sharing some of our tips and skills with individuals who share our passion for food, and want to expand their skills into Asian cuisine.’

The menu!

The menu!

Award winning Zouk is now 7 years old and are sharing the recipes of some of their best and most popular dishes. Their cookery school runs regularly with a different menu for each one. Each one has a different theme and includes learning about 2 starters, 2 mains and a dessert. I chose the ultimate party dinner menu (priced at £80) which included the following:

Pani puri
Malai tikka
Chicken tikka masala
Lamb laziz
Traditional halwa

The class starts at 10am and lasts till about 1.30pm. You then get to enjoy everything you’ve helped cook in the morning so it’s a good half a day of devouring all things food. I was a partially expecting individual cooking stations but the whole session takes place within their restaurant kitchens so you get to see how the place really runs behind the scenes as well as getting your own cookery lessons. Ali was our chef for the day and he had a very passionate love of food and engaging way to cooking which made it all a lot of fun. It’s not 100% hands on as the chefs do the hardest bits, but you do get to do a lot of mixing, marinading and tasting so you feel involved through the whole process of putting your feast together. We were given recipes for each of the dishes and then shown how to make it using all the fresh spices and ingredients. I should have walked around with my notes and a pen but, at the time, it was much more interesting to see it all put together and to keep sampling all the food! Luckily, you do get to take your recipe pack home with you so you can always pour over the recipes once you’re not eating delicious starters constantly.

Our group at the Zouk cookery school

Our group at the Zouk cookery school

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Our group had 6 in it and I think it can include up to 8 so you have plenty of time to ask questions about anything foodie without feeling like you’re holding anything up. The atmosphere is really relaxed and it’s lovely to see the bond the kitchen team have. I hadn’t appreciate how much effort and time restaurant staff put into their food and in delivering quality dishes to their customers at all times. We got to see the lunch rush and see them all switch up a gear to work as a quick, efficient team working cohesively in order to keep the high quality service going. It’s very impressive to watch.

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Learning to make kebabs

Learning to make kebabs

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I think of my favourite bits was putting the pani puri together and attempting to eat it in one go. If you’ve ever tried one then you’ll know they can look slightly daunting. They are a very asian famous street food made up of cooked chick peas mixed with little bits of mashed potato, crunchy onion, spices and tamarind water, all packed into a mini edible crispy bowl known as a puri. It’s a sharp contrast of spicy and tangy all at once and you really can’t stop eating them. They are so easy to make too so I think I’m definitely going to attempt these at home one day.

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My other favourite was surprisingly the chicken tikka masala. This isn’t something we ever really get when we go out to eat anywhere. It was so good though and the key flavours are a tangy sweet from the tomatoes combined with a rich mix of spice. I liked it so much I’ve already made at home within about 4 days. I’m not one for complicated recipes and this was really straight forward and turned out very nice.

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The lamb laziz was such a rich lovely dish and it’s something I want to try in the next few weeks. Again, it’s not something I would think to pick off a restaurant menu but I know what I’ll be ordering when I visit again. I’m going to attempt this very soon I think. Both my parents are brilliant cooks and even they really liked this recipe. It’s definitely one to try if you ever go.

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We finished off by making a traditional halwa. This is something that I know is eaten to warm up of cold days in some families. Sort of like the hearty equivalent. Its made me semolina and has a very sweet and pudding like texture. If you have a sweet tooth then its something that will become a firm favourite.

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With the permission of Zouk, I’ve shared two recipes below. One is for the Pani puri which would make an excellent little canapé for any dinner party and is so easy to prepare. The other is the chicken tikka masala, which I’m now willing to order (probably only from Zouk tea bar and grill!). Again it’s an easy to prepare and tastes delicious.

I’d recommend this cookery school to those wanting to learn more about authentic Indian and Pakistani food and for those that just absolutely love curry. It’s the perfect way to spend half a day especially if you love eating (which most of us do!). Zouk tea bar and grill sell gift vouchers too and the class would make a really good birthday present (or any kind of present) for foodies. I’d definitely consider going on another one. There is a tikka masterclass in November which looks particularly mouth watering. Classes cost £80 and can all be bought online via the Zouk tea bar and grill website or over the phone.

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RECIPES

Pani Puri

Ingredients

* 32 puris (Ready bought)
* 1 medium onion, finely sliced
* 1/2 cup sev
* Tamarind chutney (Ready bought)

Ingredients for the pani (water)
* 1/2 cup mint leaves
* 1/2 cup coriander leaves, chopped
* 1 to 2 green chillies, chopped
* 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger
* 1 1/2 medium sized lemon
* 3 tablespoons sugar
* 1 teaspoon chaat masala powder (Can be bought in all asian shops and most supermarkets)
* Salt to taste

Ingredients for the masala
* 1 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
* 1 1/2 cup Boiled black chick peas
* 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
* 1/2 teaspoon cumin and coriander powder
* 1/2 teaspoon chaat masala powder
* Salt to taste

Method for the Pani

1. Chop coriander and mint leaves finely and add chopped green chillies, grated ginger, lemon juice.

2. Grind all the above until it forms a smooth paste. Add 1/4 cup of water if it looks too thick.

3. Transfer into a large bowl and add the sugar, chaat masala and 4 cups of water. Stir with a large spoon and mix properly. Add salt to taste. Place in the fridge for an hour before serving.

Method for the Masala
Add mashed potato, black chick peas, red chilli powder, coriander leaves and salt (only if you didn’t boil potatoes in salt) in a bowl and mix well with a spoon.

Assembling pani puri
Crack open the top of the puri with a spoon or your thumb. Fill with the masala mixture and sprinkle chopped onion on the top. Add a bit of the “pani” and enjoy!

Chicken Tikka

Ingredients

* 1kg chicken breast (diced into blocks) cut and washed
* Lemon juice,
* ginger garlic paste,
* vegetable oil
* sprinkling of salt
* Above are all added to chicken and left for 30 min to soften and flavour
* 2 tablespoon yogurt
* 2 tablespoon tikka paste (Patak’s brand)
* ½ tablespoon salt
* ½ tablespoon garam masala
* 1 tablespoon ground cumin
* 1 tablespoon ground coriander seed
* ½ tablespoon fenugreek
* 1 tablespoon tamarind
* ½ tablespoon chilli powder
* ½ tablespoon lemon juice
* 2 tablespoon mustard oil
* Mix all items to chicken and mix well
* Leave for 30 min before cooking

Mix together the Garlic and Ginger paste, lemon juice, mustard oil and salt and add to the chicken in a large gastro. Leave for 15 – 20 minutes to marinate.

To make the paste add together the remaining ingredients and mix with a hand blender.
Add the paste to the marinated chicken and leave for at least 15 minutes.
Cook on a low heat for 10-15minutes and then move to a high heat for 5 minutes to finish.

Chicken Tikka Masala

* 500g chicken
* 1 whole onion- chopped
* Vegetable oil
* Ginger/garlic paste – 1 Tbsp
* Salt – 2 Tsp
* Chopped tomatoes – 5 whole
* Single cream – 1 ½ ladle spoon
* Chopped coriander
* Fresh ginger
* Tikka paste
* Yogurt
* Lemon juice
* Cumin seeds
* Chilli powder
* Garam masala
* Dried methi/feugreek leaves
* Whole dhania
* Paprika powder

Marinate chicken tikka paste, salt, chilli powder, dry methi garam masala, ginger/garlic paste, lemon juice, vegetable oil, yoghurt,
Grill the chicken and cook
Place the vegetable oil in a pan
Add ½ spoon of cumin seeds and fry slightly
Add chopped onion
Make golden brown (fry for around 20 minutes)
Add 1tsp ginger/garlic paste
Add 2tsp salt, add 1tsp chilli powder, add 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp whole dhania, 2 tbsp paprika powder
Add all the chopped tomatoes
Add all the single cream
Grill the marinated chicken and add to the sauce in pan and stir in gently
Add the Fresh coriander and ginger

Serve and enjoy!



Thanks to Zouk tea bar and grill for the complimentary class. This has been written as a review. All words and opinions are my own. Both recipes have been shared with Zouks permission.

We're going on an adventure

My Random Musings
Post Comment Love

Summer holidays and Year 1

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I have to admit, I was dreading the summer holidays with two little boys for a whole six weeks. I’d never had them together by myself for so long. With Other Half getting a grand total of 3 days off the entire summer due to the nature of his pesky work, I was a bit nervous about how to entertain the little ones and not go insane. Looking back, it worked out really nicely. We made the most of our weekends as a family and packed it with a lot of fun, and then pottered about during the week days, swinging between pottering about and having lots of day trips. We discovered a lot more of our surroundings and ran away to Scotland during the Other Half’s time off.

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Of course there were times when I could have gladly pulled my hair out and run away to another country all by myself, but, on the whole, we all survived the summer holidays intact and mostly unscathed. I think the trick is just to be outside. No matter the weather or activity. Outside is good. Pricey, but good. We’re not yet at the stage where we can all sit about watching a movie on the couch. Unless we’re happy to watch Baby E scale the TV and shake it vigorously (his new thing!).

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I was a sad to see the holidays end but I think we did need a bit of proper routine back in our lives. We were all a bit nervous about Little Z going into Year 1. Would he like it? Would be realise there’s more work and less play? What if his teacher wasn’t nice. He pottered off into class on the first day looking a bit apprehensive. I then did that slightly mad mother thing and peered in through the window. He spotted me and gave me a big smile (Or he was laughing at his overprotective mum). Either way, he was fine and has finished his first week gushing about all things dinosaur and sporting lots of stickers for good effort. He’s loving his new teacher and, so far, he’s even enjoying a bit of writing. Something he really wasn’t keen on in reception. I’m hoping Year 1 is a good one.

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Photalife

The beauty of Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

Stirling castle dates back to at least the 12th century and is said to be one of the biggest and most important castles in Scotland with a few notable kings and queens (including Mary Queen of Scots) residing there over the years. It was high on our list to visit and I’m not sure we realised just how interesting it would all be. Stirling itself is so beautiful. If you love the old town in Edinburgh, then you’ll love Stirling. It feels like a huge extension of it and you could wander the streets and admire the views for a long time. We found that we got the very best of it when we climbed to the top of the Wallace monument but Stirling castle does give its own views.

During our trip to Bonnie Scotland I’ve found that Scotland has over two thousand castles, some located within very close proximity to each other. The basic explanation for this is that there were a heck of a lot of bloody wars, dating back centuries and a heck of a lot of fighting over power and land from the English, each other, and other powers like the Vikings. The end result is the beautiful ruins and castles that you see today. I wonder if there’s some kind of huge castle road trip tour you can do. I’m guessing you would need a good year or so to get round them all, as well as a massive passion for all things castles, royal families and bloody battles through the centuries.

Back to Stirling castle, I think it’s now my second favourite castle behind Windsor. Having dragged the boys about to a few different places by this point, they were starting to get a bit weary of old buildings but, as luck would have it, Stirling castle has a lot of spacious grounds to run about in and has lots of informative and entertaining little spots to keep even little minds occupied. The vaults in the dungeons have been turned into little play areas with different activities in each one. It gets a bit busy as some of the rooms aren’t that big but it’s a bearable kind of busy and fun for even big kids. We spent a fair bit of time down in the basements learning about how they all used to live back then. James V did a substantial amount of work to the castle and you’ll find a lot of statuettes and murials around the grounds are heavily influenced by the Renaissance period. Some are a bit risqué but shows how bold a design it was at the time. One of the videos mentioned how there would have been a lot of colour on the statues so you need to spend a bit of time visualising it all. If you like history then you’ll love the little break out areas with the videos explaining the journey of some of the artwork. It’s a good place to sit and rest your feet (and maybe even make the kids sit for 30 seconds or more!). This is another place where we were going to spend “just an hour or so” and ended up staying the whole afternoon. It’s really worth it for the huge history lesson and to learn just how significant a part the castle played in Scottish history. If you do plan to go then here are my “things you should know”:

1) You get a discount if you book tours Edinburgh and Stirling castle. It’s worth doing if you haven’t seen them. Always keep your receipt as you can still take advantage of the offer if you forget to book a multiple entry pass.

2) Do the Wallace monument and Stirling castle on the same day. There are literally a few miles from each other. Don’t do what we did and do them on two separate days, not realising! Then eventually look a bit open mouthed as you pass the other one by.

3) Stirling castle is very buggy friendly. There are ramps and lifts everywhere bar a couple of places where it would have been physically impossible to install them. There are cobbled floors everywhere too and your baby will love it (or at least, mine did!).

Oh, and here are some of our photos from our time there.

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

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Stirling Castle 2

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

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Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

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Stirling Castle

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Stirling Castle

3 Little Buttons
Wander Mum

The National Wallace Monument

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I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we decided to go and see the National Wallace monument in Stirling. We knew it was a huge tower monument erected for Sir William Wallace and overlooks the place where the Battle of Stirling was fought and won. (I didn’t even know there was a battle at Stirling). But we decided we couldn’t not see it and, not being quite sure whether we could even go up the tower, we thought we’d pop in anyway and see what happens.

It turns out its a huge tower situated on a hill. We took a bit of a steep walk through a little forest and I was already breathless by the time we got to the front door of the monument, I’m that unfit! There’s a bus you can take too if you’re not feeling up to it but seeing as even 5 year old was bouncing up the hill, I felt a bit of a wimp to take public transport! The monument has a huge spiral staircase and you can climb straight to the top. It reminded me a lot of the Scott monument in Edinburgh.

The William Wallace monument has 246 steps and you can stop off for little breaks (or to have a sleep / collapse on the floor) and view all the museum and historical pieces that are on display. We even saw William Wallace’s actual sword and it’s HUGE. I’m pretty sure it’s about my height, not that I’m that tall but he was apparently well over 6 feet in height. Even if you’re really unfit it’s well worth going to the top. It gets so narrow the further up you go but the views were beautiful once we’d clambered up there. It was really really windy though and the barriers are very safe but you still feel a bit like you’ll be blown off the top. There’s a beautifully carved dome feature at the tip of the tower and the views of Stirling are stunning, even if a little wet and windy.

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Photalife

Visiting Luss at Loch Lomond

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Loch Lomond is about a 45 minute drive from Stirling (I still need to sort my Stirling pics and video out hence a bit out of order!) and we decided that we’d drive to Aberfoyle and drive all round it, stopping off at all the little towns and villages that are dotted around it. Thankfully, it had stopped raining for a bit and the blustery wind had eased up a bit after our ascent up the William Wallace monument so we were hoping for a bit of a dry day. We didn’t get blazing sunshine but Loch Lomond is just so beautiful that it didn’t really matter.

It ended up taking up about an hour and a half to drive round it as we kept stopping and starting to admire the views. It reminded me so much of the Lake District as its so luscious and green and huge. There’s so much to do including water sports and nature walks there are lots of very nice looking lodges and tiny quaint B&Bs you can stay in. I think you could easily spend a few days just exploring it all and really relaxing. I’ve greedily started checking out what the other lochs are like now for future trips.

We ended up at Luss pier, small village full of pretty cottages and packed with very beautiful views and walks. There’s lot of boats to admire (and ride) and lots of ducks and swans ignoring the tourists and going about their own way. It’s a lovely place to stop off and have a nice walk and sit down. Our sit down lasted as long as the kids allowed, which was about 15 minutes, before both started getting impatient to do more walking. After 5 days I think they’d gotten used to being on the go constantly. We couldn’t fit in any kind of water sports but it was just as good to do the nature trail and we found its really easy to find out as you just follow the crowd or ask at the tourist centre for some pointers. I even took my first ever close up bee at work photo. He was very busy doing his thing and really wasn’t bothered that I was stood there looking at him for ages. Must get pesky tourists taking photos all the time! The lodges there have stunning views and it must be so lovely to wake up to these views. I’m determined to stay in one now, one day. I ended up taking so many photos of people’s gardens and here’s a few. They really take pride in their gardening. I’m a complete plant murderer so I’m always impressed my flowers that have bloomed.

Here’s some our our photos……(I will now sort Stirling out!)

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You can read about our Edinburgh trip here and all about the Kelpies here.

Packing my Suitcase
My Petit Canard
My Random Musings