Just Kylie

Readers, Meet Sunrise!

January 15, 2015

Did you know that my Fiat 500 Joanie and I have been together almost eighteen months? In that time we’ve had a lot of adventures, but Joan doesn’t often explore the city with me. She prefers long-distance adventures like our trip to Scotland, and does her best to stay out of central London. But recently I’ve been dreaming of exploring my city in much more depth.

So today I’d like to introduce you to the lady I’m hoping will make my London adventure aspirations a reality. Readers, meet the aptly-named Sunrise!

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Sunrise is a lovely, bright orange hybrid Raleigh bike who has been living the quiet life in my parents’ shed for a few years now. She and I have been friends since I was about twelve or thirteen, and since I haven’t grown any taller since then and can still ride her, I decided it was time to liberate her and give her a taste of the London life.

But I was aware that perhaps my choice of relocation time was a bit awkward. Deciding to start biking on the approach to the chilliest part of the year, when the roads are frozen solid under layers of black ice? Perhaps not my smartest idea. How do I stay safe in bad weather? What happens if I get a puncture? Do I need to get a new set of lights?

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As luck would have it, just as I was pondering these very questions, an email pinged into my inbox from a rather lovely chap named Shaun at Joe Blogs. Working alongside LV, Joe Blogs were running a campaign for safe winter cycling, and would I like to be involved?

I couldn’t think of a better way to get Sunrise ready for winter, so I jumped at the chance!

Many of you will know that I work in the city as a graphic designer and illustrator, so when Shaun began by sending me these winter cycling tips infographics I had a bit of a design nerd moment! I love the simplicity of the illustrations in this contrasting colour theme.


Shaun also sent me a links to a host of easily-digestible hints and tips LV had put together to help those wanting to cycle safely and sensibly in the colder half of the year, including this brilliant one offering basic winter biking guidance and a more specific offering on cycling nutrition. If you’ve fallen head over heels in love with life on two wheels, then these short guides really are a must-read.


And finally, Shaun and LV were sweet enough to surprise with Sunrise a “welcome to winter” gift pack! She’s got a new set of lights, a phone frame bag, a puncture repair kit and even a high-vis backpack cover for me to wear when cycling late at night. What lucky girls we are!

So be sure to keep your eye on the blog over the next few months as Sunrise and I start to explore the city from a whole new perspective. I can’t wait to tell you how we get on!


Huge thanks to Shaun at Joe Blogs and the folks at LV for the wonderful winter cycling goodie pack, plus all the hints and tips. If you’re a blogger too, you could do much worse than dropping Joe Blogs a line; they’re lovely genuine folks with a passion for connecting writers with good quality sponsorships. Top chaps indeed.

Just Kylie

10 Goals for 2015

January 5, 2015

Photography credit: Dyaa Eldin via Unsplash

Last January I wrote a post called 10 Goals for 2014. At the time, I apologised for jumping on the blogger bandwagon, and even cringed a little bit that I was writing such a clichéd post, but in hindsight, it’s one of my absolute favourite personal blog posts.

I’ve referred to it multiple times, shared it even more voraciously and for the first time (possibly in my life), actually committed to achieving most of what I set out to accomplish. So it was with a different perspective altogether that I set about writing 2015’s goals down on paper, and today I’m excited to share them with the big wide world once again.

Before we begin… what about 2014’s goals?

I’ve peppered this post with mini reviews of 2014’s targets too, in order to see what I achieved and what’s still left to accomplish. It would be a lie to say that I smashed everything out of the park, but I’m okay with there being some things that didn’t happen; that’s life!

In a nutshell though, I think it’s fair to say I had a good crack at almost everything.

I took up yoga, had the most marvellous time in Australia, became happier with myself and my strange quirks, opted for packed lunches much more frequently than expensive Soho dinners, found a programmer who helped me redesign the backend of my blog, formed a much stronger bond with my sister, posted more in the Out and About category than any other and climbed many personal mountains as the months rolled by. Not a bad little lot, really!


Photography credit: Michael Dorausch

1. Correct my posture

Easily the most important on the list, and probably the hardest too. For the last two or three years, I’ve had an ongoing neck problem that’s mostly caused by poor sitting posture when I’m working. Being a designer by trade, I often end up slumped lazily at my desk and as a result, my neck muscles have become weak and unable to support my head correctly.

2015 has to the be the year this changes, as my physiotherapist told me that if it’s not fixed by the time I’m 28, it could be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life. Now that’s a scary thought. I have until December 1st to get this sorted.


Photography credit: Paul Birnie

2. Lay my foundations in Richmond

Up until recently, I was desperate to get out of London. I couldn’t do it anymore: the commute, the crowds, the people. The going home to a place you were too tired to enjoy in the evenings and the weekends. I wanted out altogether, Bristol, Cardiff, Bournemouth, anywhere would do! But then I moved to Richmond, and something changed.

I’m in love with Richmond. It’s totally and utterly stolen my heart, and it’s where I can see myself settling for a good few years. I want to make more of it in 2015: enjoy its little cafés and shops, take in more of the beautiful park and be thankful that I found such a wonderful place to return to after a long day in the office.


Photography credit: Galaxies and Hurricanes

3. Welcome the greys

It’s happening. I’m beginning to notice more and more grey hairs creeping in every time the lovely Elbie gives my mop a chop. At first, this frightened me a little bit and I pulled them out, but then I realised how silly that was. I’m getting older, it’s a fact of life! And just because my hair is changing colour doesn’t mean that I have to be any less beautiful! On the contrary, I’m starting 2015 feeling more beautiful than I ever have before.

And if I get more greys, I’ll get Elbie to dye the whole lot. Silver vixens are a thing too, right?


Photography credit: Flood G

4. Grow my graphic novel collection

This is a goal I’m really excited about! When I was away in Australia at the end of September, I rediscovered a long-lost love of graphic novels which culminated in me (and my partner in crime, Mia) each buying a whole stack of lovelies from Minotaur in Melbourne’s CBD.

What is it about graphic novels that I love so much more than ordinary ones? Well, the pictures, of course, but it’s also how daring they can be. Graphic novels aren’t afraid to go there, often tackling taboo subjects in a completely unique way.

In 2015 I’m looking forward to collecting (and perhaps even sharing) my favourites.


Photography credit: Andrea R

5. Screw finding someone else! I’m rebuilding this blog myself!

Although I did achieve last year’s goal of finding someone to tidy up the backend of my blog (and that person did a sterling job in the face of my annoying emails!) I still feel like I could be more involved with the technical side of Little Outdoor Kylie.

The truth is, I’m more than capable of mastering the behind the scenes stuff too, and even though it’s a scary thought, I think it’s time to learn the ropes. I’d like to take an HTML and CSS course this year, and learn how to create a WordPress page from scratch. Expect fireworks!


Photography credit: Amélien Bayle

6. Drive on the wrong side of the road

Oh yes, it’s back again! This was goal #6 in last year’s list and it’s still waiting to be achieved. It was the plan for Livs and I to surprise Mum and Dad in Italy last spring by turning up mid-way through their holiday, having driven my little Joan all the way to Palanza. Sadly, money was a bigger issue than I’d originally thought, and we just couldn’t afford to make it happen.

This year, I’m starting smaller. I’m desperate to see more of Europe and I want to drive rather than fly, so Joanie and I have made it our mission to hit Paris before spring.


Photography credit: Elena Kalis

7. Start swimming

Last year, it was all about using my body more, and I can happily say that I managed that! Despite having the luxury of my own car, I’m still walking more than ever, and I also took up yoga (although I sadly had to give up the classes when my hours were cut at work).

Once I’m back working a 9-5 job, swimming is something new that I want to make sure I have time for in my weekly schedule. Not only is it a fantastic form of exercise, it’s also an ideal way to achieve goal #1 on my list, and get that spine nice and supple and straight.


Photography credit: José Manuel Ríos Valiente

8. Trust myself to fall in love again

Last year was all about leaving judgement behind and accepting people for who they are, as well as learning to seek approval from myself. I took a big step in that direction right at the end of 2013 by making the choice to live alone, which threw me in at the deep end for the first time in my life. It’s a tired old cliché, but I really did learn so much about myself.

I also needed to learn to let go of past hurts, and after taking time to do that, I’m opening myself up to the idea of new relationships. It’s a scary thought after a year of being single, but I’m almost ready to share my life with a friendly fella again (should the right one come along!).


Photography credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

9. Dedicate more time to volunteering

When my life did a bit of a backflip last September, lots of things I’d been dedicating time to beforehand had to go. One of these things was the volunteering I’d been doing for Richmond Park and The London Wetlands Centre.

I’m really keen to return to my volunteering commitments when my job situation is a little more stable. As I get older, and begin to fully appreciate the things I value in life, I’m especially keen to move towards spending more time helping others learn about the importance of nature and why we should be working together to conserve it.

Bonnie Spins (#28)

Photography credit: Daniel James

10. Take a poi spinning course

This is something I’ve been dreaming about for such a long time! I’m very much a beginner spinner, self-taught and helped along by others, and I would love to improve my skills by taking one of Perfect Circle Poi’s evening classes. I can’t say when I’ll be at the fire spinning stage, but who knows? Maybe this time next year I’ll have run away to join the circus…

Out + About

The Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick

January 3, 2015

Berwick Holiday 2014

In the midst of winter, it’s always hard to remember the warmer months. It’s impossible to believe we’ll ever be walking around in anything but hats, scarves and winter coats ever again! Bundled up in my onesie and writing this from the cosiness of my bed, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share a memory from less chilly days gone by.

One of my favourite excursions of last summer was an unexpected trip to the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick, where I was invited by a lovely lady named Laura to visit their wonderful facility, catch a ride on one of their seabird cruises and witness the spectacle of over 100,000 pairs of gannets raising their young on the cliff face of Bass Rock.

Let’s put it this way: I didn’t take much persuading!

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Readers with good memories will recall previous posts I’ve written about beautiful Northumberland and its hidden gems: the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Cocklawburn Beach and The Farne Islands to name but a few. For the last three or four years my family have spent a week in this beautiful part of the country every summer, and in 2014 we added the nearby Seabird Centre to our list of excursions.

The Centre is just a hop, skip and a jump over the border into Scotland, and after a short drive we were greeted by the uniquely designed building and stunning views across the sea towards neighbouring Bass Rock and the Firth of Forth.


The staff at the centre were wonderfully polite and couldn’t do enough to help us, ensuring our tickets for the seabird cruise were ready and waiting as soon as we arrived, and they’d put together a little gift pack for me too! It was stuffed with information about the centre and the ongoing conservation projects they’re running.

We were shown down to the little harbour, where we boarded a boat that would take us out to Bass Rock. Mum isn’t the biggest fan of boats (especially on choppy seas), so she opted to stay behind and I stepped up to the adventure with my dad and sister in tow.

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Dad was at the ready with his trusty cam, and Livs and I couldn’t resist a sneaky selfie whilst we waited for departure! With my binoculars swinging around my neck, I was almost falling out of the boat with anticipation; I’d never seen a gannet before and here I was, en route to see thousands of them! It was an exciting day to be a birdnerd.

And I tell you what, when we reached Bass Rock, it certainly did not disappoint.

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I’ve never experienced a sight as breathtaking as the one looking upwards from the base of the rock. Gannets as far as the eye could see, their huge wings stretched out and riding the thermals with effortless ease. They were much bigger than I thought they’d be, some with wingspans up to two metres! So graceful for such big fellas!

Watching them dive into the water to catch their dinner was awe-inspiring; their technique involves plummeting towards the water at up to 70mph and then folding their wings in and disappearing completely under the surface. Just incredible.

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Dad was on hand with his camera as we rounded the island, snapping away like mad as the three of us gawped in disbelief. We circled round for a good twenty minutes whilst our guide brought everyone’s gannet knowledge up to date. If you’re interested in learning more about these guys, I’ve written a Bird of the Week post about them just for you!

My favourite part of the island trip was when our little vessel rounded the side of the island and we spotted the lighthouse. It’s fully automated now, controlled by a station all the way over in Edinburgh, but I couldn’t help imagining what it must have been like to live there in days gone by, surrounded on all sides by incomprehensible numbers of birds…!


And it was only really as we were heading back to land, when the island came into view as a whole that I could truly appreciate that number. Bass Rock looked like it was covered with a dusting of snow… in the middle of August!


Mum was waiting for us in the café when we got back, all three of us grinning ear-to-ear with rosy red cheeks! We shared our stories excitedly and Mum dutifully listened. She’d explored the gift shop whilst we were on the boat, and having noticed it myself on the way through the centre, I decided to check it out too.

It was a very cute shop, stocked floor to ceiling with cards, prints, paintings, books, souvenirs, clothing, trinkets, knick-knacks and of course, plushie gannets.


Well, I couldn’t leave the centre without one of my very own, could I? We named this little guy Graeme, and he’s traded in his seafaring life to be a river-cruising gannet of leisure in Richmond. I think he’s quite pleased… it’s a lot warmer here than in the chilly Scottish waters.

Before bidding adieu for the day, there was just enough time to explore the interactive Discovery Centre. Both information point and hands-on activity area, we marvelled at the Flyway Tunnel and watched conservation videos in the Wildlife Theatre.

My favourite part was peeking through the super-powerful scopes that zoomed us right back in on the island again. Even though Mum hadn’t been on the boat trip, she almost didn’t need to; the views were that good! It was the perfect way to finish off a most marvellous day trip.


A big thank you to all the staff at the Scottish Seabird Centre for organising a wonderful day out. Such warm and genuine welcomes from everybody I met on the day and emailed beforehand, I couldn’t have hoped for better! I’ll most definitely be back.

The Best Bits

Five Reasons why you should Ditch your Handbag for a Backpack

December 18, 2014

Photography credit: Steven Lewis via Unsplash

I work in a pretty nerdy industry. It’s mostly full of men, geeking out over render engines and the download speed of their FTP. These fellas carry their laptops and hard drives and a cacophony of cables wherever they go, so it’s no wonder the majority have long since ditched the “man bag” in favour of a good old-fashioned backpack.

But what about my fellow media ladies? It’s a bit of a different story. For the most part, I witness a lot of lasses in the centre of Soho struggling with tote bags, handbags, lunch bags and shopping bags, spilling their morning coffees whilst they run for the bus.

So today I’d like to dispel the myth that backpacks are the ultimate nerdy accessory. Here are five reasons why you should embrace this wonderful bit of kit.


Photography credit: Kate Elliott

1. You can organise and find your stuff with ease

How many times have you delved into your handbag, knowing it’s going to need completely emptying before you’re able to locate your lip balm? Or had to rummage your Oyster card at the bus stop, muttering “I know it’s in here somewhere…!”

Backpacks are crammed full of useful pockets, hooks and zippered sections: I have a separate section for all my cosmetics and girlie bits and bobs, another for my cables and chargers, then the largest section for my laptop, book, lunch, flask etc.

And as a result, I never have to struggle to find anything!


Photography credit: Adam D

2. Spreading the weight you carry with you keeps your back happy

We all know it’s true, and yet we still ignore it. When I last saw a physiotherapist about an ongoing neck problem, she told me if I didn’t get my posture sorted before the age of twenty-eight, I’d effectively be hunched-over for the rest of my days. Now that’s a scary thought!

A properly fitted backpack will ensure your back is looked after in the best possible way. Extra kudos if you pick the Fjällräven Kånken, which takes extra care to hug the natural curvature of your spine, alleviating any natural tendency to be lazy and throw your shoulders forward.


Photography credit: Gioia De Antoniis

3. There’s no excuse anymore… backpacks are fashionable now

Gone are the days of groaning and complaining as your mum dragged you unwillingly through the shops before the start of term, trying desperately to meet your unreasonable demands for a cool backpack: not pink, no out-of-fashion brands, not too big, nothing that sat too high on the shoulders…

Back then it was like fighting a losing battle, but these days we’re spoilt for choice! There’s a perfect partner for everyone, and to help you get started, I’ve shortlisted six of my favourites in a range of colours and styles to pique your interest.


Mariposa Daypack Sweat by Chums

When I arrived in Japan for a three-week holiday back in 2013, it became all too apparent all too soon that my current backpack was losing the will to live. I needed a replacement, fast, and this was the option I plumped for. Beautifully coloured, with quirky detailing and as strong as an ox, this bag fights the morning commute with me, reliably protects all my kit and still looks as bright as the day I picked it up off the rail.

Kånken Classic by Fjällräven

The bag that’s making waves in London right now, this unusually-shaped and specially-designed backpack is a fond favourite in its native Sweden, where the style was developed back in 1978 to help straighten out the backs of schoolchildren who were struggling under the weight of too many textbooks.

Little America Backpack by Herschel Supply Co.

It’s the bag that all the hipsters want, and you’ll be hard pushed to walk anywhere in the city without passing someone carrying one of these on their backs. Taking their company name from the sparsely populated town in Saskatchewan, Canada, Herschel’s range is smart, stylish and effortlessly cool. Whether you’re in need of a hard-wearing, single-colour design or something just a little bit quirky, the selection on offer is both adaptable and varied…

Heritage Backpack by Herschel Supply Co.

… which explains the reason why two of their bags are popping up in this list! I love the more traditional style of the Little America, but this slightly smaller and more feminine mid-volume offering is available in a range of gorgeous colour combinations and patterns to suit all tastes.

Back Country Pack by Drifter

If your main concern about having a backpack in place of a handbag is carrying extra unwanted weight, I’m going to squash your worries with this option from Drifter. When the company was established in 1977, it originally traded as a parachute rigging business. Their specialist technology was then developed into producing extremely lightweight and durable sport and travel bags, of which there are now a huge range to choose from.

Backpack to the Future by ModCloth

And finally, if your handbag tendencies are just too strong to resist, what about this neat little number? ModCloth wins the award for sweetest and girliest handbag with this offering, which has all the practicality of a bulkier design: pockets, compartments and secure fastenings, but is stripped down to an elegant, feminine finish in a lovely pumpkin colour with chestnut accents.


Photography credit: Eric Loeffler

4. Your shoulders, arms, wrists, elbows and hands are free!

Don’t underestimate this one! There’s nothing I hate more than trying to navigate a crowded shop whilst juggling a million things in my hands. With a backpack, everything is tucked away and you’re free to browse at your leisure.

And if you do you buy something, you earn extra brownie points for saying “no thank you” to an offer of a carrier bag and popping your new purchase straight into your backpack!


Photography credit: Lulu Lovering

5. A good backpack encourages your inner minimalist

I wonder what my blogger pal Xandra over at Fashionably Light might have to say about this one, but I believe that ne’er a truer word was spoken than this sentiment! Whilst it might seem that you can shove much more into a backpack than you can into a diddy handbag, the solid structure of a backpack means that once you have your filing system in order (see point 1), things stay in place and therefore, easier to find.

Minimalism isn’t always about trying to exist on fewer things, it’s also about ensuring your belongings are necessary and useful. Because I know where everything in my backpack is, I quickly notice when I’ve put something in there that’s not serving a real purpose.

NB. Whilst this reads like a sponsored post, it isn’t. I really am just a big backpack nerd!

Out + About

A Snapshot of Australia: Week Three

November 30, 2014


All good things come to an end, but why oh why does it always have to be so quickly? Just like my holiday in Australia, this three-part series of posts concludes today, but never fear! I mean it when I say I’ve left the best ’til last. Let’s get stuck right in, shall we?

After returning from Melbourne, Mia and I had a quiet couple of days, lounging in the house and reminiscing about my last trip. But there was no rest for the wicked come Saturday morning! The five of us were up and about in good time, bundling into the car once more and setting off for Cleland Wildlife Park, tucked away in the Adelaide Hills.

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Cleland was a place I was desperate to visit again. I remembered it very clearly from my previous trip, and despite the rain that had hammered down all day long, I’d still had the best time. As a visitor you’re able to walk amongst the kangaroos, wallabies, emus and other native wildlife, admire the beautiful unspoilt scenery and take in lungfuls of that wonderful fresh air I know I’ve mentioned a few times already whilst writing these recaps…!

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So it was with delight and nostalgia aplenty that I found myself entering the park for a second time, beneath a canopy of softly swaying gum trees.


We were blessed with yet more perfect weather (thirty degrees again!), and with splodges of suncream on our noses we began our wander through the grounds.

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It didn’t take long to find someone who was keen to say hello…!

There are those out there who say I give my heart away too freely, but I challenge anyone not to fall head over heels in love with this little guy. It only took me a matter of seconds.

There’s an option to buy special feed for the animals at Cleland, which is balanced and nutritionally sound. I half-wondered whether the kangaroos and wallabies would be fed up of it as I got the bag out and offered it to this fella, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! Cupboard love or not, we bonded over a bag of slightly-strange smelling food pellets, and he seemed more than happy to stick his nose right in to find more!

Would you just look at those eyelashes! No need for falsies here, oh no. My kangaroo-shaped squeeze was more than perfect already, and I think he knew it, too.

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As we walked through the park, the sun rose higher in the sky, illuminating the colours of nature in a way only “real” sunlight can manage. I marvelled at bright pops of yellow from the golden wattle bush. There’s no need to look anywhere but outside for inspiration when it comes to mixing and matching colours! Cleland’s landscapes and vistas were just stunning.

And of course, there were plenty more beautiful creatures to meet, too…


Like Hallie here, quite possibly the most fabulous fuzzy-eared babe I’d ever seen!

With her soft grey coat, kind dark eyes and incredible furry ears, she definitely knew she was the belle of the ball, and quite happily munched her way through a never-ending supply of eucalyptus leaves as we were introduced.

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There’s something so unusual and special about Aussie animals, particularly koalas. They have a very old and majestic look about them, and I’m convinced it’s due to the fact that Australia is an island that was (and still is!) largely uninhabited and unspoilt, meaning Hallie and her friends have been roaming for years without interruption. You get the feeling that they are more-or-less identical to how they always have been.


And the same goes for those landscapes I mentioned earlier. They’re so… real. Raw, unspoilt, and wild. Australia is such a vast place, that in comparison to somewhere like the UK where so much has been engulfed by the human footprint, there are these enormous patches of bush and scrubland that haven’t even been touched, and I like that a lot. It’s real nature, not tampered with, tidied or tarted up to make it more “accessible”. It just is the way it is.

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We spent a good three or four hours at Cleland, taking in birds, marsupials, reptiles and mammals of all shapes and sizes. Bettongs, potoroos, dingoes, bilbies, pelicans, budgies, Tasmanian devils and wombats… it was impossible to pick a favourite!

Well, almost impossible. There was someone who caught my eye.

He was a pretty unlikely choice, but there was something about him that was just so groovy. Sadly, I didn’t get many pictures because he was hiding amongst the rushes, so this photo seems a bit anticlimactic, but here we go…


Enter Spoony. The spoonbill. Actually, he’s what’s known as a Royal Spoonbill, and in place of the ordinary yellow bill he’s rocking a jet black one instead. I’m not sure why I loved him so much, but there was something so unusual about that beak of his and the snowy white feathers that made my heart go pitter-patter.

I’m considering setting up the Royal Spoonbill Appreciation Society in his honour.


Saying that though, the prize for most memorable bird experience of the trip has to go to this emu. I don’t think most folks realise just how big these birds are until you’re up close and they’re feeding right out of your hand. He was almost the same height as me!

I was a little sad to wave goodbye to this special wildlife park again, but glad that we’d been greeted with much dryer and warmer weather! Thank you Cleland, we had the most marvellous time, and I can’t wait for my next visit when I return to Adelaide.


Before heading back towards the city, we took one more detour. Leaving Cleland, we drove further up into the hills. There we stopped at a small carpark and walked a short distance towards the summit of Mount Lofty. And just in time too! The entrance to the viewing plateau closed at 5pm, and we managed to sneak in at 4:55pm!


At the time, I was too busy admiring the perfect views to remember to jot down some facts and figures about Mount Lofty, but upon doing a spot of post-visit research, Wikipedia tells me that it is the highest point in the southern Mount Lofty Ranges, with panoramic views of the city and the Adelaide plains to the west, and of the Piccadilly Valley to the east.


We were blessed to enjoy golden hour and watch the sun start to set in that big Australian sky.


After spending a good few hours exploring Cleland, and then trekking to the summit of nearby Mount Lofty, the sun was beginning to disappear altogether, so we decided we’d pick up where we left off the following morning and explore the botanic gardens.

It was already quite warm when we began, and the sky was wonderfully blue and clear again, presenting the perfect opportunity to enjoy the glorious scenery and landscapes.


Adelaide seems to have an abundance of botanic gardens. When I think about London, it’s only ever Kew that springs to mind (which ironically is just down the road and yet, I still haven’t been since moving to Richmond…), but perhaps there are other, hidden ones that have evaded my knowledge. Still, I doubt we have the space in such a crowded city to make room for stretches of huge green like those at Mount Lofty.

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Photoception! I’ll never tire of flower close-ups. And here I am, caught in the act!


Look at this handsome fella, isn’t he marvellous? I sincerely hope I gave him a hug after stopping to photograph those rough-and-ready textures and crazy array of branches.

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As it happens, I wan’t the only one stopping to admire all the scenery and taking time to snap away with my phone…! This lake was an ideal spot to listen to the banjo frogs play their funny little pobblebonk tune, which really does sound exactly like a banjo string being plucked!


Another of Sylvester and Stella’s Australian cousins, who was all up for a bit of leftover food from yesterday’s Cleland trip, but less bothered about sharing his family history. I’m convinced I would have got more out of him if I’d been armed with my special swan food from back home! Still, it was marvellous to see a black swan up close, he was so glossy and shiny.

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When the sun got too warm to do anything but lie in a shady spot in the gardens, we bid them adieu and spent the afternoon in Hahndorf. This quaint little town is Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, and still looks exactly as you imagine: plenty of Bavarian architecture, beer steins and sausage shops.

Bathed in beautiful sunlight with just a slight springtime breeze in the air, it felt perfectly authentic, and we spent the rest of our time there enjoying nosing in the shops and eating ice cream as we wandered the tree-lined pathways.


The final excursion of my Adelaide trip was the famous Barossa Valley trail. This region of Adelaide, similar to McLaren Vale, is famous for its vineyards and wineries, many of which have scored international fame and have become instantly recognisable, worldwide brands.

Mia and her folks were keen to show me the boutique options though, and I was more than happy to oblige. Last time I’d visited the Valley we’d made for Jacob’s Creek, but on the list today were Saltram, Maggie Beers’ and Rockford.

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En route to the first of our stops, we made a quick detour to Springton, home of the Herbig Family Tree. This unbelievable hollow red gum tree is thought to be between 300 and 500 years old, and was actually the first home of 27 year old Friedrich Herbig who arrived in South Australia in 1855. In 1858 he married 18 year-old Caroline Rattey and took her to live in the tree too, and it’s incredible to think that the first two of their sixteen children were born there!

And with that boggling fact spinning around in my brain, it was time to head for Saltram.


Probably the swankiest of the bunch, Saltram’s winery brimmed with style and class. It was easy to see why it’s such a popular venue choice for events and weddings!


The wine cellar was cool and airy, backing onto a restaurant that looked to be pretty busy when we arrived. I picked up a bottle of Riesling for my mum, which was much-appreciated and enjoyed when I arrived back in the UK!


Next stop on the tour: Maggie Beer’s.

Now, before we start, would you just look at that water? I do use filters and actions on my images, but I promise you, the lake at Maggie Beer’s really is that blue! And I can guarantee it’s not some sort of strange or dodgy chemical, because the water was teaming with little turtles, swimming about and having a lovely time. It must be Maggie’s magic touch…

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I’m really glad Mia and her folks picked this winery and farm shop out for a visit. At first glance it wasn’t as swanky as Saltram, but I liked the homely feel and little nods to nature. There were chicken coops and duck pens outside which also made it feel like an authentic country farm.

And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the taste of Maggie’s burnt fig, honeycomb and caramel ice cream. How anything with the word “burnt” in can manage to taste so goddamn delicious, I don’t know, but it really, REALLY did.


After demolishing our ice cream, we browsed in the shop for a little while, “testing” anything we could get our hands on! Chutneys, pickles, jams and sauces… all delicious.

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But if I had to choose a favourite, out of the three vineyards on the Barossa tour and the ones we’d seen previously in McLaren Vale, I don’t think it would be difficult to put Rockford at the top. It wasn’t as grand as either of the others, but there was something about its quaint size and lovely rustic, olde worlde feel that meant it won my heart easily.


Mia and Nini were big fans too… this picture is one of my favourites from the whole trip!


There’s just something special about this place, d’you know what I’m saying? I’m really glad we saved the best ’til last, and was grateful that I’d had the opportunity to “go off the beaten track” this time, and see a few places that not everyone would know about.

And that’s why you go touring with the locals…!


At the time it always feels like a cringey thing to do, but these are the photos you look back on and remember in years to come… The good old family album snaps!


I met Mia’s friend Nat the last time I visited Adelaide when the three of us were all eighteen. Back then it was games of Magic: The Gathering and ordering pizza takeaway, this time it was all grown-up and civilised with dinner out at a posh restaurant and then a drive down to the beach at Glenelg. Oh, and an ice cream too, for good measure.


It struck me that I’d almost come to the end of this series and not included a picture of Mia’s lovely boyfriend Michael anywhere! So he’s getting his own mention for being a superstar of a chap, unfortunately waylaid by far too many hours at work during my time in Adelaide, but still always turning up with a smile on his face every time he headed round to Mia’s parents’ house in the evenings. What a stellar fella! 10/10 and three cheers for Mikey.


During the last week of my stay, Mia unfortunately had to go back to work, so one afternoon I took a taxi round the corner to nearby Dover Gardens to visit Roy and Anna. An old schoolfriend of my granddad’s, Roy moved to Adelaide many years ago.

I was first introduced during my last visit, so it was lovely to catch up with them both again this time over a cup of tea in their gorgeous house, and hear plenty of stories about how my granddad and Roy got up to all kinds of mischief in their school years!


Oh, this lovely bunch…! The kindest, most welcoming, generous and warm people I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying with, and also completely mad to boot, which I just adore. Give me passion and love and real-life over stupid stoicism and restraint any day. We had hugs, tears and big laughs too, and I’ll never, ever forget what an amazing time I spent with them.

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And this girlie, as she wrote in her card sent a week or so after I arrived back home, “my sister from another mister”. In many ways we’re quite different but in others so similar. I shall miss not having her in the next room when I need to tell her something, or share something hilarious, or debate the relative attractiveness of men in glossy women’s magazines.

It’s amazing to imagine we met online at the age of thirteen, and despite the unfathomable distance and ups and downs in our lives, we’ve stayed in touch ever since. And if we’ve managed so far, I can’t think that there’ll ever be a time where we don’t.


Here’s to the next visit, I say. Adelaide Trip #3 is on, and one thing’s for certain…. I’m not leaving it eight years this time. The saving starts now! I’ll be back on Australian turf sooner than you can say “can you please stop calling them pants when they’re trousers! It’s making an awkward Brit feel mighty uncomfortable!

Out + About, Seasonal

Wildfire: The Best (and Rainiest) Firework Display North of the River!

November 19, 2014

Photography credit: Paulina Sobczak

There’s something about the British “stiff upper lip” that always makes me smile.

I’m not the kind of person who barks about “making Britain great again” or marches along the high street with banners and flags, but there are times when I have to look fondly at the way we do things in this country and feel, well, sort of proud really.


The last time I had this feeling was two weekends ago, whilst standing in a wet carpark in North London, watching a firework display and holding an umbrella over my head as the rain poured down. And the best thing about this stalwart display of “Britishness”? I wasn’t alone. I was in a crowd of a hundred or so others.

Because a little bit of rain isn’t a problem for us Brits. Umbrellas, wellies and waterproofs at the ready and we’re prepared for anything. Including wringing out our soggy pulled pork sandwiches and Norwegian waffles. But more on those in a minute.


“Being prepared” is a good lead-in to the reason why I was watching fireworks in the rain at all, actually. Many of you will remember Annie from my Girls With Altitude post back in July. With her lovely wild curly hair and enviable map-reading skills she succeeded in not getting the five of us completely lost in the Welsh hills during a weekend of adventures in the Elan Valley.


In her spare time, Annie also volunteers a huge amount of time to the Scouting Association, and along with master of ceremonies Marlon, a whole host of other volunteer leaders and of course, the explorer scouts themselves, they plan an annual fundraising celebration that easily rivals anything else in the nearby area.

Named Wildfire, Wild Wolf Explorer Scout Unit’s Bonfire Night took place at Scout Park this year, just a hop, skip and a jump from Bounds Green station on the Piccadilly line.

The rain was coming down with little or no let-up when I arrived, and despite my outdoorsy tendencies, I really hadn’t dressed for the occasion either. As I trudged my way towards the park with water sloshing around in my boots, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d be the only one mad enough to brave this gloomy November weather.


I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Even though I’d arrived early, the car park was already buzzing with activity. I could see an information tent complete with DJ equipment, two huge food stalls that were wafting some rather delicious aromas into the small crowd and in the distance, signs pointing towards a campfire and marshmallow roasting opportunities. And that was just the start!

I visited each and every stall lining the carpark and the adjacent field, and do you know what I saw? Despite the rain and the cold, a never-ending parade of smiling faces beaming at me from behind every trestle table that was sinking in the mud.


Young people with a real sense of ownership for whatever they were doing, whether it was roasting chestnuts, selling doughnuts or hawking cupcakes by the light of their head torches because the rain had blown a fuse in the outdoor lights.

It was inspiring to see such pride and determination in the face of undeniably rotten bad luck. As the saying goes, “the show must go on”, and indeed it did.


Once I’d spent my time ooh-ing and aah-ing at what was on offer, I slipped and slid my way towards the fire pit, still marvelling at the sheer amount of people who’d appeared out of nowhere to support this community event. Warming themselves next to the bonfire’s roaring flames were folks of all ages and backgrounds, a real cosmopolitan mix, and each and every one with a smile on their faces too.

Perhaps it was the rain, perhaps it was the cheerful nature pervading the park grounds, who knows. But what I can tell you is that nothing could dampen the Wildfire spirit, and right up until the big fireworks launch at 7:30pm, people were still flooding into the gates.

Everyone wanted to be a part of it.


And when the first rockets finally hit the sky, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. I was never a member of the Scouts, nor do I have much in the way of involvement now. I’m not a north Londoner and hadn’t met most of young people and the whole host of volunteers helping them on this dreary Saturday evening in November.

But standing amongst them, I suddenly felt a sense of community so warming, it thawed me even more effectively than the cup of hot apple juice I had clasped between my hands.

Nice work WWESU, I’ll be booking my ticket for next year.


If your child is interested in getting involved with WWESU, you can contact Marlon, Annie or one of the other leaders via their website for more information. The group is for 14-18 year olds and they meet once a week on a Wednesday. WWESU also have an enviably busy social events calendar: hikes, camping trips away, outdoor sports activities and fundraisers to name but a few. The explorers also have a lively Twitter, Facebook and YouTube presence!