Monday, 29 June 2015

The Castle, That Really Wasn't A Castle At All (Goals Part 11) 28th June 2015

Penrhyn Castle North Wales - Maria A Smith

In my last post I mentioned we were on our way to visit a castle, but got side tracked, because I wanted to take lots of pictures of the stunning scenery as we went through the mountains in Snowdonia.

Eventually we arrived at Penrhyn Castle, it was 4.30pm, and I didn't think they would let us in, but the lovely National Trust staff were friendly and welcoming and said we had thirty minutes to do a whistle stop tour of the house. Yes, you read that right. The house. It isn't a castle!

At first glance you'd be fooled into thinking you were visiting a castle, heck it's called Penrhyn Castle, and certainly looks like a Normandy castle from the outside. It does posses something of a sombre air about it too, and it looks medieval, but it's definitely a mock castle.

Penrhyn Castle was built by the Pennant family between 1822 and 1837. They made their fortune in Welsh slate and Jamaican sugar, and employed the services of the famous architect Thomas Hopper to design the house, and its numerous opulent Victorian rooms. He  spared no expense, and it's clear the owners were show offs to the extreme. There are many interesting objects everywhere.

It quickly became clear to us we were not going to see everything in half an hour, but we were keen to look around, and almost had the whole place to ourselves, but all too soon our visit did come to an end, as we realised the staff were locking doors behind us, so reluctantly we left. Vowing that when we returned this way again we'd definitely come back and explore some more.

So what about goals?

Last week I said I was going to write short pieces, and I have - I've done a lot of blog posts in the last week. I've also been collecting ideas, in the things I've seen and done. There has been exercise too, but only walking, and stretching, and I'm happy with that for now.

The week ahead is all about exploring more of Wales, so they'll be blogging, and not a lot else.

What have you been up to? What plans do you have?

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Snowdonia, Breathtaking and Unique

Snowdonia in June - Maria A Smith
I've decided I love wide open spaces. Snowdonia National Park fits the bill nicely at 838 square miles, with nine mountain ranges to explore as well as river gorges, valleys and waterfalls there is enough to keep everyone happy who appreciates the outdoors.

Yesterday, it rained mercilessly, and at midday we decided that we'd head  out regardless, and take a drive through the mountains, the aim to visit a National Trust castle some distance away. I was sure we were going to be in for a dark dull day. Turned out I was very wrong.

Admittedly, charcoal grey skies dominated, you couldn't see the mountains clearly for the mist and then there was the heavy driving rain, but forty five minutes into our journey it subsided a little and we began to see the beginnings of a  transformation. Clouds that hung low began to move, shifting with great speed, and light flooded into the valleys. It was still raining in earnest but there was plenty to see now.

We were both hungry having had no lunch before setting out across the mountains, so when we happened across the village of Beddgelert along the way we stopped. Parking along the roadside, donning our waterproofs, we walked back along the narrow footpath and into a charming traditional cafe called Hebog Cafe and Bistro, and immediately  upon entering I knew we were going to enjoy the food!

Hebog Cafe & Bistro  - Beddgelert - Maria A Smith

The menu is a joy! And has to be studied. I'd glanced around at other diners, and liked what I saw. Should I order the Lobster and Crab Burger, with Calamari Rings and Sweet Potato Fries? Or perhaps the Welsh Braised Steak with a Rich Gravy over Mashed Potato, and a side of Seasonal Vegetables. Decisions, decisions, and then I spotted  Minted Welsh Lamb, with Caramelised Baby Onions and Homemade Riata Ciabatta. I thought, I'm in Wales, for goodness sake, it has to be lamb!

It was delicious, came with hand cut chips and a lovely fresh salad, all served on a plate sized wooden tray, with deep sides and a very amusing 'newspaper' serviette beneath the food. The chips were served in a mini deep fat fryer basket. It made me smile.

The cafe is set in a picturesque spot in the heart of Snowdonia, and from what I could see they were doing very well. They also have a lovely river terrace across the road, which would be a delight on a balmy summer evening. If you're ever nearby, I'd recommend you stop and rest awhile, and definitely sample some of their delicious food.

Remarkably, by the time we were ready to leave, the skies had cleared, and we were able to take a short stroll and explore.

Shopping in Beddgelert - Maria A Smith

You are spoilt for choice when it comes to afternoon tea, as there are several tea rooms boasting mouth watering homemade cake. I'm almost sorry I can't stay now.

Beddgelart - Maria A Smith

The clouds were moving quickly, and at last the mountains came into view.

House in Beddgelart - Maria A Smith
People are very proud of their properties here, and so they should be.

View From The Bridge - Beddgelart - Maria A Smith
This is a beautiful village, and one we would not have necessarily discovered, had it not been raining, and we were hungry. It is a charming place to visit.

Time was getting on, and we still had a way to go to reach the castle hubby had seen in the National Trust directory. We got back on the road with every intention of getting there. However, once into the mountains, travelling through stunning scenery, we found it impossible not to stop and take some pictures.

Snowdonia National Park - Maria A Smith

Surprisingly, there were many designated places where we could pull over and admire the view.

Snowdonia  - Maria A Smith

I couldn't get over the contrast in light, and how when the clouds cleared, the changes on the landscape were spectacular.

Walking in Snowdonia - Maria A Smith
At times the clouds were so low it felt like you could reach up and touch them.

Did we reach the castle? I'll reveal all tomorrow.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Castles and Cappuccino in Caernarfon

Caernarfon in Wales - Maria A Smith

Yesterday afternoon, hubby and I drove into Caernarfon for the afternoon, if you read yesterday's post, you'll know that I wasn't sure if I'd need my waterproofs. Well, I didn't in fact it was warm, and pleasant enough to walk about without wrapping up.

We parked in the harbour carpark in the shadow of Caernarfon Castle, and to say it's impressive would be an understatement, built by Edward 1 and set on the banks of the Menai Strait in the heart of North Wales, it's magnificent. We decided to have a walk around the harbour area, followed by a mooch around the Royal town of Caernarfon which boasts a variety of small independent shops and cafe's.

We ate a late lunch in the cafe in my image collage above, enjoying cappuccinos and panini's we sat upstairs and looked down into the square below. Amazingly, it wasn't busy. There were other tourists of course, but it wasn't at all crowded.

Afterwards, I wandered with my camera a while, capturing images of the buildings around, many  intrigued me, I've grown into being interested in architecture, and whenever I visit a new town or city I always look up above the shops and businesses to take in the wonderful buildings, and see when they were built. There are many styles in Caernarfon, apart from good examples of medieval architecture, there are other buildings dating back only a few hundreds years.

Eventually, we found ourselves back in large square where we'd eaten earlier, only to find many of the shops closing up for the day. We'd ran out of time! And hadn't even visited the marina around the other side of the harbour. Which I'm told is very modern in contrast and houses many bars, restaurants, a theatre and much more.

I had one more thing to do before I left Caernarfon, and I was running out of time. I dashed across the square, hoping the little ice-cream parlour I'd spotted earlier would still be open. Fortunately, I caught them just in time to buy a vanilla and cappuccino ice cream in a chocolate dipped cornet. Delicious!

If you're ever in the area, it's well worth visiting  Caernarfon, but go early! We were too late to gain entrance to the castle, and do it justice, so we chose to walk around and discover what lay inside the walled town. It's worth doing both.

More tales from North Wales soon.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

It Rained, So What?

Image Credit - Pixabay

Yesterday, hubby and I set out from middle England to North Wales, from bright sunshine to dull dark skies in the hills and valleys. Yes, it is disappointing. Harsh, when you work all week, when your time isn't your own, then you have free time, and the weather is pants!

We English are obsessed with the weather, so they say, and to be honest to an extent we probably are,  because we see so little constant good weather. Never mind. We're used to it, we can cope. And a break is a break isn't it?

Did I mention we're away in our caravan? Ah well, if I didn't, then now you know. Caravanning is something I never had on my 'to do list', but hubby persuaded me to  try it for a season, so we did, almost eight years ago, and we both became hooked! We love the freedom, and have explored many places in the United Kingdom that we would never had done, had we not had the caravan.

Luckily, when we arrived at Coed-y-Llwyn Caravan Club Site in the Snowdonia National Park we were able to set up without seeing any rain, and did the necessary practical things we'd be  needing for our time here. It is very peaceful and quiet. The only sounds are birdsong, broken by the occasional person knocking awning pegs into the ground, or the trundle of a water barrel being pulled past our pitch. I'm typing this post looking out onto lush green hills for as far as the eye can see, and I can tell you the air is fresh and unpolluted. Its a pleasure to breath here. The sky is a little overcast though, and we'll be needing our waterproof jackets today.

I feel very lazy, because we made a plan last night. Over a delicious meal of Slow Cooked Pork Belly, Creamy Leek Mash and Seasonal Vegetables. Yum! Served in very different surroundings. Spooners, is situated on the platform at Ffestiniog Railway Station, and came recommended by a local man I stopped in the street and simply asked where was the best place to eat? I often do this, as the locals know where the better eateries are, and are happy to tell you.

We'd already discussed taking a trip on the Welsh Highland Railway, from Porthmadog to Caernarfon on a steam train earlier in the afternoon. So it was apt we ate at the station, which was charming, and very busy. I noted some off duty staff were having an after work drink and meal there too. I do love to see people interacting together like this, chatting and laughing, and not a mobile phone in sight! I fear these days will soon be all gone as future generations don't communicate in the same way. The art of conversation is definitely at risk.

Anyway, I'm digressing, it rained overnight, and we woke this morning to drizzle and mist, so that plan has been put on hold, as there is little point taking the scenic route today. Instead we've been lounging over a leisurely breakfast. Hubby is reading, and I've been writing. That is a good happy feeling.

However, I must go, and do something now, and guess what? Perhaps I won't need that waterproof jacket after all - the skies are clearing, and if they don't, so what! I'm on holiday.

More words soon and a better picture too I hope.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Better Days Are Coming - (Goals Part 10) 21st June 2015

Image Credit - Pixabay
Have you seen the title of this post?

Better Days Are Coming - I can't explain it, but I feel it in the air. Perhaps, because I've had time to focus on what I want, and I've decided to boil it down to doing less rather than more.

So, over the next six weeks, I'm going to concentrate on writing short pieces, rather than working on my  novel. A change is as good as a rest as they say, and I do enjoy writing flash fiction, short stories and blogging, and I'm going forward with enthusiasm. I suddenly feel liberated. I want to have fun!

Therefore, I'm going to try and get out to a couple of writing related events too, and if I can't find anything, I'm going to make my own fun writing days. Oh yes I am. At least two in the next six weeks. I probably sound like a crazy person now, but I rather fancy doing a writing away day. The possibilities are endless. A day at the seaside? A train journey? Trip down the river? Walk and write? The writers pub crawl? Yoga, mindfulness and writing? Flash fiction picnic in the park? Poetry at the zoo? Romantic fiction at Costa Coffee? Blogging on the farm? I'd better stop now, but you can see that ideas are everywhere.

Last week, was good.

Writing wise I did a little flash fiction, chaired the writing group, facilitated the submissions group afterwards, and had a good catch up with a couple of writing buddies too. One of which was Wayne Kelly, my challenge partner, who is getting back on track nicely with his own writing.

Health wise I've finished my six week NHS Back Class, which was excellent! I can't recommend it enough for anyone who suffers with backache. Apart from the exercise value, what you learn about pain management and dealing with flare ups etc is priceless.

I'm on my own now, cut loose, and its up to me to keep up with daily exercise, and it all feels a little daunting if I'm honest. BUT, I'm making myself a rota, and going to try my best to stick to a plan. The trick is to vary the activities, and preferably do things that I enjoy. So that'll definitely be walking, and hopefully, I'll find a yoga or pilates class I can get to regularly.

I hope your writing is going well? Do let me know what you've been up to, and what your plans are for the week ahead?

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Lazy Sunday Afternoon (Goals Part 9) 14th June 2015

A Summers Day?  - Image Credit Pixabay

Grey skies all weekend, what a washout! There was nothing for it but to carry on regardless - you can't let a few inches of rain put your life on hold can you? Although dodging heavy downpours is no fun. Thank goodness for fast drying fabrics... There was a positive of sorts, more time for resting mind and body. 

Today,  I reflected on my week. I slowed life right down, until it resembled something quite unlike my usual crazy tail chasing adventure. Too much going on, so ditch something I tell myself. Easier said than done. Accept you can't  do everything all the time. Hmmm, yes, I need to do this. 

I'll just get on with my review of the last seven days, and say it how it is the list I made on Sunday last week, with answers.

Writing - 

Enter a story into the Writing Magazine competition - I tried on the eve of the deadline, but could not get my entry to upload to their website. It's my own fault for leaving it so late to enter! 

Query a magazine re an article on caravanning - Failed because I didn't plan the time.

Edit a chapter of my novel - As above, I didn't plan.

Learn more about Scrivener - As above. I didn't plan. This is a recurring theme!

Take part in #writingchat on Wednesday - This I did manage, and it was a really good discussion about character names. It could of quite easily gone on for hours! 

Have a go at the writing group task - I did manage this, which needed to be done by Saturday morning, before the writing group meeting at 10.30am, so I was scribbling at 10.10am in the cafe down the road. But I did it, and felt so much better afterwards. 

Write a letter - Nope! 

Do a blog post - Yes, but it was the one where I set myself these targets!

Health - 

Get to the pool at least twice! Three sessions at the pool. Hurrah! 

Go for a walk - Yes, I did, twice. Once in the pouring rain too. 

Pilates - Yes, and mindful meditation afterwards. 

Circuits - Yes, but that was on Tuesday afternoon, and ever since I've had a mildly aching back, and it has slowed me down.

Plan healthy meals for the week ahead - Yes, all meals were planned and executed. At least that side of things ran smoothly.

Reading through the above tells me several things about my week. I'll start with the positive.

All my health targets were achieved, and in some cases I went above my target, as well as adding in a few extras. How good is that? Well I feel well pleased on that front, except for how I was left feeling after the circuits session. It is a physiotherapist led class at the hospital, and is well run, and I certainly didn't think I had overdone it. However, very soon afterwards my back started to ache and whatever I did seemed to have little effect. 

I'm going to have flare ups, and I'm better educated, on dealing with them after the back classes I'm attending. I slowed things down, but still kept going with moderate exercise all week. By Friday I was very tired, and still aching, so I switched to total relaxation, and today, I'm feeling much better. I haven't been troubled with my back all day. 

Writing wise. I wasn't organised enough. If I'm truthful, I put health first, and that is the way it has to be for the short term. Although, I can't help feeling disappointed with myself. I gave myself a pep talk earlier today, and tried to focus on the positives of last week. 

How can I do better? Well, IT IS DOWN TO ME, and I do have a list for the week ahead, and , I need to find my writing buddy, Wayne, who has disappeared down a black hole. I'm going on a quest to find him, and when I catch up with him, I'll drag him back screaming and kicking, and together, we'll forge on with our plans. Which we'll both have changed to accommodate circumstances etc. Having someone else who is also trying to achieve goals is a huge motivator, although  ultimately it comes down to me. 

The week ahead is going to be simple.

Keep on with the exercise, and sort out a plan to incorporate some daily writing. 

Okay that was my week. what happened to yours? And what lies ahead? 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Be Prepared To Take A Risk (Goals Part 8) 7th June 2015

Tea & Cake - Maria A Smith

I've had a busy and full week. The day job is going well, and is keeping me on my toes, and at last I am feeling more like my old self. My juggling skills have returned, and I'm performing well, getting things done. I've made a list, and I'm managing stuff neglected in the last six months. Like dusting the skirting boards, sorting out household documents, weeding the garden, and making healthier meals. All of the above sounds very mundane, and it is, but there has been fun as well...

Last year, I discovered writing workshops are not all created equal, and it is not my intention to bad mouth anyone of them here - not now. Although at the time, I was spitting feathers for want of a better expression after attending a few badly organised, or badly taught sessions. The whole experience left me never wanting to do anything writing related again, outside of my own safe bubble, of writing at home, and going to my writers group, and that is not healthy, is it? Not when I enjoy nothing more than having a day out to interact with other writers, and a passion to learn something new.

I took a risk on Saturday, I visited the first ever Derby Book Festival, in particular their Writers Day. Refreshingly well organised, it was a breeze to attend, from booking the tickets, to turning up on the day and being warmly welcomed, and respectfully shown the way to the first workshop.

Young Adult and Children's Writing, which I've never attempted before, apart from writing one or two very short stories, the genre is one I'm eager to know more about. Our tutor, Caroline Pitcher, was well prepared, and had plenty of information and writing tasks ready for us. We shared our efforts, and discussed the genre, with Caroline showing us examples, as well as giving us useful information on submitting our writing. The time flew by all too soon, and I was left wishing the workshop could have been twice as long.

After a quick fifteen minute break (barely time to do much other than reach my next workshop) I was buzzing, ready for more on the spot scribbles! I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. Mark Chadbourn on Scriptwriting was always going to be good, because Mark is hugely talented, I've attended a few of his workshops before and he has never failed to be brilliant! Yesterday being no exception.

His manner is friendly, but you know you are going to be put through your paces. There is no slacking, everyone takes part. He does that 'round the table' thing, doesn't ask if you want to read out, and I think writers get much more from the experience this way. A sort of, 'you signed up for this, so lets hear you' it worked well. I left feeling happy, but robbed - another workshop that wasn't long enough.

We broke for lunch, although I didn't eat, I'd had a hearty breakfast beforehand, so instead settled for a quick walk in the sunshine, and a drink in the pub. Yes, I did. I nipped into the pub, and had a double gin. After all, I was on an away day.

Forty-five minutes later, I was back at the festival, seated and ready to hear from The Experts Panel, which consisted of Publisher Karen Ball, literary Agent Dianne Banks and Publicist Julia Murday. A lively discussion began, and included questions such as, how important is the social persona of an aspiring author? Is it an advantage to know about publishing before you seek representation? And where should writers research to find agents?

Each expert was given a turn in answering all questions, they were all more than willing to reveal everything you ever wanted to know, and more, with many writers asking questions it proved to be a popular discussion. At the end, I didn't go up to ask anything further, and in any case it wouldn't have been easy getting anywhere near them. They were going to be there a while, as hoards of writerly types surrounded them eager to ask further questions.

All too soon it was time to leave, but first, I actively sought out one of the helpers, requesting a feedback form. I wrote all good things, and my only gripe of the day was that it hadn't been longer!

And today, I've been busy too, mainly catching up with household tasks, but did manage to carve out some time for sitting in a deck chair in the glorious sunshine to read Writing Magazine and drink tea and eat cake!

I am feeling so much better these days.

The week ahead looks like this,

Writing - 

Enter a story into the Writing Magazine competition
Query a magazine re an article on caravanning
Edit a chapter of my novel
Learn more about Scrivener
Take part in #writingchat on Wednesday
Have a go at the writing group task
Write a letter
Do a blog post

Health - 

Get to the pool at least twice!
Go for a walk
Plan healthy meals for the week ahead

It looks like a long list, certainly it will be a challenge, but I have a plan, and now I just need to plan it into my diary...

Have a good week.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Another Week of Mayhem (Goals Part 7) 31st May 2015

Keep Calm - Maria A Smith
I'll get straight to it, I missed posting last week. Why? It was impossible to update the blog, and do all the other things, I needed to do. This post is late too.

Writing wise, I managed three hours of editing on my novel. Hurrah! And then the Mac started behaving oddly. Boo! And then I managed another three hours, hurrah! BUT, I ended up taking my Mac into Apple, and that slowed me down considerably.

I've been to my writing group twice since I last updated here, and read out both my edited chapters. I got good feedback, and some interesting comments. I didn't do the weekly task either week, which is unlike me, I ran out of time again. A recurring theme, however, I'm no different to anyone else, we all have the same amount of hours in a week.

I need to get a new plan. So on Saturday afternoon, I sat down and made a list of the things I must do, the things I want to do, and  the stuff I can ditch, and it quickly became clear, I have too much to do at the moment. I need to cut down on the stuff I want to do, and that for now, means writing. Obviously its not ideal, I have deadlines. Don't we all, but the thing is, life changes and although I seem preoccupied now with getting back to work, exercising and fighting my way back to full strength I know I'll return to putting more hours into the business of writing.

 The Plan From Here On

  • The Blog - The most important things in life require time and energy, and discipline of course, so I'll still be trying to keep on the straight and narrow, and that means keeping up with my blog. The theory is, writing on the blog will keep me in touch with my writing buddies, so I hope you'll still stop by and leave me a comment now and then, I'd hate to lose contact with my friends.

  • Scheduling - With just a few tasks mapped out I'll get something done, rather than nothing. I won't be aimless, and each step will take me somewhere, so I  intend to have some sort of 'to do' list each week, because figuring out what I need to do is also half the battle with achieving anything. 

  • Rest and Recover - Sleep. Yes, I'm harping on about it again. Honestly though, none of us can function well if we're not resting, or getting enough sleep. We're all different, and personally I'd like to achieve seven hours, instead of four or five, because I feel much better when I do have seven hours sleep. I function better, and feel more able to get on with things.

  • Never Give Up - This is the mindset I need to adopt. Even if I'm plodding, and writing only a handful of words a day on my manuscript, I'm advancing, I'm writing my novel. Failure only becomes a reality when I take it off my agenda. Although, its okay to take a day off once in a while. 
Life seldom runs the way we want it to, and we can't always have the ideal, but we have to keep trying. 

Have a good week, I'll catch you soon. 

Making Things Happen

Bluebells in the grounds of Chatsworth, Derbyshire - Maria A Smith Nearly two months ago I made this list of goals - See how I've g...