FORM The Sculpture Show: Art Meets Nature at Sculpture By The Lakes, Dorset [AD Press Trip]

FORM The Sculpture Show: Art Meets Nature at Sculpture By The Lakes, Dorset [AD Press Trip]

This review of Sculpture by the Lakes is so kindly courtesy of Darren North East PR

Dear enchanted ones,

Peaceful as it is popular, the breathtaking Sculpture By The Lakes near Dorchester in the county of Dorset is an unspoiled wilderness surrounded by the meandering River Frome, where you can truly envelop yourself in the serene and tranquil lakes that inspire this much-loved destination’s name.

Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that Sculpture By The Lakes has been described as one of the most beautiful and unique sculpture parks in the UK!

This Spring, this stunning location is the home to FORM; The Sculpture Show from the 30th of March to the 29th of May 2022 where art meets nature around the 26-acre park with monumental pieces in the main gardens, with smaller works that are shown in the Gallery and Sculpture Courtyard.

The FORM; The Sculpture Show exhibition seeks to place, view and enable you to purchase sculptures from award-winning sculptors across a breadth of styles and mediums in the most tranquil and beautiful of settings.

Regular readers will perhaps know that I have visited this gorgeous spot many times and for your reference, my previous visits can be found here in this handy archive for you to enjoy after reading about this latest visit.

Most recently, my Spring visit is with profound thanks to both Sculpture by the Lakes and Darren Northeast PR for allowing me to attend this latest exhibition.

Art Meets Nature at Sculpture By The Lakes

“The way sculpture interacts with its environment, changing with the light, the weather, the seasons, means that where you experience it is vitally important. Putting large-scale sculptures in a museum or gallery diminishes their power, but in a beautiful, natural environment, that power is restored; they come alive. That was one of the reasons I started Sculpture by the Lakes many years ago, and why this was such a successful event last year. It is a rare and special opportunity for sculpture-lovers to see and enjoy the works of some of the best sculptors from across the UK together in one place”.

Simon Gudgeon, Sculptor and owner of Sculpture by the Lakes

How does art meet and inspire nature? And vice-versa.

Well, this is exactly what sprung to mind as I immersed myself in the FORM; The Sculpture Show exhibition.

Moreover, I was truly enchanted by the above words from Simon Gudgeon, Sculptor and owner of Sculpture by the Lakes, and his beautiful description of the symbiotic relationship between the sculpture and the nature that surrounds his artistry.

Simon Gudgeon (born 1958) is a British sculptor specialising in large pieces for public display, usually in bronze, but also sometimes glass or stainless steel who alongside his world-famous sculptures, also created Sculpture by the Lakes as an expression of his love for the beauty and wonder of nature.

As I set off in two weeks to record the debut workshop for the Academy Of The Enchanted Arts called ‘Claude Monet’s Enchanted Paradise’, the symbiotic relationship between art and nature is something deeply present on my mind!

Just like Simon Gudgeon’s mastery at bringing art and nature together in his sculpture, Claude Monet’s work is also steeped in a reverence for nature.

Monet’s words echo this time and time again: “The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration”, and in addition, “I do what I can to express what I feel in the presence of nature.”

But it’s not just Simon Gudgeon and Monet.

From time immemorial, artists have sought to use art as a way to explore the world of nature.

In fact, some philosophers including Aristotle once proclaimed that art can in fact mimic nature.

For Aristotle, nature is the embodiment and a true reflection of the artist’s inner soul.

Aristotle even once wrote that, “art not only imitates nature but also completes its deficiencies”.

With this in mind, what makes Sculpture by the Lakes so special is that each sculpture has been meticulously positioned in just the right place on the grounds to enhance the aesthetic qualities of each piece.

As a result, the FORM; The Sculpture Show exhibition exemplified that art is not only recreating the natural world, but that the placement of the sculptures aids in seeing nature in another light. Or indeed, using the art as a language in which to bring a voice to the nature around it.

This is so abundantly clear in many of my favourite sculptures by Simon Gudgeon and a plethora of other incredibly talented artists.

As I meandered around the grounds, and the myriad of paths, I was utterly captivated by the magical light and shade that danced on the sculptures that were mirrored in the blissful surroundings.

It’s beyond special to be in the presence of artwork that so masterfully reflects your enchanting surroundings, and this is one of my favourite things about this exhibition.

My FORM The Sculpture Show Gallery Exhibition

After a delicious lunch in the Cafe By The Lakes (this truly deserves a post of its own!), I wandered inside the Gallery where the FORM; The Sculpture Show continued with smaller sculptures and weaved the intricacy and beauty of the large-scale pieces by Simon Gudgeon into other pieces like jewellery.

Ending my visit in the Gallery was a further serene moment where the world continued to slow down for a few peaceful moments, and where the artwork around me could refresh, revitalise and ready my own creativity for new hopes and new opportunities. In particular, I truly will carry this inspiration into my Monet workshop.

In essence, any visitor to Sculpture by the Lakes is left with the experience of walking around a work of art through the sculptures and the environment that truly do exist in a unique symbiotic relationship. The FORM; The Sculpture Show exhibition illuminates this more than ever.

Thank you so much again to Sculpture by the Lakes and Darren Northeast PR for allowing me to attend the FORM; The Sculpture Show exhibition.

I truly can’t wait to re-visit this idyllic treasured spot in Dorset soon to bathe in the creativity this tranquil spot is so stimulating and invigorating for.

How many of you have been to Sculpture by the Lakes? What are your thoughts about the relationship between art and nature? I’d love to know by chatting in the comments below!

With love and infinite blessings,

Georgie xoxo

Future and Upcoming Events at Sculpture By The Lakes

There is always something going on at Sculpture By The Lakes.

If you’re in Dorset, I do hope you’ll be able to visit this wonder-filled location on your doorstep!

For those venturing from further afield, here are some of my top picks to explore later this year.

To mark the dates in your diary, click here or see below for some of my highlighted picks for my enchanted audience:

  • Wellbeing By The Lakes: Wellbeing By The Lakes is a 3-day festival exploring what it means to be mindful and how to live well in this fast-paced modern world. These 3-days of mindfulness are a curated blend of experts talks, meditation, movement sessions, art, live performance and healing therapies that will open your eyes to fresh experiences for wellbeing. Truly, for two years now this has been one of my favourite 3 days of the year! Click here to read about my experience

DETAILS

Sculpture by the Lakes is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10.00 am to 5.00 pm.

Book tickets in advance here.

Sculpture by the Lakes, Pallington, Dorchester, Dorset, DT2 8QU

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT SCULPTURE BY THE LAKES

An artist must possess Nature. He must identify himself with her rhythm, by efforts that will prepare the mastery which will later enable him to express himself in his language.

-Henry Matisse

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Dorset Arts Festival at Sculpture By The Lakes [AD Press Trip]

Dorset Arts Festival at Sculpture By The Lakes [AD Press Trip]

This review of Sculpture by the Lakes is so kindly courtesy of Darren North East PR

A visit to Sculpture by the Lakes in Dorset is always a peaceful and inspirational experience so if you add to the landscape many local artists, you create a vibrant buzzing atmosphere of creativity and talent.

Last year, in September, I spent a wonderful day at Sculpture by the Lakes for Wellbeing By The Lakes, a 3-day wellness festival. This was truly one of my highlights of last year so it was so lovely to be able to return this year albeit with the world feeling very different from last year.

Most recently, my visit was thanks to both Sculpture by the Lakes and Darren Northeast PR to attend the Dorset Arts Festival.

wellbeing-by-the-lakes

Since their re-opening on June 3rd of this year since the Covid-19 lockdown, Sculpture by the Lakes offers local visitors a safe escape and a warm welcome with the much-needed experience of being surrounded by nature and beauty once again.

The Dorset Arts Festival is one of the very few events that was able to be hosted this 2020 year. The intention of the event was to celebrate a small showcase of the best artists and makers in Dorset.

Across the vast, tranquil landscape of Sculpture by the Lakes over 50 artists and crafters gathered together to demonstrate their skills.

The Dorset Arts Festival was a beautiful opportunity to witness paintings being created beside the lakes, to pots being thrown in other spots, to watch baskets being weaved, and a whole range of other arts and crafts disciplines being demonstrated at a social distance.

The aim of the festival was to see artists and crafters from a variety of creative backgrounds to demonstrate their skills and exhibit their work so you can see and understand the process. 

Sculpture by the Lakes is a 26-acre sculpture park, created by the renowned sculptor Simon Gudgeon.

The concept behind Sculpture by the Lakes was to showcase inspiring works of art in a naturally beautiful setting as opposed to the artificial constraints of a gallery with its enclosed spaces.

What makes Sculpture by the Lakes so special is that each sculpture has been meticulously positioned in just the right place in the grounds to enhance the aesthetic qualities of each piece.

Any visitor is left with the experience of walking around a work of art as the sculptures and the environment exist in a unique symbiotic relationship.

It is little wonder therefore that it has become a magnet for creative talents and artists to come to enjoy the peace and tranquillity and to be inspired.

Normally there are numerous classes to nurture the creativity of novices and experienced artists alike however these are currently postponed due to Covid-19.

In normal times, work is exhibited from various artists in the on-site gallery, and themed events such as Wellbeing By The Lakes that draw huge crowds. As a result of current events, sadly the 2020 festival has had to be cancelled this year.

Due to its more modest size, thankfully the Dorset Arts Festival was able to proceed with ample social distancing and hand sanitizers we all take for normal now.

One of the many quotes I spotted around the grounds (in the above photo) was incredibly pertinent to this event: “Use what talents you possess, the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best”.

Creativity in all its forms can be something sacred to lean into, no matter how crowded we believe the arena to be.

Learning a new craft and creative hobby isn’t just fun at the best of times, it can also be the solace we need in these uncertain times as a deep practice of mindfulness.

Here are some of just some of the artists I witnessed that struck a chord in particular.

Dorset Buttons and Textile Artist Anna McDowell

One of the first crafts to capture my attention was textile artist Anna McDowell whose work exhibits the Dorset Button Industry by Henry’s Buttons.

Dorset button is a style of craft-made button originating in Dorset.

The manufacture of Dorset Buttons was at a peak between 1622 and 1850, after which they were overtaken by machine-made buttons from factories in the developing industries of Birmingham and other growing cities.

Like so many heritage crafts and skills, information on how to make Dorset Buttons was passed down from generation to generation and this cottage industry would impact the lives of hundreds of families in Dorset for more than 200 years.

It was so wonderful to meet Anna and learn more about this fascinating heritage craft with such poignant links to the landscape it was being exhibited in.

The precision and detail in each and every single Dorset Button is so spectacular. I was in such awe of the myriad of effects that can be created.

In 2017, the Heritage Crafts Association included Dorset Button making as one of their list of endangered heritage crafts and I am so passionate to learn how to create some of my own after this event.

If you’d like to find more about Dorset Buttons and download some templates of your own, click here.

Times To Treasure Silverclay Jewellery

The next stall I visited was the Silverclay jewellery collection from Times To Treasure by Grainne.

Silverclay is a wonderfully versatile substance that is relatively new to the field of jewellery making. And one that has truly sparked curiosity for me!

It is a simple material to use and because of that, it enables people to make beautiful jewellery without many years of training as silversmiths!

Silverclay consists of minute particles of pure silver mixed with a non-toxic organic binder, which binds the silver particles together to form a clay-like substance. In this clay form, it can be manipulated just like normal clay.

As Grainne demonstrated, the clay can be rolled, flattened, cut with a blade, pressed into moulds or impressed with shapes and textures. There were many examples on the Times To Treasure stall and I loved the dainty star earrings in little jars.

After Silverclay has been left to dry it is fired (either in a kiln or with a simple gas torch) which turns it into pure silver. 

The whole process of witnessing the magic behind Silverclay has only made me want to dive into this craft even more!

Moreover, because the end product is pure silver, Silverclay can be used in the same way as any other precious metal. So it can be filed, sanded, textured, burnished and polished.

I can’t wait to explore Silverclay in more detail and it was so wonderful to see the demonstrations from Grainne. 

Click here to find more about Silver Clay Workshops in Dorset.

The Mouse Hole Woolery

The next stall that truly captured my heart and imagination was The Mouse Hole Woolery who is the maker of needle felted animal sculptures inspired by the animals, landscape and conservation of the British Countryside.

​The ethos of The Mouse Hole Woolery is: “Take time for yourself, connect with the raw materials and create your own individual piece of nature.”

As we all find ourselves spending more time in our homes, it’s healing for some of us to have ideas to keep us busy and our minds active but also be connected to nature. This is exactly why I was so enamoured by The Mouse Hole Woolery.

Carla Taylor’s majestic animal sculptures at The Mouse Hole Woolery are created using the time-consuming, but most rewarding, process of needle felting.

Needle felting is a craft created where the artist repeatedly stabs at loose wool fibres with a barbed needle where you can then shape, re-shape, and create life-like animals (or other objects) with incredible attention to detail.

Needle felting until not so long ago was a relatively unknown art form, however, it has now become one of the most in-demand crafts.

Carla’s own journey into needle felting was inspired by her Dorset countryside surroundings.

Carla’s partner is a farmer and whilst he was working on a rare breed farm, Carla was helping out get the sheep ready for shearing, and that’s when she fell in love with wool!

Carla recalls how the lanolin felt on her hands and that the textures were fascinating to her.

Now Carla is an official supporter of the Campaign for Wool, where she likes to work closely with local Dorset farmers promoting the use of local and British wool and will often refer to conservation awareness within her sculptures as well as incorporating vintage pieces into her work.

Outside of creating her own spectacular felted creations, Carla also runs a number of workshops throughout the year where you can create your own little piece of nature. I would love nothing more than to attend one as soon as restrictions allow me to do so.

Meanwhile, you can click here to visit The Mouse Hole Woolery workshops page for more information on the classes and products that she offers.

Raffia Craft by Clairedoescraft

Finally, we have the beautiful timeless work of Rafia Craft by Clairedoescraft.

Raffia is the most sustainable type of palm known to hat and accessories makers. The palms on this tree can grow from 60 to 80 feet and can be harvested without damage to the plant itself.

Claire first began working with raffia in 1993. Since then, Claire has expanded her craft by creating a range of bags and kits to make your own raffia products. 

Straw hats and bags are a common sight in the summer period, especially in our high street shops, but seeing first-hand the artistry of how they are made has made me want to explore this craft more deeply.

Moreover, it was so important for me to witness how important it is to find sustainable alternatives to the high-street models and raffia is a fascinating medium to work with.

As well as these beautiful products of raffia on display, from bags to hats, Claire is also the author of ‘Raffia: The Arts of Crafts’, the complete guide to working with raffia.

In this book, Claire offers different dyeing and colouring methods and plaiting and sewing techniques for a variety of items such as sun hats, dried flower baskets, candlestick holders and picture frames. What a dreamy project for the summer this would be!

Click here to find out more about Claire’s book and products.

Whilst this year’s Dorset Arts Festival event had to take place against the background of a global pandemic that has changed our lives for now and possibly in some ways forever, it still remained so special.

During this period, many of us have reignited, or perhaps found for the first time, the pleasures associated by awakening our hidden creativities and the advantages that this brings to our wellbeing.

The Dorset Arts Festival, that was located at Sculpture by the Lakes, provided the perfect oasis for artists and art lovers and as another of the quotations from the gardens says: “Time spent in nature heals your Body, Mind and Spirit”. How true this is.

Thank you so much again to Sculpture by the Lakes and Darren Northeast PR for allowing me to attend the Dorset Arts Festival.

I will certainly be revisiting this idyllic treasured spot in Dorset soon with my journal or sketchbook to bathe in the creativity this tranquil spot is so stimulating and invigorating for.

How many of you have been to Sculpture by the Lakes? How have you been nourishing your creativity whilst in lockdown? Have you ever tried any of the above crafts? I’d love to know by chatting in the comments below.

Details

Sculpture by the Lakes is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10.00 am to 5.00 pm.

Book tickets in advance here.

Sculpture by the Lakes, Pallington, Dorchester, Dorset, DT2 8QU

Click here for more information about Sculpture By The Lakes

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48 Hours in Sofia, Bulgaria. My Birthday Weekend in Sofia

48 Hours in Sofia, Bulgaria. My Birthday Weekend in Sofia

There is nothing I love more than arriving in a new city and discovering its treasures and secrets. And for my birthday last November, I arrived in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, for a weekend break to celebrate the gems of this city.

Sofia is the Bulgarian capital and the largest city. Located at the foot of the picturesque Vitosha Mountain, it is a charming city in the centre of the Balkan Peninsula.

I truly fell in love with this special, laid-back city with a plethora of diverse architectural styles from onion-domed churches to stunning neo-classical features.

If you’re looking for a new European city to explore, I hope this post will inspire you to add Sofia to your bucketlist!

It was a short taxi drive to our hotel, the Intercontinental Sofia, which is the perfect location on Narodno Sabranie Square and right opposite the Bulgarian Parliament. 

Sofia City Tour

As always I start with a city tour. That way you get to know the history of the city and see all the main sites and can decide which to go back to.

I chose the Sofia bus tour which goes three times a day with a good English commentary that starts at the breathtaking Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

There are of course numerous walking tours to be found, as well as the bus tour I picked, but in the winter with my health, I have to be careful!

On first glance, Sofia seems an ordinary European city with its share of beautiful buildings until you realise this is the second oldest city in Europe.

Founded 7000 years ago the motto of Sofia is rather apt: “Growing without ageing!”

Although Roman remains can be seen nearly all over the city, its important buildings are less than 150 years old and there are many reminders of its Soviet-era.

Sofia is a relatively compact city so I returned to explore most of it again on foot. However, it will take you to some outlying places such as driving over Eagle’s Bridge to see the Vasil Levski National Stadium.

The tour ended very conveniently outside its most iconic building St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral which happened to be right opposite our hotel.

A quick word of advice about working out the best way to cover the city. There are three distinct areas; Modern Sofia, Byzantine and Ottoman Sofia and the one I started with Imperial Sofia.

As I was in the centre it was easy to walk everywhere but the metro is very convenient and like everything else here incredibly cheap. This really is the place to come to if you are on a tight budget!

The Orthodox Alexander Nevski Cathedral with its golden domes dominates the city and is a symbol of Sofia. Started in 1882 it was finished in 1912 and named after the patron saint of the Russian Tsar Alexander II who was in power at the time.

The peal of its 12 bells can be heard from 30km away and it is considered to be the largest operating Eastern Orthodox church in the Balkans. Inside you can see wonderful icons, huge chandeliers and the royal thrones.

Don’t leave without a visit to the crypt where you will find one of the best collections of icons to be found anywhere in the world. It houses over 3000 unique icons, murals, manuscripts and altar doors.

In front of the cathedral is the oldest church in Sofia, the Basilica of St Sofia which gives the city its name. It was built in the late 5th to early 6th century on the foundations of older churches from Roman times.

During its long history, it has been destroyed and rebuilt. The Ottoman conquerors converted it into a mosque and the present building is from the 19th century.

When you have admired the icons inside take time to walk to the southern side. There you will find the National Monument to the Unknown Soldier with the eternal flame.

Walking around the opposite side of St Sofia you will see the National Academy of Art, the National Library and several University buildings.

You may also spot nearby the statue to Vasil Levski, a Bulgarian martyr killed by the Ottomans for his leadership of the revolutionary movement. 

Next day we set off refreshed to explore the Byzantine and Ottoman Sofia. Walking along  the main road Tsar Osvoboditel my first stop was the St Nikolai Russian church, one of my favourite churches at least from the outside.

It was built in 1913 for the Russian diplomats and immigrants in a perfect Russian style and houses the body of Bishop Serafin believed to fulfil the wishes of pilgrims. The beautiful gardens surrounding it enhance the building although the interior is rather dark.

Right next to the church is the Ethnographical Museum which houses a collection of traditional Bulgarian items such as costumes, crafts and musical instruments. I thoroughly recommend its gift shop for good value authentic souvenirs. Sofia is not a common tourist city and so the number of souvenir shops is limited. If you want something reasonable and very typical I recommend some of the many items made from rose water which you can smell in so many shops.

Next to this is the National Art Gallery in what was the former Tsar’s Palace. As an art lover, I  had to go in and although the exhibition was quite small, it was so enriching to see some of the country’s own art as well of course to view the modest interior of the palace.

Now I suggest a quick detour opposite down Knyaz Alex Batenberg to see the beautiful National Theatre which is the centrepiece of the Alexander Battenberg Square. It once housed the remains of the first Communist leader of Bulgaria, Dimitrov when he died in 1949. However in 1990 his remains were removed and the mausoleum later demolished. There is a lovely atmosphere here and worth taking a rest while enjoying a drink at one of the many cafes.

Back onto Tsar Osvoboditel, you notice the faded yellow cobbles which is why it is sometimes referred to as the Yellow Brick Road. Today it houses many foreign embassies and government offices including the huge former Communist Party Central Committee Building which was topped with the red star during its 50 years.

Opposite to the former Communist Party Central Committee Building is the Archaeological Museum which is Bulgaria’s oldest museum as it was once the Grand Mosque built-in 1494.

Cross the road to view the Presidency with the ceremonial guards outside and get a good tourist picture! While you have your camera ready it’s worth looking further up the road Knjaginja Maria Luiza at the Statue of Sofia erected in 2001.

From here, you’ll also see the old communist-run department store TZUM, now a shopping centre, the Grand Hotel Balkan and most interestingly the only surviving working mosque in Sofia Banya Bashi situated in a small park.

On the other side is the Sofia History Museum, which is housed in the old Sofia Mineral Baths. These beautiful Turkish baths were built in 1913 and used for 70 years. Opposite the baths is the old still used food market called the Halite.

My next visit, between the presidency and the Grand Hotel, was to the city’s oldest building, St George Rotunda. It is not known why it was built in the 4th century but it was declared as a church 2 centuries later although it has also served as a mosque in the 16th century. It is surrounded by Roman ruins and it is thought to stand on the site of a Roman temple, spanning decades of history and surviving heavy air raids in WW2. The magnificent frescoes inside dating back to the 10th century have been restored repeatedly. It is dedicated to the same St George who is the patron saint of England.

You will now have reached the northern end of the Vitosha Boulevard, a famous street that leads from Sveta Nedelya Square through the centre of Sofia to the National Palace of Culture and ends with South Park. Fortunately, this is the ideal place to stop, relax and have something to eat; well deserved after a morning sightseeing. There are numerous pubs, restaurants, benches and shops on this street which makes it a favourite for locals and tourists.

Just before you stop if you have the energy there is one more building on the St Nedelya Square well worth a visit, namely the church of the same name, St Nedelya Cathedral.

This 19th-century church stands on the centre of ancient Serdica (old name for Sofia) and it can only really be appreciated by going inside as it houses some of the finest and most beautiful icons and murals in the country.

Now you have just one more area to explore modern Sofia which I’ve left to last as I think you will have seen the true highlights by now. You’ve now reached the point where Vitosha meets the city’s only pedestrian street, Pirotska.

From here you can see the largest synagogue in the Balkans. Sadly the Jewish population reduced from 50,000 to 5,00 after World War Two. Further up Pirotska is Zhenski Pazar the city’s largest market but I didn’t have time to visit this. 

If you turn around and walk in the opposite direction you will see the rest of modern Sofia. You can’t go wrong as you should see the huge National Palace of Culture built-in 1981.

The area in front of it is Yuzhen Park which plays host to large open-air concerts. Much closer to where you are is a road at a 45-degree angle from Vitosha called Graf Ignatiev Boulevard if you want to search for bargains. Along that road is St Sedmochislenitsi Church that has exceptional frescoes.

Much as I would have liked to visit all these places my legs were tired and I wanted to go back to the hotel to get ready for one last Bulgarian treat!

We got a taxi to a very typical Bulgarian restaurant, in fact, I think we were the only tourists! It was called Chevermeto and we ate from a huge menu typical local food, drank their much-underrated wine and enjoyed an evening of entertainment of music, singing and dancing.

In terms of Bulgarian cuisine, something I’d recommend is the ‘Shopska Salad’ which is essentially a tomato salad. It’s a hugely popular dish in Bulgaria. Whilst I couldn’t enjoy it, as I can’t eat dairy, it seems something to try for those who are able to!

And from there it was a lovely end to a magical 48 hours in this ancient capital city of Bulgaria, which was once the most powerful country in Europe.

I so hope you have enjoyed this post about my birthday weekend in Sofia. Has anyone else been? Or is it now on your bucketlist? I’d love to know in the comments below.

To view more of my travels head here for the travel archives of my blog.

Click here for more posts about Bulgaria

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Christmas Belle, Christmas Lunch at Swanage Railways, Dorset

Christmas Belle, Christmas Lunch at Swanage Railways, Dorset

Join recently I enjoyed a nostalgic trip on the ‘Christmas Belle’, a luxurious Pullman Observation Car, from Swanage Railways through the picturesque Dorset countryside.

During your one-hour return journey on the Christmas Belle, you will travel through the beautiful Isle of Purbeck countryside while enjoying a festive Christmas lunch, served at your seat by a Pullman attendant. 

Swanage Railways Christmas Belle Lunch

To enjoy the magic of the season, and soak up a traditional Christmas atmosphere in the specially decorated carriage onboard the beautiful Christmas Belle is so special.

To start there is either the option of Leek and Potato Soup, Brussels Pate or Prawn Cocktail that are easily adapted for those needing lactose-free or gluten-free options.

For a main course you can pick from a Roast Turkey with all the Trimmings or a Roast Field Mushroom topped with Red Onion Confit.

To finish on a sweet note there are traditional Christmas Pudding and Brandy Sauce, Chocolate Fudge Cake and Fruit Salad to pick from.

The above, including travel is £50 that also includes a personalised Christmas card and small gift.

Journey through Corfe Castle

The 12 mile Swanage Railway return trip takes you through the beautiful Purbeck countryside and includes stunning views of the iconic remains of William the Conqueror’s Corfe Castle.

As you travel down to Swanage from Norden Station you can appreciate the rich history of the area, its abundant wildlife and fascinating geology as well as the influence the region had on famous authors such as Enid Blyton and Thomas Hardy. When Enid Blyton holidayed in the area, she used the railway and would generally include a train journey (inspired by her own experiences) in her Famous Five books.

What a wonderful trip down memory lane this was. I took the 50 bus from Bournemouth straight to Swanage station and then the train to Corfe Castle. To see the enthusiasm of the volunteers, all dressed in period uniform, was a wonder, and the old advertising hoardings which had been preserved on the stations produced a sense of nostalgia and magic. I loved it, and could not recommend it more highly to young and old alike . A reminder of the pre-Beeching railway system.

Click here to book dinner on The Christmas Belle

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Jólagarðurinn, Akureyri Christmas House, Iceland

The fire glows and crackles in the fireplace, and Christmas melodies and aromas fill the air, not just at Christmas but all year round at the magical spot that is Jólagarðurinn (Christmas garden) just outside of Akureyri in Iceland.

Inside the red house, that resembles a cookie house you can discover two floors packed full of Christmas trinkets that include decorations, food, music, artworks, books, toys, homeware and ornaments.

It truly is the most magical and wonderful time of year when you visit Jólagarðurinn. And how gorgeous it looks in the deepest of snow that makes it ever more charming.

Many of the yuletide treats you can find at the Christmas shop are international, representing how cultures around the world celebrate Christmas.

However, what is particular special to see are the Icelandic products, with many authentic local handicrafts for sale.

Iceland Christmas Traditions

Whilst visiting Jólagarðurinn, it was also wonderful to explore Icelandic Christmas traditions. They surely are amongst the world’s most interesting and unusual!

Christmas is often known as ‘Jól’ (Yule) in Iceland and also includes the New Year celebrations. This Icelandic Christmas period is an intriguing mixture of religious practice and traditional folklore, beginning on the 23rd December and ending on Epiphany, the 6th January.

As many countries do, Iceland celebrates Chrismas with good food and gifts to loved ones, but unlike most countries that have a single Father Christmas character, Icelandic children are fortunate enough to be visited by 13 Yule Lads. 

Other Christmas stories are rather bleak in nature, perhaps reflecting the harshness of winter and the isolation of the community in previous centuries. 

One such story that Icelandic children are told is the story of Grýla, the ogress who lives in the Icelandic mountains. Grýla is a dreadful character, described as part troll and part animal and the mother of 13 precocious boys (the Yule Lads). 

Every night one of these Yuletide lad visits, leaving sweets and small gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on how that particular child has behaved on the preceding day. Each Yuletide lad has a specific idiosyncrasy and will, therefore, behave in a particular manner.

Finally, there is the story of ‘The Christmas Cat’. Old Icelandic folklore states that every Icelander must receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas or they will find themselves in mortal danger. The tale also says that an enormous black cat prowls Iceland on Christmas Eve and eats anyone who doesn’t follow this simple rule!!

At Jólagarðurinn there are plenty of souvenirs that represent these fascinating Christmas traditions, and a cave on the ground floor with a sculpture of Grýla. The staff are also experts on Icelandic folklore and how it relates to the festive season, and are happy to answer any questions you may have.

Besides the Christmas Shop, you can find a tower with what is said to be the world’s largest advent calendar! The windows are numbered to reflect the days leading up to the 25th December with stunning walls that are beautifully painted with fairytale images, created by Icelandic artist Sunna Björk Hreiðarsdóttir.

Close by is then the ‘Eplakofin’, or the Apple Shed as pictured below where you can buy sugar glazed apples to help get into the festive season.

And if you’re sweet tooth is wanting more, you can find more sweet treats at Svarta Húsið, otherwise known as ‘The Black House’. This shop also sells a range of Nordic products, although they are not all Christmas themed. As an example of treats you can find, I picked up some magical Moomin sweets! Oh how magical this part of the world is.

The Christmas House is also home to the Christmas Garden, a truly beautiful festive space that looked so enchanting in a sheet of snow.

The garden has a miniature replica of an Icelandic turf church, recreated to represent how buildings looked across the country before industrialisation. It is also home to the Wishing Well of Unborn Children, where guests are encouraged to make a wish for future generations.

This darling spot in Northern Iceland holds so many treasures and I will forever remember my trip with such a heart full of enchanting memories.

Other than the town of Akureyri itself, there are a wealth of attractions in the North of Iceland that can be visited alongside the Christmas House.

One of the most well-known of these is Mývatn, a beautiful region of lakes, geological marvels and volcanic activity. It’s also where many of the scenes from ‘Game Of Thrones’ were filmed. There are also some stunning waterfalls, such as the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss, and the historic Goðafoss.

I’ll be gradually adding to my Iceland tab full of my adventures. But until then, I’m wishing you all the most magical Christmas from snowy Iceland holding the traditions that you cherish the most.

For all my travel adventures across the world head here.

How to reach the Christmas Shop from Akureyri:

To reach the Christmas Shop from Akureyri simply take Route 821 south from Akureyri, and you’ll find it to your left after about 10 minutes of driving. If you reach the village of Hrafnagil, you’ve gone slightly too far.

Click here for more Iceland adventures

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Solo Traveling For The First Time? Here’s How To Stay Safe

Solo Traveling For The First Time? Here’s How To Stay Safe

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It’s no secret that solo travel is one of the most engaging, enticing and exciting activities any of us could partake in. The idea of moving across the world at your own pace, learning a new culture, and doing so completely independently can be thoroughly romantic for many. Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Traveling alone takes from you the most important element of safety – being around other people who have your back.

That being said, it’s more than possible to travel safely while traveling solo, you just need to care for and understand a few important practices to keep you cared for. You will need to practice awareness and avoid making rash or silly decisions, as you would during any vacation. This can help you stay safe while also giving you the means to enjoy a fantastic, thoroughly exciting vacation. No matter if you’re traveling to educate yourself, to soak into another culture, to make new experiences or all three of those things, you deserve that baseline level of safety.

Here’s how you’ll go about it:

Stay In Touch

Stay in touch with those you love, or those who care for your safety. Ensure that you check in through social media or a call now and then, and keep them updated on your movements and where you hope to travel. It can seem romantic to cut yourself off from civilization, but when experiencing trouble this is the last thing you will likely wish for. Using the Postcard App MyPostcard you can also keep all of your friends updated not only with your locations, thoughts, feelings and intentions, but also with curated photography you have been developing during your travels, allowing them to follow your journey with amazing clarity.

Socialize & Bond

Socialize and bond with those who are surrounding you in your journey. Meeting the locals, heading to authentic restaurants or cafes, or bonding with other solo travelers in your hostel can be worthwhile provided you are careful with you who befriend, and do not trust someone simply because you may sound the same or have the same journey. That being said, having a network of people who know your name as you move from one place to another can only be a positive, especially if you need to rely on immediate help.

Keep Your Wits About You

Some may feel that once they have become seasoned travelers, they are able to avoid standard safety considerations and instead rely on their gut. Of course, it’s true that you may be a little wiser and more accomplished since you have last travelled, but that in no way suggests you are thoroughly able to ignore standard safety measures.

Taking care of your cash, protecting your valuables, ensuring social protection such as putting a hand over an open drink in a bar, and researching as to common techniques used by thieves or how to avoid the bad parts of town will always be important to keep on top of, and you should never fail to keep your wits about you.

With this advice, solo travel will thankfully become all the safer.

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