Wonderful wildlife opportunities

From bird blogging to building woodlands, there’s more than one way to look after the great outdoors if you’ve been inspired over lockdown….

After World Wildlife Day this week, which celebrated the many species and communities around the world depending upon forests and woodlands, you may be feeling inspired to lend your time to a charity which helps others to enjoy nature. If that’s the case, then read on for 3 fab ways to help others to enjoy nature and a life outside!

There are many charities focused on helping nature and promoting the great outdoors, whilst the benefits of volunteering for one of these charities are huge! Not only is volunteering a great way to engage with nature nearby, but you also get to gain practical experience and new skills. According to REED, volunteering can also help you to stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs. What’s more, according to recent evidence, volunteering can improve your physical and mental health and might even make you live longer!

Have a browse below to get volunteering, (safely), in 2021!

Tweet or chirp about bird benefits!

The RSPB has an excellent site for volunteering from home or in the great outdoors which means that whatever your confidence level after lockdown, there’s a volunteering opportunity for everyone! At the time of counting there were 84 volunteer opportunities on their site, ranging from surveying butterflies to being a “bushcraft” volunteer. You can also fundraise or organise meetings from home too. There are even residential volunteering placements abroad, or hourly opportunities for those with less time on their hands. There are plenty of options for anyone who wants to get involved and if you can’t find a role which appeals to you, get in contact with them by filling in a volunteer enquiry form.

Walking with nature through CareDogs

From Britain’s biggest charity to a much more local, but no less important one. CareDogs seeks to end social isolation for older people by forging life-changing connections between older people living in London and dogs who need rehoming. The charity provides opportunities for volunteers who want to do good, get outdoors and connect with people and nature by becoming dog walkers and befrienders. By volunteering for CareDogs you can encourage and accompany older people to enjoy more outdoor walks and activities with their dogs. The charity hopes to address the growing problem of social isolation, whilst increasing the adoption rate of older dogs from rescue centres and shelters around London. It’s a new and extremely exciting charity to get involved in and you can benefit in several ways. You’ll get out more, you’ll be closer to nature and you’ll get to meet new people! If you’re interested, fill in the enquiry form here, or if you’d like to watch a few videos explaining a little more, try this link instead.

Be part of a “Green” team!

Fancy being part of a huge group of volunteers around the nation who last year transformed 900 green spaces and planted 50,000 trees as part of 31,000 volunteer days? TCV or The Conservation Volunteers under the Vice Presidency of Sir David Attenborough aim to connect people and green spaces in order to improve people’s lives. They’ve been doing this for 60 years successfully! If you log onto their website, you can find a local activity to get involved in. From rehabilitating hospital patients through the green gym to building green spaces such as waterways, wetlands and woodlands. There’s plenty of choice! For more information about their work, watch their video, (which can be found on this page), or to find an activity to get involved in near you, try clicking here.

Hopefully, some of the ideas above have given you even more inspiration to enjoy a little more of your life outside!

There are plenty of other ideas about outside adventures, as well as holiday inspiration if you want to follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

Holiday hacks for a Dogtastic summer!

Wanting some inspiration for UK outdoor adventures with your furry friend for your next holiday? Try these tips and links to make the most of your caravanning or camping canine adventures!

In celebration of a new furry addition to our extended family, (my brother’s family have bought a cute Cavapoo puppy this month), and as a result of adoring all things dog, I thought an article on dog friendly holiday tips, places to go and dogtastic holiday hacks might be in order. As a dog lover, I know that anywhere outside is likely to be a winning idea for your furry friend. Most dogs love the great outdoors and it’s really good for their health as well as ours. According to recent studies, dog owners are more likely to exercise half an hour more than the general population. The PDSA website has got some great ideas about getting the right type of exercise with your dog. So where can you go to find great tips for holidaying with your hound?

Doggy destinations

The UK is very much a dog friendly destination for a holiday, as is much of Europe for that matter. After being welcomed on the basis of our dog, rather than ourselves, to a restaurant in Germany, we’ve been incredibly lucky to have had extremely positive experiences pretty much wherever we have travelled. Only on one occasion in the UK, have we ever been disappointed, (a cafe which told us that we were welcome to eat with our dog, but as long as it was outside, where it was raining, and if we sat on plastic bags!). Cherry, our four-legged furball, has travelled with us on many ships, motorboats, cable cars, bendy busses and trains in the UK and on the continent, meaning that holidaying and exploring has been relatively free and easy. Obviously, like other dog owners, we are much more mindful in hotter weather and have to adapt our activities appropriately, where she is quite happy to chill out in a pub, coffee shop or three when things get too warm.

I would recommend the following destinations below for being particularly brilliant in terms of their dog friendliness. There are also plenty more guides to great dog friendly destinations here, here and here.

  1. Keswick. It seems that there isn’t a shop in Keswick which doesn’t allow dogs inside and it is a regular dog friendly award winner! Although this Lake District town is busier in the summer months, if you visit off peak, it’s a great base from which to enjoy the beauty and splendour of its surrounding countryside. Great walks nearby include scaling Cat Bells, Skiddaw and Buttermere, but there are plenty of quieter walks which aren’t too far away.
  • 2. Wells-next-the-Sea. This lovely town along the North Norfolk coastline is also exceedingly popular with dog owners, having been voted as the 2nd best dog friendly town and beach in the 2019 Dog Friendly Awards. You can walk from its beach to the beautiful wide sands of Holkham just a little further up the coast. Having highlighted the attractions of Holkham beach in a previous blog, I would recommend Norfolk as a great holiday destination for caravanners and campers with dogs.

Further afield, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany are very welcoming and often allow dogs into shops and restaurants. In fact, in plenty of motorway service stations on the continent dogs are allowed inside, as we found in Luxembourg and Germany. Although travelling abroad may be out of reach right now for UK citizens, these destinations are great bets for a European canine camping adventure in the future.

Pawfect caravan and camping sites for dogs

So many caravan and camping parks allow dogs to stay with their owners that it is impossible to cover them all in this section. Holidaying on wheels with a dog is a perfect way to get closer to nature and many campsites and touring parks offering plenty of dog friendly features such as dog walks on site, heated dog showers, fresh water bowls and free biscuits! All of the UK’s Caravan and Motorhome Club sites allow dogs to stay for free with their owners. This is great for the budget conscious holidaymaker. They also have a recommended list of sites which are perfect for dog walks here. Most Best of British Holiday Parks also allow dogs to stay alongside owners on pitches, or in their lodges, holiday homes and glamping accommodation, with plenty of extra dog friendly facilities onsite.

There are also a number of Tranquil Parks sites which are brilliant for dog owners staying in their caravan, motorhome or camper. We love the Old Oaks Touring and Glamping Park in Somerset which is very well placed for walks straight from the site in any direction. You can walk up Glastonbury Tor nearby, whilst it has its own enclosed dog walk complete with a dog shower onsite too. It’s 5 star luxury washroom facilities ensure that your stay is very relaxing. Red Kite Touring Park in Powys is similar in terms of the high standards of pitch, facilities and excellent dog walks both onsite and off site. It also has a dog shower for muddy walks and like the Old Oaks, has a well landscaped fishing lake onsite. We had visited Red Kite last summer, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, as we knew how safe we would be due to its excellent safety and cleaning practices onsite.

Dog friendly UK attractions

There are great online guides such as the Good Dog Guide and Dog Friendly Britain providing a plethora of recommendations for attractions to visit with your four pawed adventurer once you arrive at your destination. To start off, you can’t go wrong using English Heritage and the National Trust guides. Most of their sites are dog friendly and even free, if you become a member. There are also plenty of other UK attractions which are great options for dog owners. Some recommendations which we have visited with Cherry are….

Wells Cathedral, Somerset – Yes a cathedral! I’m not making this up! We were kindly allowed inside to be able to experience the beauty of this medieval building, set at the heart of England’s smallest city. Cherry had to be on a lead, well-behaved and accompanied at all times by us and it was an added extra that she was able to join us inside for a visit.

The Eden Project, Cornwall- Aside from the biome areas, we could walk carefree and explore the many exhibits and gardens with Cherry, whilst there were plenty of water bowls throughout this attraction. We took it in turns to visit the biomes but due to the huge choice of gardens, cafes and scenic places to sit, this was not a problem for us. We felt that it was excellent value for money as a daylong dog friendly attraction.

Nothe Fort, Dorset- A 100% dog friendly attraction overlooking Portland Harbour. This C19th fort was built to protect the naval harbour at Portland. There is a museum with many fascinating exhibits of military technology including one of the role of the fort in World War Two. We were able to take Cherry through each tunnel and my husband enjoyed posing on one of its many anti-aircraft guns!

There are plenty of other individual attractions that we are still to visit post Covid such as the Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire, England, (a highly rated dog friendly award winner), and Inveraray Jail in Argyll, Scotland, (a place we have stopped at but not realised that dogs were allowed inside). Hopefully, we can explore more of these places safely soon.

Doggy proof your holiday home

The beauty of having your own home on wheels is the fact that Cherry immediately settles as soon as we have pitched up. After a few choice radio tunes and a quick drink, she’s already hogged the sofa, leaving us to get the rest of the caravan/ awning set up in peace. It also helps to have researched the site already. Where are the nearest dog poo bins? Where can your dog go and where not? How long should your lead be around the site? Camping and caravan sites are really welcoming places for dog owners but by paying attention to doggy etiquette, you’ll be appreciated by everyone. Remember, not all campers are animal lovers! The Caravan and Motorhome Club Guidance has a good guide to visiting its sites with a dog which can be accessed here.

Cherry meeting her match at Dogfest 2019!

As a proud caravan owner, I had to quickly improvise when we planned to go away for the first time. However, experience had already taught me the basics-pack a few towels, and a few more just in case, then a few more because you know a mischievious spot of sheep poo will turn up where you least expect it. The addition of several cheap coordinated fleecy throws has also ensured not only Cherry’s comfort, but my sanity! In addition to the usual, (a few toys, food, light weight bowls etc), we also carry different types of leads in the van- the screw in, a short lead, (for pub trips), and a longer extendable lead for our varied walks. The last item we find invaluable is a silicone folding water bowl for our walks. Not only are these lightweight and easy to attach to your rucksack, but they are much easier to carry and reduce water wastage when you are limited to how much water you can carry on longer walks. They can also double up as bowls in the caravan and unlike the bottle tray combos, are lighter, less clunky and easier to clean. Cherry is set up then to enjoy her evening entertainment of watching birds/ people/ other dogs and snoring.

I hope that you enjoy planning your next camping or camping holiday with your canine as soon as it is safe enough to enjoy the summer!

For further information on any of these destinations, please click on the embedded link for each attraction. Please also be aware of the up to date Covid-19 regulations within the UK which may affect the access to each attraction. For an up to date guide to the latest travelling advice in the UK during the Coronavirus pandemic, please visit the 4 websites in the RESOURCES section of my website.

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

Cultural sites less travelled for a super staycation!

Do you want to be a culture vulture on holiday but fancy a destination with less crowds this summer? You may be all too aware of the need to socially distance and prefer a place, where it is naturally easier to distance yourself from other tourists? Perhaps you’re the type of tourist who prefers to seek out your own hidden gems rather than be told about the top 10 places to go in the UK?

Read on for 4 alternative historical sites and perfect places to stay nearby…

Stonehenge vs Callanish Stones

Stonehenge in Wiltshire is a formidable prehistoric monument of unique historical importance and as a World Heritage Site, justifiably attracts just under a million new visitors each year in normal circumstances. It is a monument well worth visiting. However, an alternative prehistoric gem to try at the opposite end of the UK can be found in the Outer Hebrides. The Callanish Stones, are situated near the village of Callanish on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, (Western Isles of Scotland). It is believed that the site itself was constructed between 2900 and 2600 BC, whilst the tallest stone marks the entrance to a burial cairn where human remains have been discovered. Set against a stunning Scottish backdrop, this makes an excellent day trip to from Uig in Skye, another beautiful Scottish island, via car ferry, courtesy of Caledonian MacBrayne. For a camping or caravan site on Skye, try Torvaig campsite near Portree which caters for motorhomes, caravans, campervans and tents with a mixture of hard standing and grass pitches with, or without electricity.

York Minster vs Sweetheart Abbey

York Minster, famous for its beautiful windows containing more Medieval stained glass than anywhere else in the country, has long been a magnet for tourists. Not only does its history stretch back as far as Roman times, but it is one of the largest cathedrals of its kind in northern Europe. However, if you want to avoid the crowds visiting this extraordinary historical site, consider another abbey or cathedral. The UK has plenty of them. A great alternative option is Sweetheart Abbey in Dumfries Scotland, where fans of a good historical yarn can discover more about the story behind the name.

In 1268, Lady Dervorguilla of Galloway, had her husband’s embalmed heart placed in an ivory casket after he died. This grieving widow is believed to have carried it with her everywhere. Lady Dervorguilla also founded the Cistercian abbey of Dulce Cor, (Latin for ‘Sweet Heart’), and when she died in 1289, she was laid to rest in front of its high altar. You can even glimpse the stone effigy of Lady Dervorguilla cradling her husband’s embalmed heart to her bosom in the south transept of the abbey. As well as the abbey itself, there is much to see and do in this beautiful and quiet region of Scotland. You are a hop and a skip away from Galloway Forest Park, Scotland’s first Dark Sky Park and the beautiful Galloway Coast. These make superb day trips from Englethwaite Hall Caravan Club Site, which as long as you have your own facilities, comes highly recommended in terms of forest walks from the site, ease of access from the M6, as well as its sheltered and tranquil location. Glentrool Camping and Caravan Site also offers a no frills site in the beautiful Galloway Forest.

Warwick Castle vs Goodrich Castle

Knights, camera, action!! Warwick Castle is well known as a hub of Medieval style re-enactments, entertainments and jousts for historical thrill seekers and offers a rich variety of family friendly opportunities to discover the world of chivalry, battles and castles. However, if you are happy to let your imagine do the work, Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire is a brilliant bet and much easier on the pocket too! It also allows dogs on leads, which is great for us. This well preserved and fascinating castle lies next to the river Wye, near the English and Welsh border. Steeped in history and dating from the 11th Century, it also played a prominent part in the English Civil War.

Herefordshire itself is a stunning county, and one of our favourites. You can find plenty of space for countryside walks, and culture seeking. From the delightful black and white village of Pembridge to the Mappa Mundi, (the largest Medieval map of the world in Hereford Cathedral), there is plenty here to attract culture seekers. You’ve also got a number of cycling cider circuit trails from Visit Herefordshire to make the most out of too! Visit, Lucksall Caravan and Camping Park, a 5-star location which we’d heartily recommend. It has a cafe onsite alongside a beautiful river location, as well as plenty of pitches for caravans, motorhomes, campers and glampers, just in case you haven’t got your own home on wheels!

Blackpool Tower vs Darwen Tower

The bright lights of Blackpool have long attracted visitors and Blackpool Tower, built in 1894, is one of the most famous landmarks in the UK. Modelled after the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris, it was commissioned by the mayor of Blackpool after his attendance at the Great Paris Exhibition of 1889. This iconic Lancashire landmark, set along the seafront, has always been popular with day trippers and holiday makers keen to sample other attractions along the coast such as the Pleasure Beach and illuminations. For a less busy location with an equally fantastic view from its summit, try Darwen Tower further east of this same county. Although you won’t experience the same razzmatazz of Blackpool, you can enjoy a beautiful walk along the surrounding moorland to reach the tower which was built four years after Blackpool Tower, in 1898. Originally built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and to celebrate the victory of the local people for the right to access the moor, this 85 foot tower offers great views of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Morecambe Bay, Blackpool Tower, Cumbria, the Isle of Man, and North Wales on a good day from its summit.

Not so far away is the Forest of Bowland, an AONB, (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), with plenty of further opportunities to walk, cycle, horse ride, watch wildlife or go star gazing, whilst sampling local history and culture. J.R.R.Tolkien visited this area a lot, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was schooled in nearby Stonyhurst College. Try Clitheroe Camping and Caravanning Site which is perfectly located for this area. Set alongside a river with plenty of canoeing and fishing opportunities, you can walk to Clitheroe town and castle only a mile up the road. Having stayed here before, I can vouch for its clean facilities. It offers hardstanding and grass pitches, as well as glamping tents for those who don’t own a camper, motorhome, or caravan.

Whatever summer holiday you are planning this year, I hope it’s a good one for you!

Don’t forget to read my other blogs such as “Brill Beaches for social distancing“, “Happy New Year, Happy New Holidays!“, “Castle , Combes or Coast?” for more ideas on that summer staycation….

Please see the latest UK’s COVID-19 regulations in each country in the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling this summer.

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

Lockdown blues?….5 family friendly ways to get back in touch with nature in January

Too many mince pies and Netflix? Feeling like it’s too long until the summer? Struggling with fewer opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors? Then read on….

As we navigate our way through tighter restrictions and fewer chances to exercise in our local neighbourhoods, it is easy to lose contact with the world around us. In January, we also tend to experience more difficult extremes of winter weather, making getting out and about even more difficult. However, by reconnecting with nature, you can become more relaxed and less stressed, even during this winter month. According to the UK’s mental health charity MIND, nature helps us to be more active and confident. What’s not to love? Read on for 5 family friendly ways to get closer to nature in January.

1. Join the Big Garden Birdwatch!

Bring nature closer to you later this month with help from the RSPB, by taking part in the world’s largest wildlife survey Although you might not be able to get together with loved ones at the moment, you can make plans with friends and family to join together for an hour between the 29th and 31st January. The Big Garden Birdwatch helps the RSPB, which is the largest nature conservation charity in the country, in tracking wildlife around the UK. There are also plenty of other activities which the whole family might want to take part in this month on its website, such as taking part in a “Wild Challenge”, “Upcycling for nature” or creating a bird bath! You can also complete a quiz to work out which garden bird you are… I’m a blackbird apparently!

2. Help a hedgehog!

You could build a hedgehog home if you have a garden with access for hedgehogs. According to Hedgehog Street, the population of Great Britain’s only spiny mammal has fallen considerably. We’ve lost a third of these wonderful creatures from our towns and cities and a half from our rural areas. By providing shelter and supporting this amazing charity, you can help these cute creatures to flourish.

3. Create a bug box!

The Woodland Trust has a great selection of ways to enjoy nature. It offers guidance on building a bug hotel on its website, as well as several resources to help little ones get inspired by nature in their own backyard. Building a bug hotel is a brilliant activity which the whole family can take part in, whilst helping wildlife on your doorstep. Elsewhere on the Woodland Trust’s website, you can find lots of other activities for children to do during the winter lockdown months such as making natural artwork and becoming a nature pirate or expert tree tracker. For more information, click here.

4. Walk for wildlife

The World Wildlife Fund has a brilliant Seek app which you can download which helps you to identify any living thing on your walk such as plants, flowers, insects, birds and animals. When you identify a species, you’ll be able to find out all about it, as well as seeing how common or rare it is for your area and the time of year. You can also run, walk, or cycle in your own garden or local community and raise valuable funds for WWF’s conservation work around the world through its challenge event ideas this year. Its fundraising pack is available here. Not only are you getting closer to nature, but you are giving something back too, and keeping healthy by doing it!

5. Plan your 2021 summer adventure

“The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting”

Andy Warhol

Anticipation of events to look forward to can give us pleasure. So much pleasure comes from excitement about the future, so why not get planning or preparing for your next trip outside, whether it be a weekend in the country or a travelling tour around the North Coast 500? By planning a family camping or caravanning trip, you are undoubtedly going to get closer to nature with your accommodation choice, whilst you could include new adventures which actively involve you all getting close to nature as part of your holiday activities. How about dolphin spotting along the Moray Firth in Scotland? You could look out for basking sharks along the Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland or even take a Red Squirrel Spotting Tour in the Kielder Forest! Try the Caravan and Motorhome Club’s Website to start planning your next summer adventure…..

To help you plan your next outdoor adventure, have a look at the RESOURCES section of this website and if you enjoyed reading, follow me on WordPress and share or like this page!

Happy New Year, Happy New Holidays!

Fancy pushing your boundaries a little with a different type of holiday to look forward to this summer? Would you like to try a different experience, or go even further to become an adrenaline pumped adventurer? After our long lockdown winter, hopefully vaccines will have kicked in and we can look ahead to lighter days and a well-deserved break. Here are some alternative holiday ideas for anyone thinking about the summer, who wants to be inspired to try something a little different for their camping, caravanning or motorhoming holiday…

“SUP”ing in a Scottish Loch!

Stand Up Paddle Boarding or “SUP”ing is growing in popularity and being able to begin your first adventure in the spectacularly scenic and historic surrounding of Glencoe could be one of the best aquatic experiences you’ve had! From as little as £30 per person, you can choose from different paddleboard activities from the “Loch Leven Discovery” experience where you can learn the basics on a tour of Loch Leven, to a more private adventure, soaking up the mountains surrounding you, whilst exercising and learning a new skill. Visit Rugged Paddleboard to find out more about this fantastic activity. Having kayaked a few summers ago across Loch Leven, I can vouch for the beauty of these picturesque surroundings. We’ve stayed in many places nearby, but I can recommend nearby Bunree, where you can stay with the Caravan and Motorhome Club or Oban Camping and Caravanning Site, both of which offer a friendly welcome. They are situated next to forests and lochs and there are plenty of walking, cycling trails and other mountain adventures on your doorstep.

Vineyards, mountain boarding and a step back in time in Shropshire!

Fancy an adventure and culture combo? Start with the action-packed adventures available at The Edge Adventure activity centre at Much Wenlock. Here, you can Segway, mountain board, zip wire and quad bike, before scaling the heights of Jacob’s Ladder. This activity centre based at Newton House Farm in Much Wenlock, also offers caravan and camping accommodation on its site too. Not far away at Wroxeter you can indulge in a vineyard tour at Wroxeter Roman Vineyard followed by a cultural visit of the Roman ruins at Wroxeter Roman City, just a few minutes up the road. If you are happy with a very basic stopover, overlooking a field of alpacas, try where we stopped over in May a few years back at Glebe Farm Certified Location, where for only £12 a night you are close to both of these contrasting attractions. What a treat!

Two Welsh waterways in one!

Experience two contrasting water-based experiences near Llangollen in North Wales. Begin with a white water rafting adventure courtesy of River Active Llangollen, starting at the Horseshoe Falls with a guided safety briefing before you start your adrenaline filled venture along the River Dee. The following day you can opt for a much more serene experience guaranteed to give you beautiful views along the route of the 11-mile World Heritage Site route travelling along the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. You can hire a horse drawn boat for a full day or opt for a shorter cruise along the canal instead by visiting Llangollen Wharf. There are also plenty of castles to visit nearby at Chirk and Dinas Bran, whilst you are not too far away by car from the highest mountain in Wales, Snowdon. Abbey Grange Campsite is located near the centre of these activities. Alternatively, the all singing and all dancing Plassey Leisure Park, complete with swimming pool, leisure centre and retail village is only 18 minutes’ drive away. Plassey offers pitches, glamping accommodation and holiday homes for family fun.

Sports to make you scream in the Lakes!

From the Via Ferrata Xtreme challenge to the Infinity Bridge Step where you can push yourself across a single wire strung across a gorge 2000 feet above the valley floor, the experiences and activities available at Honister.com are definitely not for the faint hearted! You can choose to attempt single or multiple activities, including vertical climbs and cliff edge ladders whilst taking in the beautiful views of Buttermere and Loweswater nearby. This slate mine found at the head of Honister Pass in the Lake District, provides any daring adventurer to try out a range of adrenalin inducing indoor and outdoor activities. It is also home to the last working slate mine in England. If you’re feeling hungry after all that, you can enjoy a delicious lunch at the Sky Hi Cafe, the highest cafe in the Lake District, where dogs and humans are welcome! The Lake District is famous for plenty of other reasons too, from Beatrix Potter to Alfred Wainwright and there are many other outside activities nearby for any outside enthusiast. VisitLakeDistrict has lots of other ideas to help you to make the most of your stay. As regular visitors to the Lake District in our caravan we would recommend Coniston Park Coppice as a great sheltered site which offers plenty of walks to the lake and nearby Coniston from the site. It suits families as well as couples wanting a more chilled break, who can benefit from the diverse choice of different pitches available, as well as glampers and campers.

Buzzing or Baking along the British south coast!

Lastly, for something totally different, try your hand at a beekeeping course, cooking, gardening, or bakery session at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage near Axminster in Dorset. Famous for his war on plastic, cookery books and tv series, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage business encourages visitors to buy in to the best of sustainable living, gardening and cooking and offers a diverse array of courses and gastronomic experiences for any taste. You can also enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour at a dining event or at his River Cottage Kitchen in nearby at Axminster town centre. Dorset offers tourists a rich array of sites to visit, ranging from the large stretch of the stunning Jurassic Coastline, a World Heritage Site, to museums, harbours and historic towns such as Dorchester and Blandford Forum. There are plenty of camp sites for all tastes and budgets too. The Caravan and Motorhome Club has an excellent selection which can be found by clicking this link.

Whatever your plans are for the summer, stay safe and check out the latest Covid-19 advice in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales before you go…. Enjoy!

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. Check out the resources section of my website for more information about places to visit. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like or share this page too!

So, here it is….Merry Christmas!

As I admired our Christmas tree handiwork and chomped on the first of many mince pies of the season, I, like many people this year, made a secret wish. Obviously, I can’t tell you what it was, or it won’t come true! I would love to share with you though, one of my many hopes for next Christmas in 2021….

I really hope people can share Christmas with each other in 2021 without fear of making others ill. Sharing festive traditions can be great fun and can really help to bring communities together. There are so many wonderful Christmas outdoor traditions which had to be cancelled during the winter months this year. Let’s hope that next Christmas will allow us to safely enjoy some of these wacky traditions in the great outdoors. I love the sound of these ones in particular, for the colder months of 2021…

  • How about immersing yourself in a network of Winter Wonderland Caves in Valkenburg, in the southern tip of the Netherlands? You can shop for Christmas gifts and admire the beautiful nativity scenes in the candlelit caves underground.
  • Or perhaps you fancy a little fright before Christmas? If you do, then you could take part in a Krampus procession in a city like Innsbruck in Austria. These demon-like figures with their long horns, frightening masks, iron chains and loud bells might be right up your street instead. The tradition dates originated in pre-Christian times and traditionally takes place in early December.
  • You can always try out the International Hair Freezing Contest a little further afield in Yukon, Canada during the winter months! Participants in the contest dunk their heads in the hot water of the local pools and then create frosty hairdos by shaping their locks as they freeze in the cold air above. Temperatures in the area can reach below -30° Celsius at the time of the contest!
  • Finally, how about a refreshing icy cold splash on New Year’s Day in the Firth of Forth in Scotland? This New Year’s Day swim isn’t for the faint hearted and braving the freezing waters of the North Sea is a real challenge! You can swim in fancy dress for charity which might spur you on to embrace those chilling temperatures!

Whatever you are up to this Christmas, I wish you all a happy one! Hopefully, you will have a very safe and very enjoyable Christmas this year wherever you live!

Life’s a beach in the winter!… Brill beaches for social distancing

The Christmas jingle bells are a jingling and the first hint of frost, or even snow may be upon us. So, it’s the perfect time of year for the beach, right? For most people, the thought of colder and more temperamental weather might not seem an obvious reason to visit your local coastline, but often, it’s when the sunseekers are cosily tucked inside their homes, that it’s the best time to head to your local beach if it’s nearby. During this frosty season fewer visitors tend to travel to the coast, so you have even more chance of being able to grab your own space and safely social distance than in the summer months. Clearly COVID-19 restrictions are still in force, preventing many people from heading to the coast in certain areas. However hopefully, in the none too distant future, there will be plenty of opportunity to catch the beautiful UK coastline at its winter best.

The coastline of Great Britain and its many islands stretches over 31 000 kilometres, according to the Ordnance Survey, with over 539 kilometres of coastline in Northern Ireland. This means that there are plenty of quieter beaches which are perfect for social distancing. What’s more, we live in an island country and as no one lives too far from the many beaches along our coastline, there’s plenty of choice for everyone too. In fact, according to “The Beach Guide” there are at least 1500 beaches in the UK. We all have our favourites, but rather than going to the most popular, why not try some less obvious coastal areas in the UK?

How about trying some of these in the future? – when it is safe to do so of course…

(Please see the latest COVID-19 restrictions for the most up to date travel advice across Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England)

Machrihanish Beach, Scotland

  • Mull of Kintyre Peninsular

The beach extends to over 3 miles of soft, clean sand and most of it is backed by low, grassy dunes. It’s an ideal destination for those looking for a quiet, wild escape with lovely views.  Come here for long, solitary walks and admire the wide open sky whilst listening to the waves crashing against the shore. There is plenty of wildlife here too.  As well as birds, there is a possibility of spotting seals and even the occasional otter. It’s the wildlife who are more likely to hear you humming the melody of that famous Paul McCartney song rather than humans. Go on, you know you want to…..

” Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh, Mull of Kintyre “

Murlough Beach, Northern Ireland

  • County Down

Murlough is a huge, five-mile-long sand beach, nestling under the beautiful Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland.  It’s a popular place for surfing, kite surfing and windsurfing but its size means that there is plenty of space for anyone who visits, particularly in winter. The area is fantastic for walking along the beautiful sandy beach, or amongst the sand dunes. Behind the beach, Murlough Nature Reserve, a 6000-year-old system of dunes is home to plenty of wildlife such as badgers, stoats and 23 species of butterfly. It became Ireland’s first nature reserve, after the National Trust took ownership in 1967. 

Chesil Beach, England

  • Dorset

The 18-mile-long stretch of Chesil Beach offers plenty of opportunity for stretching two legs or even four! It’s a perfect spot to relax and find your own space whilst enjoying the magnificent Jurassic coastline. The beach is made up of pebbles and shingle forming the largest tombolo in England. It’s the perfect beach for dog walkers, wildlife watchers or those who like to avoid the usual beach crowds. For a great day out, park for free at Abbotsbury Swannery, a short walk away from Chesil Beach. After grabbing a bite to eat and drink there, soak up the views along Chesil Beach and finish off the day at Abbotsbury Subtropical gardens less than a mile away.

Loch Linnhe beaches, Scotland

  • Onich and Barcaldine and Tralee beach, Argyll,

I have grouped these beaches together because there are so many marvellous bays and stretches of beach along the shores of Loch Linnhe in Argyll. This area holds a special place in my heart as it is where my husband and I got married, at Barcaldine Castle. We have also spent many holidays in this region as well as several wonderfully quiet, beach moments along this coast. The views along this stretch are stunning. On top of that, there is the cycle path, (the Caledonian Way), which runs all the way up to Loch Ness, (if you’re feeling adventurous) and down towards Oban. There are plenty of beautiful mountain and forest walks along this stretch too. This means that you are less likely to bump into fellow walkers and can enjoy the peace and tranquillity which this delightful area of the country brings.

The beaches here, are a mixture of pebbles, shingle and sand, depending on which one you pick. If you fancy the breathtaking silver sands of Morar, about a 90-minute ride further up the coast, you’ll be treated to some of the whitest sand you might ever have seen in the UK.

Holkham Beach, England

  • Norfolk

Famous for the last scene in the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’ when Gwyneth Paltrow walked across Holkham sand at low tide, and for the video accompanying the All Saints track “The Beach”, Holkham does not disappoint in terms of its ability to allow visitors to spread out and find their own piece of beach heaven. Although it is popular during warmer weather, it is quieter during the colder months. Once you have arrived on the beach itself, it is easy to socially distance. There are also plenty of walks in the nature reserve behind the sand, which was designated a National Nature Reserve in 1967. This area of dunes and freshwater grazing has become a haven for wildlife and in particular, ground-nesting and over-wintering wildfowl and waders. So, it’s perfect for nature lovers too.

Ainsdale Beach

  • Merseyside

This beach is becoming recognised as one of the premier beaches in the UK for extreme kite activities, with zones set aside for kite buggy and kitesurfing taking place on the sea. It has been awarded the International Blue Flag on a number of occasions too. The vast beach stretches for several miles between Southport to the north and Formby to the south. There are lots of dunes to explore behind the beach and the walks here are well signposted. This National Nature Reserve hosts over 450 wild plant species, and wildlife such as sand lizards, great crested newts and natterjack toads.

This week a £350,000 investment has also been announced by Sefton Council to provide new facilities for visitors such as ‘off-beach’ car parking arrangements, new toilets and new safety and accessibility facilities, as well as providing vital protection to the natural environment. It is popular in the summer months but much less busy during the winter and once parked up, you can socially distance very easily as the beach is huge!

Druidston Haven Beach, Wales

  • Pembrokeshire (just south of Nolton Haven)

We chanced upon this quiet beach this summer on our holiday to Pembrokeshire. Keen to be away from crowds, we followed the coastal path south from Nolton Haven and after about 30 minutes, found a long stretch of sand with virtually no one on it. It really felt like paradise after the sadness and difficulties of Covid-19 in the spring. The lack of road access to this beach, meant that this enormous sandy beach gave us plenty of space to chill out. It seemed that the handful of other visitors, including horse riders, felt the same. It was also great for Cherry to stretch her legs and have a paddle. It’s a great beach if you’re happy to walk a bit to it.

Sugar Sands, England

  • Northumberland

This secluded beach full of light white sand, can be found to the south of Craster. It is a bit of a walk to get to it from either Howick or Boulmer but as a result, it’s much quieter. The Northumberland Coast has some lovely wide sandy beaches which tend to be less busy than many others in the UK, meaning you are more likely to enjoy space and freedom, especially during the cooler months.

Although the beaches above may give you some ideas for the future, they are by no means an exhaustive list! There are plenty of other amazing beaches along the UK coastline. Which beach would you recommend for a socially distanced winter visit?

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Avoiding lockdown blues before Christmas ….How to bring the outside in or inside out (part 2)

For anyone experiencing lockdown in the UK over the last few weeks, it’s been a lot trickier to enjoy exploring the great outdoors. So, to help you keep going, here are just a few more ideas which can help you to find ways to enjoy life outside as the daylight hours get shorter.

Have a happy “Hygge” time

Follow the “hygge” way, (pronounced ‘hoo-ga’), a word which basically means ‘cosiness.’ Hygge also promotes the ideas of finding solace in nature and outdoor activities, and most importantly, taking pleasure in the simple things in life. According to research, Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world. So maybe the Danes’ embracing of all things “hygge ” is the secret? Follow the writings of Signe Johansen in her book “How to Hygge” or be inspired by this article on seven ways to bring hygge to your garden. Think cuddling up under cosy warm blankets, surrounded by winter flowering plants like violas or winter flowering honeysuckle on your patio and twinkling fairy lights and lanterns up above. Bliss!

Head to the biggest gym in the UK – outside!

The National Trust in partnership with the NHS has created a fantastic 31-day plan to help us get fitter. The best thing about it, is that it involves getting outside. As it promotes in the plan, just five minutes in the outdoor gym every day can lead to an immediate improvement in mood and self-esteem, as well as physical fitness, whilst burning up to 20% more calories. That’s got to be good news, considering the decadently calorific winter food available this season! Most of the activity ideas can be followed within the exercise rules of lockdown, and there are plenty of different types of exercises to try outside for different abilities. Just find yourself a green space, whether it’s your garden or a local park and get moving!

Festive ‘feelgood’ shopping

Following on from my last post, there is a multitude of charities and organisations linked to nature, wildlife and green spaces, many of whom have suffered from a lack of funding this year as the numbers of charity events and visitor numbers during COVID-19 restrictions have reduced. There are many Christmas shops online where you can support one of these charities and seek out some fabulous presents for your nearest and dearest. The National Trust for example, has a “Cottage Garden Den Kit” which is great for imaginative youngsters who want to experience the outdoors whatever the weather. Alternatively, you could inspire someone close to find up to 60 exciting outdoor adventures with the help of the “Great British Bucket List” on sale in its Christmas shop. Other charities such as English Heritage, WWT, and The World Wildlife Fund also have some super ideas for Christmas gifts.

Get creative with the kids!

Make a simple homemade bird feeder by following these instructions from the RSPB. Then hang it up and spend an afternoon bird watching. See if you can identify which birds come to visit by trying this garden bird quiz or try another of the wonderful outside activities for children of all ages from stargazing to making your own weather station by following this link. You could even design a garden scavenger hunt for any young explorer or get them to create their own, complete with clues to find the hidden treasure. If you fancy a free festive themed activity, try a hunt for the best Christmas outside decoration in your local neighbourhood. Many people have already started early with the decorations this year!

Whatever you choose, stay safe and enjoy the outdoors this season!

To help you plan your next outdoor adventure, have a look at the RESOURCES section of this website and if you enjoyed reading, follow me on WordPress and share or like this page!

(Cherry enjoying the simple pleasures in life….)

Winter is coming….How to bring the outside in or inside out

As Bonfire night explosions end with a final sizzle, the next thing on people’s minds is usually the beginning of winter and preparations for the festive season ahead. What’s been added to the mix this year is Covid-19, and it’s thrown us rather off kilter with our prewinter preparations. Whether it’s a national lockdown like in Wales, Northern Ireland or England or a set of local restrictions like in Scotland, things have certainly become very different for us, as the nights draw in and the evenings get a little chillier.

The good news is that even with restrictions in place, you can still go outdoors and enjoy life outside, as long as it’s done safely. Even if the weather isn’t great which, let’s be honest, tends to happen even more at this time of year, you can still find ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Here are some tips for enjoying life outside at this time of year.

Keep active

According to the NHS, there’s strong scientific evidence that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and happier life. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing many long-term conditions and exercise can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stress, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%. What’s more studies have shown that green exercise, which basically means exercising or interacting with nature on a daily basis, has been shown to improve mental health by reducing stress, anxiety and depression. So, what’s stopping you? Grab an early morning run, go for a bike ride or take the dog out for a longer stroll than normal. Just make sure you wear easy to spot, (high visibility) clothes and stick to well-lit routes if it’s starting to get dark outside. You can also follow these safety tips if you plan on taking exercise when the lights go out.

Pure escapism

If you’re stuck inside and need inspiration, why not try some films relating to the great outdoors or travel films such as “Wild” or “Our Planet?” Try this list of outdoor films on Netflix for more inspiration.  On YouTube too, there is plenty of outdoor escapism. Try this list of the top travel vloggers in 2020 to whet your appetite. If you’re planning a new adventure abroad next year or beyond with your caravan, camper or motorhome, watch some of these videos from leisure vehicle vloggers to give you an idea about where to go or how to travel. There’s a whole world of videos out there for you to watch. Enjoy!

Give back to nature

Support a local wildlife charity or a national charity which helps nature like the National Trust, RSPB or local Wildlife Trust. You can even combine your love of the outdoors and prepare for Christmas by buying a few presents too. Have a look at the Wildlife Trust Christmas shop where you can view the fantastic selection of gifts and wildlife-themed goodies on offer which also raise funds for nature. From “make your own 3D animals” to native wildflower bee bombs, there are plenty of amazing presents to choose from, as well as animal themed clothes and even virtual Christmas presents to help you. It’s lovely to know that by buying some of these gifts, you are investing in the protection of wildlife and nature for years to come.

Immerse yourself in a good book

Try reading an outdoor or travel inspired book to help you to plan your new adventure. I’m currently absorbed in a true story called “The Salt Path,” a biography of the journey which Raynor Winn and her husband made along the 630 mile of the South West Coast after finding out about a serious illness five days after the couple became homeless. There are plenty of other inspiring reads out there for adventure lovers, outside enthusiasts or anyone who just loves a good read. Try one of these books to get you started.

Watch the birdie!

The chirping of birdsong features as one of the most popular mood boosting sounds to help people recover from stress according to research from the University of Surrey It’s great news then, that most of the UK’s RSPB nature reserves remain open for everyone to enjoy as winter approaches. Have a look at the RSPB website before setting off, for the latest updates. At the moment and in line with guidance from the governments of the UK, many nature reserves, car parks, trails and toilets remain open for the public to visit. In countries which are not subject to national lockdown restrictions, hides, visitor centres, shops and cafés may also be open where possible. Remember though, to follow guidance from the relevant country on non-essential travel and please stay local to your nearest reserves and green spaces where advised.

Whichever outside experience you decide to choose, stay safe and look after yourselves!

To help you plan your next outdoor adventure, have a look at the RESOURCES section of this website and if you enjoyed reading, follow me on WordPress and share or like this page!

Compiegne – a tourist site you will always remember…

History and champagne tasting were on offer for us culture vultures during a winter visit to Compiegne in northern France. The Oise area has long been popular with history buffs as a culture rich region full of destinations linked to the two World Wars. However, our long weekend across the channel proved to be more than just a historic venture. In just a few days, we’d immersed ourselves in castles, countryside, Chantilly horse racing and just a little local champagne!

Without the caravan this time, we travelled to France by Eurotunnel with Cherry, our four-legged furball for her first European canine adventure. The process of travelling the 35-minute train journey, after a quick check of her pet passport, was a breeze and helped by plenty of exercise opportunities at the dog agility course at the Folkestone terminal.

A two and a half hour car ride later, we arrived at our hotel, the Logis Hotel Beaudon, set across from a breathtakingly pretty view across a lake with an imposing castle, the “Chateau de Pierrefonds” beyond. Offering over 20 rooms, (some with wheelchair access), and with many of them including a view across that beautiful lake, the hotel staff made us immediately welcome. We soon relaxed into our surroundings, ready to discover the French hospitality in the village. There were plenty of local shops, cafes and pancake houses to indulge our gastronomic curiosities, as well as a lovely forest walk five minutes’ away from the hotel. Pierrefonds lies within easy reach of Paris and takes around an hour by train from the nearby station at Compiegne. The village boasts a campsite too. Camping “Coeur de la Foret” has plenty of glamping options for those who don’t have their own caravan, motorhome, or camper. You can rent a hobbit house, cabin, or vintage caravan if you prefer, so there are plenty of options for different tastes and budgets.

Both the village of Pierrefonds and the town of Compiegne were perfect for our stay, offering plenty of countryside and wooded walks nearby, a Christmas fair, a unique castle, the famous horse racing destination of Chantilly and an afternoon of champagne tasting a drive away. Unfortunately, only I could truly enjoy this last treat, unlike my poor chauffeur husband!

Here are a few reasons why this area is spot on for an easy to access French adventure…

A step back in time

The Armistice Museum is truly one of the most engaging and informative museums we have visited in Europe. We still may not be truly aware of the horrors which soldiers faced between 1914-1918 on all sides and on all fronts. Every year on the 11th hour of the 11th November, and as part of Remembrance Day commemorations, we are able to reflect and pay our respect to those who died and suffered terribly in the First World War and subsequent wars. What is less well known about World War One is the place where the armistice ending the war was signed. This took place in a train carriage, hidden from view from journalists in a wooded clearing in the forest of Compiegne. Fewer people may be aware that the same train carriage was returned to the same place and used by Hitler during the Second World War to sign an armistice marking France’s defeat to the Germans on the 22nd June 1940. This was a humiliating propaganda exercise to show off the beginning of the occupation of France.

 A reconstruction of the famous carriage marks the start of your journey of discovery, with English audio and visual displays everywhere, (alongside French commentary), making the entrance fee of seven Euros particularly good value for money. There were plenty of WW1 artefacts from soldiers including tools, weapons and personal items which had been sensitively displayed. On top of this was 3D film footage from the Western Front. We also learned the sad story of Augustin Trebuchon, the last soldier killed at 10.45am on the 11th November 1918. An unexpected highlight were the exhibits relating to events after 1918. One of the pens used to sign the Treaty of Versailles was on display, as well as a copy of the actual treaty itself. The museum also recounted the events of Hitler’s invasion of France in World War Two. Outside the museum was a fabulous display of early tanks and a poignant memorial surrounded by the beautiful forest of Compiegne.

Chantilly- a cultural gem

Famous for its cream, (which appears on the top of many desserts you’ll order in France), a majestic castle, (the Chateau de Chantilly), and a famous racecourse and stables, the town of Chantilly is a superb day out and under an hour’s easy drive from Pierrefonds. We soaked up the beauty of its lavish parks, gardens and castle and were really impressed with its Hippodrome, home to many of France’s horse races. Its grand structure marked a contrast to the miles of parkland surrounding it. On our return into the town, we enjoyed browsing the many independent boutiques lining the streets, many of which were dog friendly. After a lovely warm meal including a dessert with lashings of, (you guessed it), Chantilly cream, we enjoyed a moment taking a festive photo of Cherry against the background of the Christmas market near the centre of the town. I’m not sure if Cherry enjoyed the moment quite as much. Judge for yourself by looking at her photo…

Nature at its best

The Forest of Compiegne, France’s third largest forest, proved to be a blinder in terms of rest and relaxation and something which we both needed on this mini trip. Full of easy to navigate walking and cycling trails, most of which are flat and easy to access, the forest offers opportunities for fishing, walking, running, cycling or horse riding. For the more adventurous, there are even treetop adventure courses. The Clairière de l’Armistice, the glade where the World War One peace treaty was signed, can also be found here, as can one of France’s oldest trees, dating back to the C13th. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic.

Camelot, (a.k.a. Chateau de Pierrefonds)

Built in the late 14th century by Duke Louis of Orléans, the château was taken down in the 17th century and was in ruins when Napoleon III decided to commission an architect to bring it back to its former glory. The exterior and grounds of the castle are truly awesome and, in our opinion, more stunning than its features inside. However, as a tourist attraction five minutes’ walk away from our hotel, it was a great added extra and gave us plenty of brilliant photo opportunities. It’s been made famous by the BBC TV series, “Merlin” where it became Camelot.

Compiegne

A short drive away from Pierrefonds, Compiegne hosted another Christmas market on our visit which was great for my mulled wine addiction. Famous for Joan of Arc’s capture and its proximity to the signing of the WW1 Armistice, the town has plenty to offer visitors. There are lots of shops and eateries to choose from as well as art galleries, a royal palace and a UNESCO site. The palace, or “Chateau de Compiegne” had previously been one of three seats of royal government. It was also popular with Louis XV and Napoleon. You can visit Napoleon I’s apartment and the Empress’s lavish rooms as well as two other museums inside. There are plenty of other beautiful buildings too, such as the town hall and the Saint-Jacques church, a UNESCO site and a stop on the Way of St James pilgrimage route. Another notable place to visit is a former deportation camp, “Camp de Royallieu,” built during the Second World War. It was here that many people including Jews, political opponents and members of the Resistance were detained, before being sent to the concentration camps of Eastern Europe. You can visit some of these buildings as well as a memorial garden and sculpture.

Champagne tasting at the home of Dom Perignon

Although a little further away, we couldn’t leave this lovely area of France before sampling a little of its world-famous sparkling wine. What better, than to be able to enjoy a quiet moment in a sleepy village where just across the road, we could visit the tomb of Dom Perignon, the Benedictine monk legend who is famous for having discovered the process of making champagne? Nestled amongst vineyards, the village of Hautvillers feels like the home of champagne. It is a charming wine-producing village containing characterful buildings decorated with intricately forged shop signs. It is also the place where we spent far too much money on several bottles from the cellar of J.M.Gobillard et Fils, during a champagne tasting afternoon session which was one of the best birthday presents I’ve received! The highlight of our champagne tasting was the fact that it wasn’t rushed, it wasn’t commercialised and it felt much more authentic.

Later in the afternoon, we visited one of the bigger champagne destinations where huge groups of people thronged along the “Avenue de Champagne” in Epernay. Don’t get me wrong, we were impressed with the lavish mansions on display along this main tourist route but we felt that our more intimate session in Hautvillers earlier on, had definitely been more enjoyable. The champagne was lovely by the way!

Of course, by the time we needed to head back home, we hadn’t even visited two other places under an hour away from us, Parc Asterix, (France’s second largest theme park), and Paris itself.  These are on the list for our return, although, I’m not sure that rollercoasters and champagne might be such a good mix…

For more ideas about where to go on your next adventure, follow me on WordPress, Facebook or Twitter, click the links from this blog or head to the Resources section of my website.

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