My words of the year

Last year I chose a word of the year for the first time, inspired by this blog post. It worked quite well for me (my word was ‘boundaries’) so I’ve done the same for this year. Except I’ve got two words, which I think complement each other very well. My first word is ‘simplicity’, which really resonated with me when I started thinking about what I wanted to work on this year. It’s mostly related to my desire to live a more minimalist lifestyle, so I’m going to be paring down my clothes, toiletries and digital usage as part of a mission to make life as uncomplicated as possible.

The other word I chose (in reality I feel like it chose me) is the Finnish word tasapaino, which means balance. I stumbled across it in this Instagram post and I felt drawn to it. It fits in with my simplicity goals because I want to have a balance between screen time and off-screen time (using this for things like yoga,reading, walking, journaling etc).

Choosing a word of the year has been a game-changer for me; for me it feels more authentic than making resolutions and it’s less pressurised than having specific goals. I’m really happy I started doing it.

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My travel stats for 2020

One of my goals for 2020 was to take less flights – I didn’t expect that a global pandemic would be the reason behind me achieving this, but I haven’t flown once this year. I’ve taken two road trips (by car) and a day trip to Dublin for a writers’ conference (for which I travelled by bus).

Here’s the breakdown of my 2020 trips.

March 2020 – Day trip to Dublin for the Women X Borders conference. Obligatory shopping trip to Penney’s for a souvenir (after some deliberating I bought a t-shirt)

August 2020 – 3-day trip to Annalong, County Down. Explored the surrounding area – Newcastle, Rostrevor and Kilkeel and had a lovely drive along the coast through Warrenpoint and Newry on the way back to Belfast.

September 2020 – 2-night stay in a shepherd’s hut outside Omagh, County Tyrone. Explored the surrounding area, including Beaghmore Stone Circles and had a day trip to Glaslough, County Monaghan.

I also explored more of the area in and around Belfast, had some lovely coastal walks and discovered some lovely coffee shops.

8 UK destinations to travel to in 2021

It’s looking unlikely that travel and holidays will be returning to normal anytime soon, so for the foreseeable future I’m going to be focusing more on planning trips to destinations that are a relatively short distance away, with a flight time of not more than an hour and a half. Because I live in Northern Ireland, this means travelling mostly within the UK. So I’ve compiled a list of 8 destinations within the British Isles that I would consider travelling to next year (restrictions permitting). Four of them I’ve already visited – can you guess which ones?

1. Edinburgh

Scotland’s capital city has a population of less than 500,000. Steeped in history, it has a beautiful Old Town; the Royal Mile stretches from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, which is the Queen’s official residence in the city. It’s also home to Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano which is worth climbing for the amazing views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth.

2. Liverpool

This city in the North West of England was founded in the thirteenth century, and has a strong maritime heritage. It’s also well-known as the home of the Beatles, and they played their first gigs at the Cavern Club in the city. Within Liverpool you can find the typical tourist attractions like cathedrals and museums, but the city also has many green spaces.

3. Canterbury

This city is one of the most historic in England. Its cathedral was founded around the beginning of the seventh century, and it’s been an important place of pilgrimage since the murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in the twelfth century. The Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrimage route leading to Rome, begins in Canterbury and pilgrims can receive a blessing at Canterbury Cathedral before starting their journey.

4. Portsmouth

Portsmouth is another city with a strong maritime heritage. It was founded in the twelfth century and today is home to HMS Victory, as well as several naval and maritime museums. The author Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, and there’s now a museum in the house where he was born.

5. Aberdeen

This city in the North of Scotland was first settled in the Stone Age, and stone circles and other monuments from that period can be found in the surrounding area. The city itself has a long coastline, and is adjacent to a little fishing village called Footdee (pronounced Fittie).

6. London

London’s the capital city of the UK, and the third largest city in Europe. Central London is home to famous landmarks like the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham, but there are also areas like Camden (pictured above) which have their own unique character.

7. Cardiff

Cardiff is the capital city of Wales. Major attractions include the Welsh Parliament, Cardiff Castle, and St Fagan’s National Museum of History. There are also the typical city-centre activities like shopping and enjoying some food in the many cafes and restaurants. There’s also a Norwegian church overlooking Cardiff Bay.

8. Bristol

Bristol is another city with a strong maritime heritage. It’s also famous for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Aardman Animations (creators of Wallace and Gromit), and Gloucester Road, which has a large number of independent traders. There’s also a Knight’s Templar church in the Redcliffe area which was bombed and destroyed during World War II.

Memories of Copenhagen

I visited Copenhagen with my then-boyfriend at the end of July 2018. It was originally going to be a solo trip for me, so I’d booked a hostel but it so happened that I had company, so I booked an apartment for both of us on Airbnb. The accommodation was stylish and spacious, and was a good base for our four days in the city.

I’d love to write a detailed post about how beautiful Copenhagen is and how much I enjoyed my visit there but I can’t. I only realised recently (while watching Borgen, which I really recommend by the way) that I was kind of disappointed by my visit there. Not because I didn’t like the city (I think it’s really pretty), but because it wasn’t the trip I intended or wanted to have. I wanted to go on a budget solo trip (yes, I’m aware that Copenhagen’s super-expensive but I like the challenge of saving money in a pricey destination), stay in a hostel, eat some Danish street food at one of these markets, and take the train across the Oresund Bridge to Malmo. I didn’t do any of those these things, and it makes me feel quite angry.

I’m thinking about booking a solo trip to Copenhagen if/when I’m allowed to travel, just so I can do all the things I’d originally planned to do there.

Lockdown projects – Learning Russian

I started learning Russian in April. After visiting Kyiv last September I knew that I wanted to travel more within the former USSR, and learning the Russian language would enable me to communicate with non-English speakers and have a better travel experience.

I had booked an in-person Russian course at my local arts centre which was cancelled because of coronavirus, so I decided to try another method of learning. I found a Russian teacher on YouTube whose lessons I really enjoy, and since August I’ve been doing a Russian beginners course on the Babbel app. I find this much better than Duolingo, which I had been using previously.

I’m hoping to visit Russia when we’re allowed to travel again. I’ve always been drawn to St Petersburg rather than Moscow for my first visit; it looks so grand and the architecture is so beautiful. I’m also excited about seeing the metro stations! Even though things are quite grim right now, it feels good to be motivated and have a goal to work towards.

Lurgan, County Armagh

The town of Lurgan is close to the southern shore of Lough Neagh, and is a short drive away from Oxford Island. It’s 18 miles south west of Belfast, and is easily accessible from the M1 motorway, and by train from both Belfast and Dublin.

Lurgan was founded in the 17th century by the Brownlow family, a noble family originally from England who were granted lands in Ireland during the Plantation of Ulster, which happened during the 1600s. Brownlow House, which once belonged to the family, was designed and built in the 19th century by the Scottish architect William Henry Playfair. It was sold at the start of the 20th century and is now used as a venue for weddings, conferences and other functions.

The town played an important part in the development of the linen industry, and there’s a sculpture in the town centre commemorating this part of the town’s heritage.

There are some very pretty buildings in the town centre; this one was my favourite.

There are some nice little restaurants and cafes dotted around the town, and overall the town has a pleasant vibe. It’s a nice place to stop for lunch or a coffee, or to spend some time exploring one of Northern Ireland’s historic towns.

Oxford Island and Kinnego Marina

Oxford Island is on the south shore of Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland’s largest lough. It’s now a nature reserve and is a beautiful place to walk around. It was a sunny day when I came here; I had a clear views across the Lough and could see the north side of Lough Neagh in the distance.

There is a visitors’ centre, toilets and a cafe at Oxford Island but when I visited it was closed because of the pandemic. There are some facilities at nearby Kinnego Marina, a few minutes drive from the nature reserve, although these are limited at present. Oxford Island has picnic tables and is an ideal location for eating alfresco on a sunny day.

Loughmacrory, County Tyrone

Loughmacrory is a small village a few miles from Omagh. The shepherd’s hut I stayed in a few weeks ago is quite close by, so on my drive back to Belfast I decided to stop there.

Loughmacrory Lough is a lovely location for a walk. I’d filled a flask before I left the hut so I made a coffee, intending to drink it and have a snack while sitting at a picnic table overlooking the lough.

After drinking my coffee I went for a walk around the lough. The route is a circular walk of about 1.3 miles, and it’s very relaxing with lots of flora and fauna to spot. I’d been reading a book called Rewild Yourself, and one of the ideas the author has which helps to connect more with nature is ‘the bottomless sit’, where you just sit for a period of time in nature and notice what you see and hear around you. I found a bench and sat for 10 minutes, which I found very peaceful.

There are some jettys dotted around the lough; these are where anglers launch their boats to go fishing for brown trout.

It’s worth a visit to Loughmacrory Lough if you’re in the area; it’s a very beautiful and peaceful location.

Glaslough, County Monaghan

This little village is a few miles south of the border which lies between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The main attraction in the village is the Castle Leslie Estate, a stately home and also a five star hotel. I’d hoped to go for a walk through the grounds, but on the day I visited this wasn’t possible due to the Covid restrictions, as only people who’d pre-booked overnight stays or were dining at the hotel could enter. So I parked in the village itself and went exploring there.

Glaslough has been the winner of the Irish Tidy Towns award twice; most recently in 2019. It’s easy to see why: the village and its buildings are very well kept, and it’s a very peaceful location.

There was a rail connection between Glaslough and other towns from the middle of the 19th century, although this stopped in 1959, and the rail connection in County Monaghan disappeared entirely soon after this. The railway signal cabin still survives, and is on display on the outskirts of the village.

As it was a warm day, I stopped for some homemade ice-cream at the little village shop/cafe. I had the salted caramel cheesecake flavour and also some honeycomb. I was very impressed with the portion size and the quality and would recommend to anyone visiting. There’s also a chocolate shop which I didn’t try myself but would be another option for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Even though Glaslough is a small village with not many attractions, it’s still worth visiting because it’s so picturesque and peaceful. I enjoyed my time there and hope to go back sometime to visit Castle Leslie and have some more ice cream!

Shepherd’s hut staycation

I’ve often thought about the possibility of living in a tiny house, and recently read an article about the growing popularity of shepherd’s huts in the UK. I decided I’d like to try one out, just for the weekend. So I searched Airbnb and found one which wasn’t too far away. I booked it for 2 nights, and a few weeks ago I set off on my mini-adventure.

I had been at work all week and was so exhausted that I had only planned my itinerary on the morning of my departure. My first stop was in the town of Antrim, to have brunch at Third Day Coffee, a cafe I’d been planning to visit for some time. I had French toast and a mocha; the flavours of the French toast were excellent and the mocha was really creamy and very good.

My next stop was Antrim Castle Gardens, which are around 400 years old and very pretty. I had a little walk around before moving on to my next destination.

My next stop was the Beaghmore stone circles near Cookstown, in County Tyrone. This monument dates from the Bronze Age, and was covered by a peat bog for thousands of years before being discovered in the 1940s.

It was starting to rain quite heavily by this time so I made my way to the shepherd’s hut. The hut was in a beautiful location overlooking a lough with views across the Sperrin Mountains, which I would be able to see better the following day when the rain had stopped. My host had thoughtfully provided some tea bags, so I made myself a cuppa to warm up. He’d also provided a portable DVD player so I made myself some dinner, watched Groundhog Day, and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the countryside.