Monday 30 July 2012

Farne Islands Take 2...

 Following our failed attempt back in June when a good part of North-East England ended up under water just 24 hours before we were due to travel up, mid July saw us heading up the A1 in far better weather. We got as far as Washington, Tyne & Wear in record time on the Friday night, leaving just an hour of driving still to do to Seahouses on Saturday morning. The weather forecast had been checked the day before and all looked good, so just imagine our disappointment when we arrived at the harbour to be told that the wind had turned to the west in the night and landing on Staple Island would not be possible!  Full Marks to Billy Shiel Boats though - they hastily arranged with the NT wardens on Inner Farne that we could land there earlier than planned, and assured us that a longer than usual time on there would also be arranged. The trip was also done for half the usual price which was excellent of them - for anyone else wanting to arrange a trip to the Farnes we really could not recommend this company highly enough.

Finding ourselves with a bit of time to spare it was off to find a cafe for a cup of tea - very welcome after our early start from the hotel - before taking the opportunity to head off and find our planned campsite for the night - another recommendation, the lovely Budle Bay campsite. They were hit terribly by the flooding back in June, having to evacuate the site at 3am as a result, and got such glowing reviews from those affected that we felt it was well worth a visit. Very impressed, lovely warm welcome from Jane & Alan, we were pitched in no time and heading back to Seahouses.

Once on the boat all disappointment from the curtailed trip was speedily forgotten - a truly glorious day to be out on the water and just the slightest of swells to remind us that was indeed where we were! Before long we were at the Seal colony - where the residents seems very interested to see us!

 Lovely, aren't they?! It wasn't just seals as we cruised around the Islands either - look at these chaps arrayed on top of the cliff in the sun....

 ...there were also Kittiwakes, Shags, Gannets, and Terns flying about us - a fantastic array of wildlife. And more seals of course...

Every now and again a head popped up alongside the boat to investigate what we were up to..

Once everyone had their fill of shots of seals the skipper turned towards Inner Farne for our landing there - we were delighted when on arrival he told us he would come back for us at 4pm - nearly four hours there! Far longer than we would have had on the standard trip - but nobody was complaining!

More on Inner Farne in another post...


Sunday 29 July 2012

London - you're Amazing!

 As a Londoner born & bred, I was incredibly proud when we won the Olympic bid 7 years ago. In the light of the tragic events of the following day, it turned into a vital beacon for the Capital to cling to, its timing could in many ways not have been more perfect. Like most, I have to confess to some caution over the last few years in relation to the cost, and the potential for disruption, but in spite of working just a couple of miles from the Olympic Park so far it's caused far fewer problems than were perhaps anticipated. In the light of this we decided to travel into the city yesterday for the day, to soak up some of the atmosphere and generally see what was going on.  

Anyone arriving in London having spent the last few years living in a cave would have caught on quite fast....both Underground.... 

And Overground.....
Olympic references, advertising, and banners absolutely everywhere. There was a sort of a buzz about the place as well, far more smiling faces than you would usually see - even on the tube!  One of the very few events which offered spectator opportunity without a bought ticket was happening - the Mens Cycling Road race - so having checked the route in advance, we headed for Putney Bridge in the hope of seeing some action, arriving there about an hour before the bikes were expected, there were already good crowds lining the route with more pouring in from all directions...

 We found a spot with a handy wall which I was able to stand on for a good view over the crowds in front, and were quickly joined by others who had also seen the beauty of this particular vantage point. Even the over-zealous stewards appearing every five minutes or so to tell us to sit down couldn't dampen our spirits - we sat down alright, then stood up again just as soon as their backs were turned! Eventually the cavalcade of attendant vehicles started appearing - motorcycle Police grinning broadly and waving to the crowds - who were quite happy to cheer and wave their flags in return! Police cars, Event cars, ambulance crews all poured through before - finally! - the first of the Competitors...

... quickly they were flooding through - as each wave of bikes approached the roars and cheers of the crowd formed a wall of sound approaching - an incredible noise. Spotting individual riders was close to impossible as they passed at such a pace - to give you a clue, I had the camera set with a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second, and was shooting at a rate of 6.5 frames per second in burst mode, and STILL I was missing riders passing. These guys are seriously, seriously quick. Only when evaluating the shots afterwards was I able to see that I had indeed caught one of the Team GB chaps in the main group....

No idea who that was I'm afraid - not into my cycling enough to recognise them individually. Below, however, is Chris Froome - identifiable from his race-number of 12. He had sadly ended up right at the back - in fact the few that finished after these two were to be declared as not finishing.

Once the final Police Car bearing the "End of Race" sign had passed, we made our way to a favourite pub for a couple of drinks - again the atmosphere was amazing - the sun was shining, the drinks were flowing, and people were just enjoying London's moment of triumph.

Refreshed, we went for a wander through Hyde Park (lots of people on "Boris Bikes" laughing uproariously as they attempted to recreate the earlier race on their less than ideal contraptions!) before heading for Tower Bridge - bearing its Olympic Rings with pride!

Lovely Ben had been gallantly carrying my tripod around all day so we could return there as darkness fell for some shots of the Bridge illuminated...we and others were a bit disappointed that the rings were folded up however - lots of speculation that they folded them up overnight perhaps, before a passing Policeman was asked and to my delight we found out that after a bit of a wait there would be a light show.....

...incredible to see this icon of London lit up in all these different colours - cycling through lighting up different parts of the bridge, and making it look more like a fairytale castle than ever! Finally the lighting was returned to something more normal and the rings returned to position...

...Now what better symbol of LONDON 2012 could there be? Proud to be a Londoner? You bet I am!


Friday 27 July 2012

Frugal Friday... cancelled for today. Can't drag my eyes off the London 2012 Opening Ceremony! Sorry - have a topical photo anyway.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday 25 July 2012

It's nearly here....

The office I work in some of the time is just about 2 miles from the Olympic Park, which means we get to do battle with the Olympic-Lane-Induced Traffic Chaos, and temporary parking restrictions which are increasing my exercise level on a several-times-a-week basis at the moment (not in itself a bad thing, unless it's raining), Oh, and some banners which make the High Road look ever so slightly like an elongated supermarket car park. (This effect is being increased by the amount of cars apparently parked on it as a result of the congestions caused by item one above). However, it also means we get some of the fun stuff - actually seeing visible evidence of the Games being here, in my original home town, for example. Seeing everywhere all spruced up, freshly painted, and decked out in its finery...

...this morning the entertainment stepped up a notch. Today was the day that the Olympic Traffic lanes have come into play, and as a result the area around the office was pretty much gridlocked. Pretty sure it's likely to even itself out in due course, but this morning chaos reigned. Colleague C turned up in a state of some excitement - "You're not going to believe this, but half the Greek Cycling team are out on the pavement up the road there!" As he and Female Partner R are Greek Cypriot this caused a ripple of excitement, and she and I shot off up the road, me with camera in hand, to see what was occurring.

As we trotted up the road, we were passed by this chap...

 ...So not just the Greek team doing battle with the traffic then! Further on, at the front of the line of Official Olympic Cars parked at the roadside were several members of Team Korea too! R's target was the Greek team though, and pretty soon we found them preparing to get on their way...

They were in no rush though, and extremely friendly, happy to pause for photographs to be taken, and to have a chat with a passing local cyclist who looked extremely surprised to see a load of international cyclists standing at the side of the High Road!

 Entente Cordiale reigned, and clearly any Inter-National rivalry hasn't kicked in yet as all the countries gathered together and eventually rode off on their way, sticking neatly to the cycle lane but perhaps moving ever so slightly faster than the residents of Leytonstone may be accustomed to. Whether they were doing some kind of training circuit, or indeed heading by a slightly roundabout route for the Olympic Park, we don't know, it certainly made a cheery start to the morning though!

I wonder what other excitements the games hold for us?!


Sunday 22 July 2012

Farne Islands Take 2...

Sneak preview.....

There were Puffins...

....And Seals...

...And shags.

And lots of other things, you'll have to be patient for a few days while I process through the 400+ photos I took yesterday!


Friday 20 July 2012

Frugal Friday...

Playing them at their own game!

We've talked about shopping before, haven't we. Lists, planning, meal plans etc. How about actually saving money on what you buy though - I mean, obviously there are special offers, BOGOFs, 2 for £5 type of deals, but what about actually saving cold, hard cash (or better still, cool-ish papery cash, which I feel is the better type)? I reckon I can safely say we'd all go for that idea, yes?

I believe I may have mentioned a few weeks ago that a certain large supermarket beginning with the letter which falls before U in the alphabet had kindly sent me some money off vouchers. A couple of "double points" ones, and some of those product ones which are designed to make you buy stuff you wouldn't have bothered with without having been given 25p off it. Kind of them, but not something to make me change my shopping habits. Since then however, they seem to have developed a bit of a crush, as several more blue envelopes have dropped onto the doormat.... the first was interesting in a sort of  "well I might use one or two" kind of way - a booklet featuring 6 or 8 "£4 off when you spend £40" vouchers. These are only of limited use to me as my usual weekly shop falls a long way below this level. We shop carefully, but certainly don't eat rubbish just because it's cheap - I cringe looking at the crap a lot of folk shovel in purely because it saves them a few pennies.....

Anyway, the next missive from my new penpal, the large supermarket beginning with the letter just after S in the alphabet, was of far more interest. They have been "refurbishing" the bigger of our local stores, and as a result this has apparently caused some inconvenience. It might well have done, I wouldn't have noticed as while it was all going on I was shopping in Sainsburys to use the voucher that they had given me.....anyhow, to apologise for the inconvenience caused by them slapping a new "hello" sign up outside and jiggling things around inside so it's impossible to find anything, they sent me 4 vouchers, each of which gives me £6 off when I spend £30 - that's far more like it!  I wouldn't usually spend that amount either, but can do for a short period of time if it allows me to a) save money down the line and b) Play the supermarkets at their own game, and c) combine helpfully with the other voucher they have sent me to gain £40 of shopping for £30!
This morning I went shopping, as is my usual Friday morning habit. I had my list, and had done my homework regarding special offers etc. I had two "product specific" coupons to use - one for 50p off the salad leaves I would have bought anyway, and another for 40p off the store's own brand mayonnaise...which I buy anyway, and can happily stash in the store cupboard.  The trick when you have several vouchers to use at once is to work out exactly how they need to be in this case - the £4 off £40 comes first....leaving £36 to pay. Then £6 off £30.....reducing the spend to £30, and finally the product specific ones. Doing it any other way can leave you without the qualifying spend for one or more (In this case the specific ones would have "lost" me the £4 one) of the vouchers. It's worth standing off to one side before heading to the checkout to "stack" your coupons ready - and beware of handing them all to the checkout operator at once too as some will deliberately put them through in the wrong order!

Finally, check your receipt carefully and be prepared to stand your ground if things are wrong. This morning I was overcharged on the tomatoes I bought, as a direct result of the Shelf-filler having put the wrong product on the shelf! The store's take on this was that it was my fault for not knowing, I stood my ground, and asked to have the matter escalated to a Manager, and on his say-so a refund was soon arranged. (Probably once the manager had told them to stop being so silly, I should think!) Remember also that with this particular store (my new best friend judging by the amount of post they send!) if they make an error in charging you for something, they have to refund you DOUBLE the amount of the overcharge.

Next week should be even better. The store have a promotion going at present where, if you spend £40 or more, the till spits you out a slip entitling you to £5 off another £40 shop NEXT week.....Hmmmm.....this is going to take some planning!


Wednesday 18 July 2012

You can make it stop now!

It's been a bit wet. No, hang about, that's wrong, it's been VERY wet. It seemed over here in East Anglia that no sooner was a hosepipe ban announced earlier in the year, it rained without stopping for several months. Gloomy stuff, with only small consolation to be gained from splashing in puddles and that lovely fresh scent in the air immediately after a heavy downpour. All sorts of events have been affected - from local fetes, to large music festivals, and equestrian events (Several major three-day-events have been affected, and even more worryingly the Theydon Bois Donkey Derby has had to be postponed until September!). Few sports can have been affected more than speedway though - with the exception of televised meetings, which usually go ahead almost regardless of track conditions and rider safety, too much rain falling almost always means meetings getting abandoned, or postponed, and this year has been exceptional in this respect, with over 100 meetings having now been affected in this way so far this season in the UK. Ipswich alone have suffered  9 meetings being off this year - including a trip down to Plymouth when the entire team got all the way there before the decision to call off had to be made. Other sides have had even more, and it's already being discussed that there is likely to be a serious fixture backlog to deal with from now until the end of the season in October. By the way, for those who don't know, Speedway is not like football - if our boys don't ride, they don't get paid, so this is starting to cause some of them serious problems.

Meanwhile, up in the Hebrides, things are rather different - they are now suffering the effects of a drought, with the shock move being made to turn off the Ferry Terminal Water fountain! Unprecedented stuff indeed! Down here though, we've had enough now. Please make it stop!


Tuesday 17 July 2012

National Treasures...

Ickworth, Suffolk
 When we were planning our Farne Islands trip (which we are having "take 2" at shortly) our research reminded us that the Islands are owned by the National Trust, and as a result you pay landing fees to the trust on each island on arrival. We're talked before about joining the Trust, but never got around to it - now though, with fees totalling over £24 for that one trip alone, and joint membership available for £66, it seemed as good a time as any to join up. Since then we have been on a mission to get our moneys worth, visiting Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, Ickworth (Suffolk) and most recently Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk.

Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk
 The membership was a lot of money to spend out in one go, for us, but by the time we discounted the landing fees for the Farne Islands (which we would have been spending anyway) and then bought through Cashback site TopCashBack (of course!) for a further £6.70 in cashback. Net cost to us £34.87 - which is pretty darned good! The Trust has over 500 properties across the country, ranging from stretches of coastline to the big houses and estates like those pictured above. The trust themselves reckon that for a couple joining up, you only have to visit an average of 4 chargeable properties to get your money's worth.

  As well as the houses to look around, a lot of these places have fantastic gardens to look at as well - the planting at Oxburgh Hall (above) was just breathtaking, and this was just one small area. Another advantage if you're visiting places like the Lake District is that you can park for free in the Trust's car parks. They send you a car sticker for your windscreen, and you can simply ask to get another one for a second vehicle - easy! If we return to the Lakes next year this will save us a fortune in car parking fees as the car parks up there are fiercely expensive!

Another advantage of NT properties is that they tend to do mighty fine tea & cake! We often treat ourselves - but for occasions when the budget won't stretch most places provide picnic areas, either in the carpark or the grounds.

For further information on the trust, and the places I've mentioned, take a look at their website The National Trust - if you're looking for a source of entertainment, with added educational benefits for kids, then for around £5.50 per month, you can't got too far wrong!


Friday 13 July 2012

Frugal Friday...

...saving £'s and losing lbs.

For most of us, when we add up how much we spend each year on owning and using a car, the final figure is frightening. Tax, fuel, insurance, maintenance, all adds up to be a massive sum. We have two cars in this house - being self-employed I need one as to be limited to public transport would limit the jobs I could accept too much. The second vehicle came about when we realised we could reduce a close-to £300 per month travel bill dramatically by MrEH using a car instead, and gain masses of added convenience. Ludicrous isn't it, on the one hand "They" are telling us to "be green, don't run a car, use public transport instead...!" while on the other hand it costs so much, and around here is so inconvenient to use public transport, everyone just says "sod it!" and buys a car instead! We worked out that Mr EH's car, a second-hand 1.4litre diesel engined Citroen, saved us so much that even allowing for its running costs we had recouped its £2,300 purchase price inside 18 months. That was nearly three years ago so she's made us a profit now!  Frugal tip 1 then, is don't blindly assume that public transport is cheaper - do the sums.

Frugal tip 2 & 3 would be to combine journeys, and car-share where you can. MrEH works in London, and I work there several days a week too. Although it means me having an hour or so wait for him to arrive back from Central London on the train each evening, we car share on those days as it saves us about £5 a day on the cost of taking the second car in. If I need odds and ends from the supermarket, I have a choice of several that I drive past on that same journey, so I pop in and save the extra trip. If I need bits and pieces in the town centre here, I go to everywhere I need to at the same time, AND make sure I buy something necessary in Sainsburys too, as that means I can park for free too! Within the town centre nothing is too far away that I can't walk from place to place either - running your car for those "short hop" journeys will really send your fuel bills spiralling as the engine never really gets the chance to warm up and work at its optimum level.

That brings us on nicely to frugal tip 4 - why drive when you can walk? If I'm just going, for example, to the bank, then I generally walk. If I'm feeling spectacularly fit, I might cycle, but that happens pretty rarely. I'm hoping that it might happen a bit more often as time goes on as I'm making the effort to get a bit more exercise and generally improve my fitness levels. I'm not paying for Gym memberships or exercise classes though - at the prices they charge around here since our Council facility was sold off to private enterprise I refuse point blank to put any more money into their pockets I'm afraid. It's that choice thing again - I'll acknowledge that I "could" afford it, but it doesn't suit me to do so. I prefer to spend my money elsewhere. (Like the mortgage overpayments!) Those odd hours when waiting for MrEH on days we are car-sharing? I've been walking. Good, brisk walking at that. My first aim is to get my average pace to inside a 15 minute mile - and I'm well on the way. It's a great way of exercising too - the only specialised kit required is a pair of decent trainers or walking boots (I already have both), you're out in the fresh air, it can be done with no additional travel expenses to the gym, track or pool, and best of all it's FREE! How frugal is that?!


Ps - you see some fab things when you're walking about the place too if you open your eyes. The pictures of flowers on this post were all taken within a third of a mile when walking from the office back to the car yesterday. Make that frugal tip 5 - Open your eyes and maximise your enjoyment!

Sunday 8 July 2012

A trip north and a bridge with a difference...

A few days ago myself and friend H decided to take a trip to Middlesbrough to see our Ipswich Witches boys take on the Redcar Bears in a Premier League Speedway meeting. The Witches have not had the best of starts really, with the team failing to gel and meetings being lost as a result, so we felt some trepidation ahead of our 235 mile journey, although with a decent weather forecast for the other end, for a change rain was the least of our worries! We were bolstered too by two wins away from home for the team in the previous few days, giving us at least a little help!

We set off at 1pm, car loaded up with plenty of snacks, sweets and drinks to keep us going, and allowing plenty of time in case of delays. So much time, in fact, that by 5pm we'd found the track and were able to head off on my other mission of the day - to see the Middlesborough Transporter Bridge. I'd read plenty about this, but never actually seen it, so as I said to H when we decided on the trip - I'm not going that close to the thing and not going for a look!"

 Impressive, isn't it? A remarkably simple way of overcoming the challenge of needing to allow people and vehicles to cross the river, whilst still maintaining a channel for large vessels to pass beneath. The passengers are carried on a suspended platform - or gondola - with cables connecting it to the trolley that allows it to travel across the gantry at the top - you can just see the cables to the right of the picture below...

...and a better view still in this one...

I just loved its cheery blue and yellow colours too! Imagine having to travel on that as part of your daily commute?!  Pictures taken, we headed back in the direction of the track ready for the speedway - straight to the pits and a nice natter with Ipswich team manager Pete Simmons who determinedly stated that we were going for the win, which was good, because as we said, that was what we'd travelled for! A nice surprise when we discovered that the meeting referee was an old friend too, so more chat with him, before it was time for them to head off and do their relevant jobs, and for us to head for the terraces. A far more determined looking Ipswich side took to the track - we were pleased to see it, even though it did look for a while with the mist coming in off the river that we weren't going to get the meeting through to its end...

Dodgy quality picture from my phone...
Thankfully it never got any worse than that, and we were delighted to end up on the winning side - the 10 or so Witches fans who had made the journey were extremely satisfied with having done so! Well done boys! The night was wrapped up with a nice smooth trip home as well - just under 4 hours and we didn't stop from leaving the track to getting home! Great trip, good company, an item ticked off my "must see" list, and a witches win!


Saturday 7 July 2012

The Olympic Torch comes to Harlow!

 You'd have to have been asleep for the past few weeks to have failed to notice that the Olympic Torch Relay has been making its way around the UK - indeed, we saw it briefly as it passed through the Highlands, and it was over in the Western Isles just a few days after we left. Today was the turn of our hometown, Harlow, and it has to be said, the town did it proud!

We were scheduled to be the first stop for the Relay for the day - with it leaving Chelmsford just after 7am, and being planned to come through the town at 8am. As we were walking through from home just after 7am, we were impressed to see how many other folk were doing the same thing...and when we got into the centre there were good crowds gathered and lining the route...

The atmosphere was great - just a few weeks ago I was hearing a lot of folk being quite sniffy, saying they weren't bothered and didn't feel it was anything to do with them - basically the sort of attitude I've often come to expect from people who refuse to show any kind of enthusiasm for anything that doesn't direct affect them. There were a few like that about this morning - the sort of people that a friend of mine refers to as "Mood Hoovers" - they didn't stand a chance this morning though, everywhere you looked there were flags, and t-shirts, and bunting, and big grins of anticipation...!

Our wait for the torch was about to be extended by a short while as news started filtering through that the convoy had been delayed by 30 minutes as a result of an accident ahead of it on the main road from Chelmsford. Thankfully though the weather held, the sun even shone for a while, and the crowds stayed cheerful, and every now and again we had some members of the advance party coming through, handing out goodies....I did wonder why they handed these frisbeys out though - surely they could just have thrown them?!

Finally we started hearing cheers from the other side of the Town Centre - indicating that the torch was on it's way! It was very well managed - rather than there being a mass of people around the person running with it, there were just the 6 Met Police Officers providing security (inlcuding Harlow Rugby Club's Lee Harron - that's him looking miserable on the right in the picture below), a couple of others from the support party, and a chap who I presume from his garb was the preceding torch-bearer. It meant everyone got a good chance to see it and those with cameras got a chance to get some pictures...

How excited does the lady carrying it look?! Understandably too - what a fantastic opportunity to have! This was Jeanne Stacey I believe - read about her HERE (link from the BBC) - a drama teacher from the Town.

Once it had passed us we headed across to the other side of the shopping centre - the route was too short for us to actually see the torch up close anywhere further on (the entire circuit around Harlow took only 10 minutes!) but we were able to see the final runner completing his leg and joining the convoy read for it to move on to it's next stop.

A great morning, well worth getting up before 7am on a Saturday - plenty being done to create an atmosphere - music stages, a steel band, street performers....everyone generally getting into the spirit of the thing. The rain held off - a minor miracle considering the appalling weather we've had so far this year - and everyone who went seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Well done Harlow!


Friday 6 July 2012

Frugal Friday...

...Sometimes it pays to speculate, to accumulate....

...or at least, to bulk buy. I jumped off the treadmill of shopping in Sainsburys because I had a voucher, and then getting given another voucher, this week. Admittedly this was largely because Tesco (having, I strongly suspect, noticed that I had been conspicuous by my absence for the past few weeks) kindly sent me a load of vouchers too. Our favourite from this batch is the 40 extra CC points when you buy the Daily or Sunday Telegraph....that's 40 extra points, worth £1.60 in deals, for a newspaper that MrEH subscribes to in any case! Win! There were also some deals I was interested in this week, and as the second freezer is now switched on again, with a lot of empty space, I have begun work on filling it....

Time to see the light about your grocery shopping!
So, bulk buying then. How, why and what. An interesting question this - bulk buying can save you money, no question, but first you need to have both the money to spend in the first place, and the space to store it. Years ago, people used to pop to the grocers for a "twist" of tea - literally, a sheet of paper with a few spoonfuls of tea, just enough to see them through the next few pots. Naturally this was charged at a premium - if you could afford to buy a full lb of tea at a time, you were going to get a far better price, but many folk simply didn't have the hard cash to do this. I guess the modern day equivalent is those silly little 50g jars of coffee - one of which the supermarket will charge you £1.89 for - a whopping £3.78 per 100g! As soon as you increase to the 200g size, that price per 100g plummets to £2.40, BUT if you only have £2 in your purse, and need coffee, then your options are limited by your purse.  The things I buy in bulk come into two categories: Stuff that will keep pretty much indefinitely, and stuff that won't, but can be frozen.Todays bulk buy was in the second category - a BOGOF deal from Tesco on their Finest Sausages, plus a half price deal on our local "Riverway Foods" ones, means I have paid £12.78 for 54 regular sausages and 20 chipolata style ones. I will divide them up into packs of 5 and freeze them. The Chipolata ones get "twisted" in the middle to turn them into cocktail sausage size - they can then either get used in a sausage casserole or cooked and eaten cold as part of a picnic. The regular ones might get used as ordinary sausages, or turned into meatballs, or used as sausagemeat....either way, those packs of five will give me lots of options, without creating any waste.
Oi! Get off my food! Go and buy your own!
It's well worth keeping your eyes open for offers you will be able to use, and also chopping and changing around your local shops depending on which one suits your budget - and shopping list - that particular week. Like many others these days we are largely limited to shopping in the big supermarkets - much as we would like to be able to regularly use smaller independent shops, the arrival of three of the big four supermarkets in our town has ensured that there are barely any of these independent shops left. Much as I dislike this tie to the supermarkets, you can at least get the best of it by shopping around between them to drive yourself the best bargain. Sites like MySupermarket, and the shops own websites are great for this - things like fruit squash for example, is nearly always on offer in one or the other. That coffee we spoke about earlier? Good value, yes, but even better value is waiting for an offer when the price per 100g can drop to as low as £1.70!

Learn which of the products you buy regularly are subject to regular special offers, and change where and when you buy them accordingly. Check things like the in-store leaflets detailing special offers - these often contain coupons for money off particular products. Check the coupons that arrive with your loyalty card statement carefully too - these are often targeted directly at you and will be for products you would buy anyway. If you're planning a big shop keep your eyes out for offers from one store or another trying to tempt you in too - it might be worth doing an online order, for example, if you can use an offer giving you £10 off your shop.

Happy (Frugal!) shopping!


Monday 2 July 2012

On to Plan B!

We had plans for this weekend - a drive north on Friday evening, pausing at Doncaster overnight before continuing to Seahouses in Northumbria on Saturday, to take our long awaited trip across to the Farne Islands. The Car was full of fuel, the  boat trip booked, accommodation sorted out for Friday night and a campsite lined up for saturday....we were absolutely ready, and looking forward to our adventure!  it was on the way to speedway on Thursday evening that I first got wind of the potential spanner in the works...there had been heavy rain across Northumberland, a LOT of heavy rain. It so happened that Berwick were the visiting team at Ipswich on Thursday, and it was mentioned that at the time, the Berwick track (just 20 miles north of where we were planning to camp on saturday night) was actually underwater. Hmmm. Not good. Calls the following morning to the boat company and the Campsite compounded the bad news - the boat would only be calling at one of the two islands due to the strong South Westerly winds, and the campsite was "very wet and muddy...and we're expecting more rain through today, too!" A bit of discussion and we reluctantly agreed that cancelling would be a sensible plan.

Undaunted, we rapidly came to the conclusion that a weekend away having fun adventures was what had been planned, and that was what we should have - just slightly closer to home, so on Saturday morning we headed, with our Shiny new National Trust membership cards in hand off to Suffolk. First stop was Saxmundham where we had picked out what looked like a nice little campsite - and it was! £12 got us a nice pitch, on a site just a stones throw from the town and also within easy reach of the first place we intended to visit - the RSPB reserve at Minsmere.

 We've been wanting to visit Minsmere for ages - and it didn't disappoint. Well known for its Marsh Harriers, within minutes of getting into the first of the many hides we were watching two pairs of them performing aerial ballets over the water, swooping and gliding around. They were joined a few moments later by a Hobby....and then two more - fabulous little birds with such a turn of speed! We walked a circular route, taking in another hide with more views of the two raptors and lots of other birds besides, and finally the rather unusual hide above, aptly named the "Tree Canopy" hide it gives you a literal "Birds Eye" view through the trees - stunning! After that it was time for tea and cake....well of course!

Tea & Cake - Minsmere style
 It was quite some cake as well -very gooey and delicious! Another short walk around to one of the hides on the opposite side of the reserve - there are three distinct areas of habitat here, so lots of different birds to see and some lovely places to walk.

After that it was time to head to one of my favourite places - Aldeburgh, just a few miles along the coast. A lovely place, Aldeburgh, often overshadowed by Southwold just along the coast. One of the nicest things about it is this Scallop Shell sculpture on the beach...

Fantastic, isn't it? It's a tribute to the work of composer Benjamin Britten - more information on it can be found HERE. It's a bit "Marmite" - people either love it, or hate it - as you'd probably guessed I'm in the first camp! I was lucky to get some shots of it with not many other people about - usually you find a few kiddies clambering over it, maybe an older couple using it as a windbreak with their deckchairs, and occasionally even a couple of teenagers having a snog behind it! Useful art, there you go, you can't beat it! Actually, you can, the fish & chips we had for our tea was undoubtedly better even than this stunning bit of art - yum!

Sunday morning dawned bright, breezy and cheery - a lovely morning to sit outside a tent eating bacon butties and drinking tea,  so we did! Not for all that long though, as we wanted to head briefly back to Aldeburgh to buy a crab for tonights tea, and then head through to Ickworth, a lovely National Trust property near Bury St Edmunds...

 Grand, isn't it? We didn't go round the house on this occasion - we're saving that for a rainy day, today was lovely and dry and bright and it would have been a shame not to explore the gardens outside. Oh, and take a lot of photos of the fabulous central rotunda! I kept coming back to that...I suspect it will make an appearance here again before too long. Remind me to tell you about the "Stumpery" too - suffice to say it's exactly what it sounds like, but utterly magical. I'll save that for another post though!