My Little Duke

A night with KT Tunstall

Blogging, Music, ReviewSteph DukeComment

When Excalibur Press Publicity got in touch to see if I would like to attend the SOMA Festival in Castlewellan, I jumped at the opportunity. And after a quick scan at the programme I knew exactly who I wanted to see.

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An intimate, acoustic gig with KT Tunstall in St Malachy’s Church sounded simply perfect. I love gigs like this - a unique location and a chance to see an artist do a set that they don’t normally perform. This was sure to be an unforgettable evening. Even better that I got to bring my wee Daddy with me!

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St Malachy’s was the perfect backdrop for this most incredible gig, and what an incredible gig it was. In support of KT was Belfast’s rising star, Tony McHugh. Well, I think the entire audience was as blown away as I was. What a talent.

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Tony’s guitar skills were jaw-droppingly brilliant, with an exceptional voice to match. He is one to watch for the future for sure! The atmosphere was like magic, I can’t quite put it into words. You’ve simply GOT to check this guy out. The entire audience was on their feet whooping and cheering when Tony finished his set. One of the most deserved standing ovations I’ve ever witnessed. Absolutely phenomenal.

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Within 5 minutes of Tony finishing his set, on came KT. She connected instantly with the audience, her warmth and friendliness charming us all. She shared her intentions for what she hoped for this special gig - taking us on a journey from her 2004 beginnings and that incredible Jools Holland gig. And take us on a journey she did.

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In her beautiful, conversational style, KT shared the stories behind the songs, letting us in to some of the private behind-the-scenes moments that have shaped who she is a person and, indeed, as an artist. I sat, captivated from start to finish, mesmerised by her stories and music. KT was right when she said that nothing and no-one can take away from that moment we all shared together in that magical space. No video or photograph can even come close. Read what KT had to say about the gig below:

Incredibly special acoustic evening at The Soma Festival at the beautiful St Malachy’s Church in Castlewellan. I played a chronological, totally acoustic set where I told stories and played a selection of songs from 2004 through to present day, from all 6 albums and 3 acoustic records. Pretty cool to hear the creative progression in one go, and also witness my own journey like that. Loved playing those gentle and tender songs in such an amazing space - thank you to all of you who sold it out! I will do more of these … Xx

Image: © Lee Campbell

Image: © Lee Campbell

The most heartfelt thanks to the guys at Soma Festival and to Excalibur Press Publicity for kindly inviting me along. Genuinely, I couldn’t believe I was able to be there and be part of such a special gig, especially with my Dad. One for the memory bank!

Disclaimer: I was gifted tickets to this gig, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Afternoon tea at Montalto

Travel, Food, BloggingSteph DukeComment

Last week my mum and I were treated to a luxury afternoon tea and a private tour of Montalto House. What a beautiful setting to indulge ourselves and learn more about this 18th century mansion!

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We had a delicious spread of delicate finger sandwiches and sweet treats to enjoy, with as many pots of freshly brewed tea as we wished to wash it all down!

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With tummies full up, we headed upstairs to the ladies sitting room to begin the private tour. We were guided by the Managing Director, David Wilson, who gave us a brilliant history lesson on the fascinating story of Montalto Estate. You can read more about the team at Montalto here.

Image credit: montaltoestate.com

Image credit: montaltoestate.com

David talked passionately about the rich history of Montalto, right from its pre-plantation beginnings to the present-day operations. You can read more on the history of the estate here.

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The tour lasted approximately an hour and a half and was thoroughly enjoyable! I could have listened to David all day telling us tales of days gone by, and even some more recent stories of those who have come to stay at Montalto House. One story in particular had us all captivated from start to finish - what a treat to get a unique insight into the goings-on at this stunning property.

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The house itself is immaculate with every detail carefully curated. Every room we entered saw us checking out every nook, every corner in amazement. A truly breathtaking building with an equally fascinating history.

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Getting the chance to share this experience with my mum was even more special - I want to take this opportunity to publicity thank the team at Montalto for kindly inviting us along.

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I can’t recommend visiting Montalto enough - there is something to suit everyone on the estate. Whether it’s walking the dog along the beautiful trails, letting the kids go wild in the purpose-build park or having a coffee in the cafe - you are sure of a great experience. You can even become an exclusive Montalto member - you’d be one of the 7,000 who have already availed of this brilliant option. Read more about ticket prices and membership here.

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Disclaimer: My mum and I were gifted this experience by the lovely team at Montalto, all thoughts and views are my own.

The Bird Box

Travel, BloggingSteph DukeComment

Cocooned in a nest,

Cradled high in the trees,

The music of birdsong

And a Donegal breeze.

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Wow.

I’m really struggling to articulate the right words. I don’t think that anything I write can do this place justice. The Bird Box exceeded all our expectations. And mine were pretty high to begin with.

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Deep in the Donegal countryside, you will find this curious little gate. Open it, step on through and follow the wooden pathway leading you unknowingly into the magic of the forest. Within seconds, you’ll gasp in awe as the leaves give way and reveal the hidden treasure within.

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The Bird Box - nestled snugly between the trees, almost as if cradled by nature herself. Like two giddy children, we bounded across the wobbly, wooden bridge, with every step closer my heart skipping a beat. I’d been waiting patiently for this moment ever since Mike (@thebeardedcandlemakers) shared this Air BnB on his instagram. One glimpse of this place and I was straight on to book us a stay. Boy, am I ever so glad that I did.

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It was absolutely no co-incidence that this getaway coincided with our 9th wedding anniversary. I couldn’t, and still can’t think of a better place to reconnect, retreat and rekindle a relationship - than here. The Bird Box is - by nature of the name - tiny! It is just the perfect size for two - cosy and comfortable. There is very little signal and no wifi in the treehouse, what a remedy for us both! A proper hideaway!

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Do not be fooled by her size however, as this little nook boasts a wonderful array of amenities - everything - in fact, one might need for a truly unique and pleasant stay. I kept joking with Matt about how I could definitely downsize and live in a smaller house - very much in keeping with the sustainability journey we are on as a family!

No need for an electric kettle or microwave here. A two-ring induction hob or the stovetop worked a treat for boiling up hot water for tea and coffee. And I very much enjoyed grilling my toast, bringing my mind fondly back to my childhood days at the caravan. Anyone else like just the one side of their bread grilled? Plenty of butter too! Yum.

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Slowing everything down was the perfect tonic for us in this season and I relished each slow and simple moment. Every little detail has been carefully thought out by hosts, Pete and Anna. The end result is truly stunning and creates a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere right from the get-go.

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The one item that I could not believe I’d forgotten to pack was insect repellant. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am an absolute magnet for blood sucking bugs. So, when I saw this little beauty sitting waiting for me on the shelf, I needed no more convincing that our stay at The Bird Box was going to be pretty much perfect. Pete and Anna, you guys are legends.

If you don’t already know about this stuff - NOTHING works better. Tried and tested!

If you don’t already know about this stuff - NOTHING works better. Tried and tested!

We had arrived at The Bird Box around tea-time and after kicking off our shoes and checking out every nook and cranny like two excitable kids, it was time to light the stove and get the spaghetti on! I poured myself a cold glass of wine and took a long, deep breath. I couldn’t quite believe we were there. Was any of it even real?

It was!

Praise the good Lord. What a gift for us to be able to enjoy!

We both slowly began to unwind as the spaghetti simmered and the stove crackled.

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What a beautiful way to start our treetop retreat. With full bellies and hearts we spent the rest of the evening either reading in the hammock outside wrapped warmly in blankets, or curled up with cushions in front of the stove.

As darkness began to roll over the hills ( I haven’t even yet mentioned the view!) I nipped out to take it all in before heading to bed. The Bird Box is equally as magical in darkness as she is in daylight.

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At one stage, during the night, the rain hammered so hard on the skylight above the bed that I thought it was going to cave in! Once again, I was reminded of being at the caravan as a child and lying listening to the rain patter on the roof - I loved it then, and still love it now. It didn’t take long for me to let the rain lull me back over to sleep.

The next morning Matt headed out early for a walk and I headed straight for the balcony for breakfast! Not before firing up the stove though - our second day was dry, but there was still a bit of a nip in that Donegal air. I set myself up for an al fresco breakfast and spent the next while reading up on essential oils! Bliss.

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What followed was one of the most joyfully slow and simple days either of us have had in a long time. I lost count of how many cups of tea we’d had by mid-afternoon! If one of us wasn’t swinging in the hammock or lying with a book, one of us was most definitely napping! Matt caught me catching flies on the balcony at one stage!

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Nothing quite beats the smell of fresh cinnamon rolls coming out of the oven with freshly poured coffee. Such was a day for sleeping and eating! A day for losing track of time and deciding to wrap up warm and eat bacon butties on the balcony late in the afternoon. I 100% fell asleep not long after the next photo was taken!

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It was after 7pm before we eventually made it out of our cocoon. What a glorious 24+ hours.

Absolute unadulterated bliss.

Truly, I cannot emphasise just how much both of us needed that time. Tired souls were soothed on that day. We headed out for dinner feeling refreshed and ready for a feed!

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The sun made a warm and welcome appearance as we drove the long and winding Donegal roads towards the local town of Ardara. We’d been recommended to try ‘Nancy’s’ and it didn’t disappoint. Dingle gin, spicy beef and delicious local hake were on our menu and we savoured it all before taking a drive along the coast. The sky was ablaze with colour as the sun began to set over the rugged and wild Donegal landscape. Even at such a late hour, the sea was beautifully blue and the sand white.

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No surprise though, we’d only been out a little while, yet pined to return to our safe haven for the night. A true testament of Pete and Anna’s vision and creativity - a place you don’t actually want to leave!

We arrived home just as the sun was hiding herself behind the mountains. The stove was lit and the kettle put on. I couldn’t believe this was our last night!

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The upstairs level of The Bird Box was toasty warm as we headed to bed so we popped open the skylight and slept with it open during the night. What a treat to be woken by birdsong and sunlight on our last morning. No matter where I looked - out of every window: to the left, right and up above - branches and leaves danced in the cool morning breeze.

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Our last morning saw the treehouse basked in sunlight. The sun poured in, casting the most wonderful shadows through the cabin. Matt headed out on his walk and I retreated, once again, to the balcony for my breakfast, toes warmed by the sun.

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I think that The Bird Box was at her most magical for me that morning. I savoured every second and took about a million photographs! I was definitely snap happy during our stay. Everywhere you looked was photo-worthy!

Our final few hours were spent reading and relaxing on the mezzanine together - me, snuggled up in the hammock and Matt, playing guitar.

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Time silently slipped away and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and leave our nest. I took an extra long shower that morning, enjoying the unique experience of swinging the window wide open and showering next to the trees, listening to the sounds of nature.

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As tough as it was to say goodbye to The Bird Box, we know we’ll be back.

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Before heading back up the road we visited Fintown Railway - the only operational railway in Donegal. This beautiful railway is nestled deep in the heart of spectacular mountainous scenery steeped in tradition, myth and folklore, and runs along the crystal clear waters of Loch Finn. It is a million miles from the constant rush of every day life and was like stepping back in time. You can read more about it here.

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Honestly, I cannot recommend a stay in The Bird Box enough. It is an adult-only Air BnB, so a wonderful way to spend some quality time in a truly unique and inspiring setting. I can’t wait wait to go back.

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Like a bird coming home

To her nest amongst the trees.

Her safe place,

A hideaway,

A retreat from the wild.

Cocooned and nestled in her nook,

Nature holds her,

And restores her soul.

Please note: Although this was a part-gifted stay, all thoughts and views are my own.

Don't Be Rubbish! A plastic-free picnic with Tearfund.

Faith, Sustainable, charitySteph DukeComment

When my lovely friend Gemma got in touch about getting involved in a Tearfund campaign, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been a supporter of Tearfund from my early teens and when I heard that the event for the campaign involved a picnic that was plastic-free - I was in!

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We were treated to a sumptuous spread by Little Pink Kitchen and Phoebe devoured one too many strawberries for sure!! The table set-up was gorgeous and it was lovely to meet faces I’d only ever seen online; we were all like-minded and keen to hear more about Tearfund’s latest campaign.

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Tearfund’s NI Director, Ruth shared passionately about why Tearfund are stepping up and calling on 4 multinationals: Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever to reduce their plastic production.

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So why campaign at all?

Why take a stand and speak up?

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This is unacceptable and this cannot be allowed to continue.

Can you imagine what the figure might rise to in another 10 or 20 years time?

Will you join me and take a moment to read more about why this rubbish problem is something we should be tackling?

Our world has a rubbish problem, and it’s hitting people living in poverty the hardest. Today, 2 billion people in the world’s poorest countries are living and working among piles of waste because their rubbish isn’t collected. That’s one in four people on the planet drinking polluted water, breathing toxic air, battling sickness. This causes between 400,000 and a million deaths a year – and each day the waste mountains are growing. Globally, almost half of all plastic produced is used just once.

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Ruth shared the sobering story of a mother living in the slums in Pakistan. A mother who is doing her best - every single day - to protect her children from the dangers of exposed waste around their home. A mother who came home from one of her several jobs, to find her son, crying in agony because he’d been burned by an exposed chemical substance while out playing with his friends. Thankfully her son was ok, but can you imagine this mother’s fear? A fear that she lives with daily. And this shouldn’t be the case. Her other son suffers terribly with asthma, a direct result of inhalation of the burning of exposed waste near their home. In severe attacks, he has to be taken to hospital, an expensive and entirely unnecessary hardship.

I listened to Ruth, with my own daughter sitting next to me and I could have wept. I didn’t dare to imagine myself in that scenario, yet every day, mothers and families face dangerous and disastrous situations because of a problem that humans have caused.

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Multinational companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever are making this rubbish problem worse. They sell billions of products in single-use plastic packaging in poorer countries where waste isn’t collected. And they know full well that people will have no choice but to burn this rubbish – which also contributes to climate change – discard it in waterways, or live among it.

But there is hope. Tearfund are calling on Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever to take responsibility for their plastic waste in poorer countries by making four ‘Not Rubbish’ commitments:

  • Report – by 2020 on the number of units of single-use plastic products you sell

  • Reduce – commit to halve the number of these products by 2025

  • Recycle – by 2022, ensure one single-use plastic item is collected for every one you sell

  • Restore – work with waste pickers to provide employment with dignity

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If they each make and fulfil these four commitments, it could transform the lives of millions of people living in poverty.

Please sign the petition here.

THIS RUBBISH SITUATION CAN CHANGE, IF WE ACT TOGETHER.

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When we steward the earth’s precious resources wisely, we can all flourish. We can drink clean water. Breathe fresh air. Enjoy good health. Our rubbish can be reduced and reused – and this can bring good, safe jobs to the poorest communities.  

This can happen if we act. We can say to companies: ‘don’t be rubbish. Stop creating plastic waste mountains in poorer communities.’  

And we can look at our own lifestyles, too. We also have a plastic problem here in the UK. It’s estimated that we throw away almost 300 billion pieces of plastic each year – more than 4,000 pieces per person. Most of this isn’t recyclable.

In addition to signing the petition, you can also make your own Plastic Pledge to give up one type of single-use plastic for 40 days (or more!). I haven’t quite decided what we are giving up yet!!

Let’s join together - we can truly make a difference and change this rubbish situation.

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NB: Photography by David Kirkpatrick/Tearfund