My Little Duke

Neal's Yard Remedies Organic - Autumn Edit

Beauty, SustainableSteph DukeComment
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It’s been a while since I’ve written a NYRO update - no better time than the start of September to do so! I really love this time of the year - the frivolities of summer come to an end and a brand new school year begins. And as much as I love the freedom that summer brings, I desperately need the routine of September. It is such a great opportunity to get organised and set goals for the season ahead.

With regard to Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic, there is much to be excited about as we approach peak season. A brand new premium sensitive skincare range is launching, along with a beautifully branded Christmas range, and with it being, ‘Organic September’ there really is no better time to join/share/shop this award winning organic beauty brand.

Joining NYRO is one of the best decisions I made in 2018. Although I thought that I made the decision on a whim, God was absolutely in control, moving the pieces of my puzzle to fit perfectly in place. Little did I know that the following year I’d end up on an influencer eco press trip to Brussels, or that I’d come home from said trip with a passion for seeking to live more sustainably.

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With our world in climate crisis, it has never been more important to be a conscious consumer. I am so very proud to work with a company who are ethical pioneers in the health and beauty industry. I can shop and promote Neal’s Yard Remedies’ products with 100% confidence that they are kind to our bodies and to the environment. With NYRO you have quality assurance of a company who are both transparent and authentic in how they do business. No greenwashing here.

Neal’s Yard Remedies hold a truly unique position in the health and wellness industry, not only talking the talk, but walking an organic way of life, one that treads lightly on our planet. We recently celebrated 10 years as a CarbonNeutral® certified company, having offset our emissions every year since 2008 after being the first UK high street retailer to be receive the certification. At every level of the business, NYRO strive to lead the way in doing things right. You can read more on our responsible packaging here and let me share a little taster of our most recent accolades.

July 2019 : FOUR awards at the Natural Health Mag International Beauty Awards!

⭐ Favourite Champion Brand (as voted by the readers)
⭐ Best High Street Retailer (as voted by the readers)
⭐ Best moisturiser - Frankincense Intense™ Lift Cream
⭐ Best eye cream - Frankincense Intense™ Lift Eye Cream

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At our most recent Autumn Conference I sat, once again, in awe as I listened in at our ethics and sustainability workshop. So far in 2019, we have picked up over 10 awards, not forgetting our 100% Ethical award in the Good Shopping Guide.

Our most recent awards were announced on 31st August by the Beauty Shortlist Awards:

⭐ Best Baby Brand UK

⭐ Best Baby Wash

⭐ Best Nappy Cream

⭐ Best Baby Balm

⭐ Best Balm

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At Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic we believe in holistic health and beauty from the inside out. Whether you enjoy this brand as a customer or as a consultant you can trust you are getting the very best in natural and organic health and skincare. I’ve come home from the Autumn Conference more in love with this brand and more determined to shout about it. It’s so easy to shy away from promoting or ‘selling’, especially here in NI. But why wouldn’t I want to share an ethical, sustainable, organic brand whose products offer natural solutions and benefits to our lives each and every day? Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic offer solutions to so many health and wellbeing issues. As an independent consultant, I’m here to offer advice and help whenever and wherever possible. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can email me on steph@mylittleduke.com or find me on Instagram and Facebook.

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It’s ‘Organic September’ so why not join me in making ‘one small swap’ in your skincare or in your home to a product that is better for you and for our environment? Not sure where to start or what swap to make? I’d love to help you decide!

Or perhaps you really love the sound of being a consultant and joining the Neal’s Yard Remedies team? I’d love nothing more than chatting to you about the benefits of joining! You can check out the current joining offer here.

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.