My Little Duke

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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.

Strollin’ solo in London

Blogging, Fashion, TravelSteph DukeComment

Many of you will know that for the last few months I’ve been a brand ambassador for the British clothing company, Boden. Within this community came the opportunity to attend Boden’s Autumn/Winter preview in London … I grabbed it with both hands!

Was I terrified? Yes.

Did I feel like an imposter? Absolutely, yes.

Would this opportunity come again? Probably not.

I’d already been on a solo trip to Brussels in March, so travelling alone wasn’t my biggest fear. Imposter syndrome was. But I put the Boden event out of my mind and concentrated on planning my 2 days solo in London.

The trip was just before my birthday so that felt like a good ‘excuse’ to justify such an excursion. In reality, I didn’t need to justify it at all. What an opportunity to not only attend the exclusive preview, but to visit my Auntie for the first time. Looking back, I don’t know why I’ve never thought to go over and stay with my Auntie before? Flights to London can be bought very cheaply and my Aunt lives in Surbiton, just a short train ride outside of the city. I’ll certainly not be leaving it too long before visiting my Aunt again!

I’d booked an early flight on the Tuesday morning and a late flight home on Wednesday night. However, I was flying from Dublin. If I’d booked earlier, I could have flown from Belfast, but in order to get a decent price for my flight, Dublin was my best option. I’d flown solo from Dublin to Brussels, so knew I could do the early drive down and late drive home again ok. Not 100% ideal obviously, but I really didn’t mind. I’ve driven to Dublin numerous times and I always use Quick Park for my car. Once you’ve done it once, it’s no trouble.

Following my trip to Brussels I’ve been challenged to be more conscious about reducing my environmental footprint. I vowed to take both my coffee keepcup and water flask with me – and more importantly – use them! I filled my flask at the free water station at the airport and used my keepcup for my morning coffee.

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Matt had bought me a new travel bag for my birthday as I was panicking about what bag to bring with me. I needed something that I could carry around comfortably for the two days – but something that I could fit all my stuff inside! Thanks Ryanair for the ‘challenge’ to pack light. It was a no brainer about what bag to buy – a Madlug Day Bag. It was the perfect shape and size, and with every purchase, the cost of that bag covers a free bag for a child in care. Now all I had to do was fit all my stuff in. Staying with my Aunt meant that I could borrow some bigger/heavier items such as shampoo, straighteners etc – so I really only had to pack the basics. I actually surprised myself with how little I managed to bring! And after travelling with a toddler, flying solo with a backpack brings a wonderful sense of freedom and ease!

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I’d pre-booked my Stansted Express train tickets online and knew how to get to the train from a previous visit, but when I arrived at the gate I was told that the train wasn’t running and I’d need to get a bus. I made a mental note of the other people around me who were also travelling to Liverpool St station and stayed with them as we headed to find the bus to take us where we needed to go. Thankfully there was a bus to take us to Witham station and then we’d be able to catch a train straight to Liverpool St. Our Stansted Express tickets were still valid for the rerouted journey and it was all relatively painless, despite being on my own. I’d purposely travelled on the Tuesday morning rather than the Wednesday so I wouldn’t have any panic about getting to the Boden event on time. Such a wise decision! The cancelled train didn’t cost me any extra cash, but it did cost me time in getting into the city. Despite being up and travelling from 3am, I didn’t actually make it to Liverpool St station until almost noon. But I definitely felt relieved when I’d finally made it into the city. The day was now mine for the taking!

Despite having gone to Brussels solo, there wasn’t ever any chance to go exploring by myself. Our schedule was a tightly packed one, whereas my ‘schedule’ for London was pretty fluid! I had a few places that I hoped to tick off my list, but keeping the trip flexible was my priority. I was just excited to have the *very rare* space and time to stroll the streets of London with zero expectations or responsibilities.

I could do what I wanted, when I wanted.

I could eat what I wanted, where I wanted.

Amazing.

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I am someone who actually quite enjoys her own company. My Auntie couldn’t comprehend how on earth I wouldn’t be bored and tried to convince me to see if I could get an earlier flight home! I assured her that my time in London was highly anticipated and quite blissful to me!

On my arrival in Liverpool St station I headed straight into the Neal’s Yard Remedies store. One whiff of those diffusers and I was instantly relaxed! Next stop was the Krispy Kreme van. I nabbed a bench to enjoy my donut and make a plan of action. The weather was pretty miserable so I planned to head straight for The Sky Garden as it was only about a 20 minute walk away.

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I exited Liverpool St holding my umbrella in one hand and Google maps in the other, arriving at The Sky Garden about 20 minutes later.  There was a lady at the door and I asked her if I could get a ticket. With a sympathetic stare she informed me that tickets needed to be reserved at least 3 weeks prior to a visit.

Awesome.

Great start Steph!

I was totally gutted. The lady told me that they allowed walk-ins after 6pm if I wanted to come back then. So I shuffled my way into an entrance porch around the corner, sheltered from the rain, and reassessed the situation. I needed somewhere, not too far away, to wait out the rain for a bit. I remembered a cool coffee spot from my last visit to London with mum and Phoebs. We couldn’t go in last time because Phoebe was having a pure meltdown, so today seemed like a perfect opportunity to go! I could grab a coffee, escape the rain, and read my book - I’d borrowed Jen Chillingsworth’s ‘Live Green’ from a friend. It was a perfectly compact size for travelling and I was so excited to read it.

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Armed with my umbrella and Google maps once again I headed towards London Bridge. Thankfully the rain was easing and it wasn’t long before I recognised where I was, spying London Grind in the distance. The time was now 1pm and it made sense to grab lunch here. The staff were incredibly friendly and made me feel so welcome. I found my spot and ordered a G&T, cheeseburger and fries. Sure, why the heck not? The place was absolutely buzzing. I stayed and enjoyed the vibe at Grind until almost 2.30pm, making a plan of action for the afternoon, reading and enjoying a free flat white! There was a time when I would never have dared to sit anywhere on my own. I would have felt really awkward. How times can change! I was perfectly content for that hour and a half. And I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that G&T and cheeseburger! Happy early birthday to me!

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After thanking the lovely girls who served me I headed out and towards South Bank. It was mizzling on and off but it didn’t make the walk too unpleasant. You just have to get on with it when you don’t have any other choice. And, even in the rain, South Bank was class. There was a real buzz about the place, with loads to see en route along the water. I stopped at The Globe Theatre, totally mesmerized, imagining myself as one of the crowd, watching Shakespeare back in the day. I checked out some cool shops at Bargehouse and Oxo Tower Wharf, enjoying a nosey in the Noodoll store, picking Phoebs up a wee present before heading towards the iconic London Eye.

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Unbelievably, the sun began to try to peek out of the clouds and I was able to put my umbrella away for the first time that day. The area surrounding the London Eye has loads to see and do, I leisurely took it all in before heading across the bridge towards Trafalgar Square.

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The time was now 4pm and I was due to be at my Aunt’s for tea around 6.30pm. I hotfooted it through St James’ Park after stopping briefly to see the guards on their horses at Horse Guards Parade.

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My last stop on day one was the infamous Peggy Porschen’s.  I can’t really call myself a proper ‘Instagrammer’ if I visit London and don’t go to Peggy’s, right?!

I jest.

I totally jest!

But, genuinely, I wanted to go for a right ol’ nosey. I had heard that the coffee was good but those famous cupcakes actually weren’t. So I decided to just see for myself.

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The whole area was actually really lovely and pink Peggy’s could be seen from quite a distance away. I could also see people getting their perfect ‘shot’ in front of that flower-adorned door! I stood and watched a number of very glamorous girls preening and posing – some actually not even going in to make a purchase! I sneakily managed to steal a few shots, careful to crop any posers out (!) before going in to order. I didn’t have long and the tables inside were all full, so I braved the cold and sat outside with a coffee and cupcake. Cue more preening and posing – honestly, every 3 minutes there was someone new taking their turn at the door! Once again, I just watched, taking it all in. I did, however, brave asking my waitress to snap a quick picture of me. I knew I’d have major regrets if I didn’t! I’ve made that mistake before.  Well, what I didn’t bet on was the sheer skill of said waitress. Clearly, she’d done this a million times before. Not awkward at all, she snapped away, clearly aiming for a perfect shot, cropping out the people who were in the queue and everything! I should have known! Anyway, time was moving swiftly on and I had a train to catch so I ate and drank up quickly. The coffee was indeed fine. The cupcake left much to be desired. It was awfully dry and definitely not award-winning.

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Checking my trusty Google maps, I headed swiftly towards the nearest station. This was the first time I’d used the train to travel and my contactless card to pay. Talk about handy. Tap to go in, tap to go out – zero hassle. I was well impressed and hopped onto the train … a little too hastily! I checked the line information above my head only to discover I was on the line to Chessington, rather than the line I needed to get to Surbiton. Thankfully the lines are clearly marked and I just jumped off at the next stop and on again when the next train came along. Doing that a few years ago definitely would have threw me, but I’m 100% more brave than I was mid-20s. Not more brave in all things mind you!

My lovely cousin picked me up from Surbiton station and brought me to her house to stay the night. We were at my Aunt’s by 6.30pm and I enjoyed a home-cooked meal, another wee G&T and a lovely catch up with my cousin and Aunt. We watched TV and I rested my weary feet. I felt truly thankful for my day in the city, but moreso for the rare time with my Aunt.  Not only did she make my dinner and put me up for the night, but she also ironed and hung up my Boden dress for the next day. I was ever so grateful.

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Day 2

Wednesday morning brought beautiful sunshine and I enjoyed catching up on a bit of sleep before breakfast and then packed up my bag for the day. My cousin dropped me back to Surbiton station for 10am and I got the train straight to Waterloo and then a tube to Covent Garden. In less than an hour I was back in the city centre, a Pret almond croissant in hand and headed for Boden HQ.

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I really tried not to think too much about the event for I knew I could easily talk myself out of it! As I approached the door I 100% faked what little confidence I could muster and walked inside. I was greeted by two lovely ladies - one ticked my name off the list and the other took my bag. It sure felt good to give my wee shoulders a break! I nipped to the loo to fix my hair only to find Elle Wright (@feathering_the_empty_nest) standing waiting at the bathroom door. Well, I nearly died. Ok, that’s totally melodramatic, but trust me when I say that I had a … ‘moment’. Instant imposter syndrome kicked in and I thought ‘what on earth am I doing here?’ Of course I tried to act real cool, totally not acknowledging the fact that I’ve been following Elle for quite some time. She’s only got like almost 112K followers. No biggie.

I tried to calm myself down in the loo and totally gave myself a wee pep talk in the mirror.

I can do this.

I can do this.

I exited the bathroom and headed straight to the cutest coffee cart I think I’ve ever seen.

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With a Boden-branded, oat flat white in hand, I nervously made my way upstairs, not knowing who on earth I might run into next. Yet, I need not have been nervous at all. The whole event was so relaxed and as soon as I saw the setup I was straight in for a look at the beautiful A/W collection. Some of Boden’s in-house designers were there and it was incredible to get a chance to chat with them and see them in action. There were delicious canapés and drinks to enjoy but I was far too nervous to take anything!

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I did eventually pluck up the courage to chat to Elle, and to the lovely Sally (@gettingstuffdoneinheels) as well. Gosh, they were so kind while I blabbered on about being too star-struck at the loos to introduce myself! It wasn’t long before we were joined by some familiar faces and I finally began to relax. Part of the preview involved the opportunity to get a personalised Boden printed plate to bring home. Designer, Author and Illustrator, Lisa Stickley was busy illustrating people’s pets and portraits during the event. I cannot tell you how chuffed I am with mine.

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Feeling extra brave after the event I made my way round the corner to Neal’s Yard. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. Neal’s Yard was looking particularly pretty. I’d contacted the Neal’s Yard Remedies store prior to arriving to see if I could go ‘live’ in store to demo a hand treatment. Legit, I walked around the shop for ages before finally introducing myself and having to do the ‘live’! I was definitely feeling the fear and doing it anyway! The staff were lovely though, and very accommodating; I met with Abigail to get ready for the hand demo. I still can’t believe I went ‘live’ on my Instagram in the store while getting a hand massage! Abi and I chatted about some of NYRO’s products and health benefits, before giving a tour around the store and a peek out at the Neal’s Yard courtyard.  I wish I had recorded the full conversation I had with Abigail. She had a wealth of knowledge to share and it was wonderful to just get the chance to chat all things NYR with her. Thank you Abi!

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Lunchtime had been and gone by the time I emerged from Neal’s Yard. Abigail had recommended that I swing by Petersham Nurseries in Covent Garden for a nosey then I made a beeline for Arket.

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I was absolutely famished, so grabbed a coffee and a cinnamon bun to get a little energy for some shopping and strolling. I really loved Arket and bought a few wee bits – my turtle bags came from there. It was great to just explore in the sunshine. What a difference from Tuesday’s dreary weather!

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Mid-afternoon saw me strolling through Carnaby and checking out the famous Liberty London. I could have stopped and snapped at every turn. I was totally in my element.

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Having worked in my local Topshop for 6 years in my late teens/early twenties, I couldn’t not take a nosey in the big Oxford Street store: a DJ, nail and hair bar, café and bubble tea stall are just a few ‘extras’ you can expect to find there. But, I definitely felt like I was beginning to fade a bit, so I took a wee seat with a bubble tea (so weird btw) after purchasing a few hairbands. As you do.

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It was now 4.30pm and my flight home wasn’t until 10pm so I made the decision to make the most of the good weather and use the tube to head towards London and Tower Bridges. I walked along the water from London Bridge towards Tower Bridge and it was glorious in the sunshine. Keeping a close eye on the time I made my way on foot across Tower Bridge (so glad I did) and down the other side of the river. I soaked it all in and snapped pictures like a maniac. My phone was on the portable charger by this stage!

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It was just after 6pm when I came full circle and arrived back at the entrance of The Sky Garden. The queue outside was small so I stood in line, deliberating whether I had time to go in or not. I had to factor in the time to walk to Liverpool St station and catch the Stansted express back to the airport. As I entered through the building I could see another queue going through security a little further ahead. My gut was telling me I just didn’t have the time. I listened to my gut, and for the second time in two days, I walked away from The Sky Garden! I’ll just book ahead next time! I managed to get to Liverpool St station and make it quickly and easily onto the Stansted Express. I’d called into an M&S foodhall en route and grabbed a sandwich, crisps, sweets and chocolate to snack on after suddenly realising I hadn’t eaten that much that day. I’d been more focused on what I was doing and seeing and wanting to make the most of my time! I munched away on the train as I headed to the airport – much needed fuel for the last leg of the journey. I still had quite a way to go to get myself home.

I was through security at Stansted by 8.15pm and admittedly felt a wee bit gutted that I probably would have had time to do The Sky Garden (albeit at a push)! So I settled myself and took a dander round the stores before perching up with a glass of fizz and maltesers while I waited for my gate. It felt like a nice way to say “cheers” to what had really been a brilliant trip.

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By the time I arrived home it was gone 2am and I was more than ready to see Matt and Phoebs and to crawl into my bed. 

Looking back, it all seems a bit surreal. I still can’t quite believe I actually went to London … by myself.

That I navigated the trains and tubes.

That I attended the Boden A/W preview.

That I did a ‘live’ in Neal’s Yard Remedies, Covent Garden.

That I didn’t get lost or panic or freak out!

It might sound silly to some but I definitely felt like I was exercising my ‘brave’ mode most this trip!

I can’t conclude this blog without thanking a few people, without whom, this trip would never have happened. Firstly, to Boden: thank you for extending ‘little old me’ an invitation to attend – I know I shouldn’t say that but it’s definitely how I felt on the day. What a wonderfully unique opportunity - one I do not take for granted. My only regret is not taking the opportunity to chat more to Mr Johnnie Boden! Next time perhaps?!  Secondly, to my Aunt and cousin: thank you for opening up your home and taking time to pick me up and drop me off. Thanks for the lend of your straighteners El! Thirdly, to my husband, Matt: thank you for believing in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. Thank you for pushing me – in love - to take opportunities like this one.  And lastly, to YOU: thank you for reading my blog and for investing your time and energy into following along on my journey. Thank you also to all you lovely people who gave me advice on where to go and what to see. I’ve a long list of places now for the next time! Milk train is top of that list! In all seriousness though, thank you again and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like any more details from my trip. Until next time London!

 

Six by Nico Review

Blogging, Fashion, FoodSteph DukeComment

On Sunday 10th March I took myself off to the big smoke for a few hours. The weather was wild and so was my hair as I bumbled my way through the door of Belfast’s hottest new restaurant ‘Six by Nico’.

There has been a real buzz around this new eatery and rumour has it that you can’t get a reservation before the end of April! So when I received an invite to come and try the unique 6 course menu at ‘Six by Nico’ - I couldn’t say no.

Pic by Michelle  @two_daisies

Pic by Michelle @two_daisies

Six by Nico offers customers a series of carefully curated and constantly evolving restaurant concepts. Each six weeks, Nico and his team will serve a brand new six-course tasting menu – each one themed upon a different place or memory.

I have to say a special thank you to Rumour Mill PR for the invitation to attend Sunday’s taster event. The afternoon was kindly hosted by SKAPA and Cathy Martin and we were treated to the current menu - ‘The Chippie’ - I cannot wait to share these incredible dishes with you.

Course One - ‘Chips & Cheese’   Parmesan Espuma | Crisp Potato | Curry Oil

Course One - ‘Chips & Cheese’

Parmesan Espuma | Crisp Potato | Curry Oil

Course Two - ‘Scampi’   Monkfish Cheeks | Pea Emulsion | Wild Garlic | Gribiche

Course Two - ‘Scampi’

Monkfish Cheeks | Pea Emulsion | Wild Garlic | Gribiche

Course Three - ‘Steak Pie’   Beef Shin | Burnt Onion Ketchup | Mushroom Duxelle | Red Wine | Glazed Puff Pastry

Course Three - ‘Steak Pie’

Beef Shin | Burnt Onion Ketchup | Mushroom Duxelle | Red Wine | Glazed Puff Pastry

Course Four - ‘Fish Supper’   Cod | Confit Fennel | Samphire | Beer Pickled Mussels

Course Four - ‘Fish Supper’

Cod | Confit Fennel | Samphire | Beer Pickled Mussels

Course Five - ‘Smoked Sausage’   Pork Belly | Salt Baked Celeriac | Caramelised Apple | Black Pudding

Course Five - ‘Smoked Sausage’

Pork Belly | Salt Baked Celeriac | Caramelised Apple | Black Pudding

Course Six - ‘Deep Fried Mars Bar’   Caramelia Chocolate | Orange Sorbet | Cocoa Nib

Course Six - ‘Deep Fried Mars Bar’

Caramelia Chocolate | Orange Sorbet | Cocoa Nib

The photos hopefully speak for themselves. Gosh. The food was really incredible! I’m not entirely sure I can pick a favourite … probably the scampi or the smoked sausage dishes topped the bill for me! I’m a dessert person though so I can’t not mention the deep fried mars bar - literally have no words for this dish! Stunning. Just stunning.

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I can confirm that they make a decent skinny flat white too! Hurrah!

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Everything about this place is top notch, what an honour to get the opportunity to experience it like I did!

Lovely to share a table with these two beauties @lauras_little_loves & @two_daisies

Lovely to share a table with these two beauties @lauras_little_loves & @two_daisies

Photo by @brendangallagherphoto

Photo by @brendangallagherphoto

An "Insta-Class" with My Little Duke

Blogging, FaithSteph DukeComment

It took several requests and a gentle nudge from a friend for me to even consider doing something like this! I mean, who am I to give advice about Instagram?! I am nobody and I am certainly no expert. Tutor English? Yes, absolutely! Take a class on Instagram? Now that’s a whole other ball game!

As the date for the class drew closer, I had a major case of imposter-syndrome … but much to my surprise, the class ended up being over-subscribed and I needed to re-locate! Ok, I told myself. I can do this. I have something valid to say. I have my experience to share. And that is exactly what I did.

Flowers kindly gifted by  @gracehillflowers

Flowers kindly gifted by @gracehillflowers

My main aim was to offer the ladies a behind-the-lens insight into my experience of using Instagram over the last 4 years. It was important to me that they would come away from the class feeling both informed and equipped, and I do hope that this was so!

Here’s what they said:

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“Thanks so much for a lovely evening. It was so relaxed and you were refreshingly open and honest. I hope your other sessions go really well too - I’m sure they will love it as much as we did!”

~

“Thank you for last night, it was a fascinating evening. So much information to help me negotiate the Instagram world. I will be working on creating more content, experimenting with my pics and I may even create a story!”

~

“I have been trying to think of something to share so I could join with the hashtag #learnuaryni - turns out after a little insta class run by Steph from @mylittleduke, I did just that. I learnt some things about Instagram that I have been dying to know but most wouldn’t share. Steph was honest and forthright about her social media journey, and inspiring to say the least. The added bonus of course was the lovely ladies I got to meet there. We shared stories and ideas and this highlighted once again how these squares can bring likeminded people together to form friendships, business ideas, content creating and best of all, plenty of laughter (oh, and a love of cakes!) There are big things to come…”

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I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of women to join me for this first class. We giggled, bonded and shared our unique stories over copious cups of tea and cake. The discussion was honest and open and full of learning opportunities for everyone, myself included.

As many of you will know, I’ve been on quite a journey with Instagram over the last 4 years. What began as a small business selling items for mummies and littles has evolved into something I could never have imagined. Never could I have dreamed that I’d create content for brands, never mind getting paid to do so. Never would I have thought I’d be driving up to Ballymena to meet someone I’d become friends with online. Never could I imagine I’d listen to promptings from the Holy Spirit, then write and share what I believed to be something from the heart of God. The doors of opportunity are wide open and I’ve been learning to walk right through!

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So what sort of things did we cover in the class?

  • my personal experience of IG ( the positive & the negative)

  • content creation / working with brands

  • taking & editing photos

  • branding & blogging

  • growing a following

  • instagram for business

  • & much, much more!

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It was an honour to showcase some wonderful local ladies on the evening too. Rachel from @rachiebakesni made the delicious treats we enjoyed on the night … thank you Rachel!

mini marbled chocolate & clementine loaf cakes

mini marbled chocolate & clementine loaf cakes

can you spot Rachel’s homemade marshmallow?!

can you spot Rachel’s homemade marshmallow?!

The ladies were also treated to gorgeous place-name hoops by the lovely Louise of @taylorit_ and stunning prints by mixed media artist, Lynsey of @lynseyauldart.

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A special thanks must go to the 6 brave women who came along to listen, to learn and to share their instagram stories. I’ve linked their accounts here:

Jillian @hennathome

Claire @thats_me_lady_c

Arlene @arlsnyro

Victoria @thecraftystag

Andrea @life_hack_mum_

Jenny @jennycatlowphotography - Jenny very kindly offered to take some photos on the night - such a lovely reminder of our session!

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It is no co-incidence that I’m sharing this blog post on International Women’s Day. I keep being continually blown away by the women I am having opportunity to connect with through Instagram - some real God-appointments and friendships! Gosh I am so grateful!

Alongside the group insta-class I have also been running 1-1 sessions. Like I mentioned earlier, these were also by request and I felt real imposter-syndrome all over again! However, after my first meeting I came away completely assured that I could actually offer something of value and I needn’t feel the fear.

My first meeting was with a woman who I greatly admire. Her God-story is pretty incredible and it was such an honour to have opportunity to chat 1-1 about using Instagram to grow her business. I now feel privileged to be able to call Charlene a friend and I can’t be more excited about being able to journey alongside her as she steps out in faith with @gracehillflowers! I really couldn’t have asked for a better person to *nervously* do my first session with!! Here’s what Charlene said:

“I had the priviledge of doing a 1-1 session with Steph. She has a wonderful knowlege of the world of instagram and was excellent at tailoring her knowledge to my specific needs in the direction I wanted our wee farm to take on the squares. I found her very open and honest in the information she shared. Through my 1-1 session with her, she has helped me gain more confidence through her encouragement and ongoing support. Thankful to call her more than a mentor now, but a friend.”

Charlene grows her own beautiful blooms at her Flower Farm in Loughgall

Charlene grows her own beautiful blooms at her Flower Farm in Loughgall

Here are some more amazing ladies who are availing of the 1-1 sessions. You girls are truly inspirational!

Sarah @iamsarahfletcher

Sharon @sharon_laura

Patricia @patricianewell1

Kerry @butterscotch315

Michelle @shelleyt_

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My most recent session was with Sara @saraallen_author. Sara has just launched her incredible book ‘Meraki’ and what a joy it was to spend time chatting together. This was indeed another God-appointment! I came away so blessed and encouraged, grateful to have spent time in Sara’s company.

Here’s what Sara said:

It’s #internationalwomensday and I thought Id mark the occasion by giving a shout out to this girl ... Steph Duke.

I’ve followed her on insta for a while and admired the authenticity she brings to a platform that can be very much all about my, myself and I.

Steph appeared real, not fake, not self promoting but someone who stood out as she bravely used her voice to encourage and inspire others by sharing her story.

When Steph mentioned that she was thinking of doing workshops on all things insta and sharing some of her experiences and lessons I couldn’t wait to jump in and sign up. But my ever complicated diary wouldn’t allow and so I thought I’d contact her and ask for a one to one coffee meeting instead.

Honestly I’ve never connected with anyone via insta before in person – I’ve DM’d, sent emails and commented but face to face was a whole new level of brave!! Especially because I still didn’t even really know what I really wanted to do with this platform.

I have loved Instagram for a few years, originally joining because I love nothing more than capturing a moment with a photo. I am a firm believer that a picture can sometimes paint a thousand words.

But if I am totally honest I had got a bit lost and disappointed with it all.

It has become a bit of an advertising, influencer platform with everyone vying for a little bit of attention and I’m not a fan.

I’ve lost my love for it but yet I am in a place on my personal journey where I know God is asking me to use my voice in whatever space and platform I find myself for good. I can’t just tap out.

I’ve spent the last few years writing a book which was published in December and as my lovely editor reminded me more than once the book is for others not me, my responsibility is to get the message out there. I can’t control what people will think of it but I do need to let them know it exists.

In steps Steph ...

As I tried to explain some of my ramblings as my love / hate relationship with Instragam and what I really wanted to use the platform for she listened, smiled and gave me so many key insights into what this platform can do & the functionality of how it all really works. Who knew there was a good and bad time to post? Of the importance of filters, stories and hashtags?

It is a minefield and one that I need to get brave enough to tackle with a bit more clarity of thought and planning but one that I now have a greater understanding of thanks to Steph. Who also helped me realise the importance of using platforms like Instagram for good!

I’ve shyed away as I don’t want to appear self- promoting. I haven’t wanted people to roll their eyes and think “here she goes again” but what I do want is for people to hear my heart in the words I share. Read the posts and understand that they flow from a heart that is surrendered to Jesus and that in sharing the things that flow from it I want others to connect with Him. To understand that He is the only reason I am something to share, He is the One who has transformed my life and I will gladly share His story for ever.

If you are thinking of connecting with Steph – do it! She has a lot to share and you will come away inspired and informed. Inspired to join the army of like minded “influencers” who are sharing their story to set others free and informed about all the technical know how and insights to help you make it happen.

I couldn’t recommend a session with Steph more.

Wow. Thank you Sara!

I am so deeply humbled and never more certain that if we offer God our WHOLE selves, He will take whatever we give Him (even if we feel like our hands are empty) and will use it in the most beautiful way.

So be encouraged today that even if you feel like an imposter - but you feel God stirring in your heart - DO WHATEVER IT IS THAT GOD IS CALLING YOU TO DO! I cannot begin to comprehend God’s plans and purposes for my life in the next 10 years, the possibilities are LIMITLESS. I’m learning not to limit myself! Will you join me?!

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And there you have it! I hope this post gives you an insight into my heart behind these sessions and a bit more information too. I’m currently running 1-1 sessions throughout March and April and intend on hosting another group class over the coming weeks as well. Please, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. There is never any pressure to sign up, I’d be just so delighted to connect with you and share the details! You can message me through my Instagram @mylittleduke or drop me an email: steph@mylittleduke.com. Can’t wait to hear from you! Instagram can feel a bit intimidating at times, it’s time to take back control.