My Little Duke


Country Blog Retreat

Motherhood, Travel, FashionSteph DukeComment


On Sunday, September 24th, 2017, the lovely Emma of @littlewoodlife held the very first 'Bloggers Retreat' in Northern Ireland. Set at the stunning Larchfield Estate, 140 bloggers and bloggers-to-be from all across our wee island gathered in anticipation. Anyone who knows Emma, knew that the afternoon would be styled to perfection; add to this the awesome line up of speakers (@melwiggins, @blossomingbirds etc) and afternoon tea provided by French Village and we were set for a wonderful time! 


This feels like a really special post for me as I wasn't supposed to be at this event at all! I completely missed out on the posts advertising the retreat so when Nic of @thebrightsidediary (check out her new blog!) asked me if I was going, I was gutted. I immediately contacted Emma and expressed my disappointment, asking her if she was planning to do another one (all the while secretly praying she'd say yes!) She instantly replied saying I wasn't going to believe it, but someone had just pulled out and their ticket was available! I was delighted! The timing of this retreat for me is quite significant and I was so excited to see some IG faces in real life and learn some tricks and tips from the pros. 


Super stylish Nic  @thebrightsidediary  - insta pals! Photo cred: @melwiggins

Super stylish Nic @thebrightsidediary - insta pals! Photo cred: @melwiggins


As Sunday approached I was a bundle of nerves and excitement. I must have tried on a gazillion outfit choices and looking back I wish I'd gone with my gut. Not that I hated my outfit, I had borrowed the skirt from my sister so I just didn't feel like 'myself' - you know what I mean?


Lesson One

We all have individual taste; have faith in that and own your personal style - it makes you, YOU!


Anyway, outfit decided and I was off. I'd never been to Larchfield Estate before but know of a few people who married there and always thought it looked gorgeous. And it truly is. Check out their function room ...




Stunning right? I felt a little bit like I was at a wedding; everything was beautifully styled and there was a magical atmosphere right from the get go. On our arrival we enjoyed treats and drinks by @panaceadrinks, @clearer_water and @grahamsbakery - I very quickly spied the beautiful Erin of @motherbeastie and made a bee line her direction! It is so amazing to finally meet people in the flesh who I have followed on IG for so long! It's the weirdest thing as you feel you know so much about them, yet have never met face-to-face. Thank you Emma for giving so many of us the chance to get together. The buzz of the sharing of experiences and IG accounts, the encouragements and the, 'it's so good to finally meet you' 's was something so special. 




After settling at our tables, we eagerly awaited the first session to begin. We had all been kindly gifted with goodie bags - here's a sneak peak of just some of what we were treated to:


+ An amazing @whitechalkstudio Print

+ A @belfastcoffeemap :)

+ @thenaturalbeautypot Bath Salts

+ Stunning notebooks by @sonniandblush

+ Yummy cookies by @grahamsbakery


Hand drawn map of Larchfield by Andrew Martin @littlewoodmr and @sonniandblush bespoke notepad

Hand drawn map of Larchfield by Andrew Martin @littlewoodmr and @sonniandblush bespoke notepad


It wasn't long before Emma took up her space (see what I did there Mel!) and welcomed us with her unique warmth and flair.  One selfie IG story later and first up was Anna of @blossomingbirds on 'Instagram Tips and Tricks'. Anna, with her famous honesty and humour, guided us through some really useful tools for IG and excellent advice on building brand and content. 


Would you just look at those two babes! @blossomingbirds + @melwiggins 

Would you just look at those two babes! @blossomingbirds + @melwiggins 


Next up, the Photo Walk. My aim was simple - be in as little photos as I could! That is definitely not my thing. I spent most of my time watching and learning in complete awe as Mel and Nic confidently snapped away and posed comfortably for the camera. They encouraged others to give it a try, speaking positive truth and complimenting our best features - it was beautiful. 


Lesson Two

Learn to be comfortable in your skin. Comparison and jealousy steals our creativity (thanks Mel) and sucks the very life out of us. We are different for a reason so embrace your 'imperfections' - it's usually only you who notices them. Gorgeous Laura of @havenonahilltop was spot on ... I'm paraphrasing here, 'we focus on our flaws, obsessing over them when all anyone else sees is our individual beauty and shine.'


It was pure joy to walk round the gardens of Larchfield with a bunch of fab girls who are passionate and fun and most importantly, don't take themselves too seriously! 


BABE @lynnegivan_effortlessbeauty. Photo cred: @thebrightsidediary

BABE @lynnegivan_effortlessbeauty. Photo cred: @thebrightsidediary

Photo cred: @thebrightsidediary

Photo cred: @thebrightsidediary


Unfortunately we missed out on the props that Emma had provided  ... huge confetti balloons and helium letters - all such fun and helped to create some fabulous shots. 

Then it was time to eat! French Village catered the event and honestly, the selection was heavenly: a selection of delicious sandwiches, 3 tiers of mini desserts, scones with jams and clotted cream with tea/coffee. Scrumptious! 


Chocolate Opera Cake, French Fancy + Salted Caramel Eclair

Chocolate Opera Cake, French Fancy + Salted Caramel Eclair


Afternoon tea was followed by Kerry and Tara of @sisters_and_sons who helpfully explained key information for those 'Starting out in Blogging.' Darling Mel of @melwiggins was next and our little table really had to contain ourselves from 'whooping' and 'cheering' her on as she spoke passionately about 'Developing Creativity.' 


Lesson Three

'Creativity as an adult takes a lot of courage.' - Mel Wiggins

Creativity, especially for adults, requires us to be vulnerable. It is only out of complete vulnerability that we can begin to unleash our truest, purest creativity.  


Mel shared 4 brilliant ways in which we can begin to explore our creative outputs:

1. Find your niche - What is it that you love? What gets you passionate?

2. 3 focal points - There is something about the rule of 3. What 3 areas or passions do you have or want to develop?

3. Take up your space - There is always room for your voice.

4. Comparison versus Community - Comparing yourself to others will never, ever benefit you.



Mel on fire - totally inspired!

Mel on fire - totally inspired!


The last seminar I was able to hear was the brilliant 'Blogging for Business Panel' with Rachael Martin of @thebretonbird, Laura-Ann Barr of @all.thats.pretty and Anna Corry of @blossomingbirds. The girls discussed some of the practicalities of business blogging along with some honest stories of their own experiences. I was raging to miss Andrew and Colin's 'Life as an Insta-Partner' speech but I had to head off early! I did hear that it was hilarious though so well done lads! Check out @littlewoodmr and @father_of_the_birds for the male perspective of Emma and Anna's antics! 


Honestly, it really was the most wonderful retreat. It took a lot for some people to even go; real courage and bravery to step up and be counted. I'm so glad I did - I left feeling inspired and encouraged, feeling privileged to be part of a growing community of passionate people who support one another instead of tearing each other down.


Emma Martin, your bravery and creativity just shone! Never stop inspiring those around you. Well done and thank you for creating a space for like-minded people to feel safe and get some royal treatment - we loved it! When's the next one?!





'Myrtle the glamping truck ( her own sauna included! )

'Myrtle the glamping truck ( her own sauna included! )


A/W Fashion Preview

FashionSteph Duke1 Comment

I’ve always loved fashion in one way, shape or form.

It all began when I was sweet sixteen and on the hunt for a part-time job whilst studying for my A-Levels. Walking past my local high street Topshop store, I spotted their advert for Sales Advisor in the window. I remember dragging my friend into the shop and nervously filling in an application at the counter, under the manager’s steely gaze! The job was part-time for the busy Christmas period, but ended up being extended afterwards for what turned out to be another 6 years, until I decided to give it up to start my PGCE in Teaching.

During those 6 years working for Topshop, I learned an incredible amount; not just about the retail/fashion business, but about myself too. I learned how much I loved communicating with customers, both at the till-point and on the shop floor, fitting and styling. I learned how to merchandise and the satisfaction I got from standing back and looking at my newly merchandised display was too good! I also learned about my own body shape; what clothes just ‘worked’ and what clothes definitely didn’t! Those years in Topshop saw my confidence boom and my weight slowly drop off as I went from a size 16 to a size 8 and at one point I had an item of clothing from every size in my wardrobe!!! (See previous blog.)

I enjoyed my time working for Topshop immensely and made some wonderful friendships with colleagues. After completing my degree in English and Drama I took a year out to get married and to decide on my next career step. I worked around 16/20 hours a week in the store and my passion for retail had me almost heading in the direction of training/studying for Retail Management; but my love for teaching tipped the scales and I applied for a PGCE in English at Queen’s University, Belfast. I knew that I had to put all my focus on my studies so just before I was due to get married, I handed in my notice and my time at Topshop came to an end. I still miss the craic and of course, the discount!!

Some of the Topshop girlies at my wedding!

Some of the Topshop girlies at my wedding!

Unfortunately, being a teacher means that my work uniform isn’t quite as fashionable as it was in Topshop, but I do try and have just a little bit of style – if I can manage it! At the moment though, all I can manage is a bit of mascara some days!! So, to be asked to come as a ‘local blogger’ to the A/W preview at Little Boutique in Alana Interiors – I was delighted! I pulled my lovely sister in on the action and made it a date!

Alana Interiors is a beautiful, bespoke living interiors store in Lurgan. It is hugely popular and for good reason … Affectionately known to us locals as ‘Alana’s’ – it prides itself on stocking only the best designer home décor and fashion brands. This family run department store offers an excellent wedding list service and has a delicious café upstairs serving a fabulous range of hot and cold dishes. My school is right beside Alana’s and too often I’m tempted to nip across and indulge in something sweet! The problem is, I can’t resist having a nosey when I’m there and usually end up buying something and avoiding telling my husband!

Ems styled in Jacket:   Topshop  . Skirt:   New Look  .

Ems styled in Jacket: Topshop. Skirt: New Look.

I was so looking forward to the preview night and relished the chance to don my heels and spend a night out with my sister Emily. (Matt was on baby duty!) On our arrival we were treated to a delicious display of fancy finger foods – all free of charge. The selection was scrumptious and I definitely couldn’t fit anything more on my plate!! We scoffed the lot before the settling in to watch the fashion show. Honestly, the A/W collection in perfect. There is something for all ages, all sizes and all styles. Each outfit was carefully chosen to appeal to such a wide audience and the models, again, were a range of ages and sizes. There was definitely something for everyone and what I especially loved was how REAL the collection is. Everything was totally wearable and affordable.

Jacket:   Topshop  . Blouse:   F&F  . Jeans:   George  . Heels:   New Look  .

Jacket: Topshop. Blouse: F&F. Jeans: George. Heels: New Look.

After the preview, my sister and I scuttled off to browse the boutique and chat to the ladies. I had kindly been given a £50 voucher to spend so I was on the lookout for something special from one of my favourite brands, Joules. Typically, as mamas do, I ended up with a gorgeous outfit for my daughter Phoebe - a sweet little Joules jumper and the cutest pink cloud leggings by awesome local brand Jack and Jillaroo – nothing for me! Sometimes I totally think Phoebe is more stylish than me!! 

Phoebe styled in Jumper:   Joules  . Leggings:   Jack & Jillaroo   - both from Little Boutique @ Alana's.

Phoebe styled in Jumper: Joules. Leggings: Jack & Jillaroo - both from Little Boutique @ Alana's.

Thank you Alana’s for a fabulous evening of food and fashion … if you have never visited, make a point of doing so if you’re ever nearby. Alana Interiors is opposite Tesco, Lurgan and is well worth a nosey. It’s even a good excuse for a cuppa and one of their yummy scones! 

Check out Alana Interiors on Facebook or visit their website.

No better time to visit Alana's than when the store looks magical for Christmas! They stock the most beautiful Christmassy delights!

No better time to visit Alana's than when the store looks magical for Christmas! They stock the most beautiful Christmassy delights!

View some shots from the catwalk below!