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.

Our Best Coffee Hangs ( West of Ireland Edit )

Coffee Hangs, TravelSteph DukeComment

It's International Coffee Day!

No better excuse for you to visit one of the growing number of coffee shops on our little island. 

Coffee tour of summer 2016

Coffee tour of summer 2016

Last summer, my husband and I discovered our passion for the 'coffee hang'. There are so many amazing coffee shops here in Northern & Southern Ireland. Places with a cool vibe and awesome coffee. I am no coffee expert, I'm actually more of a tea drinker at home! But, I am partial to a skinny flat white or cortado coffee when out and about. So much so, apparently, that our friends like to joke with us about where all our money goes ... 

I have far too many 'coffee moment' pictures, so when Ali of @ali_marriott mentioned about blogging some of my favourite coffee shops, 'International Coffee Day' seemed to be the right time to do so. So here goes. I'll share my faves and those I'm still dying to try.

There are way too many to share in just one blog post so they will be split into location (West of Ireland, The North Coast, Belfast etc) and shared during the month of October. I hereby declare October as 'Coffee Month'. Get out there and grab a sweet 'coffee moment' with someone special. Here are 2 beauties if you are ever fortunate enough to visit the West Country. It's just beautiful and holds a special place in my heart. 

 

1. Shells Seaside Bakery & Cafe, Co. Sligo - @shellscafe

Set on the West Coast of Ireland, at the infamous surfers paradise 'Strandhill Beach', is my most favourite coffee hang, Shells. Always hustlin' and bustlin' - the vibe is most definitely 'surfer cool', and nothing quite beats sitting outside with the fresh sea breeze in your hair! Famous for serving up the 'Best Flat Whites in Ireland' I have to wholeheartedly agree. Unreal. 

This coffee hang is so much more than good coffee, food and fresh air. For me, it's actually good for the soul. Soul food and surf. What more can you want? 

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The best flat white in Ireland. FACT.

The best flat white in Ireland. FACT.

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Shells also have the most delicious menu available. We've eaten both breakfast and lunch several times here, and have never been disappointed.

 

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Shells provide cosy blankets to keep away those chilly sea breezes - perfect for stealing snuggles!

Shells provide cosy blankets to keep away those chilly sea breezes - perfect for stealing snuggles!

The 'Little Shop' @ Shells stocks a stunning array of delights including:  @linesandcurrent ,  @creightonschocolaterie ,  LAGOM  by Linnea Dunne, prints by  @garyreddin  and much much more. Go check it out. 

The 'Little Shop' @ Shells stocks a stunning array of delights including: @linesandcurrent, @creightonschocolaterie, LAGOM by Linnea Dunne, prints by @garyreddin and much much more. Go check it out. 

 

 

2. Pudding Row, Easky - @puddingrowsligo

Approximately 40 minutes west of Sligo is the quaint and historic village of Easky. Before summer 2017 I had never heard of the place but the wonderful power of IG led me to the hidden gem that is Pudding Row. Our friends from @ursaminorbakehouse (don't worry, you will hear all about them in the 'North Coast' post) visited here on their summer travels and I knew instantly that we had to make the trip. And ... Wow. Blown away. Lots of locally sourced food, fresh home-baked bread and delicious treats! The coffee is also superb. There is such a homely and friendly atmosphere here. We could have stayed all day. 

Main St, Easky village

Main St, Easky village

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View of Easky Castle

View of Easky Castle

The Historic Easky Castle can be seen from Pudding Row and is worth visiting. If it hadn't been for Phoebe we would never have found the 'secret tunnel' and staircase that led right to the top of the castle! Incredible views and you can just feel the history of the place as you make your way up and round what's left of the castle. 

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So there you have it. Two splendid coffee hangs in the West of Ireland. If you do get a visit in, be sure to IG it and let us know how you get on. Use the hashtag #MLDcoffeehang so we can see your experiences! 

Bro-in-law @ianvennard selfie @ Strandhill

Bro-in-law @ianvennard selfie @ Strandhill

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There are a few more places I've yet to visit in and around these parts:

 

1. @driftwoodsligo

2. @sweetbeatsligo

3. @coffeewerkandpress - Galway!

 

Wherever and whenever, enjoy your coffee moment!

xo