Blog England Wales

A Liverpool Birthday with the Trainline

There are a few things in life that are really worth paying for…

When you get to my age you come to realise that there are certain things that you should never skimp on.

Whilst my parents have always advocated frugality above all else, I’ve taken a somewhat different approach to the way that I spend my money over the years. When I was younger, still fresh out of University, with the weight of my student-debt hanging over my neck like the proverbial albatross, I often obsessed over the cost of my weekly shop and would regularly decline invitations to parties or events – often months in advance.

Back then, I felt that every penny that I frivolously spent was another I would have to diligently save to pay back to the loans company. As a result of these penny-pinching tactics I found that my life became an increasingly predictable string of events that would revolve around my 9-5 job and plain pasta-based meals at home whilst watching the telly – not exactly the most exciting way to live out your twenties…

I eventually learnt my lesson though and, after a helpful pay rise at work, soon discovered that I had quite the flair for flashing my cash should the necessity to do so arise. Such a need cropped up recently when my Mother (who’s never treated herself a day in her life) turned 80. We decided to celebrate in style and catch a first-class train up to Liverpool to have a meal out and (more importantly) get some shopping done!

Liverpool has undergone quite the transformation in the last 40 years, dropping the shackles of poverty stricken ex-industrial power house and picking up the shiny, new crown of blossoming metropolitan city of culture (it claimed the European accolade back in 2008, whilst it was still ascending).

As a result of this meteoric rise in status, exciting startups, restaurants, bars and retailers have made their humble beginnings in the city, bringing thousands of visitors eager to snap up everything from Swedish meatballs to social media marketing in Liverpool.

For my Mum, though, the allure of Liverpool is still wrapped up in the warm, fuzzy glow of Beatlemania. She was obsessed with the band when she was a teenager and spent all the money she had on their merchandise and records – she amassed so much Beatles memorabilia, in fact, that my bedroom was turned into a shrine of sorts for the Fab Four after I left home. Although the city has undoubtedly changed since my Mum’s heyday, the spirit of the swinging sixties is certainly still alive and kicking there.

After being thoroughly pampered on our first-class train ride up from Conwy, we alighted in Liverpool Lime Street a little light-headed from the complimentary champagne and feeling dangerously careless with our spending money. The Liverpool One shopping centre, one of the more recent additions to the city has brought dozens of high-end brands and designers into centre of the city, bringing shoppers from all around. There’s a real sense of occasion here and it’s probably due to that sense of occasion that my Mum and I fritter away a lot of money in a matter of just a few hours.

Thankfully, we were able to save money for our wonderful dinner that we enjoyed at Jamie’s Italian. By the time we rolled ourselves back onto the last train home, we were both exhausted – it’s just a good thing that we didn’t miss our stop!

Blog Scotland Wales

The Shetland Isles with Airport Parking Market

I needed the whole week to recover from an exhausting weekend in Ireland.

Whilst I’d originally planned to enjoy the charm of Ireland’s capital and kick my feet back, in the end I found the infectious spirit of Dublin too rapacious to ignore.

I drank more Guinness than I ever thought was possible and stayed up the whole night talking nonsense with a gang of youths half my age. The hangover which accompanied me on the drive back home served as a constant reminder that I might still be able to put them away like I used to in my old networking days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I should.

I had planned on taking my time, driving back up through Wales and perhaps stopping off for a piece in the midst of Snowdonia. Instead, with the weight of the world hanging on my eyelids and a lingering yeasty smell that I couldn’t quite shake off, I found myself a conveniently empty car park near Pembroke Castle and passed out – exhausted.

I awoke to a tapping on the window, my little Ka was absurdly steamy and the Parking Officer clearly suspected that there was something untoward going on inside. All he found was a dishevelled looking 40-something woman with a serious case of morning breath. I thanked him for waking me and promptly sped out from the car park before he had the chance  to consider what I was doing there in the first place.

With a sneaky McDonalds breakfast inside me, the world began to shift from greys and whites to the familiar blues and greens of the Welsh countryside. Snowdonia is one of my favourite places to drive through. The roads are as smooth as you like and some of the views that you’re treated to verge on the pornographic. By the time I returned to Conwy I was more than ready for another sleep which I gratefully dropped into as soon as I could.

Mum and Dad were rather amused when they found out about my indulgent weekend and suggested that I take it easier on my next trip, advice that I took to heart when I booked flights for the Shetland Isles.

Home to a population of less than 24,000, the Shetlands are comprised of a handful of islands that collectively amounts to around 1,400 square kilometres, around two thirds the space of my beloved Snowdonia National Park. The weekend I had planned would by no means set my world alight with excitement, but there comes a time (around when you hit 40) when you discover that the promise of unbroken fresh air and light exercise is more alluring than the idea of several pints down the pub. So I packed a pair of walking boots, small rucksack and took the Ka up to Edinburgh to catch my flight.

I get a little thrill whenever I’m on the way to the airport, regardless of the duration of the flight. The entire ritual of the experience, from booking my parking (I use Airport Parking Market to get the best deals) to check-in, is something that brings me straight back to my days working in business and causes me to unconsciously start going through non-existent presentations in my head and rack my brain for investment opportunities that were optioned years ago.

The hour and a half flight flew by in a flash, the dark indigo of the North Sea quickly surrendering the craggy coast lines of Shetland. There are few airports that I’ve landed in that are as dinky as Sumburgh’s. Just a few bare landing strips are accompanied by a couple of boxy buildings, greatly reducing the time in between landing and getting out into the open air.

When it comes to accommodation on this small crop of land, the bulk of the hotels and guest houses can be found in Lerwick, the Shetland’s biggest settlement.

However, I wanted to be as far away from this as possible. I was lucky then to get my first choice when it came to Airbnbs. Abby is a writer and journalist specialising in the Shetland Isles, so she makes for a perfect host. Her cottage is a gorgeous little retreat from reality. Surrounded on all sides by expansive moor land and lochs, cars pass by rarely, making this a truly idyllic spot to enjoy

After a 45 minute drive to the cottage (you can hire cars from the airport) I’d already seen half the island from the comfort of my rented vehicle. Abby’s cottage is situated pretty much bang in the middle of the main island, making it an excellent base of operations for rambles and walks out to the surrounding countryside. If I was worried about drinking too much during the weekend, I needn’t have, there are no pubs near walking distance from the cottage, only a quaint little village shop and cafe.

The Mainland of the Shetlands is a truly peaceful place, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the centre of the island or in one of the many little inland settlements, the exposed nature of the island is forever in your mind with the sea breeze tossing a fine layer of sea salt over every blade of grass. After a weekend spent walking the hills and eating the fine food that these islands have to offer (I ate a cream cake in Lerwick, on the way back to the airport that made me want to die) I felt thoroughly refreshed…

…if not a little thirsty for a pint.

Blog Wales

An Outdoor Adventure with Visit North Wales

There’s always part of me that’s jealous of the backpackers of today.

When I was travelling the world, brokering Financial Acquisitions on the week day and partying it up on the weekends, the countries I was visiting hadn’t quite developed a backpacker friendly infrastructure yet.

When I visited New Zealand the country had yet to catch onto the extreme sports trend that many people associate it with today. This was well before Peter Jackson put the stunning landscapes of the Kiwis on the map with his Lord of the Rings movies.

Although I missed out on diving off a bridge with a bungee clipped to my waist, my own Wales has recently made some huge steps forward in the world of Adventure Tourism.

I teamed up with Visit North Wales this week to get a much needed dose of adrenaline in my life and go on a little tour of Wales in the process.

Bounce Below

Smack bang in the middle of Snowdonia lies one of Wales’ most unique tourist attractions. Hidden away off the A470 near Talwaenydd, Bounce Below is the brainchild of Sean Taylor, an  ambitious business man who has made it his mission to put Wales firmly on the International tourism map. Set deep within a huge network of caverns and caves (that were once home to Victorian mines) these underground surroundings have been lit up with garish lights and rigged with industrial netting creating a massive trampoline that truly has to be seen to be believed.

As long as you don’t mind rubbing shoulders with dozens of kids, this recently refurbished attraction can provide a good few hours of unadulterated fun, just make sure you don’t eat before hand!


Zip World

Owned by the same entrepreneur, there are three Zip World locations spread out across Snowdonia. Their flagship zip line, a real feat of modern engineering, is the fastest in the world as well as the longest in Europe. You start the experience off by donning some pretty serious safety equipment and then it’s off and up to the Little Zipper – the smallest of the three zip lines that you can ride in the day.

By the time you make it up to the Big Zipper, you’ll be fast friends with the other members of your group and more than ready to race down the Big Zipper – zooming over the quarry lake at over 100mph.


Gorge Walking

When I arrived at my final adventure, more than a little windswept, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from Gorge Walking. I’d neglected to research this last part of the day, imagining some kind of rope bridge river experience. I was greeted by a rather worrying sight when I pulled up in a remote car park: a group of grinning lads in wetsuits and bright red helmets. What had I got myself into? Soon I was zipped up in my own neoprene number and I was ready to walk some gorges.

The copious number of river systems that criss-cross Wales make for ‘perfect gorge walking’ – at least that’s what my instructor tells me as he virtually shoves me off a rock and into a 10-ft deep plunge pool.

Definitely not for the faint-hearted, Gorge Walking offers cheap thrills, just don’t expect to stay dry!