Monday, 26 March 2018

Baby Blogging - Weeks 20 - 24!

My gosh time is flying.

Can you believe I am 24 weeks pregnant?! That time seems to have flown, and mostly in a good way. I mean check out the difference in bump between the first and last pics in this post!

Week started with our 20 week scan and we were so glad to finally find out that Tater-Tot is girl. The full story of the scan is here.

It was great to make it to the halfway point without any drama and feeling good.

The end of that week saw us head to Scotland to celebrate a friends birthday. We had finished work at lunch time on Friday to drive 5 hours from Birmingham to Glasgow where we stayed with my Aunt and Uncle. It allowed us to make an early start on our journey to the highlands the next morning. You can read full details of the trip here: A Weekend In The Cairngorms.

Sadly we had to leave the beautiful Cairngorms, our lovely cabin and our friends on the Tuesday afternoon to make our way back home. I had to be in Reading for a strategy session with my team first thing on Wednesday, that wasn't the sad part, the sad part was cutting the trip short.

Arriving in Reading at 8.30am Wednesday morning I was glad to get to the venue and be greeted by warmed croissants and all sorts of treats, it's fair to say week 21 saw my appetite increase and I was happy to make the most of it.

The two day conference was cut short by warnings that snow was getting worse. Announcements were explaining that 'The Beast From The East' was due to cause traffic chaos so we had a hearty lunch (to prepare for our epic journeys) and went on our way. My team is spread from Glasgow to London, Leicester to Wales and a few places in between. The stories of the journeys made the decision to leave early the right one. It turned out getting to London had been a nightmare.

Thankfully getting the train to Birmingham worked out fine but the local train to Kings Norton involved waiting 20 minutes for a train that wasn't cancelled and getting home from that station took a further hour because the roads were grinding to a halt.

It's been said in more than a few posts that Laura and I LOVE snow but this snowfall had led to our friends from Sheffield having to cancel a visit which was gutting. It also led to us having to postpone at trip to London to see Everybody's Talking About Jaime with them. Thankfully we could get back the train fare and change the date of our tickets.

By week 22 I started to suddenly feel really pregnant. It was so strange that I had gone from barely noticing the growing bump to suddenly being really aware of it. Maybe the appetite has led to the pounds piling on a bit faster or maybe it was that I was starting to feel our little girl moving around. Whatever it was when we went to Ghetto Golf on the 8th of March I couldn't deny I was 5 months pregnant.

Bending down to get the golf ball couldn't really happen, squeezing into the benches for a snack involved a lot of effort to shuffle a long and the bending started to get my back. All things that up until that point hadn't been a thing. In fact only 2 weeks before I had been striding across a snow topped mountain in Scotland!

Work was also starting to get crazy busy as we had a client day coming up and so extra hours were required, it created a perfect storm that made me super tired, kinda grouchy and mildly stressed. I would have been a lot more stressed had Laura not been amazing. She took on everything possible and left me to focus on what needed to get done. Without her the stress would have been way worse. In fact she was so wonderful I blogged about here here.

Thankfully the client day went smoothly, the only challenge was the meltdown I had when I couldn't wear the outfit I had planned. I had wanted to wear a nice form fitting dress to show off my bump but when I tried it on it made by bump look saggy and boobs look weird. I was gutted. It was 11pm and poor Laura had to deal with me pulling numerous outfits out, convincing myself I looked terrible, collapsing in a dramatic heap and then trying on various things until I had assured myself I looked okay.

With the client day out the way we then had a quick turnaround to ready to head to Paris for the weekend. You can read about that trip here. The summary is that we walked 18 miles in 2 days, saw a lot of the wonderful sights of Paris, ate a lot of delicious food, got rained on - then snowed on and had a dramatic journey home.

There has also been other drama that has been happening over the last 6 weeks too. Thankfully not pregnancy related but house related. We had discovered a leak pre-Christmas that we thought had been repaired. It hadn't and after arriving back from Gran Canaria our entire guest room ceiling had water marks on. After numerous calls to insurance and Homeserve and numerous visits by plumbers, surveyors and assessors a chunk of our ceiling was removed, a pipe replaced and we are now mid-restoration which will involve plastering the ceiling, painting the room and laying a new carpet. My Mum has been a wonderful source of support throughout though, coordinating the people, managing the project and making sure I am not involved in any of the stressful parts.

Other than that we are making progress on the nursery, we built a crib and then realised that probably wasn't the best idea as we are actually re-carpeting the room and putting up wallpaper so the room will need to be emptied. However the crib looks great. We also picked the wallpaper and the carpet so work can start soon. We also picked up a highchair from IKEA for £10 after taking peoples advice that one that can be easily wiped down is a great benefit.

We did try Baby-R-Us for a car seat but I quickly got overwhelmed and we left empty handed. We did get to check out 'next to you cribs' though and decided that for the first few months we would use that instead of a Moses basket. That way we can have our girl close to hand and make breast feeding easy. Even better we got a GroupOn deal with £40 off.

In addition Laura's parents kindly sent us a support mat that stops the baby rolling over and we have been gifted dribble bids, hats, handmade booties and cute baby grows so our collection is starting to make progress.

I also got a pregnancy pillow - thanks to Wowcher who had 25% off. It has come in super handy as back pain seems to happening fairly frequently when I have been on my feet a lot- especially in the middle and lower back. Sadly it has not been the problem solver I had hoped when it comes to actual sleep. For the last few weeks I have found that if I sleep on one side for too long I start getting numb legs and pins and needles. If I filmed my sleep I would look like I was on a spit roast spinning every half an hour or so. Add in the once or twice loo visits and it means I struggle to get anywhere near 7 hours sleep. That sadly is leading to me getting tired during the day.

The other fun development is our little girl is now a disco dancer, her main performance happens early evening when I settle down on the couch and I'm super glad as that's when Laura is normally with me so she can sit with her hand on my belly. The movements were initially like ripples but over the last 2 weeks especially they are strong kicks. If she is really going for it they can continue until I fall asleep.
I think this pic might actually include baguettes, beignets and all other delicious French food as I don't look this big a few days later!
In fact, as we head into week 24 she is getting her groove on at various points, including right now as I write this post. My belly is getting some low blows - which is actually a relief as I took a tumble up a flight of stairs. Luckily landing on my hands and knees but it can be hard to realise your limitations at points- such as carrying cases or keeping up with fast walkers who I used to leave in my wake.

I think the next 15 weeks will be a slower pace, other than our up and coming baby moon and a few trips to see friends...oh and the baby shower...the diary is quietening down. Plus we have some more shopping to fit in and I need to find my replacement at work so plenty still to do that we need to find time for.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Review: Ghetto Golf Birmingham

Crazy golf / mini golf / putting whatever you call the bizarre game of hitting a ball around a course it's not new. In fact I remember playing it on holiday as kid whether we were in Brighton, Tenerife or some other not so exotic destination. Laura and I have also played at various locations around the world since we have been together. It's simple fun that we both enjoy.

What is a newer trend is the development of courses that are 'next level'. In Birmingham this is taken literally - with the two storey Adventure Mini Golf at Star City that includes two 18 holed themed courses. But also design wise - with the pop-up Ghetto Golf an 18-hole twisted course based on Birmingham landmarks and retro themes that allows you to drink as you golf.

And Birmingham isn't alone, Liverpool has it's own Ghetto Golf and London 'Swingers' has two courses in the city that include 2 x 9 hole courses at each venue, each with a different theme. Again you can drink as you golf, should you wish.

Our trip to Birmingham's Ghetto Golf was a great one. We had very little idea of what to expect and from the moment we walked in it was sensory overload.

Spot the door!
Set in a converted warehouse in the Digbeth area of the city the space immediately makes for a cool setting. You book a time slot and on arrival 'check in'. By checking in you are given a buzzer so they can call you when your game time starts. Conveniently they give you enough time to choose one of their delicious cocktails (or soft drink in my case) before you start.

The start is a basketball court complete with bins, trash and graffiti - the 'grunge' design sets the tone for the whole course. However the rough and ready design has clearly been thought about. From incorporating objects into the course to picking items that remind of other times and places this course has it all.

After the basketball court you head through a bus. That's right an actual bus, with bus seats and stained carpet. From there the course takes you via excessively large dildos, an old Blockbuster, The Crown Pub (a local landmark in the city), a skateboard ramp, a pot growing shed and a whole host of other creatively designed holes.

Split over two levels and with well spaced starting times the space allows you to focus on having fun with the group you are with. We went at 7pm on a Thursday and while it was busy it didn't feel crammed and the only delay to our game was when half the group in front of us needed a toilet break.

It did give us time to enjoy our drinks though and order top-ups. Thankfully (and cleverly) they have a member of staff wandering around taking orders.

After the brief pause the game continued. You continue through an old style flat and complete a hole by getting it in the toilet dish, sadly you also have to get it out again!

And you finish in a neon themed part of the building. The holes are all impressively designed and vary in difficulty, but one thing to watch out for is the hole with a twist at the end - that's right your hard earned lead, in my case, can be lost by the evil board when your ball lands in the +5 danger part. Sad times!

Before that though you have to navigate a combination of skittles and the dreaded gutter well known to anyone whose ever been bowling. Just like in a bowling alley the gutter here is bad news, unlike bowling though you get the ball back to try again.....and again.....and again.

After all your skills have been tested and your senses overloaded you have one last challenge - complete the loop-de-loop and get your ball in the final hole. It should be simple, it is not. If you do get to go our warning at this hole is to stand well back. If the ball doesn't go around the loop it could fly off - of course if you fear for your safety around your team mates you can always escape to Slims BBQ Express, the onsite restaurant ready to tempt hungry gamers. 

We ended up here and thoroughly enjoyed the chicken and waffles and mac and cheese!

The average time to complete the course is 1 hour and if you are a group of more than 10 you need to split the group and book consecutive slots. And you have to pay in advance - and there is a cancellation charge. It is also essential to book in advance, like further in advance than you think.

We highly recommend paying Ghetto Golf a visit. The experience is unique and we plan to head back to see any bits we missed (and maybe win this time). It's way more entertaining than sitting in a pub and the element of competition makes for a fun night, even if you have never played mini golf before.

Have you been? what did you think?

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A Weekend In Paris...In The Spring!

It's no secret we love a getaway. And over the years Paris has proved a popular destination for us to visit, as a couple and with others.

A few of our Paris posts:
Fun Fact Friday: Oui Oui Paris j'adore
A Weekend In Paris
A Week In Paris

Our recent trip to Paris involved taking the Eurostar from St Pancras in London to Gare Du Nord in central Paris. From Gare Du Nord we made our way on foot to our apartment in the Monmarte district, a slightly uphill 15 minute walk.

The friends we were meeting at arrived earlier that day and were already checked into our Airbnb - a great 2 bed flat just 10 minutes walk to the Sacre Coeur, an area we had fallen in love with when spending a week in Paris.

Friday evening was spent catching up and agreeing plans for the next 48 hours.

Saturday involved a 10am start and visit to the boulangerie over the road to stock up on fresh croissants and baguettes. The perfect way to start our day in Paris. Once well fed we started the day. Thankfully we had a Metro station just 4 minutes walk away so we could start the day quickly. Our first purchase was book of 10 Metro tickets for €14.90 allowing us to travel freely.

The first stop of the day was Notre Dame. On arrival the rain was pouring so we went straight to Sainte Chapelle, a gothic style royal chapel and home to Kings of France in the 14th century. It is most famous for it's 15.5m stain glass windows that tell stories from the bible.

We had hoped our time in the chapel would let the rain finish, unfortunately the rain got worse. Nevertheless we continued and headed to Pont Nerf, the bridge that now holds all the love locks. We had got our friends a lock and wanted to give them the opportunity to add theirs to the 1000's already locked in. From there we headed to the Notre Dame and then the snow started.

That was our time to head for the Metro and to lunch back nearer the Sacre Coeur. We wanted to revisit the La Taverne De Montmarte  - a must if you like raclette, warm fires and delicious food. We sat and chatted for almost 2 hours in the warmth before braving the snow.

From the Sacre Coeur we strolled to the Moulin Rouge, through quaint market squares and past building topped off with windmills. We had never walked that way before and really enjoyed the views.

By the time we reached the Moulin Rouge, quite the sight in the snow, we all agreed that we should head back to the apartment to dry off. That led to our friend offering to cook us dinner and when an Italian offers you dinner - always say yes! It was a much needed refuel and delicious.

Our stroll back also included taking in some interesting artwork - something you can find in so many places in Paris.

After dinner we decided to head to the Eiffel Tower. Even though the snow was still falling we wanted to see the tower lit up. What we did find on arrival was that security has really been stepped up, to get under the Eiffel Tower you now need to go through security checks. In addition you can't get to the tower itself as fences now guard the bases.

After that we called it a night so we could get a good night sleep and prepare for the next day.

Sunday started the same way Saturday did, with fresh treats from the bakery.

This time our destination was Arc De Triomphe. We planned to head up and enjoy the view but with clouds settling in we decided against it and instead decided to walk the Champs Elysees.

We detoured to Pont Alexandre III to enjoy the view of the Seine and take in the Eiffel Tower

And ended our walk down the Rue de Rivoli, a road packed with shops and restaurants next to the Jardin des Tuileries. We stopped in at Cafe Rivoli for a croquet monsieur and chips and then Framboise Les Moments Crepes for crepes. It was all so good. 

After being well fed we continued to Carrousel du Louvre, a shopping mall under the Lourve that is well worth a visit. From here we got the Metro back to the apartment to head back to the apartment. 

Sadly our journey back was ruined by EuroStars' terrible handling of a system failure. After arriving 90 minutes before our train we were made to queue in freezing temperatures for the 90 minutes, without the queue moving. At 5 months pregnant it was far from ideal and there was not a signal member of staff telling us what was going on. Our train was eventually delayed meaning we spent our journey stressed that we miss our connection to get home to Birmingham. 

Thanks to an epic effort by Laura, carrying our case up three escalators we were able to make it from St Pancras to Euston in 15 minutes and made our train with 2 minutes to go. 

Next time we head to Paris we may be doing it as a family of three and we can't wait to see what that trip will hold. 

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Baby Blogging - Weeks 13 - 19!

For any of you following the blog you may notice this post is firstly out of order (as we shared news of our 20 week scan here) and also a bit behind (as I am at 23 weeks currently) but nevertheless I drafted this post at the time and thought it was worth sharing.

Starting the new year pregnant involved sleeping intermittently between 10 - 12pm, waking up for the London fireworks on TV, toasting the new year with Appletiser and then heading to bed. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't my ideal way to celebrate.

We were in Cornwall at a lovely cottage with friends and we had spent the few days before exploring the local area and eating a lot. It was a great way to spend out our last child-free new year.

After our new year mini-break it was back to work. I'm lucky enough to get to work from home so the transition wasn't as bad as it was for Laura who had to get dressed and go to her office. On the Thursday I did venture into London though and remembered to order my 'Baby on Board' badge.  While 13 week pregnant me had no limitations getting around I thought it was getting in case I needed it later on.

We also were lucky enough be lent a doppler by Laura's colleague so we could hear Tater-Tots heart beat at home. Our first attempts were not hugely successful but over time we have figured out where Tater-Tot is hanging out and manage to find it first time - turns out they are super low, like just above my pubic bone. The bump is just all my organs being pushed up as the placenta grows. Fun fact.

January included a trip to Birmingham Women's for the first time for a blood test. Sadly the nuchal translucence reading at our first scan hadn't been conclusive - Tater-Tot refused to lay still making the reading hard- so I needed a further blood test that thankfully came back with a 1/1000 chance of downs.. The visit in itself was crazy. Turns our Birmingham Women's isn't just for maternity - as I had first thought - but all kinds of women's things. That led to the car park being manic.

After parking Tater-Tot and I had a quick jog to the hospital but that was just the start. On arrival reception sent me towards maternity, that desk sent me towards pre-natel, they sent me towards the baby unit who eventually pointed me towards an area where I had to grab a ticket and head to waiting area for blood tests. My fit bit step count appreciated the tour, I did not.

For the 15 minutes of walking the wait for the blood test was almost 45 so I was well and truly rested for my 2 minute blood test. Then a quick sprint back to get to the car park 2 minutes before my hour expired and the ticket price went up from £2.60 (extortionate) to  £5+ (super extortionate). Hopefully all future blood tests can happen at our local doctors.

It's definitely more of a mind screw than I thought. Without any real way of telling if Tater-Tot is developing as they should. I really freaked out after reading an article on how you shouldn't eat ham - I have eaten a fair amount of ham as a source of protein. Then there was the article that said don't eat any sandwich meat without heating it. How are you meant to survive business meetings where the only option is sandwiches?! These last few weeks I have panicked more about the fact that I could have eaten the wrong thing and impacted Tater-Tot more than anything else. It doesn't help that there is so many mixed messages either.

As we headed to Gran Canaria to meet my parents for a weeks break I made a list of everything I planned to eat that week, other than meals out I was sticking to a breakfast cereal then toast, eggs and canned spaghetti with a dessert of yogurt. It may not have been the healthiest but it was nutritious enough to cover the basics and avoided eating anything I shouldn't.

For meals out I was more adventurous and after a long debate even had a Chinese buffet. We had selected a restaurant based on reviews but on turning up that restaurant was closed so we picked another one that looked super busy - meaning the food would be quickly replenished, avoiding the 'don't eat food that has been sat out for too long' rule.

The holiday itself was a lovely opportunity to relax. The weather wasn't great but we explored a lot of the island at a relaxed pace and it was nice to be away, you can get read all about it here. I even got to feel Tater-Tots move for the first time while laid out on the sunbed. Another personal highlight was the ability to swim, I wished I could get my butt in gear and go in the UK, but it was nice to take advantage while away.

After a week back at work we were lucky enough to have a mini-break in Wales courtesy of Upper House and Spa. It was so good to get away just the two of us (plus bump and Bisbee) and explore a new place. We had arrived Friday evening after a 2 hour drive and were immediately welcomed by our host Emily. After showing us around the property we then had a treat of an afternoon tea set up. All food was pregnancy friendly and so, so good - a perfect - well fed start to the weekend.

As Upper House and Spa was well located to explore the local area we took advantage by making a short drive out to the local town to see the castle and walk around. In all honesty though the barn was so cosy and comfy that we were more than happy to relax there. With a log fire, kitchen and TV with wide selection of channels it was everything we needed. The other benefit was the onsite spa - that Laura got to use - it was small cabin with beds positioned to overlook the surrounding valley. Although as we visited in the evening it was an opportunity to star gaze.

It was like a baby moon and gave us some much needed time together. We can't thank Upper House and Spa enough. You can read the full review here.

We are so looking forward to the 20 week scan to make sure everything is okay and to see how big Tater-Tot has got.

I think I will be taking a pack lunch with me for the foreseeable future as I can't take the pressure of making a wrong choice.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Review: Rub Smokehouse, Birmingham, UK

You know when you really look forward to visiting a restaurant as there has been some hype around them, they have great marketing and their menu looks awesome. This is Rub Smokehouse.

We visited the Birmingham restaurant on the 12th March 2018 for a friends birthday and our experience was an interesting one.

There are plenty of gimmicks - you can win a prize when you book online, ours was a mystery prize that ended up being 10% off or a free cocktail or free dessert.

There is the Nugzilla, a giant chicken nugget:

And the birthday cake burger, that is a burger in a birthday cake - with added meat and marshmallows:

The menu changes so it is worth checking online before you go: Menu with the latest version launching on March 13th. Having a read through they still have similar items and the ones we tried. What we did find interesting is they market themselves as 'Serving low n slow authentic American bbq food' but this is only a small portion of their menu, and if anything misses out the interesting parts - the 'EPIC' selection. I mean is it us or are smokehouses so 2017?! But how many places do a double cheeseburger in a calzone? Or a nugget birthday cake?

So here's the rub, excuse the pun, on our visit to the Birmingham restaurant:
  • Service was slow, and there were only 5 tables filled so it wasn't busy, it took them almost half an hour to get our drinks round sorted

  • The menu looked full of potential and between 5 of us we ordered quite a selection including the birthday burger, a taco pizza that came in a VW bus and a number of starters and sides
  • Starter sizes were fairly small for the price
  • The taco burger was dry, it needed melted cheese or something as it was also fairly tasteless - but looked EPIC
  • The birthday burger would have been better without the middle layer of cake, it became dry and thirsty work
  • Strangely the tap water, when provided was super cloudy - now we appreciate it's just minerals but wouldn't you let it settle before bringing it to the table? Cloudy water is never appealing!
  • The burger with melted cheese wedges was overcooked and the wedges appeared reheated - the cheese was solid rather than melty
  • The cheesy chips barely had cheese on them and were cold
  • The battered prawns were delicious though and most of the food had potential, just on this occasion it didn't deliver
  • For the cost there are places you can get a better meal and better service. It isn't a place for those who like great value
The potential for Rub Smokehouse is huge. There are tons of ways to engage with them - and not just on social media. If you are someone who likes to eat, a lot, you can take part in their food challenges like there Nugzilla challenge here. It certainly looks like a fun place, although maybe avoid Monday's - it's too quiet to have any atmosphere.

They also have deals for meal and a cocktail for £10 or a bottomless chicken tenders party where the person who eats the most baskets can win £250. 

Plus their desserts sounded delicious but we were too full to even attempt them. 

It also looks like a great place to go as a large group. For 5 of us the wait for drinks and then food was passed with plenty of conversation but as a date night it would have made things super awkward. Plus, and this may be because I'm pregnant, but when I have eaten a large meal I like to recline in my seat. Here the seats are bolt upright wooden palates so there is no sitting back and relaxing. In fact we decided if we were going to get dessert we would go to somewhere comfier. 

We wish Rub all the best but it doesn't make our recommendation list!

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Baby Blogging - 10 Reasons My Wife Is Amazing!

There are so many reasons my wife is wonderful and since being pregnant, she has been absolutely amazing, so I wanted to dedicate this post to Laura with the top 10 reasons why she has been extra wonderful recently.

1. For almost 7 months (since we started trying) I have had a freshly made smoothie made for me daily, full of the good stuff.

2. The selection of healthy, home cooked meals is endless. I'm a fairly fussy eater and Laura has a way of sneaking all types of veg into meals in ways that mean I don't even notice. I've also been lucky enough to have a few batches of cookies made - not so healthy, but SO good!

3. Every night before I go to bed Laura supervises and advises me as I complete a stretching/exercise routine that means I can sleep better and wake up without back ache- she's researched everything so well.

4. The exercise routine is followed by a back massage from Laura  - which used to be a treat - but is now something I am lucky enough to experience nightly!

She's always got my back!
5. While spa music plays on Alexa, our nighttime routine finishes with a belly rub with bio oil to (hopefully) save me from stretch marks.

6. Thankfully, the main side effect of my pregnancy has been tiredness; it's improved in the second trimester, but Laura has been amazing, making sure when I do get tired she takes care of everything. She even preempts when I may get tired and makes sure I have a snack and drink ready.

7. Laura has always been organised and since we started on this journey it has been so useful. While I am capable of adding key appointments to my calendar, Laura makes sure I am heading to the right place at the right time, with the right information.

8. The further along I get in this pregnancy the more I realise I don't know, and thankfully Laura really knows how to calm me down. She is reassuring, knows how get me to focus and is ready with a soothing hug on so many occasions.

9. As we are both super excited to welcome our little girl, it's fair to say we talk about it a lot and thankfully Laura gets to talk about it with super helpful colleagues who are ready with advice, willing to answer our many questions and have even given us a few essentials to borrow. Laura is way better at asking all the right questions.

10. As we go through this journey, Laura is also remembering to keep track, with (almost) weekly photo shoots and I couldn't be more grateful. Time flies so fast and I am so glad she is thoughtful enough to make sure we have the memories.

I am a lucky wife and our little lady is super lucky to have Laura as a Mama.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Review: A Long Weekend In The Cairngorms!

Our visit to the Scottish Highlands was epic! And we would highly recommend a visit.

We stayed at Inverahavon Caravan Site in Wildcat Lodge a mile or so from the very centre of Scotland - marked by a large stone that we visited on one of our road trips. It was part of the Cairngorms national park.

The view from our caravan/cabin site

Our journey started on a Friday evening, we drove 7 hours from Birmingham to Glasgow (it should have taken 5 1/2) and arrived to a home cooked meal at my Aunts. After 2 hours of catching up we headed to bed ready to hit the road the next morning. With a delicious Scottish breakfast filling us up we headed North.

It only took 2 and a half hours from Glasgow to Inverahavon, a stunning drive that took us via Perth. Knowing Perth was our last stop with a supermarket we stocked up before driving the last bit.

On arrival we were greeted by a fairly isolated campsite with a few cabins, thankfully we found our cabin easily and were able to unpack quickly. Charlotte and Hannah were driving up from Norfolk and would arrive later that day so we took the opportunity to unpack and explore the site and let Bisbee stretch her legs.
Celebrating our arrival
The cabin had everything you could possibly want including an outdoor hot tub. It was a perfect base for exploring the highlands and a great location to take the dogs.

Day 1:
Our first activity was to head to Nevis Range where we got a cable car to the ski resort at the top. As the cable cars (£16 per person) allowed the dogs we were able to reach the snow covered top and head off and explore. There are a number of tracks to follow, once you get out of the main ski lift area, although the amount of snow meant tracks weren't the easiest to find. We just headed in the direction that other people seemed to be walking.

The two main walking paths headed out towards different vantage points, one over looked the valley and loch below, this is the easier walk taking 40 minutes for the round trip. The other is to a spectacular view of Ben Nevis, this one heads off across ski slopes and takes just over an hour for the round trip.

As the gondola was working on an off-peak timetable we had be on our way down by 5.30pm. It allowed us to watch the sun-setting, which was well worth doing, but get down before it got too cold.

Dinner was a local pub The Tipsy Laird that had a fairly small menu but came recommended on Trip Advisor and had enough choice for us. We went for a Mac & Cheese and Fish & Chips.

Day 2:
After a relaxing start we drove half an hour north to Aviemore and Loch Morlich. The loch came recommended as we could walk the 4 mile circumference in 2 and half hours. In the end we only walked half as both dogs decided to take a dip in the ice covered loch and we all needed warming up. Thankfully there was a lovely cafe at the halfway point that was dog friendly so we could grab a drink before starting the walk back.

We picked up dinner at La Taverna, an Italian restaurant that did takeaway and headed back to the cabin to enjoy a restful evening, hot tub and games time and start our packing.

Day 3:
As we had to drive home later in the day we had an early start, our first destination was Loch Lomond, 2 and a half hours south. We headed to Balmaha Boatyard where we paid £5 per person to take a small boat (with the dogs) across the loch to Inchcailleach, a small, un-populated island that provides stunning views of the surrounding loch.

The island takes around and hour and a half to walk around, with clear signage for the different routes, although we somehow managed to take almost 2 hours. Partly that was because we couldn't stop taking pictures and partly because the dogs decided to chase the wild deers so we had to wait for their return. Thankfully Bisbee was in her pink equafleece as she managed to chase the poor deer towards the top of the island, if she wasn't bright pink we would have never seen her.

We experienced all weather conditions while on the island, beautiful sunshine, wind, fog and hail and snow. In fact our boat journey back was in hail - an experience we won't forget in a hurry.

From Loch Lomond we made the 5 and a half hour trip back to Birmingham through varying degrees of snow. The Beast from the East was starting to impact the main roads and we had to make a few pitstops to rinse the windscreen as our water was frozen. We were certainly glad to make it back without any drama.

We would recommend a trip to The Cairngorms if you love getting outdoors to explore, stunning scenery, long walks, holidays with a dog(s), fresh air and good food. The national park is well signposted and good roads make it easy to get around. We would recommend having a car, even though we got lucky with the weather it was a relief to be able to transport all the coats, hats, scarfs and snacks with us easily.

Without a doubt we will head back, there's still so much to explore!