The Cardiff Half – to be or not to be?

Tomorrow was meant to be my last long run before my first half marathon.

At the start of the year, I signed up to run the Cardiff Half Marathon, a lifelong ambition of mine, in memory of my grandad for the Stroke Association.

I started running properly after joining my local club in June 2017 and steadily progressed from the couch to 5K then to 10K. I signed up for the half as a nerve-wracking but exciting next step and started my training on 2 January in the cold, blustery rain with my best friend.

If you’d asked me four weeks ago how the training was going, I’d have answered: “Pretty well cheers!”. I felt quietly confident.

From May, I’d upped my distances and my commitment to running going out three to four times a week.

I painfully worked my way from 10K to eight miles, to nine, to 10 and was covering more than 20 miles a week, which is a lot for the girl who couldn’t run to a lamppost a year before.

Sunday mornings were for long runs whatever the weather. I plodded through ankle-splashing puddles and sweltered in unseasonably hot sun with my fellow runners.

A particularly rainy run

My trainers came with me on holiday and on overnight stays for work. I took them out at 6am on Mondays, 8pm on Wednesdays, basically whenever I could between the children and working.

Running has not only made me fitter and healthier, it’s also brought my asthma under the best control I’ve had for years.

It has made me happier too.

It is time for me to think, run it out, push myself and silence the voice that says I can’t, which has often been too loud. To run away the worries that can come with juggling work and a young family trying to be the best I can be at both.

So I didn’t really struggle to put my trainers on for those runs. I’d committed to the half and wanted to train well. All was on track.

And a fortnight ago I ran 11 miles doing Castle 2 Castle for Velindre Cancer Centre with a month to go to the Cardiff Half, an excellent training run for a great cause.

I met one of my all time heroes former Wales and British Lions captain legend Sam Warburton who waved us runners off and kindly obliged in our photographs. It was hard but excellent practice for the half.

But I haven’t run since.

A niggling cold developed into a chest infection earlier this week that’s making my asthma symptoms flare up in a way they haven’t since I joined my running club.

I’ve rested, drunk honey and lemon, inhaled steam and followed all medical advice. I’ve been on antibiotics and steroid tablets to ease my asthma problems since Tuesday and thankfully the cough that took my sleep for days has eased.

This week’s training regime

But now I’m at a loss.

Will I be able to do the challenge I set myself almost 10 months ago, for a charity I love and did so much for my grandad?

I’ve felt sad about every run I’ve missed and I know I’ll feel sad tomorrow when for the second week I’ll have missed my long run.

My fellow runners training for their first half are doing amazingly – and I’m so proud of them – but I can’t help feeling left behind.

The doctor says wait and see and that it could be possible so for now I’ll continue to rest – and hope.

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A peaceful break at Wooda Lakes in North Devon

Looking for a family-friendly and tranquil staycation near Cornwall? Then Wooda Lakes is a great spot for you.

Nestled near Holsworthy in Devon, and just seven miles from Bude, we found it to be a lovely base for family days out and chilled out evenings.

We stayed in one of 11 self-catering lakeside lodges, which overlooked one of the site’s five fishing lakes. Each lodge has an outdoor decking area meaning we could sit and eat outside when the weather was kind enough.

The accommodation was clean, comfortable and inviting with little touches that helped us settle right in on arrival.

We were greeted with a small basket of essentials including tea, coffee and biscuits and a glass bottle of milk in the fridge meaning we could have that longed-for cuppa soon after checking in. Bliss!

The setting was beautiful. The children loved walking around the lakes and watching the family of ducks who lived on site.They also liked the play equipment including a slide and two swings.

They also enjoyed watching people fishing. The site is particularly popular with anglers with its well-stocked lakes and each lodge has an outhouse to store fishing equipment and refrigerate the day’s catch.

It was a brilliant base for family days out in Devon and nearby Cornwall. Wooda made sure visitors had the kit they needed for a day at the beach with a helpful treasure trove of buckets, spades and bodyboards for residents to borrow. Again, a lovely touch.

Disclaimer: We booked our holiday at Wooda Lakes through Hoseasons and paid for it in full.

On being phone shamed

Today I was phone shamed. I was in a family-friendly museum with the children, our third outing of the day, and they were having fun in the toy room.

It was a hands on toy room filled with vintage toys for them to play with from old-fashioned dolls prams to cars to spinning tops. They were thrilled.

As they settled in to play, I took out my phone to look at the photos of the children taken at the beach earlier today.

Photos are important to me. I love taking them, reviewing them, sharing them.

I was the girl who couldn’t wait to get my photos developed when I had my first yellow Kodak camera.

The girl who went to the local photo shop as soon as possible and paid extra to have photos developed quickly.The girl whose walls were covered in photo collages of friends and family at home and at university. So, yes, I love photos and I take most of them on my phone.

A man walked into the room and announced: “It’s so nice to see them playing with toys that aren’t electronic. But oh!” he sneered, nodding his head towards the phone in my hand. He left the room before I could answer.Yes, like most, I’m a little too addicted to my phone. I have to put boundaries on how much I use it. I’m conscious of not using it too much around the children and when I’m with company. Do I get it wrong sometimes? Absolutely. But I don’t think I got it wrong today.

The man with the sneer didn’t see me plan our three holiday trips out that day, packing snacks and beach gear, giving the children their breakfast beforehand, helping to them pick their clothes and brush their teeth. Reminding them to wear wellies and making sure we had coats and spare clothes with us just in case.

He didn’t see me take them to two beaches earlier that day, which I’d researched to make sure they were suitable for families, and zipping them into their bathers and wetsuits so they didn’t get too cold in the sea.

He didn’t see me pushing by body worries aside to jump waves with them for an hour in just my bather. Or see me dry them off, fill their rumbling tummies with snacks and wipe sand from in between their toes so they didn’t get sore.

He just saw the mum with the phone and he judged me for it.

We all judge. I get it. I’ve done it. But when I catch myself judging I try to tell myself that I don’t know the person, their story or the whole picture. And I try to keep that judgement in check.

So please, if you find yourself judging, try to remember you’re not that person. You’re getting a snapshot, a quick insight into their life and it may not be their best moment of the day.

11 things to do (or d-ewe) at The Big Sheep in Devon

Fancy family-friendly fairground rides and interactive farm animal experiences all in one place? Then The Big Sheep in Devon is just the place for you.

Based in Abbotsham near Bideford, this sheep-filled theme park offers plenty of activities for a brilliant family day out.

We spent more than four hours at the theme park (a record time for us!), which is testament to how much there is to do and enjoy there.

Best of all, most of the rides and activities are included in your ticket price.

If you’re planning a visit there soon, here are our 11 things to do at The Big Sheep.

1. Sail on Swan Lake

Our children enjoyed taking a ride on a Swan Lake pedalo and made sure we were pedalling hard as we took a turn around the lake. “Pedal faster!” was a common refrain.

2. Ride the piggy pull-a-long

No grown ups are allowed on the piggy pull-a-long (except the driver, of course!) making this a popular choice for children.

3. Flip your tummy on the Rampage roller coaster

This family-friendly rollercoaster is suitable from the age of four (children need to be three foot tall). It was our children’s first roller coaster ride and the first thing they spotted as we arrived in the park. Adults are allowed on (yay!) and children can ride unaccompanied when they’re aged 7 or over. Buy your ride photograph for £2 as a reasonable keepsake.

4. Try out Twister

This vintage-style swing ride takes riders high in the sky. Wave from the sidelines or join in as adults are allowed on too.

5. Feed a lamb

Lamb-feeding is a must. Get to the feeding area in the show arena with plenty of time to grab a good spot for bottle-feeding the lambs, although every child gets a turn.

6. And a sheep

Buy your sheep feed at the gate (75p a bag or £2 for three) and feed some of the 300 sheep who live around the park. Our children enjoyed feeding them at Pets’ Corner.

7. Bump along on a farm safari

Climb aboard the tractor trailer for a bumpy farm safari around The Big Sheep. The ride takes you around the park. The driver introduces you to the various farm animals on site, including the escaping pygmy goats!

8. See a sheep show

Fancy watching sheep-shearing or a sheep race? Stop off to see the shows throughout the day. And if you’ve had enough of sheep, watch the dog display or the duck trials at the Duck Arena!

9. Bounce like never before

Bounce on to the jumping pillows for a bounce-tastic experience. Our children loved this so much they came back for a second bounce before we left for the day!

10. Slide in a sack

Head to the indoor play zone to enjoy a super high slide in a sack and three levels of play equipment. Our children didn’t want to leave.

11. Ride a pony

For just £1, children aged 3 or over can enjoy a pony ride. Our daughter loved her ride on new pony Poppy, the first time she’s tried pony-riding. For an extra £1, your child can wear a pony-rider rosette.

The Big Sheep costs £14.95 for adults and children over three feet tall (£11.96 if booked online in advance like we did) or £6 for children under three feet (£4.80 if booked online). Other concessions are available.

Disclaimer: We paid in full for our visit and The Big Sheep did not know I’d be blogging about it.

Chicken and egg club – an afternoon at Amelia Trust Farm

Amelia Trust Farm is a fantastic educational farm set off Five Mile Lane near Barry. It’s recently revamped its events for families in a bid to make the charity more sustainable and offers hands on experience for children.

Earlier this year we did a lamb-feeding experience at the farm, which the children loved, so much so they still talk about it. So when I saw their latest event offering – chicken and egg club – advertised, I booked them a spot each.

Costing £7.50 each (plus a £5 weekend admission charge), the event gives children the chance to meet and feed the chickens, find and wash their eggs and take them home at the end.

The event started with a short talk from the staff about what to expect, including an explanation about the difference between free range chickens and caged chickens.

Each child was then given an egg tray and a bag of feed as we headed on our egg hunt.

The children enjoyed seeing the chickens up close and meeting them with the staff. They were happy when the food attracted the chickens.

With the chickens fed, it was time to retrieve our eggs from the sides of the hen houses. Each child was allowed to choose six eggs for their tray.

With the eggs retrieved, it was time to go back to the shelter to get our eggs ready for home time. Step one was given them a thorough wash before drying them.

The staff then stamped each egg before the children put them in boxes to take home, which they then labelled and decorated. Each child was then offered a recipe to take home.

Overall, this was a lovely event which gave the children a hands on experience in this working farm. They were happy to take home their eggs at the end along with their recipes. Pancakes anyone?

Chicken and egg club is running at Amelia Trust Farm at weekends in August and September costing £7.50 per child. Find out more and book online here.

Nine places to visit in 72 hours in Venice

Venice has always been on my to do list. The canals, the culture, the food all seemed like a must see.

Life with two young children means that our last city break was some time ago. But when it came to marking our 10 year wedding anniversary, we decided Venice would be our place to go.

Our holiday

We booked our inclusive holiday through Expedia. We flew from Bristol to Marco Polo. We booked our holiday last October, a few weeks before the flights between Cardiff and Venice were announced.

After researching hotels, we decided to go for the Hotel Ai Reali, a 4 star hotel in a former Venetian palace. Close to the Rialto, and a five-minute walk from the tourist hot spot St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), it felt like a great spot.

When we arrived, the hotel was immaculate with helpful staff who gave us key information (checking first if we wanted to find out the information then or after we’d got to our room and settled in) and a map. It helped us relax quickly.

We stayed in a comfort room and were greeted with lovely little comforts including bathrobes, chocolates and bottled water (just the ticket after a long journey).

The room was sparkling clean and included nice toiletries and free WiFi. Our stay included a breakfast buffet, which offered a huge variety of delicious food from pancakes to meats to croissants.

The hotel’s Alla Corrone restaurant and bar were highly rated and we enjoyed a few drinks in the relaxing bar most evenings with entertainment from a pianist on set evenings.

The staff were knowledgeable and attentive, helping us make the most of our stay.

Getting around

We booked a transfer bus between Marco Polo Airport and Venice using ATVO via Expedia. Costing less than £30 for a return for the both of us, it’s a 20 minute coach ride from the airport and runs 24 hours a day.

The bus stops at Piazza San Roma. From there we bought a three-day ACTV water boat pass for €40 each. This 72-hour pass gave us unlimited access to Venice’s water bus system making it an affordable way to explore Venice and the surrounding islands.

View from the water bus

There are other options including water taxi, but this is expensive and the costs soon add up with additional costs for bags etc.

Tip Check which direction your water bus is travelling. It works like the Tube with buses going in opposite direction. We discovered this after accidentally getting the water bus in the wrong direction on our first journey. Oops!

Things to do

1. Murano

Murano glass is world famous for its unique craftsmanship which has been honed for centuries.

Our hotel offered a complementary water taxi to Murano, which took us direct to the Bisanzio glass workshop and gallery.

An entire wall is decorated with photographs of distinguished or celebrity visitors from Sting to Sylvester Stallone to Jennifer Garner.

While there, our guides talked us through the history and how the Murano glass is made. We also saw one of the artists create a glass black horse, which was so skilful.

The 16 rooms of the gallery featured a fantastic array of glass from mirrors to chandeliers to birds.

As you can imagine, prices for Murano glass are incredibly expensive. As we were leaving, we heard a couple ask the price of six glasses, which were around €1,100.

We then explored the streets and shops of Murano, which were picturesque. Even most of the door numbers and bells had a reference to the glass.

2. Burano

A short distance from Murano is the island of Burano, famed for its lace and houses of all colours.

We caught the number 12 water bus from Murano to the island to explore and enjoy a spot of lunch. It’s a small island filled with houses, small shops and eateries. The colours were stunning.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch of Diavalo pizzas (€10 each) at the Principe overlooking the canal. It was glorious.

Well worth a visit.

Tip You can book trips to Murano and Burano in advance of your holiday starting at around €17 per person. We enjoyed traveling by water bus as we could travel at our own pace and it was cheaper.

3. Rialto

Our hotel was close to the Rialto and its famous bridge so we enjoyed exploring the area.

It’s bustling and one of many popular spots to catch a gondola ride. We bought a private ride from an official stand for €80 for both of us.

It was so tranquil gliding through Venice’s canals, navigating narrow spaces that don’t seem possible. It gave us view of Venice that weren’t possible by water bus and was a great part of the Venetian experience.

6. St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)

When we spoke to anyone about visiting Venice, they all agreed a visit to St Mark’s Square was essential.

It is one of Venice’s most famous spots and bustles with tourists from the early hours offering spectacular architecture dating back centuries.

We enjoyed strolling around it and the surrounding areas, browsing in spectacular shops and eating delicious gelato.

We returned at night and found it magical with its columns of lights and live classical music.

7. Doge’s Palace

The Doge’s Palace is steeped in Venetian history and was the home of the Venetian government for centuries.

As it is one of the most popular places to visit, I booked our skip the line ticket to the palace and a guided tour in advance of our holiday for around £37 per person.

This worked well as we avoided the long queues and had a knowledgeable guide who ensured we learned so much about the palace’s fascinating history and artwork and the best spots for great views and photographs.

We crossed the Bridge of Sighs and explored the former prison.

Its pretty marble exterior masks what it’s like inside, a narrow dark tunnel which made escape impossible for Venetian prisoners.

The Bridge of Sighs

The palace’s artwork and decor were nothing short of stunning. With our guide’s help, we enjoyed the vivid colours of Veronase, the gold leaf foliage and the artistic illusion of 3D painting.

We climbed opulent staircases, experienced the grandeur of the 150ft hall and felt the smallness of the former prison cells.

We discovered why Napoleon removed artworks and sculptures and were shown a painting in which the artist painted the wrong leg.

A must see.

Tip Backpacks and large bags are not permitted inside the palace so you will need to leave them at the cloakroom or just leave them at the hotel.

8. St Mark’s Basilica

From inside the Doge’s palace, you can see the five domes of St Mark’s Basilica, one of the most striking buildings in St Mark’s Square.

This opulent building is a Catholic Church and you can tour it for free observing the rules of silence and no photography.

Decorated beautifully, its incredible height and colours are a sight to be seen.

We paid €5 each to enter the museum upstairs, which leads to a brilliant exhibition about the church’s history. It also leads to its balcony, which offers awesome views across the square and surrounding areas.

Unsurprisingly, queues for the Basilica are lengthy with people queuing in the early hours of the day. We visited at around 2pm and found it much quieter than it was in the morning.

You can buy skip the line tickets for just €3 per person if you wish to.

9. Museum Correr

If you’ve bought a ticket to the Doge’s Palace, you can access 11 Venice museums for free without any queues.

Tucked into a corner of St Mark’s Square, you’ll find the Museum Correr. Our ticket to the Doge’s Palace gave us free entry to the museum, which includes lavish rooms, sculptures, books and artworks telling Venice’s history.

We visited the cafe for a soft drink after our tour. At €4 each it was pretty pricy, but it gave us gorgeous views across the square to the Basilica.

Over to you

So there are my top tips for places to visit in Venice. What are yours? I’d love to know.

Hunting for Easter Eggs at Dyffryn Gardens

There’s nothing our children love more than an Easter egg hunt. They love following clues and peeking in corners to find their chocolate treasures.

We’ve never been to an organised hunt before, but, as National Trust members, the Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt at Dyffryn Gardens seemed like a good option, especially as it’s one of our favourite places to visit.

We booked in advance when the tickets went on sale at £6 per child and a small booking fee. It’s a popular event so booking in advance is recommended.

When we got to the gardens, we were directed to Dyffryn House where the children were given instructions and we were told how it works.

Each child was given an activity leaflet and a pencil. They had to find eggs containing flowers dotted around the gardens and match the pictures inside to the colour of the ribbons on top. When they’d found all the eggs, they had to return to the house to claim their prize.

After that, we were off to explore and locate those eggs. Finding the first one was a little tricky, but the children were thrilled when they found it.

After finding that initial egg, the discoveries sped up. They loved exploring the gardens and were so pleased with each discovery.

I found it helpful that the areas where the trail ended were clearly marked, which helped us to stay in the right area and avoid going off course.

We spent around 45 minutes on the hunt and the children ran back to the house clutching their explorer sheets to claim their prize, a Cadbury’s Easter egg. They were delighted!

All in all, it was well organised and pretty good value for what it was. The children loved it and I think we’ll be back again next year!

Did you go to the Dyffryn egg hunt? If so, what did you think?

The Cadbury Easter Egg hunt cost £6 per child. Admission to the gardens was free as Trust members, but is chargeable to non-members. Visit here to find out more.