Wonderful Welsh Heritage at The Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenavon

Cultural heritage is something to be proud of wherever you come from. This weekend, we decided to tick one of my many Welsh adventures off the list and go explore The Big Pit National Coal Museum up in Blaenavon – and we had the best time!

The weather kept changing its mind between momentary glorious sunshine and overcast with outbursts of rain but nontheless, the scenery was beautiful – The Big Pit is actually located in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. My proud little Welshman stood gazing lovingly over his homeland and I can’t deny that I felt proud to be an honorary Welshie. My own family has mining history too back up in County Durham, so it filled me with questions to ask my mother and grandad when I next see them; it was so interesting learning about stuff that’s so relevant to your own life and background yet still so fresh in historical terms. Anyway, back to the museum & tour itself.


Rob and the other tour guys we can’t speak highly enough of; so friendly and chatty and so so knowledgeable about their subject being ex-miners themselves. They carefully strapped our harnesses & headlights on and locked away our valuables before we squished like sardines into the lift, ready to go below-ground (very authentic). Rob went on to tell us how fast this lift was descending and how much faster it would’ve been back in the day – and still is in other much deeper mines – as well as how many would fit into one of these lifts in a typical day, which alone was enough to make me glad not to have to do it everyday!

At the bottom lay one of the trucks the horses used to pull through the mines, 72 of which resided at The Big Pit, each truck carrying 1 tonne of coal which was sent up to the surface and away to peoples’ homes. These horses were allowed out ‘on holiday’ for 2 weeks of the year and the rest of their lives were spent underground working the mines. I’m not a big fan of horses but the extremity of the constantly damp conditions and fellow resident rodents down there gave me a huge respect for these animals, lugging tonnes and tonnes of coal miles through the mines day after day.
On top of that, children as young as 5 were sent down to work in the mines opening and closing the ventilation doors, until at about 9 years old they were old enough to work the mine face itself. Young girls weren’t exempt it turns out; their job was to crawl on hands and knees up and down the steep mine faces tugging along a trolley which men could dispatch their coal into, so I can only imagine how heavy it must’ve gotten and how realistically quite terrifying that must’ve been, crawling on your own through sweaty older men all day. (This is in fact why young girls were banned from working the mines some years later – it was deemed inappropriate for them to be around men who were often half or almost fully naked due to the heat of working at the deep coal faces at such a young age and I can’t say I disagree).

Rob said to us “hold your hand out in front of your faces and when I count to three, turn your headlamps off. 1, 2, 3.” Darkness. And I mean seriously: Pitch. Black.
When you think about it, when was the last time you truly couldn’t see anything? Not even the tiniest fleck of light or at least the outline of your hand in front of you? If it hadn’t have been attached to me I can honestly say I’d have had no idea where my hand was, and I can imagine after hours on end of this darkness which the children on the doors went through I definitely think I’d have been going mad and starting to lose it. We were told that the shift patterns were 12 hours long both for the men and the children, meaning that in the winter these miners never saw daylight; so much of their lives were spent underground that these horses became their children and these fellow men became their family. The camaraderie that stems from such close-knit communities in such extreme conditions is something that always remains truly admirable to me and something totally key to survival, I imagine. A problem shared is a problem halved an’ all that.

Further along the line came a small railway track which the carts were transported through the mines on once the demand became higher than the horses could physically take. This was incredible in itself because of the way it was operated: one child would be placed at the top of the track and the other would go along the track with the cart to the coal face – which could have been miles and miles away. Once full, the child with the cart would simply squeeze together two electrical wires running along the wall adjacent to the track, generating a bell ringing at the other end so the other child knew when to withdraw the cart. These electrical wires themselves were live, including those Rob showed us on the day, which if they sparked when methane gas was present (a by-product of coal extraction) led to potentially huge explosions within the mine itself. This was sadly the case with the Senghenydd colliery disaster of 1913 which killed 439 miners, men and children alike. As cliché as it sounds, this really brought it home for us as we stood in a mine… surrounded by people… underground… almost pitch black… nearest exit literally miles away…

File_000 (49)As I said, heritage is so important. When something really relates to your own now privileged life it not only makes it so so interesting but also so so real. Back at the surface there were several other reality checks such as the showers and lockers with personal stories and contents within them that really made everything so touching and inspiring. My boyfriend was beaming with excitement the entire time and even came out of there wanting to be a miner for crying out loud… but the sense of pride in their work was what was really touching; these men went to work day after day after day knowing that their suffering and intense hard work was fuelling a growing nation, heating homes and powering trains, driving the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom which we have relied upon to develop our lifestyle today. This pride shone through from Rob and the other ex-miner tour guides and really made the day for us, we had the utmost respect for these guys; they were there, they lived this.

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Sadly, I couldn’t buy these due to card machine problems but look how cute they are!

I’d really recommend a trip to The Big Pit National Coal Museum if you’re ever in South Wales, or perhaps you live here and you’ve just not had chance to go yet. It’s free entry just like the other National Museums in Wales, though there are donation boxes around the place and a lovely cute shop at the end filled with Welsh-ness; local beers, Welsh silver jewellery, cheese and chopping boards (above), that sort of thing. You also don’t need good weather for the underground bit, just make sure you’ve got a few layers on cos it can get pretty chilly down there. There’s just so much to see and learn about we were absolutely fascinated; I think it’s so important to understand and appreciate these things, history is a part of us after all.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*featured image courtesy of Visit Wales

Weekend workouts & waterfalls in the beautiful Brecon Beacons

This week I focus on fitness once again, purely because I wanted to make the point that getting in a weekend workout does not have to mean dragging yourself out of bed to the gym before 11 o’clock in the morning. I mean, great if you can do that but who’d rather have a lie in? Me, that’s for sure.

There are so many simple easy things you can do to make your weekend workouts fun, especially if you feel cooped up in work during the week and struggle to reach your 10,000 steps per day Monday to Friday. You don’t even have to think of it as a workout, just think of it of getting outside and getting some fresh air – the great outdoors!

If you’re a runner, fab. You’re already pretty much there, just do your thing. If you’re a cycler, that’s fab too. Just pack up your car and head off somewhere stunning for a ride, why not! But if you’re a gym bunny like me these may not be the right options for you. My weekend workout of choice was a humble hike through the hills of South Wales; I can’t imagine a better one. I’m a born adventurer and (as we know from my Iceland post) a very keen geographer, so I’ll happily take any chance to go exploring in nature. There’s a long list of things to tick off my Welsh adventures bucket list but this weekend I picked waterfall hunting in the Brecon Beacons National Park – the Four Waterfalls Walk to be exact.

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Looking down the path of Four Waterfalls Walk

One of the absolute beauties of living in Cardiff is that Brecon isn’t even an hour drive away, it’s quite literally on your doorstep. It’s also the place that gets all the cute snow and ice when we don’t see it down here in the city, which makes winter walks all the more enjoyable (I especially enjoy the crunching sound of thick ice, why wouldn’t ​

​you?!). The only issue with this walk was that we found it very easy to get a little bit lost on the trail, only finding our way to 1 of 4 waterfalls before the cold and dark started setting in. However, this added to the sense of adventure and was all part of the fun if you ask me! Nothing wrong with getting lost in nature just so long as we find our way home in the end.

Crunch, crunch, slop, slop. The other thing of significance to note was that appropriate footwear was absolutely necessary. My company thought otherwise until, much to his surprise, we found ourselves on a mucky, sludgy path for which my walking boots were perfect and his trainers were not so much… Let us at this point remember the Scouts motto: Be Prepared.

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Sgwd Yr Eira looking lush

Anyway, we clambered through the mud and found the first (and in this case, only) waterfall: Sgwd Yr Eira. It was stunning as the sun shone through the trees beginning toimg_3309 set. This is also the one you can walk behind (see photo, left), reminding me of Seljandsfoss in Iceland although on a much smaller scale – still seriously cool though! The steps to and from the waterfall were a challenge in themselves, however, (I might have slipped over… but gracefully recovered injury free, of course) and this is where the real workout came in; I deliberately took long strides up in order to make it more of a challenge for my legs, even a throwing in a few squat jumps, but I’d recommend doing this without DOMS next time – did not ease my soreness! (DOMS = delayed onset muscle soreness, the pain you sometimes feel after a cracking workout) Still, a good way to get your glutes, hams and quads working away. I’d also recommend power-walking part of it if you want to feel a bit more benefit and get your heart rate up a little, or even bounding (safely) downhill every so often if you like to be a giddy little kid like me.

All in all, this 3 hour winter walk adventure racked up 14,488 steps alone – making my total for the day over 16k – and burned a whopping 825 calories, according to my Fitbit blaze. I don’t know about you but I’d class that as a great workout, whether you feel sore afterwards or not! Even better if you don’t feel it and just enjoy the ride, which is one of the best things about going walking in my opinion.

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Views from the path

As I said, there are many other Welsh adventures on my list, Pen-y-Fan currently at the top, but this was a great one to tick off and I’ll certainly be back to find the remaining 3 waterfalls. It seems silly to me not to explore all this beautiful countryside when it is right on our doorstep/such a short drive away, just get outside and go wild! If you don’t live near a National Park then there are plenty of other beautiful parks to walk around of a weekend, Roath Park and Bute Park being just two beautiful examples in Cardiff city centre. Most importantly, the weekends are about relaxing and a workout doesn’t always have to be hard work, life is about balance after all…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Juno what’s going on in Roath?

You’ve had a long, tiring day at work: Juno is there.  You’re hanging out of your arse after a heavy night out: Juno is there.  You really just need a good old pick-me-up, even better if it’s just healthy enough not to feel guilty about: Juno is there.

Living within easy walking-distance of this little local gem has definitely been a factor in my falling in love with Cardiff.  Aside from the convenience, the staff are always so friendly and helpful even if you’re there just to get some work done with a few nibbles and a nice atmosphere.  They’re also very accommodating – you’re never too much of an inconvenience, which culminates in the laid-back, super friendly and above all cosy vibe of the place that makes it so special.

The warm, cosy interior of Juno Lounge, Roath. [Photo credit: Trip Advisor]

Menu: burgers, salads, hangover breakfasts and specials; Juno has it all.  Whether you’re a meat-eater or a fussy eater, there’s no shortage of incredible options, including a whole menu of vegan and gluten-free.  For meat-lovers: the Hero Burger.  Highly renowned as one of the best burgers in Cardiff, this beast is composed of a 6oz beef patty, chorizo, mature cheddar, fried red onion, chimichurri, chipotle mayo and marinated chilli.  10/10 for sure.  For veggies: Yossi’s Falafel Burger.  Full of flavour and goodness, this isn’t your standard veggie burger!  A wood-roasted pepper, rocket, tomato, red onion, basil pesto and garlic mayo all accompany the falafel to create this fantastic, fresh feast that will surely keep you coming back for more.  9/10 from me; close but not quite as good as the following…

Specials: I’ve had the last two special burgers in a row (I’m basically a regular now) and I can safely say both were incredible.  The first, a spiced hummus and halloumi burger, was stunning.  I’m a huge fan of halloumi anyway especially in burgers, trying new variations whenever I get chance (e.g. Street Food Circus).  On this occasion I wasn’t sure how the spiced hummus was going to work but it was perfect – salty meets sweet & spicy, with a juicy roasted pepper in the middle, whilst the all-important salad balanced it all out.

The second, a butternut squash and edamame bean burger, featuring halloumi (obviously) and served in the beauty that is a brioche burger bun, I went back for twice because I loved it so much.  I just want to be clear on one thing… this was a chunky-ass burger.  I mean it was more than just a two-hand job…  This is the first time in my life I’ve ever had to be one of those bell-ends that cuts their burger using actual cutlery instead of our God-given hands; like those people who insist on cutting pizza with a knife and fork despite the fact that it was MADE to be eaten with our hands – even cut into portions to do so!  Anyway, this burger was huge, but it was so so good.  Packed full of veggie goodness (butternut squash being rich in fibre, vitamins & minerals, antioxidants and very low in calories, similar to pumpkin) and well-balanced flavours, it’s a solid 10/10 from me – for both of the specials, in fact.

Burgers aside, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every single meal I’ve had at Juno (hungover or otherwise).  The Avocado Brunch is perfect for that hangover fix due to its cheeky sprinkle of chilli flakes; the Grilled Halloumi & Falafel salad is great for those days when you want to eat out but don’t want to stray too off-plan; the Triple-stacked Buttermilk Pancakes with banana, strawberries, peach sauce and Greek yoghurt are a very filling but very rewarding breakfast to bring you back to life after a heavy night or a stressful week (also available with smoked streaky bacon & maple syrup); and lastly, but by no means least, the classic poached eggs & smoked salmon on toast which has saved me on some of my darkest days.

One of the things I especially love about this place is that the friendly chilled-out vibe is also reciprocated in the staff, meaning that when the struggle is very real and the waiter or waitress can see it on your face, they give that service with genuine smile and you know that they know what you’re going through.  (Sort of like a Friends “we know that they know, we know” situation).

My cute & cosy set up whilst writing at Juno

 There’s so much more I could say about Juno Lounge; I haven’t even mentioned the Cruiser Atlantic pale ale they serve on tap, specifically a Loungers brew, or the cocktail menu I’ve been dying to try for ages, or even the tasty-looking tapas menu!  But I will certainly be back time and time and time again.  I’d recommend it to any of my fellow Roath residents and Cardiffians: embrace it as your local/regular because that’s half the beauty of the place.  It’s convenient and it’s cosy, but it’s also really good, reasonably priced, wholesome food in a place you’re always made to feel totally welcome.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*special thanks goes to my fave waiter Juno George for the genius title suggestion!

P.S.  I don’t actually know if his name is George

A tasty Mon-mouthful: Monmouthshire Food Festival 2016

Caldicot Castle is a stunning setting for any occasion.  Despite the recent turn of cold weather, the sun still shone proudly for a few minutes as I drove through the estate and started to walk towards the castle gates.  Some classic 80s cheese was playing in the background, I could smell a fresh BBQ, and I could hear my stomach rumbling – this was a good day.

The first thing I noticed was that it was considerably smaller than Abergavenny, but this was to be expected due to the confined nature of the castle itself and the impressive reputation Abergavenny Food Festival itself holds.  There was still plenty to choose from here, although it seemed to be mostly jars, preservatives, sweet treats to take away with you rather things to eat right here and now – nonetheless impressive, of course.

What I did think was a nice bit of something different was that there was a stall dedicated to home delivery vegetable boxes; Riverford Organic Farmers, whose motto “Live Life on the Veg” I think is just brilliant.  Whilst not the cheapest way to get your weekly shopping, I love the fact that you can opt for a ‘100% UK’ veg box to support local produce – my affinity for which I have expressed previously yet, unfortunately, I struggle to do so in my own day-to-day life.  This is something I do intend to rectify, so maybe I’ll give Riverford‘s boxes a try.  Even more exciting is that you can ask for recipe boxes which deliver all the ingredients readily weighed out so that all you need to do is whack them all together and boom!  A lushious, nutritious meal is on your table.  What a dream.  Although, I have to be honest, as a big lover of cooking and baking I sometimes find half the fun in faffing around sorting out all my ingredients, only to realise halfway through I’ve forgotten something and must now improvise – which is where the magic in one’s own recipes really happens.

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Another interesting and unusual addition to the party was Kitchen Garden, a plant centre offering a wide variety of living herbs ranging from Chocolate Mint, to White Rosemary, to Sweet Camomile or even Vietnamese Coriander.  Imagine the possibilities!

My first taster of the day was a Goats Cheese and chutney pizza from Newport-based food van Flour’d Up.  This wood-fired traditional Napolitan pizza was a pleasure to eat (so much so that I didn’t get chance to take a photo before it was all gone…) and I have to say, the base was the perfect level of thin and crispy for my liking!  My only criticism would be the more cheese the merrier… but to be honest I was so hungry it was still amazing.  The customer service I couldn’t fault; they saw I was looking after a very hungover friend and brought it over to my table for me once ready.  Top effort guys, thank you!

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Flour’d Up and their mobile wood-fired pizza oven!

Another little wander around the stalls brought me (inevitably) towards the beers & ciders, where I settled on Brecon Brewing; a bottle of their limited edition Olicana IPA to be exact, which I’m actually sipping right now as I write.  At first it tastes like your usual British IPA, yet there’s a subtle after-taste that gives it that edge; sort of fruity, a little bit bitter, it’s hard to place but very enjoyable.  And noticeably cheaper than the likes of Brewdog, who’s Punk IPA I am a huge fan of, don’t get me wrong, but a bigger bottle for a smaller price is always a winner.  I’ll more-than-happily drink both again regardless.

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My smart-looking tipple: Olicana IPA

I turned around to find an old friend Chock Shop there to greet me; their spreads at food festivals continue to amaze and impress me!  Always so much choice and arranged so file_000-15tantalisingly, especially when the words “would you like that with chocolate sauce and cream?” are mentioned… I mean, who could say no?  This time I went for a plain chocolate brownie with a strawberry on top and, as much as I love banoffee, I preferred this to my last selection.  There was less of a smack in the face of sugar and more of the classic gooey, stodgy (in a good way) texture which I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of.  Aside from the fact that it smelled amazing, I also imagine this would be an absolute dream warm with ice cream – I’ll certainly try that next time.

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Another amazing spread from Chock Shop!

My sweet tooth didn’t stop there, however, leading me towards Shelly’s Foods in the top right corner.  Here I tried a taster cup of small chunks of millionaire shortbread drizzled with caramel sauce.  A very guilty pleasure but much appreciated after a busy week – I’m sure you all know the feeling – especially as once again there was fantastically friendly service.
file_003-3Above all, Monmouthshire Food Festival seemed to me to be one of the happiest places on earth this weekend.  Everyone who served you, stopped to speak to you about their products, or even just caught your eye in passing had a smile on their face and a genuine interest in you as a person, not just a customer.  It was lovely to feel a part of, even if just for a few hours.  This community-feel resonates with me personally as a country bumpkin and rural village girl at heart; a reminder of the true value of kindness and friendliness, no matter what else is going on in this crazy world.

On that slightly philosophical note, my food adventure for the day was complete.  I stood in awe for a while, gazing around at the castle itself which provided a brilliant backdrop for the whole thing.  Its enclosed and cosy nature enhanced and encapsulated that community feel.  I’d recommend Monmouthshire Food Festival as a nice little wander during a day out and about but perhaps not so much a whole day in itself, in my opinion, due to its limited size.  Still, I very much enjoyed my experience; Caldicot Castle certainly caught my eye as an ideal spot for a summer picnic sometime, maybe next year I’ll return!  For now though, as the days get colder and the nights get longer I eagerly await one of the best parts of the winter/festive season… Christmas Markets!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*special thanks to Juno Lounge for their hospitality whilst I posted this using their wifi (mine had run out at home) – I’m a big fan and promise I’ll write about you soon!

A heavenly haven for the hungry: Street Food Circus, Cardiff

As the sun went down and dark fell upon us, the bright, colourful lights of the Street Food Circus lit up the Cardiff night sky like a shining beacon of promise; promise that an incredible experience and insanely good food was waiting, patiently, to be discovered.

As I walked through the gates I had no idea where to start; overcome with a sense of giddy excitement and sheer awe of this heavenly food world – ‘like a kid in a candy shop’ one might say.  First, I decided to do a lap around to get a proper feel for the place and carefully observe the options before making my precious choices.

There’s something about streams of fairy lights, a buzz of background music and big bold colours beaming across the backdrop of tall, towering trees that gave that kind of festival magic to the Street Food Circus.  It reminded me of Bestival when I went back in 2014, with bunting made from all kinds of different coloured and jazzy-patterned strips and rags of material.  Draped gracefully around the circus tent ropes and encircling a little cubby-hole of Asian delights, it gave that funky, hippy vibe to the place that says “yeah this is cool, this is different and this is a moment you need to live in”.

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Singha Street sporting its Bestival-esque bunting and bright, flashing palm trees

The cubby-hole itself, ‘Singha Street’, lay in the top-left corner of the festival and featured flashing, light-up palm trees at its entrance – also very Bestival-esque.  Nearby tuk-tuks decorated with bamboo plants and traditional coloured umbrellas drew further attention, as excitable children scrambled around them, all waiting for a turn and a photo in the driver’s seat.  There also lay a vintage van in soft terracotta and pale green and yellow, sporting an array of funky flower garlands across its windscreen; adding to the authenticity of this cute little corner full of colour and life.  Inside, people sat on recycled plastic crates at pop-up tables, each with a different umbrella through the centre.  Whether you were tempted by a thai-style roti from Brother Thai, sweet/spicy samosas from Purple Poppadom’s Tukka Tuk, cod bites & Thai green fries from Big Fish Little Fish, or The ‘Roald Dal’ from Gopal’s Curry Shack (photos at the end), you were sure to be in for a powerful punch of flavour whatever your choice.  This, for me, is one of the beauties of street food: there are so many different cuisines and cultures in one place that it brings people together and lets them communicate through their shared love of really good food.

The rest of the festival offered a range of pulled pork delicacies, incredible seafood and some seriously good-looking tacos; but for me, it was high time for a pint.  Much to my delight, they had several Pipes beers on tap – which you may recall me mentioning in my last blog.  I went for a pint of the 6% Farmhouse Saison, which holds some fruity yet peppery tones whilst still boasting that lovely, strong ale taste. file_008-2

Next to the bar stood Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, whose plantain chips I couldn’t resist and I have to say, were incredible.  Plantain is such a simple yet effective ingredient we just don’t tend to use much in day-to-day cooking; but it’s actually full of fibre, vitamins A and C and is a really good source of Potassium and Magnesium.  Surprisingly, even more so than its more common cousin the banana*, which, in my opinion, makes it totally worthwhile adding into your diet where possible.  Anyway, back to the circus…

file_001-2Now accompanied by one of my flatmates, Seadog’s famous Sakana Burger was our first choice of main meal: composed of crispy Haddock, spicy mayo, sweet soy and seaweed, it was truly a sensation.  “One of the best burgers I’ve ever had” was my flatmate’s reaction – which, coming from a meat-eater (unlike me), is very high praise.  The sweetness of the soy and the lightly-spiced mayo complimented the perfectly battered haddock; it was a dream.

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My Crofters Street Food burger was stunning too: two chunks of grilled halloumi, hummus, aubergine, harissa onion jam and rocket; all wrapped up in the boss of all burger buns – brioche.  I never would’ve thought of putting aubergine, onion jam & halloumi altogether but it worked an absolute treat, putting sweet and salty in perfect balance.  Plus, I think there’s something quite satisfying about a burger so full of yummy goodness that you physically can’t put it down until you’re finished, bits dropping all out over the place – puts a smile on my face, anyway!

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We were so full of burgers and beer after all that we just sat and soaked up the atmosphere for a while, people-watching as friends laughed and couples cwtched, all with beaming smiles on their faces.  The Little Tipple Van to my right had started forming a queue and I could clearly see why on closer inspection, it’s so cute and small and it shells out prosecco – what’s not to love!

I have to say I was very tempted to choose another drink over a dessert, but ultimately ice cream always wins – and this wasn’t just any ice cream… this was Science Cream.  I first spotted these at Abergavenny Food Festival and wrote a bit about them in my last blog, but I didn’t end up trying any for myself.  Well, now was the time.  I strode over to the stall, grinning from ear to ear as I proudly announced “I’ll have a Brown Butter Caramel ice cream sundae please!”.  Watching the mixing and freezing process was just as entertaining as I remembered; vapour frothed out of the mixers as the liquid nitrogen was added, much as dry ice fills a theatre stage or steam billows out of an active volcano.  My sundae ‘adorned with golden honeycomb & salted caramel sauce’ was then handed to me in a tub and at this moment, I did have to second-guess myself for a second, was I actually in heaven right now?  Food heaven, most definitely.  It was so smooth and sweet and just generally glorious.  I will definitely be wandering down the arcades for another next time I’m in town!file_007-1

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Brown butter caramel ice cream, honeycomb, salted caramel sauce… what’s not to love?

And so came the end of another food adventure.  It’s safe to say that Street Food Circus offered an incredible range of options even for the fussiest of eaters, all of them a delight to devour.  It truly was a safe little haven in the middle of a busy and often stressful world.  I absolutely loved it and will certainly be returning next time it comes around!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*sources: Live Strong, Nairaland

Fun for many in Abergavenny: Food Festival 2016

Festivals have become kind of a big deal lately, with all kinds of new themes and experiences popping up all over the place.  But to my mind, food festivals are firmly at the top of the must-do list.

There have already been several in South Wales catching my eye over the summer, including Cardiff International Food & Drink Festival back in July and the Street Food Circus at Sophia Gardens running through August & September (individual post to follow), yet Abergavenny Food Festival is the one I had heard so much about and had been buzzing to go have a gander.

 

Coming off the train, I had expected stewards in brightly-coloured t-shirts or high-vis vests to be leading the way; but instead, those of us arriving at Abergavenny train station had to follow the crowd and hope for the best.  This wasn’t exactly ideal; but after ten or so minutes, the bunting came clearly into view.  Immediately upon entering the main high street there was a soft buzz of excitement with people everywhere popping in and out of shops with smiles on their faces and goodies in their hands.  It was the kind of busy where everyone’s friendly, laid-back and there for a good time – as oppose to the sometimes stressful impatience of places like London – which lent a lovely welcoming community-feel to the event (and in my personal opinion, a very Welsh feel).

First stop was The Castle; or rather, queueing for The Castle which had at this point reached full capacity.  Of course my first thought was one of slight panic thinking of the uncomfortable closeness that ‘full capacity’ crowds tend to be, however, once inside I was relieved to discover that this was not the case at all.  Rather than overwhelming and congested it was cosy and intimate in what felt like a very special way, perhaps because of the natural romance of the historic castle setting itself and the gentle rays of sun that beamed down upon us (if only for about ten minutes…).  To my left was the well-renowned Cyrus Todiwala speaking at the Rude Health tent about the importance of buying local produce and supporting local businesses.  This is something, I, myself believe to be of great importance, especially as a geography graduate with a strong interest in encouraging sustainability.  The fact that this more localised and sustainable culture is becoming so widely embraced and encouraged restores my faith in humanity a little and certainly put a smile on my face if there wasn’t already.  I mean, all you have to do is walk around a food festival such as this to see that most of what’s on offer has been made right here in Wales and you’re instantly filled with a sense of pride and achievement.  It becomes clear that we can and do produce all we really need within our beautiful little country and I love to see that the awesome and impressive nature of this is being admired and appreciated by all.

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Cyrus Todiwala and his colleagues at Cafe Spice Namaste [photo credit: Abergavenny Food Festival Facebook page]

My only real criticism of the experience would be that I was disappointed not to see as many local breweries and craft beers as I expected or would’ve liked, although this may have just meant that I didn’t get around enough to take full note of the beverages on offer.  I did spot Tiny Rebel along the way, a brewery based in Newport (S Wales, of course!) with its own pub in Cardiff called Urban Taphouse as many of you may know.  Cwtch and One Inch Punch are mine and my father’s current favourites: a Welsh red ale which holds the title of Champion Beer of Britain 2015 and a Tiny IPA, both packed full of the iconic flavour and character this proud little brewing company are all about.  I’d also personally recommend Cali as a fan of American Pale Ales but the choice is up to you, I still have several more to try but well recommend a visit to Urban Taphouse if you’re a big into your funky local beers.

As a side note, if like me you love a well-done craft beer then Pipes in Pontcanna is the place to be; their Bar Open events tend to be on the first Saturday of every month, totally transforming its tiny little back lane courtyard into a buzzing bunting-laden social hub.  It’s an ideal place to spend your Saturday afternoon – but I digress.

Back to Abergavenny: my next stop was the food tent area just off the main high street which brought to life so many wild and wonderful smells.  It was like its own little paradise for a foodie like me, something different everywhere you looked.  What instantly caught my eye was Science Cream, a Cardiff-based company which not only creates its own ice creams fresh to order with natural ingredients, but freezes them in seconds right in-front of your eyes using liquid nitrogen.  This is truly a wonder to behold and was famously described as ‘an ice cream you must try before you die’ by Buzzfeed in 2015.  From ice cream sandwiches to banana splits, to thick shake sundaes and even butter fried pancakes you’re certainly spoilt for choice here.  Flavours range from the tantalising caramelised peanut butter and double shot chocolate to the exotic cherry coconut and rhubarb ripple, of course with a multitude of toppings to add on as well, if you want to go all out – and I mean why not, when in Rome, right?  Everyone needs a cheat day!

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An example of Science Cream’s concoctions – this wasn’t mine but I wish it was! [photo credit: Buzzfeed]

I resisted the urge to dive straight in with the sweet stuff on this occasion, however, and opted for a savoury treat as my first taster of the day: a Butternut Squash, Mixed Bean & Cheese pie from the award-winning Tom’s Pies; which, as Bruce Almighty would say, was B-E-A-utiful.  Hot butternut squash and beans for me is definitely one of the ultimate healthy comfort foods; so hearty and rich, yet still nutritious and filling.  The perfectly thin, crumbly pastry (which okay, obviously isn’t exactly healthy or nourishing but cheat day is a wonderful thing) made it all the more comforting and I thoroughly enjoyed every guilty mouthful!  I was also amazed and impressed to learn that Tom’s Pies have a “long standing relationship” with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage, according to their website.  Hugh is another chef I greatly admire for his work in sustainable farming and food practices, as well as his ongoing War on Waste campaign.  For this, I will forgive them for not being Welsh locals, as I had first assumed, later discovering that they are in fact a Devon-based company who have the absolute pleasure of being invited to all these fantastic food festivals and taste awards – twelve so far this year judging from their website! Living the dream if you ask me!

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I ate my pie too fast to take its picture, but the box was pretty so…

There was still much more to see, so off I went to explore the streets of Abergavenny itself where further food and craft stalls were dotted around all over the place, all teeming with more eager festival-goers.  Turning onto Nevill Street was a feast for the eyes, bright colours and fresh flavours everywhere from the mouth-watering stuffed olives of The Olive Press to the fiery-looking chillies and sauces of Fearless Flavour.

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An impressive spread from The Olive Press

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Taste the rainbow, as they say… looking good Fearless Flavour!

Past these, however, came what we’ve all been waiting for: the bakeries.  A quick taster from Isabel’s Bakehouse clearly demonstrated why they had a very successful weekend – they sold out both days!  But Chock Shop was where I couldn’t resist temptation and treated myself to a Banoffee Brownie… wow that was good.  A little sweeter than I would normally have liked, if I’m honest, but perhaps this was because I saved most of it until the next day when I was (of course) wallowing on the sofa in hungover self-pity.  I, also, have a weakness for meringues which worked well to the advantage of Flower & White Ltd… I know, I was naughty.  But surely you kind of have to be at food festivals, else you’ll only look at all the good food and not actually enjoy any of it!  And besides, their Lemon Meringue was a seriously guilty pleasure in the best way.  I regret nothing.

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Isabel’s Bakehouse stall on Nevill Street

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A fully-stocked Chock Shop! [photo credit: Abergavenny Food Festival Facebook page]

This brings me to the end of my weekend adventures, as far as the food festival is concerned anyway.  The wide ranging variety of products and produce on offer, in addition to the guest speakers, live music and interactive sessions, meant that there was something fun for everyone at Abergavenny Food Festival.  The beauty and charm of the town itself also makes it a lovely place to visit any other time of year for a day’s mooching around the shops and cafés.  I can confidently say it was well worth a visit.  I had a great time!  And I will definitely be returning next year.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx