Enchanted Winter Garden at Antrim Castle

If you’ve seen pictures of the Enchanted Winter Garden at Antrim Castle this year, no doubt you’ll have been impressed by the stunning display of illuminations on show! How pretty do they look?

We were invited along to the event last Friday and, as my in-laws rave about it and book it every year, I was really excited to see what it’s like.

Sponsored by Power NI, The Enchanted Winter Garden is an outdoor trail through the beautiful setting of Antrim Castle Gardens which has been transformed with lights, attractions and quirky characters along the way!

We arrived on Friday evening and our first stop was the 35 metre-high Big Wheel! As it was Niamh’s first time on a Big Wheel, I thought she mightn’t enjoy it or become scared once we were up high, but she thought it was great- and even commented on being able to see Santa better!

After the Big Wheel, we then made our way around the extensive trail, stopping at each twinkling decoration and meeting elves, fairies and other mystical creatures. It was just so lovely and great for some memorable Christmas photos!

We then headed to Fabulously Festive Fayre, a market with a range of food and drink stalls, for our dinner. We went for Streetdogs, for a selection of differently-topped hotdogs, and then picked Born and Raised Waffles for some seriously chocolatey waffles for dessert! Everything was great and set us on our way to continue the sparkling trail.

We spent almost 2 hours exploring the Enchanted Winter Garden and really enjoyed a lovely family Christmas evening there.

I believe it is fully sold out this year, but if you get the chance to go next year, snap up tickets in good time!

Disclaimer: Entry to the event and food and attraction tokens were complimentary in exchange for an honest review

 

 

Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen

Any one who comes to Northern Ireland always remarks about the amount of bread we eat: wheaten bread, soda bread, potato bread, veda bread…..I could go on.

In fact, a survey carried out a few years ago said that half of all people here could not contemplate breakfast or lunch without it! True!

So, I was delighted to win a competition to a traditional Irish bread-making course recently as it’s something I’ve been interested in for a while, having taken to making my own wheaten bread a few years ago.

The session is run by Tracey at her farmhouse kitchen in Killinchy on the shores of Strangford Lough. We were welcomed by Tracey on Saturday morning where we were treated to tea/coffee, freshly made pancakes and fruit soda before we’d even got our hands dirty with flour!

It was then time to learn the art of traditional bread-making from our wonderful hosts Tracey and her right-hand-man “Soda bread Fred!” Fred was very informative and told us old stories of his mum’s baking and how it was a “little of this” and “a little of that”- there was no digital scales back then!

It was a very different approach for me, as I’m someone who follows a recipe to a tee. But it was great to relax and embrace the fact it’s all in the touch- if it’s too sticky, add more flour; if it’s too floury, add more buttermilk! Simple.

We made soda bread, wheaten farls and potato bread over the course of the 2 hours, watching Fred make his before we attempted our own under the guidance of our tutors.

When the breads were cooling, we were then treated to more food, sitting down to freshly made breads, jams and traybakes! Delicious- and a lovely end to the course.

I ate my homemade bread over the next few days and everything was so good! I enjoyed doing it that much that I have since bought a griddle and make my own soda bread for lunch.

It was a wonderful experience- relaxed, informative and most of all, fun! If you’re looking for a cookery class with a difference, check out Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen!

 

 

A Christmas Carol at The Mac

Think of someone miserable at Christmas and no doubt you’ve called them a “Scrooge” or said “Bam Humbug!” Both phrases were, of course, made famous by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge who doesn’t believe in Christmas and is visited by the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.  It’s a wonderful story experienced by so many since the novel first appeared in 1843.

I was invited along to review “A Christmas Carol” at The Mac Theatre and was expecting the traditional story, but what transpired was a comical, fast-paced take on the old festive classic!

In this, we’re taken to a run-down theatre which owner Scrooge is planning to close and sell for apartments. But it isn’t just a theatre- it’s the heart of the community and home to so many of the ghosts of the staff and actors over the years. What would become of them if it closed?

Together with Tiny Tim, the son of Scrooge’s assistant Bobbie Crachit, the ghosts set about trying to make Ebenezer change his ways.

We have the over-the-top French ghost Scarlett who plays Christmas past, but she constantly forgets her words! Then we have the larger-than-life Christmas Present, constantly cracking jokes, even in the most inappropriate moments. But it is the final Theatre Ghost Sam who hopes Scrooge will see the error of his ways by looking into his dark future. Can they do it before it’s too late?

The show is funny, entertaining and thankfully not too scary for the little ones. (My daughter is only turning 3 so I thought she’d be a little young to sit through the play so she didn’t come along with me, and I do think it’s more for aged 4+.)

It’s a fun, lively version of a old classic, so if you’re looking for a different panto experience this year, check out The Mac’s take on A Christmas Carol before 5 January!A Christmas Carol At The MacA Christmas Carol At The Mac

These tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Most Magical Library of the Best Stories Ever- CS Lewis Festival

The CS Lewis Festival is currently taking place in east Belfast, with five days of family-friendly events, talks and workshops to celebrate the work of the much-loved Belfast author famous for The Chronicles of Narnia.

With my daughter just about to turn three and big into reading stories, we were invited along to experience The Most Magical Library of the Best Stories Ever.

This is an interactive story-telling experience in which families go on a quest to save Christmas!

The evil Snow Queen doesn’t like stories and is planning on stealing the most magical story of them all – the Christmas story! And without a Christmas story, there’s no Christmas!

Families must help the Literary Fairy, her friend The Faun and the other magical creatures sort out this terrible mess and foil the Snow Queen’s plans.

We walked around the set, hearing stories along the way, and when we came across the evil Queen, we made sure to hide all our letters from her! It was then time to put the letters down the Wishing Well, make our wishes, and save Christmas.

To thank the wee ones for their efforts, we even got to meet Santa and Mrs Claus at the end!

It was a lovely event, well planned and acted, with creative sets and costumes. I thought  Niamh might be a little young (as it was recommended for 4+) but she listened intently and really got involved. Thanks to the festival organisers for putting on such a lovely afternoon!

Check out the festival website for the rest of the events and activities taking place!

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Annie at the Grand Opera House

With only eight weeks left to Christmas, some people are already dreaming of Christmas trees, mulled wine and mince pies! (OK, I am!)

Therefore, I was very excited to review what some consider a Christmas classic, Annie, (given it is set around the festive period) this week.

The hit musical Annie, direct from London’s West End, is at Belfast’s Grand Opera House all this week and stars none other than Birds of a Feather’s Lesley Joseph as the tyrannical Miss Hannigan!

Many will know the classic songs from the show including”It’s the Hard-Knock Life” and “Tomorrow“, but if you’re unfamiliar with the story line, the production is set in 1930s New York where young orphan Annie is forced to live a life of misery at an orphanage.

Her luck changes when she is chosen to spend Christmas with famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks who helps her search for her true family while also questioning what is important to him in life.  What unfolds is a heartwarming story of love, sadness, expectation, hope and Christmas spirit!

Lesley Joseph is fantastic as the cruel, authoritarian Mrs Hannigan, who sings about hating little girls (a fitting job then!) while drowning her sorrows in alcohol), while the child actors playing all the youngsters in the orphanage were fantastic. Such powerful voices, particularly young Mia Lakha who played Annie on the opening night. She was just brilliant!

An extra special mention to Amber the dog who was Sandy and received “awhhhs” and cheers every time she appeared on stage!

I loved Annie and the standing ovation at the end showed that the audience certainly did too! It was great to see so many young people in the crowd, enjoying this family favourite.

Annie is on at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 2nd November.

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Disclaimer: these were gifted press tickets in exchange for an honest review. 

Belfast Restaurant Week 2019

Living in Cushendun, I always try to meet up with friends for dinner when I stay down in Belfast. (Basically a good excuse to eat out!)

I’d been planning a long overdue catch-up with my friend Eileen and suggested we should give next week’s Belfast Restaurant Week a go.

If you’re unsure what this is, Belfast Restaurant Week is a celebration of local grub, and encourages us to get out and taste what Belfast has to offer….but guilt free, because of the fantastic deals which are running!

From Monday to Thursday next week you can enjoy 2 evening courses for just £15 in over 40 restaurants, and £10 lunch deals, Monday to Friday. What a bargain! You can check out the participating restaurants on the Belfast Restaurant Week website.

Last week I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of some of the restaurants taking part, and had a lot of fun sampling really good food and drink. Someone has to do it!

The first stop on our food walking tour was Deanes Deli Bistro which has just launched its new tapas menu. There, we were treated to a Prosecco and Tapas reception.

We tucked into Spanish omelette; Fried Whitebait, Squid and Courgette Frit; and a selection of cured meats, goats cheese and olive crostinis. I’m a big fan of tapas so it was great to get a flavour of what Deanes will be offering on its new menu.

Next up, we made our way round to one of my favourite places to eat, Cafe Parisien with its class views over Belfast City Hall. There, we were treated to something I hadn’t had at Cafe Parisien before- the 5oz Rump steak with chateau potatoes, green beans and café de paris butter. The steak was cooked perfectly and I really enjoyed the accompanying sauce (a butter-based jus with a slightly curry flavour).

Finally, we headed to a new restaurant, Margot which only opened earlier this year and is situated at the former Basement Bar. It has a real laid-back, underground feel to it, and it was great to check it out.

At Margot we made room for a Raspberry Cheesecake Mouse (very delicious and moreish!) and a range of cocktails/mocktails to wash it down.

The sneak preview got me really excited about next week’s Belfast Restaurant Week, and I’m looking forward to trying out another one or two restaurants while they have great offers on!

When booking the 2 course menus quote Belfast Restaurant Week to get the offer. Don’t miss out!

Disclaimer: this was a blogger event so all food and drink was complimentary. I wasn’t paid to write this and all views are my own. 

Exploring The Argory- National Trust

A few months ago I saw pictures on social media of a new art installation at the National Trust property, The Argory, in Armagh.

I remember at the time it was described as a “Marmite” piece of art- you either love it or hate it! But not knowing enough about it, or seeing it in person, I had no real opinion until last weekend.

I got to see Artificial Sunshine, as it’s called, when I was invited down to spend a family day out at The Argory, and we headed off to Armagh last Saturday.

The Argory is an old gentry house built in the 1820s and is surrounded by a 320-acre riverside estate.

A tour of the house was just kicking off as we arrived, so we joined the tour and spent roughly an hour hearing all about the history of the property and its previous owners (the last of whom, Walter Albert Nevill MacGeough-Bond, gifted the house to the National Trust in 1979.)

And it was on this tour that I saw the spectacular neon art installation! Artificial Sunshine was created by Northern Irish artist Kevin Killen, who drew inspiration from the house. This included the colours of the different rooms, the spiral shapes found in the decor, and the bright glow, similar to acetylene gas light used in The Argory. When you hear the inspiration behind it, it really does bring it all together. And I loved it!

The tour was fascinating, with all original furniture and furnishings on display, right down to the silver cutlery on the table.

Niamh was given a task and had fun finding pieces of art around the house and ticking them off on a treasure hunt-style sheet, for which she got chocolate at the end for completing it!

After the tour we headed to the coffee shop for some lunch before we set off on a walking trail around the grounds.

We took in the riverside walk and a beautiful lime tree avenue, with the trees arching over to form their own “Dark Hedges.”

It was a lovely afternoon and thankfully it stayed dry for us to enjoy the beautiful grounds. If you’re a National Trust member, admission is free, so make the most of the September sunshine!

Press play to see our video from The Argory

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Entry to The Argory was gifted (£17.50 per family), but everything else was paid for, including lunch and refreshments. 

The Miami Showband Story- Grand Opera House

There will be few people here in Northern Ireland who haven’t heard about the Miami Showband Massacre.

As someone in their thirties, it obviously happened before my time, but it was always something I knew about, particularly given my mum often talked about the showbands and her love for them in the 70s.

And of course, Netflix then released a documentary about the killings earlier this year which brought the massacre into the forefront once again.

Therefore, I was intrigued as to how such a terrible atrocity could be made into all-singing, all-dancing musical, written by Marie Jones and Martin Lynch.

However, the show is, in the most part, about the formation of the band (the ‘Irish Beatles’) from different groups around Ireland- Belfast, Bray and Cork- and the heyday of the showband era.

The first half of the play features fantastic live performances of the band’s hit cover songs and their own original tracks, to the delight of the audience members who knew every word!  Expect to hear  classics such as ‘Simple Simon says’ and ‘Clap your hand, Stomp your feet.’ (And the audience did!)

But course, it also deals with the 1975 tragedy and the aftermath of three of the band members being killed. This was very sensitively done and you could honestly hear a pin drop as the play depicted the band members lining up in what they thought was a normal border checkpoint, as the audience knew what was coming.

It also touches on the effect the killings had on the surviving members, in particular, Des Lee’s battle with alcoholism and the difficulty he had performing on stage without his band mates.

My only negative was the fact the six male singers performed a few different roles, so at the beginning I found it a little hard to distinguish between the three bands from which the Miami Showband was formed.

An important line in the play is “we didn’t change the world with our music, but we brought people together” and this comes across very well. The band were truly a success story, loved by people right across Ireland, regardless of religion.

I was too young to know every song but you don’t need to a fan of the showband to enjoy this well-written and well-performed play, with the live music being the real star of the show! A must see for those wanting to be taken back to the Floral Hall in Belfast!

The Miami Showband Story runs at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 17 August.

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EastSide Arts Festival

The EastSide Arts Festival kicks off today and I’ve seen loads about it online!

The 11-day programme features walks, tours, dance, music, yoga and more, at venues across east Belfast.

Having a young daughter myself, I’m always interested in what’s on offer for the wee ones so here’s a roundup of the best of the best for families.

  • The first one is an event which Niamh and I will be going to next Saturday- Bollywood Baba! This is a family rave, Bollywood style, with lots of colour, props and amazing music, led by a team of brilliant Bollywood dancers.  It’s for children aged 0-10 in the Big Top in C.S. Lewis Square. Book your Bollywood place here
  • Also in the Big Top is The Irish Video Game Orchestra who create music for video games, TV and film. For kids learning instruments, why not join the professional musicians in their rehearsal before the gig and learn some of the music? Book your place on the exciting rehearsal here.
  • Next up is Pink & Blue who, through clowning and fun, explores what it’s like to be a boy or a girl…and what it means to be who you really want to be! With silliness and fun, this show is for aged 4+. Book your spot with Pink & Blue here.
  • For really little ones, check out Baby Daddy, a show for babies aged 6-18 months, featuring an all-male cast.  Three actor-musicians perform to a maximum of 8 babies (and their grown-ups) in a specially designed sensory theatre space.  Spaces limited so book now!
  • Finally, following their brilliant performances in the Big Top last year, Tumble Circus is back! A gang of acrobats, jugglers and aerialists will entertain families, young and old. Book your place at the circus extravaganza here.

For the full festival programme visit www.eastsidearts.net and follow the Festival on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram #ESAFest19.

14. BabyDaddy15 Bollywood Baba

Review: Dalriada Festival at Glenarm Castle

What an amazing Bank Holiday weekend we had! I’m just back to work today feeling really refreshed! (if slightly sunburnt…)

One of the highlights for me was spending the day at the Dalriada Festival on Sunday at Glenarm Castle.

I’ve been to Glenarm quite a few times and always enjoy it, but I had never been to the festival.

I’ve friends who go every year and say it’s a brilliant day out, so I was looking forward to going, especially seeing that the line-up included old favourites East 17…! (I’m a 90s boyband fanatic.)

We arrived about midday and spent over 7 hours exploring the whole festival, including visiting the Walled Garden, enjoying the fun fair rides, watching fairytale performances, eating our way around the food stalls, buying local gifts and crafts, and sitting in the sun and enjoying the music on the main stage.

To be honest we were very jealous we hadn’t camped as the set up was fantastic and we could have spent even longer there, except Niamh hadn’t slept all day and was getting quite sleepy. (She was too busy on bouncy castles, dancing, and eating ice-cream and a full 7-inch woodfired pizza to herself!!)

We would definitely consider camping/glamping next year to make the most of it as there were quite a few things we just didn’t get to do in one day.

We had such a fun day out, with the weather really making it, and it was great to see the place so packed and buzzing.

If you haven’t been before, check out the my video and slideshow of the highlights below!

 

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Disclaimer: Entrance tickets were gifted, but everything else (activities, rides, presents, food and drink etc) were paid for. All views are my own.