An Evening with Country Attire at Proper Tea Manchester

Last night I was kindly invited to spend the evening having afternoon tea with one of the UK's leading outdoor and luxury clothing companies, Country Attire to celebrate their 10th birthday.

Local to Manchester, Country Attire has built up a loyal customer base across the world. Beginning in 2006, Country Attire was the progression of an already established equestrian brand owned by entrepreneur Jenny Parker. Together with her husband Richard, the Parkers built Country Attire from their own kitchen fulfilling orders with established British brands such as Barbour and Hunter, of which they still stock today. Ten years on, Country Attire are now a much loved British brand themselves and currently stock their own label as well as luxury designer brands such as Ted Baker, Hugo Boss, Vivienne Westwood, Joules and Canada Goose. Staying true to it's origins, the brand still resides in Manchester.

During the evening we were able to preview the Country Attire A/W collection and then afterwards sit down and chat about the collection over afternoon tea. Their autumn showcase consists of lots of big brand outdoor names such as Barbour and Joules, mixed with luxury items from the likes of Ted Baker and Vivienne Westwood. There were many items that stood out to me last night and it really showed how versatile Country Attire are as a retailer, providing an eclectic mix of some of the best British brands that appeals to a wide range of customers. My favourite items from the evening had to be the wonderfully bright yellow Joules jacket which to me makes me think of autumnal walks on the British seaside, the burgundy Vivienne Westwood Angle-mania handbag and the Melissa Vivienne Westwood ballet flats. 

After we browsed the collection, we all sat down for a traditional afternoon tea at the Proper Tea tearooms where the event was held. Proper tea is a tearoom opposite Manchester Cathedral which offers a traditional afternoon tea, cakes and drinks all with a modern twist. The cafe works with artisan producers and local farmers and also uses fresh herbs and honey grown in the neighbouring cathedral grounds. The vegetarian Proper Tea afternoon tea is composed of a variety cheese and hummus finger sandwiches, a collection of fancy cakes and one giant heart shaped scone that even the Queen of Hearts would be proud of. I dined with several friends who all had different dietary requesters - kosher, gluten free, dairy free and vegetarian and all of them were catered for and the staff went above and beyond to ensure all their guests had a wonderful time.

The evening was wonderful, the food was great and Country Attire's autumn collection had me falling head over heels for everything.  Happy Birthday Country Attire and here's to another 10 years of Britishness!

Have you shopped at Country Attire before?

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Tips on Planning an Accessible Holiday

Organising a holiday whether it's a weekend away or a two week break can be stressful at times. There are so many things to consider such as what hotel to choose, which restaurants to book and what activities you plan on doing during your stay. For many people planning these activities is a simple process with very little thought, but for those living with a disability or health problem, planning a day around their health needs can be much more difficult. On top of the usual list that most people do, those living with medical conditions have additional questions they need to ask and research to ensure that their holiday destination is accessible for them.

As someone who lives with a chronic illness, I am becoming used to planning my journeys in advance and researching my destinations to ensure if I was having a bad health day that my holiday wouldn't be affected. Today, I've teamed up with Mobility Nationwide to bring you my personal tips on planning an accessible holiday.

Research your destination

The first thing you should always do is research the places you would like to visit and think realistically about them.  Speak to travel agents who know the areas well and also check out TripAdvisor and search for key terms such as 'disability' and 'wheelchair access' to see what other experiences people have had in the areas you would like to go to.

Plan in advance

Always make sure you plan in advance to ensure that all your needs can be catered for. Planning an accessible holiday can take that little bit longer as you need to do a lot more research.

Discuss your needs with your holiday providers

Make sure you discuss your health requirements and needs with your hotel and travel providers as they may be able to give you advice and also offer you help such as early boarding on flights and hotel rooms on a lower ground suited to wheelchair access. 

Make a checklist 

To ensure your holiday goes to plan try writing a check list of all the things you need to take with you and all the questions you need to ask your travel providers. It will help your holiday run more smoothly and help you not forget anything important.

Take out the right travel insurance

If you have a pre-existing condition before you travel, you need to make sure that you are taking out the correct travel insurance for your health issues. These usually cost a little bit more as you are considered 'more of a risk', but they are there to help you if you get into any difficulty while you are away. Pre-existing illness travel insurance varies from person to person and you may need an assessment from a doctor to see if you are fit for travel, but once it is completed you can rest assured you will covered if anything happens.

What are your travel tips for booking an accessible holiday?

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A Day at The Seaham Hall Serenity Spa

If your idea of a perfect weekend is spending the day in the grounds of picturesque Georgian building with a world renowned spa, Seaham Hall  is a place you need to add to your bucket list. Voted as one of the world's top 100 spas, the Serenity Spa at Seaham Hall blends together 44,000sq of unadulterated enchantment, designed to deliver the ultimate in terms of tranquility and wellbeing.

Built on the grounds of Seaham Hall, a Georgian country house which dates back to 1791 and has a fascinating history linked to the American prohibition and Lord Byron, the serenity spa features: a 20-metre pool, outdoor balcony hot tubs, a hydrotherapy pool, jacuzzi, 17 treatment rooms and Hammam with snail shower. Last Sunday I was invited by Seaham Hall to test out the serenity spa amenities and compare this to other leading UK spas that I had previously visited. 

When we arrived at the spa we were greeted by the spa receptionists and given a welcome drink of freshly squeezed lemonade along with a tour of the facilities. Stepping foot into the Serenity Spa at Seaham Hall is like taking a fast track flight to Thailand. The spa features teak wooden beams, an array of red and purple fabrics and decor which is typically associated with Thai culture such as ornamental elephants. 

Once we had been shown the changing rooms and slipped into our fluffy white robes and slippers, we headed straight to the pool area and the hot tubs. The pool at the Seaham Hall serenity spa is one of the more larger spa pools I have visited and because of this it felt like there was plenty of space for everyone to have their own part of the pool and feel relaxed, without any overcrowding. The hot tubs were on a balcony surrounded by greenery and fencing for privacy, but if you stood on the steps, it overlooked the Seaham hall gardens. Unfortunately the weather wasn't that great so we were unable to bask in the sun all day, but the heat of the hot tub was just the right temperature for us to sit back and relax for half an hour. 

After an hour of relaxation in the pool and hot tub area, we focused our attention on the additional spa facilities such as the saunas, hydropool, solarium and the Moroccan Hammam that I was intrigued by. The Moroccan Hammam was one of my favourite parts of the spa, it was like walking into an eastern paradise - a room with dark gemstone walls, where you can sit in a jacuzzi bath and take in all the steam in the air.  It was a sensory heaven and something that I hadn't seen at any other spas.

Like most spa breaks, our spa day came with lunch and this was in the Ozone restaurant which serves pan-asian food to accompany the overall theme of the spa. The Ozone is a charming, informal brasserie-style  restaurant with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Seaham Hall grounds, a cocktail bar and an open kitchen. Restaurant guest attire consisted of slippers and dressing gowns, although you did get the odd guest who came specifically for the restaurant and they wore their usual clothes. The menu was extensive with plenty to choose from and vegetarians and vegans had their own menu which I really appreciated - it's very rare these days to get restaurants that go and above and beyond to cater vegetarian diners. 

For my starter I opted for the vegetable spring rolls with plum sauce and for main I chose the tofu marinated in sweet chili sauce with jasmine rice. Both meals had plenty of flavour and were cooked to perfection. It was the first time I had tried plum sauce with spring rolls and it was revelation - I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Once we had digested our food, it was time for my husband to head to the gym and for me to head up to the treatment area for Seaham Hall's newest treatment - a 90 minute Ytsara Ultimate Fusion facial. The Ytsara facial is a special one of a kind treatment only available at Seaham Hall which blends together together Eastern and Western skincare techniques to give the ultimate face ritual. The facial features a Chinese Guasha Jade stone massage, Thai warm poultice and French massage techniques to awaken and rejuvenate the skin, leaving it feeling soft, toned and glowing.  The spa therapist was a lovely Thai woman who told me about the skin therapy they use back in her homeland of Northern Thailand and how they had been incorporated in this particular treatment. She also gave me a 'foot cleanse' as soon as I entered to the room to 'banish negative energy' - something which is really popular in Thailand and that I had done plenty of times when visiting the country last year. Although I do think 90 minutes is a little bit excessive for a facial treatment, I did thoroughly enjoy it and my face still feels remarkable one week later. At £130, this isn't your run of the mill weekly facial and it is something a little bit more special. If I was to visit again, despite the long treatment time, this is something I would definitely consider saving up for.

Walking to the car park at the end of our spa day, I did get a sense of sadness leaving Seaham Hall. It is a place of remarkable beauty and in all honesty, I didn't want it to end. My day at the serenity spa was second to none and definitely the best spa I've had the pleasure of visiting. From the food to the treatments, to the spa facilities and the staff, everything was first class and it's easy to see how this spa got it's world acclaim. Would I go back? Definitely.

Have you been to Seaham Hall before?

*My trip to Seaham Hall was complimentary and all views are my own

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Things to Consider When Booking Cheap Flights

Flying has changed so much since I was a young girl. I remember my parents desperately trying to save up for flights that now cost a small fraction of the price that they did back then. These days you can fly to most places in Europe for less than a £100 and with flights being cheaper than catching a train cross-country in the UK, it's no wonder people are booking more holidays abroad. However, cheaper flights aren't always what they seem. Some flights may look like a good deal on first glance, but when you add up your extras such as baggage and seating arrangements, in some cases you would have been better off booking with the more premium airline.

Baggage Allowance

Many of the more affordable airlines recoup a lot of their costs by charging an extortionate amount for baggage and unless you're a hand luggage pro, this is what catches many travellers out. For example - I booked a flight with Ryanair from Manchester to Dublin for £9.99 which is cheaper than a train to my nearest city, however for a hold bag it was going to cost me £25 each way, adding an extra £50 to the total cost. In this instance it is still cheaper than Aerlingus and as I was only going away for two nights, I decided to take hand luggage only, however it is always worth checking because some premium airlines include baggage in their overall cost.

Flight Schedule

Another way budget airlines get away with charging less is due to their flight schedules. The cheaper the flight, the more anti-social the flight time will be and you check to see if this will dig into any of your holiday time. For example, some flights will be at 4 in the morning - will you be able to get the airport at that time? Also, is it going to cost you an extra night in a hotel you may not be using? If the flight is in the middle of the day - will it be cutting into your holiday time so much that you end up losing the day?

Seating Arrangements

There has been a lot of controversy in the news lately regarding seating arrangements on budget flights, particularly from parents who have been unable to be seated with their children. Budget airlines will often ask you to pay extra to guarantee a seat as a way of making money for busier flights. If you have a family of four and it's £10 a seat each way, that's £80 on top on your flights for the luxury of being able to sit next to each other.

Smaller airports

If you're travelling to a country which has several airports, it's always worth double checking to see which airport your flight will actually take you to. Oslo has several airports which Ryanair visits and the airports furthest away from the city are the cheapest. This may look like a good deal, but when you factor in airport transfers, it can add a large amount to your final costs.

I have travelled many places by budget airlines and have had no issues, but that was because I did extensive research and knew what I was getting. Always research your flights fully to ensure you are getting the best deal for your holiday.

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Keeping up with Exercise While Living with Chronic Illness

Before I was diagnosed with my chronic illness I was fit and incredibly healthy. I used to exercise five times a week alternating between swimming 70 lengths of the pool one day and then working out in the fitness suite and I used to walk everywhere often going on long walks on a weekend. I lost five and a half stone dropping from a size 18 to a size 8 and I felt invincible. At the beginning of 2013 my health started declining. I was waking up with swollen joints and I couldn't lift my head from the pillow I was so tired. I started missing lots of university and my fitness routine became non-existant. It took months of testing and convincing the doctors that I wasn't going insane for me to finally be diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), a degenerative autoimmune disorder. I tried to keep up with my fitness as much as possible, but my RA kept getting the better of me and I gave up. A year later, I had my second blow when I was diagnosed with a rare stomach condition called Sphincter of the Oddi type 3. I had been experiencing stomach pains for quite sometime and after the doctors removed my galbladder, my pain tripled. I spent months on morphine, barely working and hardly leaving the house. Again, I went back to my old habits seeking solace in my bed covers and a tub of dairy free ice-cream - a far cry from the two hours of exercise I used to be doing and my low calorie diet.

The last four years of my life have been somewhat of a blur - juggling the start of my career, the start of my marriage, a body which hates me and trying to maintain a semi-normal life. It is only recently after months of medication and playing with my diet that I'm finally getting back to normal and deciding it is time to bring back scheduled exercise into my life.

Exercise is important for those with chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis as it can help reduce inflammation and keep pain levels at bay, it's just difficult getting started. I finally took the plunge this morning by renewing my gym membership, but if you're not quite at that stage, here's some of my personal tips on how to keep up with exercise while living with health issues.

Talk to a fitness expert or your doctor

Before embarking on a new exercise routine, make sure to talk to a fitness expert or doctor so that they can give you the all clear to start your plan and give you advice on what you should and shouldn't be doing in relation to your condition.

Set your own pace

Introducing exercise back into your life when you have had a long period of inactivity can be difficult for anyone, never-mind someone who may be generally weaker due to chronic illness. Your need to get your body used to being physical again by taking it steady and setting your own pace. It is better for you to build up stamina and stay fitter for longer, than give it your all for two weeks and then decide to quit.

Don't run before you can walk

Signing up to a new gym membership when you're unable whether your body is ready to handle it can be daunting and very expensive. If you don't want the hassle of joining a gym or you're too afraid to take that leap, spend time going on long walks with your friends and family, have a go at some exercises you have found on Youtube or buy some cheap apparatus that you can use at home such as an exercise ball. Take things slowly and gradually.

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