Murder Mystery Treasure Trail Cardiff

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My friends complain that I’m really difficult to buy gifts for, but they always get me great things. A couple of years ago, my friend Catherine bought me a murder mystery themed Treasure Trail for Cardiff. In all honesty, I filed it away somewhere vowing to get it out and actually do it one day. As the weather was so beautiful in Cardiff this weekend, and believe me that is not something  we have said often this year, I decided to go on that treasure hunt that I had been promising myself.

Treasure Trails have designed hundreds of these handy little packs for locations all over the UK. As you follow the clues to solve the puzzle you are taken on a cultural tour that pushes you to find details you wouldn’t normally notice. It’s great fun if you have kids, although admittedly I followed the trail all on my and it was just as entertaining.

The Cardiff murder mystery trail begins at the National Museum of Wales. A mummified body has been discovered in the Ancient Egyptian exhibition, and it’s been deceased for less than 2 months. My quest was to find out who carried out this crime and how the victim died. The first clue was on the foundation plaque outside the museum, and involved some maths which left me in a bit of a panic. You are allowed to request 3 answers to clues via SMS, and I had an embarrassing vision of me using all three of them on the first 3 questions. After double checking my numbers, though, I was able to figure it out and I was off.

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Clue 4 is where I came unstuck. After walking in circles around Bute Park for 30 minutes, I remembered that it had recently had a renovation, since my trail was published in fact. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to solve this murder mystery.

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Over two hours, the trail took me on a gentle walk around the park, castle, the Millennium Stadium and city centre. After living in Cardiff for 8 years, I’m ashamed to admit just how much I haven’t noticed before. I have walked through The Hayes hundreds of times and yet never known that some of the traffic bollards I am rushing past have spy holes with beautiful silhouetted scenes inside them.

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Unfortunately, I’m not the best at following directions and I did get lost/confused a few times. Maybe I should have brought a child along to help me. There was also an amusing moment when I was looking for a clue outside the Hilton hotel. At the same time, there was a crowd of rugby fans waiting for the All Blacks to leave the building. Stood there with my camera and notebook I must have looked like a serious autograph hunter. They all looked a little shocked when, once I’d found my clue, I moved on before the players had even appeared.

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The murder mystery trail is a great, cheap way to spend a couple of hours. I’m definitely going to check out some of the other trails when I’m visiting other UK cities. When I was a kid, there was a popular British TV show called Treasure Hunt. Anneka Rice would fly around the UK in her helicopter, wearing a lycra jumpsuit, and help players to solve clues. I used to love following along at home, and dreamed of one day being on such an adventure. The lycra jumpsuit probably wouldn’t have been appropriate on this occasion and the helicopter would have been a little extravagant, but I got to experience a real life treasure hunt.

My biggest piece of advice would be, unlike I did, to use an up-to-date trail. I resorted to the magic of google to fill in a few gaps, but I did make it to the end. And did I solve the mystery? Well, I can’t give that away can I? You’ll have to come to Cardiff and try for yourself.

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Green Gathering 2014

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I’m not sure whether I’m crazy, stupid or just adventurous but for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to take my two godchildren (aged 9 and 3) camping to the Green Gathering festival at Piercefield Park, Chepstow. On my own.

View of the Severn Bridge from the festival
View of the Severn Bridge from the festival

The Green Gathering is four days of fantastic fun and learning for like minded people who are interested in environmental awareness to get together. The whole festival is run off-grid (which makes for some interesting sourcing of energy) and is particularly aimed at children and families. Under 11s even get their tickets completely free. My godchildren have been begging me to take them camping again all winter, and after a bit of effort I managed to convince them that camping in sub zero January temperatures in the UK is no fun at all and we should wait for the festival instead. I also thought that, as I would have to take them on my own this year, a family focused environment with lots of other children and parents around such as the Green Gathering would make it slightly easier for me. Besides, I wanted to go to the festival anyway and seeing as I didn’t have to pay for the kids’ tickets it seemed a win-win situation for us all.

I was entertained, educated and captivated by every aspect of the Green Gathering, so I can only imagined how itDSC_0426
looked through a child’s eyes. Every inch of the site was packed with offerings of music, arts and crafts, theatre, games, workshops, campaigns and much, much more. I’m sure there are stalls and tents that I didn’t even find during my time there. Although I assume there is some organisation to the event, the festival has the feel of being randomly thrown together. It’s like stumbling across a magical place where fantastic, talented people from all walks of life have suddenly decided to come together and pitch tents to display their wares and talents. Stalls selling recycled clothes and notebooks sat alongside the teenagers’ tent (strictly no adults allowed), a sauna and shower tent and food stands selling some of the best vegan, gluten-free food I have ever tasted.

DSC_0420The site is roughly divided into areas, which not only makes it easier to find what you’re looking for but also maintains the peace. A friend of mine who also visited Green Gathering this year told me about a similar festival he’d attended that hadn’t put quite so much thought into their planning. A stall offering chain-saw wood carving had been set-up between his mum’s disco tent and a relaxation tent. Cue some annoyed disco dancers who couldn’t hear what they were listening to and patrons of the relaxation tent coming out more stressed than when they went in. Thankfully, we had none of those problems at Green Gathering. Village Hill, the central area of the site, offered food stands, clothing and goods stalls and cafes and restaurants to chill out in. Right next door, the kids had their own area DSC_0402complete with vintage fairground rides, trampolines, cargo nets, climbing frames, theatre tent with dress-up, slack-lining and circus skills workshops. A couple of the crew had also set up a construction area and were asking children to help build a ‘pallet palace’. On the Thursday, they began with a huge pile of wooden pallets, saws, hammers and nails and by Sunday afternoon they had created and decorated a fun fort and play area they could all enjoy. The fairground rides and trampolines were good value for money too. Each one was priced at £1.50 per ride, or you could purchase a weekend ticket for £15 that gave you unlimited access. I was even more delighted to discover that the price for the weekend ticket reduces every day, so when I bought them on the Friday morning it only cost me £12 per child. A bargain for something that kept both children entertained for the whole weekend.

Traditional Victorian swing boats. I used to love these too when I was a kid!
Traditional Victorian swing boats. I used to love these too when I was a kid!

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One of the crew gets a free workout operating the carousel
One of the crew gets a free workout operating the carousel
The fairy glade
The fairy glade

Just off from the children’s area was the fairy glade, a magical place where you could learn about nature and maybe even spot a few mystical creatures. The Healing field was suitably situated away from all the action and offered therapies from head massage to reflexology and sessions in yoga and tai chi. The Campaigns Field was a must for information junkies like me. I loved the eclectic mix of tents in this field, where a charity helping traveller communities in Cornwall sat between a vegan sailing school and the women’s tent. I thought it really symbolised the coming together of all the different people who enjoy the festival. A walk through the craft area was difficult to do at any great speed because you were constantly distracted by opportunities to try wood carving, basket weaving and stone masonry to name but a few. Children aren’t patronised at Green Gathering either. If they want to try one of the crafts, they get to do it with the same tools as the adults would.

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Possibly the most carbon neutral paramedics I have ever seen
Possibly the most carbon neutral paramedics I have ever seen

I could go on and on about all the attractions there are to experience at the Green Gathering, there was literally amazing events popping up all over the place. The only downside to festival for me, apart from having to cope with a three-year-old having hourly tantrums, was getting on to and off the site. Moving all our camping gear was not as easy and organised as the festival organisers made it sound on their website and it was a big effort, especially on my own with two children. Having said that, once we were on site we had a great time and I would definitely return armed with the information I have from this year to help me. In fact, my godchildren have already asked me if we can book for next year.

Everyone loves bubbles
Everyone loves bubbles

Summer has arrived!

It’s a bit later than usual, but the sun has finally shown its face here in Wales. Summer for me means, among other things, one of my favourite times of the year – camping season!

There are no definite camping trips planned for this year yet, but I have the tent, sleeping bags and camping gear all ready to go at a moments notice. To celebrate this great British past-time, I thought I’d share with you some posts about my camping experiences in recent years.

What I love most about camping is the peace. When you’re away from all the gadgets and distractions of the modern world, you pay attention to things that you wouldn’t normally notice, like the waves crashing over the rocks or the exact moment that the sun drops behind the horizon and your world turns a little bit cooler. The peace clears my mind. I find it’s a great time to write. All I need is my picnic blanket and a pen and paper. I usually keep my juggling equipment close to hand for when I have writer’s block. I find juggling a great way to relax both physically and mentally. My camera is always nearby too, ready to capture those fantastic landscapes that the weather allows you to see for a few fleeting seconds. Here are some of my shots from past camping trips in the UK.

Sunset at White Sands beach

Port Eynon beach

The Salt House at Port Eynon

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Ramblings from rainy Wales

Four days on and my ribs are still really sore! Other than work, all I feel like I’ve done this week is sit on the sofa with a hot water bottle held to my side. Which is where I am now, although it is a little difficult holding the hot water bottle where it needs to be and typing at the same time. I apologise for any typos as a result. The hot water bottle is also helping to generally keep me warm, as the weather here in Wales has definitely switched over to winter. The temperature took a marked drop last week, and it has rained, and rained, and rained …

Contrary to popular belief, we do have nice weather occasionally here, it’s just been a bit sporadic this year. Every month we’ve been told ‘next month will be much nicer’, but they just seem to have got worse! Here are a few of my favourite photos from my summer to prove that we did have some sun, and also to cheer me up whilst I’m stuck on the sofa hugging my hot water bottle.

The Salt House at Port Eynon
The Salt House at Port Eynon – we camped right behind this building

The beach at Port Eynon
The view from our campsite at Port Eynon. I quickly got my camera out and took this picture between rain showers!

Sunset at White Sands beach
To me there is nothing more serene than the sunset at White Sands.