How to Visit the Puffins on Skomer Island

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I finally managed to tick off the top spot on my Welsh Bucket List over the weekend and went to visit the Puffins on Skomer Island.  I hadn’t exactly been putting it off, but I’d always kind of set it aside as a tricky one to do given the fact that Skomer Island is way out west and the Puffins are only actually on the island from late April to early August.  But then last weekend, Sunny and I decided to go on a little a Pembrokeshire road trip and since we were going to be in that neck of the woods then we decided that we’d be idiots not to try and take the boat to Skomer too.  It was a really early start and involved a lot of driving back and forth between the hotel and the dock along narrow country lanes just to get a ticket – but it was SO WORTH IT.  Seeing the Puffins (which my Dad calls Welsh Parrots) for the first time was pretty magical – they’re such adorable little birds – and watching them flutter back forth from the sea to their burrows with fish for their Pufflings was such an amazing thing to see – and catch on camera!  I came back with over a thousand snaps on the camera SD card and plans to do the trip all over again (and again) – so get ready for Puffins-a-plenty! 😉

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About Skomer Island

Cut off from Pembrokeshire by the choppy waters of Jack Sound, Skomer Island (Ynys Skomer) is home to the largest Puffin colony in Southern Britain, the preferred nesting spot for half the world’s population of Manx Shearwaters and home to lots of other seabirds and wildlife – including grey seals, dolphins, glow worms and toads.  The whole island is protected – as well as the waters around it – and the only way to visit is by taking the fifteen minute boat ride from Martin’s Haven between April (when the wildflowers start to bloom and the puffins return) and October (when the grey seals have their pups).

Obviously the main reason I wanted to go was to see the puffins (and honestly, I could have watched them all day!), but there was so much more to see.  The coastal path over the cliffs around the island – full of bluebells and sea thrift – was beautiful, but we spotted seals chilling out on the rocks when we docked up and even saw rabbits and owls in the middle of the island.  It’s such a beautiful place 🙂

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About the Puffins

Atlantic Puffins arrive on Skomer towards the end of April each year to breed in the burrows on the cliff edges around the island (most of them dug by the rabbits!).  They spend their days fluttering back and forth between the island and the sea bringing sand eels to their Pufflings, who leave the burrow and fledge towards the end of July.  No one really knows what the puffins do the rest of the year when they’re out at sea; they tend to fly alone and are kind of difficult to pin down.  Puffins mate for life, but more out of ease than anything else!  They’re creatures of habit who like the familiar after all those months at sea; they like to return to the same island, the same cliff face and even the same burrow – so taking up with the same mate just makes things easier!  Once the Puffins find their mate, they spend a little time sorting out their burrow and billing (rubbing their beaks together – a Puffin snog), before the female lays one egg – which takes about 40 days to hatch.

Once a Puffling comes along the parents divide their time between fishing for food, protecting the burrow (the great black-backed gull is their biggest predator on Skomer), chatting with passing Puffins and making sure they look their best!  Puffins are apparently a bit vain – they spend hours spreading oil and making sure that not a single feather is out of place!

There are over 10,000 breeding pairs of Puffin on Skomer Island (I feel like one of the wardens said that there were 30,000 this year, but I might be wrong – their numbers are certainly increasing on Skomer since they seem to love it there so much!) and most of them can be found on the grassy cliff tops between South Haven and The Wick.  It’s not hard to find them; they’re constantly criss-crossing the footpaths to get to their burrows. 🙂

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Tips for Visiting Skomer

If you fancy seeing the puffins for yourself (or the grey seal pups in October) then do it!  It’s such an amazing day, and definitely worthy of its top spot on my Welsh Bucket List.  If you do plan on making the trip, do your research first (as there’s a little more to it than just turning up) and check out my top tips below…

1. Be prepared to get up early to get your ticket!

If you go on trip finder then you’re sure to find hundreds of reviewers complaining about the backward ticketing system and the fact that they made the long trip to Martin’s Haven only to miss getting a ticket.  Here’s the thing; Skomer is protected – for good reason – and only 250 people are allowed on the island on one day to keep it that way.  Three boats head over every day at 10am, 11am and 12pm from Tuesday to Sunday from April to October, and when the Puffins are nesting, getting a place on one of those boats is practically a sport.  You can’t book a ticket online, you have to wing it, turn up on the day and buy one from The Lodge in Martin’s Haven when it opens at 8.30am.  Because of this, some people start queuing from 5am(?!) to make sure they get one!  We’d read up ahead of heading down there ourselves and joined the queue at 6.45am (the queue was already long enough to fill the first boat and half of the next!).  The ticket office opened up at 8am (which sometimes happens if there’s enough of a queue) and we managed to get a ticket on the 12pm boat – and the last ticket went to a lady from Swansea who told us she turned up to queue at 8am.  Sure, it’s a pain queuing outside at the crack of dawn – but worth it to get on that boat.

Make sure you come with change – the way it works is that you buy your landing ticket in The Lodge for £11 (£5 for kids), and then pay for your passage by boat to Skomer on the dock in cash for £11 (£7 for kids).  If you’re driving, then you’ll also need to pay £6 to use the all day car park (once you’ve got your ticket, you can come and go).

2. Keep an eye on the weather

Unfortunately, you can turn up at 4am and queue for four hours only to be told by staff at 8am that the boats aren’t running!  There’s only one place to dock up on Skomer, and due to the treacherous waters around Jack Sound, if the wind is moving from the north then the boats can’t dock.  Plan ahead!  Keep an eye on the weather forecast and the Skomer Island Boat Information Twitter Feed to see if the boats are running.

3. Be prepared to wait!

Say you’ve queued up and have managed to get a ticket for the 10am boat – you’ve still got at least an hour and a half to wait until you actually get on that boat.  And that waiting time just goes up depending on which boat you’ve booked onto.  We bought our tickets at about 8.30am for the 12pm boat – so we had hours to wait before we needed to be down by the dock.  Luckily, we’d factored that waiting time in and drove back to the hotel for breakfast! 🙂

4. Bring a packed lunch

There’s nowhere to buy food or drink (only bottled water) on Skomer Island – so make sure you bring a packed lunch along with you.  You’ll be on the island for approximately five hours – so make sure you’ve got enough food and drink to keep you going!

5. Bring waterproof layers and sun cream

As I said, you’ll be on the island for around five hours and there’s almost no shelter or shade – so if it’s hot then you’re going to burn, and if it’s raining then you’re going to get very wet!

6. Dogs aren’t allowed!

Dogs aren’t exactly a sea bird’s best friend, so unfortunately they’re not allowed on the island.  However, you can do a boat trip around the island (a good option if you don’t manage to get a ticket!) and apparently you can take dogs on that.

7. Be prepared to climb

There are 87 steep steps up from the dock on Skomer, and a lot of the paths around the island are narrow and rocky.  Also, be prepared to be on your feet for most of the five hours that you’re on the island; there are delicate burrows everywhere and so – quite rightly – visitors are asked to stick to the paths and not to sit – just in case they plonk down on top of a burrow.  It’d be heartbreaking to crush a poor Puffling – so keep your butt off the ground until you reach The Old Farm, where there’s a lawn, toilets and places to picnic.

8. If you want to see the Puffins, turn left

I’ve heard that some guides tell you to head right towards the farm once you’re off the dock, but if you want to see those Puffins take the left path towards South Haven and then on to The Wick – that way, you’ll see them first and then have lots of time to see the rest of the island and then come back later if you like!

9. Puffin Crossing!

Kind of goes without saying, but be respectful towards the Puffins – it is their island after all.  As one of the guides told us when we arrived on the island, Puffins don’t pose – if you see one hovering around with fish in their beak then you’re probably blocking their path to their burrow and their hungry Puffling!  Step aside and let them pass before they get mugged by those thug seagulls you see hovering around.

10. Take Binoculars

Not vital, obviously – the Puffins are easy to spot, even if you’re short sighted – but if you want to get a good look at the other wildlife on the island then it’s worth packing a pair of binoculars.  The Manx Shearwaters all nest on the cliff face, so they’re hard to spot with the naked eye, and if you head to one of the hides in the middle of the island then you might spot owls hunting for voles.

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You can find more information about visiting Skomer Island on The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales website.  I’ve also popped up a little video of my trip Way Out West over on Instagram.  Have a lovely week!

Bloody Beetroot Freaky Fries

Beetroot Filthy Fries

Halloween is upon us! I love getting creative in the kitchen this time of year and serving up spooky recipes. I’m kind of like Monica Geller when she tries to out-cook herself at Thanksgiving; I challenge myself to come up with ghoulish-themed grub that’s never been done before.  There was the year of the pumpkin guts traybake (don’t bin your carved pumpkin flesh!), and how about the ghostly ring doughnuts (Doooooooonuts) I made last year?

This year, I’ve gone for something a little bit different.  There don’t seem to be many halloween inspired recipes for freaky fries out there, so I came up with my own!  These Bloody Beetroot Freaky Fries wouldn’t be out of place at Dracula’s Halloween Shindig or whatever party Hannibal Lecter’s throwing this year; the beetroots are sweet, the bacon’s salty, the sriracha gives everything a little kick, and the cheese… well, I don’t need to sell you on melted cheese, do I?  Also – bonus – cooking these will make you look like you’ve slaughtered someone; handling the beetroot is bloody messy – you’ve been warned!

Beetroot Filthy Fries

Bloody Beetroot Dirty Fries (serves two)

Ingredients

  • 3 large beetroots
  • 250g strong cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 rashers of streaky bacon
  • 50g chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp sriracha seasoning
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • onion relish (optional, but this one from Marks and Spencer is the bomb-diggity)
  1. Peel and chop your beetroot into chunks shaped like fries.  Pop them in a saucepan and boil them with some salt for 20 minutes until soft.  Drain them, then leave them to dry out for an hour.
  2. Put the fries in a bowl and coat them with the olive oil, then spread them out evenly on a lined baking tray.  Set the oven to 200°, generously season the fries with some salt and pepper and then bake them for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
  3. While the fries are cooking, fry up your bacon, chop your parsley and grate your cheese.  Once the bacon is cooked, I like to coat it in some onion relish – but frying up some chopped onions is a good alternative.
  4. Once the fries are cooked, load them with the bacon and half of the cheese and pop them back in the oven for another 5 minutes.
  5. Finish things off with the last of the cheese, and then sprinkle with parsley and sriracha seasoning.  Scoff!  🙂


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Happy Halloween everyone! 🎃

 

Perfect Porridge

I’m a huge fan of porridge for breakfast (…and lunch sometimes!).  I LOVE it.  It’s warm, it fills me up ’til lunch, and – if you’ve got a sweet tooth like me – you can easily fool yourself into thinking you’re having dessert for breakfast – depending on what you put in it.  And there are just so many different flavours and toppings to play with!  Porridge doesn’t have to be that gloopy bowl of gruel that Oliver Twist wanted more of and I dare anyone to tell me that it’s a boring breakfast.  But just in case you are one of those people who’s yet to fall in love with it, or are looking to change up your usual, here are five ways to sex up that steaming bowl o’oats that’ll have you begging for more.  (“Mooooooooore?”)  😉

1. Perfect Your Porridge Recipe

Before you can even think of playing around with flavours and toppings, the best way of ensuring a tasty bowl of porridge is to perfect the base recipe.  Ditching the microwave and instant sachets doesn’t have to be a hassle; doing it by hand will give you a much creamier and tastier porridge – and it doesn’t take as long as you might think.  Here’s my go-to:

Perfect Porridge (serves two)

Ingredients

  • 100g of porridge oats (save the cheapest oats for flapjacks – go for mid-range, rolled oats)
  • 150ml of water
  • 150ml of milk
  • A little boiling water
  • A pinch of salt
  1. If you want to really bring out the flavour of the oats, you can toast them in the oven for ten minutes the night before, but that’s extra work and definitely not necessary!
  2. The trick to quick, creamy oats I’ve found is to soak the oats in a little boiling water for 10 minutes or so before you actually cook them.  I measure them out, put them in the saucepan, cover them with boiling water and then head off to walk the dog.  When I come back, the oats have sucked up all that liquid, softened and are ready to heat up.
  3. Pour in the milk and water and warm up the oats on a medium heat, stirring them frequently with the handle of your wooden spoon.  Yep, you heard right – the handle is better than the actual spoon for creaming those oats.
  4. Once the oats begin to boil, turn down the heat and add your salt.  Even if you’re going to be sweetening your porridge later adding a little salt will help bring out all those flavours.  Keep stirring as it thickens up, and throw in any spices, spread or syrups you fancy at this point.
  5. Leave to sit for a couple of minutes before serving (it’ll save your tongue from scalding!). 

2. Use Flavoured Milk

Basic right?  But it’s amazing how just switching up your choice of milk can really change the flavour of your morning oats.  Obviously there are loads of nut milks to choose from – almond and hazelnut are my favourites – but have you ever thought of using strawberry or banana milk?  Is your mind blown right now?  Most supermarkets out there have got a whole shelf full of flavoured milks to choose from (I think I even saw a Rhubarb and Custard flavoured one in Tesco a few weeks ago…) and they’re great for adding a subtle base flavour before you go crazy with your toppings.  In the picture above I used strawberry milk (which turned my porridge pink!) and then topped it with the last of my summer strawbs, dark chocolate and pistachios.  Fancy!

3. Get Creative with Syrups, Spreads and Spices

Come on, we’re all guilty of stirring a hefty spoonful of nutella into our porridge on mornings when honey just won’t do.  But there are plenty of other ways to flavour your oats while they’re thickening up on the hob, from spices to syrups.

Spices:

  • Cinnamon is my go to, especially with purée’d apples.
  • Cardamom adds a nice twist if you’re using almond milk, or adding berries.
  • Ginger works well with pears and most dried fruits and nuts, and hey, add some boiled, shredded carrot and you’ve got carrot cake porridge!
  • Turmeric is a very strange one, but it’ll give you a very sunny looking bowl of oats that you can sweeten nicely with lots of honey and some chopped almonds.
  • Nutmeg can mixed with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves to make a Chai-flavoured porridge. Yum!

Syrups:

  • Maple Syrup is amazing stuff – and even more amazing when you pair it with bacon, baby.  It also goes well with coffee, pumpkin and sweet potato.
  • Coconut Syrup can be stirred in with pineapples and a bit of lime to make a pina colada flavoured porridge.
  • Toffee Sauce I like to add when I use apples and cinnamon to make toffee apple flavoured porridge, but hit up your ice cream aisle for similar sauces.
  • Honey is a easy one and works well with nutty and berry-flavoured toppings.  It also works well with citrus fruits.
  • Earl Grey Syrup – why not?  It’s lovely as a base for citrus-flavoured porridge bowls.  Make it by heating up 100ml of water with 100g of caster sugar and a few Earl Grey Teabags.
  • Golden Syrup is a classic, ’nuff said.

Spreads:

  • Biscoff is AMAZING stirred into porridge.
  • Peanut Butter with some jam or with sliced bananas is a classic.
  • Fruit Curds like Passionfruit or Raspberry are a great way to inject some fresh flavouring.
  • Nutella.  Need I say more?
  • Marshmallow Fluff.  Now that’s just filthy, especially if you add chocolate and some crushed biscuits – Smores Porridge!

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4. Top Things off

Probably the easiest way to pimp your porridge is get creative with your toppings.  Of course there are the obvious ones – dried fruit, fresh fruit, granola and nuts – but have you ever tried crushing biscuits into your porridge?  I was feeling inventive one morning and dropped a couple of broken Oreos into my morning oats and oh dear lord, it was beautiful.  The creamy filling melted, the biscuit went soft (but not soggy) and it was amazing. 🙂

You can also add a blob of your favourite yoghurt – flavoured or plain.  It’ll make your porridge even creamier.  But sometimes basic is brilliant; my Mum for example loves her porridge topped off with some demerara sugar and nothing else.


5. Swap Sweet for Savoury

Who says porridge has to be sweet?  In fact, most Scots would say that porridge should be made with water, salt and nothing else.  But there are plenty of more exciting ways to play around with your porridge if you don’t have a sweet tooth.  I saw a recipe online for a Japanese-flavour inspired porridge, with miso paste, mirin, seaweed and sesame seeds that looked really good, or you could try a Huevos Rancheros bowl of oats by flavouring it with paprika, roasted red peppers, avocado, salsa and sour cream.  Or what about throwing in some bacon and topping it off with an egg?  That’ll certainly see you through to lunchtime!

What are your favourite porridge toppings? 🙂

5 Lazy Breakfasts to Try This Weekend

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Lazy weekend breakfasts and brunches are THE BEST.  I think they’re probably my favourite meal of the week and there’s a good chance that my death row meal of choice would be a big-ass brunch with all the bacon.  There’s something extra special about getting up after a long lie in, whacking on the kettle and then whipping something you wouldn’t normally have time to scoff on a weekday morning.  I know for a fact that I’ve got some leftover buttermilk in my fridge that’s destined to become a big stack of pancakes tomorrow morning and I CANNOT WAIT.  But if you’re in the mood to try something a little different this weekend, here are five lazy brunch recipes fresh from the archives. 🙂

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1. Frosties Battered French Toast

I love French Toast.  If you’ve got some stale bread (brioche, even better), milk and a couple of eggs then you’re golden.  But, let’s take it up a notch – and this is genius – once you’ve dunked your french toast into the milk and egg mix, try adding a crunchy coating by dunking it into a bowl full of crushed cereal before you fry it!  And, bada-bing bada-boom, you’ve got yourself some Battered French Toast.  I like to use Frosties, but you could literally use any cereal you fancy.  The possibilities are endless.

2. Halloumi Hash

This is one of my favourites things to have for Brinner (…breakfast for dinner – am I the only one who calls it that?) and I probably cook it at least once every couple of weeks.  Obviously the halloumi, potatoes and fried egg are non-negotiable, but as for everything else?  Add whatever you fancy or whatever you’ve got hanging about in the back of the fridge.  Cherries tomatoes on the turn?  Throw them in.  Half a red pepper?  Be rude not to.  Leftover salad?  Go for it.

3. Dutch Baby

Oh baby.  If you’ve ever wondered what might happen if you baked pancake batter instead of frying it, then wonder no more.  The result is basically one big, sweet yorkshire pudding.  The edges rise and crisp up to create a kind of bowl shape that you can fill with whatever you like.

4. Hair of the Dog Shakshuka

I call this Hair of the Dog Shakshuka due to the generous glug of vodka stirred into the herby tomato passata that makes up the foundation of this cosy breakfast.  There are literally hundreds of ways to make shakshuka, but all of them end with a very runny, very dunk-able egg (or eggs!) swimming in the middle.  It’s an easy one pot breakfast to share.  Yum!

5. Parfait Pots

If you’re not a fan of heavy brunches or putting in some time in the kitchen on the weekend, then this one’s for you.  Yoghurt Parfait Pots are basically sweet yoghurt pots topped with fruit and granola.  You can whip them up the night before and then just add the toppings before you’re ready to eat them.  The perfect breakfast to take back to bed with a massive mug and a magazine. 🙂

What’s your favorite weekend brunch? 🍳