my top 5 tips and picks for edinburgh fringe…

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As you read this chances are I’m either, watching a show, drinking cider, or crying with laughter. Or if I’m really lucky, I’ll be doing all three, because today I head up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015.

For those of you who have heard of the fringe but never really paid any attention to it, the fringe festival is the biggest arts festival of it’s kind in the WHOLE WORLD. It combines theatre, dance, drama, comedy, circus, kids shows, poetry, storytelling and music, into a 3 week long cultural haven that over takes the whole of the city centre. If you think music festivals are big, this is much bigger! This years fringe brochure has over 3000 shows for you to choose from, and if you’ve never visited the festival before this fact alone can be a bit overwhelming, without then trying to factor in finding accomodation, venues which are often hidden away in the back room of a shop, or the basement of a church, and just the whole atmosphere of the city itself. Which at this time of year is ELECTRIC.

I like to think of myself as a bit of a seasoned pro. I’ve been going to the fringe for 6 years now, to work in a venue, as just an audience member and this year as a programmer. One year I WILL go up as a performer, but that will be one very big and very expensive adventure.

This year, as part of my job, I’m heading up to the fringe to find and see some of the best shows happening in the UK right now and hopefully then bring them back to Lancashire. I’m not bragging, I’m aware of just how lucky this makes me. I’m also aware that because of this, and because of my history with the festival, I’m privy to alot more information, tips and tricks than most people visiting will be. As sharing is caring, I thought I’d put together a post of my top 5 tips for anyone visiting the festival, and the top 5 shows I’m looking forward to seeing.

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  1. It can be bit of a military operation…

Going to Edinburgh and getting the most out of your time there can feel like a bit of a military operation, but the planning and researching of what to see where and when is half of the fun! As I mentioned before, there are A LOT of shows happening all at once, and they are all of varying quality. The fringe is an open access festival meaning that if they have the money literally anyone and everyone can take a show and perform at the festival. Everyone from youth groups, university drama societies, internationally acclaimed acrobats, and the best new writers and comedians in the world descend on Edinburgh in August, meaning you could close your eyes and walk into the best show ever, or you could find yourself sitting in a dark room, with a very numb bum and a bored brain for an hour and a half. Doing a little bit of research before hand, into what shows you want to see and who they are by is the best way to make sure you don’t end up filling your trip with terrible shows! A quick glance at a companies website, or a look into one of the many ‘top picks of the fringe lists’ (including mine below) is a pretty safe bet to finding a whole trips worth of good shows. Plus now the festival has begun, reviews come out daily, if not hourly thanks to twitter so you never need to go into a show entirely blind if you don’t want to.

2. Take a risk…

Having said that, Edinburgh Fringe is all about taking a risk and trying something new, or giving something a chance. If you’ve never seen physical theatre piece put one at the top of the list. Shows at Edinburgh are infamous for pushing boundaries. One of the best things I’ve ever seen was an overnight, 6 hour long version of Medea, which included having a nap, hot chocolates, gin, and breakfast with the cast when it was all done.

If that all sounds a bit too out there for you, and the whole arts thing is new to you, then you can take a risk in other ways. Keep some of your trip completely unscheduled and walk into a free fringe show, without having to risk spending money on something you might hate. Walk down the royal mile, pick your favourite leaflet and go and see it without checking out the reviews first. Or just take up a promoter on their free ticket offers.

The people performing there, have taken a huge risk too, so lets support that! It might be that the best thing you see is by a completely unheard company performing in the smallest room, for free, and part of the beauty of it is, that you feel that you’ve stumbled upon the fringe’s best kept secret!

3. Wear sensible shoes & other pieces of advice your mother would give you…

Ok, so I’m cheating with this one a little bit, but when you go to Edinburgh it will almost definitely rain, and you’ll no doubt be out from lunchtime at the latest, until the wee hours of the next morning (at the earliest). Wear sensible shoes, there’s a LOT of walking involved in a visit to Edinburgh, between venues, up hill, and depending on how adventurous you are sometimes with the shows you see too.

With all that walking, you’ll want a good stock of snacks with you, to keep you going! You’re out all day and not only is it tiring, it’s also expensive, a bunch of bananas can go a long way.

Other essentials include, something warm, something waterproof, and something to get you through the hangovers!

4. Somewhere to rest your head…

Now if you’re reading this, chances are your trip is already planned, and you’ll have seen just how expensive accommodation can be! Edinburgh is a beautiful city with expensive hotel rooms all year round, come festival time, these prices soar. Luckily you don’t have to rely on the hotels, lots of locals clear out for the month and rent out their home to festival goers, but the supply is there because the demand is there, so finding cheap digs is like finding a golden ticket.

My top tip for accommodation is either the Caledonian Hostel in the city centre, which keeps their beds and rooms reasonably priced, and you can sometimes find a bed for the night last minute. Or my trusty digs are up at Queen Margarets University out in Mussleburgh, which is about 5 minutes out on the train and a 20 minute taxi ride at night. It isn’t the most convenient location, in that generally once you’re out, you’re out for the whole day, but what you pay in sleepiness and taxi fares, you more than save on the cost of the rooms – which are also en-suite and come with access to a kitchen! Plus they often still have rooms available throughout the festival (my friend decided on Tuesday he would join us this weekend and managed to nab a double room). You can’t book through their website, but give them a call, they are lovely and incredibly helpful people!

5. Don’t just sit in the theatre…

It can be tempting when you’re at the festival to try and cram in as many shows as humanly possible, but put some time aside to explore Edinburgh itself, whether that’s climbing Arthur’s Seat, wandering around the castle or just sitting in a cafe enjoying a coffee and watching the city buzz! Enjoy the company you’re with, meeting new people and letting it all sink in.

Production shot from The Soaking of Vera Shrimp, taken from The List Edinburgh website.

Ok, if you’re all packed and ready to go but still have a few spots on your itinerary that need to be filled, here are the five things that I’m really looking forward to seeing over the next 4 days. I’ve pre-booked to see 13 shows, and that is leaving my evenings and Monday free to watch things I hear about while I’m there. I will attempt to post mini reviews on everything I’m getting up to over on twitter, and hope that these shows live up to my expectations!

  1. The Soaking of Vera Shrimp by Rosie+Me at Pleasance Courtyard

As a solo story telling performer, obviously, I’m interested in seeing shows from other solo storytelling performers. The Soaking of Vera Shrimp is described as ‘part science lesson, part story-telling, this is a poignant and playful solo-show about love, grief and never giving up’  This show appears on a lot of industry ‘must see’ lists. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a ‘one woman show’ this isn’t an autobiographical rant, but the story 14 year old girl who finds she has the superpower to read raindrops.

2. Foil, Arms & Hog: Skiddlywup at Underbelly Cowgate

If you read my post about holidaying at home, you might remember I mentioned going to see this incredibly funny and attractive Irish trio back in may. Watching Foil, Arms & Hog is a little bit of an Edinburgh tradition for Lucy and I. Silly and clever, this is a sketch group that changed my mind on not liking sketch comedy! There’s a lot of comedy at the fringe, but these guys consistently sell out venues. There so popular, on Friday’s and Saturday’s they are doing two shows a night! So don’t leave it till last minute to buy your tickets!

3. Ross + Rachel by James Fritz, produced by MOTOR at Assembly George Square Theatre

You’ll find a lot of shows at Edinburgh Fringe playing with pop culture references but this show isn’t so much the story of Ross & Rachel but all the romantic hopes and dreams the ultimate lobster couple represent. Another solo show and again very popular with the industry lists – which is rare for a show with such a poppy title! “Ross & Rachel tells the mind-bending, heartbreaking story of what happens when a couple that was always meant to be together, gets together” and is performed by Olivier Award nominated James Fritz.

4. Little Thing, Big Thing by Fishamble: The New Play Company at Assembly George Square Theatre

Fishamble are an Irish company that I’ve never seen before, which again is a brilliant thing about the fringe, getting to see shows from all over the world. Little Thing, Big Thing, is set to be a ‘darkly comic thriller’ which isn’t something I would normally go for! Even people who work in theatre, have their comfort zones, mine, paradoxically is the more contemporary experimental stuff, and I tend to err away from the more traditional work but this show sounds like it combines the too. Plus who can resist a story about a Nun on the run?

5. Fable by The Flanagan Collective at Summerhall

The Flanagan Collective are a company I’ve been aware of for a while but never had the chance to see or work with, so when I heard they had a new show coming up to the Fringe I made room in my schedule for it. Thy’re known for mixing, theatre, folk  and music together and creating a bit of a party feel for the audience, and it sounds like Fable will be a continuation of this. Plus they are performing over at Summerhall which has really come out as one of the top venues for new exciting work over the last couple of years. If you want to see more contemporary work, that the critics rave about, I’d recommend booking a whole afternoon of shows just in this one venue!

So there you have it, my guide to this years Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Check out the official Fringe website for all shows, and more information on planning your trip. I’d love to hear from you! Are you heading up the fringe this year, or have you been before and have your own top tips to share with me? Like I said, I still have time in my trip, so any reviews or recommendations please throw them my way! You can catch me all weekend over on twitter.

Live life & What The Fringe?! x

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summer scenes #3 | a weekend in ingleton part 1…

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Hey everyone, and happy Tuesday! How on earth are you? I’m currently typing this, sat on the floor with my back as straight as it possibly can be, because I’m getting old, and apparently suffer from back problems now. Ok that’s an exaggeration, I’ve only been suffering with the one back problem for just over a week, but dear lord, it’s like nothing I’ve every had before. However, if feeling a little withered is the price to pay for a gorgeous weekend then I’ll take it.

This weekend the young man – whose name is Rick (might as well tell you his name, as miraculously, he doesn’t appear to be leaving any time soon) – and I headed off to Ingleton for the weekend & a couple of days of countryside exploration.

We had wanted to squeeze in a quick and cheap weekend away together in between all the other exciting things we have going on in our lives separately this summer. We nearly lost all hope of finding anywhere as, dang, summer is expensive – pesky kids – but we persevered, and after ruling out all the usual suspects for a quick city breaks we took a look at Ingleton. A friend had recommended this quiet Yorkshire town as a beautiful place to visit with it’s waterfalls and caves and luck must have been on our side, because just as we were about to close the laptop with a sigh of despair we spotted a flash deal on a perfectly located, if a little rustic looking B’n’B.

We were VERY excited about going on holiday. Even if it was only one night away, and only one hour away, that didn’t matter, what mattered is that come Saturday morning the sun was shining, the car was packed and our road trip playlist had (partially downloaded). So with giddiness and questionable musical taste (and talent) we headed straight for the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail.

The trail is supposedly a 4 and a half mile walk, but according to our gps tracker it was more like 6, and heads through forest, over hill and down by the gorges. As you can see from the photographs we couldn’t have asked for better weather. The sun was shining and despite the tourists from further afield laughing at us, we both needed to slather on the sun cream. You know you’re on holiday when you need to slather on the sun cream! The trail costs £6 per person to visit, and well worth every penny.

The first stop on the trail brings you to the money tree, which is an old tree that has grown with pennies knocked into it’s branch for good luck. You can add your own pennies or if you’re not superstitious just look for the oldest coin you can find in it’s branches. Now I don’t want to over estimate it’s powers, but I added a penny to the tree and didn’t fall over once on the whole trail, so SOME luck must have rubbed off on me.

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The trail is split into 3 sections, the first set of waterfalls, the hill climb (oh the hill) that makes up the middle part, and then the second set of smaller falls. My favourite part without a doubt came just at the end of the first set of waterfalls. After climbing up through the trees, and just after stopping for a 99 ice cream, comes the biggest and boldest fall of the whole trail, Thornton Falls.

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And this is where that beautiful weather really added to the whole day. I’m sure the trail would be beautiful no matter what the weather, but I wouldn’t much fancy stopping for a paddle if it was pouring down with rain! I also wouldn’t really fancy tackling the climb along the side of the rocks to adventure underneath Thorton Force f in anything but glorious sunshine and sensible shoes. Even if my dress didn’t scream ‘I’m an adventurer’ I safely, and in my humble opinion, pretty nimbly made it along the pretty steep edge to take in the view.

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We happily spent an hour admiring the view and watching people play in the pool below, which was deep enough in places for people to swim, before we took on the hill climb. This part of the trail is the part that feels most like a hike. It wasn’t technically difficult, but without the cover of trees or the excuse of a pretty waterfall to stop and photograph, it was certainly more strenuous. Having said that even without the paddling pools the view was still pretty impressive!

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We stopped off for a picnic before making our way through the final part of the trail, a series of gorges and falls that looked more like rapids before coming back out into the village itself.

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Then we checked into our B&B, The Craven Heifer, for a nap and a shower. Our room was pretty basic and the shower made a noise like a drill but it was clean and really well priced so absolutely no grumbles there! Plus it was above a pub which had good ratings for food on tripadvisor but we decided to head back into the village, and while there weren’t a huge amount of options there were enough. A tapas bar, an italian and the old post office which served a selection of beer and deliboards all looked delicous, but after a day of walking and country air we decided only pub grub would hit the spot, so we headed to the other side of the town to The Wheatsheaf. The food was good and rustic if not instagramable and the atmosphere was warm, local and friendly.

Then we headed back for an early night before our second day of exploring which included caves, cakes, and a half 8 wake up call, which even if it was for a full cooked breakfast still felt a little cruel on a Sunday!

Walking through the waterfalls I couldn’t have felt further from Blackburn, and even though I’d still like to head somewhere for a city creak that is more cocktail dresses than sensible shoes, on a day like Saturday I couldn’t think of anywhere I would rather have been than sat underneath that beautiful waterfall paddling my feet. After a childhood spent dragging a very reluctant me around the Yorkshire dales, Pappa J will be pleased to hear, there might be a more outdoorsy version of me emerging! Although having said that I now can’t bend or slouch or sit still for too long because of my back so maybe I’m not cut out great outdoors after all.

Have you ever been to the waterfall trail? And do you have any tips or ticks for an old lady with a bad back?

Live life & enjoy the great outdoors x

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Review | The Gate, Islington…

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Happy Saturday everyone! What are your plans for today? I’m currently on route to Ingleton for a weekend of walking and waterfalls! No doubt many of you will have weekend plans which involve going out for dinner, whether that’s a date night, girls and cocktails or Sunday lunch tomorrow.

One of the things that makes me feel most uncomfortable about having gone vegan, is how much other people worry about what you are going to eat when you go out for a meal. Don’t get me wrong, I love that I have friends and family that care enough to make sure I’m well fed, but I hate being the reason people can’t concentrate on what they want to order because they are too busy worrying that there isn’t anything for me to order.

Truth be told, in most decent restaurants (ie. not chain pubs) it’s actually pretty easy for me to find something to eat, but I can see why this might be hard for other people to understand. Of course the best place for me to eat is a restaurant dedicated to vegetarian food, but unfortunately these aren’t always the easiest places to convince meat eating friends to go to.

And with good reason. So many vegetarian restaurants, or vegan eateries, let all the best things about eating out fall to the way side. It’s so rare to find a vegetarian cafe where the food isn’t only delicous but the decor is delectable too. Esepcially up north, in London town you do have a few more options.

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One of these options is The Gate in Islington.

It’s a lot easier to convince meat eating friends to eat at a vegetarian restaurant if it looks good, but what really maters is the food. Because when you’re the one who suddenly has a whole menu of food to choose from, and your sat with none veggie friends, suddenly you’re in their shoes, and you’re worrying about what they are going to eat. Of course everything on the menu sounds delicous to me, but is it going to sound delicous to the guy who eats fried chicken once a day?

Luckily, at The Gate, the answer is yes. On it’s ‘A’ board outside, The Gate boasts a review which says ‘The Gate isn’t a good vegetarian restaurant, it’s just a good restaurant’ and that sums it up in a single sentence what I am likely to spend this whole blog post doing!

The decor is modern, open and very clean looking, the staff are friendly, informed, and seat you to your table in that ‘we’re in a proper restaurant’ manner that makes the difference between grabbing something to eat while you’re out, and going out for dinner.

The menu, while having a good range of dishes to choose from, wasn’t so big you felt like they were trying to cover everything instead of doing any one thing well. Which isn’t something that can always be said about a place that has mexican and thai food on the menu, but I can say from personal experience that when it came to those two cullinary influences, they’d pretty much nailed it. I went for the thai curry which was very clearly labelled as being vegan and my friends went for a trio of wraps which included, beetroot, goats cheese and sweet potato (again this could have been made vegan if you asked) and after the obligatory ‘oh my gosh this looks amazing lets take a photo’ moment we all devoured our main course. And the side of polenta chips that we ordered to go with it. And, for that matter, the second side of polenta chips we ordered after the first lot ran out. My thai curry was delicous, creamy and fragrant, and my friends both loved their wraps. Not a single person mentioned the C word (chicken). In fact my friends were so full they passed up on pudding. I, however, did not.

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Using the excuse (as if I needed one) that I so rarely have the option of a vegan chocolate torte that it would be foolish to say no. Besides the more people who demand vegan pudding, the more places that will start to supply it right?

Now forgive me, because it’s been a couple of weeks since my visit to The Gate, but I can’t remember exactly what my dessert was called (and I’m a rubbish blogger who doesn’t get around to doing reviews when they happen) but it was essentially a chocolate mouse, with black cherries, on a base of crushed nuts and dates. And it was to die for. Which naturally is the most important thing to remember when reviewing dessert.

We all left feeling full to the brim on good food, but not feeling sickly, which for me, is one of the best things about eating vegan. The Gate isn’t cheap but a main meal was no more than you would expect to pay in any other restaurant where the food is freshly prepared, the staff know what they are talking about and the none alcoholic cocktails are so good you kind of feel drunk afterwards.  It treads the line between being just a little too expensive to pop in for a bite to eat, but not so expensive that you need it to be a special occassion to book a table! Having said that, it is in London and I am Northern, so I’d use the word reasonably priced, and expect some one to tell me, actually for that area it’s a bargain!

I’d definitely recommend The Gate to any foodie, whether your vegan, veggie, or fully fledged carnivore, and I hope other places start to take note of restaurants like this which encourage other vegetarian places to up their game, and show none vegetarian restaurants that the veggie option doesn’t always have to be some cheese based pasta dish or a quiche.

Have you ever been to The Gate? Or do you have a favourite restaurant which just so happens to be vegetarian? If you do let me know, I’m always looking for recommendations!

Live life & eat your greens x

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