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Places To Go, Things To Do

Halloween Half Term Overwhelm

Halloween half term overwhelm hitting you hard already? Me too. The FOMO is high and rising. Scariest thing about this Halloween is that I’ve booked us in for too much organised fun. There’s a lot going on, loads of it’s sold out, so this post is just the tip of the Calon Gaeaf iceburg. I’ve included some not so Halloweeny options too for those of us who’ve had a gutsful of ghosts and ghoulies already.

Gŵyl Calan Gaeaf Cosmeston Halloween Festival at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and Medieval Village, Penarth

We’re checking this out tonight. Created by the team behind the light trail at Cosmeston last Christmas, we’ve been told to expect special effects and petrifying performers along with a traditional fairground. Sessions are available to book from 5.30pm to 8.30pm. My kids have been off on an Inset day today so I thought it would be a fun thing to do in the evening. Tickets still available.

https://www.penarthevents.wales/halloween

Vale Pick You Own Pumpkin Picking, Bonvilston

Soz huns, they’re all sold out for daytime and twilight sessions. I went last year and had a delightful yomp through the fields in the autumn sunshine. My mum took my kids and nephews today. If you’ve not booked already, get in there early next year I guess.

https://valepickyourown.digitickets.co.uk/tickets

Fonmon Castle’s Halloween Night-Time Scare Trail, Paranormal Investigations, and Halloween Daytime, Fonmon

My 14 year old and his mates experienced the Night-Time Scare Trail last night twice. They booked it a while ago and from what he’s told me, they had an amazing time. He doesn’t say very much these days so when he enjoys something it’s high praise indeed.

https://fonmoncastle.com/whats-on

Barry Island Charity Fireworks Fiesta, Barry

Does what it says on the tin. It’s an early bonfire night innit. Fairground open from 2pm, prizes for Halloween fancy dress, free Halloween train ride. If you get the eeby jeebies at fireworks displays, this is the one for you as they’re released from Friar’s Point but you can see the whole thing from the safety of the Barry Island prom. It will get mega busy and there are road closures so plan ahead. It’s free with charity bucket collections. The rugby clubs are holding firework displays the following weekend if you’re a big fan of bright lights and explosions.

https://www.facebook.com/Barryislandfireworksfiesta

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

I know, it’s not midsummer it’s autumn but go with me on this. Under 25s are half price, you might be eligible to join Sherman 5 (check on their website) for discounted tickets. It’s a silly, mad introduction to Shakespeare for younger theatregoers. I’ve heard great things about the run and the last shows are on 29th October so get in there quick. We’re heading to the Saturday matinee.

https://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/event/a-midsummer-nights-dream/

Spooktacular Barry Trick or Treat Trail, Barry

Saturday 29th October 2022. Pop on your Halloweeniest costumes and follow the map to pick up some treats and have some fun. Expect spooky street entertainers, face painting, special deals for participants, pumpkin patch selfie stage and a trick or treat bag for gathering all the Halloween sweeties from the brilliant Barry businesses who are taking part.

Coco and Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile movies at the Memo Arts Centre, Barry

This Day of the Dead get crafty at the Memo with some Dia de los Muertos vibes before watching one of my absolute favourite animations EVER on 2nd November. The big half term film Lyle, Lyle Crocodile is also on during the week with croc crafts before the showing. Check film times on the website.

https://memoartscentre.co.uk/Shows/coco-pg/

As Halloween’s so early in half term this year (oh my days has this term draaaaaaged) if you’re lucky enough to be off work at any point, there are all the usual places to visit too. Is it even half term if you’ve not been to St Fagan’s? Don’t forget to use your Escape into Autumn free entry to Dyffryn Gardens. And if you’ve been following my blog for the past few years you’ll know I’m a fan of the Mountain View Ranch Family Trail. If all you manage to do this week is survive, that’s cool too. If you’re working through the week, I see you, I am you and that’s why I’m jampacking the weekend with too many plans.

Places To Go, Things To Do

Stuff to do in the Easter Hols 2022

How is it the Easter holidays already?! Why didn’t I book more time off work?! I must make the most of my precious time off with some wholesome days out. If you suffer from FOMO and want to tear your offspring away from their gadgets, good luck and here are a few local, vaguely seasonal ideas in no particular order:

The Tiger Who Came to Tea at Dyffryn Gardens

12 March – 15 May 2022

This gorgeous little exhibition from Seven Stories invites your little ones to play with the tiger in an indoor tea party. There are plenty of fun tiger themed activities to keep your young ones busy and playing through the Arboretum, gardens and the Log Stack play area. There’s also a £3 Easter trail if you fancy it. The usual National Trust entry fees from £5.50 per kid and £11 per adult apply so take a picnic and make a day of it.

Tiger Who Came to Tea at Dyffryn Gardens | National Trust

The Golden Egg Treasure Hunt

10 – 24 April 2022

A treasure hunt competition to find the locations where Beach Academy Wales photographed a shiny replica of Harry Potter’s golden egg. They’ve included some stunning Vale locations, and there’s a cracking prize for a lucky family to win the golden egg used in the pics and a two-day trip London with a Family Studio Tour at Harry Potter World and hotel stay. Register and read the instructions on their website:

The Golden Egg | Beach Academy (beachacademywales.com)

Fonmon Castle Joust

16 – 18 April 2022

This Easter weekend get a taste of medieval times, brought to life with jousting, owl displays, archery, and more. You can also visit in the rest of the holidays for the usual family fun of dinosaurs, story trail and playground. Under 3s are free, adults £16.50, children & concessions £13.

https://fb.watch/ck0juMKOJU/

https://fonmoncastle.com/whats-on-at-fonmon-castle/

Salmon Leaps Walk

This three-hour (or three-mile, depending on whether your want to do the full figure-of-8 route or not) stroll through Dinas Powys woodland and fields is a dreamy and free way to while away a day with family and dogs. We loved tootling about, flinging ourselves about on the rope swing we found and having a good old chat as we ventured along the path. There’s a guide available with details of where to park if you’re not from Dinas Powys (or you could walk from the train station) and the route:

Vale Trail 6 | Walks in the Vale of Glamorgan (visitthevale.com)

Twitchy Curtains

Launched 9 April 2022

Use the QR stickers to experience this free audio trail of Barry’s Holton Road. Local characters will tell you tales from that spot in the past. Based on real stories, use your smart phone and stereo headphones to follow the gossip. For more information and a map of the story route in Barry town centre, head to this website:

Twitchy Curtains – Barry

Cinema, Wrestling and Pop Divas at Memo Arts Centre

The Bad Guys (U) 16 – 21 April 2022

Welsh Wrestling Live 14 April 2022

Pop Divas Live! 22 April 2022

This Easter holiday, the Memo are showing The Bad Guys on the Vale’s biggest cinema screen. If Ocean’s Eleven was a cartoon and all the characters were animals, that’s the vibe of this film. Popular family events Welsh Wrestling and Pop Divas Live return to Barry.

Home-New – Memo Arts Centre, Barry

Amelia Trust Farm: The Big Easter Event

11 – 14 April 2022

All the fun of the farm with extra Easter treats. Included in the cost of entry there’ll be face painting, lawn games and tractor rides. If you complete the Easter trail, there are chocolate prices. Costs £7.50 per child and from £4.50 per adult.

The Big Easter Event at Amelia Trust Farm – Amelia Trust Farm

Cowbridge Food and Drink Festival 2022

17 & 18 April 2022

Head to the Old Hall Gardens and AJ car park for stalls of delicious grub and drinks. Pick up an edible treat or two and have a wander around the pretty town centre. Closes at 5pm both days. Expect plenty of the best foodie businesses in the Vale to exhibit their wares, and demos of their culinary skills.

St Fagans National Museum of History

Open all fortnight, including bank holidays

A classic Easter hols trip. It’s the perfect time of year to mooch around the site. We like to take our dogs so they get a day out too. Doggos must be on a short lead and can’t go in the buildings. There’s a £3.50 Easter trail or you can take yoursleves on a time travelling adventure exploring the cottages, chapel, shops, school, farmhouse etc. Free entry, you just pay £6 for parking. There are a few busses that go to St Fagans, route details on their website.

The Big Museum Easter Trail   | National Museum Wales

A Dog’s Trail

How many Snoopy sculptures will you find? Dog’s Trust is celebrating their new rehoming centre with a free public art trail, a Wild in Art Event. There’s a map of all the decorated Snoopys, designed by local and national artists, school children and community groups, dotted around Cardiff, the Bay, Caerphilly and Porthcawl. And it’s free.

Art Trail – A Dog’s Trail : A Dog’s Trail (adogstrail.org.uk)

Mountain View Ranch: Ranch Easter Trail

On top of all of the usual fun, hunt for the Golden Eggs. We’re big fans of the Fairy Forest, the Jumping Pillow, the Adventure Playground, the Tree Houses, the Vomit Comet, Roly Poly Hill, and of course, the only licensed Gruffalo Trail in Wales. Take a picnic or treat yourselves to one of their amazing stonebaked pizzas. Dogs allowed on a short lead. Under 2s free, children and adults £8. Book online.

Mountain View Ranch

This isn’t a list of everything, it’s just a few ideas if you’re struggling. The photos of my own visits used in this post are all paid for by me. If anywhere wants to invite me along to review or promote, that’s grand, pop me a message. I’ll always let you know if that’s the case.

Each year I feel less motivated to share a “things to do in the Vale and nearby in the school hols” type of post. Last summer I prepped and research a load of things with photos, links, dates, prices etc but then photos of handwritten pages in a notebook of all the parks, beaches etc got shared all over the place by loads of people and I just felt sort of pointless and stupid for wasting my time. So, if you do end up going along to any of this stuff, I’d blooming love it if you could let me know.

books, Reviews

Book Clubbing

I was all set to write about the books I’ve loved getting my literary teeth into during 2021 but it struck me that the biggest difference in my reading world this year has been book club.

Since January I’ve been running a monthly book club so I’ve been pushed to read titles, genres and authors that wouldn’t usually have been my thing.

I was worried that reading a book because I felt obliged to would kill my buzz for reading like my BA in English Lit did. My degree stopped me reading for fun. I felt guilty if I was reading for pleasure rather than reading something for an essay, seminar or tutorial. I devoured books in sixth form but got through very few in Uni, aside from a couple of stand outs like Ian McEwan’s Atonement.

Back to book club and it hasn’t felt like a chore. I’ve loved meeting new people from all sorts of backgrounds in my area, people who have very different lives from me but who all share a love of reading. We have varied tastes, but I think I’ve made it a safe space for us all to have respect for opposing points of view.

One of the highlights has been a live Q&A session with an author and another with an editor. Huge thanks to the Reading Agency for making those happen. It also felt important to explore the work of local authors, something the group’s particularly keen on.

Being part of a book club has exposed some of the members to concepts and ways of life that they have never encountered, and it’s been quite moving to see how a book opened their eyes and gave them a new understanding of people of different races, sexualities, cultures, or periods in time.

It’s the only clubbing I’ve done all year. 10/10 would recommend. No hangovers, no sore feet and far cheaper than the other clubbing. If I were pushed to choose some personal faves from the books I’ve read in 2021 so far, my top five would be:

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Reid Jenkins

Young Skins by Colin Barrett

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

The Survivors by Jane Harper

Which books have your book club delved into this year? Any titles you’re keen to tackle in 2022? Let me know in the comments.

A photo taken from above of a table with a big rug on. A pile of three books sit in the lower left of the image with the words The Elephant and the Buns on the front and an illustration of a very long elephant trunk reaching for a plate of big round iced buns with cherries on top. To the right is a large iced bun with a cherry on top, nestled in a brown takeaway box and in the top of the image is another bun in tongs on a square white plate.
books, Reviews, Things To Do

The Elephant and the Buns Book Launch

We popped to the book launch of The Elephant and the Buns at Elephant & Bun Deli in Cowbridge on Sunday and met the lovely author Megan Mattravers. We were lucky enough to be one of the early birds to get a free sticky bun with our book purchase and my youngest was delighted to get his books signed by Megan.

A photo taken from above of a table with a big rug on. A pile of three books sit in the lower left of the image with the words The Elephant and the Buns on the front and an illustration of a very long elephant trunk reaching for a plate of big round iced buns with cherries on top. To the right is a large iced bun with a cherry on top, nestled in a brown takeaway box and in the top of the image is another bun in tongs on a square white plate.

Like Megan’s previous children’s book Vintage Owl, The Elephant and the Buns is based on a true story and set in beautiful Cowbridge with some familiar shops and characters in the gorgeous illustrations from Owain Lewis (who also created the fabulous window display at the deli).

Megan, a dark haired lady in a camel coat, stands in front of a deli's shop window with four floating balloons next to her. An elephant is drawn on the window and a box in the foreground has an elephant picture on it too. In the clear reflection of the window and people buying books and the reflected high street shops.
Book launch day at Elephant & Bun Deli in Cowbridge

The book is perfect for older primary school readers who might be overwhelmed by a thick novel without pictures, for confident readers aged 6-9 who are on the journey from picture books to longer stories, or simply for you to share with your younger children when you read to and with them.

The deli was an absolute trove of edible delights. I heartily recommend the sausage rolls. The spherical iced buns were the cherry on the top.

Megan is at the Goodsheds in Barry on Saturday 23rd October for a book reading and book signing event 10am-11am. Tickets are available here:

You can buy the book from Megan’s Etsy shop here:

It’s a brilliant chance to support a local author and to kick the October half term off with something a bit special.

Megan, a smiling woman with short dark hair in a cosy light pink roll neck jumper, stands with her hands in her camel coat pockets behind a table on which her books are displayed. In the foreground, also on the table, are shiny round iced buns with big glossy cherries on top. The deli window behind her has a white, hand illustrated elephant trunk and the words the ELEPHANT and the BUNS.
Local author Megan Mattravers at the book launch of her newest children’s book The Elephant and the Buns
A gruff looking, well built Luke Evans as DSI Steve Wilkins stands to the left of frame in a dark coat buttoned up against the wind. The Pembrokeshire coastline curves behind him. A cold and gritty filter gives the shot a dark and ominous feel.
Reviews, Television

The Pembrokeshire Murders: killing the competition on terrestrial television

One in three people who watch normal television were watching The Pembrokeshire Murders this week. Without the live, appointment viewing lure of Strictly or Bake Off and in an era of on demand overabundance through Netflix and Prime, this is no mean feat for an ITV Drama.

Made in Wales with Welsh actors, the overwhelming takeaway is that we can do it. I live in an area frequently used as a televisual filming location that doubles up as pretty much anywhere (London, Sheffield, Moordale, Billericay, Oxford, other galaxies), that isn’t here (Barry, Penarth, Dinas Powys, Cardiff, Wales in general) so it is astonishingly refreshing to see Welsh locations filmed in Wales. Yes, Cardiff courts were filmed in place of Swansea, a Barry corner shop in place of Milford Haven but it’s closer than usual.

Perhaps it was a reaction to the baffling Stephen Graham accent in White House Farm or the stereotypical lilting Valleeeeys accent that seems to be the go-to Welsh accent, but the use of natural and varied Welsh accents (Newport, Cardiff, a bunch of places further west) really helped embed this production in reality. It smacks of real life that police have moved for their job or haven’t necessarily grown up in the area. The real DSI Steve Wilkins has more of a North West England accent.

The opening credits were reminiscent of the ITV superhit crime drama Broadchurch, with sweeping aerial views of the coast through a cold gritty filter. Interspersed with 70s cine film camcorder footage of seaside days, this set the stall as a three parter that is as much about place as character and action. A refreshing use of a Welsh language soundtrack over these images was another important nod to embracing the Welshness of the story, place and people.

We start with a gratuitous shot of Hollywood’s handsome Welsh man mountain (AKA Gaston) ironing shirts in his pants and vest in front of the world’s biggest window. Turns out it’s just patio doors overlooking the sea but that was my first take. After getting momentarily side-tracked wondering what size shirt Luke Evans wears (men’s shirts are weirdly measured by neck size, how does he get a shirt large enough for his bulging back and biceps but not baggy on the collar. Maybe his neck is deceptively enormous too, perspective and all that) I’m in the action. Our main man is established as a family man with an Olivia Pope style love of red wine with paperwork and low lighting.

I mention this because the domesticity sets the tone. The production is about family and home. It never feels that it is exploiting the grief of the families involved in the crimes, including the victims’ families, the family of the murderer and the families of those undertaking the investigation. John Cooper’s son was interviewed before production and his input into the impact on him and his mother is woven into the episodes beautifully. The ripples of the horrors Cooper committed last for decades. Many scenes are filmed in homes, from the maximalist floral blooms of the Cooper’s lounge to Andrew’s sad and dated place, from Wilkins’s busy contemporary pad to the familial cosy norm of Erin’s living room. The attacks and burglaries took place in homes, near homes and in places that simply felt like a home from home.

Despite briefly diverting from realism in episode two when Andrew/Adrian answered his mobile to an unknown number in a cheery manner (who does that?! Where was the anxiety and suspicion?!), I was pulled through the plot at a pace. Split into three hours of broadcasting, there is no dilly dallying. In much the same way that the investigating team repeatedly refer to their budget and a need to be selective and strategic, so too the production team went about crafting and editing The Pembrokeshire Murders.

Based on the book The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer by Steve Wilkins, the plot follows our hero and his police team cracking a cold case or three, focusing on John Cooper with a sense of more urgency than is typical of old cases as he is up for parole from jail time for burglary. As the show is about a real life story, it wisely steers clear of showing the murders and maintains a respect for the victims, survivors and their families. As a dramatisation of a true story, it focuses on the processes and tactics used to solve the crimes and convict the criminal.

The success of The Pembrokeshire Murders is partly in the timing, with us all trapped in the house in the evening, but word of mouth has played a huge part in driving up viewer figures. Programming across three midweek 9pm slots appealed to those of us with the lack of patience borne of binge watching.

The cast is awesome with big names like Luke Evans and Keith Allen alongside familiar Welsh actors who leave you wondering where you know them from and actors who you might not have seen before but absolutely hold their own. One I’ve worked with before, one is in my mum’s dog walking circle and several I recognise from stage productions with Sherman Theatre, The Other Room, Omidaze, National Theatre Wales etc. I hope they can use this as a springboard for their careers.

Of course, we’ve seen success and popularity for Wales made thrillers, crime dramas and Cymru-noir in recent years with Hinterland and Keeping Faith. Both were simultaneously filmed in Welsh as Y Gwyll and Un Bore Mercher, both were longer series and neither were based on true stories. I hope that The Pembrokeshire Murders builds an appetite for more Wales made and Wales based work. It has been a challenging year for the creative industries. The film and television sector is a major employer and hub of innovation here in Wales. I think this is a calling card for more and statement of intent for ambitious future productions.

The Pembrokeshire Murders is available to watch on ITV Hub