Mandy Charlton - Photographer, Writer, Blogger

Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places. Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger. Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A dog friendly trip on The Seasider, Whitley Bay {Ad}


The Seasider Bus, a dog friendly adventure from north shields to whitley bay, mandy charlton photography blog

Dog friendly activities have become much more of a thing in the 5 years I've had Holly Bobbins, as you know she loves adventures and specifically travelling on buses, trains, and boats so when we were invited to try out the new Stagecoach Seasider bus which runs between North Shields and Whitley Bay I couldn't say yes fast enough!

I knew Holly would love the open topped bus because we'd previously done the open topped bus in Edinburgh, she loves the feel of the wind in her ears and the fact that she can watch the world go by and see all of the sites.

It's not just Holly who loves an open top bus tour either, I've been on the open top bus tours in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, London, Stratford-upon-Avon... The list goes on, I absolutely love a good bus tour!

The Seasider Bus starts at the north shields ferry terminal (the tyne and wear ferry not the big DFDS one which goes to Amsterdam) and winds it's way along the beautiful northeast coastline until it reaches the seafront in Whitley Bay and it's a journey which maybe takes around half an hour on the days when traffic isn't too bad.


I think I've already worked out my ultimate day trip and I'd recommend this to anyone who's holidaying up here in the north of England.  I'd suggest you start with a morning in South Shields and then you jump on the ferry, get the seasider bus when you get off and then go to Whitley Bay and when you are done ambling around the seafront there jump on the land train to St Mary's Lighthouse, just make sure you've checked the tide times for St Mary's causeway so you can get the most out of the trip.

For our trip we simply did North Shields to Whitley Bay where we took Holly Bobbins for a stroll along the beach, the beach at Whitley Bay is dog friendly up until May when half of it remains dog friendly but the other half isn't.  No matter for us though in April and Holly loved rolling around on the sand the way she always does.  There's something about a sandy beach which makes her roll around making the funniest sounds, she absolutely loves it and it's the most active I ever see her.



We followed that with coffee and a sumptuous pancake breakfast at the dog friendly part of Spanish City, Valeries Tearoom does the best cakes I've seen in Whitley Bay along with a very hearty breakfast menu although Holly was so tired from the sea air that she didn't even stir for the offer of a pancake or some bacon.



After filling our tummies we got on the return bus to the ferry, they run every half hour and Holly barely moved for the rest of the day when we got home, all of that sea air and visiting her favourite places lead to a very tired but totally content beagle and I can't wait to do the trip again during summer just for her when you are a dog owner, just like when you are a parent, you definitely owe it to your dog to give them the best days ever!
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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Let's talk about my health scare


Over the last few weeks I've faded into the black on even my own facebook page, I stepped away and didn't work for pretty much 3 weeks other than my existing calendar commitments.

The truth is that I've had one of those health scares which I think a large proportion of people have at some time or other but it doesn't stop it throwing your life into turmoil.  I'd been feeling unwell for ages, mostly complete exhaustion coupled with some other dodgy symptoms which we're still trying to get to the bottom of but when I was told I had to have a scan on a lump, well, your mind goes to some pretty dark places and suddenly my world came to a halt.

Here's the thing, if it had been the big C, I honestly have no idea what I would have done, I have business interruption insurance and I have people around me in my business who would have looked after my clients but for me personally, I have the kids, I have a handful of close friends but for someone going through a serious health crisis, I would have had little to no support.  I made plans for work because when you run your own companies that's essential but I didn't really make any plans for me except to take some time off and think it out, and whilst I couldn't concentrate on many things in life I just poured my heart and soul into my garden and making sure I had a haven where I could feel safe and calm.

After 2 weeks and 6 days I finally had a scan on Thursday to be told that I have a cyst and whilst it's a big inconvenience, that's all it is, it's a sebaceous cyst just like the ones I have on my head or have had removed.  I've learnt some people are lumpy and some people are not.  To say I breathed the biggest sigh of relief is an understatement but it lead me to think, for every one who breathes that sigh of relief there are also those who face the real challenges that follow and I can't think how hard that must be.

It's looking more likely that I have CFS, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also sometimes known as ME, it's not perfect but let me say this now, I work at weekends and whilst it may take me a week to recover with migraines and neck pain almost every day, it won't stop me working.  I have my calendar down to me just working on weekends and Wednesdays now and at weekends I mostly only work for 1 day and sometimes it's just for a couple of hours, it's not brilliant but it's manageable and more than that, it's not cancer and so for me, I'll just have to be careful of the flare ups and it's really something which has probably been underlying for a long time, there are maternal genetic factors that made it 8 times more likely that I would end up with it or the sister syndrome, fibromyalgia, at this point though, it's more likely CFS.  I do have brain fog but I've been straight up, if I get my words mixed up, just laugh at me, it's what the kids do.

I also think since this current flare up I'm actually way better than I was, I'm not getting so mixed up and I'm back to my regular 10 hours of sleep a night and after working on Saturday I didn't even need a nap afterwards, when it was at it's worst I had to have a nap after a half hour photo shoot.

I attribute my improving health 100% to my garden, the ability to be in a calm place outdoors for 10 or so hours a day has aided my recovery tenfold. I already take a whole raft of vitamins including a high strength vitamin D3 but there really is nothing like the real thing, nothing like pure sunshine to make you feel stronger, better and healthier in yourself.

I sat in my garden yesterday afternoon after a day spent pottering around the garden and wandering around a local garden centre with Holly Bobbins and Harriet, I was happy in my heart that I've escaped a crisis, getting old is crappy but at least now I know with some changes to my diet and the continuation of garden therapy I should hopefully live for at least another 50 years if I'm lucky!
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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Transformation of My Outdoor Living Space





Just lately I've undertaken the epic task of transforming my outdoor living space, to some they'd call it a tiny back garden but to me, it's the place I live as soon as the temperature rises enough to actually not be outdoors without getting a chill!

I love my garden, it's tiny, it's urban but it's mine, there's nothing I love more than an afternoon pottering around the flowerbeds but this year for me is special, this is the year I want to complete the project and that takes work.


First we cleared the garden, thankfully Looby helped as we transformed what was a complete mess after winter and the reorganisation of my home, when we got to February and the garden was piled high with black bags and old stuff just waiting to go to the tip I was grateful for the help of friends to get it removed.

Next came, the hard work turning over the soil and planting vegetables and fruits so that we can be more self-sufficient, as a complete aside, this is the first time I've ever grown mushrooms and I've impressed myself with my ability to grow mould!

I digress, back to the outdoor space, so far I've planted Potatoes, Spinach, Rocket, Tomatoes, peas, blackcurrants and strawberries and they're all doing pretty well except for the tomatoes which were probably wiped out by the recent early morning snow, yes, I still have a lot to learn about gardening.  The thing is though, I always loved gardening, my parents had a back garden many would have envied and I continued gardening as I moved into my own house.

 Then I met Paul and for many years he took care of things because that's his job, he's a professional gardener so having to think about the dirty bits, the bits where you can encounter crawly things or get stabbed by prickly bushes, well I didn't really enjoy those bits.  Let me tell you, recently when I opened the bottom of the compost bin to be confronted with cobwebs, I quickly put the door back on and there it may stay until my next brave moment (could be never) arises.

I have donned gardening gloves though and gotten my hands dirty and it's actually so fulfilling to be able to transform your own space.  One of the main things I've changed was removing both boring big bins from my back garden to put them around to the front door space which no one ever uses, we live in a weird street and literally, the only person who ever comes to the front door is the postman.  We have no garden just a little pavement with no boundary apart from a small brick wall to the side so it's the perfect place which doesn't get any sun to store both bins and it's given me an extra 2 metres of usable garden with no fear of sitting out having to smell a stinky bin when the heat hits in mid-summer.

This month brought great excitement as the arbour I had been saving for, (for almost 2 years since I first spotted it on Amazon) finally arrived, I cannot tell you how happy this had made me and at every opportunity I have been out there sitting in it, it turns out it shelters you completely from the wind so I've already managed a couple of afternoons just whiling away the hours.

I've also just bought a Chiminea after several weeks of thought about what to do with a small firepit I had and also wanting to buy a bigger BBQ because I cook outside as often as possible during the fairer months of the year.  The compromise of a Chiminea seems perfect because it's a grander way to keep warm whilst also offering a grill which swings out


I've also been working out what we can do with our path, at first I thought I would gravel it but that would involve raising the height of the path, and chopping a bit off the gate and really, it took an hour and 3 people to get two hanging baskets attached to the fence!!  I fell down a Pinterest rabbit hole to find beautiful painted concrete paths and so that's what I'm going to do, multi-coloured bright squares of happy colours which should last all year around.  Looby also wants to paint the arbour but I'm happy to keep it just as it is, at least for a little while.

The next steps are to either bark or put slate chippings on the garden to make it look prettier and help suppress the weeds, I don't get too many but when feeding the birds they're always dropping seeds and trying to start their own Wimbledon-esque lawns and I seriously do not have room for lawn!

I also want 1 more chair, probably an egg chair which will sit outside the door to the left, there's just enough space if I juggle a little and yesterday a kind person brought me some bricks which I've edged the left side of the garden with, I'd like to grow succulents in the small brick holes so that's yet another project for summer and my path, as I've already discussed, I just hate it but if I don't paint it, I haven't a clue what to do with, in a perfect world I'd have pebbles and wooden slats as a pathway but I think it might be too complicated to achieve on my own, I'm getting quite good at gardening but I'm a long way from being Alan Tichmarsh!

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Monday, April 08, 2019

Hunt The Double Yolker with HARIBO #AD

Have you heard about Haribo's great competition to win a premium UK family break with Forest Holidays?  I've collaborated with Haribo (and Looby) to try and find our very own double yolker amongst promotional packs of the family favourite, Haribo Starmix.  Haribo have hidden double yolker sweets and I'm guessing if you find one you'll be jumping up and down with excitement!



Haribo kindly sent us a whole kit of stuff and we had our very own "double yolker" hunt in the back garden.

First of all Looby was blindfolded and lead to the bottom of the garden after I had secreted the magical Haribo in small pots around our garden.  We may not have a huge back garden but that doesn't mean we can't go on a huge magical Easter adventure.


After de-masking I handed her a magnifying glass just in case any smaller spaces needed thorough investigation.


At the start of the egg timer, she went about the task of uncovering as many Haribo as she could checking for "double yolkers" everywhere, she was under strict instructions not to eat them before checking!!


Picking up Poppy Cat for help along the way they searched high and low for the magical prizes.  Black and White cats are not just useful for helping Postman Pat with the post you know!


After examining the haul of delicious Haribo Starmix we worked out that despite there being plenty of the yolkers there were sadly not any double ones.  Looby didn't mind as really she was only interested in eating them.



Holly Bobbins declined to get involved as there were no meat flavoured Haribo but she did consent to becoming a magical Easter Bunny for a little while later on in the day.


Later on we found that the Easter Bunny had been, just look at the size of those footprints, now I can't be sure but it might just be that on Easter Sunday we may just find some good old chocolate Easter Eggs hidden around our house, or maybe we'll even find some more packets of Haribo...

I want to say a huge note of thanks to Haribo for helping me to create a magical experience which returned usually grumpy teen Looby to a temporary state of child-like wonder, we may not have won the holiday but it was 100% worth it for all of the fun that we had.




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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What Makes You Happy?

What makes you happy?  It's a question I've mused on for, well about 45 years if I'm honest and I always come back to one thing.  Photographs, well maybe not even photographs just having memories of happy things around me as much as possible, my-picture.co.uk asked me if I wanted to choose some products from their range and it didn't take long to accept.  After all, all of my walls are full from top to bottom with memories.

I remembered that for all I had been on adventures far and wide I hadn't printed a lot recently other than small photographs, I investigated my folders on my iMac (of which there are many, my first 2tb time-capsule was full last year) and remembered the joy of the trips I took to Barcelona, Nice, Lincoln and the Lake District over the last couple of years, it's been a blast, I've made some memories I'll never forget and I've given my children memories that they'll never forget, including the day that Abigail and I had the biggest argument ever in Villefranche-Sur-Mer, I can laugh about it now but blimey, the most beautiful place in the whole world, somewhere I'd wanted to visit since seeing Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in "An Affair to Remember" and we had a 3 hour spell of angriness, strops and no one speaking to each other!!  Funnily enough I don't have many photos of that day, not because of the argument but because there are no photos of Villefranche-sur-mer which reflect just how beautiful it is to the naked eye.

I think photographs are a reminder of memories for me, it's not about the best photographs or some great piece of art, it's simply a reminder of a moment in your life when things were good, or fun, or beautiful, the times when your heart felt full and your soul felt happy.  I've been lucky to record moments of my children's life since Looby was a few months old and I fell in love with photography, I always loved photographs but it brings a new meaning when you have the ability to capture life yourself, it's like having the power to hold this immense piece of history or future history and that's one of the reasons I started blogging 13 years ago.

Life isn't always a happy, joyful thing, there are daily stresses, my health can be a dodgy old thing and so for those days, having a catalogue of amazing memories I can look at just by walking around my house is an incredible gift.



I had a lot of fun choosing Canvases, acrylic prints and even a blanket with the ever adorable Holly Bobbins on and the amount you can get for not very much is incredible, whats more if you enter MANDYCHARLTONPHOTO at the checkout you'll get 15% off the already discountedprices

I think I started a trend off as I've now introduced Harriet, Rachel and Steph to the company and they've all been buying their canvases from photos they've taken of their own personal memories so don't just take my word for it.

I have to also say that I wasn't quite sure how a blanket of an Instagram photo would come out in real life but it's amazing and to have a blanket with Holly on that I can always have near me forever, well that's something really special.


Disclaimer - I received some free products from My-Picture.co.uk in exchange for talking about them, my friends bought their own upon my recommendation and seeing the products and I'm continuing to use the company because the colours match, the products are lovely and they're also really good value for money!

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Monday, March 18, 2019

When your teen tells you they're gay

Last week was a week I'll never forget, it was the week that Looby chose to tell me in her own special way that she is gay!

The event went like this...

A text message which said "Come to the shoe cupboard"

A coming out cake, what to do when your teen tells you they're gay, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger


I went down to the shoe cupboard and there she was sitting in the cupboard holding out a cake which she'd just baked and decorated, on the top of the cake it said (in rainbow coloured icing of course) "I'm Gay".   Now for anyone who knows Looby, she's my quirky comedy child so when she followed that by asking "Can I come out of the cupboard now?"  I burst out laughing and replied "I think you mean the closet?"

After that I asked her if she was sure, if she might be bi-sexual or pan sexual but she said no, she's definitely gay and she's known for a year.  I cried, she cried and I told her "Looby, you can be anything you want to be, just don't be a moron" and gave her the biggest hug.

Abigail had known since just after Christmas and Iain simply said "oh, okay" followed by his two best friends asking if they could be Looby's gay Godparents.  We ate cake and inside me, I was just so full of pride (no pun intended) because it must be something quite difficult to come to terms with when you're a teenager, societal norms still mostly evolve around hormones meaning you'll be attracted to the opposite sex, in fact, thank goodness she's no longer at a Catholic school where gay relationships aren't talked about at all and in fact, they're still seen as wrong.

The thing is, I've brought my children up around the best of all people, I've never worried about anything other than not bringing them up around morons and they've seen straight people who are terrible at relationships and LGBTQi+ people who've had long lasting, beautiful relationships.  

I actually thought we were moving into a world where there is no prejudice but two of my children's friends lately have told me that their parents didn't support them coming out or that they can't tell their parents because they'll be angry or worse and to me, that's such a sad statement, in fact I've told them they can live in my cupboards if necessary.

I don't know why we live in a world that still judges people on their sexuality, surely the only thing that should define you are your actions and ergo, just don't be a dick!

I know now, as I've always known and told my kids, that I don't care what they do, who they are, as long as they're happy.

I did have a more serious chat with Looby just to make sure she's okay, she doesn't need, help or advice from friends or organisations but she's so zen with her own self that I can't fail to be proud of her.

I do have to admit something though and it's just between us, when she told me, somewhere in the back of my mind I could hear myself thinking "gay, but, but, you're little Looby, aren't you still 3 years old and only thinking about horses" . The realisation that even my baby is now a grown up makes me feel, very, very old!
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Monday, March 11, 2019

7 Gifts for Mother's Day your mum really wants

It's Mother's Day on the 31st of March and I for one shall be taking the day off.  I'm not sure what ideas my girls have in mind but you can bet, their list is different to my list of things I'd really like if money were no object.  I've compiled a list of just a few things which might not be exactly what you would expect for Mother's Day gifts but they're definitely things for mums like me!

1. Personalised Pillows from Nanu - Now I'm not talking about monogrammed pillows I'm talking about a website that you go to, Nanu, you then put in details about how hard or soft you want your pillows to be, which position you sleep in and your height and weight and you get your own customised pillows sent.  I can honestly say since mine arrived I've not woken up with neck ache once!  They even have a buy one get one free offer at the moment.  Go on, treat mum to a great nights sleep!

2. A smart home security camera system from Blink.  Okay, so this isn't the most romantic gift ever but you know what, I've been trying to catch photos of a cheeky squirrel who comes into my garden and pinches the birds nuts and this is the answer, it's motion activate and either sends you video clips or high res photos and it's brilliant for watching the birds.  Still haven't seen that pesky squirrel though!!  On a serious note, we live in a 3 storey house and we've had a couple of incidents we needed to get the police for, if we'd just had this security footage it would be have totally changed what happened afterwards, you owe it to yourself to keep you and your family safe.

3.  This collagen duo pack from Higher Nature is a welcome addition to my beauty routine, containing not only a serum but also a collagen filled drink I'm hoping that by the end of the month I'll be looking more like 25 than 45.  Okay, so I know, miracles don't come in bottles but at my age, I'd like to at least give my skin every chance to age more slowly and gracefully.

4.  This Mandala Travel mug from Spark your Bloom is perfect for those early morning double Nespresso Lattes I like to make but that's not the best part, this one also comes with paints so you can design your own colourful mandala or maybe get the small ones in your life to come up with something extra special just for you.

5.  Okay so no mum, and definitely not me, is ever going to refuse chocolates and these vegan chocolates from Yumbles also happen to be vegan and gluten free as well as a totally tasty treat to say thank you to a mum who's suitably amazing.  (Abigail, Looby, your mama is looking at you )

6.  Now you know, all mums love photos, well, not all mums but I love them, I'm going to be posting about my love for them in my next blogpost so this is really just a taster but if your mum loves photos I can't recommend my-picture.co.uk highly enough for canvases, photos and all manner of gifts, I've even got a blanket with Holly Bobbins on, I'll leave that to show you in my next blog post though!  You can also get 15% off your next order with the code MANDYCHARLTONPHOTO and it's so worth having because this discount is valid on the already discounted prices.


7. Critically endangered socks actively save animals and the landscapes which they live in to protect them from things like palm oil plantations and loggers, it's such important work they're doing and you get soft beautiful socks made from sustainable bamboo, they're also just about to launch a kickstarter where buying socks will help save baby animals, it's probably my favourite gift and they've found a new customer in me because as i'm sure you all know, my family and I, we all adore animals and often adopt them through various schemes so this means we can buy socks and we know, we've saved animals in the process, it's a gift mum will adore.


I want to thank all of the companies who've helped with this gift guide, who've taken the time to get in touch and then send through the carefully selected products which I've received in exchange for writing the guide.

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