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Oxford Castle Unlocked: A fun-filled day out for all the family

 

                                                             Going down the steps from the top of St George’s Tower

 

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending Oxford Castle Unlocked, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire city, and perhaps one of the oldest too! With history dating back to the 11th century, this 1000 year old castle was largely destroyed by the English Civil War and, by the 18th century, it had become Oxford’s local prison. Home to some of England’s most notorious criminals, and still in use right up until 1996, Oxford Castle has now been turned into a major hotel, but part of the site has been opened up to the public to offer the full prison experience. With it’s original motte and bailey hill, real underground chambers from its prison days, and the magnificent St George’s Tower still in place, Oxford Castle oozes history, charm and sends shivers down the spines of those that visit… Here’s what I got up to during my time there…

 

The History

 

                                       Just one of the inmates at Oxford Castle Prison

 

This partly ruined Norman medieval castle is one of the oldest in the country, and was believed to have been built in the year 1071 according to the Abingdon Chronicle. The instruction of the castle was ordered by William the Conquerer after he granted extensive land in Oxfordshire to the baron Robert D’Oyly. The castle played a key part in British history during the 12th and 13th centuries, where it was attacked and seized many times. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, the castle was starting to be used as a prison, instead of being seen as a royal residency, although it was never officially given this title. By the time the 18th century had started, it was being used as a full working prison and remained that way right up until its closure in the mid 1990s.

 

The Guided Tour

 

                                                          With our lovely tour guide, Alastair!

 

Our tour guide, Alastair, brought the prison to life and really gave us an insight as to what it was like for inmates living in those cells all those years ago, and for those imprisoned in more recent times too as it was only closed down in 1996! Each room/corridor/level of the prison had a story to tell, from the trial of Mary Blandy (she was on trial for poisoning her father) to the escape of Empress Matilda (the cousin of King Stephen). Alastair, and all of the other tour guides, did a wonderful job of telling these historical stories in a way that captured your imagination, really immersed you in the atmosphere, and made you even more interested in the castle than you had been before you walked through the door.

 

The Location

 

                                                                                                   The gorgeous castle building

 

Situated in the historic Castle Quarter, Oxford Castle can be found just off the main high street in the centre of the city. At the foot of the new Westgate development site, and just next to the Seacourt Park and Ride bus stop, the Castle can be easily reached by bus, coach, train, taxi, or on foot.

 

Useful Information

 

                                                                        The entrance to Oxford Castle Unlocked

 

The castle is open daily, with tours starting between 10am and 4pm. Admission prices (£10.95 per adult, £7.75 per child) include a guided tour and access to St George’s Tower, the castle hill and the exhibition. There’s also a gift shop and cafe on site too. Booking ahead is advised due to increased demand. Parking is available nearby either at one of the many pay and display car parks in the city, or one of the 5 park and ride car parks that operate excellent services every single day.

My time at Oxford Castle was truly enjoyable; I loved learning about the history of somewhere so important to England, and with it being right on my doorstep too I felt like I was completely immersed in the experience. Our wonderful guide. Alastair, was so fantastic in portraying his character (Daniel Harris) and delivering the history of the castle in such a fun, interactive and informative way. A big thank you to Alastair, Robin, Ellie and the rest of the Oxford Castle team for looking after us during our visit – we had so much fun!

Love Jess x

NB. My day out was provided by the Oxford Castle Unlocked team but, as always, all opinions, words and photos are of course my own.

 

 

August Newsletter

 

Hi guys,

Hope you’ve had an amazing summer, although it feels like it’s pretty much over now and Autumn is well and truly on its way! August has been yet another busy month with new trips, blog collabs and plenty of things happening in my personal life too. I’m a little sad that summer seems to be over now, but looking back I’ve had the most amazing few months and have been lucky enough to travel to lots of different places across Europe. as well as creating new opportunities for the blog a little closer to home too! If you follow me on social media you’ll know I’ve been here there and everywhere lately, so here’s how my August went…

 

I hopped over to Hamburg for the weekend

 

 

This was my big trip for the month, my first time in Germany and my third press trip of the year so far! After meeting the amazing Visit Hamburg team at Traverse this year – I told you it was the best travel conference on the planet- I was lucky enough to be invited to experience Germany’s second biggest city for myself. I flew out for a weekend of paddle boarding, sight seeing, festival going and ice cream tasting and had the most amazing few days with some fantastic fellow travel and lifestyle bloggers. My guide to Hamburg will be live on the blog soon and I’m so excited to share it with all of you! Big thanks to Jessi for organizing our trip – see you at WTM!

 

I made the national news & I’ve become an ambassador too

 

 

On a personal note, I achieved something rather amazing this month. For those of you that know me, or have been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I suffer with quite a serious medical condition that has affected me for the past six years. I don’t often write about it, but this month I became an ambassador for The Pituitary Foundation, the charity who have supported me with my prolactinoma diagnosis since I was 18. My story was noticed by the Press Association and was then shared on national newspapers such as The Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun, being shared over 1300 times and seen by a collective audience of over 5 million readers! A women’s health magazine has also asked to feature it, and there’s a chance my story may be aired on a US talk show in the coming weeks too! I’m enormously proud to have become ambassador for such an amazing charity, and I’m aiming to do everything I can to raise as much money and awareness as possible for this little known condition and organisation. I have some big plans coming up and am looking forward to sharing them on social soon… watch this space!

 

I had a day at the races

 

Race Days 🐎🎉👯☀️

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You know me, I LOVE an excuse to get dressed up and have my hair and make up done, so when my sisters and best friend suggested a day out at Newbury Races it wasn’t hard for me to say yes. Oh and Olly Murs was performing the same day too, no biggy, I was completely sold; I LOVE HIM SO MUCH! We had the best time at the races that day, despite not winning an awful lot and queuing for what felt like forever for the portaloos. But the sun was shining, the Pimms was flowing and Olly was looking and sounding fineeeee. Can he just dance with me tonight please? Thanks babes.

 

I worked on numerous blog collaborations

 

 

August was probably the busiest month for me in terms of new blog collabs, and I felt so lucky to have so many new opportunities for my little space on the internet! The projects I worked on were also really interesting and varied, so offered something different for all of you lovely lot. From sandwich shop and boat trip reviews to a day out in my home city, I really threw myself into these new projects and couldn’t have been happier to work with some new clients. I also took part in a collab with my favourite brand on the planet –  WALT DISNEY WORLD! :O As the world’s biggest Disney fan I jumped at the chance to team up with Netflights to bring you the ultimate guide to dining at Disney, and here’s the finished project! Big thanks to all the companies I worked with on my collabs this month: The Hollybush, City Cruises, Oxford Castle, Netflights.

 

 

 

I spent the bank holiday weekend in Liverpool

 

One of the most famous places in the music world – the iconic Cavern Club 🎤🎤 #Liverpool #BeatlesWeek

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I bloody love a bank holiday weekend, and even more so when I know I’m going away and get to spend it with my amazing family! I headed back up to Liverpool for the first time since January (it had been far too long) for a weekend of dinner and drinks with my nearest and dearest. Something very exciting happened too… We only went and booked a CRUISE!! My first ever cruise!! I’m excited/nervous about sea sickness but can’t wait to sail around the Med with 13 of my wonderful family members for my mums 50th and my granddads 80th next August! We’ll be flying from Dubrovnik then making our way to Valletta, Sicily, Kefalonia and Kotor before heading back to Dubrovnik for our final destination – any tips for these places or general advice for first time cruisers like me will be greatly received! We had a big dinner in Liverpool on the Saturday night before hitting the town for celebratory drinks too. On the Sunday we headed down to the Pier Head and the Albert Dock and took a wander round the summer stalls on the water front before heading over to Mathew Street and the famous Cavern Club as it was Beatles Week and I felt that love was all we needed to round off an amazing weekend in my second home city. <3

 

And then wandered around Gloucester on bank holiday Monday

 

 

We came back a little early from Liverpool so decided to make the most of the bank holiday sunshine and have a day out in nearby Gloucester, which is just an hours drive from our home in Oxfordshire. We were sooo lucky with the weather and spent the day wandering around the city, watching a charity rugby game and exploring the historic dockyards. We also admired the beautiful Gloucester Cathedral, one of the Harry Potter film locations, which looked even more stunning in the August sunshine. Sadly we couldn’t go inside as film crews were on site filming the new Mary Queen of Scots blockbuster (I might have attempted to spot Margot Robbie and David Tennant through the stained glass windows) but I will definitely return soon to try and catch a glimpse of the inside of this beautiful building!

 

Pheeeeewww I told you I’d had a busy month! I’ve loved every minute and have had so much fun over the past few weeks but, I’m not gonna lie, I’m feeling exhausted lately and really want to just chill out over the next couple of weeks! I don’t have long until I’m off on my next trip though – I’m inter-railing around part of Europe for 10 days and I am SO EXCITED. I’ll be heading to Warsaw, Prague (again), Salzburg and Ljubljana so please send any blogs/recommendations/city guides my way – I need lots of tips for some last minute planning!

Love Jess x

 

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*GIVEAWAY* A day out in London with Thames Rockets – and how you can win tickets! 🚀🚀

 

 

Last week I was lucky enough to hop aboard a speedboat on the Thames for a collaboration with a very special company. How cool is that?! Part of my job was to review a speedboat, and not just any old speedboat, a Thames Rocket if you please. Formerly known as London Rib Voyages, Thames Rockets has been renamed and rebranded since it was first launched in 2006, and has previously been awarded the #1 thing to do in London by TripAdvisor, the best tourist attraction by Visit London and, most recently, Family Friendly Attraction of the Year by Visit England. Fresh after their latest award win, the team at Thames Rockets seem to be getting bigger and better, with their awesome speed adventures offering quite possibly the best way to see London. Here’s how my trip went, and how you can WIN a pair of tickets for yourself too…

 

Boarding

 

thames rockets

Hopping on board 🚀🚀

 

Boarding for any Thames Rocket trip takes place on the London Eye Pier, at the heart of Westminster, right underneath the London Eye. Guests are advised to arrive 15 mins ahead of their allocated booking time and are given life jackets and a safety briefing before stepping on board the speedboat. The boats seat up to 12 people and no matter where you sit, you’ll get an amazing view of the sights from every angle! I took my little sister along for the ride and we were booked on to the Ultimate London Adventure, a 50 minute part guided tour/part speed experience showcasing the best that London has to offer.

 

The Tour

 

tour guide london 1

Our tour guide, Rory, showing us the sights!

 

Our speed boat experience gave us the best of both worlds; an informative tour and history of all the famous landmarks along the river for 25 minutes, and then 25 minutes of full frontal speed as we broke through the Thames barrier, and the speed restrictions, and whizzed from one side of the riverbank to the other for as long we could. Our guide, Rory, was so much fun – he told us fun facts about each of the iconic sights whilst not making it sound like a history lesson! I’ve walked and toured London many times before, but I still found out things I hadn’t known about purely from Rory’s fantastic knowledge.

 

The Sights

 

 

Starting at The London Eye, the tour took us backwards to catch a glimpse of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament before heading up river all the way towards Tower Bridge. We passed 22 iconic landmarks along the way including St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard, The Gherkin, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, HMS Belfast and The Tower of London. Although I’ve seen them all before, gazing at all these amazing monuments from the river gave me a totally new perspective and made me fall in love with them all over again. We also rode under all the famous bridges, from Blackfriars and the Millennium to Waterloo and London Bridge. If I had to pick just one though, it would be the mighty Tower Bridge; it’s somewhere that has a really special place in my heart and I can never ever tire of looking at it – it’s my favourite place in the world!

 

The Speed

 

speedboat tour london

Hanging on for dear life… We went SO fast but it was SO much fun! 🚀🚀

 

Ok so I know I was on a speedboat tour, but I did NOT expect us to go so frikkin fast! Once we’d got past the barrier and the speed restrictions had lifted, our wonderful driver Nick went full throttle on the acceleration and we were blasting past Tower Bridge quicker than we could have ever imagined. We rode up and down the river, side to side and round and round whilst the speakers were blaring loud music and giving us a party experience to remember. It was literally so much fun, just like being on a fast roller-coaster at a theme park, but even better as the sights of London were all around us. We had to grab on to our seats but we were in no danger at all of falling out as our crew kept us safe the whole time – just make sure you hold on to anything loose as they can’t be held responsible for flying hats or scarves!

My sister and I absolutely adored our time spent with the Thames Rockets team; the tour, the speed and the music were amazing, we just wish we could have had longer on board! The Ultimate London adventure was perfect for us, but you can choose from a variety of other experiences to suit your needs. Why not hop on board the Thames Lates cruise to see the city sights lit up in all their glory? Or if your need for speed outweighs your need for sightseeing, the Break The Barrier tour is the one for you! Whatever tour you choose, Thames Rockets will not disappoint! Summer is a great time to visit whilst the sun is shining and the landmarks look even more glorious, but this experience can be taken at any time of year, weather permitting of course.

 

 

As part of this review, I’m delighted to announce that I also have a pair of tickets for you to WIN so that you can experience The Ultimate London adventure too! All you have to do to win is:

  • Follow me on Twitter – @jessica16_x
  • Follow Thames Rockets on Twitter – @thamesrockets
  • Retweet my competition tweet (pinned tweet on my Twitter page)

**Competition opens 12/07/17 and closes 31/07/17 – entrants must do all three of the above to qualify. Quoted tweets will not count. Winners to be announced on my Twitter page 03/08/17 and will be sent a pair of Thames Rockets tickets via email.**

 

thames rockets 2

What an amazing adventure we had with the Thames Rockets crew 

 

Wishing you all the best of luck with the competition – this really is an amazing prize and I know whoever wins will have the most amazing day out in our beautiful capital city! I’m rather jealous that I won’t get to do The Ultimate London Adventure all over again, but I will most definitely be back on board with Thames Rockets again soon and can’t wait to try another one of their tours.

GOOD LUCK!

Love Jess x

NB. I was invited as a guest of Thames Rockets for the purpose of this review and giveaway but, as always, all thoughts, opinions and photos are my own. A big thank you to Rory, Kai, Nick, Greg and the rest of the Thames Rockets team for looking after us, and for making our day so special.

 

thames rockets 1

Thanks for having me guys – had a blast! 🚀🚀

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Traverse17 round up – still the best travel blogging conference on the planet!

 

This building is one of my favourites in the whole of #London 🇬🇧 #TheO2 #VisitLondon #Traverse17

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Hi everyone,

So if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that I spent the whole of the May bank holiday weekend down in London for Traverse 17, the second conference I’ve been to which has been held by the fantastic Traverse Events. I went to my first one in Cardiff last year and had an incredible day, but this year it was bigger and better than ever before and was held in London for the first time. With two days of conferences instead of one, and more parties, workshops and social events to attend I had the most amazing weekend meeting new blogging friends, catching up with old ones and networking my bum off! If you’re yet to attend Traverse, here’s why I think you really should, and why I think it’s the best travel blogging conference on the planet…

You’ll meet so many like minded people

 

 

One of my favourite things about Traverse is that you get to catch up with so many blogger friends and get chatting to so many new ones too. Everyone’s in the same boat, we’re all there to mingle, and make contacts with new brands, as well as reconnect with fellow bloggers and old friends too. Here’s me with some of my faves, Lucy, Rach and Matt! Miss you guys! X

 

You’ll get opportunities you won’t find anywhere else

 

 

Where else can you take part in a competition with Topdeck Travel, play a crystal maze style game with Affilinet and come home with a cuddly toy from Cathay Pacific? Only at Traverse, that’s where! The brands and sponsors at the event are all there to speak to bloggers, work with influencers, and run fantastic giveaways and competitions, and the more you network, the more you’ll be remembered by the brands and the more chance you have of working on new projects with your new contacts. I’d highly recommend speaking to every single one of the brands just to say hi and to introduce yourself; hand out those business cards, give a friendly smile and show genuine interest, even if you’re not sure if the brand is a right fit for your blog. Make sure you send a follow up email to say hello and to thank people for their time if you’ve engaged in meaningful conversation too – I love staying in touch with new contacts as it really helps to forge longer lasting, working relationships.

 

You’ll learn so much from the workshops and talks

 

 

With two full days of workshops and lectures to attend at this years conference, I went into full ‘back to school’ mode and had my pen and paper to hand ready to take copious notes at every opportunity. I really love learning and try to improve my knowledge and my blogging skills as much as I can so I am a huge fan of the workshops and try to get to almost all of them! During my time at Traverse this year I attended lectures given by fellow bloggers, PR companies and SEO experts and I learnt so frikkin much! Each and every one of them were insightful, informative and super interesting so I can’t wait to put my new found skills into practice and grow my little blog even more!

 

You’ll get tonnes of freebies

 

 

This is definitely one of the perks of Traverse, and the goodies seem to get better and better after each event! Last year I came away with a beach towel, beach ball, sturdy bag and much more, but this year I was given a selfie stick (yay), baseball hat, phone charger, piggy bank, pens, keyrings and notepads too. A big thanks to all the sponsors for being so generous with their fantastic freebies this year!

 

You’ll grow in confidence

 

 

This is probably the single biggest reason you should go to Traverse. I can’t tell you how much my confidence has sky rocketed since attending my first couple of conferences this past year. I’ve always been bubbly and outgoing, but in the past found it difficult to approach people I didn’t know for fear of not making a good first impression, or of not sounding intelligent enough! Now though, after two conferences and countless events, I can happily walk into a room full of strangers and introduce myself to all the people and brands there without feeling nervous one bit. My confidence is at an all time high and that’s 100% down to the experiences I’ve had with Traverse over the past year!

 

You’ll attend some epic parties

 

 

Like this one – the opening night at Altitude London hosted by Jet2 – we had canapés, champagne and incredible 360 degree views over London… what’s not to love?!

 

 

… and this one! The closing party was hosted by Visit Spain and was held at the stunning Iberica Restaurant in Canary Wharf. The tapas was delicious, the cava was flowing and everyone was having a fiesta and celebrating the end of a fantastic weekend.

 

 

.. but the highlight was this one – a boat party on the Thames hosted by Cheapflights and CityCruises. Watching the sunset over The O2 and then seeing Tower Bridge lit up after dark was truly special and something I will remember forever!

 

And you’ll network every second of the day!

 

 

This word used to scare me shitless. The thought of ‘networking’ or making small talk with complete strangers used to really make me feel nervous. I didn’t want to put myself out there for fear of looking like an idiot, or for sounding stupid, but I’ve found my networking mojo over the past year and, for me, that’s something that is a great achievement. Being pushed out of my comfort zone has been so rewarding, so I now absolutely LOVE networking. I just try to be myself, be engaging, bubbly and friendly, and people seem to remember me so I must be doing something right!

 

These are just some of the many reasons to attend the wonderful Traverse conference, which will be held outside of the UK for the first time next year in the Dutch city of Rotterdam! Whether you’re a total newbie or you’re a blogging pro, every attendee comes together and is made to feel completely equal, which is why Traverse is so fantastic. No matter how small or large your blog is, you’re all treated the exact same and the parties are so good for mingling with new people you would never have met otherwise!

Michael, Paul and the whole of the Traverse team go above and beyond to make sure every single attendee gets the most out of the conference, and it wouldn’t be what it is today without them! Thanks for another amazing weekend guys – see you in Rotterdam for #Traverse18! Have I sold it to you yet, and are you thinking of attending the conference next year? Register your interest for tickets and hopefully I’ll see you there! 😀

Love Jess x

 

That sky tho 😍 #VisitLondon #London #Traverse17 @citycruises

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April Newsletter!

 

 

Hi everyone!

So as usual I’m late putting my newsletter up as I’ve had another CRAZY few days towards the end of this month attending the fantastic Traverse conference in London! I got back from Vienna right at the start of the month, have done some exciting day trips and have taken on some new blogging opportunities too! It was so lovely to have some much needed time off over the Easter break, and here’s how my April went…

 

I took part in my first April fools day campaign

 

 
Right at the start of the month I produced a sponsored post in collaboration with the fantastic Netflights team showcasing five beautiful destinations that look as though they belong on a totally different planet. I had a really good response from this post from you lovely lot and you seemed to really enjoy it! For the eagle eyed readers amongst you though, you might have spotted something slightly odd… and I can now reveal that this post was in fact an April fools day campaign! GOTCHA!! Did you twig?!

 

I reached 3000 Twitter followers

 

 

 

This is a HUGE milestone for me and I’m so pleased to have finally reached the big 3K mark on Twitter! A few years ago I could never have imagined that even just 3 of you would follow me on Twitter and be interested in reading my blog, let alone 3000 of you! A big thank you to everyone who has followed me and my journey over the past few years, I can’t wait to keep growing my blog and my social presence and am eternally grateful to all of my wonderful readers. Next stop, the big 5k! 😉

 
I went to Blenheim Palace for the last time this year 

 

What a beautiful day and what a beautiful part of the world we live in ☀️☀️ #blenheim #sunshine #sundayfunday

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So if you’re an avid reader of my blog, and you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I go to Blenheim Palace an awful lot! It’s so close to my home (just a 15min drive) and it’s one of the most beautiful places in Oxfordshire. Sadly our annual passes have come to an end and we won’t be renewing them until 2018, but we had one final wander around the grounds and the palace on a lovely sunny April weekend. I really made the most of my last visit to Blenheim and went for lunch in Woodstock too to make a proper day of it. I will obviously be returning to Blenheim again soon, just not for a year or so until I renew my AP, but I’ll miss this pretty place! Until next time, Blenheim 😘

 

I had a girly spa day

spaday

 
Back in January I booked a spa day as part of my sister Sophie’s 18th birthday present for the two of us as well as my mum and other sister Hannah and we couldn’t wait for our first girly day of 2017! We headed to the super modern Bannatyne Banbury Spa in Oxfordshire, around 40 minutes from home, and were treated to back massages, facials and full use of the facilities including pool, sauna, steam room and hot tub. We had lunch there to make a proper day of it and it was so lovely to spend some quality relaxation time together – I totally switched off and had a good detox. I love a good spa day and it’s even better when I get to spend it with my beautiful family!

 

I had an exciting meeting with a local PR company

 

tweet

 

 

So I can’t say too much about this at the mo, but last week I had a super cool meeting with a local travel PR company in Oxford and I think I’m going to be working with them at some point in the not too distant future on reviews and press trips! I’ll bring you more news as and when I have it, but all I can say is that I’m really excited to be working with a fantastic team and I can’t wait to get cracking on some new blog projects for 2017!

 

I had the most amazing weekend in London at Traverse17

 

 

 

Ahh I’ve just got back from a brilliant weekend in London for my second time attending the fantastic Traverse conference! I went to the Cardiff event last year and it was fantastic but this year was EVEN BETTER with more workshops, more events, more brands and sponsors and lots more parties! Michael, Paul and the rest of the Traverse team ensured every single one of us bloggers were well looked after at the Ravensbourne building next to the 02 arena and I learnt such a lot from my three days there.

 

 

I networked as much as I could, making sure I spoke to as many people as possible, and this really helped to boost my confidence. The highlight of the weekend was a river cruise along the Thames hosted by CityCruises and CheapFlights – seeing all the famous London landmarks lit up after dark was mesmerising and something I’ll remember for a very long time! Thanks Traverse team – you da best! <3

 

So my April was filled up nicely and wasn’t too crazy busy but it ended on a real high with my recent weekend in London. The month of May is now upon us and I’ve got some exciting things planned as well as my first beach holiday in three years with a week in Tenerife to look forward to at the end of the month! How did your April go? Let me know in the comments below!

Love Jess X

 

 

Also here's me loving life at #CanaryWharf just because tube station tourists have more fun 🚇🚇 #youknowit #TravelTuesday #I'mageek

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