Dec share

It can be easy for your exercise routine to annoy or even insult other people. You have to interrupt the Sunday lie-in with your sweetheart to go for a run, you can't go for a drink after work because you're off to the gym, and you can't join your best friend for a birthday drink as you have a big race the next day.

Here's a way to burn calories and keep friends and family happy: decorating. If, like me, you find yourself at a stage in your life where lots of the people you know are moving house, nominate yourselves as their decorators.

Myself and the boy did this for my cousin, his lovely wife and "Bumpy" last weekend and not only was it rewarding to be able to do something helpful for them, but it was also great fun.

Add to this the fact that over the weekend we did about 14 hours of decorating, which according to this calorie output calculator means I burned a total of 4628 calories, and you'll begin to understand just how beneficial this can be. Okay so we may have ever so slightly offset this output with pancakes and choccy biccies, but workers have got to keep well fuelled!

Photo by pseudoplacebo

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Lunchtime walk about

There's a lot to be said for getting away from your computer at lunchtime. It's occurred to me that not enough of us do it so I thought I'd write about the benefits.
  • You get a screen break
  • You can find out what's happening in the world around you
  • The fresh air will calm your mind
  • You'll burn calories
  • You feel much happier when you get back to your desk and will consequently work better
  • You can go with a friend and catch up on all the gossip whilst exercising
  • When you get home in the evening you can feel satisfied that you have already done your day's exercise
  • In the summer you can get a tan at the same time
  • You can properly listen to all that new music on your iPod you haven't really heard yet
Basically there are so many benefits so tomorrow take a pair of flats to work and get out there and enjoy your lunch hour.

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The best running resource ever

Without a doubt the most useful thing I ever came across relating to running is the book Running Made Easy.

It's published by the people behind the wonderful Zest magazine, and makes taking up and progressing at running easier than you ever thought possible.

When I was at school I hated long distance running but was so determined to run the Race for Life that I decided I just had to get started somehow. I bought that book and can honestly say I never looked back and I am running my first half marathon in November!

The authors break running down, first of all into just 60 second chunks, and then its programmes build you up so gradually that you barely even notice that you are starting to run further and that you're not losing your breath anymore.

Another great thing about the book is the way that it helps you chart your progress and reward yourself. It's all simple psychology but it really works and makes you feel proud that you've achieved something you always found hard.

Photo by Cathy G

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My business cards

There was a review on Freelance Switch yesterday about the Moo business cards that I use. It was spot on. Check it out here.

By the way if you're a freelancer you really should read this blog, it's great every single day.

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Under Welsh waves

Under the surface of Welsh waters dead man’s fingers, sunfish and mysterious wrecks all wait, longing for a glimpse of a diver’s mask.

“You can see the same here in Wales as you can anywhere else,” said Janet Bateman of Adventure Breaks. “The only difference here is the visibility. On a good day you could dive to 15m depth but even at 4m it’s incredible what can be seen,” swooned Janet.

“The north coast is abundant in marine life but its waters are very turbulent,” Janet explained. She insists that Pembrokeshire is the place and considering that it is warmed by the Gulf Streams and sheltered from rough Atlantic waters by Ireland, this sounds about right.

Len Bateman, also of Adventure Breaks explained that pool taster sessions would be good if you just wanted to try out the equipment but that a fast-track course could get you in the sea within days.

Although the equipment appears complicated remember to breathe only through your mouth and you will be fine explained amateur diver Jamie Darlow. “The BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) is the only control you would need to understand at first and that is just a matter of pressing a button to adjust your buoyancy.”

“People have been diving in Wales since the 1970s but it is only in recent years that it has become far more accessible,” said Janet. "The only limiting factors are poor health and in some circumstances size. Anyone from the age of 13 and we have customers as old as 65.”

Weather conditions often put people off diving in Wales. “Yes it can be cold, particularly in inland quarries where temperatures can be just 3ºC,” Jamie said grinning. “Wet suits really do protect you from the cold though.” Len Bateman agreed that the cold weather is a limiting factor. “Most diving schools only operate between Easter and autumn, purely because of the cold temperatures throughout the winter months.”

Two thirds of out planet our underwater, isn’t it a crime to never take a look?

Want to do it this weekend?

Dive Pembrokeshire UK, located near Haverford West run Try Dives in heated swimming pools that cost £55. Equipment is included in the price. £140 will get you a one-day UK Diver course in which you will learn about important details such as tides and currents as well as how to deal with the cold.

Talk the talk
Neutral Buoyancy The weightless state between floating and sinking.
Diving Regulator – Supplies divers with breathing gas at a useable pressure.
BCD – Buoyancy Control Devise. The diver adjusts the stab-jacket in order to control depth.

So convince me
“It’s amazing to be able to look down on a whole other world. Scuba diving is like flying around the Grand Canyon.”
Len Bateman, Diving Instructor.

Sport Rating
Excitement 4/5
Technicality 3/5
First timers 4/5

Find out more

Feature for Adventure Wales
Photo by welshcathy

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Puglia: Land of the Trulli

Miles of grassy dunes and silver-green olive groves, burning white sugar-cube towns, intense turquoise-blue waters...that’s Puglia. Washed by the Adriatic on one side and the Ionian Sea on the other, the heel of Italy’s boot still remains remarkably untrodden.

Puglia is an essentially flat region that is home to miles of sweeping coastline. Impressive karst formations furnish the Murgia highland and coast whilst inland you can explore the Castellana Caves, home to an impressive collection of stalactites and stalagmites.

The region offers an abundance of interesting and quirky towns and villages that lend themselves to leisurely strolls. Alberobello and Locorotondo are home to entire streets of beehive-roofed Trulli homes, an unusual but attractive feature of the region.

Trulli buildings originated between three and four thousand years ago but nobody’s really sure how they came about. Now they attract interest from Italians and foreign visitors alike and many have been renovated into wonderfully unique accommodation. The region is punctuated with immensely stylish hotels that have shades of the exotic, with adobe-style architecture and Moroccan flourishes.

Bari is the regional capital and consists of a rambling old town – full of striking architecture – a major shopping district for frittering away your Euros, and the administrative district which surrounds the rectangular shopping area.

The town of Lecce – the so-called Florence of the Baroque – has a riotously ornate central piazza and narrow lanes that lend themselves to exploring. The local sandstone has a slight pink tinge that makes rose tinted glasses redundant and every turn reveals another captivating building.

Fortified Ostuni, set on three hills rising over the Adriatic, also begs to be seen. It is home to spotless beaches and endless vineyards and olive groves which just beg you to sample their wares.

Over the years Puglia has been dominated by many a major power, resulting in a diverse and unusual mix of buildings and customs. There are cool Baroque churches to gaze upon, pagan dances to watch and archaeological complexes like Canne della Battaglia and Ignazia to explore.

There are many impressive castles and imposing cathedrals to see as well, ensuring that the time you spend in Pulgia will be enriching as well as relaxing.

The Puglians, like most other Italians, have a near obsessive love for food and take great pride in their local specialities. Puglia produces more olive oil than the whole of the rest of Italy and more wine than Germany. Spend time enjoying these delicacies as well as locally made pastas, soft cheeses and every kind of fruit you can imagine.

If you’ve still got room after all of that sit in the sunshine and wash it down with one of the potent local wines, or join the locals for a latte di mandorla – iced coffee with almond syrup.

Go in high summer to guarantee a tan or in late spring to see the carpets of flowers.

Where to Stay

Abate Masseria, near Noci

Gnarled oaks and walnut trees, conical roofs peeping over the walls like a row of clown’s hats – you’ll wonder where you are. These round stone buildings are the typical Trulli homes of Puglia. Here they’re part of an ancient farm estate whose country simplicity has been subtly modernised without losing its charm. The bedrooms are rustic chic havens of red tiled floors, white plaster and embroidered bedspreads. Modern trappings – internet access, flat screen TVs – are there but cunningly hidden. Dine on Puglian specialities in either the barrel-vaulted dining room or under the gazebo. Spoil yourself with an essential olive oil massage and sip cocktails by the pool. Pretty magic.

Il Palmento, near Locorotondo

Il Palmento’s cluster of tiny, meringue-topped Trulli look like a forest of dazzling white beehives. More like little houses than conventional suites, the bedroom and bathroom are tucked either side of a central sitting area. Floors are tiled, walls are whitewashed, and ceilings are domed while the furniture is simple and rustic. Il Palmento’s landscapes of rolling vineyards and olive groves make exploring the towns of Locorotondo and Alberobello delightful. There’s a bar in the former wine press, an inviting pool and rose-filled grounds to wander. Stunningly fresh Puglian cooking is served in the rustic-style restaurant and you can work up an appetite play tennis or Italian bowls. Alternatively indulge yourself with a massage or a Turkish bath.

Palazzo Baldi, near Galatina

Now this is grand living; not one 16th century palazzo but four. Tucked behind the Galatina’s cathedral these small but perfectly formed palazzi were once home to local aristocracy. The bedrooms are large, dramatic spaces elegantly furnished with a certain theatricality. Some have balconies, while others overlook the inner courtyard. Galatina is a great base for exploring this unspoilt part of Puglia. Explore lovely Lecce, with its rich baroque architecture, admire the frescoes in Galatina’s Santa Caterina cathedral or head for the beaches. Return to your private palazzo and sip a cool drink in the leafy courtyard, or soak up the rays on the rooftop terrace – a secret suntrap.

Masseria Serra dell’Isola, near Bari

Step through the pillared gateway, under the olive and almond trees and into the arms of this whitewashed masseria where there’s a tangible sense that little has changed here in the last 300 years. Fires still burn in the terracotta stoves in the old olive press – now the living room. Sepia-tinted photographs line the walls and antiques fill the rooms. Bedrooms have an unpretentious, country warmth and are furnished with pretty wrought-iron bedsteads, embroidered bedspreads and charming paintings. Borrow a bicycle to explore the countryside, read a book in the garden and savour homemade specialities such as lamb with seasonal vegetables, chickpeas and calamari and biancomangiare (Puglian almond crème caramel). The masseria’s simple homeliness will wrap you in its warmth.

Getting There
BA flies from London-Gatwick to Bari; Ryanair flies from London-Stansted to Bari and Brindisi.

Feature written for Italy Magazine
Photo by -Zelig-

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Decision time

So you’ve got your A-level results and it’s time to make a decision about which uni to go to. But there are so many to choose from in Wales let alone anywhere else. Which one is best suited to you? Laura Barnhouse helps you explore Welsh Universities…

Swansea University
Best for surfers

Student population: Almost 12,000
Clubs in city: Three and numerous late night bars.
Departments rated 'excellent' for Teaching Quality by the UK Government Quality Assurance Agency (QAA): 15
Position on Sunday Times League Table: 44

“The university is based on a fairly small campus which means that you always see people you know around campus. I think this makes you feel really at home and settled. It also has fantastic sports facilities and great nightlife.
“The best thing about Swansea University though has to be its location. It’s right next to the beach and the park, which means that on a hot summer day there’s no better place to be. Surfers love it here as it’s right next to the sea and near the Gower which has many good beaches for surfing.”
Gerwyn Hughes, Sixth Year, Sports Science.

“In the first year you can live in a Student Village which is a fun place to live and a great introduction to student life. It’s impossible not to make friends there.”
David Jones, Second Year History.

Cardiff University

Best for city slickers

Student population: 19,722
Clubs in city: Too many to count.
Departments rated excellent: 21
Position on Sunday Times League Table: 22

“Cardiff University is a prestigious yet unassuming university with a compact layout. Everyone is welcome here.”
Daniel Barnhouse, Third Year, Law.

“Cardiff University’s buildings are stunning, the courses are brilliant and there is a great social scene.”

Nicola Richens, Third Year, Education and Criminology.

The University of Wales, Aberystwyth

Best for outdoor lovers

Student population: 7000
Clubs in town: Two main clubs and loads more bars.
Departments rated excellent: Nine
Position on Sunday Times League Table: 49

“Even though Aber is a small city there is always loads going on for students. This makes it really easy to make friends and have fun.”
Faye Burnell, Third Year, Information Management.

“I love the close, campus-based ‘family’ feeling you get. Everyone knows everyone else, it’s safe, there’s no crime and there are plenty of pubs, cafes, hairdressers and clothing shops in town.”
Martyn Teece-Round, Final Year Agriculture and the Environment.

The University of Wales, Bangor

Best for Welsh speakers

Student population: 9000
Clubs in city: Two
Departments rated excellent: Six
Position on Sunday Times League Table: 50

“What’s not to love about Bangor? There’s loads going on for students, the location is stunning and the university’s great?”
Abbey Jones, Second Year, History with Film Studies.

“I came to Bangor because I love extreme sports. There are plenty of facilities around here for them. I already canoed regularly but now I go rock climbing quite a bit as well.”
Josh Berry, First Year, Spanish.

University of Wales, Lampeter

Best for quiet types

Student population: Under 10,000
Clubs in town: None
Departments rated “excellent": Two.
Position on Sunday Times League Table: 53

“The courses at Lampeter are great and it’s a huge bonus that the university is set in a quiet town.”
Helen Anderson, Third Year, Philosophy.

University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC)

Best for practical types

Student population: 10,000
Clubs in city: Far too many to count.
Departments rated excellent: Nine.
Position on Sunday Times League Table: 87

“UWIC is a fun place to be thanks to its welcoming attitude and great atmosphere. Anyone would feel at home here and there are always loads of social events going on.”
Nathan Talbot, First Year Retail Management.

“I was accepted into a more prestigious uni but I turned it down to come to UWIC because I felt more at home here. You are made to feel really welcome at UWIC. No one is at all stuck up and everyone was so willing to go out of their way to help me.
“The best thing about UWIC has to be its location. Cardiff is such an amazing place for a student to be; the city is really geared up for students.”
Freya Swenson, First Year Product Design with Electronics.

Swansea Institute of Higher Education

Best for arty types

Student population: 6000
Clubs in city: Three and numerous late night bars.
Departments rated excellent: NA
Position on Sunday Times League Table: 117

“Swansea’s a great place to go to uni. It’s right by the sea and pretty Mumbles, there are loads of bars and clubs here and Cardiff’s only an hour away should you fancy a big shopping trip.” Dawn Jacobs, PGCE.

“My course is wicked and when I’m not at uni I can be out on the Gower surfing. Who wouldn’t love it here?”
Jack Davies, Second Year, Graphic Design.

Trinity College Carmarthen

Best for all-rounders

Student population: 2,500
Clubs in town: Two
Departments rated excellent: NA
Position on Sunday Times League Table: NA

“The Student Union is great here. There is always plenty going on outside the classroom and class sizes are small so I always get plenty of help there as well.”
Ryan Edwards, First Year, Advertising and Media Studies.

University of Glamorgan, Trefforest

Best for Valley lovers

Student population: 21,500
Clubs in village: None but loads in nearby Cardiff and Pontypridd.
Departments rated ‘excellent’: Seven
Position on Sunday Times League Table: NA

“When we’re not at lectures we often explore the Brecon Beacons and sometimes we head into Cardiff for a bit of shopping.”
Judith Thomas, First Year, History.

North East Wales Institute of Higher Education (NEWI), Wrexham.

Best for career seekers

Student population: 7,500
Clubs in town: Five
Departments rated excellent: NA
Position on Sunday Times League Table: 119

“There are some great facilities here including a huge sports centre, a Chinese medicine clinic and a scene of crime lab. NEWI has its own car racing team as well!”
Rich Morgan, Second Year, Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering.

Feature written for The Big Issue
Photo by Sacred Destinations

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This week I have been running to the beat of Kate Nash's album Made of Bricks.

It is a merry but dry-witted album in the vein of Lily Allen, Just Jack and the Arctic Monkeys and there is even a definite Bjork essence to Nash's vocals.

The melodies are so sweet that you a fooled into thinking it's a jolly album and it's not until you focus on the lyrics that you realise that Nash isn't quite as angelic as she sounds.

Made of Bricks is great for sunshine running thanks to its constant pace and light melodies.

Tough moment track:
Single Foundations will get you up hills thanks to its jingly piano tune and derogatory references to the male of the species. This is particularly useful when lycra-clad dudes are speeding past you with a smug look on their faces.

Photo by trixie

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My new website

I have a new website. Please check it out at www.laurabarnhouse.com.

Photo by tifotter's

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Ski Funday

Following on from yesterday's theme of revitalising your fitness routine I want to suggest another way to do this: try out a sport you normally don't do.

For example last weekend we went skiing, which I haven't done much since I was about ten. Don't get me wrong, it was pretty damn scary when we first got off the lift and saw a steep slope directly in front of us.

It took me about 15 minutes to get down the slope, much to the amusement of a group of blokes watching at the bottom of the slope. By the end of the session though I was whizzing down the slope and best of all, Dan was the only one of us who fell over. Score!

I got such a buzz out of doing something I hadn't done for a while and at improving at it quickly that I didn't even notice all the exercise I was doing.

So if you are getting bored of your fitness routine, either try doing it somewhere else as I said yesterday, or just try doing something different. It will give you such a buzz.

Photo by igormazic

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Take it to the coast

This weekend me and the boy went down to beautiful Cornwall. That place is extremely good for the soul.

It is stunning and its calm lifestyle gives you an opportunity to rediscover your passions as I did, in cycling and running.

Whenever we go down there we hire bikes and cycle the Camel Trail between Wadebridge and Padstow. It is a flat path that takes you right along the river to the beautiful seaside town. Once there you simply have to indulge in a cream tea at Mary B's cafe, and you won't feel guilty having arrived there on your own steam.

As I live in the city I made the most of the lovely area by going for two runs over the weekend. The scenery was so stunning that I barely noticed the intense heat and the cotton-wool feeling I had in my mouth.

Yesterday's run was particularly special. I ran down to Rock where the water was glistening and there were hundreds of boats on the water. I couldn't resist having a paddle to refresh myself before running all the way back uphill to our base.

So if you're getting a bit bored of cycling or running the same old routes, go somewhere completely different. You will also get a huge buzz from exploring somewhere on foot and a sense achievement that you probably don't get from completing your normal route anymore.

Photo by *selectormarx

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