Birmingham Nature Lovers: Sandwell Valley Country Park

It’s not every day that you can innocently take your dog out for a walk and end up playing on a giant wooden glockenspiel in the woods! 

Well, that is unless you regularly frequent Sandwell Valley Country Park and have a walk in Priory Woods, which can be easily accessed from the car park next to Sandwell Park Farm.  Priory Woods is one of a number of Nature Reserves on the site.  The woods make for a delightful walk, as you’ll find other musical instruments made of natural materials, as well as numerous statues throughout.

If statues, music and woods aren’t your thing, never fear!  There’s plenty to do at this fabulous, award winning Green Flag park.  With around 660 acres of variable landscape, ranging from woods, farmland to pools and streams, there plenty for you to do in this child and dog friendly park. 

When we visited, it was the last week of the summer holidays and there was still a fun fair with stalls, rides and games.  If you’re looking for something a little more low key, then Sandwell Park Farm is a treat; a fully restored working Victorian farm with where there is a small museum and a traditional farmyard full of cute animals, as well as a fabulous tea rooms.  I’ve actually done a couple of parties there with my face painting business, so I know they do have venue hire upstairs (with disabled access).

If adventure is more your thing, then you may well be interested in the fabulous high and low ropes, and a climbing wall that is operated by Closer to the Edge, or in the Adventure Playground next to it.

Sandwell  Valley Country Park really does have something for everyone, and promises a varied and interesting day out for all.

Opening and closing times for the park vary throughout the year, so check the website before your visit.

Address: Salter's Ln, West Bromwich, West Midlands B71 4BG Contact number: 0121 553 0220. Take a look at the website

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

 

Birmingham Nature Lovers: Woodgate Valley Country Park

As a first impression, when you pull into the car park, and see the visitors centre, Woodgate Valley is pleasant enough, yet lacking in any particular wow factor.  However, as you start to move away from the main children's play area, the scene begins to open up and becomes quite spectacular.

Behind the visitors centre, there is a large open area, and in the distance, a playing field.  From here, we were able to loop back round using a small trail between the trees.  Returning to the main path, we turned away from the car park, and towards the open ground in the distance.  Meadows bordered us on either side.  To the right, buttercups cheerily sprinkled the grass with bright yellow.  To the left, we could see horses grazing in the distance. As we approached, a couple of the more curious ones came over to the fence, which is (for me) always a delight!

We continued on down the pathway towards some distant trees, and there we found the Bourn Brook which runs through the 450 acre park.  For us, this is where our journey ended, as it was a hot day, and my dog, Finn, had found some fox poo to roll in (thanks Finn!). The park consists of an expanse of mixed terrain, including meadows, woodland, ponds and the brook.  The park has a rural feel to it due to its origins as a collection of farms and smallholdings.

Most definitely worth a visit!

Address: Clapgate Lane, Birmingham B32 3DS

Facilities: Cafe, toilets, education via the Ranger service, events, walks, wheelchair accessible.

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham Nature Lovers: Lickey Hills Country Park

Before this recent visit, I had only one memory of Lickey Hills; as a child, one winter, I remember going there with my parents, and rolling in the snow with my dog, Megan.  The memory is faded now, so I really didn't know what to expect - other than hills, obviously!  We went to the visitors centre entranced, which has a free car park that is surrounded by towering trees.  There is also a wheelchair accessible car park right behind the visitors centre, and pathways/ramps to make this area of the park welcoming for all.

There is a café, exhibition and toilets, nearby, a large children's play area.  Outside, there are plenty of picnic benches, so you have somewhere to sit if you're there with your dog.

Within the 524 acre park, there are plenty of walking trails that head off into the forest, or up onto higher ground.  It is hilly, and much of the park isn't accessible to wheelchairs though there is a purpose built wheelchair pathway and viewing platform.  Also, Landrover tours are available to ensure that anyone can enjoy the less accessible areas of the park.

On some trees, you'll find way marked signs, and information about those walks is located within the visitor’s centre, along with details of any Ranger led activities that are happening.  As we were walking, I remembered that there is also Beacon Hill within the park (which has its own car park), and this was featured on a Tolkien Tour I attended a few years back with Midlands Discovery Tours.

In addition to plenty of walking and green spaces, there is also an 18 hole municipal golf course, which was apparently the first facility of its type in the country.  There is also a bowling green, tennis court and a putting green, so, there really is something for everyone!
When you reach higher ground, there are some truly spectacular views out over the surrounding countryside, and if you're lucky, you may spot a dear grazing, as well as seeing other wildlife such as rabbits and squirrels.  It is a beautiful area, approximately 11 miles south west of Birmingham city centre, and most definitely worth investigating.

Address: Lickey Hills Country Park, Warren Lane, Rednal, Birmingham. B45 8ER

Facilities: cafe, toilets, Landrover tours, ranger service/led events

Opening Times: Summer season 10am-6.00pm | Winter season 10am-4.20pm

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham Natures Lovers: Kings Heath Park & Highbury Park

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Kings Heath Park & Highbury Park

As these parks are so close to one another, that you could feasible walk from one to the other, I thought I'd write them up as one.

We started off at Kings Heath Park, which is a very picturesque and well-kept park, with a more formal feel.  As there is a Horticultural college there, this is to be expected.  There is also a lovely pond with water features, which is very relaxing.  The walks are gentle, the pathways good, and it's great for disabled access.  It didn't take us very long to walk around the pathways, so is ideal if you don't have a lot of time, or energy!

There is a toilet block outside in the park, but they were pretty unpleasant, so I'd recommend using those inside the college (the ladies are up a flight of stairs). 

Within the college premises, you will find the delightful Victorian Tearooms which does amazing coffee, and has a fabulous looking menu (I'll be going back for lunch in the Autumn, that's for sure) as well as a wide range of cakes and treats. 

Afterwards, we headed over to Highbury Park, which is right next door (you can cross over the road and into Highbury Park from the corner of Avenue Road).  I loved Highbury Park for its wilder feel.  It was once part of Sir Joseph Chamberlain’s estate, as he lived in the adjacent Highbury Hall (which is now a banqueting centre). 

In the early 20th Century, the park was landscaped with extensive tree planting, and the Dutch and Italian gardens were also created.  As well as these smaller areas of formal gardens, there are plenty of wide open spaces, with lots of running space for children and dogs, and many a shady tree under which to sit and read, or picnic. 

Address for Kings Heath Park: Vicarage Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7TQ Kings Heath Park Facilities: Free parking, children's play area, The Victorian Tearooms, toilets, ranger service/events

Address for Highbury Park: Highbury Park, off Shutlock Lane, Kings Heath Highbury Park Facilities: Free parking and children's play area.

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

 What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham Nature Lovers: Plantsbrook Nature Reserve

Debra Jane is back with her Birmingham Nature Lovers series and this time has fallen in love with Plantsbrook Nature Reserve.

As I leaned on the viewing platform overlooking the lake, I watched bright blue dragonflies skimming daintily across the glistening water.  Swarms of tadpoles transformed from black to silver as, one by one, they left the shadow of an overhanging tree, and were illuminated by the sun kissed lake.  Gradually, they vanished beneath into the darkness beneath the flowering lily pads. 

Further on, a family of swans moved swiftly across the open expanse of water, steering themselves gracefully in our direction, perhaps hoping for a morsel of bread.  Instead, they were greeted by my camera, and my dog's eager, wagging tail.  At the latter, Daddy Swan started to hiss, so, we made good our departure and continued onwards.

Plantsbrook Local Nature Reserve is a haven.  Nestled between houses and an industrial estate, you would probably never know that it's there.  Indeed, I first heard about it from a fellow dog person, whilst walking Finn at Pype Hayes Park, which is just across the road.   There is a driveway that leads down towards the lakes, and a fair number of parking spaces, along with a small visitors centre which is a dark green portable cabin.  It was declared a nature reserve in 1991, and covers 26.49 acres of land.

To walk around the largest lake took us around 30 minutes (my Dad accompanied me on this one, as I'm recovering from a shoulder injury so can't drive at the moment thus, he is being my chauffeur- thanks Dad!).  The trails were a little muddy, yet that did not in any way (for me) detract from the experience.  Far from it!  It is such a beautiful place, that you could easily forget that you are just a few miles away from Birmingham city centre and the more built up inner city.  In fact, as much as I love Kingsbury Water Park, this has a more magical and intimate quality about it - less built up, less people, less commercial.

At certain points, you are walking along tree lined pathways that meander between lakes, and all you can hear are the cries of birds as they go about their daily business.  A heron took to flight too quickly for me to get to my camera (I could swear they have a sixth sense for these things).  A large white gull perched effortlessly on an old tree stump that protruded from the lake like ancient, withered arms, and wild flowers grew amongst the trees, providing a welcome splash of colour, in contrast to the many shades of green.  

A meadow, scattered with cheerful buttercups, lies between the car parks and one of the smaller lakes, provided an idyllic open area that left me wanting to take a picnic blanket and a bottle of something fizzy, and recline with a good book.  Who knows, maybe on another day, I shall.

Location: Plantsbrook Local Nature Reserve, Eachelhurst Road, Sutton Coldfield.

Parking: Along the side of the driveway, leading to the lakes

Facilities: Visitors centre, but no toilets or café.

By Bus: Route 839 stops along Eachelhurst Road.

Wheelchair Access: there are disabled spaces in the car park, but the site wouldn't be particularly easy for wheelchairs as the paths can be quite muddy and narrow in places.

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website. What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham Nature Lovers: Kingfisher Country Park

After a few weeks of intense work, rainy days off and a holiday, I finally got to visit another place on my list - Kingfisher Country Park.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, and with the trees now in full bloom, it was a stunning place to visit.

Typical of me, I didn't spend any time planning my visit as it was last minute and time restrained.  As a result, I ended up driving around, trying to find somewhere to park.  There are car parks, however, I parked on a side street  just across the road from one of the many entrances in Shard End.

Kingfisher Country Park contains within it Meriden Country Park, which I visited a few weeks back.  It is associated with an 11km stretch of the River Cole running from the Coventry Road (A45) at Small Heath as far as the M6 at Chelmsley Wood.

The area in Shard End was, for me, really pleasurable, as it was more remote and wild. Where I entered the park, there was a  simple pathway, curving off into the distance, with wide open grass areas and trees on either side.  To my right, the River Cole meandered its way through the park.  Birdsong and the flowing river provided the dominant soundtrack.  There is a play area (which was deserted, yet well maintained) and an enclosed court where some older lads were playing basketball. There were a few cyclists who passed us, as the National Cycle network runs through the park too.

Due to the overall size of Kingfisher Country Park, I focused on the local area, as it could be fairly easy to find yourself miles away from where you started!  After walking for approximately 10 minutes, I noticed an opening in the trees towards the river, and headed in that direction.  From there, we ended up doing a fabulous circular walk of around 25 minutes,Beside the river, it really was beautiful and peaceful.  The grass was wild and long, and it truly is a uncultivated area of the city, where nature is allowed to simply do what it does best.

There are plenty of open spaces in the park, and I could certainly imagine enjoying a picnic there in the summer, or having a lazy long walk along the river to explore even more of the park.  As a nature lover, I'd say it really is well worth a visit!

For more information: website http://birmingham.gov.uk/kingfisher Parking :  there are car parks on Glebe Farm Road, Shard End Community Centre, Pithall Road, Gressel Lane, and in Meriden Park.

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.
What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham for Nature Lovers - Fox Hollies Park

When I first arrived on a drizzly and grey Monday morning, I was curious to see the park for myself, as, on the map, it looks pretty huge (indeed, it covers some 40 acres of parkland, which, back in 1929 when it was acquired by Birmingham City Parks Department, was valued at £250) and it sounds lovely on the website. 

From the car park by the leisure centre on Gospel Lane, I admit that it doesn't look particularly impressive.  There is a children's play area just off to the side of the car park, and some open land which goes off into the distance, with a neat grey path leading between equally neatly lined trees.  The path disappears on the horizon, and appears to end abruptly at a clump of trees. 

However, like the magical lamppost that shines it's way to the doorway between our world and Narnia, the clump of trees hides hidden gems!

Behind the trees I mentioned, Round Pool can be found, and apparently, it is home to a wide variety of fish (there was a chap fishing there on my visit).  There are small areas of woodland throughout the park, and plenty of large open spaces, ideal for playing, picnicking, running the dog or simply relaxing with a book in the summer! 

Westley Brook meanders its way through the park too.  I found Fox Hollies Park to be very quiet, meeting only man with his Doberman and Greyhound, and a couple with two soppy waggly tailed Chocolate Labradors.   I was warned to watch out for vicious Staffordshire Bull Terriors in the park, who have allegedly attacked and killed smaller dogs, like my dog Finn - thankfully only when it's sunny?! 

I will admit that it did cast a bit of a dampener on my visit, as I felt I had to be on extra high alert, however, we didn't meet any unfriendly dogs at all, and in fact, Finn had a great time playing with a very friendly Doberman! My verdict - a pleasant park with plenty of open space and a descent path which makes for a good circular route. 

Definitely quiet during the day time when the sun isn't out, and like anywhere in the city, it's a good idea to keep a close eye on your dog at all times, just in case there are less well behaved canines out there!

Address: Fox Hollies Park, Gospel Lane, Acocks Green, Birmingham, B27 7EG
Getting there - car parking is at the address above Bus - The number 31 stops on Pollard Road, approximately 3 minutes’ walk away
There is now a Rangers Service, and so many more improvements are planned for the park.
 
Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.
What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham for Nature Lovers - Meriden Park (in Kingfisher Country Park)

On Monday, I arrived at number 3 on my alphabetical Birmingham for Nature Lovers list, to find it was a disappointing green splat in the middle of a housing estate and truth be told, I just couldn't bring myself to get out of the car and explore!  I drove around it from the outside (it took me less than a minute) and there's really not much to tell. 

So, not wanting to waste a sunny day, and with an eager Finn dog anticipating his walk, I whizzed off towards Chelmsley Wood, where I thought (logically, as it's a 'C') I would find my next park.  However, when I arrived at the location I had in my mind's eye, I discovered that it was Meriden Park, and so my fancy alphabeticalised notions were crushed!

All the same, I was glad that I made the visit.  Whilst not perfect by any means, Meriden Park provided a pleasant late Monday morning venue for a walk.  There was a small area of woodland to wander through, and as the park runs alongside the River Cole, there were nice green areas to walk along, plenty of trees, ducks and benches to enable you to sit and enjoy the view. 

Meriden Park belongs to a collection of parks which come under the banner of Kingfisher Country Park, Formerly project Kingfisher.  It covers an 11km stretch of the River Cole, which runs from the M6 in Chelmsley Wood through to Coventry Road (A45) at Small Heath.

Due to the rather confusing (or is that just me?) borders between Birmingham and Solihull, Meriden Park actually comes under Solihull BC and there's plenty of details on their website about the park.

As a walk, I found it peaceful and fairly pleasing on the eye.  Whilst you are aware that it's near a busy road, and there are houses and flats that you can see from some parts, it was still a pleasant enough place.  It's nice and flat and is wheelchair accessible (details here), dog and children friendly.  It was fairly quiet when we were there, with just a few other dog walkers strolling beside the river, so the main soundtrack was one of birds, and distant traffic.

There is free car parking off Moorend Avenue, and the 14, 59A and 72 bus all stop near the park.  On the website, it says that Marston Green Train Station is a short walk away, but I think it's actually about 30 minutes walk - so 'short' really depends on your perspective!

Address: Meriden Park, Moorend Avenue, Chelmsley Wood, B37 5SH

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham for Nature Lovers - Aston Park

In the past, I've extolled the virtues of the lovely Aston Hall, and now I'd like to talk about the park and gardens.

Aston Hall sits in approximately 50 acres of parkland - that's approximately 28 football pitches if you, like me, need something to visualise.  So, there's plenty of space to enjoy the greenery.  Whether you want to walk the dog, kick around a ball with the kids, or, in the summer, picnic under the shade of some of the gorgeous large old oak trees, there's plenty of space in which to do so. There are a couple of benches dotted around too.

As well as the wide open green spaces, there are also beautiful formal gardens at the rear of the hall, which are accessible all year round, and even now, in February, are full of colour.  The pathways through these gardens lead from the park itself, so you can easily do a round route, and admire the hall as you pass. 

There are occasionally outdoor events held in the grounds, details of which are posted on the website.

As for facilities and access, well, the park, and gardens are accessible to wheelchair users, and there are also toilets and a cafe which are open during main season (this starts again on 12 April 2014).

As for getting there, you have lots of options.  Being midway between Aston and Witton train stations, it is just 10-15 minutes' walk from each.  There are also a number of bus routes including the 65, 67, 46, 7 and 11A/11C.  Finally, there is a car park, which is open all year round (closing at dusk and, on Aston Villa FC match days). 

The official address is Trinity Road, Aston, Birmingham B6 6JD.

By Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

Storytelling at Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath

Tucked away on York Road in Kings Heath behind Fletchers Bar and Eatery is the delightful Kitchen Garden Cafe, a wonderful and cosy venue offering excellent food, a range of fine ales, delicious soft drinks, great coffee, amazing cakes and a wide variety of entertainment.

In October, I headed along there for the Storytelling Cafe, a wonderful event that takes place on the third Wednesday of each month.  It's been running for a number of years now, and was recently taken over by some lovely lady storytellers, a few of whom were performing on Wednesday night.

Adult storytelling is something that I was first introduced to in 2012, and I was immediately smitten. We are all used to stories being gifted to us as novels, television shows and movies.  However, there is something unique and almost magical about sitting in an audience of eager listeners, as a storyteller continues with a tradition as old as time, weaving their tales around you like soft, silken threads of words.  I really do highly recommend giving it a go!

As for Kitchen Garden Cafe, well, they offer a special menu for Storytelling Cafe, and food is available from 6:30pm for approximately 45 minutes.  As well as storytelling, they also host live music nights, comedy and cabaret, details of which can be found via their website.

On my most recent visit, I didn't eat (well, okay, I had coffee cheesecake, and it was divine, but I was too eager to taste it and forgot to take a picture!).  When I visited in the summer, I enjoyed this delicious mezza platter, which as well as being a carnival for the taste buds, was also very reasonably priced!

Needless to say, I shall be returning again and again, and ensuring that I arrive in enough time to enjoy a meal when I do!

To find out about Kitchen Garden Cafe, visit their website.

Written by Debra Jane who can be contacted via @Notaskinnymini or her blog

Debra Jane's 36 Hours in Birmingham

By Debra Jane

Birmingham is such a big city, with many wonderful places to visit and fabulous things to experience.  And so, deciding how I would choose to spend 36 hours was certainly a challenge.  However, after some thought, here’s my guide to 36 hours in Birmingham.

Friday early evening...Great Hampton Street may not appear to be the obvious choice in which to embark upon 36 hours of adventure in Birmingham, yet you’d perhaps be surprised at the gems that it holds.   My first stop would be The Lord Clifden for a nice relaxing drink, and perhaps a yummy hand-made burger (the Lamb and Mint is my personal favourite).  If I were feeling particularly adventurous though, I would probably nip next door to Blue Nile Restaurant, to partake of a delicious Ethiopian meal, where their traditional flat bread becomes your knife and fork, and a mixed platter leaves a multitude of tantalising tastes for you to ponder.

With my belly full and the night still young, I would slip over the road for an evening of great value entertainment at one of Birmingham’s best kept secrets – Blue Orange Theatre.  If you enjoy fabulous live theatre, and want great value for money, then this delightful little place (which, true to its name is both blue and orange inside) offers just that.  At just £10 a ticket, it’s well worth a visit.

Saturday morning arrives with a healthy appetite, which I would personally quench with a visit to Brewsmiths Coffee & Tea, where you can enjoy good coffee, proper tea (not a bag in sight, unless you want a take out of one of their scrummy cakes) and anything from a hearty Full English through to fruit, granola and yogurt.  With its cheerful decor and excellent soundtrack, it’s a great place to relax and build up energy for the day ahead.

Now it’s time to stretch your legs on a cultural tour. First up, there is the wonderful Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.  Here, I would definitely spend some time gazing upon the glorious statue of Lucifer, a beautiful sight to behold, prior to exploring the latest exhibitions, stunning Pre-Raphaelite art and concluding with a sweeping global tour of history.

With that done, it’s time to take a stroll up onto Broad Street and tuck into a delicious lunch at Cafe Opus, before enjoying the latest exhibition at the glorious Ikon Gallery above.  Despite wanting to walk off lunch, I’d be sure to ride in the singing lift, a surreal treat indeed.

As afternoon gives way to evening, I’d head out of the main buzz of the city in search of live entertainment with a side order of tasty food.  For this, I would head south into Kings Heath and explore Kitchen Garden Cafe where they offer a variety of live entertainment, including music, storytelling and poetry, throughout the week.  The ambiance is warm and welcoming and the food, a delightful conclusion to a busy weekend.

By Debra Jane. Find out more and contact here or tweet via @NotASkinnyMini

Photos: Blue Orange and Blue Nile  courtesy Debra Jane. Coffee courtesy Brewsmiths. Ikon photo from Brum Faves archive

Art in the Heart at Aston Hall

By Debra Jane Tucked away in a quiet corner of Aston, and just a stone's throw from Aston Villa Football Stadium, sits the stunning Jacobean property of Aston Hall.  Now part of Birmingham Museums Trust, it's land once covered many acres of rolling countryside and farmland.  As the city grew, what remains is now a beautiful area of parkland, with large open spaces and shaded tree lined paths.

Perhaps you've noticed it's stately towers, or the spire of the neighbouring church, whilst driving up or down the A38(M)?  Maybe, like me, you went as a child and experienced the spooky, candle flickering 'Aston Hall by Candlelight' tour, and the memory has stayed with you.

AstonHallCollage

In the heat we've been having recently, Aston Hall is certainly the place to be.  Enjoy an hour or more of cool and shade as it's thick stone walls provide the perfect protection from the throbbing summer heat.  You can also enjoy the Victorian gardens, or partake of some lunch or cake from the Aston Hall Cafe in the Stables Range.  The filter coffee is rather good too!

For the moderate fee of £4.00 (£3 concessions and free entry for all on the first Sunday of each month), you can take your time browsing through it's beautiful rooms; explore the intricacy of the Jacobean ceilings upstairs, browse through the long gallery, come face to face with a huge tiger in one of the side rooms downstairs, and get to know the founding Holt family, via their portraits and family tree.

On the 13th July, I took part in a free poetry workshop as part of Art in the Heart and though I've visited the hall numerous times, it was fascinating to learn more about its previous inhabitants, and especially of the woman whose portrait has stuck in my memory since my eleventh Birthday.

Built between 1618-1635 by Sir Thomas Holt, Aston Hall remained in the family until the late 18th century when it passed out of the family due to the lack of a male heir, prior to being sold off.   Exploring the rooms, you can learn more about the Holt family and their many stories; from disinherited sons to suddenly inherited impoverished older brothers, and bickering wives and mother-in-laws.

The portrait that entranced me as a child is of Lady Barbara Holt, the extravagant and despised wife of the fourth Baronet, Sir Clobery.  We may never know the full extent of what caused Sir Clobery to hand his two sons (Sir Lister and Sir Charles) over to the care of his mother upon his death, but today, Lady Barbara's portrait remains defiant as it dominates the great staircase, her dark eyes ever watchful over her beloved Aston Hall, whilst his mother, cast in shadow, looks on.

Find out more about how to visit Aston Hall here.

Words and photos by Debra Jane. Find out more and contact here or tweet via @NotASkinnyMini