Caerphilly Castle, Wales

For those of you who didn’t know and haven’t looked at a map, Bristol is right across the River Severn from Wales. Cardiff (the capital of Wales) is only about 25 miles from here. Many people commute between Bristol and Wales every day. Sophie even has classmates who speak Welsh at home with their families! So we thought it was nigh time we ventured west and started exploring Wales!

We first thought of heading to Cardiff Castle, a much more popular tourist attraction; but one of the things we’ve learned by living everywhere is to save some local tourism for when we have visitors. If not, then we not only get tired of touring places we’ve already seen when we take our visitors, but we also get tired of paying for these attractions again and again. Sometimes once you’ve been to an attraction once or twice, you’ve just had enough! So we thought Cardiff Castle would be a fun one to save for when our parents or family visit sometime.

Instead, we saw that not too far from Cardiff was a town called Caerphilly and its claim-to-fame is a large, medieval castle. In fact, Caerphilly castle is the second-largest castle in the UK (second to Windsor Castle).

Caerphilly Castle did not disappoint. In fact, all three of us thoroughly enjoyed it

The castle still has both the outer and inner moat (And they have swans!)
On the bridge over the moat, about to enter the castle

Caerphilly Castle was an excellent tourist attraction. It is a great mix of history and fun. We got 50% off admission due to our English Heritage passes (we get half-price at Welsh and Scottish sites).

One of the first things we encountered was the Dragon’s Lair. It is a beautiful audio and visual attraction that tells us the ancient story of dragons in love at Caerphilly. (Because of course, dragons are inherently attracted to castles). You can read the Cadw Dragon’s Tale here.

Then we took to walking around and exploring. No one can miss the big ‘leaning tower’. This tower once held the kitchen and started falling over in the 17th century but never fully fell over. It now leans more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The above is a wooden statue of the Marquess of Bute, the man who in the 1920s started spending over a hundred thousand pounds of his own money to start restoring the medieval ruins.

Now enjoy the shots of us exploring this awesome castle:

While we were there, we were unable to access a few of the public areas due to a movie filming. I asked what movie and the ticket lady told me it was some Netflix show about King Arthur coming out next year. While we were on the first floor of the main gatehouse, they were filming right below us and we could hear them. We saw actors walking around too. Cool! As I looked around the castle, I couldn’t help but think it really was a perfect location for a movie set!

Sophie in a maze they had at the back, she had a blast going through it.

We spent about 2 hours walking around the castle. Climbing up and down ancient stone circular staircases (that were wet, too! Slippery!) and exploring much of the castle. It was so neat! Then we had a nice picnic lunch on the grounds and then went nuts in the fabulous gift shop – Christmas shopping for my nieces and nephews has started!

This is exactly what we envisioned when planning a move to England – just a random Sunday with no plans and so we were able to hit the road, explore an 800-year-old castle, and be home in about 5 hours total – still with lots of time before supper!
(I keep having to remember to say ‘supper’ and not ‘dinner’, because ‘dinner’ is lunch….. damn upper-Canadian lingo!)
The history and adventure that we can enjoy steps from our house is amazing! We love it!

Terry Fox Run 2019

As some of you may know, Sophie (and us, her parents, by default) does the Terry Fox Run every year.
(If you’re not from Canada and don’t know who Terry Fox is or why we run for him every year, click here for his amazing story).

Thanks to generous family members sponsoring her, Sophie has raised thousands for cancer research since 2013 when she first started her annual run. This year would be her 7th year running.
The Terry Fox Run is held all over the world, but we looked it up and there is no run in England this year. We couldn’t let a year go by without running for Terry, and Sophie didn’t want to miss it!
So we decided to take it upon ourselves to do it solo – but also make it spectacular! Sophie put out the call for donations and raised $475 CDN this year….

….And then we went to Stonehenge…..

At the start of the 2km walk to the stones

Stonehenge is about an hour’s drive from us in Bristol. We made plans to do this on September 15, the day that Terry Fox Runs are held all across Canada. We would have done this rain or shine, but were blessed with gorgeous weather the day-of.

We bought an annual family pass to English Heritage (https://www.english-heritage.org.uk) because with this pass, we get admission to hundreds of sites across England, and (due to a small discount for Eric being in the Forces) it pays for itself within 2 visits to larger sites such as Stonehenge and Tintagel Castle. With this pass and advanced-booking, we got to skip the general admission line and get in much faster, as well as get free audio tours, and free parking.

So back to the Terry Fox Run. Eric did it with Sophie, as he does every year. Due to my MS, I can’t walk that far (1 km uninterrupted is usually my max). So I took the shuttle bus to the stones while they walked and I met them there. But Eric took photos of the walk and I got photos of them nearing the finish line!

Walking through the fields to the stones
That’s them coming across
And here they come up to the ‘finish line’ (ie, the bench I was sitting on waiting for them)

After their ‘official’ walk to the stones, we then got to go see Stonehenge, which is a bit of a walk in itself! (Well, I was tired from it!)

Omnipod insulin pump on full display— Type 1s walking for cancer survivors!!

Right when we were halfway around the stones, we hear Sophie’s Dexcom alarm. She was going low (despite us carb-loading her before the walk with a £3 granola bar from the snack shop in the visitor’s centre!). Luckily, we’ve always got oodles of bars and low treatments on hand (she has some in her bag and I have extras in mine, Eric carries some on his key-chain). She had a granola bar and a few dextrose candies, suspended her insulin for 30 minutes, and she eventually got back up to a better level.
Sophie is in the habit of apologising for having to make us all stop and tend to her as she gets things out of her bag, fiddles with her devices, etc. We always reassure her and have patience. It’s not her fault, diabetes isn’t her fault. We are never mad that she’s gone low or needs medical attention! Even if it is an inopportune moment or time, we’re all okay with taking the time to step out of the way at Stonehenge, sit down on the grass, and tend to her.

Smiles once the BG is stabilising at a healthy level


After our time at Stonehenge we went to lunch and then decided to go to Salisbury to see the grand cathedral, since it was so close and such a beautiful day.

Britain’s tallest spire


Salisbury is a medieval city built around this stunning, huge cathedral. The cathedral houses an original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta (one of only 4). We viewed it – it looked old and indecipherable (my ancient Latin is pretty rusty). But I guess I can say I’ve seen it now.

Can’t take photos of the Magna Carta, but this is the beautiful Chapter House where it is kept


What impressed me more, is that the church also has the world’s oldest working mechanical clock, in use since 1386. There we were, watching it tick away, as it had over 4.4 billion times.

Sophie, with the clock behind her.
Sophie in front of the church Close

The town of Salisbury was adorable too, with bunting everywhere and medieval highlights throughout. We could have stayed for hours or even days, but it was getting late and we needed to start getting back toward Bristol for supper, as it was a school night and we were all getting quite tired from our busy day.



I’m hoping that next year maybe there will be enough interest from other Canadians posted here in the UK for me to organise a Terry Fox Run myself for everyone. They do it at the detachment in Germany and Brussels, but this year I didn’t have it in me to do so soon after moving. But Terry Fox wasn’t in it for the fanfare and the big fame – he just wanted people to do what they could – and I think we helped Sophie honour his memory this year and do the name Terry Fox proud.

Thanks to all who donated to her campaign this year and if you missed it but still want to donate to this amazing charity, you can do so here: http://www.terryfox.ca/sophiepoulin .


Back to school!

Well here we are, the first day of school!
Sophie is starting Year 6 at her new school here in Bristol. It is the final year of elementary school here so she’s only at the school for a year, and we soon have to start touring secondary schools and applying (like, in the next month!).
But for now, she’s at a fantastic small school that has welcomed her and her diabetes with open, loving arms.

Obligatory first day photo!

We went to the school yesterday so Sophie could tour it and meet her new teachers, but also so we could meet with them and the first-aiders to discuss her diabetes management plan. The school couldn’t have been more accommodating. They were completely on board with our current management plans which included letting her have her mobile phone in class to monitor her blood glucose levels as well as to communicate with me regarding treatment decisions.

I made a few diabetes kits for the school like these:

They’re just clear, plastic boxes (not very big, only 3L in size) that I’ve labelled with her name. One box for the classroom only has some extra activity snacks (longer-acting carbohydrates such as granola bars, to eat before P.E. class if she needs to) and of course lots of sugar treatments like juice boxes and dextrose tablets.
Then I made another box to be kept in the medical cupboard in the office with again more sugar treatments, but also a back-up glucometer, extra supplies like glucometer strips and alcohol wipes, one extra pump in case she needs to do a site change at school and I’m not around to help and bring her one, as well as the ever-important glucagon.
The school was great and happy that I’d made these kits and found space for them in accessible locations.
I often hear horror stories about schools being difficult and not cooperating with parents about a diabetic’s care, so I’m so pleased that they’ve been so accommodating thus far.

Then finally, the teacher asked Sophie if she [the teacher] could tell the class about her diabetes because it’s understandable that a class full of 10-year-olds will not only be curious about the new girl, but wonder what these gadgets stuck to her are, why they’re beeping all the time, and why she gets to have a mobile in school!!! We decided that it’s better to inform them all in one swoop because while embarrassing and hard, if we don’t tell them, what they’ll be imagining is probably worse!
So the teacher told them some bits during morning introductions, then as well I went in to the class and gave them some information- I told them what type 1 diabetes is, why it’s not anyone’s fault that Sophie has it, how she can eat anything that they can, how her devices help her, and how they can help her (if she’s low, don’t leave her alone and please tell an adult). As I was in the class, I could tell Sophie hated this and wanted it over-with, so I tried to make it as short yet as informative as I could. The kids asked good questions and then seemed happy to send me on my way.

So that’s it, the first day.
How did it go? Well I didn’t get much more from her than I ever did (if anyone has a great tip to get more than single-syllable answers from your tween, please share!) but it seems to have gone quite well. She was paired with a buddy from the beginning of the day who was quite nice and introduced her to many friends and made sure she wasn’t lonely throughout the day. Sophie was even already throwing around the term ‘my friends’ in a few of her stories at supper tonight. It sounds like she still has to find a bit of footing around school and what is normal and how to sign up for certain things but that will come with time. All in all, a quite good report from her first day. This momma is pleased!

(Once she realised it was a bit chilly and needed her ‘jumper’)