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Five months of running: What I’ve learned

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I was a giant cliché when, in January, I decided that my New Year’s resolution would be to get fit. It’s something that everyone seems to aspire to at the start of a new year, am I right? Well, instead of letting my fitness goals fade into the background as February rolled around, I decided to tackle them head on and start something I thought I’d never be able to do: running. When I was younger, I was a lot fitter. I used to go swimming twice a week at try my hand at racing at occasional swimming galas. I really enjoyed being in the pool and it was a fantastic form of exercise. I still love swimming at my university’s pool and I do go occasionally, but as a gym membership here is SO expensive (I’m talking hundreds of pounds), I couldn’t really justify purchasing this on a PhD student’s wage. So, as running is absolutely free, it was a good choice. I’ve now been running consistently for the past five months and I recently completed a fundraising run, the Vista Sunrise Run, starting at 5.30am in central Leicester in aid of a local sight loss charity. I raised over £100 and ran the course in under half an hour, which I’m incredibly proud of. In honour of this, today I thought I would share everything I’ve learned in my short time as a runner to hopefully encourage you to give it a try as well!

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1) Set goals, small and large…

In last year's Summer Goals blog post, I talked about the benefits of setting a mix of small goals that are easily achievable in the near future, and bigger, more challenging goals to work towards in the long run. This healthy mix keeps me feeling motivated and ensures that I achieve more, so it was a no-brainer to apply this to running too. My long-term goal is to run a 10k race by the end of 2018, but I set myself the goal of a 5k halfway through the year, which I've now achieved! Having completed my smaller goal of the Sunrise Run, I'm now more motivated than ever to reach the 10k milestone.

2) … But don’t beat yourself up if every run isn’t a PB

I am SO guilty of this and it’s something that I need to get out of the habit of doing. Not every run will be at full race pace, and that's ok! Sometimes things just don't go your way. It could start peeing down with rain halfway through your run, you could get a stitch that you just can't shake, or you could just not feel it that day and decide to go home. And that is perfectly ok! Not putting pressure on yourself is so important, even if a run doesn't go to plan you've still done the hardest part, which is putting your shoes on and getting out there!

3) You need the right kit

I learned this the hard way. When I first started running, I used an old pair of trainers that I’d had in my closet for the past four years. They weren’t very supportive and had no spring left in them. Lo and behold, a couple of months into running when I started picking up a bit of speed, I injured my knee. Running is a high-impact sport and the pressure of the ground on my right knee proved too much. I had to take a couple of weeks off to allow it to recover. Now I’ve invested in some proper running shoes, inov-8 Womens Road Claws, which provide much better cushioning. I haven’t had an issue with my knee since purchasing them.

4) Track your progress

Tracking your progress really helps you to realise just how much you improve over such a short period of time. I find it really motivating to look back over my first runs and see how far I've come. These stats also help me to set achievable goals. It's also really satisfying to come back from a long run and go "WOW, look how far I went!" I use the free version of the app Strava and I'm a big fan of it. It shows your distance, pace, location, and even your PBs. I'd highly recommend it.

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5) It’s ok to stop and rest

When I first started running, I could barely go for 10 minutes without being totally out of puff, with a raging stitch in my side, desperately needing a drink and a chocolate biscuit. I really used to beat myself up about talking "walk breaks" during a run but now I realise that there's absolutely no shame in it. Don't push yourself to sprint every second of the way, you'll be in a much better position to go at your own pace, no matter how slow or how fast, and enjoy the process.

6) Talk to more experienced runners…

They can offer advice and encouragement as well as giving you tricks and tips that you’d never even considered. One of the best things that I learned from my running buddy was to use your arms when running uphill. Pumping your arms really helps to keep your momentum going as you run up an incline; something that I never would’ve tried without my more experienced running buddy’s advice.

7) … But don’t compare yourself

Everyone starts somewhere. Even Paula Radcliffe struggled to run 5k at one point in her life, so don’t feel bad if you’re not at the head of the pack immediately. Don’t compare the beginning of your story to someone else’s middle because it will only bring you unhappiness. The only person worth comparing to is your old self. I am by no means the quickest or most skilled runner but I’m a hell of a lot better than I was just a few months ago and that’s the only comparison that I’m worried about.

8) Remember that nobody is looking at you.

When you're out running at the park, it can be hard to battle those insecurities that all of the other runners and passers-by are watching you, silently judging. But I can assure you that this is definitely not the case. All the other runners in the park will be much more concerned about what they are doing than whether you're a bit red in the face or have chosen to stop and rest for a moment.

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And there we have it, my top tips for beginner runners based on my very short but sweet running experience. I'm really looking forward to the next chapter in my running career, bring on the 10k challenge!

Do you have a favourite sport? How do you like to keep fit? Share in the comments.

Until next time,

A x

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Il-LUMA-nating Hammersmith at the LUMA Concept Hotel

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As someone who travels to London frequently as part of a PhD research programme, I know the importance of finding comfortable, conveniently located accommodation all too well. After all, a good night's sleep is key to making the most of conferences, meetings, and events on any business related trip. In a huge city such as the capital, selecting the ideal place to stay can seem like a very daunting task, with more hotel options than you could ever need. Now that choice has been made a little easier with the launch of the LUMA Concept Hotel a little over one year ago. Located in the arty riverside district of Hammersmith in west London, the LUMA Hotel is just a short hop on the tube away from the main central attractions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park, making it ideal for tourist visits to the capital as well as for business travellers. I was kindly offered a complimentary stay at the LUMA Hotel to test out the venue for myself, keep reading to find out how I got on!

The Hotel

The LUMA Hotel's design is inspired by a piece of Hammersmith's history. The quirky decor in the reception area makes visual reference to the grand old Osram lightbulb factory that once dominated the neighbourhood, which employed many of the residents of the old Victorian streets in the ninteenth century. This was one of the earliest lamp factories in the UK, in operation since 1881. The LUMA hotel embraces Hammersmith's past with a modern boutique twist, most notably with the striking exposed lightbulbs right by the main entrance. In addition to this, the LUMA hotel boasts a lovely green outdoor terrace area, a real sun trap and a great place to sit on a summer evening. Their car park is located just opposite this at King's Mall, ideally located if you're driving into the city.

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The Room

Now on to my room! I was incredibly impressed with my stay in a superior double room. The room was compact but never felt crowded. The main living space was split into two main areas, with a desk and sofa immediately in front of you as you walk in and the bed positioned behind the desk. This separated work from sleep space, always a good thing if you want to recharge your batteries during a business trip. The predominant colour scheme in the room was a dark grey, but this in no way left the room feeling dingy. A bright orange map of London's streets lit up the wall by the bed, illuminated by strip lighting beneath. Dark frosted glass on the doors to the bathroom made the room feel spacious. All areas of our room were immaculate, there were no concerns over cleanliness whatsoever, so the LUMA's housekeeping team definitely deserve a round of applause. Another aspect of the room that really impressed me was the amount of storage space. There was ample space in the wardrobe next to the shower, in the desk drawers, and around the sink area for a lengthy business stay to be very comfortable without that "living out of a suitcase" feel. The room was thoughtfully designed and clearly tailored to guests' needs. Small cubby holes at the head of the bed which housed a plug socket were perfect for charging and storing your phone out of harm's way, whilst still allowing you to sit in bed and scroll, should you like to.

Leisure visitors to the LUMA will be just as well accommodated as corporate guests; the Handy phone on the desk is an inspired idea that enables LUMA guests to make free local and international calls to select destinations, access the Internet, connect to social media, and guide you around the city. You can take the phone out and about with you, so long as you return it to the hotel on checkout, meaning that as an international guest, you don't need to purchase a new SIM card or go through the rigmarole of setting up your personal phone for a new country. This is just one way in which the LUMA goes above and beyond the usual hotel experience for its guests and I was incredibly impressed with this idea. My only real complaint about the room was that the mini fridge next to our bed was quite noisy. We switched it off at the wall so that it didn't keep us awake but this would have been an inconvenience had we chosen to store drinks / snacks in there.

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A "Naked Stay"

My eagle-eyed readers will have noticed when I introduced the hotel that the LUMA boasts the name of a "concept hotel". But what is this concept that makes LUMA it so special? Well, allow me to enlighten you. The LUMA's central concept is that of a Naked Stay. The idea behind this is that you are provided with exactly what you need for a hotel experience that perfectly fits you, without all of the unnecessary paraphernalia that you don't really need. Instead of cluttering your room with additional items, the LUMA hotel simply makes everything available upon request. Need a pair of slippers? They'll be delivered to your door. Forgot your toothbrush? One will be provided instantly. In need of an iron? Staff will bring the equipment to your room, or you can make the most of the hotel's laundry service and have it done for you! You can forget bulky hotel guidebooks taking up valuable space on your desk too, as the LUMA hotel features smart hospitality tablets in every room, telling you everything you need to know about the hotel and the surrounding area, as well as allowing you to play games and surf the web. In this way, the LUMA's Naked Stay enables you to have everything you want and need from your travelling experience without anything getting in your way. LUMA strips away what you don't need and enhances what you do.

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LUMA's naked feel even extends to its meal provisions. A complimentary grab-and-go breakfast is provided for every LUMA guest, which comprises a bottle of orange juice, a piece of fruit, and a pastry. This is ideal if you're in a hurry to get to a morning meeting as you can simply swing downstairs, grab your bag, and munch on the tube. My only issue with the breakfast service is the lack of choice. The option of choosing from a selection of fruits and pastries, including a vegan friendly option, would be greatly appreciated. Enabling guests to pick a cold juice out of the fridge instead of placing the bottles in bags to get warm over the course of the morning would be another small but noticable improvement. When it comes to evening meals, there is no restaurant on-site at LUMA, but the hotel has worked with businesses in the local community to provide its guests with discounts of up to 20% off at many nearby restaurants. This was a lovely touch and a great way of Hammersmith newbies such as myself to discover dining venues in the area.

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Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the LUMA Concept Hotel and wouldn't hesitate to return as either a business or leisure customer. A huge thanks goes out to the friendly LUMA staff for making my stay effortless and to Ally the manager for her very warm welcome. 

Are you a regular visitor to London? What are your favourite sights to see in the capital? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time,

A x

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*My stay at the LUMA hotel was provided as a complimentary press trip.

Blogger Book Nook #9: Time Machine

book club historical fiction

Another month means another Blogger Book Nook prompt! If you're not familiar with the Blogger Book Nook by now, BBN is a blogger's reading group set up by myself and my good friend Tabitha from What Tabitha Loves. Each month, we put together a new reading prompt to challenge our members to read something a little bit different! Themes in the past have ranged from Books On Screen to Judging a Book By Its Cover. During May, Tabitha and I encouraged our readers to take journey back in time to experience the world of historical fiction! Our challenge for this month was to fire up the TARDIS and pick a read that’s set in the past - whether it’s as early as the 90’s or a trip back to an ancient world. As always, our prompt is accompanied by a series of questions for our readers to turn their books into blog posts. We reveal a new prompt and the associated questions at the start of each month on our Facebook group, which is always open to new members, should you like to join in!

Yet again we had a fantastic number of people getting involved with last month's reading prompt, Murder In the Library. I enjoyed reading every single post and seeing the huge variety of books chosen! A huge thanks goes out to these fabulous Book Nookers for participating: Hels, Abbie, Zoe, Joanna, Emma, Gemma, Rebecca, Fleur, and Steph. I really hope they'll all continue to join in in the future. Now, let's dive in to May's questions!

Q1) If you could time travel either to the past or the future, which would you pick and why?

Definitely the past! However, I might have to travel back in time as a man (or at least in disguise) as in many of the eras I'd most like to visit, it wouldn't be much fun to be there as a woman! Seeing the future might be a bit scary and I'm not sure that I could return to the present day without trying to change it, the temptation would be too much! Therefore, the past it would have to be for me.

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Q2) Historical novels aren’t always accurate in their details - is this something that bothers you? Why / why not?

Anyone hoping for a 100% accurate representation of history in a novel is never going to be satisfied because so many more details are needed for a successful novel than could ever be historically verified. History was undoubtedly shaped by many unrecorded conversations, private meetings and clandestine events that a historian could never have written down, so it's understandable that a bit of creative lisence is taken with historical fiction. Any subtle inaccuracies don't bother me tooooo much but if something is massively out of place it's a bit jarring and can ruin the magic of the story.

Q3) Is there one specific historical era that especially interests you? What novels set in that time would you recommend?

A better question for me might be: "Is there a historical era that DOESN'T interest you?" because then my answer would be shorter! The ancient worlds of Greece and Rome hold the greatest allure for me but that hasn't really translated into me reading much fiction set in this time, and I'm not sure why that's the case! I do love watching TV shows set in this era though, even if they're comedic ones such as Plebs - I laugh so much every time I watch it! Spartacus is another such show which is so bad it's good! In terms of books, I've heard good things about The Song of Achilles which is set in ancient Greece, so I think I will have to give that one a try.

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Q4) Which historical figure (fictional or real!) would you most like to have dinner with?

Now this isn't *technically* dinner but I would absolutely love to meet Jay Gatsby and attend one of his famous parties in The Great Gatsby! If you've read my recent 6 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Me post, you'll know that I'm not normally much of a partygoer, big groups of people aren't really my jam, but I would definitely make an exception for a soirée like this! I just love 1920's Flapper fashions so any chance I get to don a fringed dress and feathers is one I would sieze with both hands!

Q5) Do you find historical fiction an appealing genre? Why / why not?

Historical fiction is one of my all time faves! When I was a teenager, I read pretty much everything Philippa Gregory had ever written - her novels set in the time of Henry VIII brought me so much joy. I loved how well-rounded and real her characters were, I was truly immersed in Henry's court and felt every emotion along with the protagonists. Being an ancient history / archaeology student for so many years is definitely part of the reason why I love historical fiction so much, it is very nice to take a break from the textbook world of history and immerse yourself in the fantastical version of the past for a while. So long as you don't try to quote The Other Boleyn Girl as a source in an exam, you'll be fine!

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Mini Review: Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

I'm not going to lie, the first thing that attracted my to this book was the gorgeous cover. And can you blame me? It's beautiful! My boyfriend was also browsing through the local library with me when I picked out this book, and he told me that he'd heard excellent things about it, so into my bag it went. Because this edition of the book doesn't have a blurb on the back, just a short quote, I looked up some reviews of it prior to reading, just to see what was in store for me. I read quite a few very mixed reviews, some which slated the writing style as excessively verbose, and others which absolutely loved it, so I had no real idea whether I was going to enjoy it or not! While it is true that, in places, sentences are very long and very *flowery* (if that makes sense) and I did find myself having to re-read a few of these sentences to ensure that I'd understood them correctly, I did enjoy this book.

The story follows Amram and his compatriot Zelikman on their adventures through the land of Khazaria (modern day Turkey) at around AD950. The pair unwittingly become the guardians of Filaq, a fugitive Khazar prince whose family was murdered in a coup. Amram and Zelikman take on the task of restoring Filaq to his rightful position and undergo many trials and tribulations along the way, including but not limited to war elephants, stealthy clandestine rescue missions, and the faking of a death! I won't spoil it by telling you how it ends, but I will say that this book has many twists that you don't see coming. When you first meet Amram and Zelikman in the first chapter, their true relationship takes you by surprise and when Filaq's true identity is revealed about halfway through, I guarantee that you'll be as shocked as I was at the revelation. The book is very skillfully written and it is the perfect historical adventure!

What are you reading at the moment? Are you a fan of historical fiction? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time,

A x

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Student Life at the University of Oxford

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The University of Oxford, famous for historic buildings, rowing, and for being home to the country's largest concentration of geeks. Located in the city of dreaming spires, steeped in tradition, it's one of the world's most prestigious academic institutions. But what is it actually like to study here? Are student lives really scripted in the manner of The Riot Club? After the lovely comments that I received on my post on the subject of my current PhD studies, I thought I'd share my insider info on my previous Oxford education as well. I gained my BA in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at Merton College in 2016, followed by my Masters degree in Classical Archaeology in 2017, also at Merton. I had a very positive experience in my four years in Oxford so keep scrolling to find out more about it!

East Midlands Eats

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Now I don't know about you, but for me, checking out brand new restaurants and cafés is one of the best parts of moving to a new city. After growing up in the Suffolk countryside, followed by studying in Oxford, I have now been a Leicester resident for eight months! As well as taking in the history of Leicester, exploring the East Midlands' eateries has been a real highlight of my time here. I've had the pleasure of experiencing fine dining French-style at Bistrot Pierre in the city center, as well as a fun night out at the Head of Steam, Leicester's newest pub venue. However, this is not by any means all that the East Mids has to offer in terms of food and drink. Today I'm venturing a little further afield, to Nottingham and Wigston, to share even more of my favourite, as well as a few that are closer to home.

Clean Cut Kitchen, Nottingham

The Clean Cut Kitchen philosophy is simple: They believe that whatever your age, size, or gender, you can eat clean without being a gym junkie! They are a healthy eating restaurant with a twist, removing the gym vibes from their venues to make it open and welcoming to a more diverse clientele. Clean Cut Kitchen minimise the processes going into their meals to keep it as clean as possible whilst at the same time making sure that it is incredibly convenient and (most importantly!) tastes amazing. All of this sounds great on paper, but what does the food actually taste like?

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I was invited alongside Neha and Molly to sample a few new items from the Clean Cut Kitchen menu. We kicked off with a chocolate, banana and peanut butter breakfast smoothie bowl. This was a whopping portion and we struggled to finish it between the three of us! The fruit on the top was delicious and I enjoyed the healthy cacao taste. Next up came a vegan mozzarella and quinoa burger, with BBQ sauce in a sweet potato waffle, served with clean slaw. The sweet potato waffles are a great idea and with a bit of tweaking, could be really delicious. Sadly they were a bit dry for my taste, possibly because the promised BBQ sauce was missing from our burgers. The vegan mozzarella was the real highlight, this was very tasty, but the quinoa patty was so soft that you couldn't pick it up. You needed a spoon to eat it, which isn't what you expect from a burger. The clean slaw was delicious, complete with edamame beans and tomato. I'd definitely order it again. As for desserts, we sampled the polenta and coconut cream mousse with mango purée and homemade nutty granola. This dessert was an absolute triumph, it tasted just like a Solero lolly but with many more health benefits! The granola gave the dish a very moreish crunch. Another highlight was the orange and vanilla protein doughnut. The citrus juice packed the doughnut with a delicious moist texture and I easily could've eaten more than my fair share!

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I loved the open, light, and friendly vibes of the Clean Cut Kitchen venue. It is an informal setting with chipboard on the walls and bright turquoise neon lighting, and I certainly didn't feel out of place as a non gym-goer. The food is affordable and accessible to a wide range of people. Clean Cut Kitchen are certainly clean in terms of food but it would be great to see them getting environmentally clean as well; they already have wooden cutlery instead of plastic which is fantastic, but switching to biodegradable straws for their smoothies and moving away from plastic bowls for those dining in would be another great step for them. I'm sure that as Clean Cut Kitchen expand to new stores in the Intu Center and Birmingham, this will give them plenty of opportunities to implement eco-friendly measures too!

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Clean Cut Kitchen can be found at 21 Derby Road, Nottingham, around the corner from the Rock City music venue.

The Two Steeples, Wigston

It's not every day that you get to attend the press night for a pub of which one of your blogger pals is the landlady! Happily, this is exactly what I was able to do at The Two Steeples recently, to celebrate the relaunch of the venue that the lovely Sarah has been working so hard on. The Two Steeples has everything that you'd expect from an English pub, a welcoming atmosphere, comfy yet stylish decor, and plenty of traditional favourites on the menu. My plus one on the night opted for two of these traditional dishes: soup of the day served with bloomer bread and butter, and the lamb shank, from the signature mains collection. Both of these dishes went down well, especially the succulent lamb, which was served with mash, seasonal veg, and minted gravy! I opted for something a little more adventurous with the ratatouille stuffed roasted aubergine for starter, which was topped with a garlic and parsley crumb. This was absolutely delicious and the perfect size - enough to whet your appetite but without leaving you full up. I selected the jerk veggie burger for main course, which I positively inhaled! The jerk BBQ sauce was divine and the pineapple ring in the burger gave an added sweet bite. We were simply too full to indulge in dessert but I will certainly be back to sample them in future. The only thing not to impress us on the night was the homemade lemonade, which sadly was just weakly flavoured lemon water with a slice in! Otherwise, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

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The Two Steeples can be found on Paddock Street, Wigston, just along the road from ALDI.

Veeno, Leicester

As a special birthday treat for my bestie, I booked us both in for a Classic Wine Tasting Experience at Leicester's Veeno branch. As part of this package, you enjoy two white wines, three reds, and a sweet dessert wine, each paired with a selection authentic Italian appetisers (called spuntini) on a scrummy sharing platter. It was a busy Saturday night when we went along, but we were nevertheless seated promptly in a little corner upstairs, where our server introduced himself and the wine tasting experience. One by one, he brought over our selection of wines, telling us a bit about each one and which treats from our platters to sample with them. I was a bit of a tough customer because prior to my Veeno experience, I had never met a white wine that I enjoyed, but the selection here surprised me! The white wines were very tasty and not too dry, so I wouldn't hesitate to order a white from the Veeno selection in future. At £19.90 per person, I found the Classic Wine Tasting to be good value for the amount of food, drinks, and server expertise offered. The venue was atmospheric with a lively vibe and I'd really like to go back again for another tasting! Just make sure that if you're veggie/vegan like me, that you request a food platter that meets your dietary requirements when you book.

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Veeno is centrally located at St. Martin's, Leciester, close to the Cathedral and Guildhall.

Doughnotts, Leicester

Forget diamonds, doughnuts are a girl's best friend. And when they're as tasty as those on offer at Doughnotts, it's pretty hard to resist! When the lovely Hels came to visit Leicester last month, we made a beeline for the Doughnotts store. (A huge thank you goes out to this wonderful woman for taking the doughnut photos used in this post!) At Doughnotts, we were greeted with more doughnut options than we could wish for - from Red velvet and Party Ring to lemon curd and cherry bakewell, even the pickiest sweet tooth will find a doughnut topping to love! A box of three standard doughnuts will set you back a fiver, but they are worth every penny. The doughnuts are light and not overpoweringly sweet, meaning you can easily eat a whole one in one sitting, which may surprise you when you see the size of them! They also offer many vegan friendly options which is fantastic to see. Another aspect of Doughnotts store to love is that they are a small independent business. The Leicester store is a younger sister to the original Nottingham shop which gave the brand its name. The shop itself is minimalist with a small eat-in bar at the front, but as it gets so busy in there at weekends, it's definitely best to take your doughnuts to go. I wish Doughnotts every success in Leicester, I sure hope they stick around for a long time to come!

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Doughnotts, Leicester is located at 3 Silver Arcade, a stone's throw from the Highcross Shopping Center.

Where are your favourite local eateries? Is there anywhere near you that I should check out? Hit me up in the comments.

Until next time,
A x
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*Meals at Clean Cut Kitchen and The Two Steeples were provided free of charge in exchange for a blog post review.