Posts tagged ‘England’

October 18, 2013

Apple Day and Countryside Live.

Apple Day is one of my favourite annual events, first launched by Common Ground back in 1990. Celebrating the rich variety of apples we have in this country, ‘local distinctiveness’, landscape, ecology and the importance of provenance and traceability in food, this is a day that I absolutely love. Apple Day itself is on 21st October, but you’re likely to find events over most of October up and down the country, including cookery demonstrations, apple identification for those of you with unknown varieties in your garden, games for children to have fun with, growing tips and orchard tours. Common Ground no longer manage an Apple Day calendar, because their original intent was always that it took on a life of its own and became part of the seasonal calendar as much as any Harvest Festival might; a naturally occuring part of every October.  I, for one, will always celebrate Apple Day in some way or another.

I quite often go to RHS Harlow Carr on Apple Day. They don’t seem to have an Apple Day event this year, but they’re doing  a week of ‘Sensational Autumn’ activities for half term which look great fun. Other Apple Day events across the country include those run at several National Trust properties, such as apple pressing and other activities at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire.

This weekend is also Countryside Live, at the Harrogate Show Ground on Sunday. As well as  a display of apples and apple variety identification, there will be lots of other seasonal goodness, show-jumping and other equine classes for me to reminisce over, a myriad of other activities from sheepdog trials to chainsaw carving and the addition of tractors and animals will ensure that my kids have a great day out, so we’re going to spend Sunday there. Do come and say hello if you’re visiting too!

Many apple varieties remain unfamiliar to most of us because we’re presented with a pitiful selection in the supermarkets. Apple Day is a chance for us to redress that balance, find a bit about our local area, and the amazing heritage of fruit growing that we have. Do have a look to see if there’s an event near you!

Apple Varieties

October 14, 2013

The Bear and Ragged Staff, Oxfordshire.

On Sunday night, I had the great fortune to stay at The Bear and Ragged Staff, in Oxfordshire.

Last weekend was another ‘Micra Adventure‘. We’d had a great weekend and on Sunday night, at about 6pm, we found ourselves with nowhere to stay. We’d planned to camp, but the weather forecast for the start of our time away was awful, so we’d abandoned that idea and stayed with relatives on the journey out. But the journey home was by a completely different route and so we decided to book somewhere to stay at the very last minute  (using Booking.com) and take the risk that we’d find somewhere nice that we could afford.

And, oh, how that risk paid off. We managed to find an amazing late deal on the one remaining room at The Bear and Ragged Staff, a country inn in Cumnor, Oxfordshire. Our room was the family room, in the Landlord’s Wing, which apparently dates back hundreds of years. Judging by the ancient beams in our room, I can well believe that! The room was actually a suite, designed to accommodate two adults and three children so we had a huge amount of space, as well as no less than three flat screen TVs at our disposal. On entering the first room, ducking to avoid the low door frames, we came to a sitting room, with a sofa bed and little nook off to one side that would have been a perfect child’s bed, had we needed it. Tea and coffee making things were in this room too, with some lovely flapjacks and a tub of mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit for snacking on.

Bear and Ragged Staff

Then, after this room, there was a little lobby area, with the bathroom in front of us, and our bedroom to the right. The bathroom, with underfloor heating, a deep double-ended bath and giant rainfall shower, felt incredibly luxurious (especially for us, who’d originally planned on camping!) and had pleasant, full sized toiletries, bright white and fluffy towels and a dressing gown. Our bedroom had a king sized bed (one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever slept on) with crisp white bed linen and giant pillows. We were also blessed with a large flat screen tv, but we never felt the need to turn it on!  Looking up into the old rafters was a total treat and peering out of the mullioned windows into the misty morning after our night’s stay, I felt very, very fortunate indeed.

Bear and Ragged Staff

As the hotel is in a rural area, and we’d arrived quite late, we decided to eat on the premises and thoroughly enjoyed everything we had. We’d been told that a couple of items had sold out due to a really busy lunch period, but that didn’t really affect our choices, and I thought it was a good sign that the place was so popular!  I opted for an old favourite, crab and leek risotto, and Stephen had a steak burger which was cooked to medium-rare pink perfection. Having gone for a slightly lighter meal, I felt like I could just about make space for dessert – honey and lavender cheesecake with honeycomb – and I’m so glad I did! The flavour combination was heavenly. I enjoyed a glass of prosecco to celebrate our good fortune and I also rather liked Noble, a lager from Greene King, that was being served on tap. I’ll definitely look for that again. Breakfast was included in the price of our room, and again, it was lovely, with plenty of local produce. I had a full cooked breakfast – I couldn’t not! – and Stephen had Eggs Benedict. It was the perfect way to start the day, setting us up well for the journey home.

We had such a wonderful stay at the Bear and Ragged Staff. Our entire time there was pretty much faultless, and as well as great facilities, the customer service was friendly and helpful throughout, which I always finds makes such a difference, no matter where I’m staying.  I’d love to make a return visit one day…

September 13, 2013

Wood Street Market, Wakefield

This Sunday is the third Wood Street Market of the year. I went to the last one and it was lots of fun.

Wood Street is in the centre of Wakefield and the market has helped to revitalise this often-quiet Civic Quarter.  The road is closed and transformed into a hive of activity with stallholders, entertainment and live music. When we visited in the summer, there was a city ‘beach’ organised by the Council too, so the kids were thrilled to see a helter-skelter to ride on – which thankfully was free, because they went on it many, many times…

Plenty of different and freshly prepared street food was available, including pulled pork, Thai satay, coffee, cupcakes, and the local independent beer shop had a couple of beers on tap for those folk who hadn’t driven into town! I bought some lovely fresh scones to take home for a treat and the kids enjoyed ice creams, despite the occasional shower of rain!

We made paper windmills, had some great photographs taken at The Portrait Sideshow (which we loved so much that we’ve bought prints)  viewed a photography exhibition and listened to a variety of live music. One of the musicians asked for audience suggestions and my lovely three year old nephew made him play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, which made us chuckle.  It was allegedly written by Mozart, after all!

Wood Street Market

As well as food and music was a nice variety of stalls, including my favourite which was called ‘Jam’  (nice paper goods, craft-based gifts and books) run by the people who own the shop of the same name. Pop-up shops and free family craft activities made good use of empty shops along Wood Street, and will be back on Sunday.

Wood Street Market is a community-led event, created by some enterprising local businesses who wanted to see a change in their city and took it upon themselves to make it happen.  They (and the local council, and their other partners) deserve our support, so if you’re in the area and stuck for something fun to do, then I recommend you go along.

September 2, 2013

Take your holiday back home…

This post was originally titled ‘how to steal things from your holiday’ but I thought you might worry I had criminal tendencies…

Do you ever come back from holiday determined to bring something home with you? I don’t mean literally stealing the towels from your hotel room, although I do admit to taking those little bottles of toiletries if they’re nice enough. We all do that though, right?

What I mean by ‘stealing’ is taking ideas, behaviours, attitudes, styles, away from our ‘holiday’ selves and recreating them in our ‘real’ selves and real, everyday lives. I’ve often tried to do exactly that. Sadly, though the idea of breakfast on the terrace every day is perfection in sunny Europe, it doesn’t translate terribly well to a wintery Yorkshire.  However, this year, I have a very good chance of recreating some elements of my holidays in my everyday life, from my city break in Paris, camping trips to Scotland and The Lake District and, last week, in a yurt in the Yorkshire Dales.

So – first up are some lovely Duralex glasses that you see everywhere in Paris. Although they’re incredibly chic, they’re also cheap, and so I can buy these and pretend that I’m drinking in some little Left Bank bistro. Perhaps I’ll insist on a return trip to Paris to buy them from Merci though?

Secondly, I can recreate the  lanterns that are used everywhere at Bivouac, adding wire to old jars and glasses, with some lace or jute string to decorate and a tea light dropped inside. I found this tutorial video, which makes them look easy! Cheap enough to amass a huge collection, these will be a glittering backdrop to the Bonfire Night supper that I’m planning. And bunting! I need more bunting in my life. I think I shall make some. It’s not hard, is it?

Tea lights, bunting and mismatched furniture...

Tea lights, bunting and mismatched furniture…

I can also recreate the style of Bivouac in other ways, using mis-matched furniture (which, with my budget, is going to happen anyway!) to give my home a lived-in, unique feel. Removing the distractions of TV, and allowing the evenings to be focussed on people, conversations around dinner and a bottle of beer sounds good too. That lack of wifi, 3G or even a phone signal at Bivouac was good for making me slow down a bit and read more. I’d like to bring reading back into my normal life too, I’ve not found the time for that recently.

Often, when I’m on holiday, I find myself eating differently. This is more noticeable, I think, when abroad, as I adopt a Mediterranean style diet, or eat more unusual food. I often choose to potter around a local market to shop for food. This is something that I’d like to bring back home to my everyday life. More fresh food, more cooking, more greens! Fewer scones, sadly, which seemed to be a staple of my last holiday…

I also tend to exercise more – swimming in a pool or the sea perhaps. Walking, cycling, even wandering around a city can be physically demanding. I’ve started swimming every week, although it’s not terribly glamorous at my local pool, it is doing me good. I’ve added hill walking to my weekends whenever I can fit it in, so it’s not just something I do when I’m away camping.

I’m sure there are other things I can add to that list, given enough time! But for now, those are the things I’m stealing from my holidays. I’m hoping that they will add a bit of healthiness and happiness, as well as making me feel a tiny bit more like I’m on holiday everyday…

What would you steal from your holiday? 

August 30, 2013

The Bivouac

I promised a review of The Bivouac, and finally, here it is!

The Bivouac is a selection of yurts, log cabins and a bunk barn, just outside Masham in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, with a cafe and small shop. Just along from the site is a folly known as Druid’s Temple and it’s also along a long-distance walk route, so attracts plenty of day visitors as well as overnight guests.

We stayed for four nights in ‘Foxglove’, one of the yurts. All the yurts are situated together in a field close to the cafe, toilets and lovely shower block, which is handy when you’ve got small children. Despite it being the height of the summer holidays, some of the yurts were empty and so it was relatively peaceful – even though they’re not exactly soundproof! We had decent weather most of the time which was a bonus too, as it meant we were able to sit outside once the kids were finally in bed, and enjoy the stars, and on one night, watch the lightening flash across the sky in the distance, which was fascinating to watch – until the rain arrived in the middle of the night and woke us up!

Inside the yurt was lovely and welcoming, from the chalkboard with our name on, to the cosily made up beds, rustic-chic furniture and giant beanbag. I loved all the tea light lanterns dotted around the place ( it was off-grid, so we needed them!) and wood burning stove, complete with enough logs to last our stay. It has to be said that one yurt with four people in can get a bit overwhelming. Anyone with small children knows what it’s like to try and get them to bed, and when there are no doors to shut and bedrooms to creep away from whilst crossing your fingers that they’ll go to sleep, it can be tough. But they did love sharing a room!

Our time at Bivouac

Our time at Bivouac

Walking to Druid’s Temple was an easy, short walk, and the thunderstorm we’d had overnight provided sufficient mud for my obsessed son, with the ‘hedgehog hunt’ map keeping my six year old daughter entertained. Druid’s Temple itself is a fascinating, eccentric folly, and we enjoyed looking around it and playing at monsters!

We also paid extra for them both to attend a drumming workshop one day, which they both enjoyed. If there was one problem, it was the sole tyre swing. Which my kids both loved. And you know what one swing between two kids leads to? Yes, endless arguing over taking turns. A few more pieces of wooden, sympathetically integrated play equipment would have been great, although I did appreciate the low-key feel of the place and they did find friends to play with, which helped enormously. I was very happy to see them go off and play in the field and use their imaginations instead of relying on being entertained. That feeling I had of being comfortable with letting them wander a bit was lovely and refreshing too – no ‘cotton wool’ parenting for me!

Once they’d found friends, the kids did settle down from the first day’s over-excitement, which meant, joy of joys, that I was able to go for a shower on my own! The shower blocks in Bivouac are far removed from many camping shower blocks, with warm flooring, interesting slate tiles, hairdryers and wooden doors and luxurious smelling handwash and lotion. There was evidence of lots of environmentally friendly practices being used as well, which was impressive. I’m planning to adopt some of their ideas at home.

We mainly cooked for ourselves, using the gas stove provided in the yurt, but we did eat in the cafe one evening and the food, from superfood salad to burger and chips, was all really great; obviously fresh, interesting to eat, but not too expensive. They have a weekly ‘community supper’ which sounds like a lovely idea. I was happy to see that they had ‘plain pasta with parmesan’ on the kids’ menu too, proof that it’s not just my girl who loves that! Someone who works there clearly understands what many young children will and won’t eat.

The Bivouac is a wonderful place to stay. I’d happily go back for a return visit, though next time I might make it a romantic yurt stay for two, instead of a holiday for four! I think it would make for a lovely, relaxing adult-only holiday, as well as being a great place for kids to leave a bit of the modern world behind and play. I’d also love to stay in one of the wooden cabins, as they looked interesting, with eclectic furniture, more cooking and washing facilities and hidden somewhere nearby is a hot tub! Something for my next visit, perhaps…

August 16, 2013

Tim Walker: Dreamscapes

I recently had the pleasure of visiting The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, specifically to see a temporary exhibition ‘Tim Walker: Dreamscapes’, a collection of images by the legendary photographer.

The museum has a fascinating history as it’s never been a home – it was purpose built by John and Josephine Bowes in the 19th Century as a museum with the aim of introducing the arts to the people of the North East. The building is based on a French chateau and is an utterly magnificent creation, which sadly neither Josephine or John lived long enough to see finished.

My initial impression, on arriving at the room hosting the exhibition was one of understatement, as the room was darkened, with the images shown in front of light boxes. From the outside, it’s not terribly impressive. However, once we went inside and really looked at the photographs, that impression was completely reversed and I was transfixed by the photographs on display.

Walker is best known for his flamboyant fashion and lifestyle photography, which has long graced the pages of the most famous glossy magazines. The collection of photographs on display included works featuring well known models, such as Lily Cole, Stella Tennant and Kristen McMenamy. However, even they, in their beauty, are somehow secondary to the incredible sets, props and landscapes used in each image.  The surrealist and eccentric feel to the photos reminded me of Alice in Wonderland on more than one occasion and the colours and detail in each one is just stunning.

Self-portrait with eighty cakes

Self-Portrait with Eighty Cakes (leaflet from the exhibition)

What’s remarkable about the photographs is that Tim Walker doesn’t use digital media to manipulate what you see. So, if the photograph features a bed in a tree, then there really was a bed in a tree. Likewise, a bathroom transported to a woodland stream, balloons billowing from the windows of a country house, eighty cakes in a bedroom or (in a collaboration with Tim Burton) a giant, crying skeleton. Many of the images were taken at close-by Eglingham Hall, in Nortumberland, so it seems quite fitting that they’re on display here.

We didn’t get much chance to look around the rest of the Bowes Museum, as we decided that tea and cake in the Bowes cafe on site was more urgent (sorry!), but it feels safe to say that admirers of silver, porcelain and textiles would find much to please them in the permanent and internationally-renowned collection.

Tim Walker: Dreamscapes is exhibiting until 1st September.