Posts tagged ‘English travel’

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…

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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 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.

June 8, 2012

My New Plans.

After a year of challenge, there was no way I could just stop, so I’ve spent quite a long time thinking about what I want to do next and so quite a few things on this list are a natural progression from my 35:35 Challenge.

I’ve realised that although I enjoyed the rather haphazard nature of my last challenge, I actually need a bit more structure. I want to do a few more tangible things in my 36th year that should hopefully show definite results, so I’ve grouped my plans into four main categories and I’m going to record my progress for the year in each of them. There is obviously going to be crossover between them, but broadly speaking, they’re as follows:

Food: From Allotment gardening to Michelin starred restaurants.

Jam making. Allotment gardening. Cookery classes. Michelin starred restaurants. Street food. Apple Day. Agricultural shows. Cooking with my kids. Bee project. Exploring new food. Pop-up tea rooms and restaurants. Cheese making. Patisserie. Market shopping. Discovering new local food producers.

My main plans:

  • Cookbook Challenge. A continuing challenge to cook something from each of my 64 cookbooks and record each one on my Tumbr account.
  • Developing the ‘Leeds Cookbook Collective’ (this is a new project that I’m starting with a friend and something I’m quite excited about)

Outdoors: Being Active in the Natural Environment.

Cycling. Horse riding. Walking. Climbing. Running. Camping. Sailing. Kayaking. Teaching my kids about wildlife, nature and the seasons. Picnics in the park. Walking in the woods. Sandcastles in the summer. Snowmen in the winter.

My main plans:

  • Riding – I’m going to get back on a horse again this summer. If I enjoy it, I plan to re-learn to ride again from scratch. This is a huge undertaking, as I’ve not been in the saddle for three years and if I’m honest, I have in the way of little natural ability so it’s hard work.
  • Train for an event. Probably a walk/run/climb of some kind. I want to do this with another person. You up for it? (This is possibly the Leeds Half Marathon with @wandapops. There, I’ve said it…)
  • Get back in a kayak. Much like getting back on a horse, this is something I need to do. Preferably in calm, sunny waters!
  • Cycletta. Complete this on my new Pashley Princess. Which means I’m unlikely to beat my old time, but I’m going to enjoy it nonetheless. Come and say hello if you’re doing the Tatton Park ride too!

English Adventures: From Northumberland to Lands End.

Exploring the parts of England that I’ve never visited before. Sharing the Isle of Wight of my childhood with my children. Traditions, seasons and special events. Day trips to the seaside. Pony trekking in the Dales. Camping. Festivals. County Shows. Steam railways. 

Main Plans here:

  • A weekend away in the autumn much like our Cambridge visit. All ideas for places to visit will be very much accepted.
  • A family holiday to the Isle of Wight.
  • Making the most of weekends to visit somewhere we’ve never been before.
  • Taking the kids to Countryside Live.
Literature
Reading some of  the Classics. Penguin book collection. Vintage Vogues. Ruby Ferguson First Editions. Second hand book shopping. World Book Day with Eve. World Book Night. Leeds Big Bookend Festival. Ilkley Literature Festival.
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Main Plans here:
  • Complete my GoodReads Challenge to read 52 books in 2012.
  • Search for the missing books in my Ruby Ferguson collection.
  • Top Secret Project. This is a big project and one that is definitely Top Secret because it’s self indulgent and a bit ridiculous. Apart from the fact that I’ve already told loads of people. Mostly because I need their help. You know who you are…
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So there we are. A busy year, but one that is definitely more focused on fewer subjects in more depth than last year. I’m also feeling as though I want to spend more time at home and re-visiting things that I’ve loved for a long time, so that is definitely reflected here. There is something about this time of year that always makes me a little rose-tinted about being in England. I’m also enjoying setting goals from one birthday to the next instead of from one January to the next. It feels like a better way of recording my own life. So, the next thing to work out is how I’m going to get all of this done…