Christmas decorations at Windsor Castle

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and this week I share my visit to see the royal decorations at the iconic Windsor Castle. The day trip was part festive, part reminisce (verb: to indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events) and part pilgrimage. Which seems entirely fitting as the year draws to an end.

Let’s get Christmas 2022 started!

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Visiting St Paul’s Cathedral: The Highlights

For some unfathomable reason I have never been inside Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. Recently, I made amends and spent the day in what is, surely, one of the most breathtaking buildings in the world. The approach to St Paul’s Cathedral across Blackfriars Bridge affords a great view of the iconic dome and towers, but it is nothing compared to stepping inside. It was love at first sight.

You are literally stopped in your tracks by the sheer size of the interior for one thing, but also by the Baroque oppulence of rich colours spread before you. Many of the panels on the soaring ceiling are set with glass chips that sparkle like jewels as they catch the light.

Where to start which such a lavish offering? Common sense prevailed and we booked a 90-minute tour with one of the expert volunteer guides.

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Review: 878 AD a new App. by creators of Assassin’s Creed

If you were a Time Traveller where would you transport to? A new App. 878 AD launched this week and aims to re-create a significant moment in English history. After years of repeated attacks by the Vikings, in 878 AD King Alfred finally defeated the Great Heathen Army at Edington in Wiltshire, close to his army’s winter quarters. His success would mark the beginning of a strategy to position himself as not only ruler of Wessex but a united England. The rest, as they say, is history.

Imagine Anglo Saxon Winchester, the capital of King Alfred’s kingdom on the eve of battle where the people await news from the battlefield that will impact their daily lives (already devastated by years of Viking attacks) and the destiny of England itself. 878 AD features two parts; a new physical experience – a mini-museum – featuring live performances by actors, displays of rare Anglo Saxon objects and video imagery. Secondly, an interactive App. to download with a special code to access an immersive tour of the city using geo tracking. Create ‘memories’ from different locations and be rewarded with more content.

878 AD is a collaboration between Hampshire Culture Trust, Ubisoft, the creators behind the highly sucessful game Assassin’s Creed®, and Sugar Creative, a leading UK tech innovation studio. Advisor to the project is Ryan Lavelle, Professor of Early Medieval History and advisor to Netflix blockbuster, The Last Kingdom.

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Heritage Open Days: The Highlights

It has been a busy week. The annual festival, whereby heritage locations open their doors to the public for free, is an autumnal treat. Having said that, it’s not all about ancient buildings. Last year, with traditions as the theme, I popped into a family-run coffee roaster and this year I enjoyed talking to an artisan cheesemaker (while indulging a little cheese tasting, of course). There were also talks and online events and the festival grows every year. Best of all is the chance to explore places not normally open to the public. New discoveries this year included a backstage tour of The Grange opera house; and the family home of the Viscount of Lymington at Farleigh Wallop; as well as a return visit to the magnificent Winchester College, a firm favourite. The festival closes today but here’s my top five Heritage Open Days spots. If you missed them this past week, add them to your must-visit-soon list.

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The best farm shops: Cowdray Farm

As the summer starts to wind down it’s time to start thinking about stocking up with those little items that will turn root vegetables and autumnal fruit into heartwarming dishes in the cooler months to come. A few jars of pesto and paste to enrich winter casseroles, a tin of quality sardines to whizz into a pate to accompany hot buttered toast, or a few venison sausages to tuck away in the freezer ready to be enjoyed with a rich gravy and mash.

One of the appeals of farm shops is the retro atmosphere of a visit to the individual butcher, baker, and greengrocer, in person. They offer a return to simpler times when the options were almost entrely seasonal, local and without so much plastic packaging.

And, here’s the thing. Each farm shop is individual and you are never sure exactly what you will find. It’s that sense of the unexpected that appeals to jaded palates used to everything being available 24/7 and year-round.

In the second of the hashtagtravelling series on farm shops, I visited the decidedly up-market Cowdray Farm Shop in search of interesting seasonal and store cupboard ingredients, as well as some late season Italian lemons.

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The Best Farm Shops: Heckfield Home Farm

In recent years I have shopped less and less in supermarkets. Instead, I choose to seek out the farm shops, genuine produce markets and artisan makers for those authentic food experiences. Not all farm shops are created equal, however, with more and more becoming glorified delicatessens, offering products otherwise available at the supermarket or online. The Heckfield Home Farm, part of the larger Heckfield estate in Hampshire, hosts occasional markets offering seasonal produce grown on the farm, or made by local artisan makers.

This week I dropped in to the August market in my ongoing search for real food. And I wasn’t disappointed.

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Discover a secret garden this summer

This week I’ve been enjoying many horticultural delights courtesy of the National Garden Scheme (NGS). The annual summer event provides the opportunity to mosey around private and public gardens in aid of charity.

The scheme is so quintessentially English, reminiscent of the beloved village fete an atmosphere fostered by the delicious homemade cakes available. Spoilt for choice at one garden, I indulged in a generous portion of walnut cake with a pot of cafetière coffee on a shady patio. Hosts were ultra friendly and there was some lively chat amongst the visitors. I met up with one couple at the next garden too, and we greeted each other like old friends. Gardening tips were swopped and recommendations for further gardens to visit. Aah, an English summer.

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Jubilee: the best royal trees in the south east

In periods of social unrest public statues are often defaced or pulled down. Man-made buildings too are destroyed, as in Henry VIII’s Reformation, as a symbol of protest and change. Trees, on the other hand, planted to commemorate a special date or event, are an entirely different matter. Trees maintain their dignity and longevity. They go about the business of living quietly and conscientiously. They absorb pollutants in the atmosphere, provide us with oxygen, prevent flooding and land erosion, influence wind speed and temper climate. They also provide habitats for wildlife, and being near them improves our health too. Visit these attractions this summer to see some magnificent royal trees.

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A visit to an Extraordinary Doll’s House

Motifs in Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s three-act play, A Doll’s House (premiered 1879), include appearances, the power of money, and women’s place in a patriarchal society. A work of its time, there is a clear divide between those who lived upstairs and the servants living below. Actual doll’s houses, those little microcosms of everyday life, dating back to the 16th century and reflecting similar societal values, were created not as toys but often as a teaching aid, to instruct a future lady of a grand house on the running of the establishment. Think Downton Abbey with its defined rules of behaviour both below and above stairs.

The Uppark doll’s house is one of only a handful that have survived from the 18th-century in amazingly good condition. The little four-poster beds alone are around 300 years old.

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Product review: BOXD nutritional powders

For the past two years, I’ve been optimising my diet. No faddy dieting, but rather good solid nutrition. Like most of us, I’m concerned that the quality of food available generally has deteriorated over the years. Finding an egg or a carrot, for instance, that actually has any flavour is a challenge. I had been cruising along, a happy vegetarian for over 40 years, and feeling pretty smug in all honesty that I had it right. But our bodies and our nutritional needs change throughout our lives. For one thing, we need more (class A) protein as we (ahem) mature. There are only so many times you can eat eggs, cheese or meat in a day, and I’ve been searching for a tasty ready mix to supplement my protein intake.

BOXD ‘natural wellness’ shakes are formulated to specifically meet the nutritional needs of women. I’ve been blending like crazy recently to put these to the test. Read more to find out how I got on in the kitchen.

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