Inspired by a recent visit to St Paul’s Cathedral, this week I made it to the mighty Westminster Abbey. It was a day well spent, despite train delays and chilly weather. It is actually a good time to visit London’s iconic buildings, that is before the spring tourism season begins. The Gothic cathedral is quite modest architecturally from the outside and on first stepping inside the great doors the interior is rather, well, grey. However, there is treasure to be had and some surprises. Many heroes and heroines from centuries past feature under this one special roof. There are far too many to include in one post, nonetheless here are a few of the impressions that linger from my visit. Read on for the wonders of Westminster.
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Starting off the year as I mean to go on, I visited the first major exhibition of 2023 which opened in London this weekend. Over 150 items arranged chronologically, from antiquity to early 20th Century, provide a visual narrative of the history of Spanish culture. On display at Spain and the Hispanic World: Treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library at the Royal Academy, are pieces from the New York museum presented for the first time in the UK.
Favourite pieces included a Map of the Ucayali River, which brought to mind the Bayeaux Tapestry, with its delightful borders featuring fishermen, flora and fauna; the rather gruesome The Four Fates of Man; and the life-sized Duchess of Alba, in all her magnificent glory.
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Traditions, handed down through the generations, make the Festive Season special. Adapted over the years, and from family to family, their origins are sometimes forgotten but they remain constant. Even The Grinch traditionally marked Christmas home alone in his cave, as a protest against the commercialisation of the annual winter festival.
Celebrations are important and Thanksgiving or Harvest Festival, Easter and other national holidays represent the core aspects of any culture. Each has its own distinctive motifs and while gathering together with people (whether family and friends, or complete strangers in the pub) is central to Christmas, what holds it all together are the familiar rituals that light up the depths of winter darkness.
The good thing about festive traditions too is that you can choose what you like, and leave the rest. Here are 8 of my favourites to pick and choose from.
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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