Blenheim Palace Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail

I love Blenheim Palace! It is one of my favourite places to visit so I’ve been several times at different times throughout the year. It is such a vast place I still haven’t got round to seeing everything!

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When I heard they were doing an illuminated Christmas Lights Trail this year I just had to go! By the time I had got around to booking tickets I could only get the latest entry time (8:00pm) on a Sunday evening but knew it would be worth doing!

There is a Christmas market on at the same time and lots for the kids to do including carousel rides and the Cinderella’s Fairy Tale Palace Experience.

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When we got there it was almost time for our 8pm time slot but we were stunned at how busy it still was! Despite pre-booking a time slot we still had quite a wait in the queue which was a bit disappointing, especially as it was a bit too cold to just be standing around! Still, at least it wasn’t raining!

Along the lights trail you will encounter a gingerbread house; complete with music and light show;

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Stunning “running water” lights;

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Beautiful red glowing poppies hanging from stunning woodland trees (the photos don’t do these justice!)

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Light arches and displays on the water;

Glowing bridges, waterfalls and snowflake lights;

An absolutely stunning light tunnel (my favourite of the whole trail);

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There are lots and lots of other things to see as well, but for the grand finale – the palace shows off an incredible music and light show!

Believe me when I say that photos really do not do it justice, it is breathtaking!

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Tickets were £16 per adult however the parking situation did annoy me slightly as you have to pre-book and pay for on-site parking for this event. I don’t think this was made particularly clear when I was booking it and as the car parking on site had sold out, it wasn’t showing as being available to include as part of my order. It was only once I had paid for two non-refundable tickets and received a “need to know” email from Blenheim Palace that I had to make other car parking arrangements.

I couldn’t get on site parking and the nearby park and ride car park had also sold out so I was really grateful when hubby offered to drive Mum and I to the event and to even wait for us nearby whilst we went around the trail! The event itself was wonderful but this drama beforehand did make things a bit stressful!

Still, I would definitely go back again and thought it was well worth the cost of the ticket! It certainly made me feel very festive!

London at Christmas Time

My Sister, my Mum and I visit London every December to get into the Christmas spirit and god did London put on a show this year! Everywhere was adorned with stunning oversized Christmas trees and decorations and lights – it really was breathtaking!

Here are some of the incredible sights we came across during our travels around the city;

First stop after getting off the coach was (and always will be!) Dominique Ansel’s for breakfast and some of their sweet treats! As usual they didn’t disappoint!

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The outside and inside decorations have been updated to a beautiful white theme, a stark contrast to its last theme which was Halloween/Autumnal colours.

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I had my usual turkey croque monsieur and tried this incredible chocolate Pinecone. Inside was a gingerbread flavoured mousse and biscuit base! Amazing!

I also tried Dominique Ansel’s cinnamon roll latte which had a toasted marshmallow on top and tasted incredible!

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Other Dominique Ansel treats looked pretty spectacular too!

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I also couldn’t resist buying a box of Christmas morning cereal – I can’t wait to try this!

Second stop was Peggy Porschen’s – I can’t visit London now without buying a box of their amazing cupcakes to bring home with me!

Along the road from Peggy’s was Les Senteurs – how amazing are these oversized baubles which appear outside?!

The flower shop next to Les Senteurs is called Moyses Stevens and has the most beautiful bouquet and flower arrangements I’ve seen. The ceiling is also adorned with flowers and so it is well worth a visit!

I would highly recommend a visit to Somerset House if you have the chance – they have a huge beautiful Christmas tree outside the front and if you have the time you can also go ice skating here too!

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Our next stop was Covent Garden, I can’t believe out of all the times I have visited London I have never visited here! It is a stunning place and the festive decorations were out in full force! I loved the giant mistletoe pieces which were hanging from the ceiling and the giant reindeer, giant Christmas tree and decorated car were stunning to look at too!

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We’ve walked past Fortnum and Mason so many times but have never actually ventured inside! Can you believe it?? It is like a tardis when you go inside – I can’t believe how big it is!

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Such a beautiful place with so many festive goodies on sale – how great do their cupcakes look??

Claridges currently has a lovely Christmas display outside! I love stars! I should have ventured inside though because they have a display called a love tree inside! Instagram it and you will see what I mean!

The Ivy restaurant looked beautiful….

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Oxford Street never disappoints at Christmas time!

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And neither did Harrods…

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And if you only visit one place this festive season to see the decorations, it has to be Annabel’s! I could take a million photos of this festive display and it still would not do it justice! It is incredible!

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and if all of that isn’t enough, we even came across a Christmas sheep on our travels!

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Christmas at the Bush Inn

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Hopefully you have already read my post about The Bush Inn and their famous picnic benches! I’ve been four times this year and am already booked to go for a fifth time!

As soon as I had been for the first time back in March for one of the Spring benches, I knew I would have to come back for the Christmas edition! Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint! Here’s what they were serving for this years Christmas picnic bench;

Turkey and Stuffing roll – (hint – the Pig in Blanket is served in a little pot of gravy – pour the left over gravy into your turkey roll, delicious!)

Potato Wedges – lovely and crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle!

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Pig in Blanket in a little pot of gravy;

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Deep Fried Brie with Cranberry – I love cheese and it doesn’t get any better than when it is deep fried!

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And for the sweets section we had;

Home made Mince Pie – Home made ones are the best!

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Christmas Tree Brownie – such a simple but effective idea – i will have to try making these at home!

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a Home made Gingerbread Man and a Satsuma – you can’t beat home made gingerbread! Plus you need a bit of fruit to level things out!

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A Christmas Trifle – trifle isn’t a favourite of mine but this was lovely

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Home Made Churros with a Toffee Sauce and a White chocolate Rocky Road Reindeer 

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and a lovely mini Hot Chocolate complete with marshmallows!

and a little bottle of cranberry juice to wash it all down with!

Another lovely trip here, I’ve never been disappointed! And for £17.50 per person I think the price is an absolute bargain! If you want to check them out then here is their Facebook page – you can only book the picnic benches by contacting them by telephone but be quick – the picnic benches get booked up really, really quickly!

I can’t wait for our next visit in a couple of weeks!

A spot of Llama trekking!

If like me you are always looking for some interesting and different days out, then I have just the thing for you!

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How stunning is Bowie??

I come from a family who adore animals and although I enjoy visiting farms and safari parks, sometimes they start to become very much the same old, same old.

A lot of these trips out are weather dependent and if you time it wrong and it’s a really rainy day, you don’t even get to see the animals come out of their shelters half the time, never mind actually interact with them! Mind you, who can blame them!?

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I came across an advert on Facebook advertising days out with llamas through Briery Hill llamas and, as I had seen a few videos going round on social media showing just how loveable and hilarious llamas were, I thought it would be brilliant to give it a go!

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Bossy Rossi! He’s not actually bossy as such – but he is definitely the boss!

I booked two spaces for my Sister and I to go during our week off together. It was £35 per person and we expected to be part of a larger group of maybe around ten people. We were over the moon when we arrived and it was just the two of us!

We had the whole place to ourselves and received full on superstar treatment!

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Hello there!

When we arrived we had a short introduction to all of the llamas, their names, ages and characters. We could then choose a llama we wanted to take out trekking, which was a really difficult decision to make as they were all so beautiful and all so different!

After much deliberating we finally decided on taking Bowie (Bowie was pretty much a dead cert to be chosen, you can see why from his pictures!) and the snooty scamp of the group, Macchiato!

Lisa (the owner) and an employee, Jade, also offered to take Rossi out with us so that we could switch llamas half way around if we wanted to! So we had a really good trio for the day!

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Beautiful Bowie!

After getting the boys all ready to go and giving them a bit of a grooming session so that they could get to know us, we wandered off on our llama trek across the fields and through the nearby woodland.

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We picked a perfect autumnal day for it, the llamas were lovely and gentle and stopped a  few times for a quick snack (Mr Macciato was renamed Snacky Macky!!)

As you can see, we also had time to stop for a few photo opportunities with them which was great!

After a slow mosey on back to the farm we gathered all 14 of the llamas together so we could feed them.

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What a beautiful face!

Cue fourteen lovely looking llamas surrounding you with puppy dog eyes like it had been such a long time since they were last fed! It was a lovely experience.

The owner told us that they were going to soon introduce a new “llamas and lattes” experience and asked us if we would like to be guinea pigs for this new package so of course we jumped at the chance!

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We were taken into the dining room of the beautiful house and served a latte with a llama shaped cocoa sprinkling and a llama shaped ginger biscuit! The perfect end to a lovely morning!

The company also offer an afternoon tea or cream tea service after you have been on your llama trek and, judging by the latte and biscuit, we had when we were there, I would imagine this would be well worth paying a visit!

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Snacky Macky at his finest!

Please check out their website! After visiting them I started following them on their Facebook page which you can find here. I noticed the other day they’ve added three new lovely members to the llama pack! They are called Limon, Rubio and Cirillo!

We shall have to rebook now so we can meet the new boys on the block!!

A hugely recommended day out – plus if you are looking for a great but unusual Christmas present why don’t you book someone their very own llama experience??

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you all had a great few days of Halloween celebrations! This year we had our Halloween party on the 26th and I’ve had the last week off to take part in all things autumnal!

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I loved my Pumpkin Patch which sat outside the front of the house!

We had a great time at the Halloween party – I normally make a real effort with my Halloween outfits but this year was a very straightforward outfit with some striking makeup instead! This crystal skull set is from The Gypsy Shrine – they have some amazing sets which are really easy to apply!

I have been so busy at work and planning other events over the past two months that I just didn’t get the chance to do anywhere near as much preparation for Halloween this year I’m afraid. I normally spend a couple of days preparing treats and decorations but it was very last minute this year!

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On the Sunday, hubby and I ventured out to see the new Halloween film at the cinema – we always try and go to the cinema to watch a horror film over the Halloween weekend. I really enjoyed the film but as I was sat there watching it I realised I had watched all the sequels but had never actually watched the 1978 original! It’s on Sky cinema at the moment so I have recorded it to watch it when we get the chance!

When we’d got home after scaring ourselves to death at the cinema, we tucked into all the amazing Halloween treats I’d been gathering over the last few weeks! As usual I’ve bought far too much and we had hardly any trick or treaters so we are going to be eating them until Christmas!

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How cool is the ghost and black slime pizza from Asda??
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These sweets get more and more gross every year!

On the Monday my Mum, my Sister and I went Pumpkin picking! I was just going to include the details in this blog but we had such a fantastic time that I thought it deserved its own blog so watch this space! It was well worth the visit and I think we may have created a new annual family tradition!

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On the Tuesday my Sister and I had a fantastic day in London! We’ve never been around Halloween before but we were pleased we did as it was a brilliant experience. Cafe’s and shops and florists were covered in autumnal and Halloween decor and they looked spectacular! Dominique Ansel’s, Peggy Porschen’s and Elan Cafe were all looking particularly autumnal and spooky!

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Our top prize for window displays went to this florists called Pullbrook and Gould. The photos really don’t do it justice, it must have taken them ages to create it and you can see how much time and effort has gone into it! Amazing!

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On Halloween my Mum, my Sister and I spent the day together (and admittedly started discussing our Christmas plans!) but spent a lot of the day munching on our Halloween chocolate whilst watching the new Netflix programme The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell – if you haven’t watched it yet, you really must!! The only way I can describe it is a cross between the film Labyrinth and a Nigella Lawson cookery programme! It is seriously corny, but seriously good, and a perfect programme to watch over the spooky period!

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After a day of errands on the Thursday, on the Friday we paid a visit to Puzzlewood! This was my Sisters choice as she said she has always wanted to visit, and to be honest I didn’t know much about the place – I just assumed it was a woodland trail! Well there is so much more to it than this! So I have written a separate blog all about it!

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So as you can see we have had a fun-filled week full of Halloween and autumn themed activities! It is such a shame when all the decorations have to come down again for another year. Plus as soon as they do it means I have to really start putting my Christmas plans into action!

 

Pumpkin Picking!

I made a pact with my Sister last year that we would go pumpkin picking this year after seeing all of the amazing photos on instagram of all the autumnally dressed people stood in the fields of pumpkins!

In the last couple of years there’s also been a real surge in unusual hybrid type pumpkins too! It started with the all white Ghost pumpkins and went onto the adorable miniature Munchkin pumpkins, and now all the pumpkin growers are coming up with all sorts of weird and wonderful looking pumpkins, gourds and squashes!

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We looked at some of the places that people had been tagged in on Instagram and decided on visiting Pumpkins R Us, which is around an hours drive away from us.

There’s no fee to get in and there were lots of amazing decorations (including an incredibly scary clown!) to have a look at as you walk around the marquee full of pumpkins.

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The selection really was incredible! I had already bought a few pumpkins from the supermarket the week before we had visited so I had only planned on looking but some of them were so unusual looking I just had to give them a home! If you pay a visit, grab a little trolley to wheel all your goodies around – they weigh an absolute tonne!

There was a huge array of different types and colours and sizes (seriously, some were absolutely MASSIVE!), and all of them were reasonably priced.

The only downside we found was that we didn’t actually get to go out to the field to pick the pumpkins, they were already picked and crated up for us. Having said that, it was nice to have the same types all grouped together so you could compare them size wise!

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My cart was quite full by the end!

On the way out there was also a little shop you could visit and buy unusual ornaments and decorations and bits for the kids for their night out trick or treating.

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We really enjoyed going and it was well-worth the trip – I’m pretty sure we will be paying a returning visit next year and I can see a new annual family tradition developing!

 

Saint Aymes Cafe

Ok so this is my third instalment of my favourite London Cafes – I’m hoping you have already read my blog about Peggy Porschen’s and Dominique Ansel’s!

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Saint Aymes is another place I will always try and visit whenever I am in London. It is situated on Connaught Street which about a ten minute walk from Paddington Station. The outside is draped in beautiful wisteria, and inside is a bright and airy cafe adorned with multiple flower walls.

 

 

They are particularly well-known for their innovative Unicorn lattes! You can choose the latte in a colour of pink, blue or purple and it is topped with whipped cream and gorgeous multi coloured decoration.

 

 

The coffee which is added to the latte is served separately so you can add it when you have taken all those Instagram worthy shots!

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They also do a fantastic hot chocolate called Marie Antionette which is a pink coloured white hot chocolate adorned with whipped cream and crumbled oreo cookies.

 

They also serve delicious cappuccinos and the thing Saint Aymes is most well known for is their 24ct gold leaf decoration which is added to all of its drinks – can you think of anything more luxurious than that?? Check out this 24ct gold cappuccino!

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Saint Aymes have also recently installed a candy floss maker, so it is served fresh on request.

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Add to this a beautiful selection of cakes, biscuits and cupcakes and all in all you have a stunning and relaxing place which is well worth visiting!

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Mary Arden’s Farm

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I am hoping that you have read my blogs about my last couple of visits to stratford upon avon and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage over the last few months. As part of the full story ticket we purchased, you can have access to Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place, Hall’s Croft, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm, as many times as you like for a full 12 months! If you are visiting Stratford, you must also pay a visit to the Holy Trinity Church which is of course the final resting place for William Shakespeare himself.

Mary Arden’s Farm was the last place on our list to visit and, once again, we chose a beautiful summers day to visit!

The Arden Family farmhouse was the childhood home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary. The house was built in around 1514 and was owned by Lord Abergavenny, and tenanted to farmer Robert Arden (Shakespeare’s grandfather) and his family. Mary was born in about 1535 and was the youngest of 8 sisters. All of them grew up in this farmhouse.

At the time, it was not unusual for children to die through illnesses, but Mary and her sisters all lived to become adults and she grew up as part of a busy working household. Mary’s mother died in 1548 and her father then married a widow who also had four children, so the farmhouse would have been fit to bursting, even though some of Mary’s sisters had already left home by this point!

In 1556, Robert Arden died, leaving his second wife, Agnes, the tenancy of the house and farmland. Mary was left with some additional land and a sum of money at this point. In 1567, Agnes Arden handed the property over to her son-in-law John Fulwood (John Fulwood was married to Agnes’ youngest child) and she continued to live in the house until she died in 1581.

By 1623 the Fulwood family continued to hold the tenancy. Avery Fulwood was the tenant and the farm was recorded as being 147 acres in size.

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In 1662, Lord Abergavenny sold off the farm to pay off debts. Mary Arden’s house, along with the147 acres, was bought by Anne Hunt for £300. At the time this happened, Mary Fulwood was listed as the tenant. Later in that year, it was purchased by the Loggin family of Clifford Chambers.

In 1738 the Loggin family sold the property to Edward Kendrick, rector of nearby Billesley. He made the purchase to increase the income of Billesley parish throughout the rent of the property. The property then became known as Glebe Farm (Glebe means land proving income to the clergy).

In 1742 Kendrick acquired a barn and additional land. This was probably land originally left by Robert Arden to Mary in his will of 1556. Glebe Farm now consisted of a house and about 188 acres of land.

By 1769, Glebe Farm was one of the largest farms in Wilmcote. The other was neighbouring Palmers Farm (which was actually mistaken for Mary Arden’s Farm for several years until it became apparent the building next door was actually where Mary Arden had resided).

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Palmer’s Farmhouse is next door to Mary Arden’s Farm and for a long time was believed to be Mary Arden’s Farm!

1925 Glebe farmhouse and land still belonged to the rectory of Billesley parish at this date. In this year the farm was sold by the Church Commissioners and split up.

In 1967 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased the farmhouse with 3 acres of land, tenant George Holmes was living there at the time.

In 1978 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust took possession of Glebe Farmhouse following the death of George Holmes.

In 2000, Glebe Farm was finally identified as the Arden family home after it previously being believed that they lived at neighbouring Palmer’s Farmhouse.

Mary and John Shakespeare had 8 children, 3 of whom died at a young age. William Shakespeare was born in 1564. When William was very young there was an outbreak of plague in Stratford Upon Avon which he was lucky to survive. It is not known for certain, but is thought that Mary brought William to Wilmcote in the hope of protecting him from the outbreak.

Mary lived long enough to see William rich and successful in the 1590’s. It is possible that following John’s death in 1601, she moved into William’s grand home, New Place, before she died in 1608.

When you arrive at the Farm you are greeted by a range of animals including cows, horses, goats, a donkey and some stunning birds of prey!

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You can explore the inside of the farmhouse, which has been set up to look as it would have done back then, with huge open fireplaces and wonky walls and corridors!

The first floor, above the hall, was most likely added sometime in the 1600’s. Originally the room would have been much bigger as the chimney stack was smaller. People lived in the house up until the 1970’s and over the years it has been altered an extended to suit their needs.

The first floor chamber was the only first floor space in the 1500’s and it would have been reached by a ladder until a staircase was added in the 1600’s. It is not known if the room was originally fully floored or if there was only a sleeping shelf.

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On the beam in the doorway you can see some dark brown teardrop shaped marks which were caused by candles held so close to the wood that they burnt it. Marks like this were often found on the timbers of older buildings. It is possible they were made by accident, however they may have been created deliberately, perhaps in the belief they would protect the building from burning down.

Theres also plenty to do outside in the grounds of the farm. A game of giant chess anyone?

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You can also visit Wheelwrights workshop. The workshop was opened to visitors again last year after being used as a storage space for a number of years. It houses a collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century wheelwrights and coppers tools.

Alongside the blacksmith, the wheelwright, carpenter and cooper were essential craftsmen in the village community.

The carpenter met a variety of needs in the home and on the farm in addition to playing an important part in the construction of buildings. he made tools, furniture and domestic fittings, as well as coffins, and acted as undertaker.

The cooper’s speciality was the making of barrels of varying shapes and sizes needed for the storage of beer, cider or wine and of dry goods such as flour, salt-fish, lime and crockery. Great skill was required to judge the number and dimensions of the oak staves required to make a cask.

The wheelwright made and repaired wagons, carts and other farm implements. Seasoned elm, oak, and ash were used to provide the hub, spoke and rim felloes of a wheel. An iron tyre, fitted when hot, held these parts together when assembled.

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And if all of this is not enough for you, you can also go for a lovely long walk in the wild flower meadow, past the pigs and crops and lower dovehouse pasture.

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You can also try your hand at archery, watch some goose herding or a bird of prey display and visit the adventure playground.

So as you can see there is plenty to see and do here and you can easily fill a day seeing everything Mary Arden’s Farm has to offer! And don’t forget, if you buy the full story ticket you can come back as many times as you like for a whole year!

 

A trip to see the Terracotta Warriors

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to travel all the way to China to see these guys, but luckily, for the first time in 10 years the Terracotta Army came back to the UK for an exhibition at the World Museum in Liverpool. I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of this museum until I came across this exhibition being advertised, but couldn’t wait to visit!

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You’ll learn so much from this exhibition, it is so interesting!

The story starts about 600 years before the Qin people became a powerful Empire, when they occupied a small region on the north-west border of China and served the Zhou kings by breeding and training horses. When the Zhou royal family sets up a new capital in the East, in around 771 BC, establishing the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, the Qin are left behind to guard the western border against nomadic tribes.

The Qin state gradually grows in power and prosperity through political alliances, social changes and economic and technological advances. One of the most radical changes was the forming of a new government based on a clearly defined set of laws and a strict philosophy. People were rewarded for good behaviour and punished for wrong doing, officials were promoted for their achievements and not just because they came from noble families. This was known as the Legalist philosophy.

With a strong economy and a stable government, the rulers of the Qin state are able to expand their territory.

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Ying Zheng was only 13 years old when he became king of the Qin state in 246 BC. With the Prime Minister and his mothers support, the young king administers the state from his capital at Xianyang close to modern Xi’an in north-west China. At the age of 22, he takes full control of the government and over the next decade, with massive armies, he conquers the neighbouring six kingdoms and becomes the first ruler to unify China in 221 BC.

As he proclaims himself First Emperor of China, Ying Zheng invents a new title for himself, becoming Qin Shi Huang, the Great August First Emperor of Qin. He also claims the “Mandate of Heaven”. According to this ancient concept there can be only one supreme ruler whose authority comes from the gods.

To reinforce his divine nature, the Emperor travels around his Empire. He erects monuments on sacred mountains to proclaim his achievements, declaring himself ruler of the entire universe. His reputation as a cruel and ruthless tyrant may explain why there were several assassination attempts on his life. During his lifetime, the Emperor gathers many concubines and has numerous children, one of whom succeeds him when he dies unexpectedly at the age of 49.

Influenced by the Legalist philosophy of his ancestors, Qin Shi Huang believes in the absolute rule of law. This means that everything in his new Empire is strictly controlled. People who behave well are richly rewarded but those who behave badly receive severe punishments. The Emperor puts in place a new centralised system of government. He removes regional rulers and divides his newly conquered territories into 36 provinces, each managed by a governor,  military commander and a superintendent. He also orders 120,000 noble families to move from the states that he has conquered to his capital at Xianyang to ensure their loyalty. He creates a standard system of weights, measures and coinage, introduces an official script and imposes heavy taxation. This means that the same political and economic system is used across the Empire, improving communication, administration and trade. Even the wheel axle of chariots and carts is standardised so that travellers can use any road.

As the Emperor grows in power, he is obsessed with the desire to become immortal. He orders his alchemists to make potions to extend his life, some of which contain mercury. During his life, he organises expeditions to the East China Sea in search of the mythical “Islands of the Immortals”. It is here that the Emperor hopes to find herbs and plants which will bring him immortality. There is a story that the Emperor sends his most trusted magician Xu Fu on an expedition with 3,000 boys and girls, but sadly they never return. Despite his attempts to live forever, the Emperor dies unexpectedly in 210 BC, most likely from mercury poisoning, strangely enough!

The building of Ying Zheng’s tomb commences in 246 BC soon after he comes king of Qin at just 13 years of age. The burial site lies 35 kilometres east of Xi’an, the modern capital of Shaanxi Province. It faces south with mountains behind and the Wei River to the front, and was already the burial site of the Qin kings.

More than 700,000 men are brought from all corners of the Empire to work on the project. The scale of the tomb complex expands massively when Ying Zheng becomes First Emperor of China in 221 BC. The construction lasts nearly 40 years and continues even after his death.

The burial site is designed like a city for the afterlife, with the Emperor’s mausoleum in the centre surrounded by palaces, living quarters, offices, ritual buildings and stables, all enclosed within defensive walls, watch towers and gates. Apart from the mausoleum, very little is now visible above ground.

People believed that a life similar to that on earth awaited them in death, so the deceased were buried with the things they needed for the next world. Servants, warriors, concubines and even horses followed their lord to the grave. Rulers were buried with all the luxuries of life. Their tombs were monumental and designed to recreate the world they had lived in.

Following his death in 210 BC at the age of 49, the Emperor is buried in his mausoleum. By decree of his son, the Emperor’s childless concubines are killed and buried with him. Historical documents record that “thousands of officials were killed and thousands of craftsmen were buried alive… to keep the tomb a secret”.

Believe it or not, these amazing figures went undiscovered until 29th March 1974 and are one of the most extraordinary finds ever made! They were discovered by local farmers in Lintong District, Xi’an when they were digging a water well approximately 1.5km east of the emperors tomb. The discovery resulted in Chinese archaeologists being brought in to investigate and the finding of the largest pottery figurine group ever found in China. A museum complex has now been constructed over the area.

Over the last 40 years, archeological investigations have revealed three underground pits covering an area of 22,000 square metres housing an estimated 8,000 life-size warriors and horses. Each pit originally covered with wooden planks, bamboo mats and earth which over time have collapsed onto the warriors. Found in hundreds of fragments, the sculptures have to be painstakingly pieced together.

It is remarkable that these figures were not mentioned by the first Chinese historian Sima Qian when he described the Emperor’s burial site over 100 years later. The figures are a great unsolved mystery but it is believed they are guarding the Emperor in the afterlife. They are one of the most extraordinary archaeological discoveries of all time. Warrior figures from other Chinese burials have been found, but nothing compares to the scale and realism of the First Emperor’s terracotta army.

The figures are life sized and vary in height, uniform and hairstyle depending on what their roles in the army were (the tallest sculptures are the generals). Although the face of each warrior looks different, it is believed that 10 basic face shapes have been used and then clay added afterwards to provide individual facial features. The figures are of armoured warriors, unarmored infantrymen, cavalrymen (wearing a pillbox hat), helmeted drivers of chariots with armour protection, spear-carrying charioteers, armoured kneeling archers, unarmored standing archers, generals and other lower-ranking officers.

With regards to their uniform, some wear shin pads, they may have either long or short trousers on some of which are padded, and the body armours vary dependant on rank, function, and position in formation. There’re also terracotta horses placed among the warrior figures.

Most of the figures originally held real weapons such as spears, swords or crossbows. Unfortunately, most of the original weapons were looted shortly after the creation of the army, or have rotted away over time. Still, some weapons such as swords, spears, lances, battle-axes, shields and crossbows have been found in the pits.  Over 40,000 bronze items of weaponry have been recovered, most of them arrowheads which were usually found in bundles of 100. Some of the swords carry inscriptions of their date of manufacture between 245 and 228 BCE which suggests they were used as weapons before they were buried with the army.

The figures were originally painted with bright colours – pink, red, green, blue, black, brown, white and lilac – which added to the impression that each figure was individual. When the army were excavated, their painted surface began to fade and peel off due to their exposure to the sunlight, air and moisture. The lacquer which covers the paint curls and flakes off within about 15 seconds of being exposed to dry air, so think how much damage could be done if they were left exposed for several hours!

The Emperor’s mausoleum and the terracotta warrior pits are part of a much larger burial site covering an area of 56 square kilometres. This makes it the biggest burial site on earth. It is nearly 200 times bigger than the valley of the Kings in Egypt. In 1987 the First Emperor’s mausoleum was given UNESCO World Heritage status.

It was estimated that the three pits which contained the army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. The majority of these remain buried in the pits near to Qin Shi Huang mausoleum.

Here are some of the incredible warriors you can see as part of the exhibition;

Horse Keeper

This horse keeper was excavated in 1995 and is one of 11 terracotta horse keepers discovered near the First Emperor’s Mausoleum. The pit in which the figures were found was thought to represent the royal stables. The horse keepers were buried with 12 real horses which were found in coffins.

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Cavalry Horse

No animal has shaped the history of China like the horse. The horse was first domesticated around 6,500 years ago in the grasslands of Central Europe and Asia and it became a symbol of power, wealth and status for the Chinese. Horses were so precious to the great rulers of China that they were buried with them for the afterlife. The Qin Kings grew in influence and wealth by breeding and training horses for the rulers of the Zhou Dynasty from around 1000BC. Later, during the Warring States Period, the power of each state was determined by the number of horses and chariots that they possessed. The Qin people were able to achieve military supremacy with horse-drawn chariots and increasing numbers of cavalrymen and mounted archers in battle.

Cavalry was an important military force of the Qin Dynasty. It was lighter, faster and more efficient than horse drawn chariots in battle. The First Emperor’s terracotta army is composed of a large cavalry unit made up of horses and armed cavalry men. The horses have saddles decorated with studs and tassels and their tails are plaited. They were originally dress with bridles and reins made of bronze.

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Bronze chariots of the First Emperor

These are modern replicas of the two bronze chariots which were discovered west of the First Emperor’s Mausoleum in 1980. They were cast in bronze and then embellished in gold and silver. They are thought to represent the chariots in which the First Emperor travelled across his newly unified empire. These models were buried when he died so he could carry on touring his empire in the afterlife.

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Armoured Guard – Excavated in 1976 from terracotta warrior pit 1.

Generals are the highest ranking warriors excavated from the pits. Armoured generals can be identified by their long double-layered robe covered with scaled armour which extends down the front in the shape of a “V”. Their armour is decorated with ribbons tied into bows. The design of the plaques suggests that generals wore iron armour. They wore a distinctive headdress in the shape of a double-tailed bird called he guan, meaning “peasant cap”, a symbol of bravery and skill on the battlefield.

A hole under the left arm of this general indicates that he probably held a scabbard to carry a sword. The terracotta generals were found near command chariots where the remains of bells and drums were also discovered. On the battlefield, generals rode in chariots equipped with bells, drums and flags to direct the troops. The chariots were usually drawn by four horses and generals were accompanied by two lower ranking officers.

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Heavy Infantryman – Excavated in 1992 from terracotta warrior pit 1.

Armoured infantry soldiers were part of the main battalion buried in the largest of the pits. They were positioned behind light infantry units and war chariots, and were originally armed with weapons such as swords, halberds and crossbows. This infantry soldier wears heavy armour covering his upper body and a long tunic underneath. He has short trousers as well as gaiters and short boots decorated with ribbons tied into bows. His hair is tied in a bun on the right side of his head and remains of red paint are still visible on the laces of his armour plates and legs as well as on the ribbon in his hair.

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Light infantryman – Excavated in 1980 from terracotta warrior pit 1.

Light infantry warriors were positioned at the front of the main battalion comprising heavy infantrymen, war chariots and officers. In the Qin Dynasty, the majority of infantry forces were made up of conscripted peasants. On the battlefield, light infantry were first deployed as shock troops followed by heavy infantry. Light infantrymen moved more swiftly because they didn’t wear armour.

This soldier wears a long tunic over short trousers, gaiters and short boots. His hair is plaited around the back of his head and tied in a bun with a ribbon on the top. His facial features and thick beard suggest he may represent one of the people from the region around around the north-west border of China. The position of his right hand indicates that he originally held a crossbow.

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Military Officer – Excavated in 1979 from terracotta warrior pit 1.

This unarmored warrior comes from the main part of the army which was buried in the largest of the pits. his flat headdress called chang guan and his moustache identify him as a middle ranking officer. He wears a long tunic, a belt around the waist, short trousers, gaiters, and a pair of shoes. The position of his right arm and hand suggests that he once held a long weapon such as a spear.

Charioteer – Excavated in 1977 from terracotta warrior pit 2.

Charioteers were found in all three pits of the Emperor’s terracotta army. They were originally buried with real wooden chariots each drawn by four terracotta horses. There are different types of charioteers – this one is the driver responsible for commanding the chariot. Holding the reins with his clasped hands, he stood in the middle and was accompanied by two armed charioteers on either side. His flat headdress called chang guan identifies him as a middle ranking officer. His hair is plaited around the back of his head. He wears a long tunic, trousers and boots. His  torso, abdomen and back are protected with armour. In the Qin Dynasty, the driver of a war chariot was called yu shou, a highly honourable title.

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Kneeling Archer – Excavated in 1989 from terracotta warrior pit 2.

Kneeling archers were positioned in rows of two across four trenches and were surrounded by standing archers. This one wears a long tunic and heavy armour with overlapping plaques. Remains of pigment around the abdomen show that the laces tying the armour plates together were originally painted red. The archer also wears short trousers and two shin pads for protection. The position of his hands suggests that he originally held a crossbow. Qin Dynasty crossbows were slower to load than normal bows but required less skill and strength to use. Archers who used crossbows could shoot heavy bolts over long distances with great force and power.

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Standing Archer – Excavated in 1992 from terracotta warrior pit 2.

Archers were positioned at the front of a battalion of cavalry and chariots in pit 2. Standing archers were arranged in a square battle formation surrounding rows of kneeling archers. This soldier wears a long tunic, a belt around the waist, short trousers and a pair of boots. His hair is plaited and tied in a bun with a ribbon. The position of his hands suggests that he originally held a bow, ready to shoot the enemy. Unlike the kneeling archers, standing archers are all unarmored. In real life this would allow them to move more freely and swiftly on the battlefield.

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Archaeologists have uncovered around 2,000 life size terracotta warriors and horses with over 130 wooden war chariots, but it is estimated there are 8,000 figures in total, most of which are still to be excavated. The warriors were buried to the east of the mausoleum, possibly to protect the Emperor in the afterlife against the armies of the states he had defeated.

The life-size clay figures were originally arranged in battle formation within three separate pits. The two two largest pits contained the bulk of the army. The third and smallest of the pits contained warriors with ceremonial weapons representing the command post for the army.

The warriors were originally painted with bright colours which have since faded. Each soldier was given unique facial features to represent a real army. The different hairstyles, headdresses, armour and weapons of the soldiers reflected their rank and function. There are infantrymen, cavalrymen, charioteers, archers as well as generals, officers and guards of honour. In other pits there are life-size officials, eunuchs and horse keepers.

Spectacular finds continued to be discovered after the initial find in 1974. Later on in the 1970’s, a new pit was found south-west of the mausoleum containing terracotta warriors with over 20 horse skeletons thought to represent the royal stables. More stable pits containing remains of horses and kneeling stable boys were identified outside the outer walls, south-east of the mausoleum.

In 1980, west of the Emperor’s mausoleum, archaeologists found two exquisite half-size painted bronze chariots each drawn by four bronze horses (the pictures above show the modern replicas).

In 1998, in the south-east of the mausoleum, thousands of stone fragments from 87 suits of armour and 43 helmets were unearthed, as well as armour for a horse.

Since 1999, close to the stone armour pit, terracotta acrobats and strongmen have been discovered together with two large bronze cauldrons.

In 2000, north-east of the mausoleum, another pit containing 15 terracotta musicians and 46 bronze water birds was discovered.

A large amount of human remains have been discovered across the Emperor’s burial site. In the 1980’s, about one kilometre south-west of the Emperor’s mausoleum, 42 mass graves were discovered. They contained the remains over 100 workers who may have been killed during the construction of the tomb complex. South-east of the mausoleum, archaeologists also identified over 20 tombs of princes and princesses sacrificed to follow the Emperor in the afterlife. In 2009, within the inner walls of the Emperor’s mausoleum, 99 tombs of sacrificed concubines were found. Nineteen of these tombs have been excavated so far.

Owing to the number of objects that have been found and their fragility, the process of excavation, conservation and research will continue for decades. However the secrets of the Emperor’s tomb remain hidden, buried under a huge pyramid of earth. Our only clue about what lies inside the mausoleum comes from historical records written more than 100 years after the Emperor died. Until conservation techniques and non-invasive technologies improve, there are no plans to open up his tomb.

And if all of this isn’t enough information to absorb, the exhibition also goes on to cover the history of the Han dynasty and the amazing finds from Han Gaozu’s Tomb as well!

The exhibition is on at the World Museum until 28th October 2018, and after this date who knows when the UK will have another exhibition of these fascinating sculptures. The World Museum is well worth a visit for all of its regular exhibitions, which are spread over four floors and include World Cultures, Ancient Egypt, Dinosaurs and Space!

I’d highly recommend paying a visit and booking your tickets online in advance as you need to book a timed session and some of the more popular times sell out very quickly! Adult tickets are £14.50 each and concessions are £13.00 each and you can buy your tickets here.

Dominique Ansel’s Bakery

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Dominique Ansel’s Bakery is another one of my favourite haunts when I am visiting London. I usually catch the coach up to London and luckily for me, Dominique Ansel’s is right over the road from Victoria Coach Station! It’s perfect to fall into here after a long coach journey and marvel at their latest creations!

Their menu is seasonal and often contains limited edition creations which are just out of this world! Here’s some of the tasty treats I have tried here so far;

The famous Chocolate Cookie Shot – a little edible cup made of cookie and filled with a delicious creamy Tahitian vanilla milk. They are served all day and you can buy a pack of the Cookie shots to take home with you as well.

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One of the things I really wanted to try when I visited Dominique Ansel’s was their famous Blossoming Hot Chocolate. A delicious hot chocolate which is topped with a beautiful marshmallow flower which unfurls when placed on top and then slowly melts….. delicious.

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If you order one of these, have your phone ready to film it, it is fascinating to watch it unfold when the staff delicately drop it into the hot chocolate. This one is a definite favourite of mine and is such a clever idea!

One of the other treats I was really looking forward to trying was one of their Frozen S’more’s. 

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A honey marshmallow wrapped round Tahitian vanilla ice-cream with chocolate wafer crisps, these babies are then torched and served to order and are much bigger than I had expected!

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Could a Cotton Soft Cheesecake sound any more delicious? The Cotton Soft Cheesecake is a ricotta cheesecake which is slightly brûléed on top and promises to be “as refreshing as a cold glass of milk”. It is really light, so an ideal dessert if you are feeling rather full after a main course!

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What is better than Mini Madeleine biscuits? Freshly piped and cooked Mini Madeleine biscuits served straight out of the oven!

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Really light, fluffy and delicious, these were well worth the wait!

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If you are after something savoury, Dominique Ansel also has a lovely range of small and hearty savoury treats too! Although not the prettiest to look at, their Turkey Croque Monsieur is to die for! A lovely twist on a classic roque monsieur, if you like cheesy treats then this is an absolute must try!

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As you can tell I am slowly working my way through their menu, but there is still a long way to go yet! How lovely are these amazing looking seasonal treats?? You can check out their latest seasonal goodies on their menu here.

I also noticed on their website that they have recently started serving Afternoon Tea from Thursday to Sunday (12pm to 4pm) so will have to add this to my list too!

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Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Hopefully you will have read my blog on our last visit to Stratford Upon Avon where we visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall Croft.

We paid for a “full story” ticket which gets you entry to the five different places – Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall Croft. We didn’t have time on the day to visit all five places, so we saved Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm for another day.

Well, we chose another beautiful day to visit Anne Hathaway’s Cottage! The sun was shining which shows this lovely cottage in its full glory and meant we could explore all the grounds without the threat of rain! A perfect day out!

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is a beautiful cottage in Stratford Upon Avon and belonged to the wife of William Shakespeare. The cottage was built in 1463 until the first Hathaway’s moved in as tenant sheep farmers in 1540.

Anne was born in 1556 and lived here until she married Shakespeare in 1582 and moved into his family home on Henley Street, again in Stratford Upon Avon.

In 1610 Anne’s brother, Bartholomew, purchased the lease to the cottage and began to develop it. The cottage was extended, resulting in it doubling in size. Chimneys and an upper floor were built, providing bedrooms and storage.

In the 1700’s the Hathaway family fortunes begin to decline and by 1838, descendants of the Hathaway’s had sold the cottage but remained as tenants. In 1892 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bought the cottage, but kept the family on as custodians.

It is wrong really to refer to it as a “cottage”, as it is far larger than you would imagine a cottage to be, and has huge adjoining grounds! Whilst exploring the Cottage and its grounds you will come across;

Willow Arbour, there are a couple of these you will encounter along the woodland walk.

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The Music Note Willow Sculpture was designed by award winning sculpture artist Tom Hare. It is a giant musical stave with music notes and butterflies woven onto it.

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The sculpture leads the way to a special Butterfly Conservation Border planted with flowers to attract the butterflies, and believe me, it works! The gardens were full of beautiful butterflies of all colours!

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The Woodland Walk is really beautiful and well worth doing! Such peace and quiet as you wander through the wood and encounter beautiful trees, flowers, shrubs and even some little bunny rabbits!

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One of the highlights of the visit is the Willow sculpture, a crescent shaped sculpture also known as the “Moon Seat”. This is another design by Tom Hare and is not only beautiful to look at but also acts as the perfect viewing point for the cottage and the gardens.

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The Cottage Garden’s are really beautiful. Someone asked one of the guides whilst we were there how the garden grows such beautiful shrubs, plants and vegetables, to which the guide replied “over 400 years of practice!” It’s true, if the well established gardens hadn’t got the hang of growing the best quality produce by now then maybe it never would have!

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Miss Willmott’s Garden is named after the Edwardian horticulturist who designed the cottage gardens in the 19th Century style. During the Spring and Summer months the garden is full of beautiful scented flowers.

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and of course the main attraction; Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Isn’t it stunning?! The outside is covered in beautiful roses with brightly coloured flower beds with wonderful scents.

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Inside the cottage you will find all of the rooms set up as they would have been back when Anne used to live here.

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The cottage is beautiful inside with long corridors and wonky walls and is full of original Hathaway furniture including the Hathaway bed!

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Outside, just up past the Traditional Orchard you will find the Sculpture Trail and Arbouretum, with some lovely Shakespearian inspired sculptures, and even more fluffy bunnies playing in the sunshine!

And this is by no means all there is to see! During your visit you can also see the Yew Circle, Shottery Brook Walk, Family Activity Tent (check for seasonal activities), Garden Cafe and Sonnet Arbour, where you can listen to Shakespearian verse being read.

A really lovely day out which is highly recommended and best of all, we bought the tickets using our Tesco Clubcard points so the tickets didn’t cost us a penny!

The “full story” tickets we bought are valid for a full 12 months after purchase, so you can visit any of the five locations as many times as you wish for a full year! So the ticket is excellent value for money!

Full story tickets are £22.50, or you can book online for a 10% reduction in ticket prices (you can book your tickets here.)

 

Peggy Porschen’s

If you follow any bloggers on Instagram then I am sure this beautiful pink coloured cake shop in Belgravia needs no introduction! The most popular bloggers with the highest followings have all queued up outside this Insta-worthy building with its beautiful flowered facade at some point!

I first visited in December 2017, so not all that long ago, and have been back a further three times since then. It is certainly one of my favourite London cafes so I will always try to visit whoever I am in the big city.

I looked back on all my visits to Peggy Porschen over the past six months and realised that I have been lucky enough to have visited at different points throughout the year which meant seeing beautiful new displays and seasonal menus each time I visited.

Valentines Day

The Valentine’s Day display was one of my favourites, the lovely big heart made of flowers over the door and the other lovely heart shaped displays inside looked really stunning.

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I had seen their Valentine Day collection of cupcakes on Instagram a few days before I visited and I’d already set my sights on their limited edition “Be Mine Peggy Loves Lulu” chocolate heaven cupcake in honour of Lulu Guinness! It did not disappoint!

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I wish I’d had room left over to try one of their strawberry and champagne fluttering hearts too….maybe next time!

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Easter

I didn’t arrive at Peggy Porschen’s until late when I went for my Easter visit, hence the poorly lit photos – sorry! Still, it looked lovely and Spring-like, and after a long, cold, dark Winter it was perfect to look at and start thinking about the warmer days which were on their way!

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As I arrived so late they had run out of some of the cupcakes I’d got my eye on but it wouldn’t be Easter without an Easter nest cake would it?!

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It was at Easter I also discovered Peggy Porschen’s beautifully decorated biscuits! Aren’t they stunning?

 

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And even better I can get these home in one piece, unlike the cupcakes (don’t risk buying them and then walk around London all day with them – trust me, I’m speaking from heart-breaking experience!) I also bought a couple for family and friends as Easter gifts which they loved!

Summer

The Summer theme was really the most impressive so far! Beautiful Wysteria and Roses and beehives everywhere! The pictures really don’t do it justice and it was the busiest I have ever seen it! At one stage there was a queue all the way up the road to be seated outside in front of this stunning display.

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I couldn’t wait to visit after I saw the amazing goodies they had as part of their summer collection but unfortunately they were completely out of stock of all the lovely bee-themed biscuits I’d got my eye on! I’m pleased they have been so popular but was gutted I didn’t get to try them!

I did, however, get my hands on the wonderful Beehive cupcake I’d wanted to try, and I really can hand on heart say that this is the best cupcake I have ever eaten. It was a chocolate cake with an organic blossom honey centre and is topped with a delicious honey meringue buttercream. I wish I could have bought a box of these to bring home with me but the cakes are so delicate, there was no way they would have survived the three hour coach journey home coupled with the crazy heatwave Britain has been experiencing! I hope I get the chance to go back again whilst this is still on the menu!

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Look at these other beautiful summery cupcakes they had on the menu whilst I was there; all made absolutely perfectly.

Christmas

After visiting for the first time last Christmas, Peggy Porschen’s has now become one of our must visit places when my Mum, my Sister and I visit London as part of our annual Christmas shopping trip.

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Peggy Porschen’s at Christmas is an absolute treasure trove of beautiful cakes, biscuits and even the most stunningly decorated gingerbread houses I have ever seen! It really was a Winter Wonderland and, seeing as Christmas is my favourite time of year, this has to be my favourite theme of all.

The Christmas cupcakes were stunning, my favourites were the Bejewelled Chocolate cupcake and the Jolly Gingerbread cupcakes. Unfortunately they didn’t look as stunning by the time I’d got them home after carrying them around in a box all day but they tasted delicious never the less!

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The Gingerbread Houses were the most beautiful (and the most expensive!) I had ever seen. I wish I’d had the courage to buy one but they were so stunning I don’t think I could have brought myself to break it up and eat it!

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So, hopefully you can see why it appears on many peoples bucket lists to visit when they are in London! If you can get there early first thing when it isn’t so busy, I’d highly recommend popping in – it looks far more beautiful in real life!

 

 

A day in Bruges

It wasn’t until I saw the 2008 Colin Farrell movie “In Bruges”, a black comedy about two Irish hitmen hiding out, that I had even heard of this Belgian town! I went from first hearing about it, to adding it onto my “absolutely must visit” list less than half an hour into this film…

Seeing this town used as a backdrop for this film was almost a distraction from the storyline itself. The film, as it’s title suggests, does an incredible job of showing Bruges at its best – the beautiful architecture, the stunning Belfry and the wonderful little old bridges. Soon after we had watched the film for the first time, we were booked on a long weekend to go and visit Amsterdam and Bruges!  In fact, we were booked to go on this trip in the May and enjoyed it so much that we booked up to go back again only a few months later in the August!

You always have to take care when you first see a place in a film and decide it is the next place to visit after falling in love with all the Hollywood imagery and effects. You are either going to visit somewhere and find that it completely exceeds your expectations and the film represents it exactly how it is. I’ve found this to be true with Las Vegas, New York and Thailand (Thailand as in Leonardo Dicaprio in “The Beach”.) I’ve also been bitterly disappointed with some places I’ve visited after seeing them featured on the silver screen (spoiler alert – Hollywood is an absolute DUMP in real life!) so I really didn’t know what to expect on my arrival here.

I’m pleased to say that it was everything I had hoped it to be, which is obviously why I booked to go back so soon! It is a beautiful city and in my opinion completely under-rated.

Bruges has most of its medieval architecture intact, making it one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The historic centre of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

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Grote Markt is the largest of Bruges’ two central squares. It is full of beautiful architecture and buildings which have real character – here you will find some Nineteenth century gabled buildings along three sides of the square, and the fourth side features the breathtaking Belfort. There are horse drawn carriages galore within the square if you would like a whistle stop tour of all the main sights. Perfect on those bright and sunny days but beware, they are expensive, as most touristy trips tend to be!

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Whilst here we went for lunch on the square and sat outside so we had a beautiful view of the Belfry. We had been pre-warned that the food would be expensive but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. We sat in the sunshine and had a lovely lunch and some drinks whilst admiring the views and people watching, so well worth it I thought! If you are put off the prices in Grote Markt then if you walk a few streets away from the square you will find places with more reasonable prices (but not as much of a view, obviously!)

 

Anyway, after our pit stop and refreshment break we went on a mission to explore as much as we could during our short time here! Here are some of the main sights that Bruges has to offer;

The Belfry

As the Belfry is Bruges most famous landmark it would be wrong to start with anything else! It features heavily in the In Bruges film and storyline. It is a medieval tower from the 13th Century and used to house a treasury and municipal archives. The city archives were very sadly lost in a huge fire in 1280, and the tower was largely rebuilt.

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The poor Belfry has actually been subject to three fires over the years, the last one was in 1741 when the wooden spire was destroyed and never replaced. If you want to go all the way to the top you can, and you would be a braver person than I am! Friendly word of advice – if you are planning on going to the top of the tower, DON’T watch the In Bruges film before you go!

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There is a fee of 8 euros to climb the 366 steps to the top of the bell tower and it stands at 83 metres (or 272 feet) high! It is at the South end of the Markt (you can’t miss it!) and is open from 9:30am to 5:30pm. You don’t have to do the entire 366 steps all in one go, as on the way up to the tower you can stop at various levels to see the old bells and watch the big bell and see the carillon in action. There are a total of 47 bells which make up the carillon, and they ring every quarter of an hour.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood

Even if you don’t have time to venture inside here, it is worth visiting just to admire the dark gothic and romanesque exterior!

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The basilica consists of an upper and lower chapel and is dedicated to St Basil the Great. The lower chapel was built in the 12th century in Romanesque style and the upstairs chapel was built in the Gothic style in the 16th Century and houses a venerated relic (the physical remains or personal effects of a saint which have been preserved to be used as a memorial for them). The relic is of St Basil the Great and was brought here by Count Robert II from Caesarea Mazaca in modern day Turkey, or Cappadocia, Asia Minor as it was known then.

The basilica is also famous for housing a phial said to contain a cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ on it. This was rumoured to have been brought to the City by Thierry of Alsace after the 12th Century second crusade, however recent research found no evidence of the relic being in Bruges before the year 1250. The phial is made of rock crystal, there is gold thread wound around the neck and the top is sealed with red wax. It is then encased in a glass fronted gold cylinder. I wish we had taken the time to go in and see this now!

St. Salvator’s Cathedral

The cathedral is one of very few buildings in Bruges which has survived all the ages with no damage. It was originally built as a parish church and was not given cathedral status until 1834.

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The newly defined cathedral underwent significant changes after that to make sure it looked more cathedral-esque, and a fortress like Romanesque style tower 99 metres high was built.

Provincial Palace

This is a really beautiful neo-gothic style building which was actually built in two stages the first stage was between 1887 and 1892 and the second stage between 1914 to 1921.

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The building was originally used as a government meeting hall until 1999 and is now used mainly for exhibitions.

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Church of our Lady

We didn’t have time to actually visit here properly and go inside which was a real shame. Even in the distance looking at the beautiful spire you could tell what an impressive building it is. Its tower is 122 metres in height and the building is the tallest in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the WORLD!

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Even more annoying, I learned after we had got home that inside you can find Michaelangelo’s “Madonna and Child” sculpture in the transept, believed to have been the only sculpture by Michelangelo to have left Italy within his lifetime. We really should have taken the time to visit here properly!

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The Old St. John’s Hospital

This, as the name suggests, is an old medieval hospital which was founded in the 12th century. It is located next to The Church of our Lady and houses some of Europes oldest surviving hospital buildings. Today part of the hospital buildings houses the popular Hans Memling museum.

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If you have the time to take a boat trip during your visit to Bruges, you’ll get some spectacular views of the Church and the Old St John’s hospital en-route. The trips only cost around 10 euros and can take you to places in the town that you otherwise can’t reach! The pictures of the Church of our Lady and the Old St John’s hospital are spectacular from the water.

If you have time, also check out the well preserved old city gateways; the Kruispoort, the Gentpoort, the Smedenpoort and the Ezelpoort.

And of course, no trip to Bruges would be complete without window shopping at some of the famous Belgian chocolate on offer! Oh, and waffles, you MUST have some Belgian waffles whilst you are here!

Bruges is ever so easy to get around, the train station is only about 2km from the town centre and the train station adjoins the bus station. Local buses can take you from the train station to the town centre or there are plenty of taxis around if you prefer.

Although we visited Bruges both times during the summer months, the weather was still very unpredictable! The first time we visited it was very dark and cold and the rain didn’t stop the whole time we were there! It was no fun trying to capture some good photos in this awful weather, however, the second visit to Bruges with glorious sunshine partly made up for this! Always plan ahead and check the weather before you go – it really can be one extreme to another!

A really beautiful place which is well worth a visit – I would love to go again, but would like to actually stay in Bruges this time, rather than just do a day trip here. A day just isn’t long enough to explore and uncover all that this place has to offer!

The Jack the Ripper Museum

I’ve spent a lot of time in London over the last couple of months on training courses so I’m always looking for things to do in the late afternoon and early evening to take full advantage whilst I am away from home!

During my last training course I was staying in the Whitechapel area and came across the Jack the Ripper Museum which was only a few minutes walk from my hotel. I am an absolute crime story fanatic and of course the Jack the Ripper story is one of the oldest and most famous unsolved crime stories so I knew I had to pay a visit. I did it just in time too, as it was closed towards the end of May for a refurbishment!

I am not sure whether I timed my visit perfectly or not as I was the only person in the museum the whole time I was there! At first I thought how fantastic, I can get up close to all the exhibits without having to wait, but as soon as I had been walking round the eerie and haunting exhibits for a few minutes I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea…..

In 1888, Jack the Ripper committed a series of murders in the east end of London which shocked the entire world. The Killings spawned hundreds of theories, with each one trying to solve the crimes which, to this day, remain a mystery.

The museum is at 12 Cable Street, and is set in a beautiful Victorian terraced house. It is set across the six floors of the museum and each floor has a different setting;

First Floor – The Murder scene in Mitre Square

This scene relates to the 30th September 1888, the most famous date in Ripper history. In here are two waxwork figures, one of Catherine Eddowes, the second woman who died on this date and Police Constable Watkins, who discovered her body. On one side of the room is a worker’s cart under a street light. These carts were used to move the bodies of the murdered women to the morgue.

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One of the morgues used to store Jack the Ripper’s victims was only a few streets away from the museum. On the wall there is a replica of original graffiti which was left at the murder scene.

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Second Floor – Ripper’s Sitting Room

This room is set up to show how Jack the Ripper may have lived during these times and where he may have planned his murder.

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In this room are newspaper clippings which were written in 1888 and chart the progress of the serial killer’s awful crimes.

Hanging over the fireplace is an original drawing by the person who was the prime suspect in the Jack the Ripper killings, Walter Sickert. To this date there is a debate on whether the subject of the drawing is sleeping or if something more sinister is actually going on…..

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On one of the tables are medical instruments, poison, drug bottles and a skull belonging to the killer.

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On the desk, medical books on surgery and dissection are displayed, along with a letter addressed “from Hell” which may have been written by the Ripper.

A Doctor’s bag which contains knives similar to those used to kill and mutilate the Ripper’s victims is on the floor by the desk.

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Third Floor – Police Station

In this room you will find all the evidence and the profiles of the suspects.

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A crime board shows the sites of all the murders and the evidence the police collected.

In the display case is the actual whistle Police Constable Watkins blew to call for help when he found Catherine Eddowes’ mutilated body in Mitre Square.

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Also here is Police Constable Watkins’ notebook, handcuffs and truncheon he was carrying that day.

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By the desk is a waxwork of Chief Inspector Abberline, the detective in charge of leading the hunt for the Ripper in 1888.

Fourth Floor – Victim’s Bedroom

Up a steep and eerie staircase you can find the fourth floor, which has been arranged as the victims bedrooms may have looked in these times. The walls up this staircase are not decorated in newspaper headings and stories like the others in the rest of the house.

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Jack the Ripper’s victims would have lived in rooms just like this one, in one of London’s most poverty stricken areas.

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A small metal bed with a straw mattress was all the comfort these women would have had. Gin was often the drink of choice in those days, with a bottle costing only a few pence.

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There are rare photos of the victims on the wall of this room, as haunting music quietly plays in the background.

In the display case in this room are some original Victorian bonnets. These would have been worn by women to cover their hair, which would have rarely been washed in those days.

Basement – The Mortuary

This room details the violence of Jack the Ripper’s crimes which still shock everyone today. Note, this room is deemed unsuitable for the under 16’s.

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On the walls of this room are original autopsy photos of the horrific murders which some people may find disturbing. I was really worried about going in here after I read this but most of the photos do not show much detail and, due to when they were taken, are not clear. Having said that, I am a true crime buff and have looked at lots of photos like this so I am quite immune to this type of thing, so please exercise caution if you do get to visit the museum.

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The body of Elizabeth Stride was taken to the parish mortuary of St George-in-the-East. The building, which is only moments from the museum, was once a chapel. On the far wall is a Victorian stained glass window from the mortuary.

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Next to the stained glass window are drawers that were used to store the bodies of the dead until they were collected for burial.

Some of the murdered women had no families to collect their remains. They were buried in mass paupers’ graves and their last resting place unmarked.

and of course, as with most museums, you exit through the;

Gift shop on the Ground Floor

In here you will find a large selection of gift, ceramics, prints and memorabilia which can only be found at the Jack the Ripper museum.

If you would like to read more about the museum or book tickets online you can find their website here.

If this is a case which particularly interests you, you can become a Ripperologist by joining through the museum’s website. The Jack the Ripper museum is the official home of the International Society of Ripperologists  and this worldwide community is dedicated to the study of the Whitechapel murders and in solving the ultimate question – who was Jack the Ripper?

Camden Market

 

God I love this place! I first visited in March 2017 and was absolutely blown away! I’ve been meaning to go back and then a local coach trip advertised a day trip here on the Sunday of the May day bank holiday so I booked it for me, hubby, my friend and her husband to spend the day here.

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As it was a Sunday (and a bank holiday) I knew it would be busy, but I had already earmarked the places I wanted to visit! There’s so much to see and do at Camden Market but here are just some of the highlights (obviously mainly food related!)

Oli Baba’s Halloumi Fries

This was one of the main reasons we first visited Camden Market, to sample these famous halloumi fries!

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The chunks of halloumi are deep fried and then coated in a delicious topping of pomegranate molasses, fresh mint, chilli flakes, za’atar yogurt, pomegranate seeds and sumac! Delicious! Hint: you get a LOT of halloumi per serving so if you want to try other food at the market, I suggest you share between at least two of you!

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The Mac Factory

THE best mac and cheese in London!

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The Mac Factory do six amazing flavours –

Nostalgic – a classic cheese blend.

La Med Babe – Basil Pesto, Baby Mozzarella Balls and Semi-dried tomato.

Super Mario – Sauteed Mushroom, Truffle Oil and garlic.

Posh Spice – Spicy chorizo, Caramelised onions and Harissa.

Hey Mac-Arena – Beef Chilli, Tortilla Crisps, Sour Cream and Jalapeño.

Mambo Italiano – Smoked Pancetta, Mushroom and Garlic.

I always have the Nostalgic flavour but my friend tried the Mambo Italiano and it looked amazing! This place is a must try!

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Highlander Game

Metre long Polish sausages. Not joking!

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A great idea but you won’t be able to eat anything else after trying one of these bad boys!

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La Churreria

I love, love, love churros and these churros are some of the best I’ve ever had! They are served warm with a variety of toppings – my favourites are the caramel sauce and mini marshmallows!

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Half Hitch Gin

If you like gin then this place is a must visit! I don’t drink gin but it smelt delicious and there are friendly staff there who will let you sample some before you buy! Small bottles are £10 each and the large bottles are £35 each, I bought a few bottles for gin loving family and friends!

 

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Chin Chin Labs Ice-cream

My favourite ice cream place! I have one of these nearly every time I go to London! My favourite is the killer cone – a red waffle cone filled with marshmallow fluff which is then toasted, with a scoop of your favourite ice-cream on top! Delicious!

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I’ve also had the amazing sticky toffee sponge cake topped with vanilla ice-cream and a lemon caramel tuile – highly recommended!

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and a limited edition red velvet cake with cream cheese ice-cream and cinnamon toast sprinkled on top! Amazing!

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There are also so many other amazing food places to choose from while you are here;

We really wanted to try the Dutch pancakes but didn’t get the chance on this occasion! Definitely one for next time!

Moomin and Littlephant

Who knew you could still buy Moomin merchandise?? I remember watching the Moomin’s with my sisters when I was little! This shop was a real trip down memory lane!

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Make sure you check out the Stables Market – these old stables date back to 1894 and have some beautiful ornate designs above the shops.

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and here you will find shops selling everything from clothes to jewellery to confectionary to lanterns to cakes and fudge, and anything and everything you can imagine in between.

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Of course, no trip to Camden Market is complete without a visit to see the Amy Winehouse statue…it’s lovely how she stands there amongst the crowds in her home town.

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I highly recommend you pay a visit as soon as possible! I already can’t wait to go back again!

A picnic at The Bush Inn

For all of you who love a good old Afternoon Tea, have I got a treat for you! This is no ordinary Afternoon Tea, it is called a Picnic Bench and is piled high with delicious home-made treats, and it can only be found at a place called The Bush Inn in Hereford.

I have been meaning to visit here since towards the end of last year after seeing their amazing Winter Picnic Bench doing the rounds on Facebook, but with the house move going on and loads of family events, I just didn’t get round to going!

My friends husband booked for them to go as a surprise for Valentines Day and as soon as I saw the photos I knew I had to go as soon as possible! My friend booked the four of us in at the end of April and I was counting down the days until we could go!

Anyway, we booked just in time for their Spring range of picnic benches, and the food on offer was all of my absolute favourites!! I couldn’t believe it when the menu was released,  it was like it was made especially for me!

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Here’s what the Spring picnic bench is made up of:

Chicken burger with salad

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Mozzarella stick with salsa

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Basket of seasoned waffle fries

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Mini macaroni cheese

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Mint Aero cheesecake in a shot glass

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Citrus jelly in a shot glass

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Mini jam jar of passion fruit posset

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Rocky Road slice

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Lemon Victoria sponge cake

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White chocolate coated cake pop

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all served with a mini bottle of Berry Fizz and a Mini Mojito!

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A vegetarian version is available on request – this option is a nut roast burger as an alternative to the chicken burger and everything else remains the same as it is all suitable for vegetarians.

You can only book by calling them directly (01432 830206) and 24 hours notice is required – although be warned, they only serve their picnic benches for a couple of hours a day (12pm to 2pm Tuesday to Saturday, 6:30pm to 8:30pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Fridays 6:00pm to 8:30pm and Saturdays 5:45pm to 7pm) and so places sell out extremely quickly!

The price is £16.50 per person which is an absolute bargain for the amount and quality of food you get per person, I have paid double this for a posh afternoon tea which left me feeling hungry afterwards!

They don’t have a specific website but if you are on Facebook you can find their Facebook page here.

I highly recommend paying a visit if you have the opportunity! I will definitely be coming back! The seasonal picnic benches they have are brilliant. The Easter one they served recently looked delicious and the Winter version they had last year looked incredible so I would definitely like to try another seasonal one at some point! They are currently considering doing a Summer Picnic Bench and a Royal Wedding themed Picnic Bench in May to celebrate Harry and Meghan getting married – sounds a great idea to me!

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A trip to Kensington Palace

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I hadn’t ever thought about visiting Kensington Palace but when I told my Mum I wanted to visit London for the day and asked her what she fancied doing she said she had always wanted to visit! Even better, you can get Kensington Palace entry tickets by exchanging your Tesco Clubcard vouchers, bargain!

Kensington Palace is situated in Kensington Gardens and has been the residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th Century. It is currently the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, and Princess Eugenie.

Kensington Palace was built as a royal home for William III and Mary II at the end of the 17th Century. It has had many roles over the years, including a museum and a barracks for soldiers guarding the Great Exhibition. It used to be a small mansion known as Nottingham house. In 1689 the new monarchs, King William III and Queen Mary II, purchased Nottingham House for £20,000 and only weeks later, Sir Christopher Wren began work on transforming it into a royal palace. The new palace had a chapel, courtier accommodation, kitchens, stables, barracks and many grand rooms and state apartments. Queen Mary died in 1694 of smallpox in her bed chamber in the palace but had spent many years before designing and furnishing the palace.

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William didn’t make many alterations to the Palace, and his successor, Queen Anne, only reigned for a short time and so only added the orangery during her time. Anne left no heir and so the palace passed to her distant relative, George Ludwig.

The new King George liked Kensington Palace but found it to be in very poor condition and so plans were made to rebuild it on a much larger scale. A new set of State Apartments were built to replace the old Jacobean house in 1718 to 1722.

During the reign of King George II between 1727 and 1760, the Palace was used to its full potential as George and Queen Caroline enjoyed entertaining their guests in lavish ceremonies. Unfortunately, after Queen Caroline’s death in 1737, the King closed off half of the palace. King George died in his private apartments at Kensington Palace in October 1760.

George III showed little interest in Kensington Palace throughout his reign (1760-1820), but this did mean that the furnishings and paintings were left untouched in dark rooms for this time. The Palace eventually became home to George III’s two sons, Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. Prince Augustus was a book collector, and amassed over 50,000 volumes in his apartment! Prince Edward was the father of Queen Victoria, who was born in the palace in 1819. In June 1837 she was told of her accession to the throne, and held her first council in the Red Saloon.

Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice, later lived in the palace. Louise was a really gifted artist and left the legacy of the statue of the young Queen Victoria which sits at the east side of the palace.

A major restoration of the palace took place in 1898 under the orders of Queen Victoria and in 1912 the rooms were filled with display cases when the palace became home to the London Museum. A lot of damage was caused to the Palace by incendiary bombs during the Second World War.

In the 1960’s, Princess Margaret came to live at the Palace, and further members of the Royal Family began to arrive in the 1970’s and 1980’s, one of the most famous of these being Diana, Princess of Wales, who lived at Kensington Palace up to her death in 1997.

There are several tours you can take within Kensington Palace which are:

The Kings State Apartments

The Kings Staircase leads to the King’s State Apartments, and all visitors for the King would have climbed this staircase, (provided that their clothes and jewels were acceptable to the guards!) The staircase paintings were completed around 1726 by an artist called William Kent, who included a portrait of himself on the ceiling in a brown artists cap and holding a palette. Kent’s work was inspired by the work he had seen in Rome, where he trained to be an artist.

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The Presence Chamber was where the King would sit on his throne, under a crimson silk damask throne canopy, and important guests would be ushered in to bow to him.

The Privy Chamber was one of Queen Caroline’s favourite entertaining spaces. It has another amazing ceiling created by William Kent in 1723 and shows Mars, the Roman god of War, and Minerva the goddess of Wisdom, and surrounding them are the emblems representing the arts and sciences.

The Cupola Room was probably my favourite room of the Palace. This room was the first room decorated by William Kent. In this room he re-created in paint a baroque Roman palace but with the Star of the Order of the Garter as the ceiling’s centrepiece. George II and Queen Caroline hosted really lavish parties in this room.

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The strange object in the centre of this room is a clock and a music box as well as a piece of artwork, and was completed in 1743.

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The Kings Drawing Room would have been packed full of courtiers back in the day, who would have all attended the King’s parties seeking power and patronage.

On the ceiling William Kent has shown the powerful god Jupiter, who accidentally killed his lover Semele, and portraits of Venetian doges line the walls. Next door to this room was the King’s bedchamber, and halfway through the evening he would emerge to make his grand appearance.

The Council Chamber is located in one of Christopher Wren’s pavilions, built on the corners of the original Nottingham House and it has served William III, George I and George II as a meeting place for the Privy Council. The sort of court dress that would once have been worn in these state rooms is on display here.

Queen Caroline’s Closet is a small room which originally belonged to William III as his bedchamber. George I used this room to store books but these were removed after Queen Caroline made one of the most important art discoveries of the era. In 1727, she found hidden in a cabinet a portfolio containing many drawings made by Hans Holbein, the younger of Henry VIII and his courtiers. Caroline later made this room a gallery filled with 300 paintings, miniatures and embroideries.

The Kings Gallery was built for William III as an addition to Wren’s design in the new South front and was finished in around 1700. It was in here that William III played soldiers with his little nephew and intended heir, the Duke of Gloucester. After a riding accident at Hampton Court, it was here that the King caught the chill that led to his death on 8th March 1702.

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The gallery was transformed in 1725 by William Kent for George I. Red damask replaced the green velvet walls and the fine oak joinery was painted white and gilded. Kent and his assistants painted the seven large ceiling canvasses that show scenes from the life of Ulysses.

Queen’s State Apartments

The Queen’s State Apartments are deliberately plainer and lower-key than the Kings, both inside and out. Here you can learn more about the lives of Mary II, Queen Anne and the House of Stuart.

The Queen’s Staircase is a sharp contrast to the grand marble King’s staircase. These apartments were built for Queen Mary between 1689 and 1694.

The Queen’s Gallery was painted white and hung with full length portraits of Kings and Queens  of England. Later, Mary developed a passion for collecting treasures from India, China and Japan. She filled the gallery with artefacts such as Turkish carpets, embroidered hangings and lacquer furniture, alongside her collection of 150 pieces of oriental porcelain.

The Queen’s Closet was where a terrible argument took place between Queen Anne and her childhood friend Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.

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The Queen’s Eating Room has beautiful panelling which has survived from the 17th Century. In here, William and Mary would share simple private dinners of fish and beer. Mary would also use this room to make tea with the ladies of her household.

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The Queen’s Drawing Room used to be filled with Mary II’s porcelain. This room is the room which is claimed to have lost most of its original character, as it badly damaged by an incendiary bomb on 14th October 1940. Most of the panelling was destroyed which is why the walls are now wallpapered.

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The Queen’s Bedroom was used by Mary as her State bedroom when she and William first moved into the palace. Just as soon as Christopher Wren had finished work on the Queen’s Apartments, Mary had her rooms extended to provide her with more accommodation. This resulted in the Queen’s Gallery and a new private bedchamber being built.

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Victoria Revealed

We were very disappointed because this exhibition was closed when we visited, and it was one of the main exhibitions we wanted to see! We will definitely have to revisit to see this. In this exhibition you can visit the rooms Queen Victoria grew up in and learn more about her life right through from her childhood to her final years. In this section of the palace we would have been able to see:

The Stone Staircase where Princess Victoria first met her cousin and future husband, Prince Albert, for the first time in 1836.

The Red Saloon where Victoria held her first Privy Council on the morning she became Queen in June 1837.

On this tour you will also learn more about how Victoria and Albert fell in love and Victoria’s lonely family life growing up at Kensington Palace.

There is also a separate exhibition about Price Albert known as the Great Exhibition, which was in 1851 and would later be known as his greatest piece of work. It showcased technological and cultural achievements from over the world and attracted over six million visitors.

Modern Royals

This is a changing display – when we were here it was a beautiful Diana exhibition showcasing some of her most famous outfits. Well worth a visit and it slightly made up for the fact that the Victoria exhibition was closed.

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The first dress below was designed by Bruce Oldfield, who designed many dresses for the Princess. She wore it at the Courtauld institute of Art, Somerset House in 1990 and again at the Buckingham Palace state banquet in 1991.The Princess chose the second dress in the below picture for an official visit to Japan. The colour was chosen to complement the flowering cherry blossoms.

Diana chose to wear the Spencer Tiara, a sparkling family heirloom, on a state visit to India in 1992. This second dress was designed to complement it. The embroidery on the bodice of this dress was based on traditional Indian patterns.

The Princess wore this first dress when she danced with actor John Travolta at the White House. This second dress was embellished with falcons, the national bird of Saudi Arabia, when the Princess visited there. The high neckline and long sleeves also respected local customs.

The second dress below was worn by the Princess when she visited Brazil, shortly after their national football team lost to Argentina in the World Cup. Conscious of her hosts feelings, she instructed the designer, Catherine Walker, to avoid the blue and white colours of the Argentinian team when she designed the gown.

The second dress below was worn to the New York gala event before the Christie’s Auction.

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You can also visit the beautiful Palace Gardens, which were transformed in 2012. During the winter months, Queen Anne’s orange trees were protected from the cold inside her magnificent orangery, which was built for her between 1704 and 1705. In the summer months, they were transferred to the terrace outside. Anne also added fountains and an alcove with a garden seat to the south gardens. This still exists but was moved to nearby Lancaster Gate in the 1860’s. In 1705, 100 acres were added to the east side of the palace to form a paddock for royal deer and antelope.

The majority of the works done to the gardens were down to Queen Caroline. She extended the plantings, laid the Broad Walk and had the Round Pond dug in 1728. The Serpentine was formed as a boating lake by flooding several smaller ponds.

The Sunken Garden was laid out during the reign of Edward VII and opened in 1909, and is the most popular of the Palace gardens.

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The east and the south sides of the palace were laid out in 2012 with a new scheme designed by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, inspired by the old layouts of lawns, trees, borders and topiary of George II’s time.

Queen Victoria is present at the front of the Palace in the form of a statue, which was designed by her daughter Louise.

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Kensington Palace was a lovely day out in spite of the cold, wet weather! A place I will definitely have to visit again so I can see the gardens properly in the sunshine and hopefully finally get to see the Victoria exhibition when it re-opens, which should be any day now….

Sudeley Castle

I’ve been wanting to visit Sudeley Castle for ages and we finally went in December 2016 for their Spectacle of Light event. It was a fantastic event which you can read more about here, but we were a bit disappointed that the tickets for this event didn’t include access to the castle, just the surrounding grounds. Anyway, after we had finished wandering around the beautiful grounds we knew we would have to come back very soon to visit the rest! We chose a fantastic day to visit – bright sun and clear skies, and best of all, perfect conditions to take some photos!

The Tithe Barn is one of the first things you come across when you follow the path from the visitors centre. It is pretty stunning for a building which doesn’t have many walls left!

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A tithe was a compulsory payment to the church and represented a tenth of a person’s income. Tithes were frequently paid in agricultural goods and this barn was a store for these goods.

The barn was built in the 15th Century by Ralph Boteler but was destroyed by troops in the Civil War. Surrounding the barn are lovely flowers and shrubs including foxgloves, primroses and hydrangeas. Next to the Tithe Barn you will find a pond full of koi carp, along with your first views of the stunning castle.

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After visiting the Tithe barn you wander along the path until you come across “the Dungeons“. Above the Dungeons is the beautiful castle terrace where you can look out to the Isbourne Valley to Spoonley Wood, the site of a Roman Villa. The mosaic which appears on the terrace is an exact replica of one of the Spoonley Wood floors.

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Next you will come across the Mulberry Garden which lies alongside the terrace and was planted by Emma Dent in the 19th Century.

Mulberry trees were special to Emma, as she was the daughter of a silk manufacturer, and the leaves of a mulberry tree were the only source of food for the silkworms. There is in fact only one mulberry tree in the garden, however there look to be more than this because several trunks grow from one root.

The Dungeon Tower is next to the Mulberry Garden and is listed as an Ancient Monument in its own right.

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The basement area, (which you no longer can go down to unfortunately), housed the original dungeons which went down a total of three levels! In the 19th Century the tower was converted to stabling and offices. A human skeleton was found during the restoration works under the stones and another skull was discovered when the Mulberry Garden was planted. Unfortunately, to this day, it remains a mystery who the remains belong to….

The Royal Ruins are so beautiful to look at and great to photograph with the sun beaming down on them! During the War of the Roses, Sudeley Castle was confiscated by Edward IV, who gave it to his notorious younger brother, the Duke of Gloucester, (more commonly known as Richard III.)

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Richard recreated this area of the castle and built a huge and spectacular banqueting hall in the north east corner, the evidence of which still remains on show today. The huge gothic windows which formed part of the banqueting hall are particularly stunning.

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A large hole can be seen on the far side of the Octagon Tower in the corner,  caused by a cannonball during the second of the two sieges Sudeley endured during the 17th Century. After the war, the winning side ordered the castle to be snubbed and, as a result, most of the inner yard, including the banqueting hall, was destroyed.

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The ruins are now covered with plants and flowers including clematis and roses.

On the ground floor and mezzanine exhibition levels within the castle you will find a children’s museum, which includes a display about Brock, the family’s pet badger, and period-style costumes for the children to try on. Other exhibitions start at the Old Stables which show Sudeley’s timeline and some prehistoric and Anglo Saxon artefacts which have been discovered on the estate over the years. And if all that isn’t enough, you will also find a WW1 exhibition here!

In the upper exhibition levels in the room called the Long Room you will find the Richard III exhibition. In 2013, Richard III’s skeleton was discovered under a Leicester car park. As a result of this discovery his head was forensically reconstructed and in the Richard III exhibition you will find a model of this work. Richard was the owner of Sudeley at the time he rode out of the castle to lead his brother’s army into the battle of Tewkesbury. The model looks out through the Long Room windows towards the ruins of his beautiful banqueting hall….

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The Richard III exhibition leads into the Tudor Room. After Richard III came the Tudor’s, and the castle was owned by all three of the Tudor Kings at some point – Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Henry VII.

Henry VIII stayed here with Anne Boleyn and later, his widow, Queen Katherine Parr, came to live here with her new husband, Thomas Seymour, who had been granted the castle by Edward VI. Katherine Parr is buried in the beautiful church within the gardens.

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Along the corridor from the document room is the old Sewing Room, which is still used for the conservation of textiles today.

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Next you will come across the West Wing Rooms. These small areas haven’t long been opened to the public. In the West Wing rooms you can find some very rare documents, including an extremely important book known as the Bohun Book of Hours. The book contains works which were probably put together for Henry VIII including musical scripts and manuscripts. To this day it is not known how the Book of Hours came to be in Sudeley’s collections.

You leave the West Wing by going down the staircase known as the Haunted Staircase, which forms part of one of the most ancient parts of the castle.

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Sudeley’s housemaids often used to take the long way round to avoid using this staircase! There are said to be three ghosts haunting the grounds at Sudeley – the first is said to be Queen Katherine Parr, seen wearing a green dress, in the library and the gardens. The second is thought to be lady by the name of Janet, who was the housekeeper of the Dent-Brocklehurst family, and has been seen on the Haunted Staircase and in the South Hall. The third ghost is said to be a white hunting poodle called “Boy” who belonged to Prince Rupert of the Rhine and was given the run of the castle during the Civil War. Alongside these three, there were also reports of a darker, more evil presence which resulted in a shamanic exorcism which, hopefully, seems to have done the trick so far!

After you come down the Haunted Staircase this leads to the Queen Elizabeth Corridor. This corridor connects the east and west wings of the Castle. Along the corridor you will find the story of Queen Elizabeth I’s three day visit to the castle in 1592.

Around halfway down the corridor there is a door leading to the Knot Garden. It is a stunning garden and the pattern is based on the pattern of dress worn by Elizabeth in the famous portrait known as The Allegory of the Tudor Succession, a famous group portrait of the Tudor dynasty which was previously in the Sudeley collection.

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Beyond the Knot Garden, in a corner in the ruins, is the small Queen Elizabeth Garden. This is the oldest surviving part of the castle, with walls as old as the 12th Century. A beautiful tableau has been created here, showing Elizabeth in her Presence Chamber, ready to make a formal entrance to one of her banquets being held in the adjoining banqueting hall.

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If you return back to the Queen Elizabeth corridor you will reach the film shed, where a short film is shown about Lady Jane Grey, known as the tragic Nine Day’s Queen.

When the Castle was renovated by the Dents, the converted the East Wing into their principal rooms (I think I would have too, as they have stunning views of the garden and church from here!). The South Hall then became the main staircase of the house, and contains some beautiful Dutch Painted glass, dated between 1580 and 1620.

The Morning Room is a beautiful sunny room and is said to be the favourite of Mary Dent-Brocklehurst, the present owners mother-in-law. Despite being called the Morning Room, this room is still regularly used by the family in the evenings. Other rooms you can visit include the Library, Chandos Bedroom, and the Katherine Parr Ante Room and Katherine Parr Privy.

St Mary’s Church was formerly called the Castle Chapel. It was built in the 15th century and originally had a covered gallery linking it to the Castle. The lost gallery between the old chapel and the Castle has been recreated by a series of arches.

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Katherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey are represented by topiary figures draped in ivy and roses, as they often took this route. The last time they visited St Mary’s Church together was when Lady Jane was Chief Mourner at Katherine’s funeral. Awfully, Katherine’s widower, Thomas Seymour, did not even attend his wife’s funeral. Katherine Parr is the only Queen of England to be buried at a private residence, and you can visit her tomb inside St Mary’s Church.