Icebar London

I’ve actually been to two Ice bars in London and had a really great time in both! The first one I went to was in Heddon Street, Mayfair and the second one was in Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park – they are most definitely an experience which gets you into the winter spirit!

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The Icebar temperature is -5 degrees celsius and everything inside is made out of crystal clear ice harvested from the frozen Torne River in Jukkasjärvi, Northern Sweden!

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You spend time in the Icebar in 40 minute time slots (believe me, people struggle to stay in here this long!) and you are given a thermal cape with a hood and gloves to wear to keep you toasty!

Once a year the bar is transformed with a new design and layout by a team of ice designers and sculptors!

During your visit you also get a cocktail as part of the entrance fee and it is even served in an ice glass for you! Click here for the latest cocktail list but be warned – they are strong! Helps keep you warm in the cold I suppose!

It’s cheaper if you pre-book online (£13.50 with your first cocktail for an off peak time) and cocktail refills start at £6.50 after that. Family days and times are also available which is a great idea.

The boys gave up after around 30 minutes but my sister and I managed the whole 40 minutes and were the last ones standing! Girl power!

Hyde Park Bar Ice

This one, believe it or not, is even colder at -10 degrees celsius! A complimentary drink is also included in the ticket price for Bar Ice, and as Bar Ice is part of Hyde Parks Winter Wonderland, the drinks are usually very festive flavoured!, and again come in a lovely ice glass.

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FFFFFFFFFreezing!!!!

Again you are provided with a winter cloak and gloves on arrival, however you are allocated a 20 minute session here and not 40 like at the Heddon Street Icebar. We didn’t even manage the whole 20 minutes in this one – it was VERY cold! Also found it was much darker in Bar Ice than Icebar, which made it difficult to take decent photos which was a shame.

Ticket prices here are similar – £14 off peak to £16 peak time (but of course you are only getting half the time – Christmas inflated prices eh??) and I would definitely pre-book before you go – it gets very busy!!

A very novel experience but definitely worth giving a go – the sculptures, tables, chairs and bar are all made of ice and are very fascinating to look it – if this doesn’t get you into the winter spirit then nothing will!!

Longleat at Christmas

If you are looking for somewhere to go during the festive season which includes animals, a beautiful country house and all the Christmas trimmings, then Longleat Safari is a must visit!

We took my sister along as a surprise for her Birthday and we weren’t disappointed!

The animals

Luckily we visited on a beautiful Winters day – even the sun came out – so all the animals were out and about for all to see!

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You can bypass the Monkey section if you want to avoid any damage to your car! We decided we would take the risk on this occasion and are really glad we did – check out these cute little guys-

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Isn’t he adorable!?

Look how close this gorgeous lion came to the car! Absolutely beautiful!

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Activities

After visiting the huge array of animals at Longleat, there’s plenty of other activities to keep you busy! Ice skating is available and costs £7.50 for an adult ticket – it’s probably best to pre-book these tickets online to avoid disappointment.

If you aren’t an ice skater then try visiting some of the lovely little winter huts surrounding the ice skating rink – they sell lovely winter beverages including mulled cider, mulled wine, hot chocolate and soup!

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The sister and brother in law enjoyed their ice skating session!

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The House

Once you’ve explored everywhere outside it’s time to take a look inside the beautiful house, which has been decorated in a wonderful festive theme throughout each and every room! Christmas trees, lights and decorations everywhere – a Christmas lovers dream!

Throughout the house you will also find live actors dressed as your favourite pantomime characters! I won’t spoil the surprise by posting pictures but they definitely ensure you have a great time whilst exploring!

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The Christmas Tree

Whilst you are visiting you must pay a visit to the famous Longleat Enchanted Christmas tree!

The unique, giant 50ft Singing Christmas Tree, which has over 300,000 individual lights and is the only one of its kind in the Europe, forms the centrepiece of Christmas celebrations in the Stable Yard.

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Once it gets dark the multi coloured light combinations are amazing!

There’s also the Santa Train which is ready and waiting to whisk you and the little ones off to meet Father Christmas and his elves in their wintry woodland home!

New at Longleat Safari Park over the past couple of years is the Festival of Lights, where stunning Chinese Lanterns light up the safari park.

A highly recommended day out for all the family, and just the thing to get you in the Christmas spirit!

You can pre-book your tickets for Longleat online here.

CocoChlo’s Christmas Countdown!

Ok so it’s official! Silly season has begun! You officially won’t get any sense out of me for at least the next 25 days!

In case you haven’t already guessed – Christmas is my most favourite time of year! I look forward to it months in advance and am severely down and depressed once it is over and we move into the long dark cold month of January. I know my love for Christmas annoys people but, in my view, you need to have something to look forward to, and holidays and Christmas are the two things which give me something to look forward to throughout the year!

Christmas for me mainly centres around the fantastic traditions that myself and my family have developed over the years – after all, knowing what you have to look forward to makes you look forward to it even more!

Here are some of the Christmas traditions my family and I partake in year after year and all the other little Christmassy/wintery things which I love about this time of the year!

Advent Calendars:

Hopefully you will have seen my two blogs on how to make the two different types of Advent Calendars we have in the family. If not, you can read about these here and here.

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They take a LOT of time and effort to make but come out again and again year after year and make everyone very happy – all my family members look forward to opening their daily treats out of their Christmas Advent Calendars.

The calendars are filled during November with everyone’s favourite treats and then dropped off a few days before the beginning of December. In the past few years I have had to wrap up some of the treats (not fun! Twenty five presents times six people!), due to prying eyes and pokey fingers! And yes, all Advent Calendar recipients are adults!

Most of the days are filled with the likes of Cadbury’s chocolate mousse snowmen, Malteaser reindeers and tiny Lindt bears, and then an extra special gift awaits everyone for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (past years include baubles for the tree and personalised snow globes).

The perfect start to December!

Elf on the Shelf

Love him or hate him (hubby hates him!) Buddy will always make his annual appearance on the 1st December (apart from those days he is kidnapped and held hostage by hubby! Not joking!)

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Buddy plays a big part in helping to build the anticipation of the festive season, and often has some really good jokes and treats in store. This year Buddy has a particularly amazing surprise for the Evans’ which you can read about in Buddy’s very own blog which is being published in the next couple of days! #sorrynotsorry to all you Elf haters!

Buying our Christmas tree

We always had a real tree when we were growing up – my Mum, my two Sisters, the dog and I would walk miles to go and get one from the garden centre up the road (Mum can’t drive) and we would carry it all the way home, alternating between carrying the tree and walking the dog! When hubby and I first moved out and into our new home, I was over the top obsessed with keeping it clean and tidy and so, for fear of getting pine needles everywhere, I insisted on having a plastic tree for the first couple of years.

After a couple of years with this awful cheap plastic tree I decided enough was enough and we agreed we would buy a real tree the following Christmas. I was pleased to learn at this stage that there were a lot more trees around which didn’t drop their needles, so I was a double happy bunny!

We always get our tree the first weekend of December, which is usually around my Sisters Birthday. We usually buy it the Saturday morning and then get it home and set it up, and let the branches drop and the tree take shape for the next 24 hours.

Then on the Sunday we spend the day decorating it, listening to Christmas tunes and having hot chocolate and other Christmas themed treats! The trees usually get named at some point too….

Christmas shopping

My work organise an annual coach trip to London on the first Wednesday of December which is absolutely brilliant. The coach drops off at two places – Harrods (also ideal for visiting the Museums) and the corner of Hyde Park.

I usually go with my Sister and Mum and we’ve done all sorts during these trips – we took Mum to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland one year, and visited the Ice Bar and Ice Sculpture display, the following year we spent a couple of hours in Harrods food hall and then popped over the road and spent the rest of the day in the Natural History Museum (which we concluded you would need to spend a week in in order to see everything!) followed by a couple of years of good old retail therapy down good old Oxford Street! I always pop into Primark as well to see if I can find any last minute stocking fillers or bits to go in my Christmas Eve boxes!

The beautiful London department store windows are another one of the highlights! My two favourites are Harrods and Selfridges – the designers must spend months in advance coming up with these amazingly creative ideas! Good luck getting a photo of some of them though – they obviously attract an awful lot of people so get in there quick to catch a glimpse!

Festive Days Out

Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light, Longleat Safari Park, Prinknash Abbey, and a ride on The Polar Express – you name it we have probably been there and partaken in their Christmas-themed festivities!

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Christmas Markets

I really love Christmas markets and the family and I have been to several over the years! I don’t go to them to do my main Christmas shopping but to try the amazing food and drink and check out the brilliant arts and crafts people make – some people are so creative!

At Gloucester Quays Christmas Markets last year they opened an ice skating rink and lots of little wooden huts around the outside which served mulled wine, hot apple cider, hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts! Just what you need to get into the Christmas spirit, although I do get there very early so I can get around quickly before the crowds arrive! Some places become unbearable at peak times!

Festive Drinks – Coffees, Hot Chocolate and Eggnog!

Most days in December usually feature a trip to Starbucks, Costa or Café Nero to sample this year’s Festive coffee and hot chocolate flavours! Yes, a blog on these is to follow too! Sorry!

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Obviously hot chocolates can be consumed throughout the year but there’s something different about a Christmas hot chocolate! Perhaps it is the lack of guilt you feel when you spray on mounds of whipped cream and tip half a box of marshmallows on top!

A favourite of mine is to add a tiny bit of cinnamon and nutmeg to really make it taste like Christmas in a mug! I buy all my hot chocolates from Whittards – they are the best by far in my opinion! This years flavours I invested in are Dark Hot Chocolate, Praline White Hot Chocolate, Rocky Road Hot Chocolate and Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate! Delicious!

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I am also absolutely obsessed with eggnog! Is there a more Christmassy drink than eggnog!? If Starbucks ever stopped producing their eggnog lattes I don’t know what I would do!

Monin Syrups

If you want to make your own flavoured coffees or hot chocolates, I recommend you take a look at the collection of flavours Monin Syrups have to offer – there aren’t many flavours you can’t get hold of, and every year I struggle to choose which to buy next! I finally decided on Donut, Maple Spice, Amaretto and Macaron flavours!

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Christmas Adverts

Am I the only one who cries at these flipping adverts??? Lost Snowman looking for their partner….in tears, Buster the Boxer jumping on a trampoline…..in tears, Monty the penguin – so cute (in tears), the Sainsburys WW1 truce between British and German soldiers for Christmas Day….hysterical. I really do need to stop watching them to be fair! Anyway, every year they get more and more amazing and more and more heartfelt, it wouldn’t be Christmas without them!

Choosing the Christmas menu!

By the end of October I will have picked up several copies of each supermarkets festive food catalogues! I usually pick them up from Marks and Spencers, Asda, Tescos and Morrisons so we can all look at the full range everyone has to offer!

The family all meet in late October/early November to decide what food we are going to have on the days we are all going to be together (usually Christmas Day and Boxing Day or both). Everyone in my family has different tastes so it is quite difficult to choose things which most people will like!

You can read more about what is on the Christmas menu this year in my “what’s on the menu this Christmas” blog which is published on the 23rd December, but these will give you an idea…

Christmas Jumpers

Since Christmas jumpers came back into fashion a couple of years ago (the cheesier the better it seems!) I somehow now have an array of seasonal knitwear! It would seem I am a bit addicted, as every year they bring out better and sillier designs! Hubby had a jumper last year with actual flashing lights on! Amazing!

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Visits to the Cinema

What better way to get into the seasonal spirit than by visiting the cinema to watch a Christmassy film!!! Past cinema visits have included to watch Frozen, Bad Santa, Black Christmas and Krampus (ok so a couple of them are horror films, but still Christmassy!) This year I already have my sights set on two films – Bad Mom’s Christmas and Pitch Perfect 3! Can’t wait!

If I don’t have time to get to the cinema as I am spending my free weekends wrapping up the mounds of presents, I’ll always have some classic Christmas films on in the background whilst drinking my Christmassy hot chocolate! A blog on my favourite Christmas films will follow in a few days time!

Gingerbread Making

Gingerbread Houses – I love gingerbread but only the home made stuff which is lovely and fluffy and soft – not the hard shop bought stuff that you nearly break your teeth on!

For the first few years I was buying the shop bought sets (basically it was easier because all the pieces were pre-made so I could spend more time decorating them!) but I realised after making them that they didn’t get eaten because the gingerbread was rock hard! So my mother in law bought me a cookie cutter set which meant I could make proper gingerbread and cut out the pieces I needed to make my gingerbread house!

This year I spent the afternoon making gingerbread houses with my Sister and it was absolutely brilliant! We really enjoyed ourselves and it really got us into the Christmas spirit! I hope we make it an annual event from now on!

Christmas Yankee Candles

My family and I always buy Christmas themed Yankee Candles to burn throughout the festive season and I also put one in everyone’s Christmas Eve boxes for them to burn the night before the big day. Check out some of this years scents –

Nutcracker Dolls

An obsession of mine! If you are intrigued, a separate blog on these little guys is coming out in the next couple of days….

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Christmas Eve boxes

Unfortunately I am one of those annoying people who has usually bought all of the main Christmas presents and got them wrapped up before December even starts as this frees me up the time to do all of these other amazing things throughout December! I do tend to leave buying little things like stocking fillers until December though.

In December I will also start buying bits and pieces to go in everyone’s Christmas Eve boxes! Hopefully you will have read my blogs I released last year on how to make them and what you can put in them – if not you can read about them here and here.

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Last year was the first time I unveiled the Christmas Eve boxes but they were so popular and loved by everyone that I promised I would make them a regular thing. The only thing is, I went a bit mental last year with it being the first year and so everyone got a lot in their boxes in addition to their normal pressies, so this year I asked everyone what their favourite bits were and I have limited it to four or five items, and a few sweets and treats.

Now December is here I will start looking for some good surprises to sneak into people’s Christmas Eve boxes to make Christmas Eve that little bit more special! This year’s box contents will be revealed in my Christmas Eve blog so watch this space!

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Post-Christmas themed parties

The family and I are all very lucky in that we all tend to get at least a week off over the Christmas period. As we are all avid Christmas fans, once Boxing Day has come and gone and we are in the few days between Christmas and New Year, the post-Christmas blues start to set in.

To cheer us up after the main event has come and gone, and to give us something else to look forward to (and OCD organiser Chloe to organise!), I usually throw a small family themed party for my Mum, my Sisters and myself. Past themes have included Harry Potter, Frozen and The Polar Express! This year’s theme is Beauty and the Beast, so I have been scouring eBay and Primark for months and months looking for ideas and treats to go in everyone’s goody bags!

Yes it’s cheesy/corny/childish but it cheers us all up and gives us the chance to spend some time together over Christmas without the added pressure of running around to check the turkey, prepare the veg and grab someone another drink. Plus my older sister Lindsey, who has autism, really looks forward to the parties (and the opportunity to get some more presents, even after Christmas is over!) I’ll do a separate blog about this year’s party so you can see what a great time we had this year!!!

Time off

What could be better than some time off work to celebrate and then rest and re-cooperate?? By the time my Christmas leave comes around I’ve usually got huge lists of bits and pieces I want to get done during my time off! The first few days off are usually Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day but after clearing up after these celebrations I always feel really down that Christmas has come and gone for another year, so I like to keep myself busy!

One of the regular tasks which appears this time of year includes sorting through mine and hubby’s wardrobes – throwing out/giving to charity the old stuff, putting aside stuff which needs repairing or dry cleaning, eBay-ing any unwanted valuable stuff and making space for the new stuff we got for Christmas or during the sales! The rest of the time hubby and I spend watching DVD’s or Netflix whilst eating the left over Christmas goodies! I’m afraid the majority of this time off is spent in my pyjamas!

Anyway, this just about wraps up my plans for December! No wonder it flies by so quickly!! And no wonder they call it the most wonderful time of the year!

Enjoy everyone!

Shakespeare’s Stratford Upon Avon

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We booked a trip to Stratford Upon Avon through my Sports and Social at work – the trip was arranged on the weekend of the food festival but my Mum, my sister and I have been wanting to visit all the other sights here for a long time so this trip seemed perfect!

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’s Croft. Full story tickets are £22.50, or you can book online for a 10% reduction in ticket prices – book your tickets here. We booked our tickets on the day because we had been saving our Tesco Clubcard points to put towards the the entrance fees – and even better, Tesco Boost means you can get £10 worth of vouchers for only £2.50 of your Clubcard points – excellent!

The tickets are good value for money, as they are valid for a year from the day of purchase, so you can revisit all these places as many times as you want. Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall’s Croft are all within walking distance so we spent the day at these three places. Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage are a short car journey away from the town centre, and the leaflet on Mary’s Arden’s Tudor Farm says you could spend up to a day here so we agreed to visit these last two places on another day!

We had a great day visiting Stratford, here’s what we found out during our Shakespearean adventure –

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

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We visited here first and were amazed at this beautiful old building! When you first enter the house you walk through the Shakespeare Centre where you can see how Shakespeare has been interpreted and enjoyed over the centuries. In here you will find wonderful artwork, memorabilia, a timeline of Shakespeare’s life and Shakespeare’s First Folio.

After the exhibition, you can walk through all the rooms in the house where Shakespeare was born, including his fathers glove-making workshop. The house is a 16th Century half-timbered house. It is believed that Shakespeare was born here in 1564 and spent many of his childhood years here.

The house itself is quite plain but was considered to be a substantial dwelling in those days! William’s father John was a glove maker and the house was divided into two parts to allow him to run his business from the family home.

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The ownership of the house passed on to William upon the death of his father, however William already owned New Place by this point, so the property was rented out and converted into an Inn known as the Maidenhead.

Once the family line had come to an end, the house was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair until around the 18th Century. Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott are among the notable people who have visited the house, and many of the signatures of it’s famous visitors still remain on the windowpanes. In 1846 the house was bought by the Shakespeare Birthday Committee (today known as the Shakespeare Birthplace Place) for £3,000, and restoration work began soon after.

The garden at the back of the house has been specially planted with flowers and herbs that would have been known in Shakespeare’s time.

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Whilst you are out in the garden there are some amazing actors performing the works of Shakespeare. They take requests if you would like them to perform your favourite Shakespeare piece too! My Mum requested a scene from Macbeth and the gentleman performed it beautifully!

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Shakespeare’s New Place

The house actually no longer exists as it was when Shakespeare lived here, which is a real shame. The original house, as it stood at the time, was the largest dwelling in the borough, and the only one with a courtyard. It was built in 1483 by Sir Hugh Clopton and originally had ten fireplaces, five gables, and large grounds. The footprint of Shakespeare’s New Place is marked in bronze within the paving.

William Shakespeare bought the house in 1597 for £60 (a LOT of money back then!) During his ownership of New Place he wrote 26 of his 38 plays and had his sonnets and other poetry published.

Shakespeare died in 1616 and the house passed to his daughter Susanna Hall, and then his granddaughter Elizabeth Hall, who at the time had recently remarried after the death of her husband Thomas Nash, who owned the house next door. After Elizabeth died, the house was returned to the family of the gentleman who had built it, the Cloptons.

In 1702, John Clopton dramatically altered, or practically rebuilt, the original New Place. A further owner of the property, Reverand Francis Gastrell, applied for permission to extend the garden. His application was declined and the tax payable on the property increased (due to its size) so Gastrell unfortunately demolished the house as a result.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust acquired the property in 1876 and today the site of New Place is accessible through a museum within Nash’s house, the house next door. The entrance to New Place marks the spot where the main door in the Gatehouse once stood.

Whilst there you will see the Gatehouse where you’ll cross the threshold where Shakespeare’s front door used to be, the Strongbox, the Globe, the Well, the Golden Garden, the King’s Ship, the Armillary Sphere, along with –

Play Pennants and sonnet ribbons

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His Minds Eye

This beautiful sculpture represents Shakespeare’s creativity and the effect his genius works had on the world.

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Shakespeare’s Chair and Desk

All of Shakespeare’s works began at a humble writing desk – here you can take a seat in the great man’s chair.

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The Great Garden and the Mulberry Tree

The Great Garden houses a beautiful sculpture trail featuring sculptures by Greg Wyatt. All of the sculptures are based on Shakespeare’s most famous works.

The Mulberry tree is believed to have grown from a cutting of the tree planted by Shakespeare himself.

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Behind this sculpture you’ll see the Mulberry Tree

The Greenwood Tree

A beautiful tree sculpture, you can pay to have one of the leaves on this tree dedicated to whoever you want – there are only 300 available leaves though and space is running out! Click here for more info! The photos don’t do it justice!

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The Knot Garden

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Keep reading for the full story behind this!

The Exhibition

The house next door to Shakespeare’s New Place was built about 1530 and has now extensively renovated to house the Shakespeare’s New Place exhibition. The exhibition is over two floors and there’s also a viewing deck which is worth visiting for views of the garden.

The Signet Ring

Ok, as promised above, I said there was a story behind this! In 1810, nearly 200 years after Shakespeare’s death, a gold 16th century “WS” initialled ring was discovered by labourers in nearby field next to the burial ground of the Holy Trinity Church. Signet rings were used to imprint a personal seal on a blob of wax. It was very common in those times for even ordinary people to  possess their own seal. The ring itself shows very little wear, suggesting it as relatively new when it was lost by its owner.

It has not been confirmed that the ring belonged to William Shakespeare, however looking at the evidence it would appear to be pretty likely. The Holy Trinity church was William Shakespeare’s local church, he was baptised here and is now also laid to rest here. It has been suggested that Shakespeare lost his ring whilst attending his daughter Judith’s wedding, which took place at the Holy Trinity Church in 1616. Shakespeare died later that year.

The document you see in the bottom right picture above is William Shakespeare’s last will and testament. These documents would usually be “sealed” with wax and then the owner of the signet ring would press the ring into the wax, thereby leaving behind their initials on the document. Shakespeare’s will was amended and the words which originally read “hereunto set my hand and seal” were amended to read “hereunto set my hand” and the document signed by Shakespeare instead, presumably because he couldn’t find his beloved signet ring when the time came to sign!

Is it Shakespeare’s signet ring? It certainly looks likely!

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Hall’s Croft

This historic Jacobean house is where Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna lived with her husband, the wealthy physician Dr. John Hall.

The main part of the property was built in 1613 – it is a really beautiful timbered property and was even used as a school in the mid-19th century.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased the property in 1949 and opened it to the public in 1951.

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John Hall was a great physician and his case notes were published in a text book and used by doctors for many years after his death in 1657.

Dr Hall had a preference for treatments made from plants, herbs, animal extracts, gemstones and rocks, as opposed to other physicians who would practice blood-letting or astronomy.

Upstairs in the property you can find a brilliant exhibition called Method in the Madness which explores medicine in the lifetime of Dr John Hall. Don’t forget to check out the syringe from the 1500’s and the uroscopy station!

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Holy Trinity Church

I couldn’t wait to see this beautiful church – and it did not disappoint!

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Located on the banks of River Avon, the Holy Trinity Church is considered to be one of England’s most-visited Parish Churches and is the site where William Shakespeare was baptized in 1564 and buried in 1616.

A “Church on the banks of the Avon in Stratford” is first mentioned in the charter of 845, signed by Beorhtwulf (Bertulf), King of Mercia. This church would have been a wooden construction and it is likely that the Normans replaced this with a stone building, however no trace of either construction remains. Building on the present limestone building started in 1210 and the building was built in the shape of a cross.

The Church is approached along an avenue of lime trees, said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles.

The church is accessed through two 15th century doors. On one of the doors is a sanctuary knocker where fugitives would grab the ring to seek 37 days safety before facing trial.

The original nave would have been shorter and lower than at present. Between 1280 and  1330 the tower was built and the nave’s rebuilt to include side aisles.

The Clopton Chapel

Hugh Clopton became the Lord Mayor of London and was a great benefactor to the town. He completely rebuilt the Chapel of the Guild of the Holy Cross and provided the stone bridge over the Avon which carries his name, and the traffic, to this day. He had a magnificent altar-tomb built in the then Lady Chapel but was, in fact, buried in London. After the reformation his descendants claimed the chapel as their own and it now contains the finest renaissance tomb in all England. The Clopton Chapel was recently professionally cleaned, revealing the beauty of the painted decorations.

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The Grave of William Shakespeare

In 2016, Channel 4 broadcast the results of an archaeological investigation of Shakespeare’s grave. The team used ground penetrating radar equipment to try and establish what lies beneath his mysterious looking gravestone. This equipment allows a below ground level scan to take place, without disturbing the burial site.

For years historians and archaeologists have argued over the burial site – questioning the size of the stone which is far too short for adult burial and which doesn’t even have a name engraved on it, only a chilling curse which reads:

“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear,

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

The key findings of the investigation included “an odd disturbance at the head end” which investigators believe shows that someone has disturbed the grave and removed the head of Shakespeare. It is rumoured that his head was stolen by trophy hunters in 1794 – I’m sure I wouldn’t risk stealing anything from that grave with such a curse engraved on it!

The ground penetrating radar also showed that William Shakespeare, his wife Anne Hathaway and other members of the family whose grave stones lie beside his, were not buried in a large family vault deep underground, but in shallow graves beneath the church floor. William Shakespeare’s and Anne Hathaway’s graves are actually less than a metre deep!

The graves of both Shakespeare and his wife were found to be significantly longer than their short stones which makes them the same size as other family stones.

There was no trace of any metal in the graves which suggests they were not buried in coffins (as coffin nails would be apparent) but wrapped in shrouds instead.

Following on from the missing skull, investigators visited another church around 15 miles away where, in a dark sealed crypt, was a mysterious skull which had long been rumoured to be the skull of William Shakespeare. The team were granted access to the vault to scan the skull which revealed the skull to belong to an unknown woman in her 70’s when she died, so the mystery of Shakespeare’s missing skull still remains.

All very interesting and spooky stuff!

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So as you can see we had a great day out in Stratford – we learned so much and are looking forward to visiting the final two places which our tickets grant us access to which is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm. I hope these places are as fascinating as all of the other places we’ve visited during our Shakespearean adventure!

Eastnor Castle Firework Championships

If any of my readers like fireworks then I’ve got the perfect event for you! Needless to say, the photographs just don’t do these fireworks justice, but then, I’ve always argued that you could say this about any photograph you take!

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I came across a leaflet about Eastnor Castle in my local sandwich shop believe it or not! I thought it looked like a brilliant day out so when I got home I had a look at the Eastnor Castle website. Whilst I was on there looking at ticket prices etc, I came across this fantastic looking event called the Eastnor Castle Firework Championships.

Hubby and I love fireworks but unfortunately we seem to miss out on attending any fireworks night events, either because they start too early and we can’t get there in time after finishing work, or because we have to stay at home to look after our poor dogs who become quite distressed by the loud bangs and whizzes!

This event seemed ideal – it is in September so the weather would hopefully still be mild, and we could go to the event leaving the dogs unsupervised knowing there wouldn’t be a load of fireworks going off in our local area at the same time which would upset them!

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The event is organised by MLE Pyrotechnics and involves three professional firework companies who compete for the title of Eastnor Firework Champions. MLE do a fourth display after the three competitors have finished and whilst the votes for the best display are being counted.

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Gates open at 5pm, we arrived at around 7pm because we wanted to grab something to eat and get a good spot before the show started. I would recommend getting here as early  as you can – parking takes a while and as we were sat down ready to watch the show at 9pm, cars were still queued up and trying to get into the event, so no doubt they missed the beginning!

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There’s a small fairground with a few rides and games to keep kids entertained whilst you wait for the fireworks and they encourage you to bring along picnics to enjoy whilst you watch the shows (although they don’t allow barbecues).

If you don’t fancy bringing your own picnic, food and drink is also available on site, but to be honest, we weren’t that impressed with the selection and wished we had brought our own picnic. There’s a pizza place (I love pizza but they didn’t look very appetising and I overheard a guy say he had waited ages but his pizza was cold when he got it), then there’s a burger and hotdog place (their cheesy chips were nice!) and a wrap place who did a choice of lamb, chicken and hallumi in a tortilla wrap (in my opinion the best of the three but also the most expensive!).

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The evening started with a small firework demo at 9:00pm and then the competition displays begin at around 9:30pm. Each team fires a ten minute show which is choreographed to music and the winner is decided by audience SMS voting. The evening then closes with a larger scale finale by MLE Pyrotechnics.

Camping is available on the Friday or Saturday night if you fancy it. You do have to buy permits for this which are available on the website, but on site parking is free.

This years competing teams are:

Shockwave Pyrotechnics

This was my favourite show and was this years winning team! I especially loved the part which was choreographed to the song “Hallelujah”. The show was amazing – some really big fireworks which completely lit up the sky – absolutely stunning!!

Skyburst Fireworks

Another amazing display with the best soundtrack so far (Feeling Good – Nina Simone!) but the fireworks on this display were smaller on the ground fireworks rather than the big “light up the sky” types and just didn’t quite take your breath away like the other two displays.

Firework Crazy

Another fantastic show and a very close second for me – I loved the part which was choreographed to Bruno Mars! They had some really unusual fireworks I have never seen before – especially some amazing side to side fireworks! This one was hubby’s favourite!

Tickets for the championships are £18.00 per adult and £8.00 for child if you pre-book online (on the gate prices are £20.00 per adult and £10.00 per child).

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I would highly recommend this event if you are a firework fan so put a reminder in your calendars for next year to check it out! Other dates at other locations are also available from the end of July onwards if Eastnor Castle is too far for you to travel – locations which include Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire and Arley Hall in Northwich, Cheshire.

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After such a great event hubby and I can happily say we attended a brilliant firework display this year once November comes back round again!

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Chatsworth House

We visited Chatsworth House in December as part of a trip through Newmarket Holidays, we spent one day at Chatsworth House and then spent the evening in a nearby hotel and the following day shopping in Chester.

Chatsworth is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family.

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Today, Chatsworth contains works of art that span 4,000 years, from ancient Roman and Egyptian sculpture, and masterpieces by Rembrandt, Reynolds and Veronese, to work by outstanding modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal and David Nash.

There are over 30 rooms to explore at Chatsworth, from the magnificent Painted Hall, regal State Rooms, restored Sketch Galleries and beautiful Sculpture Gallery.

Chatsworth House is built on sloping ground which is lower on the north and west sides than on the south and east sides. The main entrance was on the west front, which had four turrets, and the great hall was on the east side of the courtyard, where the Painted Hall remains the focus of the house to this day.

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Chatsworth has 126 rooms, with nearly 100 of them closed to visitors. The house is well-adapted to allow the family to live privately while the house is open to the public.  The family occupies rooms on the ground and first floors of the south front, all three floors of the west front, and the upper two floors of the north front. Staircases in the northeast corner of the main block and in a turret in the east front enable them to move about without crossing the public route.

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The Garden and some of its features

Chatsworth’s garden attracts around 300,000 visitors a year. It has a complex blend of different features from six different centuries and covers 105 acres!!

The Cascade and Cascade House is a set of stone steps over which water flows from a set of fountains at the top. It was built in 1696 and rebuilt on a grander scale in 1701. In 1703 a grand baroque Temple or Cascade House designed by Thomas Archer was added at the top. In 2004 the Cascade was voted the best water feature in England by a panel of 45 garden experts. It has 24 cut steps, each slightly different and with a variety of textures so that each gives a different sound when water runs over and down them.

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The Canal Pond, dug in 1702, is a 287 metre long rectangular lake to the south of the house.

The Seahorse Fountain is a sculptural fountain in a circular pond on the lawn between the house and the Canal Pond.

The Willow Tree Fountain is an imitation tree that squirts water on the unsuspecting from its branches!

The First Duke’s greenhouse is a long, low building with ten arched windows and a temple-like centrepiece. It has been moved from its original site overlooking the 1st Duke’s bowling green to the northern edge of the main lawn and is now fronted by a rose garden.

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Flora’s Temple is a classical temple built in 1695 and moved to its present site at the northern end of the broad walk in 1760. It contains a statue of the goddess Flora by Caius Gabriel Cibber.

The West Garden—now the family’s private garden with modern planting in a three-section formal structure.

The Emperor Fountain: An eight-acre lake was dug on the moors 350 feet above the house to supply the natural water pressure. The work was finished in just six months,  and the resulting water jet is on record as reaching a height of 296 feet (90 m)!!

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Although it was magical visiting in December, the house was decorated inside from top to bottom with Christmas decorations which was lovely, but it was also a shame because in some places you couldn’t see the traditional decor and ornaments, so in my opinion it would be good to visit at another time of the year in order to view the “real” Chatsworth House.

The house is open mainly from 11am until 5pm but double check the dates you are going for more accurate opening times depending on the season. Pre-book your tickets here. My suggestion is to get there as early as possible as there really is so much to see and lots of ground to cover, especially as you will need to stop for some lunch at some point!!

You can read even more information on Chatsworth House here.

 

 

A visit to Harry Potter Studios

The Harry Potter studio tour has a new feature for 2017 – the Forbidden Forest! I visited the studio originally a few years ago but after the latest additions and the amazing time I had the first time round I thought it would be worth paying it another visit sometime soon!

Always pre-book your studio tour tickets online. You need to select not only the appropriate date but also a time you will be arriving for the tour, and tickets do get pre-booked months in advance! Don’t worry if you are a little bit late – we go lost on the way and ended up being half an hour later than the time we had booked our tickets for but it was fine, the timings are purely to try and control the amount of people flowing through the studios. Be warned – tickets are expensive! Adult tickets are £39.00 each, child tickets are £31.00 each, and if you are taking a child under the age of 4, although tickets are free you do still need to pre-order them a ticket. Family ticket packages are available for £126.00 for 2 adult and 2 child tickets or 1 adult and three child tickets.

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When you arrive at the studio you will be absolutely overwhelmed by the amount you will see – imagine how many props were used throughout the making of all the films and the majority of them are available for you to look at during the tour!

Just some of the highlights of the tour include:

The Great Hall

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Hagrids Hut

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The Wand Room

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Diagon Alley

Dumbledore’s Office

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Gryffindor Common Room

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The Knight Bus

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Privet Drive

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The Creature Effects Department – including Goblins and all time favourite Dobby the House Elf!

The Costumes Department – including Quidditch robes and Hogwarts Uniforms

The Forbidden Forest – new for 2017! Filled with 19 trees each with a diameter of over 12 feet, you can walk beneath the giant roots and can even control the weather whilst in the forest! Keep an eye out for Buckbeak and Aragog…

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You can also buy yourself a glass of Butterbeer! One of only three places in the world you can drink a real Butterbeer! An absolute must!

And finally, the Studio Shop! Normally I do battle my way through the gift shop of most places I visit and dart out the exit as quickly as possible, but I am such a big Harry Potter fan I couldn’t resist having a look! There are gifts galore in here – from T-shirts and Sweatshirts to wands and broomsticks to scarves and owls right up to a wide variety of sweets from Bertie Boots sweet shop!

Although a visit to the studio is expensive it really is a must for every Harry Potter fan! There is so much to see you could spend all day here! Highly recommended – I can’t wait for my next visit! Keep a look out for special events such as Hogwarts in the Snow (from 18th November 2017 to 4th February 2018) where the Great Hall and Gryffindor Common Room are filled with Christmas trees and decorations, and the Dark Arts event (from Sunday 1st October to Sunday 12th November) where Diagon Alley becomes far spookier and the set is patrolled by the followers of he-who-shall-not-be-named!!

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