A visit to Eastnor Castle

Isn’t it fantastic when you come across a beautiful and fascinating place which is right on your doorstep? This is how we felt about Easton Castle when we finally went to visit! It is only a few minutes drive away and is one of the best days out we’ve had!

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Easton Castle is in Herefordshire and is surrounded by a beautiful deer park, lake and arboretum. It is currently owned by the Hervey-Bathurst family.

The beautiful castle is full of medieval armour and fine art.

Inside is a beautiful dining room which was most recently decorated in 1990. The ceiling was decorated in the 1860’s  by the 3rd Earl Somers and depicts the shields of families connected to to those of him and his wife. There are over thirty portraits in this room alone. The room is now used for weddings and other private functions.

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The fireplace is said to have been made from granite from the little quarry on the left hand side of the front drive, which is now unfortunately completely overgrown.

The Gothic Drawing Room is probably my favourite room of the whole castle – just look at the stunning ceiling detail!

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The room was transformed in 1849 by a well-known Victorian firm of decorators called the Craces. There are four large tapestries hung up across the room depicting the four seasons and they date from 1680.

The carpet was laid recently in 2011 and was hand knotted in Turkey and was ten years in the making! The design includes the letter S as reflects the crests of the Somers Cocks family and the Manner’s family.

The Octagon room was completely redecorated in 1989. The chandelier is Dutch rock crystal and still has candles as it was originally designed.

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The two Gothic fireplaces were restored to their original place after they had been discovered in the Castle cellars. They had been removed by Lady Somers in the 1930’s when the left hand one was replaced by a large stone fireplace in order to give a single focus to the room and to dissuade, it is said, the men from congregating away from the ladies after dinner at the alternative source of warmth.

The ancient Assyrian tablet story……On a wet Sunday afternoon in 1998 the Hervey-Bathurst family and their weekend guests were rummaging in the remote areas of the castle cellar. The family thought they had thoroughly explored the cellar space over the past ten years, and had retrieved furniture and paintings which had been in store since 1939. It was amazing that after ten years of restoration that this incredible find came to light in a dark corner of a cellar that had been passed by many hundreds of times.

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Coated in thick dust, this ancient Assyrian tablet dating from approximately 700BC was discovered behind an old cooking range. It is estimated that it had been lying undisturbed for at least 100 years! Lying near the tablet were letters from the archaeologist Henry Layard, who first discovered the tablet in 1850.

Henry Layard was a good friend of Charles Somers, an ancestor of the Hervey-bathurst family. Layard describes in his letter to Somers how he excavated the Assyrian Palaces where he discovered the reliefs which lined the walls. It is likely that Somers, who was a great traveller, met Layard while travelling abroad and became good friends with him.

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Layard often gave fragments like this to friends and patrons in the hope of securing financial backing for continued excavation. The Eastnor relief was found in about 1850 and the scene shows Chaldean or Babylonian prisoners and comes from Court XIX of the palace originally built by Sennacherib (704-682). Some of his descendants had many of the wall panels scraped flat and this is one of those, recurved with more up-to-date scenes in 640-630 BC.

The Eastnor Castle Doll’s House was found in the furniture store in the cellar. It was first used in the 1920’s but could actually date far earlier than that as some of the original furnishings remain.

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The Library is another beautiful room – the walls are hung with 19th Century design fabric. The Billiard table dates from 1920 and the walnut bookshelves date from 1646.

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Upstairs you can find The Chapel Bedroom, Chinese Bedroom, The Queen’s Bedroom, bathroom, The Chapel and several passages.

The Queen’s Bedroom has this name because it commemorates the visit of Queen Mary in 1937. This room has 18th century Chinese wallpaper and 19th century furniture in the Chinese style.

The Chinese Bedroom was created for Queen Mary’s visit and was used by her Lady in Waiting.

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The Chapel was created from a bedroom in the 1880’s. The stained glass windows were given to the 3rd Earl and his wife by their daughters. The Chapel has never been consecrated and is only used for family prayers. It has not been used much after the death of Lady Herny Somers in 1921.

Downstairs you can find the beautiful State Bedroom and State Bathroom. It was restored in 1996, but hasn’t been used since 1939. The latin on the fireplace translates as “Hope conquers all”. The Italian carved walnut four poster bed dates back to the 17th Century.

In the beautiful grounds you will find an arboretum and a lake with beautiful trails and views of the castle which are lovely on a warm summers day!

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So, as you can see, a wonderful place which is well worth a visit!

Don’t forget that the Fireworks Championships are hosted here every year as well! If you are a fan of fireworks then this is a great evening out for all the family – it’s on the 31st August and you can buy tickets here…

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??

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!

 

World Autism Awareness Week – my Sister with Autism

I hope most of you have been made aware through one way or another that the week of 26th March to 2nd April is World Autism Awareness Week. I’ve seen several fantastic fund raising schemes this week to raise funds for the National Autistic Society, which is such a worthwhile cause, so well done to you all!

Autism is a bio-neurological development disability which generally becomes apparent before the age of three. It impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communicative skills and cognitive function. Individuals with autism typically have difficulties with both verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction.

So why is this cause so close to my heart? Well because I have been living with a family member with autism for my entire life! I am the middle one of three Sisters and my older Sister, Lindsey (aka “Lindsey Pinsey” or “madam” on some of her stroppier days!) was diagnosed with autism at around four years old. Officially diagnosing her was no easy task – Lindsey is 39 this year, and so back then, autism wasn’t very well known of, and was even more rarely diagnosed. That aside, my Mum visited a total of 26 doctors before Lindsey was finally diagnosed by the 27th professional she met, who was a psychiatrist! Hard to imagine these days isn’t it?

Mum wasn’t very well treated during her attempts to find out what was wrong with Lindsey, which is why she ended up being passed from pillar to post, and doctor to doctor. As Lindsey was my Mum’s first child, many professionals put her worries down to being an overly concerned mother, and when Mum tried to explain that Lindsey would cry all the time and sounded like she was in pain, my Mum was told “well, babies do cry”! The lack of knowledge about autism at this time and the lack of help Lindsey received undoubtedly made a difference to Lindsey’s development. Children with autism do have the ability to progress, but early intervention is key, and unfortunately this is something Lindsey didn’t receive from health care professionals when she needed it most.

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Linzy Pinzy

Lindsey went to a main stream school, I don’t know how she felt about school as it isn’t something she ever talks about nowadays.  It is pleasing to see that there is so much more choice these days for parents as to where to send their children to school in order to get the support they need, and specialist schools seem to be becoming more and more common, which is great.

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Lindsey currently lives in supported accommodation with three friends she has known for a very long time. They have rota’s to get all the house jobs done, including the washing up and cooking the dinner, but there is always someone there to supervise them. It is great that she is part of an arrangement which encourages her to be as independent as possible every single day. During the daytime she catches the bus and goes to a day care centre where they undertake all sorts of activities, including planning for the annual Christmas musical that they perform for friends and family at the beginning of December!

She comes home to visit once a month and stays at Mum’s house from the Friday to the Sunday and very recently has started spending one of those nights alternating between me and my Sister’s houses too. Until she started doing this I never really understood what Mum meant when she said it was tiring having Lindsey at home, but it really is! You have to keep an eye on her all the time, not because she will hurt herself but because she’s off wondering and opening cupboards and drawers and finding treats I’ve hidden away for special occasions! And don’t even attempt to leave the washing machine and dryer full of clothes! She will be in there trying to sort them all out and finish them off! Not got any washing liquid to finish the washing? Lindsey doesn’t care! Not got enough to put a whole load in the dryer? Lindsey doesn’t care! Very expensive designer item that can’t go in the tumble dryer? Lindsey doesn’t care! In the dryer it will go! Like I said – madam!

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This isn’t because she wants to upset anybody, it is because it is simply part of her routine. This is what she does when she is at home, so the small fact that it is someone else’s home is of no matter! The first weekend she came to stay with us, we said we would have a takeaway as a treat. I told her she could choose and she said she wanted a KFC and so it began that every time she came to stay with us for the night, she had to have a KFC as it became part of the routine. At my Sister’s house it is fish and chips! I think she’s got us wrapped around her little finger!

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Big sis and little sis!

We haven’t started doing it this year yet because the weather has been so bad, but when she is home for the weekend and the Spring and Summer starts to arrive, we do take her out on day trips too. We’ve been to all sorts of places over the years but she especially enjoys the farm parks with all the animals! She seems to enjoy herself when she is there but doesn’t ever say much at the time (or for several months after that for that matter!)

I think the lack of communication is the hardest thing to cope with. Even if she reacted badly or inappropriately to something, it would make things so much easier if she would talk to you about it, tell you how she felt, rather than the emotions building and building and then eventually turning into a meltdown. We have had some bad experiences of visiting some places which were either louder than we had expected, or involved a lot of singing and dancing and crowds of people. I don’t want to dwell on them because, even after all this time, my Mum, my Sister and I do find them overwhelmingly upsetting – in particular, if the meltdown is at a place Lindsey had asked to go to in the first place! Even after all these years we are learning the hard way about things Lindsey does and doesn’t like. Lindsey reaching meltdown is not a good position to find yourself in – she has violent and wild outbursts and will run off without considering traffic or people around her, and she is so incredibly strong! There’s no chance of physically moving her or restraining her in these situations so she doesn’t hurt herself once she has reached this stage. Luckily, as we learn more about the things that Lindsey dislikes, these meltdowns have become far fewer.

The second thing I find really hard is how Lindsey compartmentalises every aspect of her life. If it makes it easier for her to get through every day then of course this is fine, but she gets very anxious and upset when two separate sections of her life cross over. She has particular rules and behaviours for her “life” in the supported living house and other rules and behaviours for her “life” with us. So, in a nutshell, some things are acceptable in one place and not the other. This is hard to deal with when she merrily goes on holiday and to the cinema with her friends, but finds these exact same situations with us to be too stressful and upsetting. It’s hard to deal with but as long as she is happy, I should be happy too.

I think it’s great how things have come along in the past three decades, and how autism is now a globally recognised condition. Check out some of these interesting facts about autism:

  • As if it isn’t bad enough that autistic people have to suffer with autism itself, autism sufferers often also suffer from many other medical conditions, including but not limited to asthma, allergies, epilepsy, digestive disorders, continual viral infections (Lindsey gets these a lot), and feeding and sleeping disorders.
  • Lindsey is rarer than most – autism is diagnosed in four times as many males than females.
  • Autism is increasing – it is reported that in the United States, as many as 1 in 68 children will be affected by autism.
  • Around 40% of children with autism do not speak at all. Around 25-30% of children with autism have some words early on and later lose them. This was very much Lindsey – when she was younger she was the typical bossy older Sister and on some occasions you would struggle to shut her up! As she has become older, her speech has become less and less, which is very sad.
  • Autism greatly varies from person to person, and no two people with autism are alike.
  • Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder, yet is the most underfunded.

So if you would like to learn more about autism, or donate to such a wonderful cause, you can find more information from the National Autistic Society here.

There is a very interesting video on the home page which highlights what autistic people deal with each and every day of their lives – it is certainly worth a watch!

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Bowood House and Gardens

If anyone is looking for a good family day out, my Mum, my two Sisters and I had a really great day out at Bowood House and Gardens earlier this year.

The only downside was that we had to contend with a torrential downpour whilst we were exploring, but we all still really enjoyed ourselves! We didn’t get to spend as much time exploring the gardens as we had hoped due to the awful weather so I think we will be re-visiting in the future so we can take full advantage! On the plus side it meant the house and gardens were really quiet!

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Bowood House and Gardens is in Wiltshire and is currently home to the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne.

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The house sits inside 100 acres of beautifully landscaped ‘Capability’ Brown Parkland and has been home to the Lansdowne family since the 1st Earl of Shelburne purchased it in 1754.

Over half of the house is open to visitors, with the family still living in the remainder. The places you can visit within the house include:

The Orangery

Originally designed as a large conservatory, the Orangery is now primarily a picture gallery, containing the remaining parts of the two great Lansdowne Collections of paintings and sculpture.

The Chapel

Opposite the Orangery entrance are the great doors to the Chapel. Created in the early 19th century for the 3rd Marquess by C.R.Cockerell, the Chapel is still used for special services and concerts.

The Laboratory

Through the doors at the east end of the Orangery is a small room known as the Laboratory. Here, scientist Dr Joseph Priestley, tutor to the 1st Marquess’ two sons, discovered oxygen in 1774! In those days the room was full of scientific equipment but unfortunately all were sold when the 1st Marquess died.

The Library

It was in this room that the great Bowood house parties would meet after dinner to read, play chess, sing, and talk about politics and other topics of the day.

The Sculpture Gallery

Through a small entrance hall at the other end of the Orangery is the Sculpture Gallery, created by the present Marquis of Lansdowne in 1980. Designed originally as a menagerie or zoo for wild animals, a leopard and an orangutan were kept here in the 18th century! Nowadays, the gallery houses pieces from the Lansdowne sculpture collections.

The Exhibition Rooms

A staircase at the west end of this gallery leads to the exhibition room which displays examples of 18th-century and 19th-century costumes. The Victorian Room holds (among other memorabilia of the period) Queen Victoria’s wedding chair!

Also on show in the Top Exhibition Room are the Keith Jewellery Collection, family miniatures, and the Napoleonic Collection. The Napoleonic Collection also came into the family via the 4th Marchioness; it includes Napoleon’s death mask, pieces of gilded Imperial Sèvres porcelain and other unusual treasures, such as Napoleon’s handkerchief!

The Gardens

If you can, try and get on one of the scheduled monthly tours of the Private Walled Gardens.

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Bowood’s Gardens have beautiful sloping lawns stretching down to the lake.  The park includes the Cascade, Doric Temple, Terrace Gardens and for children, the fantastic Adventure Playground!

Sorry for the lack of garden pictures, the rain was so bad I was worried about the welfare of my lovely phone!

A separate Woodland Garden, which hosts Rhododendrons and Azaleas, is open to the public between April and early June every year, according to the flowering season.

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There is an on-site cafe called the Treehouse Cafe which serves lovely paninis and delicious homemade cakes! Plus lovely hot chocolates and coffees which were greatly appreciated after being soaked through to the skin! British weather hey???

Adult ticket prices are £12.50 and child prices are £7.50 – £9.50, and family tickets are also available.

Bowood House and Gardens opens again on the 1st April – choose your visiting dates wisely though as it’s not called “April showers” for no reason!

Sudeley Castle Spectacle Of Light

As my sister’s Birthday is the 1st December, we always try and do something a bit different on her Birthday or the weekend closest to it. She is definitely a winter baby and loves this time of year so we generally tie in her Birthday day out with something that is Christmas themed as well! Past days out have included a trip to Longleat Safari, ice skating at Cribbs Causeway and of course for her last milestone Birthday, an amazing trip to Iceland!

Last year I came across an event which was being hosted at Sudeley Castle called the Spectacle of Light. Last year was the first time they had hosted such an event and as several of us have been meaning to visit Sudeley Castle for some time, this event looked perfect for the occasion!

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The event is hosted after dark, and the Castle and grounds are lit up and decorated for a wonderful spectacle of light and sound. You follow a trail of light around the stunning castle grounds, magical gardens with majestic trees and into the romantic ruins where ideal photo opportunities await you! Music is also played as you wander the trail!

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We attended on the 1st December last year, but this year the dates span from the 8th to 30th December 2017.

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After you are done exploring, the café is open where mulled wine, cider and hot chocolate are served alongside other winter warmers like soup and hotdogs.

Entry times for the event are every half an hour from 5pm until 7:30pm – when we went last year we booked the latest entry time of 8:30pm, however they contacted us a few days before to ask if we could arrive for 8pm as they were short on staff – it looks as if they have reduced the amount of entry times this year as a result.

When we wandered the trail it was extremely quiet and peaceful, there were only a handful of other people who were there with us which made it all the more special! The weather was perfect December weather as well – cold but dry – we were very lucky on this occasion as I would imagine it to be a very different experience in the torrential rain!

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If you pre-book your tickets online you can also save 10% on the ticket prices – adult ticket price is £15.75 per person (normally £17.50) and child price is £9.90 (normally £11.00). Family tickets are also available.

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A typical walk will be approximately 60 -75 minutes, although if you wish to stay longer you are very welcome.

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According to the website, they have some new additions to the event this year including an “amazing kaleidoscope of illuminated parasols, an enchanting tree energising its sparkling roots and a friendly roar in the tower dungeon!”

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A highly recommended event, particularly for you budding photographers! We were slightly disappointed that our tickets did not give us full access to the Castle as this is a separately hosted event, however this just meant we were looking forward to re-visiting the Castle again in the daytime to see all that it had to offer!

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!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! I assume you all did most of your celebrating over the weekend seeing as Halloween awkwardly falls on a Tuesday this year!

We didn’t celebrate this year as much as we normally do – we are all packed up and ready to move house! We were hoping to be moved out well in advance of Halloween but unfortunately everything (including all my Halloween decor!) is still packed away in boxes eagerly awaiting our moving date….

I found it really depressing that we couldn’t decorate or throw a big party like we normally do every year, but I still had a great time having a small Halloween celebration with my Mum and Sister’s over the weekend!

We carved pumpkins and made apple tea light candles which was really messy but good fun! I made a puking pumpkin which Mum wasn’t very happy with!! Sorry Mum!

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We then watched Hocus Pocus! What a brilliant family Halloween film!

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Whilst we were watching Hocus Locus we toasted marshmallows! Yes, indoors! I bought us this amazing toasting marshmallow kit from the Naked Marshmallow Company! I’m not going to talk too much about it or post too many photos because I think a separate blog is in order for this brilliant kit! Watch this space….

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I also did my yearly goody bags for family and friends and treated myself to some fantastic Halloween treats!

The Pumpkin and Frankenstein goody bags were from good old Marks and Spencer’s! They were also in the three for two offer! Bonus!

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Our family love Yankee Candles so it would have been wrong not to include some lovely autumnal scents in this years goody bags! The scents I used this year were Crackling Wood Fire, Autumn Night and Fireside Treats! Perfect to light on a cold, wet autumnal evening! The Autumn Night one is burning away on the hall shelf as I write this.

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I used good old Marks and Spencer’s again for the Goody Bag sweets – check out these Percy Pumpkins, Freaky Frogs, Zombie Owls and Scary Spiders!

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For the adult recipients I thought these Crystal Skull Vodkas were brilliant! You can get them in several places but the cheapest place I found them were from the Drink Shop as they were in the sale!

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The vodka is made by Dan Ackroyd and contains no additives, sugar, or citrus oils – the emphasis on this product is its purity. Was I sold by this? Not really – I literally bought them because they are in an amazing skull bottle which is perfect for Halloween!

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These little guys have been in our Halloween gift bags for as long as I can remember!

Plus I also found these great chocolate lollipops from Marks and Spencer’s (again on the three for two offer).

I got these amazing cake pops and other treats from Popadoodledo! They were so well made and so tasty I think I will do a separate blog on this brilliant company too! I can’t wait for her Christmas range to come out!

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Check out these white chocolate fingers with white chocolate “blood dip”! Brilliant!

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and these little guys, believe it or not, are mini Oreos covered in white chocolate!

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I also treated myself to these extra special treats from The Whimsical Cake Company through Not On The High Street, aren’t they stunning? Almost too good too eat…. almost.

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Some lucky people had some extra special chocolate from Hotel Chocolat because they will only eat dark chocolate (you know who you are!)

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I especially loved this Hotel Chocolat Yumpkin! Tasty dark chocolate and vegan friendly!

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How cute are these tiddly little dark chocolate vampires??

Plus some lucky recipients also got some Halloween themed Lush Cosmetics products! You can read more about these in my “A Lush Halloween” blog which was published on Sunday!

So as you can see we were all a little bit spoilt over the Halloween weekend! Sort of makes up for not being able to decorate the house properly and have a big party, but not quite!

We should be in our new house for next Halloween so I’ll have to push the boat out on next years party instead! I’m thinking something along the lines of this amazing house I found on Pinterest

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Not sure we would get many lovely Trick or Treaters though!

 

Halloween in the Evans’ house!

Wow I really love the autumnal season! Yes the days get cooler but you still have the occasional bright sunny day with that fresh autumnal breeze, ideal for going for long walks with the dogs, and the best part of autumn of course, has to be Halloween!

Now I don’t ever need an excuse to have a party and to celebrate with friends and family, so needless to say, Halloween is always a big event in the Evans’ household! The celebrations usually continue over the entire Halloween weekend, with the first event being a good old trip to the cinema on the Friday evening of Halloween weekend to watch the latest scary horror film! Past films include Insidious and Paranormal Activity – several evenings of no sleep and jumping at every sound the house makes usually follow this!

On the Saturday of Halloween weekend I spend the day decorating the house with all the spooky decs! I have a LOT because every year I come across more decorations I like and I just can’t resist adding them to my collection!

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The real focus of the decorating is the dinner table! Sometimes I host three course dinner parties and other years I just set the table up with buffet food so people can help themselves if we have a lot of party guests!

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Every year I also make up goody bags for family and party guests – these boxes I came across on eBay are brilliant! I bought a load in orange and black and just printed off some spooky pictures, add the persons name and they are ready to be filled with sweets and treats!

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Aside from sweets, I also buy other bits and pieces to go with the goody bags, such as these brilliant spooky balloons (99p each from Clinton Cards) and these great orange flowers complete with Scary witch (from Morrisons).

You can read about what appeared in this years goody bags in my Happy Halloween blog which is being published on Tuesday! I can’t give the game away before everyone has had theirs and ruin the surprise!

If we are having guests over for Halloween parties we usually insist on them wearing Halloween outfits! Some of the outfits we’ve seen over the years have been absolutely amazing! So much time, effort and money has gone into them – so most years I will award a trophy to the best dressed guest! Check out some of these scary characters!

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To keep the guests entertained we usually do a few games and activities – we tried apple bobbing one year – it didn’t end well so we scrapped that! Yearly activities usually now include pumpkin carving and the standard party drinking games!

After our normal yearly Halloween parties, most of the day after is spent clearing up and rescuing the earrings out of the toilet and trying to get the red wine out of the curtains (yes – really!!) but we usually put aside some time to finish off our Halloween weekend with something spooky such as a visit to Frightmare. Frightmare takes place a few miles away and has become so popular over the last few years that the tickets sell out within hours for some of the most popular dates! Each year is a different theme and each ticket gets you entry to five different attractions including the Haunted Hayride, Séance, the Offering, and Caged!

I highly recommend getting tickets if you can – it’s a brilliant event which is really well planned and of course is absolutely terrifying! If you are a bit nervous and think you might not be able to take part in the full experience, they also offer Slightmare, which is a toned down version of the main event!

Have a great Halloween weekend everyone!!!

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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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A Magical Trip to Iceland

In December I was lucky enough to spend four days in Reykjavik, Iceland to celebrate my sister’s birthday. Each of us have chosen a place to visit on special birthdays (my husband and I choose Vegas – I know, very cliche! And my brother in law chose St Lucia for his).

I must admit when my sister said she wanted to visit Iceland for her special birthday I was rather surprised and not particularly keen. I’d always visualised holidays as being somewhere hot, and as someone who hates the cold, visiting a place with an even colder climate was not particularly appealing! However, after spending four days in such a magical place I really had to eat my words!

We flew with WOW airways – I don’t normally mention the airline that we flew with for our trips but they really were outstanding! They gave my sister some chocolates and a mini bottle of fizz to celebrate her birthday and wrote her a lovely note wishing her a Happy Birthday. PLUS the pilot had to land the plane in a pretty bad storm! We hadn’t even realised how bad it was outside until we were told to take hats and scarves off as we left the plane as they would be blown away! I really do highly recommend them as an airline!

We stayed in the centre of Reykjavik – ideally situated near to all the restaurants and supermarkets. We got there late in the evening and were then picked up from the hotel early the following morning to go on a full day tour of Iceland and its amazing sights!

When we woke up in the morning we were delighted to discover that it was snowing! We had been told it was unlikely we would get snow in the centre of Reykjavik but yet my sister had her own personal Birthday flurry! It really made her day!

We visited the Friðheimar Greenhouse Cultivation Centre first – what a fascinating place! At Friðheimar, they grow tomatoes all year round, despite Iceland’s long, dark winters, under artificial lighting in greenhouses.

We then visited the Haukadalur valley area which is a geothermal area near the Hvítá river (white river).

We came here to visit the Strokkur Geyser, one of Icelands most famous geysers, which erupts on average every 6 to 10 minutes. It’s usual eruption height is 15 to 20 metres but it has been known to erupt as high as 40 metres!

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We then went on to visit the Gullfoss (Golden Falls) Waterfall – what an amazing sight! The wide Hvítá river rushes southward, and about a kilometre above the falls it turns sharply to the right and flows down into a wide curved three-step “staircase” and then abruptly plunges in two stages into a crevice 32 metres deep. As you approach the falls, the edge is obscured from view, so it appears that the river simply vanishes into the earth! The pictures really don’t do it justice!

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We then visited Thingvellir National Park – a place I was delighted to visit as lots of scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here!! An absolutely breathtaking place, again the pictures really do not do it justice. The tour was fantastic as it was timed so that we were here to watch the beautiful sunset over the park – an amazing memory!!

Later that evening we were collected from the hotel again and taken out on our mission to try and hunt down the Northern Lights! They are of course completely weather dependant and we didn’t hold out much hope of seeing them due to the snow we had had that day, and the tremendous storm which had happened the day before that.

We hadn’t got very far when the coach driver said we were going to pull over because he could see the Northern Lights in the distance! We got out and stayed here for well over an hour and it was absolutely spectacular! My only regret – I had not learned to work my camera correctly in order to capture them properly and had forgotten to bring my tripod so the photographs I managed to get were very blurry, but I did better than those who were trying to capture them on their phones in the middle of a pitch black field with no lighting!

The following day we had a casual day exploring Reykjavik and visited the Hallgrímskirkja church. The Hallgrímskirkja church is Reykjavík’s main landmark and its tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city and it really is a spectacular piece of architecture!

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Iceland really is one of the most amazing places I have visited and one of the very few places I would love to re-visit! I would highly recommend adding it to your bucket list! My sister had a really magical Birthday in Iceland – here she is frolicking in the snow – isn’t she cute??

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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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A London Adventure – Day Four

I was so sad to leave after our final day in London but I think I need a holiday to get over this trip away!

Our first stop this morning was the London Eye. We only stopped to take a few photographs as all three of us are terrified of heights so it wouldn’t have been a very enjoyable experience actually going on it!

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After this we walked over to the London Dungeons. My sister has really been looking forward to visiting here as she loves her horrible history! We played an absolute blinder with these tickets as they cost £30 on the door but good old Tesco Clubcard saved the day again as we got an entrance ticket in exchange for £8 worth of Clubcard vouchers! Best deal of the trip I think!

When we got there and read all the warning signs about the dungeons (“not suitable for persons of a nervous disposition”etc) we all started to panic and wondered what on earth we had got ourselves into! In the dungeons you work your way through several different scenes from different eras such as Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel and Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Some parts of it were quite scary and several people jumped and screamed throughout but the actors were fantastic and it was a really good experience in which you learned a lot about the history of London (and some awful torture devices!!)

After a couple of hours at the London Dungeon (which was absolutely amazing!) we had lunch at All Bar One . The menu was lovely, they had tapas available, 3 dishes for £15 or 5 dishes for £25.

After a big lunch we went over to the London Eye Pier and caught the Thames River cruise. I think there are several companies that you can book river cruises through – we pre-booked our tickets with City Cruises. The thing I liked about City Cruises was that they say although you pre-book a ticket for a cruise at a particular time, if you miss the pre-booked time you can use your ticket for another time that day, which takes the pressure off if you are over-running at another place prior.

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We caught the cruise which went from the London Eye Pier to the Tower Pier. During the journey we passed:

  • The London Eye
  • The Golden Jubilee footbridge
  • Waterloo Bridge
  • BFI Southbank Theatre
  • Blackfriars Bridge
  • Millenium footbridge
  • Southwark Bridge
  • Southwark Cathedral
  • London Bridge
  • HMS Belfast
  • The Tower of London
  • Tower Bridge

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After our river cruise we arrived at the Tower Pier and walked to the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

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After this we walked over to The Shard to have a couple of drinks in the cocktail bar – AquaShard. I thought it would be a lovely way to finish off our London visit and the views from the Shard are SPECTACULAR.

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If you are coming in for just drinks, you can’t reserve tables as they are on a first come first served basis but we had no problem getting a space in the early afternoon. Check out their wine, champagne and cocktail sample menu here.

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After a couple of very extravagant and very expensive cocktails we caught an Uber back to the hotel to collect our cases and wandered down to the Victoria Coach station to catch our coach home.

What an amazing trip! I think we did so well to fit so much in during such a short space of time! Of course there are still many other places I would like to come back and see but so pleased I got to see all these incredible places! I really do think that the key to such amazing visits is in the planning – if you group the places you want to visit and then plan your different days around a certain area, you really can pack loads and loads into your day!!

Off to plan my next city visit now – Prague in June for four days for our 8 year wedding anniversary!!

A London Adventure – Day Three

It’s a special day in London today as it is also my Birthday! What a brilliant way to spend it!

After another hearty Hutton’s Hotel breakfast we took a walk over to Westminster Abbey. We pre-booked entry tickets for the Abbey – prices are £20 per adult and £17 concession. Looking at the on the door prices and online prices it doesn’t look as if you save anything by pre-booking them online but we had so much to do today and by pre-booking them and being able to skip the queue it gained us a bit more time!

Westminster Abbey is beautiful – well worth a visit despite its quite expensive entrance fee. Guide books are £6 each if you want to buy one to remember your visit as you are not allowed to take photos inside the Abbey.

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After our Westminster Abbey visit we wandered around and took photos of:

Big Ben

Big Ben is actually the nickname for the largest of five bells (weighing 13.7 tonnes!) within the clock, although it is used to refer to both the clock and the bell tower. The tower is officially known as Elizabeth Tower, renamed in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II – before that, it was simply known as the Clock Tower.

The Clock Tower stands at 315 feet (96m) tall, and the climb from the ground to the belfry is 334 steps. On 21 August 2017, a four year plan of renovation work will start on the tower.

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The Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and House of Lords, the two houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom, and is less famous than it’s attached tower – Big Ben!

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Horse Guards Parade

Horse Guards Parade is a large parade off Whitehall and is the site of the annual ceremonies of Trooping the Colour, which commemorates the monarch’s official Birthday.

The parade ground is open on the west side, where it faces Horse Guards Road and St James’ Park. On the north side of it is the Old Admiralty and the Admiralty Citadel, on the east side there is William Kent’s Horse Guards – formerly the headquarters of the British Army  – and on the south side is the Admiralty Extension and the rear garden wall of 10 Downing Street.

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Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is a public square, built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. Its name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars with France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar, Spain.

After all this walking it was time for the event we had planned a whole visit to London around – the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play! The play is in two parts and is being shown at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. We watched Part One at 2pm and then we went away and came back to watch Part Two at 7:30pm later in the evening.

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The first Part of the play was absolutely fantastic, we couldn’t wait to go back to watch the second part! I can’t say too much about it (as per a request by J.K Rowling herself) but I will say to any true Harry Potter fans – do all you can to get hold of these tickets, you wont be disappointed! The actors were brilliant and the special effects were out of this world – unlike anything I have ever seen on the stage!

During the gap between Part One and Part Two of the play we paid a quick visit the famous Snowflake for some ice cream. Way too many flavours to mention but amazing gelato and waffles, milkshakes, sundaes and desserts as well.

There are a few Snowflakes across London (including within the Selfridges food hall) so pop in to one if you get the chance. An alternative to Snowflake is Snog Frozen yogurt if you would prefer a lower fat alternative! I ended up having three scoops – one each of coffee, creme brûlée and stracciatella!

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We had an early dinner tonight before Part Two was due to start, we chose to go to Bella Italia (another one of my favourites) but the main reason for choosing it was because we managed to exchange £10 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers for £40 worth of Bella Italia vouchers to put towards our meal due to Clubcard Boost (thanks again Tescos!)

Part Two of the play started at 7:30pm and finished at around 10:15pm – Part Two was well worth the wait! The play is designed to be watched on two separate occasions but I don’t know how people who watch Part one go away and then come back days or weeks later to watch the second part! The suspense would have killed me I think! An incredible play which had me in tears by the end, highly recommended!

Overall what an amazing Birthday! Definitely one which will be remembered for years to come!

A London Adventure – Day One

I’ve been wanting to visit London properly for years but it’s one of those places that you put to the bottom of the list because in the back of your mind you think to yourself that you can visit any time because it’s only a couple of hours away, so the more exotic locations usually win the “where should we go this year?” argument!

I’m visiting London with my sister and Mum so we needed to book a triple room for the occasion (much more difficult to find than I expected!) but we eventually settled on The Hutton’s hotel in Victoria, as we were travelling by coach and the hotel is only a few minutes walk from Victoria Coach Station. When we booked we also managed to get a  cooked breakfast included in our stay so thought we did quite well! For the triple room we paid around £390 for 3 nights so it worked out to be £130 per person in the end.

Once we arrived we travelled over to St Paul’s Cathedral. We bought tickets online as they were slightly cheaper (£16 instead of £18). Pre-booking the tickets online also provide you with fast track entry to the Cathedral and as we were fitting so much into such a short space of time, any time spent not waiting in huge queues is a bonus!

The Cathedral is a really beautiful place, but I was most disappointed that you aren’t allowed to take photos inside! As you aren’t allowed to take photos,  I’d recommend getting a guide book to remember your visit, they are £4.50 each. Book your entry tickets to the Cathedral here.

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After our visit to the Cathedral we caught an Uber to Brick Lane to visit the Cereal Killer Cafe. What an amazing place! I highly recommend paying a visit! LOADS of cereals to choose from with a huge variety of milks and toppings to have with them. They also have a selection of pop tarts and hot drinks. Make sure you also try the cereal cocktails they have on offer!

While we were there we had Unicorn Poop cereal (£4.90 a bowl) and a Salted Caramel malt shake! The friendly staff will help you if you don’t know where to start and can recommend cereals, milks and toppings which compliment each other. AMAZING!

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We then walked to the famous bagel shops Beigel bake (159 Brick Lane) and Beigel Shop (155 Brick Lane). I’ve heard great reviews about both of these places but my main reason for visiting was because I have been trying to track down some world famous rainbow bagels for ages and I had heard that I could find them here! The bagels did not disappoint – my Mum and sister had a lovely smoked salmon bagel and I left with a bag of 6 rainbow bagels for me and my friends (only 50p each!).

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Next was the Tower of London! You can book Tower of London tickets online here, but to be honest you don’t save much (£25.00 on the door vs £23.10 online). We found the best deal was to spend our Tesco club card vouchers and, due to Clubcard Boost, in exchange for £2.50 worth of Clubcard vouchers we got £10.00 back to spend on entry fees at the Tower of London! We paid for the vast majority of our entrance fee costs using Tesco Clubcard vouchers so only had to pay a couple of pounds to make up the difference! Bargain! You can read more about Clubcard Boost here.

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The Tower of London was fantastic and well worth a visit! You could easily spend a day here, there is so much to see. The Crown Jewels are incredible, we went round three times so we could keep looking at them over and over again, and the views of Tower Bridge and The Shard are spectacular on a clear day. I highly recommend waiting for one of the tours which run approximately half hourly – your Yeoman Warder guide is full of amazing facts and information and makes your visit to the tower far more enjoyable.

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After a  few hours at the Tower of London, we crossed Tower Bridge for our next stop – Southwark Cathedral. The Cathedral is a beautiful building, you don’t need tickets to get in and tours of the Cathedral start from £3.00. By the time we arrived, the Cathedral was closed so we didn’t get to go in which was a shame.

We then wandered over to see Shakespeare’s Globe (my sister is a big Shakespeare fan!) and had a well deserved drink in the bar. We didn’t have tickets to tonights show and we were disappointed we couldn’t go into the theatre, but the views of the Thames and the London skyline from here are absolutely stunning, especially at night when everything is lit up!

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Finally we caught an Uber back to the hotel, ordered a takeaway and collapsed in bed! What an amazing day full of spectacular things! Looking forward to day two of our London adventure!