Monday, 29 April 2013

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

With summer trying to make an appearance there’s no time like the present to start planning your holiday or well earned weekend away. What could be more idyllic than staying in a fantastic cottage in a good old Blighty?

If you catch yourself fondly remembering your carefree childhood holidays, why not revisit a favourite family destination in the UK? We’re sure your own kids would love to see where you got up to holiday mischief! And in turn you can remind them that back in your day it wasn’t plane journeys and all inclusive holidays to the sun, thank you very much!

Beach holidays British style
The UK may not be able to boast tropical temperatures, but it does have lots of stunning coastline and beach resorts. Yes beach resorts. You know, the places where building sandcastles, riding donkeys and crunching on sandy sandwiches is the done thing.

Blackpool in Lancashire
This wonderfully cheesy seaside resort has to be experienced at least once in a lifetime before you come to the conclusion it’s not for you. But perhaps you’re a Blackpool advocate and return year after year? Anyway Blackpool really is the epitome of a good old fashioned seaside holiday destination.

What does this Lancashire hotspot have to offer? Well besides bright lights, Blackpool Pier, fun rides and amusement arcades, there are donkey rides, the beach, novelty sticks of rock and fish and chip suppers to enjoy. What more could you possibly want?

Cromer in Norfolk
Down Norfolk way, in Cromer to be exact, you’ll still be treated to a glimpse of the saucy postcard and kiss-me-quick-hats of yesteryear. It’s as if the Carry On team is still in residence, not that you’ll see Babs Windsor doing an unconvincing fitness routine with a less than reliable bikini top, at least we hope not. But there’s still a real sense of the retro seaside era here.

What’s on offer in Cromer? There’s plenty of sand, sea and a delightful pier. Oh and not forgetting a lively performance that really will take you back in time at the Pavilion Theatre. The Seaside Special will either have you in stitches or cringing at the risqué jokes and innuendo loaded dialogue. Ooh you are awful, but I like it!

Weymouth in West Dorset
And finally Weymouth still delivers on good old seaside fun with donkey rides and the iconic Punch and Judy show. Did you know Punch celebrated his 350th birthday last year? No wonder he’s so grumpy. Still your kids will be speechless when they find out he passed for entertainment back in your day and without the help of CGI no less.

Monday, 22 April 2013

"There's nothing like an English summer, is there?"

Have you fallen in love with the Downton Abbey series? Do you fancy a snoop inside the Crawley family residence? Well you’re in luck.

Downton Abbey is very real, apart from the fact that it is actually known as Highclere Castle. You’ll find this magnificent pile in Berkshire along with the town of Bampton, Downton’s doppelganger. You know the place with the church where the servants scuttle around looking shifty.

The castle opens its doors in the summer so you can really get a taste of the interior and celebrate all things Downton Abbey. See The State Rooms including The Library Room where Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) had many a manly tantrum. And The Drawing Room where Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) gave us her fabulously cutting remarks. Not forgetting the other all too familiar rooms: The Saloon, The State Dining Room, The Music Room and The Smoking Room. You’ll also get a peek at the bedrooms and ‘downstairs’ where the grumbling servants Thomas and O’Brien worked their magic.

The grounds of Highclere Castle consist of 1,000 acres of parkland and include the Monks' Garden, The White Border Garden, The Secret Garden and the Wood of Goodwill.

Here’s a little tip: should you visit in full Downton Abbey costume – just a thought - you might secure a role as an extra on series four. You never know, director Lord Fellowes might just be wandering about.

Other stately home film locations

Of course Highclere Castle isn’t the only palatial pile to have been used in a TV drama or movie. You’ll find plenty of others to explore whilst you’re holidaying in the UK. Head to Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire where the BBC’s 2006 version of Jane Eyre was filmed. Marble Hill House in London where Nanny McPhee created her mischief and Dover Castle in Kent where To Kill a King starring Dougray Scott was filmed in 2003.

Monday, 15 April 2013

What’s cooking?

We all love a good Celebrity Chef don’t we?  It’s fortunate really as they never seem to be off our TV screens.  There is always someone cooking up mouth-watering dishes and filling us with the confidence to recreate them at home.  The only trouble is without a little more coaching our attempts at Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals turn into 40 minute disasters.  And there is no way that we can pull-off a Nigella Lawson soiree or mirror her composure whilst our guests look on in horror.

That’s where Celebrity Chef cookery courses and restaurants come in.  Fortunately these gastronomic geniuses are more than happy to welcome us into their schools and eateries.  So if you fancy combining a holiday in the UK and learning some new cookery skills, read on.

Rick Stein is ever-present in the Cornish fishing port of Padstow with not only a cooking school, but restaurants and shops also bearing his name.  This is of course excellent news if you love cooking or just eating fantastic fresh seafood.

For those of you who yearn to know the secrets behind Rick Stein’s cooking success, enrolling in his Seafood School could be the answer.  Courses range from half day, one day, two day and four day courses.  They focus on seafood and shellfish as well as cooking dishes from his Far Eastern Odyssey, Mediterranean Escapes and French Odyssey cookery books to name but a few.  There are also cookery courses for children.

The courses feature a mix of demonstrations by chefs and the chance for you to get stuck in and have a go too.  And the best bit: there are tasters, wine and coffee on offer throughout the day.

If you’re up to speed with your chefs you’ll know Le Manoir is the brainchild of legendary French chef Raymond Blanc.  It is situated in the picture-perfect village of Great Milton in Oxfordshire.  Not only will you find a cookery school here, but also his fantastic two-Michelin starred restaurant.

Again you can choose from a one, two or four day course whilst holidaying in this lovely part of Britain.  The course may not be led by the main man himself – well he is extremely busy – but head tutor Mark Peregrine will guide you with his 30+ years of experience.

Self-catering holidays never looked or tasted so good!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Family-friendly festivals

Don’t wait for the weather to catch up to enjoy the UK’s spring and summer festivals. The beauty of these events is that you can just spend the day and retreat to your fabulous holiday accommodation when you’re done.

What makes a good festival? Sampling tasty food treats, supping locally brewed beer, foot-tapping to fab music and a fantastic location as the backdrop. That should do it.

Here are just a few of the great festivals happening this year in good old Blighty for you to enjoy on your hols.

Ludlow Spring Festival – 11-12th May
The beautiful medieval castle in Ludlow, Shropshire, plays host to the Spring Festival which showcases over 150 real ales from at least 50 brewers. But that’s not all, you’ll also find lots of vintage cars, live music and food stalls to browse. Follow the Pâté Trail on Saturday and the Pudding Trail on Sunday for more delights in the town itself.

Truro and Penwith College Fal River Festival – 24th May-2nd June
This ten-day festival is packed with events and activities for the whole family to enjoy. Centred around the water, events include the Castle to Castle swim across the Fal Estuary if you want to brave the water, gig racing and wildlife walks. The festival also embraces the local history and culture of the area with art, drama and musical performances. These include jazz bands, Celtic music and a male voice choir. Probably best not to join in with the latter. And where there’s a festival there’s also great food; the festival doesn’t disappoint with cooking demonstrations from celebrity chefs.

West Dean Chilli Fiesta – 9-11th August
The eye-watering and mouth-watering Chilli Fiesta takes place in West Dean near Chichester in Sussex. It’s a great three-day celebration of this fiery little spice. Also a chilli heat endurance test for those who are brave enough to sample the foods on offer. Cookery demos, live music, beer on tap and everything chilli you could possibly want to buy complete the line-up.

Isle of Wight Garlic Festival - 17-18th August
Smelling is believing at this wonderfully pungent festival held just outside of Newchurch on the Isle of Wight. What awaits the uninitiated? Basically a lot of garlic flavoured treats as well as live music and plenty of beer. Don’t worry it’s not full of garlic-breathing drunks playing air-guitar; on the contrary, it’s full of foodies and extreme garlic lovers. So it’s appropriate for families with lots of entertainment laid on for the little ones in the form of a huge fun fair, archery and children’s entertainers. You’ll also find cooking demonstrations in large garlic marquees and hundreds of stalls featuring delicious local produce and arts and crafts.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Walking The Wales Coastal Path

For this week’s blog post we thought we’d provide you with a few ways to recover after the Easter weekend. Doubtless, many of our readers have spent this weekend indulging in one or two Easter eggs and perhaps a hearty dinner; with this in mind we thought we’d list some of our favourite walks dotted along the Wales Coastal Path.

The Wales Coastal Path is itself one big long walk, running along the entire coastline of the country, but we didn't want to suggest that as an individual walk. The path was the world’s first coastal path to cover an entire country, stretching 870 miles from Chepstow to Queensferry.

Pembrokeshire Coastal Path

Recently named the third-best coastal path not in the UK, but in the world! The Pembrokeshire Coastal path was the only British entry on the list of top 10 walks and with good reason. The pathway stands out for it’s ease of access for those of any age and ability. The path attracts millions of walkers each year and in the springtime it is complemented by the sights and sounds of spring.

The Ystwyth Trail

Connecting the seaside university town of Aberystwyth with Tregaron in the Northern Teifi Valley. The pathways allow walkers the freedom to combine various walks at the numerous connections to other paths that feature along the path. The trail involves a few steady gradients which may be a little challenging for some but the views form the top are definitely worth the effort.

The Gower
The stunning Gower has been a favourite among those outdoors appreciators for years and when you look at it’s credentials it is no wonder. The path stretches from the city of Swansea to the stunning coastline of the Gower Peninsula whose beaches have won many awards. The area boasts an astonishing 10 nature reserves, 24 Wildlife Trust reserves, 32 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and five Special Areas of Conservation. You are certainly spoilt for choice at the Gower.