No Ordinary Afternoon NovelTEA at Lumley Castle

Everyone loves a bit of luxury in their lives right? especially if it comes with an affordable price and that’s exactly what’s on offer at Lumley Castle Hotel in the form of their recently launched No Ordinary NOVELTEA – a delightful Afternoon Tea with a difference!

Afternoon tea has been one of the most popular dining experiences of the past few years and doesn’t appear to be losing it’s popularity, as even the most humble of cafes now seem to offer a version of this traditional British fayre. However, I love the decadence of taking afternoon tea in a sumptuous setting and they don’t come much more inviting than the grand rooms of Lumley Castle Hotel, where a few years ago I enjoyed the what I’d describe as my favourite afternoon tea experience, and I’ve sampled a fair few! So imagine how delighted I was to be invited to preview their latest afternoon tea experience – No Ordinary NOVELTEA – which sees the traditional sweet and savoury treats served up with alcoholic tea!…yes, you did read that right, alcoholic tea!

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Lumley Castle have teamed up with the founders of NOVELTEA, an alcoholic tea product, to offer a new afternoon tea experience to their customers. As explained by Claire Mitchell, Sales Director at Lumley Castle ‘afternoon tea has always been very popular here at the castle and as soon as we tried the NOVELTEA products we knew our customers would love them’.

Lumley Castle boasts an enviable elevated position over looking the Durham countyside whilst being easily accessed thanks to its proximity to good transport links including the A1 motorway and rail links of nearby Chester-le-Street. Approaching the imposing 600 year old Castle by car is always a thrill as it appears from the dappled cover of the tree lined driveway and the interior is even more impressive. It really is a step back in time and even after visiting the hotel several times, including a stay in one of the beautiful castle rooms, I’m always enthralled by it’s historic grandeur and it’s easy to understand why they brand themselves a No Ordinary Hotel.

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Afternoon tea was being served in the Garter state room. Described on the hotel website as ‘the largest and most ornate of our State rooms’ it was very grand but with a serene air. I attended the event with my Husband Ron and we were met with a glass of chilled prosecco or soft drink on arrival and invited to sit at any of the large circular tables, which were simply decorated in white with ornate candelabras as a focal point. The soft glow of real candles, which is a rarity these days, was lovely.

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As the tables filled up with guests we were given an over view of the partnership between Lumley Castle and the founders of NOVELTEA from both Claire Mitchell, Sales Director at Lumley Castle and NOVELTEA creators Vincent Efferoth and Lukas Passia.

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Claire Mitchell, Sales Director at Lumley raising a glass with NOVELTEA founders Vincent Efferoth and Lukas Passia

These two ‘Geordies by Choice’ are Newcastle University graduates who hail from Cologne in Germany. Having now settled in the North East, their observations of popular culture gave them the idea of combining the Brits love of tea and craft spirits to create Noveltea. The pair have infused selected teas and popular spirits to brilliant effect to create two very appealing drinks: ‘The Tale of Tangier’ inspired by the ceremonial tea culture of Tangier and ‘The Tale of Earl Grey’ which celebrates Earl Charles Grey and the history of this famous tea blend. These drinks with a difference have come to the attendtion of trendy bars and 5 Star establishments and can be found in many Artisan Food Halls including Fenwicks department store in Newcastle.

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NOVELTEA founders Vincent Efferoth and Lukas Passia

It was now time for the main event of No Ordinary NOVELTEA and I must admit to being a bit disappointed to find that for this event it was presented buffet style, instead of being served at the table in the traditional way. I can understand that it may not have been the most practical way for the organisers to deliver this event considering the number of guests however, I felt it would have been better to experience the afternoon tea as it will be served to customers.

That observation aside, the selection of fayre on offer looked delicious and consisted of the following treats:

Assorted Finger Sandwiches Ham & Dijon Mustard; Poached Salmon, Cream Cheese & Cucumber; Cheese Savoury with Vine Tomato; Roast Beef & Rocket with Red Onion Marmalade

Scones Fruit Scone served with Butter, Fruit Jam and local Clotted Cream

Cake Selection Nutmeg Egg Custard Tart; Chocolate Caramel Cupcake; Blueberry & Lemon Cake with Lemon Icing; Rhubarb, Raspberry & White Chocolate Fool; Strawberry Macaroon with White Chocolate Ganache

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Taking our seats to enjoy our selection, whilst listening to the lovely voice of live singer and musician Jessica Avison, it was time to sample our Novetea tipples!

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Jessica Avison

Now I’ll admit I’m not really a ‘traditional’ tea drinker with my preference being coffee or a glass of something sparking to accompany my afternoon teas, so I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised! These two alcoholic teas were both tasty and refreshing, we tried ours served over ice, though you can have them served hot too which I think would be equally delicious, especially if enjoyed in front of the open fire in the Library bar!

The Tale of Tangier

A blend of Moroccan green mint tea and rum which when sipped reveals hints of exotic fruit and citrus flavours.

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The Tale of Earl Grey

A bergamot infused black tea and gin delivering a smooth, distinctive drink, thanks to it’s infusion of hand selected botanicals.

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Personally The Tale of Tangier was my favourite but being a rum drinker that wasn’t a surprise!

The drinks service to our table was quietly efficient but it would have been nice to experience the full service a customer would receive. With that in mind I can only reflect on my previous experience when I can honestly say the service, setting (Library bar) and afternoon tea itself was faultless and I’d like to think that remains the same.

Claire and the team at Lumley Castle certainly seem to have their finger on the pulse of what their customers will enjoy which goes a long way to explain why Lumley Castle has remained a popular venue for many years. They offer a wide range of entertainment options from the immensly popular Elizabethan Banquets (we enjoyed this for Ron’s 40th Birthday) to hosting special celebrations to weddings. Lumley Castle is certainly a spectacular setting for a wedding and offers Wedding Packages starting from only £2500!

If you’d like to experience the luxury of a No Ordinary NOVELTEA in the fabulous setting of he Library Room or Black Knight Restaurant* the afternoon tea will be priced at £23.95 per person, based on 2 people sharing and will be served with a small bottle of either the Tale of Earl Grey or Tale of Tangier.

Have you enjoyed the No Ordinary NOVELTEA or another of the afternoon teas at Lumley Castle? I’d love the hear about your experience. Or perhaps reading this has tempted you to try it, let me know about your plans to visit! if you’ve tried the NOVELTEA drinks, tell me your favourite!

Thanks for reading and bye for now

June xx

*On busier occasions this may also be served in one of the State Rooms.

**I recieved food and drinks as described for me and a guest in exchange for an honest review.

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Rugby League – Dacia Magic Weekend 2017

An event that certainly worked it’s magic on us!

My husband Ron and I enjoy watching great sporting contests and a few years ago we made it our mission to enjoy some ‘firsts’ in live sporting events which saw us attend, amoungst others, our first England football match, first England Cricket match (where we beat Australia in the Ashes in Durham) and first Rugby Union game of Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins. So imagine how thrilled I was to be invited by the Rugby Football League to attend the Dacia Magic Weekend at St. James Park in Newcastle. This fantastic event sees the 12 Betfred Super League teams compete in 6 games during this spectacular 2 day event. This must surely be a Rugby League fans dream!

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Now in it’s 11th year, the Dacia Magic Weekend returned to Newcastle for the 3rd consecutive year. Such is the popularity of this event, it saw 65,407 fans flock to St James Park over two days to enjoy the Rugby League action and a host of family entertainments.

We were attending on the first day, Saturday and travelled to the stadium by car where we took advantage of complimentary parking as part of our VIP Saturday tickets. Driving through the city we spotted many fans in their team colours or in fancy dress to reflect the ‘super hero’ theme that influenced some of the Team strips for this years event. Leeds Rhinos’ kit was themed as Captain America, Hull FC as Hulk, Warrington Wolves as Thor, Wakefield Trinity’s as Spiderman and Catalans Dragons kit as Ironman.

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Arriving at the stadium car park we were quickly directed to the dedicated parking area by efficient parking stewards. Once parked we were kindly escorted by a friendly young steward toward the Milburn Stand reception where plenty of helpful staff were on hand directing people to their relevant hospitality suites.

Arriving at Heroes Club, our venue for the day and the latest offering in hospitality venues at St. James Park, we were issued with our event passes and tokens for a complimentary drink, which was a welcome touch. At this point I was really impressed with how organised and welcoming the staff were. We entered Heroes Club to be met with the official welcome speech from Claire Morrow, Director of the Rugby Football League. The room itself is very cool and contemporary in style with mixed seating of bar tables and stools, dining tables and sofas. Settled with a drink were soon enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and as we weren’t far off the first game starting, there was an air of anticipation among the guests. Numerous hospitality staff circulated the room offering tasty Tapa’s style fayre and canapes and a DJ played a great mix of background music which added to the enjoyment as we approached the first game of the day.

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Nearing the 2.30 kick off we took our ‘extremely comfortable’ seats in the Directors Box to watch Widnes Vikings take on Wakefield Trinity. What a great location either side of the centre line! just perfect to enjoy all the sporting action. The crowd was a great mix including families, couples and groups of friends. Waiting for game to start, I sensed a great feeling of camaraderie amonst fans and the vibe was a very relaxed, which was certainly a contrast to the crowds who attend the stadium for football matches! Of course, once the teams appeared on the pitch, the crowd began to roar and then it was game on!

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I really enjoyed the atmosphere in the Stadium and felt that Wakefield Trinity must have brought the whole of West Yorkshire to support them such was the noise their fans generated whenever Trinity looked like scoring a Try.  During the game many youngsters were waving giant foam ‘hands’ which had been handed out by sponsor Dacia or raising their Try cards, which were provided by Kingstone Press. As we don’t support a particular team, we just clapped and cheered when either side scored a Try or a Place Kick over the crossbar and I observed that many of the fans did this too!

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We remained in our seats durng half time as we were entertained by the ‘future’ of Rugby League as we watched junior Rugby players being put through their paces on the pitch as well as tackling a few mascots! namely a Lion and a tin of ‘Mushy Peas! sadly, my photo of that novelty didn’t come out too well! there was a live band playing for our enjoyment too.

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Watching live, I felt the physicality of the game was even more apparent. The players really get stuck into each other and hit the ground at some force too! it really makes you think about what the human body can withstand! After an action-packed game, Trinity were victorious at 34 – 12 although Vikings perhaps won in the style stakes with their black and white Sir Bobby Robson Foundation jerseys –  a fitting tribute and a nod toward the Football Team who usually thrill the crowds at St James Park.

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Heading back into Heroes club we enjoyed another selection of tasty treats before watching a Q&A session with former England captain Kevin Sinfield who was quizzed about his career by two young fans. This added a fun element to the proceedings as their range of questions, including one about his journey to the Dark Side (Rugby Union) brought about a fair few laughs, though all in good spirit. They also challenged him to demonstrate his trademark cartwheel! though he managed wangle his way out of that one!

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We observed that there were a few familiar faces milling around including Brian Barwick, Chairman of Super league, Europe; Steve Harper, former NUFC goalkeeper and the legendary Peter Beardsley, the former Newcastle United, Liverpool and England footballer. Peter has been an avid fan of Rugby League since watching his first live game at Anfield Football Stadium during his playing days for Liverpool in the 1980’s. He had passed us in the corridor earlier and said a friendly hello as if he knew us (he doesn’t) which was lovely. When he came into Heroes Club I took the opportunity to ask him for his autograph for my two NUFC fan nephews to which he happily agreed. He came across as a lovely man who happily posed for photographs with the many fans who approached him.

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They say all good thing must come to an end and unfortunately, as we’d had prior commitments before being invited along, we were only able to stay for one game. So we reluctantly took our leave of Heroes Club and I was quite disappointed as I was having such a great time and the atmosphere was getting livelier by the minute! Having read about the facilities of the Fan Zone, we left enough time to check this out before we went.

Situated outside under the quite gaze of the Bobby Robson and Jackie Milburn statues, the Fan Zone included plentiful food and drink facilities and opportunities to buy merchandise. The Fan Zone stage hosted player interviews and more plus fans could take part in fun activities including Rodeo Rugby Ball, Rugby Passing and High Striker games and a chance to test their skills on a Batak machine. Dacia had a range of their cars on display too.

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It was fairly quiet as we entered, most probably as fans had poured into the stadium for the second game between Hull FC and St. Helens. Having enjoyed food and drink in the Stadium we didn’t try anything in the Fan Zone however, there was plenty on offer to cater for most tastes. I’d have loved to hang out for a bit with a glass..or two..of prosecco if I’d had more time!

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Making our way to our car, I felt reluctant to be leaving but was so glad that I’d had the opportunity to attend this fantastic event which saw fans from all over the UK head to Newcastle. The event is known for the carnival atmosphere it creates in the city which makes Newcastle, known for it’s ‘Party City’ credentials, the perfect place to hold such an event. The stadiums central location means it is easily reached by the various excellent transport links direct to the heart of the city. The region receives a welcome financial boost too with last year seeing in excess of £4.3 million being generated for the local economy. The beauty of the City is also promoted as images of Newcastle and the surrounding area are broadcast around the globe as part of the TV coverage.

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Of course we followed the remaining action via the radio and TV once we’d left and the weekend culminated in the following results:

Saturday May 20th

Widnes 12 – 34 Wakefield; Hull FC 0 – 45 St Helens; Wigan 24 – 24 Warrington

Sunday May 21st

Catalan Dragons 10 – 18 Huddersfield; Leigh 22 – 36 Salford; Castleford 29 – 18 Leeds

All in all the Dacia Magic Weekend is a great event for all the family whether you are a Rugby League fan or just love sport and a great day out! and I’d love to see it return to Newcastle in 2018…now that really would be magic!

Did you attend this event or attend in previous years? or perhaps you’ve had a great experience at another sporting event. I’d love to hear about it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I hope you enjoyed it.

Bye for now, June xx

 

*I received complimentary tickets for the event in return for an honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Singapore

Highlights of my ‘Singapore Fling’

Singapore is one of the most exciting cities in Asia. I’ve visited Singapore on two occasions, not as a main holiday destination, but as part of a cruise. Singapore is a small city state that is certainly big on personality. It was formerly a crown colony of the British Empire which went on to become a part of Malaysia before gaining independence in 1965. It is the world busiest port in terms of shipping tonnage and on sailing in our captain informed us that some ships can be anchored outside port for up to three months waiting to dock! On our first visit for a day in 2012, I wasn’t sure what to expect as my only experience of Asia at this point had been Pattaya in Thailand, which bears no resemblance except similar weather. I can honestly say it’s one of the nicest cities I’ve ever visited which is the reason why we took advantage of adding a 3 night stay to the end of another cruise which disembarked in Singapore. It is easily reached from the UK with several regional airports offering flights via Dubai with Emirates Airlines.

The city is clean and very modern, the local people are very friendly and it’s easy to get around which is great as there’s so much to see and do. From both visits, I have several fantastic memories and these are my highlights which you could easily fit into a 2 or 3-night stay.

Gardens by the Bay

Before we visited Singapore for the first time I researched where to go as our time was limited. The Gardens by the Bay were recently opened and sounded really interesting, so they were top of our list and we weren’t disappointed! It is a national garden and first class horticultural attraction for locals and visitors alike. The aim is to showcase the plant kingdom in a totally new way with garden artistry and horticultural innovation and to offer a calendar of exciting events to both entertain and educate including Christmas Wonderland of which I’ll cover more later.

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Admission to the beautiful and extensive outdoor gardens is free however, there is a charge to enter some areas such as the conservatories, flower dome and skywalk. The gardens are home to the ‘Super Trees’ and it was love at first sight for me (how can someone be smitten by giant metal trees? I don’t really know myself but I am!) hopefully you can see why from these photos! These Super Trees stand up to 16 storeys high and over 200 species of plants form a ‘skin’ growing vertically up the trees. It was wonderful to see the difference in growth between our first visit in 2012 and our second in 2015!

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Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay

On our second visit to Singapore we were joined by my son and daughter-in-law and we were keen to introduce them to some highlights of our first visit. So along with a daytime return to Gardens by the Bay we went along in the evening to enjoy the spectacular Christmas Wonderland…and wow! they certainly don’t do things by half in Singapore!

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The rather grand entrance to Christmas Wonderland

This was an extravaganza of all things festive including stunning light installations, an ice rink, Christmas market, fairground stalls, live musicians and more! Best of all admission is FREE although some attractions inside had a charge such as the ice rink.

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This picture below is of a really cool attraction where people were positioned on the floor beneath a huge mirror. This, in turn, produced the image you see in this photograph which could be purchased as a momento.

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This was Christmassy heaven and felt a bit like I was walking through Disney World, humming along to the festive music that filled the air and with a warm, happy feeling inside. We also enjoyed listening to a choir singing Christmas Carols in the most magical of settings! click here to see the video on my YouTube channel!

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Marina Bay Sands Hotel

This architectural gem of a building is located right next to Gardens by the bay with a elevated walkway into the Gardens. This is accessed from an external glass elevator which is an experience in itself!

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The hotel has its own retail experience too – The Shoppes – a luxury shopping centre with a canal running through it on which you can take a gondola ride. The MRT station here connects you to many areas of Singapore.

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The hotel has several appealing bars and restaurants which are open to the public.There is a viewing platform on the 57th floor too and from there you can enjoy spectacular views over the bustling shipping lanes of the Singapore Strait. Entry costs SD$23 Adult; SD$17 Children (Singapore dollars) at time of writing however, here’s my tip to enjoy most of the same view for FREE!  From the lobby take a lift in tower one up to level 57 where you’ll step out onto a smaller viewing platform right next to the bar and restaurant on the bay side.

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If, like us, you want to enjoy a Singapore Sling while in town then it’s a good idea to try one in the bar here. This way you get to enjoy the outdoor seating area which curves around to the other side of the hotel and offers fantastic views over the city itself and a chance to check out the 57th floor infinity pool.

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Newton Food Centre

This fantastic food court was a recommendation from a helpful Australian guy living in Singapore who we chatted to in the MRT station. How fortunate to have that chance encounter as we wouldn’t have known about this place. This is one of what are known as Hawker Centres, where you are approached by hawkers from each stall offering you a menu and asking you to sit at a table and…as there are lots of stalls, there are lots of them! We were approached almost immediately by more than one hawker and this can seem a bit overwhelming when you haven’t even had the chance to look around, especially as the atmosphere is quite bustling. If like us, you want to check out some of the stalls before making your choice, just politely decline.

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The large outdoor dining area is surrounded by a perimeter of stalls (over 50) selling a variety of Asian and Singapore dishes, so there’s something for everyone. When you’re ready a hawker will escort you to a table and from there they will look after you with all your food and drink orders. As it’s a while since we visited I can’t remember exactly what we ate but it was all lovely and reasonably priced. One of the most popular dishes is the chilli crab which I didn’t try but others in my company enjoyed it. On our visit this dish was priced by weight rather than by serving, so it pays to check before you order. The hawkers were friendly and the atmosphere was lively. Popular with locals and visitors, it’s a great unfussy place to relax with a cold beer and sample local food!

Chinatown

We had been recommended to visit Chinatown by relatives of ours. This historic area is a melting pot of old and new where you’ll find an abundance of traditional shops and markets alongside trendy stores and cool cafes all vying for your attention. This area is home to the colourful and ornate Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Here you’ll find Chinese temples sitting alongside Hindu temples and Mosques.

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On the day we visited China Town we weren’t really prepared for the amount of rain  we encountered which meant our exploration of the area took the form of hopping from one shop awning to another as we tried to keep dry. The rain soon developed into a ‘mini monsoon’ just as we’d decided to sit down in a cafe…phew! what great timing! It’s a shame we didn’t see more of this historic district however I was happy just to take in the atmosphere through a curtain of rain at this point!

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Little India

This is a vibrant historic centre where traditional trades rub shoulders with modern boutiques, hotels, restaurant’s, temples, churches and mosques. It’s very busy with a great atmosphere and fabulously colourful! If you like shopping or sniffing out a bargain then you could spend hours here. Shopping isn’t a pastime high on my list when on holiday but observing day to day life is something I enjoy, so a spot of people watching while enjoying some fabulous Indian cuisine was the order of the day after we’d finished exploring.

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It’s hard to know where to choose as there’s so many great looking (and smelling) options. Usually a place where you see several locals eating can be a good indicator, so that’s what we did! The dishes on the menu weren’t what you’d typically find in the UK, so we asked the server to recommend a good mix of dishes for the four of us. The result was that we enjoyed probably the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted. This wasn’t a flash place but that wasn’t the experience we were after. What we got, more importantly, was great authenitic Indian cooking.

Raffles Hotel

This is one of the most famous hotels in the world so while in Singapore we just had to visit out of curiosity! If you haven’t heard of the hotel here’s a potted history: This beautiful colonial style hotel opened its doors in 1887 and is named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles the founder of Singapore. It is synonymous with luxury and renowned for the famous faces who have frequented the hotel over the decades including celebrities, dignitaries and royalty. Azamara Asia Cruise 572.JPG

The popular cocktail ‘Singapore Sling’ was also created in the Long Bar of this hotel and to sip on this famous cocktail at bar is on many a traveller’s ‘Bucket List’. We didn’t do this for two reasons firstly, we’d already tried a Singapore Sling while enjoying views from Marina Bay Sands hotel and secondly, I don’t particularly like them so preferred to save my $15!

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The Long Bar

It is a traditional hotel which surprises you with its oasis of tropical planting around the central courtyard and grounds. Many of the bedrooms opening out onto verandas surrounded by exotic plants. It’s certainly a contrast to the modern high rise buildings surrounding it. Azamara Asia Cruise 587.JPG

It’s perfectly OK to walk around the public areas of the hotel and enjoy a drink or food in the beautiful restaurants, bars and coffee shop should you wish. If you like a spot of shopping (or window shopping in my case) The Raffles Arcade features around 40 speciality boutiques with beautifully decorated window displays. This is where I had my second ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ moment..the first was in New York..although I wasn’t eating breakfast at the time like Audrey Hepburn in the movie. We had a spot of brunch in the coffee shop Ah Tengs where you can choose from a visually appealing range of sweet and savoury treats.

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The stunning festive Tiffanys window display

At the time of writing the hotel is undergoing a restoration programme in certain areas so a quick of their website ahead of a visit I advised.

Clarke Quay

Hugging the banks of the Singapore river, Clarke Quay is a thriving hub of bars, restaurants, live music, street entertainment, shops and more. We visited twice enjoying a great value set lunch on one day however it’s in the evenings that it really comes alive and you are spoilt for choice with numerous restaurants featuring a variety of local and international cuisines and bars for enjoying a live music and entertainment or just conversation and a quieter drink. The atmosphere is fantastic with visitors being a mix of ages and made up of locals, city workers and tourists. There are shops aplenty too, although you’ve probably gathered by now that I don’t really shop much on my travels! In many of the bars the drinks were on the pricey side compared to other areas with a pint of lager coming in at around SD$15 (about £8.50 at the time) so it pays to ask first, especially if you’re on a budget. We could walk to Clarke Quay from our hotel however, you can reach the area by public transport such as taxi, water taxi or MTR (I won’t comment on the bus system as we did not use it).

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Singapore MRT Trains

The MRT (mass rapid transport system) is modern, clean and efficient and a fast way to get around the city with many of the major attractions of Singapore within walking distance of an MRT station. It really was a pleasure to travel on the bright and airy trains. The stations themselves are spacious and clean with most featuring colourful décor and interesting artwork which make your journey to the train a more enjoyable experience. We bought an EZ-Link card which gives you unlimited travel on the MRT and bus network for 1, 2 or 3 days at a great value fixed rate, find out more and current prices here.

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There are a multitude of attractions to explore in Singapore but there’s only so much you can squeeze into a 3 night stay!. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my highlights and that I’ve given you an insight into this amazing destination. Have you visited Singapore? I’d love to hear your about your favourite things to do so drop me a comment.

Thanks for reading and bye for now. June x

 

Warden Hill Circular Walk, Northumberland

In the beautiful Northumberland National Park

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Trying to keep my balance in the wind atop Warden Hill

I always knew I was lucky to grow up in Northumberland, hailing from a mining town near the beautiful coast. What I didn’t realise in my younger years was just how much there was to discover in this beautiful county, especially in the countryside and that is how, in my 5th decade, I’m still finding new and delightful areas to explore.

Last year I was lucky enough to enjoy a tour of Northumberland National Park with my local Travel Massive group (a group of like minded travel enthusiasts) and it reignited my love for my home county. I now return to explore more regularly, especially on foot, making a point to visit previously unseen areas as I did today.

My walking partner was or rather, always is, my husband Ron and our destination on this occasion was the village of Warden near Hexham. I’d read a lovely write up about this area and a quick internet search brought up this 6km/3.5 mile circular walk. As luck has it, the walk actually started from the delightful Boatside Inn which we had visited and enjoyed before. This obviously was meant to be so and we decided to book for Sunday Lunch at the end of the walk! and off we set.

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As we’d made reservations for Sunday Lunch we parked at the Boatside Inn and set off on the walk described in the literature as ‘This pleasant walk involves a steady climb up to Warden Hill where you will get a panoramic view of south-west Northumberland’ with a walking time of approx. 2 hours.

This sign posted track began about 70m from the Inn where we walked parallel to the Newcastle to Carlisle railway line for a short while. Luck was on our side this day and with the sun shining we were able to appreciate the landscape unfolding before our eyes. The wind didn’t bother us too much either as we we’re sheltered by the trees, although a few low swaying tree branches relieved me of my hat on three occasions!

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The walk is straighforward to navigate with several finger posts and waymarks. I used a photosnap of the map and directions on my mobile phone as opposed to a printed map. The walk comprises tracks, pasture and tarmac roads. The tracks were fairly muddy in part but that can be expected this time of year as the ground hasn’t had time to dry out. You’d need to wear appropriate clothing and footwear for this walk.

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The Newcastle to Carlisle railway line winds through the landscape toward Fourstones

You are taken on a steady climb with views across to the village of Fourstones and the river Tyne. At every turn another lovely scene opened up including a couple of rainbows, even though it hadn’t rained! We mused about how the landscape must have looked to those who lived here in centuries gone by. Small worked flints have been found along one of the tracks which date back around 10,000 years!

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View toward Fourstones and the river Tyne

It really is such a pleasure to walk in this area. It’s so beautiful and peaceful. I would think it is normally quiet but the wind was whipping up quite a bit as we got higher. We only passed one other person along the way and there were no livestock in the fields we crossed until we reached Warden Hill which was dotted with sheep.

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Rainbow without the rain! viewed from Warden Hill
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Stunning blue skies and panoraminc views from Warden Hill (an Iron age Hill Fort)

The views that met us when we reached Warden Hill made the walk totally worthwhile. The term ‘Big Sky’ really applies here as you slowly turn 360 degrees to take in the stunning views…Wow! and as the countryside of south east Northumberland stretched out for miles I was acutely aware of the history beneath my feet as I was standing on the site of an Iron Age hill fort. Coming back downhill we spotted something more ‘gruesomely’ recent in the form of an animal skull and bone, possibly a sheep, which had us wondering about its demise!

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From Warden Hill the walk took us through the quaint village of High Warden with it’s handful of stone houses and random beds of snowdrops. A tarmac road meandered downward, ultimately leading us back to the Boatside Inn and the promise of a hearty meal. To that end we weren’t disappointed and we both enjoyed a roast beef dinner with probably the biggest yorkshire pudding I’ve ever seen!  So although this isn’t a review of the Inn I would still recommend it as a great place to eat.

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Ron and I found this walk to be really enjoyable despite the muddy tracks being tricky to negotiate in parts, we just had to take a bit more time and care…and hold onto a few branches at times!

I hope our experience has inspired you to enjoy walks in Northumberland and the National Park area. I’ve only shared a snap shot of this walk in photos as I don’t want to spoil it for you! I love reading your comments so if you’ve already tried this walk or have a favourite walk in this area I’d like to hear about it.

You can view the map and information for this walk here and read the highlights of my tour of Northumberland National Park here.

Thanks for reading. Bye for now, June xx

 

 

 

25 Facts About My Travels And Me!

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Favourites, Firsts, Scary Moments and more!

In the first yeat of writing my Travel Blog I’ve really enjoyed the interaction with my readers especially when I read responses to questions I pose such as what destination is top of your Travel wish list; your favourite holiday spot or travel tip; most memorable experience? etc. I’m regularly asked about my about my own travel experiences too so I thought I’d be nice to share some of my Travel Facts with you. Here they are:

No. of Countries visited – 51 (I don’t think I’ve missed any)

No. of Cruises taken – 28

It’s certainly a fantastic way to see the world and get a taste of destinations you may like to explore further.

Favourite Travel Destination Abroad – The Greek Islands.

I’ve visited 9 plus the mainland and it’s hard to choose a favourite although for beauty it has to be Santorini!

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Favourite UK Destination – The Lake District.

One of my favourite walks is around Derwentwater (shown).

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Favourite City – Sydney.

Sailing into Sydney Harbour on a cruise ship was fabulous and the city itself is great to explore and relax in equal measure. I just wish it wasn’t so far from the UK.

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First Holiday Abroad – Magaluf, Majorca…well, it was the 1980’s!

Age first travelled abroad – 20

Favourite Travel Tip – Have a printable ‘Holiday’ checklist to tick off items as you pack

Mostly travel as – A couple

Although we’ve had some fantastic family holidays to celebrate ‘Big’ Birthdays! including mine!

I Took My Honeymoon in – London for 4 nights (running a business meant no time to go abroad)

It’s Hard To Believe But – I didn’t visit the Lake District until  I was 30! especially being from Northumberland! and we loved it so much we returned the following weekend and visit regularly now. I didn’t visit Wales until my 40’s either.

Favourite Holiday Cocktail – A great Mojito

My Holiday Rituals are – Wherever possible the first alcoholic drink I have on holiday is a Pina Colada. It’s not my favourite cocktail but it’s a proper taste of the Tropical and symbolises the start of fun times ahead!

We always holiday in December and never leave home without an advent calendar!

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Favourite Airport – UK Newcastle; Overseas Singapore

Favourite Holiday Outfit – A shift dress and wedge sandals

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Cruise evening wear…

I’d love to – Fly first class return to New Zealand

Worst ever flight delay – 23 hours!! From Newcastle to Cyprus

I missed a flight to – London…for my honeymoon!

I thought our 10.40am flight was 11.40am. The lovely folks at BA understood and put us on the next flight in 2 hours. I was so tired following the 2 day celebrations that I wasn’t too bothered and sitting down for a coffee we both agreed it was the first time we’d had to ourselves to catch our breath and reflect on the lovely wedding we’d had.

Favourite Holiday Reading – I love a great crime thriller so anything by Peter James. If you have any reading recommendations I’d love tho hear them.

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Most Memorable Holiday Moment – Being proposed to on the deck of a cruise ship under the Caribbean stars!

I love that my Husband had the forsight to carry out such a romantic proposal and you can read more about that magical moment and our Disney Cruise.

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Scariest Holiday Moment – getting stuck in a strong current while swimming in Cyprus.

It was such a horrible experience and proved that effortless swimming out can turn perilous in the most calm and blissful setting.

A close second was on a visit to a farm in Honduras where I was scratched and bitten by a playful Oscelot who decided to use my leg as a sctatch post! One year on I still have the scars. Word to self – never enter a cage with a wild animals! (just to be clear I wasn’t mauled but I got a canny shock!).

I’ll Never – drink Tequila again!

Enjoying great company on board a cruise in the Caribbean I had what I now refer to as ‘My Tequila Moment’! I’ll spare you the gory details but it was messy…I’m sure you get my drift! it became the first AND last time I’ve ever drank the stuff!

I Dream of – Seeing the Northern Lights in Norway.

Upcoming 2017 Travels – South American Cruise; Sandals Resort stay in Jamaica; Cruising the Norwegian Fjords with Cunard.

This image is from our visit to the beautiful town of Stavanger in Norway.

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Destinations I’d love to visit soon – Abroad: Hawaii, New Orleans and Austria; UK: Peak District, Kent and more of Scotland following my visit to Dumfries and Galloway. You can read about my visit here.

So there you have it, just a few random Travel Facts. Do you share any of my experiences or favourites, have a book recommendation or maybe a ritual or tip you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them.

Thanks for reading and bye for now.

June xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Royale Thai Restaurant Sunderland – Review

Hands up who loves Thai food? me too! and Thai cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK in part because a growing number of people are enjoying holidays in Thailand. They like the exotic flavours and fresh ‘street food’ style of Thai cuisine and look to enjoy these authentic dishes once home (OK, you can put your hands down now!).

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to hear that my Brother-in-law Ken and his wife Kay (who’s from Thailand) planned to open their own Thai Restaurant in Sunderland. After a lot of hard work by themselves (along with some help from family members) they opened the doors of Royale Thai to family and friends ahead of the Grand Opening today (Friday 6th January 2017).

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Having seen the building before and during remodelling work started (it was formerly a Royal Mail parcel collection service) it was great to see the finished result. The décor is impressive and very well thought out with a main scheme of sumptuous red and black paired with rich, dark wood furnishings and complimented by stunning Thai influenced wall murals, artwork and decorative touches. This all creates a very warm, welcoming atmosphere with enough lighting to still read the menu, something that many restaurants get wrong (yes, we’ve all been there right?).

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The restaurant is on the ground floor and easily accessible. There’s also a function room with bar upstairs which is available to hire and perfect for special celebrations.

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Royale Thai, Mary Street, Sunderland – 0191 5678395

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There’s a wide selection of drinks on offer
 

One of the function room murals
Bearing in mind this was an evening for family and friends I knew it wasn’t going to be your typical menu/venue preview. We’d all agreed to book tables to arrive at staggered times to make it a proper restaurant experience for the staff and guests alike but that’s where the similarities ended as it’s not often that 1) you walk into a restaurant and know absolutely everybody 2) are greeted by a relation to show you to your table and 3) stop at most tables to greet everyone happy new year!

Ron and I were seated with menus, which offer a good selection of dishes including vegetarian options. We were shortly approached by a friendly staff member who promptly took our drink orders before returned to take our food order too. To start we ordered the Royale Thai Deluxe Platter (sharing platter for 2) and for a main course I chose one of the speciality dishes, Chicken Cashew Nuts and Ron opted for Pad Thai Noodles – Thai Style with Prawns.

I’d always had high hopes for the food as the kitchen, led by my sister-in-law Kay, is staffed with chefs who previously worked in some of the regions highly popular Asian restaurants, Kay included and I can honestly say we weren’t disappointed when our food arrived.

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Kay – ready to cook up a feast
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Royale Thai Deluxe Platter

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Chicken Cashew Nuts

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Pad Thai Noodles – Thai Style with Prawns

All food was hot, well presented and served on lovely white china, a perfect canvas to show off the colourful food…and most importantly of all it was delicious. Ron and I both agreed the food was better than most we’d had in other Asian restaurants. We were approached frequently by friendly staff members to ask if we were enjoying our food and if we’d like another drink, although we decided against a desert and finished our evening with a coffee. During the evening floor manager, Tuk, made time to visit each table and chat to customers as well as offering to answer any questions. It was good to know that the chefs will happily adjust the spice level in certain dishes, just ask when ordering.

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Kay and some of the freindly, helpful staff
I’m proud to see Ken and Kay’s dream of opening their own Thai restaurant become a reality. Their aim is to offer people an authentic taste of Thailand and I believe that’s exactly what they provide.

The restaurant is open 7 days a week for lunch and evening meals (except Sunday – open from 5pm) There’s a Happy Hour 5 days a week Sunday – Thursday 5.30pm to 7pm, where you can enjoy a 3 course special for only £12.95 per person and kid’s meals at £3.95. The full menu can be found at the bottom of this post. Bookings can be made by calling 0191 5678395 and further information can be found on their Facebook page.

Thanks for taking the time to read my review*, I hope you enoyed it…and if you see me at Royale Thai, pop over and say hello.

Bye for now, June xx

*All opinions are mine and Rons own and no compensation was provided in exchange for this honest review.

T

 

Vallum Farm – Festive Fridays Menu Review

Yes…at last! I finally made it to Vallum Farm in Northumberland, after a planned visit was foiled by me leaving my back pack in one of the visitor centres along Hadrian’s Wall. A one hour around trip to retrieve it meant Ron and I, sadly, ran out of time.

Vallum Farm Tearoom and Restaurant had been on my radar for a while due to all the good reports I’d heard, oh and did I mention I LOVE Christmas too! so you can imagine how thrilled I was to be invited along to preview their new Festive Fridays Menu in the surroundings of the fabulous new Chefs Room.

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Although known by many as Vallum Farm, the impressive facilities on offer have grown so much over the last 12 years that the venue is now known simply as Vallum – The Foodie Gateway to Hadrian’s Wall. Owners Peter and Vicky Moffitt bring you a welcoming, award winning Tea Room and first floor Restaurant with expansive countryside views, a Patisserie & Deli, an Ice Cream Parlour and a of course the Chefs Room, our venue to experience the delights of the Festive Fridays Menu…and my goodness, what a delight it was!

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I was one of a group of bloggers invited along and on my arrival, I was met with a friendly welcome by Nick Smith, Vallum’s Restaurant and Events manager, before being escorted into the wonderful setting of the Chefs Room and what a perfect setting it was! The room is beautifully rustic and befitting of the Christmas fayre to be sampled, it was decorated in a cosy, festive style.

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As I took the opportunity to take some photographs my fellow bloggers started to arrive and it was evident from the broad smiles, oohs and ahhs, that they were as impressed with the Chef’s Room as me.

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We were asked if we’d like to try one of the two new cocktails created to compliment the Festive Friday’s menu: Blackberry Bramble – a blend of gin, Chambord, blackberry juice and ginger ale with a blackberry and mint garnish; and Winter Crumble – a blend of martini bianco, apple juice, ginger ale and Mama Buci honey. Being a Martini Bianco fan I opted for the latter and I found it refreshingly tasty, so much so, that I’ve since bought some ginger ale to recreate my own!

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Nick then joined us to give an overview of the Restaurant and Chefs Room. Here, the ethos is to provide visitors with exceptional heart-warming dishes using only the finest ingredients from their own site including seasonal produce from the kitchen garden, or sourced from local artisans. For example, their fresh eggs come from Ian, just up the road from Vallum. The Chefs Room aims to provide an informal, relaxed atmosphere, with many dishes served on sharing boards. The room is available for casual dining and can also be hired for events, special occasions and weddings. The head chef and team are also happy to create a bespoke menu for your event.

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I was enjoying a lovely chat with the other guests when, what can be only be described as a procession of tasty treats began to appear from the kitchen, all beautifully presented on rustic wooden platters. This was the taster board from the menu which included shots of Vallum Kitchen garden celeriac soup; House smoked salmon blini’s; Ingoe scotch egg with black pudding and plum ketchup and crispy rabbit rillette with Anne’s apple chutney. I can honestly say I enjoyed each bite sized morsel of loveliness, with the scotch eggs being as far from the shop bought type that you could imagine…absolutely melt in the mouth yummy! and the celeriac soup far exceeded my taste expectations. I know for sure that Ron would have loved the rabbit rillettes which were oh so moreish.

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During our tasting we were joined by Vicky who was happy to answer any questions about the menu. Her enthusiasm and passion for delivering great food and a fantastic experience for visitors is evident and it was a pleasure listening to her explaining how Vallum has developed, local suppliers, the kitchen garden and plans for the future including making their own ice cream (once Rose the cow is joined by her soon to be born calf in December). She also explained about Vallum’s latest collaboration with Mama Buci honey, a project, endorsed by ambassador Bear Grylls,  which helps to improve the quality of life of communities in Zambia through beekeeping. To find out more about this inspirational project, click in the link above. The honey is available to purchase in the Deli.

Just as we were all exchanging nods of agreement with each tasty mouthful the kitchen doors opened again and the tables were filled with the main offering of Braised Beef, mashed potato and horseradish dumplings. At this point we all sat down and it all began to feel even more like a big family Christmas dinner. A harvest of fresh from the kitchen garden vegetables accompanied our meal and included carrots and kale.

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Even though braised beef isn’t always my first choice, I can honestly say this was melt in your mouth tasty as was the gravy and probably the best I’ve had the pleasure of tasting in a long time. The vegetables were ever so tasty too, which reflected the fact they are home grown. At this point I was starting to feel full when even more festive fayre was bestowed upon us in the form of platters filled with turkey, ham, pigs in blankets (mini sausages wrapped in bacon), stuffing, bread sauce and roast potatoes. Well, as I said, I was just ‘starting’ to feel full, so I managed to find room for one of my all-time favourites, roast potatoes, which I’m delighted to say didn’t disappoint and I managed to enjoy a little try of the other moreish morsels.

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There are also vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu and of those, I sampled the delicious homemade sunflower loaf and roast potatoes.

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Now came the only time I was disappointed in the whole day – disappointed as I had to leave early (pre-arranged grandkids school run) and miss the rest of this wonderful Vallum experience!

As Vallum had so far provided me with a wonderful array of irresistible dishes, of which I had enjoyed everything, I, and my waistline, was starting to think it was probably just as well that I wasn’t going to be around for dessert! (a moment on the lips…as the saying goes) But oh no, Vallum’s wonderful hospitality was not going to see me leave empty handed and within minutes I was offered a ‘doggy bag’ (well, box) containing Christmas Pudding and Brandy Sauce (another favourite), Chocolate Delice and Poached pear with Stem Ginger Ice Cream!! so you can guess what I had for my supper. Well, I had to share it with Ron, but that just meant double thumbs up for the Festive Fridays desserts too!

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Vallum’s Christmas Pudding (image courtesy of Mandy Charlton Photography)
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Vallum’s Chocolate Delice (image courtesy of Mandy Charlton Photography)

I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Vallum and although I didn’t get to stay and meet Rose the dairy cow (who is expecting a calf in December) or view the event Marquee, it means I have another reason apart from the fabulous food, to return soon. The quality of food, great hospitality and friendliness of the team at Vallum make for a great combination. They delivered an exceptional experience that I feel makes them deserving of the tagline ‘the foodie gateway to Hadrian’s Wall’

Vallum’s position on the Military Road, East Wallhouses means it is well placed not only for visitors to Hadrian’s Wall but those visiting Northumberland National Park, the Metro Centre, travelling through Northumberland or just seeking a venue that serves fantastic food.

The Festive Friday Menu is available in the Restaurant and Chefs Room during December on 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd 6pm – 9pm. I’d advise booking early to avoid disappointment. You can also enjoy Sunday Lunch in the restaurant between 12pm – 4pm.

I travelled to Vallum by car and from Sunderland. My journey at midday took only 35 minutes and just slightly longer on my return mid-afternoon, not far to experience food at its home produced best.

Have you visited Vallum? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for reading and bye for now.

June xx

*My meal and drinks were complimentary in exchange for an honest review.

The Jam ‘About The Young Idea’ Exhibition Review

I recently visited a fantastic exhibition ‘About The Young Idea‘ showcasing the journey and success of Punk Rock/Mod band The Jam. It’s located within the beautiful Cunard Building in Liverpool. The popularity of the exhibition has seen it extended until the 6th October 2016. Just typing the words The Jam fills me with happiness and transports me back to my youth, so before I start daydreaming I’ll tell you more.

The Jam and me


I fell head over heels in love with The Jam as a teenager in the late 1970’s. I know! I’m sort of giving my age away, but I don’t care, it means I’ve had years of listening to their brilliant music which is as relevant and popular as ever and would not be out of place in the music scene today. They famously disbanded in 1982 at the height of their fame to the shock and utter dismay of their millions of fans. Yes, tears were shed, not as in sobbing (no hysterics, a la Take That!) just quietly in the company of my fellow Mod friends.

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A sad day for The Jam fans

So…you can imagine my excitement when I heard about this exhibition coming to Liverpool following a successful run at Somerset House in London.

Visiting the exhibition in London wasn’t an option due to life’s commitments, so I was wondering if I’d run out of time to go along, then I had an idea! We were due to go on holiday flying in and out of Manchester Airport in September so on our return we could head straight from the airport to Liverpool. Now, on landing at Manchester Airport any ideas I’d had about visiting the exhibition followed by al fresco food and drinks at the Albert Dock (not to mention an overnight stay) were dashed by…yes you’ve guessed it, the good old British weather. How silly of me to think such indulgences I’d just enjoyed abroad would be a reality in the UK. Never one’s to let rotten weather spoil any fun, Ron and I headed to Liverpool.

The Jam – About The Young Idea Exhibition

The exhibition was taking place in the beautiful Cunard Building, one of three Iconic buildings sited at Pier Head on the river Mersey and collectively known as the Three Graces. The others being the famous Liver Building and Port of Liverpool Building.

 

I was so full of anticipation and excitement and the exhibition didn’t disappoint. On entering the building, I was met with ‘In The City’ by The Jam filling the air. There was a real buzz about the place even before we paid our entrance fee (£9.50 weekends/£5.00 weekdays) and headed ‘Down In The Tube Station…’. Yes, the entrance is a genius tube station tunnel! leading into the exhibition.

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Fan’s will recognise  the figure of John Weller and the words he bellowed at the start of every The Jam concert

The exhibition, named after a lyric from single In The City, has been curated by Nicky Weller (Paul’s sister), Russell Reader and Ben Davis who have unearthed unseen content and exhibits from the bands extensive archives. A fantastic new interactive element has been added to the show , thought to be a world first,  where a new free app allows you to engage with the exhibits by scanning V Codes. You can also download five of your favourite exhibits to enjoy at your leisure. Details are provided when you purchase tickets. Here are just a few of the fantastic items on show.

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Concert footage is screened over a stage complete with original kit

 

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Just hangin’ with the band!

I love the fashion associated with the Mod era and The Jam. It still forms the basis of my style today. Obviously not on this occasion! I would rather have been wearing my ‘coughs’ ahem!…35 year old concert T Shirt instead of a pink top with a frilly heart! (well I do like to fly in comfort you know!)

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I’m just glad it still fits!

Now that’s what I call style! There was a fantastic selection of clothing on display including items worn by the band members. The scooters, which had been kindly loaned to the exhibition by their owners, were works of art.

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img_8561I still dream of owning a Lambretta or Vespa and Ron and I keep meaning to take lessons. Oh, if only we had the continental weather to go with them.

As we strolled around I was impressed by the variety of items on display. There were lots of interesting elements and I couldn’t resist posing with a giant  centerpiece of the album All Mod Cons. I loved checking out the  personal items belonging to the band members which included photographs spanning the years. There were room sets and much more so you really got a sense of the bands journey to stardom.

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I wonder how many of these badges I have
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A selection of the bands guitars including Paul Wellers ‘Whaam’ Rickenbacker 330

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The score to this classic anthem and something to aspire to with my guitar lessons!
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Personal items including cartoon type sketches of ‘Paul The Mod’ by Paul Weller
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Hey! I used to have this poster (and many more) in my bedroom

The huge wall art depicting the NME reader choices of 1982 showed the popularity of the band at this time with the band, band members, singles etc. topping the majority of the categories including Best Group. Paul Weller was even voted Most Wonderful Human Being, such was their influence (Margaret Thatcher was Creep of the Year!).

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The Jam were the voice of a generation, with their lyrics echoing everyday realities as well as a desire for change. They were loved by their legions of fans and I genuinely feel that The Jam loved them back. As a fan you really felt as though you were a part of some exclusive club, just a club with millions of members. The was great camaraderie among fans too due to their shared love of the band and all they stood for.

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To be honest I could have spent a lot longer admiring the shear number of exhibits but I’m the fan not Ron so it wouldn’t have been fair, also he had the 2 1/2 hour drive back home!

I’ve just shown you a snap shot, there’s so much more I could’ve shown you but I don’t want to spoil it for those who’ve not yet visited. The exhibition was everything I hoped for and more. It reinforced my love of this iconic band and their music and reminded me just how big a part they had played in my young adult life (They even got a mention during my brothers speech at my wedding!). It also reinforced my love of Mod Culture as some people, me included, slip away from that once adult life and responsibility comes along. So I’m off to hunt down a boating blazer and a lovely new parka!

Have you visited this exhibition or have plans to go? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for reading and bye for now, June x

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Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire

A Jewel in Yorkshires Crown

Driving to Yorkshire in the glorious sunshine, I was glad we’d chose this weekend for our stay at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, a luxury Scarborough Hotel. We left home early on the Saturday morning to enjoy some delights of North Yorkshire and Scarborough before heading to the hotel later in the afternoon.

Exploring the North Yorkshire and Scarborough area

My husband Ron and I love Yorkshire and have visited many highlights of the area including Scarborough, a fantastic seaside resort with an amazing array of attractions and only 2 miles from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel. We had decided in advance to visit somewhere new and being lovers of a countryside walk, chose Forge Valley Woods National Nature Reserve, a short drive from the hotel. Heading along the A171 toward Scarborough and knowing we were nearing Robin Hoods Bay, we realised we couldn’t continue without paying another visit to this beautiful seaside town. It’s picturesque twisting streets, which tumble down toward the family friendly beach, were once the scene of cloak and dagger smuggling operations.

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These days it’s the perfect place for a day out with breath taking views towards the sea at every turn. There’s an informative visitor centre along with a good array of independent shops, pubs and places serving fish and chips and ice cream.

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After standing to soak up the glorious views, we took an unexplored path down toward the bay where the tide was out. We passed people sitting on benches sketching the coastal scene, while others were enjoying beach and perhaps looking for fossils, as Robin Hoods Bay is home to the Dinosaur Coast.

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We visited an interesting shop selling fossils and marvelled at the displays of real and replica dinosaur bones. It’s hard to believe these creatures once roamed our planet.

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After we’d finished exploring, we continued our journey to Forge Valley Woods National Nature Reserve where we planned to enjoy the scenic trail along the river Derwent. It’s only a short drive from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, which we passed on the way. We initially parked in the wrong spot which meant we had an unexpected but pleasant uphill walk and back through a different part of the woodland.

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When we arrived at the correct location and joined the trail via a bridge over the river, we were so pleased we’d decided to visit. The linear route of 2.7km (there and back) is a wooden boardwalk which skirts the river as it winds its way through spectacular woodland. It’s an enjoyable, easy going walk with many seats along the way and passing points which are also used as viewing platforms. The sun shining through the trees cast a beautiful dappled light on the clear water creating a peaceful atmosphere.

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The woodland has an abundance of plants large and small and is a haven for wildlife including the elusive deer. The area also forms a link to the ancient wildwoods of the past when much of England was hidden beneath broadleaf woodland. We weren’t lucky enough to spot any wildlife on this occasion but that didn’t take away from our enjoyment. During our walk we chatted about the many interesting places we have visited in Yorkshire which include the coastal delights of Scarborough, Whitby, Staithes, Fountains Abbey, Rievaulx Terrace and Goathland with its gushing waterfall ‘Mallyan Spout’. All these and more are easily accessible from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, making it an ideal base for exploring. There really is something for everyone. Leaving the woodland feeling happy and looking forward to the next part of our adventure, we made the short journey to Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

Ox Pasture Hall Hotel

On arrival we were certainly impressed by the look of the hotel where a lovely pathway led us through the gorgeous front garden toward the hotel entrance. At this point I instantly felt that we were in for a real treat staying here.

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Entering the reception, I noticed it was well stocked with leaflets and literature regarding local attractions. We were quickly checked in by friendly staff who confirmed our dining preference before escorting us to our suite and explaining the hotel facilities along the way.

Our accommodation, the Skipton Suite, was located on the ground floor with sweeping views across the hayfields from the separate lounge area.

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The spacious suite was neutrally decorated with quality oak furnishings providing a classic country feel. We felt immediately at home in the comfortable lounge which featured a flat screen TV and music system. Complimentary bottles of still and sparkling water were a welcome touch.

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Centre stage in the bedroom was a gorgeous king size sleigh bed which was longer than some we’ve slept in making it comfortable for Ron who’s tall. The storage was impressively plentiful too, making this ideal for a longer stay.

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The luxurious feel continued into the fantastic bathroom. I was delighted to see one of my favourite features, a twin vanity area along with a lovely deep bath, walk in rainfall shower and a plentiful supply of quality toiletries from Gilchrist and Soames.

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Tempting as it was to just relax in our suite, we were eager to explore the beautiful hotel grounds which feature well maintained gardens and courtyards.

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It is evident the gardens are designed to be fully enjoyed by guests. There are numerous well placed seating areas to enjoy a relaxing drink, the company of friends or to read the Sunday papers as we did.

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Pathways featuring rose covered pagodas lead you around the gardens toward interesting sculptures and views of the surrounding countryside.

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As we’d checked in early afternoon we decided to relax in the bar/lounge area which was comfortably furnished and featured a welcoming inglenook fireplace. It’s a great place for a social gathering or relaxing conversation.  The Bistro can be found just off the bar area too. We found the drinks to be reasonably priced and  chatted with staff who were very friendly including Jay, the operations manager, who explained the hotel has just had plans approved for a luxury Spa at the Hotel. I’m sure this will be a popular facility once completed.

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After spending the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the comfort of our suite we headed to the Courtyard Restaurant, our choice for our evening meal.

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We were shown to the lounge area by Jay where we made our choices from the menu. While the description of the dishes was unusual, we were offered an explanation of any dishes when presented with the menu.  The restaurant, with its vaulted beamed ceiling, wonderful feature tree and courtyard views, felt like a special place to dine.

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On being shown to our table, I noticed the tables were well spaced out allowing for great conversation. This restaurant, which is recommended in the Michelin Guide, is known for its innovative menus and the quality of its food and is regarded by many as the best restaurant on the Yorkshire coast. The restaurant holds 2 AA Rosettes for culinary excellence and head chef David has worked in top Michelin star restaurants.

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David has an ethos of creating simple dishes that showcase the flavours from ingredients which are mainly locally sourced. We certainly agreed that all our courses were wonderfully flavoursome and of a size that allowed us to enjoy all three courses along with Amuse Bouche and great bread with homemade butter.IMG_8175 (3).JPG

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I enjoyed: Yorkshire Carrots with Hay, Goats Curd and Olive; 100 Day Salt Aged Beef with Onion, Miso and Seaweed; Opal White Chocolate with Vanilla and Green Tea

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Ron enjoyed: Pig Head with Preserved Vegetable, Apple and Coriander; North Sea Pollock with Leek & Potato, Yeast and Hens Egg; The Summer Pudding with Clotted Cream

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The Courtyard Restaurant has a lovely atmosphere which added to our wonderful dining experience and I can understand why it is so popular. Feeling relaxed and happy we headed back to our beautiful suite.

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Following a great night’s sleep, helped I’m sure by the quality bedding, we arose to the peace and tranquility of our countryside setting. We headed off for an early breakfast to allow time to enjoy the gardens. This was served in the Courtyard Restaurant and offered a simple but inviting continental buffet to compliment the hot breakfast menu. Ron chose the full Yorkshire breakfast while I opted for an omelette which we enjoyed immensely along with the quality fresh coffee…perfect!

We collected our pre-ordered newspaper from the reception and headed into the garden to enjoy a relaxing read. We’d got our eye on the perfect spot the day before and fortunately for us no one had beat us to it!

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Looking out over the peaceful gardens, we could easily have spent the whole morning enjoying the tranquility of our gorgeous setting however, we had an hour and a half drive to get back home to attend a surprise birthday party that afternoon, so feeling both disappointed to leave mixed with looking forward to the party, we said our goodbyes to Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

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I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone looking for a relaxing break, to explore the surrounding area or host a celebration. Ron and I even mused that it would be amazing to hire the full hotel for a special celebration for family and friends.

Have you visited Ox Pasture Hall Hotel or enjoyed special days out in North Yorkshire? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks for reading and bye for now, June xx

Our stay and meals at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel were complimentary in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dumfries and Galloway

Putting the ‘Bonnie’ into Scotland!

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I’m always saying I’d love to see more of Scotland, another country that’s can be reached in under 2 hours from where I live, but like many others, I let my travels take me abroad to guarantee some warm weather to accompany my cultural experience.

So after spotting a 2 night hotel deal, we booked a stay in the Dumfries and Galloway (D&G) region and after visiting areas mainly to the east, I was looking forward to be heading west.

The route we took was a bit unconventional due to hubby’s work and saw us travel from Wearside to Belford in Northumberland then through Northumberland Park before joining the A69 to Carlisle and onwards. This meant a lovely little stop over for me at Sunnyhills Farm Shop and Café to enjoy coffee, cake and a bit glossy magazine reading to pass the time. The café had a welcoming atmosphere with views across the countryside and served good quality coffee (and free refills which was unexpected but great as I was there a while) and the cake portion was so generous I actually kept half for Ron.

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I’d love to say something positive about the next part of our journey as we were driving through the beautiful Northumberland National Park however, car trouble put paid to that! So concentration was the order of the day and our car, which has never let us down, tried its very best and managed to get us to within 100 yards of our hotel before coming to a halt. I won’t bore you with the details but I’m happy to say our recovery service were amazing, providing us with a nifty hire car and taking our beloved car back home. So on with the weekend.

We were staying at the Hetland Hall Hotel and while it needed some updating  it more than made up for it with fantastic service, wonderful food and some of the friendliest staff I’ve come across.

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We decided to meander our way to the Solway Firth, a designated coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and our first stop was Sweetheart Abbey in the Village of New Abbey. This pretty village was voted Best Small village in Scotland 2012 and a stroll around revealed sights which will have helped it take the title, including cottages with quaint kerb appeal and a tranquil Mill Pond with its sun dappled water and seating for a moments quiet reflection.

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The 13th century Abbey, though partially ruined, has a quiet beauty to it and is bound with a story of enduring love. Following the death of her husband Lord John Balliol, Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway had her husband’s heart embalmed and placed in an ornate ivory casket which she carried wherever she went.  The abbey was founded by Dervorgilla in his memory, and named Dulce Cor (Latin for ‘Sweet Heart’). When she too died, Dervorgilla was laid to rest in front of the abbey church’s high altar, clutching her husband’s heart to her bosom.

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The Abbey was a recommendation from Abbey Cottage Tearoom after I mentioned my upcoming visit on Instagram, so where better to enjoy a coffee before continuing our journey. We relaxed in their sunny courtyard garden and although we didn’t eat here, the food being served at other tables looked lovely and the staff we’re welcoming and friendly. I would certainly return.

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I must add at this point that I had downloaded a nifty little app from ‘Welcome to Scotland’ (as mentioned in the hotel literature). This was an invaluable source of information and a quick look during coffee had shown us that Rockcliffe would be a nice place to visit and do some walking. On the way we spotted a large advertising board in a field for The Steamboat Inn and with its promise of fresh seafood we found ourselves heading for Carsethorne.

Carsethorne is a small ‘one way in and out’ fishing village on the banks of the Solway. The Inn was full of character and packed full of coastal and countryside ‘nick nacks’ and the outdoor space on the edge of the water was a relaxing area with floral displays, plenty of seating and shady umbrellas. It was sunny but breezy so we opted to eat inside and sat in deep armchairs beside the unlit fire (it still felt cosy though) and because of our seating arrangement we decided on the sharing platter of various seafood items, chicken, wedges and dips. It was all very nice but I’ve no photo to show you so you’ll have to take my word for it.

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We headed outside to finish our drinks and sat marveling at the vastness of the Solway Firth and beauty of the countryside surrounding it. Then, feeling pleased with ourselves that our chance culinary find had turned out to be a good decision, we headed to Rockcliffe.

Rockcliffe is a very small coastal village situated on the eastern side of the river Urr estuary and on arrival we could see immediately that we’d made a good choice. The small car park had a very useful information point and a short stroll led us to a shore that was stunningly beautiful.

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At low tide the water is so shallow there’s not even a ripple and it seems frozen in time plus the firm mud and a natural causeway means it’s possible to walk over to Rough Island however, it’s important to check the tide tables in advance.

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We opted to walk one of the circular routes to Kippford and back. This was an easy to moderate walk of approx. 3.25 miles on well signed and maintained footpaths throwing up beautiful scenery along the way along with gorgeous houses and gardens.

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We definitely had a touch of ‘location envy’ and we weren’t alone in enjoying this area with people passing us at intervals and all with a friendly greeting.

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What I wasn’t expecting was a ghoulish hidden Grotto full of items not out of place in a ‘Ghost Train’ ride. So was the sense of humour of one local who had opened up this little part of his land to the passing public.

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Walking into Kippford was one of those ‘who’d have thought this place was here’ moments as we were met with whitewashed cottages, a harbour of sailing boats, cafes and a pub! Yes a Pub! I mean, don’t we all dream of a lovely country pub at the end of a lovely walk? Well, halfway through in this case but we like a pit stop! and so we had one at the Anchor Hotel. It was lovely to sit outside the in the sun and take in the ever changing  green of the landscape as the sun and clouds tussled with each other in the sky. We even had a bit of company!

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The return part of the walk would take us along the Jubilee Path on more elevated ground away from the water but just as pleasant. At the end of this walk we mused about how lovely it must be to live somewhere like this, and at that point I realised I was in danger of checking out Rightmove and hauling my belongings across the border!

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The joys of the day had taken its toll so relaxation was the order of the evening with room service food (again so tasty and well presented) a few drinkies.

The following morning after waving bye bye to our car, which was being transported back home, we decided the head back in the direction we came and pay a visit to Gretna Green. Even though I’d heard it had become very commercial since its humble beginnings I still had to visit the site of many an elopement, a beacon of hope for many and the end point of many a carriage chase…The Blacksmiths Cottage!

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Yes, it is very busy with tourists in abundance but I must admit the whole ‘complex’ as I’ll call it is very well designed, looks nice and welcoming and has lots of shops and facilities. However, I was only really interested in the history of The Blacksmiths Cottage so headed straight for the Gretna Green Story Exhibition. Here the story was brought to life and with interactive elements, story boards, memorabilia and more. For me though, just to stand there in the spots where so many hearts had been united in love was worth the visit for me.  I could feel something special about the place and even shared a couple of quick kisses with Ron while holding hands and striking the famous anvils (there’s more than one and the original is housed in a glass case).

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We’d didn’t hang around to find each other again in the Courtship Maze or shop for souvenirs instead choosing to drive to Carlisle as I’d not been there before.

To be honest I don’t even have a photograph from Carlisle. It wasn’t easy to find your way to the car parking and even the castle didn’t inspire me to walk up to its walls (I LOVE castles, but strangely this one held no draw for me, was it not picturesque enough after the beauty of the D&G? Was I just weary, I can’t put my finger on it)? A quick walk around the town centre had me impressed with Carlisle as a great place for a day of shopping and lunch with friends, with its many eateries, al fresco seating and a good mixture of shops.

We had such a great time that heading home we were already talking of a return to D&G. We’d like to visit areas including Kirkcudbright, known as the Artists’ Town and the Galloway Forest Park which is a haven for walkers, cyclists, adventurers and Dark Skies enthusiasts.

If you’ve visited any of the areas I’ve enjoyed/plan to visit or have any recommendations let me know. Did you or someone you know get married at Gretna Green? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks again for reading, bye for now. June xx