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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.