London – Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection, London, 15 July 2017 (8)

The Wellcome Collection on the Euston Road is one of my favourite London museums/galleries and is, in my opinion, one of the capital’s most underrated. When one of my friends suggested we visit it after our recent afternoon tea, I happily agreed.

The museum houses a series of unusual objects collected by the Victorian philanthropist, entrepreneur and science patron Henry Wellcome. It’s also home to a permanent collection that explores the human body, science and medicine.

Wellcome Collection, London, 15 July 2017 (7)

Our first stop on arriving was Medicine Now, one of the permanent collections, that explores a series of ideas about medicine and science since the 1930s. The exhibition is filled with lots of interesting objects, including a transparent model of a woman where you can light up different organs in the body. We had great fun learning where the different organs were, some of which weren’t where we expected to find them! There was also a plastinated body slice on display, which was fascinating, and we spent ages debating whether or not it was a man or a woman.

We then had a look around the temporary exhibition, A Museum of Modern Nature, which runs until 8 October 2017. The exhibition features a series of objects, donated by members of the public, that represent what nature means to them. Some of the objects (such as antlers donated by wildlife expert Chris Packham) made perfect sense, others were far more abstract. My favourite item on display was a research chart compiling the daily behaviours of a group of apes and I spent ages poring over the records trying to decode some of the activities featured.

The second permanent collection, Medicine Man, features a series of objects collected by Henry Wellcome on his travels. It’s a curious mix of artifacts that includes a toothbrush that allegedly once belonged to Napoleon, masks from different parts of the world, a lock of George III’s hair, very painful looking Victorian forceps and other medical instruments, and Japanese sex toys.

There’s also a series of paintings – some of which, including one set in purgatory, are downright bizarre. The collection’s eye-opening and fascinating, and there were lots of cries of ‘look at this!’, as well as debates as to what various objects were used for.

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Before leaving, we headed upstairs to the Reading Room (above). It’s a lovely space, surrounded by bookshelves filled with books you can borrow and read in one of the comfy looking chairs or bean bags, and tables featuring board games. There are also a few paintings and objects on display, including another plastinated body slice. It’s a very relaxing space and I could easily have sat down with a book and settled in for an hour or two.

I’ve been to the Wellcome Collection many times and I never tire of the curiosities on display. Each time I go I find something new I hadn’t noticed before among the quirky and intriguing objects Henry Wellcome collected on his travels. If you’re looking for a museum in London that’s a little different to the norm, add the Wellcome Collection to your itinerary.

Info
Wellcome Collection
183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
Free
10am-6pm, Tuesday to Sunday, (open until 10pm on Thursdays)

wellcomecollection.org

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London – The Encounter at the National Portrait Gallery

I had a couple of hours to spare before meeting my friends for afternoon tea at Bea’s of Bloosmbury so I headed to my favourite museum/art gallery in London – the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square.

I was keen to see one of the gallery’s temporary exhibitions, The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt, which runs until 22 October. The exhibition features 48 portraits by European Renaissance and Baroque artists such as Hans Holbein the Younger, Rembrandt van Rijn, Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci.

The portraits were all drawn on paper using coloured chalks, pen and ink, or metalpoint, and this simplicity lent an intimacy to the exhibition. The craft and skill on display was incredible, and it might sound silly, but I was struck by how lifelike all the portraits were. They looked like real people as opposed to slightly distorted drawings or caricatures and I felt as though I was seeing a true reflection of what the sitter looked like.

Of all the portraits featured, those by the 16th century Italian artist Annibale Carracci were my favourite. The exhibition featured four portraits that were either drawn by the artist or attributed to the artist – one was of the lutenist Giulio Pedrizzano, while the others were of unknown young men and boys. The portraits were excellent and really seemed to capture the essence of the sitters.

Hans Holbein the Younger is one of my favourite portraitists, largely because I like his portraits from his time at Henry VIII’s court. The exhibition featured seven of his portraits, mostly of unnamed people, but one of the portraits was of John More, the father of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Thomas More. The one thing that struck me about Holbein’s portraits was the lifelikeness of the eyes. In one portrait, the eyes looked so true to life they looked like a photograph.

Despite being one of the headline artists, there’s only one portrait by Leonardo da Vinci in the exhibition, but it’s an exceptional piece of portraiture and shows why he’s one of the greatest artists of all time. The portrait is that of a naked man and he’s captured his form perfectly in a deceptively simple drawing.

I really enjoyed The Encounter, it’s a small exhibition (it only took half an hour to see everything) but interesting. The skills showcased by the artists are astonishing and it was great to see such simple, but incredible, works of art. Photos weren’t allowed, which is why there aren’t any accompanying pictures. But if you like portraiture and drawing, and are in London, the exhibition is well worth seeing.

Info
The Encounter: Drawings from Leondardo to Rembrandt
National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London WC2H 0HE
Adults £8, concessions £6.50, free for members
Until 22 October 2017

npg.org.uk

 

London – Afternoon tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury

Afternoon tea, Bea's of Bloomsbury, London, 15 July 2017 (3)

When my friends suggested we go for afternoon tea for my birthday recently, I jumped at the chance. I love afternoon tea. One of my friends works for a foodie magazine so after asking one of her colleagues where we should go, we had a shortlist of Bea’s of Bloomsbury, the Dean Street Townhouse and the Berkeley Hotel.

I plumped for Bea’s of Bloomsbury as I liked their menu and at £24.50 for a full afternoon tea, it wasn’t too expensive compared to some afternoon teas in the capital – some charge eye-watering sums of money.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury is a small chain of cafés across London specialising in cakes, pastries and afternoon tea. They have outlets in Bloomsbury, St Paul’s, Marylebone, Farringdon and Maida Vale, but we decided to go to the Bloomsbury branch so we could visit the nearby Wellcome Collection afterwards.

The Bloomsbury branch is tiny, so booking is essential as it was pretty much full the entire time we were there. We were welcomed inside, and as the first afternoon tea customers of the day had our choice of tables, so we opted for a table opposite the counter. We all chose the full afternoon tea menu – they also have vegetarian and wheat-free options, as well as menus that include a glass of prosecco or champagne.

Afternoon tea, Bea's of Bloomsbury, London, 15 July 2017 (2)

The food soon arrived – a mouthwatering array of mini brioche rolls filled with: avocado and dukkha spiced yoghurt; parma ham with mascarpone cream, fig relish and honey; egg mayonnaise and cress; and smoked salmon and crème fraiche. Along with plain scones served with jam and clotted cream; a selection of mini cake bites including brownies, blondies and meringues; and a full-sized cupcake each. All was washed down with a giant pot of English breakfast tea.

The brioche rolls were great, if a little messy – some were easy to cut up into bite-sized chunks and eat, others (egg mayo) less so. The smoked salmon and crème fraiche was my favourite as its one of my favourite sandwich combinations. I didn’t like the avocado with dukkha spiced yoghurt as much as it lacked flavour and I found it a little odd and tasteless. Everything else was good though and it was nice to have something different to the standard cucumber and cream cheese.

The scones were lovely and weren’t too big – sometimes the scones are massive and a meal unto themselves, leaving you full before you get to the patisserie. And I enjoyed having a selection of miniature cakes as it meant you could try a little of everything. We just about managed to eat all the mini bites, but had no room left for the cupcakes so we had these boxed up to take away with us.

As it was my birthday, my friends insisted I take them home with me and the cupcakes (chocolate oreo and red velvet) were incredible – beautifully light, moist sponge topped with a buttercream that wasn’t too sickly or sweet.

One of the things that made the experience so good was the friendly and helpful staff. They’d playfully joke with us as they brought out our teas, rolls and cakes, and when we asked for an extra plate or knife, they were happy to help. Great service often makes or breaks these experiences, but I couldn’t fault the staff, and it was a chilled, comfortable place to while away a few hours.

If you’re looking for somewhere to have afternoon tea in London that won’t break the bank, Bea’s of Bloomsbury is a great place to try. It was a lovely, relaxing experience and the food was good. And if you have any suggestions of other places that offer an excellent afternoon tea in London (Brown’s Hotel do a great one, too), please share them in the comments.

Info
Bea’s of Bloomsbury, 44 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8NW
Open Monday-Friday, 7.30am-7pm, Saturday-Sunday 10am-7pm
From £24.50 for full afternoon tea
beas.london

Bath

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Famed for its Roman Baths and gorgeous Georgian architecture, Bath is a compact, picture-perfect city. Despite its undeniable good looks, I have a complicated relationship with the city as I once spent a month living there and loathed every minute. Nine years after vowing never to set foot in the city again, I decided the time was ripe to revisit it – and surprisingly, I didn’t hate it. In fact, I kinda liked it…

On arriving in Bath, we headed straight for the city centre and the main shopping district to get our bearings. It was a Friday, so the main streets were really busy with shoppers and filled with the usual big-name high street stores, so we wandered past without stopping. We ambled up Stall Street first, past the Roman Baths, then Union Street and Milsom Street.

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After cutting a swathe through the city centre, we carried on northwards until we reached The Circle. The well-known circular avenue is home to some beautiful Georgian villas and we stopped to admire the architecture and take a few photos before heading to the left down Brock Street to the famed Royal Crescent. The Royal Crescent is delightful and is quintessentially Bath to me. When you’re there, it’s hard not to imagine Jane Austen’s heroines ambling across the gardens in front of it or calling upon a friend in one of the houses for tea.

Having stopped to admire it, we then headed back towards the city centre. The lanes and alleyways that lead off the main shopping streets are teeming with independent shops and we spent quite a bit of time weaving in and out the lanes, looking in the many excellent shops.

By now, it was lunchtime and we were getting hungry, so we decided to stop somewhere for lunch. Luckily, we were spoilt for choice as Bath is filled with fantastic places to eat. The Bertinet Bakery, which sells gorgeous breads, pastries and cakes, left my mouth watering and tummy rumbling. I was sorely tempted by the lusciously plump Bath buns and croissants, but thinking I needed something more substantial for lunch, decided to come back later to pick some up on my way home. This turned out to be a huge error as when we went back two hours later, they were all gone!

We ended up stopping at Rosarios, a tiny Sicilian café in Northumberland Place (they also have a branch in Bristol). The food was delicious and the service friendly and welcoming. I had a lovely Caprese salad washed down with a glass of homemade lemonade infused with basil and ginger. We were so impressed with the food, and their homemade pesto, that we asked for a pot of the pesto to take away with us.

Tummies full, we headed to the Roman Baths to continue our sightseeing. The Roman Baths are a series of bathing pools built around natural hot springs that date back to Roman times. There’s a museum built around them, which tells you about their history, the people who would have used the baths and showcases Roman artefacts from the site. You can also see the remains of some of the original Roman buildings.

We arrived at the baths around 2pm, which turned out to be a big mistake as a number of school groups arrived at the same time. Undeterred we headed inside, but the place was heaving and the museum packed with people standing around listening to their audio guides and blocking the displays and pathways.

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The baths themselves were lovely and we were able to wander around those fairly easily, but we weren’t able to get in to see many of the displays as there were too many people, refusing to move. As a result, I didn’t see much of the museum. I like to look at all the artefacts and read the accompanying information, but I would have been there for hours trying to do this and after a few frustrating attempts, gave up. Instead I squeezed past where I could and stopped off at the quieter displays.

What I did see was interesting and there’s clearly a lot of history to see and read about, but the Roman Baths really needs to think about capping the visitor numbers as the hoards of people made for an unpleasant visitor experience.

On leaving the baths, we headed next door to Bath Abbey. The abbey was founded in the 8th century as a Benedictine monastery and its claim to fame is that King Edgar, the first king of England, was crowned in the abbey in 973.

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The abbey is a beautiful piece of architecture and is similar to most English cathedrals. We had a good look around the abbey, admiring the building, especially the lovely stained glass windows and high decorative ceilings.

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Having explored the abbey, we wandered towards the River Avon to take a look at Pulteney Bridge and Weir. Pulteney Bridge is an 18th century covered bridge, home to shops and cafés. The Georgian bridge is a charming sight, so we stopped to take some photos, before strolling along it and looking in all the shops.

I enjoyed my day trip to Bath, even the disappointing visit to the Roman Baths, and I’d go back again. The highlight was discovering so many incredible foodie places and I’m going to have to go back just to try some of the tempting cafés and restaurants we didn’t get a chance to visit – and I will definitely be stopping by The Bertinet Bakery to pick up a much-longed for Bath bun!

Info

The Bertinet Bakery
1 New Bond Street Place, Bath BA1 1BH

Open 8am-5pm Monday-Friday, 8.30am-5.30pm Saturday
bertinet.com/bertinetbakery/bakery.php

Rosarios Café
18 Northumberland Place, Bath BA1 5AR

rosarioscafe.co.uk

The Roman Baths
Abbey Church Yard, Bath BA1 1LZ
romanbaths.co.uk

Bath Abbey
Abbey Church Yard, Bath BA1 1LZ
bathabbey.org  

London – The Design Museum and Holland Park

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Last weekend I was in London to catch up with friends and top of our to-do-list was the recently opened Design Museum in Kensington. On arriving in London, instead of taking the tube from Paddington to High Street Kensington, I strolled down to the station via Kensington Gardens.

I’d forgotten how lovely Kensington Gardens can be as I walked past the Italian Gardens, the lake and Kensington Palace. It was late morning so the park was busy with lots of people milling around and admiring the grand palace, but it was nevertheless a pleasant way to start the day.

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After meeting my friends, we headed up Kensington High Street to the Design Museum. The museum, which reopened last November, is situated in the old Commonwealth Institute at the bottom of Holland Park. The first thing that struck me on going inside was the architecture. It’s suitably modern and innovative for a design museum, a mixture of wood, concrete and glass manipulated into eye-catching shapes and forms.

The first exhibition we visited was Designer, Maker, User on the second floor, which looks at the role each one plays in the design experience. The exhibition was really well curated and there were lots of interesting things to look at – from models of towers designed by Zaha Hadid to road signs and a kitchen made entirely from wood.

Among the every day and iconic objects on display were wellies, Game Boys and Philippe Starck’s famous lemon squeezer. I especially enjoyed the display of posters by the Italian manufacturer Olivetti and the technology, which brought back lots of memories.

We squealed and gasped as we reminisced over the seemingly ancient pieces of technology we used to own, such as the Walkman, Sega Mega Drive, Nokia mobile and old Apple Mac computers.

The only downside to the exhibition was it was teeming with people and there was so much to look at, it was a sensory overload and hard to know where to look. But it was a fun trip down memory lane and it’s crazy to think that so many items from my childhood are now museum pieces!

We then stopped by another exhibition about how technology could be used to support an ageing population. I’m not sure how feasible some of the designs were in practice, but it was intriguing to see the innovative ideas and I’d be interested to see whether any of them take off. All in all, the Design Museum was fun, but if you’re not going to the paid-for exhibitions, it doesn’t take long to get round it all.

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After our tour of the museum, we made our way up through Holland Park and had lunch at the café there. I love Holland Park, I always think it’s underrated, and I’d love it if they did more to restore the area around old Holland House as it was looking rather sad and forlorn. It’s such a pretty park, and if you get away from some of the more popular areas (the beautiful Kyoto Garden, above, and the café), it’s quite peaceful.

We stopped by the Kyoto Garden on our way through the park to see the water feature and meet the peacocks and fish who call it home.

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We then carried on walking all the way up to Notting Hill and Portobello Road. We all used to work around Portobello Road, so we had a great time revisiting some of our old haunts –magazine emporium Rococo; Mr Christian’s deli (home to London’s best sandwiches); quirky interiors shop Graham & Green: and Pedlars, an eclectic gift shop and café.

But our final destination was the Lisboa Patisserie on Goldborne Road (above). The teeny Portuguese café sells the best pastel de nata in London and when we arrived the queue was out the door. But the creamy custard tarts were, as always, well worth the wait! A perfect end to a great nostalgia-fest in West London.

Info
The Design Museum
224-238 Kensington High Street, London W8 6AG

Free
Open 10am-6pm, daily
designmuseum.org

Lisboa Patisserie
57 Goldborne Road, London W10 5NR
Pastel de nata £1.25 each

London – The Charterhouse

Last Friday, the Charterhouse, near Smithfield Market in London, opened to visitors for the first time in its 700+ year history. I’d walked past the medieval manor many times when I lived in London, always dying to have a peek inside, so when I was in London yesterday, my friends and I decided it was time to have a look around.

The Charterhouse dates back to the mid-14th century when the area was used as a burial ground for victims of the Black Death. In 1371, a Carthusian monastery was built on the site and it remained a monastery until the reformation when it was turned into a grand Tudor house.

In 1611, Sir Thomas Sutton bought the house and decreed in his will that it should become an almshouse for 80 destitute, old or disabled men, as well as a boys’ school. Today, it’s still an almshouse – its residents are called Brothers, and last year, it decided to admit women for the first time.

The Charterhouse offers £10 tours at set times of the day around the Great Hall, Great Chamber, Wash-house Court and Master’s Court. You can also book a two-hour behind-the-scenes tour with one of the Brothers, which costs £15, in advance online. Unfortunately we arrived late in the day so we weren’t able to go on a tour, but we still took the opportunity to have a look around the Charterhouse’s museum.

The museum is housed in two long narrow corridors and takes visitors back in time through the estate’s history from the present day to the Black Death. The museum was really interesting, if a little cramped due to its narrowness – it was a tight squeeze at times trying to get past the other people.

But I really enjoyed learning about the Charterhouse’s history, especially some of its colourful past brothers and its illustrious list of governors, such as Queen Victoria and Oliver Cromwell. There were also some intriguing artefacts on display, including lovely pieces of old wooden furniture (age unknown) and a skeleton of a plague victim. After touring the museum, we had a look around the chapel, too – a small, charming space.

The Charterhouse’s opening is still in its infancy and it will officially open to the public later this year. A café is also due to open in February. The Charterhouse museum was fascinating and it has whetted my appetite to further explore this intriguing piece of London’s history and I’d love to go back at a later date for a full tour with one of the Brothers.

Info
The Charterhouse, Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6AN
Free
11am-4.45pm, Tuesday to Sunday
thecharterhouse.org

Bletchley Park

I was given the GCHQ Puzzle Book for Christmas, and while I’ve only solved the first three puzzles so far, it reminded me that I’ve not yet blogged about my visit to Bletchley Park, the centre of Britain’s code-breaking activities during the Second World War.

I have an incredible amount of respect for the men and women who worked so hard to crack the secret messages being sent by enemy forces during the war, largely because I’m so appallingly awful at deciphering codes and am in awe of those who can unravel the seemingly indecipherable series of letters, symbols and numbers.

So on a crisp November morning, I caught the train from Euston to Bletchley Park to visit the famed site. The museum is made up of a series of blocks and huts, each housing different exhibitions on aspects of code-breaking and the war, as well as the grand mansion house and quaint village adjoining it.

I started my visit in Block C, the modern visitor centre opened in 2014. After a spot of tea and cake, I made my way to an interactive exhibition, hosted by McAfee, that looks at the effects of code-breaking on cyber security today. Entitled Secrecy and Security – Keeping Safe Online, I had great fun having a go at the interactive activities, before moving onto another exhibition that acted as an introduction to code-breaking.

Feeling suitably primed, I then visited Block B, the museum home to enigma machines, Hitler’s ‘unbreakable’ cipher machine and a replica of the bombe, the famed machine that helped computing legend Alan Turing and co. break the enigma code. The bombe was huge and I was amazed by its size and complexity.

I was also really interested in a display dedicated to Alan Turing’s life and works. I hadn’t known much about the founding father of modern computing before seeing The Imitation Game, but the exhibition was really informative and insightful, and helped further my understanding of this great man. There were lots of really good exhibits within Block B and I spent ages looking at them all, inspecting the objects and reading the various display panels.

On leaving Block B, I walked around the edge of the lake to the mansion to take a look around the grand building. Inside I found replicas of how the offices within would have looked during the Second World War – in short, very attractive. Then I had a stroll around the charming little village that adjoins the mansion, including the old fashioned Post Office and a garage home to vehicles from the 1940s.

Then it was on to my last stop of the day – the code-breaking huts, the pre-fab buildings where the code-breakers worked during the war. The huts were full of displays aimed at giving visitors an insight into how the code-breakers worked.

One of the huts was home to a series of interactive games around topics such as probability to help further your understanding of code-breaking and I enjoyed having a go at the activities. There was also a replica of Alan Turing’s office, as well as a display dedicated to pigeons and the way in which they were used to send messages during the war. All in all, the exhibits were interesting and again, there was quite a bit to see.

I really enjoyed my day at Bletchley Park. There were so many exhibits, it pretty much took a full day to get around them all. I came away even more fascinated then I already was by code-breaking (hence, the puzzle book for Christmas) and the men and women who did it for a living. Seriously fascinating stuff and well worth a visit.

Info
The Mansion, Bletchley Park, Sherwood Drive, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK3 6EB
Open 9.30-5pm, daily (Mar-Oct), 9.30am-4pm, daily (Nov-Feb)
£17.25 adults, £15.25 concessions, £10.25 children aged 12-17 years, free for children under 12 years
bletchleypark.org.uk

Winchester

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I’d been dying to go to Winchester for ages. Partly, because it was the ancient capital of England, and partly, because I’ve been reading lots of Norman history books and the city crops up a lot as the setting for quite a bit of drama. So after years of ‘I must go…’ and not doing anything about it, I finally bit the bullet and caught the train from London.

Did it live up to expectations? Absolutely. The ye olde part of Winchester is pretty, so very, very pretty. One of those picture perfect English towns with quaint, charming buildings at every turn. It’s also steeped in history, there’s lots to see and do, and oodles of great food. I just wish I’d hopped on that train a few years earlier…

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My first stop on my autumnal visit was the imposing cathedral. The magnificent stone building, reputedly the longest medieval cathedral in Europe, was commissioned by William I and opened in 1093, on the site of an old important church that dated back to 635AD. The site has long had strong royal connections with Alfred the Great buried in the original church, William II buried in the present cathedral and as the venue for Mary I’s wedding to Philip II of Spain. It’s also home to the Winchester Bible, one of the world’s best preserved bibles from the 12th century.

Unbeknown to be, I’d picked the Hampshire Harvest Festival weekend for my trip to the city and the impressive cathedral was decked out in agricultural displays, with harvest sculptures and lots of fruits, vegetables and flowers. The architecture was incredible and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Jane Austen was buried in the cathedral. Along with her gravestone, there’s a gold memorial window on one of the walls commemorating her. Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors, so it was nice to see the place where she was laid to rest and to pay my respects.

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My next stop was Wolvesey Castle just down the road from the cathedral. Now ruined, Wolvesey Castle was the medieval home of the powerful bishops of Winchester and was built by the former bishop Henry of Blois, brother of King Stephen, in the 12th century. The extensive collection of ruins gives you an idea of the former grandeur and scale of the palace, and I had a great time exploring the crumbling collection of stone walls and discovering lots of nooks and crannies. The palace must have been an amazing sight in its day and it’s a shame it’s no longer standing in all its glory.

Feeling hungry after the ruined castle, I walked back towards the cathedral grounds to have a look around the many stalls that had popped up for the harvest festival. There were stalls selling all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables, and local produce such as cheeses and ciders. Tempted by the wonderful smells coming from one of the stalls, I bought a burger for lunch – I don’t normally eat burgers, but this one was delicious and really hit the spot. I really enjoyed taking in the festival as harvest festivals aren’t something that are celebrated at home. I’d definitely look at coinciding any future visits to Winchester with the harvest festival – if only, to indulge in all the great foods in the market.

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The next stop on my busy itinerary was Winchester City Museum (above), a charming museum that charts the city’s history from Roman times to the present day. I started on the ground floor, which recreated a number of Winchester shops from the Victorian and Edwardian ages; then moved up to the first floor, which focused on the city during Anglo-Saxon and medieval times; and finally, the second floor, which explored the city’s Roman past and featured a stunning mosaic floor. I enjoyed the museum, it was only small and didn’t take long to get around, but it was interesting and informative.

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I then headed to Winchester College (above). The boys’ school was founded in 1382 and is the oldest school in the country. I was educated in a state school and so public schools are a whole other world for me. I’d never been inside one before, although I have had a sneaky peek into Eton’s courtyard, so I decided to join one of the guided tours around the school.

The hour-long tour took us around some of the oldest parts of the college, including the chapel, the hall and the medieval cloisters. Our group was small and our guide very informative, and it was a fascinating experience. I learned a lot and it gave me a good insight into the public school system in the UK and the merits of attending one. I was really glad I’d decided to join the tour, and would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the city. The architecture within the school is magnificent – the wooden roof in the chapel, for example, is exquisite.

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On leaving the college and making my way back towards the town centre, I stopped outside Jane Austen’s old house. The yellow painted building is where the author died and is marked by a solemn slate plaque (above).

My last stop on my day’s itinerary was the Great Hall and Round Table. The Great Hall is a grand medieval building, the only surviving part of Winchester Castle, which was otherwise destroyed on the orders of Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century. On the far wall, a large table top, which resembles a dart board and is reputedly the Round Table, dominates the room.

Having admired the Round Table and a few displays in the room, I then wandered through a door at the other end of the hall to a small, pretty garden. Queen Eleanor’s Garden, named after Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, is a recreation of a medieval garden and is a sweet space. And after a quick tour, I moved on to the gallery, a small, interesting exhibition that traces the history of the castle and the Great Hall.

I had a wonderful day in Winchester. I was bowled over by how utterly charming and delightful the medieval sections of the city are and as history buff, adored all the old buildings and historical sites. It was a really fun and informative day, and I can’t wait to go back. It’s definitely somewhere worth revisiting.

Info
Winchester Cathedral, The Close, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 9LS
9.30am-5pm Mon-Sat, 12.30-3pm Sun (all year round)
£7.95 Adults, £5.95 concessions, children go free when visiting with family
winchester-cathedral.org.uk

Wolvesey Castle
Winchester, Hampshire SO23 9NB
10am-5pm, daily (April-October)
Free entry

english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wolvesey-castle-old-bishops-palace/

Winchester City Museum
The Square, Winchester SO23 9ES
10am-5pm, Mon-Sat, 12-5pm, Sun (April-October); 10am-4pm, Mon-Sat, 12-4pm (Sun) (November-March)
Free entry

Winchester College
73 Kingsgate Street, Winchester, Hampshire S023 9PE
£7.00 adults, £6.00 concessions
winchestercollege.org

 

The Ginstitute

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Gin has never been my tipple of choice, I’m more of a rum and tequila girl, but when one of my friends asked if I fancied spending an afternoon making my own gin, I jumped at the chance.

The Ginstitute experience at The Portobello Star in London’s Notting Hill is essentially a three-hour masterclass in gin – an hour-long history of the spirit, followed by a gin making tutorial.

While the history of gin was fascinating (I had no idea there was so much drama attached to it), it was the gin making that I really enjoyed. During our tutorial, we sampled and learned all about the different botanicals that can be used in gins and that when combined, give each gin its own distinct flavour. Botanicals included citruses such as lemon peel, smokier flavours such as celery salt, spices such as cinnamon, florals such as rose and then random stuff like asparagus.

To make your own gin, you start off with a base of Portobello Road’s signature gin, then choose your preferred botanicals to add to it – the idea is to choose a mix (no more than seven) from across the spectrum, making sure to include one from each of the four groups eg one floral, one citrus, etc. The gin instructor then takes your choices and adds a bit of each one to create your own unique gin.

What surprised me most was how different everybody’s custom-made gin tasted. There were seven of us in our group and each gin was markedly different. My gin, according to my far more knowledgeable friend, apparently tastes quite similar to Hendrick’s.

Throughout the experience, we were furnished with a constant, flowing and very welcome supply of gin with a gin and tonic on arrival, followed by a Tom Collins (delicious; gin, lemon, sugar and soda water), followed by another gin and tonic, then another Tom Collins, and at the end, a gin martini…

We left The Ginstitute very happy (having stayed on afterwards for more gin cocktails in The Portobello Star) armed with two bottles of gin and some tonic. What’s more, The Ginstitute keeps a record of the gin you made, so you can order more bottles in the future.

The whole experience was great fun and one I’d definitely recommend, especially if you’re looking for something special and a little bit different to do. I certainly came away with a new found respect and appreciation of gin. Cheers!

Info
The Ginstitute, The Portobello Star, 171 Portobello Road, London W11 2DY
£110 per person (includes five cocktails and two bottles of gin)
theginstitute.com

 

 

Layer Marney Tower

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Conceived as a grand Tudor palace to rival Hampton Court, Layer Marney in Essex, despite its owner’s grand plans, was left unfinished with only its tower making it past the design stages. Set in the scenic Essex countryside between Colchester and Witham, Layer Marney Tower is an intriguing place to visit.

Boasting the tallest Tudor tower in the country (it’s a 99-step climb to the top), the curious stately pile, which was commissioned by Henry, Lord Marney, is a striking building and magnificent to behold. It’s surrounded by pretty gardens, a small farm and the local parish church. It doesn’t take long to wander around the Tower and the gardens, but it’s a charming place to spend an hour or two.

Some of the highlights include the cute and playful children’s wallpaper to be seen in one of the rooms within the tower and the splendid views from the top of the tower towards the Blackwater River. The Long Gallery with its grand, dark timber beamed ceiling and large wooden fireplace (which can be hired as a wedding venue) is lovely. While the little church is the resting of place of various Marneys through the ages, some boast fine marble tombs.

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Following our trip to Layer Marney Tower my friends and I headed over to the Tiptree Jam Shop and Tea Room in nearby Tiptree for lunch. When my friend mentioned the factory I swore blind that I’d never heard of Tiptree jam – it was only when I saw a jar that I realised it was the jam I’d always thought of as Wilkin & Sons (above).

Lunch was great, the portions were huge and the cream tea to die for. After lunch we headed over to the factory shop. I had no idea Tiptree made so many different varieties of jams and chutneys – think of a fruit, they probably have it in some form. I opted for a jar of my favourite strawberry and champagne conserve, the hot gooseberry chutney and the tomato chutney, although I was also tempted by the delicious sounding raspberry with cassis miniature. So much choice, so little room to carry it all home!

Info

Layer Marney Tower, Layer Marney, nr Colchester, Essex C05 9US
Adults £7, Children £4.50
layermarneytower.co.uk

Tiptree Jam Shop and Tea Room, Wilkin & Sons Limited, Tiptree, Essex CO5 0RF
Open seven days a week
trooms.com