Bath weekend (Citadel Lodge Ladies Festival) 

We left home after both doing a full day’s work. Traffic was surprisingly light and we made good time. We drove along the M4 straight into the most spectacular sunset – how I wish I had a hands free camera !

We arrived at the Hilton Hotel just as most of the other Lodge guests went into dinner so after a really quick wash and brush up we joined them for a lovely hot buffet and then a quiz, which was quite challenging but fun and believe it or not not our team came 3rd and were all presented with “bronze” medals.

Saturday dawned drizzly and set the tone for the whole day. As we finished our low carb breakfast (in honour of my newly diagnosed high blood pressure) the fire alarm went off and the hotel was evacuated. I have to praise the staff who were calm, efficient and friendly. As it was raining and most people were unprepared for the outdoors we were issued with athlete-style foil wraps. Very fetching – I did wonder if we could convince passers by that we had just run a half marathon ! 

We finally got back in and grabbed a quick coffee before retiring to our room to read the papers. What a treat to have no time restraints.

We eventually headed off into Bath to explore. I can’t tell you the last time I visited Bath, it was probably when I was at school ! It was great being based right in the city centre so we just wandered through town admiring the Georgian architecture.

We landed right in the middle of their week long food festival – The Great Bath Feast – but sadly we didn’t need to have any meals out so couldn’t take full advantage. Would be good to come back next year and eat our way through the weekend.

We found a lovely domed indoor market next to the Guild Hall with plenty of haberdashers, leatherware, delis etc. It’s the oldest shopping venue in the City.  

The Abbey has been a place of worship for more than 1,200 years. Amazing stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings. It was much lighter and brighter than many we’ve visited. On the hour the vicar said a very quick prayer and I was disgusted to see just how many people carried on talking and eating during the approx 3 minute blessing. A sad reflection of life today. 

We passed the Roman baths but decided not to visit  as we had both been in many years ago and the queues were long. The Sacred Spring is directly under the nearby streets.

We wandered through Abbey Green which has a 200 year plane tree surrounded by a cobbled square and little shops and cafes. Apparently this is the area that the Christmas market is held – I can imagine that it’s quite magical.

We had planned to visit the Masonic Museum and the Original Theatre Royal but discovered that it was closed until Tuesday – a bit of a shame.

We came across a lovely Victorian Catholic Church, St John the Baptist. It was surprisingly ornate – absolutely beautiful. Apparently there was uproar when it was built as it didn’t fit in with the Georgian style of the rest of the City. 

The Festival evening itself was really great. The food was fantastic and the toasts etc hit just the right tone of  tradition. The night was rounded off with a brilliant disco which managed to get the music just right for all ages. 

Sunday was much brighter and after checking out of the hotel we decided to do a self conducted tour of Bath (Skyline) 

Starting just behind the Abbey we wandered past Parade Gardens, initially the orchard of the Abbey but which in 1737 became formal gardens, popular with Georgian walkers. 

The weir is at the head of the Avon’s navigation. The locks between Bath and Bristol enabled the transportation of stone, timber, slate. 

The Holburne Museum was originally built as a hotel in the centre of a “new town” but when the Bath City Bank failed in 1793 plans were abandoned. It’s a really impressive museum with so much to look at – really gives a feel of Georgian life and well worth a visit. We had a coffee in their fabulous cafe before proceeding with the walk. 

We had a great walk along the Kennet and Avon Canal. I can’t believe how lucky we were with the weather – carried my coat most of the way.

It must be lovely living in a canalside house with a garden or terrace overlooking the water – can only guess at the cost of such a property. 

Then we climbed up to Bathwick Fields and enjoyed the fantastic views over Bath. Luckily there is a bench placed just at the top of the hill as it really was quite a climb but oh so worth it.

We made our way back down into town, along North Parade over the river Avon.

We stopped off at The Huntsman for a Sunday Roast and a beer. The food was excellent and the staff friendly and made a great end to a lovely weekend.

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Ramsgate

Why Ramsgate you ask ? Well we needed a weekend break and neither of us had been there before – good enough reason!
We left straight from work – always exciting travelling from St Pancras with its smart shops and decor. There’s a “public” piano for anyone to playing and I’ve never yet passed by without someone sitting at it tinkling the ivories.

As you can’t book seats on the HS1 we hurried to St Pancras ignoring bars and cafés in favour of getting to the train early. We needn’t have worried as it was empty when we got on. First time I’ve been on “The Bullet” – quite impressive – plenty of leg room and really clean and shiny. Such a lovely sunny evening for a trip through the Kent countryside. I suppose when it was first proposed there was as much objection as there is now locally for the HS2.

We booked into the glorious and quirky Royal Harbour Hotel and as we knew we would both have busy working days we reserved a table in their restaurant. What a good decision that was, especially as our train was delayed and we were later than planned checking in.

The Empire Room (their restaurant) was superb – definitely the best meal I have had in quite a while. The combination of flavours was fantastic and the atmosphere and staff were lovely. Couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

We had a short stroll looking out to sea in the dark and amazingly saw a thunderstorm right out in the Channel – lightening against the clouds lighting up the sea was spectacular. Then back to the hotel and a sample of their complimentary cheese board (well we hadn’t had a pud). Such a lovely idea and spoilt for choice with quaint lounges to sit in, or the sweet little courtyard garden.

A great view greeted us in the morning. It was initially quite overcast but it soon passed and we had a glorious day.

After a freshly cooked breakfast we headed away from the harbour along to West Cliff whilst pondering the difference between a promenade and an esplanade, enjoying the Georgian and Victorian architecture en route.

The promenade shelters were beautiful and only made relatively recently after an old Victorian postcard was discovered depicting the originals.

We came across a lovely sculpture celebrating the discovery, development and manufacture of innovative medicines in East Kent.

St Augustine”s Church and shrine was really interesting. There were most amazing Stations of the Cross – carved and brightly painted. I’ve never seen anything like it.

One statue of Our Lady had a lamp in the shape of a viking ship.  A nod to the fact that they landed and settled in Ramsgate in 449AD ! 

I was also interested to learn that Catholics weren’t allowed to be MPs until 1829 nor were they allowed to study at Oxford or Cambridge until the 1850s.

We then just meandered around the residential roads enjoying the different house styles and many Churches. It was surprising to suddenly come across a thatched cottage, and the library with its impressive clock tower.

We skirted the shopping area and found ourselves at the harbour. We stopped off at the newly renovated Victoria Pavilion which is now the biggest Wetherspoons in the UK and only opened last week. It’s great that they have preserved such a beautiful building, which had lain derelict for 10 years. I had a quick Thatchers cider purely to be supportive !

We found time for an unheard of siesta and even indulged in a long bath and book – absolute bliss – but I must say I’ve never had a bathroom with a built in TV before ! 

We decided to have the obligatory fish and chips for supper so after a quick cocktail en route we opted to eat at Peter’s Fish Factory. Everything was so crispy and fresh and I even found pea fritters which we rarely find at home. The staff were friendly and attentive and it proved to be a good choice.

We wandered back along the harbour and found a fantastic Latin bar “Coco Latino” with a brilliant saxophonist playing so stopped and had a brandy crusta as a digestive while looking out at the marina – lovely.

We also discovered the Sailor’s Church just on the edge of the harbour. A church downstairs which used to have accommodation above for rescued seamen and fleet apprentices (smack boys).

It’s always a compromise when having a relaxing holiday to choose between a long lie in and wasting the day or getting up early to make the most of it, but after another delicious breakfast (including freshly made fruit salad) we took a stroll to the Addington Street Fair which is held annually and just happens to be this weekend – and is in the street right next to our hotel. 

It was a great atmosphere with plenty to browse ranging from antiques to bakeries – just about everything was covered,  and accompanied by various bands. 

We then had a stroll back down to the harbour and walked down Jacob’s Ladder, which was originally wooden and used by smugglers to carry their finds up to the town (I think our hotel room was the middle floor of the white building above it (both windows). 

After a quick beer/lager stop at The Belgian Cafe we decided to visit the Maritime Museum which had loads of memorabilia from the Dunkirk rescue. Most of the soldiers were brought back to Ramsgate where they were patched up and fed and watered then sent on their way home. In the harbour is still one of the small boats that took part in the rescue. 

Then we took a stroll right to the end of the harbour where we sat with the doughnuts we bought at the street fair whilst watching the boats coming and going. 

The only thing left to do was to sit on the beach and read (snooze) while listening to the sea and seagulls. 

On our way back to the hotel to collect our cases we walked along the chic West Cliff Arcade and stopped off at The Galley for a cream tea – a perfect end to a perfect weekend. We will be back ! 

The Village Show

Preparation for the village show really starts in January for me with marmalade making. That small window of opportunity to buy your Sevilles then the choosing of the recipe.  Delia is always a winner !

As the schedule doesn’t appear until early summer it’s down to guess work for any flower/vegetable sowing but generally looking at the previous year’s list is a good guide.

Chutney really does taste better when matured so the next decision is what fruits and vegetables to use. My favourite by far is rhubarb so as soon as enough fresh pink stalks appear then I’m in my element followed in early summer by gooseberries. Both make an excellent chutney. I tried blueberry this year too but am not bowled over by it.

After several years without even picking up my cross stitch a dear friend started up a needlecraft club in the village earlier this year. It’s given me the kick that I needed, but also, sadly an acute attack of tennis elbow. Nevertheless when I saw that there was a “decorated cushion” category in the village show this year I was spurred on to start a new project. I spent many hours sewing and chatting with both new and old friends and finished my cushion cover just in time (sewn together the night before the show).  

John made some wine : gooseberry, apple, and rhubarb. This will be the first time he has entered anything into a village show and is a somewhat reluctant participant but agrees that more people should take part so there are more entries to look at.

The photography section can be tricky but fun,  interpreting the theme and trying to come up with something a little different. “a garden visitor” conjures up images of sweet grandchildren or cute rabbits. Having spent ages trying to capture a good shot of a bumblebee I ended up with a close up of a revolting fly !

I haven’t put in any fruit or veg this year, I thought I would leave that to the allotment holders. I also haven’t done any baking. I did make a batch of gooseberry jam with the “secret ingredient” of elderflower cordial.

The kids categories are always delightful and the tiny gardens bring back wonderful memories of doing the same when we were little.  Cup cakes and greetings card categories provide brilliant opportunities for creativity and fun. 

Last but not least is the fruit spirit : plum gin from a friend’s plum tree and lemon vodka. The gin is gorgeous but I’m not too sure about the vodka, although everyone else was raving about it. 

So how to choose which items to enter when only one item is permitted per category. Simple answer was a tasting evening. What a fun gathering that was but we didn’t have unanimous winners so had to keep tasting ! By the end of the evening the apple wine and the rhubarb chutney were chosen but we also felt we had to sample not only the marmalade and gooseberry jam but also the plum gin and lemon vodka. 

And so to the morning of the show. Despite repeating to all that “it’s the taking part that counts” you can’t help but feel a little excited and nervous. Packing up my trusty wicker  basket (which gets used once a year and makes me look like Miss Marple) I discovered that the rhubarb chutney that we had enjoyed and chosen on Monday had in fact been my last jar. Curses. The gooseberry and the blueberry had 50/50 votes so it was down John to make a final decision (being forced to eat chutney for breakfast) – he opted for the blueberry. 

The atmosphere when I got to the Church to set up my wares was lovely –  full of laughter and friendliness.   All were made welcome and the Church bells were ringing.  Despite being held in the Church  the show is very definitely for all villagers and every effort has been made to include everyone. 

It was fun placing my items and the committee had done a great job with the organisation of the entry cards etc. It was great to see so many people displaying their entries but so many more could have taken part. The programme went out to every single house in the village so I am a little surprised that more people didn’t enter anything. Personally I love to embrace village life and this is a brilliant chance for all to come together. 

John was the only entry in the homemade wine category but the rules state very clearly that being the only entrant means that you can’t win first class. He did get highly commended which is the best they can give. Not bad for his first time taking part in a village show. 

The moment of truth when you go back to check your results is strangely nerve wracking and I faffed around for ages  looking at other things trying to put off learning my fate. I needn’t have worried as I got 3 first prizes (marmalade, chutney and gin). I was secretly confident about my gin but really couldn’t understand getting a first for my second-choice chutney which I was disappointed with. I also got 3 highly commended (2nd prize) (jam, vodka and cross stitch). 

There was a lovely tea laid on with all homemade cakes and  it would have been rude not to indulge ! Also the bell tower was open for people to have a go. We didn’t try it on this occasion but had previously and found it almost impossible. I now have far more respect for bell ringers. 

Prize giving (the handing out of rosettes) proved to be a little awkward as I had won so many. At one point I hadn’t actually sat down when I was called up again. To my embarrassment this totalled enough points to make me overall 2nd in show and gained me a small trophy (to be given back next year). 

After entrants had collected items that they wanted to save all else was auctioned off. Everything went and we all went home with various produce to try. I’m particularly looking forward to trying the rosehip vodka that I bought. I’m thinking that the high vitamin C content makes it purely medicinal (good excuse). 

All in all a lovely day and I’m already thinking about next year. I will make a real effort to persuade friends and neighbours to take part as there is so much fun to be had and it really is important to support these village events. 

Long Weekend in Chester 

Can’t believe that after such a glorious week (stuck in the office in London) that the bank holiday forecast is so grim. Still nice to get away for a long weekend. 

Unreasonably excited to go on the new M1 slip road from Leighton Buzzard – simple things . . . 

After deliberating train v car we opted to drive – 5 and a half hours later (mainly on the M6)  we think we probably chose the wrong option as the train from Milton Keynes would have been 90mins ! 

The Crowne Plaza in Chester is great – overlooking the racecourse and happens to be a race day.  Once a Roman harbour it gradually silted up and in 1539 became a racecourse, making it the oldest in Britain. 

The streets were teeming with people dressed up to the nines after race going on Saturday evening – a rather poignant moment when a busker played “don’t look back in anger” at The Cross and was immediately surrounded by crowds joining in (tribute to Manchester). 

The buildings in the main streets are known as “Rows” – continuous half-timbered galleries, reached by steps, which form a 2nd row of shops above those at street level. No one knows why they were built this way but it’s very attractive – some date back to the 13th century. 

We did a lovely walk around the perimeter of the city, starting by the canal. One canal bridge is known as Cow Lane Bridge as the cattle used to be grazed outside the city walls in the day then brought back in at night. 

The Phoenix Tower (aka King Charles Tower) is a much restored medieval structure from where Charles l witnessed the defeat of his army by Parliamentary forces. 

We walked along the old city walls – started by the Romans in 70AD and over Grosvenor Bridge, which when it was built in 1832 was the longest stone arch span in the world. 

There were many more bridges over the river Dee. 

After a cider stop at The Ship at Handbridge (a perk of a day with no driving) we followed the river Dee back to the city and crossed the suspension bridge – opened in 1923 – and up to the old Roman amphitheatre.

The amphitheatre  was a bit disappointing as most of it has been covered over to preserve it. Weird to think that exactly where we were standing, in the 1st century people were watching gladiators and bear baiting. 

The Roman gardens were interesting too. 

The ruins of St John’s Church were very atmospheric – it was left in ruin at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. They are reportedly haunted by a monk who wears a cowl and speaks to people in Anglo Saxon ! 

The wrought iron clock at Eastgate was added in 1899 to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. 

After a gorgeous cream tea at Beatons we popped into the Cathedral. The free standing  Bell Tower was built in the 70s when the original tower was deemed too fragile to repair (just not financially viable) – so strange that it’s design is not in keeping with the ancient cathedral – the jury’s still out but I don’t think I like it. 

The cathedral itself has a lovely feel to it. It’s vast and really light. It is Anglican but dedicated to Christ and the Virgin Mary which I didn’t quite understand. The site has been used for worship since Roman times. 

I particularly liked the modern copper nativity sculptures by Tony Evans.  

On the wide pavement outside the Town Hall people had chalked hundreds of tributes to the Manchester victims – very moving and I hadn’t registered how close to Manchester we are. 

When your alarm goes off at 06.30 on bank holiday Monday as you haven’t changed the settings – and you only got to sleep after 04.00 – could kick myself – apologies John I’ll be grumpy all day now ! 

We had a swim, sauna, jacuzzi and steam  in the hotel spa before checking out and wandering back into Chester in the drizzle, for  a browse round the shops. 

Walked a bit of the wall that we missed yesterday and passed the castle. 

Uneventful but long rainy drive home – a fabulous weekend – I would thoroughly recommend Chester for a break.