Lifestyle: Saying Goodbye to Summer at Castle Ashby Gardens

Whilst the weather is still rather scorching, the sun is still shining, and it’s the Bank Holiday weekend, I’m slowly coming to the realisation that my summer is coming to an end. In just over a week I’ll be trading lie-ins for tube journeys, lazy days with office days, PJs with suits, bare feet with heels.

 photo Castle Ashby Gardens 16_zps0kuqj756.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 18_zpshrcd954v.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 19_zpsxk3imgkl.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 21_zpskifczuqu.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 20_zpsvrrsx5yj.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 26_zpsk1mnd7ed.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 24_zpstaqobzew.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 27_zps5jjhqmfi.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 12_zps2cfwoynh.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 22_zpsquvhfvpy.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 10_zpshhsjgk4t.jpgI mean, I’m excited to start work. If I’m honest waking up knowing I have nothing to do fills me with dread, and I’ve begun to feel like my brain is melting through lack of activity. I’ll be glad to get some kind of daily routine going, I’ll be challenging myself, learning new things and keeping busy. But it will be hard to let go of the laziness. I’ve had longer off this summer than I have since the summer of 2009. I’ve always, always worked through summers, and this one has been the exception.

To make the most of the gorgeous sunshine Northamptonshire has been basking in lately, and to make the most of the countryside whilst we still can, we headed out to Castle Ashby a few weeks ago. A teeny-tiny village, it features a rural shopping yard of galleries and delicatessens, gorgeous houses, and a stately-home with it’s gardens open to the public. The gardens were the reason for our visit, despite costing £5.50 to enter they really are an oasis of calm. Plenty of dappled shade on a hot day, lots of lawn to lay a picnic blanket down and laze about, plenty of flowers to practice setting up my camera manually.

 photo Castle Ashby Gardens 1_zpsvmyd57d1.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 5_zps4ck8jq7o.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 3_zpsw9aa5dqz.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 2_zps0aawyabo.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 4_zpso84oiqxh.jpgAnd the best bit? The meerkats! If I’m completely honest they were my main reason for suggesting a visit to Castle Ashby. I love them! So comical and mischievous, I could (and did) watch them for hours. Our visit was even more special as, wandering around the sides of their enclosure, we noticed a mummy-meerkat bring her babies out of the den for what was apparently the first time. If there’s anything cuter than a meerkat, it’s a meerkat baby!

We found a shaded bench to sit and chat, down by a small lily-pond with a view of their gorgeous terracotta bridge to our right. We watched as fish jumped out of the pond to catch flies, as swallows dived in for a drink. It was the perfect spot for a bit of peace and quiet ahead of our busy week moving our bits and bobs to London.

 photo Castle Ashby Gardens 6_zpspy7b5bnm.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 7_zpskfbiys6p.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 11_zps74ggug2h.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 14_zpsp282azp3.jpg photo Castle Ashby Gardens 15_zpsxnzianew.jpgI tried using the opportunity of the gorgeous backgrounds to take a couple of outfit photos. This failed on several accounts. Firstly, the sun was so bright that looking towards the camera without squinting was difficult – especially in front of the very fashion-blogger-esque distressed brick walls. Secondly, I realised I was wearing a rather old dress. And by old, I mean I bought it five years ago. So some very nice photos of me, wearing a Dorothy Perkins dress you’d be lucky to find anywhere. Oops…

Fashion blogger failure aside, it was lovely to wander through the gardens, stroll through the greenhouses (including one filled with chillis – I was more apprehensive about the tomato filled one!) and learn more about the estate. I loved how well maintained the gardens were, without seeing teams of gardeners around every corner, and agree the funds raised from entry charges was clearly being well used. If only we’d had time to stop in the tea rooms!

Thank you summer’16 – it’s been glorious, but I’m glad it’s coming to an end. Until next year, though I’d welcome the warmth and sunshine for a little longer.

How has your summer been? 

Lifestyle: A Very British Day Out At The Severn Valley Railway

I’m pretty sure that my fiance is a bit of a closet train geek. With a flatmate that worked on the heritage steam railway close(ish) to Birmingham it was probably pretty predictable that it would happen – though a bit of a shock to find train magazines in the loo on my last visit! Alongside the promise of tea and cake for me, I indulged him in a trip to the railway.

 photo Severn Valley Railway 6_zpsgnwxhufg.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 7_zpsf4ql6pld.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 20_zpstieglo3z.jpgAnd what a delightful day it was too!

A steam railway running between Kidderminster and Bridgenorth, the Severn Valley Railway is a 16-mile long track with a journey taking around an hour on a steam-powered train. Passing through some stunning countryside, including a view of the West Midlands Safari Park (I spied elephants and rhinos on this day, although unfortunately failed to have my camera ready at the crucial moment), it really is a lovely day out.

 photo Severn Valley Railway 2_zps2di1cb2m.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 1_zpskrskeupm.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 24_zps3nnb4kks.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 4_zpsqxclxesu.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 5_zpswgtyjwy1.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 22_zpsapxuanvl.jpgWe stopped off at a couple of the stations on the line – first for a spot of mid-morning tea and cake in Arley. We sat down by the river, in a very picturesque spot, and shared a slice of some of the best carrot cake I’ve eaten. The perfect amount of frosting to cake, no dried fruit and a lovely spiced flavour. All worked off with a quick dash back up the hill in time for the next train!

A good chunk of the day was spent in Bridgenorth, a lovely little Midlands town. Plenty of character and independent shops if you take a short stroll from the station – I highly recommend a wander.

 photo Severn Valley Railway 10_zpszixo23qr.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 8_zpsopsed3s2.jpgWe stopped off for lunch at The Pie Room (in BamBoo Wine Bar) – an excellent decision. Serving locally sourced pies with a variety of mash, peas and gravy, the food is my idea of heaven on a plate. Especially when you can choose your size of pie slice! The majority of us went for the Chicken, Leek and Ham Pie with the differences being in the mash. Cheesy was a popular choice (and from the forkful I got, was very tasty too!), garlic was said to be rather overpowering, and my mustard mash was a little disappointing. The wholegrain mustard interferred with the smooth creaminess of the mash, and it needed more of a kick. Maybe a combination of English and wholegrain would work better? That said, the pie was a triumph. Crisp but not dry pastry, tender meat, a creamy sauce, it was pretty much the perfect pie.

 photo Severn Valley Railway 11_zpsui5djnih.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 12_zpsbunloi77.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 15_zpszqlan8sw.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 18_zpsdljm9so3.jpg photo Severn Valley Railway 17_zps4tgtmyqp.jpgThe sensible option having devoured a massive plate of carbs would have been to walk up the hill. But with train enthusiasts in tow? We got the Cliff Railway! A little steep and rickety for my liking, we survived the journey and got set for a good old wander. I found the most charming looking bridal boutique (despite LOVING my dress choice, I’m a little sad that the experience is over), and loved the old-fashioned buildings.

 photo Severn Valley Railway 25_zpshvowo3vp.jpgAnd what should we do when the rain begins to pour? Head into a teashop for more bad things of course – this hot chocolate was one of the best I’ve had in a long while! It was here I managed to get hold of my final university marks – a First Class degree was enough, but knowing just how well I did in my final year made me cry all over again!

 photo Severn Valley Railway 19_zpswj7arpwr.jpgA lovely day with friends, and something slightly different (and not overly expensive!) to do – it definitely broke up the monotony of moving home and sorting out box after box!

What have you been up to lately? What’s the best hot chocolate you’ve ever had?!

Lifestyle: We’re Going to the Zoo

A few weeks ago myself and team ditched an afternoon of spreadsheets for a date with the penguins. This much anticipated away day miraculously coincided with the cancelled train strike and a beautiful summery day.Of course, I couldn’t help myself and took my camera along.

 photo 2015-06-04 13.53.54_zpsdhodkxaj.jpgNow, zoos aren’t exactly my favourite things in the world. I don’t like the thought of animals in captivity, and I’m pretty scarred from the way the big cats used to pace at Twycross. But I also know they are pretty important for conservation of rarer animals. Without breeding programmes, education schemes, and training many animals would be extinct naturally. And London Zoo definitely isn’t one of the worst zoos. The animals look pretty content and, whilst enclosures could be bigger they definitely aren’t crammed in. Edinburgh Zoo beats it hands down, but it’s an attraction in London that isn’t too expensive and provides a fun day out.

 photo 2015-06-04 14.19.46_zpsivus077l.jpg photo 2015-06-04 14.15.36_zpsqysrspda.jpg photo 2015-06-04 14.07.58_zpsgwo0uc1i.jpg photo 2015-06-04 13.57.44_zpsjq5zeuca.jpgWe visited the giraffes first, followed by trying to catch a glimpse of the African Hunting dogs. A wander through the lemur exhibit resulted in one of us being sprayed in the face, whilst we all awh-ed at the otters curled around each other to sleep.

 photo 2015-06-04 15.11.38_zpseokpzk8c.jpg photo 2015-06-04 15.11.46_zpsub4n2arn.jpgWe split up, one group heading to the spider session, the other to the tiger feeding. Being terrified of eight-legged horrors I went tiger, and it was definitely something I won’t forget in a hurry. Absolutely magnificent.

 photo 2015-06-04 15.32.01_zpsne9rsixx.jpg photo 2015-06-04 16.22.36_zpsvhrvakbd.jpg

 photo 2015-06-04 14.40.23_zpsyjqwsnrx.jpg photo 2015-06-04 14.39.14_zpspq0j8sdk.jpg photo 2015-06-04 14.38.36_zpsmfom5eoy.jpgOne of my favourite exhibits was the walk-through butterfly enclosure. I usually avoid these as they tend to group them with the spiders, but here it was separate. Full of butterflies and their flashes of colour, I could have stayed for hours if it wasn’t for the humidity!

We wandered through Gorilla Kingdom before an ice-cream stop, and then managing to find Nemo!

 photo 2015-06-04 16.57.38_zpseexm69co.jpg photo 2015-06-04 16.58.22_zpsendpasu4.jpgPenguin feeding was the last stop of the day. A favourite of just about everyone, I adore penguins. I find them such characters – and I fell in love with Ricky the Rockfeller who bossed all the humble penguins around.
 photo 2015-06-04 14.52.21_zpstekhruhs.jpg

Have you been to London zoo before? What’s your favourite zoo animal?

Lifestyle: Winter Days in Brighton

A few weekends before Christmas I had decidedly itchy feet. I’ve spent since July going between Northamptonshire and Surrey, with two weekends in Canterbury to break it up a little. I was bored, I didn’t want to go into London (it was scarily busy in November, the thought of just travelling through in December was enough to give me palpitations!). But rather luckily I appear to be living on the train line to Brighton. A quick change at Gatwick (just to speed up the journey), less than an hour after heading out we were at the seaside!

 photo 2014-12-13155214_zps0ba9b629.jpg photo 2014-12-13164548_zpsbbe993c9.jpgIn fact, it just about took us longer to get our coffees than it did to get to Brighton. We popped into a little cafe near the station; Milk No Sugar. A gorgeous little cafe, with an amazing menu. Nutella Mocha was our picks, thought the bee-nutterly latte was tempting. The coffees were pretty good, but a 40+ minute wait?! Can’t say I was overly impressed…less fancy patterns in my drink, more speed!

 photo 2014-12-13120932_zps16144c55.jpgA wander round the lanes was just what I needed. Small interior decor shops are just my cup of tea, and I could have spent an absolute fortune. Copper initial ornaments were my favourite; I’m desperately looking forward to adorning a door with WC in the future, confusing people, and amusing me. Small story: our first year together involved myself and Will attempting to make a gingerbread house. It worked, but we iced our initials on it. And yep, gingerbread toilet was the outcome! Oops..

 photo 2014-12-13143956_zps31a92757.jpgI fell in love with so many different shops, but what really stole my heart? This guy!

 photo 2014-12-13165604_zpsc21ac951.jpgExhausted from wandering, and stuffed from one of the best sandwiches we’d eaten (more on that soon!) it was time to exchange £2 for plenty of 2ps and hit the slots. I love these machines, I could have hours of fun!

 photo 2014-12-13165610_zps79133ecc.jpg photo 2014-12-13164534_zps3cddad34.jpg photo 2014-12-13164540_zps944a14c6.jpgFeeling satisfactorily childlike, it was now time to do some adult-like things. Such as cuddle up on the beach and watch the sunset. It’s been a tough couple of years for us two, but times like this prove that its just so worthwhile.

 photo 2014-12-13165551_zpsecb6e00e.jpg photo 2014-12-13164603_zps0cec0100.jpg photo 2014-12-13165816_zps608cf341.jpgWith hands so cold they’d lost their feeling hours ago (it didn’t get above freezing that day!), it was time to wander back on a food hunt; we ended up with the last available table at Cote; pork belly, guinea hen, crepes suzette, tarte aux pomme and plenty of wine rounded off a perfect day.

Brighton is one of my favourite places; the shops are just so perfect, it’s by the sea, and it’s so relaxed even a day feels like a holiday! I’m determined to explore more places this year, so I’d love some recommendations of where to go! Currently looking for a weekend away at the end of the month, where should I think about? Been anywhere nice recently?