Category: UK

I was a massive festival goer in my younger years, sadly as you grow up and take on more responsibility, less money and become attached often your festival going days tend to dwindle. You also find a sudden distinct dislike of discomfort and certainly don't want to be reminded of your advancing years by being pushed and shoved around by a load of 'youth' during the headliner acts.

Having said all that there are festivals and there are festivals and it would make me way to sad to not go to any at all. So the Isle of Wight is my chosen keeper. It's a festival that's not going to leave you with cold feet and an achy back or feeling like you're a parent before you even have your own kids worrying about the state of youngsters around you. You also don't need to feel as though you need a holiday afterwards because you can combine it with a bit of sightseeing turning this into a festi-mini-break which is far more adult and civilised.

The Isle of Wight Festival really welcomes all ages, no one is going to get 'I feel old' pangs here, you can even introduce the next generation of festival goers as it's massively kid friendly. It always has a great line up, extra entertainment, a variety of bars, luxury camping options and you get to go there on a ferry for God's sake!

It's hard to top. The perfect festi-mini break (I think I'll coin that phrase), plus - and it's a bit plus - it always seems to land on the great weather.

If you go this year, please combine it with a little Isle of Wight sightseeing and definitely book yourself into The Hut for a seafood platter. I have been missing that place all year and can't wait to go back.

This year is the festival's Golden Jubilee 50th Anniversary and acts I'll be jostling to the front for include Hurts, The Wombats, Depeche Mode, The Killers and Kasabian.

Thursday 21st June - stick it in your diary and start planning your weekend, tickets can be found here.

 

Sometimes, when the London lifestyle gets a little too hectic, the best thing to do is to head for the coast. Jump in the car… hop on a train… just find a way as the classic British seaside break has a lot going for it….

It’s true that there are some funny old associations with British beaches and their culture. There’s a peculiarly naff quality connected to attractions such as bingo halls, dubious roller-coasters and those classic saucy postcards; but whilst a sense of all that still remains today, it’s unobtrusive enough to enjoy as a quaint novelty, or to forget about entirely if you’d rather.

There’s a great choice of resorts, many of the best being in good old Essex. You’ve got favourites such as Clacton on Sea, which offers a lovely sandy beach along with the expected Victorian pier, or Southend on Sea, which can admittedly get slightly raucous.

Perhaps the best offering is Brighton. This might sound an odd favourite as the beach isn’t sandy so sandcastles will never be on the cards, but a bit of pebble-skimming is always an option. What makes Brighton so attractive though is the completeness of the town itself: it’s somewhere that would still be great without the beach, whereas a lot of these resorts have little to offer but the sea.

 

For instance, alongside the classic arcade with all its shoot-‘em-up games and slot machines, there’s a proper casino for when the sun goes down and you want to hit the tables. It might be an idea to get your eye in with some online games on the train on the way down as these Brighton folk can be crafty customers! There are great clubs here too and the nightlife really benefits from the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Brighton. Being so close to London, and with its university, there’s a lot of young blood to keep things fresh and just plain cool.

 

Also of course there’s plenty of culture here, so although you’re out of London you won’t have to experience any withdrawal symptoms! There are lots of little galleries dotted around the place as well as Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. In addition to its fine art collection there’s always a thought-provoking exhibition here to get some ideas flowing. This museum-cum-gallery is located right next to the famous Brighton Pavilion, which is itself a work of art from Brighton’s Regency days.

If you’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt, then after your splash in the sea you might like to consider popping over to Lewes, a lovely little spot just up the road from Brighton. Lewes castle will give you a nice blast from the past (…built in 1069!) and if you’re peckish you could always pop into Bill’s. This is the original café that lead to the chain that everyone is now so familiar with up and down the country. It all started as a greengrocer’s and it’s quite nice to see where it all began, and to say that you’ve been to the original site.

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With stunning landscapes and some seriously plush new hotels, Scotland really should be on your list for a little weekend jaunt out of London.

How best to get there? Well, get yourself to Euston, have a little sleep - before you know it you'll be waking up in Scotland!lounge

We took the Caledonian Sleeper train to Glasgow to have our own little jaunt all the way to Edinburgh and then back.

CalSleeper-1st-sleeperUnaware of the sleeper train option before we started to look into Scotland we thought it was a pretty cool and different plan for travel. It's a little like glamping, but on a train. You get your own bed, a little goody bag of night bits and pieces, and just down the corridor you'll find a food and drink carriage where, if you want to, you can make a night of it.

 

If you fancy taking the Caledonian yourself then it's worth knowing that they are partnering with Tomatin for World Whisky Day (21st May). Guests looking for a break north of the border will avoid the hassle of airport queues and begin their experience with a showcase of the distillery’s range of whiskies on board the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness on Wednesday 11 and Wednesday 25 May.

On arrival in Glasgow we made our way to the Falls of Clyde, an amazing water fall and nature reserve next to an old mill, now developed into a small museum. If you enjoy being outdoors and looking at natural wonders then there are a number of walks around here that'll be just up your street. If not, you can see the bottom of the falls from the coffee shop and still tell yourself you've got in touch with nature.

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Travelling on from there after a good two hour walk in lovely sunshine we travelled to the newly open Crossbasket Castle, a stunning hotel just 45 minutes outside Glasgow.

The Castle was bought almost a shell and has since been transformed back to it's former glory. There are only a few rooms in this boutique hotel which specialises in events. The owners have created a large and perfectly formed events space which looks out on to a rapid river and beautiful grounds.

Staff are beyond helpful and polite and although still with a dash of the historical the castle is somehow modern too.
Albert and Michel Roux Jnr at Crossbasket Castle Restaurant

The menu is put together by Michael Roux and it will leave you having to unbutton tight trousers (in the best possible way). Room service is even a joy here, none of the paired down menu for your room nonsense. We simply ordered a cheeseboard and this arrived.

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The rooms are plush with huge windows and wonderful views. As for things to do, if you don't want to visit the Falls you can do a spot of shooting or fishing, or just relax in their bar.
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After one night at Crossbasket we continued our journey to Edinburgh ready for a night's stay in another location and a day ahead exploring Edinburgh castle and the city. Just over an hour and we were at our second destination,  The Roxburghe just outside of Edinburgh.

Complete with Tartan carpet the Roxburghe really does feel like the heart of Scotland. It's a very quiet, relaxing destination and perfect if you really want to unwind from all the buzz that is London.

With board games which you can take to your room, garden rooms, studies and bars with enormous windows framing beautiful views, it really is a little highland haven.

The most exciting part we discovered was the fact that each and every room has a working fireplace in it- something that is a very unusual luxury for most of us.

Food again is special and created by the Roux kitchen. Knowledgable staff help you with wine or fire building, or brolly providing, whichever is needed, and you really do feel at home.

We even got a curtesy call to let us know breakfast was awaiting us downstairs before they shut up shop for the morning.

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For the more active amongst you there is golf on offer, fishing and walks. For the less active there is a great cocktail menu, in room treatments and gorgeous views to get lost in out the window.

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We'll be keeping both hotels in our minds for this winter as well. Though now, during the spring is a beautiful time to visit as you might get a whole years worth of seasons in one stay.

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We got rain, bright sunshine and snow over three days and even the rain that we had for an afternoon was welcomed with the fires all stoked and cosy bars.

So another for your diary - A Scottish Sleeper Train Road Trip.

 

 

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There's not many places in London that your eyes can use some muscle to see far into the distance. Your gaze is usually blocked by a bus, a commuter, a building.... so that's why its so worth nipping down the M25 for a stay in the newly opened Burley Manor.  Set against the stunning, natural backdrop of the New Forest National Park, Burley Manor has undergone a major £1.8m refurbishment and relaunched in December 2015 into a grown-ups only restaurant with boutique rooms.

Complete with deer park and rolling countryside views and walks all around it's a cosy home from home that'll leave you feeling ready for work again come Monday even if you've only been away one night.

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With rooms in the main house and brand spankers new rooms in an additional out building you won't want for much over your stay. Beds are comfortable, rooms have lovely views and you won't get woken up by a bin man or the traffic lights outside your window - perfect darkness makes the perfect sleep!

When it comes to indulging a bit on your break the restaurant is just the right mixture of smart and casual. All food is locally sourced and if you can't grab a member of staff to enquire further about what might be on your plate you can find it all on the menu so you know just what you're eating.

Venison (somewhat controversially) is on a very Mediterranean, very comforting menu. The simple and delicious flavours of the Mediterranean together with its warm, relaxed way of life are the inspiration for the restaurant and it's food.

Award-winning chefs select the very best seasonal produce from the New Forest as well as across the British Isles and beyond. They then craft them into vibrant, rustic dishes with the bold flavours and delicate tastes of the Mediterranean.

Staff are friendly and knowledgable and will be happy to help you pick out wines and dishes. Come breakfast the spread is perfect with added champagne and Bloody Mary ingredients on hand.

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Just down the road there is a riding school if you feel like being adventurous but other than that this is a relaxation holiday - read the paper, go on some walks, sit by the fire.... and just do nothing for a bit in lovely surroundings and fresh air.

The manor house is a Grade II Listed building dating back to 1852 and steeped in rich history as is the little village you can walk to within minutes. With this in mind the Hotel MD Michaela Lisle took great care to ensure the exquisite old manor house retains its historic personality, while introducing a contemporary, eclectic interiors twist.

 

Burley House has a number of offers on at the moment too from 2 for 1 night stays through to Champagne and tapas for £20. Plus (and this is a big plus for us) it's doggy friendly! So with such great walks about you don't have to leave your little furry one at home.

stratford butterfly farmOn Friday 24 July the Stratford Butterfly Farm will celebrate its 30th anniversary! The Butterfly Farm opened its doors for the first time on 24 July 1985 by David Bellamy and now 30 years on, remains the UK’s largest and most successful butterfly farm.

To celebrate this milestone, the Farm is organising a number of special activities. An exhibition of photographs when it first opened is currently on display until the end of October and gives visitors a fascinating insight into the Farm’s history.

On Friday 24 July there will be a ‘Meet the Mini-Beast’ handling session at 12pm when children can handle an array of insects such as a Giant African Millipede, African Land Snail and stick insects. From the 24 – 26 July children can use the Jungle Explorer map to follow the trail to discover interesting facts and amazing creatures from around the world. In addition visitors can enter the Birthday Tree competition and leave a message on the tree to be entered into a prize draw to win family season/day tickets. The winners will be announced on Friday 31 July.  Children aged 3 – 16 can also receive a free commemorative wristband, subject to availability.

Visitors can also enjoy seeing a variety of exotic birds feeding on the new bird feeding station within the flight area. A new stunning garden has been created especially to attract bees and features a bee hive composter. Plus there are plenty of new picnic tables for visitors to use in the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of the Butterfly Farm garden.

Over the years the Butterfly Farm has continually added to its number of inhabitants and now has 3 stunning Green Iguanas that originate from Central and South America which live happily amongst the other inhabitants. These include Birds, Rosey Bourkes, Cockatiels, Budgerigars, Mousebirds, Green Ring-necked Parakeets and the flightless Chinese Painted Quails.

In Insect City, as well as the usual insects, there is a new snake tank which houses a Royal Python. It is the smallest of the African pythons and has a typically docile temperament. Also on display is a Corn Snake which originates from North America and subdues its small prey by constriction.

Over in Arachnoland and behind the safety of glass is a Goliath Bird Eating Spider.  The spider is considered to be the largest in the world and was named by explorers who saw one eating a hummingbird. Native to therainforests of South America, these spiders have up to a 30cm leg span when fully extended. Also on display is the Brazilian Red Fire Tarantula which is the third largest in the world, the Huntsman Spider which is found around the world as they commonly hide in wooden crates and are shipped with freight. Visitors can also see the infamous False Widow Spider which has attracted plenty of media interest over the last few years.

Jane Kendrick, Marketing Manager of the Stratford Butterfly Farm stated, “We are delighted to be celebrating our 30th anniversary and hope that visitors will enjoy our exhibition and special activities we have lined up. Plus, with plenty of new inhabitants to see and admire, a visit to the Butterfly Farm is a great family day out!”

To see hundreds of spectacular butterflies, insects, reptiles and spiders visit the Butterfly Farm from10:00am to 5.30pm every day of the week. Entry fees are Adults £6.25, Seniors & Students £5.75, Children (under 3’s go free) £5.25, Family (2 adults & 2 children) £18.50. There is no additional charge to view the exhibition. Group discounts are available. Registered Carers are admitted free of charge.

For more information please visit the website at www.butterflyfarm.co.uk or telephone 01789 299288.