Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Sundays are meant for walking

That they are especially when the sun is out and you're fortunate enough to live a stone's throw away from a place as special as Byron's Pool.

The great man himself was said to have bathed here, sadly though the pool is now covered in green sludge so no bathing there now. However it is the perfect spot for a picnic, an explore alongside the River Cam or to relax with a good book.

As Lord Byron himself wrote

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more, From these our interviews, in which I steal From all I may be, or have been before, To mingle with the Universe, and feel What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.” 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

The Hole In The Wall, Little Wilbraham Cambridgeshire

I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a Sunday lunch as much as I did last weekend. In fact the husband reminded me that it was most probably the last time we were at the first Michelin starred pub the Harwood Arms in Fulham (which if you haven't been to it is definitely worth the trek to South West London).

The husband and I were celebrating a whole seven years of marriage, an achievement! Determined after several failed attempts to book a table at The Hole in the Wall he took no chances and booked in March immediately following the most disastrous Mother's Day lunch at the Black Bull in Balsham (don't ever be tempted to go there and just think burnt potatoes that you couldn't even stick a fork in and 'creme anglaise' that tasted of custard powder).

Thankfully our faith was restored, don't think we'll be needing to drive to London for a roast as I threatened to do post Black Bull debacle. The Hole in the Wall is the brainchild of Masterchef finalist Alex Rushmer and his university buddy Ben Maude. After spending their time at Cambridge University dreaming of owning their own restaurant, then both left to pursue different careers until Masterchef. I've never been so grateful to Masterchef up until now. What they have achieved here is Michelin starred cuisine at local pub prices in a picturesque freehouse, which seems inconceivable but by jove they manage it.

The Sunday menu is short and seemingly simple. The choice is two courses for £25 or three for £30 but what they don't tell you about is the compplimetary freshly made herb balls with a courgette dipping sauce to start or the delicious fresh bread brought to the table with the creamiest salted butter. To finish guests are offered  their piece de resistence  -the ale truffles. The platter was left on the table and I'm sorry I had two of these melt in the mouth heavenly treats.

Back to the food, I started with Gravadlax followed by juiciest Roast Loin of pork with possibly the best crackling I've ever had. the sweet cider gravy with a tart homemade apple sauce complimented the meat beautifully. The potatoes were to die for, roasted in duck fat served alongside perfectly al dente vegetables. The husband's Rabbit and bacon terrine, he said was the best he's had and his lamb was tender, cooked to perfection.

There is no children's menu as such but the Chef did roast chicken for the youngsters in the room, and children are more than welcome here. Matilda then proceeded to devour a large plate of food, a rarity I must say so it definitely passed her test.

Onto puddings as they also are worthy of an illustrious mention. My lemon millefeuille was exquisite, light and crispy filled with a lemony cream accompanied by a lovely tart lemon ice cream and lemon jelly. It was so beautiful I was reluctant to dig in but needs must. I wasn't disappointed as the melange of textures melted in the mouth (I'm sounding a little Nigellaesque here but it's genuine I assure you!). Matilda and the husband opted for the freshly made donuts with salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream which they both gobbled up in no time so I could only take their word for it. In fact we were given a little goodie bag of donuts by the Chef as we were the last customers in the pub so they were going spare. I took a bite of one the following day which was still fresh and crispy like a good donut should be.

If you are local to Cambridge I urge to book a table and judge for yourselves what a wonderful job Alex and all his staff are doing. The service was welcoming, attentive and warm yet unobtrusive. Nothing was too much trouble including keeping Matilda entertained. The Hole in the Wall clearly strive to give their customers an all round first class experience from the moment they cross the threshold, which they undoubtedly achieve. Extraordinarily good value for money to boot.

If you're a little further afield I would say this is worth a trip to, just make sure you book way in advance as they are always full especially for Sunday Lunch as they've been runners up in the Food Observer awards. I'm hedging my bets they win next time, it'd be very well deserved! As for me I'm already thinking about booking my next trip. Can't say fairer than that.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

May Day celebrations at Kentwell House, Suffolk

Kentwell House, a masterpiece of a country house dating back to Tudor times provided an atmospheric backdrop to a wonderful celebration of the start of May.

Many local volunteers not only dressed up in Tudor costumes but maintained their characters throughout the day including the children, responding in old English whilst carrying out their tasks. Timings of each event were approximate as they didn't have watches in them days, which for us who are used to schedules, Google calenders with pop up reminders came as a relief that we could just forget about time for a while and go with the flow. We threw ourselves into the spirit of the day, Matilda even took part in a Chaucer play volunteering happily to don a chicken costume along with a number of other children.

The highlight of our trip was the May Day Parade with the pretty May Day Queen at the helm, we loved walking through the estate carrying flags wearing handmade floral garlands in our hair, decorated with flowers we'd picked ourselves. May Day, always held on the first Monday in May traditionally celebrated Springtime fertility, originally a Pagan festival it was an opportunity for the working community to gather together for revelry and fun. Activities included Morris Dancing but more importantly dancing around the Maypole as well as the crowning of the May Day Queen, the personification of Spring. The Queen led the parade adorned with fresh, Spring flowers.

Dressed up volunteers provided an insight into how villagers lived in Tudor times even to the extent of making dishes from that era on the wood fire out in the beautiful gardens. We were given a little taster of beans stewed with cumin which tasted delicious as well as a cheesy dish that wouldn't have been out of place at our modern lunch table. Inside the house servants explained how it was run like clockwork for their masters, whilst the house itself was fraying around the edges this certainly didn't detract from it's glorious architecture.

Living in the country has made me much more aware of the seasons, the beauty of Autumn the harshness of Winter and now the reawakening of mother nature in Spring. Wild flowers are springing up everywhere I look, where the ground has lain bare for months it is now covered in a blanket of colour. Monday was the embodiment of all the reasons we wanted to leave city life, the joy in Matilda's face as she helped pick the flowers for the garland, joining in with the players, taking in the Spring animals and nature. It confirmed why living the country life in her early years will not only stand her in good stead for the future but provide her with a more wholesome childhood more aware of the natural beauty that surrounds us.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Bank Holiday Weekend so far...

Aside from dodging rain storms pretending to be monsoon showers, it's been a relaxed weekend so far. Yesterday was pretty momentous as it was Matilda's first concert. She is a member of Phoenix Fledglings who gather on a weekly basis to sing, this concert was held as part of the local church's Flower Festival as well as to raise money for a local Children's Charity The Sick Children's Trust. Members of the Phoenix Chorale Cambridge showcased their good work in an hour long concert set amongst the beautiful St Andrews Church adorned with stunning flower arrangements donated by the local community.

Matilda had a lovely time, singing confidently (she does seem to suffer a little from stage fright)and despite the packed church the children all behaved beautifully singing their little hearts out. They sang a sweet medley consisting of Truly Scrumptious, Edelweiss and My Favourite Things - some of my all time favourites and a pleasure to listen to such young accomplished voices. We were very proud of our little girl and her friends. Daddy's imagination ran away with him as he envisaged her opening at the Shepherds Bush Empire in years to come...and here they are below. Daddy and Daddy's girl, this image fills my heart to bursting!

Today we took advantage of a break in the rain to go explore Ely which was hosting a Food and Drink Festival. With plenty of streetfood options including our favourites Steak and Honour we had a lovely lunch in the cathedral grounds under the rays of the sun. Yes that's right, typical English Bank Holiday weather, Winter one minute, Summer the next...we had a good look around Ely Cathedral which is free to enter on a Sunday. The Cathedral dating back to 1541 is jaw droppingly impressive, it's breathtaking beauty a haven of serenity. Although this peace was interrupted for a brief moment when Matilda managed to climb up on top of a Bishop's tomb as I was distracted trying to work out the best ISO setting - Ooops. Thankfully Daddy came to the rescue as she was then stuck on top of the ancient tomb attempting a rather clumsy descent, all unbeknownst to the end the three of us fell about laughing which I'm sure had any of the wardens caught us this kind of behaviour would have been severely frowned upon. Fun though!

What plans do you have for Bank Holiday Monday?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

National Trust - Lyveden New Bield, Northamptonshire

The recent Spring weather has drawn us out of hibernation and out into the fresh air. Hasn't it just been wonderful? I defy anyone to not feel energised by feeling their face gently warmed by the sun's rays.

We've been making the most of our National Trust card on these sunny afternoons. Don't hesitate in becoming a member. This precious card allows access to some of the most spectacular places in the UK saving you lots of money. In fact we worked out that only three or four trips to a National Trust property including payment for parking would more than make up the membership fees. Since having our family membership we've gone to countless properties which had we not been members we might have refrained. They are great places for children, historical homes filled with objects that delight little curious minds as well as beautiful grounds for exploring. The National Trust seem to take young visitors seriously with plenty activities and often fantastic outdoor play areas. Being a member is most definitely value for money.

On Easter Weekend we visited the eerie Lyveden New Bield. Set in the beautiful rural Northamptonshire, the remains of an imposing Elizabethan house stand. Begun by Sir Thomas Tresham the building of his tribute to his Catholic came to an abrupt end after his death and the subsequent death of his son who interestingly formed part of Guy Fawkes' Gunpowder Plotters.

For a feeling of remoteness and being disconnected from the world this is perfect. Take a beautiful walk amongst the expansive grounds or indulge the child in you with a well equipped den with all manner of activities to keep the whole family entertained. It was a particularly blustery day which was not too conducive for a picnic despite Matilda's protestations so we stopped by the teashop on site. Lovely as always the teashop is friendly with a small selection of dishes. My lentil soup was filling and delicious, Matilda has become very keen on National Trust lunchboxes so was a little disappointed to find these weren't available for her to fill up. Not surprising given the limited space, though where they lack in space they more than make up on quality and good service!

A lot of fun was had rolling down hills, playing games and exploring as you can see from the photos...Getting children out in the open air whilst learning about their country's history seems like a perfect combination to me!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Clinging onto Childhood

“Well, you know what grown-ups are,' said Dinah. 'They don't think the same way as we do. I expect when we grow up, we shall think like them - but let's hope we remember what it was like to think in the way children do, and understand the boys and the girls that are growing up when we're men and women.” 

Watching Matilda delight in the garden, playing with our neighbour's son over the fence, singing to herself whilst sat on the tree stump admiring the daffodils reminded me that childhood should really be a most wondrous thing. The quote above taken from Enid Blyton's The Island of Adventure, I think just about sums it up.

With the arrival of Spring days, the garden has become Matilda's playground. Flowers are picked, stories are imagined with little scenarios acted out. She takes her 'bird watchning' very seriously and takes great pride in filling up the bird feeder once the birds have exhausted supplies. A little woodpecker made an appearance on Friday causing all sorts of excitement. It's the simple things that give us the best memories to hold on to in times of difficulty. I hope she treasures these images as adulthood forces her to relinquish her childhood curiousity. Though thankfully we've got a number of years left to enjoy Matilda as a little girl and beyond that we'll be clinging on to the magic of childhood.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Easter Adventures

The Easter came and went, the sun came and has stayed for the last few days allowing for a lot of outdoor adventure. Climbing sandbanks at Brancaster Beach, eating ice cream, stroking new born lambs at Church Farm in Downham Market, cooing at baby chicks, messing around the streets of Cambridge. A busy, fun few days have been had. Admittedly, it's mostly been about showing off her new Boden Spring jacket which we've all fallen in love for the last few days of Matilda's Easter holiday it'll be juggling work with a few more outings if this Spring weather continues.