Category Archives: Adventures

Short but sweet: a couple of days on the Isle of Man

Scarlett Point, Isle of Man

A few weeks ago we spent a couple of days on the Isle of Man. It was a short stop-over before our main holiday in Derbyshire, allowing us to catch up with ourselves and enjoy some reviving sea air.

We arrived late in the evening and fell into bed, walking the next day to the sound of the sea. As usual, we did a bit of beach combing in Castletown and were rewarded with some treasure.

Shell on Castletown beach

Then we hopped aboard an old train headed for Douglas – heaven to the small steam fans in the family.

Isle of Man railway

Soon after arriving in Douglas we stumbled across the most delightful cafe, just five minutes from the station. We ate fresh Manx Queenies and Langoustines in the warm sunshine. Delicious.

Little Fish Cafe, Douglas

Afterwards we caught a horse drawn tram along the Douglas sea front – a relic from Victorian times, and every bit as charming as it sounds.

Isle of Man horse drawn tram

We finished our time on the island with an evening walk in the golden sunshine along Scarlett Point. Then it was the onto the early boat home to continue our adventures in Derbyshire…

Scarlett Point, Isle of Man IMG_8801

We ate at the Little Fish Cafe. 

More information about trains, trams and buses on the Isle of Man can be found here

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Hello May: our weekend of eels, blue skies and happiness

Ely blossom

Bank holidays weekends tend to fall into two distinct camps. Wet, cold and dreary – or, if you’re really lucky – they’re a blissful three days of sunny light-heartedness.

Last weekend we lucked out as East Anglia pulled out all the stops to give us a sunny, warm start to May. We’ve eaten delicious food, felt the warm sun on our faces and relaxed in each other’s company.

Ely’s at it’s best when the sun’s shining. On Saturday it was the annual Ely Eel Festival. Sounds a bit weird, but it’s really just a celebration of all things Ely (and it’s namesake, the eel). There’s a procession down through the streets with a giant eel puppet, followed by a big gathering in the Jubilee gardens by the river – with food, drink, morris dancers, medieval knights and some eels in a tank. In other words, everything you’d expect on a May bank holiday (except possibly a may pole).

Morris dancers

We ate some smoked eel by the river. Which, if you’re wondering, tastes very much like smoked mackerel.

Smoked eel

Tom tried his hand at archery…

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And both boys proved you’re never too old for a vintage, hand-operated roundabout…

Vintage hand powered roundabout

On Sunday, the weather was glorious again. We headed over to Norwich to visit family and spent a day in Eaton Park. As you’d expect for a fine city, it’s a very fine park. We rode on the miniature railway, ate ice cream and even played crazy golf…

Crazy golf

It all got quite competitive, so we followed our game with a walk over to the boating lake. It was a little boys’ dream, with a fleet of battleships visiting for the day.

Eaton park boating lake

On Monday we rounded the weekend off with a trip to the garden centre and a final bit of lovely food at the Ely Food Festival!

Ely Food Festival

I hope you all had a great bank holiday weekend too!

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Things to do in winter: visit a seaside town

Hunstanton

The seaside town in winter is a rather charming place. Gone are the crowds, the ice-creams and the candy floss – all is calm. It’s usually freezing, but it’s invigorating having the whole place to yourself – especially if the sun’s shining.

Hunstanton

Hunstanton, in Norfolk, is an hour’s drive away from where we live. It doesn’t take much to pile in the car and head over there for a few hours. It’s not particularly picturesque, and there’s quite a lot of concrete. In the summer I’d rather choose somewhere prettier, but in winter it has its own peculiar appeal. Shut up shops, biting winds, greedy seagulls – there’s something rather British and eccentric about it that appeals to me.

Hunstanton beach

We like to gather shells on the sand – pretty pink ones and razor shells are all in plentiful supply at Hunstanton. Then we squelch around in the sticky quicksand (as my boys call it) until our fingers and toes are numb with cold.

Hunstanton beach

When the icy wind gets too much we pile into a fish and chip shop and buy some to eat by the sea. Hot, salty chips to be eaten greedily before they go cold. We’re often harassed by a seagull or two (actually, make that twenty).

Chips at the seaside

After that, the lure of the amusement arcade begins to call to us. Mostly through a desire to warm up. We spend half an hour wasting money on the 2p sliding machines before it all gets a bit a too much. There’s an art to trying to win two matching prizes for two children, I can tell you.

The seaside amusement arcade

And then it’s off to find a warm drink before the drive home….

Hunstanton beach

Do you like the seaside in winter as much as I do? 

 

 

Things to do in January: a magical picnic at dusk

A picnic at dusk

Seeking out new experiences doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated or expensive. It can be surprisingly easy to transform an activity from mundane to magical.

Take picnics. I love them at any time of the year, but they can be a bit dismal in January – shivering while you eat your lunch on picnic rug in the biting wind. But why do we always have them in the daytime? Push things back by a few hours, and you create a completely different experience. A picnic at dusk is a rare and exciting thing.

As the light begins to fade at 3 o’ clock, pack up your picnic, fill a thermos flask and grab a blanket. The best picnics are often the simplest – our favourite thing is soft white rolls, filled with hot sausages straight from the oven (and a drizzle of chilli jam). This, plus a flask of tea and something sweet, is all you need.

Hot sausage baps

Then head to your chosen spot before darkness falls. We went to the riverside – normally a very familiar environment, but now curiously exciting in the fading light. Grey water became sparkly, narrowboats twinkled and the smell of wood smoke filled the air. The boys ran around like loons, fascinated by the blanket of darkness that was quickly covering us.

A picnic at dusk

We chose a bench by the river, wrapped ourselves up and sat and ate our sausages. We watched the early evening dog walkers go by, and soaked up the sounds and sights of the familiar, yet unfamiliar.

A picnic at dusk

As we finished eating the rain started, and we hastily made our way home – which only added to the sense of adventure.

A picnic at dusk

We spent nothing, we were barely a mile from home, but we experienced such a simple sense of adventure.  Try it this weekend!

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How to get outdoors more this winter

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As the days grow ever colder and shorter, it gets harder and harder to persuade everyone to go outside. By the time we get back from school it’s nearly dark and we all just want to keep cosy and warm. Keeping indoors is all part of the fun of winter, but here are some tips for tempting little ones (and not so little ones) to go outside…

Feeding the birds

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Such a simple, rewarding activity. Ever since they were really little, my boys have enjoyed putting things out for the birds. We buy bags of mixed seed and fat balls. It’s amazing how quickly the birds empty our bird feeders and it’s so satisfying to watch them through our kitchen window. Going outside and topping up the bird feeders is a great thing to do after school. It only takes a few minutes and really re-connects us to our garden, and what’s happening in it. We have lots of sparrows, blackbirds, doves and the occasional robin in our town garden.

Go on a scavenger hunt

Autumn nature table

This is a really fun way to get everyone outside – you can make it as long, or as complicated as you like. Simply ask your children to look for (and possibly collect) things outside: feathers, a twig, something round, a seed pod… the list is endless. You can do this in your own back garden, on the way to school or somewhere more exciting like a forest. I find a little bit of gentle competitiveness always helps to keep children warm! I think a grown-up version would be pretty fun too.

Going out to do a small, but specific, task

Post box

Turn ‘urgh I don’t want to go for a walk’ into something more enthusiastic by giving your outing a small, but important, purpose. Posting a letter, delivering Christmas cards by hand, going to the sweet shop, meeting friends in the park, buying a new battery for a toy… This usually works and gives us an excuse to get out and blow the cobwebs away.

Make the most of the weather

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Make the weather, good or bad, into a reason for venturing outside. If it’s raining, make the most of those puddles. Get your wellies on and go splashing. If the puddles are frozen, then go and jump on them and watch the ice break. And keep your fingers crossed for some snow – no one ever needs persuading to go out in snow!

Take some warming rewards

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Once you’ve tempted everyone outside for a bit, reward them with something warm and comforting. Hot chocolate and a biscuit go a long way. Buy a flask, you’ll never regret it and you’ll feel terribly smug every time you use it.

What are your top tips for persuading children (and adults!) to go outside as the weather gets colder?

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An icy Sunday – in pictures

Frosty puddle

Yesterday was the first icy day this autumn. We wrapped up in our warmest things and set off for a walk. Little boys love icy puddles… especially when they have a stick to poke them with…

Frosty puddle

We posted a letter…

Post box

We ran down hills…

Running down a hill

With rosy cheeks and numb toes, we went to the market for a bag of roasted chestnuts…

Roasted chestnuts

Then back home for Stir-up Sunday…

Stir-up Sunday

Stir-up Sunday

Stir-up Sunday

As darkness fell the house was filled with the scent of winter spices.

The perfect way to spend a icy day.

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Wicken Fen, two ways

Wicken Fen

My very first blog post was about a wet walk at Wicken Fen. As I approach my blog’s first birthday, it seems only fitting to return to Wicken.

Over the years, we’ve progressed from pushing buggies along the boardwalks, to running around the more wild parts of the Fen – spotting butterflies, dragonflies and birds along the way.

Wicken Fen

On a sunny day in September it’s stunning – lush, green and brimming with wildlife. Huge, plump sloes and blackberries are in abundance. This Autumn we’ve tried two new ways to explore this familiar landscape – by boat and by bike. 

Wicken Fen

By Boat

What better way is there to explore the Fenland landscape than by boat? Between Easter and October you can take a trip down the waterways on the Mayflower. It’s £16 for a family ticket, and the trip lasts for about 50 minutes.

Wicken Fen

Our guide was brilliant and I learnt a few new things about eels and the like. Some of the passengers even spotted a Kingfisher but I was too busy stopping Tom from wiggling overboard to notice. It was an electric boat, so the motor was incredibly quiet – perfect for enjoying the peaceful surroundings. As family, we’re all a bit fascinated by boats at the moment, so this trip was well timed.

Wicken Fen boat trip

By Bike

Bike ride at Wicken Fen

The following week, James and I returned to the Fen while the boys were at school. This time we wanted to explore it by bike. I’ve cycled to Wicken from Ely with James before, but I haven’t been on the cycle paths around the Fen.

Bike ride at Wicken Fen

It was another stunning September day. We whizzed around the cycle paths for an hour or so, stopping half way to eat our picnic. Excitingly, we finally tracked down the wild Konik ponies.

Bike ride at Wicken Fen with Konik ponies

Konik Pony

Tom was thrilled to see a photo when we got home. Now we know where they like to hang out, we’ll be taking him to see them soon.

Konik ponies at Wicken Fen

As it was a weekday, it was blissfully quiet. Living in the Fens can sometimes feel a bit flat and boring, but on a bright day it comes into its own. Plus, no hills, means easier cycling!

You can cycle to nearby Anglesey Abbey, or just explore the paths round the Fen. If you don’t have a bike of your own with you, then you can hire one at the visitor centre. Wicken Fen is about 9 miles from Ely. If you like to cycle you could catch a train to Ely with your bike and ride there.

We’ll be back there soon!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

All the fun of the steam fair

Chair Planes

Every September a little corner of Cambridgeshire comes alive with the chugging of engines, the smell of soot and the sound of fairground organs. Haddenham Steam Rally has been going for years and years, and is something of a family tradition for us.

As a child, I went with my parents every year. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it’s hot – but usually, it’s a classic English day in early September: bright sunshine, a nippy wind and a few dark clouds on the horizon.

Haddenham Steam Rally

I like carrying on this tradition with my two boys and James. To be honest, they probably love it more than I ever did as a child. Steam engines, vintage tractors, giant threshing machines – what more could a little boy want?

Haddenham Steam Rally

Apart from the engines, there’s all the excitement of a traditional fair ground – with steam-driven galloping horses, chair planes and a helter skelter.

Galloping Horses

 

Helter Skelter

I go mainly for the pleasure of watching the boys enjoying it all, and – crucially – to eat fudge. No trip to Haddenham Steam Rally would be complete without a bag of crumbly, vanilla fudge. There’s also all manner of randomness for sale on the stalls – old tools, knitted jumpers with tractors on them and neon boiler suits a-plenty.

This year I went on the chair planes for the first time in many years. Don’t think I’ll be doing that again in a hurry!

Chair planes

If you’re ever in the area in early September, it’s definitely worth a visit. Where else would you see a dog being towed along by a miniature steam engine? See if you can spot him.

Haddenham Steam Rally

To find a similar steam rally near you, the Steam Heritage Museums and Events Guide has a good list here.

What are your favourite Autumn events?

White Stuff comes to Ely

White Stuff Ely

There’s a buzz on the streets of Ely. Over the summer we’ve all been watching a tired old shop gradually change into something special. We’ve been peeping through the windows, watching the progress. Finally, this week, the wait is over – White Stuff have opened their lovely new shop.

White Stuff Ely

White Stuff is one of my favourite brands – cool, quirky and with a conscience. It’s the perfect fit for our tight-knit little city. I’m so thrilled they’ve decided to open their 100th shop here. For those of you who aren’t familiar with White Stuff, it’s a dreamy lifestyle brand, selling clothes, shoes and accessories for men and women – along with some lovely gifts. We’re all going to be looking very smart from now on!

To celebrate the opening of White Stuff, I’d like to share some of my favourite Ely places with you – and persuade you that you really must come and visit soon…

The Markets

Ely market finds

Ely’s markets are thriving. Come on a Thursday to buy anything from local fruit and veg to a Norfolk crab or a new broom – or come on a Saturday for an eclectic mix of antiques, crafts, flowers and food. Every other Saturday there’s a famers’ market too.

Ely flower market

Just recently, the flower, food and craft market has also started on Sundays. It has a slightly quieter feel. Pick up some beautiful artisan bread from the Brown Bread stall, or some lovely plants and bric-a-brac.

Ely market bread stall

Ely market finds in a basket

The Samovar Tea House

Samovar Tea House, Ely

After all that bargain-hunting on the market, you’ll be in need of refreshments. Ely has a lot of places to drink tea and coffee. My favourite is the Samovar Tea House. Walk away from the bustling market place and down Forehill – and halfway down you’ll find this quirky little gem, inspired by the tea-drinking culture of the East.

Samovar Tea House, Ely

You can choose from up to two hundred different teas, and Sofia, Marta and the team are coming up with new blends all the time. On this visit I chose London Fog – a beguiling mix of vanilla pods, bergamot, blue cornflowers and Vietnamese black tea. It tastes wonderful with milk, and looks as beautiful as it sounds.

Samovar Tea House, Ely

If you fancy coffee instead, then there’s lots to please you too. Particularly interesting is the Polish coffee – a dark, bitter confection. My husband loves it, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. I prefer the wittily-named Flatland White.

Samovar Tea House, Ely

The food, too, is blissful. Memorable bagels and salads, and wonderful cakes. Oh, the cakes. Try the chocolate and beetroot cake – heaven on a plate.

Polish Doughnut

Samovar Tea House, Ely

Topping & Company Booksellers

Topping & Company Booksellers, Ely

After you’ve finished your tea and cake, walk back up the hill to the High Street and visit Ely’s well-known independent bookseller. Spread over three floors, Topping’s is every book-lover’s dream. You can lose hours in there, browsing through thousands of books. My favourite place is the very top floor, full of beautiful art books. Sit in the window and catch a glimpse of the cathedral through the old sash windows. If you missed out on a coffee earlier, then enjoy one here – brought to you by one of the lovely, knowledgeable booksellers (I can vouch for this as I used to be one).

Topping & Company Booksellers, Ely

Topping & Company also run a year-round programme of exciting literary events.

The Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

What can I say about the Cathedral? It’s spectacular. For almost a thousand years it has defined Ely. You can see it for miles around, soaring out of the flat fenland landscape. Living so close to such an amazing building, you have to make sure that you don’t take it for granted. It’s good to make the effort to go inside and remind ourselves how lucky we are that it’s here.

The Riverside

Narrow boat by the river in Ely

No visit to Ely is complete without a walk along the river. If you arrive by train, this is the first bit of Ely you’ll see. It’s a busy, bustling stretch of the River Great Ouse – packed full of narrow boats. Enjoy an ice cream, or call in at one of the riverside pubs and restaurants. You might also meet Ely’s most unusual residents – the rather grumpy Muscovy ducks. Along Waterside, as it’s known, you can also enjoy the beautiful Georgian buildings, some of the city’s prettiest. It’s always worth a little wander round Waterside Antiques too – a huge old warehouse, jam-packed with wonderful old things. We’ve bought so much for our house there over the years.

Waterside Antiques, Ely

And finally… there’s the new White Stuff

I was so impressed with the new store on Market Street.  I loved the products, the witty vintage styling, the retro children’s kitchen – even the noticeboards. It felt like visiting a really cool friend’s house.

White Stuff Collage

A lot of thought has gone into the store, and I was thrilled to see that they will be supporting a well-known local charity, Branching Out. As part of their White Stuff Foundation, this charity will receive at least 1% of the store’s annual profits. Pretty awesome, don’t you think?

White Stuff Ely will be having a grand opening party on 16th and 17th September 2015. Why not pop along for a glass of fizz and lots of other exciting goodies? 

Throughout this post I am wearing this dress, coat, scarf and shoes. They’re all available now from White Stuff.

Clothes and shoes courtesy of White Stuff – as ever all thoughts, words and photos are my own. 

This was the summer…

The summer is fading and September is going to be a busy month. Before I pull up my socks and face it head-on, I’d like to indulge in a little summer nostalgia.

This was the summer… 

…I went punting for the first time. How did it take me 31 years to get round to this?

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It was the summer of sweet peas. Lots and lots of sweet peas. Either from my garden or my mum’s.

Sweetpeas

It was the summer I plucked up the courage have my hair cut short again…

Straight bob hair

…and during which Tom carried a pony everywhere, and lost them just as quickly.

toy horse

And it was the summer when we finally went to Legoland…

Legoland Windsor

…and that James embraced making sourdough bread.

Sourdough

It was the summer we discovered Melford Hall…

Melford Hall

…and a little cousin came to join in the fun for the first time.

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It was the summer I finally got some deckchairs…

Deckchair and scone

… and we dog-sat Rosie and fell in love with dogs again.

Labrador

This summer, we frolicked on Sheringham beach, after arriving in style on the steam train….

Sheringham Beach

…a lovely little playhouse appeared in the garden.

Playhouse

This summer we did our wildest camping yet…

Toasting marshmallows

…and got a piano.

Piano

It was also the summer that found us back again at a familiar, and very special, part of Pembrokeshire.

Garn Fawr

What summed up your summer? If you’d like to do your own list, then do link back to me – I’d love to see it!

Lizzie x

 

 

Life at 139a