All posts by mirandasnotebook

Liz Schaffer Shares Her Secret Seven London

An Insider’s Guide to London

This post is part of my Secret Seven London series, where I ask my favourite London instagrammers to share their top seven London locations that are a little off the beaten track.

London is full of beautiful destinations to explore, and I’m always so excited when I uncover a new gem, so I hope my readers will find this series as inspirational as I do! Get ready to fill your Little Black Book with some of London’s best kept secrets…

Liz Schaffer’s Secret Seven London

Liz Schaffer, editor of Lodestars Anthology

Liz Schaffer is editor of the travel journal, Lodestars Anthology. Created for ‘curious travellers who long to be inspired,’ each Lodestars Anthology issue focuses on one country, sharing beautiful stories, illustrations and photographs from each destination. The most recent publication was a new edition of their England journal (a lovely read for any Anglophile!), and the next issue, due out in April, is on Portugal (you can pre-order it here).

Over a year ago, I interviewed Liz on Tea & Tattle Podcast (you can listen to our conversation here), so I’m delighted that she’s agreed to share her Secret Seven London with Miranda’s Notebook readers. Although originally from Australia, Liz is based in London, so she knows the city back-to-front and has some terrific recommendations.

1. Maltby Street Market 

This used to feel like a lesser-known secret but in the last few years Maltby Street Market has exploded onto the London culinary scene, which only proves just how brilliant it is. Unfolding beneath the railway arches approaching London Bridge, and taking place every weekend, this market is made up of an ever-changing assortment of street food stalls and British suppliers who dish up the most wonderful fare. These appear alongside a string of bars, restaurants and the Jensen’s Gin distillery. I love it here – an open-air celebration of local flavours and Bermondsey’s quirk.

If you arrive early on a Saturday you can stock up at the nearby Druid Street Market, which has fruit, vegetables, pastries, wine, cheese, flowers and preserves aplenty. You can also shop for vintage wares at Lassco or, if you visit on a Saturday, stop by the Eames Fine Art Studio on Tanner Street for a little inspiration.

2. Libreria Bookshop

This dream of a bookshop off Brick Lane is perfect when you’re in need of an unconventional literary escape. They offer a wonderful cultural programme but I tend to visit to do little more than browse. Libreria has a unique sorting system – arranged by theme more than anything else – meaning you never really know what book you will walk away with, although the staff are never without a recommendation. The design is wonderful too – cave meets bookcase meets gallery. Perfection.

3. Temperate House, Kew Gardens

This may be more well known, but it has a special place in my heart. Architecturally astounding, I come to this newly reopened glass Victorian marvel because, as an Australian, I regularly seek both warmth (and this is a very warm spot indeed) and plants from my homeland – which thrive in here, blooming alongside some of the world’s rarest species. Visit on a blue sky day and it feels like a time slip, no less delightful now than it was when it first opened in 1862.

4. Noble Rot

Found on Lamb’s Conduit Street – one of the most wonderful walkways in London – Noble Rot is a restaurant and wine bar that is decidedly good for the soul. Here there is a story behind every glass and whether you order the most affordable tipple or something truly extravagant, you’ll be regaled with wine-making tales and given the very best pairing suggestions. It’s the work of the duo who created and still run Noble Rot magazine – a publication I highly recommend.

5.  Kyoto Japanese Peace Garden, Holland Park

I discovered this spot when I first arrived in London and spent days wandering the city trying to figure out if moving halfway across the globe was indeed a smart thing to do (eight years later I’m starting to feel confident that it was). Holland Park is a wonder in its own right, its woodland paths make you feel like the city is very far away indeed, but it’s the Peace Garden that calmed my mind in those early weeks. Utterly soothing and lovingly maintained, it’s made even more brilliant by the fact that Holland Park’s Daunt Books is just a short walk away.

6. Brunswick House

An antique-filled Vauxhall joy, this revered restaurant and bar is found within a Georgian mansion, originally constructed for the Duke of Brunswick in 1758. It’s the sort of place you discover and then have no desire to share. The fare on offer is faultless, the history fascinating, but I return time and again for the interiors, which brim with salvaged museum pieces, given new life, that will take your breath away.

7. Earl of East London

I became obsessed with the hand-poured, sow wax candles of Paul and Niko after joining one of their candle-making workshops back in 2017. Their scents are inspired by their travels and it’s amazing how you tend to be drawn to one of their creations in particular. For me it is Viagem, a blend of coconut, oregano and fig that smells of Portugal.

They run their workshops in a glass studio attached to their lifestyle store, Bonds. Hackney (there is a second location now in Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross). I adore the Hackney location for its proximity to E5 Bakehouse (home of the best sourdough in London) and London Fields Lido, and the wares it contains – upstairs is a ceramics studio so there’s always something new to admire. It smells heavenly too. 

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Thanks to Liz for her brilliant recommendations! Earl of East London is new to me, so I can’t wait to check it out.

If you’d like to find out more about Lodestars Anthology, check out their website and instagram.

Love London? Subscribe to my newsletter, London by the Book, which explores an area of London through a work of fiction each month.

First Signs of Spring in London

Inspired by this week’s Tea & Tattle episode, where I’m chatting with one of my very favourite floral photographers, Georgianna Lane (you can listen to our conversation here), I took an early morning walk in London to seek out signs of spring.

The spell of warm weather has meant that spring has sprung a little early, and I was delighted to discover daffodils already blooming in Green Park and St James’s Park.

During the spring, more than 250,000 daffodils planted in Green Park open their yellow faces to the sun, making it the only time of year you’ll see flowers blooming in this park. The legend goes that Queen Catherine, wife of the womanising Charles II, caught him picking a bouquet for his mistress in the park and ordered all flowers to be removed. Since then, only daffodils appear once a year in this London oasis.

As I walked by Buckingham Palace, I was delighted to witness a carriage pulled by two prancing horses travelling between the Palace and the Royal Mews, most likely on its way back from delivering mail from St James’s Palace (which is done daily by horse and carriage!). The continuation of ancient traditions that permeate London is part of the reason I love the city so much.

After my stroll through the parks, I set off towards Bond Street to visit two of my favourite florists: Wild Things and the Wild at Heart Liberty branch.

Wild Things always have the most beautiful bucket of blooms outside their front door, and I can never resist snapping a photo whenever I stroll by. I loved this display of pale pink, white and burgundy roses – such an old-fashioned, romantic colour combination.

As I made my way towards Liberty, crossing New Bond Street, I saw a tree hanging over the gates of Hanover Square, scattering white petals over the ground.

The blossom is only just starting to appear in the city, and I love tracking its progress through London. North London is always a little behind the rest of the city, but I know that clouds of pink and white blossom will start appearing in Hampstead soon too.

Liberty never fails to live up to expectations; I can never tire of its beautiful entrance way that showcases spectacular flowers in old zinc buckets. The hyacinths and ranunculus particularly caught my eye. The smell of hyacinths always heralds spring for me, and I love the soft delicacy of ranunculus and their tutu-like petals.

Thank you so much to Georgianna Lane for inspiring such a delightful morning walk in my home city. Georgianna is so talented at capturing florals in the city, and I’m very excited by her latest book, New York in Bloom (a follow up to Paris in Bloom). I am going to New York in the summer, and I’ve been using Georgianna’s book to help plan some excursions for when I’m there.

Georgianna will also be publishing London in Bloom next year, which of course I’m very much looking forward to! To hear more about Georgianna’s work and her advice for individuals wishing to pursue a creative career, have a listen to our chat on Tea & Tattle. I hope it inspires you to seek out the earliest signs of spring as well.

Connect with me on instagram: @MirandasNotebook and @MirandasBookcase

Subscribe to my newsletter, London by the Book, which explores an area of London through a work of fiction each month.

P.S. You may also enjoy my blog interview with Georgianna Lane from a couple years ago, which you can read here.

London by the Book

I’m so pleased to announce a new project of mine, London by the Book, which is a monthly newsletter that explores an area of London through a work of fiction. I know so many of my readers are London lovers as well as literary anglophiles, so I think you’ll enjoy these monthly letters.

When I first stepped foot in London aged 16, it felt like a homecoming, as I’d traversed the city so frequently in my imagination. I’d walked the streets in company with Holmes & Watson, Bertie Wooster, Mrs Dalloway, the Fossil sisters and so many others. What amazed me was how well the city lived up to my imagined expectations.

My aim through these newsletters is to show you the parts of London immortalised in literature, not only by contemporary novelists, but also by such classic authors as Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh and Virginia Woolf. Along the way, I’ll also recommend the best cafes, shops and museums to see in each area.

If you’d like to receive these newsletters, please sign up here. An introductory letter will be sent out this evening, and the first proper ‘London by the Book’ instalment will be delivered to your inbox in March.

London Culture: Come From Away Theatre Review

Please note: I was given free tickets to see ‘Come From Away’ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

‘You’re writing a show about giving people sandwiches? Good luck with that!’ was what Reg Wright, President and CEO of the Gander International Airport in Newfoundland told Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the Canadian writers of the remarkable, surprise-hit musical, Come From Away.

Come From Away tells the story of the hundreds of passengers who were flying to the USA on September 11th, 2001, and who were diverted to Newfoundland in the chaos following the terrorist attacks. We all remember what we were doing that morning the actors hum as the show opens, and a shiver goes through the audience, as we too remember. I was 14 years old, living on Long Island, New York, when my Dad called home from work early in the morning and told my Mum and me to turn on the TV. I’ll never forget that day and those immediately following the attack, where everywhere you went the news was blaring from a radio or TV screen, and shock and horror reflected in every face you met.

Everyone has a story to tell about where they were that terrible day, and in Come From Away, Irene Sankoff and David Hein explore the incredible true story of the 7,000 stranded passengers in Newfoundland. When 38 airplanes were diverted to Gander airport after the 09/11 attacks, the 10,000 residents of the Newfoundland town rallied to welcome the frightened and confused travellers. The Newfoundlanders opened their hearts and their homes to strangers for five days before the planes could fly again, and in the face of violence and terror showed compassion, humanity and respect that would never be forgotten by those stranded so far from their loved ones and their homes.

Come From Away theatre review
The cast of Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre, London. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy. Photo source.


In Come From Away, a cast of twelve switch roles seamlessly, playing parts as the local Newfoundlanders, as well as the stranded travellers, which heightens the sense of easy integration between the two groups. Although this is a musical very much about the importance of community, a few individual storylines emerge: a divorcee from Texas (Helen Hobson) finds herself drawn to a British oilman (Robert Hands) who takes a seat next to her (in real life, the couple ended up marrying); a mother (Cat Simmons) confides her overwhelming anxiety about her son, a New York fireman who is missing, to a sympathetic and caring Newfoundlander (Jenna Boyd); and a veteran pilot who blazed a path for female pilots (Rachel Tucker) reflects on her feelings about flying in the wake of 09/11.

Despite the heart-wrenching storylines, Come From Away never crosses the line into saccharine sentimentality. There is an honesty to this production that surely stems from Hein and Sankoff’s dedicated research. They distilled the dozens of interviews they had with both the Newfoundlanders and the airplane passengers into Come From Away, and each song and speech is shot through with the voice of authenticity. Harder subjects aren’t dodged: at the end of the show, the terrified mother learns her firefighter son died, and another passenger, travelling from the Middle-East, is treated with suspicion and subjected to a full-body search before being allowed to finally board his plane.

Come From Away theatre review
Robert Hands and Helen Hobson in Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre, London. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy. Photo source.


Come From Away shows how simple acts of kindness in an extraordinary moment can make an incredible impact. It highlights the power of community, as well as the importance of individual acts of compassion. In their article about writing Come From Away, Sankoff and Hein quote Shakespeare: ‘how far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.’ As well as offering a heartfelt homage to everything that was lost on 09/11, Come From Away offers a vital message for the present: individual actions can impact in the world, and we all have the ability to show a little more kindness to those whose lives we touch, albeit fleetingly.

Both my Mum and I so enjoyed seeing Come From Away, which we agreed is the best musical we’ve seen for a long time. Judging by the enthusiastic standing ovation the cast received on the night we went, the rest of the audience loved it too!

After huge success on Broadway, Come From Away is now showing in London’s West End. Tickets to the show may be purchased here.

Book Talk: Love for Lydia by H.E. Bates

I found this first edition of Love for Lydia by H.E. Bates in a secondhand bookshop a few months ago and have been eager to read it ever since. I thought it an appropriate read in the run up to Valentine’s Day, so picked it up last week and finished it in a few evenings.

I have actually read Love for Lydia before, as a teenager, after watching the old television series, but I could barely remember the plot. What a joy to rediscover this wonderful book in my 30s. I think H.E. Bates is sadly underrated; his work seems to have gone out of fashion, and when I looked up a new edition of Love for Lydia on Blackwells, I was disappointed by the dreary cover. However, it’s worth getting a copy, as this book deserves to be much more widely appreciated, and it’s a brilliant read for February.

‘She had long coils of black hair that fell across her shoulders….She seemed, I thought, about fifteen. It was my first mistake about her.’ — H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia

Love for Lydia is set in the inter-war years and starts on a snowy, late February day in Evensford, a factory town in Northamptonshire. The young male protagonist, Richardson, is working as a journalist for the local newspaper (a job he loathes), and when he spies the arrival of the wealthy Aspen sisters and their niece, Lydia, who live in a beautiful house surrounded by parkland on the outskirts of town, he’s persuaded by his boss to seek an interview. So begins his friendship with Lydia Aspen, whose aunts are delighted she has the company of someone her own age. Richardson teaches Lydia how to ice-skate on the frozen river and quickly becomes infatuated with her.

As the days blossom into spring and summer, their love grows, but as autumn blazes and frosty winter nights return, Lydia grows increasingly interested in two of Richardson’s male friends. Lydia’s selfishness and Richardson’s jealousy spark events that have tragic consequences, and Richardson must come to grips with his own character and place in the world before he can fully understand his feelings for Lydia.

‘The sun went down a moment later in a plunge of wintery magnified fire that left on the ice, the snowy meadows and the cold sky a wonderful afterglow. A lichen-like green hung above the sunset, and the shadows, all across the snow, became of indigo brilliance before finally dissolving. A biting moment of dispersing day, exhilarating and almost cruel, hung in the pure stark air before the first star sparked into green sky above the sunset.’ — H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia

Love for Lydia is one of the best coming-of-age stories I have read. Elements of the story are apparently loosely autobiographical, which perhaps explains the raw, honest portrayal of the young narrator. The novel is told from the perspective of an older Richardson, who can look back on his early manhood and reflect on his own shortcomings and naivety. By the end of the book, Richardson is able to make a commitment to Lydia that speaks of maturity and mutual understanding, rather than blind puppy-love.

As always with Bates’s prose, what truly stands out are his poetic descriptions of an idealised British countryside. Richardson shares Bates’s love for flowers and landscape, and his observations of the changing seasons are breathtakingly lovely.

Ever since interviewing the fantastic Laura Freeman about her memoir on food and books, I’ve been more aware of descriptions of food in the novels I read, and here again Bates shines. From the burning hot jacket potatoes and sizzling fish and chips that Lydia and Richardson laugh over as they first get to know each other, to picnics of cheese and bread and curd tarts, and Richardson’s first taste of champagne (‘slightly on the dry side’) one memorable New Year’s Eve, Bates’s recounting of meals invariably made my mouth water.

‘That night Nancy cooked us roast sirloin, with beans and new potatoes and a lot of excellent gravy, with a dessert of tarts. There was a refreshing smell of peasmint in the air. The meat, roasted in the old range, with coal, was crisped at the edges, and you could taste the delicious fire-burnt crusty juiciness of it on the long red sides….. Tom had brought in some beer, and between beer and beef and plum-fat slices of curd-tart I began to feel blown and hot and sleepy.’ — H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia

I couldn’t recommend a better Valentine’s Day read, and if you’re still in need of a special gift for a loved one, there’s a rather gorgeous first edition, signed by the author, of Love for Lydia here. Otherwise, the paperback is available through Blackwells.

What to read next…

If you adored Love for Lydia as much as I did, here are some suggestions for what to read next:

  • The Darling Buds of May series by H.E. Bates. These five books, unlike many of Bates’s novels, are still in print, and they’re delightful reads, chronicling the adventures of the loveable Larkin family in the Kentish countryside. Start with The Darling Buds of May.
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Another wonderful coming of age story, this time told from the perspective of a young girl.
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. The young Charles Ryder, starstruck by the aristocratic Sebastian and Julia Flyte, has similarities to Bates’s narrator.

If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can find me on Instagram at @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase.

Back to Blogging

As I write this, the sunshine is streaming through the window, and I’ve got a jug of just-about-to-burst daffs in view on the mantlepiece. I’ve just finished recording a Tea and Tattle interview, I’m trying to ignore the ache in my arms from a strenuous early morning workout, and I’ve made another cup of tea in the hope that it will perk me up a bit. I had a late night at the theatre last night, and it’s hard to stop yawning.

As I sat sipping the healing brew (as Bertie Wooster would say), it suddenly occurred to me that I haven’t blogged since before Christmas, and with another shock I realised that we’re almost mid-way through February. Why does the time go so quickly? January was a whirlwind of organising, recording and editing Tea & Tattle episodes to kickstart the new season. The podcast requires hours of work that tends to keep me from blogging as much as I’d like, but with the first taste of spring in the air, I’m in an optimistic mood and vowing to devote more time to this online room of my own.

Much as I love instagram, it certainly has its restrictions, and I’ve missed blogging as a means to write about and photograph whatever I want in relation to my London life and cultural pursuits.

So back to blogging it is!

A Cumbrian Christmas Hamper

A Cumbrian Christmas HamperCumbrian Christmas Hamper from Lakelovers (gifted).

Earlier this week, I was delighted to receive a Christmas hamper courtesy of Lakelovers, which was packed with Christmassy delicacies from the Lake District. I have never been to Cumbria, but it’s a part of the UK that has long figured in my imagination, as I grew up reading Beatrix Potter’s stories and Arthur Ransome’s Swallows & Amazons series, which are set within the area.

A Cumbrian Christmas Hamper

Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals, describing her life at Grasmere with her brother, the famous poet William Wordsworth, has become a more recent literary favourite of mine. I love her jottings on the small pleasures of her days set in the Cumbrian landscape: [December 5th,] Friday Morning: Terribly cold and rainy. Coleridge and Wm. set forwards towards Keswick, but the wind in Coleridge’s eyes made him turn back. Sara and I had a grand bread and cake baking. We were very merry in the evening, but grew sleepy soon, though we did not go to bed till twelve o’clock. –  Dorothy Wordsworth, extract from ‘Life at Grasmere.’

Still today, December is certainly a period that calls for ‘a grand bread and cake baking,’ and many of my Christmas traditions revolve around the delicacies of the season, from making a wish on Stir Up Sunday in November, to relishing the smell of freshly baked mince pies throughout December, to opening the traditional jar of stilton on New Year’s Eve that I buy every year from Fortnum & Mason.

A Cumbrian Christmas Hamper

I was very pleased, then, to get to include some special Cumbrian treats that I’d read about, but never tried before, in my Christmas foodie repertoire this year. The hamper featured local Cumbrian brands and contained treats such as Cartmel Sticky Toffee and Figgy Puddings, Grasmere Gingerbread, Muesli from Lakeland Mues, Pennington’s Christmas Coffee, Lakes Distillery Sloe Gin and Romney’s Kendal Mint Cakes.

A Cumbrian Christmas Hamper

I was fascinated to read some of the history behind the goodies provided. Grasmere gingerbread is more like a biscuit than a cake, with a crumbly texture and plenty of spice (perfect to enjoy whilst drinking tea and writing Christmas cards!). Apparently, this unusual form of gingerbread was first created in 1854 by Sarah Newton, who lived in the small village of Grasmere in the Lake District. The Wordsworths lived in Grasmere in the early 1800s, and by the 1850s many Victorian tourists travelled to the village to follow in the footsteps of the famous poet.

Enterprising Sarah Newton sold them her special gingerbread, and the word quickly spread. Newton’s special Grasmere gingerbread is still popular to this day, and it’s sold from the same building  – the former village school where William Wordsworth taught. I wonder whether the Wordsworths would have liked the gingerbread if they’d been able to try it?

At this time of year, I love to read festive stories and tales of snow and ice. Bonita Norris’s memoir, The Girl Who Climbed Everest, definitely falls within the latter category, as it describes her incredible journey in becoming the youngest British woman to climb the fateful mountain (you may remember my interview with Bonita on Tea & Tattle podcast).

The Girl Who Climbed Everest is the perfect accompaniment to a bar of Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake, as this Cumbrian classic was famously the favourite high-altitude treat of mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary and Sirdar Tenzing when they successfully conquered Mt Everest in 1953. They’d requested 38lbs of mint cake to take as part of their rations, and apparently their only complaint about the product was that they didn’t have enough of it! I find it very strongly minty, and I must say I’m quite happy with a small piece from the comfort and safety of my armchair.

It was so much fun to experience a small taste of Cumbria this December, and it’s definitely inspired me to visit the area in person one day soon.

Bath’s Best Bookshops

One of the (many) things I love most about Bath is its wealth of fantastic bookshops. I wanted to share four of my favourites with you here. I popped into all these bookshops on my most recent trip to Bath and, as a result, came back to London staggering under the weight of a stuffed suitcase!

1/ Topping & Company Booksellers

Topping & Company Booksellers is my favourite bookshop in Bath that sells new books. A well-curated selection of beautiful books stretches floor to ceiling in this delightful shop, so that tall ladders are needed to access the top shelves. The staff are friendly and helpful, and plenty of events are offered throughout the year, as well as a regular fiction reading group.

What seals the deal for me is that complimentary tea (beautifully presented on a tray with teacups, teapot, milk jug and biscuits) is offered to those shopping. I very much enjoyed drinking a cup of the refreshing brew as I decided what I wanted to purchase (in the end, I went for a lovely Christmas anthology).

2/ George Bayntun

When I lived in New York as a child, my Mum would sometimes order secondhand children books for me from the UK. I acquired many vintage Chalet School and Abbey Girl books as Christmas and birthday presents in this way over the years, and I still own the majority of my collection. One of the British bookshops my Mum would order from was George Bayntun in Bath, a bookshop that specialises bookbinding and rare first editions, but which also has a fantastic range of more affordable secondhand books.

I was so excited to visit the bookshop in person in October, and it was just as beautiful as I could have imagined. George Bayntun is housed in an old Victorian building, and the large upstairs is beautiful with its impressive bookcases, wooden floors and exposed plaster walls. There’s still an excellent range of vintage school stories in the basement, as well as plenty of other treasures, so do make sure to visit if you’re ever in the area (George Bayntun is conveniently located very close to the train station).

On my last visit, I came away with three gorgeous 1940s editions of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice (you can see them here).

3/ Mr B’s Emporium Bookshop

Another delightful bookshop selling new books in Bath is Mr B’s. Twice named as the UK’s best independent bookshop, this place is a labyrinth of delights for bibliophiles. Rooms filled with books sprawl upstairs and down, and there are comfy chairs to sink into and deliberate over what to purchase.

Apparently, Mr B’s was first dreamed up by two honeymooners – Nic and Juliette – who, after visiting The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, decided that perhaps they should give up being lawyers and open a bookshop instead. Mr B’s Emporium Bookshop opened in Bath in 2006 and became an instant hit.

I was particularly impressed by the fabulous children’s section, which – along with lots of wonderful books – featured imaginative displays and fun, quirky details (I loved the books piled high in a bathtub!).

4/ Bath Old Books

Whenever I’m in Bath, I like to a pay a visit to Bath Old Books, located in the beautiful Margaret’s Buildings, very close to the Royal Crescent. The bookshop is tiny (though do remember to check out the basement too), but has a lovely selection of secondhand books. I’ve found a few treasures there, including a charmingly illustrated copy of English country lore.

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Next time you’re in Bath, I definitely encourage you to check out at least one of these charming bookshops (and do remember to bring a large suitcase…).

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath.

London Culture | ‘Caroline, or Change’ Theatre Review

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review

Please note: I was given tickets to ‘Caroline, or Change‘ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I was excited to see the revival of Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s  musical Caroline, or Change in the Playhouse Theatre last week, as I’d read several spectacular reviews. The show did not disappoint, and I was also surprised that it’s an appropriately festive performance for December, as a Hanukkah supper is a memorable scene from Act 2, and Christmas carols mix with blues, Motown and klezmer in a truly dynamic musical performance.

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review‘Caroline, or Change’ at the Playhouse Theatre. Photograph by Alastair Muir. Image source.

Caroline, or Change is set in Louisiana in 1963. The Civil Rights Movement has been gathering momentum for years, but change is slow to come to the sleepy Louisiana town where Caroline Thibodeaux (played by Sharon D Clarke) is the black maid of a liberal white Jewish family. Kushner in fact drew on his own memories of his childhood in writing the musical, which explains why Noah Gellman (Isaac Forward), the young son of the house, has such a prominent part within the piece. Noah, grieving for his dead mother, turns to Caroline for a friendship that she, in her role as employee, finds hard to give.

Tensions mount as Noah’s step-mother, Rose Gellman (Lauren Ward), in an effort to teach Noah the value of money, tells Caroline that she can keep any spare change that she finds in Noah’s pockets. The nickels and dimes that Caroline saves from the washing machine, although small change to the Gellman family, make all the difference to underpaid Caroline, who is a single mother with three children to feed. And yet being forced to take a child’s pocket money is a soul-diminishing experience that adds to Caroline’s resentment at her restricted world of ceaseless drudgery.

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review

Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibodeaux in ‘Caroline, or Change’. Photograph by Alastair Muir. Image source.

Sharon D Clarke’s performance as Caroline is truly remarkable. Not only is her incredible voice mesmerising in its power, but even her silences vibrate with unspoken words. Clarke, as Caroline, performs her duties with a brooding sullenness that speaks volumes; her unhappiness and frustration boiling just below the surface until her emotions finally break free and ring out in song. Caroline is shown as incredibly isolated; much of her days spent alone in the hot, steamy basement of the Gellman’s home.

Without any real company beyond that of Noah’s, Caroline personifies her daily companions: the washing machine, drier and radio, which spring to life and act as her alter-egos, both chiding and encouraging her decisions. Many of the most memorable scenes of the musical take place in the basement, with the animated domestic appliances belting out spectacular tunes. I especially enjoyed the performances of Dujonna Gift-Simms, Tanisha Spring and Keisha Amponsa Banson as the ‘radio.’ The women made a dynamic trio brilliantly reminiscent of the Supremes.

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review‘Caroline, or Change’ at the Playhouse Theatre. Photograph by Alastair Muir. Image source.

Ultimately, Caroline, or Change is about the hope of change to come, the wish for a better future. Caroline’s daughter, Emmie (Abiona Omonua) is the embodiment of this hope, as she refuses to be seen as anything less than equal to her mother’s employers, and carries utter conviction in her fierce determination to grab hold of a life different from the generations of women that came before her.

I found Caroline, or Change, a thought-provoking musical with fantastic performances, and if you enjoy a music-filled night at the theatre, then I definitely recommend adding this show to your list. Caroline, or Change is running at the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End until 6th April 2019. Tickets may be purchased here.

UK Travel | Widbrook Grange, Bradford-on-Avon

Please note: my Mum and I were guests of Widbrook Grange, and our stay was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Whenever I leave London for a short break, I’m reminded yet again of how many beautiful destinations there are at an easy distance from the capital. I was delighted to be asked to visit Wiltshire last week, to review Widbrook Grange, a boutique hotel in the heart of the countryside.

Widbrook Grange is closest to Bradford-on-Avon train station, only a few short stops from Bath (and also on the direct train line from London), so my Mum and I decided to spend some time exploring Bath in the morning before making our way to the hotel. We spent such a fun time browsing in the bookshops, revisiting some favourite Bath sights and having lunch at The Ivy, before hopping on the train to Bradford-on-Avon.

Bradford-on-Avon

Bradford-on-Avon is a remarkably pretty town in Wiltshire, with golden coloured Cotswold stone houses, a canal and a river running through the town, historic buildings and an inviting variety of pubs, tea rooms and hotels.

Widbrook Grange is a 30 minute walk from Bradford-on-Avon train station, so we decided to wait until a taxi became available and have an amble around the town centre first. It had been raining on and off all day, but we were lucky it was dry as we made our way along the town’s attractive streets.

I was pleased to spot the The Bridge Tea Rooms, which have achieved instagram fame, and I’d seen its pretty facade many times on my instagram feed. Apparently the building was originally a blacksmith’s cottage and dates from 1502. The staff serve slabs of Victoria sponge and other tea time treats dressed in Victorian costume, which I would have loved to have seen, but we didn’t have time to go inside on this visit – I’ll just have to go back another time!

Widbrook Grange

After our short exploration of the town, our taxi arrived and whisked us off to our hotel. Widbrook Grange is a small luxury hotel  in a beautiful part of the Wiltshire countryside, surrounded by eleven acres of land. The hotel was once a farm, dating from the 1830s, and the elegant Georgian building has been beautifully restored in keeping with its heritage.

Entering the hotel feels rather like stepping into the hallway of a family country home. A bucket of wellies for guests to use sits by the door, and the atmosphere is instantly cosy and inviting, with flagstone flooring throughout, open hearths in the lounge area just off the hall (crackling with a fire in the evenings) and large leather sofas. There’s even a fitness and swimming pool area in one of the outhouses, should you fancy a dip during your stay.

I appreciated the quirky decor features, such as old sacks of grain and a vintage farm truck parked by the hotel entrance, that were a great nod to the hotel’s farmhouse past. A miniature dovecote in the garden was also a lovely touch, and it was a beautiful sight to watch the doves fluttering through the sky as twilight settled on the late autumn day.

The Artist’s Room

After a warm welcome by Reception, we were shown up to our bedroom on the first floor: The Artist’s Room, where the hotel’s signature attention to detail in interior design and love for comfort was also apparent. A vintage paintbox held a selection of biscuits, hot chocolate, tea and coffee, and an easel held a large flat-screen TV directly in front of the bed.

I was especially taken with the huge bathtub that took centre stage in the room, which was perfect for a relaxing soak after supper. The hotel even provided some books to read in the bath, including a bound leather volume of Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham, showing, I think, excellent taste!

After relaxing in our room over cups of tea for a little while, we decided to go down for our pre-dinner G&Ts.

G&Ts and Supper

Widbrook Grange has an extremely impressive gin bar, with around 150 different types of gin to sample. I went with the ‘when in Rome’ philosophy and ordered a classic Bath gin, which is a botanical gin with bitter orange, kaffir lime leaf and English coriander. My Mum went for the gin of the month, which was an Earl Grey gin  by a London gin company.

Both gins were aromatic and delicious and made the perfect pre-dinner aperitif. For those who like nothing better than a good G&T, Widbrook Grange offers personalised gin tasting sessions which sound like a lot of fun.

We were lucky in having the snug bar space almost to ourselves and settled into a couple of comfy leather-backed chairs. If the bar space gets too crowded, then the next door snug room is the perfect place to relax with a  magazine in one hand and a drink in the other.

After our drinks, we made our through to the restaurant, where we had a table reserved. We’d only had a light lunch in Bath, so we were hungry by the time supper rolled around, and the menu made our mouths water even more, as it was hard to choose between the many appetising dishes.

A platter of bread, herb butters and olive oil and vinegar appeared at the table for us to nibble as we made up our minds what to order. In the end, I settled on the Fish Variation to start: a platter of pickled mackerel, cured salmon and smoked haddock mousse with pickled cucumber and olive oil biscuits.

Mum went for the Rabbit and Local Ham Ballotine with carrot and tomato chutney, pickled asparagus and honey caviar.

Both starters were delicious; mine tasted very rich (especially the haddock mousse), but fortunately the portions were delicate so the dish wasn’t too overwhelming for the start of a meal.

Next, I ordered Fillet of Beef with fondant potato, asparagus, red cabbage hash, roasted fennel and cacao jus. Mum chose Pan Roasted Wiltshire Pork Tenderloin with crispy almond pig cheek, leek and sweet potato gratin, served in wild mushroom beer sauce.

Both dishes were exceptionally good and showed a flair of culinary imagination that places Widbrook Grange’s menu above the typical country hotel fare. The service throughout our meal was also very friendly and attentive.

Although we were feeling pretty stuffed after polishing off our mains, we did just save some room for dessert, and we  both went for the Sticky Toffee Pudding with vanilla ice-cream and toffee sauce.

It had been years since I’d had a sticky toffee pudding, but it was a great choice for an autumn evening, and the one served at Widbrook Grange was just right: not too heavy, but still a decadent dessert.

 

Breakfast and a Canal Walk

The next morning started out raining, but soon the sunshine broke through the clouds, so we decided to have a walk along the canal near the hotel after breakfast.

We headed back downstairs again for the restaurant, which was was looking particularly bright and airy in the morning sun.

The breakfast at Widbrook Grange is very generous, so you may want to plan to linger over your morning meal!  A huge sideboard is set up with all the cold treats: yoghurt, various toppings, croissants, fresh and dried fruits etc, and then a hot menu is also provided.

I liked the way you could make up your own version of a ‘full English’ from the menu, by picking your favourite ingredients from a wide selection. I went for scrambled eggs, sausage, mushrooms and black pudding. Widbrook Grange aims to source all its ingredients from local suppliers, and our menu listed the farmers and butchers that provided the eggs, meat and vegetables for our breakfast, which I thought was a nice touch.

Our meal was seriously tasty and set us up well for another day spent exploring. We set off for a walk around the gardens, before exiting along the countryside lane that wound its way past the hotel’s Boat House (which housed another, more informal restaurant) and along to the canal.

It was a beautiful autumn morning, and we returned from our ramble just in time to check out and call for a taxi so we could catch our train back to Bath.

I’m looking forward to sharing some of my Bath adventures later on the blog, especially about discovering the city’s many glorious bookshops, so do check back to the blog again soon.

~

Widbrook Grange, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

Room rates at Widbrook Grange are from £105 per night, based on two sharing, on a bed and breakfast basis. For further information and for reservations, please visit www.widbrookgrange.co.uk,  or call 01225 864750.

Widbrook Grange also has a current winter special offer: three nights for the price of two. Book any room for 3 nights and only pay for 2. The cheapest room night  is free, and breakfast is included. This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other, and it is valid Nov 15 2018 – March 1 2019 (excludes 22/12/18 – 2/1/1914/2/19).