All posts by mirandasnotebook

T&T 41 | Joyful French Eating with Elizabeth Bard

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m chatting with the bestselling author, Elizabeth Bard, about Elizabeth’s new cookbook, Dinner Chez Moi: 50 French Secrets to Joyful Eating and Entertaining.

Elizabeth lives in Provence with her family, and she has also written two culinary memoirs, Lunch in Paris and Picnic in Provence, about her move from America to France and how she fell in love with the country, the food and a Frenchman! I love Elizabeth’s humorous and insightful descriptions of adapting to the French way of life, as well as the delicious recipes that accompany her words.

Dinner Chez Moi is less of a memoir and more a handy guide to the French style of eating and living, with plenty of Elizabeth’s favourite recipes to enjoy. I had a fabulous time asking Elizabeth all about what she stocks in her Provençal kitchen; how to shop wisely for delicious, but affordable meals and some of the French secrets to keeping a trim waistline (I think I’ve got the tea-drinking part down at least!).

It was so fun to catch-up with Elizabeth on the podcast, as I’d met her last summer when I was in Provence, and arranged an interview with her at Scaramouche, the artisan glacier Elizabeth runs with her husband.

With Elizabeth Bard outside Scaramouche

This episode is perfect for summer and will inspire anyone, I’m sure, to dash to their local farmers’ market and start buying up juicy tomatoes and other fresh produce!

Listen to learn more about eating, cooking and living the French way. 

T&T 40 | The Greedy Queen

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m learning all about Queen Victoria’s eating habits from the food historian, Annie Gray. Annie’s recently published book, The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria is an unconventional biography of the Queen, examining her life in food.

Annie Gray is an historian, cook, broadcaster and writer, who specialises in the history of food and dining in Britain from about 1600 to the present day. In our chat, Annie explains how her interest in food and history developed, and how she first came to examine the role of meals in Queen Victoria’s life. It was so interesting to learn more about the complex relationship Victoria had with food, how she used meal-times as a way to exert power and the culinary legacy she left behind.

Annie Gray

I read The Greedy Queen a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed Annie’s engaging, witty style of writing that brought historical figures and events so vividly to life. In today’s episode, Annie’s vivacious conversation will be a delight to lovers of food and history alike.

Listen to learn more about Queen Victoria’s life and relationship with food

T&T 39 | A Chat With Min Kym

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle Podcast here or on iTunes.

I’m so delighted to share today’s Tea and Tattle episode, where I’m in conversation with the violinist and writer, Min Kym, about her heart-wrenching memoir, Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung.

I was sent a pre-release copy of Gone earlier in the year by Penguin, and I was intrigued by its beautiful cover and interesting premise. In Gone, Min describes the agonising loss of her Stradivarius violin, which was stolen from her at a cafe in Euston Train Station in London, and how she found her way back to music and rediscovered her sense of self after it was taken.

Once I’d started the first page, I was instantly caught up in Min’s extraordinary story and read for hours and hours one night so I could finish the book. Min’s raw, incredibly honest prose sends you hurtling through the pages, eager and yet anxious (for you know there is no fairytale happy ending) to know what comes next.

Ultimately, Min describes her book as being about love: for a person, for an instrument, for music, for oneself. Despite the deep loss that lies at the heart of the book, Gone is nevertheless a story full of inspiration and joy. As Min says at the end of our conversation, ‘I feel very hopeful,’ and so does the reader on reaching the end of her memoir. Min shows that even in the darkest hour, she found herself – and her voice – altered, perhaps, but far from diminished by her experiences.

Min Kym. Image by Orli Rose

I was so caught up in my conversation with Min that the time simply flew by, and we both said afterwards that we could have chatted all morning. This episode, then, is longer than usual, but I think when you listen, you’ll understand why.

Listen to hear Min Kym’s fascinating story about her life growing up as a child musical prodigy and the incredible relationship between a violinist and their instrument

T&T 38 | Lauren Elkin and the Flâneuse

An interview with Lauren Elkin

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes

Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m speaking with the brilliant Lauren Elkin about her wonderful book, Flâneuse. In part a memoir of Lauren’s experiences living and walking in Paris, New York City, London, Venice and Tokyo, Flâneuse is also a fascinating examination of the cultural history of creative women, such as Virginia Woolf, George Sand and Jean Rhys, who have found inspiration and freedom from roaming city streets.

An interview with Lauren Elkin

In our conversation, Lauren explains how her own creative self-discovery whilst exploring Paris as a student first led her to identify the flâneuse, a female equivalent to the flâneur: a male author or artist who wanders the streets of his city with an observant eye. The flâneur or flâneuse takes the part of a spectator; at one with the city, but also set a little apart from it, looking on from the outside.

The flâneur – with its masculine form – has always been used to describe a man, but in her book Lauren brilliantly argues the case for the feminine flâneuse, showing how historically women writers and authors have also engaged with city streets, drawing on their urban environment for creative inspiration.

An interview with Lauren ElkinLauren Elkin. Image © Marianne Katser

I so enjoyed hearing Lauren’s thoughts on the challenges that women still face today when walking in a city, the women she finds especially inspirational and why Paris is so special to her.

Listen to learn more about Lauren Elkin’s book, Flâneuse, and the creative inspiration that taking to a city’s streets can bring. 

A Wild Summer With Sue Belfrage

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage Interview

A few weeks ago, I was browsing my local bookshop and spotted Sue Belfrage’s gorgeous book, Down to the River and Up to the Trees. I flicked through the pages, delighted by the whimsical illustrations and suggested activities for injecting more wilderness into everyday life. Needless to say, Sue’s book made its way home with me, as a lovely addition to my growing collection of writings on the natural world.

This summer, I’m keen to experience more of nature, both on my doorstep and further afield. I’ve made plans with friends to swim in the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond, and I’m currently writing this post from the Artist Residence Hotel, nestled deep in the Oxfordshire countryside. I can look out the window and see the restaurant’s vegetable garden, surrounded by neighbouring fields and meadows.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees is the perfect companion for those wishing to engage with nature. Packed with fun activities, from sun printing to foraging tips, as well as beautiful quotes and illustrations, Sue Belfrage will open the eyes of even the most diehard urbanite to the natural wonders surrounding them.

I got in touch with Sue to say how much I enjoyed her book, as well as to ask her a few questions about herself, her work and her suggestions for infusing more nature into my city life.

***

Would you tell me a little about yourself and your career so far?

Besides painting and writing in my own time, I worked for many years as an editor in book publishing. I ended up specialising in non-fiction, which gave me the opportunity to work on a wide range of subjects with all sorts of fascinating people – from healers, witches and shamans to leading philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists. And, because of my love of nature, I ended up commissioning some beautiful books by brilliant nature writers.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewSue Belfrage

What first sparked your love for nature?

Difficult to say. I remember being about two years old and peering into a paddling pool: a large dead spider was bobbing about in the water like a folded-up umbrella. Perhaps not the most auspicious start, but the main feeling I had was of fascination and wonder – and that sense of curiosity has stayed with me ever since.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewSummer Garden, Sue Belfrage

Then, at the age of six, I moved with my family to Sweden for a few years. The Swedes have something called allemansrätten, which is basically the right to roam – but it also means taking care of the countryside, something you learn at a young age. I lived in the suburbs of a small city where there were lots of woods and streams to explore, so I used to take off with my friends, build camps, go sledding and make rope swings. We were left to our own devices even though we were relatively small, and would come back at the end of each day with dirty hands and knees, having spent hours outside in the fresh air whatever the weather.

Would you tell me a little about your book, Down to the River and Up to the Trees? What inspired you to write it?

I got to a point last year where I realised I needed to make changes, so I did a slightly crazy thing and quit my job. I was lucky to have some savings and the support of my other half, and had the opportunity to spend much of the summer outside, painting and walking – and reappraising. In many ways, spending time in nature was very healing, and it reminded me just how important that connection is for all of us. By the end of the summer I think the seed for Down to the River and Up to the Trees had been sown.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewOyster Shell, by Sue Belfrage

I love how your book encourages us all to get out and enjoy the nature that’s on our doorstep. What are some of your favourite outdoor activities to do in the summer?

I have the good fortune to work at home, so on a sunny day I will often try to work outside or – if that’s not possible – I’ll leave my desk and just go stand barefoot outside for a few minutes. Natural light is a much better pick-me-up than coffee, even if you can only get outside during your lunchbreak.

I also love going for long woodland walks, and down to the coast – not necessarily to go swimming, but to walk along the strandline, picking my way through the seaweed, shells and driftwood, and doing a bit of beachcombing. I’ve got all sorts of flotsam and jetsam decorating my shelves at home.

And, like many of us, I enjoy taking photos of wild flowers and the sky. I have a bit of a thing for clouds and the patterns of leaves…

What’s your advice to people who live in urban environments who would like to experience more of the natural world in their everyday lives?

Make the most of what you have and where you live. That might sound a bit trite, but having lived in cities such as London and Liverpool, I’ve been struck by the fantastic parks, public gardens and green spaces you can find there; you don’t have to live in a rural idyll to create your own special connection with nature. (That said, I once had a stand-off with a rat on a stepping stone in Liverpool’s Sefton Park, which is otherwise a glorious spot.)

Also, whereas people in the countryside tend to rely on their cars to get about, if you live in a city you’ll often have a greater opportunity to walk – and if you’re walking there’s usually a chance to see all sorts of plants and wild life, even in the very heart of a city. Alternatively, if you can’t get out to nature, bring it to you: give a home to a pot plant, place a window box where you can see it change through the seasons (replanting as necessary), or grow your own potatoes in a bag!

It’s really just about opening up our senses and taking the time to notice the life around us, which admittedly is often a lot easier said than done these days, when the temptation can be to keep ‘busy’ rather than just be.

Have you always loved to draw? How would you describe your artistic style?

Yes, I’ve always loved drawing and still have sketchbooks that I drew in as a little girl. While their artistic merit is extremely doubtful (I was definitely no Picasso), they show enthusiasm and a sheer love of scribbling; I wasn’t worried about getting things ‘right’ but just enjoyed making marks. The same is true today – for me the pleasure lies mainly in the process rather than the result. (Though of course it’s always nice if people do like your work.)

I’m mainly a figurative artist, and do quite a bit of life drawing. I also enjoy landscape painting and print making. You can see some of my sketches and lino prints in Down to the River and Up to the Trees.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewFur, lino cut by Sue Belfrage

Besides getting out into nature, how else do you refuel and feed your own creativity?

I love reading, especially literary fiction and poetry, and I like listening to music. I also enjoy good conversation, and sharing a glass or two – plus laughter – with friends. I meet up about once a month with a writing group to share our work in progress. As well as discussing our writing, we catch up on all the news and gossip, and generally offer each other moral support – which can be a real lifeline if you’re trying to work creatively on your own. Oh, and I suppose there are healthy things too like Pilates, which is a great way to unwind.

Are there any magazines or books about the natural world (besides your own!) that you would recommend?

Nature writing is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment, and there are some wonderful writers out there, but if you want a hands-on experience, I would definitely recommend getting hold of the old Reader’s Digest Nature Lovers Library guides, which you can still find in second-hand bookshops. I find myself dipping into the Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain all the time!

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewApple Tree by Sue Belfrage

Finally, do you have any upcoming events or future projects you’re able to share at the moment?

I’m looking forward to taking part in a Wild Women’s Retreat organised by HoneyWoods Camping later this month, and then I’m taking part in the Yeovil Literary Festival in October. I’m always open to considering invitations; if I can help any of your readers with an event, I can be contacted via my website: suebelfrage.com and on twitter and Instagram (@suebelfrage).

Thanks, Miranda, for this interview and your interest in my work. I hope you have a really wild summer!

***

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage Interview

Thank you so much again to Sue for her thoughtful answers to my questions. Are you inspired to get out into nature a little more this summer?

Down to the River and Up to the Trees: Discover the hidden nature on your doorstep by Sue Belfrage is published by Harper Thorsons, £9.99.

 

T&T 37 | West African Cuisine With Lopè Ariyo

West African Cuisine With Lopè Ariyo

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m chatting with the food writer and chef, Lopè Ariyo, about her debut cookbook, Hibiscus. Lopè was named the Observer’s Rising Star of Food for 2017 and has been praised as one of the UK’s leading voices in West African cuisine. Her cookbook, Hibiscus, was published in June and has a delightful variety of mouthwatering recipes featuring traditional West African ingredients. I can’t wait to try my hand at Lopè’s hibiscus and coconut cake!

West African Cuisine With Lopè Ariyo

In this episode, we chat about how going to boarding school in Nigeria influenced Lopè’s cooking when she moved back to London and tried to recreate the dishes she’d loved best from her childhood. Lopè also shares how winning a food competition whilst studying Maths at university (and writing her food blog on the side) changed her life, landing her a cookbook deal and catapulting her into the food industry.

West African Cuisine With Lopè AriyoLopè Ariyo, Image © Ellis Parrinder

Lopè’s love for entertaining and cooking is clear, and I asked her for some tips on being a brilliant hostess, as well as a menu for a dinner party inspired by her book. Be warned – listening to this episode is bound to make you feel rather hungry!

Listen to learn more about West African cuisines and the story behind Hibiscus.

P.S. Next week on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the writer and critic Lauren Elkin about her fabulous book, Flâneuse

UK Travel | Polo in the Cotswolds

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

A huge highlight of my recent trip to Cirencester in the Cotswolds was getting to watch my very first polo games at Cirencester Park Polo Club. After dropping our bags off at the Kings Head Hotel, Mum and I called a taxi to take us the short drive to the Polo Club.

The Kings Head were kindly hosting us in their gorgeous marquee, and as soon as we arrived, I knew the afternoon would be special.

Champagne Reception

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

The marquee was set up on a lawn right next to the polo playing field, with deck chairs and benches placed outside so we could watch the games in comfort later. Before the afternoon games started, though, we were spoilt with a champagne reception, where we got to mingle with some other guests, followed by a spectacular lunch.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

I got very excited when I spotted Jilly Cooper in the marquee, although I was too shy to say hello! To commemorate the occasion, I did order a copy of Polo later though!

Lunch

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

Our lunch was fantastic, with a buffet choice of either hot or cold food. Mum and I both went for the roast lamb with mint sauce and all the trimmings, followed by strawberry Eton mess and a shared cheese plate.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo ClubUK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo ClubUK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

Everything was delicious, and it was the perfect menu for a Sunday lunch in the English countryside.

Men’s Polo

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

After lunch, we got the chance to speak to a player and meet his beautiful pony (I soon learnt horses are called ponies in polo) – Intrigue – before the start of the men’s game.

Being a polo newbie, I took the opportunity to find out a little more about the game, learning that a full game of polo is six chukkas, with each chukka being 7 minutes long. Ponies are swapped in between chukkas so they don’t get too tired. During half-time, spectators are called on to take part in treading-in, where the churned up turf is stamped down and made flat and smooth again.

Armed with these facts, I settled down to enjoy the men’s game.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

It didn’t take me long to realise that I love polo! Normally used to being bored stiff by anything vaguely sporty, I was amazed by how fast-paced and exciting polo is. Chukkas go by at lightening speed, and it’s thrilling to watch the ponies stampeding across the field and performing hairpin turns with incredible grace and fluidity.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

At half-time, I dutifully trotted out on to the field with a merry crowd of spectators and their dogs and stomped on the grass, cheered along by the commentators.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

There was such a convivial atmosphere to the afternoon, with people enjoying picnics from the backs of their cars, or lounging in sun-chairs and chatting in front of the marquee.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

It felt like no time at all before the game was over, and prizes were handed out to the winning team, as well as for particular categories, like (my favourite) the best playing pony.

Afternoon Tea

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

Before the women’s match started, afternoon tea was served. This, I thought, was definitely the way to see polo! Exciting games, with fantastic food, champagne and piping hot tea flowing in between. Mum and I both agreed we’d definitely found our spectator sport.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

I was still full from lunch, so could only manage half a slice of Battenburg cake and a macaron, but they were lovely to nibble, and Mum said the scones were exceedingly good too – freshly baked and still warm.

A Chat with Tamara Fox

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

Before the Ladies’ Polo game started, I got the chance to speak to one of the players from the British Team, Tamara Fox. Tamara is a two goal player who plays out of Cirencester Park Polo Club. She often plays alongside her sister, Nina Clarkin.

{For those of you who don’t know much about polo – like me! – from my understanding, it’s like golf in that it uses a handicap system to rate each player, although is unlike golf in that the higher handicap you have, the better you are. Players are rated from -2 handicaps (or goals) to 10 handicaps.}

I questioned Tamara a little about her polo career and how women’s polo has changed.

***

MN: What’s your background in polo? It seems like quite a family affair for you!

TF: Yes! My mother played, my sister plays and my brother. I started when I was 11 and got addicted to it. I got into the Pony Club and stayed in it until I was 20-21. I think my pinnacle really came when I got to play at Ellerston in ’99, and I was the first lady to play at Ellerston, and we won. That was amazing. From there, I think it’s all gone down hill [laughs]. I went to two goals after that, and stayed on two goals – still two goals now  – in the mixed [men and women] polo.

“I feel that, in my lifetime, polo has really developed.” – Tamara Fox

MN: Would you tell me a bit about Ladies’ Polo and your handicap system?

TF: We have a new handicap system, so we have a separate handicap to the men’s polo. When we play in the mixed polo, we play on our mixed handicap, and for me that’s 2 goals, but when we play in the ladies’ polo, we play on our ladies’ handicap, and for me that’s 7 goals. It’s a different handicap because it’s a different style of polo, and it makes it more even, because some ladies are much better at mixed polo, and some are better at ladies’ polo. I feel that, in my lifetime, polo has really developed, not just women’s polo, but polo as a whole, and it’s a fun thing to be a part of.

MN: What would you like to see happen for women’s polo in the future?

TF: I would like to see more women playing in the mixed polo, because that’s the best fun, or perhaps not more fun, but it’s different, and I’d like to see more girls doing it.

***

That sounds like a brilliant ambition to me too, and I hope to see more mixed matches in the future!

Ladies’ Polo

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

The ladies’ game was just as action-packed as the men’s, and even more exciting, as I was cheering for Tamara’s team, which won! Congratulations again to Tamara and the other players.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

Although the Polo Club after-party sounded an awful lot of fun, Mum and I had supper booked back at the hotel, so we made our farewells and called a taxi.

I have now definitely caught the polo bug, and I’d love to try my hand at a lesson, which I think would be awfully fun (happily, you don’t need any prior riding experience to take a lesson). Seeing the games seems to have awoken my 7 year-old pony-book-obsessed self, and I can’t wait to enjoy more polo in the future.

If you’ve never seen a game, then I so recommend going to one – it makes for a brilliantly entertaining day out, and if you’re in the Cotswolds area, or fancy a weekend away from London, then I can guarantee the Cirencester Park Polo Club is the place to go!

***

Check out events, or book a polo lesson,  at the Cirencester Park Polo Club here. You can also book for the marquee hospitality package (which I strongly recommend!) here.

See also: my stay at the Kings Head, Cirencester.

Note: We were guests of the Kings Head Hotel for our afternoon of fun and polo. 

T&T | Exploring Great Britain With Alice Stevenson

Tea and Tattle Podcast | Exploring Great Britain With Alice Stevenson

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the London-based illustrator and author, Alice Stevenson. Alice has been a friend of mine ever since I first interviewed her a few years ago, but I’ve been an admirer of her work for much longer than that. Alice is an admirably prolific artist, producing numerous illustrations for book designs, special commissions, prints and cards. Alice is also the author of two books: Ways to Walk in London and the newly published Ways to See Great Britain.

In Ways to See Great Britain, Alice writes about her adventures travelling the UK, covering an impressive variety of places from the Orkney Islands to Plymouth. Her musings on the strange, the beautiful and the prosaic that she discovers are delightfully enhanced by Alice’s signature abstract sketches. With an impressive eye for detail, Alice shows you how to bring more intention to your wanderings; always seeking out the hidden treasures that are the rewards of the curious and observant explorer.

Tea and Tattle Podcast | Exploring Great Britain With Alice Stevenson

In our conversation, I asked Alice for her tips and recommendations for exploring the UK, as well as ways to look at your surroundings with a more creative eye. Alice also shared some of the highlights and disappointments from her trips, other books about the UK that inspire her and how her perspective on what it means to be British changed as she got to know her home country better.

Listen to hear great tips on exploring the UK and how to bring more creativity to your travels.  

UK Travel | The Kings Head, Cirencester

UK Travel | The Kings Head, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

A Trip to the Cotswolds

At the end of June, I took my Mum to the Cotswolds to celebrate her birthday. We’d been to the Cotswolds together once several years ago, and, remembering the beautiful countryside and pretty villages, we were excited to explore the region a little more. This time, we stayed at The Kings Head in Cirencester, a picturesque town in the heart of the Cotswolds.

The start of summer is an exquisite time to visit the English countryside, with the promise of lush green vistas, blooming roses and  – if your luck holds – blue skies. Happily, although we did experience a little rain, the sun mainly decided to cooperate and shone gaily for much of our weekend jaunt.

The Kings Head

UK Travel | The Kings Head, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

The train ride from Paddington to Kemble, the closest station to Cirencester, was smooth and fast. We’d barely finished our croissants and tea before pulling into the charming, old-fashioned train station, 1hr and 22 minutes after leaving London. From Kemble, it was a 10 minute drive (we hailed a taxi at the station) before we were dropped off at the doors of The Kings Head Hotel, situated a stone’s throw from the pretty church in the centre of Cirencester.

++ A Historic Past ++

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The Kings Head is a large, beautiful hotel steeped in history. A section of glass flooring near the reception desk reveals part of the remains of an ancient roman road, and records of the building date list it as a coaching inn in the 14th Century. With a history of hospitality spanning hundreds of years, then, it’s not surprising that the hotel is the epitome of elegance and comfort. The wide-range of rooms and event spaces available make it a fantastic choice for either a weekend getaway or occasion gatherings.

Fun details in the decor catch the eye of the particularly observant guest: the head of  the hotel’s eponymous King is engraved on the iron staircase bannisters, starting with him as a baby and ending up a wizened man by the third floor.  I loved how the Kings Head’s fascinating history is reflected in the design throughout the cavernous building: brightly coloured spools of yarn on display reference Cirencester’s wool industry past; ancient artefacts are scattered throughout the maze of the underground cellars and exposed brick walls and original wooden beams have been thoughtfully incorporated into the hotel’s recent renovations.The result is an appealing mix of heritage and modern sensibility and comfort.

++ Feature Space Room ++

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

One of the things I loved most about this hotel was the opulence of sheer space. The room was massive, easily fitting a king size bed, sofa, desk, coffee table and wardrobe. The elegant, muted tones of the decor offset the exposed wooden beams and brick walls perfectly. I was charmed by the bathroom, which had a brick fireplace, large tub and walk-in shower.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The CotswoldsUK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

My Mum, who loves her coffee in the morning, was delighted by the espresso machine, and I was equally pleased with the good-sized kettle, fresh milk and wide selection of teas. Other thoughtful details included free wi-fi, bottled water and Elemis toiletries (Elemis is a favourite skincare brand of mine, so I was particularly happy to try out their body cream!).

Supper Time

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

Mum and I had spent the afternoon of our first day in Cirencester watching Polo (which I’ll be writing about in my next blog post), and had enjoyed a fabulous lunch and afternoon tea in a beautiful marquee on the Cirencester Park Polo Club grounds. Our stomachs gallantly rose to the occasion, however, and we were able to enjoy a thoroughly appetising supper too.

You know how much I appreciate a great set menu, and the Kings Head dinner menu is fantastic. I was blown away by the quality of the food and the incredible value. The menu offered was £16.50 for two courses or £20 for three. I chose ham hock terrine with piccalilli, toasted brioche and herb salad, followed by grilled fillet of sea bream, crushed potatoes and wilted summer greens. My first choice of summer pudding for dessert was no longer available, so instead I settled on vanilla cheesecake with limoncello sorbet.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

Everything was delicious: my ham hock terrine was bursting with flavour, and the sea bream was the highlight of the meal for me – cooked to perfection and extremely tasty. I very much enjoyed the cheesecake as well, although I would have preferred a more traditional cheesecake base – the firm biscuit was hard to cut. The sorbet was beautifully refreshing, though, and the creaminess of the cheesecake topping was a lovely pairing with the tartness of the limoncello.

Mum had decided on a goat cheese and beetroot salad with orange dressing, with roast beef and all the trimmings as her main. After her incredible beef, she couldn’t manage even a spoonful of my cheesecake, let alone her own dessert!

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

As you can see, the restaurant’s portions are exceedingly generous! Mum said her beef was superb, and she very much enjoyed the salad to start as well. We each had a glass of the house white wine with our meal, which was crisp and pleasant.

Breakfast, Spa, Prosecco

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

After a refreshing night’s sleep, we made our way down for breakfast, and found that – somehow – we were able to eat again. There was an inviting cold buffet of juices, yoghurt, granola, cold cuts, cheese and pastries, but we both opted for a hot breakfast. I went for scrambled eggs on toast with sausage (delicious), and Mum had a veggie option of avocado, fried mushrooms and tomatoes and toast.

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Extra toast was served with Tiptree jams and honey, and of course we washed everything down with generous refills of tea and coffee. It was very pleasant to sit and relax over yet another great meal, knowing that we had a further day of fun awaiting us.

The Kings Head Hotel has a large spa, as well as a steam room and fitness centre, and we were both booked in for 30 minute spa treatments after breakfast. I decided on a pedicure, selecting a bright hot-pink varnish to welcome summer, and Mum went for a foot massage and nail buffering. The spa was delightfully calm and quiet, and our beauty technicians were very helpful, giving me open toed slippers so I could walk around the hotel after without smudging my polish.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

After our spa appointments, we decided to indulge in a glass of prosecco on the hotel’s roof terrace, enjoying the sunshine and letting my polish dry. The terrace offered a fantastic view of the church spire and was a peaceful spot to sit and sip our bubbly, listening to the bees droning over the potted flowers next to us.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

After our thoroughly relaxing morning, we headed out to discover more of Cirencester.

Exploring Cirencester

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

Cirencester is a historic market town that is full of charm. It’s the perfect place to explore in a post-breakfast stroll, with a pleasing assortment of independent shops, delis and cafes, beautiful walks and an interesting church and art galleries.

++ Tour the Shops ++

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

There’s a good selection of homeware and stationery shops on offer – well worth a browse! Black Jack Street is particularly worthy of a wander, with lots of lovely boutiques and some great cafes.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

I stumbled across Ocatavia’s, a charming children’s bookshop, and felt like I was stepping into a scene from You’ve Got Mail as I crossed the entrance. Meg Ryan, alas, didn’t greet me from behind the counter, but I still had a very charming assistant who rung up my purchase (a classic pony book by Joanna Cannan) and gave us a recommendation for where to go for tea and cake.

++ Eat Some Cake ++

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

Her suggestion proved to be about a minute walk from the shop: Jack’s Cafe. Mum and I gazed in awe at the selection of absolutely enormous cakes before settling on a slice of coffee and walnut (her) and Bakewell tart (me).

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The cakes were marvellous – dieting is clearly not an option in the Cotswolds!

++ Walk Up Cecily Hill ++

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

For a classic Cotswold street, full to the brim with charm, look no further than Cecily Hill in Cirencester. The beautiful Cotswold stone houses with matching painted doors and flower pots offer a particularly pretty scene. At the end of the road is a lovely park above what I presumed to be the remains of Cirencester castle.

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I think Cecily Hill must be home to some of the prettiest doors in the Cotswolds – don’t you?

++ Visit the Polo Club ++

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

The Cirencester Park Polo Club is a 10 minute drive from the town centre and is gorgeous. The grounds are enormous, and we had so much fun watching our very first Polo games. I’ll write more about the experience in my next post, but I definitely recommend stopping by the Club for a meal or even a Polo lesson should you be in the area.

If you’re keen to discover more of the Cotswolds, then I definitely recommend basing yourself at The Kings Head. You’ll be guaranteed a luxurious stay, and Cirencester is an excellent location for exploring more of the area: Bourton-on the-Water and Bibury (a favourite of William Morris!) are two other lovely villages nearby.

***

The Kings Head has rooms available from £140, B&B. Check availability and book online.

Note: Our stay was provided by The Kings Head for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

T&T 35 | Gardening in a Small Space With Laetitia Maklouf

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here or on iTunes.

In today’s Tea & Tattle episode, I’m continuing the botanical theme from last week and am chatting with Laetitia Maklouf, an expert in horticulture and author of The Virgin Gardenerand Sweet Peas for Summer. In the interview, Laetitia talks about how she discovered her passion for gardening in her late 20s, which led her to quit her job and enrol in a horticulture course at The Chelsea Physic Garden, London. She never looked back!

Only having a small balcony and some windowsills to work with, Laetitia quickly became an expert at gardening in a small space. Her first book, The Virgin Gardener, is full of tips and accessible projects for the beginner gardener who may not have much ground to work with, or who prefers to start small. Sweet Peas for Summer describes Laetitia’s move to a home with a proper garden and is a great resource for larger-scale gardeners (see the show notes for some photos of what Laetitia’s garden looks like today!).

In my discussion with Laetitia, I asked her advice on growing my own house-plants and what to do with a small patio. Laetitia also explained her 5 Minute Gardening instagram project and shared some of her favourite London gardens and nurseries (we bonded over a mutual love for Petersham Nurseries!).

Listen to hear some fabulous tips for growing plants in a small space.