Category Archives: Travel

UK Travel | The Artist Residence, Cornwall

Please note: my stay at the Artist Residence and meal at Fraser’s Fish & Chips were complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Last Saturday, Mum and I checked into The Artist Residence hotel on Chapel Street in Penzance. We’d both previously stayed at the Artist Residence branch in Oxfordshire, and I’d had breakfast at their London hotel, so I was excited to spend a night in their Cornwall base.

I always admire the fun, slightly quirky decor that’s a hallmark of the Artist Residence hotels, and the Penzance location is no exception. We were booked into a comfy luxe room, which boasted a comfy double bed and one of the most spectacular bathtubs I’ve seen!

I had the most blissful bath on Sunday, when I started my birthday morning luxuriating in a long, relaxing soak. It was a perfect way to start the day! The bath was wonderfully deep, and I was overjoyed that bubble bath was provided. I’ve noticed that too often hotels don’t provide bubble bath, even if they have spectacular tubs! Bramley products were stocked throughout the hotel, and I really liked their combination of floral and herbal scents.

As well as the bath, there was also a spacious shower, discreetly hidden by a wooden sliding door. I loved the way the decor had a seaside-feel, with the use of reclaimed wood and a blue and white colour scheme. There were also plenty of treats stocked in the mini basket ‘larder,’ as well as complimentary tea, coffee, bottled water and biscuits provided.

After checking into our room on the Saturday night, Mum and I decided to wander down to the bar to take advantage of the nightly happy hour, when 2-4-1 cocktails are offered. The bar and lounge area is very cosy, with a mix of sofas, benches and velvet chairs. We found some comfy chairs by the window and sipped on our drinks – a Bellini for Mum and a strawberry Aperol Spritz for me.

After finishing our cocktails, we made our way to Fraser’s Fish and Chips restaurant, where we had a table booked. Fraser’s is an adorable spot  with spectacular views, as it’s located on Penzance’s promenade. I loved its retro decor and bright, cheerful colour scheme that was perfect for a seaside location. My stomach reminded me I was hungry as the delicious aroma of fish and chips wafted through the air, and I eyed the appetising looking plates in front of fellow diners.

I have a real weakness for scampi, and I’d been told they were very good at Fraser’s, so I ordered a scampi and chips and Mum went for a more traditional haddock and chips. I also horrify my family (and most other people I know!) by loving mushy peas, so I ordered a side portion. We washed everything down with two pots of regular tea – I don’t think fish & chips would be the same without a good brew!

Our meal was fantastic; both Mum and I agreed it was the best scampi/fish and chips we’d had for a long time. My scampi was deliciously crisp on the outside, but not in the least rubbery within, and I tried some of Mum’s haddock, which tasted beautifully fresh and had a light, thin batter that wasn’t too greasy – perfect! Fraser’s pride themselves on their ethically sourced and caught fish, and it’s clear that a great deal of attention goes into making their fish & chips as delicious as possible, whilst supporting sustainable fishing practices.

There’s nothing like classic fish & chips when you’re right by the sea, and it was a great choice for a cool autumnal evening. The service was excellent – friendly and very attentive, which always adds so much to the experience of a good meal. I’ll definitely be returning to Fraser’s when I’m next in Penzance and in the mood for fish and chips!

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The Artist Residence, Cornwall

Room rates at the Artist Residence in Penzance  are from £85 per night.  To book a room, please visit here, or call 020 3019 8610

Fraser’s Fish & Chips, Cornwall

Take away or dine in. To view the menu and/or book a table, visit here or call 01736 339581

UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall

UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall

Please note: my meal at Tolcarne Inn was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Tolcarne Inn is situated in Newlyn Harbour, just a 20 minute walk (or 5 minute taxi ride) from our B&B, Chapel House. Newlyn is still a working fishing village in Cornwall, and much of the fresh fish we enjoyed in restaurants during our stay was caught in Newlyn, just a few hours before being served to hungry diners.

I adore fish and seafood, so it’s always a big treat to me to enjoy it whenever I go to Cornwall. After our long train journey from London, Mum and I had worked up quite an appetite, so, after checking in to Chapel House,  we were excited to set off for dinner at Tolcarne Inn. On arrival, I  was immediately delighted by the beautiful building, which dates from 1717 and looks like it could be in a Daphne du Maurier novel!

UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall

Tolcarne Inn nestles against the wall of Newlyn Harbour, and the restaurant is renowned for its innovative, predominately seafood-based menu and snug, laid-back atmosphere. Head Chef, Ben Tunnicliffe, has been in Cornwall since 2001 and held a Michelin Star at The Abbey in Penzance, before going on to oversee the launch of the menu at The Scarlet Hotel.

Ben took over the Tolcarne in 2012, and its reputation has grown from strength to strength over the years, with Ben focusing on working closely with fishermen to ensure the best catch of the day. A Michelin Bib Gourmand (awarded for exceptional food at affordable prices) has been retained by the Tolcarne since 2013, and it’s easy to see why, as the menu, although fairly short, offers a spectacular array of local produce and seafood.

UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall

We were given a table right by the window and ordered a couple glasses of Cornish sparkling wine as we read the daily specials chalked on a large board above the bar. The wine was delicious – dry and light – and it added just the right celebratory fizz to our evening.

UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall

After toasting to a fabulous weekend ahead of us, and the start of Mum’s annual holiday, we turned our minds to the important question of what to eat. Both of us adore scallops, so it wasn’t surprising that neither of us could resist seared scallops in a spiced squash veloute with yoghurt and toasted seeds.

UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall

Our knives went through our scallops as smoothly as though they were cutting butter, and I don’t think I’ve ever had scallops served as unusually and deliciously before! Swimming in the rich, spicy sauce, the shellfish still managed to maintain their sweet flavour that paired well against the robustness of the squash. A drizzle of yoghurt cut the spice nicely, and the toasted seeds added interesting texture as well as a pleasantly nutty taste.

Next, I’d ordered fillet of brill with garlic, mushrooms, runner beans and gnocchi. Mum went for fillet of plaice with peas, smoked bacon, lettuce, mascarpone, mint, and potatoes. We also ordered a couple glasses of a delicious chardonnay to accompany our main courses.

UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, CornwallUK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall

My main dish was absolutely fantastic; I loved the autumnal, earthy flavours of the garlicky mushrooms. They were a great choice with the brill which is quite a meaty, deeply flavourful fish. The runner beans were light and fresh, and the large, baked gnocchi were decadently scrumptious. I polished off every wonderful mouthful! Mum was equally pleased with her plaice, a much more delicate, subtlety flavoured  fish, wish she said was fabulous with the peas, bacon, lettuce and creamy sauce.

We were tempted to the same choice again for dessert and ordered the whole orange and polenta cake with blueberries, cardamom, poached apricot and vanilla ice-cream.

UK Travel | Tolcarne Inn, Cornwall

I always think of Claudia Roden’s famous recipe whenever I see whole orange cake on a menu, and I think the Tolcarne Inn’s version more than did her justice! Our cake was moist with a fabulous citrus flavour  and just a hint of cardamom that married perfectly with the apricot, vanilla and blueberry sauce.

We rounded off our meal with a cup of coffee for Mum and a peppermint tea for me and sat chatting for a little while before heading back to our B&B. I was so impressed by Tolcarne Inn and can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re in the area. I wish I’d known about it when I visited Penzance last October with my Dad and Grandmother, as they would have thoroughly enjoyed it too, but now it’s on my radar, I’ll definitely be returning whenever I’m back in Cornwall!

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Tolcarne Inn, Newlyn, Cornwall

To book a table, visit www.tolcarneinn.co.uk or call 01736 363074

UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall

UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall

Please note: my stay at Chapel House was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Last weekend, I turned 32, and I was so excited to be in Cornwall to celebrate my birthday. I took my Mum with me, and we had such a fun time revisiting many of our favourite Penzance haunts. I’ve now been to Penzance quite a few times, but it never grows old, and it’s become one of my favourite holiday destinations in the UK.

As always when I step off the train at Penzance train station, the incredible Cornish light, as well as the scent of sea air, is what instantly hits me. That special quality of light in Cornwall isn’t just a myth; there is undeniably something special in the way the sunshine bounces off the sea, and even on a grey day the muted greys, greens and blues of the landscape look like a watercolour painting captured by a true artist.

Chapel House B&B is one of the best places to experience the true glory of Cornish light. The rooms of this award-winning B&B always seem bathed in soft, gentle light, which streams through the spacious windows and makes it impossible not to want to snap a photo. I’d stayed at Chapel House about a year and a half ago (you can read my blog post from that visit here), and I was delighted to return last weekend to experience the newly built superior suite rooms.

UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall

Chapel House is located in the heart of Penzance on Chapel Street, a historic and picturesque stretch of Penzance that hosts a wide range of antique and secondhand book shops, as well as independent stores such as No.56 and End Paper. It’s my favourite street in Penzance, and Chapel House is nestled just at the bottom of the road with enviable views out to sea and the impressive St Michael’s Mount.

The newly built suites are situated just outside the main house, making them wonderfully private, and I was so impressed by our gorgeous accommodation, which had a large double bed downstairs, complete with a wardrobe and seating area. The bathroom was also located downstairs, with a gigantic, polished concrete shower space just behind the bed.

Upstairs, we were delighted by the comfy leather sofa, kitchen space with a breakfast bar looking out to Penzance harbour, and a fabulous log-burning stove that was laid ready for us to light. We put a match to the wood and enjoyed a roaring fire when we returned after a meal out later that evening. I also lit the candles thoughtfully arranged, and it felt the perfect ‘hygge’ moment, watching the firelight’s glimmer reflected in the big windows and chatting on the sofa with a cup of herbal tea.

UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, CornwallUK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall UK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, CornwallUK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, CornwallUK Travel | A Return to Chapel House, Cornwall

I was thrilled that our suite had some truly magnificent views, with two balconies built on both sides. On a sunny day, it would be lovely to have a cup of tea in the morning outside on the largest balcony and simply admire the view, but even on a rainy day, it was very pleasant to sit inside and watch the white caps of the tossing waves from our cosy sofa.

I always admire the interior design at Chapel House, and its owner, Susan, is incredibly gifted at blending the beauty of the natural world with modern design and comfort. I loved the use of exposed wood throughout our suite, and the way the huge windows and French doors made it easy to appreciate the spectacular Cornish landscape.

Although the suites are spacious and self-contained, it’s definitely worth spending a little time lingering over a book or newspaper in the main house too, as its two drawing rooms are so tranquil and elegant.

Being in Cornwall, of course I had to bring my favourite Daphne du Maurier novel with me! There are lots of books scattered about Chapel House, though, that guests are welcome to browse and read. I had a lot of fun admiring a collection of vintage Dickens novels and finding some quiet reading corners within the house.

After a restful night’s sleep, Mum and I made our way to the kitchen in the main house to enjoy a delicious Cornish breakfast: sausage, bacon, eggs, toast, black and white pudding, tomatoes and fried mushrooms. We were also given pots of tea and coffee and could help ourselves from a table piled high with fresh croissants, toast, fruit salad, yoghurt, granola, and freshly squeezed juices. Honestly, Chapel House does one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever tasted!

The kitchen dining room at Chapel House

As we munched our way through the feast, we had fun chatting with a couple and their parents who were also staying at the B&B. I loved hearing that the parents had first met at the Minack Theatre (not far from Penzance) a number of decades ago, and that, though they and their family were now based in London, Cornwall was still a very special place for them. I certainly hope I’ll still be enjoying holidays in Penzance in 40 years’ time!

Chapel House B&B, Cornwall – www.chapelhousepz.co.uk

Room rates for the Superior Suites at Chapel House are from £150 per night. These suites will be available to book from November 1st, 2018. In spring 2019, a hot tub, sauna and treatment room will also be opening for guests at Chapel House to enjoy. To book a room or suite, please visit www.chapelhousepz.co.uk, or call 07810020617 or 01736362024.

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Browse more of my travel posts about Penzance here.

UK Travel | Sunday Lunch at The Old Parsonage, Oxford

This is my last post from my Oxford trip, and I’ve been looking forward to sharing my favourite destination for a Sunday Roast or Afternoon Tea in the city of dreaming spires. The Old Parsonage (dating from the 17th Century) is a gorgeous hotel on the Banbury Road, only a 15 minute walk from the Bodleian Library.

I’d been to The Old Parsonage on a previous trip to Oxford and had tucked into their splendid Afternoon Tea in front of a roaring fire. It was blissfully cosy on a cold, windy day in March, but I was eager to return to the hotel when the sun shone warmly and we could appreciate the beautiful outdoor courtyard. Thankfully, the weather certainly cooperated during our September trip, and Mum and I took our friend Val to the Old Parsonage for a Sunday Roast on our last day in Oxford.

We arrived a little early, so took our seats in the courtyard and enjoyed a pre-lunch cocktail (or at least, Mum and I did – Val stuck with orange juice as she was driving!). We decided we all wanted a Sunday roast, so our order was easy. Our beef arrived, succulent and perfectly pink in the middle, with the usual assortment of Yorkshire puddings and roasted veg on the side. I appreciated the generous dollop of horseradish sauce and lashings of gravy too!

On Sundays, the Old Parsonage does a set lunch menu: two courses for £25 or three courses for £30. There’s a choice of roasts available (generally beef, lamb or pork), as well as vegetarian options. We went for the two course menu so we could enjoy dessert after our meal, all of us settling for raspberry posset.

We decided to move into the main restaurant inside, as although the weather was delightful, the wasps were enjoying it too, and had buzzed around our plates so insistently during our main meal that we decided to give up the fight and retire indoors for our sweet.

I couldn’t help but think that Mr Woodhouse (from Jane Austen’s Emma) would have approved of The Old Parsonage, for a fire blazed in the open hearth in the lounge, despite the mild temperatures.

On a wintry day, having a drink and reading a book in front of that blaze would be deliciously cosy!

We so enjoyed our meal at The Old Parsonage, and it was a lovely way to spend the last afternoon of our long weekend. If you’re in the mood for traditional British fodder, then I recommend adding The Old Parsonage to your list for your next visit to Oxford.

 

UK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, Oxford

UK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, Oxford

Early September is a lovely time of year to visit Oxford, when the students are yet to descend on the city, but the number of tourists drops. I took advantage of my trip to Oxford earlier this month to pop into Magdalen College, which was looking prettier than ever with an abundance of lime green Annabelle hydrangeas in full bloom.

Magdalen is one of the most beautiful Oxford Colleges, with its riverside location and famous deer park. The college was founded in 1458 by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, and has many famous alumni, including C.S. Lewis and Oscar Wilde.

I spent a peaceful hour wandering through St John’s Quadrangle and the Cloister Quadrangle (lingering in the latter as I went a little mad with my camera!), before having a cup of tea overlooking the river (very entertaining to sit and watch the punters). After a refreshing cuppa, I walked to Grove Deer Park, which is where Magdalen’s herd of fallow deer live in the autumn-winter and spring months. As I was a little short on time, I didn’t get to the Hall, but I did manage to see the splendid Chapel, as old as the college itself.

UK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, Oxford UK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, Oxford UK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, Oxford UK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, OxfordUK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, Oxford UK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, OxfordUK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, OxfordUK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, OxfordUK Travel | Hydrangeas at Magdalen College, OxfordUK Travel | Magdalen College, OxfordUK Travel | Magdalen College, OxfordUK Travel Magdalen College, OxfordUK Travel Magdalen College, Oxford

If you’re feeling inspired to explore more of Oxford’s colleges, then I’d recommend the book Oxford College Gardens, which I received as a birthday present a year or two ago. I love looking through the book, as it features beautiful photographs and information about the university colleges. You can admire some of Oxford’s prettiest gardens without leaving the comfort of your armchair!

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

“Yes, friend, this is what I came out for to see; this many-gabled old house built by the simple country-folk of the long-past times, regardless of all the turmoil that was going on in cities and courts, is lovely still amidst all the beauty which these latter days have created; and I do not wonder at our friends tending it carefully and making much of it.” –  William Morris describing Kelmscott Manor

The highlight of my recent trip to Oxford was undoubtedly our visit to Kelmscott Manor, William Morris’s former summer house. Kelmscott Manor is situated just on the border of the Cotswolds, on the banks of a quiet stretch of the River Thames. I’d been dying to visit the house, not only because I’m a huge William Morris fan, but also because I’d read that it partly inspired Kate Morton’s fictional house, Birchwood Manor, in her latest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. If you’re interested in learning more about how Kelmscott inspired Kate, then do listen to my interview with her on Tea & Tattle Podcast.

Originally, Kelmscott Manor was built for a farming family, and it was kept in the same family for 300 years before Morris took a lease on the house in 1871. It was his dream home, and it is still a wonderfully atmospheric place to visit. Stepping through the front door is like finding a portal to the past, and although not as grand as many houses people pay to see nowadays, Kelmscott Manor has a charm all its own that makes it one of the most memorable places I have visited.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsView of Kelmscott Manor from its small orchard

Kelmscott Manor was used as a summer home by Morris for himself and his family: his wife, Jane Morris, and their children, Jenny and May. The house and the surrounding countryside offered constant inspiration for William Morris and heavily influenced his work. It’s suggested that one of his most famous designs, ‘Strawberry Thief,’ was inspired by the sight of birds stealing the wild strawberries that grew in profusion in the Manor garden. As such, Kelmscott Manor is a must visit for any lover of Morris’s work and the wider Arts and Crafts movement, especially as the house still contains many of the Morris family’s furnishings, paintings, fabrics and photographs.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsThe Panelled (White) Room, Kelmscott Manor

One of my favourite rooms in the house is the Panelled Room, which is fresh, light and airy and offers the perfect backdrop to many beautiful portraits of the Morris family hung on the walls. The most remarkable of these paintings is a large portrait of Jane Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds‘The Blue Silk Dress’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, featuring Jane Morris.

William Morris was involved in the Pre-Raphaelite movement and was friends with Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Jane Morris was a significant model for Rossetti, who painted her many times, and with whom she had an affair. Their lives became intricately linked when Rossetti jointly shared the lease on Kelmscott Manor with Morris from 1871-74.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsThe Tapestry Room, Kelmscott Manor

Whilst living at the Manor, Rossetti took over the Tapestry Room as his studio. To start with, Rossetti was just as enamoured with Kelmscott Manor as Morris, and initially he spent much more time at the house than Morris did. Apparently, Morris deliberately kept away in order to allow the affair between Jane and Rossetti to play its course. During this time, Rossetti painted another portrait of Jane, Water Willow, which now hangs in Jane Morris’s bedroom.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds‘Water Willow’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This portrait of Jane Morris shows Kelmscott Manor in the background.

As the years passed, however, Rossetti began to complain of the flat, dull nature of the surrounding countryside, and in the end he moved out of the manor, although he did leave some of his belongings behind, including an impressive carved wooden clock hung above the staircase.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsMain staircase at Kelmscott Manor

The other rooms I found particularly interesting were the bedrooms of Jane and William Morris. I thought Jane’s bedroom especially lovely, with its soft green shades and beautiful four poster bed, which was the bed in which William Morris was born at Elm House, Walthamstow on 24 March 1834. The room is decorated with a modern reproduction of ‘Willow Boughs,’ one of Morris’s most popular wallpaper designs.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsJane Morris’s Bedroom, Kelmscott Manor

My eyes were instantly drawn to the quilt on the bed, which was designed by May Morris and embroidered in silks by Jane. It’s a stunning example of intricate needlework, and it was wonderful to be able to get close enough to observe the fine details.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds‘The Homestead and the Forest’ Cot Quilt, designed by May Morris

A special feature of Kelmscott Manor is that the house was in many ways as much the home of May Morris as it was her father’s, for she moved back to the house later in her life, after her father’s death, and lived there again from 1923-38. Many examples of her work are scattered throughout the house.

May was an extremely talented designer in her own right, but her work has been very much overshadowed by her father’s greater fame. In recent years, however, there has been an increasing interest in her incredible life and talent, and I highly recommend the book, May Morris: Arts and Crafts Designer, should you wish to read more.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

William Morris’s bedroom is unusual, in that it opens up immediately to two adjoining rooms – one of which is the Tapestry Room – so the bedroom must not have offered much privacy! Morris’s imposing bed dominates the room, and he was apparently so fond of this bed, that he wrote a poem dedicated to it. The poem is worked into the pelmet that runs along the top of the bed, which May Morris made for her father.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsThe Green Room, Kelmscott Manor

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsThe North Hall, Kelmscott Manor

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds‘Millefleurs’ fabric

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsThe Attics, Kelmscott Manor

After a thorough tour of the rest of the house, we wandered into the garden and then found a path which led to the river at the back of the house. It was the perfect morning for a stroll, and I enjoyed admiring brightly coloured canal boats as we walked along.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

Rounding a curve in the river, I came across a lovely view of the back of the house, where you could just see its gabled windows and chimney tops jutting out above the trees.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

I can’t recommend a visit to Kelmscott Manor enough. We had a marvellous time exploring the house and the village, as well as seeing the village church, where Jane and William Morris are buried. It made a fabulous day out, and I also suggest stopping by The Plough Inn, just a few minutes walk from the house, where you can get an excellent lunch or supper (and even book a room, should you wish to stay longer in the area).

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Feeling inspired? Here are some other William Morris houses to visit: Red House, Bexleyheath; William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow and Kelmscott House, Hammersmith.

Wightwick Manor and Standen are two other beautiful Arts and Crafts homes that are on my list to see.

Seasonal Notes | Dahlias

For me, a highlight of early autumn is the appearance of dahlias, which come into their own in September and bloom spectacularly until the first frosts of October.

The flower shop next to my local tube station is currently overflowing with them, and it’s a weekly delight of mine to select a bunch. I ponder over type (spiky petals or honeycomb-like pompons?) and colour (soft lilac or tangerine orange?), delighting in the incredible variety.

Although dahlias fell out of favour for many years after reaching their pinnacle of fame in the Victorian era, over the past two decades these fascinating flowers have made their way back into the limelight.

It’s not a surprise that dahlias are used in photography styling with increasing frequency on instagram, where they’ve joined the elite rank of popularity previously dominated by peonies and ranunculus. The diversity in colour and shape make dahlias a versatile choice for florists and stylists; I love the creamy, blousy beauty of Café au Lait dahlias, just as much as I admire the dramatic Black Narcissus variety, with their pointed, blood-red petals.

History of Dahlias

Dahlias are indigenous to Mexico and are the country’s national flower. They were first brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the early 1800s. After over 200 years of selected breeding, hybridising and culture, dahlias are now one of the flowers with the largest variety of form, colour and size and are grown and appreciated all over the world. Apparently, hybridisers today are seeking dahlias with scent, ones that are frost-hardy, and a true blue dahlia.

The Mexican heritage of these flowers has been increasingly celebrated in recent years, as homage is paid by the Art and Fashion worlds to the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, whose work has been showcased in several major exhibitions around the world (including this one currently exhibiting at the V&A). Kahlo loved flowers and bright colours, and she would regularly gather bouquets of dahlias, marigolds, lilies, violets and irises from her garden, sometimes including dahlias in her paintings as well. I love this photograph of Kahlo with dahlias in her hair.

Where to See Dahlias in the UK

Although I am not in the least green fingered, I do love visiting spectacular gardens, and I have started putting together a list of some of the best gardens in the UK to see dahlias:

The National Dahlia Collection, Cornwall. I visited this dahlia farm last autumn, and it was so special to spend an hour or so strolling amongst the rows of all different types of dahlias, admiring St Michael’s Mount in the horizon.

Great Dixter, East Sussex. This famous garden has been on my list to visit for ages. I’m determined to get here one day!

Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden, East Sussex. I’ve heard many wonderful things about this garden, which isn’t generally open to the public, but I hope to take advantage of the September Open Days one year.

Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. The dahlia borders at this unspoilt garden are meant to be stunning.

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge. The Dahlia Garden contains over 70 different varieties of the flower.

Kelmarsh Hall & Gardens, Northampton. You can visit the Dahlia Festival on 16th September.

Hever Castle, Kent. A visit early September is the perfect time to admire the gorgeous dahlia border, as well as late-blooming roses.

So far, I’ve only managed to get to the National Dahlia Collection in Cornwall, but I’m looking forward to exploring more as I work my way through this list.

Further Reading

If you fancy reading more about dahlias, or simply gazing at beautiful photos of many different varieties, then I recommend Naomi Slade’s book Dahlias: Beautiful Varieties for Home and Garden.

Georgianna Lane (whom I interviewed on the blog in this post) has taken many exquisite photographs to illustrate the book, and it’s a lovely read for any flower-lover, as well as giving helpful advice for growing and caring for dahlias.

I’m going to be back to the Penzance area again in early October, and I would love to make it back to the National Dahlia Collection if possible. Until then, I’ll keep enjoying picking up bunches from my local flower shop!

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Don’t forget to check out my latest Tea & Tattle Podcast episode here.

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

In my ‘Talking Shop’ series, I introduce you to some of my favourite independent shops around the UK….

Illyria Pottery, Oxford

After finishing our lunch at Gee’s, Mum and I set off to Illyria Pottery, only a 10 minute walk away in Oxford’s vibrant Jericho. I’d been keen to visit the shop ever since discovering Illyria’s instagram feed many months ago.

Illyria Pottery was first established by Katie Coston in South Carolina in 2008. In 2013, Katie moved to Oxford, where her beautiful ceramics made a welcome addition to the interesting mix of independent businesses in Jericho.

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

I am always fascinated by pottery; I like to think it’s because my Grandfather worked as a potter for Poole Pottery in Dorset after WW2. Although I have no talent for the art myself, I can certainly appreciate the finished product, and beautiful ceramics have always been a weakness of mine.

Pottery Inspired by Nature

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

Apparently, Katie draws inspiration from the natural world when creating her ceramics, and she often implements elements of nature into her work, such as pressing shells into clay to create dainty, whimsical little dishes.

Every piece sold in Illyria is created by Katie in her studio, just below the shop. There are also a few items available from other makers that are handmade in the UK: I picked up a lovely bar of soap as part of a hostess gift for a friend.

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, OxfordTalking Shop | Illyria Pottery, OxfordTalking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

We had such a wonderful time browsing Illyria on a sleepy afternoon at the start of September. The atmosphere was peaceful, and we were encouraged to take our time by the very helpful shop assistant, who was happy to tell me more about Illyria Pottery.

I had a lot of trouble deciding what to purchase, especially as I didn’t have much room at all in my suitcase! In the end I settled for a tiny, slate-grey bud vase and a streamlined cup the colour of sea-foam. I so appreciate that Katie puts on emphasis on creating products that are beautiful, but also functional. I can’t wait to have a cup of tea out of my beautiful new mug, and I know the bud vase will be perfect for my desk.

Lucie Maud, the Prettiest Shop Cat

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

As I was wandering around the shop, I suddenly noticed Illyria’s elegant shop cat, Lucie Maud (I like to think the name is a nod to one of my favourite authors, Lucy Maud Montgomery). With those wide green eyes and pearly white paws, she’s an utter charmer (unsurprisingly, she has her own hashtag)!

Lucie Maud  has a habit of dozing off in the biggest ceramic bowls, which I think is equal parts hilarious and adorable!

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

I spent such a lovely time shopping at Illyria Pottery, and if you’re ever in Oxford, I definitely recommend paying a visit! There are also lots of fun looking cafes and bars in Jericho, should you fancy a pick-me-up after shopping. I’m already planning a return trip to Oxford so I can explore the Jericho area further.

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Illyria Pottery
104 Walton Street
Oxford, UK
OX2 6EB

illyriapottery.co.uk

Online Shop

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read another in my ‘Talking Shop’ series, about a tastefully curated homeware shop in Penzance, Cornwall.

 

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee’s, Oxford

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's Oxford

Last weekend, My Mum and I took a trip to Oxfordshire to visit an old friend. We planned to spend the afternoon in Oxford, then our friend would pick us up from the Botanic Garden and drive us back to her home near Wantage.

With a few hours to enjoy before we needed to be at the gardens, I had a lot of fun drawing up a small itinerary, starting with lunch. Our train from Marylebone had pulled into Oxford at midday, just as our stomachs felt the first pangs of hunger, and I suggested we hop in a taxi to Gee’s (pronounced like the ‘gee’ in ‘gee whiz’), a restaurant I’d been eager to try for ages.

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford

Situated a short walk from Oxford city centre on the Banbury Road, Gee’s serves a fusion of British / Mediterranean food in a tastefully renovated Victorian conservatory. The restaurant reminded me of Petersham Nurseries in London, with its abundance of potted plants and incredible natural light. It’s a truly gorgeous venue – just take a look….

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford

We arrived just before the crowds did, so I was able to whip around and snap a few photos before studying the menu. We ordered a carafe of rose to share, enjoying the sunshine streaming through the glasshouse and planning out the rest of our afternoon.

I realised we were only a 10 minute walk from Jericho, a popular suburb of Oxford known for its dynamic mix of independent shops, cafes and bars. I was keen to explore the area a little and to drop by Illyria, a pottery shop in Jericho that I’d discovered through instagram.

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford

Before pottery shopping, however, it was time to enjoy a good lunch! We went for the incredibly reasonable set menu (2 courses at £13.95 and 3 courses at £16.95), which is served Monday-Friday, 12pm-6pm.

To start, Mum and I chose a pea and mint soup, which was beautifully flavourful with just a hint of creaminess. Chunky slices of sourdough placed alongside our bowls were perfect for dipping.

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford

Compared to what you usually get in London for a fixed price menu, we were both astounded by the portion sizes, and we could only eat about half the soup to save room for our mains. We’d settled for wild mushroom tagliatelle for our second course, which was also delicious and extremely plentiful.

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford

Too stuffed to even contemplate dessert, we ordered a pot of tea (me) and coffee (Mum) to sip as we digested our a meal before setting off for Jericho.

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I’ll be sharing further posts about my adventures in Oxford throughout the week, so do pop back soon for more!

UK Travel | High Tea at The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny

UK Travel | High Tea at The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny

Last Thursday, I travelled to The Angel Hotel in Abergavenny, Wales, to enjoy their fabulous High Tea menu in collaboration with The East India Company. Considering I have a podcast called Tea & Tattle, it’s unlikely that it would come as a shock that I adore a good Afternoon Tea, and High Tea is even better! But really, is there a nicer way to spend a warm summer afternoon than sitting on a shady roof terrace, sipping on various drinks (lemonade, cocktails, gallons of tea) and wondering which cake to try first from the piled-high plate in front of you? If so, I’ve yet to find it! For anyone who is confused, by the way, a High Tea is simply a more substantial form of Afternoon Tea and is served with a greater selection of savoury dishes.

I turned up at Paddington Station far too early, but I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to collect my tickets, and as Great Western Railway had provided me with first class return tickets for the journey, I got to spend time in the first class lounge at the station. I’d done this once before, when GWR gave me tickets for my journey to Penzance last Spring, and it was just as fun the second time around! The first class lounge is filled with comfy seats, free WiFi, newspapers and complimentary refreshments. I helped myself to tea and a couple mini croissants and thought this is the way to travel!

In what felt like no time at all, the train platform was announced, and I made my way to my seat, feeling a little thrill of excitement as I stepped into a 1st Class carriage. I found a comfy seat, plugged my phone in to charge and pulled out the book I’d selected for the journey: The Private Patient by P.D. James. Mysteries are my favourite genre of books  to read when I’m travelling, and this detective story featuring the charming sleuth, Adam Dalgleish, was satisfactorily gripping.

Countryside flashed past the windows as the train sped further and further away from London, and, after one change at Newport, I arrived in Abergavenny at about 12.45. The Angel Hotel is a 15 minute walk from the station, so I made my way there, meeting another blogger on the way who had spied me coming out of the train, and thought it likely that, given my flowery dress and overnight bag, we were both there for the same reason!

UK Travel | High Tea at The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny

The Angel Hotel is in the centre of Abergavenny, a pretty little Welsh market town, just a few miles over the border from England. As I wheeled my baggage through the big entrance doors, we were greeted warmly by the hotel receptionist and shown up to the hotel’s large roof terrace, where our tea would be served. On entering the roof terrace, I was immediately handed a glass of freshly made, ice-cold lemonade: the perfect refreshment after my train journey and walk from the station!

The different teas we’d be trying were already laid out, as were some menus so we could anticipate our meal ahead. I was astonished by how lavish The Angel’s High Tea is, especially considering the extremely reasonable £30 price tag (I shuddered to think what a similar feast would cost in London!).

I was also very impressed that every course on the High Tea menu is paired with an East India Company tea. I do think it’s lovely to be able to try lots of different kinds of tea, and it was really interesting to see which teas had been selected as a good pairing choice for each course. The East India Company had invited their Tea Master to talk us through the teas offered, as well as to give a little history about the company and the tea trade, which was fascinating.

The East India Company specialise in gin as well as tea, so after we’d finished our lemonade, we were handed a ‘Welsh 75’ cocktail (a geographically appropriate twist on the classic French 75), which combined gin with bubbles, crème de cassis, lemon juice and sugar. Delicious!

By this point, our appetites were definitely whetted, so we were all excited when the first course on the High Tea Menu appeared. To start off, we enjoyed freshly cut sandwiches: poached and smoked salmon with lemon and dill; cream cheese and cucumber; ham and whole grain mustard and egg and cress, paired with Royal Flush tea from Sri Lanka.

The sandwiches were very traditional and were extremely tasty. I also appreciated the occasional unexpected twist: the cucumbers used were pickled, and I  enjoyed the combination of both poached and smoked salmon. Royal Flush was a richly flavourful black tea, perfectly served with a splash of milk. It would be just the kind of tea I’d choose for my first cup of the day.

Next were more savoury treats: spinach and ricotta parcels; coronation chicken tarts; sausage rolls; bacon, onion and cheese quiche and finally feta, sundried-tomato and pesto parmieres. The tea served alongside was Da Hong Pao Oolong from China, a beautifully amber coloured tea that had a delicious mellow taste.

UK Travel | High Tea at The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny

I enjoyed all of the savoury course: the sausage roll and quiche were particular favourites of mine. The pastry of the sausage roll was perfectly crisp and flaky, and it was satisfyingly meaty on the inside – yum!

In between the savoury and sweet courses, we were given a palate cleanser: ice tea made with Dragon Well Lung tea from China. It was delicious! I’m not always a fan of ice tea, but this drink was heavenly! Green tea works very well iced, and some mint leaves were stirred in as well, which made the drink even more refreshing.

After finishing our iced teas, the sweets came round: raspberry cheesecake served on its own little dish, then plates filled with bakewell tarts; chocolate and nut baskets; custard slices; profiteroles; lemon and poppy seed fairy cakes; coffee and walnut cakes and lemon and raspberry tarts. The tea served alongside was Darjeeling First Flush 2018 from India.

UK Travel | High Tea at The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny

I was too full to sample everything, but I tried the fairy cake, bakewell tart and raspberry cheesecake. They were delicious, particularly the raspberry cheesecake, which was smooth, creamy and fabulously decadent.

The Darjeeling First Flush was a highlight too. It’s an expensive tea due to its rarity and was beautifully light, with fruity and floral notes – a perfect match for our cakes.

There was more sweetness to come! Individual pots of Eton Mess arrived, paired with Black Vanilla tea from Sri Lanka. Oh my, this tea was incredible! I’m usually not a huge fan of vanilla tea, but this one has converted me. I want to go to the East India Company shop in London just so I can buy some to have at home! The tea had the most wonderful aroma, and it was surprisingly sweet too, although I was assured there was no added sugar. I think this vanilla tea will be my new favourite evening drink!

Have you been thinking, but what about the scones? Never fear! They arrived, rather untraditionally served last, but definitely providing a wonderful finale to the meal (although I could only manage half of one by this stage!).

These were some of the best scones I’ve tasted, and everyone around the table exclaimed over them. Still warm from the oven, they were well risen and light, the perfect vehicle for the lashings of jam and clotted cream provided alongside.

Our tea pairing for this final course came in the form of a ‘Gin and Tea’ cocktail. We were treated to a little gin tasting and lesson as another member of the East India Company team whipped up the cocktail in front of us. I thought it was charming to serve it in a teacup, poured from a pot!

The drink was made with gin, Earl Grey tea and ginger syrup- an unusual, but to my mind successful, combination and a wonderful end to a truly dazzling spread!

After the High Tea (which had lasted the whole afternoon and lingered into early evening!), I checked into my room at the hotel. I was immediately enraptured by the blissful air-conditioning. The current heat wave in the UK means I’ve been sleeping badly for weeks on end, as my bedroom gets very stuffy, so I was extremely happy at the thought of a good night’s sleep before me!

My room was huge, with a large double bed, desk, two-seater sofa and a good sized bathroom with a walk-in shower as well as bath. The hotel had also kindly provided me with a thoughtful welcome card, a bottle of sparkling Daylesford Apple Juice and dishes of olives and almonds.

I hung up my dress for the next day in the wardrobe, applied some fresh lipstick, then went out to explore a little of Abergavenny. As it was already well into the evening, none of the shops were still open, but I made my way along to the ruined castle (just making it in before the gates were locked) and then had a wander in the gardens, admiring a beautiful display of hydrangeas in full bloom.

After my stroll, I returned for a glass of rose in the Hotel’s courtyard and a long, relaxing soak in the bath before sinking into bed for a solid 8 hour sleep. I awoke the next morning feeling thoroughly refreshed and made my way down for a breakfast of croissants with jam and butter, followed by scrambled eggs and a sausage, all washed down with orange juice and tea. The whole breakfast was very tasty, but I particularly admired the croissants, which were fresh, perfectly flaky on the outside and soft and buttery within.

I was told that the hotel runs a bakery next door, where baked goods, including croissants, are sold daily and also made for the hotel’s guests. I just had time to pop by the bakery before I had to catch my train, and was lucky enough to be shown into the kitchens to see some croissants being handmade for a second batch that day!

I was tempted to buy another croissant for my train journey, but they were sold out already. I’ll just have to go back to enjoy croissants and High Tea all over again someday!

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The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny: angelabergavenny.com

The Angel Afternoon Tea is served:

Monday – Friday; Afternoon Tea and High Tea are served in the Wedgewood room from 2.00pm – 4.00pm.
Saturday & Sunday; High Tea only (£30.00 per person); served in the Wedgewood room from 1.00pm – 5.00pm.

You can book online or call 01873 857121.

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Specially paired Teas and London Dry Gin used in the Angel High Tea are by The East India Company.

Trains to Abergavenny run from London Paddington and may be booked through the Great Western Railway.