Hever Castle, Kent

Wow, so my last post was in early July. I didn’t intend to take such a long break, but over the past year I’ve ostensibly been writing my Masters dissertation and true to form, I needed a deadline to really give me the push I needed to finish it. As an undergraduate student I would pull all-nighters and do long days to finish things, but with a full-time job that hasn’t been an option (although I did use a few weeks of annual leave to  get chunks of the writing done), so something had to drop from my schedule and blogging was the thing to go.

I finally handed my dissertation in, all 15,000 words of it, at the end of September and to celebrate we headed to Kent for a little weekend away. A while ago I won a Kent Attractions Pass from Visit Kent and so we decided to make use of it to celebrate finishing. We booked ourselves a cute little Airbnb near Broadstairs and decided to hire a car rather than taking the train so that we could get about more easily. We couldn’t check in until 3pm so leaving London on a Saturday morning we detoured via Hever Castle (one of the attractions covered by our pass). I had initially thought that we might visit Leeds Castle, but I read a review suggesting that Hever was better, so we went there instead.

Hever Castle is the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and is everything you could want from a fairytale castle – surrounded by a moat and beautiful landscaped gardens. We were lucky with a lovely mild early Autumn day. As we’d driven from London we probably arrived about 11am but it was still relatively quiet which was lovely.

The face of the castle was covered in gorgeous Autumnal reddening foliage. The house has latterly been owned by the Astor family and was restored under their oversight. It now houses various exhibitions about the Tudors (including prayer books of Anne Boleyn) and also about the house itself.

Some of the rooms however are set out as family rooms, the library in particular being somewhere I could have easily hunkered down with a cup of tea and a good book.

Make sure you take change as for 50p you can buy a bag of duck and fish food to make ducky friends in grounds.

The grounds are extensive and on the day we went they were holding a charity dog run, which meant we got to enjoy seeing lots of cute dogs run about.

The Italian gardens were gorgeous and beautifully maintained, grapes still hung from their vines even though the leaves were turning red. I could have easily imagined we were abroad, not in Kent.

Although the majority of the flowers were probably beyond their best, a dahlia garden was still in full bloom. I do love a dahlia and think they’re way more deserving of some Instagram love than the now over-exposed peony (sorry peonies).

Following a lovely wander around we headed across the road to the King Henry VIII pub for an excellent lunch, much better than its proximity to Hever Castle might suggest, before hitting the road in our little hire car and heading through a seemingly endless network of country roads out towards Broadstairs and our little Airbnb home for the weekend.

Hever Castle was surprisingly lovely though and I thoroughly recommend it for an afternoon out if you’re in the area (or even if you aren’t).

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My travelling style

For various reasons I’ve been thinking ahead and planning my holidays for next year already (well, not planning them as such, more like sketching out a plan of how to split up my annual leave and do all the things we want to do) and it got me thinking about the sort of holidays we go on and how we travel. I know that everyone does it differently and the things I love would be someone else’s idea of a nightmare and vice versa. I love that there isn’t one way to travel or one kind of person that does travel, we’re all different and I take a lot of inspiration from that.

So, with that in mind, what’s my travelling style?

Backpack or luxury?

I am somewhere in between. I am definitely not a backpacker, not least because I am incapable of not packing everything and the kitchen sink, but also because I fear I am far too old for that lifestyle now, I can’t keep up with 18 year old gap yearers. I like a fancy hotel as much as the next girl but doing a balancing exercise, I would generally rather pick a decent hotel in a good location and save money for other stuff while on holiday than stay in a fancy five star hotel. Because, let’s face it, if I’m on holiday then I’m not spending that much time in my room anyway.

I will make an exception for phenomenal places and our Airbnb in Slovenia, right on the water at Lake Bled with private kayaks was certainly an exception (if you missed the post, you can read more here).

City or beach?

I’m a city girl at heart, both in London and abroad. I’m very pale and burn easily and beaches, whilst lovely, can’t keep me occupied for too long and certainly not for a week or more, so it’s cities for me (or at least if nature then it’s forests, lakes and mountains for me).

Package holiday or go it alone?

Apart from the odd holiday (like a mini-cruise we did to Guernsey and France a few years ago) we mostly go it alone and book our own flights, hotels and restaurants separately. It gives us the flexibility to decided where we want to stay and what we want to do without being tied to certain times or group tours or anything like that. Having said that though, I did do an organised tour of China back in 2011 and it was SO much easier than trying to arrange several internal flights, transfers to all the big attractions and hotels. We might not have done a lot of what we did on that holiday if I had been required to organise it myself. So there are fors and againsts for both, mostly in Europe we can do it all ourselves pretty easily.

Long haul or short haul?

Some people are all about big one-off far-flung trips to exotic destinations and, don’t get me wrong, that sounds great, but I am all about the city mini-break. It’s not that I don’t love exploring the world (I do) but right now it feels like my time and money are better spent exploring lots of different European destinations rather than doing a longer holiday to the other side of the world. Plus, I am much more likely to retain my sanity at work if I know that a holiday is no more than a matter of weeks away.

The downside of lots of little mini-breaks? None of them are all as well planned as big holidays that you spend ages building up to. I buy guidebooks and maps and always have a sense of a place before I go but I’ll be honest, most of my plans are made when I’ve got my head in holiday mode when I’m on the train to the airport or when I’m either sat at the airport waiting for departure or am actually on a plane.

The thing with travelling is that everyone has their style and everyone is different. That become clear when you learn that the Heathrow Express has carried 100 million passengers since it started running in 1998!

To celebrate they have photographed some of the diverse people travelling on their trains. The photos will be on display in a photo exhibition, HExhibition, which will be on display at Paddington station near the Heathrow Express platforms (6 and 7). It’s free and closes on Tuesday 4th July.

Why not watch the video below for a glimpse behind the scenes of the shooting of the photos in the exhibition (one of which features above)?

This is a collaborative post. 

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The raindrop cake at Yamagoya

I’m a street food fan and I’m always curious about street food trends from other countries, knowing that eventually they will probably work their way over to London. One that’s taken a while is the raindrop cake. I read articles and saw photos of it ages and ages ago being served up at a stall somewhere in New York and people were queuing for ages to buy and Instagram the little raindrop-like droplets.

Well, it’s finally arrived in London. Now there’s a little dispute as to who brought it here first, with both Japanese restaurant Sakagura and pop-up Japanese restaurant Yamagoya (on the first floor of Chinese hot pot restaurant Shuang Shuang) making that claim. Sakagura felt more like somewhere to go with someone and Yamagoya more casual. They make 20 raindrop cakes a day, I knew that my recent week off was the ideal time to pop along at lunch and try the Instagram novelty for myself.

The menu is primarily centred around ramen and curry dishes with a few small bites. I decided to order a portion of chicken kara-age. Juicy pieces of deep fried chicken thigh served with a yuzu mayonnaise, really good, although any hint of yuzu in the mayonnaise was very faint.

After enjoying the light yuzu ramen at Afuri Ebisu in Tokyo, I thought I’d try the yuzu ramen at Yamagoya. In a heavier and greener broth, the egg was perfect and pork good, although I struggled to get through the whole thing. I also struggled to not get it all down my front. For a girl who tends to wear black even in the height of summer, for once I was wearing a pale striped t-shirt. Big mistake. I can’t even blame the ramen because seemingly everyone else in the place was wearing white and keeping it pristine. Even worse was my attempt to remedy it with their red (not colour-safe) napkins. Mistake.

The reason I was there though was to try the raindrop cake, a raindrop-esque blob of jiggly silliness.

It comes presented on a board with molasses syrup and roasted soybean powder together with a two-tined fork and a spoon to dissect it with (or poke it with to make it jiggle):

So what did it taste like? Well, not like much to be honest, and I wouldn’t expect it to as the raindrop is just made of water and agar to set it (there’s no gelatine so veggie friendly!). Adding the molasses and powder was what gave it taste but it’s otherwise a water jelly. Odd. Definitely a novelty, not something to savour, something to play with though!

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Touring Wimbledon

So we’re finally getting some better weather. Admittedly it’s still on and off and I veer wildly between being far too hot and needing to pull my trench coat in tightly to keep out the wind, but it’s June and all the signs of summer are here – summer fruits, light evenings and chilled vibes.

June also brings with it Father’s Day (it’s next Sunday, the 18th June, for those of you in the UK – don’t forget!). A time to celebrate fathers and father figures alike. I don’t believe that someone has to be your biological father to be celebrated, it could be a step-father, a grandfather, an uncle, or even your mum (for those whose brilliant mums, like mine, did double duty). You can make as big a deal about it as you like, but in my view, time spent together is always the best thing – making memories. And if you’re struggling for ideas, Tesco Direct have some great ones in the form of experience gift cards for two.

Tesco Gift Experiences cover just about anything you could think of including football stadium tours, afternoon teas (for the less adventurous) and driving experiences, bungee jumping and indoor skydiving (for the daredevils) and they are ideal for special occasion gifting, so would be perfect for Father’s Day.

To see what it was all about, Tesco offered me the chance to try out one of their gift experiences and tempted me with a gift voucher for a tour of Wimbledon for two.

So, with the forecast not predicting rain, we signed up for a tour this weekend and zipped over on the District Line to Wimbledon for a Sunday afternoon tour.

After a few ground rules had been established, the most important being ‘do not walk on, touch or even think about touching the grass’, we started the tour. It’s only a few weeks until Wimbledon starts and the site was clearly being prepared for the tournament. It also meant that everything is ready to look its best. We learnt that the grass is basically a full-year job for the groundsmen. After the tournament finishes the grass is re-seeded and then prepped and primped all year, even through winter, ready for the next year. The grass is cut to a perfect 8mm, the courts rolled and the white lines repainted in the run up to the tournament. It’s a thing of beauty and a labour of love.

What surprised me was that it’s a working tennis club, not just somewhere that hosts the tournament. Apart from a few ‘show courts’ (which are only used during the tournament, including Centre Court and Court 1), the grass courts are used by members.

We were taken into Court 1 and got our first real sense of what it would be to be at Wimbledon. Once you’re in there it’s much more intimate than you might expect from the TV. You feel so close to the court and where the players would be. We also learnt all about the new retractable roof that they’re installing which should be ready in 2019.

After that we headed up to Henman Hill or ‘Murray Mound’ as it’s sometimes now referred to. Holding up to 3000 people when the tournament is on, it’s got some surprisingly nice landscaping. It also has a great view over to the City.

Something we might have otherwise missed was the pony roller which apparently had a fundamental role in the creation of the Wimbledon tournament, leaving Centre Court later we saw its contemporary equivalent.

What surprised me the most was how close together and unassuming a lot of the grass non-show courts were. It reminded me that it’s a real tennis club, with courts to be used, not just admired.

We also got a sneak peek at the bits of Wimbledon that the public don’t get to see, including the interview rooms and the press rooms, the screens in which were coincidentally showing the men’s final of the French Open (well, most of them, some were tuned to Antiques Roadshow).

From there we were shown into Centre Court, the site of so many epic tennis matches.

After the tour (which lasts around 90 minutes) you can visit the Wimbledon museum which chronicles the history of both tennis and Wimbledon. It’s packed with exhibits, interactive features and interesting facts which make you think. Like the fact that Andy Murray is the first British male player to have won Wimbledon wearing shorts, which makes you realise how long ago it was since we had our last male winner!

The trophies are also housed in the museum during the time they aren’t in use during the tournament. They’re beautiful (and heavy, we picked up weights which represented the weight of each).

Rebel? Rule breaker? Grass trampler? Nah, I’m far too much of a goody goody, this astroturf was the closest I got to standing on that hallowed Wimbledon grass.

I highly recommend a tour of Wimbledon for any tennis fan and a voucher for a tour would make a great Father’s Day gift for any tennis mad dad or indeed a fab birthday present for someone. But, if tennis doesn’t tickle their fancy, I’m sure another of Tesco’s gift vouchers will, there’s so much to choose from and something for everyone. Plus, they come in a fancy tin which means no need to wrap them. Bonus. The gift vouchers are available on Tesco Direct.

Our gift voucher was provided on a complimentary basis but the views expressed here are my own unbiased opinions. Thanks Tesco! 

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