Monday, 27 February 2017

Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

Another post that was written for Smitten by Britain back in 2010 and yet another favourite local place of ours to visit.

I was going to start off by saying that Bradgate Park is one of Leicestershire’s best kept secrets but then I read that it has a million visitors a year so that may well not be true!! Since I was a child Bradgate has been the place that we go to as a family for bike riding, fishing, dog walking and hiking, no matter what the weather.  Glorious in Summer and beautifully wild in Winter, it’s a truly awesome place all year round.

Bradgate was originally created as a hunting park around 750 years ago from Charnwood Forest.  The park is 840 acres and once you are surrounded by the slopes, bracken and rocks, it’s hard to believe that you are only six miles from the Centre of Leicester.  There are three different routes into the park and each one is vastly different. 

From the lovely village of Newton Linford with its pretty thatched cottages and lovely pubs, you can take the route along the River Lin down to Cropston Reservoir. This is the favoured route for most people as its easy and very scenic. The river is shallow enough in places for us all to paddle and break out the fishing nets to catch tiddlers......only in summer obviously being England ;-) One of the things that I like most about the park is that everyone is friendly, something that can’t often be said about the streets of England!

The park also contains the ruins of Bradgate House home of the nine day Queen, Lady Jane Grey. The Grey family were related to Henry VIII and in 1553 Lady Jane married the Son of the Duke of Northumberland.  After the death of her cousin Edward VI she was proclaimed Queen only to lose the throne nine days later and then executed for treason. The ruins hold a chapel which contains the tomb of the Grey family and a small exhibition.

Deer have been kept at the Park almost since it was first designated as a hunting park.  There are certain areas of the park that are for the deer only but generally there is no problem with seeing them as they mingle among the ramblers.  

Another route into the park is up the hill to Old John Tower. Old John is a folly that was built around 1784 and stands 700 feet above sea level.  The views of Leicestershire from here are amazing and you can even see Old John when travelling North on the M1.  It’s also a brilliant hill for sledding down in winter!!!

If you are ever in the area then be sure to give me a call and I’ll take you on a tour!! The park is free and you only need to pay for parkign which is about £4 for the entire day regardless of amount of people. There is some on street parking too if you don't want to pay the parking fee. I always do pay as the money goes to the upkeep of the park but that's just a personal preference.

Photo credit - Bradgate from the Air - Avril Hunt and Old John Folley - David Elliott. Both used with permission.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

Another one of my old Smitten by Britain posts but again a lovely place to visit!

In the middle of England tucked away amongst the farms and horse riding schools is a little Market Town called Melton Mowbray. The townsfolk are a mixture of Farmers, members of the Hunt and some City people who have managed to escape from Leicester, the nearest big City. There are a few shops, some amazingly cute Tea Rooms and some typically English sights that are integral to life here:

The Church and The Great British pub!  Almost every village and Town has at least one at the heart of it. Alongside another sight that is fast disappearing from English old fashioned red telephone box mainly being put out of service by the technology of the pesky mobile phone!!
Melton is the home of the Pork Pie.......a meat pie made of chopped pork and pork jelly all enclosed in delicious pastry.  It may sound disgusting but it is truly a delight to eat, usually cold and as a snack!  Pork pies were first popular with fox hunters in the 19th Century and nowadays only pies that are made here can carry the Melton Mowbray brand!  They (surprisingly!!) sell them here:

The town is also famous as one of the homes of Stilton wonder they like to be known as ‘The Rural Capital of Food’.  

Just up the road from Melton is the Vale of Belvoir which looks a lot like this:

Aaahhhh the glory that is the English Countryside in the Summer.  Sat atop a hill and the Crown in the Vale is Belvoir Castle the seat of the Duke of Rutland:

There has been a castle on this spot since the Norman times and the Castle has been under the Ownership of the current Family for more than 500 years!! The castle sits in around 15,000 acres, most of which is open to the public (the Family live in the rest of it....lucky things!!!) The gardens are pretty cool and the current Duchess is in the process of restoring the Secret Valley Garden and the Rustic Summerhouse.

Summer is one of my favourite times of the year to visit the Castle as they usually hold jousting contests about now!!!  It’s quite a sight to behold.  Knights with big poles everywhere and in my experience the bad Knights are always hotter ;-)  If you get a chance to visit this year it’s definitely worthwhile!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Stowe National Trust, Buckinghamshire

Some days being an indoor reader type of person all gets too much and a step away from social media is needed, especially in these time of President Trump. Luckily for Christmas my gorgeous OH bought us a family membership for the National Trust so that me and the kids can stomp our way around the great outdoors. We've been members on and off for several years so this year I'm making a conscious effort to visit places that we have never seen before rather than keep returning to our regular stomping grounds.

So a couple of Sunday's ago on a very wet British winter day, I persuaded the family to come for a trek in the great outdoors and never having been there before headed to Stowe in Buckinghamshire. Of course it being so wet and cold I had to bribe the kids..... with a picnic of all things before any walking commenced. This is them getting soaked and eating soggy sandwiches!!

The car park at Stowe is about a 10 minute walk from the start of the gardens however they do have little golf carts that take you to and fro if you don't want to walk. There is a cafe and visitor area with toilets, called the New Inn which is right by the car park. We did walk (at least there) but lots of people did make use of the shuttle. We started out our walk on Peggs Terrace and headed for the Temple of Venus:

Then carried on along the same path around the Eleven Acre Lake. Like I say the weather was pretty horrific and what to do in this country apart from this?!

Makes for some nice wet and muddy kids I tell ya!! We carried on puddle jumping around by the Statue of Queen Caroline and back along the other side of the Lake to the Rotunda:

From there we walked up the hill to the house:

The house is not part of the National Trust but they do have a small visitor centre with more toilets and a cafe. You can buy tickets to the house but we were only there for the rain so I'm not sure how much they were. The house is also part of Stowe school which looks completely amazing! O would like us to send her there but at £32,000 a year it would appear to be slightly out of our price range unfortunately. After a quick toilet stop and a look around the shop, we headed back out in to the rain and down towards Captain Grenville's Column to the Grotto. 

I thought that the gotto was really creepy (cold, dark and damp) so obviously the kids loved it and were trying their hardest to scare me!! 

Normally you can walk through the Grotto and out the other side but they were doing some restoration work so we walked back the way that we came round the back of the Grotto and then down to the Temple of British Worthies:

I loved this statue and to my amazement there was even a woman there (Elizabeth I)! Can't wait to go back on a Summer's day to read them all thoroughly without rain dripping down my neck!! We then walked down towards the Wooden Bridge and across to the Palladian Bridge:

From there we walked via the Temple of Friendship and back to the Bell Gate. Littlest was getting tired by then so we got the golf cart back to the visitors centre whilst the big boys walked back. OH mapped it out afterwards and thinks that we walked just over 3 miles. Although there were a couple of hills it was a very easy walk with even paths (apart from puddles) and even the littlest could've made it back to the visitors centre if we'd have made him!

A family ticket is £31 or they sell single parent tickets for 1 adult and up to 3 children for £18.60. Had it not have been for the incessant rain we could've happily spent all day here and I'm sure we will again in the Summer. For opening times please see the National Trust website.

This is not a sponsored post, I just love being a member and it's always nice to see how other families make the most of their day!!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Coventry Cathedral

This was originally posted over on Smitten by Britain back in 2010 but as it's a place I love thought it was worth revisiting:

I have to be honest and say that Coventry is not necessarily one of the most exciting places in the world that you can ever visit but I love it there!  It was probably best known for manufacturing the first British motor car as well as being the car making capital of England until very recently.  Maybe worldwide it’s better known for the fact that Lady Godiva rode through the City naked to persuade her husband to abolish the crippling taxes he’d levied on the Townsfolk.

What I like best about Coventry though are its amazing Cathedrals.  My first visit there was about 20 something years ago on a school trip when we were doing a project about the Second World War.  Due to Coventry being successful as the major centre of car production this attracted the attention of the Luftwaffe and in November 1940 the City was almost obliterated.  The Cathedral of St. Michaels burned along with the rest of the City after being hit by several incendiary devices. The Spire and outside walls are the only things that survived:

You know it’s funny but when I first visited with the school purposely to talk about the War, it never occurred to me how close to home it actually was.  Maybe because I was 14 and too wrapped up in my own little world but when I was talking to my Grandma about writing this article she told me that she remembered the night Coventry was bombed.  She lived in Leicester about 30 miles away and the planes flew over them on the way.  She heard the bombs being released and felt the impact as they hit the ground and then exploded.

The morning after the destruction of the cathedral, a decision was taken to rebuild it.  A competition was held to choose the architect and Basil Spence won from over 200 entries submitted.  He made the bold decision to leave the ruins as they were in remembrance and to construct a brand new cathedral.

The statue is of ‘St. Michael’s Victory over the Devil’ and was designed by Sir Jacob Epstein.  It’s a bit like Marmite in my opinion in the fact that you either love it or hate it, although having said that I can never decided if I like it or not!  I certainly think it’s a very powerful piece though!

I don’t know much about architecture but I think it’s such an amazing building and was way ahead of its time!  It has stained glass windows built into the side of the church to direct light in a certain way towards the Altar and tapestry. The Cathedral is also home to the World’s largest tapestry called ‘Christ in Glory’ and was designed by Graham Sutherland.  The new cathedralis made from Hollington Sandstone so the two buildings  really complement each other.

Behind the font (which is made from a rough hewn stone from a hillside in Bethlehem) is my favourite part of the new Cathedral, the Baptistry window:

It’s the one thing that I always remembered from my first school trip all those years ago and is definitely worth a look if ever you are in the area. 

The Cathedral also do a lot of work under the ‘peace & reconciliation’ banner that has grown from the ashes of the ruins to include missions and working with terrorists and dictators in the Middle East and Central Africa.  It’s also not consecrated as a Church if England place of worship but is on a 999 year lease to a joint council.  This means that church goers of any denomination can come here to pray which I think is pretty cool way to run a Cathedral!!!

Monday, 6 February 2017

Adventures of an English Mum in................... The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Universal Hollywood

We were lucky enough this year to have spent Christmas and New Year over in the grand ol' US of A (before all of the recent craziness started!!!) One of the highlights of the trip for all three of us was a trip to Universal Hollywood and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which was the most amazing Christmas present from my American family. I'm a huge Potter fan and the man isn't particularly but he enjoyed it too!! 

As amazing as it was there was some advice given to us that made it even better so I thought that I'd share some of those tips with you guys too. First off, as it's still shiny and new, EVERYONE heads to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter first as it's the thing they all want to see. Going against every grain in my (very excited) body, we took the advice of park staff and started right at the very back of the park and left it until last. Now don't get me wrong, it was busy all day but we certainly missed the crush!! This is the entrance:

Eeeeeeek so very exciting! The geek in me was actually pogo-ing at this point!! The first thing that we saw was the Hogwarts express;

There is also the station there where you can get your photos taken on the Hogwarts Express with a green screen behind you and they then add the scenery. It's a lot of fun as they give you scarves and wands and you get really get into the swing of being part of the books and films. The only downside is that you can't take your own photos on there and the Universal photos are about $35 dollars each!! Ouch - too much money for me to warrant spending unfortunately!!

The second piece of advice that I would give you is, if you can afford it, then buy the passes that enable you to jump to the front of the queue. Both of the rides in the Wizarding World had long queues all day but Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was at least a 90 minute wait for the entire day!!! We were again very lucky and had the queue jump passes which meant we got on every single ride and didn't have to wait for more than 15 minutes for anything. It's certainly worth the money. The only plus side of the queue for this ride is that it winds through the Hogwarts Castle and has some amazing features including Dumbledore speaking to you. We  loved this although the ride made Chick feel a bit sick!! These are the views inside the castle whilst you are queuing:

One of the other things that I also thought was cool, is that as there are a lot of larger people in America, each ride with height/size restrictions had a 'sizing' carriage before you got into the queue so you knew if you would fit into the ride or not.

Of course there are also plenty of places to spend your money in the Wizarding World!! We couldn't even get in to Ollivanders because the queue was nuts the entire day but they do sell the wands and interactive wands (around $50) at all of the other shops in the park too. Almost everyone we saw had the interactive wands and there are certain spots in the wizarding world where these then enable you to 'cast a spell'. The kids we saw all day were absolutely spellbound by this and had we taken the youngest two we would've bought them both one but (probably incorrectly) decided that we were too old for this!! There were markers on the ground indicating the spots and telling you the spell however at the trickier ones they had members of staff assisting!! Just so unbelievably awesome and a great part of the magic!

So we missed out on the wands but we may however have spent a good amount of time and money in Honeydukes:

So exciting seeing a huge, colourful variety - just like being a kid again. The man treated me to a chocolate cauldron and erm this was the photo I sent to my best friend of it......

Attractive I know ;) The only thing I would be tempted to avoid from Honeydukes is Bertie Botts all flavoured beans...... Vomit and Ear Wax are not nice flavours to accidentally bite in to.............

The absolute highlight of the day for me without a shadow of a doubt was eating lunch at the Three Broomsticks! We waited until after 2pm as suggested to us and although we still had a half an hour wait the line moved pretty quickly and the staff seemed to do a good job of getting you seated as quickly as possible. The food was amazing and the puddings were out of this world. We couldn't have eaten one each. As it was we shared two puddings between the four of us and still struggled to eat everything. 

A word of warning though the refreshments are limited to juice/tea or iced tea/Pumpkin juice or Butterbeer (yuck), you can't get a soda in the Wizarding World. The  food was incredible and some people had the Great Feast which looked amazing - we weren't that hungry!! Considering that it was theme park food I felt that it was fairly reasonably priced too especially for such a great experience:

After lunch, we needed a break so had a walk around the park and went shopping and to see some of the shows and then came back at night once it was all lit up. It was certainly much quieter at night and we actually got to look at the shop windows including self-stirring cauldrons, wands and amazing outfits. Hogsmeade at night is something special:

As is the Hogwarts castle all lit up:

We had such an amazing time and would happily go back again. Like I say the only thing I would do differently is to buy a wand and get interactive. We may also be adventurous and try the great feast at the Three Broomsticks. If you've been and have any other advice for new visitors then please let me know and I'll add to it :)