WHAT THIS BLOG IS ALL ABOUT: a journal and compendium of where to go and what to do for those who love to travel ...

Monday, 12 November 2012

Shropshire calls ... and such a lovely area to visit

The glorious 'Stiperstones' in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

An innovate scheme in Shropshire, based on ‘green’ and sustainable principles, is being highlighted as a guide to where locals and visitors will find the very best value-for-money in the Shropshire Hills. Members of the initiative tend to be ‘cottage industries’, where overheads are low, and where personal service and quality are valued more highly than profit margins. As a result, the directory which maps-out where people can ‘go, buy, eat, and stay’ not only offers its customers the chance to support some of the most sustainable businesses in Shropshire, but to also find some of the best value-for-money.

Seven miles north of Ludlow on the A49 - superb produce, and enjoy the Barn Cafe, too.
(image copyright Ann Somerset Miles)
Many of the businesses are tourism-related - including B&Bs, guest houses, holiday cottages and inns where, for a fraction of the cost of staying in a chain hotel, guests can enjoy award-winning breakfasts, cosy log fires, and professional hospitality. The restaurants, cafés, tearooms and inns, meanwhile, are where it’s possible to enjoy afternoon teas, pub lunches and wholesome dinners made with locally-sourced produce. The food producers themselves are where customers will find a fabulous array of food-and-drink to take home with them - including artisan breads, home-made sausages, jams, cheeses, honey and beer.

Rocke Cottage Tearooms, 3 miles from Clungunford, Shropshire
And for visitors, in particular, there are a number of activity providers who can use their knowledge and expertise to offer fresh experiences and ways of enjoying and exploring some of the more secluded corners of The Shropshire Hills. Eco, green and sustainable, the scheme has so far been able to sign-up more than 100 local businesses who have pledged to reduce their impact on the environment, to enhance wildlife and landscape, to involve both locals and visitors, and to support the local economy.

The project as a whole has been running for almost five years, and is becoming increasingly visible across the Shropshire Hills.  Most of the B&Bs, guest houses, farmhouses, cafes, restaurants, pubs, shops, food producers and activity providers now proudly display the “Buy Local - Be Sustainable” logo in their windows and front doors. Businesses which have signed-up to the scheme are asked to sign a Sustainability Pledge, which is then displayed on their walls - showing their customers all of the activities they are carrying out to become more sustainable.

For full details about the Shropshire Hills Sustainable Business Scheme, click on www.shropshirehills-buylocal.co.uk.  Text supplied by Ian Weightman, and images by Jodie Griffith, Project Officer Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Travelling again; and enjoying the show

Our motorhome on site at the NEC
We are still enjoying our travels and are here at the NEC (National Exhibition Centre), Birmingham; enjoying not only the on-site camping facilities but the Show itself. It's part work and part pleasure - eating, chatting to friends in the welcoming R&R room - a lounge provided for members and professional journalists / photographers by the Caravan Writers' Guild. R&R stands for 'rest and relaxation', though I call it the 'rest and recuperation' room, for working at these shows is tiring. Right now I am sitting in the Press Room, where we have WiFi available.

The latest issue - just published
Apart from walking miles through all the various halls, I picked up a copy of the magazine on which I was working so furiously throughout the last six months - 'Discover Touring'. So good to see how well the regional features have turned out; a mass of things to do and places to visit between now and Easter; both indoors and out in the open air within the eight UK regions - and my feature on touring in Ireland, and Germany. To read the features, you'll need to get hold of a copy of this issue, but clicking on the links provided will allow you to discover more about visiting both these fascinating and beautiful countries.

Frequent visits to the CWG Lounge were needed - for coffee and cake! The cake (delicious chocolate with sweet fondant icing) was made specially to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Guild. I ate Raymond's piece as well, as he is on a diet!

You would not believe that these little notices were made from icing!
It's such a small world, and we met again some of the lovely people who hosted our trip to Germany, and Ireland. Talking to them had me reliving our two wonderful trips this year and set me thinking of new endeavours; and hopefully finding time to update my illustrated travel journals. From time to time, I post the scanned pages on my journaling blog.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Britain's Gardener's Get Growing

How do they do it? Come and find out this weekend, at the Malvern Autumn Show

Erratic weather and difficult growing conditions are not, it seems, deterring Britain’s army of amateur growers, who have been plodding on regardless and producing a plentiful harvest of fruit and vegetables to be proud of.
The Three Counties Agricultural Society (TCAS) – organiser of this weekend’s Malvern Autumn Show (29 & 30 September), is reporting a dramatic increase in entries for the event’s popular Open Gardening competition this year – up by 100 on 2011.
So abundant are the exhibits in the Show’s Harvest Pavilion, that show stewards are even predicting a few record-breakers too, particularly in the much-loved giant vegetable section, which only last year, included a monster marrow weighing in at a staggering 171 lbs!
Said Sharon Gilbert, PR & Marketing Manager for TCAS: “The Show’s Harvest Pavilion is always a draw for visitors, not  to mention journalists and photographers too, who are inevitably captivated by the giant vegetables on account of their mammoth proportions.
In the past few years, we have definitely seen a resurgence in the concept of grow your own, largely because families are  having to cut household bills, but also because there is a renewed interest in the provenance of the food we put on our table.
We are not surprised that this year’s crop of fruit and vegetable entries is so high, and hope the trend continues!”
In addition to the giant vegetables, the Pavilion houses exhibits of apples, dessert pears, and soft fruit, together with perfect specimens of flowers and plants ranging from Fuchsias and Dahlias to Chrysanthemums and Cacti.
It is also home to the prestigious National Vegetable Society Championships, featuring competitors from all over the UK.
There are a whole host of classes and a number of awards and commendations up for grabs. There are also classes for juniors, and for those who have never exhibited at a major show before.
The Malvern Autumn Show is organised by the Three Counties Agricultural Society and takes place at the Three Counties Showground, in Malvern, Worcestershire this weekend.
Other attractions include edible gardens, a Royal Horticultural Society Flower Show and Plant Theatre, the Good Life Pavilion and Cookery Stage with celebrity chef, Jean-Christophe Novelli, live landscaping demonstrations, native livestock, an artisan food and craft market, exquisite crafts, Horse Boarding and Llama Agility, forestry and superb shopping.

Text contributed by Sharon Gilbert, image copyright Ray Quinton

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A Vintage Year for Malvern

The fabulous  1940s–1960s trio, The Spinettes, will be on stage at the Malvern Autumn Show in the Café Plaza performing fondly-remembered numbers (image copyright TCAS)

Following my last post: the lovely P.R. lady Sharon Gilbert from TCAS (Three Counties) has sent me an update on what you can expect at this year's Malvern Autumn Show:

Old-style fashion, traditional cookery, classic motors, wartime tunes and countryside pursuits from a bygone age – the fascination with all things vintage is very definitely in vogue at the moment, and fast-gathering momentum to boot!

A flavour of nostalgia has always been a part of the Malvern Autumn Show (29 – 30 September), with its displays of early twentieth century caravans and cars, fine old specimens of agricultural and horticultural machines, and demonstrations of bygone skills and pursuits, but the 2012 event is really going to town with a brand new Vintage Village!

Alongside the trusty old tractors, steam engines and cider-making machines, the beautifully-oiled lawnmowers and 1920s caravans, and the exquisite Bentleys, Wolseleys and Jaguars, will be a whole host of other attractions for an authentic trip down Memory Lane.

A replica wartime pub will be a part of the vintage scene (courtesy 2ndbtnglosters) - 
it's all for a good cause so please visit their OWN website HERE
(photo copyright 2ndbtnglosters)
Visitors are invited to come along to the Show’s brand new Village Hall, where they are sure to get ‘in the mood’ courtesy of the sounds from favourites like Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, and join in with the jive and the jitterbug! Because dancing is such thirsty work, there’s even a wartime pub and a traditional old tea room for a choice of refreshments.

Top of the entertainment bill is singing starlet, Miss Cherry Bomb – otherwise known as the little redhead with the big voice. Cherry is a 40s character singer who popped onto the vintage party scene last year and has been wowing audiences all over the country ever since with her powerful renditions of classic show tunes.

She will be joined by fabulous  1940s – 1960s trio, The Spinettes, who will be on stage in the Café Plaza performing fondly-remembered numbers like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Get Happy.

Shopping, of course, has been a popular pastime through the ages, and the Vintage Village would not be complete without the Vintage Pavilion, with quality stands selling everything from Victorian clothing and jewellery to shabby chic furniture, old-fashioned sweets and delicate china.

The Malvern Autumn Show is organised by the Three Counties Agricultural Society and takes place at the Three Counties Showground, in Malvern, Worcestershire next weekend (29-30 September).

Vintage nostalgia alongside an 'edible garden' (image copyright TCAS)
Other attractions include edible gardens, a Royal Horticultural Society Flower Show and Plant Theatre, a Harvest Pavilion with monster vegetables, the Good Life Pavilion and Cookery Stage with celebrity chef, Jean-Christophe Novelli, live landscaping demonstrations, native livestock, an artisan food and craft market, exquisite crafts, Horse Boarding and Llama Agility, forestry and superb shopping.

Tickets are available on the Hotline 01684 584924 or via the website.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Back to the Hills for the perfect Autumn Show

Relaxing in the sunshine at a typical Malvern Autumm Show

We cannot wait to return, as we do every year, to Malvern, in the lee of the beautiful hills, for what is always a very special end-of-season gardening experience. For tickets, and more details on the Three Counties Agricultural Society (TCAS) who organise the show, click on the link at the right (under Showground News). But first, just look at what is on offer - more varied than ever before:

Event: Malvern Autumn Show (29 & 30 September 2012)

Reason: A charming celebration of food, gardening and nostalgia

  • Food, glorious food
    Don’t miss Jean-Christophe Novelli, the Michelin Star chef, cooking up some scrumptious seasonal recipes with the finest local produce. Mark Diacono of Otter Farm will be returning to the show to serve up some seasonal cocktails and other home grown treats. Gather your ingredients and make your taste buds melt with the very best of local and regional produce in the expansive Food & Drink areas.
  • Inspirational Edible Gardens
Enjoy the delicious Edible gardens including a 1940s inspired ‘Dig For Victory’ garden by 2011 Best in Show winner, Mark Walker; a garden to inspire ‘a la mode’ dining lifestyle with produce from Jean-Christophe’s garden and one promoting the joys of growing winter brassicas e.g. Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage and Purple Sprouting!
  • NEW Vintage Village For those looking to recapture the past the Nostalgia Area is just the ticket. Why not pick up your dancing shoes and learn to jive and or if a sedate afternoon tea is more your style, seek refreshment from the vintage tea room. The village hall will also include a War Time Bar and vintage vocals to while away the afternoon. Stop by the Vintage Pavilion shop for all the trappings of the thrifty forties, fabulous fifties and swinging sixties.
  • The Orchard Pavilion
    Step into the world of fruit growing and orchard life in the Orchard Pavilion. Celebrating the Orchard in style with demonstrations, tasters and helpful advice on all aspects of orchard life. Includes Festival of Perry and Apple and Pear Competitions.
  • Spectacular Royal Horticultural Society Flower Show – covering more than 5000 square metres, and housing thousands of blooms from the country’s finest nurseries.
  • Harvest Pavilion
    The grandest selection of this year’s giant vegetables, the NVS Midlands Branch Vegetable Championships, the RHS Tender Plant Committee demos and our impressive Open Gardening entries.
  • Landscaping Live
    Showcasing the art of garden design and landscaping live! Featuring two identical gardens, one complete and the other a work in progress.
  • Discovery Zone – Fishing is the theme down by the Showground Lake and there’s plenty to inspire and occupy all levels from the complete novice to the seasoned fisherman!
·         Animal action ­­ - Meet your favourite fluffy friends at the World Of Animals and cheer on the Racing Llamas and the fun duck herding in the Activity Arena. Watch the daring horse boarders race as they’re pulled along at breakneck speed by horses in the Severn Arena.
·         Carriage Driving Classes – rescheduled after the unfortunate cancellation at the Three Counties Show in June. They will take part in the Malvern Horse Ring during the show.
·         Rural Pastimes and Countryside Skills

I'll be there blogging live whilst my photographer husband will be scouring the Showground for images to support the many online articles or printed magazine features that I will be producing during the coming months. 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Jumping from here to there ...

magic by the sea
Home is where the heart is: three days without WiFi and my Irish diary has fallen by the wayside on this Traveller's Tale blog - though not in my journal. Writing almost non-stop and sketching; but it will take me a time to catch up and working duty calls. Tomorrow, early, we catch the ferry from Rosslare in Co.Wexford to Fishguard (Wales) and thence home. I have so much to tell; so many stories in our circuitous journey through some very varied landscapes, and places; and such welcoming, friendly people. For now, I am sitting outside the motorhome, after walking down to the sea, sand between my toes (childhood) and feet in the water as I took photos of mini-waves to print onto fabric back home. This child's drawing in the sand epitomises what life is surely all about.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The magic continues - day two (actually Friday 20th)

Ireland Diary: Belfast to Lough Erne: We wake early on board the Stena ferry, called at 5.30am, quick cup of coffee whilst I watch the mist rising from the hills behind Belfast Lough and a pearly sky. Disembark at 6.30am negotiating a traffic system that is not that difficult – once you have done it once and know which lane to be in. Heading for the M1 towards in clear light, and no rain! Distances are misleading – we are so used to seeing Ireland on a map as quite small when seen next to Britain, but it is vast; spacious and beautiful; and so little traffic compare to our mainland roads.

Almost empty roads
Sunlight as we pass exits to familiar names, though I have never been to any of them: Lisburn (wish I could stop to visit the Irish Linen Centre and Museum), Lurgan, Craigavon, Portadown, Armagh … You instantly notice the paucity of traffic, as we head west. Flat lands as we pass the southern end of rectangular Lough Neagh (so large is could be a huge inland sea). Distant hills to the northwest and plashy fields of meadowsweet and fruit orchards;  and rosy-coloured berried rowans with my beloved ox-eye daisies ribboning the verges. Too early to stop and investigate the Peatlands Park, which I would have liked to have done, as this whole flat and boggy landscape is peat-based. After Dungannon, the M1 ends and becomes the A4, dual carriageway with parking laybyes every mile or so. Rolling hills – and through the windscreen photos for we have no time to stop.

Such a view
Leaving Clogher and still driving west, sawmills and a very pastoral Co.Fermanagh; cattle and sheep but little arable, a pastoral scene. Two-and-a-half hours after leaving Belfast Docks we reach Enniskillen (the island town); miss the signs for free parking and find ourselves in the ASDA carpark by the Erne Shopping Centre (24hr fuel available) and 2hrs free parking for customers. I buy a bottle of water to prove we ARE a customer and leave R. to sleep off the early start and the long drive whilst I walk over the road to Tescos and some late breakfast croissant – it is still only 9.00am! – and a pair of trousers which I hope will fit, because I have left two pairs airing in the laundry room at home. The carpark is filling rapidly by 11.00am and we fear we may be boxed in; determined to discover more than a modern shopping complex on the outskirts, we ease our way towards the town centre and into the Shore Road Car Park which obviously caters for coaches. It’s right alongside the Erne waterway linking Upper and Lower Lough Erne. 

A watery scene on the Shore Road in Enniskillen
Raymond's hooded crow
I try to capture the watery scene whilst Raymond photographs a hooded crow. Not sure exactly where the town centre is, but R. disappears whilst I bargain hunt in a charity shop and emerge with a pretty floral blouse that I will take apart for page edgings in whatever type of journal eventually houses all the words and images of this trip. 

First I take this photo, then I stand sketching them, outside a fruit and veg shop
The High Street is not so long that we could lose ourselves; it’s full of independent shops. Reunited with R. who is studying a large poster sized map of the town centre, we amble for a while, window-shopping then aim for the Butter Market, traditional venue for food supplies. 

Caught in the act!
To my surprise, it houses craft shops, studios and workshops and in one, houses in what I treat myself to a special offer Winsor&Newton Cotman paintbox of student-quality watercolours in tubes. It has three good sized fold out palettes; but the reason for the purchase is that I can swap the tubes for my artist–quality equivalents once back at home. I also buy a bottle of blue masking fluid with integral nib and a half-inch flat. If I do this at every town we visit, I will be bankrupt! 

Such a surprise
Lunch at Rebecca’s Coffee Shop right at the heart of the Butter Market - clearly the place the meet, and THE place to eat for it is buzzing with happy conversation. Delicious food and a pot of tea with PROPER milk – whole milk, none of your skimmed or semi-skimmed rubbish. We decide that Enniskillen is a purposeful town with people busy about their own affairs, but incredibly friendly. 

Nearly at our first campsite
A few miles north we reah our campsite for the night: Blaney Caravan & Camping Park, sedate and quiet with immaculately maintained pitches and an owner with whom we have a long and interesting conversation on the state of tourism, history, a suggested drive through the forest (maybe tomorrow?), a castle … well we could have chatted for hours. We had had a long day, prepared supper an crashed out long before our normal time for retiring.

Safe arrival
This was written yesterday (Friday 2oth July, 2012) but I had no WiFi connection and so it is a day late. Today (Saturday 21st July, 2012) has been one of wonderful relaxation; I haven't even yet had time to look properly at the 82 images I took, nor to type up my notes. But we are now at a campsite right by the sea just outside Sligo; and I have so much to tell that I may have to split eat day into two diary posts. At least I now have WiFi - recently installed on this site set within the sandunes. Nearly all colour has faded from the sea and sky. I even found time for sketching and painting; indeed a little everyday since we left home.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Magic in the air ...

Ready for the ferry
It's the start of our week-long motor home visit to the island of Ireland, and a journey of discovery. All so friendly and helpful once we had eventually reached 12Quays at Liverpool/Birkenhead (actually the latter) - delayed because I was simultaneously reading SatNav, Google maps and a road atlas and failed to direct Raymond at a critical junction. 

Ready to board the Stena ferry
Check-in prompt at 19.15hrs, overnight bag organised (we have a cabin reserved), and we wait to board; a gentle half-hour alongside the River Mersey in which to write and take photorgaphs. We’ve already received a text message from Stena to say the 22.30 Liverpool to Belfast sailing will depart on time. 

Taken through the windscreen as we are about to board
Ahead of us, under grey rainclouds is the long thin skein of waterside Liverpool. At first glance, grey too, like the slick surface of the water; but all shades of grey, interspersed by buildings of cream stone and red brick – and subtle shades of those, too. A painterly line, a watercolour wash. I feel the urge to sketch as well as write. 

Reading menu
So I do; and the more you look, the more you see. And then it is 20.00hrs and time to board, find our comfortable cabin and the ‘Metropolitan Restaurant’ and, oh, a menu to die for. Delicious food, courteously and elegantly served. 

Truly delicious
As is my wont, I write and type whilst eating – amazingly, the free WiFi (internet@sea) requires no irritating password. So easy, just click and you are logged in. Dusk descends, shoreline lights pinprick as through a theatrical backdrop gauze; all is transformed. The magic has already begun.

(Images are converted to very low-res in order to upload using on-board WiFi)

Friday, 18 May 2012

Olympic Torch Route shines a light

THE Olympic torch is set to shine a light on the 15 members of the UK National Parks family as it makes its way through some of the most stunning countryside in Britain in May. The Olympic Torch’s journey, which kicks off this week at Land’s End on May 19 and finishes at the Olympic stadium in London on July 27, will pass through or near all of our UK National Parks ‘winning landscapes’ – showcasing some of our natural national treasures along the way.

The Olympic torchbearers’ route will include a journey to the peak of Snowdon, in Snowdonia National Park, a trip across the beautiful North York Moors National Park by steam train and an open-top bus ride in the Lake District National Park. Kathryn Cook, of the UK Association of National Park Authorities, said: “The National Parks are looking forward to playing their part in celebrating this special year and hope that visitors who are here for the London 2012 Games will be able to take the time to come and enjoy our winning landscapes where they will receive a warm welcome.”

Although the torch-bearers will have to speed through each of the Parks – all members of our UK National Parks family – we think they’re worth a longer visit. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting one to watch the Olympic flame pass by, here are 
15 ideas to help you make the most of your National Park day… (click on any of the National Parks for more details)

May 21Dartmoor National Park
Take a trip to… an ancient stone circle – bronze age circle, stones, menhirs and burial chambers, for the inner archaeologist in you ...

May 22 Exmoor National Park

Celebrate International Day of Biodiversity by Exploring Exmoor’s Restored Mires ...

Mess about in a boat… along the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, which is celebrating its 200 anniversary this year (boat hire & trips in Brecon)

Step back in time… at an Iron Age fort, Castell Henllys in Pembrokeshire. There are regular fun interactive tours for kids – wode face-painting optional!

Get out and about… on an accessible walk (tramper hire/mobility hire optional) along the beautiful Mawddach Trail near Dolgellau.

Become an ‘island detective’…take the boat to Inchcailloch on Loch Lomond to uncover the story the people who once lived on this beautiful island (NB not just for kids!)

June 11Cairngorms National Park
Go nature-spotting in the Highlands… on a moderate low-level walk around Grantown-on-Spey (various waymarked trails) – look out for red squirrels and capercaillie on walk no. 5 of our top 15 UK National Parks walks.

Think horrible histories…and rotten Romans, visiting Hadrian’s Wall, one of the UK’s most important Roman monuments. Need we say more?

Follow in the footsteps of Captain Cook… with a walk along part of the Cleveland Way that takes in his old school at Great Ayton (walk no. 9 of our top 15 UK National Park walks).

Ride the rails…on the Settle-Carlisle railway which passes over the spectacular 24-arch Ribblehead Viaduct. A trip to thrill kids big and small.

Be inspired by romantic poetry…of William Wordsworth, visiting the Jerwood Centre in Grassmere which houses collection of his books and memorabilia.

Get stately…with a visit to Chatsworth House, one of the best-loved stately homes in Britain – don’t forget its gardens, designed by Capability Brown.

July 4The Broads
Go boating…in the Broads, discovering Barton Broad either by accessible solar-powered boat or on foot along a boardwalk. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.

July 14New Forest National Park
Go down to the woods…for an easy walk, and a sensory trail among exotic trees on the Blackwater Arboretum Trail in the New Forest (no. 2 of our top 15 UK National Park walks).

Think long and hard…about the Long Man of Wilmington, the mysterious 235ft long chalk figure on the slopes of Windover Hill. No one really knows why it’s there or how old it is - it’s a mystifying and mystic place!

Material kindly supplied by 

Clare O’Connor, UK Association of National Park Authorities