Tuesday, 7 November 2017

48 hours in the Cotswolds with the Holiday Hound

Mingling in the local pub
When my gorgeous dog Scout came into my life, I vowed I would start to take some holidays where he could come along as well. He's a lively boy and at just over two and half years old he is now suitably well trained enough to be able to take him away and trust him to behave in other people's homes.

Whilst he has already been on doggie holidays to stay with his adopted family in Essex when I have been on vacation, this was his first trip as Holiday Hound!

I found the perfect cottage via the Rural Retreats website as I was looking for somewhere quiet within the Cotswolds region that was dog friendly. Hope Cottage in the village of Naunton came up trumps for the two days I wanted.

I have visited the Cotswolds a number of times and really love it .. it is only a couple of hours drive from London and this was a real find.

"Hope Cottage is a traditional semi-detached Cotswold stone property in the picturesque village of Naunton. The village is situated alongside the River Windrush in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The village boasts a 15th century church and medieval dovecote. The Black Horse, a traditional country pub (known locally for it's good food) is less than 100 yards from the cottage.
The cottage has been refurbished to modern standards, but retains character features including exposed wooden beams, a wood burning stove, an Inglenook fireplace and window seats. Scenic walks along the Warden’s Way can be joined a few metres from the front door."

I would love to return to this cottage as it really felt like a home from home for me. Everything was provided to make our stay comfortable. A hamper full of essential items like bread, jam, scones, snacks and a fridge stocked with milk, butter, cheese and wine. So very welcome after the journey from London and no need to have to then go shopping for supplies. The front room had a log burning stove but it wasn't quite cold enough to have to light it although it would have been lovely! The upstairs bedroom was a quiet, calm place to relax with a large bathroom stocked with White Company toiletries.

The local pub just around the corner, The Black Horse Inn was very welcoming and dog friendly, and the food was delicious .. lovely to have so close by.

There are many places to visit in the surrounding area and given that we only had one full day to explore properly, I walked Scout through the village, venturing down the little lanes and allowing him to run free in a field nearby. We found the Dove Cote, a Grade II listed building which is currently under renovation at the moment, covered in scaffolding. You get a real sense of a time gone by and seeing a bottle of milk perched on a wall in the village indicates that the traditional milk round is still alive and active.

We hopped in the car and drove about 20 minutes away to the Inn at Fossebridge near Cirencester. This is another gorgeous place to explore with Stowell Park nearby and the Inn's own lake and grounds to walk around. The pub itself is dog friendly with a good menu for lunch and dinner. The Inn also has a number of rooms at reasonable rates, each named after a local Cotswold village or town.

After a light lunch, we were back in the car heading towards the village of Bibury - "the most beautiful village in England" William Morris - where the medieval weavers cottages of Arlington Row are a big tourist draw as they date back to the 14th century. You can also visit the working trout farm right next door to the Swan Hotel. I visited this gorgeous village a few years ago and love going back and being reminded of how charming it is.

Onward from Bibury to Burford where I stayed previously at The Highway Inn in 2014 around the same time of year. Whilst I was there I discovered Huffkins bakery and brought home some of their produce. I just had to stop by again and purchase some more of their delicious shortbread as well as a small Christmas cake and pudding. It's never too early to stock up!

Even though this was only a two day break, it felt longer. It's the actual getting away from your normal life that makes it so enjoyable. No chores, no distractions and the chance to just relax and get some fresh country air in a beautiful part of the world.

Click on the links below for more info on dog friendly walks and holidays ..

National Trust

Rural Retreats - Dog Friendly Holiday Cottages


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Travel drought is almost over .. where shall I go to next?

I didn't manage to do a blog post in September!! It's a first. How remiss of me! Sadly I didn't go anywhere interesting .. just worked at my day job  in various local locations and made a few HQ bags in my spare time!

My major travel has been on hold due to some personal matters but hopefully I will soon be up, up and away again .. I'm itching to feel some sun on my skin and sand between my toes.

In the meantime, I plan on taking Scout the Holiday Hound away for a few days somewhere in the English countryside during the autumn - I know he would love that!

The HQ bags have been selling well and seen in many different countries this summer from Mallorca to Malaga, Madeira, Portugal, Tenerife, the Greek islands of Santorini, Crete and Mykonos, Hvar in Croatia, Dubai and recently two have gone all the way to Australia for summer downunder. Next summer they will make their debut in the Hamptons!  

Not only are they useful for the beach but also for the gym and picnics .. the versatility of this neoprene bag and pouches is endless.

I tested a bag myself on vacation this summer and have to say that I loved it! Not only does it look good but even loaded up seems to weigh nothing on your shoulder. The softness of the straps doesn't dig in or rub your skin and the neoprene fabric doesn't damage fine fabrics either. You can put it down on wet sand and it won't soak through - and the sand does not stick either. Gone are the days of taking half the beach home with you.

During the winter months I am making them to order with custom colour combinations so do get in touch via my facebook page if you would like one. More colour ways are coming for next summer.

Thanks to Kirsty and Susie for the beautifully modelled pics on their holidays!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Days out in London north and south of the river - Sutton House and Dulwich Picture Gallery

When you live in a city like London (or anywhere for that matter) it's easy to become complacent and think that you have all the time in the world to see the sights, go to galleries, the theatre etc. And maybe you do, but it's only when you decide to do something that you realise how enriching it is to make the effort and how much is actually on your doorstep.

A week or so ago, my pal and I had two days free to play so we decided to take a walk to visit the National Trust's Sutton House, the oldest Tudor house in the East End of London a mere 15 minute walk from our respective front doors. Sutton House was built in 1535 by Ralph Sadleir a courtier of Henry VIII. It's an interesting place to visit but don't expect a fully renovated stately home. It has undergone various alterations in it's history and although it retains some of it's original features, it is a progression of various eras and supports community projects and exhibitions. It was occupied by squatters in the 1980's and there is a room that bears witness to this. 

Getting there .. no parking nearby, the closest station is Hackney Central and it is also served by various bus routes .. click on the link for more info.

* * *

On our second day off, we headed off to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London. Designed and built by Sir John Soane "it is the world’s first purpose-built public art gallery: it was founded in 1811 when Sir Francis Bourgeois RA bequeathed his collection of old masters “for the inspection of the public”." 

I had been there before but quite a few years ago so was interested to go back again and see the water colours of John Singer Sargent. It's a wonderful collection of his work and booking is recommended as you may not get in if you just turn up. We were lucky as there was a slot within an hour of us arriving so we took the opportunity to have some lunch outdoors first as it was a beautiful day. 

Getting there .. free car parking, bus, rail and underground .. again, click the link for more specific info.

I hope this inspires you to check out galleries and historic venues in your neck of the woods. There's so much out there to see and learn about. Next stop for me, Tate Modern to see the Giacometti retrospective which finishes on September 10.

Both Sutton House and the Dulwich Picture Gallery are available for hire for weddings and other events.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Southport and The Open Championship, Royal Birkdale

In my day job role as a TV make up artist, I occasionally get to travel and I recently went up to Southport to work on an outside broadcast for The Open Golf championships at Royal Birkdale for Sky Sports. 

I don't know the area very well - the closest I had been before was to Liverpool and that too was for work. There is usually little time to see and do much outside of the working environment on these jobs although this time I was lucky enough to get an afternoon free on a beautiful sunny day to explore a little of the town and get a sense of it's Victorian heritage. There are many buildings still intact from days gone by - I felt as though I had stepped back in time.

"Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte lived in exile on Lord Street, the main thoroughfare of Southport, between 1846 and 1848, before returning to France to become President and subsequently Emperor of the French. During his reign, he caused much of the medieval centre of Paris to be replaced with broad tree-lined boulevards, covered walkways and arcades, just like Lord Street. On the strength of this coincidence, it has been suggested that the redevelopment may have been inspired by memories of Southport's town centre." Source Wikipedia

Having worked on The Open at Royal Troon last year, Royal Birkdale golf course was similar in that it was situated on the west coast with views of the seemingly endless beach and the sea. The Golf Club is over a hundred years old and has a beautiful Art Deco clubhouse built in 1935. Our studio was situated on the 18th fairway with gorgeous views of the 18th hole and the Clubhouse - the perfect location to witness the winner take his prize at the end of the championship.

Our first few days were occupied with set ups in the studio, The Open Zone and preview shows, finally kicking in the long hours on set from day 1-4 of the main event which started on air from 6am. Our call time was 3am for transport to the ground where we would grab a quick breakfast and head to the studio where make ups could be anytime from 4.30am.

Glamorous? It really isn't! However, the upside of early starts is getting to see the sunrise every day .. and we didn't have much rain to contend with either.

We were so lucky to have such a great team of people who all worked well together to create a fantastic job. Teamwork is everything in these situations and makes a huge difference.

Last year we won the BAFTA for best Sports Production - can we do it again?

Just some of the many people it takes to make this happen

Next year's The Open championship will be back in Scotland in Carnoustie 45 minutes away from St. Andrews. Tickets are already available!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Greece is the Word .. Part 3 Agrari Beach, Mykonos

About half a mile away from Elia beach lies the beach of Agrari. It is possible to walk there from Elia but we didn't attempt it as it was a very hot day and the distant path looked quite rocky - there's no shelter along the way. The concierge at the hotel recommended we get there by cab so we took that option as there were four of us - costing us €10 apiece for each journey. The photo on the left shows our hotel complex in the distance to indicate how close it actually is.
The cab driver arrived to collect us and said he'd never driven there before so I used the Waze app on my phone and got us there in about 20 minutes. It was a very entertaining journey and he promised he would pick us up at 5pm for our return. True to his word he was there - the journey back shown here on the right. Seems ridiculous I know - if I go again, I'll try the walk!

It was a very peaceful setting with a small hotel to one side. It reminds me of what beaches used to be like in Greece before they were overly developed. No loud music, no crowds and people just relaxing in the shade of the sheltered area by the small beach bar or under umbrellas on the sun loungers. It's also a nudist beach FYI. If you're expecting fine white sand you would be disappointed. The sand in this region is quite coarse and sharp. On the plus side, the sea is crystal clear.

The short walk from where we were dropped off took us past the beach bar and then to the left. What appeared was a gorgeous, lush garden walk. I felt like I was in the south of France or somewhere similar. I've never associated this type of garden with Greece so it was lovely to see.

We went there specifically for lunch as we were informed that it was more typically Greek than most of the beach restaurants are now - a family business which had been there for years. They were right .. it was utterly charming, unfussy and offered all the usual Greek dishes you would expect to find. We had the moussaka - the last 3 portions of the day - which turned out to be quite fortuitous as they were rather large servings which we ended up sharing between us along with some vegetable balls and Greek salad. It was very reasonably priced too, almost half of what we paid for lunch at Elia beach. 

The wine list was limited and basic so we each opted for a half litre bottle of prosecco for €9 - a bargain. 

At the end of the meal as with most of the meals we had in Mykonos, they would bring a complimentary shot glass of Mastika. I grew to quite like this little tradition and have brought a bottle of the stuff home with me as yet unopened. I am reluctant to try it here as it may not have the same appeal as it had in lovely Mykonos.

That's it - another box ticked off the bucket list but this won't be my last visit there. Next year we have decided on another Greek Island - you'll have to wait and see which one it is!

Greece is the word ... Part 2 Mykonos town

We took a couple of trips into town to have a mooch around followed by dinner as our lovely little part of the island was a tad remote. As I mentioned in my Part 1 blog, our hotel ran a free shuttle service to and from the town each day. Every night the bus would fill to capacity with the journey lasting just under half an hour.

For the return journey there was no real system. We just waited at the designated pick up area and when the bus arrived it was every man/woman for themselves. Of course there was no need for this chaos as there were always 2 or 3 buses going back and they would never leave you stranded, but I guess it's the survival instinct of the human species kicking in. What's the rush? You're on holiday - just R E L A X.

I'm so glad I've developed the art of patience.

http://www.greeka.com/cyclades/mykonos/mykonos-villages/mykonos-town.htmMykonos Town with it's iconic windmills sitting on the hill as the sun goes down. All and sundry flock to the town at night as there are numerous restaurants, bars and shops down all the little winding cobbled streets. They gather in the waterside bars, jostling for position, smart phones and camera's poised at the ready for a chance to capture images of the sun as it sets over the horizon.
I love to take photos like everyone else but sometimes it's just nice to sit back and view the changing light without looking through a lens. We watched our first sunset from Scarpa, a waterside bar in Little Venice rammed with beautiful people. Very hip and cool and renown for it's great cocktails. 

After our sunset drinks, we strolled a few minutes away for dinner at Kalita restaurant which was recommended by friends who visit the island every year. The food was very good, although one of our party sent her wine back as it wasn't quite right. They did however replace it with no fuss .. as they should.

Another recommendation was Funky Kitchen which we tried on a subsequent evening. The food was fabulous as were the cocktails. It happened to be the hottest day (37C) and the night wasn't much cooler - there wasn't a breath of air. The waiter came with the cocktail menu as we sat down and presented us all with a hand fan to cool off. A nice touch and very welcomed! I think the temperature cooled to 32C by the time we left!

It's unusual to eat early in Greece so it's always best to make reservations (although not essential) at most of the good restaurants as they fill up pretty quickly.

Massimo Listri and Marc Sijan
It's lovely to wander through the town browsing the shops and taking in the atmosphere. We were lucky enough to stumble across a wonderful little art gallery called Rarity. There were some fabulous works of art on display including Julian Opie, Massimo Listri and Hyperrealism sculptors Carole Feuerman and Marc Sijan amongst many others. If you like art this gallery is certainly worth a visit.

Many of the major high end retail brands are here too catering to a slightly more affluent cliental. (The super yachts in the harbour are a bit of a give away.)
There are little chapels around almost every bend, beautifully maintained and quaint. I never thought to go in and have a look - maybe that wasn't an option as the doors always seemed to be closed. Maybe next time.

Mykonos Town really comes alive after dark with it's clubs and bars hubbub and music filling the air. It's a very vibrant, busy place. Seemingly it's not very user friendly everywhere for anyone with mobility issues so I do wonder how they would get on.

Up next .. Part 3 Agrari Beach


Friday, 7 July 2017

Greece is the word .. Mykonos is the place .. Part 1 The hotel and Elia Beach

Flying over Mykonos
Every year for the past five years, my girlfriends and I have taken a week out of our busy schedules to enjoy a vacation on a mutually agreed designated island, preferably within a four hour flying radius of London.

We started off year one in 2013 with a Greek Island - Crete, back again to another Greek Island in 2014, beautiful Santorini, then Tenerife in the Canary Islands 2015 and last year to the magical island of Ibiza in the Balearics. It was whilst we were in Ibiza that we decided that Mykonos would be our choice for this year. It's a very popular destination generally and one of my bucket list picks from way back. We're so 'on it' now that we've got a shortlist of islands to visit and next year we already think we know where we'll go.

We built our own package 6 months in advance via Alpharooms which was considerably cheaper than going directly through any of the tour operators or the hotel directly and got a really good all round deal including flights with EasyJet from London Gatwick. Our total package cost included flights, hotel with breakfast and airport transfers in Mykonos.

We stayed at The Royal Myconian Hotel Resort - a beautiful luxurious hotel with a high-end feel overlooking Elia beach and the Aegean Sea. It's not far from Mykonos town but about a 20 minute drive due to the hilly terrain. The hotel offers a regular transfer service each day free of charge and buses run hourly right up until midnight. There's also a heliport nearby for those wanting a quick entry or exit!

The buildings in Mykonos are built in a traditional style. They are all painted white giving it a very cool, clean, pristine look which contrasts beautifully with the blues of the sea and sky and the vibrant pink bougainvillea flowers which grow prolifically in this Mediterranean climate. We did not see a single cloud in the whole time we were there so felt very lucky to have enjoyed such an amazing few days relaxing by the salt water pool. (The previous week it had rained!) I have to say it's probably the nicest pool I have ever experienced on holiday. It's quite deep and a decent size so it's perfect for people who really want a good swim and plenty of room to do it without others getting in the way. It's also refreshingly cool and a great relief from the heat of the summer sun.

Next to the pool is a bar which you can swim to on one side or sit on bar stools on the dry side. A resident DJ pumps out an eclectic mix of tunes all day which seemed to suit all tastes and was never too loud. The poolside area is large enough so that you can distance yourself if you want to. There is also a pool café which is actually more of a restaurant and the food was fresh and delicious. Service is also offered around the pool itself.

For those who prefer to be beside the sea, the beach is a short walk away and the hotel offers a free shuttle service as the road is very steep. There is a private section of beach which is set aside for hotel residents and the beach loungers are free to use. Further down the beach towards Agrari the hire charge is €30 per day! Nearby is the Elia Beach restaurant which is a hive of activity during the day. The food is fab and the atmosphere casual, trendy and buzzy. We tried lunch and dinner there and the vibe is quite different and quieter at night. The evenings are not so crowded and it's a wonderful setting to see people vacating the beach (on foot or by boat), the light change and the sun go down over the hills.

The hotel restaurant had a varied menu with Greek and international dishes, all very good, so we ate there a few times in between trips into town or to the beach. It can be quite windy at times and the outdoor bit of the restaurant has tall clear glass panels to break the gusts. When it's not so breezy it's nice to sit beside the lower panels and see the wonderful view with real clarity.

The swimming pool below slowly lights up at night until it is a sea of stars and looks beautiful in the spectacular post sunset evening light.

If you fancy a tipple after dinner the terrace bar another level up is open until 2.30am for drinks, tea and coffee.

Next up .. Part 2 Mykonos Town