Friday, 27 August 2010

What's on in September - Our Guide

Cling on to the last of the Great British Summer with September's finest offerings.

There's something here for everyone, so be a 'yes' man (or woman) and do something a little bit different…

1) Portobello Film Festival (Notting Hill: 2nd - 19th September) Over 500 independent movie premieres and, like every other year in its 5 year history, admission to all events is free. We don't need to be asked twice!

2) Proms in the Park (Hyde Park: 11th September) If you haven't got tickets for the Last Night at The Proms yet, you won't, but don't despair - for £30 you can join the party in Hyde Park. There'll be flag waving a plenty and picnics galore plus fireworks AND Terry Wogan. Who could ask for more?

3) The Thames Festival (The Thames: 11th - 12th September) London's largest free outdoor arts festival is sure to be crammed full of surprises again this year as the river and its surroundings are transformed by street artists, exhibitions, performance, carnival, music and food, amongst others. The magical finale is the illuminated Night Procession, culminating in fireworks from the centre of the river itself.

4) St John's Hill Festival (St John's Hill: 12th September) This is a village fete in the heart of London and shouldn't be missed. There's a Real Ale festival in the local pub, a wine making workshop at GDG favourite Artisan & Vine, face painting, outdoor spray tanning (...?), a human fruit machine (again…?), a BBQ and much much more.

5) Open House London (Londonwide: 18th - 19th September) 'The capital's greatest architectural showcase' allows you to have a bit of a nosey around hundreds of London's buildings including anything from the BT tower to small private homes. And yes, it's free! If architectural explorations are your cup of tea (and, please, your date's), this one's for you.

6) London Design Festival (Multiple venues: 18th - 26th September) Bringing together the world's greatest talents in a 9 day design extravaganza, this is a true celebration of design. The venues and exhibitions are scattered all over London, but a good place to start is the wonderful V&A museum which acts as the hub for the festival's duration.

7) Autumn Equinox on Primrose Hill (Primrose Hill: 23rd September) For a slightly unusual date, join the Druids, robed in white, as they celebrate the Autumn Equinox on Primrose Hill. Slightly spooky stuff if you ask us, but each to their own...

8) Toast Festival (Clapham Common: 24th - 26th September) Combining international polo with the very best food, wine and live music from the Southern Hemisphere, Toast brings you 'everything good about the antipodean way of life.' With one day each dedicated to South Africa, New Zealand and Australia respectively, pick your country and head on down. We particularly like the sound of the South African gumboot dancers…

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Swallowtail Hill - Glamping in East Sussex

Heading out of London on a Friday night, not knowing where I was going, the car laden with clothing and paraphernalia to cover all eventualities… I was feeling surprisingly relaxed! Normally a bit of a control freak; there was actually something very calming about NOT being in charge. Brownie points to the Other Half already.

Designated map reader, I knew where we going geographically but I still had no idea what our ultimate destination was. We finally “arrived” at 10pm, when we drove down a dead-end road in the middle of nowhere, parked the car and were greeted by a lady with a torch and a wheelbarrow. A usual Friday night then?

Weary and bleary eyed we piled our belongings into the wheelbarrow (and the rest – clearly I packed for all occasions) and let our host lead the way. Down the hill, past the pond, the log-fired shower and the eco loos (more of them later), we followed the scent of the camp-fire until we reached our home for the next two nights: a huge and inviting bell tent deep in the Sussex countryside.

Swallowtail Hill Farm is a small farm in East Sussex run purely for conservation. They offer quirky accommodation in two 5 metre bell tents and one converted horse-box! Despite my many bags, all you need to bring with you is a sense of adventure and some scruffy clothes – everything else is provided, from pots and pans to use on your camp-fire, to wind-up torches, old-school games like Connect Four and a great selection of paperbacks. If romance is high on your list then the horse-box is your best bet as it's tucked away on it's own, nestled between a wild flower meadow and two magical ponds. We're talking 10 out of 10 for rustic romance.

With the August weather less than summery we didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked relaxing around our tent and camp-fire: which is what Swallowtail is made for. In fact, on our last morning, like true Brits, I insisted we cooked our breakfast over the fire despite the fact that it was raining, with severe weather warnings being issued for later on in the day!

Rain or shine there is plenty to do in the area. We went to Camber Sands on Saturday and had a fantastic “blow away the cobwebs” walk along the miles of uninterrupted white sand. We then pottered round the cobbled streets of the picturesque town of Rye (a GDG favourite, click here for our review), popping in to Lamb House (home to the author Henry James), having delicious cupcakes, and buying a hat (as you do) before heading back to our tent to have a pre dinner glass of wine around the camp-fire.

Somewhere along the way I’ve forgotten to mention the “facilities”. Seasoned camper that I am I’m pretty used to basic loos and showers, but I have to say the eco loos at Swallowtail were something else… There are two loos, grandly named the Henderson and the Buckingham, each serving a different function if you catch my drift! I actually became rather attached to these loos by the end of our stay: they were clean, well maintained and they made you feel very eco-friendly! The wood fired shower is equally unusual. Looking like something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang it gives you a wonderfully warm shower despite feeling like it might explode at any moment!

Anyway, back to Saturday night! We went out for dinner – I know, I know, totally against the rules of camping, but hey, this is “glamping” so technically it doesn’t count!?!? We had a fantastic meal at the Tuscan Kitchen Rye (somewhere we’ve been before and LOVED, read our review here) and after several glasses of wine, grappa and limoncello we made our way home in a taxi, narrowly avoiding three wild board who were apparently also heading home after a night out! Wobbling through the fields to our tent was the perfect end to our evening, and crashing out on a comfy double bed is so much more preferable to a toppling over in a sleeping bag and landing with a thud on thin roll mat.

Next morning we gallantly cooked our breakfast in the rain (refusing to use the gas stove under the shelter provided) and sadly said goodbye to Swallowtail… for this year. We’ll definitely be back, probably with friends, and probably earlier on in the year when the wild flowers are at their best and the sun is feeling a little more sociable!

If you want to plan a weekend date to really get away from the stress and strain of London life then this is the place for you. The tents are seriously comfy and Chris and Sarah (the owners) have provided everything you could possibly need. All you need to supply is someone suitably romantic to share the weekend with…

Other Half really did excel himself this time!

Miss Mary x

Swallowtail Hill Farm
Address: Hobbs Lane, Beckley, East Sussex, TN31 6TT
Phone: 0845 3372948
Fax: 01797 260389

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Bad Date Blog

Some more words of wisdom from our unlucky in love Bad Date Blogger, who made the fatal mistake of mixing burning hot oil with a third date...

So you’ve hopefully read my last blog and arrived at your date safely and in one piece but what now? The age-old question of what to do on a first date is a good one and should be thought through carefully… very carefully! Many a potential relationship has stalled due to over-ambitious or over-complicated dates so just watch it when coming up with a plan.

A fine example of this is my infamous Pancake Day date that seemed like such a good idea on paper and just went from bad to worse. It was a third date I think and the man in question wanted to cook me dinner. Excellent, I thought, there’s nothing more attractive than a bloke who can cook. I then realised that he’d suggested Shrove Tuesday so I said ‘Great, you cook dinner, I’ll do pancakes for dessert!’

It started rather well; I arrived at his flat and was pleasantly surprised to see it was a relatively girl-friendly zone. You never know what to expect when venturing into the man’s domain for the first time but his place was really nice, no beer can sculptures in the corner or Hollyoaks calendars on the walls – phew!

Wine was swiftly provided (the easiest way to make me feel at home) and he set to work in the kitchen. It all smelt delicious until a plate of suspiciously pink chicken was presented on the table in front of me. Right – what to do? Should I tuck in and hope for the best, or point it out and probably offend the chef? Is food poisoning ever sexy…? Too late to decide; he quickly spotted the problem and whisked my plate away, suggesting we move straight onto pancakes.

A lucky escape and it meant moving straight onto the fun part of the date – I mean how could anyone not love a bit of batter action? So the eggs were in the bowl, the oil was heating in the pan and a flipping challenge was quickly thrown out there by my date. Not being one to back down I limbered up and went for the full 360 degree flip. It might have been a slightly over-zealous attempt as I shot red-hot oil straight into my date’s eye who started screaming and holding his face in agony! ‘I’m blind! I’m blind!’

He quickly calmed down, as it must have occurred to him that his girlish screams were probably not attracting the lady, and suddenly manned up. But the damage had been done and any chance for romance got smaller and smaller as his eye got redder and redder!

It seemed a tactical retreat was the only answer so I made my excuses and left him to his eye bath. Funnily enough there wasn’t a fourth date – apparently some men just don’t like it when their dates maim them - what is the world coming to?

Written by our lovely, anonymous, bad date blogger!

Cycle London - Making the most of Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme

ⓒ Transport for London

This is a really wonderful date and whether you're visiting London for the first time or have lived here all your life, it's sure to inspire. What's more there's something about doing it all on a bicycle that really can't be beaten. You get to choose where and when you stop, cover miles in minutes (well, kilometres anyway) and you're somehow separated from the tourists, feeling a bit more like the locals you are. So, tried and tested by Miss Mary herself, here's our guide to cycling the city.

We suggest Hyde Park as a good place to meet, pick up your bike and get used to riding it in the safety of the tree lined paths before you hit the high road. There are multiple cycle hire docks dotted around the Park so it really couldn't be easier. Make sure you bring a map (although you might look a little sleeker with an i phone) as we're only giving you a rough outline of your route here - half the fun of this trip is finding your own way around so we're purposely leaving the finer details to you!

Once equipped with your two wheeled chariot (and of course a helmet - safety first!) head to the south east corner of the park at Hyde Park corner. Your first destination is Westminster Cathedral, so head down Grosvenor Place bearing east around Victoria and onto Victoria Street where the Cathedral can be found. Further down towards the river you'll pass Westminster Abbey and finally Parliament Square with the glories of Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament. To complete the Government theme, pop up Parliament Street and have a nosey at 10 Downing Street, before heading back to the square and then across Westminster Bridge. Even if you've seen it all a thousand times, actually cycling past Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament and then over the water to the London Eye really will make your heart leap with awe and wonder. It's simply stunning.

South of the river there is plenty more to see. As you follow the bend of the river, you'll find The Festival Hall, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre and of course the wonderful Borough Market, a perfect place for a lunch time pit stop.

After lunch, continue on past London Bridge until the glorious Tower Bridge comes into view. If you've never cycled across this incredible piece of architecture before, savour the moment.

Back North of the river and the delights of The Tower of London, Monument, the Bank of England and of course St Paul's Cathedral await. All of them breathtaking, all of them with fabulous stories to tell. We had a quick coffee in one of the cafes in Paternoster Square, sitting in front of the Cathedral and watching the world go by.

From St Paul's, head along to Fleet Street (pop south to The Temple and admire the architectural delights of the home of English Law) and on to The Strand. This you can follow all the way to Trafalgar Square, passing endless fascinating streets and alleys peppered with anything from the grandest investment bank to an old fashioned cobbler.

Onwards and upwards, follow the beautiful Mall from Trafalgar Square all the way to the majestic Buckingham Palace. As you approach on your wheels of steel with the breeze rustling through your hair, take a moment to marvel at the intricate beauty and incredible scale of this wonderful palace. It really is quite an emotional moment!

Finish the tour by heading back up Constitution Hill to Hyde Park where you can drop off your bikes and wearily make your way to The Hilton Park Lane. Here, on the 28th floor, you will find Galvin at Windows, a restaurant, and more importantly a bar, where you can enjoy a well earned drink whilst surveying the city you've just conquered.