Thursday, 22 November 2018

Discover the D-Day Story in Portsmouth

Portsmouth is fortunate to have so many excellent attractions which draw thousands of visitors to the city each year. The Historic Dockyard, with the superb new Mary Rose museum, HMS Victory and HMS Warrior are of course extremely popular. However, along the Southsea seafront you will find a real gem of a museum which reopened in April 2018 after extensive renovations and is well worth a visit: the D-Day Story museum.

D-Day – the 6th June 1944 – is undoubtedly one of the most significant military events in the nation’s history. Portsmouth – whose naval base has been a key feature of the city for 800 years – was crucial to both the preparations leading up to D-Day and in the supporting and co-ordination of the landings. This resulted in the largest ever assembly of military personnel, aircraft and ships that has ever taken place; thousands of Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy and for many weeks were involved in bitter and bloody fighting, helping to bring the war to a successful conclusion one year later.

Since 1984, this momentous day has been commemorated in Portsmouth with a museum dedicated to D-Day. Last year, the D-Day museum closed for a comprehensive refit following the securing of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and in April 2018 the new building reopened: The D-Day Story was reborn.

The museum has carefully considered the needs of today’s museum goers in planning the displays, using interactive technology in a way which helps to imaginatively communicate the stories behind D-Day. It is important to add though, that paramount to the D-Day Story is the collection itself: this is not just about technology. The museum’s project team has diligently researched each artefact and also used the temporary closure of the museum to identify gaps in the collection. For example, it was agreed that as well as telling the story of D-Day from a primarily British perspective, it was important to illustrate the impact on the people living in France during the time of German occupation.

The new D-Day Story is ultimately dedicated to sharing the stories of individuals, whether they were sailors, soldiers or aircraft personnel or civilians; adults and children. The museum collection is effectively separated into three main sections: Preparation; D-Day and the Battle of Normandy; as well as the Legacy and Overlord Embroidery exhibition.

The D-Day Story has been designed to enable you to move through each of the different spaces at your own pace, with clear descriptions of each item in the collection. There are moving interviews with people who took part in the campaign, men and women who recall on camera what D-Day meant to them; many of the memories are extremely poignant.

For me, one of the highlights was the display where you can see the faces and hear the voices of the soldiers as they approached the beaches of Normandy on a landing craft, in a recreation of what the experience would have been like on that auspicious day in the early summer. It is extremely impressive.

The new D-Day Story is a lovely museum and suitable for all ages; a perfect place to spend a couple of hours or so and helping to ensure that the memories of D-Day are preserved and accessible to future generations. Visiting The D-Day Story

Open 10:00 to 17:30 (17:00 from October to March) daily, except 24, 25 and 26 December. Last admission is one hour prior to closing. During the year there are a number of special events including ‘Chilled Out’ Museum days for those who like a quieter visit and more subtle lighting and Touch Tours for blind and partially disabled visitors. In addition to the museum, there is a shop, café and gardens. Contact details:

+44 (0)23 9288 2555

Written by Simon Frost, Hibou Communication 

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

5 hotels for atmospheric Christmas markets

Canterbury Cathedral Lodge

Make your Christmas shopping a festive event to look forward to by staying at one of these convenient and cosy hotels near atmospheric Christmas markets in southeast England. Think handmade gifts and twinkly Christmas lights followed by mulled wine, roaring fires and some of the most welcoming hotels around.

A stately new Christmas market near a cosy, eccentric bolthole in the Cotswolds

Brand new for 2018 is Blenheim Palace’s Christmas Market (23 November – 16 December). The latest addition to Blenheim’s super seasonal festivities will fill the Great Court with wooden chalets piled high with textiles, jewellery, toys, ceramics and plenty more. Give the crowds of the high streets and malls a wide berth as you browse, then take a stroll through the palace’s grand rooms – lavishly outfitted to a Cinderella theme – and along Blenheim’s Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail (23 November – 1 January). Afterwards, spread out your haul in one of the splendid bedrooms in Artist Residence Oxfordshire, a charmingly eccentric small hotel in a 16th-century, thatched village inn in South Leigh. Downstairs, the bar has flagstone floors, a wood-burner and plenty of nooks and crannies; mulled wine is practically mandatory.

Cathedral views and Christmas shopping in Canterbury

Book one of Canterbury Cathedral Lodge’s comfortable, uncluttered rooms and absorb the Christmas spirit with splendid views of Canterbury Cathedral. Housed within an architect-designed complex, this contemporary hotel has a prime position in the serene grounds of the awesome cathedral, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. A stay here comes with after-hours access into the precincts, which make a peaceful retreat from the merry bustle of Whitefriars Christmas Market (16 November – 24 December), a continental Christmas market packed with 70-odd colourful cabins selling everything from handmade glassware to hot toddies. If your timings allow, don’t miss one of the cathedral’s advent carol services and Christmas concerts, or seasonal events at The Canterbury Tales attraction (pre-booking advised).

Hurley House

Thames-side walks and Country Homes and Interiors style near Henley-on-Thames

Hurley House, Marlow, brings great service, chic style and impressive cuisine to a picturesque stretch of the Thames Path. The smartly rustic bar has a cosy wood-burning stove, exposed brickwork, wooden beams – perfect for mulled wine or a Christmas afternoon tea, especially after a few Christmassy hours at Stonor Park, a grand family home with medieval roots located the other side of picturesque Henley. Country Homes and Interiors Christmas (22–25 November) in Stonor’s grounds is the perfect place to pick up creative Christmas gifts from more than 100 makers and brands. From 28 November to 9 December you can tour the house’s rooms, dusted with twinkling stars for the season, and pick up Christmas pressies and decorations in the gift shop.

The Milk House

Indie producers, twinkling polar bear statues and Christmas dining with a modern twist in Kent

With its indie shops and cosy cafes, Tenterden is a great place to pick up festive gifts and trinkets come Christmas shopping season, but when the Tenterden Christmas Market arrives Santa’s workshop couldn’t beat it for seasonal atmosphere (23-25 November). As well as local artisan producers, there are real reindeer, a snow machine, fairground rides, live music and late-night shopping in stores that have pulled out all the stops for the Christmas shop window competition. Take your haul back to Sissinghurst’s The Milk House, a pub-with-rooms in a 16th-century hall house that blends a buzzy, village-hub feel with a jocund dairy theme – think creamy-coloured bedrooms with such names as Byre and Churn, decorated with fresh flowers in milk pails. The Tudor fireplace is lit on cold days and the bar has timber beams, cask ales and local beers. You could dine on traditional Christmas turkey or change up your 2018 Christmas menu with blood orange duck confit, celeiac purée, pecan sautéed kale and redcurrant jus.

The Old Vine

A pub-with-rooms with Christmas market views in ‘England’s Christmas Capital’

The Old Vine, an 18th-century pub-with-rooms built over a subterranean 14th-century tavern, is just a short stroll from Winchester Cathedral. In fact, The Osborne and Little Room (bedrooms are named after fabric and wallpaper designers) has Georgian plaster panelling and views over the green of the cathedral – which just happens to be the atmospheric setting for what is recognised as one of Europe’s best Christmas markets. Inspired by traditional German markets, Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market (17 November – 20 December) has a British Crafts Village, nativity scene, open-air ice rink and more than 100 chalets in the cathedral’s historic Close. Mulled wine, bratwurst, mince pies and stollen fill the air with irresistible seasonal scents.

Friday, 21 September 2018

6 family-friendly hotels for half-term breaks in South East England

Chewton Glen

This October half term, treat the family to a stay at one of these family-friendly hotels in South East England, chosen by the Good Hotel Guide.

1. Treehouses and history lessons: Chewton Glen, Hampshire 

This model of a country house hotel and spa in an 18th-century manor house on the edge of the New Forest speaks to children as much as it does to their parents and grandparents. Guests of all ages can appreciate indoor and outdoor swimming pools, on-site cookery courses and a woodland stream to follow to the beach. In-the-know families bed down in one of the Courtyard or Coach House suites, with a private walled garden or private access to the hotel’s extensive grounds. For a special treat aim even higher: tree-house suites in a leafy setting have a mini-kitchen, a wood-burning stove, a spa bath, and a breakfast hamper in the morning.

While you’re there: If your little history buffs are studying Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar visit Buckler’s Hard to see what life was like for 18th-century shipbuilders.

Hartwell House

2. Spa treats and hedgehogs: Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire

Children over six years old can bed down at Hartwell House, a National Trust-owned Jacobean mansion in an Arcadian landscape. For more privacy and direct access to the gardens, book one of the large suites in Hartwell Court, the restored 18th-century riding school and stables in the grounds. You can take the kids to Hartwell’s renowned spa at certain times, and roam the 90 acres of gardens and parkland filled with statues, temples and an obelisk.

While you’re there: Don’t miss Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital. It’s home to the country’s only hedgehog memorabilia museum, an animal hospital and a red kite flying aviary.

The Old Vine

3. A designer pad and steam trains: The Old Vine, Winchester 

At first glance, a Grade II-listed 18th-century inn on the edge of the cathedral close might not sound like a great fit for families, but The Old Vine’s Designers Guild Annexe is spot on. This self-contained townhouse apartment across the street from The Old Vine has two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room, all stylishly decked out with fabrics and furniture from the Designers Guild. Also good for families – guests have the use of a small garage so the surrounding countryside as well as Winchester city centre can be reached easily.

While you’re there: Ride the Mid Hants Railway, a.k.a. The Watercress Line, a steeply graded heritage railway with a fleet of steam locomotives that was used to transport watercress from the beds in Alresford to London. The Wizard Express steam train with Harry Potter-style coaches takes to the rails 27-28 October.


4. Movie nights and LEGO: Cliveden, Berkshire

Children are made to feel part of the Cliveden family when they stay at this extensively restored Italianate mansion in beautiful grounds. Younger kids can play with a selection of games and toys. Older families can settle down for movie night with a wide range of DVDs. There’s a special children’s menu and children’s service, or families can dine together throughout the evening. Or if you’d prefer a grown-ups-only dinner, babysitting service is available, as is room service. Outside, get lost in the giant yew tree maze, follow the woodland play trail or simply explore the 376 acres of National Trust grounds.

While you’re there: Go LEGO crazy among 80 million LEGO bricks at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort. There are also more than 55 interactive rides, building workshops and amazing models of scenes from Europe and the USA.

Hever Castle

5. Royalty and an adventure playground: Hever Castle B&B, Kent 

Combine history lessons with childhood princess/prince dreams at Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Bolyen. Bedrooms occupy two Edwardian additions to 13th-century Hever Castle; the wings are a blend of Tudor-inspired features and modern-day comfort, and your individually decorated bedroom may have a golden chaise longue, a four-poster bed, or a glimpse of the castle through leaded windows. Some rooms can accommodate a cot or a camp bed for children up to the age of 12; others have a sofa bed; and a double and single room can be turned into a suite for up to five guests thanks to a strategically placed door on the landing.

While you’re there: There’s no need to go anywhere! Residents have complimentary access to the castle and grounds during opening hours, including the great new adventure playground. If you do want to venture further afield, the British Wildlife Centre has badgers, harvest mice and Britain’s first walk-through red squirrel enclosure.

Park House Hotel and Spa

6. South Downs views and alpacas: Park House, Sussex 

Luxurious but unstuffy, Park House is foolproof for families who appreciate country house living. The hotel has a home-away-from-home feel, and guests of all ages are made to feel welcome. Deluxe family suites have a double bed that can be turned into two singles, plus a sofa bed or a single bed for kids. There’s no skimping on the views here either; windows overlook the grounds and South Downs countryside. For more independence, book one of the cottage suites, with a small kitchen, private gardens and plenty of space for the whole family.

While you’re there: Take an alpaca for a walk! Children over 6 years old can lead one of Dunreyth Alpacas' friendly creatures on an hour-long walk through the woods. Booking ahead is essential.

All hotels have rooms available at time of writing.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Major new Tate acquisition comes to Southampton City Art Gallery

Le Passeur (The Ferryman), 1881, William Stott of Oldham (1857–1900) Photo ©Tate Purchased with funds provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation) and The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation 2017.

Beneath the Surface: William Stott of Oldham and British Impressionism exhibition will open 14 September 2018 – 12 January 2019 The star of the show, William Stott of Oldham’s painting Le Passeur (The Ferryman) is considered a key moment in the breakthrough of British Art to naturalism and established Stott as one of the most progressive British artists of his day.

Secured for the British public with funds provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation) and The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation, this painting will be displayed in Southampton City Art Gallery as part of a UK wide tour in partnership with Tate.

This exhibition will show Stott in the company of those who, like him, contributed to the development of British Naturalism and Impressionism and will also include examples of French Impressionism, drawn from Southampton’s permanent collection, to place British art of the 1880s and 1890s more broadly in a dialogue with French painting of that time. Shown alongside Le Passeur will be work by some of Stott’s contemporaries who were influenced by the move in painting toward rural Naturalism, illustrating what connects Stott to them at this moment in his career and what distinguishes his singular vision.

This exhibition has been guest curated by Professor Sam Smiles and will include significant additional loans from Russell-Cotes, Southwark Art Collection, Tate, Towner Art Gallery and Victoria and Albert Museum.

Southampton City Art Gallery is the second of four UK-partner galleries to display Le Passeur, thanks to funding from National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the John Ellerman Foundation and Art Fund. The work will also be exhibited at Gallery Oldham and Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Councillor Satvir Kaur, Cabinet Member for Homes and Culture said:

'Having such exceptional work of early British Impressionism on loan from Tate alongside art drawn from our city’s own permanent collection, has resulted in another amazing exhibition for Southampton and Southampton City Art Gallery. It helps cement us as an international destination for arts and culture, and I hope local residents and visitors alike take the opportunity to make the most of it.'

Lead Exhibitions Officer Dan Matthews, Southampton City Art Gallery said:

'The generous loan of this key work from Tate has given us the opportunity to borrow paintings by a number of artists not represented within our collection such as George Clausen, Bertha Newcombe and Henry Herbert Le Thangue. We hope this display will enable our audience to learn more about this important era of British Art.'

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Chewton Glen Takes First Place in a Worldwide Celebration of Excellence

Condé Nast Traveller announced its 21st Annual Readers’ Travel Awards on Monday, 3rd September, to an audience which had travelled from around the globe, to find out who had won the hearts and minds of the discerning readers of the world leading travel publication. With categories that included the ‘Best Country’ and the ‘Best Island’, to the ‘Best City for Architecture’ and even the ‘Best Island for Beaches’, which was won by Hawaii, Chewton Glen was thrilled to be awarded the prize of the ‘Best UK Hotel Spa’ and also to receive the Number 3 ranking in the category of ‘Best UK Holiday Hotel’, with its sister hotel Cliveden House in Berkshire taking the Number 5 position and its country cousin, The Lygon Arms in Broadway making its first top twenty appearance.

The awards ceremony, which was held at the Ham Yard Hotel in the heart of London, was hosted by the publications irrepressible Editor, Melinda Stevens, whose pride and passion for Condé Nast Traveller shone out like a beacon from the stage as she invited the travel industry luminaries to collect their awards. Melinda also shared with the audience the exciting developments that are planned for Condé Nast Traveller in the UK and USA and praised the remarkable work her editorial, photographic and production teams do to produce a publication that is recognised as the world’s most discerning travel title providing punchy, practical and independent features on destinations and worldwide trends, whilst offering insider information beneficial to the consummate traveller.

Andrew Stembridge, Executive Director of Iconic Luxury Hotels who accepted the award of ‘Best UK Spa Hotel’ from Melinda commented:

'In this coming of age 21st award ceremony for Condé Nast Traveller, it is wonderful that Chewton Glen, which has been such an inspiring resort for well over five decades, is acknowledged as being still at the top of its game. I am immensely proud of the team at Chewton Glen for their outstanding work in creating a world-class spa hotel that is so well respected by the readers of Condé Nast Traveller.

'We were thrilled last year to be the runner-up in this category, but this year with an amazing score of 87.59 the perceptive readers highlighted our skilled therapists, our holistic programmes and the bedrooms at this iconic luxury country house hotel in Hampshire. The luxury health spa at Chewton Glen embodies the unique purity of its New Forest and coastal location. Our staff are dedicated to ensuring guests receive the highest levels of personalised service, holistic lifestyle programmes and indulgent spa experiences within the environments of a world-class retreat.
'The Spa at Chewton Glen was also listed in the prestigious ‘World’s Top 100’ in the Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Travel Awards 2018, with its amazing score of 87.59. Chewton Glen took 46th place in the list which named the Greek Islands as the winner with 95.63, properties such as the Lanserhof Tegernsee, in Bavaria was in 2nd place with 94.72 and, The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur, India with 94.49 was in third position. Chewton Glen was the only property in the UK to be listed in the top 60 of this impressive listing of the readers’ favourite destinations, hotels, villas, spas, airlines, airports, cruises and tour operators around the globe. This is an amazing result and we are so grateful to Condé Nast Travellers and its readers for their endorsement of our hotel and spa,' 

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

You Will Always Be Able To Spend A Penny at Didcot Railway Centre

Photo by Frank Dumbleton

Are we about to lose our 1p and 2p copper coins? Maybe says the Bank of England. Definitely not says Downing Street.

Whatever happens after the politicians have finished pontificating, we can assure you that the beloved ‘copper’, the pre-decimal penny, one twelfth of a shilling until 1971, will always be in circulation at Didcot Railway Centre. The platform ticket machine in the Museum and Archive will deliver on deposit of 1d, completely mechanically and without electronic intervention, a souvenir of the days when you needed a small piece of pasteboard to go on the platform to say farewell to a dear relative, or do a bit of trainspotting.

The photograph shows brothers Henry, holding a 1965 penny, and Oliver with the ticket received in exchange for it. The old pennies are readily available from the staff in the Museum, in exchange for a 20p piece, a rather less significant coin than the real penny, you will agree.

The penny platform ticket was valid for one hour, and prohibited the ticketholder from entering trains. To ensure people didn’t overstay their welcome the ticket has numerals from 1 to 12 printed around the edge, so that the ticket collector could clip the time that the person went onto the platform. Thus, if the person came back several hours later there might be a suspicion that he, or she, had travelled somewhere!

(Inspired from recent press speculation about demise of 1p and 2p coins.)

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Awesome Autumn at Blenheim Palace

From contemporary art, music, literature and film to horse trials, Halloween fireworks, fascinating flora and fauna, there’s a dazzling array of special autumnal events and activities on offer at Blenheim Palace to keep you fully entertained as the nights draw in.

SsangYong Blenheim Palace Horse Trials: September 16th – 18th

Returning for its 28th year, the SsangYong Blenheim Palace Horse Trials are a must for any eventing enthusiast. The competition is now firmly established in the eventing calendar, attracting the World's best riders and thousands of spectators who come each year to watch the five-day event. The first two days of the event will consist of Dressage competitions, with the weekend hosting Cross Country and Show Jumping.
There can’t be a sporting event with a more spectacular setting with the palace itself forming the backdrop to all the action for a great day out with family and friends! There is much to do on all days in addition to the showcase eventing classes, such as complimentary displays and demonstrations, enhanced children’s activities and of course a plethora of shops, food outlets, bars and entertainment.

Yves Klein Contemporary Art: Until October 7th

Blenheim Art Foundation is delighted to present Yves Klein at Blenheim Palace, a solo exhibition by the visionary French artist. Featuring over 50 artworks, this will be the most comprehensive exhibition of Yves Klein in the UK to date.
Visitors will be able to explore Klein’s wide-ranging practice, including painting, sculpture and large-scale installation. One of the most influential artists of his generation, his pioneering artistic experiments anticipated and inspired movements in conceptual art, minimalism and performance art. Klein is best known for the development of his own vivid ultramarine pigment, International Klein Blue (IKB), which became a symbolic part of his practice, a key to reaching the ‘infinite’ and ‘sublime’ through pure colour.

Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film and Music: October 11th – 14th

The Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film and Music is a must visit in the autumn calendar. With a series of talks, lectures and screenings; visitors will be spoilt by the range of literary and cultural themes on offer. From Gyles Brandeth to Esi Edugyan the full literary line up is available on

Halloween Fireworks Display: November 3rd

New for 2018, an exciting, spooky and spectacular Halloween Fireworks Display will light up the Palace. In addition to the pyrotechnics illuminating the Great Court and frightful light projections, the eerie evening will include plenty of thrills and chills with lots of terribly exciting paranormal activities.

Watch a witch take to the sky on a broomstick as she ‘flies’ across a trapeze, discover a levitating gargoyle human statue lurking amongst the crowd and be wowed by terribly tall Halloween Stilt Walkers featuring skeletons, zombies and even the Grim Reaper himself! Gliding ghosts, weeping angels and scary skeletons will move mysteriously around the Courtyard. Indulge in a wickedly delicious food from hot-dogs and waffles to seasonal treats. This year Blenheim Palace is pleased to be supporting Oxfam during this event and will be donating £2 per ticket and all the proceeds from the parking to Oxfam’s vital work fighting poverty around the world.

Autumn Watch: September – November

Discover the wonderful wildlife of Blenheim Palace as you enjoy one of the many Parkland walks on offer. With seasonal flora and fauna including a cornucopia of colours from the surrounding Ancient Oak trees and wildlife including resident Greylag Geese roaming around the UNESCO World Heritage Site there is plenty for all the family to spot. From ramblers to toddlers make sure to explore the vivid, russet coloured estate in full autumnal splendour.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

A Full Fat Festival of Food & Drink For All The Family

Milk Fest is in its fifth year! To celebrate the occasion this year’s Milk Fest is all about the Best of British. As ever, over the August Bank Holiday weekend Milk Fest kicks off on Friday 24 August and we’re planning a long weekend of fun all the way through to Monday 27 August.

It’s been created to be a feel good feast of British fun for the whole family. We’ve put together a jam packed schedule, with music from top local talent and fabulous food and drink from some of our wonderful suppliers. From Pimm’s slushies to Halloumi burgers, face-painting to British bubble-tastic displays, there’ll be something to put a smile on everyone’s face. To mark the occasion, we’ll also be putting our Full Fat Festival Top back on tap at a cheap and beerful £3.50/pint. A tipple or two of this bespoke Kentish bitter, crafted just for us by Old Dairy Brewery, is sure to get you in the party mood. So bring a rug, make yourself comfortable, tuck into some fine festival fodder and enjoy the tunes! For more information please visit their website or check out this video.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Comedy, nostalgia and drama at the Holiday Inn Winchester

Following on from the Holiday Inn Winchester’s recent success with their sell-out ‘Fawlty Towers Comedy Dining’ event, the 4 star hotel has created a programme of new events for their autumn season of entertainment. The season will launch with ‘Fabulous? Absolutely’ on Friday,12th October, an Absolutely Fabulous tribute that will bring all the drama and comedy of that much loved TV series into the hotel, while guests enjoy a three course meal, created by the hotel’s AA Rosette Award winning head chef and his team.

The hotel’s Sarah Waddington reveals a little about the performance:

'The drama will unfold around our guests, who will see the main characters attending a Gala, only to arrive and find out that they are not on the guest list. They then try various hilarious ways to get access to the event.'

The evening starts at 7pm, when the gathering guests will start to see the scenes unfold as the cast mingle and perform around them. Then at 8pm a three course meal will be served, while the performance continues. Tickets are £36 per person.

'We had a promenade theatre event at the hotel a few years ago and it was very successful and memorable, so it is great to bring a live theatrical performance back again and present it to the public in a non-theatre setting' continued Sarah Waddington.

The hotel will also be presenting a Christmas themed comedy performance on Saturday 24th November, featuring characters from the hugely popular Only Fools and Horses TV series. ‘Del Boy’s Comedy Dinner Show’ aims to be a whirlwind tribute to everything Trotter and everything to do with Christmas.

'This event is perfect for pre-Christmas celebrations, office parties and groups of friends to come along to. Party games, pantos and presents will be part of the theme of the drama that will be revealed to our guests as they dine, along with the usual Del Boy Trotter chaos!' said Sarah Waddington. Tickets will be £36 including a three course meal, festive table decorations, coffee and mince pies with 7pm arrival and dinner at 8pm.

Also leading up to Christmas the hotel has booked Abba’s Angels, an Abba tribute band for another evening of entertainment and fine food on Friday, 30th November from 7pm until midnight. There will be a dance floor for those who want to express their inner-Abba and the event includes a three course dinner, party novelties and the evening of entertainment. Tickets £42 per head (over 18’s only).

To end the year the hotel will be ‘Partying through the Decades’ on New Year’s Eve with live music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, with fancy dress of the decades optional. The event includes a pre-dinner glass of Prosecco, a three course meal, and the entertainment, with tickets at £75 per person and special packages for those wishing to stay overnight at £249 per couple including the event, overnight accommodation and breakfast, with extended check out until 1pm for those wanting a relaxing start to 2019.

For more information call 01962 670700 or visit

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

5 great hotels within 2 hours of London

Gravetye Manor

Whether your perfect short break involves Michelin-starred food, boutique shopping, stately homes and gardens or indulgent spa treatments (or all the above), there’s a hotel near the UK capital to suit.

The Good Hotel Guide has selected these five great hotels within two hours of London, all perfect for a hassle-free mini-break.

Best for a foodie weekend: Gravetye Manor, East Grinstead

From the garden flowers in the public rooms to the hot-water bottle, TV remote and Radio Times left on the bed at evening turn-down, a stay at this Elizabethan manor house is like a stay in a private home – albeit the private home of a world-class chef and gardener. The hotel’s brand new restaurant, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the historic gardens, is a fitting spot to sample chef George Blogg’s Michelin-starred cooking; he uses produce from the hotel’s orchards and extraordinary kitchen garden to create dishes that look as beautiful as they taste.

While you’re there… devote at least a few hours to the wild garden – it’s one of the most important gardens in the country, play croquet, and order the exquisite seven-course tasting menu.

Get there… in 1 hour 30 mins by road, or 1 hour by rail from London Bridge to East Grinstead Station followed by a short taxi ride.

Best for a design-led city break: The Old Vine, Winchester
 Built over a subterranean 14th-century tavern a short stroll from Winchester cathedral, Ashton Gray’s 18th-century pub-with-rooms overflows with hanging baskets and character. Interiors blend the traditional with smart contemporary. The bar has beams and open fires; each bedroom is named after a fabric and wallpaper designer and furnished with Victorian, Arts and Crafts and contemporary pieces. Under the eaves, the Design House Cathedral View Suite stretches the length of the building. Osborne and Little, overlooking the cathedral green, has intricate Georgian plaster panelling.

While you’re there… visit Jane Austen’s grave in the cathedral ,stroll the charming streets and squares of England’s ancient capital, and browse three floors of antiquarian and vintage books at The Winchester Bookshop.

Get there… in 1 hour 30 mins by road, or 1 hour 10 mins by rail from London Waterloo to Winchester Station followed by a 10-min walk.

Hartwell House

Best for a sophisticated retreat in a stately home: Hartwell House, Aylesbury

Swish up the drive through an Arcadian landscape to reach this Jacobean mansion. Enlarged and remodelled in the 1700s, it’s now a National Trust-owned luxury hotel, complete with grand interiors, a two AA rosette restaurant and a spa. Bedrooms are huge; bathrobes and home-made biscuits come as standard. For an über-romantic break, book one of the antique-filled Royal four-poster rooms, where Louis XVIII of France and his queen stayed when the house was home to his court-in-exile.

While you’re there… spend a lazy afternoon in the spa and its swimming pool, dress up for a candlelit dinner, and promenade through the hotel’s 90 acres of gardens and parkland.

Get there… in 1 hour 20 mins by road, or 1 hour by rail from Marylebone Station to Haddenham & Thame Parkway or Aylesbury Station, followed by a short taxi or bus ride.

Best for a stay in a historic castle: Hever Castle B&B, Hever

Connect with the past in this sumptuous B&B, which occupies two Edwardian additions to 13th-century Hever Castle. Moulded ceilings, grand chimney pieces, and corridors lined with paintings heighten the sense of grandeur; in the Astor and Anne Boleyn wings, individually decorated bedrooms, each with a bathroom of limestone or marble, are full of character. A blend of Tudor-inspired features and modern-day comfort, they may have a golden chaise longue, a four-poster bed, a glimpse of the castle through leaded windows.

While you’re there… enjoy complimentary access to the castle and grounds during opening hours, wander through parts of the peaceful gardens after the public has left, and walk to the atmospheric village pub, King Henry VIII, for dinner.

Get there… in 1 hour 20 mins by road, or 40 mins by rail from London Bridge to Hever Station followed by a 5-min taxi ride or a 25-min walk.

Cliveden House

Best for a country house experience: Cliveden House, Taplow

The service at this Grade I-listed stately home with a scurrilous history is exceptional, the décor suitably grand, and the setting above the River Thames exquisite. Some bedrooms are opulent, some austere, all different; even some of the smallest bedrooms have a private terrace with a hot tub and courtyard views. Grab a moment of calm in the spa, swim in the notorious outdoor pool that sparked the Profumo affair (one of the biggest political scandals in British history), then nab a table by a window in the flawless restaurant and dine on chef André Garrett’s excellent modern meals. If it was good enough for Meghan Markle on the night before her wedding…

While you’re there… get lost in the Cliveden yew maze, follow a trail through Cliveden’s National Trust-run estate for far-reaching views across Berkshire and back to the house, and take a jaunt along the River Thames in one of Cliveden’s vintage launches.

Get there… in 1 hour by road, or 30 mins by rail from London Paddington to Taplow or Burnham station followed by a 10-min taxi ride, or 50 mins to Bourne End Station followed by a 40-minute walk across the fields.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

School Children set to visit Bedgebury to help save Endangered Trees

Children from four local primary schools (Goudhurst, Lamberhurst, Sandhurst and Downe) will visit the Forestry Commission’s Bedgebury National Pinetum, near Goudhurst, Kent on 18 and 19 April 2018. Each of the local schools have links to schools in Malawi through the work of the charity Starfish Malawi, and during the visit to the Pinetum they will learn about the lives of children in Malawi, hear about their critically endangered national tree, the Mulanje cedar, and tour the pinetum to learn about the tree conservation work of the pinetum and meet some rare trees.

The Bedgebury National Pinetum tree conservation team and learning team, together with representatives from Botanic Gardens Conservation International and the local charity, Starfish Malawi, will welcome the children to the Pinetum where they will learn about the plight of the Mulanje cedar before planting wild-collected seeds from the critically endangered trees in the Pinetum nursery. The seedlings will form part of the propagation trials for the “Save Our Cedar” project, which Bedgebury National Pinetum is supporting.

Bedgebury’s Collection Manager, Dan Luscombe, said:

'After visiting Malawi to collect the seed from the Mulanje cedar myself (as part of a 3-year international tree conservation project to help save the critically endangered Mulanje cedar) it is wonderful to be able to educate school children about the importance of our trees and let them know how some, without our help, are at risk of extinction in their natural environment if action is not taken soon.'

The project in Malawi will map the mountain, identifying remaining cedar trees and the best planting sites. Local community members will receive training in nursery techniques and enterprise development and will be supported in setting up nurseries around Mulanje Mountain.

The Mulanje cedar (scientific name: Widdringtonia whytei) is endemic to Mulanje Mountain in Malawi. This unique tree produces valuable timber that is durable, termite-proof and used for construction and wood-carving. Its value has led to overexploitation and very few Mulanje cedar trees now remain on the mountain. This has resulted in a loss of income for communities living around the mountain and increased soil erosion and floods due to rapid water run-off from the mountain during rainy seasons.

Previous efforts to replant the cedar populations on Mulanje Mountain have had limited results, but the Mulanje cedar grows well on Zomba and in other locations. The reasons for this are not well understood. This project will work with geneticists, foresters and botanists to improve propagation results and planting success. Alongside the restoration project, work will be conducted across Malawi to test and promote the Mulanje cedar as a sustainable timber resource that can be grown from household to plantation scales. These efforts will develop a long-term market for cedar seedlings, ensuring the survival of this tree as well as a sustainable income for nursery workers.

Forestry Commission staff travel the world to collect seeds from rare and endangered species for propagation and are supported in this work by the Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum

Friday, 23 March 2018

First look inside Marwell Zoo's ‘Energy for Life’ Tropical House powered by 'zoo poo'

Marwell Zoo has unveiled its new immersive and sustainable ‘Energy for Life’ Tropical House which will become the first in the UK to generate energy using waste ‘zoo poo’.

Spanning two levels with fantastic vantage points, guests can experience face-to-face encounters with a diversity of wildlife and exotic plants in a tropical climate, while learning about the flow of energy through life.

Its lush canopy, cascading waterfall and bustling forest floor are home to a charismatic sloth, Javan chevrotain (mouse deer), pygmy marmosets, tortoises and free-flying birds. There is also a 70,000-litre aquarium with 2,500 fish, a crocodile monitor lizard and examples of nature’s environmental managers: a colony of leaf-cutter ants.

Supported by a £1.5million Local Growth Fund (LGF) investment by Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the exhibit is part of a 10-year, £17million investment plan to create improved habitats for animals, more immersive experiences for guests and to help the zoo achieve its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020.

James Cretney, Marwell Zoo’s Chief Executive, said:

'We are thrilled to open this groundbreaking new exhibit which marks a very proud and important moment in our history.

'The LEP’s involvement has itself been catalytic and in addition to their grant, has allowed us to understand and support a wider regional strategy of economic growth, STEM skills development and low carbon technology, all of which ‘Energy for Life’ will deliver upon.

'The unique combination of visitor experience and innovative green-technology creates a compelling story, throwing a spotlight on promoting alternative, renewable forms of energy. We hope guests, both young and old, can learn more, and feel inspired to join us in doing their bit to make a difference too.'

Leading the way in sustainability, the zoo realised a significant untapped energy resource in some of its 700 tonnes of animal waste (dung, soiled bedding and leftover hay) that could be used for renewable energy within the zoo.

The groundbreaking project with cutting-edge technology features a woodchip boiler that will be supplemented by a specialist boiler capable of burning straw-based animal manure later this year.

This will provide heating for buildings across the zoo and enable the charity to reduce its carbon footprint and dependency on fossil fuels.

The contemporary exhibit’s curved roof is built using the latest ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) technology. This insulating roof canopy allows natural light to shine through, creating ideal conditions for 650 individual plants from 65 different species to flourish and form a lush habitat for the animals.

Rainwater from the roof is harvested in two 50,000-litre tanks to provide water inside for the aquaria and plant watering, making the building self sufficient.

This unique combination of visitor experience and sustainability creates a compelling interpretation story and educational opportunities for 'Energy for Life' Tropical House.

Through the Tropical House experience, Marwell aims to encourage interest and understanding of the flow of energy through life, raise awareness of how the energy we need to power our modern lifestyles is generated and the consequences for the global environment. The exhibit will highlight our changing climate, the measures Marwell is taking to reduce carbon emissions and how guests can make a difference.

Dr Mike Short CBE, Chairman of Enterprise M3 LEP, added: 'We are delighted to see this facility open and working to boost our economy. With apprentices already employed and learning, delivering full economic benefits will only be a matter of time. This project helps us on our journey to establish low carbon technologies and make the Enterprise M3 area become more sustainable. This sustainability and with great apprentices the exhibit will ensure healthy animals and strengthen the visitor attraction in our area.'

Marwell Zoo, home to more than 150 species, is owned by Marwell Wildlife, a global conservation charity leading programmes in the UK, Africa and across the world. The charity engages with over 40,000 schoolchildren through curriculum-based education programmes and welcomes more than 500,000 visitors each year to its 140 acre site.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Make a Wish request sees seven year old become a princess at Hever Castle

Lea-Rose had her dream come true when she came to Hever Castle & Gardens to eat chicken wraps ‘like a princess’.

The seven-year-old from Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland is back at school after undergoing four rounds of chemotherapy for stage 3 non hodgkin’s lymphoma last year. At one point she spent 9 weeks in hospital.

She loves Disney princesses so her family applied for her to have her dream come true to become a princess for the day through the Make a Wish Foundation.

Lea-Rose Officer-Hamilton arrived at Hever Castle with her mum, Amy Wells, grandmother Kelly Sloan and her brother, Jai (4), and sisters Katelyn (6) and Olivia (1) on Monday (19 March).

The family enjoyed a horse and carriage ride around the grounds of Anne Boleyn’s childhood home before going into the Castle to meet ‘Ariel’ (Grace Liston from Melody’s Princess Parties) to play some games and learn about becoming a princess.

Lea-Rose had her very own throne in the spectacular Castle dining hall to enjoy a feast of chicken wraps, crisps, special glittery princess shoe biscuits and ice cream cupcakes.

Her mum Amy, 24, said: 'She thinks she is a princess and wanted to be a princess for the day. For me it’s good to see a smile on her face, for her to get that experience.'

Friday, 16 March 2018

Week dedicated to tourism gets under way as England prepares to celebrate English Tourism Week (17-25 March

VisitEngland is shining a spotlight on the country’s tourism industry in a week devoted to travel and exploration during English Tourism Week (ETW) 17-25 March 2018.

Now in its seventh year, ETW raises the profile and showcases the benefits of the tourism industry to local communities and the economy.

In the lead up to ETW, VisitEngland is working with television presenter Julia Bradbury, to encourage more Brits to explore the country and discover all there is to see and experience on their doorstep this spring. Julia has selected a few of her favourite things to do in springtime in a short film to be launched across VisitEngland’s social media channels. To see Julia's film on things to do this spring click here.

Julia Bradbury television presenter & co-founder of The Outdoor Guide said:

'Springtime in England is such an exciting time with our beautiful countryside leaping to life as it stirs from its winter slumber. From wildflowers to new-born animals, from heritage buildings reopening to mouth-watering seasonal food, it’s one of the best times to blow off the cobwebs, get outdoors and explore the amazing landscapes, experiences and activities on your doorstep.

'Whether I’m exploring the Wainwright Fells in the Lake District, tasting local scallops in Rye or wildlife watching on the Dorset coast, I’m always amazed by the hidden gems I find. I’d encourage everyone to take advantage of the great savings, offers and events being held this English Tourism Week and discover more of the country for themselves.'

VisitEngland Director Andrew Stokes said:

'English Tourism Week is all about celebrating the value and quality of tourism in England, and there are many great reasons to explore what’s on your doorstep. The range of activities, from our quiet and cosy countryside to our roaring and vibrant cities, gives our nation a rare flare you would struggle to find elsewhere in the world. And all steeped in our rich and wonderful heritage. The whole industry comes together during English Tourism Week to showcase the variety of tourism products across the country engaging locals and encouraging them to be tourists within their own area.'

This year the spring equinox falls during ETW and VisitEngland is asking people to share their favourite spring moments using #Springland, #ETW18 and #VisitEngland.

Latest VisitEngland statistics show that from January to November 2017 Brits took more than 44 million domestic holidays, spending in excess of £10 billion on staycations, up five and six per cent respectively compared to the same period in 2016.

To promote tourism during the week VisitEngland has created an events website for people to find out about, and book, activities with many offering discounts and incentives to encourage visitors. For a selection of the best offers see the blog here.

VisitEngland is also planning a country-wide ‘Instameet’ to celebrate ETW. More than 450 Instagrammers are expected to attend 10 Instameets during ETW showcasing England at its springtime best. Attendees will share ‘grams’ using the hashtags #Springland, #ETW18 and #VisitEngland with VisitEngland rounding up its favourite #Springland posts in a blog. To find out what's on during ETW click here.

English Tourism Week 17-24 March: Stay surf sail along the coast with the most

English Tourism Week kicks off this Saturday 17 March and the resorts of Bournemouth and Poole are getting in on the action with offers to stay, surf and sail along their award-winning coastline.

Combined, Bournemouth voted the UK’s best seaside town in the British Travel Awards 2017 – and nearby Poole offers 10 miles of soft golden sand, eight Blue Flag beaches and Europe’s largest natural harbour. Known as the ‘coast with the most’, this stretch of the South Coast attracts outdoorsy adventurers and thrill seekers looking to surf, sail and cycle.

To celebrate English Tourism Week (17 – 24 March), local accommodation providers and attractions are running special offers to welcome visitors to the area.

Learn to cruise the waves by surf or paddleboard with Surf Steps. The teachers at Surf Steps will show visitors the ropes and have them carving up the surf in no time, use the code ETW25 when booking online to receive 25% off.

City Cruises are offering a two-for-one cruise around Europe's largest natural harbour. Home to the town of Poole, the golden beaches of Sandbanks and Brownsea Island. From either open deck seating or comfortable saloon visitors will see stunning views of the exceptional landscape that surrounds it.

Visitors to Bournemouth can enjoy a discounted stay by the sea at Bournecoast self-catered accommodation during English Tourism Week. More information can be found at

Hot on the heels of topping the list of TripAdvisor’s best beaches, Bournemouth is also offering a special discount at catering outlets along its award-winning seafront. Customers get 10% off their bill at the Prom Café and the Prom Diner by quoting the promo code ETW18.

Nicola Goode, Marketing Manager at Bournemouth Tourism said:

'We’ve had a wonderful year so far here in Bournemouth – we’ve scooped two major awards and together with our neighbours in Poole we’re proud to boast a 10-mile playground for anyone who enjoys watersports and outdoor pursuits. English Tourism Week is the perfect opportunity to showcase our coast with the most!'

The two resorts have also produced a joint welcome guide in partnership with the Daily Echo. Available from tourist information centres and selected outlets in both resorts, the guide contains all of the information tourists to the area will need to make the most of their stay. See it online at under brochures and guides.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Easter at Emirates Spinnaker Tower

Spring has sprung at Emirates Spinnaker Tower! The Portsmouth based attraction is delighted to be hosting a selection of Easter treats for all of the family.

Easter Trail
30th March – 15th April
Standard admission prices apply

A special Easter trail encouraging youngsters to explore the iconic 170 metre viewing tower in search of egg-shaped puzzle pieces. Keep an eye out for the Easter Bunny who will be hopping around the tower over the bank holiday weekend.

Peter Rabbit™ Meet & Greet
7th and 14th April
Standard admission prices apply

The most mischievous and adventurous rabbit around is coming to Emirates Spinnaker Tower! On Saturday 7th and Saturday 14th April, Peter Rabbit will be making personal appearances at 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm! Advanced booking highly recommended.

Easter High Tea
Sunday 1st – Sunday 15th April
£55 for 2 people

Do something extra special this Easter. Easter High Tea combines the finger sandwiches and scones of a traditional afternoon tea with sweet treats such as miniature hot crossed buns, carrot cake and mini egg cupcakes! High Tea experiences are bookable for two people and are served in The Clouds café, 105 metres above sea level.

Emirates Spinnaker Tower is open daily from 10.00am to 6.00pm (excluding Christmas Day). See or call 023 9285 7520 to book in advance or to find out more.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Marvellous May at Borde Hill Garden

Rhododendrons bloom to celebrate 125 years of horticultural history at Borde Hill Garden

Borde Hill will celebrate their 125th anniversary this spring with a stunning display of rhododendrons, many of which were collected by the plant hunters of the Edwardian age.

Borde Hill near Haywards Heath in West Sussex was purchased in 1893 by Colonel Stephenson Robert Clarke with the express intention of creating a magnificent garden.

An enthusiastic collector, Colonel Stephenson Clarke was one of the sponsors of the great plant hunters of the early 1900s.  He filled his garden at Borde Hill with rich and diverse trees and shrubs from all corners of the world including China, Tibet, Burma and South America.

In his book of 1932, Colonel Stephenson Clarke says of the rhododendrons:
"Borde Hill may be said to possess a more or less representative collection of these beautiful plants including most of the fine species introduced by Wilson, Forrest, Rock and Kingdon Ward...a large number of which have been raised here.”

Visitors to the garden near Haywards Heath can see these shrubs grown to trees from Rhododendron seeds collected by intrepid explorer George Forrest on his 1924 expedition to China. Forrest's contribution to natural history in western China was unrivalled.  He discovered 1200 plants species new to science.  He has been called the Scottish Indianna Jones of the plant world and was given the Royal Horticultural Society's Victoria Medal of Honour in 1921, and the Veitch Memorial Medal in 1927.

This relationship between sponsor and plant hunter is still in evidence today at Borde Hill as the current guardians - Eleni and Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke remain committed to introducing new and interesting species to the garden.  The couple will unveil the newly designed Round Dell (by RHS medal winning designer Sophie Walker) in July.  This area of the garden features plants collected by the modern day plant hunters at Crûg Farm and is surrounded by fantastic chusan palms planted by the Colonel.

Eleni and Andrewjohn are also keen to underline the horticultural pedigree of the garden and keep the Colonel's legacy alive.  As part of their 125th anniversary celebrations they have arranged for writer and historian Caroline Holmes to deliver a fascinating talk on the Edwardian garden.

Caroline Holmes says: "The Edwardian Garden can be described as the original www for a glorious array of hardy and exotic plants for gardens, large and small, its extensive plant palette is one to celebrate not fear. The evocative history and contemporary setting of Borde Hill is both golden and delicious.

Other treasures to enjoy in May at Borde Hill include; the deciduous Knapp Hill azaleas which provide a kaleidoscope of colour in the Azalea Ring, Kornus kousa over 80 year’s old, late flowering magnolias like Magnolia obovata, Magnolia fraseri and Magnolia officinalis, other flowering trees include davidias, stuartias, halesia and many bulbs.
Borde Hill’s Liriodendron chinense will also be one to admire as it celebrates its 115 birthday this year. The Italian Garden will be in full colour thanks to 3,000 tulips and the woodlands will provide magical colour thanks to giant rhododendrons and a carpet of bluebells.

Special events in May include:

16 May    (10.30am - 1.30pm )     The Edwardian Garden, Golden and Delicious.  Caroline Holmes will evoke memories of a golden afternoon, glimpsed in black and white photographs and nostalgic cottage paintings with architecture inspired by the Mediterranean. Includes Refreshment on arrival, Talk and garden walk; Tickets: £24.00 (RHS Members/Friends of Borde Hill), £30.00 non-member

23 May     (10.30am – 2.30pm)    My Garden is my Sanctuary.  Join this one day course to improve self-awareness and confidence skills in this relaxing and peaceful setting. Workshop activities will include exercises using nature as a backdrop and resource, story, sensory awareness exercises, solo reflection time and sharing with others. Please see website for more details and tickets.

Borde Hill Garden’s prices and opening times:

The garden is open seven days a week from 20 March – 1 October, plus 20 – 31 October 2018, 10am to 5pm with the last admission one hour before closing. 

Day Tickets for Individuals and Families
Adult – £9.50 [£8.55]
Concession* – £9.00 [£8.10]
Child (aged 3-16) – £6.35 [£5.70]
Child under 3 Free
Carer Free
*Concession rates apply to visitors with a disability, students with ID and 60+ claiming a pension
Family Day Tickets
2 Adults + up to 3 Children – £28.50 [£25.65]
1 Adult + up to 3 Children – £19.00 [£17.10]