Royal Ascot: The Pros and Cons

‘Horse racing is one of my favorite sports’ – Elizabeth Banks

Just like the Grand National or Wimbledon, Royal Ascot is a British tradition that, if you play by the rules and know what you’re getting into before arriving, can be a fantastic day out. However, there are a handful of considerations to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to attend Ascot.

Why you should attend Royal Ascot

The perfect excuse to get dressed up
Most of us spend our entire week working and, come the weekend, find it difficult to get motivated to do anything, including going out for a nice dinner or even a drink at the local pub, which is why you should take advantage of the British events calendar. Royal Ascot has a formal dress code which makes it the perfect excuse to get dressed up in your finest clothes, including extravagant hats, and enjoy yourself with a glass of wine in hand and a few bets on the table.

You might win big
The main draw of Royal Ascot is that it’s a chance to win some money. At its heart, Royal Ascot is a very British gambling event where betting is, in most cases, celebrated. If you enjoy the thrill of gambling, Royal Ascot is a fantastic place to place some bets and, if you’re lucky, take home a generous sum of money. No matter how much you’re betting, always bet smartly to ensure you don’t lose too much money – only bet what you’re happy to lose or don’t bet at all.

Keep an eye out for the Queen


Every year, the Royal Family descend on Ascot for Royal Ascot, including our Queen and the rest of the family. If you’re in the Royal Box, the most exclusive and, therefore, expensive of areas, you’re almost guaranteed to see the Queen and Royal Family. You may also see members of the Royal Family walking around Royal Ascot so, if you’re a royalist, it’s worthwhile attending.

Despite the thrill of adorning yourself in all your finery and placing some honest bets, there are a few downfalls of attending Royal Ascot, too.

The cons of attending Royal Ascot include:

It can be snobbish
Slowly, the attitude surrounding Royal Ascot is changing; however, we can’t deny that there is an air of snobbery at the event which may make those on lower incomes, for instance, feel a little out of place. Although, this shouldn’t be a problem providing you act sensibly, dress properly, follow the rules, and avoid discussing money with those around you – Ascot is a fantastic place to socialise, however, as often is the case, politics and finances are not topics of conversation.

Royal Ascot isn’t cheap
Ticket prices for Royal Ascot start at £37 per person, per day, however, that’s for the Windsor Enclosure. When attending, if you want to be right in the heart of all the fun, it’s best to purchase Queen Anne Enclosure tickets for £75 per person, per day. There are several higher-tier tickets, too. Once you have set aside your betting money and purchased your tickets and formal outfits, plus any food and drink you want throughout the day, Royal Ascot isn’t a cheap day out. Also, if you’re hoping to stay in Ascot during the event, hotels and B&Bs will be costlier than usual.

The rules are strict


There is plenty of room to enjoy yourself at Royal Ascot; however, the rules are strict and must be adhered to ensure you gain access to the venue. For instance, there is a dress code to be kept, and while you’re allowed to take one bottle or wine or champagne into the grounds with you, no other alcohol is permitted, ensuring you purchase your drinks from stalls within the grounds.

If you haven’t been to Royal Ascot before, the best thing to do is to attend and see what you think – different people’s opinions of the event vary, so all you can do is explore Ascot for yourself. For exploring you may consider a minibus hire.

*this has been a collaborative post with coachscanner.com

Owl & Hawk Experience at the Coniston Hotel

‘We learned to be patient observers like the owl’ – Tom Brown Jr

Since I was really young I’ve always been obsessed with owls. I seem to remember some wildlife conservationist came in to school to do a talk and I’ve found them fascinating ever since then. So much so actually that one summer holiday when I was bout 10 I got all the owl books out the library I could find a did my own summer project in a scrap book – needless to say I wasn’t all that popular as a kid.

Despite having such a keen interest in them, I’ve managed to make it almost 35 years on earth without ever actually meeting one or holding one so an owl experience is something that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time! There are quite a few you can do in an around Northumberland, near where we live but they all seem ridiculously expensive. We were looking for somewhere to go for a weekend away in February as it was and found a deal at the quaint little Grassington Lodge near Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales. About 20 minutes away from Grassington was an Owl and Hawk experience at The Coniston Hotel and Country Estate, and it was only £35 for two people. What a bargain!

DSCN3187

We arrived on a drizzly Sunday afternoon and drove the mile down the road on the Coniston Estate to the falconry centre where they also offer full day hunting experiences and a falconry safari. We were met by Matt and allowed to look around the barn looks at all the different owls, hawks, and eagles (they all look so impressive up close and you forget how big some of the birds can get!)

We were lucky in that there was no one else booked on the experience so we got the full hour just to ourselves with loads of time with the birds. We started outside with a barn owl, are were each given some (dead) baby chicks – which is like McDonalds to owls apparently and stand side ways on to the birds so as not to appear threatening. They fly always instantly to the glove for the food and stay there a good couple of minutes before flying off to another perch.

Next we met an Eagle Owl. The size difference was quite incredible really as was the weight difference as the fly onto the glove. We chatted away with Matt the whole time who really knows his stuff. I was really curious to know how they get the birds and whether they’re bred on site. Most are bought from UK breeders or people who have an interest in birds of prey and one of the eagles they have was even sent over from America. He also told us that it’s a misconception that owls are wise and nocturnal, as most species are neither. I of course, already knew this from my personal owl project from 1992.

Finally we go to fly one of the hawks which was done across the car park and the hawks for some reason prefer to perch on the roof of the barn. Owls are most definitely my favourite however it was still pretty cool seeing the hawk as well, they’re still quite impressive birds, very heavy and have a hooked beak you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of!

The whole experience went over in a flash and was fantastic value for money. We were lucky that there was only the two of us booked on that afternoon however is worth noting that they can have up to 10 people in one session which of course would limit your time physically handling the bids, you’d probably only get to hold each one once, where as we have about 5 or 6 turns each.

It’s always great to get something ticked off your bucket list and this was the perfect way to do it, certainly beats paying to hold some of the random ones you see on Northumberland Street from time to time!

Contact:

The Coniston Hotel
Coniston Cold
Skipton
North Yorkshire
BD23 4EA

Tel: 01756 748080

Twitter: @conistonhotel

Web: http://www.theconistonhotel.com/falconry.html

 

 

 

Chillingham Road

Chillingham Road Metro Station was opened in 1982 and orginally called Parsons due it it’s closeness to Parsons engineering works. It’s also very close to Brough Park Greyhound racing stadium and Newcastle Diamonds Speedway.

20170408_141623

If you exit the station from Platform 1 and head straight ahead you’ll see a bridge to the right. Across the Bridge and on the other side of the road you’ll see the The Chillingham; which, if you’ever been a student in the city, you’ll be very, very familiar with!

20170408_133746

Yet another Sir John Fitzgerald pub, who are proving to have quite a presence on our guide so far, The Chillingham has undergone a massive refurb in recent years and for what was always classed as a student pub, it’s pretty swanky inside now. As you walk in you can either turn left or right into two large lounge areas; both of which have massively stocked bars. It was lunchtime on a Saturday for us, and a tad early to be going straight on the wine so I went for a Peach Tinnermans which was absolutely lovely. There were also lots of local ales on the handpulls and your standard lager options.

 

The decor is what you’d come to expect from a newly decked out SJF pub, lots of dark wood and tartan and whereas they do have quite a few TVs with sport being shown, it’s large enough that you’d be able to find a quiet corner away from the TVs if you wanted to.

 

The biggest draw for us when we visited was the small but perfectly formed beer garden out the back – it’s rare the big yellow ball in the sky makes an appearance in the north east so we had to make the most of it. Whilst the view of the traffic on Chillingham Road isn’t the most picturesque; the atmosphere when there’s big groups of you outside enjoying the weekend is infectious – it’s also airy enough that if people are smoking around you, it doesn’t really bother you too much.

20170408_134229

I could definitely see The Chillingham as a session pub, particularly with the reviews I’ve seen about the extensive food menu; which SJF pubs always have a good reputation for. Plus students always make for a good vibe!

Contact:

Address: 89 Chillingham Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5XL
Tel: 01912653992
Website: http://sjf.co.uk/our-pubs/the-chillingham/

See where else we’ve been on our Wine & Beer Metro tour here

 

The Happiness Project One Sentence Journal

‘Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life’ – Omar Khayyam

I always liked to keep diaries as a teenager but they were your stereotypical narcissistic ‘woe is me’ ‘why won’t he notice me’ type teenage stuff that would be highly mortifying were anyone to get their hands on now. I even continued to keep a journal (sounds so much more grown up!) into my early twenties which was just somewhere I could brain dump my thoughts as a kind of stress management tool I suppose.

The older I got the better I became at managing my emotions so no longer feel the need to write essays about my deepest darkest feelings anymore however when my sister in law told me about her Happiness Project One Sentence Journal, it sounded like something it’s enjoy doing.

20161019_165945

The concept is really simple; we all have busy lives and simply don’t have time anymore to write pages and pages deconstructing the day and describing in detail how you feel about it all. However now life is so fast paced how do we remember the tiny little bursts of happiness that occur on a daily basis? Are they supposed to just happen, make you smile for a hot minute then disappear into the ether forever more?

The one sentence journal will undoubtedly mean different things to different people, some people may use it as a way to manage their emotions, anxiety or even depression, some people may need it because they have shockingly bad memories and don’t want to forget meaningful things. For me it’s about not being so negative all the time, that no matter whether you thing you’ve had the crappiest of crappy days, there will be something that happened that made you smile.

For example I was having a really tough day at work one day, the kind of day where nothing would work, everyone wanted everything done yesterday, I was making mistakes and seemed to just generally be rubbing everyone up the wrong way. Without the One Sentence Journal I probably wouldn’t have said anything good happened that day. But forced to think about it before I went to bed that night, I remembered that Cheryl bought me a cup of coffee on her way into work without me asking, just because she’s my friend. With one sentence I went to sleep happy that night.

Every day has 5 spaces so you can record all your happy memories for 5 years and remind yourself that happiness isn’t always defined by massive life altering acts, sometimes they’re tiny little simple things, that remind you you’re wonderful and that you’re loved. Or simply that someone cares about you enough to buy you a cup of coffee.

Walkergate

Originally opened in 1839 by the Newcastle & North Shields Railway simply as Walker, it was renamed Walker Gate on 1 April 1889 however when the station underwent complete conversion in 2014 the signage was changed to the single word from; Walkergate.

My dad was a Heaton lad growing up so Walkergate is familiar territory for us; Walkergate Hospital (which closed in 2011) used to host a lot of staff training for NUTH hospital staff, so I found myself there semi regularly in the early 00’s and locals will also know it’s an area made famous by being home to the Tizer factory on Benfield Road.

Walkergate station is near perfect for Wine & Beer Metro terms, as it’s one of the few stations that has a pub so close to the tracks that it’s practically in the station. We were coming from the coast on this occasion, and as you exit the platform you will see The Railway Hotel across the road directly in front of you.

It’s a traditional imposing red brick corner pub which is split into two sections; bar and lounge. We visited at about 6pm on a Saturday evening and the bar area was heaving, largely due to the fact there was a Newcastle match being shown, however we got the impression it was mostly locals, who would have been then regardless.

I was disappointed that the drinks seems overpriced for the local boozer atmosphere; it was almost £13 for 3 bottles of Peroni (which were on offer at 3 for a fiver) and 2 glasses of white wine.  We made our way out the the lounge at the back for a seat and to watch the end of the match.

20170408_191635

It was definitely the kind of place you imagine looks exactly the same as it did in the 70s, with little to no investment in it’s restoration or upkeep. Whilst we didn’t feel uncomfortable in the slightest and the barmaids were particularly friendly I do get the impression it’s very much a local pub for local people. That said, it’s not a city centre pub, and non locals are probably unlikely to be the area and in need of refreshment! All in all, it’s a decent place if you need to stop somewhere for a seat and a drink, however not really the kind of place what will blow your socks off!

Contact:

Address: 906 Shields Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 4QP

Find out more about where we’ve visited on our Wine & Beer Metro tour here

Bahia Principe, Costa Adeje Tenerife

‘A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking’ – Earl Wilson

When it comes to spending money Dave and I are at polar opposite ends of the spectrum. He would happily live the minimalist lifestyle if it meant he’d saved enough to retire at 45 where as cash burns a physical hole in my pocket as soon as I get it. One of the few things we can both save or make sacrifices for though is our holidays as we both adore to travel.

Over the last few years we’re tried to work on the power of 3 concept; 3 foreign holidays and 3 weekend breaks. I wanted to kick off this year by going skiing. I skied a lot as a child and Dave has been snowboarding but we’ve never been skiing together. However having both been royally fed up with work, and not really that keen on going somewhere even colder than the North East of England so we packed up for a week in sunny Tenerife at the end of January.

20170125_121142

Tenerife would never traditionally be my first choice of destination, I went to Playa de las Americas when I was 18 on a girls holiday and it was basically Whitley Bay in 30 degree heat. However we were only able to get a week off work so it seemed the best shot of nice weather without having to fly longer than 4 hours from Newcastle.

The Resort

 

We chose the Bahia Principe in Costa Adeje because it was the cheapest 5* resort that got decent reviews. We’ve stayed in All Inclusive places before which have been on the cheaper end of the scale but food and drink reviews came up good on Trip Advisor and the fact that you got to visit 3 of their 4 a la carte restaurants per week was a big sway for us to break up the monotony of  the buffet every day.

It’s a massive complex with over 400 rooms which all sit around the edge of 3 large swimming pools (1 is a infinity pool – swish!) and also boasts 3 bars, 4 a la carte restaurants, a gym and spa and little shopping village which includes a pharmacy and tourist shop.

 

Visually it’s stunning, overlooking the Atlantic ocean and the grounds are kept impeccably clean. We didn’t see one bug or creepy crawly, which meant no annoying bites or stings. All the staff are also incredibly friendly and attentive, we even had our lunchtime waiter trained to just top up my wine without me even having to ask. I half considered offering him a job as my personal wine butler back home but not sure he would want to cope with the temperature change!

The Rooms

 

We stayed in a standard room (room 8004 to be exact) which was situated at the far end of the complex furthest away from the reception and near the sea; a small block of 6 bungalows. Despite being right outside one of the main pools, the room was absolutely silent (apart from the aircon – which is free) and for being a standard room was really big. The king size bed was one of he biggest we’ve ever slept in, there was a fridge and small mini bar which was stocked with beer, coke and fanta each day as well as a litre bottle of water.

 

There was a  large bathroom with double sinks, jacuzzi bath with shower head, toilet and bidet. A sign of a super posh hotel for me is a phone next to the bidet should you ever come into peril whilst washing your bum – now that’s living!

Rooms were cleaned and serviced daily with new towels and linen.

Food and Drink

As I say we’ve done AI before with varying degrees of success but the Bahia Principe is all inclusive done properly. Despite them saying that the bars are open from 11am to 11pm you could get an alcoholic drink 24 hours a day if you really wanted one as they have self service cava and bucks fizz laid out at breakfast time. Wine and beer are served in plastic cups around the pool area which is understandable, however you can get proper classes at the main bars and restaurants which feels so much classier. Wine and beer is also self serve, with spirits and cocktails available at different bars around the resort and spirits and mixers are self serve in the main bar in evenings.

My only small gripe (and this is going to make me sound like a right plonky) but I’m pretty convinced that the wine is watered down. For what is supposedly 13%, if i’d had two large glasses of that at home i’d be smashed in half an hour however I was drinking multiple, multiple, glasses on holiday without feeling much effect at all. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, it meant I was never really too drunk, therefore never really had a hangover, but it feels a little dishonest if that is in fact what’s going on.

 

The food was also pretty spectacular and apart from some marmite for my toast at breakfast I can’t imagine what you’d want that isn’t provided. There’s 4 a la carte restaurants; an italian, asian, brazilian and mexican. We tried all but the asian and all were really high quality, especially the Brazilian where the waiters come round with swords of meat cutting it off fresh for you until you tell them to stop! The buffet restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and although have theme nights to keep things interesting, there’s also always staples like pizza, paella, pasta and fish dishes should you want something a little less exotic. Everything seemed incredibly fresh, nothing looked like it had been sitting out for hours and I got very used to having donuts and churros for breakfast every morning!

 

 

The Amenities & Entertainment 

The problem with winter sun is that it can be a bit risky. I don’t like lying out if the sun isn’t out as it turns sunbathing into essentially lying outside in your bra and knickers. We were lucky with the weather which although has cloudy patches, the sun was pretty much out most of the time at a very sunbathable 20-ish degrees everyday. If the sun isn’t out there’s little else to do than sit around and drink (which is pretty much what we do every Saturday anyway so not too much of a stretch!) there’s a gym (which i went to once for research purposes) and a beauty spa (which is chargable). They also have a very lively animations team organising table tennis, archery, bingo etc round the pool during the day.

We went with Thomas Cook who did offer different excusrions from the hotel. If we’d been staying longer than a week we possibly may have ventured out but I don’t get chance to top up my vitamin D as much as i’d like these days so we just stayed by the pool the whole time. It bothered me that wifi was only available in the reception area, which only has a few seats in. If you wanted wifi throughout the resort you had to pay daily for, boo, skinflints!

 

The evening entertainment was good. It was all live music of varing quality; singing wedding band favourites but all seemed to be able to get everyone up dancing night after night (or perhaps that was all the wine?!) The highlight for us was without a  doubt a Beatles Tribute band who were really excellent

 

There wasn’t much we didn’t like about the Bahia Principe to be perfectly honest. It was exactly what we needed to escape the dreary January blues and for the amount of free flowing food and drink it was extremely good value for money. I would hate to see what it looks like in peak season, it was hard to get a seat for the entertainment as it was in January however i’m sure they make provisions for that and put out more tables, it will undoubtedly create bigger queues at the buffet though I’m sure.

Despite that though we would definitely go back, and I’m absolutely converted to the idea of winter sun over skiing too!

Percy Main

As with most stations along the Wallsend/North Shields section of the metro line, Percy Main can be found along what was the old Newcastle & North Shields Railway line and services the residential area of, well Percy Main. Obvs.

One of the things I’ve loved about doing our Wine & Beer Metro tour is not only discovering locations we never normally frequent, but also finding drinking establishments that are a little different from your average north east boozers. When you get off the metro, coming from Newcastle City Centre you’ll see there’s a large Sambuccas restaurant directly to your left. Whilst I’m sure they wouldn’t turn you away if you walked in and just wanted a few drinks, we were unconvinced that restaurants should feature on the guide.

So if you exit the metro and walk under the foot bridge onto Burdon Street, then turn left onto St John’s Terrace and follow the road round, after a couple of minutes you’ll find Percy Main Cricket Club. And this was to be our watering hole of choice for the afternoon.

20170408_151807

It was a sunny saturday afternoon when we visited, and although cricket season hadn’t started yet the club were hosting a charity colour run so there were a good few people milling around. The facilities are exactly what you’d expect if you’be ever been to a north eastern local cricket club. And i don’t mean that in any way negatively. I grew up spending most weekends at cricket matches due to my dad playing (and my mum making a mean cricket tea) so I felt right at home.

The bar area is in the large pavilion (bookable for functions) and had a couple of interesting different beers on, as well as the standards you’d come to expect and the white wine was perfectly chilled. One of the best things about clubs rather than pubs is that their pricing strategy is more akin to a Wetherspoons than Jesmond Dene House, so it was under a tenner for 2 pints and 2 glasses of wine.

It will of course be hit and miss as to how busy the club would be depending on when you happen to visit. We were disappointed we’d missed the start of cricket season by a mere week as it would have been very quaint spending the afternoon drinking in the sunshine. They accept walk ins up to three times before you’re asked to join as a member so it’s extremely welcoming and if you’re a cricket fan, or just a fan of sitting outside with your mates drinking wine, it comes with its own built in entertainment!

Contact:

St John’s Terrace, North Shields NE29 6HS
You can read more out the pubs we’ve visited on our Wine & Beer Metro tour here