Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm

Cornwall is famous for 3 things; pastys, cream teas and cider. My waistline was already full to bursting with the first two so on the last day of our recent Cornish staycastion we found ourselves with a free day so headed to Healeys Cornish Cyder Farm to see if we could get wasted on fermented apples.

I became most aware of the Healeys and and their apple crushing ways when I was given some Rattler on a hen do back in June, which sounds like some underground slang for something illegal however, is merely just cloudy cider, and isn’t too bad at all!

The cider farm itself has varying tour options depending on how much you want to spend or how much you want to see. You can get a fall guided tour around the orchard and the production room on a tractor for about £15, you do a self guided tour for £4 or you can just have a wander round yourself for free (without seeing the orchard or production room). An educated guess lead us to believe cider production was probably nothing more than apples go in, press, press, press, cider comes out, we decided to just walk around ourselves.

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There’s certainly enough to keep you occupied for an hour or so too; there’s a non working example of a cider press to see (turns out our educated guess was pretty accurate by the look of the machinery), a cafe serving traditional Cornish cream teas, a restaurant if you wanted something more fancy to eat and a jam making room – they were making sweet chilli and Rattler jam when we were there and it smelt amazing!

There’s also a little farmyard to keep the kids (old and young) occupied with a couple of Shire Horses, pigs, rabbits, ferrets and some super SUPER cute pygmy goats.

The best part of the visit however has to be the gift shop and tasting area, which is completely free (Well, the gift shop isn’t free, you can’t just help yourself to anything in there) but the tasting is and we’ve done enough alcohol tours and tastings in the past to know this is one of the letter ones. It’s very rare that organisations will give away much for free so it’s refreshing to see initiatives being employed to create positive reviews and good word of mouth at very little cost to the company. In short, you very rarely get something for nothing.

The staff dishing out the tastings were all knowledgeable and great fun as they talked you through all the different types of cider they make and how long each one is brewed? Distilled? Matured? (Perhaps I should have gone on that tour afterall) for. You only get a little sample of each but there are quite a few to sample so must have had the equivalent of half a pint by the end.

I’m not entirely sure I would spend £15 for a full ticket, especially if you’re taking the family however the self guided tour at £4.50 wouldn’t break the bank and would certainly keeping the little ones entertained for another hour or so, it’s just a shame they wouldn’t be able to drive you home afterwards!

Contact:

Address: Penhallow – Truro – Cornwall – TR4 9LW – United Kingdom
Website: https://healeyscyder.co.uk/ 
Email: info@healeyscyder.co.uk
Phone: 01872 573356

The Eden Project, Cornwall

‘Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts’ – Sigmund Freud

When I was 18 I used to work for a local newspaper which we sold holidays through. One of the trips that was really popular was coach trips to the Eden Project, which baffled me as from what I could tell is was just plants & shit.

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That was when I was a bratty 18 year old though with not an ounce of culture in me. Fast forward to the ripe old age of 35 and on a family holiday staycation to Cornwall for a wedding and I actually fancied going along to see what it was all about. So me, my mum and sister in law Ruth went to see some plants & shit.

For those who don’t know the Eden Project is a complex which is dominated by two huge enclosures consisting of adjoining domes that house thousands of plant species, and each enclosure emulates a natural biome. The biomes consist of hundreds of hexagonal and pentagonal, inflated, plastic cells supported by steel frames. The two bimones emulate two natural environments; a rainforest and a mediterrainian climate. There is also an outside botanical garden which is home to many plants and wildlife native to Cornwall and the UK.

We arrived at about 12.30pm on a Monday in the summer holidays and I can tell you it’s been me a new respect to people with kids, it’s was HEAVING. I don’t pity parents who are are tied to those timescales of craziness that are the school holidays. We would never normally be holidaying outside of term time however as we were in the area for a family wedding so didn’t have the luxury of choice on this occasion. Top tip number 1:  Buy your tickets online before had and you get to skip the 40 minute queue we had to wait in – our punishment for being under prepared.

 

We were short on time so heading straight over to the rainforest biome as that’s the one we were looking forward to seeing most. Let me tell you it gets pretty hot and sticky in there, especially when it’s so rammed full of people and the higher up the biome you get the hotter it becomes. There’s plenty of cool stuff to see once inside though, bamboo, banana trees and some pretty interesting looking flora and fauna. Meandering through the jungle there are little activity stations dotted around for the kids and good descriptions of what everything is.

 

Next up was the Mediterranean biome which, surprisingly I enjoyed more than the rain forest. It had all my favourite types of plant; olive trees, vineyards (perhaps not so surprising it was my favourite afterall) but my absolute favourite section was the perfume garden which (again unsurprisingly) smelt divine. The Mediterranean biome was definitely more interesting, possibly because it housed stuff we can relate to like the fruits and vegetables we love to eat. It was a much more pleasant temperature and less busy as well which helped with the laid back atmosphere.

 

Outside the biomes is more agriculture where you’ll find working gardens growing local fruits and vegetables like courgettes and potatoes, all of which are used in the on-site restaurants.

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Talking of food, there are plenty of options to eat from cafes for a sandwich to a full table service a la carte restaurant in the Mediterranean biome. The best value looked to be the canteen located in the connecting walkway between both biomes where you could get a full meal for £9 and everything is prepared in an open kitchen in front of you. However top tip number 2: they allow you to take your own food in and there are loads of grassy areas for a little pic nic. We treated ourselves to a Freakshake which wasn’t extortionate at £4.50 each – they’re not on the same level of the behemoths you get at The Great British Cupcakery but they were sustenance enough for us.

 

My honest opinion? Real talk, it was ok. Is it worth the £27.50 entry fee? Absolutely not, you’re talking over £100 for a family of 4 and i’m not entirely convinced it would be all that interesting for children anyway. Yeah it’s cool looking at all the big leaves and they have a few motion rides and a Space talk to keep the little ones occupied but bearing in mind you’re most likely to take them in the school holidays, you’ll probably going to spend the majority of the time standing in queues for things.

If you’re massive into botany then I’m sure it’s like Disneyland but we only spend a couple of hours there and felt we’d seen it all; my £30 would have been better spent elsewhere.

*Thanks to my sis-in-law Ruth who was my fantastic photographer for the day and let me use all her pictures!

 

Surfing in Newquay

‘Surfing isn’t really in my blood. It’s hard to catch a big wave in Billingham’ – Jamie Bell

I’ll be the first to admit that a bad habit of mine is having a tendency to have unrealistic ideas about things. I convinced myself once that harem pants would looks good on me, or i’d be able to pull off dark ginger hair. Oh how wrong I was on both counts. When I was away for the weekend in Newquay for my cousin’s hen do in June, I was completely convinced that i would ace surfing; I have good balance, strong legs and love being in the water. In my deluded little bubble, I was born to do this.

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We booked through Escape surf school which cost around £25 for a two hour group lesson. We arrived and got into our wetsuits, which let me tell you is a workout in itself! We took our boards down to the beach and split into smaller groups of 5 where we went through a few basics on the beach. Pigeon, our instructor was brilliant fun a made a special fuss over Liz, our hen. I’d always been concerned with surfing lessons that, especially for the first lesson, you’d spend more time on the beach than you would in the water, however after about 15 minutes we were straight in.

 

We started of small, learning how to catch a wave and ride it to the shore whilst still lying on our front. So far so good. It didn’t feel too cold either, the wetsuits were nice and thick s protected you against the bracing Atlantic Ocean pretty well and when the water did hit your hands and face it was nice and refreshing. After plenty of practices in the water it was back to the beach to learn how to stand up.

 

This was what I was desperate to get right. My main ambition was to get up on my feet at least once, even if it was only for a couple of seconds. We went through the theory and were straight back into the surf (after one lesson i’m practically a pro, so know all the lingo – naturally!). This is were my delusions became all too apparent. Getting up onto the board from lying down is near on impossible and needless to say the furthest I got up was on to my hands and knees. Upper body strength has never been something I have possessed and no matter how good your balance or your core strength may be, if you can’t haul your massive pizza obsessed caboose onto the board, that balance doesn’t mean jack.

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Still i persevered and the instructors were in the water with you the whole time to advise on potition and waiting for the right wave. One of the down sides of being is a lrage group was we were all trying to surf in the same area of the water so a few times i found myself ploughing into one of the other girls, or vice versa. That possibly has more to do with our lack of control as well of course but it did mean I left with some pretty corking bruises.

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The two hours we had  was ore than enough time as I was pretty shattered by the end of the session. In fact with about half an hour to go, my arms were so done with trying to get my fat arse upright that I just decided to body surf the rest of the time, which was good fun in itself.

Above all of my frustrations though I’m really pleased I gave it ago because I love trying new things especially if they’re sporty or water based and I would highly recommend Escape Surf school who were ultimate pros. The glasses of prosecco that awaited us when we finished were certainly well received and well deserved!

 

 

The Joiners Arms – Newton by the Sea

‘When you get into a hotel room, you lock the door, and you know there is a secrecy, there is a luxury, there is fantasy. There is comfort. There is reassurance’ – Diane von Furstenberg

Since we got married in 2013, and despite our anniversary being at the end of March, we always try and go away or do something special. For the last couple of years we’ve just been out for dinner  but this year we decided to treat ourselves to a night away at one of our favourite pub hotels, The Joiners Arms in Newton by the Sea.

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One of the only things I dislike about the Joiners is that it’s not actually where we got married, however everything else ticks all my boxes. From the outside it looks like your standard country pub. White and black with a generous beer garden at the front. The bar/restaurant is also your standard cosy country fayre, big windows that let in lots of natural sunlight, good food and a fully stocked bar with local real ales and an impressive wine cellar.

More about the restaurant later but the absolute show stopper, the hidden gem of this place is undoubtedly the absolutely beautiful guest rooms. This was out third visit and we always try and stay in a different room each time. This time round we were staying in Silver Beach which is one of the more expensive rooms that looks out towards the gorgeous Northumberland coast.

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The room comes with a beautiful four poster kingsize bed, a Juliet balcony, dark mahogany desk and wardrobe, and large bathroom with walk in power shower and gorgeous natural local toiletries. Honestly I could have stood under that shower for hours, it was probably one of the nicest showers I’ve ever had!

Because we were celebrating, and had visited before so knew how beautiful the rooms were, he hung out there for a while before going down to the restaurant for dinner. On check in I was a little disappointed when they didn’t offer us a complimentary drink like they have done on previous visits however they have replaced this by putting ingredients in your room to make your own french martinis, which actually is a really nice touch – you can have a large glass of white wine any time, anywhere (like in my kitchen for example).  We’d been kindly given a bottle of moet from my brother and sister-in-law for our anniversary so we enjoyed that (and the french martinis) as our pre dinner drinks in the room.

We were having such a lovely time that we almost forgot to go down for dinner, however once in the restaurant our rumbling tummies took over as we perused the menu over (even more) drinks from the bar.

It’s a traditional gastro pub with a traditional menu and it’s coastal location means that fish dishes feature heavily on the specials board. When we visited the special was tuna steak however all our celebratory drinks meant we were after something a little more substantial so we started by sharing the camambert.

For mains we both decided to keep it simple, as in our minds, you simply can’t beat good hearty food done well. Dave paid homage to the fact it was a Friday night and went for fish and chips and I had the burger. Both hit the spot perfectly, the fish was meaty and not too greasy and the burger was just the right amount of pink to be able to really taste the quality of the meat.

After all of that there simply wan’t room left for pudding so we sat and finished our drinks then retired to our room. The hotel offers a complimentary turn down service so we we got back to the room the duvet was pulled back, the lights dimly lit and smooth radio on. I’m not sure what kind of behavior they were encouraging with that kind of decadence but it was straight to sleep for these full, drunken cats!

One of my favourite things about staying in food hotel in undoubtedly the breakfast and the meal the night before must have stretched my stomach because I was well up for my devilled eggs on toast the next morning. Now I’m sad to say despite being my favourite meal of the day this time the Joiners Arms let us down where it previously excelled. On our last two visits breakfast has has been served in your room and you were presented with a list of items on arrive and could just tick what you wanted. They even sourced me some marmite on my toast on one occasion even though it wasn’t listed. However this time breakfast was served down in the restaurant and you ordered off a menu.

That said breakfast was pretty lovely and there wasn’t much that wasn’t available. I’m just disappointed I couldn’t eat my breakfast in my pjs.

So whilst there were a few little perks that the Joiners seem to have done away with which is what made us so taken with it in the first place, it still stands up as a really high end b&b and we’re still on a quest to sleep in every room!

Contact:

Address: B1340, High Newton-by-the-Sea, Alnwick NE66 3EA
Phone: 01665 576112
Website: www.joiners-arms.com

Excalibur Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

‘Las Vegas is the boiling pot of entertainment’ – Don Rickles

I’m lucky that throughout my travels in my adult life I’ve been able to visit Las Vegas 4 times now so by all accounts you could safely say I’ve ‘done’ Vegas. However when Meagan and I found out the lifelong childhood heroes The Backstreet Boys were doing a residency there, I knew I’d be heading over to the strip indulge in the craziness once again.

In previous trips I’ve stayed at the (now defunct) Sahara and the Stratosphere, both at the north end of the strip, which you usually find is the cheaper end. We almost booked into Circus Circus which always comes up the cheapest of all the big hotels in the strip, however the Trip Advisor reviews were putting me off and as lady luck would have it, Booking.com had a 40% discount on some better options so we plumped for the Excalibur.

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Visually, Excalibur has always been my second favourite hotel on the strip after New York New York; cheesy and tacky and built to look like a Disney ye olde English castle and the red and blue turrets stick out a mile off, but it’s Vegas, and unless you’re a millionnaire or won big and can afford to stay in somewhere a little more classy like the Bellagio, then you need to embrace the tacky.

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We booked a queen room, which came with two free buffets, for 4 nights which came out at about £250 each. The day we arrived I was sent an email with the option to check in remotely, this helped a ton as we ended up getting slightly delayed getting there so when we eventually did arrive, we were all checked in and all we needed to do was collect our keys.

 

The room (26126); which faced south so you could see the majority of the strip, was a decent size with two large queen beds, a TV and separate bathroom with toiletries. It was basic (no fridge for one) however spotlessly clean and in all honesty, for the amount of time you’re going to stay there, what more do you really need? The room was serviced and cleaned every day and once you’re up in your room and away from the chaos of the casino and strip downstairs it’s like a different world – so quiet and peaceful!

Throughout our stay we visited some of the newer hotels like The Cosmopolitan and Planet Hollywood, whilst in comparison they did make Excalibur look a little old and tired, they were all a bit too shiny, glitzy and trendy for me. I loved Excalibur’s old school feel, with it’s 1970s carpets and brighter lighting. Let’s be honest, we’re not in out 20s anymore and weren’t going to be strutting around in skimpy dresses and heels. The Excalibur was exactly the kind of vibe we were going for.

 

The entrance level is the extensive casino as you might expect along with a couple of bars, the front desk, guest services, Dicks Last Resort restaurant and Johnny Rockets burger joint (top tip: Johnny Rockets serves wine and beer which is a good couple of dollars cheaper tan the bars so if you want a drink to walk around with this might save you a few $$). Up one level is a food court which is where the buffet is as well and lots of other fast food type places, an Italian restaurant, Starbucks, Cinnabon etc. The level below the entrance level is where the Medieval tournament is held (this level is referred to as The Fun Dungeon – which just founds like a euphemism for something if you ask me!) and there’s also a Dairy Queen down there, just in case you haven’t have enough calories already!

 

Facilities wise, there’s everything you would expect. We were lucky with the weather and despite it being March, managed to spend an afternoon by the pool, which has plenty of facilitates for all; a kids pool with a water slide, and an adult only pool area (for an extra cost). Towels are free or you can use towels from your room. There’s a couple of pool bars where you can get wine, beer, spirits or cocktails in plastic cups (if you keep your cocktail cup you can get a refill for half price). There’s also a gym, which we did’t visit because you know we were on holiday but it looked a decent size and well equipped!

 

Location wise we couldn’t fault it, you’re right next door to some of the biggest hotels on the strip; New York New York is connected by a walk way and across the road is the MGM Grand which has a monorail station in if you wanted to go down to the other end of the strip without walking the 4 miles. To get to Planet Hollywood, where the concert was, it was about a 15 minute walk, but there’s so much going on along the way it really doesn’t feel like it. This means you’re an only 20 minute walk away from the fountain show at the Bellagio, which really is worth a watch!

I’m really struggling to find fault with anything about our stay, it was exactly what we needed for the perfect girls trip away, and I’d definitely go back, once I’ve paid off my massive Kate Spade credit card bill!

 

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.

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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

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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

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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!

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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