Here come the girls……..North Norfolk 2012

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On a sunny Saturday morning in October,  The Girls (2 of my besties and me) set off for a wild weekend in……..Cromer.  Coach trip mecca of the Norfolk Coast and famous for crabs….I assume they’re the kind you eat.  First stop Norfolk Lavender 545720_10151144367874130_551994584_nFarm near Hunstanton, we so know how to party.  Mads could hardly contain her excitement when she discovered there was a farm shop, her excitement was contagious and I very nearly bought some sort of  homemade pickle packaged in a jar in that shabby chic kind of style.  Lou, for the only time that weekend, was not stuck behind the lense of a digital SLR and instead tucked into cake for lunch while Mads and I opted for the healthy option and wished we’d chosen the cake!

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560836_10151144368429130_1612022392_nOnwards to Wells Next To The Sea along the North Norfolk coast road, dotted with quaint villages and gourmet pubs to keep the London set fed and watered.  We decided that any pub painted with vintage Farrow & Ball type paint would be far too expensive for our pockets so we carried on until we reached Wells and parked on the beach car park.  For those 246567_10151076688076128_403123761_nunfamiliar with Wells beach it is worth a visit, sand and sea (doh) with a few dunes and the icing on the cake is the multi coloured beach huts (offers in region of £60,000 if you fancy one).  Lou took some stunning pictures, a few of which I’ve posted below, as a semi-professional arty-farty camera whizz I left her to it although I was allowed to use her precious SLR to take a few pics…they will be the ones with Lou in the picture. If you want to see more of Lou’s photos look up Beaulah Beau on Facebook.

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384556_10151076691696128_110761988_nNext stop Cromer, one of the bigger resorts along the North Norfolk coast.  Cromer is famous for its crabs but as none of us are particularly keen on crabs, it was the cheap rate at the impressive Victorian Hotel De Paris that had grabbed our attention and our sole reason for visiting Cromer.  When we arrived the building did indeed look impressive, perched on the cliff high above the pier,  you could almost imagine a Victorian lady in the dress of the day carrying a parasol and entering the building.  The interior, however, was a mix of impressive 559598_10151144371629130_867491371_nVictorian decor and original features contrasted with  naff formica furniture and Georgian wire windows adorned with a plethora (so wanted to use that word…plethora) of health and safety signs.  It soon became apparent that the hotel was destination central for coach trips which attracted the older (than us) clientele.  Why the management think that a bit of crappy formica and old wing back chairs arranged nursing home style around the edge of a lounge is attractive to older people I can only guess at.  Perhaps the raving reviews on TripAdvisor has something to do with it, mine wasn’t so glowing but neither was it terrible.  What stopped me from writing a totally crap review was the room; despite the smell of damp (which we later discovered was due to water coming through the en-suite ceiling when the room above took a shower) despite the naff wing back chairs and the lack of homely touches – the view was awesome framed by the huge bay window.  Pier people watching soon became a favourite activity, as well as drinking nice cups of tea while sitting on the dark green (why are these chairs always dark green?) wing back chairs positioned to take advantage of the views from the window.391667_10151144370239130_240433565_n The Hotels position is what has saved it and why it continues to prove a popular choice for a the coach travelling masses.  That said we met some characters and the breakfast was excellent considering the poor waiter had to serve 1 vegetarian, 1 gluten-free and 1 cake-a-holic!

251345_10151144370514130_2061643158_nMads had a small single room with a side view that didn’t smell of damp and I shared a huge room with Lou. After we 576880_10151144371744130_721178116_nhad checked out each others rooms, texted, facebooked and tweeted and had a nice cup of tea (omg we will end up going home on the coach!) we decided to take in the sights and stock up on provisions before getting ready to hit Cromers night life.  The sights didn’t take long, shops were closing and Cromer isn’t a massive place to stroll around.  We bought a bag of nuts and a bottle of wine and headed back to the hotel, the highlight being when Mads told me to “mind the 199967_10151144371139130_924177134_nbob” when approaching some dog poo.  Poo being referred to as “bob” is something I haven’t heard since my childhood and it set us off in fits of laughter, it’s one of those moments that can’t be explained and can only be shared by 3 friends who met at college when they were 16 and are still laughing about bob almost 30 years later.  I guess you had to be there.

The evening could have been a bit of a disaster if it wasn’t for our shared sense of humour.  We had booked a 155283_10151144374874130_1267667880_nrestaurant/bistro type place for a meal, a bit pricey but we were celebrating my birthday.  We arrived and were served drinks then led to our table – no-one else was in the restaurant, the vege option was off, several starters were no longer available and when it got to the point where Mads could have her steak but not the sauce we decided it was time to leave.  I say we decided but I was, as usual, indecisive and despite outward appearances I can’t stand 249506_10151144371304130_782133243_nconfrontation. Mads is very self-assured if something isn’t right and she wanted me to enjoy my birthday meal but it was Lou, while Mads was still reasoning with me, that went up to the waitress and told her we wouldn’t be ordering anything to eat on account of nothing being available and we would drink up and leave.  Now, sitting in an empty restaurant with a waitress glowering is not my idea of non confrontational and, for the first time that evening, I made a decision; I swigged my Pimms and legged it.  I was half-way up the street before Lou and Mads caught up, we looked at each other and once more the laughter commenced.  We eventually found an Italian which served gluten-free pasta and tucked into our meal at last, our intention being to find a pub afterwards which served late.  But like 3 small children that have had a busy day we all began yawning and headed back to the hotel, we passed  guests playing dominoes (no doubt into the wee small hours) and trundled up the stairs, though the regulation fire door and into our rooms for a nice cup of tea before bed.  Ibiza style partying it was not.

Early to bed, early to rise; in fact so early we saw the sun-rise, a spectacular free show from our window which Lou 528632_10151144373054130_1877013167_ncaught on camera.  We tucked into breakfast, showered, packed, complained about the water coming through the bathroom ceiling and checked out.  Would we return to the Hotel De Paris? –  Maybe in another 30 years time….by coach! Our route home took us through Kings Lynn where we stopped for an unimpressive lunch at Nandos although granted it’s not the best place for a vegetarian to have lunch.  We chatted, we laughed, we listened to tunes and sang to a few of them and all to quickly our snatched mini-weekend away was over.  OK so it wasn’t exactly as it used to be, partying all night fuelled by drink, but it was just as enjoyable.  I reckon you could drop the three of us in the most boring place on earth and we’d still have fun, we’d still be comfortable enough with each other to nod off, pass wind and laugh at bob.  I guess that’s what growing up and growing older together does to people; that and booking coach trips to Cromer.189203_10151144372564130_1504490383_n

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Aviemore with Mum & Dad

Every year Mum and Dad travel to their lodge on the Hilton Hotel Estate for a weeks R & R and this year I decided I would go with them for a few days – just me, me Mum & Dad (lucky parents of mine!). I was a bit apprehensive about leaving everyone and spending a few days away but I needn’t have been, it was blissful!

I travelled up with them and their 2 greyhounds on a cold Saturday morning, outrunning the snow as we went and eventually arriving in a slightly milder Aviemore over 400 miles later at around 6pm. The lodge is delightful and thankfully very warm and we were soon unpacked and enjoying a curry and an evenings TV – no kids, no phone, no laptop. It did seem a bit strange at first and as I heard the weather forecast for the Midlands I did wonder if everyone was OK. Eventually, at 11.30pm I rang son the elder and he sounded elated “we’re out on the field with the dog taking pictures, it’s brilliant” he informed me. He also informed me Bruce was at a gig and may have to sleep the night in his van and that his Dad, who was traveling back from skiing in Europe, had been diverted to Cardiff Airport as Birmingham was closed! I listened to this while looking out of the window on a moonlit but totally snowless night, slightly ironic that I was in Scotland with no snow and they were in the Midlands with snow up to their arm pits. I decided not to call again, with one parent in Scotland, one in Wales and one holed up in a transit van in England it was best I didn’t hear any more.

The following day I woke up at my leisure, showered with no interruptions and read the paper and drank a whole cup of tea. At around 10.30 am my cousin, his wife and their two gorgeous daughters arrived for a big breakfast. They live in Inverness and have visited Mum & Dad on several occasions but I realised I’d last seen them at their wedding 7 years ago. They bought with them all the paraphernalia needed for a day out with an 18 month old and a 4 year old – nappies, bags, change of clothes, pushchair, toys etc. I’d forgotten how much ‘stuff’ is needed for little ones but they are so worth it, both girls were adorable busying themselves with toys and hiding games. Eventually we went for a walk into Aviemore and with prompting and bribery (hot chocolate with all the trimmings) the 4 year old walked all the way there and back, just over 2 miles. She loved holding the dogs on a lead, feeling very important with her new responsibility and needed very little encouragement.

The following day we walked through the forest, frozen in time with gnarled and twisted trees in stark relief against a clear blue sky. There was a kind of magic in the air, as if walking through an enchanted forest but mostly the magic came from walking with my lovely Mum and Dad in one of the most beautiful areas of the UK. We came to a small loch, partly frozen and truly stunning, I’d almost forgotten how liberating it is to be out in the wilds (sort of) and the stresses and strains of everyday life seemed to ebb away. We returned to the Lodge with 2 fully exercised dogs and found hats, scarfs and gloves ready for our trip to the Cairngorm ski slopes, I was just a tad excited about this bit of my brief visit to Aviemore.

I’ve never skied in my life and had no intention of ever doing so (mostly on account of being confused with the Michelin man when wearing the full ski get up). I still have no great desire to ski but when we arrived, by the funicular railway, at the restaurant and ski slopes I did have a moment when I considered getting out there on a pair of skis. This moment passed as I watched the lumberings, awkwardness and stumblings of the beginners on the nursery slopes. Needless to say there is no place I’d rather be than on top of a mountain covered in snow with the sun shining brightly, apparently we were very lucky as it is often misty, wet, cold and windy up there. After some warm soup and a drink in the restaurant we boarded the funicular railway, celebrating its 50th anniversary, and descended the mountain. I found the friendliness and easy manner of all of the staff, from the people in the ticket office to the driver of the train very refreshing. It’s not often you go to a tourist hotspot and find such genuinely friendly staff so well done to all staff that work so hard and still manage to be pleasant.

To finish the day we visited Loch an Eilen as the sun was going down and walked briefly around the shore before making our way home, via Aviemore charity shops for a bit of retail therapy. I bought Dad a couple of very old folding road maps for £1.00 each and a couple of books. A trip to tesco was then inevitable and as Dad and I scratched the numbers off of our winning scratch cards (no such luck) Mum shopped for tea and we all returned back to the warmth of the lodge and another phone, lap top, interruption free evening of TV, reading and a lovely tea.

The following day it was time for me to go home, leaving Mum and Dad to enjoy the rest of their holiday child free (OK so at 44 I’m a bit more than a child but I’ll always be their child). As my Easyjet plane took off from Inverness Airport in a clear blue sky and banked so that I could clearly see Loch Ness and beyond, I felt a little bit emotional – it had been such a special time with my parents and one I will treasure always. Thanks Mum and Dad.

The Lovely Lakes & Boozy Blackpool – Part 2

And so to Blackpool, the saucy seaside capital of the UK and perhaps the world. As we made our way along the M6, leaving the magnificence of the Lakes behind us, the rain painting the world grey and the windscreen wipers giving a reluctant squeak every time they were obliged to swish, we wondered whether this was perhaps a bit of a mistake. We prepared ourselves for a tacky B & B and greasy breakfast, we encouraged each other to believe that this was “just a bit of fun” and we cheered ourselves up with the thought of gatecrashing the Soul Weekender on at the Hilton in Blackpool (Hilton and Blackpool in the same sentence just doesn’t sound right). We had just about convinced ourselves that leaving a roaring log fire behind and spectacular scenery was a good idea when we arrived, parked the car and were nearly blown off our feet by the wind. We walked along the front at a 45 degree angle bracing ourselves against the wind, ignoring the squally rain looking for a half decent looking B & B. Bruce went into a Hotel to find out the price – £75 pppn, er no I don’t think so. We went back to the car and that’s when we spotted The Hotel Babylon.

Immediately our expectations of shabby B & B in Blackpool were blown right out of the window; the reception was immaculate and brightly decorated and David greeted us warmly and offered us the Babylon Suite for £60 B & B for both of us. As we walked up the stairs I did wonder about the name of the Hotel and whether we would find a bedroom with swingers gadgetry and gizmos, alas I was to be disapointed. The room was spotless with a sumptuous bed, a tiny but perfectly formed en-suite, coffee making paraphernalia stashed away in a caddy, two chairs in the bay window and even two bathrobes. There was even an ice-bucket and two wine glasses, the perfect romantic hideaway. Not a hint of seediness or swinging, unless you count the box of tissues by the mirror. The bedroom furniture was modern cherry wood and all matching and the walls and carpet were neutral. The bedroom was as good, if not better than any 4 star hotel and we let out a sigh of relief and even a hint of a smile – maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after-all.

Time to hit the town and head to Restaurant Tiramisu, an Italian restaurant recommended by David. It was packed but we managed to get a table and we were then entertained by the waiter/restaurant owner who had a few tricks up his sleeve. It is an authentic Italian Restaurant and our meal was excellent, as was the wine and the Limoncello. Waiter man bought over coffee and did his party trick of pretending to trip with a full cup of coffee, the cup was in fact empty. We started chatting to a gay couple who had a holiday home in Blackpool, even though it was only an hour to where they live. They explain that whatever entertainment you could wish for was here in Blackpool and as we chatted I began to understand the attraction of Blackpool; it is truly cosmopolitan with a great mix of people and even in the depth of winter it has a beating heart.

We felt full and happy (drunk) so we left and decided to go and dance off the delicious puddings at the Soul Suite, a pub that plays, you guessed it, soul music. We decided against gate crashing the Hilton as it was too far away and we were weighed down with food and wobbling with drink. We entered the pub with a flourish, like John Travolta and Olivia entering the dance competition and twisted and shimmied our way to the bar. They were playing old soul, Motown and a bit of northern, all good but a bit of new soul wouldn’t have gone amiss. We requested Otis and Carla Thomas singing Tramp and when the first notes hit the speakers we took to the dance floor and promptly cleared it. Oblivious of anyone else we did some ‘moves’, mouthed the words and acted out the song. We were quite obviously the best thing to hit Blackpool for a long time, until we woke up the next morning and peed ourselves laughing at what utter nutters we must have looked! We left the Soul Suite in the wee hours and staggered back to our hotel room for a bit of sauciness – oh er Mrs!

The following morning we made our way downstairs for a a lovely breakfast including freshly prepared fruit salad. A little worse for wear we packed and left for our journey home. What a weekend!

Did we enjoy Blackpool – yes! Would we go back? Yes, out of season. Would we go back to Hotel Babylon? Absolutely!!!!

The Lovely Lakes & Boozy Blackpool – Part 1

Happy New Year! After a very busy and hectic Christmas and New Year, Bruce and I decided we needed a break, just the two of us. As relationships go, ours had got lost somewhere between the logistics of raising 3 teenage boys(and a part-time pre-teenage girl) and the demands of work.  We usually go to Malta, visit family and hang out in Paceville, bar & club central of Malta, and despite being the oldest swingers in town we have a great time.  This year our finances couldn’t stretch to that or much else to be honest, so when I received my daily Groupon e-mail offering a 2 night stay in the Lake District, bed and breakfast with 1 night dinner thrown in, I jumped at the chance.

 

That is how we ended up one Thursday afternoon at the Lancrigg Country House Vegetarian Hotel & Restaurant near Grasmere, Cumbria.  On approaching the Hotel from the single track valley road you are met with a pleasant country manor with curvy bay windows and rounded chimneys.  The views across the Easedale Valley are gorgeous and the setting quiet and secluded.  William Wordsworth and his wife spent many times here with their friend, I believe her name to be Elizabeth, who then owned the house.  The owner was quite something, she was involved with prison reforms, womens welfare and freedom of slaves as well as having some distinguished friends, Darwin and Dickens included. It is these connections and the setting that attracts people to the house, the staff informed us many literary people came to stay however it was mainly Grouponers there during our stay.

 

The interior is cosy, a bit dated and shabby but the atmosphere is so warm and relaxed and the staff so professional and welcoming you hardly notice the decor. We enjoyed a fabulous vegetarian meal; as a vegetarian myself I could be biased but Bruce, a carnivore, thoroughly enjoyed his pumpkin and cashew nut pie. We spent the evening in the lounge, with a roaring fire and glass of wine, talking to other guests and generally putting the world to rights. As we talked I thought of a time when Dickens visited or Wordsworth perhaps sat in this very room discussing issues of the day – prison reform (criminal justice), emancipation of slaves (racism and the recent Stephen Lawrence verdict) womens rights (we didn’t get round to that one but I did exercise my right to have another glass of wine). We slumped into our comfortable bed, knowing that breakfast would be served until 10am and had a fabulous nights sleep.

The next day, after a scrummy breakfast, we took a short walk through the wooded grounds of Lancrigg and into the valley. The weather was moving in so we did a circular back to the hotel and decided to take Fugly the Car on a whistle-stop tour of the Lakes. First to Buttermere, one of my favourite parts of the area which you reach through a bleak and mountainous pass. We paid £3.00 for the car park and walked the short distance to the Lake shore and waterfall. It felt like we were about to be engulfed by the mountains as the black low-level clouds and rain moved in. We quickly walked back to the cafe and dried out enjoying a coffee, Bruces trainers did not dry out though so he spent the rest of the day in his ‘posh’ shoes. There are two hotels here in the middle of nowhere; The Bridge which I’ve stayed at a couple of times and adored, especially tea and cakes at 4pm after a day out on the fells and The Fish Inn which used to do a very good value lunch in the bar, both are closed early January so we were thankful for the newly opened cafe.

Onwards to Keswick to search the charity shops for a pair of trainers unsuccessfully but I can highly recommend the Oxfam shop and Bruce bought a scarf from Cancer Research. I’ve spent many hours in Keswick but it was throwing it down and I didn’t intent to spend hours this time however I couldn’t resist the over priced but very old-fashioned sweet shop. We bought my Dad some fudge and then ate it, whoops sorry Dad! Car Park cost £3.00.

To Hawkshead where they have car park cameras which send an automatic fine if you don’t get your ticket within 15 minutes – cost £3.00. There’s an option to use a credit/debit card but after several attempts with various cards, no success so we nipped across the road to the cafe. The staff informed us of the Big Brother cameras and Bruce went outside in the pouring rain again to a mostly deserted car park to pay another bloody £3.00 so we could have a coffee and look around Hawkshead. The coffee was lovely but the weather was not so we headed for the ferry to Bowness along an increasingly flooded road on a dark January evening – I love a bit of drama. The ferry takes 5 mins maximum and cuts out the need to drive around the bottom of Windermere – cost £4.60. The rain was relentless so we took shelter in a bar and chatted to a couple from Kent and had a few drinks. We had spotted that Jacksons Bistro did an early evening special set price menu but by the time we left the bar we had missed the dead line, we went in any way. The food was bistro style and delicious, after 2 days of Veggy grub Bruce thoroughly enjoyed his duck. We left and wound our way back to the hotel, avoiding the floods along a dark and deserted road.

The next morning the rain was now a fine drizzle and the wind had got up (weather wind just to be clear although all that vegetarian food….). We had breakfast and set off to party in Blackpool. To be continued……