The Main Attraction – Edinburgh Castle

You can’t go to Edinburgh without a visit to the castle, she sits there looming over the city and you just can’t ignore her even if you try.  We arrived in Edinburgh at night, the castle was lit up and looked amazing and daunting; what did the enemies of old make of it as they approached this insurmountable building?

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Against the night sky

 

Walking up to the castle gates makes you feel part of history as you cross their threshold and enter through the castle gates.  They are of course small to only let those through who were welcome.  What were our highlights?

The Military Prison was a real eye opener, French and Spanish prisoners being locked up in such hard conditions so far from home, during the 1700 and 1800’s.  Hammocks are hung everywhere, with tiny windows, gives real insight into what life was like.  Letters from home were allowed at certain times of the year, which must have made their stay just a little, more bearable.

The dog cemetery carves out a quiet little corner, dogs of former soldiers, who must have been great companions during a harsh Scottish winter and a gentle reminder of the lighter side of castle life.

The courtyard offers safety from the wind, with the Great Hall on one side in which Mary Queen of Scots stepped, with sheer drop down the cliff face on one side.  Did anyone every get flung out of the windows I wonder?

The Scottish National War Memorial just stops your breath as you wander around and read all the dedications and memorials; the story of Scotland at war until the present day.   Within the walls of Edinburgh Castle, the National War Museum tells the story of battles lost and won, through military artefacts and personal treasures.  The bronze and metal work alone is worth a visit, the details are incredible.

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Details everywhere

 

Some moving and sobering quotes inside make you stop and really think about what as gone before us.

The Scottish Crown Jewels, known as the Honours of Scotland are a must-see – although a tourist decided to take his shoes and socks off whilst having a rest for us all to see, which was a little distracting!

It’s hard to get your head around the layout of the castle, but I am sure that was part of the design to foil attackers.  But this is also the beauty of the place, add in the views and it’s just WOW.  We even saw Arthur’s Seat which had climbed the day before.

 

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Growing out of the rock

We are blessed in the UK to have a plethora of castles to visit, but this one is unique.  The location alone is just stunning, slap-bang in the middle of the city, which means you can see her peeping out wherever you are in the city. You feel the power and influence this place had been part of over the years.

 

There is the lovely Redcoat Cafe for a warm up of great cakes and tea, with the most amazing views over Edinburgh, in a stylish setting.

With so many details to look at (as shown in the picture above) the whole design and planning of the castle makes your head spin, the way the bricks meld into the rocks as if they grew straight out from the earth rocky crust.

The one o’clock gun fires every day, except Sunday, and this was when the castle seemed most busy.  It’s worth the wait, it’s loud, very loud!  I can imagine the office workers of Edinburgh listen out for it as a marker of when to head off for lunch.

I first visited the castle in the mid 90’s and I loved visiting again.  You must visit when in Edinburgh as she won’t let you forget about her whilst you are in the city.  Visit here to view the website. Audio and tour guides available.

 

The Royal Yacht Britannia

OK so my two children, boys aged 10 and 14, were not that into the idea of going to look around a boat that once belonged to the Queen.  It was decommissioned in 1997 long before they were born, so fair enough.  I on the other had always had a little bit of love for it, I’d seen in action a couple of times in the 90’s and always thought it was very glamorous.  Situated next to the Ocean Terminal shopping centre I got a sneak-peak as I popped to the loo in Debenhams from which you can see her from; boats, as you know are always referred to the female.

You start right on the top deck in the wheelhouse which seems by today’s standards so quaint.  Lots of knobs and dials, practically nothing at all high-tech.  Did it really go around the 1,000,000 miles around the world?  To visit each section you come and off the yacht via stairs as you go down and finally end up in the launch (you can go back up via a list).  Every level has something joyous to look at, everything takes you right back in time and you it feels like you on the set of a 50’s Grace Kelly movie.  Each room from the formal dining room, to the bar to the bedrooms, feels so homely and cosy you have to remind yourself you are on the sea.  You get such and insight on to what life would have been like, as much has been left as it was, including glasses, bottles of champagne and all decorations.

No wonder the Queen nearly shed a tear when she was decommissioned.  It must have been a place of real privacy and relaxation, a great place to spend time with the family and get away from it all, away from prying eyes.

You get given a hand-held audio guide (child version also available) and you can click at your leisure when you see the relevant number.  You get told some fascinating facts, such as who has been on board, the events held, the gifts given from various travels.

All the staff were so lovely and helpful, with even one posted by the ship’s bell to take a photo for you, and they look so cool in their tartan trousers!

What did my boys think?  From the moment they stepped on board, they were hooked. Of course, they liked things like the engine room, wheelhouse and spears in the dining room.  But they loved hearing all about the history, who worked on board, where the crew slept etc  They especially loved the fact a Phantom Rolls Royce used to travel on board as well!  I haven’t put too many pictures as I think this would spoil your visit as there is so much to absorb, also keep an eye out for the beautiful details such as the wood and brass work.

If you fancy, you can take afternoon tea on the royal deck, which looked simply divine actually prepared on board.  The gift shop has some impressive things to buy and we settled on a fridge magnet and tea towel.  Whatever you think about the royal family, you can help but be impressed by the piece of British history and what she did for Britain around the globe.   The ship, which acted as the Queen’s private yacht between 1954 and 1997, In her latter years Britannia is estimated to have brought in £3bn of commercial trade deals.  Now as Scotland’s second most popular visitor attraction after Edinburgh Castle, she is now bringing a new economy to the area, with jobs and tourism and that is another lease of life I hope continues long into the future.  We then popped to Wagamama for lunch in the Ocean Terminal, after all we had been given a taste for international travels whislt on board!

Open all year round, adults £15.50, children aged 5-17 £13.75, under 5’s free.  Other ticket prices available.  Please check the website before making your booking or trip.

Please visit the website here for more details

 

Yorkshire’s Best, Flatt House Barn

You know how it is with your friends, one of you suggests a girls weekend away and you are the one who volunteers to find somewhere to fit the brief?  The brief being somewhere for six tired working mum’s, no more than 1.5 hrs away, somewhere remote, somewhere luxurious and with a hot tub; no problem!?   After a quick Google search that consisted of’Yorkshire, luxury and hot tub’  up popped Amazing Dales – luxury country retreats in Yorkshire, Flatt House Barn (near Ingleborough Cave and Ingleton Waterfalls in the Yorkshire Dales) seemed to fit the bill.

One quick snoop around their website and I was sold, I could feel the fresh hill-air filling my lungs already!  I emailed the link around to the girls, several of whom have high expectations and thankfully all agreed this was the place.  Six Mum’s/working women can organise anything in an instant, so with the food, fizz and wine organised, we were ready to go.  Once you are off the M6, there are endless perfect winding country roads getting more twisty and higher the further you go.  Easy enough to find from the instructions (don’t rely on Sat Nav as the signal is hit and miss) you soon find Flatt House Barn, just about remote enough atop of a hill, with views over Kirby Malham.

Living Room

 

 

I was first to arrive, I just sat on the floor looking out of the window, rolling green hills, stillness, quiet, calm, no voices.  In daily family life moments like this never happen, there is always noise of some sort, I could even hear my heart beating.  I then went to a look in every room, of course, to pick the best bedroom, which was hard because they were all divine with tonnes of cushions, clean fresh bed linen galore, perfect for us all Mums to be fully off-radar and off-duty.

The whole place is just stunning, elegant touches everywhere you look, with some quirky things that are just perfect, like the big ram’s head with sparkly horns in the hallway; a huge driftwood lamp base; elegant cushions in the living room, so many gorgeous fabrics!  And as it was in the run up to Christmas we even had a delightful tree and decorations throughout, making it feel even more special.  My personal favourites were the three little lambs looking out of the window in the utility/drying room, just so cute.

One Mum travelling from some work in Northumberland arrived about 10pm, she got lost in the dark and we took our torches and head torches to form a beacon to guide her in from the tiny hamlet below us.  The stunning views were a welcome sight in the morning, for those who came in the pitch dark the night before.

We, of course, spent a lot of time in the hot tub, talking and drinking, plastic glasses thoughtfully provided. With some subtle lighting and under shelter, it was heavenly to sit in the bubbles and watch the sun set.  So relaxing and we all did unwind, helped by heaps of laughter!  It was a good job we were miles from the nearest place with all our shrieking out loud.  With the hugest TV I’ve seen and we spent each night fully engulfed in a great movie with wine, snacks and chocolates.

You can either eat casual, in the kitchen, which we did for breakfast and lunch, or in the dining room where we ate dinner, Indian cooked by Kate and Laura and very tasty.

Underfloor heating throughout made the place especially cosy, with walls as thick as your forearm we all felt heavily protected from the elements and the outside world.  We ventured out on Sunday and visited The List Arms for Sunday lunch which was very busy but still managed perfect service and food, with head-sized Yorkshire puddings with the Sunday Roast!

We were not going to do much sight seeing or miles of walking, we just wanted to sit and be, talk, not have a schedule or places to go.  We did have a shortish walk down the hill, around a bit and back up again!  We stayed three whole nights, Sunday too, no Monday morning school run – woo hoo!

What did we all think?

Kate‘Simply delightful’     Amanda‘Peace, just what I needed’

Laura‘Luxury, luxury, luxury’ Kath ‘Gorgeous, hot tub was perfect’

Celia‘I want to take all of the gorgeous stuff home!’

Caroline (me) – ‘Just what we all needed and in such a beautiful place inside and out’

When looking for a holiday cottage online you do come across some that stretch the description somewhat and are not all that they seem, but with Flatt House Barn your expectations are exceeded and then some!  We’d all go back, in fact, we are thinking about booking again for some more R&R.  Adele and her team at Amazing Dales were great to deal with and nothing was too much trouble, including me texting about towels the day before.

A great base to discover Yorkshire, and only coming from the Cheshire it’s not far for such luxury and beauty.  With two barns to choose from Bookilber Barn and Flatt House Barn, these are the best the county has to offer.

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The Big Smoke & Us

Since moving to Cheshire from London nearly 12 years ago, I still hold a deep fondness for the place in my heart.  I’ve been back many times for work and play, and now my boys are older it’s great to go back with them, to be a tourist with some ‘on the ground, in the know‘. As our Christmas school hols lasted into the first week of Jan we took the opportunity to visit the Big Smoke.  Of course, you can’t cram in everything London has to offer over three days, but we did try!  40 Years ago my Mum and Dad (thanks, so glad you did) brought me and my brother for two days to the capital, my first experience ever of our biggest city.

traflagarI remember it well, I was five at the time, and definitely loved it from the get-go.  Whilst we visited this time, I recreated a picture my Mum took of us all in Trafalgar Square, with my own husband and boys (aged very nearly 10 and 14).

It made me feel quite emotional as my Dad passed away some years ago and he would have loved to see this photo recreation.

Lots has changed, the Congestion Charge, no more Route-masters and there seems to be a Pret every other block.  We had no time to waste, just two nights and three days to explore The Big Smoke.

Novotel Blackfriars – Fab Hotel No 1

First port of call was our Novotel in Blackfriars, we’d stayed in a Novotel the previous summer in Versailles and wanted to see if London could match it.

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The Outside – we parked round the back

Just over Blackfriars bridge from the north, the hotel is easy to find, with the usual London parking available.  What we loved about Novotel Blackfrars is that it is so chic and understated, there is no formal reception just some cute little desks where you are greeted from.  The boys were given Yo-Yo’s which still are a big hit; we had to stop them yo-yoing in our room for fear of breaking something!

There were four of us, sharing one room, and in some hotels we’ve stayed in this has been a little compact, but not here.   The room had a huge double bed and two put-up beds for the children.   Again, in other hotels the children’s beds have been poor examples of camp beds, creaking and paper-thin mattresses.  But not here, big thick proper comfy mattresses on a sturdy, squeak free base, and to top it all both beds were made up properly with sheets, pillow and a duvet.   After a quick refresh, we asked at the front desk how to get to the Tate Modern and were furnished with a map and some top tips.  Returning to the hotel after dinner we visited the pool and spa, I swam about and went into the whirlpool whilst the boys checked out the well-equipped gym.  There was even music underwater!  Having the spa was a great welcome to our aching feet and decorated beautifully, a total oasis of calm.

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The dreamy spa & pool

We all had a quick shower or bath, and the highlight of the bathroom was the switch that turned the glass panel between the bathroom and bedroom from frosted to completely see through.  Oh, what fun the boys had turning this on and off, and pressing their buttocks against the screen! (which I cleaned afterwards).  The room was bright and fresh, with curtains that acted as total blackout; important for those with younger children.  Being in the heart of the City the hotel was quiet and with a window open slightly (I’m not keen on hotels where you can’t have at least just a crack of air), we all had a great night’s sleep.

Next morning it was off to breakfast, I’ve always been a total fan of a hotel breakfast.  A wide variety of fresh, hot and cold food you haven’t prepared yourself at your fingertips, what is not to love?  We all like our eggs done differently so the choice of poached, fried, boiled and scrambled suited us all.  My youngest who is 10 at the end of this month was in charge of the toast machine and he did a fab job.

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The bathroom screen ‘unfrosted’

Coffee was rich and hot served in little silver flasks. All the staff we talked too I think were French, I could be wrong, but they were all super-friendly and very smiley.   It was tough to leave but London awaited, and after a great night and sumptuous breakfast at Novotel Blackfriars we were primed and ready to take it on.  At some hotel groups, children are just an afterthought, an add-on that are hardly considered, but here at Novotel children are just as important, in every way,  as any other guest.  We shall definitely Novotel again very soon, we are off to Italy in the Summer, I wonder if they have them there?

Book your great family Blackfriars Novotel here

Star Wars Identities at The o2 – For Princess Leia

I’m in an all-male household with two sons and a husband, and Star Wars has seemed like a fifth member of the family sometimes.  So was I as enthusiastic as the rest of my family about going to see Star Wars Identities at The O2?  To be honest, no.  I’d even thought about spending the time in a Starbucks reading my new book whilst they got their fill, but no I bit the bullet and joined in.

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Can you feel the force boys?

I hadn’t been to The O2 before, well I had when it was the Millennium Dome back in the year 1999, but the less said about that the better.  The place is huge, stuffed full of places to eat and drink, and we soon found our way to Star Wars Identities which is tucked away in the furthest corner.  Upon arrival, you are given an earpiece and sensor to wear round your neck, with great instruction from the staff on what to do.  It’s dark and the anticipation was palpable as we were let loose into the first section.  The look on their faces as the screen your surrounded by bursts into life full of all things Star Wars, it was priceless!  You are given a wrist band that you have to tap on ten stations throughout the exhibition, which at the end gives you your Star Wars Identity, it’s hard to choose as there are so many options to think about.  In a nod to Carrie Fisher, I chose a couple related to her; I like to think I have at least one of Princess Leia’s characteristics.  The whole place is a cross between a geeks paradise/film lover’s nirvana.

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Hair on the back of the neck tingles!

There are so many things that made the hairs on the back of our necks stand up, from the framed original sketches of some of the early character developments such as Chewbacca, to some of the actual models of ships used in the films staged to look like there were travelling at light speed.  We all loved the mix of props, my eldest loved the drawings and my youngest loved the droid helmet selection.  I loved seeing Han Solo frozen in the block from the Empire Strikes Back, and my husband loved seeing Yoda, R2D2 and C3PO close up. Darth Vadar is there too, you just have to wait till you find him.

When you get to the end you scan your bracelet and your very own Star Wars identity appears before your eyes!  What can I say, I loved it and was glad I hadn’t missed out, the force was definitely with us all.

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Our Star Wars Identities

Book your tickets here on till September 3rd 2017

London Hilton Metropole, Edgeware Road – Fab Hotel No 2

If our Novotel was a quiet chic cousin, then the Hilton Metropole is the big fun uncle.  At the very end of the bright lights of Edgware Road’s restaurants sits this big tall beast of a hotel, with a bustling, busy lobby with an array of people coming and going.   Checking in we felt like we were royalty with everything we needed offered and in a matter of moments the super-quick lift whisked us up to the 12th floor to THE VIEW of the trip.

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Room with a view

As far as the eye could see London stretched out before us, with cars, buses and taxis snaking endlessly below us.  Hot and tired from a day’s sight-seeing on foot, we went to the pool and spa.  Although a little cold the pool was a relief and being able to see the sun setting through the glass roof was lovely.  Our room was huge and had a desk the boys took turns in sitting at, not to mention two TV’s to choose from!  I especially loved the lights that peeked out from just under the headboard which gave lovely soft light as we all got ready for bed.   We had two huge double beds and a sofa bed to argue over, and as we settled down to sleep we left the curtains open to sink in the twinkling lights of the view.  The location is great and we walked down Edgeware Road to see all the middle eastern restaurants, people smoking bubble pipes, we even got invited to try some baklava at one place which was delicious.

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Our Big Room

Breakfast was a marvel, over 1,000 people to feed (and this was a quiet day!) and it was all done so effortlessly.  We had a chat with one of the managers who said the breakfast service was ‘like a ballet’ and all parts had to work seamlessly for it to be a perfect production.   We all went for something different I had a mushroom and herb omelette made in moments in front of me, my eldest had a huge stack of pancakes, banana and maple syrup, the youngest had a mini-full English to match Dad’s large full English.  Everything presented and cooked just as I would at home, no greasy-spoon fayre here!  Even though we’d both lived in London we’d lost our bearings so needed some help from the hotel, who’d soon whipped out a map and marked us the quickest and picturesque route to Trafalgar Square.

metro-1This hotel gives you a feeling of being an international traveller and what life in hotels should be about, busy, efficient and with great attention to detail.  I hope our stay here inspires my children to travel the globe knowing what a great hotel should look and feel like.

Book your big hotel experience here

The Rainforest Cafe, Haymarket – Roar!

When I lived in London I walked past this place a 1,000 times and dismissed it as a tourist trap, but now as a tourist I wanted to go!  I’d looked at some Facebook reviews before I went, always a bad idea, as only the bad ever seem to get posted.

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Nellie

I wasn’t wrong, the place had got a bit of a kicking recently online, oh well, when in Rome!  You enter via the shop full of every stuffed animal known to man and then some.  Seated by the lovely Aaron who gave us his list of recommends, right next to elephants.  My eldest a teenager can be hard to please, but even he thought this was ‘epic’ – high praise indeed.  Soon the thunder and lightning erupted and the elephants roared – hilarious!

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Lion & Monkey

 

I needed a cocktail and chose a Mojito, which had the perfect kick.  My husband weirdly had a Bloody Mary, never known him to have one ever!  Starting with a plate of Nachos and dips, all freshly made, with a large amount of green chilli’s which definitely kicked my husbands cold into touch.  Two huge Chicken Caesar Salads, one Chicken Quesadilla and one mini ribs, we all tucked in.  Aaron, our server, told us to look for the cheetah and monkeys, plus to go take a look at the fish, which the boys duly did. The food was fresh, crisp and delicious.

A themed restaurant could just turn out standard fayre, but this place doesn’t.  They kindly gave us two rainforest themed activity packs which were great and had masks – see pics.

Yes it is expensive, £127.85 inc drinks plus service, but you are a hairs-breath from Piccadilly Circus in the very centre of London!  It’s an experience and you pay for that too. I never understand people who whine about the cost, check it out beforehand if it’s not for you don’t go!  Could the interior and surroundings do with a bit of TLC?  My answer would be yes, a refresh in some parts would not go amiss.  But for making memories for my family, it was a total winner, where else can you eat dinner with an elephant?

Book your Rainforest Cafe table here

Where else did we go?

Evensong at St Pauls Cathedral; the Design Museum at it’s new home in Kensington; The Primrose Bakery in Holland Park; the Royal Observatory in Greenwich; loved standing on the Meridian line; the new Lego Store in Leicester Square; queued to get in at 8.50pm! Byron Burger One New Change; best burgers; Tate Modern, we lay in the Great Hall as part of ‘Anywhen’; Millenum Bridge; no longer wobbly; finally Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, because they are a must-do.

Is London worth the trip from Cheshire?  Yes, London is worth it from anywhere on the globe, but so easy from Cheshire with trains from all over including Crewe, Macclesfield and Wilmslow.  We drove and left the car at Westfield and used car parks/meters.  Three days is plenty if you plan in advance where you want to go.  Would I want to live there again?  Yes, but only in somewhere glam like Holland Park or Kensington, just need to find a few million to buy a house!  With a Feb half term coming up I’d encourage you to go and see what our glorious capital has to offer.

Visit London’s official website here

 

High how high & low can you go?

More adrenaline for us this half term with a visit to the newly opened Freedome Arial Park at Cheshire Oaks, right next to the cinema.  There are a fair few of these trampoline parks popping us across the UK, so what makes this one different?  Besides the large area of trampolines to bounce on, there are four other areas to have a go on.

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Main bounce area

Slam dunk basketball x2 / Obstacle course x2 / A flip area – not sure how else to describe this; you just bounce yourself into a huge inflatable mat / Dodge ball – not open when went.  So lots to choose from.  You get two hours and a large sticker, to put on your top, displaying your start and finish times.  I popped on my socks with the grippers and off I went with my boys to get bouncing.  I’d thought ahead and put on my sports bra so I was good to go!  It’s been a while since I trampolined so I was a bit cautious, but you know it was great; rherapeutic even, the up and down and the up and down, makes your feel kind of tranquil.  Of course my boys bounced faster and higher than me and thought the site of me bouncing was hilarious; the cheek!

 

I also loved the very loud house style music they blast out, try bouncing in time to that!   Next to try was the obstacle course, of which there are two, one for the younger children and one for older children and adults.  Both quite tricky and enormous fun, think Ninja Warrior on ITV.  There are lots of staff to keep an eye on your children as they attempt the various things, but of course with all places like this it is really up to you to decide if your children are capable.  In face, once you have resisted on the computer, you have to read ALL the safety details and have to answer one question about them, get it right, you are but get it wrong and you have to try again.

It’s not huge which makes it easy to move around, at first I thought we wouldn’t last two hours, but we did grabbing a breather now and again. There is an on site cafe where you can sit and overlook the bouncers and enjoy an iced slush to cool down.  I had a look around and it was I’d it say 70% boys, not sure why!

There are also separate areas for children’s parties, up near the cafe on another level where you can enjoy a slush and cool off watch the other bouncers.  As well as a whole host of classes and activities for adults to try.  This is what I think sets this park apart from the img_0847others, the website is slick and cool and this matches the look and feel of the place.  The staff don’t stand around looking bored, they help and join in.  My eldest was desperate for a full on slam-dunk and was so nearly there so many times, so one of the staff gave him a few pointers and in the net it went!  There are loads of great classes, dodgeball and other stuff for adults to try.  Think this place is just for kids think again.  This is the new way to work up a sweat, just remember your sports bra!

One tiny moan thing, more lockers are needed for you to put your stuff in.

Find out more details Freedome Arial Park

 

 

 

Making Tracs in Delamere Forest

img_1737It’s half term, here in parts of Cheshire, a week later for some reason than the rest of the country.  I like many have had a ridiculous cough which left me gripping on to my bladder for real during a bout of coughing.  Hence not feeling up to much, but with two boys needing to be out and about I had little choice.  We are lucky living in the beautiful county of Cheshire with so many green spaces on our doorstep, Delamere Forest being one; a shady oasis in the midst of the agricultural landscape of the Cheshire Plain.

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Outside Tracs

Delamere is a place for families to let off steam and find peace in the heart of the forest.  We’ve all got our own bikes but have yet to purchase a bike rack for the car, so being able to hire bikes at Delamere Forest from on site bike hire, Tracs, was idea.  Tony and his team at Tracs know all there is to now about bikes and more.  As well as offering repairs and servicing, bike sales and hire, and a whole raft of events including school and youth groups, stag and hen events, corporate team building; you can see they have a lot going on from their log cabin on site!  The bikes are fine-tuned and perfect for the forest paths you cycle on, with wide tyres and responsive brakes, and more gears than I knew what to do with!  After Tony’s briefing and choosing to start with the four mile trail we were off.  In moments, you are deep in the heart of the forest, being Autumn the carpet of crispy leaves and the trees were full of colour were a lovely site to see.  There is always the inevitable bit of competitiveness between my sons and soon we couldn’t see them as they sped off up the trail, with us old codgers bringing up the rear!

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Carpet of leaves

I’d not been on a bike for a while so I thought I would struggle to keep up, but the path is gentle, with a few little humps and ridges to get your heart going.  The Forestry Commission look after Delamere Forest and they do a great job, we came across a clearing that was kind of spooky and boggy underfoot; all to do with forestry management.  We also found the Gruffalo; my 14-year-old secretly loved this!  You can push it as much as you dare on your bike or tootle along in tune with the landscape, the choice is yours.  Being on a bike means you can explore much further than on foot and get to see more of the forest.  It took us about two and a half hours to get around, but that included lots of stops.  I think next time we will bring our bikes and book them in with Tony for a service and head off on the 6-mile trail.  In the café, we all enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate, with cream AND a flake, for our endeavours.  Plus I didn’t cough once!

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Forest clearing

Explore the forest on two wheels. There are cycling trails for all abilities from relaxing family rides to mountain bike trails and a bike skills area.   There are events in the forest all year round to suit everyone, details here – Delamere Forest

Go see Tony and get on your bike and get your heart pumping in one of the most beautiful places in Cheshire, details – Tracs Bike Hire

 

 

A visit to the Far East in the centre of Manchester

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Corn Exchange, Exchange Square  

There is one thing guaranteed to get a teenager to engage with the outside world and that  is the promise of food.  My 14 year-old has a real interest in food and cooking, mainly from his Grandma who is a great cook.  Definitely not from school, as the curriculum still seems to be stuck in the 70’s with sausage rolls and rock buns being the most innovative things made!  So we all took a trip into Manchester to try Tampopo, with three locations in Manchester and one in London, we went to try the one at Corn Exchange, bang opposite Selfridges.  For a Tuesday night it was pretty busy in Exchange Square with hundreds of runners snaking their way through shoppers and office workers.IMG_9839

We’ve never been to Tampopo before and it promises “The world’s most exciting cuisines from East Asia, where food is fresh, healthy and delicious. Each country has developed its own unique dishes, and sampling them is a culinary adventure”.  We couldn’t wait for our journey to begin.  With the menu on a paper placemat the choice is abundant and we didn’t know where to begin, thankfully all was expertly explained to us by our server and with a few recommendations made we’d ordered a mouth-watering selection of small plates, main course and sides.  As other diners dishes were dispatched from the open kitchen the aromas that wafted throughout the restaurant, just made all our mouths water, such a punch of spice and freshness, my eldest started to gnaw on his chopsticks in anticipation!  Thankfully some prawn crackers were popped on the table by our thoughtful server.

IMG_9863With mocktails; apple and elderflower lemonade & pink lemonade for the children and, quite frankly, cocktails with a gigantic kick;  bangkok popsicle and lemongrass mule our journey into Asia began.  My lemongrass mule included vodka, gingerbeer, infused with fresh lemongrass & lime and boy-oh -boy I was smitten!  The food swiftly arrived all at the same time and our table was covered with a spectacular array of dishes and we were desperate to dive in.

The crispy fried chicken wings with sesame and a sweet soy and chilli glaze were practically inhaled by us all, so moreish.  My personal faves were the coconut prawns  with a sweet chilli dip, huge prawns in a light crispy batter, light and heavenly.  My youngest who is nine started with a Gyoza pork dumpling with a soy and chilli dip and after his first one exclaimed “I’m coming here again” before going straight back in for dumpling number two.

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Ready & waiting

The teenager was just having a total ‘food moment’ with the Pad Thai with chicken and prawn.  He’s literally a ‘growing boy’ taller than me and just needs decent delicious fuel and he practically ate the whole thing, whilst his younger brother had chicken katsu from the children’s menu which was enjoyed just as much.  The recommended asian sharing platter for two was also a hit and it gives you the chance to sample several things from the menu, the corn fritters a dipping sauce on here were lovely.

To end we had mint tea and Vietnamese coffee, which comes in a cute silver style pot with condensed milk , which sounds odd but is truly delicious.  We loved the churros, popular in the Philippines since Spanish colonial times, these deliciously crunchy doughnut sticks are served with a warm chocolate or caramel dipping sauce.

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Vietnamese Coffee

They were loved so much that we had to order some more to stop an argument over the last one!  We also tried Vietnamese fried bananas coated in breadcrumb and crunchy nuts, served with a cinnamon ice cream and fresh lime.

All the staff were lovely, relaxed with their approach and very knowledgable about the food and drink available.  They were all great with the boys too, which makes Tampopo and smashing place to take the children.

Yes there is chilli, spice and things you know about but don’t necessarily cook with at home each day, but take you children and just get stuck right in.  It’s fresh, delicious and awakens all your senses five-fold. I’ve felt inspired to inject a little more pizzazz into my own cooking at home with some fresh chilli, lemon grass and lime to get me started as I don’t want my far eastern adventure to end.

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Chopstick Teeth

Go to Tampopo right here Noodles – Rice – Soups – Stir-fries – Curries – Sides – Salads – Snacks – Small Plates – Express Lunch – Cocktails – Mocktails – Desserts

Corn Exchange

Trafford Centre

Albert Square

London – Fitzrova