Latest Posts

4 reasons to love: Stockton Bury and Hampton Court Gardens

We are spoilt for choice when it comes to gardens here in South Shropshire. Lucy and I picked just two:  Stockton Bury and Hampton Court Gardens because they are easy driving distances between the two.

They are contrasts in beauty, where Hampton Court is large and expansive; Stockton is small and intimate.

The very best gardens are sanctuaries. Find a bench and get lost in reverie or find inspiration whether expert gardener or novice. I fall into the latter category but Lucy is a couple notches further up because she can identify quite a few flowers and plants.

I may not know all the plant names, but I can just as easily find wonder in nature’s own literary form of colour, structure and scent. I love strolling around gardens.

We set off to see what was on offer at Stockton and Hampton and here are our top 4 reasons to love them.

1. A place to lean and loaf

Cafe Stockton Bury

Cafe Stockton Bury: (Source: thesimpleedit)

Gardens make me hungry. Is it because the garden is a feast for the eyes and the soul , which then manifests itself as hunger?

Whatever the answer cafes in Gardens are obligatory, if done right, they often feel like an extension of the garden. Personally, I like to indulge in the fantasy that what I am eating is the produce of the very same garden I’m strolling around in and I concede this happens somewhere.

Coffee and cake

Coffee and cake at Hampton Court Gardens (Source: thesimpleedit)

Anyway a good cafe can make or break your visit. Thankfully the cafes at Stockton and Hampton are both cosy spots taking advantage of their lovely settings.

They also have plenty of outside seating and at Hampton Court you can easily picnic if you choose.

2. Perfect garden landscapes

Aspirational. The gardens I visit remind me of the possibilities of things I could achieve if I had time and money in abundance.

IMG_3243

Sitting girl at Hampton Court (Source: thesimpleedit)

I have neither. I don’t want to replicate a garden I visit. Instead, its an opportunity to see things differently. How the experts would do it. A visual tutorial if you will.

I tend to translate some of the little touches that are easy to adapt at home, such as: creating a focal point, using bold colour combinations, using water features or even where to place a bench (shaded recess seems best).

Stockton Bury is a much smaller garden, but it really packs a punch in four acres and this is why its among my favourites.

There are so many things to admire. It’s got a medieval pigeon house, a kitchen garden, beautiful water gardens, a mini maze and a greenhouse to name a few things. All of that and it still manages to feel spacious.

IMG_3686

Broad beans in a row: Stockton Bury Gardens (Source: thesimpleedit)

It’s got this Victorian feel with its elegance and tucked away nooks.  Yet it’s not stately or grandiose. It feels attainable. As if given enough time, I too could be an extraordinary gardener.

IMG_3720

Keeping it straight: Stockton Bury Gardens (Source: thesimpleedit)

Another thing: I have never seen a more militaristic vegetable garden than what is on view at Stockton Bury. All the vegetables like broad beans, lettuce, chives were all regimented in tidy rows.

A royal splash

IMG_3232

Handsome colour at Hampton Court (Source: thesimpleedit)

Hampton Court is equally lovely but as you can imagine to a different tempo and scale. It’s like Stockton Bury is the wild child and Hampton Court its more elegant and refined sister.

Hampton Court Gardens

Feels utterly Zen, Hampton Court Garden (Source: thesimpleedit)

It’s bigger open spaces to explore with luxurious garden areas like their kitchen garden.

There is a Wisteria Arch, Sunken Garden and you can relax, have a coffee surrounded by ancient Yews.

IMG_3745

Life a house at Pooh Corner, Hampton Court Garden (Source: thesimpleedit)

IMG_3746

Hidden pond garden, Hampton Court (Source: thesimpleedit)

The kids can get also lost in the maze. One of my favourite areas is the hidden pond garden, which is seriously verdant and lush.

3. Garden events

Garden are at their busiest in the Spring. Hampton Court is open throughout the summer and into Autumn when it closes in October.

Stockton Bury has a Floral Demonstration coming up on Wednesday 4 July  with Chelsea Flower Show RHS Gold Medal winner Yolanda Campbell.You can contact them here.

Hampton Court has a range of events ongoing throughout the summer including a Midsummer Fair 24th and 25th June.

There is also a Flying Birds of Prey Spectacular 23 July.

4. Children and gardens – a wish list

When you have kids in the countryside you have to think laterally. Yes, you have your own garden they can lounge around in and plentiful walks in stunning locations.

But formal gardens are like 3D pictures and I want my daughter to participate in things I enjoy too.

IMG_3732

Hobbit like entrance: Stockton Bury Garden (Source: thesimpleedit)

IMG_3742

Chinese red birch tree (Source: thesimpleedit)

I took my daughter to Stockton Bury, it’s less than 30 mins away from Ludlow and its a small enough size I knew she could handle.

I know I can take her to Hampton Court Gardens anytime to spend a sunny afternoon with a picnic and a book and she could explore as she felt.

However, at Stockton I discovered that while I was content to look at colour and flowers and admire their placement, my daughter was less so.

She was quickly bored until I asked her to create a portfolio of images using my phone camera. That got me a further 15 minute complaint-free window.

Also my limited knowledge was not helpful because my 12-year old wants to know the name of everything.

I wished more gardens (Hampton Court too) were willing to engage novices and young with either a flyer or an occasional name tag on various plants especially those that look unusual.

IMG_3740

Not much of a puzzle: (Source: thesimpleedit)

At Stockton we knew a monkey puzzle tree because we have seen it before, but what about the giant water lilies or a birch tree with a red trunk that peeled and why does it peel?

A Google visit later. We now know the red trunk to be a Chinese red birch and it peels to reveal the white trunk beneath.

As I said gardens are not in short supply in our part of the country and in the near future, we’ll be visiting Berrington Hall and Croft Castle both part of the National Trust and within 30 minutes driving distance of Ludlow.

 

Our Simple Spring Preen

7082427585_47f19f8c37_z

It’s Springtime!

The countryside is dotted by the yellow of rapeseed fields and the daffodils dance lazily in the breeze.

Here in Ludlow, Lucy and I have decided that Spring heralds not just a new start for nature, it means we have to take our cue too.

All winter, we stuck our feet into thick socks and muddy wellies, our faces weathered and windswept by all those outdoor walks.

The extra padding that is so comforting in winter feels somewhat unwieldy now that the warmer weather has arrived.

We know that all too soon, we are going to have to expose elbows, knees, wobbly bits and toes to the elements.

So, we’ve put together a three-step pampering plan using what Ludlow and the surrounding area has to offer.

Step 1: Feet

We’re at the age where corns, calluses and bunions (gulp) call for serious attention so our very first stop is with local chiropodist, Kerry Banks (01584 891727).

Getting those cracks smoothed over is a blissful experience and once Kerry has worked her magic, we’re ready to get our feet noticed with a pedicure at one of our favourite salons: Nail Gallery and Vanilla Orchid.

We may be bumpkins but we still know our Nars Ikiru Pastel Blue from our Butter Majestic Red!

2660432558_724a241f6e_z.jpg

Step 2: Face

It may be a bit of mutton into lamb (excuse the Spring pun), but the face has been ignored all of winter and it is definitely time for renewal.

We’ve been talking about trying out the new spas at  Overton Grange and Fishmore Hall for months now so it’s time to stop procrastinating and book that much needed facial (the Light Lunch Spa Day Package at Fishmore is looking particularly tempting).

6928396405_d3c9bcee3e_z

Step  3: Fitness

Winter was a time of stop/start training. There were weeks when the only exercise we had was shovelling food into our mouths. Now our elbows are suffering from bursitis (as we write this, we are tucking into a lemon scone and warm cinnamon roll at The Green Cafe).

The lack of training and willpower has to stop!

We both need a realistic goal to motivate us so this May we have signed up for the 26K Big Black Mountain Challenge walk in the Brecon Beacons (Claire calls it the ‘Big Break Me Challenge’ given our sporadic training schedule).

Not content with suffering alone, we’ve duped 15 other mums into taking part.  In the countryside, walking is the proverbial ‘killing many birds with one stone’; the best way of getting together with friends, motivating each other, socialising, gossiping, walking the dogs and exercising all at once.

There you have it. Three little steps to physical, mental and spiritual rejuvenation.

IMG_0344Similarly, our home and garden are also in need of an uplift. Spring cleaning and tending to the garden feels right.

Once we’ve completed our simple steps, it will be time to dust off the Yellow Peril and head out to visit some local gardens.

First on our list:  Stockton Bury and Hampton Court for a bit of inspiration.  Watch this space…

Tax on Ludlow life?

The trade-off for living in spectacular surroundings in areas like Ludlow is you have to pay what I call a special tax.

It’s the sacrifice you make on the altar of rural hood, thanking the gods for living in a scene-stealing setting and making peace with the idea of ‘less of’.

Plainly, you move to the country for lots of reason but for most people it’s the surroundings and quieter life. For the trade-off prepare to do several things:

Pay more for services: of any kind. Don’t expect to find the right services at the right time for the right cost. Finding someone to do any DIY because you’re an inept City lubber means you will pay a premium.

55416470 - a worker in a commercial operation with banknotes in his hand

Don’t be a hostage

Inevitably, you’ll desperately grab the first person who actually follows through and turns up to give a quote.

Of course, you know the figure they’ve provided to fix your plumbing/cut your hedges/fix your boiler/etc is just testing the air, but having waited weeks for someone to show up you’re grateful, very grateful. You allow yourself to be turned upside down as the change empties out of your pocket.

The range of quotes is stunning as well. I know of one woman, new to the area, who received two quotes to redo her bathroom (requiring building works) one store provided a quote of £25,000 and another £11,000.

Mind, she was fortunate to get the two quotes as two other providers failed to show up!

It does take time, a couple of years in my case and a few misfires, but I have finally found a few skilled professionals who are fair and I hold them close to my heart.

Keep searching for a garage: Better to find a local to give you a recommendation for a service garage.

If you aren’t so lucky, again you’ll get a quote that seemingly comprises not only the overheads, but also a potential vacation and that boat they’ve dreamed of.

Sometimes, the work isn’t up to par and you’ll pay a second time to fix it. It’s not all highway robbery but let’s say buyer beware.

Do country fashion: A friend, who moved to the Ludlow area from London recounted the story of going for a walk in the hills shortly after her move.

43650275_s

Sore thumb?

Unfortunately, my friend wore a short, white puffer jacket and herein was a moment for hilarity from the local friend who accompanied her on the walk and didn’t hold back.

Our friend described it as a ‘merciless piss-take’.

Needless to say, the white jacket retired and our friend found a new coat in standard-issue khaki that fits in with her surroundings and which befits the smallholder she now is.

Now, this is isn’t solely about conformity. I mean, my friend could just as easily have ignored the mick taking and simply stuck out in the same way a flamingo would in the wilds of Ludlow.

Personally, I think that white jacket could have been a lifesaver if she ever got lost in the woods.

54153377_s

Country life sometimes feel…

I have now discovered there is a reason for the #countrystyleuniform – that green to blue colour spectrum for outerwear and why you suddenly believe wellingtons do go with everything – because in the end defeated by mud, cow pies and slippery slopes, you simply give in.

Take heart that green blue spectrum can be enlivened. There is always room for individual style.  In fact, nothing warms my heart than hush and anthropologie blogs for fashion inspiration.

Deal with the country driver: These country lanes test us all. You have to have patience and fortitude and blood hardened by viscous oil and under no circumstances give in to road rage or impatience.

11048188 - portrait of smiling old woman driving car

Zen like: drive with a smile and plenty of patience

You’ll face drivers of various forms: the elderly driver determinedly under the speed limit; the tailgater; the aggressive 4×4 driver who are clearly kings of the roads and take up more than their fair share of narrow tarmac particularly coming around a bend; the fog light misusers (the Highway Code (Rule 236) is explicit – no fog lights unless you are in a fog!)  and the super- dooper headlights fitted on to newer vehicles that make you feel like you’re in Cocoon or E.T. and confronting a spaceship!

Be the Only One in the Village: There is no way of knowing how expansive your neighbours or community will be until you’re living there.

unknown

This is a local shop for local people

By and large I have found most people welcoming. For some people I know that is not always the case, with their new country life blighted by small-minded neighbours.

The only comfort is you can find them anywhere – city or country – it’s just luck  of the draw.

However, be aware of things that act as kindling to fire up antipathy amongst the neighbours (in no particular order): bins, parking, cats (either for or against), dogs, parking, noise, branches, fencing, kids (for or against), parking…

Ultimately, I don’t mind paying these small taxes, to me it’s a bit like living in those Scandihooligan (Thanks Trump!) countries where the good outweighs the bad.

I guess in the main, higher taxes mean better schools; a better work/life balance; fantastic places to eat; fresh air; and if you’re lucky – a less harried gentler community.

 

MY LUDLOW LIFE – Monty Lowe

Ludlow is a town of small businesses. Behind the Jacobean and Georgian facades, down the scenic streets and cobbled alleyways, thrives a community of talented creatives. They are artists, writers, potters, chefs, restaurateurs, jewellery designers, book binders, beauticians, curators and florists and they are Ludlow’s beating heart. If anyone can tell you about the ins and outs of our buzzing town, it’s the people who work here.

This is week, we interview Monty Lowe, curator of Ludlow Buttercross Museum

IMG_7434

Ludlow’s Broad St viewed from The Museum

What’s your connection to Ludlow?

  1. Are you an incomer (fell in love on a visit)
  2. Returner (grew up here, went away, glad to be back)
  3. Have never left the shire (why go anywhere else?)

I am in incomer. I grew up in Leicestershire and have lived all over the UK.

Living in and around Ludlow is the bees knees because….

It is centrally placed on the Welsh borders within a great landscape both geographically and in its archaeological and historical context. It is also vibrant in the modern sense too.

93C58649-2530-44DC-9DC0-F84F3E511DB6

Ancient Artefacts on display at The Museum

Tell us something about Ludlow nobody knows

The landscape archaeology of Ludlow is interesting and complex. Old routes enter the town and make reference to the site occupied by St Lawrence’s church. It is documented that a large burial mound occupied the site before the church (the ‘low’ of Ludlow) and part of the perimeter on the Bullring/top of Corve Street is circular; I have suspicions the site may have been a henge monument before Christianity. It is possible that the site relates to the old field site at Bromfield which was a Necropolis burial place from prehistoric and into Anglo-Saxon times.

Your favourite haunt and why?

The Castle bookshop in Ludlow. Stanton has been a great friend since I moved to Ludlow. It is both a great shop and also the place to catch up on Ludlow gossip. The building is an important place in my social life and people-watching from high up in the building onto the square is an excellent way to waste time.

FullSizeRender

The Buttercross viewed from King Street

What would your perfect day in Ludlow look like?

I like Ludlow early in the morning, before the town fills with people. I like approaching the Buttercross Museum in the bright sunshine and seeing the building; I am always amazed I work in this beautiful place. I love engaging in talk with visitors to the museum and it’s great that many have shared heritage/archaeological interests. At the close of day, the perfect view of Ludlow is from the museum; directly upon the length of Broad Street with the church of St Giles, Ludford poking its head above the Broad gate. In winter, the sunsets from the window are exceptional particularly when the Christmas lights are lit.

monty talk

Monty giving a talk at The Museum

Finally, your recommends: your top spot to eat, drink or visit in the area?

For drink, I am going to recommend ‘Artisan Ales’ on Old street. The downstairs is a bottled beer shop and the owner (Publican Gary), has created a parlour pub upstairs where, changing guest cask ales are available; as well as choosing from the bottled beers. It is a great place for beer and conversations.

Food: It would have to be ‘Aragon’s’ café on Church Street. This is where I meet friends for breakfast. Quality food and ran by owner, Dave, and his brilliant team of friendly staff.

Visit: I have to recommend the Buttercross museum. We are approaching our first anniversary since re-establishing the museum in this building. It is a beautiful venue of calm inside with the vibrant hub of the town outside. The resident collection has a great display of key artefacts that any museum would be proud of. We have established a quarterly changing exhibit space which receives favourable interest and we have celebrated the work of 1980’s computer gaming magazines, Zzap and Crash, which were produced just feet away from the museum. We presently have a collaborative British Museum exhibit named ‘Treasure 20’ which recognises the great work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. From September 1st, it will be a private collection of everyday Georgian ephemera.

We are more than simply a museum. It is a place for people with an interest in Heritage, history, museums and archaeology to engage with. Myself and my colleague Helen are more than happy to assist with any enquiries. We work closely with the Shropshire museum services, local archaeology, education and other allied professionals and volunteer groups.

We have also created a programme of public lectures/talks at the Buttercross for summer and next Spring; with a special Christmas lecture added in too. It’s a great opportunity to visit the museum outside of the usual operational hours. The lit cases come alive when the big lights are dipped and we also have the Castle bookshop as a ‘pop-up bookshop’ selling related publications.

Who would you like to nominate for the next profile?

Seeing as I have mentioned the Castle Bookshop several times, it is only fair that I nominate Stanton Stephens, proprietor, for the next profile. I think of Stanton as a statesman for the town. He is Ludlow-born from a family of greengrocers. He is a Dr of Art history and a great supporter of Ludlow Museum and heritage groups.

BIO

monty cap

Monty Lowe

Born in Leicestershire, Monty spent some time studying in Stockholm as an A&E & Trauma Nurse, a career which lasted 19 years. He came to work as a Minor injuries nurse in Ludlow. Having been involved in Archaeology in a voluntary capacity over the years, Monty was appointed along with colleague, Helen Jones, as a curator at the Buttercross Museum. He also assists with the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Links:

The Buttercross Museum on Facebook

Monty Lowe on Twitter

My Ludlow Life: LA Jewellery

Unless you live in Ludlow, you wouldn’t know it is a town chock full of small businesses.  Behind the Jacobean and Georgian facades, down the scenic streets and cobbled alleyways, thrives a community of talented creatives.

They are artists, potters, chefs, restaurateurs, jewellery designers, book binders, beauticians and florists and they are Ludlow’s beating heart. For those visiting the area, the best placed to tell you about its ins and outs of our buzzing town are the people who work here.

To introduce these wonderful craftspeople, we will post an interview in our new column, “My Ludlow Life”.  Here we get the real low-down on life in Ludlow from those in the know.  

Our first interview is with La Jewellery proprietor, the lovely Lisa Anne.

Bio

Lisa Anne Dickenson (the “La” in La Jewellery) lived and worked in Wales for 15 years and still has a small design studio there. Now based in Ludlow, Shropshire on the edge of the Welsh Marches she believes wholeheartedly in the magic of the Marches landscape, seeking and finding endless inspiration in her surroundings.

large Fair trade heart (2)

Large Fairtrade Heart copyright La Jewellery

Q: What’s your connection to Ludlow? a) Are you an incomer (fell in love on a visit) b) A returner (grew up here, went away, glad to be back) or c) Have never left the Shire (why go anywhere else?)

LA: I am incomer and came here six years ago from Monmouth with my husband.  The first time I came to Ludlow was to present Eddie Izzard with jewellery at a charity event at the Ludlow Assembly Rooms. The second time, we helped a lady who worked for me to move house and that’s when we decided to stay.

Q: Finish the sentence: Living in and around Ludlow is the bees knees because…

LA: The energy is constantly changing, I love the fluidity. There’s a constant mix of new people, new energy coming in and out and a lot of creativity I find in Ludlow. There’s always something going on, there’s always something happening whether it’s a play or an exhibition or a shop launch, poetry evening.  There is so much to do here.

Q: Tell us something about Ludlow that no one else knows

We have our own beach!  The beach down at The Millennium Green.  When the water level falls below a certain level, a pebbly beach appears either side of Dinham Bridge.

Q: Your favourite haunt and why?

55 Mill Street with my grand-daughter on a Sunday afternoon, trying on frocks and hats and invariably coming out with some random purchase!

Q: What would your perfect day in Ludlow look like?

It would be having lunch with my daughter, Anastasia, at the French Pantry eating our favourite (Helen, the owner, will laugh when she hears this) French onion soup which they know as I never order anything else!

Q: Finally, your recommends: your top spot to eat, drink or visit in the area?

The French Pantry or The Parkway (a tapas bar run by two Spanish chefs) – their garlic prawns are to die for especially soaked up with a bit of bread and butter.
Who would you like to nominate for the next profile?  

Andy and Sarah Nash of Pepper Lane Gallery.

photo

Lisa Anne at work in her studio copyright La Jewellery

 

Getting through filthy February

img_3837

We love January. I can see you raising a skeptical eyebrow but for us, January not only heralds a fresh start and time to reflect, but also the opportunity to fire up exciting, new ventures, plan holidays, pick up a new skill and give mind and body a good kick-start.

February, on the other hand, is not a welcome month; it is January’s hangover and March’s grumpy neighbor. If February were a colour tone, it would be sludgy brown washed with a cloud of grey to match how we feel – bah humbug.

We are not quite ready to come out of hibernation and if there’s ever a time to view life with a half-glass full attitude, it’s over the ensuing weeks.

However, there’s enough January feel-good to tide us over and here are a few ideas to get you through filthy February, in and around Ludlow.

 THE GREAT OUTDOORS

img_3997

Titterstone Clee viewed from the West

The Dutch say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. So invest in a good pair of wellies, a decent waterproof (Countrywide in Ludlow have a good selection) and get outdoors.

This time of year, the countryside is at its most wet and wild and if we get another very cold front, you can experience the most spectacular views all across the outstandingly beautiful Shropshire hills and valleys.

To date, we have already scaled to the top of the Titterstone Clee, bounded up and down Carding Mill Valley and stomped through a very misty, muddy Mortimers Forest.

Next on our list: Batch Valley, the Stiperstones, Croft Castle and the Brown Clee. For more inspiration try: Shropshire Great Outdoors Walking or National Trust.

BIRDLIFE

img_4203

Greenfinches and a Goldfinch

The dawn chorus is slowly warming up but for the most part, all you can spot are LBJs (little brown jobs) flitting around the hedgerows. We’ve invested in a birdfeeder (try Ludlow Homecare) and have been amazed by the colours of our local garden birds and the simple pleasure they provide.

The flash of red from the elusive woodpecker is enough to warm even the coldest heart. Hanging from our birdfeeder this morning are gorgeous goldfinches, a particularly handsome bullfinch, the habitual but very pretty blue tits, an opportunist, plump pheasant, a jet black black-bird (our top songster), a flitter of nuthatches, a loyal robin and of course, a few LBJs which we’ve yet to identify.

Click here for an excellent site on how to identify garden birds for amateur enthusiasts.

FAMILY TIME

This month, make the most of your support network. For those of you who’ve seen enough of your children over Christmas but feel the grandparents are missing out, gently nudge them towards Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre which is offering a How to Tell a Bedtime Story workshop throughout February. From 20-24 February, the Centre is also holding a Fantastic Beasts workshop where children can ‘learn about some of the fantastic beasts of the wizarding world’.

WELL-BEING

Why do we choose to dry out during a habitually cold and wet month? It’s that New Year new beginning isn’t it? If like us, your motivation is already seeping away, then bring yourself back to focus with techniques to boost the spirit. On 3 February, Friends Meeting House in Ludlow is holding classes on Meditation and Mindfulness.

For cooking enthusiasts, on 25 February, Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre is holding a Gluten and Dairy Free Cookery Class, a great opportunity to get inspired.

Looking to be more creative? Have a look at the wonderfully eccentric and very welcoming Westhope College,which offers craft courses ranging from basket weaving and hand embroidery to upholstery and jewellery.

Classes are small and intimate and your course fee includes homemade lunch served at a formally laid table and afternoon tea and cake.

EATING OUT

img_2454

Yummy chowder at The Green Cafe in Ludlow

We may not have the handful of 3-star Michelin restaurants of the past but Ludlow still has a fantastic selection of pubs, cafes and restaurants.

A favourite image on Instagram recently has been a log fire viewed through a glass of prosecco. Claire and I are all about moderation: it’s important to treat yourself every now and then (and quite frankly, we could do with a break from kale, porridge and quinoa) so when it really is too foul to go outside, find a place by the fire, enjoy a meal made from local produce and experience the true meaning of ‘hygge’.

Restaurants and pubs we have enjoyed: Mill on the Green, Ludlow Kitchen, Pizza Ten, The Unicorn Inn, Koo Japanese Restaurant, The Blue Boar, Pizza Express, Riverside Inn, Chang Thai, The Charlton Arms. Find a full listing here.

img_3865

As fully paid up members of the sandwich generation (middle-aged, caught between a young family and ageing parents, juggling work and family, battling the bulge) we know it’s not always possible to accomplish all of the above.

This month, the idea is to manage the stress: strip down the to-do list, learn to prioritise and give yourself much needed ‘me time’. When the weather outside is pants, the children are bickering and you are constantly chasing your tail, here’s a very Simple solution: run yourself a deep bath, pour yourself a stiff drink, light a scented candle, shut the door and…BREATHE.

Vintage love

I’ve moved to the country and stored my high heels away in my loft. But I love clothes and fashion. I also like living in the country. The two are not mutually exclusive. I haven’t abandoned my love of the whimsical just because I live in the countryside.

55 Mill St

55 Mill St, Ludlow

One of my favourite places to shop in Ludlow is the vintage store 55 Mill Street. The decor and layout are delightful and I love browsing the three floors of eclectic ‘stuff’ from fur coats through to furniture. Change and turnover ticks over regularly so there is always something new.

In my day, boy was I a bit of a show pony. New York and London were my virtual catwalks –places to promenade and to be theatrical. These days I tailor and tether my whimsy to the solidity of being practical. Of course, because I’m dressing for myself,  I wear whatever I feel like, but there’s no way I galumph around the countryside like I danced around London. For one thing, I don’t like feeling cold and, for another, my feet are shod for driving and walking not prancing.

Still, sometimes I’m badly in need of a fashion fix and this shop does it for me. 55 Mill Street is a collective of traders housing their wares under one roof. Not only are the pieces unique, the prices are also fairly reasonable so there’s less guilt for indulging my showy side. [Tip: don’t be shy! do bargain, it doesn’t hurt to ask!]

img_1508

Fashion finds 55 Mill Street

Recently, I picked up a wonderful sixties midi skirt in bright green wool with an embroidered zip panel together with a black Emporio Armani gilet, both under £50. Another favourite find I discovered was a wonderful belted, cashmere, camel coat.

It’s not just my wardrobe that is full of vintage finds; my home is also decked out with a few quirky/eccentric pieces courtesy à la Mill Street and other charity shops. Second-hand and charity shops abound in the Ludlow area and they are wonderful places for up-cycling projects.

img_1298

Garden furniture antique store Leominster

Speaking of vintage finds, I would be amiss if I didn’t also mention the neighbouring town of Leominster. My garden and home have also benefitted from a few of the myriad antique shops along Broad Street and in the town square.

Brightwells is quite well known for its auctions, it not only does antiques but also cars and horses and livestock. The Antiques Centre holds regular fairs at the Ludlow Race Course.

If you do visit Leominster please drop in to my favourite deli/cafe Barber&Manuel. The food is great and I’m very partial to their roast beef with horseradish sandwich. The owners also have a lovely broad selection of pantry goods with many suitable for gift giving.

 

How to make crab apple jelly without becoming crabby

This is a rather late posting about crab apples. I just had some of my home-made crab apple jelly with a bit of cheese and remember I wanted to post my crab apple jelly making journey which can serve either as a warning or a guide…your preference.

So this year as a fully paid up associate member of the do-it-yourself tribe, I decided to try something with the bounty harvested from the crab apple trees in the garden. This is my second year in my home and the trees were resplendent with red, fiery fruit and I couldn’t stand to see them drop and rot again, if I could help it.

So I looked up recipes — essentially the first page of Google. I viewed Pinterest and there are plenty of pictures of lovely looking jars of crab apple jelly, many linked to recipes that begin in the middle and describe adding 10 parts to one part so I parted company there.

I couldn’t find any recipes or advice suited to this novice such as: This is what a crab apple looks like, they are small fiddly things and you will hate crab apples and yourself after an hour of topping and tailing and cutting the things. Admittedly, I didn’t bother with YouTube, I’m a traditionalist and I need to read recipes. In the end, I winged it and used a couple of recipes as a guide. However, this Mary Wynne recipe was my main guide as it included a way to measure the crab apples from the start.

HOW TO DO IT

 

Step 1: Crab apples come in different sizes. Mine was at the smaller end of the scale. One tree bore fruit as early as August and two only began to bear fruit towards the end of October, early November and the fruit is not only smaller than this bunch below but also green.

ludlow_hygge_at_this_time_of_year_a_long_family_walk___a_bowl_of_handpicked_fruit_ready_for_jam_making__foodieheaven__autumn__crabapple__happy-_view_simple__hygge_in_our_latest_blog_post

Red, fiery fruit

Step 2: Get your gear together. I realised I needed:

  • a large pot
  • a thermometer
  • jars
  • wax discs for sealing
  • muslin (who has this lying around??)
  • A net for straining
  • Time (lots of it)
  • Patience – you’ll need extra when things aren’t going according to plan

Step 3: Wash, get rid of the stems, slice and cut into half if the apples are on the smaller side. Admission: I got bored after more than an hour (I used up all my patience in the beginning!) and started to cut off the top and bottom then sliced in half. After two hours I just pulled the stems and sliced as realised that muslin net comes in handy in straining since I wasn’t going to use the pulp!

img_1712

Pour enough water that you can see but the apples don’t float

Step 4: Add water to your crab apples. Recipes all seem to begin at this point. Warning: recipes also tell you to use enough water to cover the crab apples mine kept floating so where should I stop? Aargh! Mary Wynne to the rescue: Add enough water to be able to see, but no [sic] so much that the crabapples are floating. I interpreted it as the photo shows above.

Step 5: Boil, boil, boil and trouble. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 mins until fruit is soft. The first batch I made, I stuck a spoon in it to stir and boy, oh boy what a bitter brew! I had to throw it out. I fumed, sulked and started again two days later. Be warned stainless steel or wooden spoon!

img_1716

Enough juice for jelly

Step 6: Straining: What alchemy is this? I brought a net made for straining fruit. Heavens to Betsy how do you actually get it to strain so it dripped into the bowl? I hadn’t a clue and neither did Google. I just tied it in a knot and left it in a stainless steel bowl and hoped that a fairy would do some magic overnight. The next morning it was still in the bowl but crucially sat in a fair amount of juice. I squeezed the net several times against the sides with a wooden spoon and managed to yield close to the required 4 cups recommended by Ms Wynne.

A belated tip came from a friend who has a farm: her mother simply pegged the net to something deep like a bucket (clean obvs!).

img_1718

Note: only a wooden or stainless steel spoon

Step 7: Pour it into the pot and bring to a boil again and then simmer for 10 mins. I added a bit of cinnamon bark which the recipe suggested was optional. Skim the foam off the top and add the sugar. I bought jam sugar even though I understand crab apples are full of pectin.

img_1721

Step 8: Fahrenheit or centigrade? Boil on low until you get to the required temp. Get your bottles sterilised and into the dishwasher or sterilise in the oven. I reused some old coffee jars which had rubber seals. What a mistake…

img_1723

Step 9: Should they look that colour? I removed from the heat, finally putting to use those coffee jars I held on to for years EXCEPT the rubber seals refused to stick and kept rising up. I panicked, took the top off and used a plastic wax disc. Then I stuck them in a hot water bath which was pointless as the seal wouldn’t seal!

Step 10: Trial and error. I had hoped to gift these but thought I better try them myself first. They taste better than I expected then again I would say so given the sweat and tears that went into this concoction. Next year the crab apples may very well provide nutrients to the earth because I’m not so sure I can face them again.

At the top of Mount Crumpit

I little care for Xmas time. I’m one of those bods, unlike Lucy, who can’t wait for the holiday season to end. (At some point in writing this blog, I plan to be the less jaded former Londoner/New Yorker perhaps as a New Year’s Resolution!) During my tender years living in New York, it always felt like Xmas was a way to fortify yourself for the real action – 26 December sales. Feelings of warmth, family, festive feeling swamped by a possible 75 percent discount on a desired top.

Growing up, I never harboured those cuddly Christmas feelings. Those postcard celebrations just weren’t my working class family. We didn’t have such traditions. Unless you count my mother who was a nurse heading out to work on Christmas day; my younger sister out with my Dad celebrating with his side of the family (from the age of 13 I simply refused to go); me, sitting happily I might add, with a plate piled high with food my mother made before she went to work, on my lap in front of the TV watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” (it was like new every time), oblivious to any irony.

My indifference to Xmas never really changed not even when I had my daughter because we lived a peripatetic life including a stint in India. And for the past 12 years, I have allowed Xmas holidays to glide us by with little fanfare.

Sure, I would do the obligatory Xmas tree and gifts on her behalf, as well as the standard Christmas meal inviting other folks at various times because I love cooking for hordes. However, when our family went from three to just us two, it was a downshift into total relaxation time. My daughter eats like a bird so our menu is a pretty simple affair on the days I’m not rushed off my feet doing massive cooking.

Lack of tradition becomes tradition

Usually the weather complies and is cold.  We’re at home, sofa-lolling in front of the TV with a tin of Quality Street and a DVD movie line up. My daughter’s ultimate joy is seeing snow during the season. It’s better than presents. She’s wonderful about not receiving a torrent of gifts. When we lived in India, we realised how easy it is to have things just for the sake of it and they were so many people who didn’t have half of what we did. Plus extra gifts didn’t give us extra pleasure. While we were in India on her birthday she surprised everyone by asking her friends to donate a nominal rupee amount to a dog charity she had visited with her Dad.

At the age of eight when we returned to London, I gave her an option for both her birthday and Xmas to have one large gift or several small but not so useful presents she was likely to lose interest in (suggestive some may say, guidance I counter). She plumped for a single gift they are usually generous items though like a bike one year and a theatre show another, so that has become a tradition. She never complains about missing anything nor insists on having more.

Warm winter’s evening

However, this year is a game changer: it is the second year my daughter is off to spend the Xmas holiday with her Dad in India.  Here we are, in the perfect environs in Shropshire should we want that wholesome country Xmas vibe going but my excuse is going away. The idea that we won’t share our usual comfortable easy  Xmas feels a bit wretched. I guess even a lack of tradition becomes one!

Now, lo and behold, I have a real hankering for a Lucy-type Xmas. Suddenly, I understand the urge for wanting to make this time special. Oh God, wait a minute it’s like one of those awful feel-good movies where you’ve been bashed over the head several times throughout the film with the moral of the story. it wouldn’t have gone amiss if at the end of the movie they added a frame like they did in silent films with scrolled letters stating: “The moral of this story if you missed it, you blithering idiot, was  ___”. And that’s me getting the point at last – it’s about being together dummy!

So here we are in the run up to Xmas time and I’ve already dragged out the Xmas tree and decorations. I’ve climbed down Mount Crumpit and this weekend, my daughter, a friend and I are off to the German fair in Birmingham and there are further plans for popcorn threading, mulled wine (not for her, for me), Xmas music, movies and, of course…sofa-lolling.

by Claire

You had me at Holly

I know, I know, “It’s only the second week of November”; “If you start now you’ll peak too early”; “Have you not heard of festive fatigue?” “It gets earlier and earlier every year” blah, blah, blah. The moment the holly, hawthorn and snowberries popped out of the hedgerows, I got that tingly, Christmas-y feeling and if Instagram posts are anything to go by, there’s a whole host of us out there. Move over picturesque images of Autumn leaves, it’s time for garish garlands, woolly hats, tinsel, stags, baubles and toadstools (the next big thing). It’s been 16 years (of living overseas) since we had a whole holiday season in England so this Christmas,  I am going unashamedly all out. Here’s my  ‘to do and done’ list:

Christmas Panto
Booked.  We are going, en masse, to see Dick Whittington and his cat at the Regal, Tenbury

Advent calendars
Chocolate, naturally. And I might just have to buy the gingerbread one spotted this week at the Ludlow Food Centre – it has quite a hefty price tag but no doubt LFC has its very own elves involved in the making and production!

55880931 - cozy vintage home decoration: warm interior night light, books and candles on an old wooden board background.

Christmas Décor
Inspired by Pinterest, my mantelpiece now resembles Poundbury, weighed down as it is by a whole town of Scandi-style, ceramic house tea-light holders.  Not-so-subtle notes of pine cone and mulled wine will be all-pervasive in my home throughout December, tastefully topped with Servaire & Co candle carousels.

Indoor, aside from the traditional fir-tree bedecked by the Little Edits,  we’re also having a light-up version from Cox & Cox, burdened down with owls, robins and other fluffy birds and I shall head out to the hedgerows to harvest bags and bags of holly.  Outdoor, and, because you can’t be too tasteful, LED light-up penguins from Dunelm (at least three, one would look forlorn), will be placed along the garden path.

img_2868

Christmas Cake
Ordered and collected. Thank you good friend, Sprinkles (@mandyroche2), working mum and cake decorator extraordinaire.

Christmas Drinks Party
Invites distributed and canapés already outsourced to the amazing Katie,  field2forkcatering@gmail.com.

Christmas Gifts & Wrapping
Last year, I tried the ‘handcrafted stamp’ look but it looked as though I had delegated my gift wrapping to a three-year old.  This year, I am liking the ‘brown paper/butcher’s twine/stag’s head tags’ look as seen in the latest issue of Red magazine.

Little Edits’ presents: already delivered by Amazon Prime – where would we be without it??

Friends and family gifts: for inspiration this year and as a passionate advocate of local hand-crafted products, I am turning to our local shops and  Christmas Fairs.

On My Wish List
Silver fake fur throw from the White Company for my guest room, engraved Champagne coups from The Vintage List and a weekend away once Christmas fatigue has really set in (longing to try the Rose Prince cookery school and B&B).

As to the little question of budget, I have a financial recovery plan. I’ve recently signed up to the Digital Mums Social Media Management course, starting in January 2017. It’s an exciting, award-winning concept and I am hoping that after six months of training, a new career will bear fruit (and a very patient, generous husband will be rewarded).

by Lucy