Fascinating and fun day out!

When I wrote my ‘My Top 10 days out in the West Country recently, I listed ‘The House of Marbles’ as one of my top choices. I am somewhat biased here as this is run by friends of mine, but it really is a fascinating place to visit and has something to interest visitors of all ages.

They manufacture glass wear in the traditional old pottery buildings on their site and I always find glass blowing absolutely fascinating to watch. There’s a museum with lots of interesting facts and examples of old-fashioned games and marbles of all sizes and antiquity. 

There are lots of nice little touches aimed especially at children throughout The House of Marbles. Hidden in among displays are moving life-size model animals such as gorillas with swivelling eyes or slumbering bears, that ‘breath’ and ‘snore’ as you wander past. Children absolutely adore things like this. There’s also a ‘wobbly’ distorting mirror that both children and adults seem to find endlessly fascinating!

The shop is huge and sells everything from exquisite glass wear to modern games and jewellery. If you are looking for unusual gifts – I’d be amazed if you couldn’t find something – it is packed with original items both fun and educational. 

There’s a whole section full of individual marbles for sale that children cannot resist. They can select their marbles just like we used to ‘pick and mix’ sweets in the old days. It’s a lovely way to get youngsters interested in an old-fashioned game and makes a change from their X-Boxes and wiis

On the way upstairs to the first floor of the shop (I told you it was huge!) is, what I suspect is the most popular attraction in the shop – ‘Snookie’ the largest marble run in the UK and possibly the world! As you reach the top of the stairs you will see a crowd of people, most often the male of the species of all ages, standing mesmerised as they watch the marbles clank and skip and run down through the complicated marble run again and again. It is fun to watch, especially as the route the marbles take seems to vary at random.

The first floor of the shop is full of very tempting clothing and kitchenwear and all sorts of lovely things that you know you absolutely HAVE to own!

And, to cap it all, there’s The Old Pottery Cafe and Restaurant. Serving everything from a full English breakfast to very yummy cakes, coffees and teas to snacks and three-course lunches. The restaurant is always busy – always a sign of good food – and locals eat there just as much as visitors. 

And if the weather is fine, there’s a Games Garden where you can enjoy your lunch outside in the courtyard where skittles, chess, giant Jericho and of course marbles are there to be played.

There’s plenty of free parking and no entry fee. The house of Marble is open Monday to Saturday, 9am – 5pm and Sunday, 10am – 5pm. It is closed on Easter Sunday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

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Green & white – a restful combination

This lovely green and white flower arrangement gave me a lot of pleasure during the week or so that it graced my desk. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about unusual colour combinations with flowers. Indeed my first wedding flowers were green and white with green and white bridesmaids (their dresses, there were no green bridesmaids!).

The roses are old-fashioned English roses, mixed with cow parsley, buddleia and beautiful scented stocks making it a feast for the nose as well as the eyes. Most of the supermarkets have been selling stocks lately and I do so love their scent.

Green and white is a very restful combination and it always reminds me of the white garden at Sissinghurst near Tunbridge Wells. Vita Sackville West called it her grey, green and white garden, and the combination is amazing!

You can make beautiful arrangements that are almost completely green if you can source interesting green flowers. There are lovely green hellebores and of course green orchids to name just two. Another attractive and less run of the mill option is to have an arrangement that is entirely made up of foliage – if you have grey, green, variegated and other interesting leaves in your garden, why not give it a go!

 

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Chillies & strawberries this year!

I don’t have much space in the garden for growing vegetables (nor the time!) as pretty much all the growing space is taken up with flowers and shrubs. However I have got round this by planting some veggies in mid air this year!

I have an old feed basket from the days when Victoria Farm still had cattle, back in the 1960s I believe. There were actually quite a few feed baskets left in the stables and barns that are now the studios. There is one just outside my kitchen window which I lined with moss and plastic and then filled with compost. Now I have a mix, as you can see, of foodie and decorative plants growing together.

The chillies (Aurora (Capsicum annuum)) are just an annual but if I dry all the chillies that come from this plant I reckon I should have enough for months. I am fascinated by the colours of the chillies – the purple ones are beautiful and then they change to reds and oranges – just gorgeous.

I planted some strawberries next to them, partly for the fruit but I also loved the bright and colourful hot pink flowers, which make a nice change from the normal white flowers.

I don’t think I’m going to save any money on the grocery bill, but I am getting a lot of pleasure looking at the plants hanging half way up the wall just outside my kitchen!

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Summers like they used to be!

Well, what a summer we are having here in the UK! It seems only a few weeks ago that the weather forecasters were telling us we had 10 years of wet cold summers to look forward to, and then suddenly 30ºc for almost two weeks, extraordinary. 

I haven’t really had time to sit out and enjoy the sunshine, but gazing out onto my (parched!) garden through a heat haze, my mind has wandered back to the summer holidays of my childhood. I don’t think you ever forget that wonderful feeling at the end of the school year when you knew you had six weeks of summer holidays stretching ahead of you with nothing more taxing than which game to play, ice lolly to choose or summer frock to put on. Hey ho, how wonderful it was to be young and carefree…

We used to have proper ‘bucket and spade’ British holidays – I think everyone did back then –  this was before the advent of package holidays. So it was donkey rides, with your skirt tucked into your knickers, ice cream cornets (usually with sand in them) and peppermint rock (I broke a tooth on some once). Why did we all clamour for it so much – I suppose it looked fun and the writing through the middle was definitely the best bit. 

Particular aromas always transport me back to the seaside of my childhood in an instant. The smell of Ambre Solaire suntan cream is so evocative, oh and candyfloss – marvellous! But I guess the smell of the sea has to be the overlying one. Some people hate it, I know, but I love that salty, tangy air, so healthy and bracing, it instantly makes me think of rock pools, beach huts and egg and cress sandwiches – and getting changed in that oh so British ritual, under your beach towel. I am sure people aren’t as modest now but on pain of death would an unnecessary square inch of flesh appear from under that towel!

Did any of you have a Ladybird brand ruched nylon bathing costume? I thought I was the bees knees in mine with a white bathing hat on! And then there were all the fathers wearing a shirt and tie on the beach –what’s that all about? Definitely no T–shirt or shorts for my father or grandfather!

Well, I won’t be on the beach much myself this summer but for all those of you that are, do enjoy it and remember to slap on the sunscreen!

So what are your childhood memories of summer holidays…? Do share, it’s always so lovely when I get to hear all your own memories!

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A summer soup…

My foraging friend Julia Horton-Powdrill is always introducing new seasonal recipes for either things she’s grown in her veg garden or foraged from some passing hedgerow, beach or field margin.

She currently has an excellent pea crop and, while they are delicious cooked and cooled and added to a green salad, she has also used them in a lovely soup that can be enjoyed hot or cold. It combines the sweetness of the peas with the zing of wild mint! As you will know, mint is a terribly over-enthusiastic plant, so either grow in a pot to try and contain it, or find some growing wild, as Julia has done here.

Wild mint & pea soup

Ingredients: 

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + extra for serving
  • 25g butter
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced or/and wild garlic leaves
  • 750g fresh peas, shelled (frozen peas are great!!)
  • 75g wild mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preparation:

Gently heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan, add the chopped onion and cook on a gentle heat for 10 minutes or until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the garlic (if using) and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Add 3/4 of the peas, the chopped mint leaves, the wild garlic leaves (if using) and 3/4 stock. Cover the saucepan with a tight fitting lid and cook on a medium boil for 10 minutes.

Blend the soup in a food processor; you will have a thick purée. Return the purée to the pan, season with salt and pepper and add the remaining peas and stock. Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with crusty, fresh bread.

This soup is absolutely delicious hot or cold.

You can find out more about Julia’s foraging courses here.

 

 

 

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