Monday 26 August 2013


Our second day at Down Hall and after another hearty breakfast we joined our fellow travellers for a trip to Southend-on-Sea.

Originally the "south end" of the village of Prittlewell, Southend became a seaside resort during the Georgian era attracting many tourists in the summer months to its seven miles of beaches and bathing in the sea. Southend is actually on the Thames Estuary not on the coast, and from the beach one can actually see Kent.   Good rail connections and proximity to London mean that much of the economy has been based on tourism and that Southend has been a dormitory town for city workers ever since.    There are nine railway stations on two lines within the borough which connect it to London.

The first thing we did when we arrived in Southend was to walk along the the promenade, here I am with the pier in the background.

Southend Pier is the world's longest pleasure pier at 1.34 mi (2.16 km). It has suffered fires and ship collisions, most recently in October 2005, but the basic pier structure has been repaired each time.  Since 1986, a diesel-hydraulic railway has run the length of the pier, replacing the electric service which opened in 1890.

Southend, like many other British sea-side resorts, went into decline as a holiday destination from the 1960s, since flights and hence holidays abroad became more affordable. Since then, much of the town centre has been developed for commerce and retail, and during the 1960s many original structures were lost to redevelopment. However, about 6.4 million tourists still visit Southend per year.

We walked the length of the promenade and back up the other side, where we stopped for lunch of traditional fish and chips and a cup of tea (yes that's right tea not ale) at one of the many cafes offering the traditional British seaside fare.    For some reason we didn't take many photographs at Southend but MWM did take this short video clip of the sea front so you can see what it's like.

The town is known for its seafront and attractions.  An amusement park, formerly known as Peter Pan's Playground, straddles the pier entrance. Peter Pan's Playground was eventually renamed Adventure Island as its size and popularity grew, and has since grown with over 50 rides.   MWM fancied going on one of the roller coaster rides but they are definitely not my cup of tea and he didn't want to go on his own so he gave it a miss.  The seafront also houses the "Sea-Life Adventure"aquarium, owned by the Miller family, who also own Adventure Island.

The cliff gardens, which included Never Never Land and a Victorian bandstand were an attraction until slippage in 2003 made parts of the cliffs unstable, and the bandstand has been removed. The council wants to re-erect the bandstand but a location has to be found.  Art on the Railings is a regular exhibition for local artists who display their work on Pier Hill and The London to Southend Classic Car run takes place each summer and features classic cars which line the seafront.  The Southend Shakedown, organised by Ace Cafe, is an annual event featuring motorbikes and scooters. There are other scooter runs throughout the year, including the Great London Rideout, which arrives at Southend seafront each year.

A modern vertical lift links the base of the High Street with the seafront and the new pier entrance. The older Southend cliff Railway, a short funicular, is a few hundred metres away.  We took the modern lift up to the new shopping area of of the town where we mooched around the shops and enjoyed the sunshine (it was a lovely sunny, warm day), then we found a bar where we enjoyed a pint of real ale, well it's thirsty work shopping isn't it?

All too soon it was time to head back to the seafront to meet our coach for the journey back to the hotel, where we had time for a short rest before getting ready for another delicious dinner and a relaxing drink on the hotel patio.

Next time we visit Colchester, I  hope you'll join me.

Monday 19 August 2013


After a delicious breakfast we set off on the coach for our first excursion - to the historic university town of Cambridge, the home of the University of Cambridge, founded in 1209 and consistently ranked one of the top five universities in the world.

We had a lovely morning wandering round the city, the architecture in Cambridge is very diverse, so I snapped quite a few of the buildings to show you.

 Queens College, amongst the oldest and largest colleges of the University, founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou, the Queen of Henry VI.

 Terrace of properties on Trumpington Street

 Corpus Christi College

 Senate House built in 1722–1730

 Caius College founded in 1348
Trinity Lane
 Door to Peterhouse Library, Department of Archeology

 Trinity College,   founded by Henry VIII in 1546 as part of the University of Cambridge.

We called in The Lawson Gallery on Kings Parade, opposite Kings College. and discovered an artist we've never heard of - Sam Toft - we were so taken with her work we bought five prints, which are now hanging in our hallway.

We came across this pub with a really interesting history, but we didn't go in for a drink, surprise, surprise.

There there was this lovely church - St Benet's Parish Church, the oldest building in Cambridge, said to date from 1000 - 1050AD.

This next photo is of Cambridge's second oldest building, the Holy Sepulchre,  a 12th century Norman Round church.
There were lots of cyclists in Cambridge.
See the half-timbered building in the background?  Here's a close-up.
Also see the number 17 just to the left of it, here's what that is.

We spotted a lovely pub,The Anchor, which dates back to 1864, right on the banks of the river Cam, so popped in for a late lunch.   There were no seats outside but we found a table inside with a nice view of the punts on the river.

One can hire a shared chauffeur or a private punt, and the punting hire firms were doing a roaring trade the day we were there.   We were convinced that they waited until they had at least three private hire punts, (where one person, usually an amateur, propels the punt) before launching them altogether, which caused chaos and much hilarity. 

Below is a short video of a weir further up the river, which flows down to a lower level of the river where the punts were, notice the cows grazing amongst the tourists.  The end of the video shows some punting on the river.

We have never laughed as much as we did during that couple of hours of watching the amateur punters before, unfortunately, it was time to head back to the coach for the journey home.

Join me for Part 3 when we visit Southend-On-Sea.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

I'm back....

after a great week away.

Our latest trip was four days staying in the beautiful Down Hall Country House Hotel in Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire.

The first Down Hall was a tudor house, once owned by poet Matthew Prior.  Prior was acquainted with landscaper Charles Bridgeman, who he commissioned to landscape the estate's gardens.

 Down Hall is surrounded by 110 acres (0.45 km2) of woodland, parkland and landscaped gardens, some of which is protected by the Essex Wildlife Trust.

After Prior's death in 1721 (just one year after buying the property), the house was passed to his friend Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer,  who undertook further rebuilding. Twenty years later, and with the house still unfinished, Harley died.

Upon Harley's death in 1741, the house was purchased by William Selwin for £4500.    The estate remained in the Selwin family until 1902, where – on the death of Henry Selwin-Ibbetson, 1st Baron Rookwood (who had commissioned its full rebuilding in the late 1860s) – the Selwin and Ibbetson lineage died out.

During the First World War, the house was used as a sanatorium for wounded soldiers.  The estate was affected by the post-World War I recession and was subsequently sold at auction.   Following its sale, the house was used as a school (Downham School, 1932–c.1967) and an antiques business and conference centre (1967–1986).

In 1986, the estate was purchased by the Veladail Group, who have operated the site as a four star hotel, conference centre and wedding venue since.   British television personality, Jade Goody wed her partner Jack Tweed at Down Hall on 22 February 2009, there was a wedding held at the hotel whilst we were staying there.

The interior of Down Hall is beautiful, decorated in keeping with the house's grandeur.

Our bedroom was located on the ground floor,

overlooking the gardens.

Dinner was scheduled for 6.30 p.m. so we just had time to change before heading for the lovely dining room.

Just as a taster for you,  this was the menu for dinner on the first night.

Leek & Potato Soup
Potted Chicken Liver Parfait with Red Onion Chutney and warm toast
70's style Prawn Cocktail

Roasted Plum Cherry Tomato and Mixed Pepper Pappardelle, Buffalo Bocconcini and Herb Salad
Roast Breast of Corn Fed Chicken, Wild Mushroom and Parsley Risottto, Chorizo Oil
Pan fried fillet of Sea Trout, Spinach and Spring Vegetable Broth

Strawberry Eton Mess
Warm Apple and Blackberry Crumble with clotted cream
Selection of English and French Cheese with biscuits and chutney

We enjoyed a nice bottle of Merlot with dinner, which we finished drinking on the terrace as it was such a warm evening,

before retiring to our room for the night.

Join me next time for our visit to Cambridge.