Helmsley Walled Garden

A walled garden must be every gardener’s dream – sheltered from the elements that often take their toll on our own patches – especially after a heavy downfall – whose delphiniums aren’t looking a little sorry for themselves after the recent soaking?

A couple of weeks ago a good friend of mine, who happens to be a professional gardener, suggested a trip to Helmsley Walled Garden. We often meet up and do a walk together but it was looking like quite a hot day so a lovely garden with some shade – and nice café beckoned.

This idyllic five-acre site sits beneath the ruins of Helmsley Castle and is just a stone’s throw away from the pretty market town of Helmsley.

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The garden originally provided fruit and vegetables for the Feversham household at Duncombe Park until just after World War One when it got leased out as a market garden. Sadly, it fell derelict over the years and it wasn’t until 1994 that its restoration started thanks to the vision and sheer hard work of a local lady, Alison Ticehurst. Alison wanted the garden not only to be a beautiful site once again but also to be a place for horticultural therapy. Today supported volunteers learn horticultural skills here whilst at the same time benefiting from new skills and gaining confidence.

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The garden now contains a spectacular long double herbaceous border planted with vibrant reds, yellow and oranges; a white garden; a clematis garden and orchards. Wherever you are the castle is always a looming presence – whether behind formal layouts….

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…or as a backdrop to pretty wildflower meadows. Doesn’t this look quintessentially English with its daisies and bright red poppies peering out from the long grass?

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Even the cow parsley looks gorgeous rather than unruly especially when it’s set off with a mowed path down the centre with an orchard either side.

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The bright yellow laburnum arch and purple alliums dancing at either side look stunning at this time of year…it was an irresistible photograph to take.

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Did you ever read The Secret Garden as a child? Well, this door really reminded me of this book. Wouldn’t you have loved to find a hidden garden like Mary Lennox did in the story? I wonder what is behind this lovely old door.

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As well as the gardens, the glasshouses have all been restored and house a fantastic array of plants including succulents and this impressive display of gourds.

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Alongside the floral attractions and not forgetting some rather cute looking resident hens, there is also a wonderful cafe here. The Vine House Café is in a restored Victorian vinery where you can eat beneath the vines or in the courtyard.

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The café serves mouth-watering cakes and gorgeous lunches including delicious salads. Mine contained strawberries and blueberries which I wouldn’t have thought of adding. I did try this at home afterwards, serving up a mixed salad with grapes and blueberries – it took a bit of convincing my brood that the fruit hadn’t got in there by accident – I have now moved over to the ‘anything goes’ mindset when putting together a salad thanks to my fruity salad encounter.

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If you get a chance to visit, the garden is looking stunning at the moment with a blaze of colour in the borders; lovely wildflower meadows sprawling out beneath orchards of apple and pear trees as well as a plant centre offering plenty of inspiration to take home with you.

 

 

 

 

 

Puppy Love

Ten days ago a small, furry bundle of exuberance entered our family life in the form of Lola, our miniature labradoodle.

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Three months ago we had no plans on getting a dog. I happily went on walks with friends and their pooches but each time my middle son lobbied for a dog, I gave the usual responses of commitment, responsibility, thinking of all the things you couldn’t do when you’ve got a dog.

So, how did I get to the point of thinking about all the things you could do with a dog?

I think it was a drip feed process. The lobbying was fairly persistent from son number two and one particular line tugged at my heart strings: “So, does that mean I’ll have to be a grown man before I get my own dog?” Eek, the process of my doggy re-education begun.

After all, I grew up with a menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, ponies, sheep, geese, ducks, hens and goats. Mine was a 70s childhood (The Good Life) where my mum let the ducks swim in our bath and we nursed poorly hens in our kitchen. So, I had this gnawing feeling I was denying my own children experiences I’d been given. Our own menagerie up to now consisted of a cat and three bantam hens.

Then on a winter’s weekend in January The Times (The Paper for Pets stamped across its cover) dedicated its Saturday newspaper supplement to DOGS…..The Top Dog Guide: What breed is best for you?

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It had photos of loads of different breeds: Easiest to train; Most intelligent; Best for a quiet life; Most misunderstood; Best for the city;  Most loving; Best with cats; Best for children. The list went on. There really was a dog for everyone. How could I refuse?

By the end of the weekend, we were seriously considering getting a dog. The Cockapoo seemed a good all-rounder. From Cockapoos to Maltipoos, these poodle crosses are currently very popular. A friend with a Cockapoo recommended a breeder in East Yorkshire so we gave Claire at Northcroft Doodles a call. Timing-wise there wasn’t a litter of Cockapoos due but her labrador Ruby was due to give birth in March. Woody, a charming miniature poodle, was the other half – creating labradoodle puppies.

We read up about labradoodles and they sounded wonderful family pets; excellent with kids; intelligent; eager to please; popular as therapy dogs and good for first-time owners.

I then started embarrassing the kids by stopping anyone with a dog I liked the look of and asking what breed it was. And as the boys buried their heads further into their hands, I found myself getting into long conversations about the joy of having a dog with their owners. I told the boys that nobody thought I was mad because everyone loved talking about their dogs – and they did!

Added to this, the world really does seem a dog-friendly place these days. Cafés have ‘We are Dog-Friendly’ stickers on their doors; there are programmes on TV about people and their dogs – I loved the Channel 4 Walks with my Dog as much for the dogs as the country walks the celebrities were going on. There were podcasts too like Walking The Dog. And there were books.

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I came across  Labrador by Ben Fogle in our local phone box library – not my usual reading material but I found myself hooked on the stories of dogs through history. I also bought a copy of The Goodness of Dogs by India Knight, a sort of practical guide to choosing a dog mixed with an overall appreciation of dogs.

Fast forward to a week or so ago and we went to collect Lola.

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She is a wonderful addition to our family, making us all laugh, smile, coo and yell – yes, puppies do things they are not meant to do….but who doesn’t love a puppy, whatever mischief they get up to?

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Although not everyone in the house has fallen in love with her. Our cat, Daisy, is on alert and has given out a hiss and a bat when junior has got too OTT. There’s an uneasy truce between the two at present.

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We can’t take Lola on walks yet until she’s had her vaccinations so we’ve spent a lot of time playing in the garden with her or carrying her on walks round the village. For her first outing into town, we took her to Roost, a lovely café in Malton’s Talbot Yard, which I knew would be dog-friendly as they have a goldendoodle I’ve always admired.

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And I’m pleased to say she’s a puppy after my own heart. Like any true cafe afficionado she sat quietly engrossed in people-watching, just as I enjoy doing with my cappuccino and cake. It’s not a bad life….

Colours of Portugal

Whitewashed houses, pantile roofs and wooden shutters. Is this the image that springs to mind when you think of Portuguese towns and villages? This was the picture I had in my head before our recent holiday there.

Sure, the coastal resorts are pretty much a collection of whitewashed buildings, hotels and apartments but head inland and you’ll come across pops of colour and decorative details.

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I have to say that grey and yellow is one of my favourite colour combinations. There is something about the contrast of such a sunny vibrant shade against a muted one.

At first glance the lovely hill village of Alte in the Serra do Caldeirão area of the Algarve appears to be all whitewashed houses – and it’s true, many of the buildings are. But if you venture into its narrow streets you’ll come across a dash of colour, beautiful tilework and intricate decorative details.

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And even buildings with crumbling paintwork and in need of a bit of tlc seem to get away with being charming in a rustic type of way….For Sale too!

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I liked the geometric decoration on the café below. Agua Mel in the heart of Alte is reputed to be one of the Algarve’s best cafés. It didn’t disappoint – we tucked into the best Portuguese tarts, chocolate cake, coffees and freshly squeezed orange juice we’ve tasted. It’s a really friendly, welcoming place (the boys were all given a whopping orange each to take home and squeeze) and has lovely views across the valley.

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As well as shades of ochre, this terracotta colour features on many buildings. I loved this flick of colour and design on one of the houses in Alte. There’s a definite Moorish influence in the patterns you see – not surprisingly as the Moors once controlled what is now Portugal, Spain and the Pyrenees.

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Portugal is famous for its tilework, particularly the blue and white ceramic tiles called azulejos which are found on the interior and exterior of many buildings from churches to palaces. The word azulejos comes from the Arabic – the tiles often contain traditional Moorish patterns.

IMG_3277 2We visited the Church of São Lourenço de Matos near Loulé which has the most wonderful tiled interior of wall-to-wall azulejos depicting the life of St Lourenço. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the interior so I will have to leave it up to your imagination to picture this masterpiece of tilework. Amazingly, in the devastating Portuguese earthquake of 1755 the church lost just five tiles, so it’s still as in tact as it was when it was created.

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I know Scandi-style minimalism is very much in vogue at the moment but I can’t help returning from holiday wanting to embrace the colours and patterns of the architecture and design of this beautiful part of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Is this the best beach in Europe?

A few weeks before our Easter holiday in Portugal, I read an article in The Times Travel section about the Best Beach in Europe – and guess what? It happened to be in Portugal.

So of course, we had to check it out during our stay. And despite a drive to get there, and growing expectations, I can see why it has been given this accolade.

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Praia Da Amoreira on Portugal’s west coast ticks all the boxes when it comes to beach perfection. It’s a huge curve of flat white sand enclosed on either side by the headland, with rolling waves and sand dunes to play in. Not only this, but the gently flowing River Aljezur runs into the sea at the far end adding an extra dimension to this beautiful beach.

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Now what you can’t quite get from the photos is the mini sand storm we were caught up in on the day we visited. This is, after all, the Atlantic coast which means for surf lovers it’s even more of a paradise. You can actually do stand up paddle boarding in the calmer water that runs into the sea. There is beach restaurant here, Paraiso do Mar, which sadly was closed on the day we were here, so we made do with munching on the remains of our picnic on its balcony watching surfers catch some waves.

We drove up from Cabo Sao Vicente along the winding, shaded coast road where every little track off it seemed to lead to a sweep of golden sand. The Cabo Sao Vicente is the equivalent of our Lands End, albeit without the tacky Wallace and Gromit theme park element (what’s that all about?)

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This end of the world location is Europe’s most southwesterly point where you don’t really do anything apart from stand and gaze out in awe across the wild Atlantic Ocean and imagine what lies beyond – it’s actually East Virginia, USA.

On the same day we also visited Praia do Martinhal near Sagres, mainly to find something to eat. We struck lucky with my favourite type of restaurant, beach-side, shack-style with a boardwalk to the sand, serving fantastic food. There are not many places like Nortada where the fish is actually brought to you to inspect before it is cooked, very simply with boiled potatoes and broccoli.

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We were actually staying on the south coast of Portugal, not far from Faro, a very nice town, and probably often overlooked as there’s a tendency to make a swift exit from the city you fly into.

The south coast beaches are longer stretches of sand backed by red and ochre cliffs. At this time of year they were almost deserted so we often found ourselves the only ones there.

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Further East along the coast from Faro lies the lovely town of Tavira. We took a trip there and hopped on one of the ferries to the Ilha de Tavira, one of a group of barrier islands in the protected national park of the Ria de Formosa estuary area.

I was struck by how similar Portuguese beaches were to our own, especially on the west coast. Chatting to a couple we met at Praia Da Amoreira who were touring in their camper van, we both observed this similarity, especially to the Cornish and Welsh coastlines.

Praia Da Amoreira made me think of Porthor or Whistling Sands Beach on the Welsh Llyn Peninsula. I also remember searching out another best beach on another trip to Wales, worth the half mile walk to Barafundle Beach in Pembrokeshire, likened to beaches in Australia (temperature aside). Having visited Cornwall a couple of times last year, lovely beaches like the one at Porthcurno with its turquoise water and pale, golden sand, aren’t dissimilar to those in Portugal.

I guess when it comes down to it, the title Best Beach in Europe is subjective – and perhaps raises expectations when sometimes it’s nice to stumble across our own hidden gem.

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We all have different things we like in a beach. For some of us it might be the solitude you feel on a deserted stretch of sand looking out to sea and for others it might be the whole seaside experience of candy floss, fish and chips and sticks of rock. I actually like a bit of both, depending on how I am feeling. So what’s your favourite beach?

For more info about the best beaches on the Yorkshire Coast click on my Out and About: Coast page here

An Alpine Experience

Doesn’t this time of year make you think of snowy destinations; log cabins with pine-clad walls; a glass of something cheering in your hand and heartwarming food to bring a little comfort on these long, cold winter evenings?

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If so, you’re in luck and you will need neither an airplane, train nor skis to get there. Le Chalet in Malton opened a few months ago at the back of what was Dickens of a Deli – it’s now called The Deli of Malton. The Delicatessen set-up is still pretty much as it used to be, overlooking the Market Place – and you can still get great salads and sandwiches. We get a bumper order of salad or soup as a treat at work on Fridays so I can vouch for their quality.

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Meanwhile the back of the Deli is now Le Chalet with the pine-clad walls, booth-style tables and eye-catching red Gingham tablecloths you might expect if you were dining in The Alps.

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I’d heard good things about Le Chalet from friends and colleagues who have eaten here in the evening. But on this occasion, Mr B and myself had some time to ourselves for brunch together. And whenever these child-free occasions arise, we do try to make the most of them, as pleasing two people is always easier than pleasing three extra, discerning (my kids? Fussy? Mais non!) appetites.

So, to Le Chalet on a Sunday morning in December.

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The breakfast menu includes something to suit most people – I have to confess that neither of us went for anything typically Alpine, although I’ve heard that the Rosti is fabulous. So while Mr B tucked into a Full English, I had scrambled eggs with bacon on American pancakes with Maple syrup – a great combination of sweet, salty and savoury.

Check out the board for the type of hot and cold sandwiches they do if you are eating later in the day…

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And if you do decide to book yourself in for an evening Alpine experience, there is Raclette, Fondue and Tartiflette on the menu as well as favourites such as Boeuf Bourguignon and Ragout of wild mushrooms, which is served on a savoury millefeuille.

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This is hearty Swiss food from the mountains and one thing’s for sure, you won’t go home hungry. And when it’s dark outside and the fairy lights are twinkling in Le Chalet, you could easily mistake your surroundings for that real Alpine log cabin.

Breakfast in Scarborough

A combination of school holidays; a new job and the fact that the kids seem to have a busier social life than us, mean I’ve been off the blog for a while. As they head into their teenage years, I imagine it can only get more frenetic.

Anyway, it happened to be one of the boys’ activities that led us to sunny Scarborough last weekend. We had an early pick-up from a Scouts’ sleepover at the Sealife Sanctuary, along with a few other families. So rather than heading straight home with bleary-eyed sons in tow, we all decided a seaside breakfast was in order.

Watermark Café was our destination. I’d heard a lot of good things about this café with its wonderful, sweeping views of North Bay and good food – and we weren’t disappointed. You’ll find it round the headland from South Bay in the direction of Peasholm Park on Royal Albert Drive.

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The terrace overlooks the seafront and as it was such a nice day we had breakfast al fresco. From full English to croissants, pastries, bacon, egg and sausage sandwiches, there’s a great choice.

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The kids, however, couldn’t resist the pull of the cake counter so instead of the hearty English breakfast that I thought would fill them up, my own gang opted for muffins and hot chocolate.

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The decor inside is stylish with exposed brick walls, grey tongue and groove panelling and diner-style seating. It opens for breakfast at 7am so by other people’s standards we weren’t early at all.

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There is also live music on a Sunday evening – Blues ‘n’ Brews looks like a good night out…

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We were joined at the café by a friend who rents one of the eye-poppingly bright and colourful beach chalets that overlook North Bay. A cup of tea while the kids played together on the beach made it a perfect day. beachhuts

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Dexter’s Surf School is just along the way so we booked the boys and friends into a surf session for the following Saturday. The sessions are running until December – Brrr, this is the North Sea, so we might be keeping an eye on the weather.

But they were lucky today as the sun shone and the sea, by all accounts, was warm…

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They all had a great time – I sense this could be a regular jaunt – a lovely café, great beach, super surf and good company – we couldn’t ask for more.

A café in the woods at Falling Foss

A few years back whilst on a walk with Mr B and our eldest son, who must have been about three at the time, we came across a tiny cottage in the woods. I clocked the FOR SALE sign and once back home, couldn’t resist checking out the estate agents’ details. I was soon swept away into a fantasy future of us running a café there.

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Fast forward almost ten years and as you’ve guessed, we didn’t sell up and re-locate to the cottage at Falling Foss. However, husband and wife team, Jack and Steph Newman, did take on the challenge and in that time they have transformed it into the idyllic and popular Falling Foss Tea Garden.

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The tea garden’s setting in the grounds of Midge Hall (once an 18th century gamekeeper’s cottage and also a tearoom in the 1900s) is magical. It’s situated deep in the woods, right at the top of the 30-foot Falling Foss waterfall…

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alongside plenty of other spots where there’s fun to be had paddling and splashing about in the water…

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To get to the Falling Foss Tea Garden, park in the car park at the top and follow the woodland path down until you see the café. There’s also a pleasant circular woodland walk if you want to build up an appetite. If you’ve got kids with you, you might like to let them lead the way with the help of these illustrated Making Tracks In the North York Moors walking packs for kids.

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The walk, which is a couple of miles long, takes you past and behind the tea garden (don’t worry you’ll be back this way for that promised tea and cake)

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You then re-enter the woods and past the Hermitage, a cave carved out of a huge stone – always a favourite for a bit of climbing…

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(Psst, did you spot Mr B peering out from the cave?)

The walk eventually brings you back to the footpath you started out on and to the tea garden where a rustic wooden hut displays an array of tempting treats.

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There’s plenty of seating to choose from…

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When we visited there were lots of vases of flowers decorating the garden – maybe left over from a wedding?

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There are plenty of places for kids to play and entertain themselves from clambering across logs  over the river to having fun in little havens like this…

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Well, you can’t really leave without a game of Pooh sticks on the wooden bridge can you? Oh, and by the way, Pooh sticks are provided. Have fun!