A Day Out at Blenheim Palace Horse Trials


Like many little girls, I was pony mad as a kid. I adored reading books about ponies, from Black Beauty–probably the first book I cried over–to the Pullein-Thompson books, and finally my absolute favourites: the Jill books by Ruby Ferguson.  Not only did Ms Ferguson have such an exotic first name to my young eyes, she wrote wonderfully and even made mucking out sound like the best chore in the world!  I used to smuggle a torch up to my bedroom so that I could keep reading Jill’s adventures with Black Boy and Rapide long after I was supposed to be asleep. My dreams were always filled with Saturday morning hacks, riding in gymkhanas and pinning rosettes to my pony’s bridle.   The reality of being dumped on my head several times during a wet pony trekking holiday was a lot less glamorous!!

So when Derby House invited me and my boys to spend a day out at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials I positively jumped at it! (Pun unintentional, but I like it and therefore it shall stay.)

We chose to go on Sunday for the cross-country as I thought the sheer speed of horses thundering past would appeal to my family of speed-freaks who are more used to horses prancing around under the bonnet of a F1 car.


After arriving to a very misty Blenheim Palace we were greeted by a rather astonishing piece of sand art.  Carefully carved from sand over the previous three days, this horse looked like it was ready to stumble to its feet and canter away.

We stopped by the stables to meet some horses.  Lucas and I thought this was really nice as big horses can be a little scary until you spend a little time with them.  A few of the stalls had information boards propped up outside and it was lovely to learn a little more about the horses and of course, admire their hard-won rosettes.  It was at this point, as I was explaining to Lucas why a man had a horse on a very long rope (lunging) that Dave decided I clearly knew more about horses than I’d let on, and appointed me tour guide.  Eeek!  If you’d like to know more about eventing and horse trials, Derby House have a brilliant article here.


Our first proper stop was the dog agility demonstration.  I had a hunch Lucas would enjoy this and yeah…he was totally enthralled by it.  We cheered on as dogs of all shapes and sizes jumped and wiggled their way round the course.  He particularly liked a little Papillion who zoomed so fast around the course that he almost flew.  Inevitably he now wants a dog…


This Shetland collie looked exactly like my Granny’s collie, Gypsy


50 things that make me happy tag

These beauties seemed to be basking in the sun yesterday. Anyone know what they are? #latergram #flowers

The lovely Sarah from Daydreams of Summertime recently tagged me in ’50 things that make me happy’ meme.  I couldn’t resist having a go!  I’m not going to tag anyone as I know we’re all mega-busy, but if you fancy it…give it a whirl!  It was a lot of fun, although surprisingly difficult by the time I got to 30.  Anyone else find their mind going terrifyingly blank doing these memes?!

Here, in no particular order, are 50 things that make me happy.


  1. Getting lost in a good book.
  2. A really, really good cup of coffee.
  3. My little family.
  4. Skyping with friends who live far, far away
  5. Singing, whether alone in the car or with my choir. Love it.
  6. Fresh flowers in a vase
  7. Someone else doing the laundry!
  8. Jumping in big piles of autumn leaves
  9. Poking around antique shops
  10. Bunting.  Life is always better when festooned with bunting.
  11. 50-happy-things-bNew cookbooks.
  12. Pretty crockery.
  13. Fresh sheets on the bed.
  14. Thatched cottages
  15. Walled gardens.
  16. Cream tea (cream first!)
  17. Listening to Lucas practice his guitar.
  18. Seeing people use things that I’ve made. I love that my nephew sleeps under the quilt I made him!
  19. Second-hand bookshops.
  20. Spending hours in a fabric shop, admiring all the beautiful fabric and finding weird and wonderful buttons.
  21. Muscle cars. The Pontiac GTO is my dream car; shame it wouldn’t fit in any of our parking spaces in the UK!
  22. Flicking through old photographs.
  23. Musicals.
  24. Disaster movies.
  25. Street art.
  26. Comics.
  27. Making jam.
  28. Watching hot air balloons soaring past our house. Love Bristol!
  29. Aimlessly surfing Pinterest and cooing over all the pretty things.
  30. Discovering a new cafe.
  31. Cake. Guaranteed to make me happy.
  32. Museums.
  33. A warm and snuggly scarf on a cold day.
  34. Going out for breakfast on Saturday mornings.
  35. A big glass of Pimms on a sunny evening.
  36. Farm shops.
  37. Dancing around the kitchen to the radio.
  38. Dolly mixtures. They remind me of getting 10p mixes when I was a kid.
  39. Rainy days (but only when I’m snuggly warm indoors).
  40. Food festivals, especially when there are plenty of tasters on offer!
  41. Geeking out at comic conventions.
  42. Meeting other bloggers.
  43. Exploring National Trust properties.
  44. Colouring-in books. I am totally on-board with the trend for grown-up colouring-in books!
  45. Taking afternoon tea. Closely related to cream teas, but a rather grander affair.
  46. Going to the cinema.
  47. Architecture!  Especially ones with grotesques/gargoyles crouching up high, watching over the city.
  48. Wild flowers.  I’ll never forget the poppy field we visited, just magical.
  49. Watching Doctor Who.
  50. Cloud-spotting. I love looking for shapes in clouds.

My Month in Pictures – August

August 2015 in pictures

And so we wave goodbye to a very busy August and say hello to September and the beginning of another school year.  Hello routine, hello theoretically tidier house!  A girl can dream… I am definitely looking forward to

We’ve had fun indoors and out, in Bristol and the surrounding areas.  It’s been a busy old month, but I suppose the school holidays are always that way!  I made sure to build plenty of lazy days into our schedule as sometimes you just need to slouch on the sofa and share a packet of biscuits while you finally–finally!–watch the final episodes of the Sarah Jane Adventures!


Lucas and I hopped on a train and joined Dave for a week in London. While he worked, we roamed the city and it was awesome.  We click-clacked our way round the capital on the Underground, splashed down the Thames on a very touristy river boat–never again, get a Thames Clipper instead–and walked for miles and miles.   I have loads to blog about still!

Cornwall was fantastic.  Lazy days full of relaxation–a tad enforced due to four days of torrential rain–with a few trips thrown in and plenty of good food and wine.  The lovely people who own our holiday cottage left us a gorgeous cream tea and a bottle of wine in the fridge, awaiting our arrival, most civilised.  This has led me to the realisation that my usual wine glass is almost as big as Big Carl…the glasses at the cottage were very small (um, possibly just normal) indeed!  (I miss Cougar Town.)  With all the relaxing I managed to read almost everything on my iPad.  I had to download an extra couple of books as I was worried about running out!!


We’ve spent the very end of the month racing around Bristol, trying and succeeding (!) to complete the Shaun in the City trail.  We hadn’t gone sheep hunting for weeks and found ourselves with rather a lot to track down and very little time! 45 Shauns in two days. We finished at lunchtime today after Dave planned a route and whisked us around the city.  It’s all been a bit of a blur, apart from the rain.  We’re all very definite about the rain… I’m exhausted and my ankle is letting me know exactly how unhappy it is with me but I’m very, very pleased we found them all!

LEGO at Slimbridge


Lottie the Otter

Earlier this month I whisked Lucas off for a surprise LEGO workshop at Slimbridge WWT.  He’d been dying to see their over-sized LEGO sculptures–is that the right term? Should it be builds?–ever since he spied the otter over my shoulder when I was surfing Facebook but had no idea that they were doing workshops.  I do like to surprise him from time to time!

The workshop, which took place in their classroom, was really well-structured.  The kids divided into teams and started off by speed-building some simple ducklings.  I hadn’t realised just how competitive kids can be !!  There was screaming, shouts of “No, put it there!!” and “Quick, get the legs on!” before winners were declared.

Things got even more exciting when the kids designed their own race cars then raced them down the track. Lucas did his best to recreate Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car (and I learned that my video skills are never going to put the BBC out of business).

Last, and definitely the best part, was getting to build our very own LEGO duckling. Lucas graciously allowed me to help with this bit–it’s been years since I’ve build any LEGO and I had a great time!  I was really surprised to discover that this duckling was almost completely solid. I expected it to be hollow inside, but it turned out to be lots of tiny pieces put together in improbable ways to make the cutest little duckling.  As a LEGO Jedi Master, Lucas steamrollered through the build.




Since it would be foolish to pay the entrance fee and go away without seeing a single bird, I let Lucas drag me around the reserve in search of some ducks and yes, more LEGO.


lucas-with-the-otters-slimbridgeForget birds, I’d go back to Slimbridge again for the otters!  This family of North American river otters were so playful and we spent ages watching them playing tag, sunning themselves on rocks, and just plain having fun. They were so lively and quite happy for us funny-looking humans to crouch right by the glass and stare at them.  I must dig out my copy of Tarka the Ottercarved-window-slimbridge




Some of the other LEGO creatures!


Looking for mini beasts–that’s bugs, to you and men–in a pond


There’s just enough time for you to pop along to WWT Slimbridge and see the giant LEGO creatures for yourself and maybe build your own duckling!  The last workshops are on Bank Holiday Monday (31 August). Further information can be found here.

Notes from Cornwall

50 Shades of Green

The view from the back door of our cottage

It’s raining in Cornwall. We drift off to sleep at night with the rain beating against the roof, echoing around the beams of the rafters and wake with it pattering softly against the windows.

The sun has peeked out once or twice, but has disappeared as swiftly as a shy maiden. I’ve never seen a more dismal weather forecast, but yet we are happy.

Flowers in a milk churn. This is my sort of holiday cottage.

Flowers in a milk churn. This is my sort of holiday cottage.

Monstrously tall #hollyhocks! At least I think that's what they are? My first reaction was, "TRIFFIDS!! Run!" #cornwall #igersbristol #flowers

They grow their flowers big down here…


We’re cosy inside our cottage. The walls are thick and the radiators warm. We’re eating toasted crumpets dripping with good Cornish butter, playing Scrabble and doing this crazy thing called talking to each other. My coffee addiction will be in full-swing by the time we go home, there seems to be a fresh cup every hour.

Holiday reading

The clock ticks as we flick the pages of our books, virtual and physical. Lucas has taken to sprawling over the sofa, an old Beano annual propped on his chest looking every inch a teenager. It’s a slightly terrifying glimpse into our future. I’ve ploughed through two books already and am happily working on my third, “The Mermaid’s Sister” and Dave is whistling through his backlog of comics.

This quiet and cosy holiday has turned out to be exactly what we needed.

Dreaming of Cornwall & UK Staycations

cream-tea-mainWhen I was a kid I dreamed of going on holiday to Cornwall and having Famous Five style adventures, with clifftop picnics, secret coves and discovering old pirate treasure troves.  So many of my books featured Cornwall: Jamaica Inn made Bodmin Moor sound so wild and beautiful, and as an avid reader of Arthurian legends I was desperate to find Camelot.

I can honestly say that my first holiday in Cornwall didn’t disappoint. Okay, I may not have foiled any nefarious plots and the only treasure troves I found were in museums, but the landscape was wild and beautiful with the most incredibly blue sea I’d ever seen.  Tiny, perilously twisty lanes led to charming villages each more beautiful than the last.  It’s also a county unabashedly in love with bunting, which seems to festoon every village!  For the most part, Cornwall is unspoilt perfection and I love it for that.

Since that first holiday, we’ve returned year on year to Cornwall, never tiring of the beautiful landscape. Last year we even took Dave’s family with us!

Apparently I’m not alone in loving a holiday close to home, or a staycation as they’re now called.  (I can’t help but shudder at that–what’s wrong with calling a holiday a holiday?)  According to a recent survey commissioned by Parkdean Holidays, up to 45% of Devon and Cornwall residents have opted to holiday right on their own doorsteps, with 41% saying that the cost of foreign holidays keeps them closer to home.  I can’t really blame them, living in such a beautiful corner of the country…who would want to go elsewhere?

We’re actually off to Cornwall very, very soon.  The three of us are eagerly making lists of places we want to go to and delicious things to eat. Between us we have enough things to do to fill two or three holidays!  Here are a few of our favourites…

Gorgeous Cornishware at Sarah's Pasty Shop in Looe

Gorgeous Cornishware at Sarah’s Pasty Shop in Looe, the BEST pasties in Cornwall!


Looe Harbour, capturing East and West Looe.

Beautiful Restormel Castle near Loswithiel

Beautiful Restormel Castle, near Loswithiel


The stunning vista from the terrace at Antony House. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was filmed here!

Ice-creams at Chapel Porth beach

Ice-creams at Chapel Porth beach. Their “Hedgehog” is a must!!

One of my favourite West Country pastimes is taking cream tea.  Our family are practically experts on the matter, having munched our way through numerous cream teas in Devon and Cornwall, at National Trust properties, tea rooms, and even exceedingly posh Michelin-starred restaurants.  I know what it takes to make a good scone and an exceptional pot of jam!!

Parkdean kindly sent me a luxury Cornish cream tea hamper*, full of delicious Cornish goodies, everything you need for a cream tea, right down to Cornish tea leaves!  Did you know that there are tea plantations in Cornwall?!

Luxury Cornish cream tea hamper

I love Cornwall but I eat my scones the Devon way!

I love Cornwall but I eat my scones the Devon way!

After a hard and energetic day at athletics camp I treated Lucas to a cream tea when he came home.  He was pretty stoked about this–especially the fudge–and it’s fair to say that this lovely treat has whetted our appetite for our upcoming holiday in Cornwall!  Thank-you Parkdean!

Parkdean Holidays are currently running a competition where you can test your knowledge of Devon and Cornwall and be entered into a draw to win a holiday at one of their holiday parks.  Good luck!

* I was sent a luxury cream tea hamper to review by Parkdean Holidays.

Step Back In Time at the Red Lodge Museum


For years we’ve driven past a little red door on Park Row and idly wondered, “What’s behind that red door then?” and even when a discreet sign appeared outside a couple of years ago saying “Museum” we still wondered just what was behind the door and never took the time to find out.  Shame on us.  However, I imagine that rather a lot of Bristolians have had the same idle curiosity…

The Red Lodge was originally the lodge for the Great House in St Augustines, sadly knocked down by the Victorians to make way for progress, but it was located just down the hill where the Colston Hall is now.  Sadly none of the original furnishings remain for the house, so items from the Bristol Museums collection have been displayed to great effect.  The house feels very cosy and lived in despite being a museum!

The Great Oak Room was absolutely breathtaking. We entered through a carved oak porch The aged oak panelling gleamed in the sunlight which streamed in through the windows, revealing rich carvings all over the room.
porch-leading-to-great-oak-room-redlodgemuseumgreat-oak-room-redlodgemuseumgreat-oak-room-collageIt took two years for the craftsmen to complete the Great Oak Room, which surprised me given the lavish and complex carvings, particularly on the stone fireplace.  (I’d expected to hear it was the labour of a decade or so!)  It strikes me that carving stone is far more difficult than wood, and indeed more specialised, so to complete such a piece within two years must have taken a lot of exceedingly skilled stone-cutters.  I couldn’t help but think that we’ve lost some beautiful skills over the years…

We peeked through the wibbly-wobbly Georgian windows–the Georgian owners ripped out the old Tudor windows and upgraded, just as I did when I moved into my house–for a fantastic view of the Elizabethan inspired knot garden and a reminder that we were still in modern Bristol.  It was all-too-easy to think that we’d time-travelled!

Salted Caramel Apple Cake


Oh my… this cake was a bit of a triumph.

Not too sweet, spiced just like an apple pie, and sporting a glossy, luscious salted caramel buttercream.  This cake got two thumbs up from everyone at the inlaws BBQ, especially Dave as I baked it with him in mind as a welcome home cake.

Before Dave jetted off to Australia he left his office fruit bowl at home and by the time I got around to fancying an apple they weren’t as risk as I’d have liked, so I turned them into applesauce. I was going to freeze it, but thought I’d check Pinterest for ideas first and found this amazing sounding cake! I gave it a whirl and had to buy some extra applesauce from the supermarket as this cake uses a lot of it!


The most interesting part of this cake is the buttercream technique. It’s an old-fashioned boiled buttercream, which starts with a white sauce of sorts (or pudding, for those across the Pond), which is cooled before butter is beaten into it. Before you know it, a miraculously light and fluffy buttercream forms! It’s less sweet than a regular buttercream and would make a great alternative to a Swiss buttercream.  I’ll definitely be experimenting with this frosting again in the future! I reckon you could make a fantastic strawberry buttercream with this recipe!

All in all, this made a great cake loved by adults and kids alike! And hey, fellow Apple tree owners! This would be a great cake to make with windfalls from your apple tree and indeed I’ll be doing exactly that in a couple of weeks!

Salted Caramel Apple Cake
Print Recipe
This recipe comes courtesy of the Brown Eyed Baker blog (http://www.browneyedbaker.com/salted-caramel-apple-cake/) which in its turn took the recipe from "Baked Explorations" by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito.
10 people
10 people
Salted Caramel Apple Cake
Print Recipe
This recipe comes courtesy of the Brown Eyed Baker blog (http://www.browneyedbaker.com/salted-caramel-apple-cake/) which in its turn took the recipe from "Baked Explorations" by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito.
10 people
10 people
For the cake
For the icing
Servings: people
  1. Preheat the oven to 140C (fan oven) or 160C (convection oven). Butter and line two deep 6" cake tins (this will let you split the layers for a tall 4 layer cake) or three 6" tins for a slightly shorter cake.
  2. Sift the flour, salt, spices, bicarb and baking powder together in a large bowl.
  3. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle on medium speed, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and cream until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until well incorporated.
  4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add a third of the flour mixture to the bowl, letting it mix in before adding half of the applesauce. Add the rest of the flour and sauce, alternating and ending with flour.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared tins and smooth the top. Bake for about 45 minutes (if divided between 3 tins), checking with a cake tester (cocktail stick!) before removing from the oven. Deep cakes (ie, split into two tins) will take about 70 minutes.
  6. Cook in their tins on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then turn out, strip off baking parchment and allow to cool fully.
Make the salted caramel buttercream
  1. In a medium saucepan whisk together the sugar and flour. Slowly add the milk and cream, whisking thoroughly to avoid lumps. Cook over a medium heat whisking occasionally until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. It's not going to get super-thick, expect white sauce thickness.
  2. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle and beat on a high speed for 5 minutes until the mixture is cold. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter and vanilla. Let this mix in then raise the heat to high and beat until the buttercream becomes light, fluffy and spreadable.
  3. If, after 10 minutes, the buttercream doesn't seem to have done its thing, pop it in the freezer and chill for about 20 minutes. Put it back in the mixer, beat, and it should fluff right up. This shouldn't be a problem unless it's a hot day! Add the caramel, taste, add more if necessary and salt to taste.
Assemble the cake
  1. If you baked deep cakes, now is the time to split them in half. Use a serrated knife and just wiggle it through the middle of the cakes.
  2. Layer the cakes with the buttercream on a serving plate. Cover with a thin layer of buttercream and chill for 20 minutes. Cover with the rest of the buttercream and garnish with any remaining caramel and perhaps some salted peanuts.
Recipe Notes

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Up, Up and Away!

Balloon spotters lining the Harbourside

Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2015, the sky is full of balloons

Colourful houses and colourful balloons

It looks like the houses are “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” at the balloons.

Lots of eager balloon-watchers on the water!

Lots of eager balloon-watchers on the water!

Gorgeous Hot Air Balloons
Team GB balloonTrapped in the centre of Bristol by the craziest Balloon Fiesta traffic ever, we abandoned our plans to head out to Bedminster (or even up to Clifton and the Downs) to view the mass balloon ascent and ended up with some of the best views we’ve ever had of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta.

We laid claim to a bench on the Harbourside and watched as balloon after balloon slowly rose from behind the flats and offices.  The Fiesta website said 70 balloons went up and I reckon we saw about 50 of those.  It was glorious.

Due to the wind-speed we only saw a couple of the special shape (ie novelty) balloons, the penguins and the very peculiar dragon cube that seems to be advertising a pallet company?!  I am crossing my fingers that the Minion and pirate ship will be able to make one last flight tonight but I know that they’re the trickiest of all to fly.

The balloon forecast for tonight–and I cannot stress enough how awesome it is to live in a city where there’s a balloon forecast–is for the balloons to swoop over NE Bristol, so out in my neck of the woods.  This will be the last ascent of the festival so fingers crossed that the fickle winds are kind to us!

Bara Brith

Gorgeously simple Bara Brith

Bara Brith might seem like an autumn or winter sort of bake, but for me it is good at any time of year when you need something comforting and homely.  That makes it perfect for the rain we’re being plagued with at the moment.  It really feels like autumn; I’ve spent my evenings huddled under a blanket with a book and a chai latte for company. Comfort food is absolutely required, diet be damned!

There are two schools of thought on Bara Brith: a tea loaf or a yeasted bread with a bit of dried fruit speckled through it.  Your allegiance seems to be based on the very first bara brith you ever tasted. My Bara Brith falls into the tea loaf camp as I can’t recall ever having a bready version.  It seems to me that it would be like Starbucks fruit toast, which is very nice, but not my idea of a Bara Brith!  Apologies to those who love the bread-style version!  The tea loaf version, aside from tasting gorgeous, has the advantage of not requiring kneading and can all be mixed in the same bowl leaving you hardly any washing up!  The recipe is very child-friendly,too, if your little one(s) like to join you in the kitchen.  I made Lucas do 90% of the work.  He’s beginning to mutter about child labour…

Soaking fruit for bara brith, a bit of light stirring and it's oven-ready!

Child’s play: throw some tea over the fruit, a bit of light stirring the next day, then BAKE. Job’s a good’un.

I should also add that Bara Brith travels very well.  I took a huge one to Cornwall last year when we went on holiday–very good toasted towards the end of the loaf–and I can imagine tucking into thick slices around the campfire.  (Should camping be your thing.)

Thanks to Lucas’s neverending spirit of adventure when it comes to potentially weird flavour combinations I’ve discovered that bara brith goes very well with a smear of peanut butter and sliced banana on top. I felt rather like Elvis when I ate my slice!!

However you choose to eat it, a slice of bara brith is a most excellent way of brightening up your day!