Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Long Weekend in Cheddar - with the Camping and Caravanning Club

Since getting our caravan last year we've only been away for one short break in it. Our first trip was just a few miles away from our home to test everything out and get used to towing. Our trip to Cheddar was our first proper mini break in Florrie (our Freedom Caravan) and it was the perfect location to continue to get used to caravanning and wasn't too far to tow from our home in South Wales. 

I've become a member of the Camping and Caravanning Club which comes with lots of benefits. Firstly you get a discount on club campsites and access to Certified sites which are small, privately run sites which operate under the Club's jurisdiction and can only accommodate a handful of caravans and tents. They can be secluded hideaways and because of their small size, they are often able to operate in areas close to beaches or in National Parks where bigger, more commercial sites aren't allowed. 

Our campsite was situated on the outskirts of the village of Priddy, the highest in the Mendips. Cheddar Camping and Caravanning Club Site is an ideal base to explore all the area has to offer and would be perfect for walkers, climbers and families with kids who don't need a clubhouse to be entertained. The site has beautiful views, charming stone walls and was very tranquil. 

This is a picture of a sheep in a field

This is a picture of cheddar camping and caravan club site

The site offers pitches for touring caravans, motorhomes, trailer tents and tents including grass pitches and hardstandings with electric hookup. There are 90 pitches in total open to club members and non-members too. 

Upon arrival were received a warm welcome from staff in the reception which also serves as a shop. The shop is open all season and sells locally produced meat, cheese, groceries, gas and anything you might have forgotten to pack. Fresh bread and pastries are baked each morning and available to pre-order. There's also a farm shop a short walk from the site where you can pick up produce and get a hot meal if you're not in the mood to cook. 

Dogs are welcome on-site but can't be exercised there. Luckily there are plenty of public footpaths nearby where we could walk Coco. Coco can be a tad anxious if people are coming and going past the caravan and is very curious. Even though the site was fully booked for the Bank Holiday whilst we were there it was still very quiet and Coco behaved very well and was relaxed. 

This is a picture of my freedom caravan

This is a picture of the english countryside

The site had spotless facilities including hot showers, washbasins and toilets, a laundry and dishwashing area. There is a chemical disposal point and the site has Wi-Fi (fees apply) and BBQs to hire. The site was perfect for our needs and I would love to return for a longer trip in the future. 

This is a picture of cheddar camping and caravan club site



This is a picture of coco my shah tzu

The site is in an ideal location for exploring all that Somerset has to offer.  Popular tourist attractions such as Cheddar Gorge, Wookey Hole, Wells, Glastonbury are all just short drive away. Bath and Bristol are also within easy reach too. The site is about 40 minutes from Somerset’s sandy beaches including Brean, Burnham on Sea and Weston-super-Mare. 

We only had a long weekend in the area so we had to narrow down the list of towns and attractions we wanted to visit. We managed to cram in a trip to Wells, Glastonbury and Bream and a drive through Cheddar Gorge. 

This is a picture of vicar's close wells

We used the day we arrived on site to pitch up, relax and enjoy the facilities on offer and only ventured off site to walk the dog. On day two we headed out to explore the area and visited  Wells, England's smallest cathedral city.


I adored Wells with its impressive cathedral and moated Bishop's Palace. It was a lovely place to wander around for a few hours and highlights included the picturesque Vicars’ Close, which is believed to be Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited street. It is tucked away to the side of the Cathedral, just past the Music School so don't miss it if you are in Wells. The market was also fantastic and is held each Wednesday and Saturday. Taylors of Bruton had some tasty baked goods and Nutts Scotch Eggs were delicious, I recommend the salmon ones or the black pudding. There are over 15 stalls offering tasty treats, perfect for a picnic on the green or to take back to the caravan like we did.

This is a picture of vicar's close wells

This is a picture of bishops palace in wells

This is a picture of wells cathedral


This is a picture of cheddar gorge

We left Wells and ventured back to the site via the impressive Cheddar Gorge to spend the evening reading, relaxing and scoffing our market goodies. We decided to head to Glastonbury on day three and visited the romantic and historic ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. 

The entrance fee is £8.25 at the gate with gift aid (£7.50 without) and is discounted if you purchase in advance online at £7.43 (£6.67 without gift aid). The abbey is thought to be the resting place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere and it is believed that the Holy Thorn tree located in the abbey's grounds sprouted from Joseph of Arimathea's staff, who is reported to have visited the site just a few decades after the death of Christ. The abbey was ransacked during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII  and now lies in ruins set in 36 acres of parkland.

The abbey is a very dog-friendly site and Coco loved playing in the grounds. I highly recommend taking a picnic and making a day of it.


This is a picture of glastonbury abbey

This is a picture of glastonbury abbey

This is a picture of glastonbury abbey garden and grounds

We throguhly enjoyed our time in Cheddar and thought the caravan site was the ideal spot to relax and take a break from our hectic day jobs. To plan your own camping or caravan trip in the South West head over to the Camping and Caravanning Club site for full listings of sites in the area.

We are currently planning our next trip in the caravan and will be visiting North Wales in July. If you have any tips for dog-friendly things to see and do in North Wales please leave a comment below. 

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Gemma
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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Exploring Euston - The Lost Tunnels & Riding on Mail Rail

This is a picture of 60s posters on the Euston - The Lost Tunnels tour

I love a railway-themed attraction or museum and have visited lots of them all over the UK and Europe. (You can read all my train posts here) I'm particularly interested in the history of the London Underground and have been on a few tours that explore the hidden history of this extraordinary network now. I've always fancied an abandoned station or tunnel tour after previously visiting the Acton depot and the London Underground's former HQ which is a gem of art deco architecture. 

You have to be quick to get tickets for the Hidden London tours organised by the London Transport Museum and my husband and I have missed out on them before as they are released whilst we are in work. We were lucky enough to get tickets for the Euston Station Lost Tunnels tour when the museum last released a batch of tickets and were so excited for a glimpse behind the scenes. 

This is a picture of 60s posters on the Euston - The Lost Tunnels tour

The tour explored a century of the station’s history, from its beginnings on the corner of Melton and Drummond Street to its future as part of an evolving and growing national railway network. I'm pleased that we were able to explore the lost tunnels before the site is transformed for HS2 and repurposed to delivery a more future-proof railway. The Underground is always evolving.

Euston has two station types, one a mainline station and the other, an underground station. Euston was the first mainline station to connect London to Birmingham in 1838.

The two branches of the Northern line were constructed by two competing companies and they had two separate entrances at Euston. Later the companies agreed to join the two stations with a passageway. The tour takes you through this now-closed passageway, the ticket hall and still has posters hanging from the 1960’s.

We really enjoyed exploring parts of the underground that are closed off to the public, the tunnels felt like a time capsule with British Rail posters and advertisements for Pyscho and West Side Story adorning the walls. The tours aren't cheap but are really immersive and well worth the ticket price. 

This is a picture of booking office on the Lost Tunnels tour


This is a picture of abandoned underground tunnels on the Euston - The Lost Tunnels tour



Mail Rail

Not content with visiting one transport themed attraction in one day we also made time to visit Mail Rail during our trip to London. We purchased a combined ticket which gave us access to both the Postal Museum and a ride on Mail Rail - another chance to explore subterranean London.


Inside the museum, there’s a whole host of items tracing the history of the postal service from its beginnings in Tudor times up to the present day. The museum is split into chronological zones and houses the first post box, various post vans and carriages and the only sheet of Penny Black stamps still in existence. 



The part of the museum I was most excited to explore was the Mail Rail - a 15-minute journey under the streets of London just opposite the Postal Museum. 


For just under a century, (and unknown to many Londoners), a railway network operated under the city streets transporting the country’s correspondence. Mail Rail was introduced to ease the congestion on the roads of London and speed up the transportation of post. At its peak, it ran between Paddington and Whitechapel.

The network remains pretty unchanged since it was decommissioned in 2003 and sits deep below the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant sorting office. Mail Rail was closed as the cost to operate the system was far greater than transporting post via road but we have been left with a fantastic experience and chance to explore more of London's hidden history. 

The journey starts when you board tiny carriages in the exhibition space. These trains were never intended for passengers and hefty me and my tall husband found them quite a squeeze. If you don't know the person who you are travelling with before the Mail Rail ride you will by the time you emerge at the other end! The tunnels are now home to dynamic video guides and testimonials from staff who used to work in the tunnels. The history of Mail Rail is far more interesting than you might expect!

This is a picture of Mail Rail at the Postal Museum

This is a picture of Mail Rail at the Postal Museum

This is a picture of Mail Rail at the Postal Museum


Combined tickets for the museum and Mail Rail are currently £17 and the Euston  - The Lost Tunnels tour costs £41.50.  Both get a big thumbs up from me and Martyn. 

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This is a picture of abandoned tunnels at Euston station - The Lost Tunnels tour




Gemma
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Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Cocktail Hour - 3 Spring Gin Cocktails

It's been a while since I've posted about my love of gin or even indulged in a glass of gin. My drinks trolley has been untouched since the festive period so I thought I would dust off some of my old favourites and make the most of the lighter evenings and have a gin in the garden.

Whether you’re looking to mix up something to impress your best mates or just fancy a midweek treat these cocktails I rustled up on the weekend are perfect and so simple to make. They don't contain anything too tricky to source and won't take hours to master.

The Rhubarb Rhubarb looks so fancy and tastes amazing.  I’ve been a super fan of Edinburgh Gin for a couple of years now, particularly their liqueurs – which is one of the ingredients in this cocktail. The Rhubarb & Ginger liqueur has a lovely sweetness and a hint of warmth and spice. If you can't get a hold of this or want something budget friendly Lidl makes their own version which is available during Spring/Summer. I impressed myself with my cocktail making skills when I made this one as I'm not typically the most dexterous.


Rhubarb Rhubarb


Ingredients 
50ml Edinburgh Gin's Rhubarb & Ginger Liqueur
10ml Aperol (I used the Lidl version which is only about £6)
25ml fresh lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup
1 egg white

Method 
Dry shake all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
Add ice to the shaker and shake again for 15 seconds.
Strain into a Martini or coupe glass.


Elder Zest

This refreshing tall drink is a great mix of delicate elderflower and zingy lemon. Perfect for a BBQ!

Ingredients
25ml Gin
25ml Edinburgh Gin's Elderflower Liqueur (I'm sure a dash of cordial will do)
15ml fresh lemon juice
Lemonade
Garnish - lemon twist and mint leaves

Method
Half fill a tall glass with crushed ice.
Stir the gin, liqueur and lemon juice together in a mixing glass.
Pour into the glass.
Top up the glass with crushed ice.
Top up with lemonade.
Garnish with a lemon twist and a sprig of fresh mint.


Gin Daisy

Another sunny day drink, perfect for a sharing pitcher and quick to mix.

Ingredients 
50ml Gin
25ml fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grenadine
Soda water
Mint and lemon zest

Method 
Shake the gin, lemon juice and grenadine with ice. Pour over crushed ice and fill the glass with soda water. garnish with mint and lemon zest. Ideally, you would make lemon zest swirls but I'm not particularly crafty with a knife and ended up with lemon zest lumps... For a more vivid pink colour add a little more grenadine. 


Feeling inspired? Check out my other gin posts or visit Emma's blog for some more ginspiration. 

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Gemma
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Monday, 9 April 2018

Disneyland Paris 2018 - My Family Trip

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris castle

I've really enjoyed putting this post together because I've been able to look back at all of the photos I took of the beautiful Disneyland Paris park. I have visited Disney parks in Orlando as a child but only visited Paris for the first time as an adult. I was disappointed by Disneyland Paris during my trip five years ago as it was a little shabby and run down but the Walt Disney Company now has full control of the park and is making a lot of improvements. A lot has changed since my last visit and the renovations and attraction updates really impressed me and I'm already planning my next trip!

As previously mentioned the trip to Disneyland was my first family trip since I was a teenager. You might think Disneyland is an odd holiday destination for four adults but there's more to Disney than spinning tea cups. There was plenty to see, do and eat to keep us all entertained for a few days. 


This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris Alladdin and Jasmine character meet

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris Adventureland

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris castle

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris parade

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris parade

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris Gaston meet and greet

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris carousel

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris main street floral display

This is a picture of Disneyland Paris ride photos


This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris main street

This is a picture of the Disneyland Hotel Paris

This is a picture of Disneyland Paris cupcakes

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris Discoveryland

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris castle with fireworks

Stay

We stayed at the Newport Bay Club Hotel during our trip to Disney. My brother is an annual pass holder so we were entitled to a 50% discount off our stay, without this we probably would have stayed at the Sequoia Lodge or Hotel Cheyenne which are a bit more budget friendly. Staying at the hotel means you are within walking distance to the parks, Disney Village and the local train station for easy access to the city of Paris or the airport. Staying at the resort hotels also mean that you get extra magic hours in the parks and can beat the crowds and queues by getting in at 8.30am rather than 9.30/10am. 

The hotel has a 1920's New England coastal theme and has everything you could need including restaurants, a bar, swimming pool, a fitness room and free shuttle bus to the parks if you don't fancy walking. Our room had two comfy double beds and was the perfect retreat after a busy day in the parks. Little tip  - There are no hot drink facilities in the rooms but there are hot drink machines on each floor and you just pop your key card in to get a free coffee or hot chocolate.

See & Do 

Day 1


We spent our first morning in Disney in the Walk Disney Studios Park. We arrived in the park just after it opened for the Extra Magic Hours and were able to walk straight on to Crush's Coaster (there is usually a nig queue) board a turtle shell and dive into the ocean. We absolutely loved this ride and were surprised by the speed you were swirled around the East Australian Current in the dark.

We were also able to walk straight onto Ratatouille by using the single rider queue. If you don't mind sitting by a stranger you can seriously cut park queuing times by riding alone. This attraction was charming and had 3D visuals and an impressive track system. You are shrunk down to the size of a rat cooking up a storm with Remy and friends before you are discovered by Chef Skinner, who chases you through the sights, sounds and smells of Gusteau's Parisian restaurant.

We managed to tick of lots of other rides with only minimal queue times including the terrifying Tower of Terror, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and smaller attractions in Toontown. This park is pretty small and you can get a lot done in just one morning and afternoon.

We spent the evening in the main Disneyland Park and the whole of the second day. There are five incredibly detailed and distinct lands in this park filled with classic attractions and street parades. You can encounter swashbuckling pirates on Pirates of the Caribbean, zoom through outer space on Hyperspace Mountain and enjoy fireworks and light displays over Sleeping Beauty Castle.

We were treated to glorious weather for the first evening in the park which meant we could explore all the different lands, take some photos and hang out with Aladdin and Jasmine in Agrabah. We decided to watch the illumination show on our second day and get on all the rides whilst the other visitors were watching the show. We were able to walk straight on to Pirates of the Caribbean (which looked great after a renovation) and Big Thunder Mountain only has a 20 minute queue.

Day 2

The weather on day two was utterly miserable all day with torrential downpours for long periods of time. We didn't want this to spoil our fun so we got our umbrellas out and plastic ponchos on and did all the rides in the pouring rain with the wind blowing in our faces and made the most of our time in the park. Once again we made use of the Extra Magic Hours and headed into the park at 08:30. We headed straight for the rides with long wait times like Peter Pan's Flight, Hyperspace Mountain and StarTours. This meant we could take the rest of the day at a leisurely pace and dry off whilst having a hot drink and enjoying some of the tame indoor rides where we could stay dry.

Mid March is a fantastic time to visit - the park wasn't too crowded as there were no school holidays and there were lots of attractions you could walk straight on to. We went on the Indiana Jones ride three times in a row and by keeping an eye on the queue times on the Disneyland app we could wait for queue times to shorten and never waited longer than 20/25 minutes for any attraction.

One thing not to miss is Disney Stars on Parade which takes place at 5pm everyday. The parade features colourful floats and costumes an even a fire breathing dragon. The parade lasts for about half an hour and I recommend heading to It's a Small World for a great viewing spot.

Another visual spectacular to enjoy is the Illuminations show which takes place at park closing time.
This light show blends fireworks, water, lights and fire whilst Mickey guides you on a journey through impressive projections of famous Disney tales, old and new. I loved the show but there was a bit too much live action Beauty and the Beast and Pirates of the Caribbean in it for me - some Hunchback of Notre Dame or Ratatouille would have been a natural fit for Disneyland Paris.

Eat & Drink

If you're visiting Disneyland Paris and want the best dining experience I recommend planning your meals like we did. Reservations open up to 60 days before your trip and character dining and the most popular restaurants get booked up quickly. If you wait until you arrive to figure out what you fancy you may be left disappointed. This guide by DLP Guide is the best for reviews and up to date menus.

One of the highlights of our trip was a character breakfast at Plaza Gardens. I'm not too old to enjoy a pastry and coffee with Scrooge McDuck! There was a huge choice of continental breakfast, British favorites and sweet treats like waffles and pancakes. We were so full after breakfast we didn't eat again until 6pm that evening!

Cafe Fantasia is a wonderful place to relax after a busy day in the park. It's located in the fancy Disneyland Hotel and is softly lit bar with a live pianist. Drinks here aren't cheap but the service was impeccable and staff kept us topped up with a supply of snacks and Glowtinis.

If you're looking for something lighter than the typical pizza, burgers and chips on offer in the park I highly recommend the Cable Car Bake Shop and Market House Deli. They offer sandwiches and salads for around 7 euro and have some tasty 25th Anniversary cakes (photos above) The Bake shop has a really cute interior and are a great spot to look over Main Street and get shelter if there is rain.

We loved the atmosphere in Captain Jack's where you can watch the boats go by from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and they had a good wine and cocktail selection. Staff in here were lovely and really attentive and efficient.

That turned in to a mammoth blog post but I hope anyone planning a trip finds it useful. Don't let being an adult put you off visiting Disneyland, my family all had a blast and we want to return next year!
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Gemma
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