Tag Archives: Hampshire

Tales from the Forest

I have to admit to having rather a soft spot for the New Forest.  Rugged heaths, ancient woodland, sea and countryside entwined, grazing cows who amble across the road and wild ponies walking amongst hues of gorse and heather.  Pure untamed romance – the countryside embodiment of Byron.  I’m always trying to persuade Jerry to move there.  So when Rachel from New Forest Escapes asked if I’d like to come and see some wonderfully unique properties she lets for short breaks and holidays, I jumped at the chance to explore.  Some invitations are just too good to turn down, dear Reader.

They say that location is everything and New Forest Escapes certainly know how to open the door to explore some of the New Forest’s best kept secrets. Handpicked and unique, their properties encompass so much from luxury coastal chic to vintage quirkiness – far more than your average rental or Air BnB.  Unusual requests?  Big birthday to organise?  Hen party? Want your dogs to join you for the weekend or fancy bringing your pony?  Honestly, it seems that there is nothing Rachel and her team can’t organise for your stay.  In fact, their properties are so marvellous, I wasn’t entirely keen on sharing them with you, dear Reader…..

With plenty to choose from, New Forest Escapes offer everything from bohemian style, a veritable Swallows and Amazons’ paradise, luxury weekend boltholes by the sea, a smugglers’ inn with its own private beach, countryside elegance to rival The Pig Hotel to a Tithe barn with an interior to die to for, complete with its own private jetty and many more lets for weekend retreats or staycations.  Now can you see why I didn’t want to share….?

Staying at the beautiful Ploughman’s Cottage which is a stone’s throw from the excellent East End Arms pub, owned by John Illsley, bass guitarist of Dire Straits, we lost the girls immediately to the stunning garden.  I very nearly lost Jerry to the pub too, if I’m honest.  I think he was hoping that Dire Straits might want to recruit an additional band member.

The dogs were in their element bombing round the garden and Poppy and Primrose were determined to leave home and move into the gypsy caravan.  Inside was all the comfort of home from home but oh so much better.  Books galore too.  All Jerry and I had to do was to find the corkscrew and decide what to do about supper, dear Reader.

Eventually when we managed to tear our gypsy girls away, we snuck down to have fish and chips on the beach at Pitts Deep (pictured below).  Lymington Pier station was a short hop away and a great place to get the train down from London to – Jerry said that the coastal route was brilliant with the last train stop ending feet away from the sea.

Pitts Deep Cottage offers a dose of pure coastal glamour. Sumptuous interiors, uninterrupted sea views and bags of charm, its past as an inn “Famous for Selling Good Brandy” tells tales of 18th century smugglers.  With Pitts Deep as our backdrop and the sea before us,  it was the most wonderful fish and chips we’ve ever had. We sat on our picnic rug on the sand, watching the waves with a cold glass of rose as the children made dens on the beach.

If magical adventures with your children are what you’re looking for, then I can’t think of a more perfect stay than Eat me Drink me Cottage.

Taking a trip down the rabbit hole in this Alice in Wonderland inspired hideaway, you’ll find a treasure trove of vintage toys in this higgledy piggedly cottage – ideal for free range children and grown ups.  Eat me Drink me Cottage is the ultimate place for a bit of rewilding and is a beautiful reflection of its eclectic owners, Peter, a concert pianist and Victoria who runs vintage children’s clothing delight Elfie London who decamp here with their children when the cottage is free.  The dressing up box had Poppy and Primrose in raptures!  Unsurprisingly, Eat me Drink me won our hearts straight away and its magical location on the Pylewell estate (which hosts Curious Arts Festival in the summer), is just close enough to Tanners Lane Beach to organise expeditions to hunt for pirates or invite a few fairies back for tea in the meadow beyond the garden gate.  A top tip – do read Rachel’s marvellous blog before your stay.  We loved her wonderful ideas, handpicked offers and suggestions for adventures with the children during our stay including going on our very own Unicorn Trail .

Reluctantly leaving our weekend bolthole, we returned home feeling as though we’d completely switched off and recharged our batteries.  No need for phones or telly – time to play, relax and just….well…be.  Now if that’s not a reason to book a stay in one of New Forest Escapes‘ properties, I don’t know how else I could tempt you, dear Reader.  I’m already thinking about the next time I can enjoy this view again!  With a nice long gin and tonic of course.

 

 

 

 

Cocktail Hour

You’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader.  I have been somewhat off the boil in blog terms of late. The last month and a bit has had many ups and downs, mostly house related and I have been burying my head in a good bit of writing to try and create a more pleasing chapter for the four of us.  Enter cocktail hour.  At just the right time.

If you follow me on Instagram you will know, dear Reader, that cocktails have featured rather heavily since Christmas.  It’s all strictly medicinal, I can assure you.  One of the most wonderful presents I have ever received was from Jerry’s grandparents who gifted me a little vintage Gordon’s Gin cocktail book from circa 1950s.  Not only does it list my favourites – old fashioned Gimlets, a recipe for ‘Gin Fizz’ but it also has the hilariously named Television Special with orange squash (slightly yuck) and White Lady which embraces that back of the booze cupboard lurker, Cointreau.  The ultimate for me though has to be the glorious ‘Gin and it’ which with one sip, I am transported to the drawing room at Home Place (from Elizabeth Jane Howard’s brilliant Cazalet Chronicles – I am totally obsessed with the books, dear Reader) where Edward or Hugh is preparing me a sharpener to sip in beaded evening dress, before dinner.  Best of all are the handwritten recipes in the back written by one of Jerry’s great-grandparents.  Truly the loveliest of gifts and I send G and G a huge kiss for thinking to pass it on to me, as I know they will be reading this.

With cocktail recipes well and truly tested at home, it was time to have a go at shaking up something new.  So it should come as no surprise to you, dear Reader, that I hotfooted my way to Winchester to enjoy an evening of cocktails as part of the fabulous Winchester Cocktail Week organised by the brilliant Cabinet Rooms.  A huge thanks to Gary and Marcus for the invitation – how could I refuse?!!  Also a special mention to my trusted chauffeur for the evening, my father in law, who drove across Hampshire to make sure that I didn’t have a Cinderella moment.

It has to be said that, a cocktail is really only as good as its ingredients.  So where best to start? Well, the ingredients of course and one of my favourite foragers, cooks and foodie wonders, Naked Jam.

Jen Williams is an artisan producer of award winning jams and conserves – her syrups, cordials and jams contain seasonal, local fruits or foraged ingredients with no artificial colours, flavourings, setting agents or preservatives.  Bottled beautiful bounty.  Jen is a fount of knowledge when it comes to the foraged flavours and it’s not for nothing that she’s been snapped up by Chewton Glen to run a unique course for The Kitchen, Chewton Glen’s new cookery school.

That evening, her gorgeous syrups and recipes included a cocktail with the autumnal mellowness of medlar syrup, a surprisingly drinkable chilli and balsamic number with vodka and the salty swirl of seaweed which produced a syrup that had depth, earthiness and just the right hint of the sea to add to the glass.  This was not cocktail making, dear Reader, this was sheer alcoholic alchemy. Jen knows just what will work and her lightness of touch in combining flavours needs to be tasted to be believed.  Inspired by her enthusiasm, I came away with some of her delicious velvety medlar syrup to recreate a little something at home.

It was a treat to meet the lovely Gin Monocle Company (an artisan mobile gin bar – gin on the move, what’s not to love?) who served up this rather unusual number – a Gin Fizzless – gin and ale together, rather a revelation that slipped down nicely and altogether too quickly.

The canapes created by Fiona Hill (Twitter – @realfoodnf) were to die for too.

My advice, dear Reader?  If you haven’t sampled the delights of Winchester Cocktail Week then you really ought to get it in the diary for next year.  With different venues all over the city, a veritable fountain of cocktails to be sipped and savoured, it’s a great week to explore Winchester’s emerging drinks’ scene.  Well done to the marvellous Cabinet Rooms‘ chaps!  Keep your eyes peeled for more events and insights into the city’s food and drink scene as they have also taken over the Art Café on Jewry Street in Winchester.  I can’t wait to see what they concoct next!

As for me, it’s Friday, dear Reader and very nearly time to get the cocktail shaker out……..  After all, it MUST be gin o’clock somewhere in the world.  I’ll draw the curtains and get the fire going, you pour the gin.  It would be rude not to join them, wouldn’t it dear Reader?!

Brief disclaimer – This does not constitute as encouragement of daytime drinking and Margot is in no way suggesting the reader has a few gins in the dark by his or herself before doing the school run.  Have them after you’ve picked up the children.

 

 

 

 

Giddy up

Half term zoomed past in a rather joyous blur.  Honestly, dear Reader, we ended up galloping here, there and everywhere.  With both girls now utterly smitten by ponies and Poppy proving to be a real natural in the saddle, I couldn’t resist taking them to the National Trust’s Mottisfont to see the current Norman Thelwell exhibition.  Pony-tailed learner drivers on rotund ponies…..couldn’t be more true to life chez Margot and Jerry at the moment, dear Reader!

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The Giddy Gallops trail round Mottisfont’s grounds proved excellent fun – free range children a plenty being put through their paces on a challenging course.

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Point to point racing, clearing the jumps with the dogs (thank you Mottisfont for being so dog friendly – so lovely to be able to take the pups on our outing too)…

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not to mention polishing the saddles, hanging up the tack and shining boots before taking our tired ‘ponies’ for hot chocolate and cake in the café.

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Giggling over Norman Thelwell’s cartoons and illustrations and marvelling at the 70 original artworks including stunning depictions of local landscapes, it proved to be the perfect day out for the Horse Mad Two from Hampshire.  Watching Poppy and Primrose cantering their imaginary steeds back to the ‘horsebox’ (masquerading as a very muddy Land Rover), I found myself hoping that these two little girls never grow too old for ponies.  Poor Jerry.  We’ll be bankrupt before long!

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With the week ahead fast approaching, we managed to squeeze in a little brunch at the fabulous new look Long Barn café.  Such a treat.

Lashings of toast with raspberry and lavender jam, gargantuan coffees, hot bacon rolls for the girls and even time for a bit of browsing – Long Barn’s displays always have me in magpie mode, coveting everything in site!

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With half term over, Jerry and the girls back to the grindstone and a mountain of deadlines looming over me, I am wondering if I should take up a permanent pew at the Long Barn to see me through until the Easter hols……coffee and cake on hand at all times.  Wonder if they need a writer in residence, dear Reader?

A real roasting

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With the days getting shorter and the mornings pitch black, I turn increasingly towards my little morning pick me up, dear  Reader.  A drop of hot, dark happiness to help ease me into the day.  When the school run frazzles me from top to toe, I am dripping wet from my dawn-chorused dog walk and I am buried under a mountain of work, it is my solace.  Coffee.  I can’t live without it.  Perhaps it’s because my dear Mamma hails from Brazil or the fact that I simply can’t function before 10am unless I’ve had my first cup of the dark stuff….whatever the reason, my mornings just wouldn’t be the same without it.

When we first moved from the Big Smoke where coffee houses were ten a penny, it was one of the things that I knew that I would miss the most.  I think that one of Primrose’s first outings was to meet NCT ladies and their babes over a mug of coffee, dear Reader!  Walking down the tow path and along to my favourite café, usually pushing a buggy or trying not to fall over a trike, it was part of my weekend/maternity leave/cheering myself up ritual.    That was until we moved to the wilds of rural Hampshire where the nearest café is a good 20 minutes away in the car.  Worried about my impending caffeine/coffee house withdrawal, Jerry gifted me a now much treasured possession……my little coffee machine.  None of the pod rubbish (sorry sorry sorry I really should apologise for my coffee machine fascism).  A proper grind your own beans, coffee damper, schwaaaaaah sounding number.  It remains the BEST present that Jerry has ever given me for  Christmas and other than the Everhot is the most used gadget in the kitchen.  So when Moonroast Coffee offered me a chance to learn more about what goes into my cup, I jumped straight into the car!  Coffee….on the doorstep….what could be better?!!

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Moonroast Coffee may have humble digs (for now…) but it comes with a seriously impressive list of coffee credentials.  Working in the heart of the Candover valley in Hampshire, Francis and Judy Bradshaw are the 4th generation of the Bradshaw family to be involved in the tea and coffee industry with Francis’ father, Haydon Bradshaw, one of Britain’s top coffee tasters, offering a consultant’s overview of Moonroast’s coffee journey.  Setting up in the back garden, Fran and Judy saw an opportunity to create an artisan roastery making small batch, slow roasted coffee with beans sourced from the best smallholders in the world.

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Juggling day jobs, Fran and Judy began roasting coffee beans at night with a roaster that was brought over neighbouring fields on a loader, installed in their large shed and Moonroast Coffee was born.  Very much a handcrafted business, Fran takes great care to create his own blends as well as crafting single origin coffees with their own roasting and flavour profile for retail as well as wholesale.  Believe me, dear Reader, this is so much more than your average cup of morning coffee!

Moonroast4The process is fascinating.  From green beans, a lighter shade of Puy lentil, to carefully monitored roasting in the roaster, all the way through to a ristretto or flat white!  The smell wafting through the shed was incredible as the beans were cooled to prevent any further roasting.  You could even hear the crackles coming from the roaster as the beans begin to take on their characteristic colour.

Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Sumatran…..I fear that my mornings may well now involve a good deal of indecision.  That and I am destined to become a coffee bore to anyone who will listen.  Fran gave me some fab tips too – always buy beans and grind them yourself.  Coffee beans stay fresher for marginally longer BUT check out the roasting date on the coffee label if there is one.  Coffee starts to lose its aromas and flavours the longer it is open to the elements.  Not a problem in this house as Jerry and I practically inhale the stuff daily.  Try different beans, single origins or blends.  Like vineyards and vines in the case of wine, beans grown on different soils (or as the winos like to say ‘terroir’) have a distinct and different flavour profile.  Blends, well they bring together different flavour characteristics of combined beans to bring together a distinctive taste too.  Citrus notes, floral ones, body, acidity – all these give the cup of coffee you like it’s own ‘je ne sais quoi’.  Diana Henry, award-winning food writer and all round fabulous foodie, explains the whole coffee code of conduct here, far more beautifully than I ever could.

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There’s an art to the perfect cup of coffee that is more than the foamy fern, heart or swan on the top.  Weighing out the right amount of beans, even the amount of pressure applied with the coffee damper is key.  Too compact and the water struggles to pass through the coffee, too loose and too much flavour is washed away.  Extracting the flavours is what the whole process is all about.

Moonroast2With all this in mind, I shall make sure that I take FAR more time over that first cup of coffee. After all, it’s the deliciously aromatic, wonderfully energising rocket fuel that powers my day.  Somehow it makes me much more able to deal with Primrose’s daily requests for a pony at 6am, Poppy covering herself head to toe in mud on her way from front door to car BEFORE drop off at nursery, chasing Monty across the fields yelling “IDIOT” after him and the awful realisation that I shall never manage to look anything but the essence of being dragged through a hedge backwards as I emergency exit the children, ‘drive-by shooting style’ from the moving car and into the arms of their teachers at the school gates.  Coffee.  I dread to think what I would be WITHOUT YOU.

A huge thanks to Fran, Judy and Rachel from Moonroast Coffee for taking pity on me in my hour of caffeine, creating some of the most delicious flat whites I’ve ever tasted and for letting me in on your wonderful roasting secrets.    Anyone who doesn’t try your coffee is seriously missing out.

Meeting Lauren Child

So, dear Reader, this is a rather special post – Primrose and I got to meet one of our heroines of the bedtime story world this week and were rendered utterly starstruck.  For as long as Primrose has been able to hold a pencil, she has been desperate to write her own stories.  Amongst a mix of Enid Blyton, Frog and Toad and all the old fairy tales including an ancient Ladybird book of mine of The Goose Girl, Primrose’s love of quirky characters and twists on traditional tales has definitely been inspired by the author and illustrator, Lauren Child.  So imagine when I told Primrose that we were going to meet her “IN REAL LIFE”, to coin a Primrose phrase.

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The National Trust’s Mottisfont in Hampshire are hosting a retrospective of Lauren’s work – The Art of Lauren Child: Adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends running from 18 July – 6 September to mark the 15 year anniversary of the first Charlie and Lola book to be published, I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato.  Author and illustrator, Lauren Child MBE, has such an amazing back catalogue of children’s books which has been loved and devoured across the world and is probably best known for her delightful brother and sister creation, doting brother  Charlie and his picklish little sister (small and very funny), LolaLauren seems to have that uncanny knack for being able to slip into the shoes of children we’ve met, grown up with or perhaps even given birth to.  Perhaps it’s her talent for telling it like it is from a child’s perspective that has seen her works adored by children and adults alike.

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With a selection of never before seen items including some of Lauren’s sketchbooks, the exhibition hosts 50 original art works from Lauren’s own personal collection and gives a wonderful insight into the process from sketchbook to published work.  This is a chance to get up close and personal with some of the objects that have served to inspire Lauren’s fabulous and well known stories, such as Lola’s pink milk glass, childhood pyjamas and the truly amazing and wonderfully detailed original sets which were created for Lauren’s retelling of The Princess and the Pea on which she collaborated with Polly Borland.

I think with Clarice (Bean) I wrote and then I drew and it was almost like creating a graphic novel.  Now I tend to write and then draw.  Often people think that everything is done on computer but it really isn’t,” Lauren shared.  “You find things in the photo album which you think might work – so I know exactly where these photos are from as I put together the collages.  They become more than just drawings.”

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The exhibition also offers a chance for Charlie and Lola fans to catch a sneak preview of illustrations from Lauren’s latest book, entitled One Thing, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Charlie and Lola, which will be published this autumn.

Lauren on One Thing:I wanted to show sums in a really beautiful way – there’s something about the visual beauty of numbers. It’s a story about  Charlie and Lola’s mum telling them that they can have one thing and that bargaining thing that happens with children.  As soon as you say one thing, they immediately start negotiating.    It’s a game I play most days with my daughter.  I wanted to write about the fun of counting and that home truth.’

Alongside the exhibition, Lauren has helped the team at Mottisfont to create a fantastic creative play trail around the house and grounds – perfect for all ages and a chance to go on a real adventure with Charlie and Lola and their friends.  A great day out for the summer hols!  For details of the exhibition and adventure trail, take a look here.

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Meeting the lady herself, Primrose got to ask all her questions.  What inspired you to write Charlie and Lola? How do you create the stories and illustrations?  We had a fab chat about Lola’s invisible friend Soren Lorensen, Lauren’s favourite character Clarice Bean and creating alter egos that you’d like to be and our huge amount of love for That Pesky Rat.  Perhaps the best bit of all was Primrose showing Lauren her own story which she had written and illustrated – A Bad Spell for the Little Fairy.  I shall be eternally grateful to Lauren for making Primrose’s YEAR and for taking the time to talk to her and read her story.  I honestly couldn’t think of a better literary role model and source of creative inspiration for my little writer – a memory that will be treasured forever.

This exhibition is a MUST SEE for anyone who has cherished and enjoyed reading Lauren Child’s books and there’s something for all the family to enjoy as well as going on your own adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends at Mottisfont during the summer holidays.

So on that note, dear Reader, to mark the opening of The Art of Lauren Child: Adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends at the National Trust’s Mottisfont this summer, the lovely people at National Trust London and South East have given me 5 FAMILY DAY PASSES to give away to lucky entrants.  All you have to do is to ‘like’ @MottisfontNT on Twitter (or their Facebook page if you’re not on Twitter) and then write a comment here on this post, telling me which Lauren Child book is your favourite and whyEntries will close at 5pm on THURSDAY 23RD JULY.  The National Trust LSE lot will help pick the winning answers so don’t forget to leave me an email address or Twitter handle in the comment box too so that I can contact you if you’ve won. 

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Pass the pigs

Sam Bomb SaphhLately it seems that I have been all over the place meeting, talking to and tasting some truly beautiful produce all made in Hampshire.  Pop up supper clubs with the fabulous and utterly delicious food of Savage Kitchen, tasting Hampshire made Twisted Nose gin from Winchester Distillery (local watercress and lavender feature heavily in this little number), standing in the loo queue with some serious international journos of luxury mags at the new Bombay Sapphire Distillery launch at Laverstoke Mill, incognito visits to farm shops as a judge for Hampshire Life Food and Drink awards…..honestly I’ve been starting to think I should be pinching myself a bit harder to check that I haven’t metamorphosed into Xanthe Clay.  Perhaps not quite yet?!  Her job is safe….for now.

Jumping in the Lanny with Jerry and the girls on a misty Saturday morning and trekking across country a bit to the Bourne Valley, I felt like I was one of the producer’s on Rick Stein’s Food Heroes programme.  The food heroes in question: John and Sarah Mills from Parsonage FarmContinue reading

Summer of countryside love

MudefordProfuse apologies, my dear Reader, for my epic summer silence.  It seems an age since I was last tip tapping away a little note to you and I can only blame it on lots of work and plenty of lovely things happening at Margot and Jerry HQ, giving me not time at all to resume my position at the writing desk.  With Primrose and Poppy at home creating mayhem for almost 8 WEEKS of summer horror, I mean holiday, I haven’t had a moment to even hear myself think either!

Days have been filled with exploring our patch of Hampshire, trips to secluded sandy spots, sampling a lot of local goodies (wine, beer, gin…..) so when we finally headed off for our staycation and annual trip to Tom and Barbara’s shire farmstead, we couldn’t be too downhearted when it weed it down with rain.  Lots of time at home too – the spare room has had its bedding stripped more times than a boutique B&B of late!  As anyone who knows us well knows, we’re always more than happy to have friends to stay – any excuse for a good gossip over a large glass of something! Continue reading