22 December 2017

sketches in travel magazine 2017

Well, that's been an interesting year! So here we go, our review of the year - Magazine style! Enjoy and thank you for all your support. See you in 2018.


8 December 2017

revealing the secrets of awesome england

fairground carousel

It's starting to look at lot like Christmas. So it should with it being just around the corner! Welcome to our second helping of Ordinary England posts. Our new series where we try to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. This month we head up high, go around and around and look at some graves! 


4 December 2017

said the maiden: here's a health

It was a balmy autumnal evening. Too warm for a late October night, but I hardly cared. This wasn't a night to complain about the weather, it was a night to be excited, joyous, and to listen to some uplifting music and celebrate. 

If you are familiar with these pages, you will know that Said the Maiden have featured on more than the odd occasion! Here they are again, (think I need to start charging them!) Tonight was the album launch for Here's a Health. Their 2nd full-length record. On this balmy night, the world was about to hear the fruits of their labour. The venue, The Water Rats in Kings Cross, London. 

Said the Maiden at the Water Rats


17 November 2017

a walk through the streets of london


This week we have a guest post, from an old friend from Germany, who currently resides in Finland. (Sorry for the 'old' Frauke, but we have known each other for some 20 years!) Back in the late days of September, Frauke, for that is her name, visited London for the 100th time! She loves it here. That's also her on the steps of the monument to the fire of London, (see below). I wanted to get her perspective of the city, so this is her tail. Frauke, over to you...

Frauke - Photo Courtesy of Neil Rees


27 October 2017

ordinary england


We're always one to try something new! After our successful Travel Trumps and Beyond The Back Garden series, we welcome a new addition to the family - Ordinary England

Starting out on our Instagram account, we now bring it to the Sketches platform. Short stories looking at the everyday ordinary and finding that they are in-fact extraordinary. 


13 October 2017

travel trumps guide to majorca

Majorca Delights

Perched on the cold floor of Luton Airport, having fought for a small space among the hordes of summer revellers. I was contemplating what to expect from Majorca. We'd been to Menorca and loved it, the island was family friendly, easy to negotiate, with beautiful beaches and scenery, but Majorca, one of the most popular summer sun destinations in Europe? I was unsure. Thankfully, we were to be pleasantly surprised.


15 September 2017

Flower Shows: A Great British Tradition

A Great British Tradition 

It's tougher than the NFL, more brutal than Ultimate Fighting, it's as raucous as Prime Ministers question time in the Houses of Parliment! Wait until the prizes have been handed out! Carnage. 

Every year it ends in a mass brawl, the losers pummeling the winner with left and right hooks Anthony Joshua would be proud of, in the vain hope of reclaiming the trophy they lost from the year before. Alright, I'm exaggerating a lot! 

I'm talking about a very British tradition. An event that is so British in its organisation, running and competitiveness, you wish there was a brawl at the end, just to mix it up a bit!



25 August 2017

dining with disraeli

Days out: Hughenden Manor

"Get in the car!" I cried in despair. M & K were reluctant but we persisted with our mild threat. "You may have been there before, but I can't remember if I have or not. So hush, we're going." 

When you've got a free day and the kids are on holiday, choosing a place to visit which will tick the following list is never easy. 

* Close to home - (High Wycombe) ✓
* Cheap or free entrance - (Free as we are National Trust members) ✓
* Entertaining for both adults and kids - (Kids trails, beautiful scenery, cafe, garden) ✓

On this occasion, we managed it. Just! 


18 August 2017

travel trumps guide to shoreditch

London's artistic region

As you step out of Liverpool Street Station you'd be mistaken for thinking that you have entered the business district of the city of London. In fact, you have, but hidden behind the high-rise offices, you'll find one of London's most artistic and trendiest districts; Shoreditch. Incorporating Brick Lane, and Spitalfields market, this area is crammed full of creativity, boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants galore. Trust me, this is one area of London you need to visit on your travels. 


21 July 2017

british holiday habits

Don't Forget Your Teabags! 

It is a known fact that us Brits love to travel. According to the Office for National Statistics; 65.7 million trips were taken abroad in 2015! We've been a travelling nation for centuries, it's part of our makeup and long may we continue to travel, explore and discover. 

What are your habits when it comes to travelling? What do you take with you that is essential and you can't live without? Taking it to the point that it has to be packed into that suitcase. Teabags? Biscuits? Sweets? Where do you prefer to go? Beach? Countryside? City break? What home comforts do you miss? We British can be an odd bunch! Here's an example.


10 July 2017

in the land of lego

Everyone loves LEGO 

'How much!?' 'You must be joking!' 'Get away with you!' 'You are kidding me'. Responses people might say when they look at the price of going to a theme park. No? That's what I said, or words to that effect, when I looked up the price of going to Legoland: Windsor. It's an expensive day out that's for sure. The entry price clearly doesn't hold people back as over 2 million of us venture there each year, and one sunny day recently we were added to that number.

I don't want to put people off visiting, it's a fun day, honestly. I just felt the need to make the price point early on. Which can be applied to most theme parks and attractions. M & K (the kids if you've read this blog before,) have wanted to visit Legoland for as long as I can remember, and as the timing was right we all headed off to the outskirts of Windsor and the land of LEGO. 


There's a lot of LEGO!

Once you've negotiated the entrance barriers, you are greeted by the usual cafes and shops selling sugar products! There's also a wonderful view looking across towards the City of London. On a good day, which this was, you can see The Shard poking its tip to the sky. So we headed straight for that rather than the sweet shops and admired the view. It's worth pointing out here, rather obviously, that this is a theme park for the younger child. Although there are roller coaster rides, they are not in the Alton Towers, Thorpe Park league. So worth bearing in mind. This theme park is all about the plastic brick, and there is an awful lot of it.

Some Facts

Before we get into our review properly, let's start by giving you some facts about LEGO. It was invented over 80 years ago by a Danish carpenter called Ole Kirk Christiansen. In 2012, 45.7 million Lego bricks were produced, many of which are scattered about our house! Seven LEGO sets are sold every second! Every second! I could go on but you get the idea. LEGO is extremely popular. 

We love a queue

Like most theme parks you have to queue for each ride. We do love a queue us, British! Why is it we are happy to stand in a queue with a group of people you aren't going to talk too for an hour or more? No idea? There's never any entertainment to keep you occupied, other than entertaining your own kids. 

"Hey kids, it's only an hour before your 30-second ride, let's play I-Spy.

You can buy quick access passes for an extra charge, but let's not get me started on the cost of doing that! I'll just say they are available and leave it at that.


So once you've negotiated the queues, the rides at the park vary from the simple; train and little helicopter rides, to the more challenging; mini roller coasters, swinging chairs and water rides. All are perfectly aimed at the younger audience, M & K had a wonderful time. As did us parents to be fair. There was, however, one aspect, which is not just relevant to Legoland, that infuriates me. Theme Park music! Specifically during shows. 

Am I getting old?

Shows, you know these events that theme parks put on to entertain the crowd. I use entertain loosely here. Booming background music that is on a loop! You sit there, 20 minutes + in advance of the show to get a good seat. You then have to sit through the looped music which is slowly driving you crazy. All theme parks do it. Most are themed to the area of the park, wild west etc..

'It's a small, small world!'

Although Legoland doesn't have that tune, their version of blaring music was bad enough. Add in the fake smiles and a show that made no sense to me at all! Hopefully, you can see where I'm coming from? It's again worth mentioning that the kids didn't mind it at all. I am getting old!

Legoland Windsor

To sum up then. If you have small children and they love LEGO, then you're going to love it here. The rides are fine and more than suitable for young children. The LEGO displays are great to look at and admire (see the photos), and you'll easily spend the whole day there. So as long as you don't worry about the queues, the horrible music and it's price, you'll have the perfect day out. 


19 June 2017

travel trumps guide to amersham old town

In an English Country...

Picture the scene. Resplendently manicured gardens, boutique shops, quaint bricked houses with rose bushes outside their front doors, courtyards and hidden alleyways. Steep green covered hills flanked on either side of the single street. Bunting and bands on summer Sundays. A beautiful image, isn't it? There's every chance this scene could be from an H.E. Bates novel?  Pop and Ma Larkin on one of their adventures.

Amersham Old Town, in Buckinghamshire, is one of the Chilterns most beautiful small towns and has become the latest edition to Sketches, Travel Trump series. If you get the chance to visit, I'm sure you'll feel the same about this sumptuous little bit of England.

As always thank you for your time and I do hope you'll keep a lookout for the next in the series. 

9 June 2017

the regeneration of sidney

Not Quite Dr Who!

Doesn't the time just fly by? Before you know it mid-summer will have arrived and the nights will start to draw in once again, well in the UK they will, that's for sure. A lot has happened since the last update on the progress of Sketches major project for 2017; How Sidney Lost His Sneezes, our children's book. So in this post, we'll get you up to speed on all the latest developments. 

1. You may be wondering why there is a Dr Who reference, well in a major twist, Sidney has had a regeneration, much like Dr Who,  and is now called Geoffrey! I had sent a draft version of the book to a soon to be published author, Carlie Sorosiak, whose first novel (If Birds Fly Back) is to be published this month. Carlie was very honest with her criticism and advised us to make some changes, including changing the main characters name. That's what we've done and thus Sidney is now Geoffrey. We've also implemented other pieces of advice she gave, and we're really pleased with how it's looking. 

2. We've started to push the promotion button a little further by putting together a short video, please see below. We're hoping to add this to a crowd funding campaign, with a few tweaks. 

3. Sidney  Geoffrey, sorry! has his own Twitter account, again to raise his, and the books profile. We'd be delighted if you followed him. Click on Geoffrey to follow, Geoffrey the Squirrel.

4. Jess, when she's not busy folking around with Said the Maiden, The Sea and the Land and The Company of Players, (blimey, she's got a lot on her plate), has started to create sketches of the different characters. Here's a sneaky peak at one of the characters called Micheal. We've also got ourselves an editor, so we're moving forward with great anticipation. 

Draft sketch of character Micheal by Jess Distill

Onwards and Upwards

So as we enter the summer, the book is going to be edited and we'll start to format how it will look with Jess's illustrations. All very exciting. Keep a look out on the social media sites for updates on whether we do our own crowdfunding or if we go through another channel. There might even be a new video! 

As always thank you for your support, it's amazing. We look forward to the next update. 


22 May 2017

interview with an artist

Chloé Harmsworth 

Picture courtesy of the artist
If you are a regular visitor to these pages, which I hope you are! You'll know that we like to champion local talent that we feel deserves a wider audience. We've concentrated predominantly on musicians and today's interviewee has a link to that genre, through her album artwork. So grab a coffee and sit back and enjoy our interview. On and when you can please go and visit her site and if you want a commission then there are details for you to follow. Welcome to the Sketches pages, Chloe Valerie Art.


5 May 2017

travel trumps guide to great missenden

A Little Town with a Big Heart

Great Missenden is located in the heart of Missenden Valley, within the Chiltern Hills. This quaint, picturesque town may be small, but at its core, it boasts a museum dedicated to a famous ex-resident and one of the world's most recognised writers; Roald Dahl. If that wasn't enough the town is also a perfect starting point for a walk or cycle ride and is less than an hour from central London! Welcome to our latest (new look) Travel Trumps, the second in our Chiltern Hills series. 

A Quick Question

This is our fourth Travel Trump, with a new design, and I was wondering if to try and turn these into a series of cards that could be sold as a pack of mini-guides. Does this sound like a good idea? I'd love to know your opinion. So please get in touch via the various social media channels. Thank you, until the next time. 

21 April 2017

one day in dorset

Beyond,(Beyond) the Back Garden  

When you get the chance to explore some new territory, it's very hard to turn the offer down, even if it's a day trip. I didn't turn the offer down and glad I went. Although in hindsight, it would have been better to spend at least the night away, unfortunately, we didn't have that choice. So we endured over six hours of sitting on a coach to Dorset. At least two hours of which was being stuck in London traffic. Boy, it's awful. How a taxi driver has the tolerance to drive around the capital's clogged up streets amazes me. They are either amazingly patient or just plain stupid! 


Searching for Dinosaurs

The Jurassic coast, our destination, is a 96 mile stretch of coastline that starts close to Swanage, at Old Harry Rocks and weaves its way down to Exmouth, or more precisely Orcombe Point. During the Jurassic period, this part of the world was part of a tropical sea! You certainly can't say that now! Strangely or stupidly I've swum in the sea here, on a number of occasions, and it's bloody cold! Even in summer. Sea swimming is actually quite enjoyable and liberating until you get a mouthful of salty sea water, and then you curse and get out.  This trip thankfully didn't involve taking a dip in the sea, this was purely tourism at it's most basic. See a place, take photos, walk a bit, jump back on the bus and then repeat the process. Welcome to our day in Dorset.

Poole to Corfe Castle 

We started in Poole, and soon left! A quick glance out the coach window across the harbour was enough for the driver and the group. I actually quite like Poole, although I've never really had the chance to explore it properly. One day, one day. We moved on to take the chain ferry across Poole Harbour to the Purbeck Peninsula. I once got caught up at this ferry crossing by a traditional gipsy caravan, who had been refused entry onto the ferry. They decided to have a sit-down protest until the police arrived, who after an hour or two eventually managed to move them away. It's not often these days you can boast that you got delayed because of a horse and carriage! 


This time we got on the ferry without any fuss and weaved our way towards the majestic Corfe Castle. I may have mentioned this place before on these pages, it's worth mentioning again. Perched on a steep hill the remains of the castle dominate the landscape. It's worth investigating if you can. Climbing to it's highest point you get a real sense of its once splendid grandeur and what a fortress it must have been. The village is rather pleasant too, especially in the off-season. You can find a tiny museum that's worth a look. It's tucked away beneath the church and is a mini historical treasure trove. We didn't have much time, so a quick explore, some photos and back to the coach for the main event. 

Durdle Door

Head down the coastline a further 10 miles or so from Corfe, you'll come to Durdle Door arch. As far as I can remember, I've never visited this natural wonder before. I'm glad I have now. This archway in the cliffs is one of the UK's great works of natural art. The cliff tops to access it are just as spectacular, as was the sunset. 

Durdle Door is part of the Lulworth Estate and can be accessed from Lulworth Cove. We were dropped off at the other starting point, Durdle Door Holiday Park. This is closer and slightly easier to access the attraction. Whichever drop off point you choose, have your walking boots and be prepared to scale steep ascending and descending paths to get there. We walked back across the cliff tops to Lulworth Cove and found it an exhilarating experience. 

Sitting on top of the steep cliffs looking down on Durdle Door, you can only marvel at the beauty of the landscape and the English Channel. Helped by fine weather and unseasonably warm temperatures. It really is an inspiring place to visit and was the perfect finale to our day. Little did we know at the time that another 3-hour coach journey awaited!  


One Day in Dorset

The UK has countless wonderful places to visit, Durdle Door should be high on anyone's wanderlust list. Visiting the Jurassic coast may require a bit more thought and planning, but it won't disappoint. It's a magical place, where nature is the ruler and you can only sit and admire its beauty.  Whether it's one day in Dorset or three you will come away in wonder at just how pretty this part of the world is. 

Have you been to Durdle Door or Corfe Castle? I'd love to know what you think.  

7 April 2017

catching up with sidney

Sidney Takes Shape

'Did you know that squirrels can sneeze? Sidney’s a squirrel and he sneezes. He’s snivelling and sneezing all day, every day, and he just doesn’t know why.'
Sketch courtesy of Jess Distill
I wonder how many of you can remember last year? I know it's already April, time is flying by like a tent in a hurricane! Last year now seems just a hazy memory. I ask the question because towards the end of last year I wrote an article introducing you to a new friend, Sidney. (If you didn't read that article you can here - Proudly Introducing you to Next Years Project 

Since then we've had a few upheavals. Changes in the storyline and most importantly of all, loss of illustrator! Unfortunately, Emma (see the post I mentioned above,) had to pull out due to commissions and commitments. I honestly thought that was the end. Fear not, as everything is now on the up, and I'm very, very excited about how the project is moving forward. 

Sidney Reborn

The reason for this? Step up our new illustrator, Jess Distill, whose enthusiasm for the project and brilliant artwork feels a perfect fit and is bringing the story alive. Sidney is Reborn

Jess is one-third of folk group Said the Maiden (I may have mentioned them here before! Many times in fact. I will do again in time, watch this space!)  Jess is also an artist (multi-talented these musician folk), has a unique style and was willing, (not forced, I promise) to help me take this project forward, bringing her style and touch to the project. 

Sketch courtesy of Jess Distill

That's why we wanted to once again give you a sneaky peek at the sketches. Only a sneaky peek, though! At the top of the page, we have the latest incarnation of Sidney with his snotty rag. Integral to the story. Above we have the first image of one of the characters from the story Janice. Do you like them? It's going to be very exciting to see how these and the other characters develop. 

Moving Forward

At the moment Jess is playing around with colours, types of pen etc. Early results are amazing and it's great to see the characters I had in my head now coming to life. Janice is one of a number of key characters to the story. She's a wise squirrel, but can she help Sidney? I'll say no more at the moment. Don't want to spoil it for you. 

With the story more or less complete, it's all about the images, like what you see above, fonts, layout and making the decision on how to 'put it out there!' This is where Jess and myself need you!

Are you a self-published author or expert on getting books onto the shelves? Then we would greatly appreciate your advice, tips and do's and don'ts. Anything in fact. So please let's connect through the various social media channels. We, oh and Sidney would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for reading and supporting us. It's appreciated.

Keep a look out for more updates soon


31 March 2017



Once in a Blue Moon, you'll get a Supermoon! An event that in 2017 will only take place in April, May, June and December. On the face of it, relatively rare. A couple of weeks back I witnessed a Supermoon of a different kind, one that will hopefully be less rare than the natural event, and become a part of your life as much as it has mine. Before we come to the main subject of this post, let's tidy up exactly what a supermoon is. 

The term 'Supermoon' was coined by astrologer Richard Nolle and is named as such when a new or full moon occurs and it's at its nearest orbit to the Earth. Did you know that these supermoons can cause some real physical effects? For example higher than usual tides. So is the Supermoon we're discussing here a perfect metaphor? Can this Supermoon cause a tidal wave of musical emotion? Quite possibly! 

So please, for our new post lets welcome - Supermoon the duo.

Picture courtesy of Oliver Cross Photography

At the Blue Moon

Before we get into the logistics let's firstly go back to a chilly Saturday night in The Blue Moon, Cambridge. The venue where Supermoon plied their musical chops and introduced themselves into the musical landscape, officially.  

The stage was set, neon lights adding to the ambience. The room filled with guests, expectant at the launch night of their first EP. Cambridge may have never seen two moons collide in such a way before! Or will again for that matter. 

With their vocal harmonies mixing beautifully among a set list of their own self-penned numbers and cover versions, the evening was a delightful musical mash-up of genres. Guitars and violin, with added beatbox sounds and double bass. Midway through there was even time for a bit of a folk hoedown! It's not often you'll see that and then a Guns & Roses cover on the same bill! It was a splendid event, a great way to launch their EP. 

Who is Supermoon?

Griff and Hannah make up the group. The project originally started out as a solo effort for Griff but clearly, Hannah's talents caught Griff's eyes and the project soon changed course. The duo is one-third of Said the Maiden, that's (Hannah Elizabeth) and one part of Freds House, that would be (Griff Jameson), of Freds House. With Hannah's folk background and Griff's quirky mix of pop and rock, it's a collaboration that's certainly an interesting mix. 

Picture courtesy of Oliver Cross Photography

Hit that Perfect Beat!

Their first batch of songs have just been released as an EP, so to give you a little taster, here's their first video (below). The other numbers follow in a similar laid back, acoustic way. It's simple but pleasantly sweet. Don't believe me?  Well, if you would like to purchase their EP you can go to Freds House website fredshousemusic.co.uk. and purchase it yourself. I'm sure they would like that very much!

Supporting Fresh Talent 

As you know, there is an abundance of fresh musical talent out there to discover. Whether it's from the folk world or the pop sphere. It's collaborations like this that help to show the depth of this talent. People are trying to make thoughtful music that isn't just bland pop music. That should be celebrated, shouldn't it? I do hope you will take a look, and hopefully, you'll carry on discovering other talented musicians and bands. If so then please tell me. Oh, and if you want to give Griff and Hannah a kind message, then you can always let them know on their facebook page! Supermoonduo

Thanks as always and keep a lookout for another collaboration group very soon. 

20 March 2017

travel trumps guide to st albans

Travel Trumps: City Series

Welcome to the first in the City Series of Travel Trumps. To begin we've visited the closest city to our home; St Albans. Set in the commuter belt land of Southern Hertfordshire, the city is only 30 minutes outside London but is barely mentioned in travel guides or for that matter visited. 

That's a shame, as this is a city which offers delights on every street corner. The UK's oldest pub, check. A majestic Cathedral, check. Restaurants, bars, cafes, check. Beautiful parks, Roman relics, check. So the next time you're heading South or visiting our shores, you'd be silly not to add a day trip or stopover here. 

Would you like to be featured?

Are you a restaurant, visitor attraction, cafe or any travel related business? Would you like to be Travel Trumped? If so why not get in touch. As we develop this series we will head into different areas, not just destinations. That's the idea! 

Many thanks as always for your support. 

10 March 2017

where eagles soar

Where Eagles Soar

They soar on the thermals, wings spread wide, gliding effortlessly across the cloudy sky. Sometimes alone, other times accompanied by a friend or two. Often with their heads pointed towards the ground below, searching out their prey, or in this birds case, scraps of dead animals or a beetle or chick. You might spot them battling with a crow or other large bird. Fighting duels in the sky. The more you observe, the more you admire these majestic creatures of the sky. 

I'm talking about the Red Kite, a member of the Accipitridae family, which count eagles and buzzards among their raptor friends. A bird that is now as familiar to the Chiltern skyline as an aircraft departing from Heathrow or Luton Airport! Ok, not quite as common as that, but it won't take you long to spot one.  

The Red Kite reintroduction project in the Chilterns has been a conservation success story, so much so that it's spreading its wings (pardon the pun) across greater areas of Britain. A common site for birdwatchers up and down the land. 

red kites


The story behind the Red Kites reintroduction is well worth mentioning here. The website www.redkites.net will give you a comprehensive guide, but to summarise. 

Between 1989 - 1994, the Red Kite was re-introduced, having originally been almost made extinct by persecution. Apart from a small area in Wales. I can attest to that because I was always looking to the sky in my youth; planespotting and cannot ever recall seeing them. The reintroduced birds were bought over from Spain, and released into the Chiltern landscape. This got my warped brain thinking, 'I wonder how long it took them to get down with the 'English-lingo!?' Them being of Spanish origin. Picture the scene.

A Blackbird to a Red Kite - "Welcome dear chap, spiffing day for flying isn't it?

The Red Kite to the Blackbird - "Q?

They must have settled well since there has been a population explosion. Recent estimates suggest there could be at least a 1000 breeding pairs, they don't know for sure because there are so many of them! After breeding (which is around this time of year) chicks are then sent out to other parts of the UK to help bolster the countrywide population. I will mention here that they always leave at least one chick in the nest. Would be a bit unfair to take them all away. 

Again my warped mind got thinking. I wonder what those chicks think about being moved to somewhere like; Grimsby? 

It's an incredible success story, one to cheer and cherish. I wanted to observe them closer, more observantly than just a fleeting glance. So that's exactly what I did. Observe them. 

the chilterns

Searching for the Red Kites

I'm no Bill Oddie or Chris Packham (bird watching and wildlife experts if the names don't sound familiar.) And I'm not very good at capturing them on a camera (see above). In fact, although I enjoy watching birds, I'm terrible with remembering which species is which, other than say a robin, blackbird and perhaps a bluetit and sparrow! 

I'm the same with cloud spotting! I'm member 25,400 and something of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Lifetime member I may add.  Watching clouds scud across the sky, perhaps warning of impending rain is one of our life's great pleasures, you should try it! I've studied the books, tried to remember the formations, but no! Always, rather frustratingly having to refer back to them to be 100% sure. Maybe I'm just stupid? Observing and recognizing a Red Kite though is not difficult. Thankfully! Here are the facts from the Chilterns AONB site: 

60 - 65 cm long
Wingspan is 175 -195cm
Colour - head: white/grey, body: russet

You don't need any specialist equipment, nor visit a wildlife sanctuary or other such place. Arrive anywhere in The Chilterns, look up and you'll spot one quick enough. Really, it's that easy. It doesn't matter if it's in a town or the backend of some remote village, you'll see them. You could watch for hours as they go about their daily business. 

Feeling Special

In some ways it makes you feel quite special knowing these large birds are flying across your patch of sky. 'Look we've got eagles too!' you can proclaim if someone tells you they have Vultures or Golden Eagles in their neighbourhood. Which I'm sure people do on many occasions! 

So if you come to our fair islands, then make sure to look to the skies, because the eagles are soaring! 

24 February 2017

travel trumps guide to marylebone

London Districts No1 - Marylebone 

It's the return of our new mini travel guide series Travel Trumps. After the success of the first; Chesham, (thank you, thank you), we're starting off a new category; London. There are many of London's districts worthy of mention, also worthy of diving into and exploring. Marylebone is such a district and as its one, I've walked through on many occasions on my way to Baker Street (cue the saxophone!*) it felt right to start here. 

As always thank you for your support, opinions, views and suggestions always welcome. Happy Marylebone exploring!

* From Gerry Rafferty's famous hit - Baker Street

10 February 2017

happiness is riding the 730 to uxbridge

On the Buses

Here's a question for you. When was the last time you took a trip on your local bus service? Yesterday? Last week? Last year? 

Before we go on, I realise that if you're currently having to experience the continued Southern trains debacle in the South of England, then you'll probably using buses on a more regular basis than would like. (For those who don't know, Southern have been making life miserable for commuters by constantly striking!) Back to that question, for most, it's probably not that often. We all have cars right? Well, last week I had to wait in the cold and take a bus and it got my thinking! 

Aren't buses a fabulous transport method? You can sit back, or if sitting over the back wheel, have your knees constantly smacking your chin. Look at the views, although if it's wet or cold, or wet and cold, you can't see anything because the windows have steamed up! Find when you get off that you've been sitting on a piece of old chewing gum. Which you can't get off! Have to endure the hyper loud screams of school kids, if you, unfortunately, catch the bus when its the end of the school day! 


The 730 to Uxbridge 

My bus journey was the fantastically imaginatively named 730! Where do they decide these numbers? Why not a Route 4? Or go the full hog and call it The UX Route or something similar? 

Apparently, there is some logic to numbering, although a quick search as to why just confused me even more! Some have numbers referring to whether it,s a local or longer distant route i.e. 200 for local, 300 for schools etc, others say it refers to a district or that it has historical significance! I admit I got bored after that! If however, you do want to read more, then click here and the blog That Gormandizer Man will reveal all. 

The 730 takes its passengers on a journey through the great and good of the Chiltern Hills and beyond. Starting or finishing in Hemel Hempstead a rather nondescript town (although Boxmoor is beautiful) and maundering its way to Uxbridge, a rather nondescript town (although the canal is pretty), on the edge of London, via a number of towns and villages on route. 

Glamour it ain't! 

It's not the most glamorous of routes, even if it does go through some lovely countryside. It doesn't however, have to go down muddy roads or navigate sheer drops, whilst passing cars on a road that's not big enough for a bus, like in Nepal or up some Alpine pass! The bus route does have a certain charm, and it's very convenient so I shouldn't moan. It also arrived on time which was a blessing. 

As I boarded the bus, rattling and fumbling around for change to pay the driver. 
(It's a right pain having to have or as close to the right change. I always have to buy something to get the right change before catching the bus! Usually, something I don't need!)

Strolling down the aisle I noticed I was probably the youngest person on the bus by about 80 years! I exaggerate of course, but I was certainly the youngest. Everyone (that would be all 5 of them!) gave me a little stare and then continued about their business. The journey was pleasant, if a little uninspiring, but it served its purpose, getting me from A to B safely, so who I am to argue with that.  


Mrs Bonds Dentures! 

I think we should all take buses, to work, for a day trip, for no reason whatsoever. Where else can you hear about the issues facing Britain today? Not on the Tube! A place where everyone is deadly silent, afraid to even speak. 

"Did you hear about Mrs Bond's dentures, Maud?" "No" I reply butting in on Maud's conversation. "Well she lost her dentures down the toilet.""Never!" I say an air of exasperation in my voice. Alright so this isn't actually true, but I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't conversations similar to that on most daily bus routes, and that is why we should use them. It warms the heart that you can have a good natter on a bus, so long may it continue. 

Happiness is riding the 730 to Uxbridge 

We need our buses, need our local bus routes taking us through places we would never dream of going through before. We need our buses to transport us to the heart of our towns and cities or tiny villages. We need our space to chat about things and right the world's wrongs. We need our 730 to Uxbridge and beyond!  

So as long as you able to withstand the start/stopping and the occasional load of screaming school kids, then why not take your local bus. You'll discover and learn far more than you'd ever have realised. Including perhaps why Mrs Bond's dentures were lost! 


27 January 2017

travel trumps guide to chesham

Travel Trumps 

"A new year, new ideas." That's what I said to myself as 2017 got underway. Beyond the Back Garden was launched first, and today we kick-start the second. Welcome to our new feature.

Travel Trumps

No its got nothing to do with the new President of the United States of America! It's based (a little) on a favourite children's card game called Top Trumps. 

I've had the idea to do some mini guides, but in a different way, for a long time. Not just long written pieces with some pictures, (nothing wrong with them trust me, I'll still be doing them from time to time.) I wanted to feature some lesser known places, add in some fun facts and information, places to go and eat, etc. Little guides that everyone can use, without pages of information. Give a sprinkling of ideas and then allow the reader to explore and self-discover. That's where the idea for Travel Trumps came about (see below.) 

First up: Chesham, a small market town in the heart of the Chiltern Hills (which just so happens to be where I'm from!) 

travel guide

I hope you found it to be an exciting and fun feature? Your comments as always would be most appreciated. That way I can develop it and improve for next time. Thanks for your support, happy travels. 

16 January 2017

espresso base

Is this London's Best Cafe?

Walk down any British high street these days and you'll probably be able to count at least 5 or 6 different cafes and coffee shops. Ranging in size and style from the independents to the chain stores. Cafe culture has increased to such a level that in London alone there are....(lots!) It's actually impossible to count as there seems to be a new one open everyday! As an example, the largest of the major chain cafes in the UK; Costa, have over 1500 dotted around the UK! And that's just one chain, not forgetting Starbucks, Cafe Nero and the others I've forgotten.

london cafe
Courtyard of Espresso Base - taken by the author

Our Insatiable Thirst!

With such an insatiable thirst for coffee, hot chocolate and smoothies its no wonder that this industry accounted for £7.9bn in 2015 to the UK economy (source: Daily Telegraph). The trouble is are they any good? We all know what the large cafe providers are like, and what they offer, so many of us play safe and go to them, myself included. However the real treats are really found in unexpected places and are often small independently run establishments. Whilst out on one of my London strolls, I came across Espresso Base. Having tried a coffee or two and met with its owner, I can say that this is a cafe you really need to seek out if you're in London. Is this London's best cafe? Quite possibly. 

Espresso Base 

This is no ordinary cafe, and here's why. 

1) It's an outside cafe. Perfect when to sun shines. 

2) It's next to a splendid church on Bloomsbury Road and has an amazing courtyard (about 5 minutes walk from the British Museum.)

3) The coffee is fantastic and made with love and passion, really. 

4) The owner (Gennaro) wants you to taste the coffee in the right way; without sugar! You have to pay extra to have it. 

It's in the perfect location, set in the churchyard of St George's Church. Large office buildings dwarfing. It's a great way to fill a space, that would otherwise be left to gather rubbish. Lined with wooden chairs and table, the epicentre of the cafe is hidden under the canvas shell at the rear. I hope the pictures of its grounds do it justice? I could have happily sat there for hours looking for all the little nuances, like the chalk board signs and the ornaments that are hidden away, looking to be discovered. 

london cafes


cafes in london

This is a cafe that requires your full attend, from the moment you order your drink to sitting down and enjoying the churchyard. Think about it, how often do we really take notice of the surroundings in a Costa or Cafe Nero? They are so generic and uninspiring. Espresso Base certainly isn't. A word of warning, its not open every day (Fri - Sun), and is closed from around 4pm. Check the twitter link for full details  https://twitter.com/espresso_base

Final Word

Its perhaps best to leave with one of the quotes from the cafes many customers (see below). Couldn't sum it up any better myself. So our call to action is to seek out this gem, give it a try and then decide for yourself, and let us know. I love it, the person on the message board loves it, I'm sure you will love it. Happy coffee drinking.

london cafes

Where's your favourite cafe? Or perhaps you think you have the best coffee in London? Why not drop us a comment and I'll come and test it out. 


6 January 2017

how to enjoy strolls on top of the world

chiltern hills

We're currently shrouded in fog at the time of writing this. Winter likes to do that to us here in the Chilterns, denying us what little sun we can get during the cold months. The temperature has dropped, the wind is all but non-existent, meaning the hills are covered in this blanket of cloud. It didn't produce a White Christmas, again! We do get snow from time to time. It's not frequent, but when it does come everything comes to a standstill. I know that the rest of the snow covered world shakes their heads in disbelief at our ineptitude, but that's how it is. Anyway its post Christmas and we're into that strange time before New Year. Life goes on of course, it just seems that everyone is at half pace or unsure of what day it is! That's why it's especially good to get out and have a stroll, assuming the fog doesn't ruin the views. So that's exactly what we did. Stroll, on top of the chilterns, fog or no fog!  

chiltern hills

Dunstable Downs 

The Chilterns have an abundance of wonderful walks, comes with the territory I suppose. It boasts the oldest path in the UK, The Ridgeway, but for this post we're not featuring it! Perhaps another time? We may even try to walk one of these days? No, we're up at another key point in the hills. Well actually we're at its end, or beginning, depending on which way you look at it, and one of its highest points, Dunstable Downs. 

Dunstable Downs sits on the edge of, Dunstable! A rather nondescript town in Bedfordshire, close to its more famous neighbour Luton. Which is better known more for its airport these days. There's even a song about it! Which I'm sure the residents of Luton and the airports workers hate! I used to live in Luton during my university years. Good times for the most part, or certainly the parts I can remember. I would occasionally heading out into the countryside surrounding the town. Although only having an old sit up and beg bike I probably didn't manage to cycle up to the Downs.  It's funny how the older you get the more you appreciate your surroundings, which I probably didn't as much then. I now even take pleasure in cold weather and even bare bushes! (See below). I certainly now appreciate the Downs, they are beautiful and here's why.

The Chilterns

History of the Downs 

Dunstable Downs are the highest point in the East of England, rising some 797 ft (243m) above sea level, hence our top of the world headline. They just so happen to be one of the most popular points on the Chiltern ridge, according to the Chilterns AONB website and we can clearly testify to that with a full car park and people everywhere! Some even eating ice cream! It's like minus 4 out there! I may be exaggerating a little, but not much.

The Downs boast, if that's the right word, 5000 year old ancient burial grounds called the Five Knolls (there are in fact seven knolls!), as well as ancient rabbit burrows and fantastic views. On this occasion we didn't head to them as our son decided he wanted to walk down the downs and then back up them! I knew full well that I'd have to carry him at some point, hoping it wasn't whilst climbing back up! Thankfully it wasn't I'm happy to report. There was once the custom of rolling oranges down the slopes on Good Friday. My son would have happily followed said tradition if allowed. I could picture the scene. He, aged 4, running down chasing the orange, all arms and legs, with me following and falling flat on my face! He would be watching me, happily at the bottom with orange in hand! It is a shame some of these traditions are lost to 'health and safety', such is modern life. On this occasion I was thankful.  

The Downs are such a great place to take the family. You get the opportunity to enjoy some of the best views The Chilterns can offer. There's the rather nice visitors centre, a chance to fly kites if there's wind. On this occasion we could see the vale below stretching into the far distance. The fog had cleared and the sun was setting behind the next ridge of hills. Making for a perfect post Christmas stretch of the muscles. 

Chiltern Hills

Walking into the New Year 

New Years not only marks the beginning of a new chapter, but also the chance to stretch those legs a little more and perhaps meet one of our new years resolutions. I fully intend to walk as much as I can this year. Explore some of the villages and towns, perhaps a local pub or two. What better way to see our wonderful countryside? So to answer our headline, How to enjoy strolls on top of the world? Just put those wellies on and go!


Where do you go to stroll on top of the world? I'd love to know, so why not leave a comment on one of the various social channels available. Happy strolling. 


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