Monday, 12 March 2018

marshes and mud

Part two - Monday and Tuesday 26,27 February 2018 (and a Friday surprise)

So, the birthday happenings didn't stop with the weekend (and if you've missed that see Landmarks first).

After a late night run dropping off the younger members of the Famous Five across London, we carried on forging East to our late night destination, the lovely Bell Inn in the quaint hilltop hamlet of Horndon on the Hill.  Felt like a treasure hunt, finding the key in a little box and a note directing us up old wooden steps to our cosy room above the 15th century inn.
and after a good night's sleep we could see better where we'd climbed last night in the dark
and the front of our pub
and explore the lovely Horndon on the Hill 
with it's ancient Woolmarket. 
We'd hoped to peek inside the interesting looking Grade 1 listed church of St Peter and St Paul, built in the 13th century, but sadly it was all locked up.
So no chance to warm up there and I tell you - it was absolutely freezing cold.  The Beast from the East was forecast to start tonight and already snowflakes were trying their best in this little corner of Essex.
But, hardy Northerners that we are, we wrapped up and headed down to the Thames Estuary, just 5 minutes drive away, to the lovely little nature reserve - Thurrock Thameside Nature Park  - beautifully thought out, overlooking Mucking Flats and marshes and Canvey Island.
Note how the new visitor centre mimics the shape of the oil terminals on Canvey Island - and inside they had an amazing log burner surrounded by seats, sort of Viking friendship hut style - very welcome on a day as cold as this!
Just look at that snowstorm working it's way across to us from Canvey Island - to our right
and to our left the sky is still blue- but we had to quickly dive into the visitor centre as the snow storm created a complete whiteout for 10 minutes or so!
But we soon venture out again 
it's so very wild and very beautiful - and see how quickly the sky changed as yet another snowstorm passed over
Bit of warmth in the hide and spotted a kestrel
But now it was back into the car and overland to the town of Maldon - famous for it's salt
Fascinated by the last of the Thames Sailing Barges, lovingly restored and moored up.  These were built late 19th century and early 20th and you can even take trips on them in the summer around to Mersea.
A kindly local let us peek on board
But it was onwards and upwards and a little hike out to St Peter's Chapel on the edge of the marshes of the Blackwater estuary at Bradwell-on-Sea on the Dengie Peninsula
wild and totally wonderful and icily cold
with an amazing fragile coastline made of cockle, beyond the salt marshes
But it was back to our cosy Bell Inn for the most fabulous meal and a blazing log fire.


We set off from Essex as the 'Beast' started and just got back to Sheffield before it caught up with us there and we were snowed in for 3 days!

And finally, a week or so later, Mike had another post-landmark birthday celebration, this time at the cosy Packhorse Inn at Little Longstone - more log fires and more fabulous food and lots of lovely friends
 'twas hard to drag ourselves away from the fire . . . 
But we were soon revitalised by a quick hike around the lovely dale of Water-cum-Jolly, through the eerie drippy tunnels of the Monsal Trail and back along the muddy banks to Monsal Dale. 
Fabulous week all round!

Saturday, 3 March 2018


Part one - Friday, Saturday and Sunday 23,24,25 February 2018

Our weekend started here!!  After a hearty homemade soup with dear friends at the Sawmill Cafe in Stratford, a truly fabulous performance by School21 students of Les Mis - moving, inspiring and wonderful
Let's pause for a rousing chorus ....
Then good beer and good company at the Secret Weapon followed by bed and breakfast at our usual lovely Dalston gaff!


And we were on our way west out of London.  First gastro stop a great little find - The Tin Kitchen up on a hill in High Wycombe.  Fabulous brunch to fuel us and off into the sunny Chiltern Hills - red kites soaring overhead too many to number.
Collected the fifth member of our little crew, meandered through the sunny Oxfordshire lanes and went for a little leg stretch in the lovely unspoilt and unpopulated Warburg Nature Reserve
with lots of beautiful bare trees playing with the winter sun
Checked in at our Sonning hotel, the Great House, then off for our fabulous evening meal at the Wellington Arms, Baughurst.  And what an amazing landmark-eve treat that was for the birthday boy!!

Sunday - the Big Day dawns

And it's Happy Birthday to You ......... breakfast brunch and another big 'O' birthday conquered!!
lots of pressies to open
and a winter's amble beside the mighty Thames
and maybe time for a blast of that old song family Waugh used to march along to on country walks when we were little:

We had the three men - if only we'd had that boat!!
Next it was over to Henley on Thames to see the David Chipperfield's lovely River and Rowing Museum where we indulged in an afternoon tea (yes, food again!!)
and a spot of Wind in the Willows jollity
whilst hankering after a boathouse on the river!
The sun shone and it was just the happiest of happy birthdays.

Then, as the afternoon drew in it was time for the big birthday surprise  .......
A Swim and Dine package at the oh so wonderful and newly renovated Thames Lido in Reading - what a treat
We were given fluffy towels, bathrobes and flip flops and there we were, February 2018, one of the coldest winters for years, lounging OUTDOORS in the hot tub and braving the beautiful clear waters of the swimming pool, with the odd hot respite in the sauna - and it was totally fabulous and luxurious and special.

And there was more to follow - a sumptuous and delicious 5 course taster dinner in the fabulous restaurant spanning the edges of the pool
It was nothing short of magical
And here's the special birthday boy once again - the proof of a happy day is in the pudding as they say!! ha ha.  And of course in the smile.

HaPpY hApPy BiRtHdAy DeAr MiKe   X x X x X

and the celebrations continue in Marshes and Mud - read on if you dare!