Tag Archives: country house

Fireworks Festival at Catton Hall

This weekend we spirited ourselves away, up to The Midlands to visit friends at their country pile.

We had a beautiful afternoon to see the sights of the Leicestershire countryside, including a gentle stroll around Bradgate Park.

Leicester Hill Old John

Leicester Old John

The stone folly which sits atop the highest hill is called Old John. Legend has it the man who built it was fond of a pint, and hence the mug-shaped design.

Old John, Bradgate Park

Old John, Bradgate Park

Leicester Old John Arch

Leicester Old John Hill View

From the top you can just see the skyline of Leicester in the distance. We lingered for a while, people-watching and enjoying the vista and the cool breeze fluttering up the grassy hillside.

Liecester Hill

Come evening, we bundled up against the late summer chill, grabbed our picnic hampers, and trundled over to a nearby country estate. Brits love any excuse for a festival, and I’m a red-blooded American who can’t resist a good fireworks display, so we had the perfect activity planned.

The Catton Hall Fireworks Festival happens every year on the first Saturday in September. It’s basically a competition as several companies showcase thier pryo-musical displays.

Catton Hall Side View Front Lawn

Catton Hall Walking

Catton Hall

Catton Hall Hugs

Catton Hall Silliness

Once we found a perfect spot, we plunked down with our baskets and began unpacking our goodies. But not before pouring ourselves a glass of bubbly for the task!

Picnic Basket Hamper

Picnic Blanket Food Champagne

Picnic Blanket Talking

Picnic Blanket Food Cheese

Picnic Blanket Food Apricot Tart

Picnic Blanket Food Cherries




We nibbled and chatted as we waited for darkness to settle in, the crowd growing more and more antsy for the festival to kick off.

Until finally, it did.

Fireworks Purple


Each of the four displays were set to music. A lot of thought and planning goes into these pyro-musical designs, and the sounds can really enhance the drama and awe of an already visually stunning spectacle.

Fireworks Dim

Fireworks Golden

Fireworks Glow

Fireworks Smoke trails

Fireworks Face

Fireworks Smoky

It was a good old fashioned night of friends, wine and fireworks – and a reminder to visit the country more often!

Ballymaloe House

I’ve never been very curious about my genealogy. When someone asks my nationality, I’m blunt – “American.” Then I moved to the UK, where people can trace their ancestry back through direct descendants to Roman times. Over the holidays, I was invited to Christmas drinks at a country house built in the 1740’s and I jokingly remarked to the host “You have such a lovely historic home – it’s older than my country!” It was then I  resolved to explore my roots a little bit more. As there is Irish heritage on my paternal side of the family tree, I put a visit to the Emerald Isle on my list.

This weekend I took the one hour flight over to County Cork to traipse through the Irish countryside where, generations ago, my ancestors might have roved. Something about the landscape is strangely familiar – the rolling hills, the scent of the sea, the modest main streets. But there’s a certain romance here – a cheeky Irish charm. And you couldn’t help but feel it at Ballymaloe House in rural East Cork.

The ivy-fronted 17th century country house built on Norman ruins is run by the Allen family and listed in Ireland’s Blue Book of historic hotels.





Prunes & Apricots | Strawberry Muesli | Porridge from Macroom Stoneground Oats

Prunes & Apricots | Strawberry Muesli | Porridge from Macroom Stoneground Oats

Warm Homemade Breads | Rhubarb Ginger Jam & Blackcurrant Jam

Warm Homemade Breads | Rhubarb Ginger Jam & Blackcurrant Jam



The house is set within 400 acres of grounds – so after breakfast, we grabbed a map and went exploring. We toured the walled garden where the restaurant grows its fresh produce, the algae-tinted ponds in the woods behind the house, and the vast golden-tipped wheat fields that lolled on as far as the eye could see, their feathery fronds bending in the breeze. The scenes reminded me of summers spent scouting through the forests and cornfields of my childhood.










After a bit of horsing around, we made it back to the house as lunch was being served. The Allen family are known throughout Ireland for their cooking; they have a Cookery School on the premises where you can book classes or just come for one of their daily demonstrations. The first and second course was buffet style – including a carvery with 3 different roasts (pork, lamb and corned beef). Afterwards, the dessert trolley is rolled tableside – but choosing one is the tricky bit!


Calamari | Fish Pie | Stuffed Mussels | Garden Greens

Calamari | Fish Pie | Stuffed Mussels | Garden Greens

Roast Corned Beef | Red Cabbage

Roast Corned Beef | Red Cabbage

Gooseberry Pie | Chocolate Mousse Cake | Strawberry Pavlova

Gooseberry Pie | Chocolate Mousse Cake | Strawberry Pavlova

Balls of homemade vanilla ice cream

Balls of homemade vanilla ice cream

After a dip in the pool, I’ll claim a little spot for my towel in the grass, read my Kindle and snooze off lunch.

I am really dig the Irish lifestyle already and it’s only day one…