Tag Archives: England

Babington House

Babington House Drive

Miles from London, in a faraway land called Somerset, there’s a long tree-lined lane. It leads to a pocket-sized chapel, St Margarets, and just beyond it, the dour Georgian manor that is Babington House.

Part of the Soho House portfolio, I was expecting a snazzy English countryclub scene, but the other guests were mainly just local mums bringing the kids swimming, and a few other couples in for the weekend from London. But mostly, we had the place to ourselves.

Babington House St Margarets Sign

Babington House Lawn

Babington House Lawn Chapel

Babington House Cobblestone Path

We stayed in the Coach House, in a delightful room over two stories. Sweet touches were everywhere you looked – fresh flowers, vintage books with winsome titles, a silver tin of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies.

Babington House Coach House

Babington House Do Not Disturb Door Soho House

Babington House Coach House Room Velvet Sofa

Babington House Room Coach House Dressing Table

Babington House Room Coach house Spiral Staircase

Babington House Room Coach House Loft Bed

Babington House Room Coach House Bed

Babington House Room Coach House Loft view

Babington House Room Cabbages and Roses Blue Velvet Dress Knit Bobble Hat

Babington House Room Bathroom Tub White Tile

Babington House Room Bathroom Clawfoot Tub

Babington House Room Robes Big Feet Little Feet

Babington House Room Coach House

Babington House Coach house room Flowers

Babington House Room Fresh Flowers

Babington House Eat Sleep Nap

Babington House Room Tea

Babington House Room Tea Treats

We couldn’t resist a spot of tea before heading outside for an afternoon of countryside pursuits – strolling the sprawling grounds, going for a bike ride, and then a swim.

Babington House Wellies

Babington House Walled Garden Green Grass

Babington House Walled Garden Cabbages and Roses Velvet Dress

Babington House Walled Garden Spa Cabbages and Roses Blue Velvet Dress

Babington House Pond Rear

Babington House Backyard Tree Pond

Babington House Bicycle Cabbages and Roses Velvet Dress

Babington House Bicycle Path

Babington House Bicycle Cabbages and Roses Blue Dress

Babington House

Babington House Chapel

Babington House Chapel View

The outdoor heated pool is a perfect warm-up for these chilly February days.

We raced to see which one of us could shimmy back into their hooded robe the fastest, thick clouds of vapor wafting off our poached bodies like a pair of Chinese steamed buns!

Babington House Pool

Babington House Pool Steam Sun

Babington House Pool Swim Bun

Back in the room, we opened a bottle of champers, but before you could say “Pop, fizz, clink!” I was already in a clawfoot tub full of bubbles, where I had a good long soak before dinner.

The bathroom was stocked with shelves of Cowshed products, so no shortage of goops and creams to daub on.

Babington House Bathtub Clawfoot White Tiles

Babington House Bathtub Bubbles

Dinner was A-OK. Candlelight, dainty flowers on the table, the universal Soho House playlist audible above the din of the orangery. It felt a bit like going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day, surrounded by other couples.  But we are far too diffident to canoodle publicly at the dining table. (As my husband likes to chide, “We’re English, not savages, Sarah!”)

Instead, we sipped our Babington martinis (amazing, with Noilly Prat, Tokaji and grapefruit oils, by the way) and nearly choked with laughter piling up a tower of mussel shells, a perilous house of cards of molluscs, which eventually gave way and sent a few shells toppling to the floor!

Most-meal pastimes, such as pool, were on hand, but we found we were happiest in the Study sipping Moscow Mules by the fire.

Babington House Lobby Mirror Flowers

Babington House Games Room

Babington House Study Fireplace Light

Babington House Study Fireplace Drinks

Yes, it’s a chain and not really a country club in the true sense, but Babington House is a great choice for a relaxing and romantic weekend.

I can say I was actually sad to leave. But London missed me, I had to get back! Lots more city adventures coming soon…

Roman Baths and Stonehenge

My parents are in town! Which is great because not only did I miss them, but now we get to explore around England together!

We set off for a day seeing Bath and Stonehenge, stopping along our route in the charming market town of Tetbury. Every Saturday, the 17th-century market hall comes alive, and I loved browsing the racks of vintage furs and rummaging through trays of antique jewellery.

Tebury Town Flag

Tetbury Flea Market England

Tetbury Market Fur

Above the market hall is a vendor selling a hearty selection of sheepskin and leather goods. We picked up two pairs of shearling gloves for £15! A terrific bargain for locally made products.

Tetbury Sheep Market Steps

Tetbury Sheep Market Skin Pelts

Tetbury Market Shearling Gloves

Tetbury Genuine Sheepskin Shearling Gloves

We piled back into the car and rambled through some beautiful countryside to the World Heritage city of Bath. Bath has special significance to me and my family because it is the sister city to my mother’s hometown of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia – also a historic resort town known for its natural springs.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Bath Cathedral

Our time in Bath was severely limited, so we made our primary stop the ancient Roman Baths. The ruins here date back to 60 AD when the city was a spa town called Aquae Sulis.

Bath Roman Baths Entrance

Bath Roman Baths View Down on Water

Bath Roman Baths Railing

Bath Roman View Cathedral

Bath Balcony Rail Roman Baths

Bath Roman Bust

The first Romans to come here were soldiers. Their architects and craftsmen built the Baths and Temple. Below is what remains of the temple front.

Bath Roman Baths Freize Temple Front Stone

Bath Roman Baths Sun Head God Freize Temple

People from local tribes, officials and priests, and traders from across the Empire began to settle here. Pilgrims travelled here. And monuments were built here.

This stone head probably decorated the tomb of a wealthy lady. Her hair-do was fashionable in Rome in the later 1st century AD.

This stone head probably decorated the tomb of a wealthy lady. Her hair-do was fashionable in Rome in the later 1st century AD.

Bath Roman Baths Source Waterfall

Bath Roman Baths Looking Up Inside Springs

Bath Roman Baths Surface of the Water Springs

Bath Roman View

Roman Baths Springs Private Area

Bath Roman Baths Sitting Springs

There was a fountain at the exit where we were able to taste the purified spring waters. It has a stinky sulphuric taste, but contains hundreds of times more minerals than your standard mineral water. I savoured a few sips, letting my body absorb the curative powers of the water. However, I won’t be giving up my Perrier anytime soon!

Our final stop for the day was the obligatory Stonehenge tour. It is, by far, one of the most moving sites on earth. I swear I can feel the energy in the air.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre

When I came two years ago, you could park your car right across the street from the stones, then cross through an underground tunnel to walk right up to the site. Now there’s a new visitor centre, and a shuttle bus ride one mile down the road.

But same as before, the experience once we reached the site was equally breathtaking.

Stonehenge Green Grass

As much as the little wheels in my brain churned away at the thought of it, these stones and how they got here, and the reason why, is frightfully unexplainable.

Stonehenge Up Clsoer

Stonehenge Up Close

Stonehenge Portrait Gloves

Stonehenge Portrait

Stonehenge Portrait Audio Guide

Stonehenge Sunset

We walked the circuit around Stonehenge, utterly mesmerizing from every angle, the landscape changing like a kaleidoscope around it. A true wonder of the world!

Broughton Castle

British people have a saying, “An Englishman’s home is his castle.” The phrase is taken to mean that everyone has the right to do as they please within their own home, and no one can enter a dwelling without invitation. On a weekend trip up to the Cotswolds, we stopped in to see one of the finest private moated manor houses in the country, Broughton Castle.

Located outside of Banbury and made of magnificent golden honey limestone, the core of the house dates from 1306. It has been home to the Fiennes family since the 1400s, and has appeared on-screen in films such as Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Jane Eyre (2011).

The owners open the house and grounds to the public on select days of the year, and we seized the invitation to have a poke around.

Broughton Castle Entrance

The Gatehouse

The Gatehouse

Broughton Castle Outside

Broughton Castle Landscape

Broughton Castle Shells Window

Broughton Castle Viscount Falkland Portrait

I have to admit it’s a bit weird roaming around a complete stranger’s home – no matter how magnificent. However, the interior is so perfectly cared for and preserved, it feels rather like a museum. As I became more and more lost in the details and grandeur of each room, I began to forget the sense that I was somehow intruding.

Armor on display in The Great Hall

Armor on display in The Great Hall

Broughton Castle Great Parlour Wallpaper BUST

Ornate Plaster Ceiling in The Great Parlour

Ornate Plaster Ceiling in The Great Parlour

Broughton Castle Bedroom Dragon

Broughton Castle Portraits

Breezing through the drafty stone corridors, and up the creaky wooden staircase to the long carpeted gallery filled with art and antiques, we amusedly nosed around the historic chamber rooms.

Broughton Castle Bedroom Wallpaper Chair

I freaked for this gorgeous wallpaper in the King’s Chambers, hand-painted in China with impressive detail in the 1800s.

Broughton Castle Bedroom Wallpaper

We were even permitted to climb out on the roof and look down over the luscious green landscaping and gardens.

Broughton Castle Roof

Broughton Castle Roof Panama

Broughton Castle Roof Shot

Broughton Castle Garden

The last room to see was the Oak Room, an opulently panelled drawing-room with an oak interior porch put up by William, the 1st Viscount.

Broughton Castle Sitting Room Doorway

Broughton Castle Sitting room fireplace

Broughton Castle Sitting Room Books

Broughton Castle Sitting Room Door

The Oak Room led out into a perfectly coiffed garden with neatly manicured box hedges and a smattering of pastel pink roses.

Broughton Castle Outside Garden

Broughton Castle Outside Garden Looking

Broughton Castle Outside Garden Arch

Broughton Castle Outside Garden Bench House

Broughton Castle Outside Garden Bench

Broughton Castle Outside House

Broughton Castle Outside Walking

Broughton Castle Outside Side View

Broughton Castle Outside Side Walking

We weren’t the only ones roaming the grounds on this beautiful day!

Broughton Castle Cows

Broughton Castle Cow

An udderly amoo-sing day in the country!

Thank you to the owners of this remarkable property for letting us have a captivating peek inside.

Sea La Vie: A Day in Whitstable

A blue sky day on the English coast is automatic perfection.

And for us, an automatic excuse to jump in the car, put the roof down, crank up the tunes, and cruise over to Kent for a day on Whitstable’s pebbled shores.

Beach View

Beach Nap

Beach Bright

Beach Legs

Beach Yellow Car

Beach

Sea

Salt in the air, sand in my hair.

We laid in the sun listening to the cries of marauding seagulls above us until our heads got warm and felt a bit fuzzy, which meant it was time for food!

Good thing we knew an amazing place just up the road for a leisurely spot of lunch.

Sportsman

Sportsman Sunroom

Sportsman Sign

Sportsman Tasting Menu

We plunked ourselves down and got comfortable – with a glass of champagne, naturally.

champagne

The amuse bouche was a curious little concoction of fish, egg yolk and cream which was like a decadent spoonful of chowder.

Sportsman Amuse Bouche

Sportsman Amuse Bouche Yolk

Next was the bit I was most looking forward to – the oyster course.

Poached oyster with cream rhubarb granita and crystalized seaweed

Poached oyster with cream rhubarb granita and crystalized seaweed

Sportsman Oyster Box

Sportsman Oyster Eat

Whitstable is known for its oysters and – woweee – these did not disappoint!

Salt baked beetroot, rhubarb and fresh cheese

Salt baked beetroot, rhubarb and fresh cheese

Sportsman 2nd Course

Sportsman Bread

The salads and bread knocked my shoes off! Actually, it was me who kicked them off under the table, because there’s nothing better than eating lunch barefoot by the beach.

Sportsman Kicked Off Shoes

Roast Hake fillet with cherry tomato suace and green olive tapenade

Roast Hake fillet with cherry tomato sauce and green olive tapenade

Sportsman 3rd

Roast breast confit leg of local Aylesbury duck with spiced roasting juices

Roast breast confit leg of local Aylesbury duck with spiced roasting juices

A spiffing English lunch!

The meal wasn’t yet over, but we needed a timeout. So we took our glasses outside for some fresh air and a post-meal stroll.

Sportsman 4th course interlude

We weren’t in a hurry. We had all afternoon to spare.

So we just enjoyed the sunshine for a while before heading back to our table.

Sportsman 4th Interlude Wine

Sportsman 4th Interlude Picnic Table

Rhubarb ice lolly with maderia cake milk

Rhubarb ice lolly with madeira cake milk

Sportsman Lolly

Chocolate and salted caramel tart with vanilla ice cream

Chocolate and salted caramel tart with vanilla ice cream

We didn’t even actually touch this tart, but instead had it wrapped up to take home!

It will make a good midnight snack at some point 🙂

Pheasant Shoot

Over the weekend, I was thrilled to be invited on my first ever pheasant shoot at a farm in rural Oxfordshire. It was a dismal rainy morning, but we pulled on layers of wooly socks and our wellies and trudged out into the fields.

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This is British pheasant shooting explained simply: Beaters go through the woods with sticks making noises to scare out the pheasants. The guns line up on their pegs in front of the woods, ready to shoot down any birds that fly out at a decent height. If the birds fly too low, they can’t be safely shot. And if they fly too high or far away, they are safe from the shotgun’s spray.

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The first few drives were good despite the relentless drizzle; the boys shot a few plump pheasants. The dogs raced through the muddy fields to retrieve all of the downed birds.

bird bird2 dog1 dog shot2 shot3

After an initial three drives in different locations around the farm, we paused for “elevenses” in the barn.  Elevenses is the British term for a snack between breakfast and lunch. In this case, we warmed ourselves over thermoses of leek and potato soup, sausage rolls, and sips of fragrant sloe gin.

Our fingers and toes warmed, we kitted back up and prepared to head out again for the final drives of the afternoon.

gear 11 12 cows

These cows thought we were downright crazy to want to go out in such lousy weather!

cow1But I think they were glad when they could have their barn back to themselves!

The rest of the drives for the afternoon flew by – and by lunchtime the weather had improved.

z shot shot4  10A successful shoot! We all went home with a couple of fresh birds each – ready to be roasted for Sunday lunch!

Tea at Fortnum & Mason

If I had to sum up England using only three words, one of them would definitely be “tea.” As the largest per capita tea consumers in the world, Brits can’t get enough of the stuff. They drink heaps of it. My fiancé’s first memories of drinking tea begin when he was aged 7 years old. Afternoon tea is a ceremonial embodiment of English culture and, here and in London, it’s been elevated to an art form.

Whenever someone asks me what to do in London – be it a weekend holiday, a business trip, or a layover at the airport – I say, have tea. It’s traditional, it’s refined, it’s an occasion.  As the official grocer to the Queen, Fortnum & Mason is known for its ubiquitous luxury hampers, and is bursting with gourmet British foodstuffs. It has been proudly sourcing tea for over 300 years, and was the first department store to offer afternoon tea to their customers.

It was the last weekend before Christmas, all the gifts were wrapped and under the tree, and it was pouring down rain – so I could think of no better place to spend the afternoon! We headed right up to the recently renovated Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, atop Piccadilly on the Fourth Floor. It’s a stunning space accented all over in that signature robin egg blue.

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The Tasting Room is the perfect place for a private lunch, or an exclusive afternoon tea.

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In our private room, we didn’t have to hush our voices (or our laughter) – we were free to have our little tête-à-tête without worrying about any nearby diners eavesdropping on our very civilized and intellectual discussions.9 10

Twice-Baked Shropshire Ham & Barbers Cheddar Soufflé with Honey Mustard Butter Sauce

Twice-Baked Shropshire Ham & Barbers Cheddar Soufflé with Honey Mustard Butter Sauce

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I ordered Fortnum’s Savoury Afternoon Tea. I love how the English linger over high tea. It’s so relaxed. The waiters don’t rush you. You are free to nibble each selection at your own leisurely pace. First, come the savouries – finger sandwiches, followed by savory canapes – exotic breads, delicate pastries, with delicious piquant toppings.

Finger Sandwiches: Cucumber with Cream Cheese, Rare Breed Hen Egg with Mustard Cress, Rare Roast Beef with Gherkin & Caper Dressing, Fortnum's Smoked Salmon with Lemon Dill Butter, Coronation Chicken

Finger Sandwiches: Cucumber with Cream Cheese, Rare Breed Hen Egg with Mustard Cress, Rare Roast Beef with Gherkin & Caper Dressing, Fortnum’s Smoked Salmon with Lemon Dill Butter, Coronation Chicken

Afternoon Tea Savouries: London Smoked Salmon on Blini with Lemon & Caper Cream Cheese, Carpaccio of Venison on Mushroom Toast with Horseradish Cream & Hazelnut, Tomato Savory Financier with Pesto Cream, Black Olive & Silver Anchovy with Pistachio Praline, Rosary Goat's Cheese on Walnut Shortbread with Beetroot

Afternoon Tea Savouries: London Smoked Salmon on Blini with Lemon & Caper Cream Cheese, Carpaccio of Venison on Mushroom Toast with Horseradish Cream & Hazelnut, Tomato Savory Financier with Pesto Cream, Black Olive & Silver Anchovy with Pistachio Praline, Rosary Goat’s Cheese on Walnut Shortbread with Beetroot

No afternoon tea is complete without scones…

P1100116 Slathered with gooey sweet lashings of clotted cream…P15 P16

And tea! Your own little pot, which the “tearistas” keep filling up with hot water to keep it constantly steeping for a refreshing classic “cuppa.” P17 P18 P19

We spent the better part of the afternoon stirring and sipping our cups and taking in the fine English tradition of tea. Afterwards, I couldn’t help tugging a reluctant arm into the Christmas Shop for quick browse. I loved wandering around through an endless array of ornaments and holly, taking in those familiar holiday scents – orange, cinnamon, and pine.

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A visit to 181 Piccadilly always promises a magical afternoon whatever the season – but this afternoon was what London Christmas dreams are made of.

On the Road to Norfolk

This weekend I headed east – to the pastoral land of Norfolk! Due to its proximity to the sea, the landscape is very flat, but very fertile. Some of England’s finest farming and agriculture comes from the Grade 1 arable lands of Norfolk. What immediately struck me was how green everything is!

Our base camp for the weekend was the lovely Norfolk Mead Hotel. Tucked away down a leafy lane in the halcyon town of Coltishall, this stately old house dates to the 1740s. The impressive brick exterior has gracefully withstood the tests of time, and historic period features abound throughout the renovated interior.

Hotel ext 1 Hotel ext 2 Hotel ext Hotel ext ent Hotel ext 3 Hotel lounge Hotel lounge 2 Hotel bar Hotel room

After breakfast, we braved the light morning drizzle and took the short drive to Blickling Estate. This great old Jacobean beauty occupies over 4,000 sprawling acres of exquisitely manicured gardens and parkland, and is the former home of the Boleyn family. You might have heard of their daughter Anne; King Henry VIII left his first wife to marry her and the result was the English Reformation – the Brits breaking off from the authority of the Pope. Sadly, Anne failed to conceive a male heir and the King had her beheaded – I guess that’s what happened in the days before “irreconcilable differences”!

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There was no honorary sign there for my visit: Beware of American girl! I set loose on the property to peruse the hedges and topiaries of the formal parterre, and then sneak into the reflective Doric temple, the Orangery, and even the secret garden!

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We even came upon a very curious-looking tree we’d never seen before. If anyone knows what this tree is called, let me know because I’m absoluteld stumped (no pun intended)!

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The very lucky neighbors of this estate are the wonderful folks at the Buckingham Arms pub. This place does a roaring trade at the weekends – we were lucky to score this table made from a repurposed antique sewing table. I went for the haddock & crab rarebit – kind of like an open-faced cheesy crab bread.

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Smoked haddock & crab rarebit

Smoked haddock & crab rarebit

Don’t tell my fiancé, but I noticed a very handsome chap making eyes at me as I ate my lunch…

Buck

Before heading back to the hotel, we took in a delightful little exhibition about the Royal Air Force during World War II. During wartime, the RAF operated a command station from Blickling Estate, where the No. 114 Squadron were based. The exhibition gave a glimpse into their make-shift command station and humble living quarters.

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The volunteers there were kind enough to give me a crash course in Morse Code and I learned my first signal – “SOS”.  You press the little lever making long bleeps (dashes) or short little staccato bleeps (dots). It boggled my mind to think this is how the armed forces used to communicate, hunkered down in a clandestine outpost in rural Norfolk.

It was rather apt that we made a stop here at a time when this country was celebrating Remembrance Day. In America we call it Veteran’s Day, but the sentiment is the same – celebrating the sacrifices made by the fallen, and all those who so bravely served, during the two great wars.

poppy