Thursday, 21 June 2018

Visiting the Tiptree Jam Factory and Museum

Inside the Tiptree Jam Factory Museum and Tearooms in Tiptree, Essex


It'd be easy to think there wasn't much going on in Essex between the TOWIE nightclubs and the bright lights of the seaside. But it's actually a really fascinating county with beautiful buildings, picturesque villages and fascinating museums.

One such gem is the Tiptree Jam Museum, a small rural museum next to the factory where Tiptree jam is produced. You know Tiptree - the jam and marmalade with the classy black and white label that you see in the supermarket. Turns out it's named after the Essex village where it's produced. On the edge of the village, along with the factory, is a visitor centre with tea rooms, gift shop and a small museum.

Inside the Tiptree Jam Factory Museum and Tearooms in Tiptree, Essex


I thought the museum would be within the factory, showing the process of the jam being made, but it's actually in a barn outside, focusing on the history of the brand, the factory and the village. It's not a big museum - you could see it all in half an hour - but it has some really interesting items.

Inside the Tiptree Jam Factory Museum and Tearooms in Tiptree, Essex


For me, the most fascinating exhibit is a display of some of the more unusual labels and jars from the brand's history, showing how it has changed through time. Take a close look at the jar above - by appointment to "the Late King George V", it appeared on a jar produced shortly after the king's death.

Inside the Tiptree Jam Factory Museum and Tearooms in Tiptree, Essex


That's not the only bit of royal memorabilia. The whole site might as well have "Queen woz 'ere" stamped on it - a plaque in the entrance commemorates her visit, and there are plenty of photos in the exhibition too.

Inside the Tiptree Jam Factory Museum and Tearooms in Tiptree, Essex

One of the odder exhibits is a taxidermy four-legged chicken which was bred on a nearby farm. A plane propeller, wooden carvings and milk jugs are just some of the other exhibits lining the walls of the barn, while a 10 minute video plays on loop in the centre.

Inside the Tiptree Jam Factory Museum and Tearooms in Tiptree, Essex


There's apparently more to be seen in the outbuildings around the site, with a focus on agricultural machinery. On certain days, you can take a tractor ride around the strawberry fields for a small extra charge - or you can enjoy the tearooms like we did (keep your eyes peeled for a further, scone-filled blog post...)

Inside the Tiptree Jam Factory Museum and Tearooms in Tiptree, Essex


Tiptree Jam Museum, Tiptree. Essex, CO5 0RF. Entry is free.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Tea Total Afternoon Tea at W London Hotel, Leicester Square

Flower wall at Tea Total afternoon tea at W London Hotel, Leicester Square, London


After a recent, questionable experience of a cocktail-paired afternoon tea, I'm completely off teas that involve booze in any way, so when I received an invitation to W London's Tea Total (see what they did there?) afternoon tea, it sounded ideal. Afternoon tea against a flower wall backdrop, right next to Leicester Square - what's not to like?

...Well, quite a lot actually. Despite its moniker, a brief glance at the menu reveals that Tea Total is in fact not teetotal. It's not even close. Each sweet treat is paired with a mini, 'crystallised' version of one of the bar's most popular cocktails. 'Crystallised' we later found out, means jelly.

Tea Total afternoon tea at W London Hotel, Leicester Square, London


When I queried the non-teetotalness of the Tea Total tea, I was told that they could whip up a non-alcoholic version on request, although this isn't made clear on the website - so if that's what you're after, do double check when booking.

So, misleading moniker aside, how does this afternoon tea measure up? Like most afternoon teas, it's very well presented, put together with the Instagram generation in mind. The flower wall which appears in the promo photos only takes up one tiny part of the bar, so you may be queuing to get your snap. In design and colour, it's strikingly similar to the larger flower wall at Dominique Ansel Bakery. Beyond that, the decor is something of a talking point - think old school hall meets art gallery meets what I can only imagine the interior of Spearmint Rhino looks like. Enough said really.



Tea Total afternoon tea at W London Hotel, Leicester Square, London


We arrive promptly - and hungry - for our 1pm booking, yet our food doesn't arrive until 2pm, leaving us to amuse ourselves with our tea for an hour, with no explanation for the hold-up. We assume the sandwiches are being made fresh for us, but their dryness and tastelessness when they do arrive stomps all over that theory.

Tea Total afternoon tea at W London Hotel, Leicester Square, London

The scones are decent, if on the small side, served traditionally with jam and cream. For me though, an afternoon tea lives or dies on the quality of the sweet selection, and in this case that translates as floating through life without much comment. A quartet of treats includes an overly rich chocolate mint mousse, a slightly odd eyeball type concoction, a delicious but sickly sweet white chocolate cake, and a meringue with a slice of carrot cake stashed inside it. Again, thought has clearly gone into presentation, but nothing leaves us wanting more.

Tea Total afternoon tea at W London Hotel, Leicester Square, London


At the end of the meal, we discuss our favourite part. For both of us, it's the scones - which tells you all you need to know about this afternoon tea. Average, but not memorable. As for the title? I've still got no idea who thought 'Tea Total' was a good name for a booze-laden experience.

Tea Total Afternoon Tea at W London, Leicester Square. £37-£42 per person, book ahead.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Here's why physical maps and guidebooks are still important in this internet age

A flatlay of a map, plus travel maps and guidebooks for Paris, Barcelona, Prague, Marrakech, Havana and Venice


When you come back from a trip, do you get rid of your maps and guidebooks, or do you keep them as mementos and souvenirs?

I recently threw this question out on social media, and wasn't at all surprised at the result. Like me, most of you are absolute hoarders when it comes to travel paraphernalia (there is one monster among you, but I won't name names).

But why do we keep them? A map of the souks of Marrakech is not going to be any use in the Kent countryside, and a plan of the Barcelona Metro offers no solution to the trials and tribulations of the London Underground. They sit there, gathering dust on our already overstuffed bookshelves in space-deprived flats, surviving the many clear outs, while their lesser bedfellows are reduced to the charity shop pile.


Travel planning, including globe, notebook, passport and Cuba travel guide


In my opinion, a map book is the best storyteller a traveller can have, equal in importance to the photos when looking back on the trip. Here's something I wrote about the map I took to Venice.

A ode to my map of Venice


I bought you from WHSmith in Victoria station, about a week before we were due to fly. I barely looked at you at all to be honest, until we got on the plane, but I checked my bag time and time again to make sure you were there, the knowledge you held almost as important to the success of the trip as my passport.

At this time, you were a perfect stranger to me. The city you laid out before me was the great unknown, backstreets of nerves, canals of excitement, bridges of possibilities. You were sights yet to be seen, meals yet to be eaten, bars yet to be discovered. Streets that we would wander and strangers who would become friends.

We unfolded you across both our laps as soon as we got on the plane. Living far apart, my friend and I hadn't had time to do any proper itinerary planning until we took off. Luckily, the elderly, well-spoken gentleman next to us didn't mind us unfurling your streets before him. In fact, your very existence struck up a conversation - he noticed us plotting the tourist hotspots, and gave us some other pointers he'd gleaned from his time living in Venice.

Feet on the floor map in Stanfords travel bookshop, Covent Garden
If you're into travel books and maps, check out Stanfords in Covent Garden

For our whole four days, you were with us, squeezed into my handbag between my camera and my water bottle. You quickly became stained with the debris of pitstops in cafes and bars, yet you remained resilient. A coffee cup ring now circles the entirety of Murano, like a bizarre, waterlocked crop circle. A pizza grease stain became another island in the Venetian lagoon. Your corners are dogeared, your face scarred with hastily scribbled circles where we earmarked a shop or restaurant to return to later. That cute courtyard where we ate pizza on the last night was a particular gem.

You're in the photos of our trips too - sticking out of bags and pockets, sometimes held in our hands as we snapped away, thirdwheeling your way through the weekend. I say thirdwheeling, but you were actually more like our steering wheel, guiding us across those bridges and round the canals.

In some places, your starched creases have ripped completely, their structural integrity weakened by a sudden rain shower on a cobbled back street. It came so unexpectedly, we had nowhere to shelter except underneath you.

That was more than two years ago, and you now sit on my bookshelf, nestled between Paris and Prague. It's not geographically accurate, but together, your rips, doodles and stains tell the stories of my travels. How could I get rid of that? 



That's the story of just one of my maps. Each of the others tells a story too. Our Marrakech map turned out to be mostly useless, the winding, overwhelming souks too complex for even the most skilled of cartographers to render on paper. The Paris map was hurriedly bought at Gare du Nord as we arrived on the Eurostar; the friend we were staying with - who knew the city intricately - was feeling unwell and left us to explore the unfamiliar city on our own instead. My map of Barcelona is the only one I've had cause to use more than once - I've been there three times to date. Perhaps it'll get another airing one day.

"Years ago, when I was backpacking across Western Europe, I was just outside of Barcelona, hiking in the foothills of Mount Tibidabo (if you know, you know...)
To me, the idea of lending the map to someone else is unthinkable. It'd be like lending them a notebook that's already full of my thoughts and scribblings. I'm more than happy to pass on recommendations of restaurants to visit, back streets to wander down and markets to haggle in. I'll even tell you the exact route we took through those back streets, as best as my memory will allow. It's not the experiences I'm precious over, it's the physical map itself. It's too personal.

Throughout your time away, whether that's a two-day city break, or a two month trek through the Himalayas, your map or guidebook is with you. For me, that's far more powerful and emotive than any magnet or shot glass you can buy in a gift shop. And when you look back at that map, it won't just be meaningless lines and colours and squiggles. You'll remember the things the map doesn't show you; how steep that hill was, the way scooters weave among pedestrians, that time you were overtaken by a camel.

You don't get that from Google Maps.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

A weekend in Leeds, part 2

Catch up on my first day in Leeds.



After a busy day of walking, picnicking and hunting out secret bars, we began my second day in Leeds by... heading out for more food. My Leeds-based friend had offered several suggestions for somewhere to get breakfast, but as soon as she mentioned that one of them serves coffee from a lifesize VW Camper Van, I was sold.



Archie's is situated in the train arches right under Leeds station. Unlike London's much-lamented Archie's, it offers more than just cheese, including a cracking full English which set me up for the day splendidly.



Handily, the Leeds waterbus stop is almost right outside, leaving us not far too waddle. Part James Bond speedboat, part yellow New York taxi, the waterbus was set up to offer free rides to Leeds Docks, to encourage more people to visit the area.

You can see why. There's not much going on in the Docks - it's mainly luxury flats overlooking the water. The main attraction is Armouries, a free museum about war and armour from all over the world. Despite its historic subject matter, it's a thoroughly modern building, its light and airy nature making it feel more like an art gallery than a museum.



 You could spend hours there if you were so inclined but we had exploring to do, so we left the museum, and wandered back towards the town centre where, I discovered, Leeds has a wealth of street art.



We passed the rest of the afternoon wandering through the many grand arcades of Leeds, both the ornate, older ones and the sleek, modern ones. The Corn Exchange, now used as an indoor shopping centre full of interesting indy shops, is a stunning building, and worth popping into if you need to escape the rain. Unfortunately its vast ceiling makes it difficult to snap a decent picture, so you'll have to make do with this shot of another arcade instead.




I have to admit, I'd misjudged Leeds. I've always thought of it as a dull, metropolitan city, with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants, and not a lot else. In reality, I saw plenty of historical, architectural and cultural features that tell its story. More on that in a future blog post, but my camera was kept extremely busy.



Oh, yeah. Didn't think I'd finish the day without cake did you? Our final pitstop was a tea and cake break at Mrs Atha's Coffee House. It's not a huge place, the basement area crammed to bursting with eclectically mismatched tables and chairs, but it's cosy, and ideal for seeing out the rain.


My trip to Leeds was part of my mission to visit a new UK place every month this year. I'm documenting the mission on Twitter and Instagram. I'm open to suggestions - where else should I go?


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The whole picture: May 2018

Catch up with my April round-up.

Deckchairs on Brighton Pier - things to do on a day out in Brighton

What I've done in May

May has absolutely rinsed me, financially speaking. Pay day cannot come soon enough.

My birthday came early in the month. I'm SUCH a birthday person, I absolutely cannot get enough of birthdays. Combine that with the fact that my troublesome living situation made last year's birthday a bit of a let down, I was doubly determined to have a good time this year. I took the day off work and ventured down to Brighton with a friend. We played games on the pier, wandered the back streets, and had lunch - and, more importantly, milkshakes - at JB's Diner on the seafront. It was one of my favourite birthdays yet.

Later in the month, I appeased my inner adrenaline junkie with a go on London's new zip wire. I make a brief cameo about halfway through this video, kicking my legs furiously in a bid to go faster.

Box of six doughnuts from Doughnut Time's Doughnut Academy, Shaftesbury Avenue, London

After April's Krispy Kreme behind-the-scenes tour, I managed to go behind the scenes at Doughnut Time on Shaftesbury Avenue this month. The Aussie doughnut brand has opened a few London stores in the past year, and is now launching its Doughnut Academy, where you can learn to decorate them. I got a preview of an academy workshop, and I'm pleased to say that I decorated all of the doughnuts pictured above myself.

Where I've been in May

Looking over Chester High Street from the city walls


Other than that day trip to Brighton, my main excursion was a weekend in Chester with a friend. It was very much a whistle-stop tour of the city; we arrived late on Friday night after heading there straight from work, and Saturday was spent mainly at Chester Zoo (cute baby elephant alert). We headed out into the town for dinner on Saturday night, but were shattered from walking 7km (!) around the zoo, so grabbed a quick pizza and headed back to the hotel. We managed to pack all our exploring in on Sunday, walking the entirety of the city walls (major York flashback) and seeing most of the sights before hopping on a train back down south.

Hyacinths in bloom at Columbia Road Flower Market, East London


Closer to home, we got up early one Sunday morning to visit Columbia Road Flower Market. It's one of my favourite things to do in London - an east London street closed to traffic comes alive with the colours and smells of flowers and plants, and the shouts of old-school market traders trying to flog them.

What I've eaten in May

A full English breakfast at the Mad Hatters Tea Rooms, Chester - where to eat on a weekend in Chester


My favourite new foodie discovery this month was the Mad Hatter's Tea Rooms in Chester. Situated inside one of the beautiful Tudor buildings that the city's famous for, the cafe is Alice in Wonderland themed. We found ourselves there for breakfast on the Sunday morning, and indulged in the full English, plus a couple of cakes to take away. Good food, an excellent theme, and dog-friendly - what more could you want in a cafe? (I'll write a full blog post on it soon, just as soon as I find the time).

A Lucky Charms milkshake at JBs American Diner, Brighton


It's not a new discovery - it's actually a bit of an obsession of mine - but my other favourite meal this month was at JB's Diner in Brighton. The American-diner style food is pretty good (the portions are huge, leaving us rolling down the road) but for anyone in the know, the real draw is the milkshakes.

I wouldn't be me if I'd gone a whole month without afternoon tea. This month's extremely photogenic offering came in the form of Dominique Ansel Bakery's new plant afternoon tea. It's very cleverly pt together, each piece of food designed to look like a stage in the life cycle of a flower, from seed to blossom - and it's served up in a stunningly flowery conservatory. Not only did we try the afternoon tea, but we went behind the scenes in the kitchens where the famous Cronut is made.

Other meals this month have included a trip to the new Miller & Carter steakhouse in Sevenoaks, a highly confusing burger at Coin Laundry, and a salad - a rather left field choice for me - at Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch.

What's coming up in June

Beach huts on the seafront at Walton on the Naze

I managed to get myself a ticket for #BlogConLDN2018, a blogging convention in east London where I hope to learn some tips and tricks from the workshops and panel talks. I'm a bit nervous about going by myself as it sometimes feels like everyone else in the blogging world knows each other - so if you're going too, drop me a line on Twitter and say hi.

It's Father's Day in the middle of the month, so I'll be heading over to Essex for the weekend - perhaps there'll be a repeat of last year's beach hut extravaganza? Watch this space

See also - what I got up to in:

Follow me on Instagram and Twitter 

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

In photos: Belgravia in Bloom 2018

Flower arch and floral display outside Peggy Porschen cafe, London, for free flower festival Belgravia in Bloom 2018

I've already shared a few of my favourite photos from Chelsea in Bloom 2018, but indulge me a moment longer while I share some of my favourites from its neighbouring (but rival) festival, Belgravia in Bloom. Belgravia's got the edge here, as it's home to famously flowery cafe, Peggy Porschen (above). The official theme for Belgravia this year is Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
(If you want to catch up on last year first, here's Chelsea and here's Belgravia).

Floral display inside Neill Strain Floral Couture, London, for free flower festival Belgravia in Bloom 2018
A river of flowers on the ceiling of florist Neill Strain.
Wysteria histeria on a pharmacy in London, for free flower festival Belgravia in Bloom 2018
Wysteria hysteria on a pharmacy.



Floral display in London, for free flower festival Belgravia in Bloom 2018
No idea what's going on here.

Floral display in London, for free flower festival Belgravia in Bloom 2018
A floral arch, of course.

Floral display in London, for free flower festival Belgravia in Bloom 2018

Floral display in London, for free flower festival Belgravia in Bloom 2018

Floral display in London, for free flower festival Belgravia in Bloom 2018
This artist's palette is a nod to Frida Kahlo.

Floral display outside Peggy Porschen cafe in London, for free flower festival Belgravia in Bloom 2018
Another shot from outside Peggy Porschen

Belgravia in Bloom 2018 runs 19-26 May 2018, and is free to visit. Follow me on Instagram for more photos.

Monday, 21 May 2018

In photos: Chelsea in Bloom 2018


Floral heart in Duke of York Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival
A floral centrepiece in Duke of York Square

Chelsea and Belgravia in Bloom, two free flower festivals that take place in May each year, are some of my favourite annual events in London; they're free, the flowers are gorgeous, and it gets people out and about seeing parts of London they may not have seen before.

The theme for this year's Chelsea in Bloom is Love, focusing both on the swinging sixties and the Royal Wedding. Without further ado, here are some of my favourite photos from this year's festival (if you want to catch up on last year first, here's Chelsea and here's Belgravia).

Floral rickshaw in Sloane Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival
Rickshaw rides around the festival are available free of charge.

Floral installation in Duke of York Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival

Floral installation in Duke of York Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival


Floral camper van in London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival

Fairy garden in London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival
Look out for teeny tiny fairy gardens.

Floral arch in Sloane Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival
It was SO hard to get a shot of this arch without anyone posing in front of it

Floral arch in Sloane Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival

Floral installation in Sloane Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival

Floral letters in Sloane Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival

Floral letters in Sloane Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival

Floral heart in Sloane Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival
One of the main attractions in Sloane Square

Floral letters in Sloane Square, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival
The centrepiece of Sloane Square

Floral skeletons on King's Road, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival
Every year, the Kiehl's installation is impressive in its originality
Floral arches on King's Road, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival
Flower arches galore

Floral arches on King's Road, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival

Floral arches on King's Road, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival


Floral swans on Sloane Street, London, for Chelsea in Bloom 2018 free flower festival

Chelsea in Bloom 2018 takes place 21-26 May 2018, and is completely free to visit. Follow me on Instagram for more photos.