Thursday, 5 December 2013

It's getting to feel a lot like Christmas ....

I love the build up to Christmas and some things I want to do this December to take me away from the eternal to-do lists and planning food and presents are:

Market Harborough
Market Harborough ©MHWI
Christmas Shopping

It has to be done so why not go somewhere more festive and less manic than the usual mall-type places to do it?  I'm going to start mine (no, not started yet and determined not to hyper-ventilate) in the quaint market town of Market Harborough which as well as small versions of the bigger stores like Monsoon, East, Phase 8, Boots etc also has a good sprinkling of independent shops - such as Quinns Book shop, Lavender Blue, Bagel & Griff, The Cookshop and Bates Butcher and Delicatessens.

Visit Narnia

Chatsworth House
Narnia at Chatsworth ©Chatsworth House
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of my favourites in the CS Lewis Narnia series and this year Chatsworth House are having a Narnia Theme which sounds fab.

Christmas Tree Festival
I'm planning to visit Burton Overy's Christmas Tree Festival this weekend.  The festival's been going for 13 years now and many other churches seem to have followed suit.  Individuals and groups put in a Christmas Tree to be judged by visitors and the entries are truly amazing.  Ones I remember from past festivals are 'Strictly Come Dancing' with lots of little dance shoes for decoration and 'A Cartridge in a Pear Tree' - a tree decorated with used shot-gun cartridges!  It's all very festive.

Go to a Panto
Not sure I'll get anybody to go with me as my teen is much too cool for this, but Jack and the
Nottingham Playhouse
Jack & The Beanstalk ©Nottingham Playhouse
Beanstalk at Nottingham Playhouse sounds good as does Cinderella at Leicester's Little Theatre.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Real Jane Austen - Paula Byrne at Leicester Literary Festival

I went to listen to Paula Byrne talk about her biography of Jane Austen last night – The Real JaneAusten – A Life in Small Things, as part of Leicester University’s brilliant but under-attended Literary Leicester Festival.  I can’t believe anything so good is for free!

I have to admit I’ve not yet read Paula’s book, although I’m going to put that right as soon as possible.  I guess I thought well, what else is there to say about Jane Austen, but Paula’s biography with the structure of using objects to take a new look at Jane’s life sounds fascinating.  Paula has taken things that were close to Jane,  such as a silhouette and an East Indian shawl, to take a new look at Jane and explode the myth that the author spent all her life in her Hampshire cottage, coyly hiding her work from others. 
Paula was so far away from the stereotype of an academic and was fast-talking, witty and warm and so lovely at the book signing afterwards.  She looked very glam too in LBD – apparently she was going to Leicester’s Champagne Bar afterwards – a good choice I have to say.
Most of the audience made middle-aged me feel positively young and I wonder why there weren’t more students there – particularly those reading English Lit at either Leicester University or De Montfort. 

I know, I know, it was Friday night and students have got far better things to do – but you could take a wine chaser  in with you and it was only was only 6.00 – 7.15 pm, which leaves plenty of time for partying afterwards, as Paula proved.

The Good: Paula was a very engaging speaker and made me want to read the book.
The not so good: Lady Antonia Fraser who was scheduled to be on after Paula had been taken ill and had to cancel.

Go again: Definitely – Leicester Literary Festival has some brilliant, engaging speakers and given it’s a FREE event should be so much better attended.


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Swan Lake, The Curve, Leicester

Swan Lake at Curve Theatre, Leicester
©Curve Theatre
On a miserable November evening, The Curve was a beacon of lit-up floor to ceiling windows, big,  multi-coloured Christmas tree style light bulbs strung garland style across the windows.  I’ve got used to the inside now and like the  huge spaces:  a cross between an aircraft hangar and a factory with all the gleaming pipes above looking as though they’re wrapped in bacofoil. 

Swan Lake at The Curve, Leicester
Swan Lake©Bill Cooper
We were at The Curve for Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, the story revolving around the Prince, like a slumping shouldered Rodney from Only Fools and Horses with mental health and alcohol issues.  He was pathetically desperate for love, which wasn’t coming from his Queen, played like a controlling but rejecting mother rather than partner.

I loved the sleazy bar scenes, the ballet within a ballet that the Prince and his entourage watched and the laugh-out-loud humour when the Prince’s fluffy-love interest’s mobile went off while they were watching the ballet and us in the audience thinking, OMG – is that mine?

The swans’ dancing was amazing, perfectly choreographed, although the principal white swan’s chest was sweating like past-by-sell-by-date pre-packed ham, but I’m sure it couldn’t be helped.
Swan Lake at The Curve, Leicester
Swan Lake©Bill Cooper
The scene where the prince unravelled further was set in a ballroom with huge pillars and two great Olympic style torches suggesting the power of the old Eastern Bloc and then the Stranger arrived, like some Russian Mafia man, slapping his black leather trousers, big, bold and dominant, turning every woman’s head not to mention the Princes’, although once again he was rejected.
The female dancer’s costumes in this scene were fabulous:  a black velvet suit with sequin revers, a net dress with two butterflies of chiffon protecting the dancer’s modesty.  The fluffy love interest was in black sequins and lace and the Queen, most definitely the Queen Bee, was in serious scarlet with layers of black beneath.  And how did they manage to dance in high heels?  Only one pair of proper ballet shoes to be seen and that was in the ballet within the ballet.

Next the bewildered, mad, prince is in a blindingly white room, the sinister Svengali figure in cahoots with the Queen, orchestrating electrolysis treatment delivered by robotic, masked medic dancers and … well .. it’s never going to be a happy ending is it?

Overall, this Swan Lake production was one that you could love on so many levels.  The dancing, of course, but even if you aren’t into ballet, the costumes and the scenery were great as well as the actual acting.  I’d not appreciated what good actors that dancers also need to be to convey action and moods with everything being conveyed through body language rather than speech.
The Good:  Going to a ballet and really enjoying it.
The Not so Good: My coffee at the interval was in a horrible, disposable cup.
Go Again: Definitely, I'd like to see another ballet – The Nutcracker maybe?



Monday, 4 November 2013

Winter in Middle England

Clocks have gone back, it’s getting dark:  what to do about winter?  Embrace it or fight it?  In my middle-aged manner I’m going to sit on the fence and do both, so this month, I’m going to:

Fight it

©Turtle Bay
I've heard it's really popular and difficult to get a table, but I want to eat at Turtle Bay in Highcross.  A friend went there recently and said it was just how she remembered beach bars in Barbardos – it sounds a bit of a stretch to me – Highcross to Barbados, and it may be her middle-aged, febrile imagination, but I’m more than willing to go with the fantasy.   She said the spicy food, cocktails and service were brilliant.

Dos Hermanos, Leicester
Carrying on my usual night out at Dos Hermanos on Queens Road, Leicester.  I love sipping a glass of Cava in the front bar while nibbling on the freebie tapas you sometimes get early doors.  With it's chandeliers, sepia photos of South America, tiles; old wood and general over the top décor, despite the darkness and cars swishing by in the rain outside, you could be in a bar in Havana.

The Alpine Bar, Asfordby, Leicestershire
©The Alpine Bar

Embrace it

With it's ski theme, you can't get more winter than the The Alpine Bar, Asfordby, Leicestershire.  Decked out log cabin style like a French Alpine ski bar it's  rustic with huge wooden tables, blankets draped over backs of chairs and a big wood burner surrounded by sofas.  The theme is continued into the food with choices like Tarteflette, Fondue and Pizza Moriszete, though they also do more traditional snacks, meals and cakes too. 

By cosying up with a good book, a real fire, a coffee and a glass of baileys with ice.   I also have a fantasy about a cashmere blanket to add to these winter accessories, but maybe cashmere is a touch too decadent for my budget and an ordinary blanket comes too close to old lady rather than elegant middle-age.  Before I know it, I’d be wearing bed-socks.  I suppose there’s always the onesie – not a route I’ve taken yet!

A book that suits the curling up on the sofa and shutting out the winter is the spine chilling Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which as well as having a totally engrossing plot is also so well written.  Another ghost story also set in the 1940s, but a much shorter read than Little Stranger, is Helen Dunmore’s creepy but compelling The Greatcoat. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Ragdale Hall

Ragdale Hall
Ragdale Hall Entrance
I do love a spa day and it should be law that all over-stressed, middle-aged women with too-long to-do lists get sent to RagdaleSpa at least once a year.  I got lucky this October half-term, visiting the spa with two fellow friends in need.
First stop was the spa area and we wandered around middle-earth named places like the Colour Cave, Candle Pool and Thought Zone but best of all was swimming through the warm water lagoon to the waterfall pool outside, enjoying the contrast of the warm water and cool, fresh air and plenty of chatting over the noise of the waterfall massagers.  
Waterfall Pool ©Ragdale Hall
Back inside we did a couple of lengths of the pool (just to show willing); a brief stint in the Jacuzzi and then it was time for a delicious back massage and facial which were included in our Refresh and Revive Spa Day.

Dining Room ©Ragdale Hall
Lunch in the dining room with its huge fireplace, great chandeliers and classical music playing in the background made the atmosphere slightly Downton, although  the Dowager would definitely NOT have approved the white gown dress code.  Thankfully, there was no obvious calorie counting on the menu:  starters served to the table were soup or smoked salmon and then a help yourself salad bar with lots of interesting aubergine, feta, watermelon, etc, etc and hot dishes including chicken tagine and duo of fish.  From the pudding choice, we went  for mousse, a very chocolatey brownie hiding beneath the white chocolate mousse. 

Ragdale Hall
In our dreams!©Ragdale Hall 
We slumped for an hour or so over coffee in the Verandah Lounge, reading out our horoscopes from a Harpers Bazaar magazine and debated the merits of doing an exercise class.  It seemed unlikely with friend relaxing on a beanbag looking as though she’d need a crane to haul her up.
Although reluctant, we did have four hours left and decided that maybe we needed to benefit fitness-wise from our day.  We couldn’t make up our minds which class to take with me pushing for the easier sounding anti-stress aromaball, but dear middle-aged friend (DMAF) surprised us with a burst of energy and her announcement that she was going to do ‘Beaming’.  The photograph of a smiling person one arm outstretched the opposite leg bent onto a thin piece of plastic looked far too complicated for me and friend on a beanbag, so we stuck with the aromaball anti-stress, which we didn’t regret as it was all eyes shut, stretching and lots of breathing over a rubber ball which, unlikely as it sounds, was very relaxing.

DMAF looked very pleased with herself after the ‘Beaming’ experience and we all put on our wet cozzies and had one more trip to the spa area, silly as schoolgirls as we turned on the thunder and lightning effect in the cave shower. 
The day had whizzed by and it was time for a final cup of tea, then back to the car, home and the too-long, to-do lists.

The good: All, but in particular the spa area and treatments.
The not so good: Having to leave – would have been good to stop over.
Go again:  Definitely, the sooner the better.

Ragdale Hall Health Hydro and Thermal Spa
Ragdale Village
Melton Mowbray
LE14 3PB

Monday, 7 October 2013

Luscious Leaves in Leics, Notts and Northants

Back during my teenage years,  my parents suggestion without fail every October was to ‘go for a walk and look at the leaves,’ filling my teen soul with horror.  Now middle-aged me loves the Autumn and seeing the leaves turn as many shades of rust and gold as Sharon Osbourne’s hair, so  I’m looking forward to a few Autumn ambles, hopefully with a pub en route.  These are some of the places I’m aiming to get to. 

Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Major Oak@2012 Experience Nottinghamshire
Did this walk at Sherwood Country Park last year, and even though it was a sunny Sunday  morning it didn’t feel crowded as we followed the easy woodland walk to the major oak – an oak tree over 500 years old, rumoured to be the oak where Robin Hood and his men met up,  now propped up like an old man with walking sticks.

Sacley Forest, Northamptonshire

The tree top walk at Sacley Forest which lets you see the trees from above sounds great if you’ve a head for heights, though not sure I’m brave enough to try their new Tree Ninja, an aerial ropes course, but it could be a way of prising my teen away from his PS3.

Wistow, Leicestershire

Not woods, but a really easy and varied circular walk across farm land and alongside the Grand Union canal with the mature, beautiful trees lining the canal reflected back from the water.  There’s something very soothing about watching the leaves slowly fall from their branches to create patterns on the water.   A circular walk with a great Café at Wistow garden centre which is well worth popping into, not to mention one of my favourite shops, Outer Space which sells gorgeous garden stuff, bunting, fairly lights, etc.





Friday, 13 September 2013

Cow and Plough, Oadby

Cow & Plough, Oadby, Leicestershire
Cow & Plough
I was meeting my Tea Circle friends (TCFs), who 16 years ago I’d met through ante-natal classes.  The venue was the Cow and Plough at Stoughton Park, very appropriate as in our yummy mummy days we were all season ticket holders to what was then a lovely farm park.

Cow & Plough, Oadby, Leicestershire
Lovely lighting for the middle-aged complexion
What used to be the farm park café where we’d drank  coffee and kept our toddlers happy with cheesey wotsits has now been transformed from a barn like building into a lovely restaurant, with lots of wood panelling, antique furniture and beams wrapped round with fairly lights. Tables were candle-lit and we sat at nicely upholstered dining chairs.  It was nowhere near full on a Thursday night, but the atmosphere was good and on a gloomy September evening we appreciated the fact the heating was on, music was playing in the background AND the lighting was just right: dim without being gloomy which suits the middle-aged complexion perfectly. It did not suit the menu-reading though.  The reading glasses came out and the one TCF who had resisted them experienced a eureka moment as she borrowed a pair. 
It was pie night and after a glance at the main menu, which did look lovely, we decided pies it had to be.  What a decision: fish pie; beef and ale, chicken and mushroom, cottage and a veggie option.  And to have chips or mash?  Thursday Pie Night also meant we were getting a bargain two pies for £16.00.    On arrival we’d been asked what drinks we'd like and I had the usual old faithful’s, a big glass of cool Sauvignon Blanc followed by a Merlot to go with the beef and ale pie I’d decided on.
The pie was delicious and just the comfort food I never get around to making at home, with chunks of tender beef in a rich gravy encased in lots of crusty but light pastry with a cloud of mash and a few carrots, leeks and gravy.   

We reminisced some more about the old days, wondered if there was any way we’d be able to get the kids there to celebrate their 16th birthdays and decided that although the spirit was willing the stomach was too full to cope with puddings.  Next time, next time…
The good: Catching up with the Tea Circle, the pies and the service.
The not so good: Knowing that reading glasses are now an essential item.
Go again: Definitely.  I want to try the non-pie menu.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Middle England Foodie Events

Melton Mowbray Food Festival 2013
Pies at Melton Mowbray Food Festival
Food often gets mentioned in my blog posts as I love it.  It’s great to try out new, minimum fuss recipes and experiment with the odd new ingredient which can usually be found at the back of my fridge a year later. 
For ages, I’d been meaning to go to the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham and last year managed a trip there and found it so disappointing. The exhibition hall was like an aircraft hanger full of people trying to sell olives, cheese and other bits but hardly anything I couldn’t have found in Sainsburys without being charged £20.00 for the privilege of trudging around the NEC - give me a farm shop or farmers market every time!
So this autumn, I've noticed that there are a lot more local outdoor foodie events to go to and I'm definitely going to try one or two of these.  If you do too, leave a comment.

Saturday, September 7, 2013
Weston & Weedon Food Fair, Northants

Due to be opened by Great British Menu’s Matthew Fort and with William Sitwell one of the writer’s for Waitrose Kitchen magazine there too – sounds good.

Saturday 14th September 2013
Rutland Food & Drink Festival
On the edge of beautiful Rutland Water, near Empingham. There’ll be cooking demonstrations from Rutland’s top chefs; a range of local foods to purchase; locally brewed beer to enjoy; live music and children’s activities.

September 21st - and 22nd 2013
The Great Taste Festival of Food and Drink, Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire
Plenty of food and drink stands as well as a live cookery theatre, special guests and bars and pop–up cafés. There will also be appearances by celebrity chefs offering advice, answering questions and signing

Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th October 2013
Melton Mowbray Food Festival 
Held in the heart of pork-pie making land, Melton Mowbray is traditional market town set in the rolling Leicestershire countryside. There’ll be live food demonstrations in the Aga Rangemaster Cookery Theatre and activities going on in the Family Food and Fun Zone and of course lots of food and drink stalls.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Castle Cottage Café, Oakham, Rutland

Castle Cottage Cafe, Oakham

A local's tip led me to this gem of a cafe.  I was in a brilliant clothes shop called the Attic (sadly now a pet shop) with DMAF and we were getting peckish (as is our way).  Luckily, the shop assistant recommended The Castle Cottage Café for lunch, which we'd never have found, being tucked back down a cobbled street near to the church and Oakham Castle.
Castle Cottage Cafe, Oakham, Rutland.

It’s worth a trip to Oakham just to go to this café and I’ve been back a few times since my first visit and this time it was a sunny August day and just right to sit out in the gorgeous, shabby chic style garden.

I know, I know.  There’s only so much shabby chic a middle-aged woman can take, but this is the real deal of genuine vintage put together with thought and love.  It’s all cream painted picket fence; geraniums in buckets: ornately framed mirrors reflecting the garden back,  tables of all shapes and sizes, pretty cushions on slatted chairs, chandeliers, flowers and, of course, lashings of bunting.
Castle Cottage Cafe, Oakham, Rutland
Lashings of bunting 

What to choose for lunch is a dilemma.  The tian of layered smoked salmon, prawns and advocado with a lemon mayo looked beautiful but perhaps something more substantial was needed and both myself and DMAF opted for the Ploughmans Platter which seemed to suit the sunshiney day.

The good: The fabulous shabby-chic garden and imaginative, well-presented lunch-time food.
The not so good: One wasp!
Go again:  Definitely.  Sometimes the café does evening events and wine tastings.  Details on their website.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Botanic Gardens

Sculpture in the Garden A Change of Heart

DMAF and I arranged to catch up after her weekend away in Europe (far less middle aged than my local trips) and meet at Oadby’s Botanic Gardens.  Although the Botanic Gardens are fronted by the very busy A6, once you’re inside you feel you’re somewhere quite secluded and away from the city and we stroll along the pathways lined with borders of flowers and for those in the know, many of the plants and flowers are rare and specialist. 

Sculpture in the Garden
Outside of term-time the 1920s house becomes a café with tables set out underneath the trees on the lawn and a pretty setting for our cappuccinos, with cakes, lunch and breakfast available depending on time of day.  

It all sounds rather sedate but an antidote to that is that you’ll be walking around the gardens and out of the blue see a pair of legs or an industrial sort of structure in the middle of a lawn as since 2002 the gardens have hosted an annual Sculpture in the Garden exhibition. 

Apparently, this year’s theme for the sculptures is ‘A Change of Heart’.  I researched this fact for you dear blog readers and must go back to the gardens to see if my middle-aged brain can make more of the sculptures with the theme in mind.
Leicester Botanic Gardens

The good: The sculptures add more interest.
The not so good: Café only open for two months of the year (as the rest of the time the house is inhabited by students) so check if you’re planning a visit.
Go again : An easy convenient place to get to, plenty of on-street parking and would definitely go again particularly when the cafe is open.

University of Leicester Botanic Garden, Stoughton Drive South,Oadby, Leics.LE2 2NE

Friday, 16 August 2013

A Midsummer's Night Dream at Leicester's Jewry Walls

Hope over experience, that’s what planning to do any outdoor event in Britain is, I’d thought looking out at the morning's torrential rain.  Tonight the plan was outdoor Shakespeare complete with picnic beforehand and on this occasion hope actually won as by 4 o’clock, it was all glorious sunshine. 

We arrived at The Jewry War Museum, Leicester, and found ourselves a sunny spot to picnic, keeping it simple with M&S deli items.  Bucks Fizz and Bellinis kept the mood buoyant and soon we were facing the outdoor stage in front of Leicester’s Roman walls.  The Festival Players had been performing my favourite Shakespeare play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ all over Britain, with Leicester the last but one stop, before appropriately enough Stratford.
The Festival Players, Jewry Wall Museum, Leicester
A Festival Player

The Players enthusiasm and energy was brilliant and it was all quite mad featuring an all male cast, with  the actors playing three different roles each.  At one point the crazy costume changes meant that Hermia who was also a hairy-bellied Puck lost her wig, but this just added to the hilarity.  I’ve usually found the scenes with Bottom the funniest but here Helen (like Frankie Howard in drag) and Hermia with their tussling over love-interest Lysander, stole the show for me.

As twilight wrapped itself around us, watching the play here in Leicester's very unromantic city centre became strangely atmospheric with layers of Leicester all around us - St Nicholas Church with it’s Gothic graves silhouetted  in the setting sun,  behind that ‘Holy Bones’ and the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple and directly behind the stage the old, old walls of Roman public baths.
The Festival Players, Jewry Wall Museum, Leicester
Midsummers Night Dream - magical as darkness fell 

The noise of pneumatic bus doors and screeching brakes kept it real while the odd bit of heckling from a passing drunk and revellers exiting the Arriva bus shouting ‘Behind you’, made it as traditional as Shakespeare’s day.  The cast coped well with a mock cross 'adieu' from Helen to the noisy hecklers.

The good : The sunshine, the picnic and The Festival Players were brilliant.
The not so good: We'd bagged seats near the front but others further back may have found it a bit difficult to hear due to passing traffic.
Go again: I’d definitely go to a performance by The Festival Players again and fancy Macbeth which The Players are performing next year.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire

Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire
Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire

Part of my writing this blog is to venture to new local places and so with my fellow intrepid  DMAF we went over the border into Northamptonshire the self-proclaimed  ‘Rose of the Shires’, and to Kelmarsh Hall.
Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire
Beautiful Borders

Pulling up on the car park my spirits sank slightly at the sight of a coach full of late-late middle-aged people, but on the advice of the lady selling tickets we went straight for the gardens while they stampeded to the tea-room to scoff cake.
Just the sort of gardens I love.  Not boring sweeps of green but lots of different areas and best of all old, old walls with borders deep as my whole garden, spilling out their flowers.  A little one-up-manship began with DMAF in naming flowers.  Agapanthus, Euphorbia,  Crocosmia, Echinacea….., we recited like middle-aged Hermiones from Harry Potter.
Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire

There’s something so evocative about a walled gardens – memories of reading The Secret Garden, Tom’s Midnight Garden, and so on and DMAF and I pondered the idea of my painting my garage wall with yoghurt to get a similar ancient effect but decided it was more likely to encourage unwelcome rodents rather than an aged patina and decided NO.

We’d escaped the coach party and decided tea and cake was now in order, but smelling something deliciously savoury and it being around lunchtime our plans changed and we decided on the home-made broad-bean, pea and courgette soup.

We waited and waited and still no soup.  After chasing up twice and with apologies and offer of a free drink the soup finally arrived.  The offer of free cappuccino  mollified our middle-aged irritation  and the  soup had us swooning with delight at how lovely it was with DMAF and I agreeing that soup was about the only thing that when well-made was both healthy and delicious and made even better as it came with lovely chunky bread and plenty of butter.

The good: Kelmarsh Gardens are beautiful with something for everyone – a woodland walk, fab borders with towering, dramatic plants, a lovely walled vegetable garden and lovely for lunch. 
The not so good: The wait for the soup, but what with the free coffee and the deliciousness of the soup, it was all good.

Go again – Definitely.  It’s worth looking at the events page of their website too as there are quite a few interesting talks, cookery demos, etc and my DMAF, hoping to find her inner artist, has signed up to an hours session of painting in the garden.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Bradgate Park

Bradgate Park, Birthplace of Lady Jane Grey
Bradgate Park, Birthplace of Lady Jane Grey
Today, I’m at Bradgate Park with my friend from uni (FFU) who is a regular to the park and knows exactly where to park a car for free and to walk away from the main path which in the summer holidays is heaving  with prams, kids on trikes and excited dogs. 

Climbing uphill along a bridalway bordered with swathes of triffid like bracken, FFU's black lab sets a fast pace and soon we’re looking back down over the park.  In the distance are the ruins of Lady Jane Grey’s manor house, where local legend has it that the ghost of this Queen of England for nine short days appears on Christmas Eve.

Old John, Bradgate Park
Bradgate’s highest point ,‘Old John’, an ancient stone tower and significant landmark on the local skyline is still above us and a steepish climb is rewarded with sweeping views over four counties.  I've no idea where the name ‘Old John’ actually comes from, but as a child I remember we scared each other with the story of an old man called John who had lived in the tower and whose ghost would ‘get you and keep you there forever.'

Lunch is calling and we walk back down towards the ruins of the house where a tea-shop is also situated and then we spot deer that the park is famous for. 

Deer at Bradgate Park, Leicestershire
Deer at Bradgate Park
It’s lovely to catch up with FFU and as usual we chat about work (or my lack of it at the moment); books we’ve read and films we’ve seen but her creeping towards middle-age has brought out a whole new dimension to her personality and she tells me three filthy jokes!   The fact she’s even remembered them  is deeply impressive.

Still giggling we put black lab on the lead and go for lunch at Jade Tearooms, bagging a table outside.  Jades is good whether you want coffee or lunch with lots of variety at a reasonable price and is much better for food than the tea-room in the park.  I choose a toasted sandwich filled with goats cheese and red pepper at a very reasonable £4.50.

The good: Walks through the rugged Charnwood Forest, having lunch at Jades, the jokes.
The not so good: Blister on my foot through wearing unsuitable footwear.
Go again :  Definitely.  It’s a park for all seasons, spectacular in the snow with a bowl of soup at Jades afterwards and lovely in the summer, big enough to avoid the crowds once you’re off the beaten track.
Jade Tea Rooms, Newtown Linford, Leicestershire
Jade's Tea Rooms