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The Urban Guide to the Countryside

Welcome to Muddy Stilettos
The urban guide to the countryside

Now select your county and find your fun!

Tried & Tested: Matthew Clulee hair salon, Oxford

11 Aug 2016
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Given the amount I have my hair bouffed and coiffed, it’s bizarre that I’ve tried out so few hairdressers in central Oxford, so it’s been with much pleasure and curiosity that my latest hair review is Matthew Clulee, who actually has two salons, a New York loft-style one in Ship Street, the other across the way in St Michael’s St.

My appointment was in Ship St, and shall we start by saying, nice use of the neon?

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Try this: Longridge Activity Days for kids

10 Aug 2016
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I wrote this last July, but I’m running it again to give you a good flavour of what these Longridge Activity Days are about because my kids aren’t booked on until next week and you’ll want to know about it before they get booked out!

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Why didn’t I do this before? Last week I sent my son on a Activity Day to Longridge, 5 minutes from the centre of Marlow, and he had the time of his life.

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Are they off to university? 5 student survival cookery courses

10 Aug 2016
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My nephew’s been staying with us for a few days, and as he’s off to university in September we were chatting about how he’s going to survive on the cooking front. It occurred to me that it’s probably a subject cropping up in households across the county as young adults fly the nest *sob*. What will you do when they leave, taking their big clompy feet and wet towels with them? Uhh, turn their bedroom into a gym, reclaim my laptop charger and rejoice in not being Mum-Le-Taxi for a change? 

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Recipe: Crayfish salad

9 Aug 2016
Crayfish salad

I’m just back from my summer holibobs where I was totally shamed – shamed I tell you! – by my French friend Pauline who cooked with both eyes closed, an arm behind her back, two kids hanging off her apron (no, she wasn’t really wearing one, it’s artistic licence) and no cookbook to take the tiniest credit for her awesome gastronomic creations.

Well a big *thwuuuuup* raspberry to Pauline (in the nicest way, I do really love her) –  I for one am incapable of doing any cooking without a recipe-for-idiots to follow, so praise be to The Quince Tree at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley, creators of this delicious crayfish and cous cous salad, who have kindly donated it to the Muddy cause.

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Muddy Reviews: Present Laughter, Theatre Royal, Brighton

9 Aug 2016
Theatre Royal Bath June  2016 Dress Rehearsal
Present Laughter by Noel Coward Directed by Stephen Unwin
Designer Simon Higlett   Lighting Designer Paul Pyant
Samuel West/Garry Essendine   Phyllis Logan/Monica Reed
Daisy Boulton/Daphne Stillington   Martin Hancock/Fred
Rebecca Johnson/Liz Essedine  Sally Tatum/Miss Erikson
Toby Longworth/Henry Lyppiatt   Zoe Boyle/Joanne Lyppiatt
Jason Morell/Morris Dixon  Elizabeth Holland/Lady Saltbury
Patrick Walshe McBride/Ronald Maule
©NOBBY CLARK
+44(0)7941-515770
+44(0)20-7274-2105
nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

I wasn’t expecting to get belly laughs from a play written in the late 1930s, even one by Noel Coward, but I did. Present Laughter, on at Brighton’s Theatre Royal until Saturday, and starring Downton’s Phyllis Logan (aka Mrs Hughes), is a comedy that, in the right hands ages very well.

The story concerns famous actor Garry Essendine. Everyone wants piece of Garry, be that romantic admirers, obsessed fans or a series of correspondents seeking charity appearances or introductions to the world of theatre.

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Afternoon tea at the Cole Manor Tea Rooms, nr Bruton

7 Aug 2016
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Do your bit to support National Afternoon Tea Week by stuffing yourself silly with tea and cake as often as possible from now until next Sunday.  I started supporting our Great British institution early by taking the Muddy Ma for afternoon tea in the stunning gardens of the Cole Manor Tea Rooms at the weekend. It was one of those gloriously sunny days when there is no better place to live than Somerset.

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Stay here: The Castle Hotel, Windsor

7 Aug 2016
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And so it came to pass that the mudlets were gently but firmly pushed into the loving arms of their doting Auntie while Mr Muddy B and I hopped into the car and floored it. Yes, we had escaped to Windsor for 24 hours… no kids to harrass us, nothing to do but browse in shops (yes, browse!! Remember that?), knock back a few drinky-poos at 4pm just because we could, and read the papers – all of them, at leisure – in bed at The Castle Hotel where we stayed.

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Birthday at the Bistro: Hotel du Vin

6 Aug 2016
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It’s my birthday this weekend and as all grown-up little girls know, ‘No fuss’ means, ‘Just a little bit of fuss. Nothing too demanding. A bunch of flowers. A bottle or two of fizz. A dressing gown made entirely of peacock feathers. Or, at the very least, a cake containing a Chippendale, or baby panda.’

So it’s testament to how well they know me that when I popped into Tunbridge Wells on Friday with a good friend and my sister-in-law to ‘grab a few bits’ they insisted on marking the occasion with a girlie lunch in town.

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Muddy review: Children of Eden at the Harlequin Theatre, Redhill

5 Aug 2016
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Ok, so whenever I see a stage production that involves kids – whether it’s in the West End or at my kids’ school – I cry. Most of the time I don’t even know the kids on the stage, so imagine how I might be if my own kids were up there.

Last night it was no different at the opening night of Children of Eden, a production by YESOS, the youth musical theatre group of Redhill and Reigate.

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Beauty spot gets bigger in Guildford

3 Aug 2016
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Interesting happenings in Guildford – *collective gasp* ooooooooh!

Nothing as scandalous as a burgeoning husband-swapping scene (to my knowledge!) but some beauty moves and changes on the high street. Truth be told, I’m actually a little behind the eight-ball on this, as the launch was a couple of weeks ago. But I figured if I was, maybe you were too.

You’ll know already about Mary Ann Weeks at Aveda, the hair and beauty salon, but you might not know that now it’s expanded and opened an Aveda spa and wellness studio on the same premises.

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Muddy stays: The New Inn, Tresco

3 Aug 2016
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Its all about location location location, and here’s a location you’ll be hard pushed to beat. Muddy Cornwall recently had the pleasure of staying at The New Inn, a restaurant with rooms on Tresco. If you don’t have a few hundred thou sloshing around for a timeshare, this is the place to stay on Tresco Island. Unpretentious, good value and in the most stupendously beautiful position, a sneeze from the beach at New Grimsby.

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Cool cafe, hot architect – West beach, Littlehampton

3 Aug 2016
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What do the new cutting edge Museum of London building and a little beach café at Littlehampton have in common? The same architect as it turns out.

“Nice design!” I said, walking towards the West Beach Cafe in Littlehampton last weekend, yonks since I was last at the resort. I loved how the whole front could open and it was raised to give it a vantage point over the river mouth and sea.

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Muddy Reviews: Brighton’s i360

2 Aug 2016
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The ‘i360’, the ‘<Cough> Ring’ (ask a local), whatever you call it, and whether you love it or hate it, that big tower with the doughnut up it on Brighton seafront is finally opening this Thursday 4 Aug and I’ve just had a sneaky peek.

Opinion has been divided at Chez Muddy, and frankly in my own head, over the project, as it has been in Brighton itself. Is it a great thing for tourism or a bit of an eyesore?

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It’s a gin thing!

2 Aug 2016
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“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald (author of The Great Gatsby and a lil’ hero of mine). The writer’s liquor of choice was gin, which he reportedly believed could not be detected on the breath. “Mother’s ruin”, as it is often known, has undergone something of a renaissance in the UK, reinvented as a premium product over the last few years.

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Muddy tries: Snorkelling with seals (squeak!)

31 Jul 2016
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One of my new favourite places in the world is Par Beach on St Martin’s in the Isles of Scilly.  White sand to rival Malé, and home to Scilly Seal Snorkelling who run two adventure trips a day from a shack opposite Higher Town Quay. If you’ve been before – how dare you not tell me about it??? St Martin’s is just 30ish miles from the mainland. No passport required, just hop on a skybus, or the Scillonian and you’ll be there by lunchtime.

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How to take great holiday photos – on your smartphone

30 Jul 2016
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When Somerset photographer Deb Johnson is working – taking photos for family portraits, weddings and events (like yours truly and some of Somerset’s sparkliest business people at the Muddy Awards) – she uses an impressive piece of kit. But when she’s not, she uses her smartphone like the rest of us, and gets great results. I asked her to share her 10 top tips on using a smartphone camera. Here’s what she had to say….

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Muddy reviews: Flown, at Pavilion Theatre, Worthing

29 Jul 2016
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The first thing I thought as I settled down to watch Flown at Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre was ‘how are they going to perform circus stunts in a space that small?’

This excellent show from Pirates of the Carabina (great name!), on until Sunday, is an intimate form of circus – not in a big top but on a stage with the audience on three sides.

It’s a grown-up show children will enjoy, so perfect for secretly treating yourself as well as kids this school holidays. 

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Perfect Pedi at The Peacock Rooms, Sevenoaks

29 Jul 2016
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I pop over to visit friends and family in Sevenoaks a lot and was excited to hear about the brand new luxury Aveda hair salon and spa that has just opened up on the high street. So a couple of weeks ago, when the sun was sporadically putting its hat on and I knew that sandals would soon be an inevitable part of my daily wardrobe, I decided to put them to the ultimate test.

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Get your teenagers working!

27 Jul 2016
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This is just a quick post to tell you about a very cool website that recently launched in Surrey. Parents of teenagers, you are going to love me for telling you about it! This’ll get their lazy butts off the sofa and out earning some dosh so they’re not always snarfing your last tenner.

The website is called Job Squeak (love that name – jobs for pipsqueaks, no?) and it has just launched in the Redhill and Reigate areas.

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High Five Northants – Dog Friendly Pubs

27 Jul 2016
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It wasn’t until I got a dog last year, that I realised just how much planning is required for a pup friendly day out. Popping to the pub for a quick drink or a bite to eat now requires a few phone calls to establish if Muddy Paws is welcome. In the second of our High Five Northants series, Muddy intern Maddy Morgan has rounded up five lovely dog- friendly pubs in the county to help you enjoy the guilt free pint you’ve been after!

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10 holiday reads you wont want to put down

25 Jul 2016
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Pencilling in reading for pleasure time is tough isn’t it? Even on holiday. Thank crunchie for the beach then. No wifi = no worky which means I get to indulge in the simpler things – like a juicy novel. But I can spend an indecisive age choosing something worthy – too trashy, too highbrow, too chick-flicky, too heavy etc. I asked the lovely Liz Hurley, owner of Muddy Cornwall best independent bookshop winning Hurley Books in Mevagissey, if she’d give me her unputdownables-of-all-time. 

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Eat here: The Crown pub, Bray

22 Jul 2016
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Another day, another brilliant place to eat in Bray. Only two to go after The Crown (*dabs mouth with napkin*)  – Heston’s The Fat Duck and the Roux brothers’ triple Michelin-starred The Waterside Inn, for when I discover a spare £400 in my purse. In, like, 2034.

But back to The Crown, one of three Heston offerings in the small, picturesque village of Bray, Berkshire along with the aforementioned The Fat Duck and The Hinds Head.

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Muddy eats: Salt & Malt, Chew Valley Lake

21 Jul 2016
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A former tearoom enjoys the golden (crisp, lightly battered) touch of Somerset’s Super Chef Josh Eggleton to become the Salt & Malt fish cafe, restaurant and tearoom. It’s in a fab location overlooking the Chew Valley Lake  – actually the largest artificial reservoir in the west country – in north Somerset.

Josh Eggleton (of Pony & Trap fame) and his team have turned the old tearoom into a light, airy dining room.

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High Five Northants – Open Air Theatres

20 Jul 2016
Stanwick Lakes

As summer hits the country with full force (at God damn last) you’re probably on the hunt for things to on these beautiful, balmy evenings. And that’s why we’re here Mudsters, to let you know about Northamptonshire’s fabulous events and venues. Step forward the first in our High Five Northants series; Muddy intern Madeleine Morgan rounds up the top five, scenic screenings for the whole family to enjoy!

Cinema Under The Stars, Highgate House 23 July 

Take a trip back to the 80s by visiting Highgate House to watch the all time classic, Dirty Dancing (a dicky bird tells me that this film nearly always sells out)!

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Take me to church

19 Jul 2016
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I’ve driven past The Church loads of times. I see it, nod and say to Mr M, we really must try it there, it’s meant to be very good. Well it must be pretty special, because it won the Muddy Stilettos Awards for best restaurant, and of course, I had to go and see what all the fuss was about. The 12th century building opened as The Church Bar & Restaurant in 2005, so its been around a while (you know we don’t discriminate here at Muddy Towers) and is now considered a quirky venue in Northamptonshire for both dining and weddings.

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Edinburgh Fringe – How to get the best from the fest

19 Jul 2016
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‘Debbie’s Work of Obsession’ – that’s how my husband rudely labelled the top of my DIY Edinburgh Fringe timetable last year. Still, I didn’t hear him complaining when we got to see 15 shows in three days without even getting up early. (It would have been 17 if it hadn’t been for a couple of pesky venue changes – not that I’m still bitter).

I’m a huge Fringe fan and go every year so I thought I’d share with you my tips for getting the best out of the Fest.

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Summer Workshops you’ll want to book…

18 Jul 2016
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There are some cracking workshops running across the county this summer that might just help you manage that whole work-life balance with a bit more grace and poise. Some you book ’em in and wave goodbye — some you get to stay and enjoy alongside your little darlings…

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Five cracking good books to take on holiday

15 Jul 2016
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These days, the only time I have to read is in bed and I’m usually asleep before I’ve reached the end of the first page (I’ve been ‘reading’ The Man from the High Castle for over a year now). I am looking forward to having time to sleep, er, I mean read, on holiday though, so I asked Karin and Abi from Frome’s Hunting Raven Books (winners of Best Bookshop in the Muddy Awards) for some recommendations.

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Knebworth’s Hidden Spa Gem

27 Jun 2016
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The Spa at Odyssey in Knebworth, recently voted Best Day Spa in the Muddy Herts Awards 2016, was just crying out for a visit and seeing all those votes was all the incentive I needed. Not that I needed much. I booked in to try out some of their new treatments and to spend an afternoon unwinding from the stresses and strains of tottering round the county on your behalf. (I know, I’m a saint…)

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Float your stress away

27 Jun 2016
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Are you a floater? I am now! Floating in a sound-proofed, darkened tank of water relaxes the body but more importantly, it’s said to help clear and relax the mind. Don’t know about you but my mind is in urgent need of relaxation. I decided to take the long soak in a warm bath up to the next level and try out the floatation tank at the Buff Urban Day Spa in Taunton, finalist in the Best Day Spa in the Muddy Awards.

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All hail The Crown inn, Woodstock

25 Jun 2016
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Cool place to stay alert! Muddy Stilettos recently had the rather preeny pleasure of being the first journo to try out bedrooms in the 18th century former coaching inn of  The Crown in Woodstock (I know, where’s my trophy?). The Crown has given the other pubs and inns in the town a bit of a shake up since it launched in 2015, but the rooms have seen months of delay and were only completed in March.

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Muddy stops rushing at Rushton Hall

23 Jun 2016
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I had mixed reactions when I said I was staying at Rushton Hall. Exclamations ranging from ‘ooooooh, it’s dead posh out there, it’ll be lovely’ to ‘really? Isn’t it a bit corporate for a night with him indoors?’. Well, as with most things in life, I find the experience is what you make it, and if you have to try and make it somewhere, there aren’t many backdrops I’d pick over Rushton Hall.

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Six Surrey pubs with brilliant gardens

23 Jun 2016
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The weather is going to be gorgeous (once these storms pass), the weekend is coming and unless you’re planning to hotfoot it down to the coast, you’ll want to find a watering hole with a wonderful garden to boot your kids into, while you chill out with some awesome food and a triple gin and tonic. Oh come on, it can’t just be me again!

I’ve been checking out dozens of pubs in Surrey on *cough* Muddy duty and have drawn together this scratch list, admittedly half cut late in the evening, but hopefully with a degree of knowledge and insight.

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Black Dove, Kemptown: cocktails & DJs meet Victoriana

21 Jun 2016
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When a few Saturdays back my husband said he wanted to take a dusk picture of the Brighton Wheel before it was dismantled, I made preparations. I knew from experience this would be no selfie with a smart phone but at least an hour of experimenting with different tripod positions and shutter speeds. So, I brought along some reading matter and planned a nearby bar for my pay-off after.

The bar in question was The Black Dove in Kemptown.

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Antiques Roadshow is coming to Caversham Park!

21 Jun 2016
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Quick! Get up your loft and start rummaging – BBC One’s Antiques Roadshow is coming to Caversham Park this Sunday 26 June! Yes indeedy, foxy Fiona Bruce and the team will be filming the next episode in the 39th (wowzers) series of the show at BBC Radio Berkshire’s HQ, Caversham Park. Apparently, the show was last in Berkshire about 8 years ago when they filmed in Ascot, so we’re well and truly due a revisit.

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Muddy eats: The Poet, Matfield

21 Jun 2016
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Having driven past The Poet numerous times and telling myself I really needed to try out the food there, Mr Muddy Kent and I finally got round to booking a table a couple of weeks ago. Word had reached my shell-like that exciting new changes were taking place at this country pub and that it was starting to make its mark on the foodie map – so slave to the job that I am, in I swooped, napkin tucked in at the ready.

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The Barber of …. er… Salisbury?

20 Jun 2016
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Next week, Hertford Theatre is staging its first live opera — Rossini’s Barber of Seville. No, no, don’t stop reading… I know opera sometimes isn’t for everyone — but this one really, really is. It’s up close, it’s personal, it’s in English and (get this) it’s properly funny. And it’s a perfect way in if you’ve thought opera wasn’t for you…

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5 Quirky Places to get Hitched

20 Jun 2016
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With more and more couples shunning the traditional church wedding – and laws on where you can wed being relaxed – there are more reasons than ever to choose somewhere unusual for your big day. From cinemas to windmills, we round up the most unusual five venues for getting hitched Norfolk-style.

In a Windmill:
Getting married in a windmill – now wouldn’t that make a great story to tell the grandchildren?

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Muddy Eats: The Crab & Lobster, Sidlesham

15 Jun 2016
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The term ‘destination pub’ is made for the Crab and Lobster at Sidlesham and it’s no wonder it was one of our Muddy Awards finalists for that very category. It’s near Pagham Harbour and right beside the pub is wide open marshland with paths around…

…yet it’s within easy reach of Petworth and Chichester and well worth making a day out for from further afield.

The food is locally sourced where possible, particularly from the Selsey fishing fleet and dairy farmers.

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Eat here: Caldesi in Campagna, Bray

15 Jun 2016
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I’ve been waiting to write about Caldesi in Campagna restaurant for the last week, but the weather has been so horrific that I decided to hold back. Now I’m looking at (sort of) blue skies so I’m taking my chance.

You’ll probably know the Caldesi name already – their elegant Italian restaurant in Bray is really well-regarded, they’ve brought out several books, plus Katie and Giancarlo have their own cookery schools in Gerrard’s Cross and Marylebone.

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WATCH THIS: Hilarious vid of Euro 2016!

13 Jun 2016
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When a video makes me weep with laughter, I figure it’s worth sharing.

This classic from comedian Aldrig Kede Sig reached Mr Muddy’s Facebook feed last night, made it across the sofa to me, and I’m still finding it funny today. It features DJ David Guetta at the opening ceremony of the Euros 2016 and is incredibly silly and puerile – just the way I like it!

Finding it hard to embed this vid for some reason so we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way with this link.

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Muddy tries David Williams local asparagus dish

13 Jun 2016
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When I was in Waitrose this week (borrowing flutes for the Muddy Awards, note) I noticed the packs and packs of supermodel flawless  (Wiltshire) Asparagus – which I’m sure was very good, but it reminded me I hadn’t posted about something alot more special – really local asparagus from right here in Cornwall.

In the middle of the Muddy finals I was treated to Nat Burch’s unique wibbly wobbly wonky but super sweet asparagus – same day picked fresh – at the newly refurbed Sea Side restaurant at the St Moritz Hotel & spa.

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Muddy Eats: Curry Rivel’s *NEW* The Firehouse

10 Jun 2016
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Just checked out the new kid on the rural block: the newly opened The Firehouse, a pub and restaurant in the village of Curry Rivel, just a few miles to the west of Langport. Located off the main drag, in what was previously the Old Forge Inn, the old village pub has had a complete makeover in every sense. Come on in and see what’s inside…

When you go through into the reception area and wait to be seated, take note of the sleek, stone-fired pizza and the pizza chefs doing their stuff – you might be having one later.

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Gill Hornby: My favourite places

2 Jun 2016
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Gill Hornby lives in Kintbury with her husband, the author Robert Harris, with whom she has four children. Sister to Nick Hornby, her first book The Hive, a sharply observed novel focusing on playground politics, was a top 10 Sunday Times bestseller. She has also enjoyed critical success with her second book, All Together Now, a hilarious and heart-warming story of a small-town community choir, released in paperback today (2 June). 

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Muddy kids visit: Tamar Otter Sanctuary

1 Jun 2016
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One of the good things about 16 people camping in your garden over half term, is that they can take the mudlets off your hands while you are waist high in Muddy Awards votes.

The clans pitched up early and headed to The Tamar Otter Sanctuary, just outside of Launceston. ‘Follow the brown signs’ I said, ‘and let me know if its Muddy – they’ve been nominated for an award!’

My spies report very good things; this is one for every animal crazy kid.

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The Muddies get behind the wheel…ooh-er

31 May 2016
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Would you let your 12-year-old behind the wheel?  I did, *gulp*.  Too young to take conventional driving lessons but raring to go, the Muddies’ 15-year-old cousin has been learning to drive through the Young Driver training programme – and loving every minute.  My two (a few years younger) have been green with envy, until I realised that kids can have lessons from as young as 11 years old – so long as their feet can reach the pedals.

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New opening: Warwick Street Social, Norwich

30 May 2016
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The Mad Moose in Norwich’s popular Golden Triangle has always been a handsome thing – perched on the top of a hill in the centre of two rows of red brick Victorian houses, it’s front lawn could almost double as a small village green.

With its yellow rendering, round bar and upstairs restaurant, this huge, detached gastropub has been a weekly institution for locals of all walks of life – students, doctors, young families, creative types – for over a decade.

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Top 5 books to get lost in nature

29 May 2016
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I recently met lovely Laura Willan, one half of the couple behind Kent’s first Wealden Literary Festival. Laura’s passion for the environment and husband Andrew’s love of books led them to mastermind this festival which is a celebration of both those things – and taking place this 18 & 19 June at beautiful Boldshaves Garden, Woodchuch. There was much discussion on the countryside, landscape and our relationship with the natural world.

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Smart new visitor facilities at Bolney Vineyard

26 May 2016
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Time was when English wine was a bit of a joke. Now, French vineyards are buying up plots of our land as global warming looks set to push the South of France beyond optimum wine producing conditions while improving ours.

Among the early pioneers of English wine production were Janet and Rodney Pratt who founded the Bolney estate near Haywards Heath backd in 1972. Their daughter Sam Linter is now Bolney’s winemaker.

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Five cocktails for bank holiday BBQs

25 May 2016
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I’ve got the gang descending on us in the next few weeks – and despite the on-again-off again weather we shall be partying like its summer no matter what. Time to dust off my little pink book of cocktails and pinch some ravishing recipes from some of my favourite mixologists. Happy to share the love here. Just keep the coyote ugly down a bit though – we’re far too old to be dancing on the bar.

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185 Watling St…

23 May 2016
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There’s been quite the brouhaha about 185 Watling St. Pub & Kitchen since it opened, and until Muddy Northants launched, I have to say, I only ever saw signs to Towcester, rather than Towcester itself (which is a shame really, as this little historic market town has a lot to offer). The pub is in the heart of Towcester’s busy high-street, but I had no bother getting a parking space, AND it was free for two hours!

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Muddy Eats: Jack’s Kitchen, Kingston

23 May 2016
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Recently, I was invited to the opening of a new restaurant in Kingston called Jack’s Kitchen. I was a little hesitant about it, if I’m honest. Not because the menu didn’t look great, or the location – it overlooks the Thames – but because it’s in *whisper it* a Holiday Inn.

I know – I’m being desperately snobby about my hotel choices here. And truth be told, I’ve stayed in many a nice Holiday Inn, and never had cause for complaint.

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Top 10 things to do in Dorset

23 May 2016
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I’m starting to do more travel on Muddy, figuring that though you love Oxon and Bucks you like to escape sometimes too (quick, dig the tunnels). I mentioned Perfect Stays a few days ago, a luxury self-catering company in Cornwall and Devon that looks *awesome* and is on my radar to try out over the summer, but if you’re into shorter traveling times and have your sights set on Dorset, I reckon Deans Court in Wimborne (above) will tick your boxes too.

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Muddy Best Schools Guide: Dulwich Prep, Cranbrook

29 Apr 2016
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Welcome to the Muddy Best School Guide, the massively popular review section, which is now launching in Kent.

When a school goes under the Muddy microscope I spend a day there nosing around, meeting staff, chatting to the kids and generally doing a bit of Muddy journo ‘digging’. So class, listen up, and no talking at the back please!

DULWICH PREP SCHOOL, CRANBROOK

What? Where?

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Visit the house where Jungle Book was born

12 Apr 2016
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The new live action version of Jungle Book is out in cinemas this week  – see the trailer here. Whether it will be anywhere near as heart-warming with CGI remains to be seen but it’s bound to rekindle a love affair with the story, and here in Sussex we have the very place where it was written – Rudyard Kipling’s former home, Bateman’s at Burwash.

I must admit my Kipling literary knowledge mainly dates back to the Just So stories and parts of Jungle Book like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi that I was read at school, though this is on its way to being rectified by some purchases in the Bateman’s gift shop.

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Light bulb moment

11 Apr 2016
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I’ve had bare bulbs rather than what I’d consider a naff lampshade – it’s not easy to find cool lights in the countryside, and they’re not something I’d buy online (you’ve got to see the light on, haven’t you?). So I was really excited to discover the fabulous Fiat Lux in Frome. Fiat lux is Latin for ‘let there be light’ (but of course you knew that) and at night the shop looks beautiful.

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Muddy Eats: The Water’s Edge, Horsell

7 Apr 2016
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I’ve had my beady eye on The Water’s Edge at Horsell near Woking since it opened early this year. This new café on the site of Heather Farm, a wetlands centre on Horsell Common, is my idea of heaven. Its specialty is gorgeously simple food, made from organic, locally produced ingredients, served in a relaxed environment with a beautiful view right out the window. Yep. This is definitely one to remember folks.

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Muddy Eats: The Queen’s Arms, Corton Denham

5 Apr 2016
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Popped in for lunch with some friends last week to the The Queen’s Arms in Corton Denham, a gastropub with eight en suite rooms, nestled in the hills on the Somerset/Dorset border, just three miles from Sherborne.  It’s won loads of awards for its food, drink and accommodation: 5 star AA inn, 2 AA rosettes, Cider Pub of the Year 2012, Taste of the West Gold 2016 (the list goes on and on).

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April’s must-do garden jobs

5 Apr 2016
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April’s list of essential gardening jobs come from Jess Evans, who heads up the team at the small but perfectly formed National Trust’s Tintinhull Garden just outside Yeovil. There’s a beautiful 17th century hamstone manor house (closed to the public except for two small rooms, although you can rent the whole house as a holiday let – swoon) but it’s the five formal courtyard gardens and kitchen garden created by Phyllis Reiss in the 1930s that people come to see.

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Muddy meets: Devine Betty’s & Rockabilly Rose

1 Apr 2016
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The greatest wonder of the them all is that the stars of your dinner party could ever align.  Why would the melee of choosing the right (and impressive) menu, co-ordinating cooking times, giving good front of house, floral arrangements AND keeping certain guests off the cooking sherry before 8pm cause any consternation – after all we are (Northants) British aren’t we? But listen…I’ve got the winning formula!

Step forward, the Ladies at Devine Betty’s and Rockabilly Rose; my new Fairy Godmothers, who together, bring you the dinner party with bells on!

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Muddy tries: Bedruthan Sensory Spa experience

30 Mar 2016
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The Bedruthan Hotel is a personal Muddy favourite – uber cool and totally family friendly, it’s nestled on a cliff top above the magnificent Mawgan Porth Beach between Padstow and Newquay.

When I heard about the new Sensory Spa Garden, designed to invigorate all your senses in a one-hour experience, I was packing quicker than you can say grab your speedos, we’re off to Mawgan Porth. This was a chance to put the kids in the (free to guests) kids club, and take some time out for ourselves (and each other).

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Top 10 picture books for children

30 Mar 2016
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So we’re continuing with The Haslemere Bookshop’s selection of the best books for kids. In part 2, Emily Adsett-Raggett has given us her choice of the top 10 picture books. Part 1 gave us the top 10 chapter books. My mudlets are now a little old for these books, but I’ll certainly be buying a couple to share with my nieces and nephews.

And now it’s over to Emily…

What the Ladybird Heard Julia Donaldson (author) and Lydia Monks (illustrator)

A storytime favourite.

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Why I won’t be waiting for The Night Manager season 2

29 Mar 2016
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Did you see it? Will Sunday nights ever be the same? The last episode of John le Carré’s The Night Manager aired last night: thrilling, breathstealing, bum clenchingly tense and emotionally draining. But, I’m going to be everso controversial – don’t shoot me till I’ve explained – I don’t want them to make a season 2. Atleast, not for a long time.

No, I’ve not been at the Easter sherry, but like a great love affair, It should end on a high – and apparently 6 million of us tuned in last night, which is quite a high.

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Hobbledown Farm

28 Mar 2016
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Not so long ago my youngest mudlet wanted to take her friends on one of those Go Ape-style climbing adventures. She’s only nine, but she’s a tall nine, and pretty fearless. Not all nine-year-olds come that way, and I thought it may not endear me to the parents of her friends if – while under my, um, care – they were sent 40-or-so metres up into the treetops, even with a harness!

But then I heard about Hobbledown Farm at Epsom where there’s a high ropes course (but not too high) with a zip wire, and a wonderful timber built village, among other farmy delights.

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Eaton Park Café is now OPEN

28 Mar 2016
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Saturday 26 March may have been an ordinary day for most, but not for the people behind Cellar Boy Ltd, the company that owns The Bicycle Shop on Norwich’s St Benedicts Street.

Last winter, 145 companies and individuals sent in applications in a bid to win the right to run the café in Eaton Park, a beautiful round Grade II listed building that has been empty for what seems like an eternity.

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The Wellington Arms, Baughurst

27 Mar 2016
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If your understanding of ‘destination pub’ is – takes flippin’ ages to find down endless winding country lanes clogged with tractors – then The Wellington Arms on the Berks/Hants border can definitely be awarded the title. But by heck food lovers, it is so worth it.

I took my sister along for the ride and promised her an amazing meal at the end of our pilgrimage. Thank god The ‘Welly’ came up with the goods.

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Muddy pub walks: Rilla Mill to Stara Bridge (and back)

24 Mar 2016
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I know I’m lucky to live in this part of the world, but when its a toss up between 70 mile an hour winds and driving rain or my delicious sofa, I need a bit of incentivizing to get out and see it. Pub at the end you say? Pass me me boots says I.

The village of Rilla Mill is a popular meet-up for walkers as it sits just on the edge of Bodmin Moor in the Lynher Valley.

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Muddy eats: The Abinger Hatch, near Dorking

23 Mar 2016
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I’m a bit excited about The Abinger Hatch. This pub, taken over and spruced up two years ago by the lovely couple Andy and Sarah, manages to tame a tricky beast – to be both an approachable local and a destination pub. And oh what a destination.

Let me tell you about it. It’s in Abinger Common, a few miles out of Dorking, and if this ain’t one of the prettiest spots in the whole of Surrey, then I don’t know what is (answers on a postcard please!).

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Listen: Jack Garratt will put some poke in your playlist

12 Mar 2016
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As a child of the 80s my musical tastes were definitely shaped by keyboards – Depeche Mode, Howard Jones, Erasure, in fact practically every band I can think of back then had someone bashing away on a keyboard at some point in the music vid (usually wearing eye-liner that looked like it had been applied by a toddler).

So it’s not surprising that I had an immediate soft spot for Jack Garratt when I heard his stuff on R1 (Mudlets often take control of the car radio and we occasionally find a tuneful nugget).

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Architecture: Watt’s Chapel

8 Mar 2016
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I fancied writing a post on Surrey’s hidden churches. There are a couple of cute little chapels I vaguely know about, hiding down local country lanes.

But then, I thought, no, not hidden churches, but hidden “treasures”. Because Watts Chapel, in the small village of Compton, near Guildford, is quite the hidden treasure, not known to as many as it should be.

The tiny chapel has been hailed an Arts & Crafts masterpiece of national significance.

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Muddy meets: Dapper Chaps

8 Mar 2016
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I’m a woman of many words (I’m a writer after all), but for this review, I’m resorting to pictures, because dear reader, in terms of this fine establishment, the look does all the talking. Case in point, Raunchy Rosie! If you ever frequent Northampton town, and more recently, The Cultural Quarter, you’ll have spied Rosie – the tattoo pin-up girl – who lures you into the basement of Dapper Chaps…and what a treasure trove down those stairs into the basement below (more of that later)!

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Muddy Eats: Mu Mu More

5 Mar 2016
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The gourmet burger trend shows no sign of abating, especially at Mu Mu Restaurants in Kettering and Northampton. We were very lucky to get in on the Saturday evening in question; and watched the lovely manager, Chantelle, turn away tens of people. And you couldn’t blame them for trying on a very dark and rainy night in February (I think a few poor souls even pressed their nose up to the steamy glass, hoping for a Bisto sniff of one of their delicious burgers).

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Muddy Eats: The Red Lion – Great Bowden (near Market Harborough)

4 Mar 2016
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In putting together a hit list of foodie pubs to visit for the launch of Muddy, there were SIX Red Lions! And as much as I like a pub (and dear reader, I do), even I have to make time for other stuff like making sure the kids get to school! So, it was The Red Lion in Great Bowden that made the cut (even though strictly speaking it’s just over the border, but that’s allowed, this isn’t Running Man).

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Muddy best schools guide 1: St Joseph’s, Launceston

29 Feb 2016
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Here it is!  the first of the Muddy Cornwall best school reviews.

As an out of county family, we were totally clueless about the education provisions available in Cornwall. So I did what we all do – googled the school websites (mostly biased), looked to official sources (mostly subscription only) and trawled message boards (mostly arguing and snobbery). If I’d blindly followed their comments, I’d probably be home-schooling the mudlets. Believe me – with the patience of Lord Sugar and zero trigonometry skills that would be a super bad thing. 

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Fancy yourself a bit of a Masterchef…?

15 Feb 2016
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Were you glued to MasterChef: The Professionals? Marcus and Monica putting the contestants through their culinary paces, watching as they produced spectacular dishes that were more like works of art than things you could actually eat – then Gregg making those mmm… and ooo…. noises that he does so well, especially when it comes to pud….

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Muddy stays: Cley Windmill

11 Feb 2016
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One of the best things about writing Muddy is the hotel stays – and boy are there some amazing places to bed down for the night in Norfolk, so many that it would be prudent to keep an overnight bag continually packed and by my front door (it’s a tough job…).

But it’s admittedly hard to prepare you for an overnight stay in a windmill. Will it be cold, dark… noisy? Will I see Windy Miller, be able buy flour or get vertigo?

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Muddy stays: The Boathouse

11 Feb 2016
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When it comes to places to stay for the night, a watery setting is hard to beat – ever wondered why Venice is so popular?

But you don’t need to get on a plane to get your dose of watery wonderland – Britain’s largest protected wetland is right here in Norfolk. Ta-dah! The third largest inland waterway in Britain, The Norfolk Broads is home to a quarter of the UK’s rarest plants and animals, and is a veritable playground for kayaking, canoeing and boating – many forming unique places to bed down for the night.

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My Favourite Places: Daphne Selfe

9 Nov 2015
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The utterly gorgeous Daphne Selfe, Herts’ own supermodel, will be taking to the local catwalk this weekend at Hitchin’s Festiwool. She’s also been busy out and about talking about her new book – a fab memoir of her lifelong love of clothes and fashion, The Way We Wore. (Don’t you just love that title?)

In between all that busy-ness, I managed to catch a few minutes with Daphne to ask her about her favourite places….

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside