Great day out: View from the Shard

We had an interesting day out in London yesterday. We have been ploughing our way through Mr Shoestring’s birthday vouchers before they expire!

One of them was a Virgin Experience with a trip up the Shard, London’s tallest building, in case you didn’t know, and afternoon tea for tea at Brasserie Blanc near Tower Bridge.

Three afternoon teas in a row gave me a good comparison point, so I shall start there. They were all very good. However, I was a little disappointed with the sandwiches  at Brasserie Blanc. They looked very fancy, with the ‘filling’ presented on top rather than in the sandwich. This meant you tasted the bread and butter more than the combination of ingredients oddly. I want my sandwich fillings in my sandwiches please, Monsieur Blanc!

The fillings were themselves a little odd for my taste, although Mr S really liked them. The smoked salmon was good, as was the Parma ham. However,  slices of golden beetroot on one and cucumber and tomato on the other made me feel I had the garnish but not the ‘meat’. There was not much flavour or excitement in either.

Other than that, it was a lovely tea, with an excellent selection of sweets and cakes and a nice glass of sparkling wine.

 Crumbs of comfort

As with the other two teas, we couldn’t eat all of the cakes and took some home. Brasserie Blanc seemed to have no boxes and they gave us them in a plastic bag, which meant after the afternoon in London they looked like this…. it’s a small detail that made all the difference!

The best one by a mile was at Greyfriars in Colchester. Everything was perfect, from the food, the decor and the service. Plus we took our extra cakes home in a sensible box!

The Shard was interesting but scary. So high, I could feel it vibrating! It was busy too. We were lucky with the weather and the views of the city were excellent, but I wouldn’t rush back. I prefer to keep my feet on the ground! With hindsight I would have preferred to pre-book the Shard directly and had some street food rather than going for the afternoon tea.

One of the best parts of the day was walking from Liverpool Street to the old Spitalfields Market. This is a really interesting and diverse market, full of lovely clothes, artisan products, food, cards, books and jewellery. It would be lovely for Christmas shopping and didn’t seem overly expensive.

We also came across a street festival in Bermondsey, which was bustling with people and music. I love these kind of community events.

We walked our little feet off and were glad to get back on the train home. We booked the tickets in advance with Greater Anglia. The cheapest way was to purchase them was as a single each way rather than a return.  It was only £10 each way from Colchester to London.

If you like heights it is worth adding the Shard to your bucket list. If you go, pop into Spitalfields on the way for lunch!

A lovely day by the sea

I often wonder if we will end up living by the sea somewhere, we are drawn to the coast so often. Mr S absolutely loves it and will frequently  go in for a swim, no matter how cold it is!

Raising money for charity

Yesterday we took my parents to a fundraiser in their friend’s garden at Westcliff, near Southend on Sea. She was raising money for the Remus horse sanctuary.

It was a lovely event and well attended. There were charity stalls, a plant stall, crafts and a tombola, plus delicious refreshments, all at a great price. We had tea, sandwiches and cake in the garden, and were treated by my mum to pay for the petrol.

Mum and Dad knew lots of people there as they attend every year. As they were both ill earlier in the year, they no longer feel comfortable driving long distances. We didn’t mind taking them. It was the perfect excuse for a day by the sea!

Bargain hunting, for a change

I was drawn, of course, to the cat protection stall, where they were selling an enclosed litter tray for just £5. I have wanted one for the cats for ages to stop them kicking their litter all round the kitchen, so I snapped that up. Bargain!

day by the seaLeigh on Sea

We left them there chatting to everyone and took a drive down to old Leigh-on-Sea. It is such a pretty place for a stroll. We walked along the seafront to Westcliff, but then had to walk all the way back to get the car!

You have got to love a walk by the sea. There’s something about a huge sky and the sound of the sea that is so invigorating, no matter what the weather.  The clouds looked ominous at one point but the rain held off and the sun managed to break through.

A day by the sea was just what we needed to kick off a new week. The past one felt sad and stressful. I have a more positive outlook going into this one.

Did anyone else do anything fun at the weekend? Do you like a day by the sea?

The best garden in Suffolk? A trip to Helmingham Hall 

I’m not a gardening expert but I  know what I like. Of all the gardens I have visited – and there have been many – I like Helmingham Hall Gardens in Suffolk the best!

Everything in the garden is rosie

This was our second visit. When we went before, the spring bulbs were at their best and Helmingham Hall was ablaze with bright tulips and daffodils. Just a month on, the roses and cottage garden flowers are starting to take over, with stunning shapes and colours.


The vegetable gardens are also doing well.  Huge, perfect lettuces with no sign of slug damage were in the cold frames and there were broad beans ready to eat. The microclimate created by the ancient walls in this part of the garden means that figs and peaches can already be seen and it looks as if they will provide a bumper crop.

We met the gardener

Where else can you find an actual member of the aristocracy in the garden doing the weeding and chatting to the visitors except at Helmingham Hall? The Tollemache family have had the house and garden since the 1400s. Both times we have visited, the current Lady Tollemache has been working alone in the garden. She is a Chelsea gold medal winner and is clearly passionate about her gardens. We had a chat about what a nightmare bindweed is! Lovely lady.

I love that she literally gets her hands dirty and is not at all grand. We look forward to visiting for their Autumn Plant Fair on 18th September, although we might be tempted along before then.

I just wish I could have a nose inside the splendid moated mansion. Sadly, this isn’t open to the public.

If you are in the area, I urge you to visit Helmingham Hall Gardens. I can’t recommend this fabulous garden highly enough! More information and opening times can be found here.

Free and frugal ways to spend a bank holiday

No money? Wondering what to do this fine bank holiday weekend? How about these ideas to keep you and the family entertained?

Get the April issue of Gardener’s World magazine. They have a 2 for 1 offer for over 400 gardens around the uk. Plus you have a great magazine to read when you get home😀.

Go to the park and play on the swings (preferably take a child with you, lol), or take a football or cricket bat.

Play rounders! I have excellent memories of family holidays doing this when I was young.

Go for a walk at a fast pace and you won’t need to bother with the gym. Do it with a buggy and you are resistance training!

Check your local museums and art galleries – some will be free.

Pack up a picnic and head for the hills. If we have a day out anywhere, Mr Shoestring and I always take a flask and sandwiches – whatever the weather. It saves so much money and also means no queuing in crowded cafes for over-priced food of variable quality.

Check the country parks in your area. In Essex we are blessed with some great open spaces, ideal for a family walk: www.visitparks.co.uk. It’s easy to find where yours are at your local Tourist Information Centre.

Go find a bluebell wood. This is a good time to go! You can find some listed on the Woodland Trust website here.

Check out your local wildlife trust. They have all kinds of activities going on, from a family pond dip to an twilight bat or owl walk.

Go to the garden centre. We have several locally that have so much to see for free, and the kids love their displays. However, don’t be drawn in to the café, and don’t buy anything unless you need it and it is a good price.

Visit your relatives and friends. They are an under-rated and often under-valued form of entertainment and support.

Find a boot sale and get yourself some bargains.

There are lots more family ideas at dayoutwiththekids.com as well as great offers and deals at  Moneysavingexpert.com.

We will be meandering around a garden I should think. Maybe see you there! 

A gem on our doorstep

I often think that people love to spend a fortune jetting all over the world yet don’t take the time to explore what there is on their doorstep. We often get out and about in the local area and I think I know it well. However, this morning I found something wonderful to see five miles down the road!

We went for a walk in the village of Copford, not far from Colchester. We wandered down to the lovely old church and discovered some very old painted frescos on the walls inside. They are fabulous! It is a lovely church with a wooden frame and some gorgeous stained glass. The roof and walls were restored in the nineties. What a great find.

Outside there was a sea of daffodils, absolutely stunning. It was a very windy day but sunny and we had walk past Copford Hall and into the woods. I recommend a visit if you are ever in the area.

We came home and went straight outside again to do a bit of pruning and tidying and to dig the second veggie patch. I worked up quite a sweat. Gardening is such good exercise and cheaper than the gym!

Keeping busy is stopping me worrying about my dad. My brother and sister took him to hospital today and they waited hours whilst they tried to find a bed for him. This makes me cross – it’s not as if they weren’t expecting him. He finally got a bed when they opened up a day centre as an extra ward. Here he is having his dinner. He won’t be able to eat after this as the op is tomorrow afternoon. 

I think the NHS is wonderful but gravely under funded at the moment. Let’s hope they do a good job and we get him home safe and sound. 

Back soon – have a great week.

A walk on the beautiful Essex coast


I believe that many people have a rather warped view of Essex. The old Essex girl stereotypes, reinforced on the tv by TOWIE (The Only Way is Essex – I don’t recommend it) might paint a view of the county and is inhabitants that most of us don’t recognise and definitely don’t aspire to. In actual fact there is so much more to this area. It is very beautiful, has a fabulous coastline and you don’t in reality see that many orange people with ridiculously white teeth and huge hair!

We went exploring the coast near us on Sunday. It was a glorious September day so we took a trip to Walton on the Naze to visit the brand new Essex WildlifeTrust visitor centre. The beach there looked stunning so we took a walk before having a cup of tea in the cafe.

There also happened to be a classic car show in the town which of course we couldn’t resist. I loved the vintage camper vans. Look at the interior – gorgeous!

We have become members of the Wildlife Trust again and will be exploring their sites all over the county. Let’s hope we don’t spot any TOWIE wildlife en route 😀.