Where I live – A mini tour of Barrington (Cambridgeshire)


Happy Belated New Blogging Year!  I hope 2014 turns out to be everything you hope it will be!  I thought I would start my blogging year off with a short post introducing you to where I live.

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Barrington, thought to have the longest village green in England, lies around eight miles south-west of Cambridge.  It’s a very quiet, picturesque village with some interesting history and curiosities.

So, please join me on a short tour of the village.  Hope you enjoy!

Red Telephone boxes

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So, what do you with a redundant red telephone box these days? Barrington has two of these, both have been given a creative makeover inside.

Picture one, located by the village hall, is now a library! Books can be added or borrowed at any time. The second telephone box, close to the play area, is used by Barrington Primary School as an exhibition booth.  The theme of the exhibition changes frequently reflecting what the pupils have been working on.  Currently it contains a flashing Christmas tree, I can’t wait to see what appears when the new term starts!

Do you have a redundant telephone box, or something similar, where you live which is now being used creatively? I would love to hear about it 🙂

Royal Oak Pub

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The Royal Oak dates back to the 16th century and is Barrington’s only remaining pub (there used to be at least four others, way before my time though!) The pub has changed management many times, but continues to remain popular with villagers and visitors alike.  The food is lovely and their take away fish and chips is very tasty!

It is also a fantastic place to sit outside in the summer and relax and has a very ‘English’ feel to it, especially when there is a cricket match nearby. Once a month the pub hosts a local vintage car club, vintage cars and a few motorbikes take over the green opposite the pub, a fascinating sight.


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These amazing fossils, and many others, have been excavated from a disused quarry at the edge of the village.  One of the most important finds was an Ichthyosaur fossil, a shark like ocean creature that would have lived alongside dinosaurs.  It is strange to think that this whole area was under water in the prehistoric era.

Last May I attended the annual archive open day in the village, the 2013 open day was fossil themed, including an exhibition of fossil work from the pupils at Barrington Primary School.  You can read more about the open day in an article I wrote for Local Secrets.

Barrington Primary School

The Primary School, opened in 1838, recently had part of its building re-thatched.  It is one of the last remaining schools in the UK with thatching.  A national newspaper picked up the story, you can read more about in this article. I was brought up here, so this used to be my local primary school, it has changed a lot since I was there, far too many years ago!

Barrington Church

I like churches when they are empty, they are fascinating to look round both inside and out.  This is my village church, you can read more about it here.


There is obviously a lot more to Barrington than I have included here, hope you have enjoyed the mini tour though.  I have moved away and moved back quite a few times and it always seems too quiet and not much happens, but at the same time I quite like it!

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Walking with Alpacas – Butlers Farm


Hello, hope you are all well?

I have been busy writing a few more articles for Local Secrets, which is great! I have added them to my articles page on here and my website, do have a look 🙂

The subject of this post is my new favourite animal – the Alpaca!  Look at the picture above, how can you not love them?

A few months ago one of my team mates from work saw a ‘Groupon’ deal for an Alpaca Experience’, we decided it was something we really had to do.

So last Sunday we made our way to Butlers Alpaca Farm in Ongar, Essex, and spent a fun couple of hours with a group of other voucher holders watching/learning about them and taking them for a relaxing, slightly chilly, stroll around some fields.


Me and Buster the Alpaca

That is me making friends with Buster! He was lovely, but a little intimidating at first.  When Sarah and I first started walking with him he felt like a coiled spring, I could visualise myself desperately holding on to him whilst he cantered (if that’s what Alpaca’s do!) in to the distance!  He calmed down a little when he got to the front of the pack apart from being spooked by something in the distance, he had good eye sight!

Alpaca’s enjoy being stroked, petted and hugged although Buster didn’t seem to like it much to start with.  However once we had all stopped in some very long grass, so the Alpacas could have lunch, he was much happier and relaxed.  I think he also began to trust us and was more than happy to be fussed over.  Alpacas have really warm bodies, which was very welcome on such a cold day!

Here are some more pictures, such lovely faces!

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Alpacas originate from West Central South America and are closely related to Llamas.  Thankfully they don’t spit like Llamas, if they do it’s usually at each other!  You can find out more about Alpacas on the British Alpaca Society website.

Butlers Farm also has a shop with some gorgeous things made from Alpaca wool, which is so soft.  I might have to treat myself to a pair of Alpaca wool gloves this winter!

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Local and Community History Month – Exploring Burwell Museum


I have been on holiday from work this week, it has been a very productive and enjoyable week writing and researching possible ideas.  The weather has been brilliant and progressively lovelier throughout the week.

At the beginning of the week my new website went ‘live’, you can view it at mariahopwoodfreelancewriting.co.uk, please do have a look, feedback is very welcome 🙂

May is Local and Community History month, my latest Local Secrets article looks at how to get the best out of researching your local history in the Cambridgeshire area, but is worth reading if you are interested in researching local history anywhere.

I decided to visit a few local museums this week, which has been very interesting from a local history perspective.

Yesterday I visited the lovely village of Burwell, which lies ten miles North East of Cambridge. The photo at the top of this post is of the very pretty Burwell Church, we also enjoyed a tasty pub lunch in The Five Bells garden.  However, my main reason for my trip was to explore the Museum of Fen-edge Village life, which is a fascinating look in to Burwell’s past.

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The open air museum is organised into themed displays with an exciting treasure trove, which includes ancient artefacts, farmland machinery, vintage exhibits ranging from vehicles to clothes, old household accessories and not so old retro objects, such as dial-up telephones!

Many of the items in the museum have been donated, some of the objects are very random but fit perfectly with everything else, there is always something that catches the eye. I loved wandering around, some of my favourite exhibits included a mock-up of a shop, a pottery exhibition with mannequin potters, a telephone exchange with the retro telephones included and all the old bits and pieces donated from people’s homes.

The museum also has a dedicated archive room, which includes films of Burwell.  Viewers can sit on rows of old battered green cinema seats, which are another of my favourite things on show!

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The museum also includes Steven’s Mill which is currently undergoing restoration work over a period of thirty months, made possible by a Heritage Lottery Fund award.  Once completed it is intended the windmill will be returned to working order, you can read about the restoration project in a dedicated blog.

Staffs are very friendly and happy to chat to you, or show you how things work.  Make sure you look at the summer-house near the entrance, it was built as a moving summer-house so wherever the sun was it could be turned towards it, clever! One of the museum staff were happy to demonstrate how it worked by fully turning it around.

Burwell museum is definitely a great place to visit if you are interested in local history and artefacts, check the opening days/times as it is only open on certain days.

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Magdalene College/Pepys Library, Cambridge


Hello! Well, my blog is two years old!  It doesn’t seem that long ago I celebrated its first birthday!  Isn’t it scary how quickly time goes!

Since my last post I have been commissioned to write three more pieces for Local Secrets, which is very exciting!   I have the week off from work this week, I had nothing planned (apart from having a lazy week!) so I can spend it pretending I’m a full-time writer, haha!

I will update you on my articles in my next post.  I am also setting up a basic website which I hope will go live by the end of this week so look out for that too!

Anyway, back to blogging, the subject of this post is Magdalene College and the Pepys Library.

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Magdalene (pronounced ‘Maudlyn’) College is situated in the Quayside area of Cambridge, the college site started off life, in 1428, as a hostel for Benedictine Monks and has expanded over the centuries.  As with most of the colleges it is free to look around the parts that aren’t private, it also has a lovely fellows garden which is open to everyone and takes you on a short riverside stroll.

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Within the grounds is the fascinating Pepys Library, which houses three thousand books belonging to famous diarist, and graduate of the college, Samuel Pepys. Pepys bequeathed his library to the college, although it only came to the college after his nephew’s death.

Pepys’ books, housed in twelve beautiful seventeenth century oak book cases, are in height order, the smallest first, the largest last.  The book cases, known as presses, are fascinating in themselves as they are known to be the first of their kind.  They were made specially for Pepys, beforehand books would always have been kept flat in chests.

The library is also home to many other artefacts belonging to him, including six volumes of his famous diaries.  Pepys was also Secretary to Admiralty and his navy collection is a big part of the library, with illustrations of ships, including The Mary Rose on display. Framed portraits, calligraphy, maps and music are also on display.

There is always a member of staff on hand in the library, who will give you a guided talk and answer any questions you might have.

It is a very interesting historical record of Pepys’ life and worth a visit.  The library is only open at certain times of the year, so check the website for information.


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King’s College Chapel, Cambridge


Hello everyone 🙂 I have been trying to write this post for absolutely ages! If you are reading this I have finally posted it! Yay!

I recently spent a couple of weeks researching and writing an unrelated article for a Local Secrets (a website/online magazine for Cambridgeshire).  I was very excited to see it published on their site on Monday!  The article is primarily aimed at local people but would be helpful for anyone looking for ideas of things to do/places to see in Cambridge.

Here is the link to my article Please do have a read 🙂

So, on to the main point of this post…

It is possible I have mentioned this before, one of my favourite things to do in Cambridge is spend time wandering around the grounds of the colleges in Cambridge.  I love that you can be in the middle of a busy, noisy city and then transported somewhere peaceful and completely different in an instant.  Every time I leave I find myself wishing I was a student! Although all of that studying and research might give me second thoughts!

The university is made up of thirty-one colleges, each one unique, dotted about the city with several on the outskirts.

Following on from my previous post I decided this post would be about King’s College and its famous Chapel.

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Founded by King Henry vi in 1441, King’s College and its chapel (which was built later, building started in 1446) are one of Cambridge’s most iconic buildings.  Some of my photos above show the amazing architecture in the grounds.

Although most of the college is out-of-bounds to the public a little wander around the grounds does give you an insight in to what it might be like inside.  It would be lovely to be able to have a look round all the buildings but that’s just me being very nosey!

The college has a library which is open to the public, I haven’t been in there yet, but look forward to visiting.

The chapel, which took a century to build, is definitely worth visiting.  It’s a fascinating place, there is a lot to see and learn whilst wandering around, it is also very warm which was very welcome the day we were there!


Whilst exploring don’t forget to look up for an amazing view of the fan vaulting, which is the largest in the world.  Not sure what fan vaulting is?  Here is a history of fan vaulting should you want to know more!  Alternatively here is a pic I took, which doesn’t do it justice but gives you an idea of what it looks like!


There used to be a no photos policy in the chapel, but visitors can now take photos as long as there is no flash photography.  The signs also show ‘no mobiles’ but as most visitors use their phones as cameras they seem to be fine with that, as long as you don’t make calls on them inside.

Here are a few more of my photos.  I love stained glass windows, as you might have noticed!

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The King’s College choir, famous for its Christmas Eve festival of Nine lessons, uses the chapel on a daily basis.  The choir also receives invitations to perform around the world.  The choir has been an important part of the college since Henry iv introduced it, specifying that the choisters should be young poor boys who would be provided with meals and clothing.

As you can see the chapel has always been a very important  of the college, and remains tha way.  There is so much more to it than I have posted about here.  If you are unable to visit I can recommend the virtual tour.

It is posible to work as a volunteer at the chapel, so something to think about if you are local or visiting for an extended period of time!  I’m thinking of applying to volunteer this year.

 My next post, which I hope won’t take me as long!, will be about Magdalene College.  I am thinking about writing more college related posts in future.  Would you be interested in finding out more about the other colleges?  Let me know what you think 🙂

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King’s Parade, Cambridge

A belated Happy New Year to my readers!

I hope 2013 has been good to you so far? After a little blogging break I am back!  My first post of 2013 is dedicated to one of my favourite streets in Cambridge – King’s Parade (and its immediate surrounds).

King’s Parade, once Cambridge’s main high street, is a picturesque and atmospheric street in the centre of the city.  This busy street has its own unique and exciting atmosphere, bustling with tourists, students and thriving with cafe’s, restaurants and shops. During it’s quite periods it still has an exciting, yet gentile, atmosphere which allows you take in its history and architecture, at a slower pace.

The focal point of the street is the world-famous King’s College and its chapel (more about that later).  However, it also has many other fascinating buildings and unusual things to look at, which you can find out about below. There are some lovely little streets you can walk through, from the main area of the city, to get to King’s Parade. A couple of those streets lead through from the Market Square, which is where I will start for the purposes of this post!

On the right, as you enter King’s Parade, is Gonville and Caius College and Trinity Street (where you can find the brilliant Heffers Book Shop!, it’s been there since 1876!).

Senate Housesenate house

Just before you get to Gonville and Caius is Senate House Hill, which is not actually a hill! This is where, as the name suggests, you will find the Senate House, built between 1722 & 1730.  The Senate House is the University parliament building, mainly used now for graduation ceremonies.

Great St Mary’s Church

Close by is St Mary’s Church, which I previously posted about after walking up its 123 steps (phew!).  A church has been situated on the site for over 800 years, the current version was rebuilt in the late 15th century. The church, which looks out over both King’s Parade and the Market Square, also became known as the ‘university church’ as the University originally used it for their ceremonies and official meetings.

If you like a challenge do take the steps up the tower, there are great views at the top!view from top

Cambridge University Press Book Shop

Whilst you are wandering around the area have a mooch around the Cambridge University Press Book Shop.  The shop is situated on the oldest book shop site in the country, books have been sold on the site since 1582.  However, the current shop has been open since 1992. Read more about Cambridge University Press and the books it publishes here.

Architecture and Businesses


As you continue your walk down King’s Parade you will arrive at the shop, cafe’s and restaurants. Take time to look up as you will see some lovely architecture, also take time to have a look at the shops, cafe’s and restaurants as you’ll find some interesting places.  Benets of Cambridge is worth stopping at for a bite to eat, especially if you are craving something sweet! The Copper Kettle is another good place if you are hungry, there’s also Rainbow Cafe if you are vegetarian.

One of my favourite places to go on King’s Parade is Inner Space, which is a meditation space and shop.  They run meditation sessions, retreats and seminars, it is definitely worth a visit if you are staying in Cambridge for a while and in need of some relaxation!  I attended their meditation sessions on Tuesday evenings for a while, it was a great experience, definitely worth giving it a go! Inner Space is directly opposite the entrance of King’s College.  The meditation room is upstairs, when you look out of the window the view you get of King’s College is amazing.

Meditating at Inner Space is quite a challenge when you are a learner, it’s a very busy street!  When you meditate you are supposed to be able to block out any noise and think of nothing, which proves quite tricky when you can hear people below and the chimes of the King’s College clock!  However, I aways enjoyed my meditation experience there, I haven’t been for a while, I must go back!

King’s College

Kings College

King’s College needs a whole blog post to itself, watch this space! For now here is a (very!) short description!

The college was founded in 1441, replacing houses which were situated on the site.  In 1446 work began on building the its chapel, one hundred years later it was finished! The iconic chapel is home to the Festival of Nine Lessons, broadcast each Christmas Eve.  People queue out for hours, in all weathers, to be able to get in to the service.

Visitors are welcome, admission times can be found here.  I took the tour around the chapel and grounds a couple of years ago and really enjoyed looking round it, I recommend it.  I think another visit is in order for blogging purposes!



King’s Parade leads on to Trumpington Street, to get there you will need to walk past a very odd clock!  It is called The Chronophage (meaning ‘time eater’) and was unveiled by Stephen Hawking in 2008. You can read more about it in this link to the BBC news website. It’s a great talking point, there are always a big groups of people hanging around fascinated by it.

I feel there is a lot more to the King’s Parade area than this post has highlighted.  However, I hope it has interested you enough to want to discover it for yourself.

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101 Challenges

Lists…not the most exciting subject for a blog post but I thought I would tell you about the list of challenges I have recently set myself.

I am the sort of person who loves challenges and deadlines, so what better way to mix the two than by taking part in the Day Zero Project. You can read my list on another page in this blog.

It’s not the first time I have set myself 101 challenges to achieve, I tried this a few years ago.   I only managed to tick off about a quarter of the things on my list last time, partly because some of the things on the list weren’t really achievable and partly because I concentrated on the writing challenges.

When I was considering doing more challenges I thought about doing a ‘bucket list’ this time, but I like the 1001 days deadline of the Day Zero Project.  I am a contradiction in that I am prone to procrastination until I finally get my teeth in to something, then the impatient part of me takes over and I want to get something done now rather than later!  A bucket list would either never get done or I’d start it and want to do everything straight away, so a deadline of 1001 days is perfect for me!

I feel the challenges are achievable this time (although a few may turn out to be a bit tricky!) and will involve writing in some way. I plan to write about my experiences as I go along, including how I achieved them, things I discover whilst doing them, where the challenges take me, what they lead to, that kind of thing.

It’s an experiment aswell as a challenge I suppose.  I’m looking forward to the unexpected.  Many of the challenges I tick off will probably appear here as blog posts, so watch this space 🙂  I hope to turn my experience in to a book at the end (it’s on the list!), which will be a fun thing to achieve!

Another challenge that appears on my list is The Curiosity Project Box Swap, which appealed to me very much.  I registered to take part a few weeks ago, I received the name and address of the mystery person I will be sending a box to this week, very exciting! I will be collecting lovely things to put in the box over the next weeks.  I really can’t wait to see what is in the box I receive from my mystery sender.  Check out the website, it’s full of creative ideas, I love it! Make sure you have a look at the lovely photos from last years box swap, maybe you could join in next year!

I would love to hear about your experiences with these kind of lists, or maybe you are the kind of person who writes lists for anything and everything.  Why do you like to write lists? Or perhaps there’s a way you can can help me achieve something on my list, which would be amazing!

Here’s a history of ‘to do’ lists I just came across, which is quite interesting!

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Watercolour painting – The story so far

I thought it would be fun to ask my twitter followers for suggestions for my next post.  One of them (@MillRoadCambs – worth a follow if you are on twitter, also their blog is interesting too) suggested that I should post an update on my watercolour painting.

Looking back at my posts, the last time I wrote about my painting was October 2011, so it’s definitely time for an update.

I began taking watercolour classes in September 2011 and continue to attend classes on a Tuesday evening.  The class is taught by Sarah Spruce, who makes the classes a fun and interesting way to learn the medium.  Like me, most of the people who attend have also been going since the classes started.

It’s a lovely way to spend a Tuesday evening 🙂  Classes are held in Barrington Social Club, a Wednesday afternoon class is also held for those unable to attend on a Tuesday evening.

Sarah’s teaching style ensures that we are encouraged to learn and progress at our own pace.  Classes are structured to incorporate a short demonstration and class discussion, in the remaining time we spend time working on our  projects, with Sarah offering advice and guidance on a one to one basis throughout the evening.

I have learnt that I am not very patient when it comes to painting, so I have been trying to overcome that.  It doesn’t always work and sometimes I feel that a few of my paintings would have looked better left as drawings!

Below are most of my paintings so far.  The first one (below) was my first ever attempt, as you can see I have improved since then, which feels like a big achievement 🙂 A few paintings are pictures I have drawn from magazines and then painted my own version of, others are from photographs I have taken.  Some paintings are still a ‘work in progress’ (some have been in progress longer than others!).

The painting at the very top of this post is from a photograph of my village church, which I painted for my mum and gave her for Christmas last year.


I thought I would also add a short history behind watercolour painting to this post. I have ‘cheated’ a little with this.  I submitted an article about the classes, and the history of watercolour, to a local website but it didn’t get published…so I am pasting part of it in to this post 🙂

Here is what I wrote..

Watercolour is a very versatile medium which has existed since pre-historic times; the earliest use can be traced back to our ancestor’s caves.  Primitive versions of watercolour, a mixture of natural minerals such as ochre and charcoal, became an outlet to depict wild beasts they encountered daily.

Over time the medium began to evolve thanks to greater technical awareness, improvements in pigments and innovations in paper manufacturing from China.  Watercolour painting eventually became popular with 12 century western artists who were also swayed by Chinese decorative use of paint.

However, an important breakthrough in 1832 further improved the life of the watercolour artist.  William Winsor and Henry Newton, using their background in science, formulated an enhanced version of the paint.  Described as ‘moist’, this new version meant that artists could apply paint with a wet brush for the first time.

In 1841 the innovative pair, known in the trade as ‘colourmen’, discovered metal tubes developed by an American painter.  Winsor and Newton realised the tubes would be an ideal aid for storing their paint and quickly patented it, eventually adding screw caps.  Storing the paint in tubes ensured it could be kept in larger quantities whilst also keeping the depth and strength of the ‘wash’ intact.

Watercolour techniques and styles have continued to evolve, ensuring it remains a popular genre in the 21st century.

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My Favourite Place – Brighton Seafront

I recently spent a weekend in Brighton, on England’s south coast.  It is a favourite place of mine to go for a weekend away, I would throughly recommend it to anyone reading this.

Situated on the East Sussex coast, an hour by train from London, Brighton has the vibe of both bustling city and relaxing seaside town.  Many other words can be used to describe it, such as; atmospheric, cool, picturesque, bohemian, unique, accepting, diverse, exciting, stylish, interesting, fun, quirky and arty.  Where else, for instance, would you find a shop selling vegetarian shoes, an eccentric royal pavilion, an opera themed restaurant complete with a live opera singer and Volks, the oldest working electric railway track, which runs a short distance along the seafront.  There is so much I could write about Brighton itself, but for this post I am going to stick to my favourite part, which is the amazing seafront.


Before I write about the seafront I feel I need to do a mini review of the restaurant mentioned above. Little Bay is a brilliant place to eat out if you are looking for something a bit different with amazing food.  Looking out to sea, the plain red exterior shows no sign of what you will find inside.  The entire venue is decorated to make you feel you at an opera.  Downstairs there are large group tables, but if it’s a table for two you need there are tables upstairs which really make you feel you have your own box at an opera.  It’s such a fun place to be, you need to experience it!

The food itself is very affordable, desserts for instance are just over £2.00! (the desserts at my local pub are about £6.00!!).  I ordered garlic mushrooms for starter, duck with spiced red cabbage then the cheese board for dessert.  The duck was really tasty and the spiced red cabbage was GORGEOUS, but incredibly spicy, so be warned!  I could have eaten more of it! And yes, as advertised, an opera singer was in attendance from 8.30 pm.  Eating amazing food, whilst entertained by a wandering opera singer, made for a great evening out!

Back to the seafront, which is where I tend to spend most of my time when I visit Brighton.  I’m instantly drawn to it but also find it hard to leave!

Up until 1750 Brighton was seen as dilapidated, depressed and not worth rebuilding.  In 1750 a physician in Lewes (a short train ride from Brighton) wrote a paper suggesting that bathing in sea water could cure most ‘human ills’, whiten teeth, clear the head and was good for the bowels!  The papers became highly influential and Brighton’s townsfolk saw an opportunity to make money from the sea.  Brighton, especially its seafront, became very popular.  Bathing machines, or huts on wheels pulled by horses, became a regular site and many in number. You can read more about this in a lovely little book called ‘The Neat and Nippy Guide to Brighton’s History’

These days Brighton seafront is a mixture of art, sporty pursuits, souvenir shops and many bars.  Although there is a very busy main road running alongside the seafront the atmosphere is still one of a relaxed, fun nature.  I love to sit down by the beach, take in the atmosphere, great views and people watch.

Brighton is also known as the ‘gay capital of England’ which makes the mix of people so varied.  It has a feeling of people just being able to be themselves whatever their style, sexuality, age or interests. I think its diversity is the thing I love the most about Brighton.

The iconic piers are a talking point. The West Pier is now just a shell of what it used to be.  In 2002 part of it collapsed in a storm, in 2003 more of it was destroyed in an arson attack.  There is no funding available to restore it but the remaining shell is an iconic sight, it is made even more iconic at dusk when starlings can be seen circling around it.  They are an awesome sight and one of the things I most remember about my first ever visit.  If you’d like to see the starlings there are a few videos on youtube, I have added one to the bottom of this post. Brighton Pier is now the main pier and exactly what you’d expect a pier to be like, it’s fun and brash and makes a lovely walk.  The two piers are opposites in every way but the two of them together are an impressive sight.

A new seafront feature is a big wheel, which is worth travelling on for the amazing views. You also get a history of Brighton as you go round, told by the comedian Steve Coogan! It is very interesting but the ride includes several rotations, which means you get to hear the same history a few times!

There is so much more I could write but I feel this post is probably long enough as it is!  So, I will leave you with the video of the starlings.  Enjoy!

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Etiquette and Manners – an afternoon with William Hanson

As mentioned in my previous post, the second half of my day last Saturday was spent learning about etiquette and manners, with nineteen other tea party guests.   The event was run by The Secluded Tea Party with guest speaker William Hanson, who is an experienced speaker on all things etiquette.

We all gathered in the fabulous library of The Hotel Du Vin, whilst the tea party room next door received its finishing touches and official photographs were taken.  Meeting in the library was a great way to start as guests were able to spend some time chatting with people they had only just met, or catching up with friends.

Once the room was ready we were taken through to a beautifully set out table.  The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and all were eager to learn the rights and wrongs of drinking tea, eating and behaving in the correct manner.

Stunning sandwiches and cakes were places in front us to enjoy and practice our good manners on.  A selection of tea pots with three different tea flavours to choose from were also placed on the table.  Each table place included a card with an etiquette tip attached to it, which was a nice addition.


William is an amusing and knowledgable speaker and ensured the whole table were involved, using practical tips, questions and discussions before each course.  The afternoon was a fun way to learn about manners, etiquette and traditions, aswell as enjoying the food and tea on offer.

One of the ‘rules’ we practised was the traditional way to behave around the table, which is the men pour the tea, offer food and guide the conversation with the lady on his right.  This was quite tricky in practice as out of the twenty guests only one was a man, so some of us had to pretend to be a man for the afternoon, which caused some initial amusement and confusion!

Afternoon tea conversation should be light, steering clear of controversial subjects.  The correct way for a lady to leave a table should she need to visit the lady’s room was also discussed.  A lady should not disclose where she is going, if returning she should leave her napkin on her chair.  The gentlemen of the table should stand until she has left the room.

Here is a selection of other interesting things we discovered.

Tea – milk or water first?

When making a cup of tea, do you put the water in first or the milk and is there a right or wrong way to do it?

Traditionally it used to depend on whether you were a servant or not.  It is thought that servants would always put the milk in first as their mugs would usually be made of clay.  If they were to put the boiling water in first the clay would have exploded, so milk went in first.  However, those upstairs would enjoy their tea in porcelain cups which wouldn’t be affected by the hot water, they would put the boiling water in first.

Did you know there is also a correct way to stir tea?  It should be stirred backwards and forwards.  William described it a 6, 12, 6, 12 motion.


Scones should not be cut in half, the right way to half a scone is to find the natural centre and break down the centre.  When I tried this with my scone it immediately crumbled in to a heap on my plate!

Obviously scones can’t be mentioned without the jam or cream first debate! Of course, there is no right way, it depends on the person.  When you do add a condiment to a scone you should keep it placed on the plate rather than hold it in the air. The scone debate got the table discussing their preferences, whilst the bakers in the room also shared their tips on how to make the perfect scone.

Interestingly we discovered, whilst enjoying our scones, that bread should also never be cut.  Also, if you are spreading anything on your bread or toast it is proper to pull it to pieces and add your chosen spread to each piece!

Revolving doors

The conversation didn’t just stick to food and drink, one unrelated tradition involved revolving door manners.  Apparently revolving door etiquette dictates that when a woman also needs to use the door the man should be first to go round, letting the woman alight first.  The man should then carry on round again until it’s his turn to alight!

William was a great speaker and the afternoon was a fun, insightful way to spend a couple of hours.  I loved discovering the many manners and traditions related to food and drink, and other forms of etiquette.

Two more events have been lined up, one in Cambridge (again at the Hotel Du Vin) and one in Knightsbridge.  If you are interested, please keep an eye on the brilliant Secluded Tea Party blog or its website above.  I would highly recommend it, especially if you are looking for something a little bit different.

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