FallowFields, Oxford

I always forget how much I appreciate the extra days off we get over the Easter holidays, along with the copious amounts of chocolate. I got two easter eggs this year, I demolished them both by the end of Easter Monday – two reasons: it’s totally acceptable to have chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Easter Sunday, secondly I need them out of my life so I can pretend I never ate them and get back to healthy(ish) eating.

A couple of days before I ate my weight in chocolate I took the extended weekend as an excuse to get away for a few days. The decided destination was Oxford, not too far from home but a nice change of scenery and a chance to relax.

Relaxing was definitely ticked off the list with the hotel offering spa facilities and booking ourselves in for a back, neck and shoulder massage. Incredible food was also achieved on the first night when we took a visit to FallowFields, just outside the centre of Oxford in Kingston Bagpuize. A fine country house, restaurant and hotel that prides itself on serving the freshest ingredients and upholding to a ‘field to fork’ regime.

The house is enclosed and set just off the main road, we drove down a small driveway and parked up outside the front.

We walked through to reception where we were given a warm welcome and shown into the lounge. We sunk into a sofa and picked out a couple of cocktails; just how I like to start an evening.

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Whilst sipping our cocktails we were given some menus to peruse. There is a tasting menu on offer, which proved popular in the dining room however we decided to go with our own options. With my indecisiveness that can take a while, luckily some amuse-bouche appeared before us to stop my dining partner eating their own hand.

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Once I’d come to a decision and we had enjoyed our first taster of the standard of food we were going to indulge in we were taken through to the dining room and shown to our table.

The room is open with large windows to look out across the grounds. The setting is formal but the general feel is relaxed, the staff are professional but friendly so as you don’t feel intimidated – which can be the case with some fine dining experiences.

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A selection of homemade breads was added to the table accompanied by butter, salt and seaweed butter.

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Whilst we tucked into the freshly baked goods, the waitress brought over an artichoke palate cleanser in preparation for our starters.

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Having already been impressed with what had been served, I had high expectations for the rest of the meal.

For starters we went for the Fallowfields quail and the beef and onion risotto.

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The quail dish took elements from a full english breakfast with a gorgeous sweet sauce covering the quail. The beef and onion risotto was made up of braised flank, oat groat risotto, roasted onions and wild garlic. The beef melted in your mouth and all the textures complimented each other perfectly.

Next up were our mains; we had opted for the cornish cod and the marlborough estate venison.

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Their pride in the food is made apparent through the presentation of all the dishes. The venison was paired up with parsnip, vanilla and pear – a winning combination. The cod was a delight, with cauliflower, glazed cheek and muscat grapes.

Having enjoyed two exquisite courses, we’d be foolish to not check if the puddings lived up to the same standard. As I sipped away at my wine we decided on the cheesecake and the chocolate and nut options.

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The cheesecake with salt baked pineapple, coconut and mascarpone ice cream went down a little too easily. The chocolate and nut dish with chocolate delice, peanut mousse and barley ice cream was also a big hit.

We retired back to the lounge to wash it all down with a cup of green tea and were even offered a selection of homemade chocolates – being Easter it’d be silly to turn down chocolate.

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All of the added extras show how much thought and attention has gone into making sure you have the perfect dining experience. The joining of flavours and ingredients highlights the passion for food in the kitchen. From the moment you arrive you know you are in for some exceptional food and it did not disappoint.

A highlight of the trip to Oxford and would highly recommend a visit.

Find out more here.

Jamie’s Italian, Cheltenham

A couple of weeks ago I was very kindly invited along to Jamie’s Italian in Cheltenham. I had visited before but not for a while so jumped at the chance.

The restaurant has quite a unique setting inside a former county court in the centre of town. There are two floors for eating where you’ll find original features including the press box, the jury box and the judges’ table. The toilets are situated in the basement, formerly where you would have found the cells. Is it just me that enjoys checking out an establishment’s toilets?

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I took my sister, Nat along for the ride. We don’t always get to spend that much time together so it was a real treat to enjoy her company, accompanied by good food and drink.

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We were seated in a prime spot, with a great view of the rest of the restaurant and one of the kitchens. Before delving into the menu, the staff were on hand to tell us about the specials they had on that day.

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Nat was sold by two of the specials – a Risotto to start and the Lamb Ragu for mains. I went for the Italian Nachos, followed by the Italian Steak Frites.

The seating was especially perfect for Nat, she loves to people watch so whilst we waited for our food she had a good old nose around whilst I sipped on my rosé.

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Before she got too engrossed in the daily going-ons of the table next to us our starters arrived.

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Nat’s risotto was a great choice, smooth and creamy with some texture coming from the peas and pieces of fennel. I didn’t know what to expect with my Italian Nachos but they came up trumps too. Soft, cheesy ravioli squares with crunchy edges and a spicy sauce for dipping.

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Next up were our mains. The lamb had been cooked perfectly, on top of a generous sized portion of pasta and a sprinkling of crunchy breadcrumbs. My steak had been marinated with some incredible flavours, the kale and pickles slaw was a nice accompaniment – I felt it cancelled out some of the chips I was gorging on.

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Finally, for pudding I opted for the Lemon Meringue Cheesecake and Nat had the Cherry Frangipan. I didn’t try the Frangipan as I’m not a fan but Nat managed to wipe the plate clean, so I’d say it was a hit. I loved my Cheesecake, suitably creamy with the added dimension of the meringue on top and a sour sauce made for a great balanced pud.

A splendid meal, in great surroundings with attentive staff – definitely worth a visit sometime soon! If you want to find out more check out the Jamie’s Italian website here.

Darker experiences in Budapest

Our final full day in Budapest we visited a couple of museums. First of which was the House of Terror, a museum dedicated to various historical terror regimes, illustrating the decades of Nazi and Communist suppression.

The building was once the headquarters for the secret police of both the Nazi and Communist governments. The words ‘Terror’ protrude from the building so that when the sun shines on them, it symbolises the terror that was inflicted on Hungarians.

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You can’t take photographs but it’s a must-see if you’re in the city. Some of the videos are quite distressing to watch and the prison cells in the basement are a real eye-opener. The design of the museum and music played in each of the rooms adds to the experience too.

You could easily spend the entire day there however as it was our final full day we wanted to make sure we saw as much of the city as we could. We took the tram (this time with a ticket) to the food market where we picked up some souvenirs and checked out what the locals were eating.

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Instead of having anything from the food market, we opted for a small cafe selling Kurtoskalacs – Hungary’s oldest pastry.

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They are cooked over an open fire and are similar to a pretzel, perhaps not as doughie with a crispy outer shell. You can have several different toppings like walnuts, almonds, cinnamon or go simple with vanilla.

Better yet, on the Thursday after Shrove Tuesday Hungarians regard this as ‘Fat Thursday’ and offer 50% off at a lot of restaurants. My kind of country!

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The next exhibition was a completely new experience for all of us. The city houses an exhibition dedicated to the blind called the Invisible Exhibition.

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For one hour you are able to experience what it is like to live without one of your most vital senses, your sight.

You are guided by a blind person through several rooms in complete darkness, there are smells and noises in each of the rooms so you have to rely on your other senses to make your way through. Using voices and feeling the surroundings help guide you through but the feeling of vulnerability is exposed.

The concept completely takes you by surprise and is only a brief taste of how a blind person lives. It can feel a little claustrophobic at times but when you step back into the light, you can’t help but appreciate the gift of sight.

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Our last night in Budapest deserved another nice meal so we returned to the hotel and all did some Googling on where to go. Rob won the race and found a winner that was within walking distance.

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Food and drink in Budapest was amazingly cheap, even in the fancier places. My meal on the last night cost just over 1990 huf (£4), the cocktails that you’d usually pay £7 for were only 1300 huf (£3).

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An exceptional meal that came to under £100 in total. With several courses, alcohol flowing you can’t argue with that. If Hungary can do it, why can’t the UK?

We did a bit of shopping on the morning of our last day in Budapest before flying home. The boys found the perfect clothes shop for when the metabolisms finally come to a halt.

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Thanks for a great trip Rob. Where are you taking us next year?

‘My house in Budapest’…

…is the first line of the song titled ‘Budapest’ by George Ezra. It is also the same line my brother, Rob used as a clue on Christmas Day for the family to guess where he had decided to take us all. Buying Birthday and Christmas presents can often slip Rob’s mind but last Christmas he came up trumps.

Rob regards Budapest as one of his favourite cities to visit. He has been twice before so you’d think this would make him pretty familiar with how the city works but more on that later!

We arrived in Budapest late Tuesday afternoon, picked up at the airport and taken to our hotel. We were situated smack in the centre and blown away with Bob’s choice.

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After almost missing our flight back in London it was nice to finally relax. We freshened up and headed straight to the bar for some cocktails.

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We then went in search of a place to eat. The hotel was surrounded by restaurants however it took some wandering to find a place that would take 7 people. Eventually we stumbled upon an Italian restaurant that was willing to feed all of us.

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After an exhausting day travelling, once we’d finished up dinner we returned to our hotel and recharged the batteries for a day of sightseeing.

The following morning we filled up on the hotel breakfast and decided as the sun was shining we would tick off some of the famous landmarks. Rob explained the best way to get around the city was via the tram – better yet, he insisted you didn’t even have to pay. No one checked the tickets so it was safe to just jump on and off. Too good to be true, you say? Probably.

On our first tram journey we passed the Parliament building so instead of heading straight to our destination we jumped off and got a closer look.

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Yes I own a selfie stick. I’m not ashamed.

We got back on the tram in the direction of Castle Hill. Within about 30 seconds of sitting down I get a tap on the shoulder from a large hungarian man asking to see my ticket. To cut a long story short we ended up getting fined over £150 for not having a ticket.

So if you don’t take anything away from this blog, at least remember if you go to Budapest, you do have to pay for the tram. Moral of the story don’t listen to Rob.

After the initials grumbles of being slightly poorer we carried on our touring however this time on foot.

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We walked across the Chain Bridge right up to the top of Castle Hill to see the Royal Palace.

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A little further on we also came across the Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion – offering the best views of the city.

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Later that afternoon we decided to hit one of Budapest’s Spas. We visited the Szechenyi Baths, one of Europe’s largest spas right in the city centre.

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They have three large pools outside, the one in the centre is for doing lengths, the other two have fountains and mini jacuzzi sections. The one has a small pool in the middle that people swim around in creating a whirlpool, which was a lot of fun.

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It was perfect way to end a day of city exploring however areas were slightly run down and were in need of some TLC. Alan and I couldn’t help but compare it to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland – which in comparison is on a completely different level.

When we returned to the hotel we asked to be booked into a restaurant that served traditional hungarian food. A quick shower, change of outfit and we were off out again. This time to do one of my favourite activities, eating.

A restaurant that has the quote, ‘There is no love sincerer than the love of food’ on the wall has my stamp of approval before I’ve even tried their menu. We were even treated to some beautiful live music whilst we ate.

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The flavours and the marrying up of ingredients was a lot different, however the food was incredible. We all finally got to try some authentic beef goulash too.

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One of the more expensive meals of the trip but in no way compares to what we would have had to pay in the UK for a similar standard.

Part 2 coming up!

All you need is love, and a cat

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My blog is essentially an online diary where I can share the fun things I get up to – the holidays, the days out, the nice food. All a snap shot of my life that help break up the everyday routine.

I tend to keep my blog quite lighthearted and carefree but if I’m going to share significant parts of my life then they can’t all come with the happy endings.

One of the most treasured things in my life was my cat. It almost seems ridiculous how attached we get to our pets, but at the same time when they’ve been a part of your life for such a long time it’s hard to imagine life without them. Nearly 15 years ago my cat Bonnie came into my life and immediately stole a large chunk of my heart.

Mum rescued Bonnie and her brother Bertie from the Cats Protection League when I was 11. I remember telling new friends at secondary school that we had just got two kittens. They were the cutest little balls of fluff I’d ever seen.

Bonnie was a little more outgoing than Bertie. It took him slightly longer to come out of his shell and fully embrace his new family. But soon enough he too was running around like a mad thing.

After an afternoon of play-fighting, all was forgiven and they’d fall asleep in each other’s arms.

That shy, weary Bertie soon became an explorer. He would hop over the fence and nose into other people’s gardens. When he was only three years old he managed to get around to the front of the house and sadly got run over. It was devastating but the light at the end of the tunnel was that we still had Bonnie.

Bon grew into the most beautiful and friendliest cat you could ever wish to meet. People who assumed they weren’t cat people, loved her and commented on her elegant looks. She was so gentle, not a mean bone in her body.

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She was like a best friend. She’d seen me go through secondary school, through Uni, leave to move in with Alan only to come back 9 months later. I wanted her a part of so much more but I guess that’s selfish of me.

I imagined her around on my wedding day. I’d have to pick her up and give her a cuddle, whilst mum would be telling me off for potentially ruining my dress. We’d already discussed the fact she wouldn’t come as we both knew she’d upstage me.

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I was in two minds about publishing this post. Grieving is such a private thing but I wanted people to know how much Bon meant to me. I miss her so so much.

There are a million and one things I will miss about you Bonnie but here are just a handful:

I will miss being able to give you a hundred kisses a day – even when you didn’t really want one. It just made it extra cute when you bowed your head to let me.

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I will miss the little milk chin you’d get when you drank a bowl of milk.

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I will miss how happy you were when the whole family arrived home and you’d come to greet us at the door.

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I will miss being able to confide in you, being able to tell you my biggest secrets, knowing you’d keep them safe.

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I will miss how you would always find a way of getting on my lap. You especially enjoyed taking my attention away from the laptop.

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I will miss that even though we bought you plenty of toys, your favourite thing to play with was one of the potpourri balls.

That said potpourri ball provided not just you with entertainment but also us, when you learnt to play tennis with it. Albeit an incredibly lazy version.

I will miss our little conversations where I’d meow and you would meow back – I like to think we both understood each other.

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I will miss the fact that you weren’t your average cat. You had your independence and occasionally sassy attitude, but you liked nothing more than to be where the whole family was.

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I will miss seeing you every morning cuddled up next to Dad, in Mum and Dad’s bedroom – or better yet, lying on top of his hip making it impossible for him to move.

I will miss walking into the living room and seeing you slumped out across the radiator.

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I will miss listening out for your paws across the floorboards – they’d make a tip-tap noise that we all said made it sound as though you were just in your high heels.

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I will miss seeing you playing at the end of the garden and when we’d call your name you’d come running with your little belly swinging.

I will miss simply watching you sleep. The little noises you’d make when you were dreaming.

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I will miss seeing that little beauty spot on the end of your nose. When that appeared we all agreed it was your body’s way of struggling to contain how beautiful you were.

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I won’t miss the panic when we couldn’t find you, but I will miss the relief of eventually finding you in the most obscure places.

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I will miss your cravings to be human. We’d all be sat around the table for dinner and you’d jump up into one of the seats and wait patiently for your portion.

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I will miss when you’d come to my bedroom in the middle of the night and poke my face with your paw to wake me up.

I will miss how you’d hate the outdoors at winter, but as soon as we were all out there in the summer, you’d be rolling around in the sunshine.

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But most of all I will miss knowing you’ll be there when I get home and I can scoop you up in my arms, and in that moment nothing else matters. You received a lot of love, but you returned it tenfold.

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You were the best companion and the house now feels completely bare without your presence. I know in time it’ll get easier but at the moment it feels really, really hard.

I love you Bon xxx

Archery anyone?

Random, I hear you say. Perhaps. But I have my reasons.

I still remember my early school years well. Playing duck-duck-goose or British bulldog (when it was allowed), spin the bottle and making my first ever boyfriend cry because I broke things off. Tough life lessons back then.

Although shy I also remember getting told off a couple of times for silly things like when a friend and I ‘borrowed’ all the rubbers from everyone’s tables and kept them to ourselves. Or the time my friends fluffy hair scrunchie began to molt during reading time, which I obviously found hilarious so got sent to the back of the classroom.

We went on plenty of day trips during primary school but it wasn’t until the final year that the teachers finally gave our parents a full weeks break away from us.

When I started secondary school I recounted our week away to new friends, one girl told me her school took her class to France. We went to Wales.

It was called PGL – I can’t remember what that acronym stood for but we went with ‘Parents Get Lost’. It was a jam-packed week of adventure, outdoor activities and challenges I can’t even imagine doing today.

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There were parts that I didn’t enjoy so much like abseiling and climbing Jacob’s ladder. Then there were the parts I loved like raft building, fencing, kayaking and archery.

But archery was the one that stood out the most. I have this distinct memory of being quite good and really enjoying it that I’ve mentioned a couple of times how I wouldn’t mind giving it another go.

So that’s what we did on Sunday.

We arrived promptly at Batsford Arboretum and met our instructor Neil. He gave us a quick yet detailed demonstration of how to use the bow before strapping our arms up and handing the reigns over to us.

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I started off really well, beating Alan’s score for the first three rounds and even managing to shoot into the inner yellow circle a couple of times.

There are several bows you have a go at, with the next one being slightly heavier. This is where I struggled.

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Pulling the string and bow further apart is a lot harder than it looks! You are pushing with your left hand and pulling with your right, all the way back to your jaw line.

Alan takes the mick out of my gangly arms and I think this is where they finally let me down. If you want something from the back of the sofa, I’m your girl. If you want an archer, I’ll probably do more harm than good.

I left the final bow to Alan as he managed to get pretty good.

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A lot of fun and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I probably have as many bruises as Katniss Everdeen got in The Hunger Games but I’ll leave the archery to her.

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You can find out about the Cotswold Archery here.

Lunching in Bourton on the Water

Commuting into Bristol everyday for work can be a bit of a slog. More recently I’ve been asking myself is it time to pack up my things, smuggle the cat beneath my coat and move there.

However I would miss being at the heart of the Cotswolds, with towns like Bourton, Stow and Broadway all being on the doorstep.

They are all so traditional that you feel as though you’re taking a step back in time and removing yourself from the modern world for at least an afternoon. My mum grew up in Stow on the Wold so we have visited there frequently and it never seems to change.

The day after my birthday I drove my mum, my friend Steph and I out to Bourton on the Water for a little wander and a bite to eat.

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We stopped at Bakery on the Water, a family run bakery and cafe.

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The aroma of freshly baked bread carried us into the cafe and seated us right in the window. In the nick of time too, as once we arrived the whole town seemed to follow.

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I love the idea of going to the local bakers and grabbing a loaf. Sometimes a slice of thick white bread and a dollop of butter is all you need.

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After lunch we wrapped ourselves back up and meandered in and out of shops along the high street. There are some unique little boutique shops that offer the cat-lover in me the purrrfect knick-knacks.

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Bourton is probably most well known for housing Brum the car at their Motor Museum. I met him when I was younger so gave it a miss this time around.

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There is also a Perfumery, where you can make up your own scent. They have all the aromas for you to have a whiff at as you walk around the shop.

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In the summer the town is full of people. They’re either sat in the pub gardens or along the river bank eating fish and chips, watching children play in the water.

Our visit was a little quieter.

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Mum bought a bag of toffee from the local sweet shop and we made our way back home. I was driving so Mum and Steph still had that adventure in store.