Nov 17

Ightham Mote

After a delicious breakfast of hearty pancakes & coffee we looked out the window and noticed how delightfully sunny it was outside! It looked like a fresh, autumn/verge of winter kind of morning – and so we decided it would be lovely to head out for a Sunday morning drive to one of the very few South Eastern National Trust sites we’ve not visited yet – Ightham Mote!

We jumped into Terell, and cruised on down to the notorious Sevenoaks, Kent – here’s what Wiki has to say about it:

Ightham Mote (pronounced “item moat”), is a medieval moated manor house. The architectural writer John Newman describes it as “the most complete small medieval manor house in the county.” The house is a Grade I listed building, and parts of it are a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Ightham Mote

Ightham Mote – Classic View

The manor house is really pretty, and has a great moat around it – we got there just in time, as the free introduction talk was just about to begin – here we learned a but about the history of the house, and all about the many paintings John Singer Sargent did of the manor, and how currently on exhibition is a 100 year old portrait of the “Young Lady in White” which was also painted in the manor. Great!

We then cruised around the front garden for a bit – admiring the lovely small garden at the front, and the other surrounding buildings, before heading inside.

Gina & the Front Garden

Note Gina’s beautiful scarf

Christmas time is coming up, so the rooms (which were open) were decorated for Christmas – which included several Christmas trees, and a small train set on the main dining table. We headed upstairs to see the exhibition on the “Young Lady in White” which was quite impressive. From there we continued through the hallways, and down into the library downstairs, and out into the court yard, where they had a 3-storey high bird house, and a dog kennel that could fit up to 10 Ginas.

Christmas at the Great Hall

Gina chillin’ at the Courtyard

From there, we continued around the moat, where we were treated a lovely view of the manor, and a few benches, where Gina posed nicely with her brand new, freshly finished scarf.

Ightham Mote

A nice spot to chill

We did a small walk around the grounds, before heading on back to London (via Ikea) – for a 6pm Deliveroo. Great Sunday!

Apr 17


Sunny Sunday, so we decided to make it another NT day, this time the Knole house. Supes crowded but pretty.

Knole house a remarkably preserved and complete early Jacobean remodelling of a medieval archiepiscopal palace. From an even older manor house, it was built and extended by the Archbishops of Canterbury after 1456. It then became a royal possession during the Tudor dynasty when Henry VIII hunted here and Elizabeth I visited. From 1603, Thomas Sackville made it the aristocratic treasure house for the Sackville family, who were prominent and influential in court circles.

Knole’s main entrance

Inner lawn yard

Iest at Knole

Cool gatehouse tower, containing the private rooms of last inhabitant Edward Sackville-West, 5th Baron Sackville. Known to his friends as Eddy, he was a novelist and music critic who lived in the Gatehouse Tower at Knole between 1926 and 1940. Eddy was passionate about art, music and literature and was regularly visited by artists and literary figures of the Bloomsbury Group, including novelist Virginia Woolf and the painter Duncan Grant, as well as his famous cousin Vita Sackville-West, the gardener and poet.

And also, Eddy was my kind of man:

Eddy’s style

We also headed out for the ‘Seven oaks walk’ around Knole park in the blazing sun – a 5km woodland walk, we got to see all of the Knole land, together with deer and all!

Deers on the grounds

Gina getting some sun

Feb 17

Scotney Castle

In the week, Gina found a rather picturesque looking castle on National Trust’s ‘gram account. We found out that the castle wasn’t too far from us here in London – a mere hour and a half drive to the South East. Perfect! A road trip for Sunday was set in place.

We arrived at Scotney Castle just before 11am – the weather wasn’t too great; grey and damp – so the first thing we did was get an inside tour of the ‘new’ Scotney castle. It was quite fascinating, the owner had been living in the house until 2006 – so there was a mish-mash of possessions in the house. It was agreed with the owners that the castle, house and grounds would all go over to the NT upon the death of the last resident, so I guess she didn’t want to upgrade the house too much, as it contained relics of the past, some very old furniture and antiques [Gina: yeah, i’m sure that’s the reason why she didn’t ‘upgrade’ her antiques; like if NT was not waiting for it, it would have been all hygge by now, candles and yoghurt and moose rugs in front of the fireplaces] . She was living among these objects, with just, from what I could see, a TV and radio from the latter half of the 20th century as the newest objects in the house. It was really interesting. [Yeah but the TV did have netflix on it, so there’s that. Plus, she was not living among ‘objects’, she had like ten cats.]

Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle

The grounds and garden of the house were amazing. Just down from the ‘new’ castle was a quarry – which was closed (due to frost), which had been turned to a garden, with loads of snowdrops inside it, and just further down was the old original castle that dates back to around the 1500’s – surrounded by a moat. We had a good look around, and walked around the moat before heading back to the NT’s reception area.

Gina at the moat

Then we decided it would be great time to head out see what we could be get for food, we had pub-lunch on our minds, and thanks to some Trip Advising on the matter, we ended up at The Chequers pub, down in Lamberhurst – which supplied us with some awesome Sunday roast, and veg lasagne for Gins.

Afterwards, as the day was grey ‘n wet, we decided it would be best to head on back home to chill – so we did just that.

Feb 17


Grey and cold February, with nothing to look forward to until like the Easter (oên bachs!). We decided to pass some of that greyness in Norfolk, see if we can still find the seals on the beaches, and see some National Trust places as well. Our expectations were not high for anything, as February is after the seal pupping season, and NT estates are actually closed Jan+Feb, so you can only really see the gardens.

Sunday 5.2.
Started off reasonably early from our place, weather not too shabby even if bitingly cold.
Our first stop was at the Anglesey Abbey, where the spectacular gardens were busy with the snowdrop season. The Abbey is a Jacobean-style house with gardens and a working watermill – Lord Fairhaven, wanting to inspire and surprise visitors, created a spectacular garden with planting for all seasons and a cosy house in which to entertain. Insides of the house were closed for visitors, but we did have fun in the gardens and the Lode Mill.


Lode Mill

Anglesey Abbey

Anglesey Abbey

Pretty place, but we have a busy programme for the day, so off we head towards Oxburgh Hall. Zooming along on the A10, we saw a spectacular cathedral on the horizon, and decided to make an impromptu stopover – in Ely. On our clever devices we learned that the Ely cathedral is an Anglican cathedral with origins in AD 672 when St Etheldreda built an abbey church. The present building dates back to 1083, and cathedral status was granted it in 1109. Architecturally it is outstanding both for its scale and stylistic details. Having been built in a monumental Romanesque style, the galilee porch, lady chapel and choir were rebuilt in an exuberant Decorated Gothic. Its most famous feature however is the central octagonal tower. That was all very interesting, but we still didn’t know how to pronounce Ely – my guess was that it’s pronounced like Eli [Cash] from the Royal Tennenbaums, but we had to know for sure! No better person to ask than the visitor info guy in the cathedral itself, so Iest went for it and asked him how to pronounce the name of the village. The poor guy’s eyebrows were raised so high they almost fell off his face and in a stiff yet high-pitched voice he repeated ‘Village?!’ – so, for next times we know that once you get yourself a cathedral, that apparently makes you a city, no matter how small. But, we also learned they pronounce it [ee-ly], as in the fish, eel, which they used to have plenty of or something. We quickly checked out Oliver Cromwell’s house too, and went back on track with our plan for Oxburgh Hall.

Canon Gins!

Ely Cathedral

Oxburgh Hall is a 15th-century moated manor house Built in 1482 by the Catholic Bedingfeld family. The interiors were also still closed for the winter, but we enjoyed the moat with its swans, and the surrounding gardens. I got a small pot with a chopped off chunk of one of the plants, so if it survives, we’ll have a nice Oxburgh plant on the balcony to remember. By now we were really hungry and so we walked over to the nearby pub for a proper Sunday roast.

Oxburgh Hall, moat and swans!

Oxburgh Hall

Monday 6.2.

Our nice hotel

It was the hunt for the seals mostly (ultimately unsuccessful tho), exploring the coast and beaches, and a couple of NT estates.
First, we made it to the Titchwell RSPB reserve, which was awesome. Full of knowledge on the winter migratory birds to see from last night’s Country File programme we watched, we went straight in the marshes. The reserve has both freshwater marshes and sea beaches, and birds really abound. The weather was sunny and we had a blast.

Water Rail







Then we swung by the Brancaster beach, endless golden beach, and also an NT place.

Brancaster beach

Gina on the beach

We had high hopes for the Blakeney nature reserve with respect to the seals, but we were not lucky. The local seals were gone and the boat trip to see them off the coast was already gone for the day. We tried an adjacent beach at Cley by the Sea, but to no avail. There was really not much else to do, so we had lunch at the Dunn Cow, and pressed onto another closed NT estate at Felbrigg, one of the most elegant country houses in East Anglia, and also Blickling estate.


Blickling Estate

Afterwards we were quite tired for the day, so we found a great little place for tea & cakes, and then headed to our hotel. We decided to live a little, so we went to the hotel bar in the evening, which had a nice fire going, and only two other people in it, so we had a nice cup of tea there as well.

Tuesday 7.2.
The day for exploring Norwich on our way home. It was cold and drizzly, but the building still looked quite spectacular. The cathedral was begun in 1096 and constructed out of flint and mortar and faced with a cream-coloured Caen limestone. The cathedral was completed in 1145 with the Norman tower still seen today topped with a wooden spire covered with lead. Norwich Cathedral has the second largest cloisters in England, only outsized by Salisbury Cathedral (where we were in January anyway). The cathedral spire, measuring 96m, is the second tallest (yeah, also Salisbury takes the cake).

Inside Norwich cathedral

Norwich cathedral

We were not really so keen on visiting the Norwich castle, which is a bit boxy, even though It was founded in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of England when William the Conqueror (1066–1087) ordered its construction because he wished to have a fortified place in the important city of Norwich.

Norwich castle

Instead, we decided to drive up to Horsey beach to see if we could still be lucky with the seals. And lucky we were! In a rainy weather and rough sea, we found a whole nice colony of seals, casually chillin on the beach. We were super excited, and spent a lot of time with them, and got really close too. It was the perfect cherry on top of our Norfolk trip, and we were ready to go home. (A couple days later it was reported that £50 million worth of cocaine was found washed up on a beach in Norfolk, so I guess we could have been even luckier, but still, the seals were cute!)

Gina and the seals

Iest & seals

A happy, chilled seal

A dramatic seal

Jan 17

Yuletide & 2017!

We had a great Yuletide season this year. Kicked off by purchasing our biggest tree yet and decorating it beautifully with lights and ornaments at the beginning of December already, and followed by visiting friends and markets in Freiburg, we were ready for the main events. This year I made fewer kinds of cookies, but no less delicious, and complemented by awesome German lebkuchen, we were not left wanting for sweets.


Solstice/my b-day celebrations started with a lavish breakfast of blueberry pancakes and a huge pile of presents (I wouldn’t want it any other way!). I got some beautiful stuff, including books and a Welsh print for the wall, and to top it all off a trip to Amsterdam in the spring! It’s gonna be awesome and I can’t wait. Since I already took the day off at work, I just lounged for the day, reading my books and enjoying myself. In the evening I went around town a bit to look at the lights and decorations set up everywhere for my benefit and celebration, and finally met Iest for dinner at Busaba Eathai.

The main celebration on the 25th was lovely as well, with lavish pressies (especially for me again), and fancy three-course meal including baked camembert with honey, figs and nuts as a starter, parmesan breaded garlic mushroom pizzas (made from scratch including Iest’s signature dough), and dark chocolate chilli mousse (made by me). I got (among many others) a membership of the UK National Trust for 2017, so that’s our weekend trips sorted – 581 places to choose from! We were extremely full and didn’t want to spoil the rest of the day anyway, so we left the packing for the next day morning and just enjoyed our day lounging and playing with pressies. Also played a full game of dice, in which I ruled like the dice queen I am.


On the 26th we packed everything (like, literally – I can’t believe we ever made it to Wales by train), and loaded our trusty Terrell, and drove up to the beautiful Snowdonia. Where we got even more presents, including a boat trip over to the Skerries sometime next year!

Tuesday 27 December
Weather reasonable (there is no snow though this year), so we went up Moel Siabod for a stroll. It’s like a little hillock up from Capel Curig, no biggie. It was quite foggy and windy up top, and the streams were nicely frozen over. We countered it with nice tea from our thermos and a serving of yule cookies. Overall, we defo consumed more energy than we gave up on the walk, but after the week of only eating, the fresh air and some movement did us real good.

Moel Siabod

Wednesday 28 December
Amazing sunny day, no other possibility than lugging our holiday weight up a nice range – we selected the Carneddau for the honour. Starting up from LLyn Ogwen, we took the National Trust route straight up (I allowed Iest on it, even though he’s not a member), and basking in the winter sun we made it to the first peak. From there on it was a nice ridge walk, sprinkled with tea and yule cookies. It was still quite windy up top, and water was frozen solid, but the sun was unwavering until the evening. We went down through an uncharted territory to make sure we’d get to the car before dark, which these days comes way too early. Lovely walk!



Pen yr Ole Wen

Crisp evening


Thursday 29 December
Weather so so, and clouds lying low on the mountains. Perfect day for another National Trust treasure visit – this time the whistling sands beach of Porthor on the LLŷn peninsula. A beautiful place, not so much whistly this time around, but still a pretty piece of coast. Had a cuppa in the small café, and swung also by another great NT place – Porth y Swnt in Aberdaron – on the way. This is a nice exhibition about the culture and environment of the peninsula, and includes a puffin hole!

Pan chwery chwa oddi uchod â’r môr
Mae hen angenfilod
Y dwfn I’w wyneb yn dod
I’w haileni’n wylanod

Evening watch of long-anticipated Charlie Brooker 2016 Wipe – what a year this was! He still covered it in only an hour, and did well as always.

Whistling sands

Friday 30 December
And since we were so into NT places now, we decided to visit the great Plas Newydd and gardens on the Menai straits. This elegant house was redesigned by James Wyatt in the 18th century, and has lots to see both inside and out. Because of the season not all of the interiors were accessible (so we’ll have to visit again), but the ones that were were nicely decorated with trees and presents and fireplaces and board games and seasonal music, so it was all very nice. The gardens likewise, plus beautiful views across the straits. Good choice. To top the day up, we went by Rhosneigr for a little stroll, and finally had a nice dinner with friends at Dylan’s in Criccieth.

Plas Newydd

Plas Newydd

Saturday 31 December
Last day of the year! Which actually does not mean much to us – we do not partake in forced celebrations and parties on the night. But we thought we could go camping in the wild again, like we have done several times before. Alas, the forecast was for heavy rains to come for the night, so there was really no point (the point is to wake up in raging sunshine in the new year, perhaps even dip into the sea on the occasion). During the day we decided to make one more small walk in the hills, and selected my fave Yr Aran for the occasion. The peak was submerged in cloud, but overall it was a very fine final walk for the year.
We made a nice batch of chickpea curry for the evening, and went to bed way before midnight.

Yr Aran

We did however, drag Gina out of the warmth and down to Dinas Dinlle, where we made our text-book year number (2017!) in lights, together with some heart light-graffiti in the cold, wet rain.

2017 Lights!

Heart Lights!

Sunday 1 January
Packed everything, it does not seem we have less stuff even though we offloaded all the kids’ pressies that were taking up the trunk, weird. Made our way down to our London home via Snowdonia, which had now been blessed with a sprinkling of snow on its highest peaks (just as it was pissing down through the night in the valleys), so we could make an impromptu photoshoot of Iestyn’s beard and slippers in the wild.
At home sweet home we watched new Sherlock (kinda so so, better than the last one, but long lost are the splendours of season 1&2), with some pizza and wine (for Gina) before going to bed.

Monday 2 January
Thank gods for this day off, so we could do all the laundry, clean up, and purge our little flat of any sign of the preceding festivities – took down the tree and all decorations, and that was that. Back to normal and to 2017!