Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A wedding in Norfolk

The one thing (actually, one of many things) Norwich does well is food. Before the wedding, I made my routine hairdressers appointment which I managed to follow with a lunch and then drinks and dinner.

Lunch satisfied my week-long fish & chip craving and of course, fish & chips have to be had at Grosvenor Fish Bar. We ate in the 'bunker' below, a cosy seating area on the forecourt where food is served in tin dishes with wooden cutlery; still very rustic and cutesy!

After lunch I wandered and spent far too much money as I always do, so decided I was in need of tea distraction before I regretted anything. The Bicycle Shop is my tea safety net; it (Moroccan Mint Green) comes in a teapot, you pour it into a mis-matched china cup and saucer, the atmosphere is cosy and the music's always good. My next order was a hearty glass of red wine then it was time for food. Tapas at the Bicycle Shop is a firm favourite but as we were sat at a table reserved for half past 7 and it was already nearing quarter past at this point, we took our cue to move on.

What I love most about Norwich is that despite its size, there is always something new to discover. For dinner we ended up at the Maddermarket Kitchen, somewhere I've always wanted to try!
You have to BYOB, but that just meant that we had the whole of Tesco's red wine selection to choose from which was hardly a problem! We went for two courses and for my main I tried lamb chump thus learnt the real meaning of 'chump'; it was delicious! For dessert, I chose (and tweaked) the cheeseboard; yummy camembert, cheddar, chutney, apple and crackers. Safe to say, I felt entirely satisfied when we were done!

With a wedding ahead of me, I was keen to avoid dark circles beneath the eyes or spots caused by alcohol consumption, so we retired to home, mint tea (or hot water) and bed.

After the best night's sleep, I awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to head to Hockering to see and help out at the venue. With a few hours to spare before I was required, I had a leisurely stroll into town where my tummy began to rumble. Another place I'd not visited before was Pandora's Kitchen, somewhere I've often passed and wondered about but never stepped inside. However upon seeing that they were offering breakfast, I decided it was the prime opportunity to stop and satisfy my rumbling tum! Eggs Florentine and an Earl Grey in the sunshine was perfection. I even found myself reading a little more of my book! 

When we arrived, the sun was shining and most things were already taken care of (perfect timing by us) so I simply had a tour of the area then we headed to the bride's mum and dad's to meet other wedding guests before the big day. Apparently it's a tradition to get everyone together the night before, but having been a part of very few weddings, this was news to me. It was a lovely evening either way; drinks were flowing and food was aplenty! The actual house was beautiful too - a barn conversion with an excess of land for walking. I do miss the seclusion that Norfolk has to offer.

That night, the bridesmaids stayed with the bride and our partners were kicked out to the camp-site (well, yurts) where we would be spending the following night. In bed by a reasonable hour with a hot drink, we were soon fast asleep.

The day of the wedding arrived and as an overall summary I would simply say it was the most relaxed day! We were all up in plenty of time for the arrival of hair and make-up and the photographers (who got an inordinate number of photos of us in pyjamas which I'm hoping don't look as bad as they felt) so helped ourselves to a hearty breakfast of cereal followed by a croissant and washed down with a strong cup of coffee. While each of us took our turn to be beautified, we spent our time between the comfort of the sofa where one of the family dogs was snuggled beneath a duvet for petting and outside in the courtyard/garden in the sunshine, debating whether or not the weather would stay that way for the ceremony in the afternoon. 

Finally, we were all looking like bridesmaids (the bride went last yet was still incredibly calm) from the shoulders up, so it was time to get dressed. I can't lie, I was nervous. My dress had fitted fine but for its length when I first tried it on. But then when I was getting the bottom adjusted, the zip decided to break. It was all a bit of a palaver involving an excess of hook and eyes and tacking. When trying it at home, I felt more than a little claustrophobic trying to get it on (and off again) but on the day, with the assistance of two fellow bridesmaids it seemed to slip right on, and at least I knew that once it was on, it was comfortable and I could sit and move around in it. 

Sewn into my dress, it was the bride's turn and wow she looked stunning! I don't think the novelty of seeing your own friends in wedding dresses will ever wear off. It's a pretty special moment! Finally we were all out of our pyjamas and the photographers could take some attractive photographs!

The venue was literally a 1 minute drive away from the bride's family home so we were soon in Hockering House looking out on the seating area for the ceremony and the aisle. With my dress still a little long, especially as my heels kept sinking into the grass, I think I was more nervous than the ever-composed bride about walking along the aisle for fear of tripping, or worse, ripping the bottom of my dress! 

The ceremony was short and sweet and immediately followed by Pimms as we all milled around on the grass waiting for the signing of the register. Once the newly married Mr & Mrs emerged from the building to lots of cheers, the bouquet was thrown (always stand at the front and hope that the bride's got a strong arm) and it was time for more official photographs.

As weddings go, many of the details were so me! At 4 o'clock we all had Afternoon Tea; perfection! There were a host of finger sandwiches, sausage rolls, cakes and scones to be had, all accompanied by tea (or coffee) and Prosecco. Our table absolutely demolished all we were given, to the point where the hostess flagged down one of the waitresses who was taking a full pot of sausage rolls from another table and requested that they be given to us instead. In addition to full tummies, we also gained two pet wasps (whoever sat us right by the entrance to the marquee, hey?) in a glass who we fondly named after the happy couple. 

Following Afternoon Tea and speeches, there were garden games laid out on the grass outside the marquee, so we went to have a go at croquet... which we gave up on after all of five minutes when we realised it was not our forte. Instead, we moved on to quoits which we were equally as poor at. So we retired to hay bales to sit in the sun and have another drink (because alcohol always improves one's sporting ability). 

Whilst sitting down, we noticed that Giant Jenga had been vacated by other guests, so we thought we'd have one more try at something. Turned out we were pretty spectacular at Giant Jenga as our game then went on until it was time for the cutting of the cake and the first dance despite there being many nail-biting moments where we were completely convinced that it was all over. Relentless. 

Rather than having a cheesy and irritating (as they always seem to be at weddings) DJ, the bride and groom had opted for their own playlist as a means of luring people onto the dance floor, and it was definitely preferable! After a short boogie and the best wedding photo (if I do say so myself) of the bride and groom held by the bridesmaids and their partners (which, by the way, I can't wait to see), it was time for more food, this time in the form of a Hog Roast (so much yum)! 

The rest of the evening passed in a bit of a blur as we drank the bar dry, ate sweets, danced 'til our shoes came off, waved sparklers around, took Polaroid pictures and generally had a very merry time! This time, we joined 'the boys' in the yurts, with a short time spent sitting around the camp-fire before retiring to our inflatable air beds in a 'tent' which we could fully stand up in; I 100% need a proper glamping trip in a yurt! 

Very sad to leave, we made ourselves feel a little better with a massive detour to Cromer on the way home. A visit to the lifeboat house, the Henry Blogg Museum, lavender ice cream, a walk along the beach and of course a paddle filled a large void for a short time. 

All in all, an incredibly beautiful, perfect wedding weekend <3

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Secret Garden

I'm torn whether to actually write about yesterday's venture or not. A huge part of the beauty and charm of the place lay in our sharing it only with a dog walker, the occasional jogger, photographers and an elderly couple having a romantic picnic complete with wine (they had the right idea).

In a small space, this may still seem a fair few people but in a vast expanse of architectural and horticultural magnificence, it really meant we were quite alone to the point where I wondered whether, had it only been me, I might have felt a little spooked. On a gloomy day such as it was, greyer corners of the structure were definitely reminiscent of a scene or detail from an opulent murder mystery.

I fear that were too many people aware of this 'secret garden's' existence than the magic would be gone. So I may be selfish and refer to it as just that; The Secret Garden. Although in all fairness, said garden is so far off the beaten track that even if more people did know of it, I hardly feel that it's somewhere they would frequent. Fine, yesterday we finally found ourselves at the Hill Garden & Pergola in Hampstead.

There's not really much to say. It really is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. It was just so beyond surreal, incredibly magical and really genuinely peaceful (no peacock cries or sirens this time), almost to the point of being eerie at points. Nevertheless, we both agreed, very romantic!

Another slightly chilly 'summer's' day, we were eventually torn away by want of tea and cake. Having completely lost my bearings, I was totally convinced that we were right by Kenwood House (we were not. It was at least two roads and the majority of a heath away) so we wandered in what I thought was the right direction for the teashop.

As fate would have it, the 'right direction' did lead us to a perfectly pleasant park with an even more pleasant 'Refreshment House' where we sat inside (still bothered by wasps in want of chocolate and sweet apple) to enjoy our tea and cake.

Legs well rested and the sun finally shining, we couldn't just head back home could we? So on we blindly plodded again in the direction (we hoped) of the Heath. I am ashamed to say that in the end, Google Maps came out, but thus we did eventually find the longest way round to Parliament Hill. Once there, I (in true holiday mode style) had a light nap, only interrupted for a short moment by my own fit of laughter at a yuppie pair of teens, one of whom genuinely responded 'yeah, totes' to her friend, at which point I completely lost it. I don't think they knew I was laughing at them...

The rest of the day continued much in the same sleepy vein. My excuse is that I was getting my energy up for the next four days of wedding mania. 'Til Sunday!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Holland Park

I can't help but feel that those who think of Instagram as some sort of evil have either used it or seen it used in the wrong way. While some people may indeed be there for the competition of likes and followers, others like myself use it as a wonderful platform for sharing and discovering. Much of my summer To Do list has come from places I've seen in other people's Instagram pictures because, believe it or not, there are lots of people out there who seek beauty too!

Today I've been a little deeper into Notting Hill than before. A favourite place of mine when the sun is shining, turns out it has plenty to offer even when it's not.

I think Holland Park is the furthest West I've ever been on the Central Line (I know, my life is terribly exciting)! I can initially thank Paddington Bear's Guide to London (a surprisingly fantastic book for adults, not just children) for making me aware of the park's existence. As soon as I saw it had peacocks, I knew I had to go! My interest was then furthered by another recent book purchase, Quiet London by Siobhan Wall (which alongside Instagram has also formed much of my To Do list) as it told me of the Kyoto Garden within the park; a peaceful haven with Koi. Totally sold!

Having only seen photographs in each book showing small parts of the park, I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting but needless to say, it was far beyond my expectation!

Initially met by glorious exotic plants in the 'Sun Trap Garden', I wandered up steps and into woodland before stumbling upon a rather more formal English garden full to the brim with Marigolds and Sunflowers. It was here I encountered my first peacock as I sat on a bench reading my book (huge deal; the New Year's resolution has not been going well). Unfortunately the poor peacock was being terrorised by a small child but until this point I had been absolutely revelling in the peace (all except for the sound of bird calls vs. passing sirens; you're always quickly reminded of where you are in London, even when you do find these surreal spots) of the garden.

A Hippo Banquet - Mary Kingsley (one of Penguin's Little Black Books)

When the gentle breeze started to get a bit cool, I wandered on to see what else there was to discover. In my true fashion, I 'discovered' the café where I popped in for a mint tea. This time it was to take away and it kept my fingers warm until I finally found the Kyoto Garden. 

Despite being more aware of what to expect here, it was still a shock as I stepped up to its entrance. I think it was just on a much bigger scale than I thought it would be! I sat on another bench half way around the central pond to drink my tea, giggle with a mother and daughter enjoying a picnic with a hoard of pigeons and squirrels and even a peacock with a penchant for nuts, and to marvel at the hairdos that yuppie parents had subjected their yuppie children to. 

When my tea was finished, I continued around the pond, stopping for a while at the bridge over the water, transfixed by the fish. Somehow I then found my way out of the park the way I had come in and continued my wanderings on to St Luke's Mews somewhere off Portobello Road.

The prettiest row of houses I have ever seen in London, I simply stood agog, trying my hardest not to feel deep envy towards the people (or even the cat who came to make friends) living inside.

As I walked back to Notting Hill Gate and the tube, Portobello Road looked almost unrecognisable without the rows of antique stalls. Of course, I stopped off at Gelato Mio where I treated myself to an illy coffee and some writing time.

Another beautiful day and so much inner peace and stillness. Now writing this up in the garden. This is what happiness feels like.