Booking your first, solo trip away is such an exciting prospect, whether that’s a backpacking adventure, a gap year or just a well-deserved break. It can also be a tad scary however, navigating your way around an unknown place, finding your feet in a different culture and being away from the comfort of your home. For me, staying safe was also something that heavily played on my mind the first time I traveled solo.
Happy 2019! How is everyone doing? Hope you had a wonderful mince-pie-and-turkey-filled Christmas and a relaxing start to 2019. If Christmas isn’t your favourite time of the year, then I’m sending a big ol’ hug over to you.
If you’re a regular reader of Edits Of Jo, then you’ll know that I’ve recently started a Local’s Guide to Series to end 2018 with a bang and hopefully give you some travel inspiration for 2019. I often find that the best travel tips come from those who are local to the area. I’m thrilled to have a fellow publishing pal, Sam, feature on the blog this week. He’s written about his hometown of Stafford, which I’ll be honest is completely uncharted territory for me! After reading his post though, it’s definitely somewhere I’ll be adding to my UK travel list for 2018 and hopefully somewhere you’ll be adding to your bucket list too.
OVER TO SAM AND HIS TOP 5 STAFFORD HIGHLIGHTS…
Stafford. Most of you reading this are probably thinking “I have absolutely no idea where that is”, but on the off chance you do know Stafford, or have even been (yay!), I’d love to know what people think of my little home town from the perspective of someone who isn’t a local, so do tweet me @Samj234. Fortunately for you dear reader, if you haven’t had the pleasure of stuffing your face with oatcakes (not the Scottish ones) and strolling through Victoria Park, I’m here to give you the top 5 highlights of things to see, eat and visit in Stafford.
Victoria Park is an absolute must for me if you’re visiting Stafford. If ever I have friends visiting, this is usually the first place we go because it’s such a beautiful park; perfect for lazing around in with a book during the summer. If you’re arriving by train, you’ll find Victoria Park directly opposite the station, giving you the perfect excuse for a stroll through on the way into the town centre.
Built in 1908, the Edwardian park houses an aviary, band stand, play area and a bowling green which can be found on either side of the River Sow flowing through the park. Admittedly, Victoria Park isn’t the biggest of parks, but it regularly attracts families and couples to the area and is definitely worth a visit. If you have young kids, the play area at the Stafford College end of Victoria Park would be great to keep them occupied for a few hours. The play area was recently renovated in 2011 with ongoing plans to renovate and rejuvenate the area for locals and tourists alike to maintain its position as the best park in the town. Like all good parks, you’re free to come and go as you please. But do be aware that the park shuts in the afternoon during the winter months, just in case you don’t fancy jumping the fence to get out!
The Ancient High House
If you’re a bit of a History fan like myself and want to learn more about Stafford’s past, the Ancient High House is for you. Despite the relentless school trips to the museum, I’ve never tired of visiting here so much so that I still try to drop in for a quick reminisce if I’m at home for a few days.
So what actually is this piece of stunning Tudor architecture? Found in the middle of the high street before Market Square, the Ancient High House is the oldest surviving town house in Britain, built in 1595 for the wealthy Dorrington family. Since it became open to the public in 1986,it now serves as a museum to tell the story of Stafford throughout the ages. Each room is dedicated to an era from the Stuarts in the early 17th Century up until the close of the Victorian era in 1901, giving a series of snapshots into Stafford’s past as a royal burgh.
The Ancient High House is sewn into the fabric of Britain’s history. The house is most famous for its small role during the English Civil War when the Dorrington family welcomed King Charles I and his nephew Prince Rupert in 1642 for a brief stay in the town. During their visit, Prince Rupert is alleged to have shot the weather vane off St. Mary’s Church to test his accuracy and was never replaced. The weather vane’s remains can be seen from a back bedroom window in the Ancient High House.
The Ancient High House is a gem if you’re on a budget as it’s free to enter, and more importantly a great way to spend an afternoon!
Oatcakes and Milkshakes
By the time you’ve had a mosey around the town, you’re likely feeling peckish and there’s no better place to go than Oatcakes and Milkshakes. Here you can get your hands on a local delicacy, loved by locals and tourists alike, Staffordshire oatcakes. Not to be confused with the Scottish variety, Staffordshire oatcakes are best described as a kind of savoury pancake that can be eaten with a combination of bacon, sausage, cheese, mushrooms, or tomato. There’s no real restriction to what you can or cannot put in an oatcake, but these are the typical options most locals choose.
They may not be much to look at, but they are without doubt a Staffordian classic. The café is almost constantly full, so I’d recommend heading for an early lunch or a late afternoon treat to avoid the queues if you’re keen to get stuck in!
If like myself every time I go to Stafford, you want to fill your suitcase with oatcakes to take home (who could blame you?), you can find them in the large supermarkets throughout Stafford, most of which can be found in the town centre. I’ve had friends from as far as Kent and Aberdeen ask for Staffordshire oatcakes when we meet up, so the people can’t be wrong! Well worth testing out what Oatcakes and Milkshakes has to offer and rolling out the door afterwards.
Stafford Shakespeare Festival
For those of you who love a bit of theatre in general and Shakespeare in particular, I would certainly recommend timing your trip to coincide with Stafford’s annual Shakespeare Festival. Established in 1991, the Shakespeare Festival has become a staple of cultural life in Stafford, holding its annual open air production in the grounds of Stafford Castle. The festival’s popularity has gone from strength to strength, especially in the last 5 years or so, as it has started to garner greater local attention. A record breaking 11,000 visitors snapped up tickets in 2018 to see Macbeth, almost 3000 more than attended the 2017 production of The Tempest, a testament to the festival’s growing popularity.
In recent years, the Stafford Shakespeare Festival has performed classics such as Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream,Othello and most prominently Macbeth in 2018 that attracted their largest crowds to date. With 2019’s production yet to be announced, I’m personally hoping for The Merchant of Venice or Richard III as they’re two of my favourite Shakespearean plays. If you’re interested, you can keep up to date with festival announcements here.
Most of you will have already spotted Stafford Castle as the backdrop to Stafford’s Shakespeare Festival above. Stafford Castle is the most iconic landmark in the town and has been an ever present feature of its skyline since being built by the Normans in the 1070’s. I was once told by my history teacher at school that the castle was originally been built so that it could be seen from anywhere in the town to act as a symbol of Robert Stafford’s power over the burgh. Unfortunately with high-rise flats and the loss of its prominent towers, featured below, this isn’t always the case anymore, but still the views from the castle are worth the climb up the hill.
Frustratingly the castle has fallen into disrepair on several occasions throughout its 900 years of existence, and is now much diminished from its original state. Even though the castle is no longer in its prime,there is plenty to explore including the Visitor Centre and a plethora of information boards peppered throughout the grounds to teach you about the once great castle’s history. Here you can get to grips with Robert of Stafford and his descendants (who still live in the area), as well as the castle’s involvement in the Norman Conquest to the English Civil Wars and beyond. Another must for the history fans. You even have the chance to get your hands on medieval weapons, armour and costumes if you’re feeling super enthusiastic! Entry into the castle’s grounds is completely free, but you may want to catch the bus for this trip as the castle is located on the edge of town.
FINAL NOTE FROM GUEST BLOGGER, SAM JOHNSON
Hello! I’m Sam, and firstly I must admit that I’m not the most experienced of bloggers, so I hope you enjoy having a little read about Stafford and what my unassuming hometown has to offer. I’ve loved having the opportunity to write more (thanks Jo!), so who knows, maybe I’ll start writing blogs more often after this. If you’re interested in what I’ve got to say, or you’d like me to contribute to your blog, you can find me on Twitter at @SamJ234.
Having moved countries in 2017, I’ve spent much of the past year asking locals for their top recommendations of where to explore in my new home of Edinburgh, Scotland. Whilst travel books are brilliant, sometimes you just can’t beat top recommendations and tips from the locals. With this in mind, I’ve started A Local’s Guide to series, which I hope will offer an alternative guide to your travel destinations and allow you to discover some hidden gems that aren’t mentioned in the guide books.
I’m thrilled to be kicking off December with the very first post in this series, from Elle Goes Global, who is a lifestyle, travel and food blogger from South East England. She’s put together a Local’s Guide to Surrey’s Foodie Hotspots. There’s a little something for everyone no matter what the season and a number of places to add to your ‘to-visit’ list the next time you’re in Surrey, England. So without further ado, it’s over to lovely Elle to tempt our taste-buds and let us into Surrey’s foodie best kept secrets.
OVER TO ELLE… AN INTRODUCTION TO SURREY’S foodie HOTSPOTS
Surrey, it’s one of the most beautiful counties in the UK and one of the most expensive, but with highly trained chefs and villages with character you’ll find many fantastic restaurants and pubs in Surrey to tantalise your taste buds and whet your appetite. I’ve lived in Surrey my whole life, all twenty-four years of it, I even went to University here so it’s pretty safe to say I know Surrey like the back of my hand. And as a self-confessed foodie I love discovering new cuisines and enjoying special dining experiences, next time you visit Surrey make sure you take the time to try out one of my favourite Surrey Foodie hotspots.
A Summer Surrey Foodie Hotspot – The Bel & Dragon, Churt
No doubt about it this is my favourite pub in all of Surrey, nestled between Farnham and Hindhead in the picturesque village of Churt.
Stylishly decorated, the restaurant with its open kitchen offers a welcoming and sophisticated dining experience during the winter months and chilly evenings. The menu features a beautiful selection of dishes expertly crafted by the talented chef using local, sustainable and high-quality ingredients. My top suggestions are the catch of the day – on my most recent visit I had pan fried trout with asparagus puree it was simply stunning and you can’t go wrong with the West Country Rib of Beef (suitable for 2-3 people) served with duck fat roast potatoes, vine tomatoes and three sauces; bearnaise, peppercorn and gravy – to put it frankly it’s the best steak I’ve ever tasted.
And my favourite place in Surrey to spend the hot summer days and warm evenings? The spacious lawn with its wood-fired oven and tasty cocktails. Weather permitting of course – but there are music events held throughout the year and the delicious pizzas* offer something for all tastes.The best pizza in my opinion is the ‘Porchetta’ (suckling pig, barbeque sauce, spring onions & chilli).
(*The outdoor menu is served every Friday-Sunday during Summer)
A themed Foodie Hotspot in Surrey Platform 5 @The StationHouse, Haslemere
Spectacularly themed as the inside of an old-fashioned steam train, step inside and be transported back to the golden age of rail travel. Downstairs is the main restaurant where you can sit in booths styled as train carriages with luggage rack overhead. But the new edition of Platform 5 is the exciting development I have to share with you. I love the Spanish way of eating, small tapas dishes served like a relay race giving you time to tuck in, share and savour the delightful flavours.
Luckily – as a keen foodie, I enjoy keeping up to date with all the recent events and developments, so I was able to attend the opening night earlier this year to enjoy free tasting tapas dishes, sangria and listen to Spanish music. The food was delicious, after trying all the tasting dishes on offer, I tucked into a tasty spiced paprika chicken skewer, BBQ pork ribs and meatballs. It felt as though I was on holiday in a little cafe in Barcelona rather than sleepy Haslemere – what a fun, upbeat way to spend a Friday evening, I really recommend a visit.
(*Open Monday- Saturday 12pm-10pm)
Tantalising Thai – Rumwong, Guildford
Whilst there are plenty of Thai restaurants in Surrey that I adore – Thai Bites in Godalming and Thai Terrace came very close to being included on this list. I couldn’t not include Rumwong, simply because the style of the restaurant and the standard of cooking is exceptional.
I especially love the traditional Thai dining part of the restaurant where you are greeted by a member of staff and encouraged to take off your shoes as a sign of respect, before being led to the seated dining area.
A taste of Spain – Casafina Tapas, Croydon
I love trying different cuisines and Spanish tapas is actually my favourite style of eating. For anyone who hasn’t tucked into a tasty tapas yet (have you been under a rock) you order a selection of dishes perhaps two or three each and then share these between your group. Sharing is caring after all! Alongside trying a little bit of everything, you can help yourself to as much or as little as you like resulting in the ideal portion size for your personal taste and it comes out in spaced out intervals, so you can rest assured your dish will be piping hot when it reaches your table.
My most recent Tapas experience was with my boyfriend and our friends at the contemporary and sleek Casafina restaurant in Croydon. From the moment we arrived we experienced the warm friendly hospitality that Spanish people are renowned for and ordered ourselves a sangria at the bar – a instant transportation to the Mediterranean and a real taste of Spain before heading to our table.
Effortlessly blending natural tones with accentuating and vibrant red furnishings the restaurant has a chilled vibe. We opted for the following dishes to share; chorizo cooked in white wine sauce, Patatas Bravas, Breaded pork escalope with ham and cheese, prawns with chilli and garlic, lamb skewer marinated with rosemary and garlic plus an additional little surprise that had us all guessing– is this pork? Which dish is this actually? It was a nice little blend of tastes for our palates, but my overall favourites were the lamb – so succulent and cooked to absolute perfection and the breaded pork – the combination of melted cheese with two meats a real treat.
Croydon might not be renowned as a foodie capital but there certainly are a couple of places popping up like Casafina that you should visit whilst you’re in the area.
Delightful Dining – Bills in Reigate
Now I know you probably came to this blog in the search for new independent restaurants that you simply can’t get in your hometown. But I had to include Bill’s in Reigate, recently refurbished this restaurant is full of character with an eclectic collection of furnishings and a home from home atmosphere. It’s a great place to go for date night, a reunion with friends or a family get together.
A few months ago, I sampled the new look menu and fell in love with the succulent pork dumplings served with smoked chilli and soy dip (they left a fantastic tingle on my tongue) and the Carrot, mushroom and cashew nut wellington. Served with a rich vegetable gravy this vegan friendly dish is an explosion of flavours that will set your heart racing.
Of course, no meal is complete without a refreshing drink, right? They have a fantastic range of cocktails including my personal favourite the Apple and Elderflower Spritz. And if you’ve mastered the art of dining at Bill’s correctly you will still have space for the indulgent sticky toffee and date pudding.
A laid-back meal – Mill at Elstead
Although I wouldn’t class this as one of the ultimate foodie destinations in Surrey or one of the best gastro pubs it makes it onto this list because the setting is magical.
In fact, if you grab one of the tables on the prime spot of the pub balcony you can watch the sunset over the river and admire the ducks playing.
The burger here is heavenly and the gin selection is one of the best I’ve come across in Surrey, I’d highly recommend visiting here for a casual, laid-back meal.
Cosy English Pub – Dog & Pheasant, Brook
Every Wednesday, this cute and cosy country pub holds a grill night where the talented chef cooks steaks and fish dishes specifically to your personal preference over the open fire. Before you place your order, your waiter or waitress explains the different cuts of beef and what flavourings and how it should be cooked to bring out the best flavours.
With rolling open fires, friendly staff and flavoursome cuisine this is one of the best places in Surrey to go for a succulent steak, trust me you won’t be disappointed (just get their early or you’ll struggle to park).
Which foodie hotspot would you like to try in Surrey? Let us know in the comments below. For more Surrey based inspiration visit Elle Goes Global blog and check out her Instagram page @ellegoesglobal.
Thanks again to Elle for writing this foodie guide to Surrey!
The book industry is one that is continually evolving, with the rise of the digital era and constant market changes. Whilst huge corporations such as Amazon are growing bigger and more powerful, indie publishers are increasingly becoming embedded in the communities of towns and cities. Certainly in Edinburgh, there’s a real sense of locals supporting their indie bookshops, which have some of the most passionate booksellers, and well-stocked and beautifully curated shelves.
Whiling away the hours in a bookshop stocked from the floor to ceiling with books from different eras, genres and authors from across the globe has to be one of my favourite Sunday morning activities. The excitement of finding a book that you don’t want to put down is rare but such a treat when you find it! I often make my best book purchases when visiting an actual bookshop, rather than an online site, where you can read the booksellers recommendations or chat to those who work in the shop who often know what would best suit you and your tastes.
It’s currently the 7th November and I can’t quite believe I’m writing a guide to Edinburgh’s Christmas. How we are in the eleventh month of the year is a complete mystery and the thought of Christmas shopping season being upon us so soon is both exciting and mind blowing. This aside, Christmas in Edinburgh is really quite magical and one of my favourite times of the year. If you’re planning a winter break, then Edinburgh is a great choice and will certainly get you in the Christmas spirit.
When we were planning our seven day trip away to Lisbon, we were mindful of experiencing as much of the city as possible, as well as taking some days to relax at the beach. After doing a bit of research we decided on Cascais – a gorgeous beach village with the best ice-cream shop and so much character, from the cobbled streets to the clean, compact beaches (you can read about our day trip to Cascais here) and Costa da Caparica.