Go now: Wealden Times Midwinter Fair

This weekend sees the start of Christmas shopping in earnest, and I’ve got my sights on a trip into the countryside to the Wealden Times Midwinter Fair.

Not only is it held in the Walled Garden at Bedgebury Pinetum – should smell Christmassy at least! – but there’s also a huge line-up of fantastic local producers, crafters, boutiques and farmers from across Kent and Sussex.

Whether it’s a bottle of English wine, Kentish honey, handmade children’s toys, jewellery or ceramics – or even just a chance to taste some delicious food and enjoy the festive atmosphere, it should make a jolly day out.

20-22 November, 9.30am-4.30pm, The Walled Garden, Bedgebury Pinetum. Tickets £8.50.


Spas with an ahh…

This was a tough ask: could I find an angle on spas, said my ed at Metro… Of course I could. And what a fun new trend there is – spas are no longer spartan, they are not about diets or health. Our time is precious, we want to be indulged, and spas have obliged, becoming more decadent, cosseting and a retreat from the outside world.


Chilling out needn’t mean doing without. These days spas are more about indulging than abstaining – so forget the kale juice, whale music and five-day detoxing cleanse, and bring on the champagne pedi, the nightclub-esque modern Roman baths and the massage with a side portion of chocolate cake.

Mondrian London
Mondrian London

Best for urban cool

Agua Bathhouse and Spa at Mondrian, London

This freshly-squeezed new spa is housed in the first Mondrian to open outside of the US. Bold, glam, and a bit quirky, it describes itself as a spa playground and plans to be a fun and sociable space, reinventing the idea of the Roman baths – all under the design stewardship of Tom Dixon.

You don’t normally associate club music, video installations, chocolate fondue or hedonism with the spa experience. But this spa breaks the traditional rules. Expect an eclectic array of brands including Glam Glow, Billion Dollar Brows and Lola’s Apothecary, and suitably hip treatments: try the Stiletto Booster – a tension-busting foot massage and pedicure.


Best for… Boutique spa

Weavers’ House Spa, Suffolk

Opening this winter at the !5th-century boutique hotel, the Swan at Lavenham, this bijous spa will make a blissful retreat and is much more than just a treatment room tacked on to the hotel. There are six treatment rooms and two relaxation suites and well as a mani/pedi area, aromatic steam room and hot stone sauna, and an outdoor vitality pool heated to 36 degrees, year-round. Using Temple Spa products the signature Weavers’ House Hug treatment is utterly dreamy and combines a “weaving” technique deep-tissue massage, body rocking and tapping with hot stones and stretching, plus a facial and scalp massage. We defy you to feel stressed after that.


The pool at Coworth Park
The pool at Coworth Park



Best for… decadence

Coworth Park, Ascot

The Dorchester hotel’s countryside bolthole Coworth Park is a sugar lump-white Georgian manor house so glamorous that Cheryl Cole, Tome Cruise and Cameron Diaz have all decamped here.
The glass spa with its living fragrant herb roof (which are used in the treatments) is as striking from the outside as it is cosseting inside. Luscious therapies come courtesy of Aromatherapy Associates, Carol Joy of London, Kerstin Florian and the 100% organic Dr Alkaitis range and you can use the pool, gym, sun terrace and relaxation room.

The decadent in-spa eatery, the Spatisserie, doesn’t just serve blood-pressure reducing melon, chicken broth to soothe irritated airways and chilli to help reduce weight though; champagne and chocolate cake are also on the menu, making this a very indulgent place to detox… or should that be retox?


Best for… blokes

Barber & Parlour, London

An all-day hangout across three floors where you can eat, drink and socialise while being primped, primed and groomed to perfection, this hot new men’s spa and salon is sure to make waves. Get coiffed at Cheeky Hair by Josh Wood; scrub up in the cool, heritage-styled barber shop, and experience timeless, no-fuss grooming courtesy of the new Neville grooming range. Top it all off with a splurge in the men’s store, catch some flicks at the new Electric Shoreditch cinema and slurp a healthy juice from House Press. Looking good is serious business, you know.


Dormy House spa
Dormy House spa

Best for… a girlie weekend

Dormy House, Cotswolds

The Veuve Clicquot nail parlour sets the tone at this chi-chi spa that’s perfect for a girlie weekend away. Shunning the notion that spas should be all rest and no play, this uplifting spa has aromas to promote happiness, a lot of fizz, and plenty to explore. There’s a candle-lit infinity pool, and outdoor hydropool, a thermal suite with a lavender-infused sauna, a hot juniper Finnish cabin and a salt steam room. Once you’ve worked your way round all of these, and experienced a Temple Spa treatment, you can regroup with the girls in the spa’s healthy café, the Greenhouse.


Greenhouse at Dormy House
Greenhouse at Dormy House




The wild, wild West Country

To the wilds of Wiltshire and Somerset, or SoCo as I’m calling it, short for South of Cotswolds.

The green arc around Bath’s eastern side, where the West Country ends and the Wolds begin has long been neglected by travellers who zip through heading south for Devon, north to the Cotswolds, or straight through to Bath, Bristol and beyond.

But not anymore. This lush green, properly rural corner of the country has had a noticeable influx of not-so-muddy boots hot-footing it out of the city and into this bucolic, arty no-mans-land.

The tiny towns of Bruton, Frome (which boasts swanky private members club and hotel Babington House on its doorstep) and Bradford on Avon, all have a historic grandness about them, while also remaining just the right side of quaint to be thriving, interesting towns to live in and not just visit.

A wave of galleries, hotels, foodie producers, restaurants and cultural outposts have been putting this hot spot on the map.

Most recent, and notable, is contemporary art space Hauser and Wirth, on the edge of Bruton in Somerset. Drive out of the town (do stop for food, wine and a night at At The Chapel on the high street) and you’ll easily miss this farmhouse and its barns that have been converted into a world-class gallery. Outside, Subodh Gupta’s giant gleaming milking pail bucket, a Louise Bourgeois spider and the gently swaying Piet Oudolf-designed gardens (he of New York’s Highline fame) give away the fact that something altogether new is happening here.

It’s a cultural version of Daylesford in Gloucestershire, a daring and brave mix that includes an art shop, four galleries, landscaped sculpture gardens for outdoor walks; and a truly fantastic restaurant and bar – the Roth Bar and Grill. A farm shop will open in spring 2015. We turned up on a wet Saturday in November, knowing they were fully booked, with two toddlers in tow, and they still smiled cheerily and managed to find us a table. The simple, unpretentious food is a sort of Ottolenghi meets gastropub hybrid. What they do is simple but amazing (so much better than complicated and failing!). The pulled pork and coleslaw ciabatta was great; chicken with rosemary roast new potatoes kept the four-year-old very happy; and the salad of butternut squash, kale and roasted tomato with spelt and goats cheese that was meant to be the side dish, stole the show.

And the bar… if only we hadn’t driven! It’s an ‘oasis for cocktails’, with a dizzying installation built out of local reclaimed materials by Dieter Roth’s son and grandson, Björn and Odder Roth. The children loved trying to spot some of the more obscure items amongst the junk: a rolling pin, a violin, a shoe!

You can even sleep here – Durslade farmhouse, which is emblazoned with Martin Creed’s neon words “Everything is going to be alright” – can be rented by the week and sleeps 12.

Up the road in Frome, was the best little shopping street I’ve seen in a long time – St Catherine’s Hill. Packed with indy boutiques, arty spaces and a bit of new age dream catcher thrown in for good measure (well we are a stone’s throw from Stonehenge and Glastonbury after all), it’s a fantastic town to potter and purchase Christmas presents in. The Archangel makes a great pit-stop, and if you want to swoon about in luxury, nowhere (really nowhere, except perhaps Limewood) does it better than Babington House.

In Bradford on Avon, there’s a great mixture of shops, galleries and places to run about. The kids will love the country park; we played pooh sticks on the footbridge over the rive, and the wandered up to Fat Fowl – a great all-day bistro with jazz on a Sunday and an upstairs play area to occupy the kids.

Stay at Woolley Grange, just outside of Bradford, where children are the stars of the show. It feels more like a friend’s rambling house party than a hotel, with higgledy rooms that accommodate almost any arrangement of family set-up, and two restaurants so that you can go posh and grown up, or gastro and family. The pool and spa are perfect for rainy days – and everyone has kids so there are no glaring looks – while the Woolley Bears’ Den is a free (yes free!) Ofsted-registered crèche run by Joan who has been with the hotel for 20 years. My two came running out with pictures and freshly made, if delightfully wonky, jam tarts and the older one asked if she could go back again the next day. High praise indeed.

Who says a cultural break and kids can’t mix?

My secret address book









Chic chic chicken

Here’s a piece I wrote for Metro this week about the explosion of new chicken joints that are hip, ethical and healthy…

Chicken METRO

In the paper there wasn’t room to mention the myriad of new places, so I have added a few more here:

First it was gourmet burgers, then posh pulled pork, now it’s the turn of chicken to get the chic treatment. From the ironically-hip Chicken Shop and ChickenLiquor in London’s gritty-but-cool neighbourhoods to Fire and Feathers – an upmarket Nandos for the foodie crowd – the latest breed of chicken restaurants promise free-range birds and top-of-the-range rotisseries.

Chicken Shop
From the brains behind the celebrity-strewn private members’ club Soho House, Chicken Shop may rub shoulders with the likes of Chicken Cottage, thanks to its edgy locations such as Kentish Town, Tooting and Whitechapel, but the similarities end there.

“I think chicken would be my last meal,” explains owner Nick Jones, “so I wanted to get it exactly right. The best chicken is the one you cook at home, so we’ve tried to recreate that, but affordably.”

Months went into researching and developing the concept, including sourcing the best chickens (free-range from Banham’s farm in Norfolk, in case you were wondering) and creating a secret marinade recipe and inventing a unique rotisserie grilling system.

The industrial, exposed brick walls, pipes and high ceilings are the backdrop for make-shift furniture, a counter, and a vinyl record player so that diners can choose requests (and even bring their own records with them to play) while chowing don on chicken served from 1950s-style white-and-blue enamel plates and bowls.

And the menu? Chicken is the only main course on offer, served with triple-cooked chips, coleslaw, corn on the cob or salad. No wonder they’ve just opened in the new hipster hotel, The Hoxton Holborn. www.chickenshop.com

Chicken Shop
Chicken Shop


Tramshed, Shoreditch
Mark Hix has stripped back the menu with his latest string of Tramshed and Hixter restaurants. Diners can choose from simply ‘cock’ or ‘bull’ to share (and kids eat free) – the Indian Rock chicken is sourced from Swainson House Farm in Lancashire while the Glenarm Estate steak is aged in a Himalayan salt chamber.
Damien Hirst’s enormous formaldehyde sculpture of a cow and a cock loom overhead to remind diners of exactly what they are ordering. Try the signature roast barn-reared chicken with stuffing and chips, which arrives doing a headstand, feet in the air, if only to instagram it! London, www.chickenandsteak.co.uk 



Crafty Chooks
There’s a buzzy and chilled-out atmosphere at this all-day eatery, just metres from Hove beach, that starts with the stylish industrial style interior and mid-century modern furniture. As the name hints, Crafty Chookc combines craft beers and free-range rotisserie chicken supplied by local butchers. Hove, 01273 722846, www.craftychooks.co.uk


Crafty Chooks in Hove
Crafty Chooks in Hove


Crafty Chooks chicken
Crafty Chooks chicken


Fire and Feathers
Love piri piri chicken but can’t bare the idea of Nandos? Then this hot new joint is for you – Fire and Feathers brings the best of Portuguese piri piri to the Made in Chelsea set. After starting life as a pop-up last summer, Fire and Feathers has a tight menu of just four choices for starter, main and dessert. They select smaller, Gressingham corn-fed birds for optimum flavour, that are spatchcocked, grilled, then cut up on the bone – try the large chicken platter that comes with a choice three sauces, garlic, piri piri or dynamite. Fulham, www.fireandfeathers.co.uk

Simple food, well done, is the promise made by this hip restaurant that serves chicken spit-roasted over a flame pit. Think smokey and charred on the outside and melt-in-the-mouth tender inside. There are a dizzying array of sauces, from mild to fire-in-the-mouth hot (try the Scotch Bonnet sauce at your peril!) and a comforting selection of classic favourites on the dessert menu that make this restaurant a winner for families and hipsters, alike. Newcastle upon Tyne, www.coopchicken.co.uk

Coop Chicken in Newcastle
Coop Chicken in Newcastle


Guilt-free fried chicken? Sounds too good to be true, but this new restaurant sources all of its rare-breed poultry from a small free-range farm in Wiltshire, then fried using the finest grade groundnut oil that is free from cholesterol and trans fats – but will that mater when you’re tipsy and starving on a Friday night in Hackney?
Happily, the menu lives up to the ethical benchmark that Clutch has set itself: expect buckets of sweet soy and garlic or peppery buttermilk chicken, parmesan and lemon chicken tenders, or honey and sesame wings, served with whipped feta or red pepper chilli chutney. De-lish. London, www.clutchchicken.com 



Chicken Shack
In Bournemouth’s buzzing Boscombe, and now with an outpost in Winton, Chicken Shack is devoted to premium quality, locally-sourced chicken, cooked on a bespoke rotisserie grill. There’s a US-Southern spin to the menu, with sides including New Orleans greens, homemade slaw and corn on the cob. Bournemouth, www.chickenshackuk.com

Chicken Liquor
From the team behind MeatLiquor, comes this ironic fried chicken shop serving wings and boneless bites (which sound suspiciously like nuggets) in a range of coatings, with a stripped-back décor, pounding hip-hop, and a cool Brixton venue – did someone say coals to Newcastle? And if further proof were needed of chicken’s new renaissance, MeatLiquor has now added a chicken section to its menus in Leeds, Brighton and London.
London (and Leeds and Brighton for MeatLiquor), www.chickenliquor.co.uk


Famed for its Norfolk chicken, cooked on a charcoal grill and rotisserie, with a smattering of different sauces – from smoky tomato to hot ‘n’ spicy – this stylish, hunting lodge of a restaurant (think leather banquettes, reclaimed oak cladding on the walls, and salvaged floor tiles) also serves up wings and a range of chicken salads, as well as the now-ubiquitous burgers and ribs. This new chain comes from the team behind Prezzo so expect to see more popping up across the country in the near-future. Cobham, Wokingham, Leatherhead, Billericay, Oxford, www.cleaverrestaurants.co.uk

Le Coq
The thinking behind this neighbourhood north London restaurant couldn’t be more simple. The set menu of spit-roast, free-range Sutton Hoo chicken is adapted slightly each week – different sides and sauces pimp up the basic bird – and the ethos is to serve the best-quality, most deliciously succulent chicken. Bold, unfussy and brave in it’s single-minded approach, at £22 for three courses, it’s also a pretty good deal. London, www.lecoq.co.uk

images-2 imgres-1

Clockjack Oven
The chicken at this Soho rotisserie joint (plans are afoot to open 15 of them over the next five years) is free range and ethically-reared on co-operative farms in Brittany. The menu comprises just one dish, chicken, that is marinated in herbs and cooked over an intense heat to brown the skin while keeping the meat succulent and flavourful. London, www.clockjackoven.com

You’ve read about the trend, now make it yourself:

Out on 1 October, Chicken by This Morning chef Marcus Bean (£20, Nourish Books) is an imaginative collection of inexpensive, healthy recipes for wowing friends – smoked chicken and wild garlic risotto – creating speedy meals, or updating classics with a chicken-y twist, from scotch eggs to lasagne.


The new Victoriana

Last week I wrote a piece for the Daily Mail about the rise of nu-Victorian…

Move over minimalism. Over the past few months interiors have been getting busier, grander and increasingly ornate. You might have noticed yourself buying more plump, colourful cushions, installing a decorative, quirky lamp or even a bell jar to put on your sideboard.

Unwittingly you’ve embraced the new Victorian look. You see, the latest interior inspiration isn’t actually modern at all, it harks back to a golden, romantic age in homeware.

The Victorians were the original house-proud crowd. Thanks to their increased wealth due to the industrial revolution and the emergence of mass-produced manufacturing, they were able to afford the kind of furniture, fabrics and accessories that were previously out of reach. Doing up your house was the trend of the day and a reflection of your prosperity, which meant that more was most definitely more in the 1850s.

Victorian floor tiles, updated for contemporary living by Original Style
Victorian floor tiles, updated for contemporary living by Original Style

“The Victorians developed tastes for the exotic and the unusual in their homes as a by-product of their fast-expanding views of the world through trade and industry,” explains Jamie Green of interiors store Graham and Green. “Displaying finds from far flung corners of the world, minimalism was never a consideration – favoured objects of culture and taste were integrated into schemes as a sign of progressive decadence, success and an understanding of the world.”

Pineapples, bell jars and other curios demonstrated a Victorian's status and wealth [Graham and Green]
Pineapples, bell jars and other curios demonstrated a Victorian’s status and wealth
It’s no coincidence that this season at Graham and Green you buy a lobster or other curiosities in a bell jar; or an ornamental pineapple for your sideboard (pineapples were completely exotic and a real status symbol in Victorian Britain), or that John Lewis is selling terrariums.

John Lewis' terrarium
John Lewis’ terrarium

No home in Queen Victoria’s reign would have been complete without opulent velvet cushions, an elegant button-back sofa, lavishly patterned fabrics and richly coloured walls, whether papered or painted. They loved to display their artefacts in glass bell jars, indoor plants in terrariums and used lots of lamps to brighten their parlours.

Mel Yates_G&G Autumn 14_10223
Bell jars from Graham and Green – use them to display quirky objects


“Victorian décor is usually remembered as an eclectic mix of styles and excessive ornamentation,” comments Pip Prinsloo, design manager for homeware at John Lewis. “Wallpaper became mass produced during this period and was often adorned in damask and large floral, bird and animal motifs, similar to the Morris and Co marigold wallpaper that we still sell today.”

Morris & co Marigold Bullrush
Morris & Co Marigold Bullrush wallpaper, a Victorian original design still available from John Lewis today

So what’s behind the revival of the Revival era? While the recent years of minimal grey and neutral coffee were sure to have their day, industry experts have other ideas, namely the “Downton effect”.
“There’s been a surge of popular period dramas and people are looking to recreate this opulence in their own homes,” says Prinsloo.
It’s something that fireplace manufacturer Chesney’s has also seen, as sales of decorative and period-style fireplaces have soared by 25 per cent in the past year. “The likes of Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge seem to be influencing our customers – some are restoring the original features of their period home, and people in new-build homes are looking to add character,” confirms Paul Chesney. “Thanks to Downton Victorian bathroom suites are in demand – our chain-pull toilets and range of roll-top baths are now bestsellers,” adds Adam Chard at Victoria Plumb.

winchester roll top bath
The Winchester roll top bath, one of Victoria Plumb’s best sellers

“People are attracted to the sense of romance that this aesthetic conjures,” comments bespoke furniture designer Barbara Genda. “The self-contained cosy grandeur with its opulent rich colours and architectural embellishments also provides a comforting cocoon from the foreboding outdoors. Modern day furnishings are generally reinterpreting this trend in a more muted way – simpler and sleeker in appearance with just a whisper of old world glamour coming through, perhaps in the elegant curvature of a chair leg or the tactile velvet of embellished upholstery.”

www.arcadebathrooms.com - piccadilly shower temple
The Piccadilly shower temple by Arcade Bathrooms makes a bold bathroom statement

While the new Victorian style is certainly inspired by its decadent past – just take a look at Marks and Spencer’s latest collection with its button-back velvet chairs, rose-print black lacquer chest and cushions printed with Victorian-looking art – today less is more. Incorporate a few key pieces into a contemporary colour scheme for maximum impact, or add some quirky, playful accessories for a cheeky nod to the era.

We love this mustard armchair from Sofa.com with fabric by Thornback and Peel, whose studio is in Holborn
We love this mustard armchair from Sofa.com with fabric by Thornback and Peel, whose studio is in Holborn

While the Victorian home would be crammed with curiosities, it is more striking to make a feature out of one or two contrasting pieces. “Hunt out sofas and chairs with decorative carved wood – Victorian solid wood furniture is solid as a rock,” advises interior designer Phoebe Oldrey. “Get them upholstered in striking bold fabrics to have as statement pieces in your lounge or bedroom. These look amazing in industrial loft style interiors.”

Loaf's velvet Bronte chaise longue has an elegant nod to the era
Loaf’s velvet Bronte chaise longue has an elegant nod to the era

Prices for Victorian furniture are a steal and you can pick up pieces for half the price of Ikea with twice the personality in junk shops, auctions and even charities, such as Emmaus, which has 70 second-hand furniture shops that are a trove for original brown wood furniture, and silver, brass and glass candlesticks, decanters and tableware that, in a digital age, people are no longer inclined to polish and clean.
“Take elements that you like and mix them with both bright and muted tones to give the more traditional Victorian style a lift. Or find a traditional design with a modern twist, it provides a fantastic juxtaposition, which is so effective,” suggests Jane Rockett of Rockett St George.

Old museum-style display cabinets, like this one from Rockett St George, are ideal for getting the look
Old museum-style display cabinets are ideal for getting the look

While the Victorians loved busy, ornate floral wallpaper, often adorned with animal motifs, making a feature from just one wall is far more striking. William Morris Co, Cole and Son and Graham and Brown, which has a licence to produce original designs from the V&A museum, all offer patterns that suit the look, often in more modern colours. For a modern twist, Lovemapson.com produces wallpaper of original Victorian Ordnance Survey maps, which you can tailor to your own postcode.

Map Wallpaper - Personalised Vintage Ordnance Survey Map - Revised New Series 1897 from £135
This map wallpaper, using vintage Ordnance Survey maps from 1897, can be personalised to your postcode



Get the look

Decorative bell jars, £39.95-£98, www.grahamandgreen.co.uk

Golden pineapple, £28, www.grahamandgreen.co.uk

Urban Botanist Gem Succulents Aztec Terrarium, £64.95, www.johnlewis.com

Babbington small sofa in Roanna floral, charcoal, £2099, www.marksandspencer.com

Vintage family portrait cushion, £25, www.marksandspencer.com

Bronte chaise longue, £895, www.loaf.com

Distressed black display cabinet, £250, www.rockettstgeorge.co.uk

Vintage Singer table with wooden top by Ines Cole, £1695, www.rockettstgeorge.co.uk

Abigail Ahern Edition designer grey hare lamp, £85, www.debenhams.com

Ordnance Survey map wallpaper, from £120, www.lovemapson.com

Jethou chair in Jellies and Cakes by Thornback and Peel, mustard, £800, www.sofa.com

Arcade Piccadilly freestanding shower temple, £7498, www.arcadebathrooms.com

Floor tiles, www.originalstyle.com

Victorian-style printed, handmade ceramics, from £26, www.rockettstgeorge.co.uk

Winchester single-ended slipper bath, £295, www.victoriaplumb.com


… How do you do?

Thanks for stopping by – this is my hub for all things British, beautifully designed and generally great!

I wanted a place where I could bring together interiors and design, great gardens and homes, fabulous food and restaurants, hidden-gem hotels and wild weekends, and simply gorgeous fashion and beauty finds…

My work as a features journalist means I am always on the look-out for the latest trends and stories. Over the years I’ve been a travel editor, a beauty editor and a style editor, launched arts and culture magazines, edited property and interiors titles, and written about some of the most exciting new restaurants and chefs.

Here I write about this seemingly eclectic collection of ideas, all sewn together with one thread – made in Britain, designed in Britain, or something that is happening right here in the UK.

If you want to find out about my travels and adventures further afield, I am also starting a family travel blog, with a luxury twist, called Escapade.

The best of interiors, travel, food and lifesyle