Oxford Botanic Garden

You know when you’ve entered an established garden when it has got its own gin – the Physics Gin uses medicinal botanicals you’d find in the beds at the University of Oxford’s Botanic Gardens. The garden was founded as the Oxford Physic Garden in 1621, making it the oldest botanical garden in Britain by more than half a century. It was founded to grow plants to support the teaching of medicine – which it still does today.  

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A  spot of history…

Sir Henry Danvers originally donated £5000 to found the garden, which built the walls and archway, but was not enough to employ anyone to cultivate the garden. Jacob Bobart, the first superintendent, had to fund the planting out of his own earnings from a series of Oxford’s taverns.

Oxford Botanic Garden

The garden still features one of the original plants, a yew tree in the walled garden. It is fitting that the oldest tree in the first physic garden in the country has been the source of drugs used to treat breast, cervical and ovarian cancers.

The black pine in the southeast corner of the walled garden was grown from seed in 1795 and planted in its present position in 1800 by Professor John Sibthorp. Since then it has survived hurricane force winds and temperatures ranging from minus thirty degrees Celsius to plus thirty degrees Celsius, far more than most animals can tolerate.

Oxford Botanic Garden

In 1945 the garden expanded for the first time in 300 years when the area that is now the lower garden was acquired. The area was originally part of Christchurch meadow and had been used as part of the ‘dig for victory’ campaign during the second world war. At the end of the war, the area was offered to the garden at a peppercorn rent.

Our highlights

Tom particularly wanted to see the Merton Borders.  These 75 metre swaths were designed by James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology at the University of Sheffield and uses plants which might be more versatile in our gardens as the climate warms, taking inspiration from North American Prairies, South African grasslands and from the Eurasian areas. It’s designed so that there’s year-round interest – that’s important if you’re a gardener.

Oxford Botanic Garden

Oxford Botanic Garden

Oxford Botanic Garden

My favourite area was the complex of greenhouses, with its giant water lilies and tropical houses – which now will forever remind me of our honeymoon. In 1851, Professor Daubey built the tropical waterlily house after he had seen the giant victoria waterlily at Chatsworth House. The present layout of the glasshouses dates from 1893 though the aluminum superstructures date from 1971.  

Oxford Botanic Garden

Oxford Botanic Garden

What you need to know

Tickets are £6 per adult, over the summer it’s open 9am to 5pm (last admission 4.15pm) More information on website: https://www.obga.ox.ac.uk/home Whilst we were there, G&Ds, the iconic Oxford ice-cream chain, had a pop-up van and seating right by the river. It was perfect for rounding off the trip. The gardens are also twinned with Harcourt Arboretum in Oxford.  You can easily tag this on to a day’s wandering around Oxford – we did a walk here: Walking tour around Oxford. 

Afternoon at Cadbury WorldI’ve lost count the number of times that I’ve been to Cadbury World. We took my German exchange friend there, I’ve visited with extended family and as university students back on summer holiday, we celebrated a friend’s birthday.  I’ve always been keen on the ‘chocoholic’s paradise.’ An afternoon tea at Cadbury World seemed an opportunity to good to miss.

My friend, Laura, spotted a deal Cadbury’s were offering on Facebook – a ticket and afternoon tea in its cafe for £22 per person available on a Sunday. Normally, this deal is only available Monday to Friday, so the three of us (Laura, Tom and I) decided to set off on a day trip.

I quite like these ‘brand’ experience places (we went to Coca-Cola World in Atlanta, which was like being brainwashed, and we did the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam on our mini-moon)

Firstly I think seeing the factories where stuff is made in huge quantities is mesmerising, but also, as a PR person in my day job, I also appreciate the marketing and creation that goes behind the brand.  As Laura said staring that the shelves in the World’s Biggest Cadbury Shop that each bar ‘really does have its own personality.’

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Afternoon at Cadbury World

A bit of history…

Afternoon at Cadbury World

The tour takes you through how chocolate was revered by the Aztecs, stolen by Cortez and brought back to the fashionable courts in Spain and eventually most of western Europe.  You’re then ushered through a recreation of John Cadbury’s first shop in 1824, where he employed a chinaman to serve customers and create a bit of spectacle.

Afternoon at Cadbury World

As Quakers, they considered tea, coffee and chocolate to be acceptable alternatives to alcohol and John developed the company with his brother Benjamin and two sons, Richard and George. In 1893 the family bought land outside of Birmingham near the Worcester canal and the railroad and established Bournville factory and the accompanying village, believing that it was neither good for business, their products or their staff to be working in the grimy and polluted inner city.

They built houses for their factory workers as well as recreation grounds and established pensions, a five and half day working week and health services. It was pioneering for the 19th century. Dairy Milk was launch in 1905 with its iconic purple wrapper and as they say, the rest was history.

I remember feeling when I first visited Cadbury World, aged eight or nine, feeling like I’d emerged from Willy Wonka’s loaded down with chocolate handed out as we made our way around. And although staff are friendly and in this health-conscious age, there’s probably more than enough chocolate for your to chop on, I can’t help but feel that it’s not quite the same.

For example, the, areas where you could see chocolate bars being wrapped on machinery is all gone, shielded off from visitors. There’s still the liquid chocolate tasters, but there’s more room given over to having your photo taken in front of a green screen.  And let’s not get started on Cadabra, which was always cringey even when I was eight. (Still queued for it though!)

Afternoon tea at Cadbury World

And the afternoon tea. It was perfectly pleasant, with everything you’d desire and a bit chocolatey – brownies, muffins, crispy cake bars, hot chocolate etc. There’s a designated area for afternoon tea guests, but you just have to flag down a random member of staff in the cafe who shows you to your seat.  There’s plenty of food, so don’t be shy in asking for a take takeout we were offered one, so it’s obviously a common occurrence!

I think until Tom and I have small people of our own, that I’ve got Cadbury World out of my system.

SeminyakWe spent three glorious weeks in Singapore and Indonesia as part of our honeymoon and spent a few days towards the end of our trip in Seminyak, Bali and visited the famous Tanah Lot temple. 

Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot is believed to have been founded by Dang Hyang Nirartha, a Shaivite priest, from a tradition of Hinduism which reveres the god Shiva.

Tanah Lot

During Niratha’s travels, he rested on this rocky outcrop. The following morning as fisherman brought the priest gifts, Niratha encouraged them to build a shrine on this holy spot to worship Bali’s sea god, Dewa Baruna.  And he was a god you wanted to keep on side, as he rode the oceans on the Makara – a half fish, half sea creature.

Tanah Lot

Pura Tanah Lot built in the 16th century forms part of a chain of sea temples spread out around the island’s coast. Supposedly each temple can be seen from the other – and I’m told on a good day you can just make out the cliff top site of Uluwatu.

It’s believed that the temple is still protected by a giant sea snake which was created from Nirartha’s sash or selendang and small venomous snakes inhibit the watery shallows around the island ready to pounce on unsuspecting intruders.

We visited at high tide which meant we weren’t able to walk over to the rock, but this did mean we were able to get a photo without all the tourists. Tanah Lot is still an important pilgrimage destination as well as a significant cultural site; a whole tourist complex has sprung up around the Tanah Lot temple site, but it’s no worse than any other touristy haunt.

Tanah Lot

The site of Tanah Lot is under constant attack by the Indonesian Ocean, wind force and coast abrasion threatens the very rock where the temple stands.  In 1980, a 130 million US dollar conservation project embarked to restore the rock and today over one-third of Tanah Lot’s ‘rock’ is actually cleverly disguised artificial rock.

Tanah Lot

Cool Seminyak

Seminyak was actually the last stop of our honeymoon. We have a couple of nights at the DevinSky Hotel, which was actually our least favourite stop, we had issues with our air-con and all that, but I shan’t bore you with it. It did have a nice rooftop restaurant which was a good spot for breakfast.  

We picked Seminyak because we were told that it had that cool, hipster beach vibe and was less the party town of nearby Kuta. And it was exactly as described, its streets host independent boutique shops and cafes.  Sisterfields would not be out of place in Shoreditch and is an Australian favourite with ‘travelling foodies’ (I suppose that counts as me and Tom.) It’s a good place for fancy all-day breakfasts.

We also headed to Motel Mexicola for our last night. A proper party place, worth booking a table in advance. I’d recommend giving your dietary requirements to the waiting staff and letting them sort you out a feast.  

And what did we do on our last day in Bali? Potato Head Beach Club. Get there early if you want a lounger, or like me and Tom, settle down into one of the comfortable cushioned seats, people watch, walk along this fantastic stretch of sand and drink plenty of coconuts.  

HairsprayI’m writing this blog post a few days after we saw the performance of Hairspray, and when I started putting this piece together, there were two characters f that really jumped back into life and that was Matt Rixon’s Edna and Graham Macduff’s Wilbur Turnblad.

The pair played Tracy Turnblad’s parents, but their chemistry was hilarious, even when the props failed them. They had an old-school hilarity reminiscent of the Palladium shows, Jimmy Tarbuck and Bruce Forsyth.  You could tell that Matt is a panto dame legend.

The plot – ‘Integration not segregation’

If you don’t know the story, Hairspray, set in the early sixties, features Tracy, desperate for fame and to be a regular on the all-singing, all-dancing Corny Collins Show. She’s also got a bit of thing for its star, Link Larkin. This is all set to a backdrop of Baltimore’s segregation both on telly and on the airwaves.

Brenda Edwards plays Motormouth Maybelle, an X Factor alumni, who gave a stonking rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been’, and ‘Big, Blonde and Beautiful’. Whilst new graduate, Annalise Llard-Bailey, was a hilarious BFF to Rosie O’Hare’s Tracy, who has a great voice and played a feisty protagonist.

What’s great about Hairspray is that its feel-good tunes appeal to a wide audience – old and young, boys and girls. And it’s likely that many people in the audience identify with many of the themes in the musical – as the producer, Mike Goucher, says ‘we still experience racism and women are still conscious of body issues. We all need to strive for greater tolerance in every area of life.’

This tour of Hairspray is moving around the UK right through the summer until August. I dare you to leave the theatre not humming ‘Good Morning Baltimore.’

The Nut Tree InnIt has been quite a while since I last put fingertips to keyboard, that’s partially down to being on honeymoon. There will be more about that in days to come, but we have also recently been to The Nut Tree Inn for an eight-course tasting menu, which was a wedding present from my bridesmaid and her man.

The Nut Tree Inn

The Nut Tree Inn is in Murcott, Oxfordshire and in 2018 was voted Oxfordshire’s best fine dining pub and number 17 in the ‘Top 50 UK Gastro Pubs’. The village pub is managed by Mike and Imogen North and has held a Michelin Star since 2008. With its traditional thatched roof, the 15th-century inn’s got plenty of countryside charm and the staff are helpful and attentive, without making you feel like you need to eat in a rush.

We’re never one to shy away from a challenge, so here’s our eight-course lunch for you:

Amuse bouche

The Nut Tree Inn

Garlic mushrooms in sourdough

The Nut Tree Inn

Pave of Nut Tree smoked Loch Duart salmon with horseradish cream, pickled cucumber, Avruga caviar.

The Nut Tree Inn

Parfait of Cotswold chicken livers with Nut Tree garden apple compote, toasted brioche.

The Nut Tree Inn

I cannot remember the fish in this course! Hake, I think with leeks, lush!

Grilled fillet of aged Charolais beef, shitake mushrooms and amazing mash.

The Nut Tree Inn

Pre-dessert – passionfruit mousse with a shortbread soldier.  It looked like a hard-boiled egg.

The Nut Tree Inn

Apple crumble soufflé.

The Nut Tree Inn

Selection of artisan cheese.

The Nut Tree Inn

I’d definitely recommend a visit especially if you are celebrating a special occasion. The eight courses were definitely manageable, as the portion sizes are spot on, but you probably won’t need to eat anything else in the next 48 hours.