Saturday, 9 December 2017

ms-havachat goes back to Winchester Christmas Markets

Thanks Google Images

Trying to get a group of friends to visit Winchester Christmas Markets on a Friday night wasn't easy, but four of us managed to get the kids sorted, hubbies to commit to being home at a reasonably early time so we could head off down the M3 for a night of giggles and Christmas shopping.

It was the perfect, crisp, clear COLD December night to go to Winchester Christmas Markets. The forecast was for super cold weather (it snowed every so lightly around 10am) but we still braved it. Four mums out on a Friday night. Two had never been to the Markets here, one had (but many years ago), and one had never been to Winchester at all!

One was dressed in thermal, long sleeve t-shirt, with a polo neck jumper, Christmas themed cardigan, winter coat, gloves, scarf AND bought a gorgeous winter hat. The rest of us had coats, hats and gloves over every-day tops LOL. And it was cold!

So cold in fact, that there was hardly anyone there when we arrived around 6.30pm. The mulled wine on arrival hit the spot!

Note to self: arrive earlier next year. For some reason (maybe the cold weather, maybe because they start trading at 10am) the markets shut at 7.30pm on-the-dot. We walked into one shop ready to buy, only to be told, "sorry, we're closing" and that was that.

I've been several times, and love it. Didn't take any photo's cos I needed my hands in my gloves. Hubby was pleased it was so cold as I didn't take too much money out of my wallet LOL.

The Cathedral Close is probably one of the best locations for a Christmas Market as they nestle peacefully under the strong, towering walls of the Cathedral. The soft, emotive lighting of the exterior of the Cathedral is so tastefully done. The Chalets are the usual wooden huts, some set up for customers to walk into and browse, while others present their goods to you from behind a display counter.

What I really enjoy about Winchester Markets, and my friends commented on too, was the number of local artisans and craftspeople offering high quality, unique items at reasonable prices.  Two of our group have been to markets in Europe and said this was as good, if not a little bit better! As a past resident of Winchester, I was rather pleased to hear that.

In November, The Daily Telegraph listed Winchester Christmas Markets as one of the Top Markets in the UK. 

We all purchased gifts, and a few things for ourselves. If only we'd had longer (and it wasn't so cold)

Next year, we'll plan better AND book a restaurant for dinner (took several attempts before we found one that could seat us. I forget how popular dining out in Winchester is).

The walk back to the car was delightful - past the Guildhall all lit up, the Old Wooden Mill with the Itchen River flowing very fast under the bridge, past Bishop on the Bridge, The Black Bottle, No 5 Bridge Street and the Chesil Restaurant.

For  more information about the markets, click here. 

With friendship

Monday, 4 December 2017

ms-havachat has lunch at The Rose and Olive Branch, Virginia Waters

I've driven past this quaint pub so many times, but never thought to check it out until today when a friend made a group booking for lunch.

The Rose and Olive Branch, on Callow Hill is like stepping back in time into a quintessential local pub, frequented by the same old timers, at the same time every day for years. Even the carpet oozes old-world charm!

Who knew this small, quaint local pub, on a backroad in Virginia Waters had such an incredible history?!?!?!?!?

"Once an old beer and cider house , this Inn is between 200-250 years old and stand on what used to the the Crossroads at the foot of a hill in Windsor Great Park. This hill was known then as Gallow Hill on top of which stood at Gibbet, which was seldom inhabited those days, bot over the years has been corrupted to Callow Hill.

Like all old houses, during the Civil War in the 17th century, the Royalist and Cromwellian  forces met here to sign a Treaty, upon completion of which the leader of hte Roundheads presented the elder of the Cavaliers with an Olive Branch as a symbol of peace, and received in return a Red Rose. It was from this event that this Inn derived its name and it's believed to be the only of one of this name in England.

In our sign can be seen the Roundhead presenting the Cavlier with the Olive Branch and receiving in return the Red Rose. Whilst in the background  the rival forces are signing the treaty outside the Inn at the Crossroads."

An historic story told in a simple pub sign

The pub has a reputation is for serving 'great pies' and from the looks of them coming from the kitchen, and the smiling faces on friends, we'll be back to try them! I really enjoyed my baked salmon fillet and chips (real ol' fashion, pub chips), while the BLT, mushroom and chicken filo and other meals looked and smelled delicious. Interesting to note there is a gluten free menu.

Food and Food related signage

Ol' world charm interior

We had a lovely lunch and a good chat over good, simple food.

For more information, check out their website

Friday, 24 November 2017

ms-havachat discovers Inspirations in Sunninghill

Inspirations gorgeous shopfront
54 High Street, Sunninghill Ascot, SL5 9NF

This morning I met a friend for a coffee before art class. With time to spare before class, I decided to stroll the High Street in Sunninghill and discovered INSPIRATIONS, a truly delightful gift shop.

The strange thing about where we live, indeed for most of us these days, independently owned boutique retailers are few and far between, thanks to the multi-national global branded retailers. `Just walk down any major High Street, or visit a shopping mall (ie: centre) and you'll see the same retail outlets, varying only based on the socio-demographics of the area. Trying to find a privately owned, one-off, independent retail outlet isn't easy these days.

Bricks'n'mortar shopping is struggling to compete with online retailers so things like customer service, product differentiation, product knowledge are what's able to set them apart. The gaps can be huge if bricks'n'mortar retailers invest in their staff, their physical shops and products. I throughly enjoyed training my retail staff, and the interaction with our customers, the rapport and trust that developed all of which resulted in increased sales.

Inspirations is a text-book independently owned shop. Owner/manager of 18 years, Judy and best friend Janet are warm and friendly and know their stock intimately. They take pride in sourcing the best of British made products as often as possible,  and love finding British designers whose products will sit well in the shop. Their suggestions for gift ideas was most appreciated!

Judy on the right, with Janet. 

What a little treasure trove of loveliness. Fashion accessories like hats, gloves, scarves and bags are displayed creatively amongst ornaments and photo frames, while the jewellery is set to one side. 

There's a lot of stock in a small shop, and it's lovely!

Everything is well displayed and easy to see.

There's a bespoke toy section too  that offers high quality
brands and a selection across young ages.

Janet loves stocking Sea Witch candles that are made in a small village in Cornwell, while Sam Wilson, from The Cotswolds is another very popular British range.

There's a great selection of cards and wrapping paper AND they gift wrap!

Very true!

You won't find Inspirations online. They believe in 'word of mouth' recommendation from their client base, many of whom have been with them for 'years'. They smiled when the explained how happy it makes them knowing they are serving generations of customers, from near and far. 

I'm so pleased I discovered Inspirations this morning and was 'inspired' to take a few photo's and have a chat, so I can share it with you.

If you're in the area, do pop in and say ms-havachat recommended you.

With Friendship

Saturday, 18 November 2017

ms-havachat loves Huffkins

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If you're ever in the Cotswolds area of the UK (and I strongly recommend you make time to do so), you must visit Stow on the Wold (the most picturesque story book village in the area) and you must have a tea (or coffee) and eat at the famous Huffkins Tea Rooms.

Started in 1890, the business has only had 3, yes, THREE families own/manage/run the business.  Topsie and Faith are sisters and have been the proud owners for 18 years.

I was lucky enough to meet Topsie when we popped in for morning tea. There was a sign on the counter top that read ' We Supply our Handmade Fruit Cakes to the Royal Palaces' and I asked 'how does a small business in the Cotswolds achieve this honour?' which started a delightful conversation with a very lovely lady - just look at that smile!

A very proud Topsie showing off their status
as provider of Fruit Cakes to the
Royal Palaces

Turns out, you just rock on up to Buckingham Palace on designated tasting days, when Palace officials are sourcing new providers and wait in a long line with others doing the same thing.

About 18 months ago, Faith took a few fruit cakes to Buckingham Palace on such a day and the cakes were tasted and very much enjoyed. They submitted ingredients and other paperwork and voila! Huffkins provides the Royal Palaces with Fruit Cakes.

They also provide fruitcake to Fortnum and Mason and several other London stores, as well as their own tea rooms throughout the Cotswolds and even Japan! 

In 5 years, they will be eligible to receive the Royal Seal which will be simply another well earned recognition in the businesses esteemed history. 

The Royal Warrant is a fascinating English tradition dating back to 1840. It started because there was such fierce competition from local business and farmers to do business with the King, that a criteria was established and only those who could at the minimum meet them were considered. 

There are around 800 Royal Warrants today. Click here for the full list

Huffkins is in incredible company, and deservedly so. We absolutely enjoyed our delicious lunch, the coffee was great, and the cakes DIVINE as you can see in the photo's below. 

We look forward to following Huffkins (and returning one day for another visit) as they bide their time over the next few years, waiting for their Royal Warrant. 

If you see Topsie or Faith, please say ms-havachat from Sydney says hi.

With friendship

Sunday, 8 October 2017

ms-havachat discovers Burlington House and More

Fabulous exhibition, and doors, and building

Henri Matisse is one of my favourite artists and I've been fortunate to see a few exhibitions showcasing his work. Matisse in the Studio is currently showing at the Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House is really special and there's so many pieces I've not seen before.

The audio guide was very interesting too, tho of course, several days later, I can't recall a thing LOL.

What my companion and I always find fascinating about Matisse is he can still be considered relatively modern (1869-1954) though for some reason, most of us think he's from a different generation of artists altogether.

After an hour or so enjoying the exhibition, we started our exploration of Piccadilly by walking across the road to the iconic Fortum & Mason. The store started way back in 1707 and soon became the most fashionable place to shop in London, even being good enough for the Royal Family.
Simple, stylish unassuming entrance to the store

Today, the food hall is one of the most popular places in London to visit, and like a Harrods shopping bag, a tin of Fortum & Mason tea or shortbread biscuits is a London-must-do thing. Recommend buying an extra one for you to have on your way home. They are delicious. The cake and chocolate counters on the ground floor are works of edible art!

Cakes and chocolate like no where else

The Fortum & Mason tea tin.
Too pretty to be thrown away.

Famous Fortnum and Mason Christmas Hampers.
Sales people were busy preparing and wrapping
bespoke orders for destinations
near and far.
It's too early for Christmas decorations and hampers but
here they are

We were VERY surprised to find that not one Christmas decoration had a Fortum and Mason logo on it - not even a stamp underneath the £40 tree decorations. We might have bought one or two as gifts had they had the famous logo somewhere on them (note to Fortnum and Mason's Christmas marketing department for next year maybe)

Harrods has it's Bear, and the Bag, and some Christmas decorations have Harrods on them; my cloth Winchester Cathedral is obvious, as are other decorations. Just think they've missed something here.

Anyhow, we enjoyed our look-see, and by now were a little thirsty and peckish so we indulged ourselves with morning tea at Fortnum and Mason.

Tea, Apple and Cucumber sorbet, avocado on toast.

Did you watch the TV Series, Selfridges? I think that's why I have an fascination with these old established retailers in the UK. To think they've been selling pretty much the same thing for hundreds of years is impressive. That ladies were employed in some of the first salaried jobs, that cosmetics made their debut on the ground floor, is a bit nostalgic.

Feeling refreshed, we walked across the road to the Burlington Arcade for a stroll. Reminded me very much of the Strand Arcade in Sydney (tho not as pretty) and many arcades in Melbourne. The Burlington Arcade was built in 1818/19 at the request of Lord George Cavendish, later the Earl of Burlington for his wife, so she and her friends could shop in peace and quiet (London was rowdy and a tad dirty back then).

The Burlington Arcade is 'destination jewellery' of all types. From diamonds to pearls, all types of watches (upper end of the brand scale only) and a few silver shops. The lalique shop borough back a flood of memories!  There was even a Manolo Blanik shop! It was an interesting stroll, and fun to have a photo with the Beadle. However, the retailers on the OTHER side of the Arcade were something else. It reminded me of walking along Ginza or 5th Avenue, just different architecture.

Every exclusive brand is represented with a stand alone store

There were security guards on all shop doors, and some doors were unlocked to welcome customers, but remained locked otherwise. The window displays were elegant, there were no price tags on show (hehehehehe), and in most cases, we observed there were more staff than customers (several shops were empty except for staff)

We throughly enjoyed our day in and around Piccadilly and Mayfair . I wouldn't necessarily put it on the bucket list of things to do when in London, but it's easy walking and helps fill a couple of hours.

I'm sure there's much more to these iconic areas of London, and I wish you well exploring them.

Wish friendship

Saturday, 30 September 2017

ms-havachat visits Waddensdon Manor

Thanks Google Images and someone from trip advisor
for posting this amazing aerial shot.

Waddensdon Manor is half way between where I live and a friend, so it seemed the logical place to meet for a coffee'n'chat.

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild wanted an escape from London, where he and his family could relax and unwind, entertain friends. Land was purchased in 1874 with money he inherited, and the foundation stones were laid in 1877.

The Manor was designed in the style of a French Chateua and competed in 1883. Six years later, electric and running water were added. (don't know about you but I often wonder at how electric and water, and indeed bathrooms were added to existing buildings without extensive re-work)

After the war, the Manor was bequeathed to the National Trust, and was opened to the public in 1959.

It is managed by The Rothschild Foundation on behalf of the National Trust.

You visit beings as you drive through these impressive gates,

continue past fields and follow the signs to the car park,

and as we did, think 'where's the manor house?"

Don't fret - it's there .... beyond the National Trust Welcome House (aka ticket office). There's a small courtesy bus that takes you up to the House past the Stables. You can walk. We were told it's 20 minutes to half an hour (there's a small/medium hill) and as we were short on time (school pick up beckoned) we opted for the bus.

The first time you see the house it takes your breath away. Just look at it! And the blue sky! Both were spectacular.

So pleased with how my photo turned out!
The house is open from noon, and as usual we were early which worked in our favour as we had time to stroll the gardens and have a coffee. We didn't do ALL the grounds - that would take hours, but the areas we did see we enjoyed very much.

It's a self guided tour and simply read the sheets of information available. There are National Trust volunteers in some rooms who are only too happy to answer questions and chat.

Around the corner and BAM! the largest, most elegant aviary I've ever seen. The birdlife was intriguing and the sounds delightful. The garden in the front of the building was being prepared for winter flowers. 

Sorry about the shadows, but you get the feel for how large and stunning it is.

The gardens and grounds at the back of the house are vast - this photo from Google images is one expample of the spring flowers (we went last week, so most of the garden is being prepared for winter or next spring)

This photo and the one below really captured our
imagination. Princesses and princes,
castles and romance.

The grand drive way leading up to the front door made us think of all the grand parties and balls that would have been held here, of the famous (and not so famous) guests and the staff who would have been there to greet them (ok, maybe too much Downton Abbey viewing)

Once inside WOW where does one look? 

The Rothschild Family own one of the world's largest and most impressive art collections. The furnishings, desks, ornaments and statues were incredible. 

The decor is a dream study for anyone with an interest in historical interior design. 

It would be a nightmare for any domestic goddess to look after and maintain.

Fascinated that most rooms had a desk, if not two.
There were drawing rooms and sitting rooms everywhere.

It might be easier for you to have a look at Google Images for high quality images of the interior. Mainly because my phone's camera didn't do justice, and I was too busy reading and looking to take more photos.  

The dining rooms were sumptuous! The place settings and serving crockery and silver ware was beautiful. Again, we closed our eyes and just imaged the dinner parties that were enjoyed here. 

Top: Dining table.
Left: Wine service table
Right: Food service table.
The other fascinating aspect of the house were the number (and location) of guest bedrooms and bathrooms. 

We had a lovely day, but sadly weren't able to spend too long exploring as we both had long drives home and had to be back for school pick up.

There's a cafe and restaurant on site (probably best to book), not sure about picnics (but it's worth asking as the grounds near the car park are lovely). The village of Aylesbury is very pretty and there's places to eat close by. 

I can't wait to go back and continue exploring, taking more time to enjoy all that's on offer. 

If you've been, I'd love to hear what you thought about it.

With friendship

For more information:

Address: Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP18 0JH
Waddensdon Estate

Thursday, 28 September 2017

ms-havachat finally gets to Wisley Gardens

We finally made it to Wisley Gardens! It was a glorious sunny Sunday. We had no plans. Teen was up to date with school work. There was no rugby on TV. Housework was up to date. Hubby wasn't on a deadline. There was absolutely no excuse NOT to go out. 

After cajoling my two to be outside and vertical, we headed outside!  

Wisley was founded by Victorian businessman and RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) member, George Ferguson Wilson, who purchased a mere 60-acre site in 1878. Today, Wisley covers over 240 acres, and is one of the largest most diverse public gardens in the UK (if not, the world!)

The gardens offer something for everyone - formal decorative, informal decorative, numerous glasshouses doing different things, there are teaching facilities as well has laboratories for scientific research and training. It's truly magnificent. 

The laboratory was opened in 1907 and received
Grade II Listig status in 1985.

We opted to join the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) as members as it worked out more economical than buying 2 x adults + 1 x children's entry tickets. Even if I just come back once with a friend, we've paid for our membership - anymore than that, and we're ahead! It's always a great idea to check Membership options in the UK as they are very affordable. We joined English Heritage and National Trust for the same reasons - it's more economical, it encourages you to get out'n'about and you're supporting these great institutions. WIN. WIN. WIN. 

The day we visited, the Surrey Sculpture Festival was on. It added a lovely expedition feel to the visit as we followed the events map around the gardens, looking for the various works on display. We walked and talked and stopped to comment on the artwork - we agreed on liking a few and disliking a few and other than that, we've very different taste. 

Just a few examples of the varied work on display

My favourite of the day, tucked away in a
walled garden in the sunshine, 

The gardens themselves are very beautiful and diverse. We know nothing about gardening but still enjoyed waking around the various displays and checking out unusual plants. Wisley is a photographer and artists dream setting! There were several people taking full advantage the day we were there.

Several beautiful arched walkways lead you from
one part of the gardens to another.

There are so many places to sit and enjoy the gardens,
from picnic under the trees, to well places seats.

There's so many beautiful, calm waterways in the Gardens,
offering various places to sit and relax.
If you forget your picnic basket don't worry, there's
lots of places to buy food and drinks.

Definitely recommend wearing comfy walking shoes.

We thoroughly enjoyed our outing to Wisley and look forward to returning many times over the coming year. Next time, we might even take a picnic blanket.

Address: Wisley Lane, Wisely, Woking GU23 6QB

With friendship