Durham

An Autumnal Afternoon in Durham

Durham City is the crowning jewel of county Durham, a historic town nestled by the River Wear since roughly 200 BC, if the archeological evidence is anything to go by. The present city can accurately traced back to 995AD, when a group of monks from Lindisfarne chose the strategic hill as a place to found a church in which to bury the body of Saint Cuthbert.

Because of its historic beginnings, Durham has that old English town feeling to it like Cambridge, Oxford or York. Although technically a city because of its cathedral, Durham is little bigger than a medium sized town. It is made up of winding streets and cobbled alleyways that retain a market town feeling despite the streets now being lined with high-street stores. It is not a place of cocktail bars and nightclubs. You’re more likely to be able to do a cafe crawl than a bar crawl there.

Because of this, Durham can quickly be covered within an afternoon. Wandering is the main entertainment of the day, and it certainly is a city worth exploring. I began my own sunny, autumn afternoon in Durham by walking from the train station to the main part of the city across Framwellgate Bridge, from which you can get a great view of the spectacular Norman cathedral, the city’s pride and joy.

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From Framwellgate Bridge, I wandered up Silver Street into Durham Market Place, hopping in and out of the different shops for a bit of early Christmas shopping. The heart of this commercial square is the Victorian Durham Market Hall, an inside market home to over fifty independent traders selling everything from food to outdoor pursuits, from carpet fittings to tattoos and piercings. I spent a good while wandering about the market, avoiding the cold November wind outside while shopping for stocking fillers.

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From the Market Place, I made my way up Sadler Street to the Palace Green, home to the one and only Durham Cathedral. The Cathedral has been a place of worship and pilgrimage for almost a millennium, being built in 1093 to house the Shrine of St Cuthbert. It is an antiquarian, retrophile or general historophile’s heaven. The Cathedral itself is renowned for its magnificent architecture, including the twelfth-century Galilee Chapel with its original medieval wall paintings and the stunning Rose Window in the Chapel of the Nine Altars. It is an eyeful, both from the outside and the inside, to say the least. I particularly love the great doors of the Cathedral, as the diagonal carvings on the stone arches of the entrance makes it feel like you’re being drawn in further and further into the Cathedral as you walk in.

 

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Walking into the Cathedral, you will be amazed by the sheer vastness of the nave, which is architecturally stunning. With the ribbed vaulted roof high above you, held up by the towering sandstone pillars, it is an amazing example of ancient craftsmanship. The main part of the Cathedral is my favourite part, as standing in the middle of the nave on the central aisle, below the towering roof, it’s hard not to catch your breath by the magnitude of the columns and walls around you. There I was, gazing up at a ceiling that has stood for nearly 1000 years, seeing through William the Conqueror’s rule, the Black death, the Reformation and the Harry Potter films. It is simply beautiful, and awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photos inside the Cathedral, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or consult Google images.

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Aside from the main part of the Cathedral, for the history buffs amongst us it is worthwhile going along to Open Treasure, the world-class exhibition which begins in the  fourteenth-century Monks’ Dormitory, going onto the Collections Gallery and the monastic Great Kitchen. If you like your old relics, Open Treasure will also be right up your street as you will get to see the treasures of Durham Cathedral, including the relics of St Cuthbert. Talk about making the most of your money!

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Leaving the weight of nearly 1000 years of history behind me, I turned from the Palace Green onto the cobbles of The Bailey, one of Durham’s oldest and loveliest streets. I joined the clusters of students milling around the pretty, bite-size colleges along its length, feeling like I could be walking down this street decades ago and it wouldn’t have felt much different. You would still have been able to spot students juggling books, coffee and a swinging satchel. There is a timelessness to this collage part of Durham, it’s feels as if no matter what happens on the outside, The Bailey will always look the same. This is hardly surprising,  as some of the five Bailey university collages that span this area date from the early nineteenth century, and the university itself has as a part of its estate 63 listed buildings. The preservation of history is practically woven into the cobbles.

After I had amused myself watching struggling students, I came to Prebends Bridge, one of the best spots in the city for a great view of the cathedral perched grandly above. I then followed the riverside path round once I had crossed the river, enjoying walking under the falling autumn leaves while admiring the views of the Cathedral and the old city huddled below.

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Getting a tad peckish by this point, I then looped back on myself by walking back into the main part of the city across Framwellgate Bridge again, but this time I headed down towards Elvet Bridge, turning down the side street next to Market Cross Jewellers to the cosy Flat White Cafe, a gorgeous little cafe tucked down the backstreet. I stayed here warming up on a generous bowl of cheesy cauliflower soup and a latte while reading a book and writing a few letters in the rosy glow from the lights.

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Once refreshed and warmed, I finished my autumnal afternoon in Durham by heading back  to the train station, stopping for a moment to admire the cathedral in its majesty in the enclosing dark. The only thing that would have added to the scene would have been snow. It’s not too early for a white Christmas is it?

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The Handmaid’s Tale

1984 Meets Trump’s America

The release of the TV adaptation of Margret Atwood’s ’80s classic The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year not only gave creator Bruce Miller a wave of critical acclaim but also instigated a revival of interest in Atwood’s book. More than anything, her dystopian America about an extremely conservative republic that treats women as state-controlled breeders is being seen to have fresh parallels with Trump’s America.

The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred who under an oppressive regime that has taken over the fictional America has been forced to give up her old life and become a Handmaid, a sexual servant to a Commander who acts as the vessel to bear and carry his children in place of his aged wife. Undergoing dehumanising medical tests, ritualistic sex and a stripping of all personal identity, Offred and the other Handmaids become invisible beings, sacred property to be used and managed by the men who own them.

Coming at this as a The Handmaid’s Tale virgin (although I have read some of Atwood’s books before) it was easy to see why parallels are being drawn between Atwood’s dystopian projection of an America reacting to a declining fertility rate and the state of America at present. Reading The Handmaid’s Tale as a millennial surrounded by growing rates of fertility treatments and delayed parenthood with its accompanying greater risk of miscarriages and pregnancy complications, it’s not difficult to imagine Atwood’s Gilead becoming reality. The regime under which Offred and the other Handmaids have become objectified breeding machines came about from conservative religious views seeming to have the answer to societal issues such as a declining fertility rate – does that sound so unlike our world today? With Trump and his posse of white men who since the beginning of his presidency have seemed to be on a one-track path to undoing 50 years of female emancipation, Atwood’s Gilead no longer seems that unrealistic, and makes her book that much more significant today.

Aside from the clear parallels that can be made, overall I really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood has a knack for keeping the reader interested by revealing parts of the story in bits. You are drip fed snippets of the wider picture, so like an addict you clutch to every drop you can get until the whole story is revealed to you and you’re on the last page. Well, almost the whole story. Like many of Atwood’s works, The Handmaid’s Tale does not end with a complete resolution. There is always some snippet left out, a question left unanswered, or another one brought up at the conclusion of another. Framed as a historical document transcribed by university lecturers, you close The Handmaid’s Tale questioning the text you’ve just read. How much has been changed in that interpretative process at the hands of academics is unknown and left unrevealed. Like Atwood’s The Penelopiad, you are left unsure whether what you have just read is the real story, or only part of it, questioning how reliable our narrator’s perspective is, or if her voice has been distorted.

You close The Handmaid’s Tale questioning, and that was possibly the source of Atwood’s power as a writer, her ability to leave you pondering long after the last page is turned. Despite the newly emerging image of Atwood’s Gilead as 1984 meets Trump’s America, the draw of Atwood’s literature has remained the same, but is simply being found or refound by an audience who are questioning the recent developments of the world around them.

One Day Itinerary in Harrogate

The Victorian town of Harrogate in North Yorkshire has been a popular tourist spot for almost 200 years when it became the fashionable place for the high society of Edwardian and Victorian Britain to come and sample the therapeutic spa waters. Although the spa tradition continues to this day with the Turkish Baths, which is one of the only remaining spas of its kind to still be in operation, the town now annually attracts new visitors who come for relaxing weekends away, to attend some of the town’s significant events such as the Great Yorkshire Show or to use it as a base from which to explore the Yorkshire Dales.

If you’re planing on heading to this Victorian Spa Town for a day, it is worth having some idea of what you should do beforehand to make sure you make the most out of your trip. Keep reading find out what your One Day Itineray for Harrogate should look like.

Morning: 9am

Every visit to Harrogate must include a visit to Bettys. the traditional Victorian tea rooms that originated in this charming spa town in 1919. Having refused numerous times to branch outside of Yorkshire, Bettys has definitely become a tourist attraction, particularly in Harrogate where it all started. Going to Bettys is like stepping back in time to the town’s golden Victorian era, as the cafe and shop look like a set out of Downton Abbey, complete with the staff dressed in traditional Edwardian-esque clothing. Due to its popularity, it’s essential to get to Bettys early before the queues start forming, as by mid-morning there will be people lining up round the corner.

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Go for early breakfast as a great way to start your day in Harrogate. Of course you must have a pot of Yorkshire Tea with you breakfast! Bettys products are handmade and use the highest quality ingredients that are usually sourced locally, so you can be sure that whatever you have will be delicious as well as giving you the best that Harrogate and the surrounding area can offer. After breakfast, make sure you have a look in the Bettys shop the adjoins the tea rooms before you go, particularly at their seasonal display, which always looks beautifully designed, like walking back in time to a Victorian bakery.

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Mid-morning: 11am

Felling a bit more full and sophisticated from your morning breakfast at Bettys, have a wander down to one of Harrogate’s more stylish shopping districts by going down Montpellier Parade.

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Turning right down to Montpellier Mews, you’ll find there are numerous small boutiques and cafes to explore at your leisure. Make sure you pop into the Farrahs Sweet Shop on the way, home to Farrah’s Original Harrogate Fudge established in 1840 and now recognisable for their distinctive blue & silver tins. Sampling the fudge is nonnegotiable, and it would be worth buying some fudge or other sweets for later.

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After exploring some of the boutiques in the Montpellier district, make your way to the historic Royal Pump Rooms. Now the town’s museum, the Royal Pump Room originally operated as a spa water pump house, where locals and tourists would go to take the sulphur water which was pumped on site from a natural spring known as the Old Sulphur Well. The only remaining source of sulphur water can be found on the outside of the building from a tap, although if you are brave enough to try the water, make sure you do so at your own risk, and make sure you have some toffees on hand to get rid of the taste in your mouth afterwards!

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Home of the strongest sulphur water in Europe, sampling these curing waters is definitely not for those with weak tastes. In the museum, you’ll be able to see the treatment baths and machinery of Harrogate’s spa history. You can also take a trip down to the surfer well accompanied by the museum staff every day at 11am, 2pm and 3pm Monday-Saturday, and 3pm on Sundays. Rather oddly, the museum also houses an internationally renowned collection of Egyptology, including a unique Anubis mask and a mummy case. Click here to find out about ticket prices and opening times for the Royal Pump Rooms.

Midday: 12pm

After sampling the curing waters of this old spa town, take a stroll into Harrogate’s principal gardens, the Valley Gardens. These historic gardens are a great place to sit on a sunny day with an ice cream and a bite to eat. Along with woodlands known as The Pinewoods, Valley Gardens covers 17 acres of land to explore, with a wide variety of outdoor games available in the summer months including tennis, golf, crazy golf, and a children’s play area and paddling pool.

Early afternoon: 1pm

On your way back into the town centre, swoop via the Mercer Art Gallery where Harrogate’s fine art collection is now housed in what was the Promenade Room, which was built in 1805 as a site for the fashionable society of the town and its visiting population to socialise after taking the waters. You can also walk past the Royal Baths before walking back up into the town centre, which was designed to provide a luxurious setting for specialist hydrotherapy treatments to compete with other European spas, now a mixture of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and the Turkish Baths.

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Afternoon: 2pm

For an afternoon coffee and bite to eat, from here you can head to one of Harrogate’s various cafes. If you’re looking for a coffee house, look no further than Bean & Bud or Hoxton North.

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For a more foodie cafe, head to Baltzersens for a Scandi inspired menu or Farm Shop Bistro for tasty, more traditional Yorkshire food.

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Late Afternoon: 3-4pm

Once fed and rested, you can spend the afternoon in whatever way pleases you, as there is a variety of options. You can explore more of Harrogate’s boutiques and shops by heading down West Park. Or head to Harrogate Theatre to watch some of the shows on offer, produced by a number of amateur societies that regularly perform musicals and plays throughout the year.

For a complete history trip of Harrogate, you could also treat yourself to a visit to the Turkish Baths. Turkish Baths used to be common in Victorian times, but only seven remain which date back to the 19th century, three of which are in England, including the one in Harrogate. The present Turkish Baths were only one of many facilities during the Royal Baths’ golden days, other services like a medicinal waters’ dispensary, hydrotherapy departments, mud baths and steam rooms were also available. As the only remaining arm of the original Royal Baths, the Turkish Baths is definitely part of any history trip to Harrogate. For under £20, you can experience the traditional ritual of heating, cooling and cleansing by moving from the Hot Room Chambers to the Plunge Pool to the Stream Room or Frigidarium to relax, then repeat, just as royalty such as the Princess Alix of Hesse and her sister, Princess Victoria of Battenburg regularly did in times gone by. If you’re feeling very luxurious, you can even treat yourself to an additional treatment at the spa like a full body massage or to one of their spa packages. Whatever you chose, you’ll certainly come out of the Turkish Baths feeling like a new person!

Evening: 6-7pm onwards

Home to a variety of restaurants and bars, for an evening’s entertainment you have a lot to choose from in Harrogate. As well as the standard chain restaurants, you can also find independent, high quality food havens located close to or in the town centre. For authentic, but exceptional Chinese dishes look no further than the Royal Baths Chinese Restaurant, housed in what was the Royal Baths Hall. For a taste of Spain, head to La Feria, one of Harrogate’s most recent additions on the cuisine stage, offering the taste of Spanish delicacies as well as accommodating, friendly service. Indian cuisine in the town centre is best found at Cardamom Black, while for Argentinian food head to Bodega Steakhouse, another recent addition to the Harrogate food scene. Graverleys of Harrogate is the place to go for traditional but good quality seafood, while the Brassiere down the road is the best place for a relaxed evening listening to some live Jazz music.

With so much to choose from, you can easily have an evening well spent in Harrogate to finish off you day.

If you have another additions you want to make to this One Day Itinerary in Harrogate then please share them in the comments below!

 

Hoxton North

London Coffee Shop Culture brought to the North of England

Established in October 2013, Hoxton North is the result of two Yorkshire folk who ended up living in London for more than a decade deciding to bring the coffeeshop culture of Hoxton back home to the North of England. Having recently celebrated their first year at the Royal Parade site in Harrogate, the cafe is enjoying a plethora of regulars from those who have followed them from their smaller beginnings to newbies who are re-finding their love of coffee.

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The Royal Parade site is barley ever seen empty, as Harrogatians and tourists flood in regularly to sample the coffee that Hoxton North prides itself on. Offering coffee from specifically selected roasters to offer an ever-changing, crème de la crème portfolio to its customers, Hoxton North is definitely worth a look in for a coffee break.

Their coffee certainly consistently lives up to expectations. Having visited Hoxton North a few times, I can attest to their amazing coffee which is certainly a league above anything you’d find in chain coffee shops. However, on my most recent visit to Hoxton North, I also decided to sample some of their food. Unlike their coffees, their food was somewhat of a disappointment.

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Ordering from their all-day brunch menu, I decided upon their crispy serrano ham brunch dish with crushed chilli peas on a bed of sliced, seasoned avocado and a toasted slice of sough dough bread, crowned with a poached egg. Sounds delicious doesn’t it?

Well I thought so too, when I saw this beautifully arranged dish before me. But something about it didn’t quite work for me. Although all the ingredients were really tasty in themselves, and the dish was well presented, the meal overall felt amiss. This was mostly because of on top of the cold sough dough toast, the cold sliced avocado, the cold crushed chilli peas and the cold serrano ham was the hot and freshly poached egg. It might just be me, but I prefer my meals either wholly hot, or wholly cold, not a mixed of two different temperatures. This just ended up in my food tasting not quite there, as if the chefs have tried really hard but missed the mark ever so slightly.

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As well as the mismatched brunch, I also tried one of their slices of Banana and Walnut Vegan Cake. Sourced from local bakeries that particularly specialise in vegan goodies, Hoxton North is able to pride itself on tailoring to all dietary requirements. While it is great that they have vegan goodies, the cake itself was not exactly what I’d call a treat. Dry and not particularly tasty, the cake felt like something made during rations instead of locally baked. Although vegan baking isn’t the easiest niche to master, with the growing range of products and recipes out there it is becoming easier to perfect vegan treats. So there isn’t really any excuse for the blandness of this particular cake, having personally tried much tastier vegan banana cakes in similar cafes.

However, despite the disappointing food, Hoxton North still remains one of the best coffee houses in Harrogate. The staff in the cafe are brilliant and cannot be faulted on their friendly and attentive service. With some attention paid to the delivery of their food, Hoxton North wouldn’t be able to do much wrong.

Baltzersens

Yorkshire quality meets Scandinavian comfort: The Home of Hygge in Harrogate


Baltzersens in Harrogate is the go-to place for a bit of Scandinavian goodness in the heart of a town that has been wholly built upon afternoon teas. The Scandinavian inspired cafe is the manifestation of the owner’s childhood memories of eating Norwegian food at his grandma’s house. Because of this, although the cafe looks aesthetically like something out of a Nordic interior design magazine, it has an atmosphere that really exudes a hygge feeling.

The Danish culture of hygge (also known as koselig in Norway, or lagoon in Sweden) which can be roughly translated as contentment, a conscious decision to slow down and enjoy the present, has been popularised over recent years by the rise of how-to books, dedicated instagram accounts and countless Pinterest images of candles. What Balterzens successfully manages to achieve is an authentic hygge ambiance, evident as soon as you step inside. Despite the cafe’s stereotypical decor that fits neatly with images of stripped back Scandinavian homes, it is the kind of place where you can sit down and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere almost without realising you are doing so.

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Transforming locally sourced Yorkshire ingredients into delicious, comforting Scandinavian foodieness, Baltzersens is an undisturbed local favourite for deliciously crafted goodies. Their most popular dishes include their traditional heart shaped Scandinavian waffles made using irons that were specially imported from Norway. Oooo, fancy! The waffles are also gluten free, which made me feel somewhat less guilty when I demolished an entire serving in one sitting, as these beauties are huge! One serving takes up the space of a normal dinner plate, accompanied by a small pot of whipped vanilla cream and a choice of salted caramel sauce, nutella, seasonal fruit compote, jam or maple syrup. The waffles themselves are beautifully soft and tasty without being sickly sweet, so it’s hard not to eat all of them! The best thing is that these waffles, which are reasonably priced for the amount you are served anyway, are half-price Monday-Friday from 3pm till 5pm. Perfect time for a mini afternoon feast!

As well as being a Nordic waffle heaven, Baltzersens also are experts on all things baked. Their popular cinnamon buns (which are divine!) and variety of freshly baked cakes and pastries are made from scratch each morning in the cafe, and can normally run out by lunchtime. To accompany their amazing waffles, you have a decent choice of well flavoured herbal teas as well as nice coffee that although is not very strong, is really smooth and easy to drink.

Certainly offering something different than the normal Harrogate grub of scones and tea or uber healthy delicacies, Baltzersens is beyond doubt the home of hygge in Harrogate, where  Yorkshire quality meets Scandinavian comfort.

Italian Pear Almond Cake

With autumn now rolling in, it’s time to begin a season of baked goodies! I love autumnal baking recipes, and this Italian Pear Almond Cake recipe by Jennifer from Seasons and Suppers  is amazing. I made it for the first time last year and it has been a go-to winner ever since. Moist and fluffy, and lightly sweetened, this cake is heaven.

As Jennifer rightly notes “this cake is not a cake with pears in it. It’s pears with some cake in it. It is classically Italian”. The cake use 3 pears to make, and hence when it’s completed you get a lovely, light almondy cake that is warmed up with the delicious fruit submerged into the cake. The crunch of flaked almonds on the top is a lovely touch, a nice balance between the sweet and spongy cake and the crunchy nuts. It’s a recipe that has now been added to my tried, tested and loved list!

Ingredients:

  • 125 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125 g white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 100 g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 small/medium ripe pears, peeled, cored and halved
  • 50 g flaked/sliced almonds
  • Icing sugar, for garnish

Method:

  1. Grease and line a cake tin with baking paper using butter. Pre-heat oven to around fan 180/ 200 oC/ gas mark 6
  2. Prepare the pears by peeling, coring and cutting them in half then set aside for later.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy. Then add the eggs one at a time, beating in each egg separately.
  4. Fold in the flour, ground almonds and the baking power using a spatula. Spoon the batter into the greased tin and smooth over the mixture with a palette knife.
  5.  Place the pears on the top of the cake in any pattern you like (I tried to make a circular pattern but was not as neat as I wanted) and bake in the oven for 25  minutes.
  6. Remove the cake and sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top. I used less almonds than Jennifer’s recipe suggested because I used a small cake tin so had less cake to cover. As a general rule, use enough almonds to generously cover the top of the cake.
  7. Put the cake back in the oven to cook for a further 8-10 minutes. Check the cake is fully cooked before taking it out by inserting a skewer into the middle of the cake and checking it comes out clean.
  8. Put the cake to the side to cool. Dust with icing sugar to finish.

Granola Bars

Perfect Lunchbox Snack for Back To School

I made these scummy granola bars as a way to use up my leftover honey and nut granola and to stop me munching on too many biscuits. The bars came out a lot tastier than I was expecting. Now I cannot stop making or eating them! This recipe would work brilliantly with your own homemade granola as well if you don’t have any spare granola that you need to get rid of. Great homemade alternatives to snack bars, that are perfect for school or work lunches, these bad boys are definitely worth a try!

Ingredients:

  • 320g granola (bought or your own homemade batch, I used honey granola that contained flaked almonds and raisins)
  • 170g honey
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 180g (frozen) raspberries
  • 85g whole hazelnuts (or any other type of nuts)
  • Optional: 100g dark chocolate

Method:

  1. Grease and line a baking tray with baking paper . Preheat the oven to around 200oC/ fan 180oC/ gas mark 6.
  2. Mix the granola (homemade or shop bought) with the hazelnuts and raspberries in a large bowl.
  3. In a medium saucepan, mix the honey, brown sugar, vanilla extract and butter, then place over a medium heat. Stir until the brown sugar has completely dissolved.
  4. Pour the liquid mixture onto the granola, nuts and fruit mix and stir well until all the granola is covered in the sugary liquid and the raspberries are a little bashed. Spoon the mixture onto the baking tray, pressing it down so that it is evenly distributed. Place in the oven for around 25 minutes.
  5. Once baked, remove from the oven and leave until completely cooled. (At this point, you could melt the dark chocolate in a bowl oven a pan of boiling water to dribble over the bars to make them extra yummy)
  6. Once cooled, cut into squares and enjoy!

The Pantry

Home to the vamped up breakfast

In the sleepy, quaint Edinburgh suburb of Stockbridge, you’ll find the food haven that is The Pantry. Flanked by the pretty Georgian townhouses that decorate this part of the city, The Pantry fits perfectly into the quaintness of the area, offering the perfect spot for a relaxed breakfast. Since opening in 2012 this place has been getting some pretty good reviews, including The Sunday Times who said that their Eggs Benedict was ‘reason alone to come to Edinburgh’. With its impressive reputation preceding it, the bar was set pretty high for The Pantry before I had even set foot in the place. And I have to say, I was not disappointed.

For one, the cafe runs like a well-oiled machine. Despite it being busy when I went for a Saturday brunch, the staff seemed to have everything under control – nothing felt rushed or stressful or hectic. Everything seemed to work in a seamless flow of movement. This was great because despite the busy atmosphere, it didn’t detract from the relaxed aura of the place which can happen in a lot of cafes as soon as they become slightly busy. As well as working like clockwork, the staff were really friendly and helpful. You could tell within a few minutes in the place that the whole cafe radiates a welcoming, friendly atmosphere that is genuine.

In no time, I was quickly seen to, seated on a table and given their impressive menu to gawk over. From first sight, you can immediately tell from the menu that this place is a foodie kind of place. Unlike many cafes or coffee houses where the food is secondary to the coffee or tea or remains pretty basic, at The Pantry food comes first. You can tell its run by food lovers from the menu, as the standard choices of eggs or pancakes/waffles that is the default served by most cafes has been vamped up to a truly delicious level. From the Type 2 Banoffee Pie Waffles to their Benedict with Rubbed & braised pork shoulder and poblano chile pepper, you really are spoilt for choice for well made, interesting food here. No plain scrambled eggs on toast here.

After umming and ahhing over the menu for a good while, I finally decided on the No Small Fry breakfast accompanied with a latte to start my day with. In what seemed like minutes my order was in front of my eyes ready to be savoured. Complete with toasted sourdough bread, a large, juicy cooked tomato, hearty bacon and sausage, an egg however you want (I opted for poached) finished off by a small portion of homemade haggis, my No Small Fry breakfast was definitely the perfect start to a busy day. I loved every mouthful of it, including the haggis which I had never tried before which was beautifully seasoned with pepper . What was great was everything was perfectly portioned so you didn’t feel horribly full at the end of it, which was great become often fry-ups can be too over-facing with the sheer size of them, ruining a yummy breakfast. The best bit of my No Small Fry breakfast was how well cooked everything was. It was clear that no corners had been cut with any part of my food.

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In comparison to my delicious breakfast, my coffee was a little bit questionable. For one, it came in a juice glass, like the ones you’d drink orange juice out of in the morning, which to me is wrong on so many levels. And although the coffee itself was nice, it didn’t match the standard set by the amazing food, which was a disappointment but as it’s not a cafe known for its coffee, this wasn’t surprising.

Aside from the mediocre coffee, I was nothing but impressed by The Pantry. It’s passion for food shone through every element of my food, making it a truly impressive breakfast. Combined with the friendly staff who work like clockwork, and a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere, The Pantry is the perfect place for a delicious, well made breakfast and a good ol’ catch up with some old chums.

Meandering around Edinburgh

A One Day Trip to the Scottish Capital

Edinburgh is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in their lives. If not ten times. As the UK’s second most popular tourist destination after London, as well as the Scottish capital, it is a city that never ceases to draw in visitors. This isn’t very surprising as there is always something new to discover in Edinburgh every time you revisit it. My latest trip to Edinburgh is my second to the city, and will no doubt not be my last as I never seem to get my fill of it.

After an early arrival into Edinburgh Waverley, I began this particular trip by letting my wandering feet take me first to Stockbridge, an affluent suburb on the north side of the city. Past the New Town, Stockbridge is like the Chelsea of Edinburgh, as it is home to a plethora of pretty town-houses, boutiques and charming cafes that all seem to run on a sleepy, relaxed timescale. It’s a great place to start a day in Edinburgh as many of the city’s best cafes can be found along these quaint streets and it is one of the most picturesque but less visited parts of the city.

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Royal Circus, Edinburgh
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Circus Lane, Edinburgh

I loved wandering aimlessly around the beautiful Stockbridge streets, enjoying taking in the quaintness of the photographic backstreets like Circus Lane (top) and the grand rows of Georgian townhouses like those on Royal Circus (bottom). Before long, my stomach began wailing so I went in search of some much needed breakfast. To get my fill, I headed to The Pantry on Circus Place for a warming coffee and a perfectly sized, perfectly delicious No Small Fry breakfast, complete with all the trimmings including some haggis! The food there is delicious and is a popular choice amongst locals, so you’re unlikely to find the cafe not radiating a friendly atmosphere (Read about my review of The Pantry here).

Once filled to the brim with mouth watering foodie goodness, I began my travels again, this time looping round to Grassmarket. As the city’s historic horse and cattle marketplace as well as a previous site for public executions, Grassmarket is a must-see area of Edinburgh for all tourists. Nestled within the heart of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town just behind Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket is well worth exploring as aside from its history it is has a lot of character, being one of the more vibrant parts of the city, well known for its eclectic mix of independent shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. It is also a stone’s throw away from The Elephant House, the infamous cafe where J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter. Grassmarket is also a reliable place to find some unusual souvenirs. Its old cobbled streets are filled with independent shops selling all-sorts from designer fashion by some of Scotland’s biggest names to gift shops selling unique presents and antique books.

 

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W Bow leading to Victoria Street, Edinburgh.

 

It was then up to the Royal Mile I went, walking via W Bow/Victoria Street (featured above and below), which has to be one of my favourite streets in the Old Town. The colourful shopfronts and mixture of several centuries of beautiful architecture makes this one of the most photographed streets in Edinburgh. The whole street looks so topsey-turvey due to two streets being visible from the bottom of the hill, Victoria Street and Victoria Terrace above. It almost looks as if the two streets are running on top of each other, with the looming buildings almost toppling over you like something out of Diagon Alley. This seems rather fitting of its history, as this area was where Major Thomas Weir used to live, a man known as ‘the Wizard of the West Bow’ who was executed for witchcraft in 1670. After standing empty for over a century because of its reputation for being haunted before being demolished in 1830, some parts of the Weir’s house are believed to still exist within the Quaker Meeting House on the upper terrace. Luckily, I didn’t see anything supernatural as I made my way up the hill and up the small flight of stairs halfway up the street that leads to Upper Bow and the Royal Mile.

 

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Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Once up on the Royal Mile, I began to explore the whole length of this famous street by beginning at Castle Hill (where I managed to take a very touristy picture of a Scotman playing the bagpipes near the castle – featured below) and slowly making my way down to Canongate. With each step I took I couldn’t stop looking up at the buildings above and around me. The old twisting streets, sharp curves and secret passageways to decorate the Old Town make it one of the most enchanting and impressive parts of Edinburgh. Being situated in the oldest part of the city, the buildings here are like silent testimonies to Edinburgh’s past. Over centuries of fighting and bloodshed with their neighbours, housing was repeatedly built up within the old town walls of the city as opposed to outwards as a way to defend the city against English attacks. This gave the Old Town its historic and impressive architecture that millions come to see every year. I can see why, as with this historic, jaw-dropping architecture twisting and rising above me with every step I took down the Royal Mile, it’s was hard not to keep looking up and appreciate the history around me, despite it hurting my neck!

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Castlehill, Edinburgh
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Cockburn Street, Edinburgh

After exploring the length of the Royal Mile, not the mention sampling plenty of whisky and fudge in the numerous Scottish tourist shops on the way, I was beginning to get peckish for some more substantial food again, so I looped back round to the New Town via the North Bridge.

The New Town is a completely different kettle of fish that the Old Town entirely. Long considered to be a masterpiece of city planning, this grid like area with the regular blocks of buildings is something totally different to the topsy-turvy, cobbled streets and alleys of the Old Town. Many of the roads here still retain a lot of the original neo-classical and Georgian architecture, making it a pretty place to go for an early evening stroll. My favourite street is Rose Street, as it is pedestrianised so you can walk freely down it, admiring the buildings without being having to stop for cars at the same time. A lot of the pubs down Rose Street have been serving the good people of Edinburgh for over 100 years, so having dinner in this part of the city should definitely be on your history tour of Edinburgh!

In true Edinburgh style of being proud of its history all the while not taking itself too seriously, the names of Rose Street’s many pubs is something to see on any trip to Edinburgh. From the more literary namesakes in reference to Walter Scott, such as the the Kenilworth (names after Scott’s novel of the same name) and Abbotsford (named after Scott’s house) to the more crude pubs like Dirty Dicks, Rose Street certainly is not home to a boring backstreet bar. It even has its own drinking game, the Rose Street Challenge, which involves making your way along Rose Street while having a drink in every drinking establishment on the way. Having more bars and pubs along its cobbled paths than any other street in the Scottish capital, giving Rose Street its nickname the ‘Amber Mile’, this challenge is definitely not for the faint hearted.

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Rose Street, Edinburgh.

Having an early evening train to catch, on this one trip I decided against taking up the Rose Street Challenge, opting instead to take my dinner to-go so that I could finish off my day in Edinburgh by walking up to Calton Hill for a final view over the city before it got dark. Calton Hill is the site of many iconic photos of Edinburgh and is well worth the short walk uphill to see what all the fuss is about. I was very lucky as despite the sky being full of clouds for most of the day, I still got a glimpse of the setting sun smiling over Edinburgh when I finally reached the top. It was beautiful to sit up there and hear the city buzz below, as the evening slowly rolled in. I could even see the dramatic rocky background of Arthur’s Seat in fading sunlight, the supposed mythological location of King Arthur’s Camelot.

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Dugald Stewart Monument, Calton Hill overlooking the city of Edinburgh.

It was the perfect end to a day very well spent. I could have stayed up there on Calton Hill watching the city below all night but unfortunately my trip to this beautiful city was cut short. I cannot wait for the day when I can return back to Edinburgh and explore it further. I might even take on the Rose Street Challenge!

What did you think of Edinburgh? Let me know by commenting below.

Read more on Edinburgh, How to See The Edinburgh Fringe in One Day.

Up Next on Yaya’s Meanderings, Meanderings in York.

 

Peach and Berry Pie

It’s now late summer which means it’s almost harvest time, when all the lovely berries are ripe and ready for the picking. This Peach and Berry Pie is perfect to use up extra peaches which are ripe at this time of year, as well as getting your autumnal baking started early by using some berries as well. The berries add a lovely tartness to the sweet peaches which makes it a perfect pudding to bake for everyone to enjoy.

Specific Equipment:

23cm pie dish

pastry brush

Ingredients: 

500g block of shortcrust pastry

3 fresh peaches – peeled, pitted and sliced

170g mixed berries

40g plain flour

200g white sugar

3tbsp cornstarch

2tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1tsp vanilla extract

2tbsp butter

Method:

  1. Preheat an oven to 175 degrees C.
  2. Separate the shortcrust pastry into two halves. Transfer one piece of the dough to a lightly floured surface and roll it out from the centre to the edges to form a 30cm circle. Wrap the pastry around the rolling pin, then unroll it onto the pie dish carefully so that you don’t stretch it. Lightly press the pastry around the edges of the pie dish and on the bottom. Trim the pastry evenly around the rim of the pie dish, then return the pie dish to the fridge.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, 1 tsp of the cinnamon and 1/4 tsp of nutmeg. Then add the peaches and berries and the vanilla extract by gently folding the fruit and vanilla into the flour mixture, taking care not to crush the berries. Leave the flour/fruit mixture to stand for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. After 15 minutes, take the pie dish out of the fridge. Transfer the fruit mixture into the pastry-lined pie dish. The filling will be piled high but don’t worry, it’ll will cook down. Dot the top of the fruit with butter, then roll out the remaining pastry for the top of the pie.  You could do a lattice pattern for the top of your pie like I’ve done (featured), or simply make a full top crust with decorative slits cut into the crust to allow the steam to escape. It’s up to you! Make sure that you trim the edges of the top of the pie regardless of what type of top you choose to do, leaving a 1cm overhang. Fold the top pastry under the bottom layer of pastry, pressing lightly to seal. Whisk the egg in a bowl and use a pastry brush to brush the top crust or lattice with the egg mixture. To prevent over-browning, cover the edge of the pie with foil.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven on the baking tray for 25 minutes. While the pie is cooking,  combine 1 tsp of cinnamon and 1 tbsp of sugar in a bowl. Once the pie has been baking for 25 minutes, remove the foil from around the pie edges, sprinkle the sugar mixture on the crust. Continue to bake the pie for a further 20 to 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden. Turn off the oven and let the pie set for 30 minutes. Then, transfer to a cooling rack. Once cool, serve and enjoy!

 

Harvest Coffee House

Ikea Minimalism Meets Local Caffeine go-to

Harvest Canteen and Coffee House in West Jesmond in Newcastle is a well-known coffee go-to for local caffeine lovers. The front-of-house cafe of the Ouseburn Coffee Company prides itself on providing the people of Newcastle with local, freshly roasted coffee straight from the Ouseburn Valley. Having sampled many of Newcastle’s coffee and tea houses, it was therefore only a matter of time before my feet led me to Harvest’s doorstep to sample their famed coffee.

On a rare sunny weekday, I found myself walking into the Harvest Coffee House eager to see what all the fuss was about. The first thing you notice when you walk in is the open and bright decor of the place. Its interior is stylishly decked out like a stripped back, jazzed up farm house given a Scandi interior design makeover with their numerous potted plants, lots of painted wood and low hanging lights. The large windows at the front of the cafe let in loads of light so you never get that dark and dingy coffee house feeling, making it a great spot for both sunny and rainy days to sit back and watch the passersby in a cafe that always feels bright and cheerful.

This rustic, minimalist aesthetic to the cafe matches the friendly atmosphere the place exudes from the welcoming and smiley staff. Their friendly, accommodating service brightens up the already well lit cafe as well as your day. No wonder locals pass by Harvest on their way to work each morning, the place puts you in a good mood from just stepping in the door.

Although their main attraction is their coffee, Harvest also serve simple, uncomplicated but delicious food from an unfussy menu. They don’t branch out much beyond simple baked goods and breakfast dishes like eggs with avocado or pancakes. On my visit to Harvest, I tried their blueberry muffin accompanied by one of their famed coffees in the form of a latte. The blueberry muffin was absolutely beautiful, it was really substantial and thick, filled with moist blueberries that burst when you take a bite into the muffin. It was easily one of the best blueberry muffins I have ever tired, perfectly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

The coffee on the other hand, was not as impressive as I had expected from its reputation. My latte had a slight burnt taste which made it not as enjoyable as it could have been, as it was a nice blend and decently strong for those who like their coffee more intense. As OCC roast their coffee fresh each day, it might have just been that I got a coffee from a batch that was a few hours old. But still, I was disappointed that the coffee was good but not as impressive or mind-blowing as I had expected it to be.

As well as guarenting each coffee living up to their reputation for excellent drinks, Harvest could also do with an expanded food selection. As the coffee house is open until 5pm on weekdays, it would be nice for a more developed menu for later on in the day. Although they do serve a small selection of sandwiches and pastries, a simple evening menu to switch to that is as uncomplicated as their current menu would be a well received development and would not take away from the simple, unfussy vibe of the cafe.

Overall, my visit to the famed Harvest Canteen and Coffee House was not a wasted trip, as I was impressed overall with the cafe thanks to its welcoming and friendly atmosphere and staff, although small improvements could be made where their food and coffee is concerned if I was being picky.

 

How to See the Edinburgh Fringe in One Day

It’s August, which means that Edinburgh has now been officially and wholly taken over by the madness of the Edinburgh Fringe. The Fringe is a month long, city-wide festival that overtakes the whole of the city every single year. It is part of one gigantic arts and culture celebration that is made up of multiple festivals which run in sync with each other. The Fringe is the most well known among them, the others being the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh International Film FestivalEdinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

The beauty of these coinciding festivals is the organised chaos that they collectively produce. The whole city explodes with creativity, quirkiness and the carnivalesque, displaying the best from each of the arts, from the amateur and emerging to the well-known, star-studded names in the business. These festivals draw huge crowds to the Scottish capital each year, with visitors coming from all over the world to enjoy the craziness. As a result, around this time each year, prices skyrocket. It can cost hundreds of pounds simply to stay over for a weekend, with travel in and out of the city from around the UK also peaking. It’s not surprising then, that many now opt to go to the Fringe for only one day, not even staying overnight.

With the variety that the Fringe and the other coinciding festivals offer, there is literally something for everyone. There are two forms of attack when going to the Fringe for just one day. Either you choose a specific day you’re going to go on and plan it ahead of time so that you can fit in as many events as possible, or you take a more spontaneous, relaxed approach.

I favour the spontaneous approach, especially if it’s your first time at the Fringe. Turning your trip to the Edinburgh Fringe into a military operation draws away from the very spirit of the festival. Read on to find out how to have a great time at the Fringe without micro-planning every second of your day.

Firstly, get into Edinburgh as early as possible, ideally before or at 9am. This allows you to get your bearings and go for breakfast to store up some energy for the day. Head towards Stockbridge where you’ll find plenty of quaint little cafes where you can sit and enjoy a hearty breakfast. I’d recommend The Pantry, near the photographic Circus Lane, where they serve a delicious and filling breakfast.

After refreshing yourself, head back to Princes Street to the Half Price Hut located at the Mound Precinct for 10am. The Half Price Hut offers discounted tickets to performances on that day and for the following morning, as well as a serving as a collection point for purchased tickets. If you’re going for a spontaneous approach to your day at the Fringe, it’s a great place to pick up a bargain for last minute shows. Try to have an idea of what type of events you’d like to see before hand as there is normally a lot on offer and the staff cannot help you decide as they have to remain impartial (click here for the list of Fringe events). Try pick two or three events for the day, all that are different. Normally shows are around an hour long so space them out as you need to factor in time to eat as well as navigate around the city. Maybe pick one for the morning, one for early afternoon and one for late afternoon or early evening before your train home. Go for a mixture, choosing at least one show that is a random or spontaneous choice – half the fun is seeing and trying new things, be brave!

Once you’ve bought your tickets or collected them, get exploring! In between shows you should definitely head up the Royal Mile to get a feel for the festival atmosphere. This street will be rammed packed with visitors, street performers and people giving out flyers left right and centre. A lot of the street performers and flyers will be about shows being performed that day, many of them free, so make sure you take the time to watch a few and see if there is anything else you’d like to see in between your shows. Don’t forget to explore the offshoot streets off the Royal Mile, walk into the Scottish tourist shops where there will be plenty of fudge samples to try and of course see Edinburgh Castle!

For lunch, make your way down to Grassmarket via Victoria Street, where you can buy food on the go from the local market or head to some of the local cafes like the famous Elephant House Cafe (where J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter over cups of coffee) or the popular Lovecrumbs. Before or in-between your afternoon shows, make sure you explore the main hubs of the different festivals. If you love music, head to George Square which houses the heart of the Underbelly At Edinburgh Fringe  where a lot of the music events perform. There are also loads of pop-up bars and food stalls with live music that are great to sit and soak up the festival atmosphere.

Love books? Head to Charlotte Square Gardens where the Edinburgh International Book Festival is housed, complete with two well-stocked independent bookshops and three cafes – perfect for a sit down with a cuppa to enjoy a newly purchased book. Maybe even get a book signed by an author or join in with a discussion!

Art Fanatic? Check out some of the best art on display as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, from their takeovers of the capital’s leading art venues to  pop up exhibitions of new artists throughout the city. You could even attend on an Art Late session, which are special events in venues throughout the city that happen every Thursday evening during August, that includes live music, performances, artist talks and tours.

After your final show of the day, catch some dinner in one of the many restaurants in Edinburgh’s New Town, particularly down the lovely Rose Street. Before making your leave of this beautiful city, why not watch one of the Best of the Fest films run by the Edinburgh International Film Festival for £8. Or listen to some live music while sipping on a cold drink at one of Edinburgh’s many live music bars and pubs, such as the Pear Tree. If you are able to stay in Edinburgh late enough, take a walk up to Calton Hill. It’s iconic view of Edinburgh offers the perfect spot to watch night fall upon the city. If you are there late enough, you’ll get a great view of the fireworks from the Military Tattoo that is performed every night Monday-Saturday at the castle.

After a day crammed with the sights and sounds of the Fringe and the rest of Edinburgh’s festivals, head back to Waverley Station with a smile on your face and your feet in need of a sit down, excited to do it all over again next year!