St Thomas a becket church Fairfield kent
Photo Credit: Zoltan Tasi – Unsplash

Mindfulness really is the buzz word right now and so many people are drawn to it as our lives are frenetic. We spend our days working hard and all of our spare moments looking after our loved ones, it only stands to reason that we need a moment to refill our batteries so we can face the world again.

Mindfulness is appreciating the moment and that can be a pause with some breathing exercises during your busy day or some meditation before work begins. It can come in the form of colouring, or being creative, enjoying your food mouthful by mouthful or it can come in a full immersion weekend away.

Imagine taking the family to someplace where they haven’t been before and appreciating every single moment together. Kent and Sussex cottages are all about finding the right property to suit you and your lifestyle, in places that have a unique offering to make your carefully chosen time away all that more special.

Rural Kent and Sussex

allen's farm oast house

One major attraction of these two southern counties is the miles and miles of unbroken landscape that can be found. Dotted occasionally by ancient villages with names that go back to Roman times and even the Vikings invasion, like Tenterden, Benenden and Battle. If you do happen to visit Tenterden, then you might like to pop in to the local winemakers Chapel Down – you can try before you buy and make it a really mindfulness moment!

Battle in Sussex is a stunning place to visit with the impressive castle and heaps of restaurants, bars and shops heaped with wonderful souvenirs and food to eat.

Imagine sleeping in your own Oast house for the weekend? Like Allen’s Farm Oast House above.

City breaks in Kent and Sussex

These two wonderful counties also have many cities to explore and discover; each unique and offering a host of eateries to enjoy fine food and wines. The cobbled streets are lined with all sorts of shops selling all kinds of knick-knacks and each has its own unique history to discover. A couple of my favourites are Rochester, Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells in Kent and of course, Brighton in Sussex.

Canterbury cathedral
Photo credit: Zoltan Tasi – Unsplash

Coastal Kent and Sussex

We are enormous fans of the beach and spend as much of our free time as possible in Thanet. We have explored the coastline far and wide and still now, find new exciting places to discover. From Whitstable through Thanet passing from Westgate, Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate, the coast follows round to Sandwich, Deal and on to the Sussex beauties Rye, Camber Sands and Eastbourne. A stay close to the coast fills your lungs with fresh sea air and puts the colour back in your cheeks, add to that, delicious freshly caught fish and a local brew, there’s your mindfulness topped up for a long while yet.

Beachy Head sunrise - Sussex

Disclosure: Collaborative post.

The Harry Potter Studio tour

Indulging in a Warner Brothers Studio Tour is a dream for every Potterhead and while you don’t want to ruin all the surprises that it will bring, there are a few things to know that will help you get the most from your visit, such as the following:

You have to book in advance

Tickets and your specific tour time are allocated, so you can’t simply jump in the car and head to the Warner Brothers Studio Tours when the urge grabs you. There is actually no way to purchase tickets when you arrive, so you absolutely need to get online and buy your tickets well in advance, especially if you’re planning to visit during the school holidays.

The Great Hall has no ceiling

In the films, the Great Hall has a seemingly endless ceiling that is enchanted and reflects what the weather looks like at any one time. In reality, this was created with CGI and clever camera work, so you’ll notice that there is no ceiling at all in the Great Hall exhibit.

Diagon Alley

More than 500 concoctions were made for the potions classroom set

The potions classroom is one of the most exciting sets and even more so when you find out how much effort went into building it. More than 500 glass bottles were filled with various herbs, flowers, oils and animal bones (both real and plastic), then meticulously lined up on the stone walls. You can admire them all in close up on the tour.

Plenty of exhibits are interactive

harry-potter-cloaks

A lot of the exhibits encourage you to take part. Far from simply being a don’t-touch museum tour, it entices you to really get involved. Here you can bow to Buckbeak, fly a broom and even fight dementors, depending on when you book your visit.

All of the wand box names are those of the cast and crew

Ollivander’s room is incredible, with hundreds of tatty wand boxes all lined up on the walls, and if you take a closer look at them, you’ll notice that the names on them are all cast and crew members. Can you find your favourite actor and get a picture of their wand box?

honeydukes-harry-potter

You can actually buy Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans

And yes, there IS a bogey-flavoured one! Who didn’t love trying to think up some really awful bean flavours after Dumbledore confessed to eating a vomit one in his youth? Well now, you can buy a box and see if your worst nightmare is in there.

You’ll have to keep an eye out for Golden Snitches

Grab an activity passport at the start of your tour and a whole other world of hidden treasure hunts and Snitch spotting will open up to you. Great for kids that don’t want to miss a thing, the passport really pays off if you play along.

hogwarts-model-harry-potter
Model of Hogwarts

You can go at your own pace

Rather charmingly, the tours are not guided, so you can take everything in at your own pace and in a way that suits you. This is perfect for visitors with accessibility concerns or anyone with children, but be aware that once you’ve left an area, you can’t double-back, so don’t rush.

The oil paintings that line the walls of Hogwarts are pictures of crew members

Just like on the wand boxes, crew members have been immortalised in the form of the hand-painted portraits that line the walls of the Hogwarts sets. Talented artists were commissioned to complete the works of art and used the busy crew members faces for inspiration.

A butterbeer stop is a must

butterbeer-harry-potter

If you dreamed of slipping away from Hogwarts for a glass of butterbeer with Harry and the gang, you can live at least part of that fantasy by visiting the Butterbeer Cafe. Roughly halfway through the tour, you can grab a frothy glass of refreshment or an ice cream. Take a seat and see if it tastes exactly like you imagined it would.

You’ll want everything in the gift shop

Even if you think of yourself as a savvy shopper, you will not be prepared for the levels of longing that will wash over you when you hit the gift shop. At the very end of the tour, a whole world of unnecessary but very covetable souvenirs opens up before your eyes and almost magically, you’ll load your basket with a full Hogwarts uniform, in your house colours, a few boxes of sweets and a fluffy animal familiar. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

I don’t want to give everything away, so you’ll just have to plan your own visit and discover some surprises for yourself.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

If you love to shop and wander around markets then look no further as I bring you news of a place you’re going to fall in love with, Spitalfields Market.

Spitalfields is the heart of the East End and goes back almost a thousand years, yes really. In 1197, it was founded as St Mary’s Spittel – a hospital and priory. The field adjacent has been used as a market since the 13th century and today it attracts crowds from all over London and beyond.

Attached to this area is a fascinating history of immigrants who brought new trades when they settled here: silk weavers escaping from France, the Irish introducing the linen industry. The quarter became very popular with the Jewish community who dominated the area up until the 1970s when the Bangladeshi community moved in and with them brought new cultures trades and business that we know fondly of as Brick Lane today

Photo by Dil on Unsplash

Spitalfields became so popular it outgrew the area and had to be moved. Its current destination is Leyton and the regeneration has given birth to an incredible programme including a public art programme, an events programme, the restoration of several historic streets in E1 and a selection of some of the best retailers and restaurants London has to offer.

The Traders Market

Open 7 days a week, the Trader’s Market is an Aladdin’s Cave of independent stall holders selling hand made articles and unique pieces that you are going to love.

Arts Market

Sara Sherwood

If you are looking for a piece of art for a room or wall in your home, you are bound to find something you like at Spitalfields Market. There are prices to suit all pockets and a wonderful collection of various styles and genres including oil painting, photography and more contemporary pieces too. The beauty is you get to chat with the artist who is on site selling their products directly to you, like Sara Sherwood for example who paints the most awesome London landscapes. 

Street Food and Restaurants

Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

There’s nothing like a shopping trip to make you hungry and you are spoilt for choice with all the different options open to you. In fact, Spitalfields says – You could eat here every day for a month and not eat the same thing twice. If you fancy street food from destinations all over the world you’ll be pleased as if you prefer a sit-down meal. Sweet, savoury and the new and enticing are all on offer for you to try. It’s always worth checking out the offers page on the website before you visit.  

Bikes, bags, jewellery and chocolate are just a few of the products you can buy here and you won’t go home unsatisfied – actually you’ll probably be planning your next visit on the journey home! Check out their blog for up to date news on what to expect 

  

Brighton Pier

Photo by Darren Coleshill on Unsplash

I have very fond memories of Brighton, my great-grandmother used to live in nearby Hove and we would often drive down to see her and spend a weekend or longer break there. I can vividly remember visiting the Royal Pavilion and being awestruck at the beauty and luxury of the palace. It was a day out that has stuck with me all my life.

I remember fun days on the stony beach, skimming stones and playing in the sunshine and walks through the town centre buying holiday souvenirs and postcards to send back to cousins. There used to be a nudist beach – I wonder if it’s still there?

Brighton is still a very popular holiday hotspot and over the years has become one of the trendiest places in the UK to visit. It’s not just popular with the Brits but Europeans and Americans too, they all want to spend a weekend in this beautiful seaside town.

The town has always been a hugely popular holiday resort and the past 20 years has seen Brighton flourish; it now has so much to offer visitors, you won’t want to leave! Whether it’s a weekend break or a longer stay, here are some of the best things to do and see whilst in Brighton.

The Royal Pavilion

I have to start with the palace as (as mentioned in my intro) I can still remember my childhood visit today. I would revisit it tomorrow. The Pavilion was built by King George IV as a seaside pleasure palace and is an eclectic mix of architectural styles including Indian and Asian nuances. On your visit, you will discover 200 years of history. You will hear about how it was used as a civic building and a First World War hospital.

Brighton Pier

Who doesn’t love a pier to stroll along? I do! Brighton Palace Pier owns the title of ‘finest pier ever built’ that alone should be enough to convince you of visiting. Walk along the 1722 ft, go on the rides, eat, drink and have lots of fun on a really fun family day out.

British Airways i360

An intriguing attraction is the British Airways i360 opened in 2016. The 162-metre observation tower on Brighton seafront has a futuristic glass pod with a cocktail lounge offering spectacular views.

The Lanes

 

The lanes brighton

Photo by Darren Coleshill on Unsplash

Narrow streets lined with sixteenth-century buildings, each one home to cooler than cool shops, independent cafes, record shops, bookstores and artwork like you’ve never seen before. I mustn’t forget to mention the excellent choice of vintage boutiques either; an Aladdin’s Cave for shoppers!

The World’s Oldest Aquarium

Built in 1872, the Sea Life centre in Brighton showcases – apart from a spectacular range of underwater life – some stunning original Victorian architecture. A must see is the interactive rock pool where you can touch a starfish or a sea anemone.

The Brighton Dome

If you can, check out the programme in advance and book a night out at the Brighton Dome where you can enjoy a range of classical music, dance, theatre and poetry. Curiously, the Dome is connected to the Royal Pavillion by an underground tunnel which was built (so they say) so that the overweight King George IV could visit the stables unseen…

Where to stay in Brighton?

Why not go for something really comfortable on your visit and choose from a wide range of holiday homes to rent for your break? The Best of Brighton have properties all over the area, some rural, some on the coast and others further afield on the Sussex coast. Each unique property has been carefully selected and has had to pass rigorous requirements to be featured in the collection. Choose from contemporary, cottages, flats and large family homes, including pet-friendly choices too.

If there’s one place you visit in the Uk in 2019 – take a look at Brighton, I think you’ll love it.

North Devon coast

I love Devon. The word itself conjures up memories of cream teas, crabbing in Ilfracombe under the Statue of Verity and watching the kids on their belly boards at Woolacombe.

It’s been a few years since we last managed to get down to the west country but I am sure sooner or later, that we’ll be packing the car up and revisiting our favourite places again.

verity ilfracombe

The fact that Paul’s dad was sent to Hele during the war meant that, as a child, every summer, his parents would pack up the car and go for a two-week break with their four boys. We cannot go down without spending a day in Combe Martin, a visit to Ilfracombe and a long list of plenty of other wonderful places to choose from.

From the quirky choices like Berrynarbour and spotting the flowerpot men around the village, to the fascinating gardens dotted throughout the rolling hills.

 

berrynarbor

One thing we do when we’re in Devon, is to eat pasties. There are some fabulous pastie shops with all kinds of wonderful recipes to try. In fact, they are so good we always buy a huge box to bring home and freeze so we can extend our holiday memories that little bit longer. There’s nothing quite so sad as pulling out the last pasties from the freezer!

We have stayed in plenty of different places in Devon but one idea that really captures my curiosity and one that gives the real experience of living in the area would be to book a cottage, that way we could really make the most of our time and for a moment live the west country like the locals.

Christmas by the Sea

woolacombe beach

There, I’ve said it. I have said out loud what would be a dream Christmas for me – Christmas by the sea in Devon. I’m imagining long coastal walks wrapped up in gloves, hats and scarves, I’m picturing pub lunches in villages that are celebrating the locals rather than crammed with tourists. Drinking local ales and eating freshly caught fish or locally reared lamb.

How about a family night in your seaside cottage playing board games whilst the Cornish pasties are being reheated? Candles flickering on the fireplace and a log fire burning in the hearth?

I know Paul would want to go in the sea with his wetsuit and belly board, I would place money on the girls following him in too…imagine doing that on Christmas Day? There would be nothing to say you can’t do it, just push back the roast turkey to later in the day! In fact, there are some wonderful places that can sleep large families too and are dog-friendly too; Baxter would be in his element down there.

The more I think about it, the more this idea is taking hold in my mind and, fingers crossed, one day I will celebrate Christmas in Devon overlooking the sea and feasting on pasties and cream teas.

Where would you like to spend an alternative Christmas? Norfolk also offers a wealth of things to do and see.

Disclosure: A collaborative post