Ston Easton Park Hotel

I probably say this all the time but one of the perks of living in the UK is our proximity to gorgeous and historic locations. It seems everywhere you travel you can find places that are filled with history and character.

Our trip to Cheddar last weekend is a perfect example of this. I’ve already told you about the attractions of Cheddar itself but I haven’t mentioned the place where we stayed: Ston Easton Park.

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This 18th century Palladian mansion hotel is the perfect place for a weekend getaway in the English countryside. The hotel is situated about 10 miles outside of Cheddar and is surrounded by lovely grounds which are available for country walks. These are some pictures we snapped during a quick walk we did before breakfast.

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The inside of the hotel is equally enjoyable. It has gorgeous sitting rooms, dining rooms, a library, an Edwardian kitchen, and a billiard room which are available for the guests to explore and relax in.

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Even with these beautiful surroundings, I have to admit we spent most of the time lounging and napping in our cozy top-floor room. I am 8 months pregnant after all!

We did manage to venture out of our room for dinner and breakfast downstairs in the dining room. Both meals were excellent. For dinner, there was a 5-course tasting menu which included an amuse bouche of french onion soup foam, a salmon starter, a nutmeg sorbet, partridge with vegetables, and lemon posset with lime sorbet for dessert. The entire meal was delicious from start to finish but I think my favorite part was the nutmeg sorbet. It was so unique and incredibly tasty!

With lots of relaxation, comfortable surroundings, and delicious food, this was definitely the perfect place for our “last hurrah” weekend! If only we could have a “last hurrah” every weekend 🙂

Staying Gorge-ous

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Peter and I did a “last hurrah” weekend before the baby comes and headed off to Cheddar, England yesterday. Cheddar is a village in the county of Somerset that is famous for giving its name to one of my faves — cheddar cheese! Besides being the home of delicious cheese, Cheddar also boasts a magnificent gorge and several caves/caverns that are fun to explore.

We rolled into Cheddar around lunchtime yesterday and immediately found a restaurant that I could sample some of the local offerings. After a cheese-filled meal, we waddled our way past some adorable shops and tea houses up to the tourist office and bought tickets for a walk along the gorge and the caves.

The walk was a 3 mile circuit and started with a 274 step staircase up to the top of the hill. Luckily it had plenty of resting points along the way up the staircase because I was huffing and puffing the whole time!

At the top, there was a viewing tower and a path leading further up the hill. We decided to walk for as long as I felt I could which in the end was only about 1/2 a mile but it was just enough for us to see some beautiful views and take some obligatory “bump” pictures.

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On the way back down, we went up the tower for another vantage point of the lovely valley below. Then it was time to head off to the caverns. We went to Gough cave which was found/excavated in the early 1900s by a local man named Richard Gough. Within the cave, they discovered the skeleton of a man from the Mesolithic period, which is the oldest complete human skeleton in Britain.

Gough’s Cave has lots of pools of water and naturally formed crevices. The cave is also used for storing and maturing cheddar cheese — so cool.

After our tour, I was ready for some relaxation so we strolled back through the village, bought some of the cheese that is matured inside of the caves, and drove off through Cheddar Gorge to our lovely hotel. More on our stay there for another day!

Light up the Palace

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Hampton Court Palace (our local palace, if you will) is a beautiful structure built by Henry VIII. The palace is now open to the public year-round. Although we haven’t actually been on a proper tour of the house and grounds yet, I frequently check their website because they have some wonderful events. In the summertime, there are evening concerts, flower shows, and lawn parties. In the autumn and winter, they have events like ghost tours, carol singing, and an ice skating rink.

As you know, going on one of their ghost tours is on my BBAL so you may be reading about that in the next several weeks ;-). I also wanted to go carol singing before Christmas and Hampton Court Palace does a carol singing event. I tried to get tickets but it was sold out by the time I got to it so I decided on another festive event: Light up the Palace.

DSC05845Light up the Palace is a lights display around the palace’s gardens. You start by going through the garden’s maze in the dark which is a really cool experience. The maze was constructed around 1700 for William and Mary and is the oldest surviving hedge maze in the UK. To help you get around in the dark, they line the paths with lights that turn on as you progress. We wandered around for a while, bumping into the same family ahead of us a couple times, and eventually found our way out. Did we actually see the center of the maze? We’re not sure! We’ll have to go back again sometime in the daylight to really get a good look.

The next part of the tour was what they called the Wilderness Porthole, a lit trellised path to walk through.

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This path led to the next section called Talking Trees. In this section, they had rainbow lights illuminating a semi-circular row of trees. At the start of the trees was a microphone. When you spoke into the microphone the lights would activate and shine brighter depending on your volume and length of sound. It almost looked like the trees were talking to you. This area was the prettiest and most magical section of the tour.

At the end of the Talking Trees we were led back toward the palace, past a fountain and reflection pool with illuminated lily pads.

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The lights on the back of the palace were also interactive. There were foot pads set up on a stage in front of the palace, each corresponding to a different color. When someone stepped on a pad, that color would light up the palace. I gave it a go but it was a bit hard to control since I was surrounded by what felt like fifty kids jumping up and down on the various pads. This part was definitely a kid favorite!

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Overall, Light up the Palace was a fun little treat to celebrate the festive season and a good substitute for carol singing. It also whet our appetites see more of the palace – really looking forward to that ghost tour!

Pick Your Own at Garson’s Farm

After last week’s post, we wasted no time and set off to do some apple picking at a local pick your own place, Garson’s Farm.

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For me, going apple picking is time-honored tradition and one of the greatest ways to celebrate the season. Most years when I was living in Virginia and DC, I would head out with either family or friends (or both!) to fill up bags and bags of fresh apples. Peter and I don’t have that tradition here in the UK but, with such a lovely farm like Garson’s nearby, I can quickly see that changing.

In all my excitement to pick apples last weekend, I failed to check one crucial thing before we set out: whether apple season was still going on at Garson’s. Unfortunately, it was not. In Virginia, you could definitely still go apple picking on the first weekend of October so it didn’t even cross my mind! Oh well, we decided to jump in anyway and see what they did have.

We ended up with an absolutely gorgeous loot of broccoli, butternut squash, beets, and pumpkins. Shockingly, there were even some late strawberries to be had.

Although it wasn’t exactly apple picking, I’d still count that trip as one checked off the BBAL and also a fantastic find. We’ll definitely be going back to Garson’s!

Reigate Hill

This morning, we went on a new hike at Reigate Hill. It’s about 30 minutes from our house and I drove there (yay!).

The Reigate Hill area is maintained by the National Trust and contains a 3.3 mile circular route along a hilltop, down to the valley, and then back up again. Along the way, there are a few memorials and old military forts but the real sight is the view across the valley — it’s just stunning!

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