I’m very pleased with the poetic title for this post. I’m even more pleased with the fact I’ve actually finished the seaside holiday cottage renovation project I’ve been working on* and the romantic little Dorset Nook is now available to book!
Think lazy walks down to the beach for a picnic on a sunny day, think longer, blustery walks along the south-west coastal path to take in the stupendous views along the Jurassic Coast (this is my favourite activity); think massive slabs of apple cake with clotted cream, trips to the Gelato hut, seaside fish and chips (the best kind). Think long lunches at creaky old pubs and then back to the gorgeous, cosy cottage for a warm bath and a glass of wine in front of the fire.
Yes, the cottage is finally ready for bookings. After a very prolonged renovation period (do I need to even utter the word pandemic?) and a seemingly endless era of zipping up and down to Dorset to decorate and furnish, this gorgeous hideaway is available for beautifully lazy summer holidays, crisp autumnal long weekends and snug winter breaks.
I’m going to go into “travel agent mode” to tell you a bit about it – I feel as though I need to wear two hats at the moment because I have to be this professional holiday-let owner when I get enquiries and not write the word “lol” in my email responses and also deal with things like lost keys. Which is very different to the hat I wear the rest of the time when I’m doing things like dressing as a wizard (see here).
So here we go: let the brochure begin.
The Dorset Nook is an 18th century cottage in the picturesque village of Eype that sleeps two adults in very stylish comfort. (If I may say so myself. Sorry – popping in with the other hat on!)
There’s a kingsize bedroom upstairs (the staircase is through a little doorway in a panelled wall, it’s very secretive) with deep window seat and a lovely, soothing vibe. It’s so quiet and so dark at night, it’s a true romantic hideaway up there.
Downstairs there are two lovely living areas; the cosy, ancient living room with exposed stone walls and woodburning stove and then the light-filled open-plan space with kitchen, dining area and reading nook.
The living room is perfect for cuddling up in if the evenings are chilly but I actually love it at any time of the day – it feels so atmospheric in there with its window seat and thick stone walls.
The open plan living area (below) was originally a series of small, dark rooms but now they are knocked through into one space it is filled with light all day long – it’s also surrounded by the little cottage garden so that you can throw the windows open and listen to the birds.
There’s a fully-equipped kitchen, a dining area with antique farmhouse table and chairs and a lovely reading nook with squidgy sofa and cushions and throws.
It’s really hard not to fall asleep here in the afternoon. I always planned to write a novel from the kitchen table, but that hasn’t quite manifested itself. Maybe somebody else will!
The sweet bathroom downstairs has a bath with a shower over it and lovely traditional sink and fittings, and then there’s the little cottage garden that wraps around the cottage with space to dine and deckchairs to kick back in.
There are amazing walks straight from the garden gate, there’s an incredible beach a third of a mile away (I march down there in a matter of minutes, you can amble at a more leisurely pace if you prefer!) and the views from the south-west coastal path are just stunning.
You can find loads more information about the cottage on the website here – there’s a whole page on amenities and interiors and another on location and things to do and places to eat. I’ve really fallen in love with both the cottage and the area and I’m hoping that everyone who visits will too.
It really is such a lovely spot and the cottage is tucked away (it can only be accessed on foot and isn’t suitable for pets or children) so it feels like a proper holiday from the world as soon as you step through the garden gate. And the cottage with its crisp, beautiful bed linens, vintage furniture finds and old oak beams feels so welcoming and atmospheric – it’s a joy to land back there at the end of the day. Or just not leave it at all.
*Just in case some of you missed the intro to my latest venture (I do like to keep them coming!); it has been a long-term plan of mine to renovate a little holiday cottage somewhere, off the beaten track, fill it full of gorgeous bits and pieces and let it out to nice people who appreciate lovely things. I did record some of the process on the Instagram page here if you’d like to take a look.
I’m thinking about doing a renovation post on how we transformed the cottage, so let me know if you have any questions in the comments below. It was actually quite a drawn-out process, in the end, and took a lot longer and cost a lot more than I anticipated. (Mainly because I am an eternal optimist and didn’t think that trying to manage a renovation that was an hour-and-a-half away would be an issue. With two small kids. And a job. You live and learn!)
Well here’s an absolute treat of a little place to stay: The Gunton Arms in Norfolk. It provides what is, arguably, the perfect low-key country escape. If you yearn for remoteness and the chill whip of an autumnal wind as you stomp across fields with your hound in tow then you will love The Gunton. Equally if you like the idea of remoteness and the chill whip of an autumnal wind but don’t actually want to go out in it and would rather stay indoors in front of a roaring fire drinking red wine and eating Cromer Crab and a huge Blythburgh Pork Chop then you will love The Gunton.
This place is undersold, in my opinion, because they call it a “pub with bedrooms” and although the description is factually accurate, it’s sort of like calling The Shard an office block, or saying that the Sahara is a bit dusty. With The Gunton’s exquisite food menu, the dramatic open cooking fire that dominates the dining room and the sort of stylish, roughed-up country house luxe bedrooms that you’d expect from a pricey boutique hotel, it’s so much more than the vision that “pub with rooms” conjures up.
I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe it and keep coming back to the same two: comfortable and alive. A strange duo of words to pick, maybe, but that’s how the whole place felt to me. On the one hand it was comfortable, like a big old armchair that you could flop down into, all the edges softened by years of happy use, but on the other it just seemed so buzzing and alive. Perhaps it was because we arrived so late on a Friday evening and the pub and dining rooms were in full noisy swing, but I think it’s also the way that the decor and furnishings are so richly layered – valuable modern works of art on the walls, prints and patterns on the upholstery, worn rugs set over wooden floors…
Perhaps vibrant is a better word than alive, but you get the gist of what I’m trying to say. There was nothing soulless or boring about this place – every inch of it felt as though it had seen years and years of fun, as though there had been one long and unending (very relaxed) country house party. And that feeling continued in our room, which was sumptuously furnished and had views of the surrounding parkland but also had the hum of the dining room coming up through the floor. Which would usually drive me mad – good soundproofing is almost my number one requirement when I’m paying for accommodation – but somehow felt charming here. Comforting, even. Being in this jolly, very tasteful hive of drinking and eating activity when the night was dark and drizzly outside felt warm and satisfying and I was tempted more than once to go downstairs for a nightcap. But having never actually done this before in my life I wasn’t sure whether it was a thing that just happened in story books and so I stayed in bed and read Country Living.
The drinking and eating activity is a must, by the way. The restaurant is headed up by Stuart Tattersall (formerly at Hix) and the dining room is dominated by an enormous open fire over which the steaks and chops and sausages are cooked. I went for the Cromer crab pasta and polished off the entire thing which is unusual for me because crab pasta (it’s always with chilli, garlic and parsely, isn’t it? The classic combo!) is one of those dishes that I always think I fancy and then get bored of half way through. I cleaned the plate and still hadenthusiasm for a delicious milk pudding.
But my starter was the standout dish: mixed beetroots with pickled walnuts and Binham blue cheese. My eyes rolled to the back of my head I was so delirious with pleasure. It was so simply executed but each ingredient on the plate (beetroot, walnuts, cheese) could have been a spokesmodel for its variant, a show-winning example of quality. The beetroot was the sweetest-yet-earthiest I’d tasted, the Binham blue was sharp but creamy and the pickled walnuts – the pickled walnuts! Dear God, squashed onto the fork with a slither of beetroot and a tiny crumble of cheese, they were a taste sensation. Almost too much. I had to order another glass of red to calm myself.
Anyway, you can tell by now that I really rate The Gunton Arms. When we arrived to a neon reception sign glowing out through the dark and the drizzle I knew we’d bagged a good one – the pub itself was nowhere to be seen (you can’t drive up to it, also part of its charm) and it felt exciting and slightly spooky, like we’d arrived at a hipster version of the Bates Motel. Similarities with the Bates Motel ended there, obviously, although I did think that a woman was being slowly murdered on our second night. Turned out she was just having sex. I assume, anyway, from the way it all came to a head.
We paid £185 per night for a superior room. On our way out on the second morning I did that nosy thing that we all do (please tell me you do this) and poked my head into the open rooms that had already been departed from. Just to check out the competition. One of them, which I think must have been a small double, was quite literally a bed in a room because there was no space for anything else, the other was a standard, by the looks of it. Plenty big enough for a little night away, but I think it’s probably worth going for the superior if you can stretch to it! The bathroom was large and had a lovely slipper bath.
You can find the website for The Gunton Arms here – make sure you also book your dinner table in advance as it gets very busy, apparently.
Fancy the idea of a weekend romping about the countryside but want a little more luxury? I can highly recommend Hotel Endsleigh in Devon, reviewed in full here.
Again, it has that lived-in, relaxed sort of quality but this is altogether a grander affair in a larger country house and huge, landscaped grounds that include an arboretum. The food is brilliant and feels slightly more of a posh event than at The Gunton, in that you might want to get a bit more dressed up, though you absolutely don’t have to.
The pinnacle of countryside escaping, though, has to be The Newt in Somerset. Vast amounts of effort and money have been poured into making this a complete countryside destination with a number of places to eat, grounds so big and wonderful that people pay just to visit them and possibly the best spa I’ve ever been to. You can read all about The Newt here and their website is here.
It normally takes me about two years to get around to writing up my hotel reviews (it’s well over a year, I think, since I visited the Bedruthan in Cornwall and I still have the notes fresh in my mind, as though I visited yesterday!) but I’m trying to be more organised and proactive and – why not? – reactive and so TA-DAH! here we are with a post that’s actually fresh in my mind and not from my ever-growing backlog of drafts.
What an intro.
Great. You don’t want to miss this one, especially if you enjoy the odd luxury weekend away somewhere rural but refined. Polished rural, I like to call it. It’s a thing. It’s all the bits of the countryside that people who are not from the countryside want to see, packaged up with deep, hot baths and fifty types of artisnal gin in the bar and a boot room stacked high with Hunter wellies. Hotels that are surrounded by gorgeous countryside, viewable through huge windows from a comfy chair, but that also have paths.
Because nobody would come to the real countryside, not for a luxury break. There’s nothing relaxing about a constant barrage of mud, psychopathic tractor drivers and wifi signal so weak and frustrating it makes you want to go at your own face with a cheese grater.
Obviously there are many good things about the countryside (clean air, slower pace of life, actual space), all I’m saying is that these country hotels (the good ones) manage to parcel up the country life experience so that you’d be forgiven for believing that anyone outside of the M25 spends most of the day either leaning against an AGA or throwing more logs on the fire. Rug on lap, dog at feet, glass of gin in hand and the firelight gently flickering as you read a romantic novel.
Anyway, the Newt In Somerset is the latest polished rural country house and by God do they do it well. This isn’t a hotel, it’s a destination – you could spend an entire day just going about the gardens, which are so splendid that non-guests actually pay to visit them. As a day trip.
They are magnificent, with acres of food-providing beds and orchards, wild areas, a deer park and a cutting edge, forward-thinking garden museum that you’d pay the entry price for alone.
So you have the gardens, which are an attraction in themselves, and then you have one of the most excellent spas in existence – so quiet, so instantly welcoming, so brilliantly designed – and a whole load of different places to eat and drink. Not in a “resort” sort of way, it’s not as though the place has themed restaurants popping up all over the shop, but you can climb up to the huge garden cafe that sits majestically on top op the lands, or you can have coffee in the greenhouse or dinner in the gloriously dark and sexy dining room…
The gym looks like the sort of gym very famous people would go to. I rarely mentions gyms, because WHY you would want to exercise on your relaxing break is beyond me, but this one is notable. The glass that fronts the entire building is formed from one sheet (the largest installed in the whole of Europe last year – geek fact) and it’s just spectacular. It’s no secret that I love a bit of elegant, streamlined modern architecture set against historic buildings and The Newt just do it so well.
It’s an absolute triumph in planning and design – like entering the world’s most perfect village, but if the village had been built by a perfectionist with unlimited budget. I can imagine it must have cost tens of millions of pounds. (The Daily Mail say 50 million, but hey. Pinch of salt, etc.)
And so to the main building, which is your classic Pride & Prejudice early Georgian affair, but with a cheeky little twist. In fact the twist happens before you even get through the door, because all of the woodwork (window frames, door frames) have been painted grey. It’s always a bit of a surprise when they’re not the usual off-white. Part of me hates it, that departure from the way things should be, but the other part of me admires the boldness. And it screams “we’ve done a shitload of work on this hotel – it’s basically a new build in an ancient shell!””
Which it is. The inside is immaculate, with huge panes of glass set against exposed stone walls (sound familiar? It’s like House Reno deja vu!) and bedroom walls and ceilings that are so flawlessly plastered you’d be hard pushed to tell you’re in an old house, until you go to the windows and see that they are the original sashes. The bedroom was borderline too clean for me, finish-wise – spots set into the ceiling, shining out through peepholes cut into the plasterboard, and pristine furniture, but on the other hand there’s no denying that this gives everything a really high-end feel. There’s no shabbiness – no worn leather armchair or frayed rug, none of your ubiquitous country house edge, but if there was then perhaps it would feel a little too much like the hotels that are already well established in providing a luxurious rural bolthole.
In short: go to The Newt if you’re after a countryside break. I can’t see how you’d regret it. Plenty to do, plenty to eat (and there’s a garden-to-fork philosophy, so a vast proportion of the ingredients have zero air miles and are just about as nice as you can get them) and bedrooms you’d happily live in. Make sure you do the spa and the garden museum and absolutely factor in a trip to nearby Bruton, which has the Hauser & Wirth gallery and is cute as a button. Within twenty minutes you have the market town Frome (the most “woke” town in the UK, apparently) and Wells, which is the UK’s smallest city but has an absolutely epic Cathedral. Or, you know, just lounge about at The Newt and drink their cider and eat snacks.
You can find more info on The Newt here – rooms start at £255 per night. No dogs allowed, which is also something that sets this hotel apart. Most country offerings are heaving with dogs, which is both lovely and at the same time annoying, depending on where you stand with dogs. The Newt do accept children, which is both lovely and at the same time – oh, you know the drill.
This post is what it says in the title: a post about my family holiday to the Lake District. We actually went in June and I meant to write it up then, but it takes me half a year to do anything these days. And it would have been completely forgotten had I not gone online to search for winter sun holidays and remembered that it needed editing and publishing!
It’s that time of year again: the time when I feel absolutely desperate to escape the UK and seek out warm weather. I say “that time of year again” but “that time”, when I have an almost sickening urge to find some sort of heat and sunshine, seems to stretch from around the second week of October until – I dunno – May. So in reality it’s over half the year. Maybe I should think about moving to warmer climes! I haven’t actually been on a winter sun holiday in about eight or nine years, so perhaps it needs more drastic measures? I could “home school” the kids from a beach bar for half of the year… Ha.
Anyway, my thoughts on taking holidays with small children are fairly well documented: it’s not a true holiday, in my opinion. Yes, there might be sun, yes there might be a beach, but can you really relax? Can you bury your feet into hot sand whilst sipping rosé and snacking on oversized olives stuffed with chilli? Can you let the wine go to your head and woozily read some trashy book on your Kindle before slipping off into a deep sleep, sun on your back, sound of the waves gently lapping the shore?
Can you rubber duck!
Maybe it gets better with every passing year – we haven’t been abroad as a family since April 2018, so can’t comment – but I wouldn’t say that I found our one trip en famille as restful as I had hoped.
Which was why for this year’s family holiday we went to – wait for it! – the Lake District. At the start of June we had a family birthday to go to and so we worked the trip around that, but I’m always quite nostalgic about Cumbria anyway because my mum is from there and there are loads of relatives to visit.
Practically speaking, it would probably have been much faster to go abroad. You have to spend a few hours on an aeroplane, frantically worried that your kids might scream and piss everyone off, but then at least after that you’re there. The hot walk over scorched tarmac, the tense passing through foreign passport control, the clunking of the luggage carousel as you nervously wait to see whether your suitcase has made it… At least you feel as though you’re on holiday.
Lake District? We drove for what seemed like about nine weeks. It rained the entire way. We got there in the dark – in the rain. When you go on holiday somewhere hot, they say that it’s the “same shit different scenery”. Getting out of the car in the cold and the rain in the arse end of nowhere wasn’t even different scenery; in fact, as the dog did a poo in front of me and the plastic bag of food I was hauling into the holiday cottage split open, it became abundantly clear that it was, one hundred percent, just the same shit.
We woke, however, to a glorious scene. I had rented a house a mile or so outside of Ambleside, at Loughrigg, and the house fronted the River Rothay. We opened the curtains to a beautiful June day and a view from a picture-book. The river rushed past, metres from the doorstep, providing a constant white noise that had the children sleeping so deeply we had to (for the first time ever) wake them up. Sheep and cows bumbled along in the surrounding pastures, a magnificent view towards Wansfell rose up in the distance. It was proper food for the soul.
Don’t get me wrong; a view doesn’t solve everything – I’m well aware that the attractions of the location were short-lived for toddlers – but it was at least a splendid setting to come back to for the short periods between trips to the toy shop (in the rain), trips to get snacks (in the rain) and trips to the ice cream parlour (in the rain). When it wasn’t raining, we were in the perfect position to go on walks straight from the front door – lots of holiday cottages boast “walks straight from the front door!” but few really deliver. There’s usually a walk, but you have to cross the M5 motorway first, or there’s a walk but only if you’re willing to climb over the farmer’s barbed wire fence and risk being shot at as you traverse the killing grounds to join the public footpath.
There were lots of walks.
In fact, we walked partway up Loughrigg, much to our own disbelief. It was quite steep for a two year-old and a four year-old and both ended up being carried for lots of it, but the sun was shining and the air was clear, we picked our way up the rocky slopes like sprightly little mountain goats.
We also walked to Ambleside a few times, on the most beautiful pathway. Very few cars, lots of walkers. I’d go so far to say that the holiday house was on a Walkers’ Highway. During civilised hours, there were probably two walkers that passed by every minute. (Worth noting if your dog’s barking is triggered by people walking close by!) I quite liked people walking past, actually – we’re so out of the way in Somerset that people rarely pass on foot, so it seemed rather convivial and lovely.
You never really know what you’re getting with a holiday home though, do you? Until you get there. The pictures either “don’t do it justice” and you rejoice at the fact you’ve landed a Farrow & Ball-pimped bargain complete with proper coffee machine and working Netflix, or you open the door to a damp-smelling hallway with laminated signs telling you not to flush tampons and to put the bins out on a Wednesday.
I booked the house through Lake Lovers because, after hours of tedious searching, they seemed to have the best selection of nice properties in the Lakes. I love the holiday houses on Unique Homestays but they were prohibitively expensive, the ones that were still available, because they slept about twenty people. The ones left when I was booking also didn’t take dogs. To be quite honest, I was almost about to bite the financial bullet and confirm an amazing one that looked out over a lake, but then reality did a check on me: would I really be spending my days looking out over the still water, book in hand, glass of wine on side table?
No, I would be spending my days trying to stop Ted from pulling plugs out of wall sockets and keeping Angelica supplied with a constant stream of snacks. (She likes “options”. I have to give her three options and she deliberates for a while, finger tucked under chin, eyes to ceiling, deep in thought, before giving me her choice. It was pretty cute when we started it, a year or so ago, and I could make up ridiculous options so that she chose the one thing I actually had in stock, but now she actually requires three solid options and it’s getting more and more difficult. Why do we start these crazy games?)
So the lake house that looked like something from an interiors shoot was out; a smaller, cuter cottage was needed. But nothing with very low ceilings, and it needed to be remote enough to be quiet but near enough to a nice town that we could go to cafes and see real life people, and so on. Being able to walk to a town was going to be the biggest novelty – I was incredibly excited about this. “I’ll take Angelica to shops when Ted is having his nap!” I said, excitedly, as I was searching the holiday websites. “We can just potter! And we won’t need a car!”
As it turned out, it rained pretty much constantly so we did need the car, but the thought was nice. The walk through beautiful scenery to get to Ambleside took about forty-five minutes but possibly would have taken twenty five had we been striding along as adults. Walking with small children is like walking through a giant vat of treacle, or it’s like having massive lead boots on that have been velcroed to the ground. It’s slow progress and you have to stop every ten seconds to look at a leaf that has fallen into a puddle.
It’s great fun, and I will treasure every single one of these slow-paced memories, but good lord it’s impossible to raise your heart rate above anything greater that “sedentary”. You’d get more exercise reading the paper in a rocking chair than walking with toddlers!
So anyway, we booked through Lake Lovers. The house was good – location great, house well-equipped, not much going on in the way of a garden because it was on a slope but no biggy. I didn’t fall over with interiors lust, but neither was I disappointed. The setting was idyllic, but once you were inside it wasn’t as though it enveloped you – there were large windows, but it wasn’t one of those houses where you sit in an Eames chair with a huge panoramic view rolling out in front of you. But as we know, holiday houses of that ilk cost the same as going to the bloody Seychelles!
We paid £1200 for a week – I’ve just looked at the same place and it’s currently £695, woe is the person who books at half term – plus a refundable deposit. I did look into hotels, thinking that if we found somewhere with a family room that took dogs, it’d work out to be around the same price but
There are pros and cons when it comes to holiday homes, but over the years I have come to the conclusion that the pros far outweigh the cons. Yes, I like to be waited on a bit if I’m on holiday – I don’t want to have to stack the dishwasher, pick the squashed peas out of the plughole, etc – but the joyous thing about a rented house is that if you decide you want to eat out every night, and budget allows, then you can. No problemo. You can also, though (and this is especially important when you’re with kids), stock up the fridge with kids’ Fruit Shoots and Innocent Smoothies, adults’ Prosecco and Beer and indulge them/yourself at any time you want without having to pay £3.80 for a small bottle of fizzy water or £16 for a miniature Prosecco. Crisps, nuts, all kinds of snacks can be at your immediate disposal – you can make a doorstep sandwich with local cheese and chutney whenever you want and the supply of tea and coffee can be endless.
I do love the cocooning, luxury feel of a good hotel but they come with a hefty price tag, don’t they? Great for a couple of nights, but once you tip into a week you could almost rent the James Bond lakeside abode for the same cost and invite eighteen friends. More space, the freedom to cook or eat out as you fancy and your own private outdoors areas.
What do you prefer for a longer holiday? The self-catered route or the fully-serviced hotel? Mr AMR prefers his own space and his own kitchen and has always been of this persuasion – I used to be a luxe hotel kind of person but now, with family, I think that I might be rented houses all the way…
Things we did near Ambleside:
Crossed over the Stepping Stones at Loughrigg. Ted refused to be carried and then obviously got his feet wet! Obviously!
Hired a boat and chugged our way around Lake Windermere. My health and safety paranoia was in overdrive, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have, but when I had both kids firmly in my arms I loved it!
We used to have a little seventies’ motorboat when we lived on a river, so it brought back nice memories. Even if it was raining for most of the time!
We also went on the steam train that runs from Haverthwaite, but really more to give the kids something interesting to do. They weren’t too fussed by it really, which surprised me – I thought that all kids loved trains! – but they sat and ate their tangerines and looked at the rain whilst I spent half of the journey trying to take a completely symmetrical photo of the inside of the train carriage…
By far my favourite outing was to Hill Top, which was Beatrix Potter’s cottage up in the middle of nowhere in a tiny village with the most incredible views. I have a strange affinity with Beatrix Potter (don’t bloody laugh, I see you!) but I think I need to write a separate post about it. I don’t even like the books that much (sacrilege!) but I like her story and I like her cottage and I think I might have actually been her in a past life. I’ll come back to you on this particular revelation.
Anyway, I really enjoyed poking about the cottage, so much so that I bought the book about it in the gift shop. I’m usually allergic to gift shops! Although now I’m a fully-fledged National Trust member, I like to be supportive and buy the apron/fudge/fridge magnet, etc. It all helps. You can read about Hill Top here – if you’re an NT member then you get in for free.
Right, I’m off to look at winter sun holidays I’ll never book. Tell me, people, where is good to go in December with two small children that won’t be too hot but will also be guaranteed warmth, with a flight time that won’t make me want to eat my own hands with anxiety?
Jumping back to the Lake District; I would definitely go again, when the kids are slightly older. I mean I will definitely go again, because half of my extended family are up there, but I would actively choose there too. It’s so beautiful. So dramatic. I love walking, I love heartstoppingly beautiful scenery (who doesn’t) and I bloody love tea rooms. There are so many tea rooms…