Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Colchester Zoo

Since the sun made a brief appearance yesterday, I thought I would treat the baby who isn't really a baby anymore, I think he's technically a toddler, to a trip to the local Zoo. We took him there last month but I thought since is only 13 months old he wouldn't remember this repetition of outings. On reflection, I think I was wrong. When we went last month, his first encounter with animals that aren't stuffed, mostly made of wool and live in his cot, was a day of wonder, amazement and constant pointing. Yesterday, however, he was more interested in my Almond Magnum and fell asleep during feeding time at the Tiger enclosure. I, on the other hand, had a great time. Again.

Colchester Zoo is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary and to highlight this momentous birthday there are Giraffes scattered all over town. They are almost everywhere. In the street, in shops, in the galleries, at the bus stops, you name it, they've got a Giraffe looming over you. Its a bit like 'The Birds' but with less beaks and more neck.

And when you get to the zoo, there is one more to greet you on arrival.

Apart from Giraffe's the zoo does have other animals. And lots of them. The beauty of this zoo as opposed to London Zoo which is the only other Zoo I've really been to in this country, is that there is lots of space for the animals, and it's a very green environment. I love London Zoo but the last time I went I felt a bit sad for some of the animals as it felt like there was a lot of concrete but I think that can't be helped. 

Not only is the Zoo set in huge grounds they still seem to be expanding and even though we visited fairly recently there was a new section that wasn't here before. There is actually far more to see than is possible in one trip so its worth buying a Gold Card membership if you intend to come regularly. The entrance fee is £20 per adult (baby/toddler is free) but you can purchase a Gold Card for around £40 which gets you an unlimited amount of entries for a year. Be warned though, if you intend to buy a Gold Card make sure you brush your hair. They take your photo for your card. I hadn't brushed my hair when I bought my card and will be reminded for the next 12 months of what a revolting scruffbag I am. As well as a quick spruce up prior to visiting I might also suggest bringing a packed lunch. The main eating place, Cafe UmPhafa, does sell a wide range of hot food but its all quite pricey (ie £7.50 for a Chicken Pitta and Salad) so its worth bringing your own food and using one of the many eating areas dotted around the place. Also, if you visit during the week, its a lot less busy but you will have to make way for the many school children who are on their school trips and seem less interested in the animals and more interested in who can make the crudest remarks about the Chimpanzees arses.  To be fair, they had a point, the arses were horrendous. I know my own posterior is nothing to write home about but I don't trot about with it on show thank God.

Anyhow, I still haven't managed to see everything the Zoo has to offer in 2 trips but from what I have seen, I think the Big Cats are the most impressive. Not only can you watch them through the fencing but you can also see them through glass which means you are inches away from them. Pretty breathtaking and I'm not even massively into cats. Pygmy things are much more my bag.


White Tiger


Regular Tiger

Inches away!

If you plan your day well, you can watch the animals being fed but also they have various displays throughout the day and one not to be missed is the Bird of Prey one. I say this because I missed it and only caught the last few minutes this time round.

Some sort of African Eagle




Not a clue


As well as all the critters you can't touch, there is an area where you can touch them or at least get even closer. The toddler is still a bit too little to enjoy this area (and he was asleep) but I'm sure when he's a bit bigger he will love it.

You can walk through the Wallaby enclosure

Huge Tortoise

Alpacas I think

Pygmy Goats. 
You can get in their pen and feed them but I didn't trust myself not to pick one up and sling it in the shopping section of the buggy.



Basically, I think this is a really great Zoo. I know you might be thinking "She would say that", but it is! For my London friends you may think Colchester is a long way away but it really isn't and for anyone with kids this is a super outing. Also, if you are into Wildlife photography I think this has to be worth a visit as you could get some really great snaps. Not that you could tell from my pictures, but anyway, come and see for yourself. Just maybe skip the Chimps if you have a sensitive stomach.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Festival Festival Festival!

It's been 6 months since we moved to Colchester and we've seen more of our friends in that short time than we ever did when we were in London. This was a big part of the move for us. If we moved out of London it had to be to somewhere where our chums could stay, and even though we still have a considerable way to go as far as decorating is concerned we have really made the most of our space. It's been really great so far, we've had some awesome weekends and been very lucky that everyone has wanted to come and visit. The only down side to all the entertaining (apart from slightly too much cheese and wine) is that we still haven't really got to explore our new area very much. However, this Sunday, the first in a long time with no visitors, was a great opportunity to jump in the old jalopy and head out down some country roads. Yee har!

First of all, lunch naturally, so we headed to the The Swan Inn in the village of Chappel and Wakes Colne in the Colne Valley. One of the things I like about it round here are the crazy names of the villages. It all sounds very oldy worldy and a tiny bit hobbity.

The Swan Inn really is in a stunning location. To the front of the Inn you have the River Colne. We saw a Kingfisher but my reflexes aren't as sharp as they used to be so no picture I'm afraid, but in the beer garden they have the awesome Chappel Viaduct which I did get a photo of.

The River Colne

The Chappel Viaduct

Wikipedia has told me that the Viaduct was built between 1847 and 1849, cost around £21,000 to build, is 346 metres long and is thought to be the second largest brick built structure in England. So there you go. I'm not sure what the biggest one is, they didn't say. 

As well as being in a beautiful location, The Swan certainly delivered a delicious lunch with very friendly service and a thoughtful pile of colouring pencils for the baby who unfortunately could not use them. He simply can not be trusted yet to not gouge out an eye or pierce a plumptious cheek. Sadly I did not get any pictures of the delicious food (Calamari, Pork Belly, Roast Beef, Sticky Toffee Pudding) as we scoffed it down before I remembered to take any snaps, but rest assured, it was all delicious and served in very generous portions. The other point to note since the UK now has an arctic climate, is that they have refurbished the courtyard area so it now has heaters and blankets (not shown on their website). So it really can be enjoyed in any season of our 2 wonderful seasons. Winter or Winter. The Swan Inn gets a very chubby thumb up.

After we had stuffed ourselves silly we squeezed back into the car and by chance ended up in another pretty village by the name of Mount Bures, where there happened to be a flower festival.

Some blue sky we saw on the way.

Mount Bures is a very small but pretty village between Colchester and Sudbury and the flower festival was being held at Mount Bures Hall, a beautiful old house at the top of the village. As well as flowers for sale, there were also classic cars, books, croquet lessons, face painting, food, a band, crafts and a bus you could go for a ride on. Apparently Loraine Chase was going to open the festival but she cancelled. So The Queen came instead! Please note realistic corgi and rather unflattering ankles.


For Sale

For riding

Croquet lessons

"Do not climb in the Wagon"

Some hay and a dog. Well country

Not sure if the Volvo was part of the show but it certainly ruined this photo

A very nice car

View from the top of the Mount

As we still had a bit of daylight left after the festival we decided we have a quick sniff around Sudbury. It's not far from Colchester despite it being in Suffolk, and we'd not been so thought we may as well. And by jove, I'm glad we did! For Sudbury had a food festival on. It's festival festival festival round here!

A tiny bit more blue sky

A statue of Gainsborough in the town square. 
There is also a Gainsborough museum but it was closed. Boo.

Part of the festival was inside the towns church

You could practice your milking skills on a fake cow should you wish to do so

Fancy flavoured coffee beans

Lovely local veg boxes

South African delights

All in all it was a really great day out and a nice break from cheese and wine.  I'd definitely recommend a visit to all of these places. I'm obviously still getting used to being away from London (I fear it may take some time yet) but a day like this helps me towards thinking we might have done the right thing. We've definitely done the right thing if we ant to open a B+B anyway. We couldn't really have done that in my one bedroom flat in Hackney thats for sure.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Classic Car Show, Layer Marney Tower

Even though we have only had 2 Fathers Days in our relatively new family, we already have a Fathers Day tradition. Classic Car shows. On Fathers Day last year, when the baby was 3 weeks old, we took him to a Classic Car show at Audley End ("Ahh, he's the youngest visitor we've ever had"). I remember still being so terrified of dropping him, Wig had to take him to the baby changing toilet as it was across some rather uneven flagstones and I was still in my 'I'm going to fall over. All the time' stage.  So, when we saw an advert for a Car show at Layer Marney Tower we were very excited to go. Not only as it carried on with tradition but also as it's a 15 minute drive away from our new home.

We went to the Tower for the first time a couple of months ago for a friends wedding, which was rather wonderful so we knew what a spectacular location it is. It is Britain' s tallest Tudor Gatehouse and was built by Henry Marney, a Courtier of Henry VIII, in 1518. Not only does it boast stunning architecture and awesome views from the tower (apparently, we didn't make it up there ourselves with the buggy) it's also surrounded by beautiful gardens and has a farm! Please try to imagine a blue sky when looking at the photos.

The Tower

The Long Gallery. 
Originally a stable block but now used as a wedding venue.

The Church of St Mary the Virgin.

View of lower garden.

View towards the Blackwater Estury.

Unfortunately, what the Tower provides in beauty, the event lacked in organisation. On arrival we were charged an entrance fee of £7. I don't have the best memory at the moment due to a year of no sleep, but I'm pretty sure this wasn't mentioned on the website. Also, £7 is rather steep. A fiver would have been fairer I think. But the biggest shocker was the food situation. For those that know me or have read this blog, you will know that food is a big part of my life. A massive part of a day trip out is the food. Sometimes its the only reason I go on a day trip. So, before we left home we checked there would be something to eat at the Tower as no one wants to be anywhere near a hungry me. "Tea Room Open", said the website, "Hurrah!" said we.

Stables Tea Room.

But, oh dear. First of all we queued for 10 minutes (it was very busy) outside The Stables Tea room. They had made a tea room from some of the old stables, it was decorated very nicely and I was very much looking forward to either the Cheese Ploughmans, Ham Ploughmans or Local Dunmow Pasty that was advertised on the menu board. However, after waiting patiently, as we got to the counter, the teenager working behind it told us "If you want food, you have to go over there", while pointing across the courtyard to a hall with a trestle table in it and a few cartons of Ribena stacked on one end. Gripe number 1: if there's no food to be ordered, put up a sign saying 'Drinks only'. And maybe take down the board advertising the food you can't actually order.

So, we trotted across the cobbles and queued up again. Another 10 minutes. By the time we arrived at the sad trestle table "There's no ham. Its all gone". It was 1:15pm. The show opened at 12pm. So either there had been an unnatural amount of pork lovers at the show or the organisers hadn't organised enough ham. Gripe number 2: bad ham planning.

When we finally got to place our order, 2 x Dunmow Pasty's, £5 each . . . we were pretty ravenous, but were told "It will be with you in 15-20 minutes". ?? Really? Ok. They must be warming them to order I thought. Well, thats ok. I'll just eat some of the baby's packed lunch behind his back while we wait. Or maybe I'll have a mocha to kill some time. £2.75? More than Starbucks? Ok, I wont have a mocha. I'll have a warm carton of Ribena. Gripe number 3: Expensive food and drinks.

When the pasty eventually arrived, 20 minutes later, imagine my surprise when it was stone cold. How it took so long to shove it on a plate with a few salad leaves is beyond me. Needless to say, IF we come to another event here we would bring a packed lunch. The sad thing is, these are really simple things to resolve but it left a rather bad taste after paying seven quid to get in, metaphorically and literally.

The good news though, the cars were great. It had been advertised as an event with Classic Cars, Motorbikes and buses although we saw no bikes and only one bus but it didn't really matter. After the cold pasty my expectation levels had dropped anyway.

My dream car and I don't even mind the colour.

But of all the things we saw that afternoon, the most impressive thing to me, even better than my beloved dream Fiat, are these little guys.

So, the moral of this story is 'show me a pygmy goat and I'll forgive you a cold and overpriced pasty'. Maybe this next time year, we won't need to go to car show, maybe we'll have our own classic car to look at, but if we do, I'll let you look for free.