Wednesday, 21 September 2022

A Night of Fun at Whistle Punks: Urban Axe Throwing, London

I’ve been in training for some time to prepare for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. First, I completed the couch-to-5k programme through Zombies, Run! so that I’d be in a position to run from zombies and be useful to my post-apocalyptic community. Next, I needed to learn to fight and so I headed off to Whistle Punks: Urban Axe Throwing in London to learn the art of axe throwing.

Competitors Launching Axes : Whistle Punks Urban Axe Throwing London

I'm going to need to admit it sooner or later so I might as well do it here: axe-throwing is not as easy as it looks. We’ve all seen those TV shows where one friend surprises another with an evening of axe-throwing and they both spend the night actually hitting the targets and doing pretty well.

That doesn’t happen in real life.

Axe-throwing is an art but luckily there are experts around to help you.

A View of the Axe-Throwing Lane : Whistle Punks Urban Axe Throwing London

Whether you’re a natural axe-wielding champion or a lesser-able beginner, it’s a lot of fun. Each group of up-to-ten players is paired with an instructor who is really helpful. Our very patient instructor was able to identify when we weren’t relaxed enough in our throws (because you should totally be relaxed when you’re wielding an axe, right?), when we were too near or too close to the target, or when we weren’t holding the axe correctly. It helped too – I scored 4 points in the second round!

The Winners Board : Whistle Punks Urban Axe Throwing London

The biggest excitement came when the two finalists were announced – a chap called James and my husband Stephen. The winner would need a bull-eye to win and it would need to be definitive.

Up until this point, we’d pretty much been cheering uniformly for each other but I couldn’t help but give an extra cheer when Stephen threw a near bulls-eye. It was very exciting but James turned around and gave me a very betrayed look!

With revenge clearly in his mind, James turned around and threw a perfect, dead-centre bulls-eye. The cheers were huge and immediate: a well-deserved win and a fabulous time had by all!

The Bar : Whistle Punks Urban Axe Throwing London

I’d absolutely recommend Whistle Punks if you’re looking for a fun way to blow off steam and better your axe-throwing score.

Food and Drinks

We used to joke about ‘London prices’ – a time about 4 years ago when cocktails began to hit £10-£12. Then it went beyond a joke and you’ll easily be paying £15-£18 for cocktails. I mention this because we were most pleasantly surprised by the food and drink prices at Whistle Punks. Pizzas are £9 (and they are delicious), cocktails £8 and the Happy Endings ice cream sandwiches are £5. There is also space to eat and leave your drinks without the worry of an axe disturbing them.

Delicious Pizza : Whistle Punks Urban Axe Throwing London

The Small Print

  • Over 18s only.
  • Whistle Punks is proud to be a Living Wage employer.
  • For every ticket sold, Whistle Punks plants a tree through ecologi.com.
  • The Whistle Punks experience caters for friends, couples and groups looking to celebrate any occasion in style with craft drinks and delicious pizza.
  • The 70-minute sessions are run by a dedicated expert instructor who offers an axe-throwing masterclass before practice rounds then an adrenaline-packed head-to-head tournament before an overall axe champion is crowned. Individual tickets start at £22 (off peak) per person for 70-minutes throwing axes with an instructor.
  • Exclusive lanes can be booked from £220 (off peak) for a maximum of 10 players per lane.

Address

Whistle Punks Urban Axe Throwing (London Oxford Circus)
53 Eastcastle St
London
W1W 8DN

Note: we were guests at the Whistle Punks opening party on this occasion but as always, my promise to my readers is that I will give an honest review of my experiences, warts and all, whether I’ve paid for the experiences or not.

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Wednesday, 7 September 2022

A Journey to 1066: The Battle of Hastings Battlefield & Abbey

Battle Abbey Gatehouse | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

Today is an auspicious day for I get to tell you all about one of my favourite days out. I’d wanted to visit Hastings for the longest time and a great part of that was due to my interest in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. I couldn’t believe that the whole fate of a nation could hinge on one battle but it was actually my visits to France that really piqued my interest in the events of 1066. Whereas we see many Norman and medieval structures and influences in South East England, French cities such as Boulogne have urban histories dating back to the 9th century and even earlier. It is clear that a lot of what we see now in England is post-Norman and that the conquering powers destroyed much of what was here already.

Of course, that is nothing compared to the destruction that Henry VIII rained down upon his own people, but more on him later.

The Visitor Centre

We began our visit in the superb visitor centre which provides a full audio-visual account of the key reasons for the battle as well a display of the various weapons and armour used by the opposing forces. We learned that Edward the Confessor died without a direct heir, that he appointed Harold Godwinson as protector of the kingdom but that William, Duke of Normandy disputed Harold’s legitimacy as King. William and his forces successfully invaded and defeated England’s army on 14 October 1066. Known now as William the Conqueror, he ended Anglo-Saxon rule in England, established Norman rule and changed the course of history forever on this little island.

The Battlefield

Norman Infantryman with kite shield | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

Armed with a lot of knowledge, we picked up our audio-guides and went for a leisurely 3 mile stroll around the famous battlefield. Note that there is some controversy as to whether this is indeed the site of the famous battle as no human remains have been found here but William famously built Battle Abbey ‘on a site overlooking the famous battleground’ and so this area is proclaimed to be it.

Anglo Saxon infantryman with round shield | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

We were guided on the path by numerous statues on infantrymen, cavalry and archers. There was a large group with children up ahead and they were having the best time playing amongst the statues and shields. I must say that the audio-visual guides were excellent – it appears that there is more than one version out there as mine was different to Stephen’s, but mine had a man and a woman narrating, each presenting the view of the Norman and English armies respectively.

A Norman kite shield and an Anglo-Saxon round shield | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

There are two types of shield depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry. We have no way of knowing definitively, but kite shields are associated with the Normans. Their tapered end would have provided greater protection for the body and lower torso than the round shields associated with the English army.

Kneeling Norman Soldier | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

Looking over the shoulder of this kneeling Norman infantryman, you can get an idea of the scope of the ground and how hilly it is. Battle Abbey is just visible in the distance (and more so in the photos below).

Norman Archer | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

The Norman army consisted of cavalry, archers and infantry whereas the English army was mainly infantry with a few archers. The English forces consisted of the King’s royal guard – the housecarls who were well-trained, paid and wore superior armour. The remaining English forces were not so lucky, known as fyrds they were largely conscripted to fight for the king and were expected to provide their own weapons and provisions due to the expected brevity of their service.

 | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

The full story of the Battle of Hastings is quite complex but ultimately the Norman victory was due to better formation, a well-equipped army and a healthy dose of good luck.

As our very informative walk around the battlefield drew to an end, we approached the ruins of Battle Abbey, built to honour the Norman victory and destroyed by Henry VIII.

Battle Abbey

The Ruins of Battle Abbey | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

Following the Battle of Hastings, Pope Alexander II ordered that the Normans should do penance for the amount of lives lost in the Battle of 1066. William the Conqueror vowed to build an abbey at Battle but sadly died before it was completed. The abbey became home to Benedictine monks.

Inside Battle Abbey, Looking Out | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

Today the abbey lies in ruins, a victim of King Henry VIII’s notorious Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538.

Inside Battle Abbey | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

The high altar of the abbey is purported to be the spot where King Harold lost his life.

Battle Abbey Dorter | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

I couldn’t help but be impressed by this incredible building. At over 900 years old, it survived near destruction in 1538 yet still cuts an imposing figure on the horizon. What an incredible marvel of Norman architecture.

 | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

With one final look at the battlefield and a quick look at the Cloisters, our visit was over. We made our way over to Burton’s Tea Room located by the front gate of Battle Abbey and enjoyed some truly delicious English fare (and yes, it was another Ploughman’s lunch for me!)

 | Battle Abbey and 1066 Battlefield

1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield
Butter Cross
High St
Battle
TN33 0AE

Hint: Book ahead online! Tickets cost from £12.90 for adults and £11.60 for concessions, which is a saving of about 15% over buying at the venue.

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Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Hastings: The Funicular, the Views and the High Street

Hastings, England | Looking up the High Street

I can’t believe I waited so long to visit Hastings. I’d always wanted to go and my in-laws jumped at the chance to spend five days in a sea-facing apartment while we explored and took long walks along the beach. More on that in another post but today I’m sharing one of my favourite days where we took the West Hill Funicular to take in the exquisite views of Hastings before exploring the gorgeous high street.

Hastings, England | West Hill Lift

We were blessed with warm, sunny weather for most of our stay in Hastings and there was a lovely breeze on this particular Tuesday.

Hastings, England | On the Funicular

We climbed into the tiny Victorian carriage and all four adults were suitably in awe as the carriage was pulled up through the tunnel and up onto West Hill. Apparently it is unusual for funiculars to run through tunnels so this one is especially notable.

Hastings, England | West Hill Cafe

It had been approximately 20 minutes since our last cup of coffee so we decided it was high time for coffee and a scone in the West Hill Café. The service is so delightful here and we were able to sit at a table in the sunshine and look at the sea.

Hastings, England | The View from West Hill

After our snack, we took a walk to appreciate the exquisite views of Hastings Old Town. Having done the sea-side apartment in the newer side of town, I think I’ll head to the Old Town if ever we visit again. It is so full of charm.

Hastings, England | More Views from West Hill

I took approximately fifty photos of the view. Narrowing it down was not an easy task.

Hastings, England | Pride Flag on Hastings Castle

I headed west to see if I could approach Hastings Castle but the path looked a bit rocky for my in-laws. I loved seeing the Pride flag flying high above the castle.

Hastings, England | The bottom of the High Street

We had a return ticket (£4.20 adults, £2.60 concessions) and decided to return to the high street. I just love picturesque English high street and Hastings is especially lovely.

Hastings, England | Old Town Sweets

We headed straight into the sweet shop to buy some pick & mix. My mum-in-law was delighted to spot some seagull poo and sheep poo to take back for my nieces (both chocolate raisins, in case you couldn’t guess).

Hastings, England | The Top of the High Street

When we reached the top of the hill, we realised that it had been at least half an hour since our last refreshment and we stopped for a round of shandies.

Hastings, England | Albion Hastings

We arrived at the Albion Hastings to sample their famous pie and a pint but  were dismayed to see that the kitchen was closed. I can hear you asking why I’m including this decidedly average photo then. Well, we returned two days later, when the kitchen was open and we all agreed that it was the best pie we’d ever eaten in our lives. It was so good that I don’t have a single photo of our meals.

Three of us enjoyed the Harvey’s steak & ale pie in suet pastry, with mash and my father-in-law enjoyed the Shepherd’s Pie with cheddar mash. The Albion is now firmly on my list of places I’ll travel over 90 minutes to get to just to try their food again (The Lobster Shack in Whitstable and the East Coast Dining Room in Tankerton are the other two).

The West Hill Lift
43 George St,
Hastings
TN34 3EA

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Wednesday, 10 August 2022

An Afternoon at Cakes & Bubbles, Regent Street

Detail of Champagne available at Cakes & Bubbles

The best days are the ones spent with good friends. I joined a local book club when I moved to Dartford and the book club might be no more but the friendships remain. On Sunday morning, I met three of my fellow book-clubbers on the train and we travelled to London to meet up with Liz who no longer lives in Kent.

Cover of menu reading Cakes & Bubbles by Albert Adrià

The occasion? To visit Cakes & Bubbles, the Masterchef-famous establishment by the ‘World’s Best Pastry Chef’, Albert Adrià. Cakes & Bubbles promises a selection of 'exceptional desserts and pastries alongside a wide selection of Champagne and sparkling wines, as well as a menu comprising a savoury offering by Adrià'.

The Savoury

I'm a planner when it comes to eating at new places - I want to know that I've poured over the menus and chosen the best possible options. With that in mind, I'd planned to try the Lobster Ravioli for £22, only to arrive on the day to learn that the menus had recently changed (the ravioli is still on their website). I had a taste for lobster though and decided to go for the Lobster in a Brioche Bun for £32.

The lobster and bun were definitely tasty but the lettuce had wilted - impossible not to given the heatwave in London - and it certainly impacted the overall taste and texture of the dish. I was quite disappointed and could not see that the dish justified its place as the most expensive food item on the menu.

Of other people's meals, the Grilled Cheese Toasty for £16 and Club Sandwich for £20 did not look appealing but the salads (£18 - £19) looked delicious and were gigantic.

The Sweet

I am very pleased to say that the Matcha Basque Cheesecake for £9 exceeded my expectations in every way. I chose this item because I love matcha-flavoured desserts but it also happened to be gluten-free and it was delicious, rich and creamy.

There were swoons and sighs as my friends enjoyed their Chocolate Yuzu Castellas (£12, also gluten-free, pictured in the background above) and Liz loved the famous Cheese Cake for £12 which she'd been dreaming of since MasterChef.

Cakes & Bubbles also serves a 'Cakes & Bubbles experience' between 12pm and 10pm each day and it looks exquisite. It's three courses of sweet heaven served alongside a curated selection of champagnes and sparkling wines. The Sweet Afternoon Bubbles Menu is £45 or £55 with a glass of N.V. Veuve Clicquot Brut.

My Verdict

I will definitely return to Cakes & Bubbles, especially because Stephen has been asking me to take him for a fancy cake experience ever since we went to the Mirror Room at the Rosewood in London. I'd like to try the Sweet Afternoon Bubbles Menu (with added bubbly, of course) and I'd also pop in for a slice of cake but I'll skip the savoury options.

Cakes & Bubbles
70 Regent St
London
W1B 4DY

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Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Experiencing Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, London

It was the event that almost didn’t happen, one of those post-lockdown days that seemed doomed to be rescheduled and postponed indefinitely. Finally, after a bout of Covid and a memorial service, Sarah and I went to London for the day for a breakfast at Duck & Waffle and an afternoon at Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience.

“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream”

The exhibition is a vibrant splash of colour and light from the minute you walk through the doors. I loved the massive sunflowers!

We learned that Van Gogh had painted the same item over and over again, from different angles and different perspectives until he moved on to his next obsession.

In this section, we sat in a dark area while painting after painting appeared, all of flowers in a vase. Given my adoration of poppies, it was obvious that this was going to be my favourite one.

This was a very cool 3-D rendition of a painting. You had to stand on a box and position yourself just so to get the full 3-D effect.

A recreation of Van Gogh’s room which, again, he painted over and over again. You learn so much about Van Gogh at the exhibition including his relationship with Theo and his weakening mental state.

In the middle of the exhibition, there is an option to pay £5 extra to don a virtual reality headset. I would absolutely recommend taking this virtual tour! I loved the journey through the town Van Gogh lived in and the fields and woodlands that inspired him so.

All too soon we arrived in a large, dark room where we laid in deck chairs and watched Van Gogh’s beautiful paintings projected on the walls to soothing, tranquil music.

We were fresh from an ordeal of walking down 40 flights of stairs from the Duck & Waffle due to a power cut so we reclined in those chairs for longer than is strictly socially acceptable. Nevertheless, it was a moving, beautiful experience.

I was most amused to see two of my most recent Kindle covers during the exhibition – I recently replaced Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom with his Starry Night.

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Wednesday, 13 July 2022

A Sunny Monday in Rye, East Sussex

Mermaid Street | Rye, East Sussex

The best Mondays are the ones where you wake up without an alarm and make your way, at a leisurely pace, to somewhere new and exciting. My in-laws had arrived from a bitterly cold Johannesburg on Friday morning and on Monday I took them to one of my favourite towns in East Sussex: Rye.

Mermaid Street | Rye, East Sussex

Mermaid Street is the most famous street in Rye and easily the most recognisable.

Mermaid Street | Rye, East Sussex

It is lined on both sides by medieval, half-timbered houses and is a photographer's dream.

The Mint | Rye, East Sussex

We decided not to walk up Mermaid Street on this warm, sunny occasion and chose instead to wind our way up The Mint in search of The Cobbles Tea Room.. The Mint also has its share of pretty houses.

The Cobbles Tea Room | Rye, East Sussex

I'd been wanting to visit The Cobbles Tea Room since my very first visit to Rye when I spotted the quaint entrance down a little side street.

Ploughman's Lunch | The Cobbles Tea Room | Rye, East Sussex

I'm happy to say that we were not disappointed. The portions were generous, the food delicious and the range of teas and coffees delighted everyone in our party.

Inside The Cobbles Tea Room | Rye, East Sussex

Even the decor was delightful! I will definitely return again one day.

Lion Street | Rye, East Sussex

After lunch, we continued up The Mint as it becomes High Street and then turned into Lion Street towards the Church of Saint Mary, Rye.

Church Square | Rye, East Sussex

We wandered around Church Square and admired all the pretty houses with gloriously blooming gardens. Days like these renew my desire to live in a tiny village one day.

West Street | Rye, East Sussex

We turned into West Street and soon found our way to the top of Mermaid Street. It's much easier walking down the hill than up but my in-laws assured me that those cobbles can be quite unkind on your feet!

Mermaid Street | Rye, East Sussex

There are so many interesting and quirky houses and doorways down Mermaid Street. I wonder what it must be like to live on such a famous street?

My favourite house is the one with two front doors. That would suit Stephen and I!

Mermaid Street | Rye, East Sussex

Rye is just an hour's drive from Dartford and a little over an hour by train from London St Pancras. It is such a fun day out, no matter the season.

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© 2008 - Mandy Southgate | Emm in London

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