Where to Stay in Norwich: The Old Rectory, Thorpe St Andrew

Old Rectory, Thorpe St Andrew

I held my breath when our car turned off Yarmouth Road into the long driveway of the Old Rectory. It had been a long day and I was eager to settle into our accommodation for the evening. My heart began to soar when the grand façade of the Georgian house peeked through the long avenue of trees; the Grade II listed building is beautiful.

We met our host Chris in the reception and he showed us to the Deluxe Double room on the second floor. Ours were the two top-left windows in the photo below.

Old Rectory, Norwich

When we stepped into our room, we were immediately transported to a different era, a time of elegance, style and understatement. Almost as if they knew that this was to be a weekend of writing, the room was perfectly set up with desk and wingback chairs to accommodate my writing needs.

A room at the Old Rectory, Norwich

The Old Rectory is nestled in an acre of mature gardens and our room had a view of the impressive greenery below. The bathroom featured vintage porcelain fittings and I was thrilled to discover the corner bath. There was also a separate shower for those of us who need to shower in the morning.

Bathroom at the Old Rectory, Thorpe St Andrew

After settling in, we decided that it was time to explore our surroundings.

Thorpe St Andrew

Thorpe St Andrew is an old town. It featured in the Domesday book as ‘Torp’ (meaning village in Scandinavian) and there is evidence of Roman occupation in the area. Today it is a riverside village with plenty of river- and roadside establishments lining Yarmouth Road where you can eat and drink the night away. On a pleasant summer evening, you’re best advised to leave your car at your hotel and take a leisurely twilight stroll down the strip.

The Old Rectory itself was built in 1754 by the vicar for the Thorpe St Andrew church. It remained with the church for many years before being converted to a hotel.

After a long day of driving, exploring Felbrigg Hall and Retro Dining at Grosvenor Fish Bar, we finally fell into bed for a very deep and very comfortable night’s sleep.

Drawing Room, The Old Rectory

We were up early the following morning for we had a full day of exploring and dancing ahead of us. I decided to take a tour of the grounds while Stephen relaxed with a newspaper in the drawing room.

The Old Rectory Hallway


The Gardens of the Old Rectory

Once I was certain that I’d built up enough of an appetite, we enjoyed a full English breakfast in the dining room.

Breakfast at the Old Rectory

Dining Room

Our stay the the Old Rectory was far too short and I would love to return soon. There is no shortage of things to do and places to visit in Norfolk the whole year round as you can see on the Old Rectory What's On page. I’d be especially interested in going back for their dinner, bed and breakfast offer for £210 for Valentine’s Day 2017.

The Old Rectory
103 Yarmouth Road
Thorpe St. Andrew

We stayed at the Old Rectory during our visit to the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, one of the UK’s longest-running and largest international arts festivals featuring film, dance, contemporary music and a host of other events.

I’d like to thank Visit Norwich, Look Sideways–East and The Old Rectory for inviting me to stay at the Old Rectory. Our visit was complimentary and as always, all views, enthusiasm and nostalgia are entirely my own

A Pudding Night at the Secret Garden, Kent

A Pudding Evening at the Secret Garden Kent

What is the most fun you’ve had recently? Late last year, we discovered that one of our favourite venues in Kent, The Secret Garden, runs a monthly pudding night. You might remember that we attended Afternoon Tea at the Secret Garden last autumn and we loved it. We knew this was something we just had to do and so Andrea, Liz, Sarah and I consulted our diaries and booked the next available date that we were all free. Four months later, that day finally arrived!

The Secret Garden is a wedding venue and restaurant located in Ashford, Kent and it is just down the road from Ashford International station and the designer outlet. It is a gorgeous venue with lovely gardens and absolutely superb food. Each time I go, I know that it is just a matter of time before I return because in 6 short months, The Secret Garden has become my favourite location in Kent.

Our evening began with a glass of prosecco and a round of cocktails. I opted for the Mr Wanstall mocktail, named after the Wanstall family who are proprietors of the establishment. It was delicious and every bit as appetising as the grown-up, non-designated-driver cocktails.

Mr Wanstall Cocktail Secret Garden

Soon it was time for our main course. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t quite appreciated that we’d be receiving a main course at a pudding evening and this was a very pleasant surprise. An even bigger surprise was that I had remembered to warn the restaurant of my garlic allergy when we booked and they prepared a special garlic-free meal for me. The meal was absolutely delicious; chicken with Enoki mushrooms and a creamy white sauce with new potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

Chicken in slender white mushrooms Secret Garden Kent

I think it is only proper to admit that the photo above wasn’t a carefully composed shot but instead the result of eating half my meal before realising that I might need to capture it. I’m such a good blogger.

It wasn’t long before the restaurant staff began to fill the central table with the most mouthwatering array of puddings and desserts. It began to capture everybody’s eye and soon had a dedicated crowd of admiring observers. Behold, this work of art:

Pudding Night at the Secret Garden Kent

Pudding Evening at the Secret Garden Kent

Trifle - Pudding Evening at the Secret Garden Kent

Bread and butter pudding and pavlova - Pudding Evening at the Secret Garden Kent

One of the highlights of any visit to The Secret Garden is the absolutely wonderful staff. They are ever welcoming and hospitable and nothing is too much trouble for them. They even went so far as to demonstrate the correct arms-over-the-head technique for allowing food to settle further down the body so that you can eat more. Let me tell you, that technique came in handy!

I went straight for a massive serving of trifle and it was so good. I then had a much smaller portion of the delicious lemon and ginger cake, with cream, followed by an even smaller portion of bread and butter pudding. When we go again, and we will definitely be going again, I will try to eat less main course to leave space for more pudding. I’m also not going to eat for a week before going. I suggest you follow the same strategy should you go.

To round up the evening, we took part in a hilarious quiz and a lovely cup of tea.

Tea - Pudding Evening at the Secret Garden Kent

Happy and full, we then hit the road for the long journey back home.

Needless to say, I would absolutely recommend The Secret Garden, Kent and can’t wait to return.

Pudding Night at The Secret Garden, Kent
Mersham-le-Hatch Business Village
Hythe Road
TN25 6NH

Cost: £30 per person, including welcome drink, main course and all you can eat desert

Notes on visiting: The Secret Garden Kent is located really close to Ashford International train station. You can catch a train from London, spend the morning shopping at the Ashford Designer Outlet and then catch a taxi or bus to The Secret Garden.

Do you know of any other secret or quirky places to visit in Kent? How about Essex, Surrey or Sussex?

Top Hats & Tails: A Ragroof Players Tea Dance

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016

With most of our weekend in Norwich already planned, I was searching in the Norfolk & Norwich Festival website for something to do on the Sunday afternoon. The minute I saw the listing for the Ragroof Players Tea Dance, I was sold. "Grab your top hat and tails", it said, "or shimmy into your most glamorous gown, for a Fred and Ginger special". I could not wait!  I envisaged an afternoon of Charleston and foxtrot, swing and jitterbug.

There was just one small problem: I cannot dance to save my life. That’s okay, thought I, I bet there will be some fantastic photo opportunities. Nevertheless, I dug a little deeper and that is where I discovered the charm of the Ragroof Players dances – you don’t need to know how to dance. Lifelong dancer or absolute beginner, there is something for everyone at their dances.

We arrived at the Adnams Spiegeltent in the early afternoon and were seated in a booth at the side of the dancefloor. We were offered tea and cakes, although if you wanted to break the Prohibition you could order something a little stronger at the bar. When we arrived, there were couples swanning across the dancefloor, ever the picture of elegance and poise.

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (4)

Soon enough, it was time for a beginner’s dance demonstration and I was surprised at how many of us swarmed to the dancefloor. This is the point at which I’d normally tell you how I took to it like a duck to water and couldn’t believe how quickly I learned the various steps including basic ballroom and salsa but alas, I cannot tell a lie. My dance skills are profoundly lacking.

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (2)

I did enjoy myself, as you can see from the massive smile on my face in the photo below and it has made me quite determined to go for dance lessons now to master at least one or two rhythms. I dream of myself being able to swing like the Swing Kids and absolutely tearing up a dance floor.

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (3)

Our hosts were Marion Duggan, Matthew Blacklock, Ivan Fabrega and Anna Symes. They were absolutely wonderful and were dedicated in teaching us new steps and moving through the room to ensure that everybody had somebody to dance with.

Matthew Blacklock at the Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (6)

The Ragroof Players have a great philosophy too – they encourage people to drop gender norms and to learn to both lead and follow. “We don’t mind if you dance with someone of the same sex”, they said, “In fact, we encourage it!”

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (7)

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (12)

I really appreciated the spirit of inclusion and sense that everyone was welcome at the dance. A lady at my table was celebrating her 85th birthday and although unable to dance anymore, she was made to feel like the star of the show. I would have liked to see her dance – her daughter was an incredible dancer and when complimented on it, said that her mother had been even better.

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (13)

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (14)

All told, the Ragroof Tea Dance was an afternoon of good, clean fun which filled my love of vintage and retro. It made me realise just how much I love watching good dancers and yes, as I said, it has really fuelled my desire to learn to dance.

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (15)

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (16)

We had a super afternoon and I will definitely go to a Ragroof Players event again. I loved the opportunity to dress up and travel back to the heyday of Hollywood, screen sirens and dance.

Ragroof Tea Dance, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 (8)

Interested? Visit the Ragroof Players website or follow them on Twitter @Ragroof to find out when they are in your area.

We visited The Ragroof Tea Dance as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, one of the UK’s longest-running and largest international arts festivals featuring film, dance, contemporary music and a host of other events.

I’d like to thank Visit Norwich, Look Sideways–East and Ragroof Players for inviting me to experience the Ragroof Tea Dance. Our visit was complimentary and as always, all views and two left feet are my own.

Photo Essay: A Saturday in Brixton

Brixton Street Art - Pale Horse

Sometimes there is no better place to be than wherever you are right now with camera in hand. I recently found myself in Brixton with some time to kill and decided to head off in the direction in which I thought the market was. I walked onto the famed Electric Avenue and what I found was a generic English market with luggage, mobile phone accessories and cheap clothing. Feeling a little disappointed, I headed into the nearest side street and the photo opportunities began in earnest. 

Brixton - Burritos are Sleeping Bags

Brixton - Bradys

Brixton Food Court

My stomach began to rumble and I followed the scents of delicious food before arriving at the Brixton Food Court, a small area with vendors, street art and great food. I really liked the vibe here and was hoping to go back later in the day. 

Brixton Food Court - Amara Por Dios

Amazing Street Art at Brixton Food Court

Street Art at Brixton Food Court

Brixton Arches

Having previously seen a sign begging to #savebrixtonarches, I headed next to the arches to take a look. I waited a long time for this photo and you can see the gentleman peering around the column to look at me. 

Stairs to Brixton Station

There is so much art and culture in Brixton, you really don't need to look far for it. These stairs lead into the Brixton railway station but I decided to continue on my way instead. 

Street Market Brixton

South African Flag at Brixton Village

There were several smaller markets and offshoots of stalls in the area. I entered the Brixton Village, an inside market with many fresh food stalls and places to eat and drink, and was amused to spot a South African flag (the Y shaped flag on the left). 

Brixton Village

Be Our Guest Brixton

I returned to the station to see if Melissa and Jen had arrived yet but as they had not, I decided to go in search of the Brixton Station Road Market which I'd seen advertised. 

I walked through the market and soon arrived at Pop Brixton. This was a really interesting space made out of old containers. There were loads of food vendors and I knew I'd be getting lunch here instead of at the Brixton Food Court (no fear, now I have a reason to return to Brixton!)

Gardens of Pop Brixton

Pop Brixton

Waiting Pop Brixton

Looking Down at Pop Brixton

By now I was ravenous and the glorious scents assailing me were not helping. I decided to order a pizza, hoping to finish it before the others arrived but of course they texted the minute my food arrived! How delicious does that look? The pizzas aren't designed to be heart-shaped but both the proprietor and I were happy with it. 

Awesome Pizza at Pop Brixton

The pizza was amazing. Second only to the fantastic pizza I had at the Hop Farm in Kent. The others soon joined me - them looking refreshed and me with pizza all over my face - and we spent some time exploring the stalls and ordered more food. 

Skateboarders at Pop Brixton

We then decided to find Brixton's famous Chocolate Museum where we learned all about chocolate, slavery and more chocolate. We had a hot chocolate and let me tell you, it was so good!

Cocoa Pods at the Chocolate Museum

Chocolate at the Chocolate Museum

Fabrics of Brixton

The David Bowie Memorial in Brixton

As we made our way back to the station after a long and satisfying day, we stopped by the David Bowie memorial. I don't think we should mourn celebrities - we don't know them after all - but I have to admit to a tear in my eye when I listened to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars on the train home.

Eating Out: Côte Brasserie, Norwich

Cote Brasserie, Exchange Street, Norwich

I like the Côte Brasserie, Norwich the minute I walk in the door; the sounds of piano notes and acid jazz float across the room and blend perfectly with the Art Deco décor. We're seated in the conservatory with a perfect view of Exchange Street and relax with a glass of Kir Royale in hand. It is early on a Sunday, just before the start of the lunch time rush and we're enjoying an early meal before an afternoon of dancing. 

We begin with starters, chicken liver parfait for me and steak tartare for Stephen. Stephen had in fact chosen his starter before we even arrived and is very excited to try it. 

Chicken Liver Parfait, Cote Brasserie Norwich

The chicken liver parfait is served with toasted brioche and spiced apple chutney. It is delicious and passes my test of a good parfait - it is smooth and creamy and I polish off the remaining parfait with a fork after my brioche is finished. 

Steak Tartare, Cote Brasserie Norwich

Stephen is not disappointed by his steak tartare. He says it doesn't feel like he is eating raw meat and he can't decide whether he prefers to accompany it with Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce more but it's just as good without. His verdict? He will definitely have it again. "It's just nice", says the man of few words. 

Seasonal rump of lamb with Jersey Royal potatoes, Cote Brasserie Norwich

For his main course, Stephen chooses the seasonal rump of lamb served with Jersey Royal potatoes, English asparagus and mint Hollandaise. The lamb arrives perfectly cooked and Stephen is immediately pleased with his choice of main. When pressed, my South African husband of few words agrees that "it was very nice". I am not certain he quite understands what our objective is today. 

I decide on a 7oz fillet served with Roquefort butter. I am not eating a lot of meat these days and as a result have been craving a good steak. I'm very pleased with the presentation of my dish and am pleased to see that the portion looks to be of a manageable size. 

7oz fillet, Cote Brasserie Norwich

The steak is delicious, seared on the outside and red on the inside. The meat is tender and tasty as a fillet should be and is perfectly matched with the Roquefort butter. The fillet is served with frites which are lovely too, crispy and salty, but admittedly I don't manage too many. 

Frozen summer berries with white chocolate sauce, Cote Brasserie Norwich

Despite feeling quite full by this time, we decide that the desserts look too good to pass up. I decide to go for something new that I've never tried before and choose frozen summer berries served in warm white chocolate sauce. I'm delighted by the mix of frozen berries and melted chocolate on my tongue and experience a delicious explosion of flavour as the tart berries blend with the sweet flavour of the chocolate. The dessert is wonderfully light and definitely the right choice. 

Lemon sorbet, Cote Brasserie Norwich

Stephen chooses the lemon sorbet and helpfully tells me that it is "very lemony" but that was not a bad thing apparently. He polishes it off and declares that he has quite enjoyed his meal. 

I like Côte Brasserie and they are already our brunch establishment of choice but our lovely meal at Côte Brasserie Norwich has enticed me to return for lunch and evening meals too. 

With a thumbs up from Stephen and a happy, satisfied nod from me, it was time to put on our dancing shoes. 

Côte Brasserie, Norwich
29 Exchange St,

We visited Côte Brasserie as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, one of the UK’s longest-running and largest international arts festivals featuring film, dance, contemporary music and a host of other events.

I’d like to thank Visit Norwich, Look Sideways–East and Côte Brasserie, Norwich for inviting me to try out the menu. Our visit was complimentary and as always, all views, enthusiasm and gluttony are entirely my own.

On the Street: A Sunday Morning in Norwich

St Stephen's Church, Norwich

Note to self, I thought to myself as I prepared for our trip to Norwich, take photos with actual people in them. See, I’m notorious for taking photos without people in them and have had readers remark how empty places were when in reality, I just have a knack for directing my camera away from human beings. Part of that is because I’m as subtle as a hippo and am never quite sure how to answer people when they ask why I’m photographing them; I also have a genuine love for architecture, buildings and structures and my camera lens naturally gravitates towards them.

On the weekend we went up to Norwich for the the Norfolk & Norwich Festival I was determined to practice my people photography and Stephen was also in a very accommodating mood. And so, with some time to kill and armed with my camera, we began our exploration.

Norwich on a Sunday morning

The first thing I noticed was how many people were out and about on a Sunday morning. In Dartford and Kent, Sunday mornings are really quite quiet and you don’t see as many people out and about in the town centre, relaxing and meeting up with each other. Likewise, some areas of London are always busy but others, like the City, can be very quiet on the weekend.

Stalling by a stall in Norwich

Busking in Norwich

The famous Norwich market is closed on a Sunday but that didn’t stop crowds of people from visiting the city centre.

The Norwich market on a Sunday

Occasionally my camera lens would stray away from people, especially when it came to the hidden alleyways and vintage street signs.

Old Post Office Court Norwich

But for the most part I seemed to be succeeding in capturing people as they went about their way on a bright and sunny Sunday morning in spring.

Street Photography Norwich (8)

Street Photography Norwich (9)

Street Photography Norwich (10)

There was one other item I was ticking off my list on this Sunday morning. We had visited Norwich in winter of 2011 and I had always wanted to return when it wasn’t so frigidly cold. Granted, I managed to snap some wonderful photos of the Royal Arcade and Dusk and Bright Lights of Norwich but I wanted to see how the city came alive in summer. I was not disappointed.

Looking up Gaol Hill to Norwich Guildhall

The Church of St Peter Mancroft

Oops, there I go again with street signs and architecture.

William Booth Street formerly Church Street

We soon made our way to Chapelfield Gardens where we were to spend the afternoon. The gardens were a hive of activity with people of all ages out for the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. We were to spend the afternoon in the tent below, for an afternoon of tea and vintage dancing, but that is the subject of a whole new blog post.

Salon Perdu at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

These little girls were fascinated by the Paka dragon, as was I.

Paka Dragon at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

There was quite a queue for this ice cream stall, so being the intrepid explorer that I am, I decided to try it out. Featuring local double cream, I can confirm that it was indeed waiting for!

Norfolk Ice Cream at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Bandstand at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Chilling at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Mission accomplished. I managed to spend ages photographing people and nothing untoward happened. Perhaps I need to try it more often in future!

Are you a budding photographer? What do you find most difficult to do?