Sunday 26 February 2017

Mayfield Alpaca Farm

We've been meaning to visit Mayfield Alpaca Farm all year to visit our adopted reindeer, Sven, and despite the best efforts of the weather to keep us away, we finally made it down this weekend! 

Though Sven was our main excuse reason for visiting, the farm is first and foremost a home for alpacas (as you may have gathered from the name), and we were more than happy to spend some time visiting the fluffy oddballs too! 

The adoption pack (a Christmas present for the other half) came with a certificate and fridge magnet featuring our boy Sven, as well as entry for two people to the farm and a couple of bags of alpaca feed. 

The greedy alpacas were very grateful for the feed - I thought they were gonna have that fence over at one point in their eagerness to get to the grub! At one point, one particularly impatient fella got so bored of waiting for Harry to pour some food into his spare hand and made a lunge for the full bag! It was a very close call...

Emily, who usually loves feeding animals (she once wouldn't leave a farm we visited before she had fed a little something to every single goat on site), was surprisingly wary of the alpacas. I think maybe because a couple like flashing their teeth at her.... 

.... but may be more to do with the fact that the first alpaca we met was a very slobbery eater, yuck! 

The alpacas were really wonderful - they are such funny, weird, cute animals! Our favourite though was this little guy below who just looked perpetually happy - isn't he a cheery looking chap? 

We made it nearly all the way around the farm and hadn't seen our pal Sven, so I was getting a little worried that he wouldn't be there - then, lo and behold, we spotted him and his pen-mate Elsa. What a relief! 

It's a funny thing, as he's just a reindeer minding his own business and doing reindeerish things, but Sven is a bit of a family celebrity and we were all very excited to meet him! 

There were some other lovely residents at Mayfield that we got to meet too. I love the tidgy little Shetland ponies... 

... but we were a bit more torn on the rheas, - they are interesting for sure but make a few of our number a little nervous. KC is obsessed with the notion that they are really dinosaurs and refuses to have anything to do with them.

We all loved the bunnies and guinea pigs though! 

There was even an indoor section for a number of small animals including rats, degus, birds and meerkats - like this chilled out fella trying to catch some rays while it rained outside! 

All winter afternoons out should finish with hot chocolate, so we headed to the on-site cafe for a sweet and warming treat before heading off home.

It costs just £3.50 to visit the farm for adults, and £1.50 for kids - or you can get tickets included in their adoption packs too!

The Places We Will Go

Thursday 16 February 2017

A much needed weekend away

Its only the 16th and it' already been such a long month at work - it feel forever since I've had a couple of days off to just chill out and recharge my batteries. In truth though, it's only actually been a couple of weeks since a wonderfully relaxing weekend away at Fern Cottage in Butterknowle.

This was a long overdue trip anyway, in that it was supposed to happen well before Christmas but a bit of a mix up and an unfortunte incident involving rollerskates meant things had to be shuffled around a little (and big thanks to Sykes Cottages and the cottage owners for being so helpful and accomodating with that!) In some ways, the timing of a late January visit was a little better anyway - it's nice to have something to look forward to in those cold dark weeks after the excitement of Christmas has worn off a little. A quiet, no-stress weekend was perfect!

We went with my in-laws, which was great (no, honestly!) And not just because BigKC makes sausage sandwiches in the mornings, though that helps. We wanted somewhere cosy that'd be quiet, easy enough for us all to get to, with some things to do nearby. But cute.

Fern Cottage ticked all the boxes - it looked like a lovely base for a few of days, with a couple of nearby towns to visit, a pub or two within walking distance and not much but fields and sheep out the windows!

On arrival we were not disappointed. The house was gorgeous! The accomodation is all one one level, with an open-plan living-rroom/kitchen/dining area - which meant you could be doing your own thing but still be together and social!

The furnishings were all of top-notch quality, from the well-supplied kitchen utensils to soft white towels, but my favourite thing in the whole house was this big fluffy rug in the bedroom - just wonderful for scrunching your toes in!

The in-laws arrived a couple of hours before we did (stupid work!) and not only did they get the lay of the land and find out where all the pubs were - the important information - they'd also got cracking with a fab roast dinner - heroes! After a big dinner and a long drive, no one felt much like doing anything so we just had a nice chilled night in with a bottle of wine or two. It was all rather wonderful! 

We did make it all the way to the pub the next night though, brave adventurous souls that we are!

After a great nights sleep in the comfy bed, and the aforementioned sausage sandwiches were done with, we headed out to nearby Barnard Castle to explore. (That's Barnard Castle the town, not to be confused with Barnard Castle the castle, though we went there too!)

These pretty little market towns are my favourite. Cute little tea rooms nestled between historic pubs with open fires, great pies and a selection of guest ales. Just my kind of place!

We didn't actually visit any of the cute little tea rooms - thats the danger with going away with other people who dont share my passion for home baked treats and a proper brew - but now I know Barnard Castle is worth a return visit. We did call into one of the lovely pubs for pie though!

Sadly we had a less successful visit in the Sunday, where we headed no Bishop Auckland. It might just be because it was a Sunday but there didn't seem to be a whole lot open or going on. I did find the world's warmest jumper in one of the charity shops, so it wasn't a totally wasted visit, but I wouldn't go out of my way to go again.

We stopped in the way back to the cottage for a wonderful Sunday Toast at the Eden Arms in West Auckland - HUGE Yorkshire puddings, yum!

All too quickly, as is the way of these things, it was time to leave. The nice big gap between having to leave the cottage and needing to be home meant we had time for one last stop off, and as we were practically driving past Richmond it would have been rude not to swing by!

Richmond is one of my favourite North Yorkshire towns - my affection stems from a combination of merry trips with the youngsters to the castle, and the quality of scones available in the town!

Unfortunately it turned out my favourite place, The Scone Bar, was closed the say of our visit, but the Cross View Tea Room was a cracking back-up, and didn't let me down on the scone front either!

We've booked through Sykes Cottages a number of times now, and I can't see that changing in the future We already have a week away in the summer booked in one of their other properties! I love that cottage holidays give you the change to make you feel at home in that you can be totally comfortable, but without any of the 'at home stresses' like worrying about how full the washing basket is getting or whether that top shelf really needs dusting. In an ideal world my own house would be as spotless and wonderful as the Sykes properties I've stayed in but I can't see that happening any time soon and so in the meantime I'll make the most of my lovely little holiday homes!

Saturday 11 February 2017

Barnard Castle

A few years ago, when one of the kidlings was doing a school project on Normans which inspired a spate of educational castle visits, I was convinced into signing up for English Heritage membership. As I'm utterly useless at getting round to cancelling things, I'm likely to have this for life - which means I need to get my money's worth every year. Which means, whenever there's one nearby - I visit a castle! 

Stone spiral steps castle

At the end of last month we had a lovely weekend stay away near a very pretty little town called Barnard Castle. It didn't seen to much of a stretch to imagine that there'd be some nice old ruins for me to explore! 

Barnard Castle Signpost

Castle GAteway

County Durham Ruins

We were there the weekend of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch so on the way in we were asked to keep our eyes peeled in in the sensory garden and report back to reception if we saw anything. We saw some really lovely little tweeters, but - knowing very little about birds - I can't actually tell you (or the lady keeping the tally) what they were... but even I could recognise this little cutie! 

Castle Barnard Sensory Garden

Wooden Bridge

Places to visit County Durham

Barnard Castle is situated high above the River Tees, offering grand views over the river and surrounding areas. It was build in the 12th Century by Bernard de Balloil (hence the name), though ownership has passed through many hands over the centuries (including Richard III's) before English Heritage became responsible for it. 

River Tees

Castle Ruins

Barnard Castle Ruins

I don't know why I'm such a castle nerd... it's not like I really know much about History or anything. I guess I just like that a lot of the English Heritage properties are quiet and peaceful,.. and very pretty! Nice places for picnics, and I do like picnics! (Even thought I didn't bring one on this occasion and despite the occasional blue skies, it was a bit chilly!) Maybe I should crack open my history books for a deeper understanding and appreciation of these historical spots. In the meantime though, I'm happy to just potter round them taking pictures and buy fudge from the gift shops! 

Castle window

Barnard Castle Tower

I do feel a little for poor long-suffering KC though, who has very little interest in castles but will bravely accompany me whenever he doesn't have an excuse not to! 

BArnard Castle Visit

BArnard Castle English Heritage

Are you a castle nerd too? Do you have a favourite English Heritage site you can recommend? I know I've still got a lot to get through!
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