Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Stokesay Castle: Touch of Magic on the Welsh Marches

Stokesay Castle, Shropshire. Photo ©Alison Plummer.

I fell for Stokesay Castle, Shropshire, many moons ago and love it to pieces. The whole aura of it – the building, the setting, who knows what exactly, but it's like a magnet for me. The exterior blends castle walls with a medieval beamed manor house, and the gatehouse is a fairytale in itself. Inside is bare today, but still interesting. Climb the tower for views over the lush Teme Valley countryside.

Stokesay Castle Gatehouse. Photo by English Heritage.

Stokesay is close to Ludlow, a hill town with a very different castle, mighty and formidable, despite its ruined walls. Explore Ludlow's streets leading up to the castle and the adjacent market square. Markets are held four days a week and foodie Ludlow delivers local produce in many cafes, delis and restaurants. Explore this border country and its tiny towns and castles, hike the hills, feel the magic.

Photo by Alison Plummer©

Photo by The Clive Arms

Photo by The Clive Arms
Stokesay Castle

Ludlow Farmshop

The Clive Arms

Monday, July 10, 2023

Discovering Arts & Crafts Movement Treasures in England's West Midlands

Trellis, by William Morris.

Winning a gold medal at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London, the Morris & Co garden by Ruth Wilmott highlighted the continuing fascination and renewed interest in William Morris designs. 

Victorian era wallpaper and textile designer William Morris was the champion of the Arts & Crafts Movement, an anti-industrial art movement (1860 – 1910) devoted to returning to traditional methods of craftsmanship. 

Inspired by a love of nature, his designs feature flowers, trees and birds. Two of his iconic patterns were the basis of the award-winning garden – Trellis (1862) and Willow Boughs (1887). Shades of green blue, reds and earthy tones predominate in the designs.  Morris patterns  also starred in fashion designs – Next produced a summer range – as well as the evergreen iconic home furnishings.

I'd been visiting some of the Arts & Crafts treasures in the West Midlands and the Cotswolds and I was already hooked. The movement focused on central England, particularly the Birmingham School of Art. Also, the Guild and School of Handicraft, based on the structure of the medieval craft guilds, was relocated from London’s East End to Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, by architect and designer C.R. Ashbee, famous for his silverware.

There are just so many aspects, from the floral fabulousness of a Morris Design fabric or wallpaper to Burne-Jones tapestries and stained glass. There's beautiful silver and wood carving, Arts & Crafts gardens, houses and churches. And what better way to view them than on a drive through the glorious countryside, especially at the height of summer?

All Saints Church, Brockhampton, Herefordshire. ©AP

I made just such a journey to Herefordshire, in search of All Saints Church, Brockhampton (above). I'd read that it is recognised as one of the most important Arts & Crafts buildings of the early 20th century, so I had to see it. Driving via Little Malvern (the gorgeous Little Malvern Court and garden is open just now), British Camp on the stunning Malvern Hills and Ledbury, I headed to Much Marcle and headed past the Westons Cider Factory down narrow lanes to Brockhampton. I was rewarded with this and a churchyard filled with wildflowers.

Broadway Tower, Broadway, Worcestershire

I particularly like the idea that Broadway Tower, a landmark folly high on the Cotswold hills above the village of Broadway, was once a holiday retreat for Arts and Crafts Movement artists including pre-Raphaelites William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. 

Broadway Tower. ©AP

Broadway Tower

Gordon Russell Museum, Broadway, Worcestershire:

Furniture designer Russell was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement in his early career. 

Snowshill Manor Garden, Snowshill, near Broadway, Worcestershire:

This Tudor manor house is packed with memorabilia collected by eccentric Charles Wade – so much so that he lived in a house in the garden. The Arts & Crafts garden was created by Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, an Arts & Crafts architect. 

The West Window, St Peter’s Church, Binton, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire: 

A memorial to Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic, installed in 1908 by the vicar of Binton who was Scott’s  father-in-law. Four scenes by Charles Eamer Kempe are amongst Gothic works and include a scene of Captain Oates’ farewell.  (Kempe worked with  Arts & Crafts Movement projects but didn’t buy into their socialist ideas.) 

Winterbourne House, Birmingham:

Housing and town planning reform pioneer John Nettlefold and his wife Margaret built their villa in Birmingham in 1903. They chose the Edwardian Arts & Crafts style and John used elements of the home in designs for housing in poorer areas of Birmingham. The Grade ll listed garden was designed by Margaret, inspired by Gertrude Jekyll. The garden is now the University of Birmingham’s Botanic Garden. Inside the house are exhibition rooms with William Morris wallpaper, Edwardian furnishings and family memorabilia.

Rodmarton Manor, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire:

The house and furniture were built/made by local craftspeople according to Arts and Crafts ideals, in the old traditional style. Everything was created by hand using local stone and timber and the gardens are beautiful. 

Bourton House Garden, Gloucestershire:

Award-winning garden with a Renaissance structure, Arts & Crafts-style planting.

Bourton House Garden. ©AP

Owlpen Manor, Dursley Gloucestershire: 

Arts & Crafts repairs were made to an ancient manor house. Includes Sidney Barnsley A&C furniture, setting and gardens to die for. Said to be one of England’s most haunted houses! (Group tours only.)

Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire:

Hart Silversmiths workshop and The Guild of Handicraft Gallery

Court Barn Museum dedicated to Arts & Crafts; Silversmithing/industrial design in the Old Silk Mill 

Robert Welch, Sheep Street, silversmithing/design and flatware/cutlery sold worldwide.

Hidcote Gardens, Gloucestershire, near Chipping Campden

Kelmscott Manor, Gloucestershire, Morris’s famous family home

Kiftsgate Gardens, Gloucestershire, near Chipping Campden

Pugin’s St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham

Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, near Birmingham

For Arts & Crafts aficionados, Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum’s Wilson Gallery has an impressive collection with a dedicated Arts & Crafts Archive.  

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Amalfi Coast Count Down – Farewell Angelina

A timely message about the end of summer on the Amalfi Coast popped into my inbox with the reminder of the seasonal closure of Casa Angelina in Praiano on 31 October. The description of thinning crowds, glorious sunsets and skippered boat trips to Positano, Amalfi, Sorrento and Capri tugged at my heartstrings. Who can fail to fall desperately in love with this curvaceous coastline and its mesmerising light? 

Image: Casa Angelina, Praiano, Amalfi Coast.©

The prompt made me smile as we would have done well to have heeded such advice on our first visit to Italy's Amalfi Coast. We were winging it, indie travellers somewhat carelessly piecing together our own itinerary, researching features for print and shooting images for an agency campaign to an exacting brief requiring shots of Positano.

Arriving in Rome, we lingered a little too long in a tiny, romantic hotel in Campo de Fiore. (Sigh!) We travelled by train to Naples and then to Sorrento for a delicious sojourn in a beautiful villa surrounded by lemon groves. We taxied to Positano, sure of finding accommodation – but this was 30 October and shutters were being closed and nailed fast in many restaurants and hotels around the tiny bay. Even the legendary Le Sirenuse hotel was shutting up shop.

Dismayed, we enquired and were directed to a pensione where the main rooms were already closed for winter. We were shown to a side room not facing the sea but it still didn't click that the end of the season was for a reason!

We scoped the beach for the exact location for the advertising shoot and then went to dinner. The narrow passage and stairways of Positano were lined with large pots of geraniums and we looked forward to a romantic stroll back through them towards the sea. But while we dined the wind came up – and what a wind. It howled through the passageways taking plant pots with it. "Hang on to me Dorothy," he exclaimed, invoking lines from The Wizard of Oz, and we literally clung to each other as we battled the elements.

The storms raged and it poured with rain all day every day for the next six days. We went to our chosen spot on the beach for the ad photos in case the clouds parted, but no luck. Sheltering, we dined on delicious meats, cheeses and tomatoes from the local deli, complaining about being 'stuck' and then laughing as we realised how privileged we were to be there, even in the rain. Finally the sun did shine, the Hasselblad shutter locked the photos in place and we were done, free again to explore at will, heading south to Praiano, Ravello, then Capri and points north back to Rome.

Last of Casa Angelina's summer season
So hurry if you will to Casa Angelina and its glorious sunsets at Praiano. Hop aboard a boat inspired by the traditional Sorrentine Gozzo fishing vessels with half and day cruises around Capri, the Blue Grotto and the Faraglioni Rocks. Sail south to small coastal towns such as Maiori, Minori and Cetara; or to Leranto Bay – a place of awe-inspiring beauty, where the mythical Homerian Sirens were said to have sung their enchanting songs to passing sailors. 

Image: Casa Angelina, Executive Chef Lepoldo Elefante.©

You will not go hungry as Casa Angelina Executive Chef Leopoldo Elefante offers boat-goers his favourite plates: Rice with White Sea Truffles, Sfusato Amalfitano & Zucchini flowers, Oyster & Raspberry, Shrimp Avocado & Dill, Prawn & Kaluga Amur Caviar, Squid Celery & Peach, Octopus Yellow Dapper & Mint, Mozzarella & Sorrento Tomatoes – conjuring for me the very tastes and colours of the Amalfi Coast.

If you can't make it before 31 October then it's farewell Casa Angelina until next year. Book ahead now for 2023 while you think of it! 

Information and bookings:

Casa Angelina is a 42-room hotel offering barefoot luxury in modern minimalist surroundings. The season runs from early March to late October.

In Australia and New Zealand contact Unique Tourism

Source: Press release and big thanks to Unique Tourism for the reminder!


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Birmingham & West Midlands' Travel App

Broadway Tower, Broadway, Worcestershire. ©AP

I love Britain's West Midlands in the heart of England, especially patchwork fields, walking trails, history, castles, villages, gardens, all things Shakespeare and the glorious countryside. My heart skips a beat whenever I see the sinuous outline of the Malvern Hills (the Sleeping Dragon) and to walk on them is magical. 

But in researching and developing my travel App, Birmingham & West Midlands, I've also channelled some family roots that are firmly planted in the heart of the industrial Midlands.

These include Quarry Bank, Brierley Hill and Dudley in the industrial Black Country where you'll find the fascinating Black Country Living Museum – think Peaky Blinders and much more. Also Coventry, a recent City of Culture.  

Food? Yes, I'm a fan of the countryside's fresh produce, farm shops, great pubs, lively cafes plus the brilliant multicultural cuisine of Birmingham. Artisan distilleries, craft breweries and vineyards are outstanding in this region. I love Morgan cars, too! 

Morgan Roadster, Morgan Motor Company, Malvern. ©AP

Foodie Ludlow in Shropshire is a great place to visit, especially on market days, while the entire Welsh border country is dreamy and atmospheric – perfect for country drives and exploring. 

My App dives into industrial heritage, leads you to vintage transport collections so symbolic of the Midlands, as well as many specialist museums, energised with interactive displays and dynamic exhibitions.  Some such as the Almonry (below) are significant buildings and treasure troves in themselves, recording fascinating local history including the destruction of Evesham's great abbey.

In England I am based close to Evesham, the North Cotswold village of Broadway and just a stone's throw from Stratford-upon-Avon.  I love the black and white architecture and thatched cottages of the Midlands as well as the honey-coloured stone houses of the Cotswolds. 

The Almonry, Evesham.©AP

I'm also a short drive from  Coventry, now emphasising its heritage with landmarks including the Telegraph newspaper building repurposed as hotels and accommodation, as well as heritage walks, the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum and the Coventry Music Museum. Coventry Cathedral has a very special place in my heart – my father was born in Coventry and loved the old cathedral, so sadly destroyed. 

Meanwhile, Birmingham has been busy regenerating its city centre with impressive buildings such as The Cube, home to Hotel Indigo Birmingham and Marco Pierre White's Steakhouse, Bar & Grill (think modern comfort food and champagne). Dishoom Birmingham promises Irani/Bombay fusion, all welcome. Bakeries and cafes reflect the mix of influences and there's fine dining, too. Vegans and vegetarians, so often neglected in the past, can travel and eat well.

The Cube, home of Hotel Indigo Birmingham.©IHG Hotels

The Library of Birmingham, affectionately called the 'Wedding Cake' opened in 2013 and is one of centre's signature buildings, while the Bullring & Grand Central shopping centres combine to create the largest city centre shopping complex in the UK. The Jewellery Quarter is historic but it's also the home of 100 or so diamond dealers and jewellers, also cafes, bars and restaurants – multicultural Birmingham really loves its food!

The Library of Birmingham.©Visit Birmingham

The Garrick pub, Stratford-upon-Avon.©AP

I might be the only one to think this, but I'm quite taken with the echoes I see in the Library of Birmingham's decorative exterior patterns and those of The Garrick pub in Stratford-upon-Avon, thought to be the oldest in town. Shakespeare himself may well have imbibed at the Garrick as it is very close to th recently re-vamped New Place where he lived in his later years until he died. Of course Stratford-upon-Avon is a key Midlands' attraction, with much ado about Shakespeare and the beautiful houses associated with him and his family including Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Shakespeare's Birthplace. 

Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Shottery, Stratford-upon-Avon.©AP

Major Rivers in the Midlands include the Trent, Tame, Avon, Severn and Wye (forming the English/ Welsh border for much of its length) and the area is linked by a network of canals built to carry freight at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Canal boat holidays are a rewarding way to travel through the countryside and right into the heart of towns and cities including Birmingham, Stourport-on-Severn, Stoke-on-Trent, Stratford-upon-Avon, Upton-upon-Severn. 

The Hatton Flight of locks, Warwickshire.©AP

Canal boat on the River Avon.©AP

And those castles, gardens, villages and stunning views? I've a real feeling that many people are craving a comforting sense of place and history right now and the West Midlands delivers. Visiting English country gardens in their many seasons is one of life's pleasures ...

Bourton House Garden. ©AP

... as is standing on vantage points such as the Malvern, Shropshire and Cotswold Hills to admire the patchwork fields and views across middle England. Broadway Tower is just one of my favourites.

Please download my Travel App to enjoy much more of the West Midlands, plan a trip, see the sights.


Published by TouchScreen Travels.

My thanks to all who have helped me including the West Midlands Growth Company, Visit Britain, local businesses and attractions, PR and marketing companies, friends, family and associates and, especially, TouchScreen Travels.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Slingology – the new art of Raffles' Singapore Sling cocktail, now refreshed with craft ingredients and sustainability

Recently enjoying an extensive restoration, Raffles Hotel Singapore has gone to great lengths to retain the ambience and service so loved by its devoted clientele while appealing to those who are yet to experience its charms. Cosy social spaces and courtyards, new restaurants and bars are all part of the recipe along with treasured venues including the Long Bar, the mention of which triggered a fond memory.

The Sling at the Long Bar. © Raffles Hotel Singapore

My last visit to the hotel a few years ago was to attend an intimate, luxurious wedding reception in a private dining room. Between copious intriguing courses I was whisked away on a tour of some timber walkways framed by arches. My guide (a fellow wedding guest) hurried me along and I lost a heel from one of my slingback shoes on the way – I planned to return in daylight to look for it but that didn't happen. Despite my not being well-heeled, we all had a last drink in the Long Bar after the reception dinner. Inevitably, the group decision was that a Singapore Sling would make up for my loss!

Star of the Long Bar 

It's too late to retrace those exact steps now, but happily the Long Bar remains, complete with the iconic Singapore Sling now revitalised after its own makeover. Using craft ingredients, the cocktail's taste has been refreshed to suit modern palates while the use of ecoSPIRITS makes it more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.

New delivery for the Singapore Sling. ©Raffles Hotel Singapore.

Adding to its accolades, the Singapore Sling has become the forerunner for Raffles Hotel Singapore in its move to reduce single-use waste and the carbon footprint. Working with Proof & Company and patent-pending ecoSPIRITS technology, key ingredients Widges Gin, Luxardo Cherry Sanque Morlacco and Ferrand Dry CuraƧao are delivered to Long Bar in patent-pending ecoTOTETM format, saving tens of thousands of glass bottles each year. 

Single-use plastic straws have been replaced with biodegradable versions made with potato starch. Also furthering the sustainability profile, the Luxardo Maraschino Cherries and Long Bar exclusive Scrappy’s Spiced Plantation Bitters are shipped in low-waste formats, eliminating several thousand kilograms of packaging waste. Estimates using the ecoSPIRITS Carbon Calculator, developed by consulting firm Deloitte, the Singapore Sling saves the equivalent of 200g of CO2 emission per serving.

Under the ecoSPIRITS Forest Program, Raffles Hotel Singapore is planting one native tree in the Kalimantan or Sumatran rainforest for every 25 Singapore Slings ordered, leaving a permanent legacy of carbon reduction and reforestation of endangered wild areas. Discover Raffles Hotel Singapore’s contribution through the live digital forest.


Cocktail in Disguise

Originally created in 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender at Raffles Hotel Singapore, the Singapore Sling cleverly disguised a cocktail as fruit juice. Why? Etiquette required that ladies shouldn't consume alcohol in public, so their choice of beverage was limited to tea and fruit juices. Ngiam Tong Boon saw an opportunity, creating a cocktail that looked like a fruit juice but was actually infused with gin and other liqueurs. It was a hit!

He used pineapple and lime juices for a tropical flavour and cleverly masked it in pink with grenadine syrup to give it a feminine flair, leading people to think it was a socially acceptable drink for women. Today the Sling continues to delight and inspire with its rich heritage and now a fresh taste. It's also the subject of a new Slingology cocktail bar collaboration in Singapore.


More about Raffles Hotel Singapore:

Long Bar

Source: Press Release 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Forelle Ensemble plays its way through NSW/ACT in Austrian "Schubertiaden" style.

How lovely is this? Celebrating 200 years of an Austrian musical tradition, the Forelle Ensemble is currently travelling through NSW/ACT in the spirit of Franz Schubert whose Lieder (songs) were played to small groups of friends in intimate musical soirees that became known as "Schubertiaden”. The Forelle Ensemble will perform 10 concerts, taking listeners on a musical journey to Austria in Bowral, Canberra, Albury, Young and the gorgeous setting of the Hunter Valley's Winmark Wines.

Forelle is the brain-child of James Armstrong, winner of the ‘Austria Scholarship’ granted by Sydney Youth Orchestras and Austrian National Tourist Office. Visiting Vienna and Salzburg in early 2020, James fell in love with Austrian chamber music, especially the music of Franz Schubert. 


The Forelle Ensemble.©

To honour Schubert and as a reference to one of the composer’s most famous chamber music pieces ‘Forellenquintett’ (Trout Quintet), James Armstrong formed the Forelle Ensemble with four fellow students of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Members include Lilly Bennett (double bass), James Armstrong (violin), Angela Shin (cello), Estelle Shircore Barker (piano) and Aisha Goodman (viola).

The first documented Schubertiade took place 200 years ago in 1821 and the term still refers to intimate concerts and festivals around the world, in all kinds of settings. Most famous is the Schubertiade Festival in Austria's Alpine province Vorarlberg with around 80 events and 35,000 visitors annually, making it the biggest Schubert Festival in the world. 

Musicians Schubertiade, Bregenzerwald, Vorarlberg. (Bregenzerwald Tourism, Christopher Lingg.)

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to play this beautiful repertoire of Schubert’s music. We can reimagine it in the sense that we are performing music which was composed in the Austrian countryside and we are bringing it to the countryside here in NSW and ACT.”, says James Armstrong. “The works on the program are very colourful, each in their own way, to the extent that I imagine each piece as a postcard of Austria. The music intimately reflects the landscape and lifestyle - from the elegant and lavish decor of Viennese salons to the striking snow-capped Alps and lush green fields of the countryside. Schubert’s music illustrates these settings so sublimely.”

“James Armstrong stole the hearts of the Viennese with both his incredible talent as a young violinist but also with his curiosity and interest in Austrian classical music and culture during his time in Vienna early last year,” says Astrid Gruchmann-Licht, Director of the Austrian National Tourist Office in Sydney. “This year we were delighted to find out that James wanted to share his passion for Schubert - and for Austria - with Australian audiences in regional NSW and ACT and we partnered with the Forelle Ensemble to bring this project to life. I view it as a true collaboration and love the idea of an Australian Schubertiade”. 

James Armstrong performing Chamber Music at Hotel Sacher, Vienna, above, and enjoying beautiful Vienna, below. (ANTO, Marion Carniel.)


Tour Dates 

Friday 11th June, 6.30pm: Schubertiade Opening Concert, Sydney 

Sunday 20th June, 2.30pm*E: St Jude’s Church, Bowral 

Wednesday 23rd June: Residence of the Austrian Ambassador, Canberra 

Thursday 24th June: Hausmusik event at private residence, Albury 

Friday 25th June, 7.00pm*E: St Matthew’s Church, Albury 

Saturday 26th June: Hausmusik event at private residence, Young 

Sunday 27th June, 12.00pm*: Ballinaclash Orchard and Cellardoor, Young 

Tuesday 29th June, 6.00pm*E: Young Regional School of Music, Young 

Friday 2nd July, 6.00pm*E: Winmark Wines, Hunter Valley 

James Armstrong  with Astrid Gruchmann-Licht, Director of the Austrian National Tourist Office in Sydney, at a Viennese Kaffehaus. (ANTO, Marion Carniel.)

* Public events: tickets and more information are available on Eventbrite (E) or via the venue website

Winmark Wines

Austria information

Source: Austria National Tourism news release

Friday, April 2, 2021

Amara dining opens to non-residents at Spicers Sangoma Retreat, Blue Mountains, NSW

Here's exciting news for those in search of exclusive dining experiences – Restaurant Amara at Spicers Sangoma Retreat in the Blue Mountains is now taking a small number of outside bookings. So now you don't have to be an in-house guest to experience the highly creative degustation menus by head chef Will Houia, but you'll wish you were!

Restaurant Amara
Amara - Eggplant taco shell, smoked mushroom and pea flowers

Amara is the Zulu word for grace and the restaurant's philosophy is to provide a graceful dining experience, drawing on an ecosystem of local producers and sustainable on-site practices reflecting the natural bushland surrounds. 

Amara - King Edward potato, marigold, sage and basil

Amara - Squid confit stuffed with chicken and tarragon mousse, fennel, chicken broth

The daily seven course dinner degustation menu and five course lunches on Friday to Sunday are all based on the freshest organic and seasonal  produce available within 100km of Sangoma, including the Hawkesbury region. Amara's ‘Harvest Menu’ shared lunch concept, offered on Monday to Thursday, focuses on one succulent protein and four of the freshest organic vegetables, mostly sourced from local friends at Harvest Farms, followed by dessert.

Amara - Milk skins, hazelnut praline, smoked ice cream, raspberries, dulche

Chef Will Houia prefers traditional cooking techniques with charcoal and fire and the use of controlled dehydration to prepare fruit and veggies, as well as indigenous ingredients to add subtle layers of flavour.  Why not stay for a week and have Will cook for you every day?

Amara - Head Chef Will Houia

Restaurant Amara, Spicers Sangoma Retreat

70 Grandview Lane, Bowen Mountain NSW 2753

Amara dining only guests - an intimate fine-dining experience by appointment

Dinner - 7 course degustation. 7 days 6pm-9pm $125pp

Lunch - 5 course degustation. Friday to Sunday 12.30pm-2.00pm $105pp

Lunch – Harvest Menu. Monday to Thursday 12.30pm-2.00pm $85pp

Please advise any dietaries at the time of booking

In-house guests dine 7 days

Breakfast, Harvest Menu Lunch Mon-Thurs & 5 Course Lunch Fri-Sun, 7 Course Dinner

Spicers Sangoma Retreat, Blue Mountains, NSW

Photos courtesy of Restaurant Amara, Spicers Sangoma Retreat, Blue Mountains.