The idiom, “better late than never,” hasn’t stood the test of time for no reason. It’s not great to turn up late to a wedding, for example (let’s not dwell on that particular case in point for too long since it remains something of a sore point for poor Pumpkin, dating back to the first wedding we ever attended together, when he wasn’t yet accustomed to my tardiness.) But the only thing worse than turning up late would have been not turning up at all.
I was already somewhat behind when I pushed publish on my recent 2018 travel round up a good fortnight after most other A* bloggers had completed theirs so when I finally did, surely it wasn’t forgivable to show it to the world in a half-baked, incomplete fashion. Was it?
Actually, it was. I was sparing you. Trust me on this one. Even the most loyal readers among you (I know who you are and big January hugs to you) cannot be expected to stomach six thousand words of adventure waffle from me. Your commutes aren’t that long and so I omitted the staycations from my last post. Perhaps that’s down to my worsening battle with brevity or perhaps it’s testament to the fact that even in drizzly England, there are a stealth of charming, rustic and inspiring options for easy staycations or daycations.
Contrary to what my blog may suggest, don’t for one minute think that you need a passport or bucket loads of annual leave to have an adventure filled year. In the past, I have previously shared my micro-trot around York, my highlights from Northumberland and tips for a countryside cottage break and whether you are planning a visit to the UK from or you are UK-based and looking at ideas for exploring more of your own turf, I hope my 2018 edit of UK staycation and daycation ideas will provide some tips for the year ahead.
Cotswolds – January 2018
Our first visit of the year was an annual get together with old friends at an enormous yet cosy cottage in the village of Chedworth in the Cotswolds. I italicise “annual” because, if I am honest, it has become less frequent in recent years, but we already covered the whole “better late” thing right? This was our 4th visit to the Cotswolds and our second stay at the same property, its plush interiors, huge living area, fireplace and farm shop-adjacent location making it an ideal base for our party.
The emphasis of this trip was more to catch up with each other than with the surroundings but Pumpkin and I couldn’t resist a brief walk around the village, during which we stumbled upon post boxes dating back to Queen Victoria’s era (spot the VR engraving above) and phone box defibrillators , thankfully which didn’t need using!)
Chester – February 2018
After spending most of our time in the Cotswolds relaxing indoors, we grabbed our walking shoes for the second staycation of the year, this time for a relaxing weekend outdoors.
Thanks to the generosity of two people whom we have really grown to love in recent years, we based ourselves in pretty Cheshire and this would be our first of two weekends in Cheshire in 2018 but, for me, it was Chester that captivated my heart the most. With its Tudor facades, kitsch tea rooms and history, strolling around Chester was like taking a step back through the ages but with really delicious lunches of hanging halloumi kebabs and nearby neighbouring ice cream farms. Chester is a destination I can see myself wanting to return to time and again but I would love to reserve it for a sunny day.
Sheffield and Chatsworth House, Peak District – March 2018
Sheffield is a city that played an integral part in Pumpkin’s life before I knew him and as such, we are fortunate to have plenty of reasons to keep returning. With the arrival of Spring and the first rays of 2018 sunshine gleaming through, we found ourselves at the regal Chatsworth House on one of the first of many sunny weekends of the year. If you have never been to Chatsworth House, all I can say is go, go, go! There is something for everyone here from the opulent interiors of the house itself to the outdoor maze, the children’s play areas to the fine dining options. They host country shows, Christmas events and it is a charming space for afternoon tea – or even a wedding, if you’re in the market for one!
After a full day spent harnessing my inner princess (doesn’t take much if you believe what Pumpkin has to say,) we left the countryside, hopped back into our cars and headed back into city life in Sheffield with a delicious pan-Asian dinner out and a Sunday well spent, seeking out handmade chocolates from Sheffield’s cutest chocolatier Cocoa Wonderland and burning off pretty much none of those calories with a brief stroll around Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens.
Brighton, Sussex – June 2018
June was the maddest month of the year for us, travel-wise, with 2 European city breaks, a family cruise, a Sicilian road trip with friends and our wedding anniversary in Brighton, during a sun-drenched celebratory weekend on England’s south coast. I am not entirely sure how or when we did any laundry that month but somehow, we did and I think there were plenty of lie ins in July to correct the deficit from one of the best months of the year.
I have said it before and I will say it again, on a year in which I went to destinations like Peru and Bolivia, the mountains of Romania and the beaches of Sicily, my weekend in Brighton remains one of my absolute highlights of the year. Whether it was just the crazy euphoria of the silent disco walking tour or the simple pleasures of fish and chips on the beach, Brighton felt like Disneyland that weekend and I would love to make it an annual summer escape.
Wimbledon Mens’ Semi Final, London – July 2018
I could not believe my luck when an envelope arrived on my doorstep declaring that I had been allocated tickets to the Wimbledon’ Mens’ Semi Final Day. Ever since I was a teenager, my Dad and I have been trying our luck with the public ballot and for many years, we would get lucky on most occasions. And then came a dry spell, whereby year upon year, we would try, we would cross fingers and we would fail.
When I saw these tickets, I absolutely knew who I would be taking with me and I kept it a total surprise from my Dad until the morning itself. With his eyes shut at Waterloo station, I placed the tickets in his palms and I wish I could have bottled up the joy in his face when he opened them. It was priceless and we had the best day out, although neither one of us banked on it being the day a record would be broken for one of the longest mens’ singles games of all time!
Finally at 10pm, my Dad called it a night and an hour or so later, when the match was called to close, I commenced the trip from South West to South East London, falling into my bed in a zombified slumber by around 1am, well aware that in just a few hours, I would be heading east once more for a 3 hour ride across England…
Latitude Festival, Suffolk – July 2018
And that was the drive to Latitude Festival. I am anything but new to the music festival world and although I am loathed to admit it, my first foray into the scene was around…errr…20 years ago (gulp!) However, well over a decade passed in my twenties before I started revisiting this summer pastime and for Pumpkin and I, this was a first time at Latitude in Suffolk.
My in laws live a handily short drive away from the venue and as the well established teetotaller among the three of us, I was designated driver for the day. All good in theory but goodness only knows what kind of logistical mishap took place at the end of the night, leaving us seated with no movement in our car for nearly 90 minutes. Eventually, we turned off the engine, set our alarms and had a power nap but that little hiccup aside, we had an absolute ball at Latitude and not a wellie or muddy boot in sight! Although we booked the tickets with the sole purpose of seeing The Killers, what I hadn’t realised was that there was so much more to Latitude than the music.
I would even say that this is a buzzing day out even for those who don’t have much of an interest in live music. We found a live comedy tent with some of the biggest known names in UK comedy, a cookery tent with live Q&A sessions (I scooted off quickly when I heard those around me comparing notes about homemade sourdough (talk about being a fish on dry land,) a yoga and meditation section, an opportunity to bespoke your own cereal bar with Eat Natural, a street food haven at Street Feast and a surprise appearance by none other than Liam Gallagher!
We had so much fun at Latitude and are keen to go again this year. Do I have any regrets from my first time there? Only that I had worn more sparkly face paint! Can I be persuaded to drive us back again after that midnight saga. Yes, probably, because the alternative is camping and unless the camping is anything like the luxury French glamping I did last year, I think I’d still happily drive home in preference!
Margate, Kent 2018
Since 2018 was a year in which we explored very few if any beachy destinations abroad, we made up for that in England, firstly in Brighton and secondly, in Margate, where we were taken by friends, who know it, love it and have observed its regeneration.
That there would be a huge seaside presence with rides and games for the little ones, quirky pubs and independent cupcake shops came as no surprise. That we would find ourselves there on Margate Pride Parade Day, however, did but there was no better time to be introduced to Margate than a day like that, when spirits were high, love was love and everyone was celebrating with rainbow flags, rainbow hearts and blaring beats.
Unlike the couple of times I have ventured into London on Pride Weekend, the Margate Pride Parade was decidedly less crowded, making it much easier to watch the procession.
Bakewell, Derbyshire – August 2018
We didn’t despair that there was no additional annual leave left for Pumpkin’s birthday. That’s what bank holiday Mondays are for! And so, I planned a surprise birthday staycation for him in an area he was actually already familiar with. The surprise, though, was twofold: firstly, I very much hoped that he hadn’t guessed we would be staying in a shepherd’s hut and secondly, I hoped he wouldn’t guess that his best friends were joining us for a celebratory Sunday brunch. After a seriously close shave, I just about managed to pull it off.
In our secluded hut, we had a most adorable weekend retreat, the warm glow of the fireplace keeping us snug through the evening, acres of lush green countryside on our doorstep and a private kitchen right opposite where we could whip ourselves up a gourmet meal (or a really rubbish one – just believe me when I say, cooking is not my forte!) After an incredibly hectic summer, this was the perfect tranquil antidote to gear us up for the start of Autumn and Winter.
Southwold – October 2018
Long time readers of the blog (really long time ones) may recall that I have written about Southwold before but that visit was just an hour or so long and I regretted that we hadn’t returned to rediscover it since. In 2018, that changed after an impromptu visit with family and friends for a day out on Southwold Pier – in October, no less, which came as a huge treat.
The arcade games on the pier are among the most whimsical and bizarre ones you will see anywhere in England and the colourful beach huts are among the most dreamy (and costly) but I would challenge you to walk past them and not harbour a secret wish to buy one for yourself.
Alas, without the budget to buy a beach hut, we settled for more fish and chips on the pier (it’s tradition) before going for a long walk and sneaking off for a cheeky slice of cake and a latte at the Two Magpies Bakery. We knew it would probably be our final beach day in the sunshine that year (and it was) but it made for a lovely group outing and a much longed for catch up with our Sicilian road trip buddies, also paving the way for road trip number 2 – we are keeping our fingers crossed we can make that a reality!
My Most Unique Experiences from London in 2018
Just in case you thought that in between all this, I spent all my free time curled up under a blanket at home watching X Factor, you’d be wrong. Ok, you wouldn’t be that wrong but that was interspersed with many other more blog-worthy shenanigans and some of the most unusual included:
Sicilian Pop Up Brunch
Just a couple of months before we went to Sicily, my Mum, my sister and I went to a Sicilian pop up Sunday brunch hosted by the lovely sisters behind Strazzanti. With melt in the mouth arancini, creamy pistachio croissants and Sicilain style eggs, this was one of the only times we have brunched with our Mum and it completely whet the appetite for all the Sicilian cuisine that was responsible for far more weight gain last summer than I would have cared for!
Chasing Cherry blossoms in Greenwich Park
It’s funny how I never really noticed the cherry blossoms on my doorstep until I caught the last of cherry blossom season in Japan but now, each Spring, they are all I see and I stop and stare like I am seeing them for the first time. This year, that involved another visit to my local park, my favourite park and the park I got engaged at to take in the swathes of cherry blossoms that grace it each year – with of course a healthy dose of posing beside them of course. It’s official -somewhere along the line, I became a cherry blossom poser…
Doughnut and sweet dough making class
If you read my travel gift experience post, you will know that I am so very fond of gift experiences and this year, 2 of those experiences involved a visit to the Bread Ahead Bakery School, initially for their doughnut making classes and secondly for their sweet dough workshops.
Crème Egg Camp
Continuing on the dessert theme, in the run up to Easter, I may have dragged Pumpkin along to Crème Egg Camp, where puzzles and activities occupied us for a couple of hours in a makeshift outdoor Easter Egg Camp, whilst Crème Egg treats were tucked away for our devouring needs.
It didn’t quite live up to the elegant Ferrero Rocher pop up I had ducked into the previous year but it made for an unusual Friday night and was a must try for all Crème Egg fans around the city.
Climbing the 02
One of my London highlights of the year was one of the ones in my own neighbourhood, when we climbed the roof of the 02 in London for a sunset climb. If you are worried you need to be super fit to do this, fear not. If I can do it, most of you can !
Masterchef Jam Shed Supperclub
My final one of the year may mean nothing to those of you who weren’t following Masterchef UK 2018 but if you were, then guys – I met Nawamin!! Not only did I meet Nawamin but I met him at an event (the Jam Shed Supper Club,) where he cooked an epic 4 course meal for me (and all the other people around me who had paid to eat his absolutely epic sounding fusion Thai dishes.)
Thai cuisine is one of my favourite cuisines yet I am always puzzled at how scarcely I find truly delicious Thai food in London. When I saw that Nawamin was hosting a pop up, I immediately booked it and his creations had all the flair and flavour that Masterchef viewers had been led to believe. I may have given him a hug out of sheer excitement when chatting to him at the end of the meal. I don’t think it seemed (too) weird…
And that rounds up that. Even without any of the international adventures, 2018 was a year of so many adventures and laughs. It is easy to neglect places closer to home and I can fully understand wanting to save your big chunks of annual leave for trips further afield but I hope I have proved that there are so many daycations, weekend breaks and short trips to be made even with just a free day or two at your disposal. No passports, no packing, no detailed spreadsheets – just a good old fashioned day out or weekend away but an mini travel adventure nonetheless.
Have you got any other staycation suggestions for me for this year?