Hever Castle

English Wish List

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England A few out of the way treasures and foodie finds we wouldn’t mind trying out ...

Kielder Observatory

If you’re in search of dark skies and bright stars venture up to Northumberland where, in the heart of the Kielder Forest, you’ll be rewarded with the beautifully angular Kielder Observatory. Manned by the Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society, it hosts regular stargazing odysseys, allowing curious visitors to have dramatic encounters with the ever-dynamic night sky.

Putting the world into perspective and reminding you just how phenomenal that mysterious space beyond our own atmosphere can be, the observatory will humble and inspire in equal measure. For those who prefer to explore Northumberland by the light of day, the observatory isn’t far from Kielder Forest Drive, a blissfully remote route that winds its way through moorland and forest. The road is single track, unsurfaced and sure to make drivers feel that they’re getting their adventure on.

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Electric Cinema

Birmingham dwellers and international film fans will immediately recognise the Art Deco façade of the historic Electric Cinema, England’s oldest working cinema. In this two-screen venue the film experience is all-important and quirks abound. There’s comfy sofa seating, homemade cakes, themed cocktails and a mix of art house offerings and mainstream hits. And a little chequered history too.

Electric showed silent films through the 1910’s and 20’s, but by the 30’s the space became an amusement arcade as people escaped the worries of the Depression. The basement was used as a morgue during WWII, while newsreels were filmed and edited upstairs. Baby boomers still remember the cartoons of the family-oriented 50’s, but the reactionary 60’s favoured art house, while the sexually liberated 70’s saw mainly porn screenings.

Despite the ups and downs in the cinema’s past, film remains at its heart. “It can take teams of people years of their lives to make a film, and we ensure that the correct care and attention is afforded to their cinematic endeavours,” says David Baldwin, Assistant Manager at the Electric. “Films can be anything. They can be happy, sad, weird, vibrant, challenging, and everything in between ... There's just nothing like it.”

Hever Castle

Henry VIII was arguably the most unconventional of English kings, what with the string of wives and religious upheaval he left in his velvet-hemmed wake. Yet most intriguing is the debacle surrounding the execution of his second wife, the beguiling and provocative Anne Boleyn, a story that authors and historians have fervidly endeavored to unravel but which still remains tinged with mystery. A visit to Hever Castle, the queen’s childhood home, fuels our fascination with the Tudor’s ultimate femme fatale.

Nestled in the Kent countryside, the original castle of 1270 still stands, its stone walls smothered with climbing ivy and edged in by a languid moat. Within, visitors are captivated by Boleyn history, evoked by artefacts and portraits. Enveloping the castle are the superb, extensive gardens; a horticultural delight, perfect for whiling away the hours. Wandering through the fragrant rose garden, Italian garden and Rhododendron Walk arouses contemplative moods and provides an idyllic picnic setting. Rest assured, if the weather is misbehaving, Hever’s tea rooms are a delightful substitute.

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Rococo Chocolate

Chantal Coady is the Founder and Creative Director of Rococo Chocolate and her cocoa revolution began back in 1983 on the forever-iconic King’s Road, where she opened her first shop – partly fueled by her childhood dream of being a shopkeeper. Putting her art school training to good use, Chantal imbued the space with a dash of love and a little ornamentation, as the Rococo name would imply. Bringing emotion into the equation (after all, isn’t chocolate the most evocative of foods) allowed Coady’s business to grow, eventually spreading quite far out of London. With a focus on ethics, sustainability and taste, her creative flavour combinations have seen her win the Oscars of chocolate awards, the Rococo name has become as recognisable as Chantal’s uber pretty packaging.

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Black Cow

This is an inventive little Isle. Not content to let Russians (or potatoes) have all the fun Jason Barber, on his West Dorset farm, decided to make vodka from, well, the whole milk of grass grazed cows. And it’s kind of fantastic.

Black Cow vodka is the perfect tipple or morning after the night before anecdote and has a pretty simple creation process - on paper at least. The cow’s milk is separated into curds and whey with the former turned into super creamy 1833 cheddar and the whey made into a milk beer that is diligently triple distilled into vodka.

Milky vodka is not an entirely new concept. The idea was actually inspired by nomadic Siberian Tuva tribe who for centuries has been fermenting yaks milk into vodka, the ideal sub-zero defense. However, this clean, crystal clear modern drop comes with a smooth yet creamy texture and just the faintest whiff of dairy. It’s no wonder it’s made appearances in restaurants owned by Heston Blumenthal and Mark Hix.

Granary Square

Over the centuries London has had a knack for completely reinventing itself. Areas that only the foolhardy would dare to brave have become the stomping ground of artists and entrepreneurs while Thames-side warehouses have grown into a architectural wonderlands. One space to go through a thoroughly modern reinvention is Granary Square in King’s Cross. Drenched in aquatic history, it was here that early barges unloaded their industrial loads. It’s now home Central St Martins, a leading centre of art and design that has produced the likes of Bruce Oldfield and Jenny Packham, and stripped backed restaurants built to be savoured.

Found within the converted Victorian granary, Caravan and The Grain Store offer up ingenious menus that come with plenty of London flavour. While Caravan’s pizza is not to be missed the brunch offerings at The Grain Store, which borrow tastes from Australia and America (chef Bruno Loubet is a bit of a traveller), are worth planning your weekend around.

c John Sturrock