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Essentially England News - Favourite Days Out
March 08, 2018

Favourite Days Out

Welcome to the March edition of Essentially England News! After two weeks of deep freeze and snowy disruptions, our weather is resuming its slow meander towards spring.  There's still the odd bit of snow lurking in corners and along verges, but we've had a couple of bright, sunshiny days that go a long way towards making up for the gloom.

As well as bringing longer days and warmer weather, March is the month for waking from hibernation and going exploring. Our anniversary falls in March, and for many years we've taken the day off to spend time together, often having a lovely day out somewhere new. Here are a few of those places, just in case you're in need of ideas for spring days out.

Anglesey Abbey

Despite its name, Anglesey Abbey is not in Wales. It's a former priory, located a few miles north of Cambridge, and it has some fantastic gardens. Spring was late the year we visited. The snowdrops were gone, but the daffodils and tulips not yet out. Crocus and alpine violets made up for it, along with hedges chosen for the gorgeous colours of their bare branches. My favourite part of the whole garden, though, was the birch walk.  I'm expecting to see elves when I look at this photo. Or a wedding party. And I never think of the line of "two paths diverging in a wood", but rather of two paths joining to become one. A fabulous day out.

Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire ©

Wicken Fen

If you like to spend a day away from it all, then visiting Wicken Fen in March should go on your list. It's a nature reserve near Ely, also in Cambridgeshire, and if you go outside of the weekend, you can have the miles of paths and boardwalk almost to yourself. I always think there's something about clumps of lilies just emerging from their winter sleep at the edge of the water... and there's no shortage of them here. And because it's East Anglia, you can see for miles and the skies go on forever... just the thing you need to remind yourself that there's more to life than sitting hunched over a desk

Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire ©


Hidcote Manor is my favourite garden in all of England and one I never need an excuse to go and see. It's fabulous in summer, of course, with its lawns and hedges and its famous red borders. But if you visit in the spring, you won't be disappointed either. Spring bulbs, a water garden, shrubs and hedges... there's something for every season. And in the spring Hidcote feels more tranquil and peaceful than at any other time I've been there. Bring a book, find a sheltered sunny spot and just soak up some peace...


I fell in love with Bakewell while we lived in Sheffield. It has a river, cobbled streets, houses that lean and some that stand proudly, an old stone bridge and - of course - it lays claim to the original recipe for Bakewell Pudding. None of that explains why I like the place so much. All I can say is that it has a vibe that grabbed me and that draws me back there every now and then. It's a town made for wandering around and excellent for window-shopping. A selection of hostelries, from pubs to tea shops, ensure you're never far away from food or drink. In between our last two visits, Bakewell also acquired a bridge of locks. Or should that be love? Whatever you prefer to call it, it's a perfect way to celebrate an anniversary. And somewhere on that bridge, there's now a lock with our names on it. :-)

Bakewell in Derbyshire ©

A Tasty Treat

Days out in early spring invariably include a tea shop or cafe, either for a big mug of something hot to scare off the chill, or for afternoon tea in a sunny corner. Hot chocolate and short bread is an excellent remedy for cold, rainy afternoons, so I was rather bemused when I found a recipe for Lemon and Elderflower Shortbread in one of my notebooks and couldn't for the life of me remember ever making it.

That omission was remedied promptly, of course. And then I started experimenting with shortbread. No surprise there.

The basic recipe is very easy. It's a 1:2:3 recipe: 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, 3 parts flour. Plus your flavourings. I've used 75g sugar / 150g butter / 225g flour to make one round 8in tray of shortbread.

Start by creaming the butter with the sugar until white and fluffy. Add the flour and flavourings - for lemon and elderflower shortbread you'll want the grated rind of one lemon and two tablespoons of elderflower cordial - and mix until the dough resembles breadcrumbs. Then bring together using your hands.

Press out into a well-greased, lined form. Or roll the dough out between two sheets of greaseproof paper to about 1cm thickness.

Heat oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas 2 and while the oven heats pop the dough into the fridge to chill. This will firm the dough, stop it from spreading while it bakes, and make thicker shortbread.

Bake for 25-30min until pale golden brown. When it's done, the shortbread will be firm around the edges and softish in the centre. Cool for a few minutes on the tray before turning out onto a rack to finish cooling.

This mix has a lovely lemony flavour, and the elderflower cordial adds a very delicate hint that I rather like. The other mix that appeals to me is lemon and rosemary... gorgeous with Earl Grey tea!

I'd love to hear about your favourite shortbread flavours...  so why not head over to our Facebook page and share yours?

And Next Month …

Next month, will be Easter. On April Fool's Day, no less. Not sure what havoc this will wreak, but we shall see. Expect some lemony treats from me, maybe some rhubarb... and then I'm getting ready for the asparagus season.

Until then, please take care.

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