Tag Archives: Bath

Food heaven in the heart of Bath

Right in the heart of Bath is a magical world. You can wander into this special place via a normal unassuming door in the middle of the Royal Crescent. Once you pass the threshold you are transported into an oasis of calm that feels a million miles away and seems so unlikely in one of the UK’s top tourism hotspots.

The Royal Crescent Hotel is an important part of my life – its the hotel that I stayed in with my new wife on the night of the day that we were married. I can still remember it as though it was yesterday. And here I am again twelve years later, sampling a newly prepared taster menu to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Royal Crescent.

For me food is always elevated to the next level by the experience of eating. The setting, service and company really does matter and adds to the feeling of well-being when trying beautifully crafted food and wine that massages your taste buds.

Sat in the lovely and carefully managed hotel garden sipping on a glass of martini chatting to my fellow diners, made the stresses and strains of the day melt away. Birdsong filled the warm evening air and the sunlight glowed as I intensely studied the taster menu.

When you look at a menu you’re seeing the chef’s passion and knowledge come through in black and white. Hours of trying and testing new ideas, getting the right combinations together and thinking about the diners experience. The outcome of this careful attention to detail is like an artist working on their canvass, creating a masterpiece that art lovers will devour: with the Executive Chef, David Campbell, as the brains behind this captivating menu.

This was going to be an evening of fine dining – full of new experiences for the taste buds.

With a martini filled mellowness we moved into the classy dining room for the main event. Each course of lovingly created food was to be accompanied by a champagne or wine and the choreography of the service added to the real sense of occasion.

We began the meal with Cucumber Soup with Earl Grey Tea and Cured Salmon, combined with Lime and Nasturtium Leaf. This was a clean and refreshing way to start a deep dive into a wonderful food experience. Freshly made bread, something that makes me very happy, was an additional treat; especially the beetroot bread.

Next came a modern twist on the classic Bath Chaps, a traditional and once locally very popular Bath dish that used a 65-day dry aged middle white pork. This melt in the mouth food was delicious.

Mackerel Tartar with Gentleman’s Relish, Leek Ash and English Sorrel’ followed and was a superb combination of British cooking: clean on the palate and very satisfying.

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I have to declare an interest: I love lamb. For me its the king of meat and I never tire of its taste and texture and always get a large dose of satisfaction and mellowness when its on the menu. So seeing that salt marsh lamb was heading my way created a real sense of anticipation; and I wouldn’t be disappointed. The salt marsh lamb with garden peas and bacon, mint sauce and lamb broth was the sensational star of the evening for me with is luxuriant feeling, each mouthful creating pure and simple pleasure.

Growing up in the 1980s gooseberries were a real favourite and it was so nice to see a classic ingredient, loved by generations, combined with the all round crowd-pleasing and comfort food, the crumble. The gooseberry and elderflower crumble’ didn’t disappoint and was the perfect pud to warm the heart and create that all-round sense of well-being.

We finished the meal with Eves pudding with Somerset Apples, which for me seemed very appropriate, as its my daughters name and I’m a huge fan of English apples. I never used to have a sweet tooth but I have recently got into my deserts and these two, to complete a lovely evening, hit the spot and made me smile inside.

This was an evening of food taken to the next level by a passionate team with a real attention to detail and passion for their craft. The experience of the evening was elevated to something pretty special by the story-telling and love of wine conveyed by the Hotel’s wonderful Head Sommelier, Jean-Marc Leitao. These couple of hours will stay in my food memory bank for a long-time and demonstrates why food is so much more than just the eating.

Available until the end of October this year, The Taittinger Tasting Menu, is £125.00 per person and includes a six-course tasting menu paired with wines and Taittinger Champagnes (the menu is subject to change to incorporate seasonal produce). For more information visit www.royalcrescent.co.uk

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Swift times

Every year I wait for their return. As the days pass my longing for their return grows stronger. With their impending arrival comes the promise of summer and those warm barmy evenings that feel as though they’ll last for ever.

And then the sightings start popping up on social media. Swifts have made it back to the mainland. Slowly they move like a wave northwards across the country, sweeping back to the places that they have returned for countless summers. And then they’re here; the date marked in the diary.

swifts pic

My connection with these tiny and amazing birds seems to get stronger every year. That longing for theses charismatic dare devils of the sky is linked to the passing of time. I feel that I notice them more and more as though the ticking of my biological clock is intrinsically linked to their arrival.

Their return home gives me that deep sense of hope that the turning of the natural world is ok. The seasons pass and the swifts come and go. I know that nature is under pressure like never before but these little symbols of summer (like butterflies) bring joy to everyone who notices  and watches them.

Watching the swifts is one of those simple pleasures in life. I can guarantee that they’ll be more drama watching swifts for half an hour than tuning into the latest turns and twists of Eastenders. The aerial gymnastics of these tiny birds is astonishing as they rise and fall out of the sky, as they weave in and out of buildings.

Standing in my back garden I can just watch them. Individuals flapping furiously as they look to join a gang, taking those extra risks to join in. Or groups of swifts flittering through the air at high speed, buzzing just above ground level and then climbing high into the sky until they’re just little dots.

For me nature is a tonic. I love spending time wandering or watching wildlife. And the show that swifts put on year after year is one of the highlights of nature’s calendar.

Autumn

I love autumn. In fact I love all of the seasons. Seasonal change is a wonderful thing that I never really tire of and there is always something new to see or hear.

To me autumn means the changing of the guard as the crunchy and colour soaked leaves fall to the ground. It’s about spending many happy hours collecting conkers, throwing sticks up in to the tree and collecting the bounty as they land on the ground.

Autumn is also the season of harvesting apples and blackberries and that wonderful taste of a warm crumble with melting ice-cream.

The arrival of the darker mornings can be a challenge to the body clock but the richness of a warm afternoon autumn glow can compensate for those bleary eyed starts to the day. Mists will fill the landscape creating a mellowness and the smoky smell of bonfires create a real atmosphere.

Sometimes the seasons seem to blur into one but if you do get a year of distinctness between spring, summer, autumn and winter you really notice it. Tuning into the seasons is such an important way of keeping connected to nature: something that I think really matters and is such an essential part of our lives.

I love the fact that the architecture of our landscapes and cityscapes change so dramatically in a matter of weeks. Nature is getting ready for the long dark winter months. Butterflies might still be on the wing, birds start to migrate south and fungi can be found dotted through the nation’s woodland. You also get the cranking up of the dusk chorus, a musical treat as the evenings draw in.

In my home city of Bath the buildings are lit by the richness of the autumnal sunshine. The cityscape changes colour as the leaves turn gold, red, orange and yellow and then tumble to the ground. And in the meadows outside of the city the mist hangs poetically in the morning light.

Watching the seasons change keeps us rooted in the world around us. Every season has something to offer.

Wandering along Bath’s skyline

Bath is a pretty hilly place, which means that it has the advantage that if you get into the right spot you can catch some amazing views of this world-famous Georgian gem.

The lie of the land also means that while one minute you can be in the heart of  the city, in what feels like just a few footsteps you’re then deep in the countryside.

The Bath Skyline walk is a six mile circular route to the south of the river
Avon. It hugs the contours of the land, climbing high into places that
you feel like people have never been before. While I’ve walked the skyline
many times, it sometimes feels like this is a secret route only familiar to
Bath residents. Yet it has proved to have enduring appeal for thousands
of ramblers who have kept it top of the National Trust downloadable
walks poll year after year.

The great thing about a walk like the Skyline is that it can be divided
into sections that are manageable for families. Taking my two children,
aged 5 and 8, around the whole route would be a good day out.

You’d need plenty of stops and a rucksack full of snacks and lunch.
There are certainly plenty of things to keep the kids interested en
route from amazing ant hills to follies and the fantastic new natural play
area in Rainbow Wood. The sections where you climb out of the city
might be testing but nothing that a jelly baby-inspired quiz wouldn’t
solve. So it’s worth planning ahead and thinking about where you start
the walk or whether you maybe aim to complete it in sections.

In the autumn Bath looks spectacular. That golden glow of the low afternoon sun and the changing of the leaves as they turn red, yellow or brown is pretty special. There is also the promise of some blackberry picking along the walk.

Starting somewhere near to Bathwick Hill always seems the best option for walking the whole route, plus it has the advantage of getting the big climb out of the way first.

As you pass Smallcombe Farm you really do feel a world away from a busy city and that you’re in the heart of the Cotswolds. Walking up the hills, it’s worth remembering to simply stop every now and then and take in the fantastic views. I always find that a treasure hunt or encouraging children to take pictures as they go keeps up the momentum for trickier parts.

As you reach the flatlands above Bath you’re just to the east of Prior Park. This landscape would look very different today if it wasn’t in Trust hands as it had been eyed as a location for development in the 1960s.

The undisputed highlight of the Skyline walk is getting nearer. In the last few years the creation of a natural playground in Rainbow Woods has been a big hit with families. Before you get to the old quarry, check out the lovely little
fairy doors trail and then the energy levels of the children will rise as they spot the den-building area, rope swing and assault course.

This is a great spot for some lunch and about half way around the walk. If you have younger kids then it’s probably best to plot a shorter walk based around the natural play area. For families walking the whole route I’d definitely recommend some sort of quiz and treasure hunt.

Leaving Rainbow Woods you pass near to the Bath Cats and Dogs home, round  the back of the University and through an old quarry before emerging with
fantastic views of Solsbury Hill.

It’s all downhill now past Sham Castle, which is worth a detour, and through a patchwork of small meadows. In the autumn some of the walk can be pretty muddy so walking boots or wellies are the order of the day.

The Bath Skyline is for me one of those walks which can become part of a family memory bank. You can give parts of the route family names and as the children grow they will start to spot the richness of the landscape and get to know a lovely
city and its green and pleasant land.

This blog first appeared in the September/October edition of The Bath and Wiltshire Parent Magazine

Wildlife heroes: the amateur naturalist

I never met Ron Watts but have a deep affinity with him. He had a love of a place that matters a lot to me – Charlcombe Valley on the eastern side of Bath. It’s a place that I go a lot with the kids and feels like a little kingdom that only we know about: the meadows, the streams and the woody valley floor. You could be deep in the countryside and yet you’re still in the boundaries of the city.

Ron was part of a special breed of people – the amateur naturalist. For fifteen years he carefully catalogued the wildlife that he spotted in Charlcombe, combining a deep almost forensic knowledge with weather observations.

A hand-drawn map by Ron Watts

A hand-drawn map by Ron Watts

I had the chance, thanks to the Bath Natural History Society, to spend time looking at his journals. Ron’s family gifted these important documents – lovingly displayed in binders of rules paper – capturing a snapshot of the natural history of a special place, rich in wildlife. He also took fantastic pictures of the wildlife that he saw and was a dab hand at watercolours.

After running the post office at Claremont Buildings in Bath, Ron spent many happy hours of his retirement walking the contours of Charlcombe (he sadly passed away a few years ago): he was really fond of this meadow-rich landscape. Following in the footsteps of Jane Austen, who loved this place too, his words and attention for detail shine a new light on its wildlife story.

I’ve walked the footpaths of Charlcombe through the seasons and since reading Ron’s wildlife journals I’ve begun to see the place anew. I will often stop, look and listen: it’s amazing what you can see and hear if you take the time.

Lots of detail and thought  went in to how Ron Watts recorded the wildlife of Charlcombe

Lots of detail and thought went in to how Ron Watts recorded the wildlife of Charlcombe

Reading through his handwritten and then carefully typed notebooks you get a sense of his economic use of words. Rarely are extra words used when not necessary and though it might appear purely observational you really do get a sense that he loves Charlcombe deeply. He walks the land countless times and notices everything; scribbling down all the details with photographic precision.

A beautiful watercolour of an Ash tree by Ron Watts

A beautiful watercolour of an Ash tree by Ron Watts

Its people like Ron that help us to come to terms with our natural history. They are interpreters of environmental change and the changes affecting wildlife through the ages. Britain is a natural history superpower thanks to this army of passionate amateur naturalists keeping records of the changing seasons and as a result of the struggles and challenges that the natural world.

Walking home: a time to download the day and connect

Several times a week I get dropped off from my car share about two thirds of a mile from my house. The walk home is a great time to download the day but also begin to retune in to the world around me after a day in the office (with a short break of fresh air at lunchtime if I’m lucky).

Like the majority of people a fair chunk of my day is spent staring of screens of varying sizes or sat in meetings. The modern working world for office workers isn’t that conducive to feeling the warmth of the sun on your face or just sitting on a bench and watching the world go by.

So the walk home is a great time for me to connect to the wildlife that lives in Bath and quite simply – begin to unwind.

In effect every time I walk home I’m following the route of my own little self-guided nature trail. For me connecting with nature in my own local neighbourhood is pretty important. It feels like I’m unpacking another layer of the place that I live, seeing and hearing things differently. That is the joy of walking: that ability to connect and immerse yourself in a place.

Yes there is the background noise of the rush hour but it doesn’t take much to tune into a different soundtrack. It’s so important to take the time to listen and look. If you just speed from A to B in a great rush you’re missing out on so much.

My journey home takes me through a little wooded garden in a local church, through an allotment and a green space called Beacon Hill, a small triangle of common land (I’m always intrigued to think who might have the commoners rights and that one day I’ll find a flock of sheep grazing). Then it’s downhill past a woody hill, down a grassy bank (that has escaped the attention of the mowers) and the breathtaking views over Bathampton Meadows and Solsbury Hill.

It’s a walk that changes dramatically as the seasons pass but feels like a re-assuring constant in my life. I never tire of this walk and yes I’m lucky that Bath is so green but if we take to the time to use our senses even the most urban of places has nature lurking, moving in where we’ve moved out.

Less mowing, more meadows

There is a bank of grass behind where I live. It’s a place that I pass regularly, coming home from work or taking the kids up to a local park. In the spring daffodils light up the grassy hill and then we have the perfect almost feathery orb-shaped dandelions. It’s a place that the kids like to run free.

A grassy bank which has been left to grow that little bit wilder; creating a great home for nature

A grassy bank which has been left to grow that little bit wilder; creating a great home for nature

Normally this area of green is mowed once the daffodils have finished. But now there is a move to keep some of these sorts of spaces – every day but vitally important spaces – a little bit wilder and less manicured. Leaving patches of green where the grasses can grow longer. It means that nature can live a little bit more, less bothered by the arrival of lawn mowers and it helps to create a sense of wildness in our towns and cities.

It’s been really encouraging to see my local council – Bath and North East Somerset – with its ‘wild meadows’ project take an enlightened approach to managing these important green spaces. And credit also to Plantlife for all of there hard work to get meadows and wild plants on the agenda in such a positive way.

Yes there is a need to think about the ascetics of our green spaces but the well documented decline in species and loss of habitats means that urban areas are becoming increasingly important in efforts to stem this loss.

Roundabouts full of wild flowers adding a splash of colour to the daily commute or allowing grasses and plants to grow a little bit wilder is good news in my book. Life would be that much more boring if everything and every-where looked the same.

And as our towns and cities have expanded over the centuries they have gobbled up the countryside. So it feels right and refreshing for local authorities to re-create a sense of the naturalness of the countryside and creating homes for bumblebees, crickets, daisies and grasses and meadow brown butterflies among other species. I’ll often see bats in the autumn at dusk grazing on the bounty of insects on the wing.

Walking home after a hard day staring at my screen at work seeing the slightly chaotic and almost carefree areas on this grassy bank lifts the spirits.

When the sun streams through the leaf-laden trees it shows how we can through simple and important cost-effective solutions create a network of mini nature reserves that come alive on warm spring or summer days.

These places can become little oases in the landscape of housing and roads, helping our well-being and connecting us to nature.