Monday, 30 September 2013

Biddy at The Newbury Show

Yes I know it is officially The Royal County of Berkshire Show but to me and most locals it has always been and always will be The Newbury Show.

The drive past the golden harvested fields around Hermitage to The Newbury Show always marks the start of autumn for me. We weren’t able to go last year so the husband and I were pleased to be able to make a return visit in 2013 – after all it is the biggest, best and busiest show in the county and a great day out. With up to 60,000 visitors streaming through the gates over the course of the weekend, it has to be a good investment for the exhibitors and sponsors, including Strutt & Parker, Newbury Building Society and Charles Lucas Marshall, to name but three whose names were prominently displayed around the showground.

But where to start when there is so much to see? Well, as per, for us it was a coffee while we poured over the programme. Having positioned ourselves in a tiered stand, we were enjoying watching the heavy horses parading (and felt very lucky to be under cover when a brief but heavy drizzle decided to show itself). In previous years we’ve been to the show in heatwaves and downpours, when tractors have had to help pull cars out of the muddy carparks, so despite not having the hot sunny day that had been forecast earlier in the week, a cloudy but mostly dry day suited us very well.

Sitting there was a great chance to people watch: the judges in their bowler hats; the competitors in their tweed caps; the visitors, some in shorts and t-shirts and others wrapped in coats and woolly hats.

We wandered in an out of the stalls in the shopping area (I was looking for a new waterproof dog-walking hat) as we made our way to one of my favourite parts of the show: the Flower Tent. I had to stop and admire the beautiful huge chrysanthemums as I headed towards the competition entries in the various categories to see what had got first, second or third prize, and why.

We enjoyed stepping back in time in the World War Two Village, with the girls in the Digging for Victory garden and the men looking like they had stepped off the set of ‘Dad’s Army’. Also great fun was watching couples as they bravely strutted their ‘strictly’ stuff on the BBC Berkshire music stage.
We sat awhile to watch the Reading Scottish Pipe Band in the main ring before moving on to see the judging of some of the animals: obstinate bulls; determined pigs; magnificent sheep – it’s a shame they can’t all have rosette. (I had to feel a bit sorry for the lovely creatures, with the tempting aroma from the nearby hog roast and sausage sellers ... the shape of things to come. But delicious all the same.)

The Food Tent seemed bigger than ever this year, with many fabulous treats on offer, such as fudge, curry sauce and vodka all within three paces. And how about a pie from Sweeney & Todds? What a great name!

On to the craft tent (where I just love that warm, comforting grassy smell) for an ‘ooh and aah’ at all the amazing things being made and sold by the talented crafters, and to make a couple of purchases to put by as gifts.

We must have covered a few miles and I must have visited every stand selling hats so it was time to return to buy the very first hat I’d tried on hours earlier. (Surely that wasn’t the husband muttering ‘Typical’?)

So goodbye to The Newbury Show for another year (and well done to The Newbury & District Agricultural Society for making it such a fine event). If you’ve never been, put it on the calendar for next year – there really is something there for everyone.

Biddy x

Monday, 23 September 2013

Biddy at The Watermill

Did you get to the summer show at The Watermill? The Witches of Eastwick was a blast. I have never seen the film or read the book (though it is now on my ‘to read’ list) so was not sure what to expect but going on past productions and knowing Craig Revel Horwood was director and choreographer ... well, I just knew it was going to be too good to miss. And I was not mistaken nor disappointed – but then The Watermill has never let me down yet.

Every time I go to The Watermill I feel truly blessed to have such a wonderful venue as my local theatre. Over the years the husband and I have taken many friends there – local and otherwise. It is one of those venues that never fails to impress – even those who are not normally theatregoers. The shows alone make it worthwhile but the pretty building in its beautiful country setting make it an even more special event.

I can remember the first time I went there, many years ago, even before we moved to this neck of the woods. As we turned off the main road and tootled along the country lane, I thought we must have taken a wrong turn. And then suddenly there we were.

I love everything about The Watermill experience – the charming youngsters who guide visitors into a parking place; the friendly bar and restaurant staff; strolling on the lawns, drink in hand, gazing at the river, admiring the ducks ... it all makes for a relaxing evening before the show even starts.

Anyway, back to The Witches of Eastwick. On this occasion we had friends from Australia staying for the weekend and had booked tickets for the four of us some time in advance. At the last minute we decided to eat at The Watermill pre-show. Despite the main restaurant being fully booked they still managed to accommodate us and we enjoyed a lovely meal in the Lily Pond. Well not actually IN the Lily Pond or we’d have got wet, but in the light and airy ‘orangery’ attached to the restaurant that happens to have a lily pond it in. Both the husband and I adore the buffet-style hors d’oeuvre starter – so much so that he generally chooses that as a main course too. (Me, I have to hold out for a pudding so sometimes skip the main course ... they are refreshingly flexible like that.)

The show was truly magnificent. As always with Watermill musicals we were full of admiration for the actors who not only act but sing, dance and play musical instruments too. As you can imagine, our Ozzie friends had never been anywhere like it and were blown away. They will be over again next summer and have already insisted on a return visit.

The Watermill at Bagnor, Newbury. I for one already have two more shows booked over the coming months and can hardly wait to see what delights the Spring/Summer programme will bring. Oh and before I go, a quick question: is it only me who has to sing ‘Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Bagnor’ each time we go there? (Drives the husband mad ...)

Biddy x

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Biddy hits the shops

When was the last time I shopped in Newbury? Well, last Tuesday actually. If truth be told, it had been a while. Living on the Berkshire/Hampshire border I am somewhat spoilt for choice: Winchester, Basingstoke, Southampton, Newbury – all within a half-hour drive.

For some time, Newbury was a favourite of mine for a shopping trip; I always loved the good choice of shops without that feeling of being overwhelmed. Then there was a spell when this traditional market town at times felt a little ... dare I say tired? But not anymore ...  magic has been woven and the recent development of Parkway has really brought the Newbury shopping experience into the 21st century, while Northbrook Street and its offshoots retain a charm of their own. And you don’t find that charm shopping online or in those enormous indoor shopping malls – you know, a big named-store at either end and all the usual suspects linking them, where the lights are too bright, the heating up way too high and the acoustics enough to give me a headache.

So, what makes Newbury special? For a start it is easy to park. I try Parkway car park for the first time and am pleasantly surprised at how reasonable the charges are. Big tick! The shops in the new development are definitely worth exploring – there is a good feel to them. Big tick! It is only clothes shops that I am focused on on this particular day, and as I am especially fond of Jigsaw and Mint Velvet I am very pleased to find them here.

Being in the open air as I stroll from shop to shop is a refreshing change from the aforementioned malls that never see the light of day. Big tick! Newbury’s pedestrianized Northbrook Street is another plus, making it one big, wide pavement so everyone can go at their own pace in their own space. Big tick!

There is a surprising number of individual shops and little hideaways tucked between well-known outlets. Weavers Walk is a great place to step out of the bustle; check out Fifi & Moose with its designer clothes, and Weavers Coffee Shop – a delightful coffee and cake stop off the main drag. (And I love a coffee. And cake.)

Camp Hopson is perhaps my best-loved department store of all time; I applaud the fact that this local retailer has stayed independent but offers all the choice, style and value of bigger names. Wending my way around the ‘rooms’, up and down the escalator ... there is nowhere quite like Camps. I could browse there for hours ....

Along to Bartholomew Street with Phase Eight on the corner (another favourite of mine) and where Cara of London has some exciting, exclusive numbers. Then there’s Mistral – well I’ve yet to go in there without really, really, really wanting something. Such pretty colours, such lovely designs .... The Market Place is just a few paces away and where Katharine Jayne boutique offers something special and is definitely hard to resist.

Gosh, look at the time! Must head back to the sticks – and, apart from Weavers Coffee Shop, I’ve barely started on the myriad caf├ęs Newbury is home to. And you know how I love coffee. And cake. But that’s for another time.

If you haven’t been shopping in Newbury lately, it’s time you did. You really don’t know what you’re missing.

Biddy x