Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Sandham Memorial Chapel

As the nation reflects on the centenary of the First World War, like many other towns and villages across the land Newbury is marking the occasion. Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere, on the outskirts of the town, is no exception, and is a particularly special place to visit this August and in the coming months.

Sandham Memorial Chapel is situated in a beautiful spot overlooking Watership Down and on Monday 4 August, the day on which Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, this National Trust property unveils its new garden; a peaceful place for visitors to spend time reflecting on a lost generation, whilst celebrating the opportunities they gave to future generations.

On Tuesday 5 August the Chapel itself reopens to visitors following preservation work and the creation of an exhibition space. The Chapel, a Grade I listed building, was commissioned in the 1920s in memory of Lieutenant Henry Willoughby Sandham who died at the end of the First World War, and was built to house a world-famous series of paintings by war artist Stanley Spencer (1891–1959).

The paintings themselves have recently returned to their home at the Chapel after an acclaimed tour. The 19 magnificent large canvases display detailed scenes of the artist’s own day-to-day wartime experiences, when he worked as a hospital orderly before joining the infantry. Spencer lived in Burghclere for some years whilst working on the paintings which were completed in 1932.

The new interactive exhibition has been created in a restored 1920s cottage and can be visited before entering the Chapel. It includes a short film about Stanley Spencer, Lieutenant Sandham and his family members who commissioned the Chapel, and there are displays of copies of fascinating drawings and letters revealing remarkable stories about the building.

Entry to the Chapel itself is by timed ticket, which can be pre-purchased on line at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sandham-memorial-chapel, or telephone 01635 278394 for same-day availability. The paintings can be viewed until the end of October, when they go on tour once more. Visit the National Trust website for opening days and times and prices.

Sandham Memorial Chapel is in Harts Lane, Burghclere, near Newbury, RG20 9JT and is clearly signposted.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Summertime at The Racecourse Newbury

If you have never been racing in Newbury – or indeed, if you have never been to any racecourse – there is no finer induction to a day at the races than Weatherbys Super Sprint and Party in the Paddock. This takes place on Saturday 19 July and this year there is a fantastic ‘retro theme’ to the raceday with memorabilia and vintage-style competitions; and once the day’s racing is over, it’s time to party! This year sees the legendary Beach Boys coming to Newbury for an evening of fun, fun, fun (‘till her Daddy takes the T-Bird away??’)! And that’s not all – following the concert there is The White Room After Party with a retro set from popular local radio DJ Tony James of The Breeze.

The first thing to know about going to Newbury Racecourse is that you don’t even need to place a bet if you don’t want to – rest assured there will be no pressure to do so. But if you do fancy a flutter, and have never done it before, there will be plenty of staff on hand to guide you and help you set your limit – even if it is as little as £1.

There are many ways to enjoy the races. Entry to the course on the day gives you the freedom to roam, soak up the atmosphere, admire the horses, enjoy a little retail therapy maybe, and choose from a great selection of food and drink outlets if you want to dine ‘on the hoof’! 

Those who want to push the boat out might like to pre-book a private box with friends or to entertain guests. Or how about a meal in one of the three restaurants at Newbury Racecourse? These are:
  • The Hennessy: an award-winning restaurant offering a fine-dining experience, with panoramic views overlooking the racecourse and the winning post. Pre-book to enjoy champagne on arrival, a three-course lunch and afternoon tea.
  • The Racegoers Restaurant: this is pre-bookable too, and you can enjoy a delicious three-course meal before the racing starts, watch the races from the covered balconies (with an unbeatable view of the final furlong) or wander outside and be part of the crowd. (And at Party in the Paddock, once the concert starts, you will get a great view of the entertainment from the balconies too!). 
  • The Brasserie: more casual dining for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea – terrific value and no need to pre-book.

So what else is on at Newbury Racecourse this summer? The simple answer is – lots! The day before Party in the Paddock, on Friday 18 July there is an afternoon of Summer Racing, with seven flat races to look forward to.  

If you fancy a really great family day out, why not go along on Sunday 3 August to the Craft, Bake and Race Family Day? As well as the racing there are all sorts of entertainments planned, and all in a good cause in support of Daisy’s Dream charity – from craft workshops and pony rides to baking competitions for children and adults, sponsored by Parkway Shopping of Newbury. This promises to be a marvellous day for people of all ages.

Just a week later, on Sunday 10 August, the Dubai International Arabian Raceday takes place – an opportunity not to be missed as entry on this particular day is FREE to all racegoers. Look out for competitions with wonderful prizes throughout the day.

Fantastic Friday’ happens on 15 August – a truly brilliant afternoon of flat racing. Why not go along with friends, family, work colleagues …? It will be … well, fantastic!

Saturday 16 August is a chance for the ladies to dress up for this is Betfred Ladies Day with Annie Mac and Pete Tong. Treat yourself to a new outfit and go along for a great day of racing – followed by an amazing night of dancing in the open air, with music brought to you by none other than Radio 1 DJs Annie Mac and Pete Tong.

If you’ve never been to Newbury Racecourse, why not make summer 2014 your first time? For further details of all the above events visit www.racecoursenewbury.co.uk or call 01635 40015.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Biddy shops local

How many independent shops did you give your support to during Newbury’s ‘Shop Local Week’ this year?

I made the promise to make a point of ‘shopping local’ during the week of 30 June to 5 July – and I can, hand on heart, say I really enjoyed doing it. It felt like a step back in time, in a good way, to set out purposefully to do my shopping in the centre of Newbury. After all, independent retailers are what make each town unique – and aren’t we lucky to have them?

First up was a visit to Barry Forkin/Toomers in Bartholomew Street – who lay claim to being Newbury’s oldest established business. Locals will be well aware that they are stocked to the rafters with every piece of hardware and ironmongery you could wish to find. And, quite frankly, where else can you get rubber tap extensions?  (It’s the only way I can fill the watering can from the garden tap without soaking my feet, since you asked.)

My next stop was Willow and Blooms, the florist. As we had been invited to a friend’s house for dinner, I asked them to make me up a bunch of flowers for a fixed price. It was a pleasure to enjoy the lovely flowers in the shop and watch as they put together a most lovely mixed bouquet, tied with a ribbon. It was really pleasing to see how busy they were, with lots of displays made up and waiting to be delivered or collected throughout the day. 

On to Artifax, the mirror/picture framing shop and gallery: although I was not looking for a mirror, picture or frame, I do know they stock a select range of gifts and cards, so was happy to browse and choose a small gift for a friend’s up and coming birthday. Lost in my own little dream world amongst all the lovely things in Artifax, I noticed the time and had to march quickly to the other end of town to meet the husband for lunch at Hethertons.  Their coffee shop is always a good choice in my book – and lovely to sit outside in the sunshine to eat and watch the world go about its business.

Lunch done, I nipped into Camp Hopson as I needed a new lipstick. How I love all the gloss and glamour of their makeup department! And how fortunate we are to have an independent department store on our doorstep, with all that it has to offer.

Griffins butchers was my next port of call – their ham is delicious and priced highly competitively with any supermarket. I can thoroughly recommend it. Then it was next door to Oldbury’s deli for some cheese. There is a something lovely and relaxed about Oldbury’s, you don’t feel rushed to make a choice and can have a little nibble of whatever cheese you fancy before you buy. Their range of groceries is fantastic too – lots of different pastas, crackers, sauces, olive oils and so on – definitely worth a look. Lovely breads and cakes as well. And if you don’t already know, they’ve got a coffee shop tucked at the end of the store – on my ‘to do’ list next time I’m in town and in need of refreshment.

The final items on my list were kitchen related, and there are few such retailers with as fine a range as Kitchenmonger cook shop in Bartholomew Street. I could (and did) spend ages browsing all the lovely things before coming to my senses and buying what I actually needed – cake cases and a washing up brush! Mind you, I will probably be back to get some of those pretty espresso cups …

Time to go. My ‘Shop Local Week’ had been a very happy experience – service with a smile all the way. Definitely one to be repeated – and not just once a year!

Biddy x 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Biddy at the Food Festival

What better way to spend a sunny Sunday in June than at the Food Festival in the centre of Newbury?

The most recent one, held over the weekend of 28/29 June, was the fifth that has been held here, and the husband and I happened along on the sunniest day of the weekend.

It was good marketing on the part of Oldbury’s – the deli on the bridge – who embraced the busy-ness that the event conjured up by having someone encouraging people into their store with samples of their wares. The stalls ran from just beyond Oldbury’s to the Kennet Centre, and many and varied they were. 

There was a fantastic buzz, everyone seemed happy and friendly – punters and stall holders alike – and we soaked up the atmosphere as we strolled along deciding on what to have for lunch. Would it be a gourmet burger, jerk chicken, noodles, a crepe, speciality German sausage, Tibetan dumplings, a traditional hot dog, paella, a slow-cooked beef brisket wrap or free-range pulled-pork roll … or one of the many other choices?

But it wasn’t all about eating and drinking while at the Festival itself: there were plenty of opportunities to purchase goodies to take home. Sweeny and Todd from Reading were doing a roaring trade with their homemade pies (rump steak and Stilton being a particularly huge hit – the husband insisted we needed to take one home, and who was I to argue?). There was more for pastry fans as Jane from Kintbury was selling pork pies with a variety of exciting fillings (for example, pork and black pudding – and yes, you’ve guessed it, one of those came home with us). A couple from Shepton Mallet were providing tasty samples of their range of cheeses, including flavoured Cheddars such as ‘Bonfire Smoked’ and ‘Horseradish’. At the Food Festival for the first time was Puffin Beach Bakery with her pretty cakes, and not just your everyday cupcakes either. 

Local beers were proving very popular, as was the cider from Tutts Clump Cider, whose apples all come from West Berkshire. We purchased a few litres to put by for a family party we are holding in the not too distant as we have several family members who are big fans of apple juice of the alcoholic variety.

While wandering, we bumped into friends who were already munching their way through bison burgers, so we joined them having finally decided on pulled-pork rolls as our lunchtime treat. And mighty tasty they were – and generous portions to boot. 

Despite feeling full, the ice cream and churro stall was calling – the temperature was rising so an ice cream seemed well in order as ‘pud’. Easily tempted and throwing caution to the wind we all went for doubles – and the strawberry ice cream really did taste of strawberry. These came with a churro shot through with chocolate sauce. (OK, they weren’t compulsory – but yummy all the same.)

By now I was so full I was ready for a lie down but the sounds coming from the music stage tempted us to the far end of the Festival, where we enjoyed listening to the ‘Singing for Fun’ choir (from just up the road in Whitchurch), followed by ‘Behave and BeQuiet’, a group of young musicians who are multi-talented as they are also circus performers and were providing street entertainment before and after their set. 

Towards the end of the afternoon, six brave souls (certainly braver than I) took to the stage for the chilli eating contest, compered by Martin Bond from The Wiltshire Chilli Farm. Urged on with cries from the crowd of ‘Eat that chilli!’ the contestants chomped their way through increasingly hotter chillis until, one by one, defeated and perspiring, they drank the tempting glass of cool milk in front of them. (In the meantime, we had tea out of the back of a Mini, cleverly converted into a mobile tea and coffee bar.) James from Newbury was the chilli-eating hero of the hour, and won a bundle of goodies donated by stallholders at the Festival.

As we wended our way home we voted it a great day out in Newbury. Roll on November when the next Food Festival takes place!