Recommended: CarFest North

At the beginning of this month, Pete and I went to Oulton Park in Cheshire for CarFest North. Radio 2 listeners might have heard of the 3 day festival set up by Chris Evans for Children in Need. Billed as a combination of his favourite things, cars, food and music, it’s supposed to be a great family day out and as my husband is car obsessed, I knew he would love it and snapped up tickets for his birthday in January.

We arrived at 10.45, in time to watch the ‘magnificent sevens’ hill climb – groups of 7 of various types of car (starting with the 7 Ferrari’s Chris Evans has collected,) racing one by one round the track, with commentary about their heritage. We didn’t watch them all, instead heading to grab a coffee and some breakfast whilst checking out the food offerings. There were loads of food trucks with delicious options for eating – festival in style but far beyond the usual greasy burger and chip offerings. We had coffee and headed to the paddock to see all the sevens up close and personal.

Now I’m not much of a fan of cars but I do think some of them are beautiful and in the sunshine with them all super shiny and polished, there was plenty to keep me occupied until Pete spotted the Formula one cars getting ready to do their lap – it was absolutely deafening! The highlight of Pete’s day was seeing James Hunts Formula One winning car from 1977.

Next we watched the aerial display including the Vulcan bomber which took my breath away – it was so big and so low, it felt like an alien space ship coming to take over the earth. Lunch was a huge burrito and some paella, chosen from the mix of organic, farmers market, and specialist food trucks around the main area (I didn’t get to properly investigate the pies v cakes tent full of British independent bakers of pies, cakes and some jams and chutneys but Paul Hollywood was there judging.) Next we headed to the track again, to watch the cars repeat their laps. The DB5 from Skyfall and the DBS from the Quantum of Solace were amongst the cars, as well as the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a car made into a shed, and lots of celebrities driving their cars.

It’s a pretty long haul watching them all, but luckily for me, when we got to the ones we had seen before, it was gloriously sunny and I stretched out on the grass for a rest. With only the music left to happen, we staked out a place centre stage, only a few rows from the front and enjoyed some Pimms before the music started. It soon got busy and we had to squeeze past to get more drinks and some dinner later but it was worth it as the music was fab with an x-factor style kareoke session, followed by Noasis, Deacon Blue and then The Feeling. Everybody knows Oasis so they were great for a sing along, but I couldn’t recall anything of Deacon Blue’s until they got started and they were really incredible. The Feeling were also brilliant – so good I’m thinking of going to see them again in October when they go on tour. The headliners were actually Ocean Colour Scene, but unfortunately it started to rain and after hearing their one memorable track we left, having had a great day.

You can camp for the weekend, but for us I think it was enough for the one day – other than the music, we saw everything we wanted to in one day. What was great about it was the atmosphere. There were families everywhere and people just having a great time, no drunken louts, blokes with their shirts off or kids causing trouble. Everyone was just relaxed and enjoying everything on offer. I’d definitely recommend it – particularly for a family day out if you’re not sure about taking kids or a present for blokes/dads who are hard to buy for – if they like cars, you’ll be spot on treating them to this.

CarFest South is this weekend at Laverstoke Park Farm. Are you going readers? Have you been? Gobsmacked that I’m talking about Cars on Florence Finds? Me too!!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Girl about Town: Harry Potter Studio tour

**WARNING**

Fans of Harry Potter: this post may make you hyperventilate. Stay calm. Remember to breathe.

Not a fan of Harry Potter? See you tomorrow, when normal, grown up service resumes. Apologies in advance.

Harry Potter Fans Anonymous – I’m Victoria and I’m a Harry Potter fan. It’s been a big part of my life for ten years now, so it was only a matter of time until I dragged the whole family off to Leavesden to visit the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour to satisfy my on-going addiction.

We arrived about an hour earlier than our time slot at what felt like a retail park, were directed to a parking bay and, in our hurry to get inside, declined the offer of a local pub recommendation from the very welcoming car park attendants for some lunch, opting instead for the on-site café. We braced ourselves for some hideous food but actually it wasn’t too bad… except for the (expectedly) hideous prices. Anyway, enough about the car park and the café, on to the tour.

We queued, as directed, 20 minutes before our designated tour time, were welcomed in a cinema-style introduction by Daniel, Emma and Rupert (yup, first name terms!) and then walked through the grand Hogwarts doors (squeeeal) and found ourselves in the Great Hall (bigger squeeeeal)… and the magic started.

We had a mini presentation from one of the guides with some information about the two parts and then, upon leaving the Great Hall, the rest of the tour is self-guided. For those with questions or in want of more detail (and yes, I realise the “detail” is very much a figment of their own, amazingly dedicated, imaginations) there are staff placed strategically around the studios to provide background and even mini “tutorials” on the artefacts, sets and costumes.

The tour promises that secrets will be revealed and they certainly are. Normally, I’d hate to see how the magic is created, as it could ruin the enchantment of the films, but in this instance it added to it.

Seeing the actual Great Hall was pretty breathtaking, seeing the (surprisingly small) costumes worn by the actors was fascinating, standing face-to-face with actors dressed as Death Eaters was great fun (except for my mum who jumped out of her skin), and being (almost) in the sets and being able to touch some of the props gave me goosebumps.

I’ll admit it – I transformed in to an ultra-mega-super-Harry-Potter-geek-a-saurus. Think the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory all mashed up in to one giant Star Trek enthusiast, attending a Star Trek convention and having lunch with William Shatner. Yip. That was me.

My exceptionally nerdy brother actually commented, as I did a little squeal on discovering a particular item, that it was nice to “not be the nerd for once”, stating that, in this environment, he felt almost “cool”. Whatever.

This is a Mecca for Harry Potter geeks looking to prolong the love.

Highlights for me, after much deliberation over dinner and in the car on the way home, were as follows:

  • Standing in the Great Hall. The ACTUAL Great Hall. OMG! I almost cried.
  • Walking along Diagon Alley and poring over the intricate window displays. So real. So atmospheric. I know the names of the shops along this fictional street almost as well as the stores along Oxford Street.
  • A rather detailed lecture about a number of key characters’ wands, including the individual aesthetics and qualities of each. Very interesting with some very well-thought out arguments even if it was all completely made up and not necessarily endorsed by JKR!
  • Sampling Butterbeer, which wasn’t as gross as I imagined it to be
  • Looking for the cast names in the Wand Room
  • And finally, spending the best part of an hour walking around and around and around the scale model of Hogwarts. It made my heart pound.

My least favourite bit? The gift shop. it made my senses ache and my wallet cry. I wanted to buy everything. Sadly I’m not a billionaire, or an eight year old, so I had to restrain myself. In the end I bought some tongue-in-cheek books JKR wrote for Comic Relief, Quidditch through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, to add to my HP book shelf, alongside The Tales of Beedle the Bard and the original seven books.

After the tour we made our way over to The Grove Hotel, about a five minute drive away, for some cocktails, in-depth Harry Potter related discussions and dinner. This hotel in itself provides a great day out with amazing gardens (square trees, hidden fountains and giant glowing plant pots) and a number of restaurants and bars. Apparently the cast stayed here during filming. *Commence fan-girl squealing now*

I’m now planning to watch the box set back-to-back and annoy everyone with lots of pausing and shrieks of “I’ve seen that” whilst pointing at the screen.

Overall, a GREAT day out for HP fans old and young. Who wants to come with me when I go back? I’ll sort out our costumes, let me know your sizes…

Love,
Victoria.

The Details: the studios can be reached by train or road and details can be found at the WB website. Tickets get booked up well in advance so plan ahead. Also be aware that you have to book for a specific time slot and have to arrive well in advance in case of queues. All information can be found on the website here.

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

How Florence Found: The Elan Valley

Its been a long time coming this post, but with the bank holiday looming and people planning last minute getaways or day trips out, I thought it was a good time to share what Pete and I got up to when we went away to Wales.

I’ve already written about The Drawing Room, the absolutely fabulous boutique restaurant with rooms that we LOVED and I would highly recommend, so do head on back there and have a look if you’re looking for somewhere to stay locally. In the mean time, here’s a few tips on what to do in the area.

The Elan Valley
The weather wasn’t brilliant while we were there, windy and a bit rainy, (hey, what’s changed in 4 months?) but after a ridiculously filling breakfast, we needed to walk off the excess and headed off to The Elan Valley to see the reservoirs and spectacular dams.

You can walk around all of them, but here is a map of the southern most reservoir, Caban Coch, which we intended to circumnavigate. On the day the wind was so gusty it blew our hats away and almost blew us over, so we opted for the lazy option, walked up the side of the dam and then drove to the next one to take photos! That was more than enough!

Gigrin Farm – Red Kite sanctuary.
Half way through our trip around the dams we wanted to get out of the wind and decided to check out the local Kite Sanctuary at Gigrin farm. I had my camera and fancied trying to take a few clever pictures (hopeless) and wherever Pete and I go we seem to do animal activities. It was fascinating as a big tractor brought a scooper full of meat and it was shovelled all over the field. The Kites circled, waiting, then swooped in to steal the meat. They were enormous and there were so many of them! Feeding is at 3pm March – October and it costs £4.50 to visit, or £2.00 for a child.

After Gigrin we headed back to the reservoirs to finish at the most northern dam then, grateful for the warm car we went back to The Drawing Room to get ready for dinner and warm up.

Hay-on-Wye
The next day was Sunday and we were leaving and planning on visiting Baileys Home and Garden (click the link to read all about it.) Although we were heading north, it was actually quicker for us to drive south then take the motorway back up north than return the way we came down the A roads.

On route to Baileys, we stopped in Hay-on-Wye, a town famous for its literary festival (held at the end of May if you’re in the area) and bookshops. It was well worth a wander and we stopped in several shops perusing the first editions and curiosities. There were also a number of map shops with very old maps and lithographs and junk or thrift stores. We picked up a map of Southport in the 1940’s for my step-Dad’s birthday for £8.

After that it was Baileys and home, after a very relaxing weekend. The area is so beautiful, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

Do you know anywhere local that you can recommend or have you been to any of the places I have mentioned? Do share any trip tips you have for the rest of the readers…

Love,
Rebecca
xo

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