Star Q&A: Raymond Blanc

Round & About

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Liz Nicholls asks star chef Raymond Blanc about feeding the soul in isolation, finding your calling & his surprising favourite foodstuff…

Q. Many of us parents have been home schooling, or stressing about home schooling over the last few months… Being self-taught, do you have any encouraging words about how youngsters can find their calling, school or no school? “The key is to find your passion and follow it. I am self-taught in the sense that I didn’t ‘study’ my craft but I did ‘learn’ my craft from the best. This includes my maman who taught me so much as a child about taking the best local, seasonal ingredients and turning them into wonderful, hearty, family dishes. I learnt from great chefs who I worked under – I paid attention, I practised, I pushed forward and made my own way into a world that inspired me so much.”

Q. Your childhood sounds idyllic. What’s one thing parents can do to nurture their children’s love of food? “There is nothing that will inspire children more or make them want to try new tastes and textures than to have been part of the creative process of preparing and cooking the dishes. To this day certain dishes like a simple and delicious apple tart evoke such strong and joyous childhood memories of being in the French country kitchen, cooking with my mother.”

Q. Is there anything you don’t eat or drink? “I do all I can to avoid processed food. I once bought a processed loaf and could not believe that after two weeks there was no mould on it! In France, every little village has a boulangerie and the French buy fresh bread sometimes three times a day. Today there are a wealth of wonderful artisan food producers in the UK and they must be supported.”

Q. What’s the one food or drink that you just couldn’t do without? “Not a food I can’t do without but one I have only recently discovered – brown sauce! Yes, who would imagine a Frenchman loving the humble brown sauce. I had been Living in England for almost 40 years when one day a friend offered me a bacon butty with brown sauce. I can tell you now, it was a revelation. I cannot believe I waited so long!

Q. What’s the most useful kitchen gadget or kit no kitchen should be without? “I think most chefs would agree when I say a great set of kitchen knives. Having the correct sharp knife for each and every task in the kitchen will make everything so much easier and so much more enjoyable. Good knives are easy to handle, they are well balanced and, looked after properly, can last you a lifetime.. Another piece of kit I love is my Kenwood Chef kitchen mixer. I’ve used these machines for over 30 years, in my kitchens and cookery school, and the precision and durability is fantastic.”

Q. We’re supporting our hospitality heroes – how important it is this industry? And do you have any words of solidarity for your fellow hospitality heroes? “The UK hospitality industry employs over 3 million people, many of them just starting out on the career ladder – young, eager and full of high hopes and expectation. For them, and for the whole of the hospitality sector I say try and stay strong. It has been such a hard year but we are all in this together and we know that once this if over our restaurants, pubs, hotels will be the first places people will want to visit to reclaim some normality and joy. We live to deliver those special moments of magic and will be back to doing what we do best very soon.”

Q. What one piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out as a chef? “One route is via apprenticeships. There are very many excellent apprenticeships that will give you a superb introduction to commercial kitchens. We run them at both Le Manoir and at Brasserie Blanc and can take someone with basic skills, give them the best training they could hope for and set them up for a successful career with no limits. Some of the best known chefs in the UK started this way, including Michael Caines and Ollie Dabbous who were both apprentices at my Le Manor!”

Q. How have you coped throughout the last year & what have been your go-to sanity savers? “I was at home, and isolated from most of my family – as well as my team of chefs at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Brasserie Blanc. My way of keeping sane was to cook and cook! I chose simple dishes that evoked happy memories and provided the connection to those who I missed so much. I used ingredients that were easily-available and needed only basic kitchen equipment and out of this came the inspiration for my new television series and book Simply Raymond.”

Q. Who would be your five dream dinner party guests, living or dead, real or fictional? “Other than friends or family, of course, what could be better, I think it would be amazing to have one big table with all the great chefs I have been lucky enough to train over the years. What great things they could teach me now.”

Q. Like me, you eat regularly at Brasserie Blanc… What are your favourite dishes on the menu? “Yes, I live very close to our Brasserie Blanc in Oxford so I am in there at least once a week. I help to create the seasonally changing menu with our Executive Chef Clive Fretwell who learned his craft under me at Le Manoir – we have worked together for over 30 years now – amazing! I know all of the dishes very well, every season I have a new favourite but some dishes are classics and stay on the menu throughout, including our very special cheese soufflé. I enjoy this as a starter but also on its own for a light lunch – it is so incredibly light in texture that you can almost imagine it is calorie-free!”

Q. What other exciting plans do you have on the horizon? “I currently have the new television series Simply Raymond Blanc running on ITV on Saturdays mornings. This will be repeated over the summer on weekday evenings so if you have missed any of them don’t worry! My new recipe book is also coming out any day now – Simply Raymond. Like the television series the book is a collection of my favourite, simple home-cooked recipes – nothing fussy or over-complicated. These dishes are the ones that mean the most to me; the ones that connect me to my dearest family and friends.”

Star Q&A: Andy Triggs Hodge

Round & About

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Three times Olympic rowing gold medallist Andy Triggs Hodge started rowing because he thought it would be fun, now he is sharing that sense of fun through Race The Thames 2021, we chatted to him about his career, the importance of sport and the event taking place in March

How did you get involved in rowing in the first place and why, what was it that attracted you to it?

I started rowing at Staffordshire Uni – not a typical rowing uni – because a friend suggested it would be fun. I had no idea what that innocent moment would lead to. From there I found something that sparked my imagination, passion and vitality in life as a whole, and I found myself getting better grades, improving my outlook in life, everything seemed to get better when I took up the oar. It really does conform to the saying, ‘the more you put in the more you’ll get out’.

Were you sporty generally?

I was always last to be picked for school sports, football, running, etc. I used to play a bit of rugby in the second row, but I never scored a try or flourished. I challenge everyone who thinks themselves as unathletic, I believe they just haven’t found ‘their’ sport. It’s why giving young people a chance to try all forms of sport through school is key to their development as well-rounded individuals. Sport plays such a big part in life, everyone will be good at one sport, they just have to find it. This also applies to adults.

Lewis Hamilton said winning the seventh F1 world title was beyond his wildest dreams, but that he had ‘secretly dreamt as high as this’, when you got into rowing was that your ‘secret dream’ to get to the top, winning Olympic and World titles?

I started rowing because I enjoyed it, and I’m lucky enough to say that I finished rowing enjoying it. Winning was always and only a by product of the elements I held dearest – self-improvement; enjoyment and being with friends in a common goal, the sacrifice; achieving one’s potential in anything is directly proportional to the sacrifices made.

Do you miss that competitiveness now you’ve retired or are you someone who has to win at everything you do?

Winning has never been a driver for me, since I retired, I replaced my passion to achieve something (which only started when I found rowing) with two things: First, trying to be a good husband, to make up for the time my wife had to put me first despite the hardships in her life, and to my sons who saw a dad who was reduced to the knackered shell of a man each day as I returned from a training programme designed to keep the human body on the red line seven days a week. Secondly, to find a way to create something for the sport I love. Rowing needs new avenues and opportunities as the sport risks becoming obsolete. Now my focus is on Race the Thames – an event for London Youth Rowing. I’m very excited and can’t wait to see how it lands in March!

Tell us about Race the Thames 2021, how can people get involved?

The event is trying to be as open and inclusive as possible, primarily an indoor rowing event, but you can also contribute to the challenge on any indoor machine. There are two challenges for the teams of eight (male, female or mixed) to choose from; the Race the Tidal Thames, 72km completed in a week or a day, and the Race the River Thames, 342km completed in a week. The ‘field of play’ is an amazing online map that we’re going to bring to life in an exciting way. We’re looking for teams of rowers and non rowers alike: friends, families and colleagues, schools and places of work, across gyms, home machines, anywhere people can access a machine, and any time in the week of 19th to 26th March.

And it’s in aid of London Youth Rowing, what’s that all about and who does it help?

Teams choose their own charity to support, as well as LYR with proceeds split 50:50 – I’m really proud to be able to support many charities through this event. LYR supports young people from backgrounds and communities that would make it very difficult for them to find rowing. I had a comfortable up bringing and I discovered rowing through luck and my ‘privilege’, and it still had such an impact on me it’s hard to comprehend. So many young people who are trapped in the hardest walks of life won’t have that chance without LYR, and knowing the benefits it could have on those individuals, not necessarily to achieve Olympic success, but simply to improvements to life by just participating like I had at uni, is motivation enough for me to live through LYR.

The LYR website says one of the aims is to ‘help young people recover their physical and mental health in 2021’ – with the events of 2020 just how important is this for everyone and how can exercise play its part in this?

Sport is so important at many levels, lockdown has decreased sport across the board. Rebuilding that is essential to getting back on track to increase activity in young people and adults alike, but also to recover our sense of wellness and vitality in our communities. I hope Race the Thames is the motivation to our participants to keep our spirits up and the inspiration to those who LYR help to keep striving and pushing forward.

To find out more and get involved visit www.londonyouthrowing.com/event/racethethames2021

The Three Daggers in Edington

Grace Tracey

Reviews

A stay at the dog-friendly The Three Daggers certainly made my tail wag, not to mention that of terrier Roger

Anyone who knows me knows I love dogs. Another thing I love is staying in beautiful B&Bs in the gorgeous countryside (who doesn’t!). So a stay in The Three Daggers, a dog-friendly inn in the middle of Wiltshire’s valleys, was perfect for me!

Unfortunately, I don’t have a dog (yet) – so I borrowed my mum’s rescue terrier mix, Roger, for the trip. I‘d seen the pictures online but the whole property had such charm it simply can’t be captured in an image.

The self-proclaimed “quintessentially British” accommodation certainly lived up to the title. Our room was spacious and luxurious with a massive comfy bed and bathroom fit for a king. There was also a Roger-sized armchair which he soon settled into with his favourite blanket and one of my mum’s shoes.

We were shown Edington Farm Shop, full of local produce and much from their own Priory Farm inclduing their special Three Dagger ales from their micro-brewery. They also had fresh fruit & veg, pies, sausages, some rather lovely dog treats and even local artists’ work.

In the micro-brewery we were told by Jackie the Accommodation Manager, who was very kindly showing us around, they hold small weddings and with this year’s restrictions they have had a lot of interest from couples in using this stunning location for their big day, holding the reception in the upstairs of the restaurant which doubles as a quaint events room.

Just in case a pub, accommodation, brewery and farm shop were not enough for you – they also have a Spa Barn onsite which has an extensive treatment list and also includes a sauna, steam room, outdoor hot tub and a plunge pool! What more could you ask for!

Roger was in need of exercise by now, so we took a walk around the quiet roads and fields surrounding The Three Daggers as the sun began to descend. The hills and valleys made for a fantastic sunset, and the pinky-purple sky guided us back to the inn.

I’m envious this isn’t my local as it had a lovely warm and welcoming atmosphere – the staff could not have been nicer to Roger (and us of course). We ordered starters and mains and ‘cheers’ed a delightful house red to having a great time so far.

I’m not just saying this because we’ve not been out much since the lockdown, it genuinely was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I enjoyed a creamy baked camembert to start, a delicious veggie pie while my partner (often disappointed by small portion sizes) was pleasantly surprised with his pig terrine starter, steak and chips main. We both opted for the salted caramel cheesecake for pudding as we’d seen it pass on the way to another table earlier and decided sharing one wasn’t an option.

After a heavenly sleep, we were greeted by a basket of warm pastries and other breakfast treats outside our door – I loved the pain au chocolat. A brief walk with Roger in the morning sun and it was time to head back to reality.
If you’re a lover of the countryside and looking to treat yourself – and your pooch – this is an ideal destination!

If you fancy booking a visit for yourself or to find out more about the beautiful venue visit www.threedaggers.co.uk

Unique moment of time

Round & About

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Professor Stephen Hawking had a fascinating relationship with time and this year Bremont are marking that and honouring the eminent scientist with the launch of its Bremont Hawking watch collection.

The brand has worked with the Hawking family to create something unique and special dedicated to the British scientist whose stud of time enhanced our understanding of the universe and beyond.

The classically styled Bremont Hawking Limited Edition watch features a retrograde seconds hand and grand date and contains four wooden discs inlaid into the back of the watch taken from the desk at which Hawking contemplated the mysteries of the universe.

Only a limited number of watches will be made and all with unique features setting them apart as a truly stunning timepiece.

To complement the men’s watch, Bremont is also releasing a limited edition number of women’s watches, the first it has produced and around the face lies a bezel of diamonds – another first for Bremont.

Bremont co-founder Nick English said of the collection: “Professor Stephen Hawking was arguably one of the most pre-eminent scientists of the last hundred years. We wanted to celebrate this incredible man’s life and his fascinating relationship with time.”

Bremont is an award-winning British company producing beautifully engineered chronometers at their headquarters in Henley.

Plastic problem

Round & About

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BBC TV presenter Michaela Strachan discusses the problems facing our planet…

From 1990s kids’ TV to the BBC’s Countryfile, Springwatch and Autumnwatch, presenter and nature lover Michaela Strachan has been on our screens for three decades. David Lamont of Plastic Free Home got her views on things…

Q. How would you describe the challenges facing our planet? “The challenges are huge and many. Habitat loss, climate change, consumerism, greed, plastic pollution… the list goes on. Deforestation is a massive threat. If we compared the rate of loss relative to a city, the whole of London, would be wiped out in just under a week – think how many people that would make homeless. It certainly puts it into perspective.”

Q. Do we have time to turn things around? “There’s been a real shift in consciousness. With movements like Extinction Rebellion, amazing young campaigner Greta Thunberg, parliament declaring a state of climate emergency, documentaries like Our Planet, we can’t help but be aware. As David Attenborough said: ‘Saving our planet is within our reach’. The human species is incredible at reacting in a crisis and coming up with amazing and innovative solutions and there is no doubt we have reached the crisis stage. We have to all make an enormous shift in our thinking, habits and way of life. And put the planet before profit and that’s a huge challenge. A recent study by New Zealand Cider brand [delicious by the way!] Old Mout showed 80% of Brits want more ways to take action and those aged 45-54, closely followed by millennials.”

Q. How does the situation make you feel? “I tend to have huge swings in my emotions when it comes to the future of the planet and what we have done to it. When you look at the facts, it’s hugely depressing, but then you look at what people are achieving and it lifts you back into a more positive frame of mind. I am ashamed at the absurdity of humanity, the crazy things we do thinking we are progressing and moving forward when so often we aren’t.”

Q. Do you think that big brands are taking things seriously and doing enough? “Many aren’t but it’s great to see that others are. I’ve been working with Old Mout Cider now for three years, because they care about the environment. For two years they put money into helping the endangered Kiwi in New Zealand and raised awareness; this year they’re partnering with the WWF to help save half a million acres of natural habitat and we’ve done a lot of campaigning to get people thinking and talking about how we can all be more environmentally aware.”

Q. Do you think we need to take things more seriously? “Of course we do and we need governments and policy makers to force radical change. Individuals often think that what they do won’t make any difference, but if we all do small things it collectively makes a huge difference. Now we need to give people hope, ideas and inspiration.”

Get involved

Like Plastic Free Home on facebook and visit their website for the latest news, ideas, debate and much more

Bill’s Newbury

Round & About

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Photo credit: Milly Fletcher

It’s time to take a fresh look at a familiar face with the grand re-opening of Bill’s in Newbury today (23rd September).

The popular restaurant and bar in Market Place is staying true to its roots but adding a touch of glamour with modern décor, luxurious velvet seating and sparkling chandeliers.

It’s the ideal spot for lunch, after work cocktails or dinner and to celebrate the relaunch they are offering you the chance to win dinner for six people. Anyone booking a table online during the opening week (23rd to 29th September) will automatically be entered into the prize draw.

And for the first two weeks after the relaunch, diners will be asked to vote for their chosen charity – West Berkshire Mencap, Helen & Douglas House and The Samaritans – to support for the next three months. The successful charity will be revealed on 7th October.

The management team in Newbury have been working to build relationships with the local community and the restaurant will be making a 50p contribution for each ‘burger of the week’ sold with the money going to the chosen charity.

Founder of the restaurant chain, which started in Lewes, Sussex in 2000, Bill Collison said: “Good quality food in a welcoming environment has always been at the core of Bill’s. We have loved being in our current spot in Newbury for the past five years and we felt the time was right for a fresh new look for the restaurant.

“We are proud to create restaurants that are full of vibrant colour and vintage trinkets. I believe that the new look transcends all dining times which will only enhance our diners’ experience and showcase our vibrant food and drinks.”

Book online

Book your table online to enter the prize-draw or to find out more head to Bill’s website

Plastic free home…

Round & About

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Environmental campaigner and Wokingham dad David Lamont shares his story so far about his mission to help us all heal the planet as we launch his monthly column

Last year was a tipping point for our family, as much as it hopefully was for our planet and attitudes towards climate change. From David Attenborough to Greta Thunberg, generation-defining speeches brought home the immediacy of the challenge that we all face.

On a personal note, they made us angry, sad, scared and, most importantly, determined. To do what we can to help the cause, even in a small way.

That is why we decided – in December 2018 – to set up an online community to raise awareness of the challenges we all face and to share ideas and information on how we can all make changes in our everyday lives.

At the beginning we aimed for an audience of 100 people and to help inspire a single positive change. Since then, our website and Facebook page have achieved a monthly reach of one million people, with a highly engaged following spanning more than 20 countries.

We have appeared on BBC Radio Berkshire, online and in regional magazines and newspapers. We’ve also been invited to speak to groups ranging from the National Women’s Register (NWR) and schools to the Rainbows and Scouts and engaged in events and initiatives run by local authorities.

But most importantly, we value and appreciate the daily interaction with followers, putting across their points of view, sharing their ideas or feeding back on successful changes they have made; many as a result of following Plastic Free Home.

We’re delighted that you can now also find us here in your local monthly Round & About magazine, which reaches more than 560,000 homes across eight counties. We look forward to bringing you content ranging from interviews with leading environmental brands and those closest to the challenges, to advice and suggestions regarding easy and affordable changes you can make in everyday life.

A couple of months ago, we wrote to Sir David to thank him for inspiring us, like many others, and we were both touched and amazed to receive a handwritten response endorsing our efforts just a week later. Like you, we are just normal, everyday people and a regular family, trying to make a difference. Let’s do this!

Get involved

David Lamont is founder of Plastic Free Home, a popular and highly engaged not-for-profit online community focused on environmental issues. Follow Plastic Free Home on facebook and visit their website for the latest news, ideas, debate and much more.

Alzheimer’s memory walk

Round & About

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Join a memory walk against dementia and raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Society

Alzheimer’s Society is calling on family, friends and colleagues to unite against dementia this autumn by joining  one of several memory walks being held across the country.

There are 43 walks taking place this autumn – including five longer marathon style walks, all raising funds to create lasting chances for people affected by the condition.

Dementia devastates lives, but every pound raised through Memory Walk will help Alzheimer’s Society provide vital information and support, improve care and fund research.

This year, Memory Walk will bring together more than 120,000 walkers, with the hope of raising in excess of £9million.

This Sunday, you can join one in Oxford University Parks – registrations close today so you’ll need to be quick if you want to take part in this one.

The shorter 3km walk is a gentle stroll ideal for any age, while the longer 6.5km will loop you around the park. Arrive from 10am, the walk starts at 11am.

If you do miss out how about trying the one in Windsor Great Park on Saturday, 21st September, registration for this one closes on Thursday 19th.

Take the shorter walk of 3.5km for a stroll suitable for all around parkland or try the 8km undulating walk which passes through stunning countryside. Don’t forget your wellies or walking boots!

Arrive from 9.30am for the walk which starts at 11am.

In Surrey, you can take part in Painshill walk on Sunday, 6th October and you can choose to take either the shorter 2km walk or a longer 7km walk. The 2km gentle stroll goes around the lake and is suitable for Memory Walkers of all ages including pushchairs and wheelchairs. The longer 7km walk will take you further around the park, with some muddy patches so don’t forget your wellies and walking boots! All routes and distances are subject to change.

All routes will start and finish at Painshill, by the cafe, where there will be a hive of activity to get everyone ready for Memory Walk.

Take a moment to reflect on who you are walking for by leaving a message on the Memory Tree, and watch it blossom through the day.

Walkers should arrive from 9.30am and the walk starts at 11am.

Registration is £10 and closes on 3rd October.

Someone develops dementia every three minutes

Unite against dementia and register now

A radical festival

Round & About

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Despite severe weather warnings, early August saw 66,000 revellers descend upon the stunning South Downs National Park and throw themselves into the wild, magnificent and often ridiculous five-day adventure that is the mammoth Boomtown festival.

As predicted, on Friday gale force wind and heavy rainstorms threaten to dampen everyone’s spirits as tents are flattened across campsites and one of the main stages is shut down. However, the “show must go on!” Campers pull together to help their neighbours and the organisers reschedule all the acts from the closed stage.

One of the UK’s largest, independent music and theatrical festivals, Boomtown resembles something from the script of Michael Crichton’s Westworld (complete with its own Artificial Intelligence storyline). It is a theme park for adults that pulsates with stupendous sights and sounds blasting your senses all weekend. With so much on offer, here are just five reasons why Boomtown towers above the rest:

Green mission

Boomtown’s ongoing priority is to protect the environment from the impact of such a large event. One of the key messages is “Leave No Trace”. Green initiatives include no single-use plastic on sale; 100% compostable serveware; WaterAid refill stations and hundreds of recycling bins; reduced carbon emissions from travel and powering the festival; portable pouches for cigarette butts; an Eco Bond scheme to exchange bags of recycling for cash; and encouraging everyone to take everything home with them – 22,000 tents were left at Boomtown last year – a third of the festival’s capacity.

Boomtown storyline

Since the festival’s conception in 2009, the immersive element has always been entrenched in its ever-evolving storyline. The narrative this year, Chapter 11: A Radical City, has a firm focus on the environment, sustainability and activism. The story is 100% interactive and the public are invited to engage with it. There is an Immersive Maze for true gamers allowing players to go on a quest that unlocks secret areas and plot twists taking a journey deep down the rabbit hole. One person I chatted to even has business cards printed for his Boomtown persona, Xander Hawkmaul.

Theatrics and stage design

Boomtown’s fictitious city consists of 12 unique, themed districts that house thousands of actors in full costume who will engage with you and bring the city streets to life whether it’s an interrogation from the Boomtown Bobbies or a Wild West gunfight. In exchange for a toilet roll, we took a spin on the ‘Wheel of Misfortune’ and were drawn into ‘The Sweatbox’ which was the smallest rave I’ve ever experienced, contained in a vehicle that resembles a horse box.

There are 25 main stages and more than 80 street venues to explore at Boomtown. Immense structures dominate the skyline and act as creative showpieces that soar above the cavorting crowds below. Epic towers glow and shimmer with an abundance of multi-coloured lasers, gigantic screens projecting futuristic imagery and florescent acrobatic shows.

A raucous punk-inspired ex-military hanger promises shrieking guitars and trashing drums. Discarded cars piled high form a gritty, dystopian scrapyard. Flames erupt from front of stage almost as if a dragon was lashing out, spewing fire at the audience. An impressive, temple-like set has huge waterfalls flowing down each side – Mike Skinner couldn’t resist climbing up it and cooling off in the cascade mid-way through The Streets show.

Scattered throughout the woodland are forest parties adorned with a cornucopia of colourful, psychedelic decorations; multi-layered treetop walkways; hidey holes to crawl into and a beach-style retreat.

Plenty of smaller venues line the streets from pop-up nightclubs and discos to a plush ballroom, lavish hotel and casino, though to Mr Whomp’s ice cream van, the Inconvenience Store and the much-loved Office Christmas Party at the Job Centre. Sunday’s Carnival Parade is a must-see spectacle that is awash with dazzling costumes and fantastic props.

And, if all this stimulation gets too much, you can escape to the hills and relax at the spa or witness the sunset from the top of Whistlers Green looking down on all the action.

Music

Unlike other music festivals, Boomtown doesn’t rely on big name headliners to pull in the masses, however it can still compete with the “big boys” boasting household names such as Ms Lauryn Hill, The Streets, Groove Armada, Salt ‘N’ Pepa, UB40 and Chase & Status. With over 1,000 artists performing across 80 genres, the music range is diverse to say the least.

There is heavy bass booming out of every nook and cranny covering almost every electro genre imaginable, so for dance music enthusiasts it’s a dream. There are also many other musical delights waiting over every hill from punk rock and metal to reggae and ska, hip-hop and disco to folk and jazz. Boomtown champions underground subcultures so it’s easy to unearth something that you haven’t heard before.

Highlights for me come from raving in the Hidden Woods at the Calypso-inspired Soca vs Jungle Soundclash where DJs and MCs duel for audience votes; an outstanding set from techno heavyweight Carl Cox; and Beans On Toast whose folk song Magic about the birth of his daughter brings a tear to my eye – it’s Sunday by then and I must be tired and emotional.

A final push on Sunday night ends with Prophets of Rage who show they are seasoned pros by working the crowd with mosh-inducing hits from Rage Against the Machine and old school Cypress Hill and Public Enemy hip-hop tracks. Tom Morrello’s guitar skills, as always, blow me away!

The people

As you can imagine the mix of people who attend Boomtown is as diverse as the music on offer, but it works. From bucket-hat wearing Drum ‘n’ Bass kids, through cyber punks and metallers to hippies, geeks and old timers, everyone is there to have fun and party hard! You will see mad and marvellous costumes, sequins and glitter galore and the utterly bizarre.

There is a real sense of community and comradery that exudes from the festival and its inhabitants which makes it very easy to form new bonds (if only a friend for the night). Boomtown is certainly a place to leave your hang-ups at home and join in with the crazy. My only complaint is that my now 40-year-old body and mind take a whole lot longer to recover!

Read more about Boomtown

Solent Hotel & Spa

Liz Nicholls

Reviews

Solent Hotel & Spa in Fareham, Hampshire, has the perfect spa break and dining packages to help you hit the “reset” button and offers a great base to explore the south coast

Do you believe in fairytales? My daughter is always asking me this – it’s her current obsession. For me, sleep is the miraculous saviour and life-restorer, better than any charming prince.

So I know something magical has occurred when I wake up in my serene bedroom having missed breakfast (this never happens – I‘m as greedy as I am frazzled) unsure how I’ll leave the comfiest bed I’ve ever had the joy of lying on…

Rewind to the previous afternoon, I’d arrived tightly wound, even for me. After the usual juggling act, I was in the nick of time for my taster treatment in the calming sanctuary of the spa, adjoining the wooden-beamed hotel. Winner of a World Luxury Spa Award last year, the team are expert in treatments devised by the gorgeous Bordeaux-born skincare brand Caudalie which combines science with the ancient secrets of wine (yes, wine). I felt instantly calmer when I met Imogen who then proceeded to take me to a different level by delivering a Des Vignes back massage. I can never usually get the pressure I crave to ease my knotty shoulders, but this treatment seemed to knead away my tension, leaving me feeling light as air in body and soul.

As much as I love Oxford, it’s landlocked and nothing appeals to my soul as much as a seaside break. The hotel and spa feel like a breath of fresh air, decked out in calming azure tones. After enjoying the steam room and sauna, alongside the pool, I was delighted to find my haven for the evening was more of a welcoming luxury penthouse than a room, with double of everything (even two tellies!), a beautifully stocked fridge and a welcome gift of local fudge and chocolates.

Nothing appeals more on the coast – especially after an indulgent afternoon – than fresh seafood and the restaurant does not disappoint on this score. The AA rosette-winning Terrace is cosy and chic and we went up to the chef’s table to admire the fish on offer – you can have this cooked to order or go a la carte if you’d rather leave the decision-making in the capable hands of the chefs. Unable to choose just two, my friend and I loved our trio of dishes, including king prawn linguine and sumptuous scallops on a samphire bed. The cocktail and pudding menu also make this the perfect destination for any special event.

Solent Hotel & Spa (PO15 7AJ) is the perfect base from which to explore the Isle of Wight and other Hampshire delights. If you too want to feel like a princess, check out the great deals such as the Escape Spa break which offers amazing value.

this treatment seemed to knead away my tension

To find out more and to book your visit, go to Solent Hotel