Charlbury festival

Karen Neville


Free festival fun down by the riverside in Charlbury

Head down to the river this weekend for free family fun in Charlbury at the ever-popular Riverside Festival.

Held on the banks of the Evenlode, it has grown over the past 24 years, attracting thousands of music lovers who this year will be able to enjoy the US rock band The Pixies among many others. For youngsters there will be free pixie fun activities to join in.

There’s a packed programme of music on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st with more than 40 acts playing across four stages – rock, indie, jazz, and folk on the main two stages and all sorts on the Fringe and Buskers stages!

Headlining the main stage on Saturday is four-piece Oxford band Kanadia. Their big and bold alt rock sound and impressive stage presence has won them a growing fan base in Europe and a big following across the Atlantic in Mexico, the US and Canada.
Sunday headliner is popular upbeat garage punk band Self Help.

Other acts to look out for are Riverside favourites 2 Tone All Skas, The Knights of Mentis, Mighty Redox and eclectic Turkabilly band, Brickwork Lizards.

The second stage, run by independent record stores, Rapture in Witney and The Truck Store in Oxford has an impressive line-up of local bands including Peerless Pirates, Death of the Maiden and Ghosts in the Photographs.

The festival takes place in The Mill Field, Dyers Hill, Charlbury with entry opposite Charlbury railway station.

For more information and details

Blenheim Palace Flower Show

Grace Tracey


From classy garden furniture to wacky ornaments for your backyard there was no end to the inspiration on offer at Blenheim Palace Flower Show.

Some of the creative displays stopped me in my tracks and there was so much to see and learn. You need to go round at least twice to see everything.

As someone who knows nothing about flowers, I was inspired and excited to improve my garden this summer and bring in some of the more quirky ideas I saw. Succulents in household objects was a personal favourite. I saw a lot of people had purchased foxtail barley (Hordeum Jubatum) and my FOMO made me buy some too – I’m planning to build an ornamental grassy display with a variety of sizes and colours.

The Grand Floral Pavilion greeted us with an array of gorgeous colours and smells that filled the marquee. The floral carousel was a highlight, created by RHS Medal winner Mig Kimpton – impossible to pass without taking a snap.

In the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS) Marquee I was expecting to be impressed and was not disappointed. The arrangements showed off their amazing talents and encouraged some to create their own at the hands-on workshop.

Their creations would have been worthy of guest speaker George Clarke who shared how his love of architecture sprouted and grew during a question and answer session on Friday, 21st June, and later presented the Best in Show award.

As with any good outdoor extravaganza, there was a fabulous Food & Drink Pavilion to tuck in to too right next to the entrance and having arrived with an empty belly, we sampled some delicious gins, fudge, olives, baclava, cheeses and more, not least the amazingl-named cheese The Drunken Monk from the Great British Cheese Company.

There were plenty of artists and designer stalls as well which caught my eye – especially UK Pet Portraits where your beloved furry friends can be made into a work of art.

A fantastic day made even better by sunshine and lots of dogs. I would definitely recommend putting it in your diary for a future visit – lovers of all things floral, home and inspirational won’t want to miss out.

Missed the flower show?

Don’t worry, we have plenty of ideas for days out this summer in your area!

Thames Valley: Easter egg-stravaganza

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Shell out on some family fun at these cracking Easter egg hunts.

Who doesn’t love an Easter egg hunt? You may pretend you’re helping your children or grandchildren around the trail looking for chocolate treats but in reality you can’t wait to join in the eggcellent fun yourself – chocolate doesn’t care how old you are. Here’s our round-up of some of the many hunts you can get cracking on during the Easter holidays.

Unless stated booking is not necessary for events

The Oakley Court, Windsor

The Easter bunny has checked into the hotel and hidden clues around the hotel and grounds. Use the clue sheet to solve the missing word and a delicious treat will be waiting for you.

Friday 19th-Monday 22nd April, free for all

Highclere Castle, near Newbury

Follow a trail through the ‘Downton Abbey’ gardens and woodland finding clues en route to claim your Easter egg. Easter bonnet competition (entries welcome), bouncy castle and other games. Easter trail in aid of the Murray Parish Trust which supports children’s emergency services across the south of England.

Sunday 21st April, 11am-3pm, pre-booking of adult tickets essential, £7, numbers of children needed

Basildon Park, near Reading

Little ones can follow the Ranger’s dog Buddy on an adventure around the parkland while older ones can follow a day in the life of Leo the Ranger and learn about the work they do on the estate.

Saturday 6th-Tuesday 23rd April, £3 plus admission

Cliveden, Taplow

Solve the clues along the trail with the theme of natural life cycles, to enjoy chocolate at the end.

Saturday 6th-Monday 22nd April, 10.30am-3.30pm, £3 plus admission

Greys Court, Henley

There are two separate trails to be enjoyed at Greys Court this Easter; hunt for clues in the run-up to and over the Easter weekend. If you’re lucky you may get to both, for double the chocolate!

Saturday 6th-Tuesday 23rd April, 10am-5pm, £3 plus admission

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock

Enjoy a traditional fairground with the Easter trail in the wonderland at Blenheim Palace.

Friday 19th-Monday, 22nd April, free with annual pass or from £43 for a family ticket (2&2) including entry to palace, gardens and grounds

Fairytale Farm, Chipping Norton

Explore the Giant Rabbit Burrow and meet the Easter Bunny, who will tell an Easter story; every child will receive a full size Easter egg. Join the Easter Bunny over Easter weekend who has hidden six golden eggs on the Enchanted Walk trail – find their location and win a chocolate prize. Other activities over the holiday period, 6th-22nd April.

Buscot and Coleshill Estates, near Swindon

Hunt for nature clues around Buscot Weir to win.

Friday 19th-Monday 22nd April, 11am-3pm, £3 plus admission

Thames Valley Hospitality Awards

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Picture credit: Dijana Capan, DVision Images
Picture caption: Organisers Marc Allridge and Hilary Scott


Nominate your favourites for 2019 Thames Valley Hospitality Awards.

The 2019 Thames Valley Hospitality Awards are open for nominations celebrating excellence and outstanding staff in the sector. From hotels to B&Bs, bars to restaurants, it’s time to share who you think deserves to be honoured. 

In addition to last year’s categories, there are three new ones – Achiever of the Year, Wedding Venue of the Year and Outside Caterer of the Year. This is the second year of the awards and the organisers are delighted to be building on the success of last year. 

Co-organiser Marc Allridge of Cherubs Floral Design said they were very excited about the new categories. He added: “We would love people from managers to brides to nominate in the Wedding Venue of the Year category. And we want to hear form all those caterers who work away behind the scenes and often don’t get recognised for their efforts – winning Outside Caterer of the Year would fix that. 

“We also want to see lots of entries in Achiever of the Year – this is for a youngster who has overcome physical or mental issues to shine in the trade.” 

The gala awards dinner this year is being held at the De Vere Wokefield Estate on Sunday, 28th April and hosted by leading chef Daniel Galmiche. Fellow organiser Hilary Scott encouraged entries for this year, saying: “We had so many entries in our first year it was amazing. I hope that we can get more this year now we are a bit better known. And remember if you missed out last year you can enter again.” 

This year’s categories are: 

Hotel of the Year sponsored by TVHA 

Independent Hotel of Year sponsored by Newsquest Berkshire 

Bar of the Year  sponsor Matthew Clark 

​Restaurant of the Year 

Hotel Manager of the Year sponsored by Cream Design 

​Front of house star sponsored by H&D Food Solutions 

Back of house star sponsored by Cherubs Floral Design 

Warm welcome  

Best breakfast 

Apprentice of the Year 

Three new categories for 2019: 

Achiever of the Year – a youngster who has overcome physical or mental issues to shine 

​Wedding Venue of the Year – in a competitive market who stands out for their venue, service and professionalism 

Outside Caterer of the Year – in a growing market, we want to find the best 

  For full details and to nominate visit and don’t forget to share with us who you are nominating and why!

Phil Hall’s Wallingford Wishing Well

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Phil Hall’s new fantasy action novel Wallingford Wishing Well is set in our lovely town of Wallingford.

Phil Hall, whose last book, Bangkok to Ben Nevis Backwards was quite autobiographical, has taken a different angle this time.

Wallingford Wishing Well is a fantasy action novel set locally and in the present day. Phil says it’s partially based on real-life characters (with a few fictional ones thrown in) and that the story is fast-paced enough to keep you reading until the last page.

It features various local landmarks including The Kinecroft, Wallingford Bridge, pubs The Old Post Office and The Coach and Horses and Castle Gardens. The plot is loosely based on William the Conqueror’s occupation of the town but is mainly set today. The plot includes an ancient curse as well as hijinks and skulduggery.

“With a few references to the fascinating history of Wallingford, there are plenty of twists and turns that ensure the reader never gets bored,” adds married dad-of-one Phil. “If you live here or have visited, please have a read of this 140-pager because it’s most likely you’ll recognise the overall vibe and can imagine the rest.”

It ends on a massive plot climax, and Phil hopes it might one day provide the basis for a funny short TV movie, appealing to people who enjoy quirky storylines and even quirkier characters.

Wallingford Wishing Well is stocked at Wallingford Book Shop or you can buy on Amazon.

Jeff Koons exhibition at Oxford’s Ashmolean

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A new exhibition by American artist Jeff Koons at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum includes work never seen before in the UK.

A new exhibition which provokes a conversation between the artist’s work and the history of art is set to be unveiled at the Ashmolean Museum.

The work of American artist Jeff Koons, which is self-curated, will feature 17 important works, 14 of which have never been seen in the UK before.

Since Koons burst on to the contemporary art scene in the 1980s he has been described as important, subversive and controversial, consistently pushing the boundaries of contemporary art.

Director of the Ashmolean, Dr Xa Sturgis says: “In showing Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean, the world’s oldest public museum where the collections range from prehistory to the present, this exhibition will provoke a conversation between his work and the history of art and ideas with which his work engages. I am sure it will also provoke conversations among those who see it.”

Among the pieces on display will be examples from Koons’s most well-known series including Statuary, Banality, Antiquity and the most recent Gazing Ball sculptures and paintings.

His work is exhibited all over the world including at New York’s Rockfeller Center, Guggenheim Bilbao and at the Chateau de Versailles.

The Ashmolean exhibition will include important works from the 1980s with which Koons made his name with pieces such as One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (1985); Rabbit (1986) and Ushering in Banality (1988).

It will also explore his more recent focus on the meeting of ancient and modern art which come together in his singular vision, with the highlights including Balloon Venus (Magenta) (2008-12) featuring his signature motifs of monumental scale and the mirror-polished surface which positions the viewer in the work.

Ashmolean curator Sir Norman Rosenthal says: “Putting his work in the Ashmolean – the first museum in the very heart of academia, Oxford University – we can take his experiment a step further. For those of us willing to share in his visions, Jeff Koons makes art a magical transformation.”

Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean runs from 7th February to 9th June at the John Sainsbury Exhibition Galleries. Tickets for the show cost £12.25/£11.25 concessions on the door or online.

 For online tickets

Concert: Violin virtuoso

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Former Young Musician of the Year Jennifer Pike will be playing the piece that won her the title when she appears at Marlborough College.

At the age of just 12, Jennifer Pike became the youngest ever winner of the Young Musician of the Year in 2002.

Three years later she performed at the Proms and has gone on to build an international career which has included many more accolades, not least being the only classical artist to win the South Bank Show/Times Breakthrough Award.

Jennifer is passionate about helping other young people enhance their lives through music and is an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust.

You can enjoy her music on Sunday, 20th January when she takes to the stage in the Memorial Hall at the college, as part of the World Class Musicians in Marlborough series when she will perform Vaughan William’s The Lark Ascending alongside pieces by Bach and Wieniawski.

Following the redevelopment of the Memorial Hall (which Marlborough College provides as sponsors of the concert series) the town now has a state-of-the-art concert hall.

The £6.5million project retains the charm of the original design while adding contemporary touches to create a state-of-the-art facility. The acoustics received accolades after a BBC National Orchestra of Wales concert recently and with improved front of house facilities, a concert at Marlborough College will be a true treat for the senses.

  Tickets available at Enquiries: 01672 892566 or

Singing for Syrians: Bibury Christmas concert

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On Friday, 14th December, support The Hands Up foundation, established by the locally born artist and illustrator, George Butler and three friends.

Kate Hicks Beach, Natanya Phillips and Jackie Colburn will present what has become an annual Christmas concert of music and words featuring the Coln Choir, solo singers and seasonal readings read by actors.

This year they are once again supporting the amazing charity Hands Up Foundation and will be “Singing for Syrians”.

The charity seeks to aid those people caught up in the Syrian crisis, left without homes, education, access to hospitals and in many cases hope. They work very closely with Syrians in Syria and this year have funded the salaries of 22 medical staff in Aleppo £150,000; supported the Syrian Project for Prosthetic Limbs with a contribution of £80,000 – (there are an estimated 50,000 amputees in Syria, the average cost for a prosthetic limb above the knee is £500) and in partnership with Syria Relief, are funding medical training in Idleb City £105,000 with a view to lessening the imbalance in demand and supply for medical care. This imbalance is due to the fact that most specialised personnel have fled the country over the past 5 years and a large number of medical students have not been able to complete their studies and receive a degree.

• So enjoy a glass of wine and canapés, from 6.30pm St Mary’s Church, Bibury. Tickets £12 from the Bibury Trout Farm, Coln Village Stores or email

Clowning around: Cheltenham panto star

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Peter Anderson chats to Alan Digweed, AKA Tweedy The Clown, ahead of his star turn in Aladdin at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre.

Q: How did you get into circus and clowning?

A: “I grew up in Aberdeen and had always had an interest in youth theatre. Career-wise I had wanted to be an animator, but then realised that perhaps what I wanted more was to be the character I was animating. I did a lot of research, writing around as this was in the days before computers and the internet and found a clown school in Bristol. I was saving up hard to go there and worked as a Butlins Redcoat which gave me lots of opportunities to try things, but sadly before I got the all the money.

There is a quote from Joseph Grimaldi the best way to learn how to be a clown, is to be one. So, I then wrote to a lot of circuses and got a job with Zippo’s Circus as a publicity clown basically doing the occasional children’s show and standing on street corners handing out leaflets. Then one day one of the main clowns got stuck in traffic and I had to step in they liked my work and I never looked back. I met Nell Gifford when she was a groom in another circus and when she started her own circus I asked her if I could have a job.”

Q: What was your first panto role?

A. “I have done panto alongside clowning nearly all my life. When I was younger, panto casts were bigger, and I played one of two broker’s men. I think I was down in Truro doing pantomime when I met the general manager from the Everyman Theatre [in Cheltenham] and he liked what I did, but it was a number of years before I made it on stage for the pantomime and in between times did a couple of years at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon in 2000-01 and 2003-04.”

Q: Do you find your slapstick skills honed from clowning help?

A. “Undoubtedly, though I have always been a fan of both Laurel and Hardy and Norman Wisdom.

Q: Do you enjoy the interaction with children, is it similar?

A: “Oh yes, I think in both cases the children are almost like an extra member of the cast and it is great to get that level of engagement.”

Q: What memories of Christmas do you have growing up in Cirencester?

A: “My best memories are sledging in the amphitheatre, loads of people who don’t know each other drawn together for a single enjoyable experience.”

  • Aladdin, written and directed by legendary Blue Peter presenter and actor Peter Duncan, is on at Everyman Theatre from Friday, 30th November until Sunday, 13th January.

A cut above: best Christmas roasts

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Turkey is a traditional favourite but there are so many choices of meat when it comes to the festive table, and many excellent local producers

What scene depicts Christmas more traditionally than a large cooked bird being brought out to the table and carved by the head of the household?

Turkey is, of course, the popular festive choice. Tom Copas Jnr says: “Turkey is what you’re meant to have! We’ve been rearing the best turkeys in Britain for over 60 years and nothing tastes better on Christmas Day, especially knowing all the care and attention that’s gone into their welfare.” Visit

Walters Turkeys is a family business running since 1911 on the Yattendon Estate in the Berkshire Downs. The team are passionate about animal welfare and expert in the best way to cook and store your bird for the perfect feast; call 01635 578 251 or visit Tell your butcher how many guests you have (and how greedy!) to select a bird or joint of the perfect size.

Excellent traditional alternatives to turkey include goose and duck, which are more expensive and do not give as much meat per size as a turkey. Cockerels (male chickens) clock in at about the 10lb in weight and are becoming a popular alternative to turkey. For more adventurous of home cooks there is also the three-bird roast, with a wide variety of bird breasts one inside another (such as turkey, pheasant and partridge). These have plenty of meat but need to be carefully cooked.

Hungerford butcher Christian Alba says: “In all the places I’ve worked, Christmas meat is usually turkey. But I grew up on a turkey farm, so I have beef fore rib.” Phil Currie, head chef at The Greyhound in Letcombe Regis says: “I like to use beef shin as the bone provides so much flavour which leaves you with a great sauce. For Christmas we serve it with classic bourguignon garnish and a twist with a blue cheese dumpling. It’s a great alternative to turkey.” Visit or call 01235 771969.

Jesse Smith Butcher & W.J Castle in Cirencester has a unique dry-aging process for its beef featuring a room lined with Himalayan salt bricks. The company, which goes back for several generations, are passionate about animal husbandry and welfare and also offer the very finest poultry, game, pork and lamb for the well-stocked Christmas larder; visit or call 01285 653352.

Recipe queen Lyn Deveson says: “I’ve always cooked turkey and a gammon; cold turkey, ham, turkey curried, stir fried, in sandwiches is a big part of the appeal. But I cooked a cockerel last Christmas and won’t go back to turkey – it has more flavour. I remember my mother cooking the turkey all night on a low heat but the French way is best; higher heat and less time. People complain it can be dry but if cooked properly, it isn’t. Good gravy makes all the difference, too!

“I also remember my mother cooking the turkey all night on a low heat, but the French way is best – higher heat and less time. People complain it can be dry but if cooked properly, it isn’t. Traditionally we cook turkey, stuffing, bread sauce, sausages wrapped in bacon etc. with the head male at the top of the table, carving! That’s the  picture we all have in our heads and everyone wearing paper hats and pulling crackers! Because turkey meat can be quite bland, you can go to town with the other flavours. A good gravy makes the difference and thanks to chefs such as Jamie Oliver, we are learning that Bisto is not the essential ingredient but I am shocked by the number of English who still use it! The trouble is we are so spoilt nowadays and can eat anything any time of the year, so Christmas lunch or dinner isn’t such a treat as it used to be.”

Enter our competition for a Christmas In A Box foodie hamper – including a 6kg turkey!