Tips for a Great Day Out on a Canal Boat

If you’re looking for a great day out with a difference then I would absolutely recommend hiring a canal boat for a day. I recently did this with 9 of my friends, hiring a boat from Ellerbeck Narrowboats for 8 hours. It’s completely different to a party boat experience, as you get full control of the boat. You can steer it along a 12 mile stretch of the Leeds Liverpool canal in whichever direction and at whatever pace you fancy, moor when you feel like it, and it’s a no-stress situation because you aren’t allowed to pass through any of the locks (which would make things more technical). It’s as simple as steering your boat along the canal at a leisurely pace, whilst enjoying a party atmosphere with whatever food, drinks and games you bring along.

Canal boat day hire

We had such fun on our canal boat and I think it’s the perfect day trip for a birthday or celebration, so I’ve decided to share these 10 tips for making sure you have the most fun on your narrowboat day trip.

1. Go with a fun crew

Everything is fun when you’re with the right people, so choose your crew wisely! It helps when at least one of your group is great at driving, but it’s a low pressure environment and it wouldn’t really matter if you were all rubbish at it. Our boat capacity was 10 people and although it is quite a squeeze, it is worth having all the extra hands on board so that a few people can drive whilst others prepare food.

Canal boat friends

2. Have a nautical dress code (just for fun)

We decided to embrace a nautical theme for the day, which was pretty fun and makes our photos look extra special. A dress code is obviously optional.

3. Have a go at steering

Everyone on board should give it a go at the helm. Canal boats travel at a low speed so there’s really nothing to be worried about, although turning them around is slightly trickier.

Canal boat at the helm

4. Cook up a tasty breakfast

The first priority after setting sail has to be a delicious breakfast. Our boat had a hob and grill on board, and sausage sandwiches and bucks fizz were a welcome morning treat.

5. Enjoy the views

Take some time to enjoy the picturesque scenery and, at certain points, gaze enviously at luxurious waterside houses that you can’t possibly afford. Make the most of the scenic photo opportunities so you’ll always have reminders of your memorable day.

Canal boat day trip

Canal boat day hire 2

Canal boat day hire 3

6. Play games

No day of fun is complete without a few games, and it’s simple enough to moor up the boat so that everyone on board can join in.

7. Serve Pimms and afternoon tea

Once breakfast is done you’ll need to consider other meals, and I think something typically English like Pimms and afternoon tea would be perfect. We had a kettle on board for making hot drinks.

8. Moor up for a break

We moored up once for games and a second time to pay a call to a waterside ice cream parlour. I’m sure there are plenty of other stops we could have made too, if we’d fancied visiting a pub or having a short stroll.

Fredericks Ice Cream

9. Prepare for the weather

It’s England and impossible to predict the weather. We prepared for everything, with blankets for the chilly morning, wet weather wear in case of rain, and (luckily, because it turned out glorious!) sun cream.

10. Take it easy

This is not a fast paced day by anyone’s standards. It’s a leisurely, casual, fun-filled, fun one, so enjoy the slow pace and take the chance to relax with friends.

Canal boat day hire 4

Why Outdoor Theatre Should be on Your Summer Bucket List

If you read my summer bucket list earlier in the year, you may have seen that Outdoor Theatre was on the list, and a couple of weeks ago I ticked this off when I watched As You Like It at Ordsall Hall.

As You Like It - The Handlebards

This was a production by The Handlebards – a group of 4 actors who cycle around the country carrying their sets and props on their bikes with them. They even incorporate cycling paraphernalia into the shows with handlebars, bells, helmets and horns featuring as costumes and props.

Open Air Theatre - Handlebards

Open Air Theatre - Handlebards As You Like It

The show was set in the gardens of Ordsall Hall, and we enjoyed the humorous interpretation of this Shakespeare comedy with a picnic on a lovely sunny evening. I’d definitely recommend this particular theatre group for a fun show and great performances, but here’s why I think everyone should give any outdoor theatre a go this summer:

Summer is about spending time outdoors

Getting outside is what summer is all about, and open air theatre will be one of your most memorable summer activities.

The weather is all part of it

We may be in England and it may seem like a risk to book an open air show, but even if you aren’t as lucky as we were for As You Like It, it is still lots of fun. When we watched Pride and Prejudice at Brockholes the weather was windy and raining, and the cast simply made it part of the show in a hilarious way. And as long as you prepare for the worst (bring rainwear and warm clothes) it doesn’t have to spoil your fun.

The laid-back atmosphere

Set up your own deckchairs and blankets in plenty of space and enjoy the chilled atmosphere, good humour and some fresh air with your theatre.

Enjoy a picnic and a glass of prosecco

If eating a delicious picnic with a glass of prosecco in an al fresco setting isn’t appealing to you then we do not share a wavelength!

Discover beautiful locations

Every venue is different and it’s a chance to discover some of England’s nicest stately homes, nature reserves and gardens that you might never have heard of otherwise.

The prices are relatively cheap!

Tickets are cheaper than for regular theatre, which makes it a nice reasonably-priced summer activity. There are plenty of family shows too, so it’s a great activity for children without breaking the bank.

It’s a unique experience

Due to small casts playing several roles each and limited sets and costumes, open air theatre  productions have to be very creative and they are often interactive. So it’s something very different from your usual theatre experience.

Outdoor Theatre - Ordsall Hall

I’ve decided that my summers won’t feel complete without an outdoor theatre experience, and there are plenty of options all over the country. Here are just 8 of the many places to watch outdoor theatre in the Manchester area this summer. (And many of the shows are coming up in August so check them out now if you don’t want to miss out!):

Ordsall Hall

Walkden Gardens (Sale)

Chorlton Park

Heaton Park

Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens

Brockholes Nature Reserve

Dunham Massey

Hoghton Tower

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OutdoorTheatre

A week in sunny Salcombe

An amazing thing has happened. We booked a week’s holiday in the UK, and the weather was glorious! This never happens to us, and I can’t tell you how lovely it was to spend time relaxing in the sun instead of trying to look for things to do on a drizzly day. Seaside towns are best on sunny days!

Salcombe harbourMill Bay beach DevonKingsbridge estuary view

Salcombe is a pretty seaside town in South Devon, and thanks to the heatwave we spent a whole week lying on its pretty beaches. Our favourite one (Mill Bay) was accessible by a cute ferry ride across the Kingsbridge estuary, which took less than 60 seconds. This ferry also helped us locate our favourite drinking spot – the Ferry Inn, situated right on the water’s edge with a view of the beaches opposite. Lovely!

Ferry Inn SalcombeSalcombe war memorialKingsbridge estuary view

Salcombe has a cute high street, which is perfect if you are looking for nautical striped fashion or lovely (but pretty expensive) unique homewares. We spent many an afternoon wandering the pretty shops before settling down in a beer garden or in harbour with some fish and chips. Have you noticed how sitting outside feels like you’re doing something amazing if it’s sunny? Another of our favourite places, The Fortescue had an extensive gin menu, complete with complimentary tonics and garnishes, and made the most amazing stone baked pizzas. Definitely a place worth visiting!

And speaking of gin… Salcombe has its own gin distillery which makes the award winning Salcombe gin. Their stylish gin bar upstairs looks out over the estuary and we made sure we paid a visit. After all, we were staying in the cottage across the road! If the main street of Salcombe is pretty and seaside-y, Island Street (featuring our cottage and the distillery) is the cool and creative back street. It was a fantastic street to stay on, full of art galleries, crafty spaces, workshops, boat building yards and independent shops (also, did I mention a gin distillery?) My favourite shop was Will Bees Bespoke – makers of unique British bags. This was such a cool store, with an entrance on Island Street and the back of the shop open to the water, and full of their gorgeous bags ready to be embossed instore.

Salcombe GinSalcombe Gin and Tonic GalleryWill Bees BespokeNautical stripesArtist on Salcombe South Sands

So… gin, beach, food, shopping… a perfect little break in the sun.

Jamie’s Italian, Manchester

It’s been a while since I ate at Jamie’s Italian, but after seeing it featured in an article on Manchester’s most beautiful chain restaurants, I was feeling eager to return. It certainly is a gorgeous interior – the grade II listed building is actually an old bank and the restaurant has kept plenty of the original features. We were seated at a table on the mezzanine balcony, and had a great view over the restaurant as well as getting plenty of lovely spring sunlight from the huge high windows up there.

Jamie's Italian Manchester

We were invited down to Jamie’s to celebrate the launch of their new Super Lunch Menu, which is excellent value at two courses for £12.95 or three courses for £14.95 (available from Mon-Fri 12-6pm), and has a nice range of options. However, we couldn’t help but be tempted by the day’s specials which just sounded too amazing when our waiter described them!

Jamie's Italian - Tuna steak special

Jamie's Italian - Pork chop special

I went for the tuna steak, which came served with a beetroot and quinoa salad and yoghurt dressing. And I can’t even explain how delicious this dish was, as well as looking pretty. I was expecting my tuna medium rare (it’s Jamie’s style) and it was cooked to perfection. And although I thought it sounded like an unusual combination, it actually went perfectly with the salad and dressing. In fact it was the yoghurt dressing that really added something special – I don’t know what was in it but it tasted amazing! Craig opted for the pork chop special which came served with pea and mint mash, and again this pairing was delicious, even if it did sound like an unusual combination at first.

The Cocktail Menu at Jamie’s Italian is very tempting, with plenty of variety and new (Italian) twists on familiar cocktails. I decided to try a Florence Fizz, made with Limoncello, pomegranate juice, elderflower cordial and prosecco, and it was very refreshing and summery – the perfect thing for a sunny evening in Manchester.

Jamie's Italian - Florence Fizz cocktail

And for dessert we opted for the Epic Brownie. I’ve had a brownie dessert at Jamie’s before, but it has since been slightly reinvented with salted caramel ice cream and lashings of proper chocolate sauce as well as the signature caramelised popcorn topping. It’s a delicious and fun dessert, and still as amazing as it used to be. It’s also one of the dessert options on the Super Lunch Menu, which is great news!

Jamie's Italian - Brownie

Jamie’s Italian in Manchester is such a gorgeous venue that it’s easy to forget its part of a chain at all. It’s ideal for a special occasion, particularly if you consider their glamourous private dining room located (excitingly) in the old bank vault. But also this new Super Lunch Menu makes it ideal for a reasonably-priced lunch or early after-work bite and drinks with friends.

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Zouk Cookery School

In my Christmas gift guide last month I suggested that a cookery skills workshop would be a great gift for a foodie-type person, and a couple of weekends ago I got the chance to try one out myself at Zouk. Zouk is a lovely Indian restaurant in Manchester, and when they offered me a place on one of their half-day cookery workshops I jumped at the chance, because I really wanted to know the secrets to making dishes that taste as delicious as in a restaurant (because no homemade curry ever really compares).

What’s nice about Zouk Cookery School is that there are a range of themed workshops to choose from, so you can pick the one that most appeals to you – from Zouk Signature Dishes (including Spicy Prawn Cakes and Lamb Lazeez) or the Tikka Masterclass (including Tandoori Mixed Grill dishes and various tikka curries), to masterclasses that focus on vegetarian or seafood dishes. The idea behind each session is to focus on a few selected dishes, which are chosen to give people an idea of the different herbs, spices and flavours involved.

Zouk cookery school

I chose to take the Punjabi Masterclass, which focuses on a menu of dishes from the Punjab region:

Starters

  • Punjabi Lollipop: Chicken wings marinated in pomegranate and gently cooked over hot charcoal
  • Lamb Chops: Char-grilled lamb in a secret Mughal marinade

Main courses

  • Lamb Karahi: Prepared over hot flames with tomatoes, crushed peppercorns, cumin, ginger & garlic
  • Chicken Jalfrezi: Chicken pieces cooked with capsicum, onion & eggs in a thick spicy sauce

Sides

  • Pilau rice
  • Naan breads with various toppings and fillings

On arrival at Zouk restaurant we were welcomed with a warming cup of home-made desi chai tea and then split into 2 groups. Our group went into the main restaurant kitchen first, to learn how to make the main courses and pilau rice under the guidance of a chef. Because these dishes are best made as a big batch in large pots, this part of the class was like a practical demonstration, which we got involved with by adding ingredients and taking turns at looking after the pots. We picked up plenty of tips this way, and it was obvious many of us had lots of questions about the best ways of doing things. Once we’d finished on the curries our groups swapped over and we had our turn at preparing the starter dishes. This was more of a hands-on session and we all had individual stations where we prepared our chicken wings, lamb chops and marinades following the step-by-step instructions of the chef. These were left to marinate for a while before we cooked them on the charcoal grill. We then had a demonstration of how the naan breads are prepared and baked in the tandoori oven (which takes literally seconds!).

Zouk cookery school chef

Zouk cookery school starters

Zouk cookery school grill

Zouk cookery school bread

Every workshop ends with everyone sitting down to eat the dishes they’ve made and people even had their partners and friends turning up for this part, which I thought was nice (and another reason this would made a nice gift!). All of the dishes we prepared were fantastic – my personal favourites were the Punjabi lollipop and the Lamb Karahi. I was impressed with everything I tasted though and will definitely be attempting to recreate some dishes using the recipes and step-by-step guides we were given to take home.

Zouk cookery school food

The classes cost £80 and after attending this class I’d definitely recommend them for all curry enthusiasts and as the perfect gift for someone like that. Many of the people on my workshop had received their place as a Christmas gift, and all of them loved it. And what’s great is that if you are buying a gift but you don’t know which class to book your friend on to, you can buy a gift card and they can choose themselves from the course programme, which makes it ideal!

Has anyone else ever been to anything like this?

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Lisbon love

Lisbon welcome

Last week I visited Lisbon for the first time and fell in love with its quirky charm. We chose to stay in a cute apartment in the Baixa district, which put us within walking distance of many of the sights of the city, including Commerical Square and the Elevator Santa Justa, as well as being right in the middle of all the action in terms of shopping, eating and drinking.

Our trip was only a short one, but we enjoyed exploring the wide tiled shopping streets of Baixa and the quirky narrow maze-like streets of old-town Alfama, following the route of the vintage 28 tram up to the highest point of the Sao Jorge castle. And as first-time visitors we also took a trip over to Belem where some of the main sights and monuments are to be found. We made sure to try the famous Pasteis de Nata (the custard tarts of Lisbon), eat plenty of seafood and experience the amazing views of the city from several angles, and we also managed to fit in a day trip to the nearest beach (because when it’s 30 degree heat, why wouldn’t you?!).Elevator of St Just

View of Lisbon

Lisbon Baixa Chiado

Lisbon pasteis de nata

Lisbon monastery

Lisbon Jeronimos Monastery

Belem Tower

Lisbon Belem

Carcavelos Beach Lisbon

lis16

Lisbon Alfama district

Lisbon Alfama district view

Lisbon Alfama district tiles

Lisbon Alfama district tram 28

Lisbon Alfama district building

Lisbon castle

Lisbon views

São Jorge Castle Lisbon

Lisbon São Jorge Castle

Lisbon love tokens

Lisbon love tokens

As you can see I fell in love with Lisbon a little bit, and just I hope my picture-heavy post isn’t too overwhelming!

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Me and my Olympus go to Cornwall

After spending weeks and weeks trying to pick a holiday destination for June, me and Craig finally settled on staying in the UK and having a low-key relaxing break to Cornwall, a place neither of us has been since childhood and which deserves to be fully explored! We found a cute cozy cottage for two, which was full of books and board games and had a lovely suntrap courtyard, located right on the harbour of the tiny friendly fishing village of St Mawes on the Roseland Peninsula.

Olympus pen e-pl7

The weather was a little mixed, ranging from gorgeous sun to full-blown storms, but I really enjoyed our lovely break full of coastal walks, cream teas, coffee and pastries at the harbour, eating freshly caught fish with a glass of wine, reading on hidden beaches and taking boat trips (rather than driving) to the local city for a spot of lunch and shopping.

It was a lovely picturesque place and I loved capturing Cornwall’s pretty pastel cottages and seaside settings with my Olympus Pen E-Pl7 (which is officially the first holiday it’s been on!), so you’re getting a picture-heavy post today!

Brunch in St Mawes

Pink cottage

Cornwall cottage

St Mawes view

Cornwall beach

The sea in Cornwall

Secluded Cornwall beach

Hidden beach, Cornwall

Cute beach in Cornwall

Catch of the Day

Vintage gas pumps

St Mawes castle

St Just church

Now I’m looking forward to discovering more lovely parts of Cornwall.

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