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Having just a few hours to spend in St Ives, my aim was to visit Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. The two venues are situated a few minutes' walk from each other, and it is possible to buy a combined ticket that works out cheaper than paying separately for each venue. I started at the Tate as we had found a parking space near there. At the Tate I was given a booklet that included a plan showing two routes for walking to the Hepworth Museum, one of which was shorter but involved climbing a lot of steps. I'm afraid I took a wrong turning and didn't want to get the booklet out as it was pouring with rain, and I ended up walking much further than I should have done. It isn't really far at all, but the Hepworth Museum is situated on a steep road that is in a restricted traffic zone.
The museum is located in what was formerly Trewyn Studio, where Barbara Hepworth lived and worked from 1949 until she died in 1975. She is considered to be one of the principal British artists of the twentieth century, whose work consists mainly of sculpture in wood, stone and bronze. I have long admired her work, and I looked forward to being able to see so much of it together in one location, and in particular the place that meant so much to her.
I arrived at the museum at about 12.45pm and I knew that a guided tour was due to start at 1pm. There were rather a lot of people waiting for the tour in the ground floor area, so I decided to go to the upper floor and have a bit of quiet time there before the tour group came up. I would be able to spend some time in the ground floor area before I left. I went upstairs and was pleased to find that there weren't too many visitors there. After having a walk round, I sat in one of the comfortable chairs and enjoyed taking in the sculptures I could see around me. I sensed that the rain had stopped, so I went out into the garden and was delighted to find that the sun was shining.
Photography is not allowed inside the museum, but you can take photos to your heart's content in the sculpture garden. Barbara Hepworth laid out the garden herself along with her friend, the composer Priaulx Rainier. It has trees, sub-tropical plants and typically English flowers, with narrow pathways curving round a lawn adjacent to the museum. It is the ideal environment in which to view Hepworth's sculptures. There is also a conservatory with several works of art, and there are one or two chairs there for anyone who wants to sit and contemplate the sculptures.
When I came back from the garden to the upper floor, the tour group was there. I overheard the guide relating how Hepworth had died in a fire in that very room. I was living abroad at the time of her death and never actually heard the circumstances of her death, which seemed particularly tragic.
There is a separate staircase that leads back to the lower floor once you have visited the garden. The ground floor was much quieter than it had been when I arrived, and I was able to take my time reading about Hepworth's life, including the awarding of a C.B.E. in 1958, and the granting of the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of St Ives in 1968, the same year in which the Tate Gallery in London held a major retrospective exhibition of her work.
There are guided tours of the museum and garden every day at 1pm. There was also a 'Walkabout Talkabout' tour for families at 12.30pm in the June half term holiday, so this may be a regular event. For senior citizens there is a regular event, 'Tea and Tate', which is free but has to be booked. The most recent one was on 13th September from 11am to 1pm, when an artist, curator or art historian would lead a discussion about the displays. Refreshments are provided, and the event is sometimes held at Tate St Ives. The Hepworth Family Activity Trail is available from the admissions desk for £2, which includes a sketchbook and art materials, and is aimed at families with young children who want to explore the museum and garden.
From March to October the museum is open every day from 10am to 5.20pm, with last admissions at 5pm. From November to February, opening hours are from 10am until 4.20pm, with last admissions at 4pm, Tuesday to Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays in winter. Admission prices as of September 2012 are £5.50 for adults, £3.25 concessions. There is a combined ticket for Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum, currently £10 for adults and £5.50 concessions. It is also possible to buy an 'Art Pass', which gives seven days unlimited access to Tate St Ives, the Barbara Hepworth Museum, the Leach Pottery and Penlee House Gallery and Museum (Penzance). The current price for the pass is £14.50 adults, £8.50 concessions. Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange in Penzance also give ten percent discount on purchases in their shops to Art Pass holders.
There is no cafe at the Barbara Hepworth Museum. A few books and cards are on sale at the admissions desk. There is just one unisex toilet on the premises. The museum doesn't have access for wheelchairs on the street level entrance, but it may be possible to arrange access to wheelchairs and buggies if advance notice is given.
Since this is the largest collection of Barbara Hepworth's work in a single location, it is obviously a place that any admirer of her sculpture would go out of their way to visit. The combination of indoor and outdoor settings for the work makes it particularly special. Any lover of twentieth century art visiting Cornwall would almost certainly appreciate a visit to the museum, and I would consider the entry price to be well worth paying. It is a gallery that I can imagine I would never tire of if I had the opportunity to make regular visits. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
Tel: 01736 796226
Up until a few months ago, I had never even heard of the Minack Theatre. When we decided to spend a few days in Cornwall and had booked accommodation in Penzance, we started to research places of interest nearby. My son told me that a work colleague had recommended we visit the Minack Theatre at Porthcurno Beach. I initially presumed that this was an ancient amphitheatre, even though I knew that the Romans hadn't got as far as Cornwall. I was astounded to discover that it was in fact planned and built by one inspirational woman, Rowena Cade, in the twentieth century.
The Minack is only about eight miles from Penzance, and it has its own free car park. We, however, did things the hard way, unaware that the car park was free. We wanted to have a look at Porthcurno Beach as well, so we parked in the pay-and-display car park near the beach and headed down to the golden sands. Although it was a cloudy day, the hordes were there and we didn't stay long. We knew that there were two ways we could get to the Minack from the beach: either via the steps up the cliff face, or back to the car park and then up a steep hill. The hill was the longer way round, but I wasn't sure if my knees would enjoy climbing the steep steps. In the end I decided I would give the steps a go but take my time. It wasn't quite as difficult as I had feared, although there isn't a huge amount of space when you have to pass people coming down. You can stop every so often to get your breath, and the view of Porthcurno Bay below is a sight to feast your eyes on, with Logan Rock and the Lizard beyond. When we finally got to the top, we found a gate to the Minack Theatre, but it was locked and we had to walk round through the car park to join the queue.
Fortunately most of the visitors in front of us were members of a group and we were assured that the queue would therefore move very quickly, which it did. I requested our three tickets and was asked if I would like to gift aid the price, so I did. I was given a receipt and told to keep it very carefully as it entitles the holder and family to readmission as many times as they wish over the coming year. I don't think it's very likely that any of us will be going back soon, but I have kept my receipt just in case. I was also given a survey to complete, along with a prepaid envelope. There is a letterbox to post this in on site, but I filled mine in after I had left and posted it.
When you enter the site your are initially faced with the exhibition area. This tells the story of Rowena Cade's life, how she had the concept of building the theatre on the headland beside Minack House and actually carried it through, doing a great deal of the physical work herself. There is plenty to read and plenty to look at, as you see how Rowena loved taking part in theatrical productions as a child and how her love of the theatre led to her devoting most of her adult life to this amazing project. Photographs and costume designs are included here, as well as information about her gardener Billy Rawlings and his mate Tom Angove who assisted with the building work. As well as helping with the building work herself, Rowena financed the construction and running of the theatre on her own. When she died just before her ninetieth birthday in 1983, she left behind plans for covering the theatre in wet weather, but unfortunately these have not been carried out.
We didn't stop to watch the film in the exhibition area but decided to go and have a look at the theatre itself. It is built into the cliff face, right beside the headland, with a series of curved concrete seats. When there is no performance you can walk around and sit for a while wherever you like. The steps are quite steep, but there are handrails for support. You can stand in the light and sound control room and go right down onto the stage. Rowena Cade engraved the concrete slabs with Celtic designs, and some of the backs of the seats bear engravings of the names of plays that have been performed in the theatre. The seats are of course hard, but you can hire cushions if you are attending a performance.
Just beyond the stage are the Minack Rock and the Compass Rock; the word "minack" actually means rocky place. You can go just beyond the stage and get a wonderful view of the rocks, the sea, and Porthcurno Bay over to the east. Just beyond the Minack Rock are some smaller rocks out at sea, and we were able to spot seals bobbing up and down beside them.
On our way out we strolled through the little sub-tropical garden that is near the entrance. The theatre claims that something should be in flower there every month of the year. There clearly had been plenty in flower during the summer, but we visited towards the end of August and it was perhaps a little past its best. Even so, there were some beautiful blooms worthy of a photograph. Some of the plants that are grown there are agaves, poppies, aeonium, puya and silver trees.
As of September 2012, admission prices (purely for visiting without attending a performance) are £4 adult, £3 over 60s, children aged 12-15 £2. Up to three children under twelve can enter free with a paying adult, and there are discounts for groups and students. Children under the age of sixteen have to be supervised at all times. Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the site.
From October through to March, the theatre is open from 10am until 4pm, with last entry at 3pm. From April to September on days when there are no performances, opening hours are from 9.30am until 5.30pm, with last entry at 4.30pm. If there is an afternoon performance, you can visit between 9.30am and noon, last entry being at 11.30am. During the school holidays there are family shows at 10.30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the theatre can get very busy. There is access for wheelchairs, but buggies cannot be accommodated. The only dogs allowed are guide dogs.
The theatre has its own coffee shop that serves light meals, Cornish cream teas and drinks. It is only open to daytime visitors who have paid the entry fee. If you attend a performance at the theatre, there are apparently takeaway meals and drinks. There is also a gift shop that sells souvenirs, clothing, jewellery and a selection of the plants that grow in the sub-tropical garden.
Performances at the Minack Theatre are usually held from early April until late September. Tickets can be bought online, by post, by telephone or in person. The booking office is open from 10am to 5pm on weekdays, and also on Sundays from mid May. Ticket prices for 2012 were either £9.50 or £8 for adults, and £5 or £4 for children under 16. The more expensive seats are in the main auditorium and the cheaper ones are in the upper terraces, but seats are not numbered. Ushers begin showing people to seats ninety minutes before the performance starts. If you book tickets by phone there is a ten percent discount for ten tickets or more. Shows in the 2012 season ranged from Shakespeare and "Die Fledermaus" to Roald Dahl's "The Twits," so there would appear to be something for everyone.
There are bus services from Penzance to the theatre. The 504 stops in the Minack car park, but the 300 and the 1A only go as far as Porthcurno Valley, from where you have to walk 400m up the steep hill.
I would thoroughly recommend anyone visiting Cornwall to make the trip to the Minack Theatre. It is an astounding achievement, and Rowena Cade is a truly inspirational figure. There were quite a few families there, and children were enjoying having the run of the place and seeing the stage and lighting rigs. As well as the theatre itself, the surrounding coast is superb, and a visit to the theatre could easily be combined with an afternoon at the beach. Land's End is only about a ten-minute drive away, and we continued there for a coastal walk afterwards. The Minack Theatre is short listed in 2012 for the Best Heritage Attraction and Best Leisure Attraction in the British Travel Awards, and it is easy to see why.
The Minack Theatre
Tel: 01736 810181/810471
Having spent the majority of the first three days of my holiday in the West Country outdoors, I was looking forward to visiting one or two galleries on the fourth day. Wet weather was promised until around 1pm, which made the thought of a cultural morning all the more appealing. We drove from Penzance to St Ives and were lucky to find a place in a car park just opposite Tate St Ives, so I decided to have a look around there first.
The Tate is an imposing piece of architecture that overlooks Porthmeor Beach with its golden sands. Entry to the gallery is not at ground level, but there is a ramp that leads up to an outer circular area that does have a roof and was providing welcome shelter to a few souls on that wet morning. There was quite a queue forming at the ticket office, but it moved fairly quickly. When you have paid you receive a booklet giving details of the current displays, special events and plenty of general information about the Tate. It also gives details of the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden which is managed by the Tate, and the back cover shows a plan of how to get from one museum to the other by two possible routes.
As you enter the gallery you can stop and watch a film relating to the current display if you wish. There is also an impressive stained glass work designed by Patrick Heron. You can take the lift to the galleries, but if you go up the stairs you can stop and admire a collection of prints. Tate St Ives doesn't display a permanent collection of art but holds special exhibitions that usually last for about four months. At the time of my visit there was a show of the work of Alex Katz, a contemporary American artist, entitled "Give Me Tomorrow." I was familiar with the section from one of his larger paintings, "Eleuthera," that appears on the poster and the front of the brochure. It depicts several women in swimsuits and bathing hats, posing like mannequins and wearing cool smiles. I hadn't felt attracted to it, but faced with the full-size image I have to admit the use of bold, bright colours was impressive. I was, however, more attracted to Katz's landscapes, some of which had superb abstract qualities. The inclusion of several seascapes was particularly appropriate considering the location of the gallery.
Although the main display was of Katz's work, those hoping for more variety or a glimpse of some not so contemporary art would not be disappointed. Katz was invited to choose a number of works from the Tate collection, and these were hung in the area surrounding the beautiful curved window that overlooks Porthmeor Beach. Katz chose works by such diverse artists such as Henri Rousseau, George Stubbs, Francis Picabia and Piet Mondrian. Although visitors are not allowed to photograph the artworks themselves, it is possible to take photos of the huge window and the view of the coast, which was a wonderful sight even on a rainy morning. This area of the gallery is one where you feel you could spend time contemplating both the works of art and the view of the Cornish coast. There are a number of seats throughout the gallery, allowing you to stop for a while at any point.
Tate St Ives has a shop that sells books (including children's picture books), greetings cards, postcards, gifts, jewellery and mugs. There is also a licensed cafe that overlooks the old town and Porthmeor Beach; it uses ingredients from local growers and suppliers wherever possible. It serves breakfast and lunch, as well as soup, sandwiches, salads and cakes in the afternoon. There is a children's menu for under tens with a choice of three mains, three desserts and fruit juice or milk to drink. You can visit both the shop and the cafe free of charge.
During the summer months you can take a guided tour of the exhibitions at the Tate at either 11.30am or 2.30pm each day, and at the Barbara Hepworth Museum at 1pm. There are quite frequent events and activities aimed at families, especially during the summer and half-term holidays. The Tate has baby changing facilities and is accessible to wheelchairs; there is a lift to all floors. There is parking nearby, but car parks in St Ives are often full, so Tate offers £1 discount on admission if you show a bus or train ticket.
Both Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden open every day at 10am from March to October and close at 5.20pm. From November to February they open from Tuesday through to Sunday at 10am and close at 4.20pm. The last admission is always twenty minutes before closing time. As of September 2012 admission to the Tate is £6.50 and to the Hepworth Museum £5.50, but there are concessions and also combined tickets that work out cheaper. It is also possible to buy a seven-day pass (currently £14.50) that gives unlimited access to both museums as well as to the Leach Pottery in St Ives and Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Penzance. On the last Friday of May, June, July and August the gallery and shop at Tate are open from 6pm to 9pm and entry is free; the cafe is open until 10pm.
Although the admission fee to Tate St Ives might seem relatively high, it is a gallery worth visiting both for the works of art and the building itself with its spectacular curved window and wonderful view. The seven-day pass would be excellent value if you were staying in south-west Cornwall and could visit all four venues. For a wet day it is certainly a place to consider for families with all but the youngest children.
Tate St Ives
Tel: 01736 796226
When we decided to spend a few days in Cornwall, we didn't make a conscious decision to stay in Penzance. We wanted a reasonably priced guest house that had parking on site or nearby, and about four months prior to our departure I found four places that fitted the bill. My son's partner picked two of them, one in St Ives and one in Penzance, but when I returned to their websites the St Ives guest house no longer had vacancies. I booked the guest house in Penzance, and as it turned out we were very pleased that we stayed there.
Penzance is a town situated on the south coast of Cornwall; it's not as trendy or fashionable as St Ives, retaining something of a traditional air. Whether you travel by road or rail, you are likely to approach it from the east and will catch sight of one of the area's major attractions, St Michael's Mount, just before you reach Penzance. The road passes through the eastern outskirts of the town where, fortunately, the supermarkets and fast food outlets appear to be situated. Our guest house, like many others, was on Alexandra Road, and to get to it we had to pass through the town centre with its imposing domed building that houses Lloyd's bank and its nucleus filled with small shops and eateries.
The proprietress of the Dunedin Guest House where we stayed explained to us on our arrival that we could take a shortcut through Penlee Gardens to get to the town centre; it was only a few minutes' walk and proved to be a very pleasant one. Penlee Gardens has tennis courts, a garden of remembrance and even a small outdoor theatre as well as an expanse of grass with plenty of trees and flowers to admire. We then turned away from the shops and in less than five minutes were on the promenade with its screaming seagulls. To the west we could see the fishing port of Newlyn, and to the east we were able to feast our eyes again on St Michael's Mount. Penzance has an outdoor pool on the beach that seemed to be popular with families, and a notice announced that kayaking was a new attraction there too.
Penzance proved to be an ideal base from which to explore the south-western tip of Cornwall. It is only three miles along the coastal road to Marazion, a small market town from whose beach there is access along a causeway to St Michael's Mount. We drove there late on our first afternoon and found a large car park by the shore. Unfortunately we were just too late to walk out to the Mount, as the tide was just turning and the causeway would soon be submerged. We went to have a bite to eat on the terrace of the Godolphin Arms, from where there is a superb view of the Mount. On our last morning we toyed with the idea of taking the boat trip out to the Mount as the tide was high, but sadly there was a strong wind and no boats were sailing that day. At low tide, however, Marazion beach is an ideal place for children to build sandcastles and have space to run around on the sand.
Our second day saw us heading off to Porthcurno Bay and the Minack Theatre, which are only about eight miles from Penzance and well worth a visit. From there we continued to Land's End, and it was only about half an hour's drive back to our guest house. The third day we set off to St Ives which is on the northern coast but again only about half an hour by road. Seeing how difficult it was to drive around the narrow streets of St Ives and find a place to park made us particularly glad that we were staying in Penzance. After visiting Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum, I wandered down to the harbour and considered going for a drink in a cafe, but it was so crowded everywhere that I made a beeline back to Penzance. The two major galleries in St Ives left a lasting impression on me, but I also spent a delightful hour one afternoon at the Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Penzance, which had an exhibition of Dame Laura Knight's paintings at the time. After returning home I was disappointed to discover that there is another gallery in Penzance, the Exchange on Princes Street, that I hadn't found during my stay. It exhibits contemporary art and is linked to Newlyn Art Gallery. Entry to the Exchange is free, and it is free to Penlee House on Saturdays.
The proprietress of our guest house recommended two restaurants in Penzance to us, and one of these was the Navy Inn. This is actually a pub that serves food and is just off the promenade on Queen Street. We went there on our last evening in Penzance, and we all agreed that the fish we had was the best we had ever tasted, unsurprisingly perhaps as it was fresh fish from Newlyn. The desserts were wonderful too. The other recommendation was for the Meadery; we thought of going there for lunch on our final day but discovered that the restaurant didn't open until 6pm. We had lunch at the Duke Street Cafe in Newlyn instead and had no regrets about our choice. On our first day we wanted something light for a late lunch and ventured into the tiny deli called The Cornish Hen in the centre of Penzance. I enjoyed my first taste of homity pie there, and their coffee is to be recommended too. Less successful was our visit to the Lavender Delicatessen, where the genuine Cornish pasties left a lot to be desired. On my return from St Ives I came across the Cappuccino Express where I resisted the temptation of a cream tea but had a delectable blueberry muffin with my cappuccino. Their sandwiches were reasonably priced and looked huge. I remembered that the only Penzance eatery mentioned in Harden's Guide was the Honeypot Cafe, but unfortunately I didn't discover its whereabouts until I was heading to catch my train home. It certainly looked to have an interesting menu.
Penzance town centre has an eclectic mix of shops where you can find anything from Tesco Express and the Co-op to pricey art and souvenir shops and tiny antique shops chock full of horse brasses and bric-a-brac. I needed a gift for my brother (as he was looking in on my cat) and found a beautiful ceramic lizard in a shop that sold handmade soap. There is a sizeable post office, at least two photographic shops, several pharmacies and even a cinema for those rainy days. The most unusual sight is the Egyptian House, which to me should have been called the Pharaonic House, with its spectacular facade.
Penzance has a railway station down by the harbour, and there is a car park nearby. Trains run to Plymouth and London Paddington as well as cities further north, and there is a branch line that runs along the picturesque coast to St Ives. The station has a cafe and a shop adjacent to a decent waiting room. The bus station is right beside it, and there are bus services to local towns and villages such as Marazion, Newlyn, Land's End and St Ives. Long-distance bus and coach services run to and from Penzance. Several companies run sightseeing and fishing boat trips from Penzance harbour. For a trip with a difference, you could go by helicopter to the Scilly Isles, and there is also a ferry service to the isles.
I would definitely recommend Penzance as a base to stay in to explore the south-western peninsula of Cornwall. If you are looking for a guest house, the Dunedin is a good choice; if you are on a tight budget, Penzance Backpackers is on the same street. Penzance may seem a little old-fashioned compared to St Ives, but it is also relatively unspoilt, less crowded and easier to drive around. With attractions such as St Michael's Mount, the Minack Theatre and Land's End just a few miles away, its location is ideal. Newlyn is within walking distance and is well worth a visit if you are looking for unspoilt towns and villages. I would happily return to Penzance if I have another opportunity to visit Cornwall.
A few months ago, we ventured into the Golden Lion in the Hampshire village of Southwick in the hope of having Sunday lunch there. Alas, the dining room was full, so it wasn't to be. My son's partner grew up in Southwick and knew that the pub would serve us a good meal, and there had been an excellent review of the place in Portsmouth's local paper. We decided that we would try again soon and would book a table. When my younger son announced he was coming for the weekend, it seemed like the perfect opportunity, so I rang a couple of days beforehand and reserved a table for 1pm on the Saturday.
The Golden Lion's claim to fame is that it was used as the officers' mess in the run up to D-Day when the leaders of the Allied Forces were stationed at Southwick House. The plaques on the front and rear walls informs visitors of this, adding that Montgomery confined himself to grapefruit juice and left Eisenhower to the beer.
We went inside and informed the bar staff that we had booked a table. To get to the dining room, you have to walk through the public bar and also through the lounge. I was impressed by the lounge area with its comfortable chairs and alcove at one end decorated with horsebrasses and copper pots. It did look inviting. We continued into the dining room. This seats around twenty-four people altogether, at tables for two, four or six people. It was about half full that lunchtime, so even if we hadn't booked we would have found a table. It is a traditional building with oak beams in the ceiling, but it has been renovated quite recently. There was plenty of space between tables. We took our seats and each ordered a fruit juice.
We weren't given a starter menu, although we were told that soup of the day was asparagus. I presume the rest of the starters are served at dinner. There are chargrilled asparagus spears, home cured sea trout, Hampshire ham hock hash cake and smoked haddock and spring onion fishcakes, all at £6.25. None of us wanted soup, so we looked at the main courses on the lunch menu.
My younger son decided on the 9 oz minted lamb burger, served with smoked bacon, mature cheddar, beef tomato, gherkins, baby leaves, a sesame bun and chunky chips. A steak burger with the same accompaniments is also on the menu. The other three of us all went for Thatcher's cider battered cod fillet with homemade tartare sauce, mushy peas, chunky chips and lemon. The burgers and fish and chips are all £11.25. Other lunchtime dishes include rump or sirloin steak, chicken breast and salmon steak, priced between £14.95 and £16.55. For vegetarians, there is a Provence roasted vegetable and mozzarella pithivier with creamed spinach, roasted red pepper and tomato coulis (£12.95). If you don't think your main course is going to satisfy your appetite, you can order a side of chunky chips, buttered new potatoes or herb garden salad at £2.45 each.
There are a few additional mains on the dinner menu, namely pan-fried breast of guinea fowl, black king prawn tagliatelle, roasted Hampshire pork belly, grilled Brixham sea bream fillet and roasted British rump of lamb, all £14.95 except for the sea bream, which is £15.95.
It was a while before our food was served, not too long though, and we weren't in a hurry so we didn't mind. The lamb burger came out first and did look impressive; it was served open with the bacon atop the burger on one half of the bun and the tomato and gherkins on the other. The chips were extremely chunky and were arranged in rectangular layers. Our fish and chips came straight after that, served on heavy oval plate. Again the chips were in layers with the fish on top, and a tiny jug either side, one of tartare sauce and the other of mushy peas. We were asked if we would like any sauces, but none of us wanted any. A few minutes later we were all in agreement that the food was extremely good, in particular the fish, but also the burger. The tartare sauce was certainly superior to any I've ever had before, and the chips, although chunky, were beautifully crisp on the outside. They were perhaps a little salty, and I found I had to drink a lot of water later that afternoon, but that would be my only complaint. I left a few as I had a feeling we might want to sample something from the dessert menu.
All desserts are £6.25 and include warm Seville orange sponge, dark chocolate tart, and strawberry and marshmallow mousse. None of us felt we had room for any of them, but three of us liked the sound of the Forest of Bere ice cream at £1.45 per scoop. There are six flavours to choose from; my elder son decided on two scoops of butterscotch, his partner wanted one of butterscotch and one of chocolate, and I asked for one of lemon curd and one of strawberry. The other flavours were vanilla and lemon sorbet. Those who don't have a sweet tooth can choose five cheeses, which are served with crackers, grapes, celery and farmhouse butter. The cheeses include leek and onion, Hampshire rose and Old Sarum, and most come from Salisbury.
The ice cream is served in little bowls, one for each scoop, on a wooden board that has spaces for three bowls. I should be honest here and explain that our waitress was in fact my son's partner's younger sister. He decided to ask her what would happen if he wanted to order four scoops of ice cream, to which her response was "I would tell you you're fat!" She then left us to enjoy what we had ordered. Murmurings from the other side of the table declared that the butterscotch flavour was wonderful. I had been looking forward to the lemon curd in particular as it was unusual, but I think I would have to say that the strawberry ice cream was even better. One to look out for.
The only problem I would have with the Golden Lion as a place is that you have to go outside, if only for a few yards, to get to the toilets. I wouldn't appreciate that in cold, wet weather. There is a notice on the door to say that they are not for general public use. The ladies', I have to say, was extremely clean and well appointed, and it appeared to have baby changing facilities.
Our bill came to just under £60; we paid by card and left a tip in cash. Having admitted that our waitress was a family member, I still have to say that she gave us excellent service, and I watched her at other tables too. She is an asset to the Golden Lion.
We were all impressed by our lunch and I hope that there will be opportunities to go back in the future. You do need a car to get to Southwick; it is very close to Fareham and just a few miles from Portsmouth, over Portsdown Hill. Just behind the Golden Lion is Southwick Brewhouse which sells beer and also houses a Victorian brewery museum. On a fine day, I can recommend crossing the nearby golf course and taking a walk alongside Southwick Lake. There were some children at a table for six next to us, so the Golden Lion is a place that welcomes families. For excellent food in a quiet setting, it would take a bit of beating.
Angry Aly's is situated on Southsea's Castle Road, a narrow street that leads down to Southsea Common. I must have walked past the restaurant many a time but never seriously thought about going there, probably because the window is filled with jewellery so it doesn't really look like an eatery. However, one of my old school friends decided to have a major birthday dinner there and I was invited. She sent menus out along with the invitations, and we were asked to choose a starter, main course and dessert about two weeks before the date of the dinner.
There is a choice of five starters, ranging from mozzarella and tomato salad (£3.25) to green lip mussels in a garlic and cream sauce (£3.50). Main courses include fillet steak with creamy peppered sauce (£14.50) and Greek lamb oven cooked in foil with garlic and oregano (£11.50). For vegetarians there is just one dish, stuffed peppers with couscous, vegetables and seasonings (£8.95). Fish of the day was either trout or sea bass, and there are other daily specials but I didn't see the board showing these. All main dishes are served with herb potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables.
Desserts feature cream caramel, chocolate gateau, ice cream with warm black cherry and apple crumble with custard (all at £3.50). There is also Angry's special surprise ice cream (£3.95).
I chose mackerel pâté for my starter (£3.50; Brussels pâté was another choice). For my main course I decided on chicken breast filled with feta and spinach in a cream sauce (£9.95). Had I been ordering on the night, I might have gone for the trout, but there was no way of knowing in advance what the fish of the day would be. I don't usually have three courses when I eat out, so I wanted a dessert that wouldn't be too filling. I picked the ice cream with warm black cherry.
When I arrived on the night I walked through the front area, where there are a couple of small tables, past the bar and through to the dining room at the back. I was surprised, as I regularly visit a tea room on the same street that doesn't have a large back room. There were, I think, twenty-six people that evening, and small tables had been put together to form three long ones. I have to say that it was a very tight squeeze for people who needed to get through the two parallel tables when everyone was seated, and that was the way to the toilets! There was a showcase of handbags in one corner of the room and one of jewellery at the far end of the opposite wall. About half a dozen quite large art prints decorated the walls. Ceiling fans were turned on once we had all sat down.
The restaurant appears to be run by a couple and a teenager that I presume is their son, plus a barmaid. They managed very efficiently to serve our party, and apart from a rare steak being brought out that nobody claimed, everyone got exactly what they had ordered. Bottles of red and white wine, the white in a cooler, were already in place on each table. A lady at my table asked if they had any rose, and there was just one bottle, which she seemed happy with. I sampled the red, a Shiraz, and it was very palatable indeed. Most of the guests were staunch fans of real ale, and Angry Aly's does serve bottled real ales. Pepper and salt were to hand, and there were small vases of artificial flowers as well as battery-operated tealights. Napkins were good linen ones.
The starters began to appear, and the tomato and mozzarella salad did look appetising. My mackerel pâté was served on a small shell-shaped dish and came with three small slices of French bread. The pate had a very good flavour, but the man sitting next to me seemed to think the consistency should have been a little firmer. Extra bread was offered to a lady who was having the salad, and a small dish of butter was brought.
Main dishes took a while to be served, not surprisingly considering the number of guests. The lamb seemed to be the most popular choice, and it came still wrapped in foil. I wasn't aware of anyone having fish or stuffed peppers. My chicken came in plenty of sauce. The vegetables were quite an unusual mixture: cauliflower cheese, peas with carrots, and hot beetroot. The potatoes were sautéed cubes. We were able to help ourselves to these accompaniments from the various dishes, and there was plenty to go round. My chicken was extremely tender and was filled with spinach; the sauce and feta cheese gave it plenty of flavour. Apart from a small piece of cauliflower that wasn't quite cooked, the vegetables were very good and I was impressed by the variety. Those having lamb seemed full of praise too, but I wasn't sitting near enough to anyone having steak to hear comments.
I was certainly glad that I hadn't ordered a stodgy dessert as I was almost full after the main course. Most guests seemed to have chosen cream caramel and they enjoyed it. The ice cream surprise looked like a knickerbocker glory, and I was amazed that anyone could have found room for it. My dessert was three scoops of vanilla ice cream in an oval dish with warm cherries in sauce on either side. I loved the way that the cherries started to melt the ice cream, although they soon cooled down. I couldn't manage to finish it all, but I had the cherries and almost half the ice cream. Birthday cake came soon after, and I wrapped my slice up and took it home! A friend of mine ordered coffee; it looked very good, but I can't sleep if I drink it in the evening.
There are just two toilets, one for ladies and for men, with washbasins in them. The ladies has a huge, full-length mirror decorated with butterflies. It isn't the most modern place and there was only an ordinary towel for drying hands, but there was plenty of tissue and soap.
My friend and I were the first to leave not long after 11pm, and there were still quite a few people in the bar area then. I don't know how busy the restaurant usually gets. I wouldn't make any comment on atmosphere as this was not a typical evening. I could at times hear music playing, but to be honest the conversation of twenty-odd guests drowned it out. Service was polite and efficient. The menu is rather restricted, but the food was so good that I would be tempted to go back and perhaps try the fish of the day next time. Parking is available on Castle Road and also beside the common, just a few yards away. This is not one of Southsea's main streets, but it isn't far from the common, the seafront and the shopping precinct. If you want a change from the usual chain restaurants, Angry Aly's is worth a visit. Anyone interested in unusual handbags and jewellery might also like to have a look.
I had been to the Sussex Brewery a couple of times several years ago when I lived on the outskirts of Havant. My son, his partner and I ventured back there a couple of months ago one Sunday lunchtime, but alas it was full. We decided it might not be quite as busy on a Wednesday evening in June, and arrived just after 7pm. This time we were lucky, as only one table of the four in the dining area was occupied. We chose a table for four in the corner and a waitress brought menus. For drinks we ordered one pint and one half pint of orange juice, and a pineapple juice mixed with lemonade. We had a quick look at the specials board and then concentrated on the menu, as the brewery is known as "the home of the sausage," and we had come for the sausages.
There are six starters on the menu, including soup of the day (£4.95), baked camembert suitable for sharing (£7.95) and chilli nachos (£5.95). We didn't, however, want to spoil our appetites with starters. Other than sausages, main dishes range from ham, egg and chips (£8.95) through pork wellington (£10.95) to sirloin steak (£14.95). Vegetarians can choose between mushroom stroganoff and green Thai curry (both £8.95).
The Sussex Brewery serves seventeen varieties of O'Hagan's sausages as well as four kinds of vegetarian sausages. Sausage and mash with onions and gravy for one is £9.95, and there is a choice of peas, baked beans or mixed vegetables as an accompaniment. A platter for two is £19.50, thus saving 40p. I ordered the individual meal with one pork, ginger and coriander sausage (one of five gluten free varieties) and one lamb, honey and mustard sausage, plus mixed vegetables. My son and his partner had the platter for two with one Cumberland sausage, one Chichester ale, one lamb, honey and mustard and one drunken duck, which has duck, turkey, brandy and apples as ingredients. The drunken duck is one of five exotic varieties for which there is a 75p surcharge. They ordered peas with their platter.
While we were waiting for our food the dining room did start to get busier. A party of five women were accommodated at the largest table and another group of four at the last table. There is plenty of space between each table so private conversation is easily possible. The speaker in the corner near us was pumping out Aerosmith and Alice Cooper oldies, but the volume was not so loud as to be intrusive.
It wasn't an overly long wait for our main courses. My two sausages were served on top of the mash with onions and plenty of gravy. A dish of mixed vegetables was served separately and I was impressed by the variety; it included broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips and courgettes. I swapped a little for a few peas and thus had an even greater variety. The platter for two had the four sausages all labelled on their plate for easy identification. I have to say that we all thought the food was scrumptious. The sausages are among the best I have had anywhere. I couldn't, however, quite finish either of them or the mash, as the servings are so generous.
There are several desserts at £5.25 including honeycomb cheesecake and bread and butter pudding, several sundaes at £4.95, and a wide choice of New Forest ice cream flavours at £4.30. My son decided on an Eton mess sundae and his partner chose the sticky toffee pudding sundae. Being rather full already, I order a mint chocolate chip ice cream. The two sundaes came first, and I did begin to wonder if they had forgotten my ice cream. Eventually it came. As with the main course, we had no complaints, and as with my main course, I just couldn't quite finish my dessert. The sundaes did look a bit naughty, but my son pointed out that his did at least have some fruit in it! Excuses...
The ladies' toilet is reached via the pub area, which was quite crowded. One or two people were eating there too. There is just one cubicle in the ladies with a washbasin outside. It isn't ultra-modern, as you would expect in a traditional pub such as the Sussex Brewery, but it was clean enough and well supplied.
When I got back to our table, my son had just paid our bill by card; it came to £50.90 altogether. We left a tip in cash. The two waitresses who served us were polite and friendly and did their job efficiently. Perhaps the only criticism I could make is that two of the specials had sold out even though we arrived early in the evening. One of these was salmon en papillote which might have tempted me, but in truth you can't go wrong with O'Hagan's sausages.
Breakfast is also served at the Sussex Brewery, starting from £2.45 for butties and baguettes and going up to £9.95 for the Big Sussex Breakfast which is a huge full English served with a hot drink or fruit juice. Vegetarian options include bubble and squeak with poached eggs and fruit juice (£4.95) or toast with preserves and fruit juice (£2.95).
As well as sausages, there are fish dishes on the menu for lunch and dinner. Moules Marinieres in a Thai curry sauce are available as a starter (£5.95) or a main course with chips (£10.95). Fish and chips with mushy peas are £10.25, and there are daily specials too.
Lunchtime only offerings are around the £5-£6 mark and feature jacket potatoes, omelettes, ploughman's lunches, and sandwiches and baguettes. Vegetarian choices are available for each of these. The main menu is served at lunchtime too.
There are four main courses, each £5.50, on the children's menu, but no vegetarian options unless the veggie sausages are offered. Desserts are either ice cream (£3.50) or chocolate brownie with ice cream (£4.25).
The Sussex Brewery is in fact only just inside West Sussex, as it is situated on the eastern outskirts of the town of Emsworth which is actually in Hampshire. It is within easy reach of Havant and Chichester, and about ten miles from Portsmouth. As well as the pub and the dining room there is an outdoor area, and there is a car park. Any devotee of sausage and mash should seriously consider making a visit, and it might be advisable to book a table.
The Sussex Brewery serves breakfast on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and most Bank Holidays from 9am to 11am. Groups can book midweek breakfasts in advance.
Lunch is from noon to 2.30pm Monday to Saturday, and from noon to 6pm on Sunday, or 8pm on Bank Holiday weekends.
Dinner is from 6.30pm to 9.30pm.
The Sussex Brewery
36 Main Road
Tel. 01243 371533
Oxford's Queen's Lane Coffee House claims to be the longest established coffee house in Europe, dating as it does from 1654. Visiting the city for the day, I wanted to avoid the usual chain coffee shops and try out an independent one for a change. Walking back to the High Street from Radcliffe Square and turning left, Queen's Lane was the first place I came to. I'm always a little hesitant about trying a new place when I'm on my own, but I convinced myself to go in. There is a dining room to the left and another smaller seating area to the right alongside the counter. I didn't know whether there was waiter service or if I had to order at the counter, but when I enquired I was told I should take a seat and a waiter would come over. I decided to sit in the area near the counter.
I chose a table for two right in one corner; there was a large mirror on the wall through which I could watch people coming in and ordering from the counter. Some were just ordering sandwiches and drinks to take away. I had the impression that some of them were regular customers, and the staff were always very friendly. The table I had chosen was very small; it would have been big enough for two people just having a drink, but two eating would have been a squeeze. I had hardly had time to put my things down and take my coat off before a waiter approached me. I ordered a cappuccino and asked him to let me have time to look at the menu.
The menu begins with breakfasts, where there are fifteen choices ranging from Greek yoghurt with fresh berries, oats and honey (£2.95) to full English or jumbo (£7.45). Then come the pastries; these are mostly Danish varieties (all £1.50) but croissants and pain au chocolat are also in the list. Twenty different types of hot sandwich are on offer, including a mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil panini (£4.35), a bacon, cheese and pesto panini (£4.95) and the Fisherman's with tuna mayonnaise, prawns and cucumber (£5.95). The American Corner features four more sandwiches, such as turkey, lettuce and tomato with mayonnaise (£6.45).
Mains from the grill are next, where among others you can have a beef burger, grilled fish or chicken brochetta for £8.95. Other hot meals include meat or vegetarian nachos (£6.95), Turkish pizza (£7.95) and fish and chips (£8.95). Platters are all £8.50 and feature meat, cheese, falafel or dolmas with accompaniments. There are eight kinds of salads, ranging from the Med with grilled vegetables and stuffed peppers (£4.95) to Nicoise or hot chicken breast and crispy bacon (both £7.45). The organic cakes and sweets are not fully listed on the menu, but there is a display of them at the counter.
I decided to go for the vegetarian breakfast (£5.95) which has scrambled egg on toast, mushrooms, tomatoes and beans. I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat a lot of bacon or sausages and scrambled is my favourite kind of egg, so the choice suited me down to the ground. I didn't have to wait too long for it to be served, and it came on a huge oval plate with generous portions of everything. There were two halves of tomato which had been grilled and kept their shape well. The scrambled egg was cooked to perfection, and I am not easy to please where that is concerned. The mushrooms were button ones and were also well cooked. My one criticism is that I wasn't given a choice of white or wholemeal bread for the toast; I always have wholemeal, but white was served. Apart from that one niggle, I did enjoy the breakfast and couldn't quite finish it. The cappuccino wasn't the best I've ever had, but it was more than acceptable.
Most of the customers seemed to be paying at the counter, but when the waiter came to clear away my plate he said he would bring my bill to the table. Card payments couldn't be accepted that day because of some malfunction, but I had in any case intended to pay by cash. My bill came to £8.50 to which I was happy to add a tip. I visited the ladies' toilet just before leaving. To get to it I had to walk through the main dining area which was certainly busy. There was just one cubicle; I wouldn't make any serious complaints about it, but it wasn't the most ultra modern or sparkling clean place I have ever seen.
One thing I would say is that I don't always feel confident about going into eateries on my own to have a meal, but I felt perfectly comfortable in that respect at Queen's Lane Coffee House. There was another woman on her own at a small table next to me, and I enjoyed sitting facing the mirror and watching people come and go. It is a welcoming place with good service, reasonable prices and quite an interesting menu. I am glad I chose it rather than sticking to the usual Starbucks or Costa Coffee shops that are the same everywhere you go. It is situated between the city centre and Oxford's Botanic Gardens and is within easy walking distance of both. It could do with a bit of a facelift, although it has of course been redecorated since 1654! I would nevertheless recommend a visit.
Queen's Lane Coffee House
40 High Street
Tel. 01865 240082
The Dolphin on High Street in Old Portsmouth is said to be Portsmouth's oldest pub, dating from 1716. I had never been there, but my son had had a Christmas works do there and he and his partner had recently taken to having a drink there in the evenings. We thought it might be worth sampling their food, and when a miserable, wet bank holiday struck, it seemed like the perfect occasion.
We arrived soon after 6pm, and there were just a few people in the Dolphin enjoying a drink. There was a semi-enclosed room to the right that looked cosy with an open fire, but my son and his partner didn't think that would be the best place to sit and have a meal. Further down, beyond the bar, was the main dining area where there were plenty of tables to choose from. We picked one not far from the bar. My son and his partner sat down on a long wooden seat with upholstery that had seen better days - in fact it looked almost as though it had been there since 1716! I had a basic wooden chair. We had already ordered a round of drinks at the bar; the orange juice that two of us had appeared to be freshly squeezed and had slices of fresh orange in it. Very impressive. A waitress brought us menus, and there were a few specials listed on a board in the room we had passed near the entrance. I remember that they included fish and chips as well as a chicken dish.
One side of the menu listed starters, snacks, omelettes, two salads, ciabatta sandwiches and hot drinks. The starters included three vegetarian options as well as chicken skewers and deep fried whitebait among others; they ranged in price from £4.75 to £5.95. The sandwiches were a similar price and featured varieties such as prawn mayonnaise and melted mature cheddar and onion. We chose to share bread and olives with dipping oil (£3.95) from the snack section, which also included cheesy chips and a farmhouse platter. There is a choice of cheese, mushroom or cheese and ham omelettes, served with chips and salad garnish, for £8.95 or £9.95. Coffees and tea are also listed on this page of the menu.
There are fourteen main dishes to choose from as well as four in the grill section and several specials. For vegetarians there is a mixed bean chilli made with Quorn mince (£8.95), Italian potato gnocchi (£11.95) or roasted vegetable mezzaluna (£11.95). My son chose the Dolphin special Burgundy beef stew (£9.95), but unfortunately they had run out. He then ordered Old English Hampshire pork sausages with bubble and squeak mash and caramelised onion gravy £8.95). His partner, usually the sausage fan, decided on the Dolphin open burger (£8.95) with an extra topping of mushrooms (80p). I had little trouble choosing the chef's homemade fish pie (£8.95). Quite a few of the mains are more expensive than the ones we chose, going up to £14.95 for a 6-oz fillet steak served with either Boulangere potatoes and green beans or salad and hand-cut chips. Side orders of bread, vegetables, onion rings, salad and hand-cut chips are available (£2.50-£3.00), but we didn't feel the need to order anything extra.
The dining area was very quiet so I had a look around while we were waiting for our food. There are plenty of wooden partitions at intervals to allow for more privacy. The walls are filled with old paintings of ships, not surprisingly as the Dolphin is so close to the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. At the back of the pub is a small garden that looked very pretty with its hanging baskets of flowers, even on that dreary evening. I thought it would be something to look forward to for a warm, sunny day, but the tables were so small that I don't think food could be served on them.
My son's sausages arrived first, piled up on top of the mash with plenty of gravy in the deep, round plate. I was a little surprised that the waitress then asked us if we wanted any sauces, but my son's partner asked for some ketchup. Almost immediately, however, another waitress arrived with the burger and fish pie. The burger was attractively presented on a wooden slab with thick-cut chips at one end and tomato at the other. I was warned that my fish pie was extremely hot as it had only just come out of the oven, and the topping was in fact still sizzling. It was served with a salad garnish of lettuce, red cabbage, tomato, onion and a long slice of cucumber. I opened the topping of the pie in several places in the hope that it would cool down a little and decided that I would make a start on the salad. My son and his partner were both more than satisfied with their choices; my son liked the fact that the sausages seemed to be traditional and hadn't had herbs or anything else unnecessary added to them. I finally had a go at the topping of my pie and it was deliciously cheesy. As I got further down, I started to find quite a few mussels, which surprised me. The description of the pie in the menu was "a selection of white fish, prawns and smoked haddock in a creamy sauce." I honestly didn't notice any smoked haddock, and there wasn't a great deal of white fish. Mussels and prawns were the main ingredients underneath the mashed potato, so it was really more of a seafood pie. That was fine by me, but there might be someone who isn't keen on mussels and was looking forward to smoked haddock. I couldn't quite finish it all, and it took me quite a while to eat because it was so hot to start with. But overall we were impressed by the food.
Since we hadn't gone for the more expensive main dishes, we didn't feel too guilty about asking to see the dessert menu. We didn't really have room for anything too filling, such as the citrus cheesecake (£5) or the chocolate and Amaretto torte (£5.50), so we considered the lighter options. My son's partner chose three scoops of chocolate ice cream (£4.50, with strawberry and vanilla also available) and I went for Pimm's Creme Brulee with a homemade cinnamon biscuit (£5.50). My son, however, wasn't interested in the desserts; he has developed a taste for whisky and likes the fact that the Dolphin actually has a printed whisky menu. He asked to have a look at it and wanted to try something new; the various varieties range in price from £3.50 to £9.50. I know absolutely nothing about whisky, and all I can say is that according to the receipt he ordered Strathisla (£4) and enjoyed it.
The ice cream was good and so was my creme brulee. I just about had room for the biscuit, which had a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar on top. The creme brulee was very soft and creamy with a perfect crisp top, again sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The Pimm's wasn't a particularly strong flavour but added a distinctive taste. Both desserts were garnished with a s strawberry cut in half and a blueberry. When the waitress came to take our plates away, she jokingly told my son's partner off for not eating his fruit and said she would come back in a couple of minutes. He ate the strawberry, but I had to have the blueberry. I always think blueberries have no taste, but they are too good to waste.
I visited the ladies' toilets which were clean and well appointed. There is just one step up to them which might cause a problem for the disabled.
Our bill came to £47.80 which I thought was quite reasonable. It didn't, however, include our round of drinks from the bar which were about £6.60. If you pay by debit card as we did, the Dolphin adds a handling fee of 50p, and if you pay by credit card there is an extra charge of 2% of the total bill. We left a tip in cash rather than adding it to the card payment.
I'm sure we will go to the Dolphin again as we all enjoyed the food. Service was polite and friendly too. It makes a change from the chain restaurants in nearby Gunwharf Quays, and in better weather it could be combined with a walk along the Millennium Trail. I should mention that real ales are served at the Dolphin, so it is an interesting place to go and have a drink for anyone who likes traditional pubs with a bit of atmosphere. You won't find any fruit machines or televisions in this place.
Having visited a wonderful little exhibition of Ten Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, I was hoping there might be something else interesting to do in the area. My son surprised me by saying that there was another art gallery a little further down Queen's Road, so I thought it was worth going to investigate. The gallery turned out to be the Royal West of England Academy of Art, which I hadn't heard of before.
The Academy is housed in a Grade II listed building. On approaching, I was struck by Damien Hirst's enormous "Charity" figure that was standing on the balcony. I well remember the original, and much smaller, charity collection boxes in the form of a young girl disabled by polio from my childhood. Hirst's figure has had the box broken into, and outsize coins spill out onto the balcony and onto the street close to the academy's entrance. These are pre-decimalization coins such as threepenny pieces, halfpennies and silver sixpences. You can't collect them, though; they are firmly fixed to the ground. I am not a big fan of Hirst's work, but the figure was impressive.
The Royal West of England Academy is a charity, receiving no funding from either national or local government. They therefore have to charge for admission, but we hadn't had to pay to see Leonardo's drawings so I didn't object. Normal adult ticket price is £5, and concessions are £3. Annual membership is £15. Children under sixteen do not have to pay. There is a free booklet at reception listing current exhibitions and events. I asked whether photography was allowed in the gallery and was pleased to hear that it was.
The main exhibition area is on the first floor, and there is a lift that serves both the first floor and the basement. We chose to climb the rather grand staircase. At the top we were greeted by a charming seagull wearing Doc Marten boots, a work by an artist named Filthy Luker. Above this was a small but vicious-looking animal named a Squilligator by the same artist. Through the huge window we had a good rear view of Hirst's "Charity" figure, and we were able to go out onto the balcony for a closer look and to take a photograph or two. There are tables and chairs on the balcony, and if you visit the cafe on the ground floor you can choose to come and eat outside if you wish. If you are only visiting the cafe and the shop you don't have to pay admission, but I'm not sure whether you would be able to go upstairs to the balcony.
Coming back inside, we admired Jason Lane's Pelican before going through to the main galleries. At the time of our visit, there was a temporary exhibition by Josef Herman, a Polish artist who fled from Warsaw through Brussels and Glasgow to London during World War II. More to our liking were the intricate engravings of Trevor Haddrell RWA SWE, who trained at Bath Academy of Art and taught at schools in Bristol before becoming a professional artist. Many of his works are of Bristol itself, including the Clifton Suspension Bridge, but there were scenes of Venice and other foreign destinations too. Haddrell was due to give a relief engraving demonstration and an exhibition tour at 2.30pm that afternoon, but unfortunately I had a train to catch and couldn't stay that long.
The last room we went into housed works, mainly paintings, from the RWA's permanent collection. The collection began in 1849 with a number of works bequeathed by Ellen Sharples, and every new member of the Academy donates a work from their diploma show. Artists whose work features in the collection include Elizabeth Frink, Richard Long, Mary Fedden, Claude Rogers and Vanessa Bell. Also on display are old exhibition posters, photographs, catalogues and letters.
We went back down the stairs and browsed the shop area, which has prints, cards and a few books related to the current exhibitions. My son found a sofa to sit on while I went to the ladies' toilet in the basement. It was very clean and well appointed. Disabled visitors can use the lift, as there is no toilet on the ground floor. There are a few paintings on show in a corridor in the basement, mostly of boats. They weren't as impressive as the work we had seen on the first floor.
The Royal West of England Academy holds a number of events and workshops throughout the year. We had a peek of the "Scribble and Sketch" monthly drop-in workshop which is open to people of all ages who want to practise their drawing skills in an informal environment. It is run by Anouk Mercier, artist and founder of the Bristol Drawing Club. The Bristol Drawing School organises weekend and evening workshops at the Academy and also offers a ten-week course in drawing. In addition, there are art history day schools and talks on subjects are diverse as Banksy's urban calligraphy, photographing artwork and rediscovering oil paintings. According to the website, Andy Warhol's earliest known work is to be shown at the RWA in July.
The Papadeli cafe is located on the ground floor and serves tapas, cakes and drinks. We didn't sample any of their fare as we had had lunch at the Boston Tea Party before visiting the RWA. The main galleries, including the balcony, are available for private hire after 6pm. The Fedden Gallery can be hired during the day and has audio-visual equipment. There are volunteering opportunities for local residents interested in exhibition stewarding or fundraising, for example.
There are several buses from Temple Meads station that pass close to the Academy, and there is a taxi rank nearby. Car parks are within ten minutes' walk, and there is some on-street metered parking close to the Academy.
The RWA is not a huge gallery, but it is worth a visit. Its proximity to Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery is a bonus for art lovers, as the museum often has temporary art exhibitions that are well worth seeing. Some may be put off by the admission fee, but if the Academy receives no funding they obviously have to make a charge. If you time your visit to coincide with a "Scribble and Sketch" workshop, there will be no extra charge for that. It's free for children, and they will probably love to go and do some drawing of their own in the presence of an artist.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 5.30pm; Sunday 11am to 5pm.
Royal West of England Academy
Tel. 0117 973 5129
Since my younger son moved to Bristol in 2008, I had never stayed the night there when visiting him. However, in May 2012 my elder son and his partner were driving up to Snowdonia and wanted to stop somewhere on the way for a night. They suggested I go with them on the Friday afternoon and we spend the night in Bristol. We wanted a hotel in the city that wasn't too expensive and had a car park. I offered to do the research, and the choice was between the Holiday Inn Express and the Ibis, both at £59 for a room. I've seen the rooms at the Portsmouth Ibis and found them claustrophobic; we all agreed that the Holiday Inn Express ought to be a better choice. I booked the rooms a few weeks in advance through hotels.com. For my son and his partner I booked a twin room, and for myself a standard room. No reduction was offered for single occupancy, but as breakfast was included it seemed a reasonable price for a city centre hotel. Payment was required at the time of booking and was non-refundable, presumably because of the discounted price.
Being very close to Bristol Temple Meads station, the hotel is easy to find. To park a car, however, necessitates driving round to the back of the hotel. There are several temporary parking bays where you have to leave your car while you check in. You are then given access to the hotel's car park, and the access code changes each day. We arrived at around 4.30pm and after leaving the car, we made our way to reception. Almost immediately a receptionist greeted us and began the check-in process. I had brought printouts of our booking confirmations, but there was no need to produce them. My son and I each had to fill in a form; an address was already printed on them, but this turned out to be the address of hotels.com so had to be amended. I was asked if I would like to join the hotel chain's priority reward scheme and I accepted. We were handed our key cards and my son's partner was given access to the car park. The receptionist asked if we needed any information about Bristol, but we didn't. I noticed at the desk that the hotel's rack rate is £139.
Our rooms were next door to each other on the fifth floor, and the lift worked efficiently. On entering your room, you insert your key card into a small device on the wall that enables you to switch lights on. I was quite surprised that my room was fairly spacious; I had once stayed in a Holiday Inn in Paris, but I thought perhaps the Holiday Inn Express rooms would be on the smaller side. Furnishings and decor were predominantly navy and a peachy tan, with white bed linen. I presume that the bed was a queen-sized one, and there were four pillows, two labelled 'firm' and two 'soft'. On either side of the bed were a small cabinet and a reading lamp above, plus a telephone, notepad and pen on one cabinet. Between the bed and the window was a small round wooden table and an upholstered upright chair. On the opposite wall was a desk with a kettle, teabags, sachets of coffee, sugar and sweeteners, milk and two mugs with teaspoons. A chair similar to the other one was positioned by the desk, and there was a reading lamp on the desk too. The television wasn't particularly big, but that didn't worry me. Underneath it was a drawer and two shelves with a hand towel and bath towel on one of them. Just beside the television was a hairdryer in a wall bracket, and to the right there was a full-length mirror. Opposite the bathroom door was an open wardrobe with several fixed hangers, including some with clips.
The bathroom was actually just a shower room as there was no bathtub. It was a reasonable size with a mirror on two adjacent sides above the washbasin and plenty of room to put your belongings. Another set of towels was hanging on the rails, but there were no free toiletries other than Carex antibacterial foaming handwash by the basin and Imperial Leather hair and body wash in the shower, both bracketed to the wall. There was, however, a notice saying that if you had forgotten items such as a toothbrush, nail flle, comb, etc., you could obtain them free of charge from reception. I had a shower the following morning and there was plenty of hot water, but I didn't use the soap on my hair so can't comment on its suitability as a shampoo. The handwash had a very sweet smell that I can imagine some men might find too effeminate.
When we came back to the hotel in the evening we wanted to make hot drinks. My son's partner asked what I had in the way of coffee, as they only had decaffeinated sachets in their room. Fortunately I had two sachets of ordinary coffee and one of decaffeinated, so we were able to do a swap. I was happy with decaff as I'd been up since 6am and wanted to have an early night. At first I had been glad to have a room at the front of the hotel with a view of Brunel's Old Station and Temple Meads Station a little further away. It soon became evident, however, that even with double glazing there was still quite a bit of noise from the traffic. I woke up around 3am and even then there were a fair few cars on the road below; at one point some noisy people were passing by too; Friday night is certainly not peaceful in Bristol. The temperature of the room was rather on the warm side, but of course if you open the window the street noises are louder. It might be an advantage to have a room at the back of the hotel, but perhaps they are allotted to guests who are paying more. I can't fault the comfort of the mattress, but if it's noisy outside, sleep can be elusive.
Breakfast is served from 7am until 11am in a fairly spacious area beside the reception desk, overlooking the main road. When I booked the rooms the information was that continental breakfast was included in the price, but when we arrived there was a notice up to say that hot breakfast was now available too. Self service is the order of the day, and the hot breakfast consisted of a tray of scrambled egg, one of baked beans and one of sausages keeping warm inside a display case. None of it looked particularly appetising so the three of us decided to stick to cereal and/or continental fare. There were four kinds of cereal, various jugs of milk, bread for toasting, rolls, croissants, mini pains au chocolat, butter, sunflower spread, jams and marmalade. Slightly healthier options were grapefruit, pear halves and strawberry, cherry or plain yoghurt. Drinks included a variety of teas as well as coffee, apple juice and orange juice. I had a yoghurt, a croissant with apricot jam, two mini pains au chocolat and some orange juice. There didn't seem to be any limit to the number of times you could go back for more, but we had eaten well the night before and didn't need to overdo it. What was disappointing, however, was that some of the cutlery, and in particular the teaspoons, were just not clean.
I checked out around 9am, and the process was very straightforward. As there is no minibar in the room, there wouldn't be any extras to pay, and I hadn't used the telephone. My son and I went to sit down in the small lounge area beside the bar, next to the dining area, to wait for my son's partner. The receptionist came over to me to give me a temporary card for their priority reward scheme as she had just noticed that I had applied for it at check-in. She explained that a permanent card would be posted to me in a couple of weeks. Check-out is up until noon, or 2pm for members of the priority reward scheme.
I'm giving a four-star rating for the hotel as the room itself was comfortable and spacious, the staff at reception were very polite and efficient, and overall it was good value for the price we paid. Had I paid £139 for my room I would not have been so happy, especially with the state of some of the cutlery. Internet access is available throughout the hotel, including free Wifi in the communal areas. The location is ideal for anyone travelling to or from Temple Meads station. Areas such as the shopping centres and the harbourside are within walking distance, and there are plenty of buses from Temple Meads. It's a shame about the noise of the traffic, but in a city the size of Bristol, that could be a common problem.
With just a few hours to spend in Oxford, I decided that I would have a walk around the city centre and choose just one place to visit in detail. I picked the Botanic Garden, partly because the weather was fine enough to be outdoors. It is officially on Rose Lane, which is just off High Street opposite Magdalen College. Even before I went in I was impressed by the trees that were growing beside the road. In front of the entrance is an area of hedges that are arranged like a maze, but they are so short that it isn't a maze you could get lost in.
The entrance is through the gift shop, where tickets are sold. This was April 2012, and I paid £4 for a day ticket. I was handed an A5 sheet of paper showing a plan of the garden; it had a sticker at the top which was actually my ticket. I went out of the shop through the door leading into the walled garden. My first impression was that the garden was a little bare, but this was early April and I'm sure it looks very different in summer.
Looking at the plan, I decided to go into the conservatory first as this was nearby. The weather had clouded over since the morning, and it was very pleasantly warm inside. This is not an enormous place, but there is plenty of room to walk around without bumping into other visitors. There are lemon trees, miniature orange trees, begonias, one or two cacti and several other flowering plants. Most of the begonias were down on the floor while the citrus trees were on a shelf above. One thing that struck me almost straight away was the gorgeous scent of some of the flowers which pervaded the whole conservatory. I had been photographing architecture all morning and soon had my camera out to take some close-ups of fruit and flowers for a change. As well as the plants, there was an intriguing set-up of plastic bottles showing how you could create a window farm in your home to grow vegetables. There were leaflets explaining the procedure as well. A wooden bench was provided for anyone who wanted to have a seat for a while; I would imagine it's a very popular place in cold or wet weather.
As I came out I turned left and went out of the garden onto the banks of the River Cherwell. Rows of boats were moored there, and quite a few people were out on the river; it was after all a bank holiday. I noticed that further along there were several hothouses, but to go into them you have to go back into the gardens. There is a little alpine house, a fernery and an area for insectivores as well as a somewhat larger lily house that has a pond in the centre in which water lilies grow. A narrow corridor with yet more plants passes alongside the hothouses; there are twisting trunks and trailing roots as well as richly coloured and more delicate flowers. My camera was in constant use, and I was interested to come across a woman sitting drawing one of the insectivores. A little further along was a separate entrance leading to a palm house and also an arid house. It is very warm and humid in all these areas; if you're wearing a coat you will probably end up carrying it.
When I had had my fill of the hothouses I went back into the walled garden and had a bit of a shock. There seemed to be someone standing on their head in the middle of one of the flower beds; I thought perhaps they were doing yoga! Then I realised it was a scarecrow. It certainly had me scared for a moment. I went to the end of the walled garden and through to have a look at the herbaceous border which was beautifully colourful. Back inside the garden, I sat down on a seat to delete some old photos from my camera as the memory card was full. Spotting another body on the grass, I was relieved that this time it was a real person just having a lie down and some peace and quiet. It certainly is the perfect place to get away from the crowds when the weather is fine.
Realising that I had been rather quick to dismiss the garden as being too bare, I went to have a proper look at the fountain in the centre. It isn't spectacular; elegant might be a better word. Around the central area were four large flower pots with flowering plants just coming through; pretty enough already for a photo. From the centre I went back beyond the walled garden again, this time to see the rock garden. This was quite colourful with small trees as well as flowering plants among the rocks. Continuing along the central path, there are fruit, vegetables and herbs to the left but again there must be a lot more to see in summer. Beyond the flower beds is a water garden that a duck was certainly enjoying. I loved the bright yellow lilies that were growing right beside the water.
As I made my way back through the walled garden I went to have a look at a tree that had hundreds of red ribbons tied to its branches. It turned out to be a wishing tree, and there were plenty more lengths of ribbon waiting for anyone who wanted to make a wish. The tree was blossoming too and did look delightful.
There is no cafeteria on site, but you wouldn't have to walk very far along High Street to find one. Toilets, including one for the disabled, are situated behind the conservatory. They are modern and very clean; they even have central heating.
I probably spent about an hour in the garden. You could walk round in less time, but I kept stopping to take photographs. On the other hand, you could spend a lot longer there if you wanted to sit and relax, read or just enjoy the sights. If I lived locally I can imagine I would buy an annual pass and go and do some plant drawing there. There are over seven thousand species of plants in the garden, including medicinal herbs, and all of them are labelled. The plan shows a composting area to the extreme right as you enter the walled garden, but I didn't investigate this.
Both day tickets and annual passes are available, and there are concessionary prices. It's worth buying an annual pass if you are going to make more than three visits. There is no charge for children accompanied by an adult family member. Dogs are not allowed, with the exception of guide dogs. The gardens open at 9am every day. From November through to February they close at 4pm. In March, April, September and October they close at 5pm. From May through to August closing time is 6pm. Last admission is always 45 minutes before closing time.
The University of Oxford Botanic Garden
Tel. 01865 286690
Portsmouth's first public park was Victoria Park, designed by Alexander McKenzie and opened in 1878. It covers an area of around fifteen acres in the city centre. There are entrances on Commercial Road (opposite Portsmouth and Southsea railway station), Edinburgh Road, and the corner of Anglesea Road and Edinburgh Road. These are all accessible to the disabled, and the pathways are suitable for wheelchairs. A fourth entrance is hidden just behind the War Memorial next to the Guildhall and runs under a railway bridge. As you come into the park, you are met by beautiful towering trees.
In warm weather, Victoria Park is a popular place where city centre workers and students can spend some time in the open air and even lie on the grass and sunbathe. The flower beds are well kept and there are plenty of seats for those who prefer them to the grass. Apparently there are guided tree walks that take place in the park and I can imagine these would be very worthwhile for those with a particular interest in trees. On summer evenings outdoor concerts are occasionally held, and admission to these is free.
At weekends and in school holidays, the park is an ideal place for families with children who perhaps want to break up a trip to the nearby shops. In the aviary the peacock and peahen are the star attractions, but I have yet to get a photo of the peacock displaying his tail feathers. In the cage next door are rabbits and guinea pigs which children delight in feeding. Grey squirrels running up and down the trees are also a common sight in the park. When my children were young I used to enjoy bringing them here to see the animals before heading down to the shops. Now there is a children's playground in the park as well to add to the attractions.
At the corner of Anglesea Road and Edinburgh Road is Victoria Lodge, a cafe with both indoor and outdoor seating. It's housed in the former gatekeeper's lodge which was once threatened with demolition. Here you can have a light lunch such as a jacket potato or a salad, or just a drink and a piece of one of their tempting cakes. They do have vegetarian options on the menu. I have enjoyed lunch there and can recommend it as a pleasant place away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby shopping centre. There are baby-changing facilities and high chairs. Within the cafe, art exhibitions are held of paintings or photographs by local artists, and all the work is for sale.
Portsmouth is of course a city with a strong naval heritage, and nine naval memorials are located in Victoria Park. Most of them are in the north-eastern corner. The most distinctive one is a miniature pagoda inside which is a replica of a Chinese bell. (The original bell was returned to China.) This commemorates crew members of HMS Orlando who lost their lives during the 1900 Peking campaign. Another memorial nearby is dedicated to the crew of HMS Powerful who died during the Boer War. A memorial in the form of a small obelisk commemorates officers and men of the HMS Victoria who lost their lives in June 1893.
Dogs other than guide dogs are not allowed in the park. There is a car park just outside Victoria Park on Commercial Road, opposite the railway station. Local websites state that there is a disabled toilet in the park, but I cannot actually think where this is unless they are referring to the one in the cafe. The nearest public toilets are in the Guildhall Square close by, but there are several steps down to these.
The only thing I miss these days about the Victoria Park I remember from my youth is the greenhouse or hothouse. When I was studying art at school we would make a special trip there to sit and draw the exotic plants. I'm not sure exactly how long ago it was demolished or even why it was.
This is quite definitely my favourite of several local parks that I visit. It's big enough to be able to find peace and quiet if that's what you're looking for, yet it is right in the heart of the city. It's possible to cross it in different ways because there are four entrances. Although it really comes into its own in summer, the trees still have a wonderful presence in winter. When you've had enough of the fresh air, you can enjoy spending time in the cafe and taking in the art while you're there. I would definitely recommend finding time to stroll along its paths if you are visiting the city centre, especially if you have young children.
Although the village of Southwick is just a few miles from where I live in Southsea, I had never been there until recently. I rely on public transport and the bus service to Southwick was very infrequent; I believe it was withdrawn altogether in autumn 2011. My son's partner was born and brought up in Southwick, however, so soon after he passed his driving test he suggested taking us there. It was a Saturday in early December when a group of locals were in the process of erecting a Christmas tree on the green beside the church.
The village of Southwick is unusual in that it is entirely owned by the Southwick Estate; all properties in the village are rented except for the Church Lodge. All front doors have to be painted dark red, but I'm really not sure why. The village has a church, two pubs, a shop with a post office, a community centre, a former brewhouse (now shop and museum) and a golf course. There was once a school but this has now closed down.
Southwick's two pubs both serve good food. The Red Lion is a Fullers pub located at the northern end of High Street. It serves both lunch and dinner but is closed between 2pm and 6pm. There is a patio garden at the rear. Examples of mains are steak and ale pie or pork and apple sausages and mash as well as steaks, fish dishes, a ploughman's lunch and salads. There is a special section for vegetarian options. Side orders include chips, garlic bread, vegetables and salad. Sandwiches, baguettes and jacket potatoes are available for those wanting a light lunch. There are main courses for children startingx at £4.50. Desserts include cheesecake, ice cream and sorbets as well as hot puddings. Toilets are situated on the ground floor, but there are two steps which might present a problem for disabled visitors. We had lunch there and found both their roast and steak and ale pie to be excellent.
The Golden Lion, also on High Street, has two bars and a restaurant, but food is not served on Tuesdays or on Sunday evenings. Food is cooked on the premises using locally sourced ingredients. Lunch is served from noon to 2pm and dinner from 6pm to 9pm, but the bar is open until 11pm every day except Sunday when it closes at 10.30pm. I haven't eaten at the Golden Lion myself, but apparently the food has improved a lot recently and there has been an excellent review in the Portsmouth local paper. The Golden Lion is famous for the fact that it became the unofficial officers' mess in the period leading up to D-Day when the leaders of the Allied Forces where stationed at Southwick House. It is said that while Eisenhower drank beer, Montgomery confined himself to grapefruit juice.
Just behind the Golden Lion you will find Southwick Brewhouse, which houses a shop and a museum. It dates from the seventeenth century and was a working brewhouse until 1957. It supplied ale and brandy to the Golden Lion. Restoration work was carried out between 1979 and 1985. The brewhouse is an example of a Victorian domestic brewery with its fermenting vessels, steam engine and malt store accompanied by flow charts, photographs and posters. The shop sells British ciders and beers, including Suthwyck Ales, brewed locally. Cask ales are available for four or eight pint containers. Special events are held periodically, such as Welsh Beer Week. Opening hours are from 10am to 5pm Wednesday to Saturday, and 11am to 4pm on Sunday. Group visits of the museum can be arranged outside of these times.
St James' Church is situated on High Street; its full name is St-James-Without-the-Priory-Gate. It is thought to date from 1040, but a great deal of restoration work has been done since then. The altar table is Elizabethan while the panelled gallery and the pulpit date from the 17th century. The original box pews were replaced by modern ones in the mid 20th century. St James is one of only two churches in the country that is a Peculiar, meaning that the chaplain is appointed by the village squire rather than by the bishop of the diocese. The church holds two services on Sunday mornings: Holy Communion is at 8.30am followed by Eucharist at 10.45am. St James is open every day and visitors are welcome. There are artefacts on display in the church from the twelfth-century Augustinian priory that was located immediately south-east of Southwick. The remains of a wall of the priory still exists on the edge of the golf course. The church can accommodate 150 people and is sometimes used for concerts. The west door of the church has access for wheelchairs.
Southwick Golf Club is located on Pinsley Drive, just east of the village. The club's professional, Eddy Rawlings, offers advice to players of all levels. Membership is available on a full or pro-rata, flexible basis. Southwick Golf Club has an eighteen-hole course that extends around Southwick Lake; holes range from short par 3s to long par 4s. It is a 5884 yard course with a par of 69. There is a six-hole pitch and putt course as well as a short-game practice area. Some tee times can be booked in advance, and some early morning ones are reserved for members, veterans or ladies. The clubhouse has a bar that serves food and has views over Portsdown Hill. It can be hired for private parties. There is a skittle alley that has to be booked in advance, and members are offered a reduced rate. The golf club also has a shop selling a range of clothing and equipment.
I don't play golf, but the lake situated in the midst of the course provides a delightful place for a walk. On the December morning we were there, it was quite quiet with just one or two people walking dogs and a few fishermen. You have to walk through a small wooded area and then cross a section of the golf course pretty sharply to get to the lake. We walked along most of the southern side, close to the water, and then turned back. If you carry on and walk around the northern side, the path leads away from the water's edge and passes close to the golf clubhouse. It was a beautiful sunny winter morning and the lake, lined with trees, made a very picturesque scene. To the north you can just see Southwick House, where the leaders of the Allied Forces had their headquarters in the period leading up to D-Day.
Having enjoyed the walk along the lakeside so much as well as lunch at the Red Lion, it seemed a shame that it had taken me so long to discover Southwick. It is just north of Portsdown Hill, very close to Fareham and Porchester, and within easy reach of Portsmouth. Anyone visiting the area could combine a visit to Porchester Castle with a few hours in Southwick. Portchester would be the nearest railway station, but fast trains don't stop there and the only way to travel from Portchester to Southwick would be by taxi. A car is really necessary for visiting the area; it is worth going when the weather is fine for a walk by the lake.
Sunday lunchtime on a very sunny weekend in early spring: we'd intended to have a roast at one of the two pubs in the Hampshire village of Southwick, but both were full to bursting. We drove off, wondering if we would find anywhere nearby with a table; then my son and his partner remembered once going to a place called the Chairmakers at Worlds End near Hambledon. It is right out in the countryside and involves driving along some narrow twisty lanes; very pleasant on a sunny day if you are just a passenger. We managed to find a space in the car park, but the place was obviously busy and we were preparing ourselves for another disappointment. On entering, we were told that there were no tables inside but we were welcome to sit in the garden area. In such weather, that seemed a good option. There were one or two tables in a patio area in complete shade, but we decided on a table on the lawn with partial sun. Seating consisted of double stools, but they were perfectly comfortable. A red parasol offered some shade. There were plenty of people around but the tables are well spaced out.
The menu at the Chairmakers begins with small plates, such as Tomato, Garlic and Red Onion Bruschetta (£4.95), Whitebait with paprika and lime mayonnaise (£5.25) and Chicken Liver and Ham Terrine with crostini and piccalilli (£5.75). Then there are sixteen main plates to choose from, including Pancetta and Cheese Carbonara with garlic ciabatta (£8.95), Apple and Herb-Crusted Pork Chop with sage and onion mash, green beans and Madeira sauce (£10.95), Salmon Steak with a Hint of Orange served with new potatoes, spring greens or salad from the bar (£13.95) and a Posh Mixed Grill that features a 5oz rump steak (£15.45). Side orders range from Onion Rings (£2.25) through House Chips or Vegetables (£2.50) to Cheesy Garlic Bread (£3.20). Some of the mains are available in children's portions with prices starting at £5.95.
In the bar and garden areas, you can also order from a section entitled Nibbles, sharers and basket meals. Here you will find Pork Pie and Piccalilli (£4), Sausages of the Day and Chips, including a vegetarian version (£5.95) and a Whitebait and Spring Roll Sharing Platter (£12.50) among others. On Monday to Saturday lunchtimes, hand-cut bloomer sandwiches with a salad garnish are available. Fillings include Tuna Mayonnaise (£5.95), Cheddar Cheese and Chutney (£5.95) and Bacon, Brie and Cranberry (£6.25). An accompaniment of chips can be ordered for £1. On Sundays and Wednesdays, the Chairmakers serves a carvery for £9.95 (under twos £2.95, two to twelve £5.95). This is available from noon to 8pm on Sunday, and from noon to 3pm and 6pm to 9pm on Wednesday.
We decided against the carvery and choose from the main plates. My son's partner went for Seafarers Battered Haddock with chips, peas and tartare sauce (£8.95). I picked the Leek, Broccoli and Stilton Pie served with herbed new potatoes and green beans (£8.95), and after some deliberation my son chose that too. We went to the bar to order, and asked exactly what kind of pie it was. The barmaid wasn't sure as it was a new menu, but she happily went off to enquire and came back to tell us that it was a shortcrust pastry pie with a top. It sounded good so we went ahead with our order. With three fruit juices, the bill came to just over £32.
At such a busy time there was bound to be a bit of a wait for our food, but with beautiful views of the Hampshire countryside to take in that didn't seem to matter. Several families with children were in the garden area, and there were outsize versions of draughts and Connect 4 to keep them amused. Some people had their dogs with them, and they seemed content just to sit in the sun.
The wait for our food wasn't unreasonably long, however. It was served on white oval plates and looked appetising. The leek, broccoli and stilton pies were round and had what was presumably vegetarian gravy poured on them; if it looks rather red in the photo, I think that's from the colour of the parasol. When I cut into my pie a lot of white sauce came running out and I wondered if the gravy was really necessary, but there was no conflict of taste. The vegetables were in good size pieces; the leeks were beautifully cooked and the broccoli just about right. No complaints about the pastry either. The green beans did have a rather tired look, and I found it quite hard to cut them, but the new potatoes were lovely. My son's partner enjoyed his fish and chips, and I loved the containers that the chips and tartare sauce came in; they had recipes written on the outside, and the chip container was shaped like a piece of newspaper wrapped around.
We didn't have room for dessert, and in fact there was no mention of puddings on the menu. I didn't see any sign of boards listing desserts inside either, which did seem a little strange.
I visited the ladies' toilet before leaving; although a little old fashioned, the standard of cleanliness was high. The hand drier was right outside one of the cubicles but I don't see where else they could have put it, as the wall above the hand basins was covered in large mirrors. I noticed that there was a separate disabled toilet.
I would happily go back to the Chairmakers in the future, but I think it would be advisable to book a table in advance if the weather wasn't good enough for sitting in the garden area. It is obviously a good place for families with children and for dog owners, although again this would be in fine weather. It is situated between Denmead and Wickham, and is a lovely spot for anyone who appreciates a drive through the Hampshire countryside. There is a bus service from Portsmouth to the village of Hambledon, which is about a quarter of a mile from the Chairmakers.
Tel. 02392 255990