*This post contains sponsored content but as always opinions are my own

Front of Chicheley Hall Hotel, Milton Keynes

Recently I was invited to stay for the night at Chicheley Hall, a grade I 18th century mansion, based in 80 acres located in Chicheley, just off the A422 and fifteen minutes away from Milton Keynes. The hotel is run by the De Vere Hotel Group and is a popular wedding venue and also been the set of films and TV programmes such as Pride and Prejudice and Black Beauty.

Initially the hotel belonged to the Pagnell Family of Newport Pagnell (the town Newport Pagnell is about ten minute drive away). During the Second World War the house was used as a base to train Polish agents, was used by the Special Operations Executive as a training school and was a FANY wireless telegraphy training school.

In 2010, the Royal Society acquired Chicheley Hall with support from The Kavli Foundation. The Kavli Foundation is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity by promoting public understanding of scientific research and supporting scientists and their work.

Bed inside the Blackett Suite

There are 48 individually furnished rooms and I was lucky enough to stay in one of the ‘superior’ rooms called the Blackett Suite. Patrick Blackett FRS was awarded the Noble Prize in Physics in 1948. The suite was what I can only describe was amazing, it was huge.

View of the Blackett room where you can see the bed and sofas.

It was very clean and plenty of windows offering fantastic views of the grounds. Beyond the grounds you couldn’t really see any property for miles around! The bed was very comfy and I still couldn’t quite believe that I was sleeping underneath a coat of arms!

View of the sofas in the Blackett room.

Once we got settled we went for a walk around the grounds. There wasn’t anyone around and it was quite special to be able to stroll around. We saw geese and peacocks walking around!

View of the trees in the Chicheley Hall Hotel.
Chicheley Hall from the side.
Chicheley Hall from the side.
Geese swimming at Chicherley Hall Hotel
Rebecca in front of the mansion
Tapestry placed above the fire place.

We also had an explore around the inside of the Hotel. Then it was time for a three course meal, My starter was a brie tart whilst James had the chicken goujons. For the main I had a gourmet cheeseburger with homemade chunky chips. The chips and cheeseburger were filling but the chips really tasted amazing whilst my partner had a 8oz steak which he really enjoyed.

Strawberry Lime cider in a Stella Artois 'Cidre' glass

For pudding James had a chocolate brownie with honeycomb ice cream and I had a chocolate cheesecake. The burger and tart had finished me off by then so I got the cheesecake packed in a tub to take-away.

Image of Rebecca Merchant.

I should note there is a bar at the hall with an assortment of drink.

Brie tart.
Chicken goujons
Image of a burger with chunky chips
Image of the breakfast room with wooden panelling, chairs and a painting.

The next morning we had breakfast in another drawing room. The breakfast was a buffet. It was a usual hotel breakfast in that there were cereals, toast and croissants as well as a cooked breakfast you could have. I chose muesli and a slice of toast with marmalade.

Image of jars of jams, marmalades, nutellas and croissants.

All in all I loved my time at the hotel, it is a lovely place if you want a special couple of nights away. Being fifteen minutes away from Milton Keynes there is plenty to do in the local area, and although it seems like it you are not completely isolated. It gave me the opportunity to visit Bletchley Park which is home of the codebreakers during World War Two which I have wanted to see for years!

I have spent a week in the lovely Lake District, this hasn’t been my first time in this lovely part of England having visited the Lake District a couple of years ago. Last time I stayed at Ambleside but this time I am staying in Blencathra just ten minutes away from Keswick. If you are looking fo r things to keep you entertained for either a weekend or a week see what I got up too.

Keswick Town

Obviously our first stop was around Keswick town centre. There are lots of little tourist shops, vintage/antique shops and activewear/camping shops. There were also plenty of food places, we had ice cream at Casa Bella because every blog on Pinterest recommended the place. I can confirm the ice cream is worth getting.

On two separate occasions I got the Smarties ice cream (which tasted just like the McFlurry!) and the stracciatella ice cream (vanilla ice cream with lots of flakes in). We also ate at the Es Tapas bar, again the food there was incredible, we had the ciabatta, meatballs, chorizo piealla and goat’s cheese tortillas. I had the mojito which was good as well.

Whinlatter Forest Park

Ran by the Foresty Commission, Whinlatter Forest Park is England’s true mountain forest. Myself and my partner decided to go there for a morning of mountain biking! We hired bikes and helmets for £42 for three hours. There are three purpose built trails (Grey, blue and red). We decided to opt for the Quercus Route which is the blue route as we hadn’t been mountain biking for a while and with not having the right clothing (I was terrified of shredding my legs in my gym shorts!) and with not having our usual mountain bikes we thought it would be a good substitute.

It is a really good technical course with berms, rolling jumps and these wooden bridges. They are so so good! Me and James were done after two and a bit hours but if biking isn’t your thing there are numerous walking trails and also a Go Ape which is a ropes course. There is a lovely sculpture of an Osprey at the front.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

In the afternoon, we didn’t want to go far as we were knackered from the mountain biking and decided to go to Castlerigg Stone Circle. It is free entry (although you can leave a donation to the National Trust) constructed in 3000BC it is one of the earliest stone circles in the country. There are beautiful views of the Thirlmere Valley. After having a nosy we had a walk down one of the public footpaths. There was an ice cream van from Luchini’s which I tried because that is the other ice cream place that was raved about. I had the vanilla ice cream but I didn’t see much to rave about.

DerwentWater Launch

If you want a trip around the lake of Derwentwater I recommend the launch. £11 for a 50 minute round trip, you can hop on and hop off at any point around the lake. We hopped off at Hawes End as we decided to walk the CatBells and then got back on, dropped the dog off back home (as he was so noisy, we didn’t want him to disturb other customers) and then went on again for the rest of the round trip. It is a commuter boat, therefore you won’t get any history. But it is a lovely fifty minute route.

CatBells

Catbells is one of the walks to do in the Lake District, which doesn’t take an entire day out (unlike Scafell Pike which I walked a couple of years ago). We walked the route from Hawes End and on the way up, it offers stunning views of the DerwentWater. We took our dog with us and it was a really hot day, so it took us a bit longer than usual as we were stopping to make sure he was drinking. There was a couple of scrambles but as long as you take your time and wear adequate footwear (I saw someone walking barefoot!) you will be fine.

Blencathra

Also known as Saddleback, this hill walk is just outside Keswick and coincidently a stone’s throw away from my accommodation. It is quite an easy walk and fairly short about 4-5km up. On the day we went up we were about ten minutes away from the summit but we had to abandon as the cloud cover was so bad. You can approach the hill from many routes and the one we chose was via Blease Fell as it was close to where we stayed. Afterwards we went for a pub meal at the Horse and Farrier which was a lovely country pub with quite a wide ranging menu.

Buttermere

When I was googling places to go in the Lake District, Buttermere came up over and over again. You do need a car to get up there and you have to be a pretty fearless driver but this little village tucked away.

We had a wander down to Crummock Water and on the way back had the most amazing cake and tea at Syke Farm Tea Room.

St Bees

If you want something a bit different to the hills and forests then you can head to the coast. St Bees is famous for the Coast to Coast walk, a walk devised by Alfred Wainwright which spans the UK from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. It is a pebble beach but we just dragged our fold up outdoor chairs and was fine!

Carlisle

Carlisle is a city about forty minutes away from Keswick. I hadn’t been shopping in a while and wanted to browse the main high street shops such as Primark, New Look etc.

Have you been to the Lake District? Send me your suggestions in the comments below.

Image of the book The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Year of publish – 2018
Publisher – Tinder Press
Number of pages- 404

The Immortalists follows the journey of the Gold family; siblings Daniel, Simon, Varya and Klara who live in New York in the hot summer of 1969. The siblings visit a fortune teller that tells them each when they are going to die and if they are going to have a good life or not. The information that each sibling receives starts a chain of events where the reader is taken on a journey through each family member’s life.

As a side note, this book was attracted to me as I was having a browse through Amazon one day looking for a book to add to my birthday list. From reading the blurb the book reminded me of The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett. It also reminded me of this question that was posed to us in form time at school (we used to have ‘Thought of the day’ where questions or passages were given to us to make us think). One which has always stood out to me was ‘would you want to know when you were going to die?’ I said yes, as say, if I died in a car accident on a certain day, I would do anything I could to avoid cars on that day! But a fellow class member said no as he thinks life is a surprise and that if you knew what was going to happen in your life, it wouldn’t be a surprise!

From then on the story takes us through 1970’s New York, and each family member is a protagonist, in order of who dies first. It starts with Simon, the youngest and has known from a young age that he is gay. He defies his mother who expects him to continue with the family business and runs away to San Francisco with his sister Klara who left straight after high school to fulfil her ambition to become a magician.

Simon throws himself into San Francisco’s gay scene and becomes a ballet dancer as he knows he doesn’t have long left to live. After Simon, passes Klara picks up the baton and the story is about her struggles to become a female magician. After Klara passes the story picks up at Daniel who has become a military Doctor. Daniel, who is still stricken from Klara’s and Simon’s deaths hunts down the fortune teller to find out why she told them the dates of their deaths when they are so young. The story ends with Varya who is a scientist who focuses on extending life and, from what the reader gathers, is trying to beat the life expectancy of what the fortune teller has given her even though it is a long life but we see that she isn’t really living.

I found the whole book from start to end to be really though provoking. It was interesting to see how each gold member coped with the information they received from the fortune teller, from Simon throwing everything he has at life to Varya keeping herself to herself, and how it impacted their life. Each story felt like the right length and interlinks really well throughout. That said I found Varya’s life to be very boring and the consequence of this was I wanted the story to finish. Although they were some bombshells. I really would recommend the book.

Have you read any of Chloe Benjamin’s books?

Image of the book The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

My first two weeks of April as well as being my birthday (yay!) started with two races. My first was the Lincoln 10k. I had my eyes on the Lincoln 10k for a while. I am from Lincolnshire and a proud yellowbelly, and having missed the race last year it was on my list for this year. The race route was flat and the weather conditions were really good, I was aiming for a PB in the 10k (under an hour).

The route started from North Lincoln, it was essentially a run around the Ermine Estate and was meant to finish outside Lincoln Cathedral but due to construction works the route finished to the side of the cathedral with a long walk round to the castle where I collected the race medal and goody bag.

The race was pretty standard, the only thing was there was no Portaloo’s at the beginning. I was busting for the loo, it was awful. We started and I was feeling pretty uncomfortable, about 500 metres in they cut the route in half and there was a back-log of people who had to walk. It was frustrating and I wasn’t the only one frustrated! There was plenty of crowds and after waving at my Dad in the crowd at mile two, at mile six I was so happy to see a single Portaloo!

Afterwards I kept going to the end, I I had missed the 50 minute pacer that I was keeping up due to my loo break, so just wanted to keep going and try and keep it under an hour. I managed to set a new PB and I set new PBs in everything else (5k, 1/2 mile, full mile). The medal is amazing! It has everything that Lincoln is famous for and pretty special to me. The goody bag was pretty good, as the event was sponsored by the ASDA Foundation there was plenty of food (Protein bar, chocolate bar, High5 energy gel, Protein drink, some dried fruit and a bottle of water).

Would I recommend the 10k? To be honest, unless you want a flat course, and an opportunity to visit Lincoln, I wouldn’t bother! It isn’t the most scenic of routes but that said I think it is a good route to get a PB!

Cannock Chase Trail Half

I did the 10k a couple of years back and I felt that this run would really be a challenge for me. I know Cannock Chase very well and know that it isn’t always flat! It was run by a local company so I was also keen to support them and as a bonus it was literally down the road for me as well so no early start for me!

I got my race number on the day and was ready to move. The route cut through some of the bike trails and it was so much fun! It felt like school. There was a slight bottleneck at the beginning where we were walking and a couple of bottle neck on the bike trails. It isn’t a route if you want a PB! There was three water stops and two of the stops you could also grab some jelly beans, which was very welcomed.

Unfortunately problems started at around mile ten, I noticed that my Garmin didn’t match up with the mile ten marker. I didn’t think anything of it because usually the Garmin watches are slightly off. As I was on the final stretch running through the side of the car park where my car was I realised that I was heading towards the finish line. I finished but my Garmin said 12.7 miles, I picked my medal up and was just confused to be honest.

By the time I headed into the house I was fuming, I was thinking back about the route and I had followed all the signs and I saw people all along the route. There was one part where three guys peeled off but I thought they were nipping for a wee in a bush haha! and the sign pointed in the opposite direction to where they were running and everyone else was running in the other direction. I looked on the Facebook page and apparently someone moved the directional signage so some people ran eight miles, others 16 miles and for the majority just getting under 13.1 like me.

According to the Facebook page the organisers want to put another race on again for free a new date has been set for the 29th June so I am excited!! My next races, in May, are the Birmingham 10k which I am running as part of Team UoB and the Hackney Half which I am running with a friend!

Race deets:
Date: Sunday 17th March
Location: Stafford, Staffordshire, England
My time: 2hr 15 minutes
Organiser: Freeform Leisure and Stafford Borough Council

This time last year I had sold my Stafford Half bib. After running the 10k in 2017 I really wanted to ‘complete the Stafford series’ and get the half medal. But after snow moved the date and me being plagued with a chest infection for a lot of last year, I wasn’t fit enough to run it. This year I was determined to run the half and even better I was running it with a friend!

For those of you who know Stafford, the race started this time near the leisure centre rather than the Market Square. In regards to the route, if you want a mixture of city and countryside running, flat and a bit of gradient then Stafford delivers. I arrived in plenty of time to park (park in the Waterfront multi story as it is only a £1 on Sundays) and get the race shirt when you get to the square rather than waiting at the end. For those of you with bags, the bag drop was at the theatre – no need to chase buses! There were pace markers running so I started with the 2hr 15 minute marker.

The race starts in town and works its way into the winding Staffordshire countryside. There are lots of crowds which is always a nice boost. Especially further to the end where there were copious amounts of jelly babies given out! One stand made me smile as someone had brought out their home brewery and was giving out small plastic cups of free alcohol! I think I would have thrown up if I drank any!

The weather was crazy to say the least. It started really clear, sunny but freezing cold. I wore shorts and a shirt as I knew that if I wore my leggings and under armour I would get too hot, and I was right.
About four miles to the end, however, it started hailing! It was awful having small balls of ice whipping my face and it spurred me on faster just to finish the race so I could get out of the weather!

The booklet that came with the Stafford Half race number says that you have to run 11 minute miles. Having done two half marathons before (Birmingham and Great North) which are both run by the Great Run company. I definitely noticed a different with the smaller Stafford Half where I would say the majority of runners were part of a running club so were used to running very regularly and less people were walking!

For those of you that are local to Stafford the race starts just next to the leisure centre and loops round past Rowley Park and up the A34 and I really started to feel it a little as I was gradually going up hill and out towards Baswich. From mile eight, where I was running on the path on Beaconside where the MOD building is based, was where I was starting to continuously check my watch and started to get a bit fed up trying to keep the momentum going.

One of the best scenic parts of the route other than the run through Baswich is between miles 11 and 12 which is the Isabel Trail. Isabel Trail (named after the locally built steam engine that used to travel along the line) is where the old railway line is and is used as a cycle and walkway with beautiful view of the marshes. I definitely want to go back and run the Parkrun there or even take the bikes down!

The finish of the route works its way back into town passing the train station running though to the Market Square. There weren’t many freebies (maybe I have been spoilt with doing lots of Great Run races!). But the medal was really good quality and the yellow ribbon is really striking.

Have you ran the Stafford Half Marathon? If you ran the half in 2019 I would love to know your thoughts.

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