Snape Maltings


Beach sculpture

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Everyone seems to be writing about Snape Maltings so I thought I ought to pen somethings because it is the strangest of places.
Coming out of the wilderness of Suffolk to Snape is like travelling through the snow of Norway and finding yourself in Santa’s grotto, almost. I often think of Suffolk as the best wilderness of England. Remote coastal heaths and marshes with spectacular birds. Where else can you see a bittern and a group of bearded tits in one morning? In the afternoon you can wander around Dunwich heath and see red deer. Maybe spend a week on the Walberswick marshes looking out for barn owls or wandering along the remote eleven mile shingle spit that is Orford Ness.
Then you go to Snape to visit the The Maltings. What a strange name and redolent of music and Radio broadcasts – “Welcome to the Aldeburgh Festival and tonight’s concert is broadcast live from The Snape Maltings…” From seeing no-one to being with everyone, that is the Zen of the place. The place is packed on a Sunday afternoon. There are gift shops, book shops, art galleries and a kitchen shop so huge and throbbing with people it seems as if the entire county’s population is packed into one place. All the papers write about the lush restaurant but the Ravenous Rambler doesn’t have time for such indulgences and retreats to the tea shop. Here, buxom waitresses serve home made cakes and sandwiches with lashings of tea and hot water. The seating area is surrounded by art and photography which gives me a great feeling of inner warmth. There is seating outside too but it’s too cold even if the sun is shining.
It’s worth a visit as it is so unusual but it is being built up even more outside. The old maltings are being turned into luxury homes for the very rich who can afford an extra holiday home. Maybe just pop by on your way back home on a Sunday afternoon

Hambleden shop Review


St Mary’s Church, Hambleden

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Out on one of my bike rides, the Ravenous Rambler stopped at the Hambleden shop for tea. The village is one of those quintessential English villages. A dog sleeps in the middle of the road, there is a an old well by the tree in the centre of the village square and there are delightful old brick and flint cottages all at odd angles around the village. There is a little bridge over a stream from where you get a good view of the allotments that are a blaze of colour with flowers and vegetables growing together. The church and pub complete the scene. The place is a much used film location; 101 dalmations, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Midsomer Murders to name a few.
Just down the road is the River Thames and Hambleden Lock. Jerome K Jerome wrote “…the rather uninteresting river residence of my newsagent – a quiet unassuming old gentleman, who may be met with about these regions, during the summer months, sculling himself along in easy vigorous style, or chatting genially to some old lock-keeper, as he passes through”. He was writing about the owner of the large newsagent chain of WH Smith. The estate was owned by Henry Smith’s family since the 1870s but sold recently. The most notable resident was Lord Cardigan who was born in the manor house and led the famous Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea.
There are seats just outside the shop and its a great place to take some time out and sit to have some tea or an ice-cream. They serve the tea in a china pot with milk in a jug on a silver tray. It was wonderful tea and I had some locally made carrot cake that was superb. The best thing about this shop is the locally sourced products. There is a good selection of meat and vegetables as well as all the usual provender of a local shop. There is a constant stream of locals, some with children stopping by for a chat and an ice-cream. Several builders and other tradesmen stopped by for some refreshment as well. You can sit and people watch all day. A delightful child was eating her ice-cream and asking her mummy questions like – “ Mummy, how are houses built?” and “Mummy, how are people made?” The latter question she cleverly avoided.
Hambleden is the centre of some of the best walks and cycle rides in the Chilterns so I do commend it as a refreshment place.
5 stars.

Tea at Sissinghurst Castle


Sissinghurst Castle

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The Ravenous Rambler managed a short visit today to Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. This is one of my favourite places. I used to be a fan of the writings of Harold Nicolson when I was young and am now a fan of Adam Nicolson.
It’s a castle that exists in ruins. There is a tower and some of the old walls and a moat. The gardens are the most beautiful in England. There are formal sections and a rough hewn meadow towards the back leading to the moat, where there are bee hives and a dovecot. There are surprise views and long vistas with a statue placed at the end point. In the distant is the Weald of Kent. A perfect place you might think for a ramble and to dream, sketch and write. It would be if the tea arrangements were satisfactory but I have to report that there are some failings.
Fisrt, let me explain that there is a formal restaurant where I am sure they serve tea in china pots. It was just after lunchtime so I headed for the coffee shop and picked up a slice of unnamed cake and a cup of tea. I was shocked that they served the tea in a cardboard cup! They didn’t have red-bush tea so I settled for the normal English blend. Milk was added for me from the plastic bottle. I had put the cake on a china plate but this was substituted at the till for a polystyrene plate. I found somewhere outside to eat and drink – there were some shady seats but I sat by myself on the grass looking out to the house and watching the swallows take long sweeping dives in front of me. The tea tasted OK at first until I had drunk half of it to discover that there was a tea bag in the bottom so the last half was too strong to drink. How standards have slipped.

The No 1 Ladies Opera House, Botswana


Baobab in Botswana

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The Ravenous Rambler is a fan of the No 1 Ladies Detective series and is delighted to hear about the new Opera house that has been set up in Botswana by Alexander McCall Smith, the author of the series.
I taught in the bush of Botswana for a couple of years and every morning I was treated to the beautiful singing of the students at assembly. Apart from the morning they burnt the boarding house down, but that’s another story…
The new Opera House has been set up in Gaborone, the capital city and the building is an old garage. There is a delightful cafe and I am really looking forward to another trip to the Southern hemisphere to find out more. Then I can sit under the shade of the trees enjoying a ravenous rambler breakfast.
Why not find out more from the website.

Cedar House Rules – a review of the Cedar Cafe in Marlow


11 November

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Marlow is a delightful old town in Buckinghamshire on the Thames. There is a great regetta here to rival the more famous Henley Regetta just up river. There are some delightful shops but the question is, where to go for coffee. There is a Costa coffee and Starbucks but in my quest to find independent coffee shops I refuse to go into these chains.
Down near the river there is the quaint Burgers Patisserie if you would like a more formal occasion but I like the small Cedar Coffee shop up in West Street. There is a window seat and then the rest of the seating is at the back adjoining the alternative treatment shop which shares the same entrance.
As I go in, I am confronted by the bar where there is a huge choice of cakes and other delights, including the exceptionally pretty waitress. She took my order and then I sat myself down in the corner to relax and have my treats brought to me.
I had a lovely cup of coffee and a couple of slices of brown toast with marmalade. There was gentle music playing away and low murmur of chat from the other customers. I didn’t like the commercial pictures on the wall – maybe they would like some of mine? A shame there was no view but you can’t have everything. I paid on my way out – they are very trusting and then smirked at the poor loosers in Costa’s as I rambled on my way.

West Wycombe Walks and food


West Wycombe

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The old coaching village of West Wycombe is an excellent centre for splendid walks and there are plenty of places where the ravenous rambler can get some refreshments.
I had lunch at the West Wycome garden centre this week. There is a small indoor eating area and then some seats outside with a nice vista. It was rather a strange ordering process – you have to go to the till in the main shop to order and they only have one menu!
I chose a quiche with salad for £4.50 and a pot of refreshing tea and settled down in the shade of the indoors. The salad was very good although no dressing and the quiche was quite small although for the price these days I suppose it was reasonable value and filled a small place inside. The tea was refreshing but the service seemed unfriendly on a day when there was hardly anyone around.
I then went for a short but splendid walk around the National Trust property of West Wycombe Park. The views at this time of year were splendid with trees overhanding the rivers. I walked through the deep cow parsley on a grassy path that passed follies and bridges over a meandering brook. This is not a wild place but a carefully manufactured parkland in the manor of Capability Brown. It is beautiful and an escape from the world outside. A swan with six cygnets swam past and I spotted a kestrel in the trees and several low flying kites. The view of the house from the other side of the lake is beautiful and I came away feeling quite refreshed by the experience.

Motorway service at Tebay, Cumbria, North bound

It seems odd to write about a motorway services but this place at Tebay is supposed to be one of the best in the country. The setting is stunning, nestling high up on the fells there are views all round and the cafe is sighted next to a lake where there are ducks to look at and if the weather is fine its good to sit outdoors.
This  time we decided to buy some home made products from the farm shop for a picnic. We bought some quiches but they were a disappointmnet. They tasted of nothing except salt even though they would have been tomato with courgette and spinach. So maybe I would advise on your next trip to Tebay stop at the cafe and enjoy the view.