A day out at Packwood House National Trust

We became members of the National Trust a few months ago and have already had so much out of our membership.

Previously, on those weekends where we didn’t have much planned, we would perhaps drive into town to spend money on things we didn’t need, or spend the days ‘getting jobs done’ around the house, which frankly is never fun. Now we (I) scour our National Trust handbook to see where we should go visit for the day.

Packwood House National Trust

Admittedly, Mr M isn’t hugely into the history (I like to think I am), but we both love the outdoors and we are both lovers of England and all it has to offer. The National Trust has certainly made us appreciate more of what’s on our doorstep and all of those great places at home you never think to visit.

A couple of weeks back we decided to visit Packwood House, which is not far from where we live. Once described as ‘a house to dream of, a garden to dream in’ Packwood House certainly offers dreamy escapism and there’s something quite enchanting about both the gardens and the house. There’s plenty of countryside to explore as well as various gardens and a newly restored kitchen garden which immediately makes you want to go dig up your back lawn and start ‘growing your own’. The Yew Garden is also quite spectacular – I can’t imagine how many hours it must take to keep those trees so perfectly pruned!

yew garden packwood house

After the gardens we took a leisurely stroll around the lake which has plenty of great spots for a picnic (as usual we hadn’t gone prepared). We also passed a couple of Packwood’s ‘Follies’ – a series of playful artworks created by artist Hilary Jack, which I imagine are great for older children to explore. This had-carved wooden bed structure is one of them – a nod to ‘a garden to dream in’ and (apparently) famous beds in history, folklore and fairytale (so I read).

Packwood House Follies Embedded

Following our morning of exploration, we headed into the Garden Kitchen Café for a bite to eat. We were pleased to discover that afternoon tea was on offer so of course took full advantage of this, stuffing our faces with clotted cream and scones. Taylor may have even been treated to a few cheeky licks…there were of course much healthier options available with everything made fresh – the soups and sandwiches looked particularly tempting (although obviously not as tempting at the cream tea!)

Packwood House lake National Trust

Stomach’s satisfied, we took a tour of the house which was restored in the 1920s and 1930s by Graham Baron Ash who created his own vision of the perfect Tudor house. The house is kept as when he left it in 1941 and as you walk around the house, you really get a feel for the great care and attention to detail that went into the restoration. Highlights for me included the Great Hall (where I think I would’ve enjoyed a party or two!), and the bedroom where Queen Mary stayed when she visited the house in 1927. Mr M, as usual, was rushing me around the rooms, so I didn’t get to take in as much as I would’ve liked, but if you have a thing for Tudor houses, then this is your place.

All in all we had a great family day out and really enjoyed all that Packwood has to offer. I’m sure we will be returning again this summer with a picnic blanket in tow.

Packwood House entrance sign

Life Unexpected

Review: Afternoon tea at the Catwalk Café in Knowle

One of the perks of being on maternity leave is being able to go out for lunch during the week without being limited to a one-hour lunch break. The novelty of this still hasn’t worn off for me and I intend to carry on taking full advantage.

Catwalk cafe review

However, finding local places that do a lunch worth spending money on is not always easy and trips into town centres are not that appealing when you have a little one in tow and a needy dog waiting at home.

So I was delighted when a friend suggested that we meet at the Catwalk Café in Knowle, Solihull for afternoon tea. I’d never been here before and I had no idea that they did afternoon tea. Nothing makes me more content than scones, clotted cream and copious amounts of tea; I take great delight in realising that the sandwich layer is finished and it’s time to move onto the cakes, and I love pouring my own tea from my own tea pot. It makes me feel Royal. Or at least a little bit spoilt.Gillian Wesley Catwalk cafe Knowle

And the Catwalk Café didn’t disappoint. The interior of the fashion themed café takes on a Parisian style with vintage furniture, black and white floor tiles and an exposed shop front that give the impression that you’re dining al Fresco on a street in Paris. The attention to detail continues at your table with lace table cloths, silver tea pots, sugar bowls and china tea cups. The staff all wear traditional black and white uniforms, all adding to the feel of a traditional tea house.

afternoon tea catwalk café

We booked in advance so our afternoon tea was brought straight out to us on arrival. The dainty sandwiches were lovely with typical fillings including salmon and cream cheese, cucumber, cheese and pickle, and there was a great selection of cakes. Not to mention the scones which came with ample amounts of clotted cream and jam – a must since I hate it when you have to start scraping around the bottom of the jar and eyeing up how much the other person at the table is having (is that just me??)

Despite the pride that has clearly gone into this place, the atmosphere is very relaxed and informal. We stayed for three hours and didn’t at all feel like we’d outstayed our welcome, despite our babies crying from time to time. The staff were very friendly and attentive and provided us with unlimited amounts of tea.

The afternoon tea costs £25 for two people and is worth every penny. A definite must-do for those living in and around Solihull.

Review: The Club & Spa at The Cube, Birmingham

Birmingham Club & Spa, the Cube

To celebrate turning the big 30 this year, two of my close friends from school and I decided to treat each other to a spa day, rather than buying presents. With my due date looming ever closer, Sal and Paula were lovely enough to make the trips from Manchester and Nottingham to come see me in brilliant Brum.

The Cube, Birmingham

The Cube, Birmingham

We decided on the Club & Spa at The Cube. I haven’t had a pamper since being pregnant (and never had too many before that!), so I was really looking forward to it and spending some rare quality time with the girls.

I chose the Mother to Be Day Spa Package for £115 which included:

  • Full access to the spa facilities
  • Light lunch
  • Mother to Be Full Body Massage
  • Robe, towels and slippers for the day

The spa is really easy to get to, just off the A38 with convenient parking (I parked at the Mailbox which is just next to the Cube) so makes a great place to meet.

We arrived at 10am and were given a tour of the facilities which include a fully equipped gym, a champagne nail bar, canal side lounge (for lunch), a vitality pool (with saunas and steam room) treatment rooms and a relaxation area.

On arrival you’re provided with the lunch menu options to choose from which has something for every appetite – from fish finger sandwiches, baked potatoes and pepperoni pizza, to chicken caesar salad and deli sandwiches. The deserts are even more tempting with options including New York vanilla cheesecake, maple syrup pancakes and hot chocolate pudding. As I’m on a health kick I of course opted for the healthier choices of pepperoni pizza and maple syrup pancakes…

After choosing our lunch options and touring the facilities it was time for my Mother to Be Full Body Massage. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, since every other massage I’ve ever had has involved me lying on my front! If I’m honest I was also yet to have a great massage in the UK so I didn’t have high expectations for this one (not that I didn’t think they existed, but like I say I don’t get pampered that often and whenever I have, it’s been a little underwhelming).

IMG_1760

If only every day was this easy…

Well, I have to say that this massage definitely exceeded my expectations and was worth every penny! My therapist, Charlotte, went through everything in detail beforehand and really helped me to relax and understand how it would be beneficial. Instead of lying on my front, I lay on one side first when she massaged my back, shoulders, and legs and then turned over for the other side before shifting onto my back so that she could focus on my feet, arms, hands, neck, scalp and face. I had ample blankets and cushions all around me to keep me warm and relieve any pressure so felt super comfortable and cosy throughout. The entire 1hour and 15mins was pure bliss. I’ve been having trouble relaxing in the third trimester of my pregnancy being eternally restless and (I admit) rather irritable, so this was exactly what I needed!

After the massage, we relaxed around the vitality pool and I took the opportunity to swim some lengths whilst the girls enjoyed the saunas and steam room.

Relaxation area - avoid sitting down in these when pregnant, you won't get back up!

Relaxation area – avoid sitting down in these when pregnant, you won’t get back up!

Our lunch was booked for 12.30pm, when we made our way up to the lounge area which overlooks the canal. The lounge has a relaxed and contemporary feel to it, perfect for eating lunch in your robe. As the chefs already had our order, we didn’t have to wait long at all for our food to come out. My pepperoni pizza was just what I fancied – big and filling with ample topping! I put it down to too much talking, rather than food defeat, but I actually couldn’t finish it all. Paula chose the fish finger sandwich, whilst Sal opted for the Penne pasta – both of which looked yummy and were polished off.

Lunch at The Club and Spa Birmingham the Cube

No caption necessary…

My appetite miraculously returned once the maple syrup pancakes were placed in front of me – served with fresh fruit and toffee sauce they were absolutely divine!! The girls selfishly enjoyed some Prosecco with their desserts whilst I stuck to my beloved English Breakfast tea (only four more weeks...)

After lunch we relaxed some more in the pool area before making full use of the changing facilities. The changing rooms are equipped with ample mirrors, hairdryers and hair straighteners so (if not pregnant) you could get yourself ready to hit the town straight afterwards if on a weekend break, hen do etc.

All in all, we had a fantastic day and left feeling totally relaxed and pampered 🙂 Now let’s plan the next visit!

Club-and-Spa-Entrance