A Beautifully British Holiday

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We’ve just returned from a wonderful week on the Exmoor border in Somerset. We stayed in a serenely stylish, converted 18th Century Granary in the tiny hamlet of Raddington.  I have never stayed in a more idyllic and isolated location.  Six miles from the nearest village, we were cut off from the world by some very skinny West Country lanes. With only sheep, buzzards and each other for company we truly enjoyed the peace and beauty of the English country-side surrounding us.

I really enjoy holidaying in England and have been to many self-catering properties, but attention to detail (as well the loco) is what made this house stand out from the rest. It has a distinct French Farm House feel with eclectic furniture and lovely little extras like candles, fresh flowers, farm eggs and home-made shortbread,  which made us feel truly welcome.

The kids saving grace was the fantastic 70 foot long play-barn.  Kitted out with a huge trampoline, table tennis, darts, swing rope, ride-on tractor and trike etc. Lets just say we knew where to find them!

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The aim of our little holiday was to relax in our whole 60 acres, so we didn’t do an awful lot.  But what we did do we thoroughly enjoyed, so here’s my little guide of favourite family outings that North Somerset & Devon has to offer:

Places to Visit

The small fishing village of Ilfracombe sits on a dramatic, rugged coastline. It has a pretty little harbour with much of what you’d generally expect; plenty of fish ‘n’ chip shops and ice-cream parlours. Also worth noting is a neat row of houses with front garden cafés  which make a delightful setting for a delicious Cream Tea in the sunshine.

Other cool places here are Tunnels Beaches and Damien Hirst’s restaurant, 11 The Quay  (yes it’s his home town if you hadn’t already guessed). Be sure to also check out Damien’s Verity, I promise you won’t miss her.

Just around the coast-line from Ilfracombe is its sandy neighbour, Woolacombe Bay. This three-mile long stretch of golden beach has won both the blue flag and Premier Seaside awards for its cleanliness, water quality and facilities. Popular with body boarders, I promised to bring my little man back with a wet suit when he was old enough.

Leo’s favourite day was by far the trip on the West Somerset Railway. Run entirely by extremely keen volunteers, your journey starts in Bishops Lydeard just outside Taunton and winds its way through the country towards and along the coast, finishing at Minehead.  I’m not old enough to have ever travelled by steam but it brought back fond memories of travelling to and from school on trains with the old swing door carriages and squishy Moquette seats. We broke the ride to ‘whet our whistles’ at the harbour village of Watchett, then jumped back on and continued to Minehead.  If Minehead is a bit brash for you, Blue Anchor is smaller, prettier and popular with young families.

steamtrain

If like us you enjoy family walks, Tarr Steps will keep the kids interested.  Take a picnic and towel to enjoy the medieval clapper bridge across the River Barle in the Exmoor National Park. The simplest walk in the surrounding woodland will take about an hour.

For picture postcard Somerset, Dunster village with its Castle and Yarn Market ticks all the boxes. There are plenty of cosy pubs, knick-knack shops and again, Cream Tea cafés to keep you busy for a morning.

Then, in the afternoon treat the kids to a visit to Wivey Pool. It’s a small, open-air swimming pool in the village of Wivlescombe, organised by the community, for the community.  It costs just £13 for a family swim.

If you are interested in our holiday we booked with www.helpfulholidays.com, they were very erm, helpful!

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Vanilla Teddy Bear Shortbread

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I have been treated to home-made shortbread not once but twice in the last month!

The first arrived in the post from the mother of one of my favourite friends, who I had the pleasure of meeting at their wedding in June. We got talking about shortbread, as you do, and she promised to send me some. Mrs B  is now obviously also on my favourite list.

The second was while we were away in Somerset; The lovely Mrs Wilcox had knocked up a delicious welcome batch for us when we arrived at The Granary (see my next post).

So, I felt it only polite to bake some myself, and couldn’t believe how simple it was. The most basic recipes I found need only three ingredients: cast sugar, plain flour and butter, and hey presto a scrummy afternoon tea treat is yours in a jiffy.

So here is my toddler friendly version that Leo helped to make and of course eat!

Easy Vanilla Shortbread

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar or light brown sugar
1 tsp good quality vanilla extract
300g plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
animal biscuit cutters

Method

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3.

Mix together the butter and sugar, either by hand or using an electric hand whisk, until pale and smooth. Add the vanilla extract, then gently mix in the flour until completely incorporated (try not to work the flour too much or the biscuits will not be so crumbly). Using your hands, squeeze the mixture together into a ball of dough.

Gently roll the dough out to about 5mm/¼in thick (dust the work surface with a little flour if the dough sticks). Cut into shapes using a biscuit cutter. Transfer the biscuits to a baking tray lined with baking parchment (or a non-stick baking tray) and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes to rest (chilling makes them hold their shape better when baking).

Before cooking, sprinkle each biscuit with a pinch of granulated sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until pale golden-brown.

Remove from the oven and transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool.

Devour with a lovely mug of tea or cup of milk!

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