Back to Sunday night blogging after a fantastic week travelling on the canals of the Midlands for half term. The smell of freshly baked bread is somehow even better on a narrow boat!
It’s been half term here in the UK which means no school for the kids and a week off work for me too. We’ve always been keen to go narrow boating but wanted to wait until our middle daughter could swim, just in case! Some friends of ours, Mark (pictured with us above) & Liz, own a beautiful narrow boat and very kindly lent it to us for the week. After a brilliant week on-board we were sorely tempted to hoist the Jolly Roger and set sail for South America, but we couldn’t figure out how to get there from Staffordshire so with a heavy heart we came home.
The boat itself is pictured above and we really fell in love with it this week. We travelled along the Trent & Mersey canal from Burton-upon-Trent to Stoke-on-Trent. This wasn’t a part of the UK we’d been to before but the countryside and wildlife were magnificent and at the slow speed that narrow boats travel, there’s plenty of time to take it all in. If you’re thinking of doing a canal boat holiday, have a look at the Canal & River Trust website for ideas of where to go. And if you haven’t won the friend lottery and sadly don’t know anyone who owns a narrow boat, there were lots of people out on the canals with boats from Black Prince holidays and we also saw some nice-looking hotel boats too.
We had no phone reception for most of the week and it felt liberating to put our phones down and watch the world go by instead. And to spend real quality time with the kids. Our week consisted of listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire audio book; lots of craft / drawing / colouring-in; operating locks; visiting nearly every pub we went past; and I found time for a bit of baking too. The only real downside was that we found we had the Rosie & Jim theme tune stuck in our heads all week:
One of the places we stopped along the way was the World of Wedgwood, just outside Stoke. My wife Sarah had been saying all week that she wanted to go there so the aim was to get as far as the Wedgwood factory by the end of the week. We ended up spending so long there that they had to close the place around us! I would really recommend visiting if you’re in the area. We all got to make clay pots on the potter’s wheel (thanks again Chloe & Dave); had a tour of the factory (cheers Olivia); went round the museum; did a bit of shopping; and designed our own Wedgwood plates, which will be digitally printed and sent to us with the fired pots in a few weeks. I’ve got the pottery bug now and am tempted to clear out my garage and turn it from my building stores into a pottery workshop. It’s only the cost of having a kiln that’s deterring me at the moment! When we visited my Bake Off friend Norman in Scotland two years ago, we were seriously envious of his pottery workshop – it’s fantastic. We have a lovely vase that Norman made on the mantelpiece in our bedroom that I look at every day. He’s very creative and I’d love to see him go from the Great British Bake Off to the Great Pottery Throw Down.
The other great thing about the World of Wedgwood were their afternoon teas in their newly opened Tea Room. In my book, the best afternoon teas should always be unlimited – keep bringing me sandwiches and scones until I pop please! Wedgwood’s didn’t disappoint on this front and our kids were particularly excited by the gold cutlery. They felt like princesses (not sure they acted like them though if our middle daughter’s scone eating is anything to go by below!)
I’ve been thinking a lot about afternoon teas recently as they contain all my favourite things to bake – bread, scones, macarons, petits fours, mini cakes and tarts. I’m working on my ultimate afternoon tea at the moment and will reveal more about it later in the year. If you’ve got any afternoon tea favourites, let me know as it always helps in my recipe development. Our daughters have gone from never having had an afternoon tea before to two in three days as Sarah took them to a Hello Kitty themed afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge in town this afternoon, which they really enjoyed.
If all this talk of tea has got you in the mood for some baking, why not hold a Strawberry Tea to raise money for Breast Cancer Care? Your free fundraising kit is waiting for you! I’ve given them the recipe for the Strawberry Fraisier Cake from my book, B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself (only £10 on Amazon – a great present for Father’s Day). And as a reminder, if you’ve already bought and enjoyed B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself, you can nominate it for Best New Cookbook in the Observer Food Monthly Awards here.
Next week it’s our eldest daughter’s 7th birthday and she’s requested a Matilda cake for her Roald Dahl-themed party. She’s also asked to go to see Matilda the Musical, which I’ve wanted to see for ages as I’m a big Tim Minchin fan. I’ve got an idea of how I want the cake to look but come back next Sunday to see how it turned out. See you next week – Happy Baking!