Blog Posts

Time to kick back and relax

Spas are big business.
Apparently more than 35 million Brits spend £5.2bn on spa services and treatments each year, with the hotel spa market tempting more and more of us to unwind, de-stress and treat ourselves to a relaxing break that’s good for mind and body.New---Spa
Hence the £1.4m spent refreshing the spa at Macdonald Craxton Wood, just north of Chester.
The spa here is self-contained, rather than leisure facilities and a couple of treatment rooms at a hotel, so you can treat yourself to a genuine spa day or, as we did, stay over too.
The major investment has created a lovely space in which to while away the day. Fancy a dip in the 18m pool with its two walls of windows overlooking the gardens? Why not dry off afterwards in the cute courtyard-style garden or on a sun lounger on the lawns?
At the heart of the spa is the thermal suite. Here there are two spacious saunas – one herbal, with a fixed temperature. A good-sized, sweetly scented steam room has colour-changing mood lighting. There’s also a foot spa and, to boost your circulation, a constantly refreshed supply of ice to wipe over your body after you’ve had a hot treatment. Invigorating stuff.
We enjoyed a healthy and tasty lunch in the light and airy spa café before heading off for our treatments. I was booked in for a facial. My 75 minutes also included a head, arm and hand massage and was a really enjoyable experience that left me looking, and feeling, better than when I went in! My husband was equally pleased with his back massage which he said was one of the best he’d had.

After easily whiling away a good six hours at the spa, we checked into our room at the hotel itself. Formerly a country house, it has had the standard hotel extensions you’ll find at most large hotels, and we were in one of the ‘Classic’ rooms in the modern wing. Upgrades (including rooms in the original manor house) are available but our room was large, comfortable and had everything we needed. Styling was traditional rather than contemporary but furnishings were fresh and new.
Our deal included dinner, for which we got two courses from a short menu which nonetheless covered most tastes. You can pay extra to add a starter or dessert, or use an £18 allowance against the rather pricy a la carte menu. Our meal was very well cooked but the portions were a little on the small size.
Breakfast was also served in the dining room’s conservatory extension overlooking the gardens – the hotel is beautifully surrounded by gardens and woodland, giving a really secluded and peaceful feel. There was a good choice of cereals, yoghurt and fruit, plus a full cooked breakfast and toast, setting you up nicely for the day.

And there are plenty of options for filling a day. You’re close to the city of Chester, Cheshire Oaks outlet shopping village and Chester Zoo. Blue Planet Aquarium just up the road in Ellesmere Port has Europe’s largest collection of sharks, or visit the National Waterways Museum. The county styles itself as having the best gardens in England, so that hackneyed phrase ‘something for everyone’ does seem to be covered by this corner of Cheshire.
Macdonald Craxton Wood is a comfortable, attractive hotel with a spa that certainly won’t disappoint. It also had some of the friendliest staff I’ve met. As 35 million of us are finding, a spa break is perfect for recharging the batteries.

Alison Ashmore

Spa break packages are from £129 per person, including dinner, bed and breakfast, full use of the spa and an hour long treatment.




Playground of the rich?

Dubai has a reputation of being luxurious, glamorous and a playground for the rich. A city with incredible buildings, sun all year round – and roads full of super cars. 

The ‘city in the desert’ is located in the United Arab Emirates and has a lot to offer for holidaymakers and expats.

The Burj Khalifa

The Burj Khalifa

With so much to do in the city it’s a good idea to put a plan together before arriving so you don’t miss out.

Choosing your hotel needs consideration because the city is so spread out. However, with cheap taxis and the metro it doesn’t take too long to get around.

Finding somewhere to eat in Dubai couldn’t be easier because there are restaurants everywhere.

The Marina and The Walk are ideal places to go for dinner. My favourite place to eat is the Cheese Cake Factory which is American and offers a menu of international food with a balcony looking over the beach and the Palm.

Although these areas are ‘alcohol-free-zones’ you can order a shisha to socialise with friends the Arabic way.

Alcohol is banned in certain areas but in hotels, night clubs and private areas it is very much allowed. Residents can apply for an alcohol licence to be able to drink in their homes, and although drinking is allowed in designated areas just be aware that, just like the UK, being drunk and disorderly on the streets will lead to an arrest. The legal drinking age in Dubai is 21.

You will notice a lot of fast food delivery motor bikes on the roads because you can have pretty much any food delivered to you, including Nando’s and McDonalds.

As far as shopping is concerned, the city is home to The Dubai Mall which has around 1,200 retail shops, making it the second largest shopping mall in the world. It is home to international shops including TopShop, H&M, Zara, Victoria Secrets and River Island.

The Marina

The Marina

The Mall also has a luxury hotel, 22 cinema screens, 120 restaurants, an aquarium, ice rink, indoor theme park and dancing waterfalls. This is no ordinary shopping centre; you can spend the whole day there and still not see everything.

It’s located at the bottom of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

There is also the Mall of Emirates, which has its very own indoor snow world where you can ski, snowboard and toboggan. They even have their own penguins! You definitely forget that you are in the middle of a desert when you are skiing in real snow inside a shopping mall.

What else? Well, you cannot go to Dubai without experiencing a Friday brunch. Most hotels host their own style of brunch but they are basically an opportunity to enjoy ‘all you can eat and all you can drink’. You definitely have to pace yourself with the cocktails and champagne.

Water sports are a way of life and there is a wide range of water-based activities to enjoy, from swimming and diving to banana boating, kayaking, windsurfing, deep sea fishing and yacht charters. For adrenaline junkies there is the famous ‘Sky-dive Dubai’. This gives breathtaking views as you jump out of a plane over the Palm and the Dubai Marina.

Dubai is also home to exciting water parks, glamorous night clubs, beach bars, and the 1,800 feet high zip liner through the dancing waterfall at the Burj Khalifa.

It’s quite a place!


by Robyn Moore

Quays to the city

Artist L S Lowry’s famous ‘matchstick men’ paintings set around his Salford home can’t really be considered beautiful or scenic. Yet there’s so much going on in them, they are well worth lingering over.

The same can be said of Salford itself. This borough of Greater Manchester, and a city in its own right, has been undergoing something of a renaissance of late following the decline of its traditional industries. This is especially true of Salford Quays, where the former docks are now home to smart high-rise apartments and offices, hotels and unique tourist attractions.

Perhaps not top of your city breaks list, it’s a modern cultural destination with plenty to see and do within one square mile, making it perfect for a day out or weekend break. And with everything within walking distance you don’t need to take the car.

So for our two-day exploration we took the direct train to Manchester Piccadilly (around one hour 25 minutes from Shrewsbury, one hour 10 from Wolverhampton) and then one of the fast, frequent and clean trams out to Salford Quays, a journey of about 15 minutes.

First stop was the award-winning IWM North, part of the five-strong Imperial War Museums


Imperial War Museum North

and the only one outside the south east. It’s memorable inside and out. Designed by the internationally-acclaimed architect behind the masterplan for Ground Zero in New York, it’s made up of three ‘shards’ reflecting a world shattered by conflict.

Since opening in 2002 this free museum has welcomed over three million visitors and reflects how war shapes lives. So while there are some ‘traditional’ exhibits, such as a tank, it’s much more the story of the impact of war on people, full of personal stories. One of the most striking exhibits is a large, twisted section of one of the Twin Towers. Also emotive is The Big Picture Show which effectively brings the museum to a halt every hour. As lights fade, images are projected on to the surfaces in the museum, accompanied by people telling stories of how war affected them, creating a 360-degree audio-visual experience that totally involves you. The show entitled Remembrance, with a couple talking about the death of their son in Afghanistan, moved me to tears.

A second gallery houses changing exhibitions, and until April it’s home to Blitzed Brits, based on the popular children’s books and TV series Horrible Histories.

Salford Quays is home to another cultural highlight, the Lowry Galleries. Part of a complex that includes two theatres that play host to top shows and performers, it’s where you’ll find the world’s largest collection of pictures by Salford’s most famous son. They are well worth seeing up close, and a film gave a fascinating insight into Lowry’s life and paintings, making sense of his varied body of work.


All that culture works up an appetite and there’s a good choice of eating places at the Lowry Outlet, a shopping centre with 80 stores offering discounts of up to 70%. We lunched at Café Rouge, one of a number of restaurant chains, before checking out the shops.

The Quays may cover only one square mile but with water in the way, you can’t always travel directly between destinations. This was especially true when we walked to our hotel, and a good map app on your phone is very useful.

Salford Quays offers plenty of options from a range of hotel chains, and we were staying at


The Copthorne, a four-star hotel conveniently located close to the tram stop and all the attractions. Our spacious room overlooked the water and across to the Quays skyline, dramatically lit at night.The-Copthorne

One of the biggest developments at the Quays is MediaCityUK, home to five BBC departments, ITV Granada and Coronation Street. Tours of the BBC studios, including Match of the Day and Blue Peter, are available but need to be booked well in advance. Another great tour is at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, which is again within easy walking distance.

Salford Quays was one of the first and largest urban regeneration projects in the UK and although it’s a little rough around the edges, there are more than enough things going on to make it worth a visit. From the seven-metre section of steel destroyed in the 9/11 attacks to a world-class collection of paintings; the home of some of our most popular TV shows and Man United’s Theatre of Dreams; to shops, a cinema, theatre and even a watersports centre, this is a varied and fascinating destination just a train ride away.

Alison Ashmore

Heavenly temple

You don’t have to go too far to completely get away from it all, as Alison Ashmore finds out

The Temple of Diana in the parkland at Weston Park near Shifnal

It’s good to get away. A break from the usual can recharge the batteries but if it’s a short break, then you want to spend the maximum amount of time relaxing rather than travelling. And a bolthole close to home can be the perfect place to celebrate something special – a big birthday or anniversary – with family or friends.

For a truly unique and memorable stay, there’s a gem of a property in the grounds of Weston Park, the stately home on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border. The Temple of Diana is a Grade I listed orangery which has been stunningly refurbished to cr SH-027_temple_of_diana_00063-copy   eate a luxurious self-catering getaway for up to six people. It was built in the 1770s as a place to take tea while enjoying the views of the Pleasure Grounds and the collection of brightly plumed exotic birds, a great 18th century status symbol.

The birds are gone but the views across Capability Brown’s rolling parkland remain and staying at the Temple is like stepping into another world; it’s hard to believe you are just over 20 miles from Shrewsbury and, indeed, still in the 21st century.

Capability Brown designed Weston Park’s wonderful landscape, which you are free to wander around

Not that this is anything but a luxurious experience. Elegant interiors created by Janie Money of Colefax and Fowler combine with the most high-tech gadgets to give you every modern comfort while remaining totally sympathetic to this fascinating building.SH-027_temple_of_diana_00031-copy

Positioned between the open parkland and the lake, with views to both, you are free to explore the grounds whenever you choose. Our pre-dinner stroll offered us peace and seclusion, and it’s the closest most of us will get to knowing what it feels like to be the landed gentry.

The modern kitchen is located in the atmospheric basement

The modern kitchen is located in the atmospheric basement

The Temple itself is incredibly spacious and with three double bedrooms and three lounges, you could even avoid the rest of your party! The orangery itself, with its floor-to-ceiling glass and stone flooring, is a lovely space either in daylight, enjoying those views of the parkland and main house, or after dark, when it has an atmosphere all of its own.

Two sets of double doors lead through to a formal sitting room. This round, richly decorated room with murals and painted ceiling was where we relaxed in front of the fire with a post-dinner glass of wine (part of the excellent and comprehensive welcome pack provided) while listening to Classic FM on the DAB radio, one of many throughout the property.

A wonderful curved door led through to the octagonal dining room and then it was down a stone spiral staircase to the rooms in the basement. There’s a slightly different feel down here, with stone walls and floors and vaulted ceilings, but the stylish interiors create a harmonious flow with the more traditionally Georgian rooms above.

One of three bedrooms

One of three bedrooms

The superb kitchen, with its huge central island, had a plethora of high-end appliances and everything you could possibly need to cater for yourself. There’s a spacious scullery too, while also down here is a third alternative for sitting and relaxing – a cosy living room with Smart TV and Bose sound. The main bathroom is here too, a lovely space with rainfall shower, deep bath and underfloor heating.

The bedrooms are accessed by a second stone spiral staircase, and it’s worth mentioning that you do need to be able bodied to stay here. Each bedroom is on its own floor and you may be puffing a bit by the time you’ve climbed to the top floor up that narrow staircase!

One of the elegant bedrooms can be made up as a twin, and two have en suites. Again beautifully and expensively appointed, the bedrooms, surrounded by the silence and darkness of the 1,000 acres estate, are the perfect place for an undisturbed night’s sleep.


One of the rooms can be made up as a twin

Staying at the Temple includes a free visit around Weston Park itself, and you can avail yourself of the delightful deli to stock up with some culinary treats, or even eat at The Granary grill, where lunch and dinner are served. And while there are other things to do in the area, this is such a special place you may, like me, not want to wander too far. Deciding which room to relax in was difficult enough, with each having its own attractions.

The Temple of Diana has the feel of a fine country house hotel, full of thoughtful touches, elegant furnishings and bursting with character. Whether you simply want to escape for a few days or you are celebrating with family and friends, there’s really no need to travel any further.

Three nights at The Temple of Diana costs from £1,100 with Rural Retreats. Go to




A taste of the Lakes

More than 16 million people visit the Lake District each year. Alison Ashmore joins them with a stay in Kendal

I’ve been visiting the Lake District for years. I’ve stayed in cottages, caravans and tents. But I hadn’t before experienced this lovely region in luxury.

Best Western Plus Castle Green Hotel

The Best Western Plus Castle Green Hotel is an independently owned, four star hotel with 99 bedrooms set in 14 acres of perfectly manicured gardens a mile from the centre of Kendal.

There’s an indoor pool and spa and even a pub, Alexander’s, which offers classic, and classy, pub meals and real ales.

The Castle Green has been showered with awards for its food, facilities and customer care. The hotel’s two AA Rosette restaurant has just undergone a major refurbishment and


launched a new menu from its award-winning chef and champion of local produce, Justin Woods.

Designed to showcase the best Lake District produce in a contemporary and inspiring way, the Greenhouse Restaurant features a five-course tasting menu alongside individually priced choices. Justin lives in a farming community and understands the link between ‘field and fork’ which is reflected in the local, tasty fare on offer.

Quality ingredients are combined in a creative way to offer interesting flavour and texture combinations – my starter of creamed goat’s cheese, roasted beetroots, honeycomb, granola, watercress and sherry vinegar dressing being a good example.


Curthwaite goats cheese


My husband raved about his main of loin and shoulder of Cumbrian lamb, with fondant potatoes, brown onion puree, asparagus, celeriac and curd cheese, enjoying the different flavours of the two cuts of meat.

Desserts were equally tasty; I settled for a light panna cotta with blood orange sorbet while hubby tucked into Cumbrian desserts in miniature – five little treats including damson bakewell, Kendal mint cake ice cream and sticky toffee pudding. Heaven for the sweet toothed.

It’s all served in an attractive, modern restaurant decorated in a colour scheme inspired by the landscape of the Lakes. There’s a spacious bar area with feature log burner for cooler evenings, while the lounge is colourful and dramatic with bright sofas and a domed roof light. The dining area itself has been divided into two areas giving a more intimate dining experience, while offering super views of the gardens and surrounding countryside.

We also had a lovely view of the grounds, which are full of mature trees, from our refurbished balcony bedroom. Although not large, it was comfy and well furnished, decorated in muted greens in a contemporary, although not cutting-edge, style. Nice touches like the bathrobes, slippers, and real tea pot and cafetiere, were appreciated.

Guests get free use of Pulse, the on-site health and fitness club. There are two gyms, a good-sized swimming pool and excellent steam room, plus The Green Rooms Spa where you can recharge your batteries with a variety of treatments. I began my second day at the hotel with a full-body aromatherapy massage which set me up nicely for the day.

Kendal itself is known as the ‘gateway to the Lakes’, being at the southern end of the Lake District and offering easy access. With England’s highest peak ­– Scafell – its longest lake ­– Windermere – and its deepest – Wastwater – this is our largest national park and paradise for keen walkers.

For those less enthusiastic about trudging up big hills in weather that isn’t always the kindest in the country (Seathwaite is the wettest inhabited place in England), there are plenty of other attractions. You can enjoy boat trips, museums, steam trains, castles and houses, from the stately to humble homes; Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth and John Ruskin all had properties here you can visit. The Lake District certainly cashes in on the first, and anyone, young or old, raised on Peter Rabbit and friends will love visiting the many attractions linked to the author who was a keen supporter of the National Trust, which owns and protects so much of the area.

But for me the joy of this northern corner of the country is the lakes and fells. While the main towns and places of interest do get very busy at times, head off into the hills and you leave most of the crowds behind. It’s easy to find a walk to suit any fitness level and you can marvel at views from the tops or looking up at the peaks.

Visit early in the year and you’ll get snow on the fell tops while the first spring flowers burst into bloom by the lakes. Go in autumn and enjoy the heather-covered hills and woods ablaze with colour.

Clear your mind walking in one of England’s most stunning locations then head back to The Castle Green Hotel for a pampering spa session and wonderful meal. Now that’s what I call relaxing.

Rooms at The Best Western Plus Castle Green Hotel in Kendal start from £108 bed and breakfast per night, per room, for two sharing.

In search of Poldark

filming-PoldarkA wave of shhh’s washed across the country every Sunday evening this spring as millions settled down to watch the next instalment of BBC One’s Poldark.

Whether it was Ross’s brooding good looks, Demelza’s enchanting rise from street urchin or Elizabeth’s heartbreak, the series was captivating at every turn.

Aiden Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson played Ross and Demelza, but the real star was the Cornish scenery; above left, filming at Porthgwarra / Pictures: © BBC

But it wasn’t just Aiden Turner that sent hearts a-flutter; Cornwall shone at every opportunity and revelled as the true star of the series.

Glistening blue waters, lush countryside and craggy cliffs sashayed from the background to become the lead character. Seducing, wasn’t it?

We’ve delved behind the camera to uncover the locations used during filming and bring you the ultimate guide to Poldark’s Cornwall. So pull on your breeches, saddle up and head for Cornwall…


Once a thriving fishing cove, the beautiful Porthgwarra sits at the heart of St Aubyn Estates. The popular scene featuring Ross taking a swim in the crystal clear water while watched from the cliff tops by Demelza was filmed here, as well as the pilchard fishing scene and many others. Stop in the Porthgwarra Cove Cafe which refuelled the cast and crew during filming – on one occasion until 4am!

Filming at Porthgwarra / Pictures: © BBC.

Bodmin Moor

The cast and crew found themselves on Bodmin Moor for a large part of their time in Cornwall. Scenes featuring the exterior of Ross Poldark’s cottage, Nampara, were shot here along with many capturing the cast on horseback.

Botallack to Levant

Location managers couldn’t resist the rich mining heritage of this stretch of west Cornwall coast. Cameras rolled with Levant Mine playing the role of the fictional Tressiders Rolling Mill while Owles and Crowns near Botallack stared as Wheal Leisure.


For some of the cliff scenes the filming action moved to the Padstow area. The beauty of the wide sandy beach of Porthcothan is hard to miss in the scenes featuring Poldark’s fictional Nampara Cove.

Porthcothan doubled as Nampara Cove


Charlestown near St Austell, famed for its collection of ships and traditional appearance, has long caught the attention of location managers and for the filming of Poldark stood for the principal town.

Church Cove Gunwallow

Church Cove Gunwallow on The Lizard relived its smuggling past when Aidan Turner and a hoard of other cast members and extras descended to film the final episode’s night-time shipwrecking scenes.

Wheal Coates is one of a number of ruined mines
dotting the coast

St Agnes Head

Another area that enjoyed a taste of Hollywood is St Agnes Head where iconic engine houses perch serenely on the clifftops. A natural location choice, it doubles as Nampara Valley in the show.

Poldark experiences

You can’t experience Poldark’s Cornwall without a spot of horse-riding so saddle up and experience Bodmin Moor on horseback with Hallagenna Riding and Cottage Holidays. Having provided stabling and accommodation for the stunt riders and horses while filming on the moors, Hallegenna know a thing or two about Poldark so you’ll be in good hands on their new ‘Poldark Trail’.

Visit the TV series namesake, Poldark Mine, and take an underground tour of the mine, the only complete underground mine open to the public in Cornwall and Devon. Underground scenes were filmed at here and a number of the artifacts were used as props.