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I wouldn’t say I’m a big traveller, or even someone who particularly wants to travel the world (fat chance with a farmer husband anyway!), but I do love to be out and about. I think it stems from my mum taking us to different places in the UK each school holiday, whether for a day trip or a longer break. I really want to do the same for N, discovering the amazing hidden gems that the UK has to offer.
I’ve always wanted to mark on a map of the UK everywhere I’ve been to. Look has created a Guide to Britain’s Hidden Gems, helping me in reaching my goal. They want to find out all the places we like to discover, and I’m pleased to be adding some of mine to the map.
Trawling back through the back of time, I’ve got lots of favourite holiday places, and lots of parks or National Trust properties that I’ve previously written about on the blog (check out the Days Out tab to read those). To me hidden gems means those places that no one else really knows about…so why would I want to share them.
But I’ve shortlisted a few of mine in our local area.
1. Alice’s Shop
Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson) and Alice lived in Oxford, and this shop was written into the adventures all those years ago when it was a grocer’s shop. Now it’s part of Oxford’s history, and is a lovely little shop to visit. No falling down the rabbit hole, but lots of Alice in Wonderland magic and products, plus a White Rabbit propped up outside.
We’ve been along to the celebrations for Alice’s Day in the past, when Oxford shops have Alice displays, and there are activities and tours about the book. Definitely a little bit of magic for readers.
2. Christ Church Meadows
Not so hidden, but the meadows behind Christ Church College and following the river down to Magdalen College and the Botanic Gardens is large enough for you to escape the crowds of tourists. We like to picnic there. Sometimes there are cows in the fields alongside the paths which always feels a bit odd being in the midst of the city. But it’s lovely and relaxing to sit by or walk along the river, watching or following the rowers and boats along. Gorgeous in the summer, but also lovely outside of peak season for some respite from the buses and taxis in the city centre. If I worked in the city, I’d be there every lunchtime!
N and I spent some time this Sunday there with a friend and her daughter. A lovely picnic, chat and the children loved running around and trying to climb the trees.
The name says it all really…although it’s not as stuffy as you might imagine.
My first trip to the Grand Cafe was with a previous boyfriend on a day trip to Oxford, so I’ve got a soft spot. Yes, it’s not the cheapest place to have a coffee or bite to eat, but if you want to eat in what feels like a slice of history from bygone luxury days, then this is the place to visit.
The lighting’s beautiful, the mirrors give a sense of space, and the staff are polite and helpful. N and I stopped in there recently; they were very welcoming even with him being the only child in the cafe. The lunches tend to be light, brunch always looks delicious, and the cakes were scrumptious. N loved the fact that his orange juice was freshly squeezed rather than from a carton.
If you want to treat yourself, or relax with a coffee and the newspapers on a Sunday morning with brunch, then I definitely recommend the Grand Cafe.
4. The Ballroom
Ok, so this is a bit off the wall, and isn’t an amazing art deco wooden floored dance hall. It’s a dress shop. Well, dress emporium. This is where we used to go to hire ballroom dresses for our Founder’s Ball at 6th form. For girls of that age, it was an amazing place. Full of beautiful (some outlandish) dresses, a little bit of magic, turning every female into Cinderella.
We used to go as a group, and try on lots of gowns, before choosing and being pinned in so they could alter them to fit. I was always gutted as my mum made my dresses, but I would try on a dress too for fun.
They don’t just do formal wear, there’s also a vintage area of the shop. I remember one girl hiring what could only be described as a Scarlet O’Hara red dress one year. It was amazing.
Every time I walk past the shop, I still look at the window displays and wonder what magical dresses are inside. Definitely a place for a visit if you want to feel special and get dressed up.
5. Tick Tock Cafe, Cowley Road
This cafe is a new find. I’m not usually a frequenter of cafes nowadays, but we popped in as we were in the vicinity and too early for a concert. I loved it.
It’s a traditional English breakfast cafe, but with bright mustard yellow decor, red vinyl booths and record clocks on the wall for display. A touch of Americana and 50s vibe. All it needed was a juke box. Like most cafes it’s not the largest, but the staff were friendly and helpful, the music was at a decent level for talking, and the breakfasts looked and smelt divine. We only grabbed hot drinks and a cake, but the atmosphere was lovely and even at 10 on a Sunday morning in a high student area, it was busy which shows that it’s a popular place.
Finally, I have to end with our nearest park. I think everyone should find their local park to enjoy, as there are so many around that aren’t really utilised. Ours has great wooden equipment round the outside of the playing field. A toddler pirate ship, wooden bridges and obstacle course equipment, and a ‘fort’ type slide/bridge piece off which the zip wire goes. A football goal is essential for a play park.
What’s brilliant about our park is how there’s rarely anyone there other than us. Mainly because unless you live in the village it’s impossible to find as it’s not signposted. There’s no parking nearby so not really practical for visiting from elsewhere. And no shops or facilities nearby for comfort breaks if required.
I definitely recommend checking out your local park (along with my hidden gems in Oxford) to see what it holds.