Monday 27 April 2015

Upcycling Project - Decoupage Placemats

I was beginning to think after having always been known as a 'completer/finisher', having left work after 30 years, I had turned into a starter off-er of projects, only never to finish them.

You don't know how pleased I am to be able to say that I have finally completed this project!  It has most definitely been a labour of love.

I'm not sure that this post fits into the category of a 'tutorial' but I did want to share my journey with you and let you know how I went about this project and the issues that I faced.

Basically we'd had the same Mediterranean style everyday, cheap and cheerful, dinner service for years. It had started to look a bit tired with lots of chips and crazed glazing from lots of spins in the dish washer. Whilst Martin and I still both loved it, we decided it was time for a change and put a sparkly new vintage floral dinner service on our Christmas list and Santa came up trumps. 

The problem now was that our placemats, whilst also tired, were too good to throw out but so didn't match the new crockery. I got that familiar twinge of excitement as I felt a bit of an upcycle project coming on. 

So here we are. I had never tried decoupage before but thought it was definitely worth having a go at trying to breathe new life into our old placemats and here's how we got on.

Step 1
I scoured The Range and got stocked up on decoupage paper, acrylic paint, glue and other bits and pieces.

Here is the full list of equipment that I used:
  • Set of placemats to be upcycled
  • Electric sander
  • PVA glue (+ water to dilute)
  • Small paintbrush
  • White acrylic paint
  • Emery paper
  • Multi-purpose decoupage adhesive & varnish
  • Decoupage papers
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Decoupage brushes
  • Heavy metal roller

Step 2
Martin got set to with the sander to try and take the shiny top coat off the top of the placemats. 
Step 3
I sealed the surfaces with a diluted mix of PVA glue and water (1 PVA - 5 Water).

Step 4
I gave each placemat a couple of coats of white acrylic paint.
Step 5
Then I gave the edges of each mat a light rub with emery paper to ensure there was no paint showing on the sides.

So far, so good. 

Then I was ready to try my hand at decoupage and so the fun began. I thought I'd start with a coaster. Being smaller I thought it would be easier to have a go at.

Step 6
First I drew round the coaster on a piece of decoupage paper and cut out the shape so it fit perfectly.

Step 7
Then I put plenty of decoupage glue onto the painted coaster. Then I eased the decoupage paper into place, very slowly and carefully, using the decoupage brush to push it down and smooth out any wrinkles.

Step 8
Once the paper was in place and there were no bubbles I gave the coaster 3 or 4 coats of decoupage glue, leaving each coat to dry before applying the next.

It looked great, I was really pleased and you can see how it turned out here. So, feeling confident I thought I'd have a go at one of the larger placemats.
My first attempt did not go well.  I ended up with paper full of bubbles and wrinkles and no amount of brushing would smooth it out. 

I asked for technical assistance from my engineer husband, who normally has an answer to all my technical problems, and he provided me with a metal roller. 

We attempted the placemat again, together, and this time it went well. I held the paper whilst Martin worked at it very gently firstly with the decoupage brush and then with the roller and we ended up with a perfect finish. I can't pretend it was dead easy and I don't think I could have managed this size of paper on my own, but we were both really pleased with the finished article. 

This one having worked out so well we were enthused to finish the other 7 coasters and placemats. 

The coasters have all turned out really well.  The result with the placemats is a bit mixed and some do have the odd crease in the paper here and there, but we got to the point where we couldn't work the paper any more, without it tearing and I'm not sure how we could have overcome this.
So, whilst the end result is not perfect, it is most definitely usable and I am quite pleased with it as my first attempt ever at decoupage.  Maybe this was a bit ambitious as my first project! 

And ..... bonus ..... it's one of my '50 things to do before I'm 60' objectives fully completed!

Monday 20 April 2015

A Quintessentially English Afternoon Treat

Last week I had a real treat.

I'd arranged to take my friend out for afternoon tea for her birthday.

Neither of us could have predicted how kind the British weather would be to us.

We had an absolutely wonderful afternoon, sitting in the warm sunshine, chatting the hours away, whilst drinking tea .... from a pot .... and enjoying, what ended up being a very filling afternoon tea!!

We went to Manley's Brasserie at The Old School House just outside Hints village in between Tamworth and Lichfield.

Afternoon tea currently costs £15 per person, so it is a bit pricey, but definitely a real nice treat.

We had a selection of sandwiches consisting of cream cheese & cucumber, smoked salmon, egg, ham & Turkey and a good selection of small cakes and pastries and two scones each.  

This was accompanied by as much tea as we could possible drink!
I've had afternoon tea here once before and they are very accommodating.  If there is something that you don't like then they are happy to substitute an alternative, which has been very handy on both times I've visited.

We couldn't have asked for a nicer way to spend the afternoon.

So, whilst yes it is a bit pricey, if you fancy a treat, then I would definitely recommend it .... and if you can also book the British sunshine then so much the better.

Saturday 18 April 2015

The Peak District - Ashbourne & Cromford Mill

It was Thursday, which meant it was our last full day in The Peak District before heading for home.

We decided to have a mooch round Ashbourne. 

I needed to find my brother a birthday present and we had also decided that we would have an early tea out today, to save cooking on our last night.  We hoped Ashbourne would fit the bill on both counts. 

We had a good wander round the moochy little shops and bought a few bits, some jam and chutney jar labels and some beautiful wool in my favourite shades of purple. Not exactly sure for what purpose yet, but something will come to me.

It was too early to eat so we headed for Cromford Mill, via Wirksworth, for a look around the old mill, where we found a lovely fabric shop. I resisted buying any fabric but did get stocked up on some iron on interfacing for another project that I have in mind.

Cromford Mill is Arkwright's first Mill and is currently in the process of renovation as you can see from the board below.

Clearly they are not on target for the original planned opening of Autumn 2013!!  In spite of that, there is still quite a bit to see on the site and it is well worth a visit if you are passing by.
Wirksworth looked lovely. Neither of us had ever been before and we definitely put it on the list for a revisit when we are next up here, which will be in November. The sames goes for Carsington Water. 

By the time we'd finished at Cromford Mill we were getting hungry and decided to head for home and look out for a nice pub on the way.

Unfortunately, this time of year anyway, none of the pubs we passed or looked at were serving food at this time of the afternoon and wouldn't be until later in the evening. 

We ended up heading for home and having a bit of a mash up with what food we'd got left kicking around. It was cheese and potato pie and roasted veg, with sausages for me and leftover chicken curry for Martin. Very nice .... And it helped clear out the fridge. Bonus. 

All in all we'd had a pretty restful week. 

We managed to get out and about.  We did done a bit of walking, a bit of cycling, a bit of caching and a bit of shopping and we managed to pretty much miss all of the bad weather when we were out. 

We had plenty of time tucked up in the cottage doing chilled out things like reading, watching films and cooking.  Martin's had a play on the PS3 and I did
a bit of crochet. 

It was a really nice break for our first holiday of the year. 

Next stop, Scotland, in May, with a trip to Balmoral Castle thrown in, to tick off two more of my things to do before I hit. 60. 

So, home tomorrow and we've still got the Easter weekend to look forward to.

Friday 17 April 2015

The Peak District - Cycling The Manifold Trail

On Wednesday we had a nice lie in and a bacon sarnie and decided that we would head out on the bikes.  After all. We didn't want to have carted them all the way up here and not use them.

The forecast looked as though there was a lunchtime gap in the rain so the timing suited us perfectly and we headed out. 

We rode down from the cottage, through the Swainsley tunnel and down to Wetton Mill .... We hadn't realised just how downhill it was, we would certainly pay for that on the way back. 
We went past the Mill onto the Manifold Way cycle trail, which took us past Thors Cave and Beeston Tor and ended up at Waterhouses. 
We decided, as it was the first time we'd been out on the bikes for a good while, that we wouldn't complete the whole trail, especially as it all seemed downhill on the way out and we were both a bit nervous about how we would perform on the return leg.

We made it as far as Soles Wood, before deciding it was time to head back, as the clouds seemed to be gathering, and we both had aching bottoms and wobbly legs. 
We made it back in one go, though it was a long, slow and steady uphill slog for most of the way, so it must have done us some good.

We managed about 8 miles in all, and we were still standing, so, whilst technically it's not all that far, we were quite pleased with ourselves.  

Time for a nice hot shower before settling in for the afternoon as the rain made it's promised return visit.

Monday 13 April 2015

The Peak District - A Visit to Buxton

Again, please don't be too cross!  I know Buxton isn't technically in The Peak District, though it is surrounded by it.

It was Tuesday morning and, after a wonderful night's sleep, I was woken by the sound of a hailstorm!!  The weather overnight had been pretty wild with strong winds, which had blown over lots of the pots and even some of the garden furniture around the cottage. 

Mum and dad were joining us again for the day and the plan today was to head for Buxton.  The weather forecast was mixed so we made sure that all the wet weather gear was in the car and headed out. 

We parked in the Pavilion Gardens car park and wandered through the gardens to St Anne's Well, where we got the information we needed to complete an Earth cache.
We were really surprised to see a constant stream of people filling up water bottles from the well. We took some photos and were really shocked to feel the temperature of the water. We had expected it to be icy cold but it wasn't, it was actually really pleasantly warm, 28 degrees to be precise!

We dodged another pretty heavy hailstorm whilst in the Old Thermal Baths, which has been very sympathetically converted into a small shopping arcade, retaining lots of the original features. 
It was really charming, with some lovely vintage and olde worlde shops and lots of evidence of the original purpose of the building, including the old tiling and one of the old baths. 

It was then back outside to pick up another cache up by the railway station before having a good wander up and down the main shopping street.

By now we were pretty darn cold, though we had done really well in missing the showers, and it was time to start to make our way back towards the car. We did this via the No 6, The Square, Tea Rooms. We had a welcome warm up, hot drink and a piece of Mars Bar cheesecake, which was scrummy, for me, before heading back out into the cold. 

We picked up another couple of caches before having a wander through the Pavilion. 

Then it was a few more caches in the park, which is where our luck with the weather ran out and we spent a good few minutes under the trees, sheltering from heavy sleet and rain. It soon passed and we managed to finish our mission before heading back to the car. 
We'd spent a lovely few hours in Buxton and would definitely recommend it for a visit. It was ideal for us today with the weather not being so good. We managed to stay dry, see lots of interesting things and have a good walk too. 

From there it was back to Hartington where we were planning on eating in one of the local pubs. Before we decided where to eat we picked up another couple of caches and made a visit to the cheese shop, where Martin stocked up for the rest of the week.  
We then ummed and ahed on where to eat, between the Devonshire and the hotel and ended up plumping for the hotel, which didn't end up being the best move. 

Whilst our meal was nice enough, the portion size was pretty small, considering the prices charged. It didn't spoil our day, but it didn't really add much to it either. 

We don't know what it would have been like in The Devonshire, but if we eat in this area again, that's where we will try. 

It was then back to The Haybarn for a quick coffee before waving off mum and dad as they headed for home and peace and tranquility reigned again .... Otherwise known as long lie ins and general idleness.

The Peak District - Walking to Wetton Mill

Sunday morning and we woke to more rain, which today looked pretty much set in. It was Martin's birthday and we had another good lie in before getting up and opening cards. 

We then had another scrumptious breakfast come lunch and decided that it looked like we would be confined to barracks for the day. 

What would it be? Film, crochet, PS3, book, magazines, crossword, words with friends on the iPad or a mixture of the lot. 

We were not too unhappy to have a relaxing day as mum and dad were joining us, staying at a local B&B, for the next couple of days, so we knew we were going to be busy. 

We decided to make best use of this bit of quiet time to really chill out in the cottage.

Monday morning and we had an early start, with mum and dad arriving for breakfast at about 9.00am. We had our current favourite breakfast of parsley and bacon hot cakes with poached eggs before deciding that, as the weather looked ok, a walk was on the cards. 

Although we were only planning a short walk of a couple of miles, it was our first real time out so far this year so we decided to take one of the cars to Wetton Mill and park it there. 

The plan then was to walk there, along the path by the river, picking up caches along the way. We were then going to stop for a cuppa at the cafe before driving back. 

That way we wouldn't be over exerting ourselves and if we got caught in the rain we wouldn't have to walk back. 

Our walk took us down the drive of the cottage, right out of the gate and a short way along the road until we came to a gate which took us along a path, which ran along the back of our cottage, along the other side of the river Manifold.

The going was quite muddy, but we were booted up so we didn't mind too much.

We passed this little fellow just as we went through the gate and found our first cache of the day.

We carried on along the track, past an old mine, where we hunted for another cache.  Martin sent mum and dad searching up the bank, as it happened, behind the wrong tree!!  They slithered their way back down and we soon found what we were looking for.

As luck would have it, the weather was really kind to us and, whilst it was quite dull, the rain held off, giving us no need to break out the emergency waterproofs.  

We had a lovely walk along the river, with some great views looking back at our cottage. 

We found a fair number of caches before ending up at Wetton Mill for hot chocolate, where Martin and Mum spent a good half hour looking for 'just one more' cache at the top of the hill at the back of the cafe.  Dad and I waiting in the sunshine at the bottom.
We still felt fairly energetic so decided to move the car to Hulme End and park at the end of the Manifold Way which we walked back pretty much to our front door, again, finding a good few caches along the way. 

By the time we got back we had just about had enough and were covered in mud so we decided to pick up the car and call it a day. 
Then it was time for butternut squash pasta, with chicken, bacon and mushrooms and home made Focaccia bread, before mum and dad headed off to their B&B down the road.

Thursday 9 April 2015

The Peak District - Arrival & Wander around Leek

Please don't let the title of this post confuse or irritate you!!  I know that Leek is not, technically, in The Peak District, but that is where we were staying, so I've gone with it to keep consistency with my post titles.  Please bear with me.

It was our first cottage holiday of the year and we were both really looking forward to it. We were staying in a cottage just outside of Butterton in the Peak District.

Considering I had spent most of Thursday packing and getting ready to go away we had a very slow start on the Friday. By the time the car was packed, the bikes were on and we were ready to head off it was 11.00am. 

We had decided that we would visit Sudbury Hall and the National Trust museum of Childhood on the way. It's somewhere we've passed loads of times when visiting the Peak District but we've never actually managed to stop and have a look round. You can read more about our visit here

It was then a quick visit to Morrisons in Leek to stock up on provisions to see us through the week, before finally making our way to Swainsley Farm, where we were staying on one of their barn conversions. 

First impressions were very good and you can read more about the cottage and our thoughts during our stay in my holiday cottage review post here

We were soon unpacked and settled in for the night with a very easy, chuck it in the oven, tea, hoping that the good weather would continue for the rest of our stay, though the forecast did not look promising. In fact it looked like it was rain all the way. 

We had a very slow get up to wet, wild and windy weather on Saturday morning/  We took our time and had a very late and indulgent breakfast. We'd managed to get some Staffordshire oatcakes from the supermarket, which we love but can't get at home, even though we live in Staffordshire.  

We had these stuffed with cheese and mushrooms, with sausages and baked beans on the side. That should definitely see us through till tea time, which was to be our favourite ... Abruzzi lamb, which was already bubbling away in the slow cooker. Clearly one of us had been up a bit earlier and you'll all know it won't have been me. 

As the weather was pretty miserable we decided to head into Leek and have a wander around the market and the shops. 

This ended up being a very good move. By the time we were parked up the rain had pretty much stopped and we had a really good wander around the town without getting wet at all. We started off in Bibelot, a very nice moochy craft and haberdashery type shop, with plenty of Cath Kidston thrown In for good measure. 

We then headed to the market square which was full of antique and second hand stalls selling all kinds of bits and pieces. We had a good look, but nothing took our fancy, before heading into the traditional Butter Market for another mooch about. 
After that it was up the high street, past the second gold post box we have ever seen, to a really lovely little shopping arcade, which was full of craft and hand made shops and a particularly well stocked wool shop, where I couldn't resist making a purchase.
It was then up to the war memorial for the first cache of the holiday, which was to be our one and only for the day, before heading, via the church, for a tea room for a quick drink and a read of the paper. 
It was then time to make our way back to The Haybarn, which thankfully was a far more bearable temperature to yesterday. Mmmmmmmm, the Abruzzi smelt good too. 

All in all a very pleasant afternoon out. Leek is definitely worth a visit.

We got back just in time. Within 10 minutes the rain was lashing down again.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Sudbury Hall & National Trust Museum of Childhood

We were on our way to our first cottage holiday of the year, staying at Swainsley Farm, just outside Butterton in the lovely Peak District.

We couldn't check in to the cottage until 3pm so had decided that we would make our 2nd National Trust visit of 2015 and stop off on the way to visit Sudbury Hall and the National Trust Museum of Childhood. 

It's one of our nearest National Trust properties, but neither of us had ever visited it, though we have passed it lots of times en route to elsewhere. Today we were really pleased to have plenty of time to stop and explore. 

We started off in the tea room for lunch, before having a really good wander around the Museum of Childhood, which is a real treat and had us reminiscing over the toys and games we had when younger, though, of course, lots were well before our time. We even, kind of, managed a game of hopscotch. 

The first room holds some display cabinets displaying all sorts of things, including some really nice old dolls' houses.  There is also a pretty impressive fully furnished child's bedroom on the ceiling! 

Yep, this really is on the ceiling!
There is also an old schoolroom where the National Trust volunteers told us about the old fashioned lessons that they hold for school children visiting. 
There is a really cool reading area with some fabulous murals on the walls and ceilings, where the letters of the writing in the books just jump out of the pages. 
About the freakiest thing we saw was the swimming doll, which did look pretty scary.
Having had a good look round the museum, we headed outside and had a wander around the gardens, which looked just lovely in the afternoon sunshine.  We then had a quick look at the neighbouring church before heading into the Hall.

The tour of the hall begins with a view of a very impressive staircase with some really ornate plasterwork and carvings. 

There are lots of rooms to look at, with really good views of the garden and the lake. 

For such a big house we were surprised at how cosy lots of the rooms were. 
Your visit covers two floors, with rooms laid out how they would have been when last inhabited, with some showing good examples of restoration works currently in progress. 

There is also currently a WW1 exhibition on show.

In all we spent about two hours on our visit, including our visit to the tea room.  We really enjoyed it and were glad we'd finally got round to getting to see it.  It's definitely worth stopping off if you are passing.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

The Haybarn - Butterton - Derbyshire

How long did we stay?
7 nights

When did we visit?
27 March - 3 April 2015

How much was it?

Who did we book with?

What were our initial impressions?
The cottage is one of three on a site just inside the boundary of The Peak District National Park and is situated in a lovely spot.

We arrived on a glorious Spring day and the cottage looked really pretty in the afternoon sunshine, with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside across the valley.
We were greeted and welcomed by Chris, one of the owners, who showed us around and explained how everything worked, including the bike storage, which would be very handy, as we had bought ours away with us.

There wasn't really a welcome pack, compared to other places we've stayed at, though there were some very nice scones, with butter and jam, plenty of tea and coffee and a small jug of milk to get us started.  There were also some fresh flowers in the kitchen.
When we arrived the cottage was very warm, so we threw open all of the windows, but thought how nice it would be to get cosied up nice and toasty later on.

There was a lovely big kitchen, with some quirky features, as well as everything that we would need, and a nice cosy lounge, both with really good views of the surrounding countryside.
There were also two lovely bedrooms and a bathroom.  It was exactly as the pictures on the website had described it.
It looked spotlessly clean and Chris was very keen to let us know that he wanted us to have a great week and to just let him know if there was anything that we needed during our stay.

Our likes over the course of our stay
  • The location was perfect for what we wanted. There were good walks and bike riding to be had from the front door of the cottage, with no need to take out the car, but it was close enough to Leek and Buxton for when we wanted to venture a bit further afield. 
  • The whole cottage was spotlessly clean, with no need to do our usual job of running all the cutlery and crockery through the dish washer before using anything. 
  • The beds were lovely and comfy. 
  • The lounge was really nice and cosy. 
  • On our first night we had a problem with the TV and couldn't get reception on any channels. Chris was very good and came round straight away and, after a bit of fiddling about with the splitter cable in the loft, managed to get us up and running ........ just in time for Eastenders! 
  • There were enough dish washer tablets to see us right through the week, which was great, as we normally run out and have to use our own. 
  • The outside space around the cottages is really well maintained and cared for, with lots of pots and plenty of outdoor seating.
Anything that could have made it better?
  • We really didn't like the heating system which, of course, wouldn't be a problem in the Summer.  The cottage is heated by electric storage heaters so its impossible to change the temperature instantly.  As it was, the control mechanisms had been removed so if we wanted to make any changes, this involved asking the owners to come and do this.
  • The two bedrooms are interlinked and, when sleeping in the twin room, you have to go through the double to use the bathroom, which makes it hard not to disturb whoever is sleeping in the double room.  It wasn't a deal breaker, but it would be better if the upstairs layout was a bit different.
  • A downstairs loo is always a bonus for us who don't like going up and down the stairs!
  • Whilst the outside space is kept really well, it is shared.  We found privacy was not ideal as other holiday makers have to walk past the windows of The Haybarn to get to their cottages. We could also imagine that this would be more of a problem when using the outside space in good weather.
  • Big fluffy bathsheets are a must for us.  Sadly, only rather small bath towels are provided.  This didn't cause us a problem as I checked ahead and we took our own bathsheets.
  • The shower wasn't as powerful as we would normally like, though there was always plenty of nice hot water.
  • The wifi, whilst always available, was very, very slow.
Would we recommend this cottage to our friends and family?
Most definitely, but would say to be mindful of the above.

Would we stay in this cottage again?
I've had to think really hard about the answer to this question and, I feel really bad saying this because in so many ways this was a lovely cottage and the owners were just great.  However,  I don't think it's very likely that we would stay here again. For us, the heating system rules it out for the Winter and the lack of privacy would rule it out for the Summer.  I think, staying here will definitely influence our already very long list of what we look for in a cottage for future bookings, but then we are really picky!