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A Day in Oxford with Marco Polo Guides

Last weekend I spent a sunny Saturday wandering around my home city of Oxford, playing tourist and exploring it through different eyes as I joined a group of fellow travel bloggers and travel industry professionals for a fantastic event. Well known travel guide book company Marco Polo Guides, named after the famous Venetian merchant and explorer, were our hosts for the day and we were in Oxford to celebrate the launch of a brand new guide book for the city. This event was rather historic for Marco Polo, with it being their first ever blogger event, and with this book being the first ever UK guidebook (outside of London) to be published. The weather was super kind to us and we had a wonderful time checking out the landmarks, finding little hidden gems and talking all things travel with some wonderful bloggers and professionals. Here are my highlights from this wonderful day…

 

 

Brunch at Handle Bar Café

 

 

We kickstarted our day with late brunch at quirky café The Handle Bar, right in the heart of the city centre but tucked down the quiet St Michael’s Street, away from the hustle and bustle. This place was super cool and doubled up as a bicycle repair garage a well as a café. Specialising in dietary requirements, there were plenty of healthy, vegan and vegetarian options to choose from. Most of the fellow attendees went for a healthy poached eggs and avo combo, whereas I went for a big full English and made sure I enjoyed every mouthful! Although super busy, the vibe was really laid back, the staff were so friendly and lovely and it was a great place to meet everyone for the first time.

 

Bar & pub stops at The Varsity Club and The Turf Tavern

 

 

After brunch we walked up the high street towards the famous Covered Market, which is home to tonnes of little shops, cafes and boutique stores. We wandered around the market and then had some free time to explore. As a local girl, I have walked round the Covered Market approx. 5000 times and although it is lovely, there isn’t loads to see. However, when I suggested heading to rooftop bar The Varsity Club for views of the dreaming spires, a large proportion of the group wanted to follow suit and I gladly lead the way up the steep staircase to this hidden gem located on Oxford’s High Street. Sunshine? Check. Aperol spritz? Check. Rooftop views? Check. What more could you want on a sunny Saturday afternoon?! After we re-grouped and went on a bit more walking, we then decided to head to famous pub The Turf Tavern, just off Holywell Street, and parked ourselves in their rather small but very cutesy beer garden. A regular haunt of the likes of CS Lewis, Thomas Hardy and, more recently a whole host of political figures including Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton, this historic Grade II listed building is super popular with locals and tourists alike and is a must-visit when in Oxford.

 

Walking tour of the city

 

 

As it’s so small, Oxford is best explored on foot and you can definitely see it all in a day. Obviously I’ve lived here all my life so I know pretty much everything there is to know about Oxford, but I know walking is always the best method of discovery – trust me when I say that parking/driving is a nightmare! Our walking tour took us from the Covered Market, down the High Street and towards the Head of the River where we stopped to watch the boats going punting up and down the Thames. We then made our way past both the Queens and Oriel colleges before stopping to take lots of photos down pastel coloured Holywell Street which is an Instagrammers DREAM! After that we headed towards the Bodleian Library, Sheldonian Theatre and the Bridge of Sighs before making our way towards the most famous landmark in the city, the beautiful RadCam.

 

Free time at the Radcliffe Camera

 

 

Probably my most favourite building in oxford, and definitely the most popular, the Radcliffe Camera is a sight to behold at any time of year, but even more so when the skies are blue and the sun is shining! Belonging to Oxford University, and built in the 1730s in a Neo-Classical style, the Camera is used to house the Radcliffe Science Library and is situated just behind the High Street, between Brasenose and All Souls Colleges. The square it sits in is always busy with tourists, but it’s location opposite the pretty St Mary’s Church is enviable and I would definitely recommend climbing the steps of the church tower for breath-taking panoramic views of the Camera and the rest of the city’s spires below.

 

Champagne afternoon tea at The Vaults & Garden

 

 

We ended our day the way we started it – with lots of food and drink! Perfectly positioned directly opposite the Radcliffe Camera, the Vaults and Garden Café is within the crypt of St Mary’s Church and its outdoor garden offers unspoilt views of the Camera itself. We sat inside as there were so many of us, and the interior was beautiful, with original stone walls from the church and a lovely décor too. We were treated to the most amazing afternoon tea, with sandwiches, cakes and scones as well as hot and soft drinks and some bubbles too. Sitting down for afternoon tea in such a beautiful setting was the perfect way to end a fantastic day filled with travel, blog talk and lots of fun! The staff couldn’t do enough for us, they were all so friendly and super welcoming so I will definitely be coming back to the Vaults and Garden for more sweet treats and I already can’t wait to tell my friends all about it!

 

As you can see, our day consisted of lots of walking and lots of food and drink stops which was a great way of seeing the city and spending quality time with my new blogger friends. The team at Marco Polo were fantastic, super friendly and really welcoming. It was so nice to attend a local event as I am always travelling to and from London to attend blogging courses/conferences and work-shops etc, so it was so nice to stay so close to home! I was born in Oxford and have grown up there so obviously know the city like the back of my hand, but it was amazing to experience it in a different light and share some of my insider tips with the rest of the gang too. Have you ever been to Oxford before? What do you like most about it? I know I’m biased but I think it’s one of the prettiest cities in the UK, and there really is no place like home!

Love Jess x

N.B. A huge thankyou must go to Hayley, Senja, Diane and Petra from Marco Polo for putting on such a fantastic event, and to the Handle Bar and The Vaults for a wonderful brunch and afternoon tea to start and end the day! I was invited to this event as a guest of Marco Polo Guides, but as always all thoughts, comments, and words are of course my own.

 

 

 

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Oxford Castle Unlocked: A fun-filled day out for all the family

 

                                                             Going down the steps from the top of St George’s Tower

 

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending Oxford Castle Unlocked, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire city, and perhaps one of the oldest too! With history dating back to the 11th century, this 1000 year old castle was largely destroyed by the English Civil War and, by the 18th century, it had become Oxford’s local prison. Home to some of England’s most notorious criminals, and still in use right up until 1996, Oxford Castle has now been turned into a major hotel, but part of the site has been opened up to the public to offer the full prison experience. With it’s original motte and bailey hill, real underground chambers from its prison days, and the magnificent St George’s Tower still in place, Oxford Castle oozes history, charm and sends shivers down the spines of those that visit… Here’s what I got up to during my time there…

 

The History

 

                                       Just one of the inmates at Oxford Castle Prison

 

This partly ruined Norman medieval castle is one of the oldest in the country, and was believed to have been built in the year 1071 according to the Abingdon Chronicle. The instruction of the castle was ordered by William the Conquerer after he granted extensive land in Oxfordshire to the baron Robert D’Oyly. The castle played a key part in British history during the 12th and 13th centuries, where it was attacked and seized many times. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, the castle was starting to be used as a prison, instead of being seen as a royal residency, although it was never officially given this title. By the time the 18th century had started, it was being used as a full working prison and remained that way right up until its closure in the mid 1990s.

 

The Guided Tour

 

                                                          With our lovely tour guide, Alastair!

 

Our tour guide, Alastair, brought the prison to life and really gave us an insight as to what it was like for inmates living in those cells all those years ago, and for those imprisoned in more recent times too as it was only closed down in 1996! Each room/corridor/level of the prison had a story to tell, from the trial of Mary Blandy (she was on trial for poisoning her father) to the escape of Empress Matilda (the cousin of King Stephen). Alastair, and all of the other tour guides, did a wonderful job of telling these historical stories in a way that captured your imagination, really immersed you in the atmosphere, and made you even more interested in the castle than you had been before you walked through the door.

 

The Location

 

                                                                                                   The gorgeous castle building

 

Situated in the historic Castle Quarter, Oxford Castle can be found just off the main high street in the centre of the city. At the foot of the new Westgate development site, and just next to the Seacourt Park and Ride bus stop, the Castle can be easily reached by bus, coach, train, taxi, or on foot.

 

Useful Information

 

                                                                        The entrance to Oxford Castle Unlocked

 

The castle is open daily, with tours starting between 10am and 4pm. Admission prices (£10.95 per adult, £7.75 per child) include a guided tour and access to St George’s Tower, the castle hill and the exhibition. There’s also a gift shop and cafe on site too. Booking ahead is advised due to increased demand. Parking is available nearby either at one of the many pay and display car parks in the city, or one of the 5 park and ride car parks that operate excellent services every single day.

My time at Oxford Castle was truly enjoyable; I loved learning about the history of somewhere so important to England, and with it being right on my doorstep too I felt like I was completely immersed in the experience. Our wonderful guide. Alastair, was so fantastic in portraying his character (Daniel Harris) and delivering the history of the castle in such a fun, interactive and informative way. A big thank you to Alastair, Robin, Ellie and the rest of the Oxford Castle team for looking after us during our visit – we had so much fun!

Love Jess x

NB. My day out was provided by the Oxford Castle Unlocked team but, as always, all opinions, words and photos are of course my own.

 

 

August Newsletter

 

Hi guys,

Hope you’ve had an amazing summer, although it feels like it’s pretty much over now and Autumn is well and truly on its way! August has been yet another busy month with new trips, blog collabs and plenty of things happening in my personal life too. I’m a little sad that summer seems to be over now, but looking back I’ve had the most amazing few months and have been lucky enough to travel to lots of different places across Europe. as well as creating new opportunities for the blog a little closer to home too! If you follow me on social media you’ll know I’ve been here there and everywhere lately, so here’s how my August went…

 

I hopped over to Hamburg for the weekend

 

 

This was my big trip for the month, my first time in Germany and my third press trip of the year so far! After meeting the amazing Visit Hamburg team at Traverse this year – I told you it was the best travel conference on the planet- I was lucky enough to be invited to experience Germany’s second biggest city for myself. I flew out for a weekend of paddle boarding, sight seeing, festival going and ice cream tasting and had the most amazing few days with some fantastic fellow travel and lifestyle bloggers. My guide to Hamburg will be live on the blog soon and I’m so excited to share it with all of you! Big thanks to Jessi for organizing our trip – see you at WTM!

 

I made the national news & I’ve become an ambassador too

 

 

On a personal note, I achieved something rather amazing this month. For those of you that know me, or have been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I suffer with quite a serious medical condition that has affected me for the past six years. I don’t often write about it, but this month I became an ambassador for The Pituitary Foundation, the charity who have supported me with my prolactinoma diagnosis since I was 18. My story was noticed by the Press Association and was then shared on national newspapers such as The Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun, being shared over 1300 times and seen by a collective audience of over 5 million readers! A women’s health magazine has also asked to feature it, and there’s a chance my story may be aired on a US talk show in the coming weeks too! I’m enormously proud to have become ambassador for such an amazing charity, and I’m aiming to do everything I can to raise as much money and awareness as possible for this little known condition and organisation. I have some big plans coming up and am looking forward to sharing them on social soon… watch this space!

 

I had a day at the races

 

Race Days 🐎🎉👯☀️

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You know me, I LOVE an excuse to get dressed up and have my hair and make up done, so when my sisters and best friend suggested a day out at Newbury Races it wasn’t hard for me to say yes. Oh and Olly Murs was performing the same day too, no biggy, I was completely sold; I LOVE HIM SO MUCH! We had the best time at the races that day, despite not winning an awful lot and queuing for what felt like forever for the portaloos. But the sun was shining, the Pimms was flowing and Olly was looking and sounding fineeeee. Can he just dance with me tonight please? Thanks babes.

 

I worked on numerous blog collaborations

 

 

August was probably the busiest month for me in terms of new blog collabs, and I felt so lucky to have so many new opportunities for my little space on the internet! The projects I worked on were also really interesting and varied, so offered something different for all of you lovely lot. From sandwich shop and boat trip reviews to a day out in my home city, I really threw myself into these new projects and couldn’t have been happier to work with some new clients. I also took part in a collab with my favourite brand on the planet –  WALT DISNEY WORLD! :O As the world’s biggest Disney fan I jumped at the chance to team up with Netflights to bring you the ultimate guide to dining at Disney, and here’s the finished project! Big thanks to all the companies I worked with on my collabs this month: The Hollybush, City Cruises, Oxford Castle, Netflights.

 

 

 

I spent the bank holiday weekend in Liverpool

 

One of the most famous places in the music world – the iconic Cavern Club 🎤🎤 #Liverpool #BeatlesWeek

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I bloody love a bank holiday weekend, and even more so when I know I’m going away and get to spend it with my amazing family! I headed back up to Liverpool for the first time since January (it had been far too long) for a weekend of dinner and drinks with my nearest and dearest. Something very exciting happened too… We only went and booked a CRUISE!! My first ever cruise!! I’m excited/nervous about sea sickness but can’t wait to sail around the Med with 13 of my wonderful family members for my mums 50th and my granddads 80th next August! We’ll be flying from Dubrovnik then making our way to Valletta, Sicily, Kefalonia and Kotor before heading back to Dubrovnik for our final destination – any tips for these places or general advice for first time cruisers like me will be greatly received! We had a big dinner in Liverpool on the Saturday night before hitting the town for celebratory drinks too. On the Sunday we headed down to the Pier Head and the Albert Dock and took a wander round the summer stalls on the water front before heading over to Mathew Street and the famous Cavern Club as it was Beatles Week and I felt that love was all we needed to round off an amazing weekend in my second home city. <3

 

And then wandered around Gloucester on bank holiday Monday

 

 

We came back a little early from Liverpool so decided to make the most of the bank holiday sunshine and have a day out in nearby Gloucester, which is just an hours drive from our home in Oxfordshire. We were sooo lucky with the weather and spent the day wandering around the city, watching a charity rugby game and exploring the historic dockyards. We also admired the beautiful Gloucester Cathedral, one of the Harry Potter film locations, which looked even more stunning in the August sunshine. Sadly we couldn’t go inside as film crews were on site filming the new Mary Queen of Scots blockbuster (I might have attempted to spot Margot Robbie and David Tennant through the stained glass windows) but I will definitely return soon to try and catch a glimpse of the inside of this beautiful building!

 

Pheeeeewww I told you I’d had a busy month! I’ve loved every minute and have had so much fun over the past few weeks but, I’m not gonna lie, I’m feeling exhausted lately and really want to just chill out over the next couple of weeks! I don’t have long until I’m off on my next trip though – I’m inter-railing around part of Europe for 10 days and I am SO EXCITED. I’ll be heading to Warsaw, Prague (again), Salzburg and Ljubljana so please send any blogs/recommendations/city guides my way – I need lots of tips for some last minute planning!

Love Jess x

 

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REVIEW: The Hollybush, Witney – Oxfordshire’s Hottest New Sandwich Shop

 

The Hollybush Sandwich Shop and Deli is the newest of its kind in the delightful market town of Witney, Oxfordshire, and I was lucky enough to be invited down to review it when it’s doors were opened for business a couple of weeks ago! Local owners Luke Champion and Alex Vaughan have made such a success of running the popular pub of the same name just across the road, that they decided to open up the deli and try their hand at a new challenge…

 

The Location

 

 

Situated on Corn Street, right at the heart of Witney and opposite it’s sister site The Hollybush Pub, the deli is perfectly positioned for locals and tourists alike to grab a bite to eat whilst strolling around the town. Housed in a former Church building, the shop looks super cute from the outside and even better from the inside, with quirky decor and a feature wall making it the perfect pitstop for lunch or a sweet treat.

 

The Menu

 

 

At the deli there’s a variety of different lunch items to cater for all taste-buds, from sandwiches and salads to coffee and cake, and something on offer to suit every palette. Visitors can choose from a range of Hollybush Special sandwiches, including duck and hoi sin mayo, tomato and mozzarella with pesto, or slow cooked BBQ beef brisket with melted cheese, all served on either white or brown farmhouse breads, baguettes, wraps or brioche buns (prices start from £4.40). There are also a number of Hollybush Classic sandwiches to choose from, such as roast chicken breast and salad, tuna mayo with cucumber, or bacon, lettuce and tomato with homemade mayo (prices start from £3.80). If a salad is more your thing, you can opt for the Hollybush Falafel (chick pea, halloumi, red pepper, toasted seeds & baby spinach – £4.20) or the Super Salad (charred broccoli, green beans, feta cheese & chilli – £4.40). Extra items on the extensive menu come in the form of Tyrells crisps and popcorn, handmade cakes, muffins and chocolate brownies, or the famous Hollybush scotch eggs and sausage rolls which are popular with guests of the pub time and time again.

 

The Food

 

 

I was lucky enough to have a little hamper put together for me, and was delighted to discover that it included the chocolate brownie and blueberry muffin as well as bacon and maple syrup flavoured popcorn (it was amazing, trust me) and I had a duck and hoi sin sandwich on a brioche bun, followed by the super salad which was delicious. I was also given a can of organic cola, which didn’t taste sugar laden or bad for you at all, an oatmeal strength drink and a super green smoothie, both of which are packed with nutrients designed to release energy slowly throughout the day. The food was home made, using fresh local ingredients, and was full of flavour – everything I tasted was fantastic and I know I’ll definitely be back next time I need some lunch when I’m in the town… It’s safe to say I was well fed that day!

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to The Hollybush Deli and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for good, wholesome food for their lunch break or afternoon sweet treat. If the popularity of the pub is anything to go by, I’m pretty sure that this place will go down a storm and will be a hit with everyone in Witney. Big thanks to Luke and Megan for looking after me when we met, and for the delightful goodies that I was treated to that afternoon… Wishing Luke and Alex every success in their new business venture!

Love Jess  x

NB. I was invited to review The Hollybush Deli as a guest for the purpose of this review but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

April Newsletter!

 

 

Hi everyone!

So as usual I’m late putting my newsletter up as I’ve had another CRAZY few days towards the end of this month attending the fantastic Traverse conference in London! I got back from Vienna right at the start of the month, have done some exciting day trips and have taken on some new blogging opportunities too! It was so lovely to have some much needed time off over the Easter break, and here’s how my April went…

 

I took part in my first April fools day campaign

 

 
Right at the start of the month I produced a sponsored post in collaboration with the fantastic Netflights team showcasing five beautiful destinations that look as though they belong on a totally different planet. I had a really good response from this post from you lovely lot and you seemed to really enjoy it! For the eagle eyed readers amongst you though, you might have spotted something slightly odd… and I can now reveal that this post was in fact an April fools day campaign! GOTCHA!! Did you twig?!

 

I reached 3000 Twitter followers

 

 

 

This is a HUGE milestone for me and I’m so pleased to have finally reached the big 3K mark on Twitter! A few years ago I could never have imagined that even just 3 of you would follow me on Twitter and be interested in reading my blog, let alone 3000 of you! A big thank you to everyone who has followed me and my journey over the past few years, I can’t wait to keep growing my blog and my social presence and am eternally grateful to all of my wonderful readers. Next stop, the big 5k! 😉

 
I went to Blenheim Palace for the last time this year 

 

What a beautiful day and what a beautiful part of the world we live in ☀️☀️ #blenheim #sunshine #sundayfunday

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So if you’re an avid reader of my blog, and you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I go to Blenheim Palace an awful lot! It’s so close to my home (just a 15min drive) and it’s one of the most beautiful places in Oxfordshire. Sadly our annual passes have come to an end and we won’t be renewing them until 2018, but we had one final wander around the grounds and the palace on a lovely sunny April weekend. I really made the most of my last visit to Blenheim and went for lunch in Woodstock too to make a proper day of it. I will obviously be returning to Blenheim again soon, just not for a year or so until I renew my AP, but I’ll miss this pretty place! Until next time, Blenheim 😘

 

I had a girly spa day

spaday

 
Back in January I booked a spa day as part of my sister Sophie’s 18th birthday present for the two of us as well as my mum and other sister Hannah and we couldn’t wait for our first girly day of 2017! We headed to the super modern Bannatyne Banbury Spa in Oxfordshire, around 40 minutes from home, and were treated to back massages, facials and full use of the facilities including pool, sauna, steam room and hot tub. We had lunch there to make a proper day of it and it was so lovely to spend some quality relaxation time together – I totally switched off and had a good detox. I love a good spa day and it’s even better when I get to spend it with my beautiful family!

 

I had an exciting meeting with a local PR company

 

tweet

 

 

So I can’t say too much about this at the mo, but last week I had a super cool meeting with a local travel PR company in Oxford and I think I’m going to be working with them at some point in the not too distant future on reviews and press trips! I’ll bring you more news as and when I have it, but all I can say is that I’m really excited to be working with a fantastic team and I can’t wait to get cracking on some new blog projects for 2017!

 

I had the most amazing weekend in London at Traverse17

 

 

 

Ahh I’ve just got back from a brilliant weekend in London for my second time attending the fantastic Traverse conference! I went to the Cardiff event last year and it was fantastic but this year was EVEN BETTER with more workshops, more events, more brands and sponsors and lots more parties! Michael, Paul and the rest of the Traverse team ensured every single one of us bloggers were well looked after at the Ravensbourne building next to the 02 arena and I learnt such a lot from my three days there.

 

 

I networked as much as I could, making sure I spoke to as many people as possible, and this really helped to boost my confidence. The highlight of the weekend was a river cruise along the Thames hosted by CityCruises and CheapFlights – seeing all the famous London landmarks lit up after dark was mesmerising and something I’ll remember for a very long time! Thanks Traverse team – you da best! <3

 

So my April was filled up nicely and wasn’t too crazy busy but it ended on a real high with my recent weekend in London. The month of May is now upon us and I’ve got some exciting things planned as well as my first beach holiday in three years with a week in Tenerife to look forward to at the end of the month! How did your April go? Let me know in the comments below!

Love Jess X

 

 

Also here's me loving life at #CanaryWharf just because tube station tourists have more fun 🚇🚇 #youknowit #TravelTuesday #I'mageek

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