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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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Hotel Review: The White Horse Inn, Duns Tew (Oxfordshire) – A wonderfully cosy stay at the heart of the Cotswolds

Another day, another hotel review! Wonderful stay in the heart of the #Cotswolds – full review and blog post coming soon! #Oxfordshire

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Last weekend I was invited to stay overnight at The White Horse Inn, a glorious pub with 11 cosy rooms nestled in the sleepy little village of Duns Tew in Oxfordshire. Located an hour away from London, and just 20 minutes drive from both the dreaming spires of Oxford and the world famous designer outlet of Bicester Village, The White Horse Inn boasts the perfect location from which to enjoy some the Cotswolds’ finest tourist attractions. Here’s my full review of this gorgeous property…

The Location

 

 

The White Horse Inn really is at the heart of the Cotswolds; close enough to explore everything this beautiful area has to offer, but far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities and towns, so that you can get a perfect night’s sleep and a true taste of village life in Duns Tew. As mentioned above, both Oxford and Bicester are a 20 minute drive away, whilst other places of interest, including Chipping Norton, Burford and Woodstock (where you’ll find the stunning Blenheim Palace), can be reached in under 30 minutes.

The Room

 

 

The Inn boasts 11 cosy and comfortable rooms made up of standard, classic and premier doubles, king superiors and king twin beds. Three of the rooms are over the pub itself, up a small staircase at the rear of the bar, whilst the rest of the rooms are separate to the main building. Each room boasts an en-suite bathroom, with hot shower and bath tub, central heating, LCD flat screen TV, tea and coffee making facilities and there is free WIFI throughout. Our double room was located in the main building, on top of the bar area, and was so cosy and warm. The bed (and the pillows!) were super comfy and the hot shower was amazing – we had a great night’s sleep and really loved the homely feel to our room; it was cosy and full of character, as well as fitted with all the new mod-cons I would look for in a hotel room.

The Bar

 

The cosiest of bars welcomes you to The White Horse Inn #cotswolds #oxfordshire #hotelreview

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This 17th century property is full of charm and the bar and dining area complement each other perfectly. The bar is well stocked with every drink you can think of, and the large flag stones and cosy log fire make it the perfect place to unwind. The dining area leads just off from the bar and is equally as characterful, with plenty of space and a fantastic food menu, with locally sourced produce, which changes daily. We were both so looking forward to dinner after a busy day’s shopping at Bicester Village (on Black Friday, might I add!!) so couldn’t wait to tuck in to some hearty pub food.

The Staff

 

And my table literally had my name written all over it! #Oxfordshire #Cotswolds #hotelreview

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The staff made us feel so welcome throughout the whole of our stay, from the minute we arrived to check in, to the second we checked out the next day. Upon arrival we were welcomed by Alex and then shown to our room by George and told what time to head down for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. We were then welcomed at dinner by Alex again, who showed us to our table which quite literally had my name written all over it! Throughout the evening we were served by George and James, they looked after us really well and nothing was too much trouble. The next morning we were served by George again for breakfast and he checked us out upon departure too. I cannot thank the staff enough for making our stay so enjoyable, thanks guys!!

The Dinner and Breakfast

Although this is a pub, the menu and the whole feel of the place felt more like a restaurant, in a really good way! The atmosphere was still as relaxed as the pub/bar area, but the food was mouth-wateringly good and on par with what you’d expect from a restaurant, so we felt that the Inn offered the best of both worlds in that respect. We opted to skip starters and went straight for the main courses, choosing the cheeseburger and the 10oz rib-eye steak respectively. Both main courses came with fries (cooked to perfection) and we really enjoyed our meals!

 

For pudding we chose the homemade apple crumble and the chocolate truffle torte, both of which were AMAZING! I’m such a pudding girl and I love all things chocolate, so my dessert was heaven on a plate, whilst the apple crumble was delicious too. Every aspect of our meal was wonderful, we just wish we could have chosen more food from the amazing menu, although we were suitably stuffed once we’d finished eating!!

Breakfast the next morning was really good; we both opted for the Full English (obviously) and enjoyed freshly cooked sausages, bacon, eggs and mushrooms with thick toasted bread. The breakfasts totally set us up for the day ahead and we left feeling well and truly full up!

The Verdict

 

 

Overall we had a really wonderful stay at this gorgeous hotel right in the heart of the Cotswolds. I would highly recommend staying here on a mid-week or weekend visit to this part of Oxfordshire for a cosy and comfortable stay. Every aspect from the warm and welcoming staff to the fantastic dinner and gorgeous room made our stay such a pleasant one, and I would recommend the Inn to anyone looking for a place to stay in the Cotswolds.

So there we have it, my full review of the wonderful White Horse Inn. I cannot recommend this place highly enough for those looking for a comfortable stay in the heart of the Cotswolds– thank you for making our stay such a pleasant one! For more information or to book a room please visit their website directly.

NB. I was a guest of The White Horse Inn for the purpose of this review, but all opinions are of course my own.