The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

You can spot the Magical Lantern Festival held at Chiswick House in London from several roads away.  The bright colours in this Chinese light festival mark the inky sky over sleepy Chiswick in a striking gash much like a neon highlighter on paper.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The Chinese lantern festival marked to end of the Chinese New Year celebrations has come to London.

The Magical Lantern Festival

Although the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick is in its second year, this Chinese light festival took several years to plan.  I could easily see why because the festival is very large and elaborate. It is part of the celebration of the Chinese New Year in 2017 which is the Year of the Rooster.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The Lantern Festival is traditionally held at the end of Chinese of New Year.

The theme this year is the Silk Road which were ancient trade routes that criss-crossed from China to Europe. The Silk Road only got its name in the 19th century because it sounded romantic and the first merchandise traded was silk. For thousand of years, these routes had no name but plenty of trading activity. As a byproduct of trading activity, the Silk Road brought ancient cultures in touch with each other.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Merchants and camels on the silk road.

The Magical Lantern Festival is on in London in January and February. I felt sorry for its neighbours – that’s a long time to have your night sky lit up in day-glo colours. Prior to its arrival in London, the Magical Lantern Festival spent time in other British cities.he Chinese Lantern Festival

History of The Chinese Lantern Festival

Chinese lantern festivals date back a couple of thousands of years. During the Western Han Dynasty (206BC to 25 AD), the festival was being celebrated with lanterns in temples. When the devout Buddhist Emperor Hanmingdi heard that Buddhist monks light lanterns to Buddha on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, he ordered this practice countrywide. Later doing the Tang Dynasty, the use of lanterns spread to the palaces and streets.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The elaborate palaces of the Tang Dynasty.

When is the Chinese Lantern Festival?

The Chinese Lantern Festival starts on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In 2017 and 2018, the exact date will be February 11th and March 2nd, respectively. The Chinese Lantern Festival ends the biggest Chinese festival, Chinese New Year (aka China’s Spring Festival).

What do you do at the Chinese Lantern Festival?

Participating in the Chinese Lantern Festival does not require much exertion. Basically, you go around and admire all the lanterns.  Lanterns come in many shapes and sizes and themes. Lighting a lantern is a prayer for a smooth future ahead with all the best for the family.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

How’s this for an elaborate lantern?

There are other ways to appreciate this Chinese light festival other than just admiring the pretty lanterns. Often the lanterns have riddles which people try to solve. If you solve the riddle, you give your answer to the owner. If your answer is right, then the owner will give you a small prize. Lion dances are another custom done during lantern festivals. The lion dance is a traditional folk dance which is used to ward off evil. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Chinese festival unless there was food involved. The traditional food eaten during the Lantern Festival are little rice dumplings called Yuanxiao.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

A celebration of Chinese food

Where are the Major Lantern Festivals in China?

The biggest Lantern Festival in China is held in Quinhai in Nanjing which is supported by the local government who want it to be as big as the Harbin Ice Festival. The Quinhai festival is so famous it even gets a mention in an ancient Chinese novel, [easyazon_link identifier=”0385093799″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]The Dream of the Red Chamber[/easyazon_link], considered one of the world’s classic books.

There are other major lantern festivals as well, including the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai. During the Cultural Revolution, lantern festivals were banned.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Red is a lucky color for the Chinese.

Magical Lantern Festival Photo Gallery

We went to the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick even though the temperatures were freezing. Although we spent an hour to walk around, we would have taken even longer if we hadn’t been losing sensation in our limbs!  Luckily, the festival organisers had vendors selling gourmet marshmallows to toast as well as hot drinks which helped us out.  We also munched on hot churros for warmth (or that’s our excuse!).

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Toasting gourmet marshmallows over a fire to keep warm.

I know the Magical Lantern Festival touts the ice rink, the food vendors and the fun fair as activities for its visitors. On our visit, many people were foregoing these pleasures because it was just too cold.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

What would a Chinese festival be without a cute panda?

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

A magical walkway of lighted lanterns

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Swans are a popular symbol of love worldwide.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

We thought this elephant was too cute.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Wonders along the Silk Road included dolphins?

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

I have no idea what fashion in Paris has to do with anything. Maybe the use of silks in fashion?

Have you been to a Chinese lantern festival?  I’d love to hear what you think.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids on a Free Literary Walking Tour

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids on a Free Literary Walking Tour

Mr. Darcy has already sunk his hooks into my daughter. Thanks to the influence of my friend’s older daughter, my daughter is enamoured with Pride and Prejudice. I couldn’t be happier because I am a huge fan of Jane Austen myself. My own favourite Austen novel is Northanger Abbey which she has yet to read. We recently did a mother-daughter road trip to Bath to check out some of the related Jane Austen sites. I wanted her to understand the novel a bit better because the Georgian age is so different from today. I found that visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with kids is relatively easy because the city is both small and delightful.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

Jane Austen’s writing was heavily influenced by her stay in Bath England.

Jane Austen and Bath

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody. ”

– Jane Austen

Jane Austen in Bath

Having visited the Jane Austen Centre we understood more how Jane’s circumstances influenced her novels.  On her first visit to Bath, Jane and her sister lived in a posh rental flat with her parents. When her father died in 1805 though, the loss of his income drastically changed their circumstances. Jane and her mother and sister moved between increasingly shabbier rental flats until her brother came to their rescue. Having been adopted at an early age by a wealthy relative, he had the financial independence to let them stay rent-free in a house he owned in Chawton, England.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

You can see the distance from Bath to Chawton on this map along with a postcard of the cottage at Chawton.

You can see how these 9 years – 5 years of being moderately well-off and then 4 years as a poor relative – would affect her analysis of a woman’s place in society. In Georgian England, a woman was dependent upon some man to take care of her. Jane was one of eight children. Her brothers were all able to take care of themselves through various options such as inheritance or the military.

With only a limited inheritance, she and her sister were in a bit of tough spot. They were not allowed to earn any money themselves but the lack of inheritance would put off many suitors. Although Jane was engaged very  briefly to a wealthy suitor, she called off her engagement. She really couldn’t bring herself to marry someone just for financial security.

Only two of Jane Austen’s novels are set in Bath – Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. In Northanger Abbey, the main character is enamoured of Bath very much like Jane herself in her early years in Bath. In Persuasion, however, her character reflects Jane’s later attitude where she finds herself a bit tired of the scene. Her other novels though are influenced by Jane’s experiences in Bath.

The Jane Austen Visitor Center

The Jane Austen Visitor Center is a small townhouse near one of Jane’s mother’s favourite squares, Queens Square. A ticket will gain you entry into a small guided museum. Alternatively, you can go straight upstairs to the Regency-inspired tea room for refreshments.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

The entrance to the Jane Austen visitor centre has a statue of Jane at the front.

We enjoyed our tour immensely.  While you are waiting for the guide, there is a video about Jane Austen. In an adjoining room, my daughter did a word search on Jane Austen and her books.

The tour guide gives you a short introduction to Jane Austen’s life and family.  Then she leads you downstairs to see some memorabilia associated with Austen. There is a short 10 minute film in this area as well.  The highlight of our experience was the dressing up area. My daughter got to wear some regency clothes, learn how to use a fan to flirt like the Georgians, and have pretend tea.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

The dressing up cupboard of Regency clothes we raided.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

My daughter attempting to flirt with a Mr. Darcy.

Jane Austen’s Bath With Kids

The elegant Palladian architecture of Bath today would be recognisable to Jane Austen. We could easily imagine ourselves in Georgian times. The city of Bath is fairly compact and easy to walk around. A walking tour of Jane Austen’s Bath with kids is a painless ask (assuming your kid is interested in the topic).

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

On the tour route you will find this Grand Parade (with Pulteney Bridge in the Background)

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

The famous Pump Room in Bath with the Cathedral in the background.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

The inside of the famous Pump Room is now a tea room.

The city of Bath has a free audio tour of Jane Austen’s Bath that we did. You get a PDF map as well as a audio download which tells you the major attractions of the city interspersed with extracts from her writings. We followed the tour (which takes you right past the Jane Austen Centre) and we may have even done a bit of shopping along the way.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

A spot of dressing up and pretend tea party at the Jane Austen centre

Jane Austen’s Legacy

Having published only 3 works before she died in 1817, her family published her remaining 3 works posthumously. The royalties for her works were given to her beloved sister. The reasons for Jane’s death are unclear.

Jane Austen is today considered one of England’s greatest writers. In 2017, the Bank of England issued new £10 notes featuring Jane Austen, the first woman on British currency that wasn’t the monarch.

Jane Austen’s works have been adapted for younger readers from toddlers to young kids.  For example for babies, there is Pride and Prejudice andSense and Sensibility both by Jennifer Adams. For younger readers, there are the Real Reads series of all 6 Austen books including Emma retold by Gill Tavene (pictured below).

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

I’m not sure I want to introduce my kids this early to the concept of singledom and marriage.

Other writers have adapted Jane Austen’s books not only for film and television but also set them in different places. It’s a testament to these novels that they can be completely changed but the story still works. For example, Emma by Alexander McCall Smith (the author of the acclaimed No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series set in Botswana) has the heroine in a contemporary setting returning home to set up her own business after graduating from university.

Other variations on Austen books include Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, Death Comes To Pemberley by P.D. James, Longbourn by Jo Baker and Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange..

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

A selection of the novels by contemporary authors inspired by Jane Austen.

Every September if you are in Bath, the city holds a 10 day Jane Austen in Bath festival. My daughter and I are already making plans to return for the festival!

Looking for Jane Austen’s bath england with kids

Emma retold by Gill Tavner for young kids

Know Before You Go

We stayed at 15 Great Pulteney street, a luxury boutique hotel on Great Pulteney Street which is a grand street leading of the Pulteney Bridge. The convenient location made our visit around Jane Austen’s Bath very easy. My daughter was delighted with our bedroom with its beautiful trompe l’eoil canopy bed.

Jane Austen’s former home on Sydney Place is now luxury apartment accommodation. Available through Bath Boutique Stays,  Jane Austen’s Home and Apartments  are 4 apartments that can sleep between 2-4 people.

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So This Is Christmas:  A Photo Gallery of Festive Events in London

So This Is Christmas: A Photo Gallery of Festive Events in London

If you haven’t had a chance to visit London this Christmas, I’ve got a virtual tour of festive events that will have you planning to visit London next year in December!  From the City of London to the West End, Londoners take Christmas very seriously.

A photo gallery of Christmas in London

A photo gallery of Christmas in London

The Christmas Makeover of Dennis Severs’ House

Dennis Severs was an American with way too much money and a love for period architecture.  He restored a house in Spitalfields where the Huguenot silk weavers had settled in the 18th century after they had fled persecution for their faith from France. The house is now ‘still life drama’ with each floor showing how the fortunes of the house (and occupants) fared from the 19th century to the 20th century.

For Christmas the house is decorated like it would have been during the period portrayed included smells and noises. I really did feel like I had my own Ghost of Christmas past leading me through the house. Needless to say, the Victorian period did make you feel you were hanging out with Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol in all of their sad squalor.

Festive events in London

The entrance to Dennis Severs’ House lit with gas lamps.

No photographs are allowed inside the house but the museum does have a YouTube video showing you what to expect.

The Most Festive Pub in Britain

The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill in London has been called the most festive pub in London.  It’s got 90 Christmas trees strapped to its outside and is decorated with 21,000 lights.  I would say having a pint (or two) inside counts as a festive event in London don’t you?

Festive events in London

The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill is as festive as you can get.

Festive events in London

The trees are all held up by netting. Let’s hope a strong wind doesn’t blow!

Harrods, the Christmas Experience

Harrods this year went with a very British fairy tale Christmas theme.  The windows were decorated with mannequins of children and animals. I guess in times of world uncertainty it all goes back to children and animals (and very expensive accessories).  I found it underwhelming – perhaps all in just too good taste. Let’s face it, no one goes to Harrods to experience good taste.

Festive events in London

Geometric animals and expensive accessories in the Harrods’ windows.

One of the funniest things we saw in Harrods this year was a mother chasing her child who was wailing that she wanted her Elsa doll NOW.  The 3 year old was too fast for the mother who was teetering around in heels. I’m sure the mother was thinking that quality time with her child was overrated.

The Santa Grotto at Harrods is in the massive toy department. The appointments open in August and it is usually full up by October.  I remember taking my kids to the Santa Grotto each year and dreading having to go through the toy department. It definitely is a lesson in fortitude.

Festive events in London

My daughter punching a very British festive fairy (inadvertently).

The Harrods Food Hall has great gifts if you need something easy to give someone you don’t know very well.  It’s easily packaged and the Harrods name conveys that you care (enough to pay over the odds).

Festive events in London

Harrods makes gift giving easy

Festive events in London

The food hall decked out for the holidays to distract you from the prices of the products.

Festive events in London

These prices are fine if you send your butler to shop for Christmas and you don’t see the bills.

Festive Window Shopping

Like in Paris, New York and other big cities, the big hotels and department stores do very creative festive displays.


Festive events in London

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel decked out for the holidays.

The Harvey Nicks window displays were not as colorful as last year. They were more interesting though than Harrods.  A certain Let Them Eat Cake attitude prevailed.

Festive events in London

Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

I have no idea why some of the stores in London and New York both insisted on having insects in their windows. I personally found it creepy even if the fashionistas declare that insects are a big thing for next season.

Festive events in London

Because nothing says Christmas like giant creepy-crawlies.

Dolce and Gabbana went back to Sicilian roots with a decadent store front display.

Festive events in London

I’ll take the bags, leave the cannoli.

The Lights, The Trees etc.

My favourite tree this year was in front of the art school, Central Saint Martins, in Granary Square in Kings Cross. The 17 foot Christmas tree with 1200 lights is frozen in resin created to look like a giant block of ice. The ice puddles into the fountains in which it is located in an effect created by 550 pounds of melted clear wax. It’s called “Fighting Fire with Ice Cream” by Alex Chinneck who is known for creating OTT public works of art.

Festive events in London

It’s called Fighting Fire with Ice Cream because “Christmas Tree in Ice Block” would have been too bourgeois a name.

festive events london

The Christmas tree in a block of ice:  as cold as the spirit of the season captured in the heart of capitalist London (or something like that) Photo credit: Kings Cross.

For some more traditional Christmas festive events such as the ice rinks that dot the city and the lights at Oxford Circus, check out this video put together by the Visit London:

What do you think?  Would you now consider coming to London in December?  The days may be short and dark, but there is plenty of sparkle in the city nonetheless.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

What you may ask is a gherkin?  It’s a small pickled cucumber.  The wit and wisdom of the British nicknamed the Swiss Re Tower at 30 St. Mary Axe in London as The Gherkin.  In fact, everyone calls it The Gherkin, a name given to the Swiss Re Tower even when it was in its early planning stages. Now a London landmark and lauded throughout the world for its instantly recognisable design, I can’t imagine the city without The Gherkin. You can see it from lots of different angles with its fat tummy sticking out behind more slender buildings.  Usually closed to the public, my family and I lined up at Open House London to get a peek inside this famous building.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

Although usually closed to the public, the Gherkin offers fantastic views over London.

The Gherkin’s Architecture

Opened in 2004, the Swiss Re Tower was designed by British starchitect Norman Foster and his firm Foster + Partners as the headquarters for the insurance firm, Swiss Re.  In addition to this insurance company, the building does have other office occupants as well.  The Gherkin building stands on the spot of the former Baltic Exchange building which got bombed by the Provisional IRA in 1992.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Gherkin looming over some more traditional architecture nearby.

As with the Foster + Partner’s designed ME Hotel, I found the interior design very masculine.  Everywhere you look, you see lots of sleek straight lines with minimal ornamentation.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A vase of flowers softens all the geometrical lines. The bathrooms are hidden behind the studded walls. No handles to ruin the lines.

The Swiss Re Tower uses eco-friendly principles to minimise its impact on the environment.  For example, the use of clever air shafts allow the building to use passive solar heating in the winter.  I appreciate that the Swiss Re building is not very tall.  Although striking and hard to miss, the Gherkin does not dominate the skyline by towering over all the buildings near it.

What is The Gherkin Used For?

The Gherkin is an office building with the top three floors used as a private club.  The building is located in the City of London Corporation (the financial heart of the City of London which is also known as the Square Mile).  Confusing, right?  As with many things in Britain, the names originated from historical context.  For example, the City of London Corporation has its own Lord Mayor (different from the Mayor of London).  Just go with it.

The Gherkin and Open House London

The Gherkin is not open to the general public except in certain circumstances.  For example, Searcy’s at The Gherkin restaurant and bar occasionally opens its doors to non-members. You can also get a free peak inside the Gherkin during the annual Open House Weekend held in London every September.

On previous Open House Weekends, we have been to Marlborough House in the St. James’s area of London but this year my son insisted on visiting The Gherkin.  He loves architecture, and specifically skyscrapers, so we have visited tall buildings all around the world (Tokyo Tower, One World Observatory etc).

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Swiss Re building has its own small plaza surrounding its entrance.

We had avoided The Gherkin on previous Open Houses because the lines to enter this building are notoriously long. This year was no different. When we got to the building on the Sunday at 9 AM, the line was already wrapping around the corner.  Apparently the first people in line had gotten there by 6 AM.  Now that’s dedication to architecture!

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Open House organisers had children’s activities on the plaza to keep the kids in line occupied. Here my daughter is sketching the Gherkin.

We stood in line for an hour and half before we were able to get inside the building.  My daughter was completely over it but my son was determined to stay and get inside.  We were ushered inside in small groups which involved more waiting for elevators. Once inside, we were sent straight up to the floor Searcys occupies.  It looked like they moved all the furniture to keep tacky commoners from messing up the nice stuff.

Of course, we had all been waiting in long for so long, once people got inside, they headed straight for the bathrooms. We only had about 15 minutes for the visit before we were marched back to the elevators, and the line for the ladies’ room was going to take 10 minutes at least.  I told my daughter that she’d just have to deal because we were not waiting in line for an hour and half just to use the restroom inside and not see anything else!!

Photo Gallery Of London From The Swiss Re Tower

The 360 degree view from the Searcys Bar is spectacular even on a cloudy day like we encountered.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

More traditional architecture in the form of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

You can see the shard and the Walkie Talkie buildings from the Gherkin.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

This building, the Mayor of London’s HQ, is known as The Testicle for obvious reasons.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Thames winds its way to the Docklands financial centre at Canary Wharf.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A bird’s eye view of Tower Bridge and The Tower of London

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

Another view of the so-called Walkie Talkie building in London.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

This is the new London building called The Cheese Grater.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

I used to work here at Tower 42. It used to be the old NatWest headquarters. From above when the CEO landed on the tower’s helipad, the building was shaped like the NatWest logo.

Searcys The Gherkin

Searcys, the private members’ club, offers 360 degree views of London. The Gherkin restaurant is located on the 39th floor and the bar on the 40th floor.  They do let non-members into Searcys Gherkin for specific occasions like the Diamond in the Sky Afternoon Tea for Christmas.  Everyone gets a champagne flute, tea and scones for £65 a person  Sorry, it’s already sold out.  There are also the occasional lunches and dinners at the Gherkin restaurant starting at a reasonable £50 per person.

Fun Facts About The Gherkin in London

  • There are 41 floors of which 33 are office floors.
  • Even though the building is curved, there is only one piece of curved glass in the structure – the dome at the top of Searcys at The Gherkin.
A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The dome at the top of the Swiss Re Tower in London.

  • Each floor rotates 5 degrees from the floor below to give the triangular glass windows its diagonal swish.
  • Almost 7500 panes of glass and 35 kilometres of steel were used in the construction of the building.
  • The elliptical ‘gherkin’ like shape is a result of the structure been 180 metres tall and 178 metres wide at its widest part.
  • The Gherkin made an appearance in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

I personally think The Gherkin in London looks like a bullet.  Wouldn’t The Bullet have been a cooler nickname? In the USA, I’m pretty sure the nickname would have been The Bullet.  Calling the building The Gherkin though is much more in line with self-deprecating British humour.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Gherkin Building is easily spotted in London but not generally open to the public to view the inside.

Practical Info To Know Before You Go

The Gherkin is easily accessible by tube or train from Liverpool Street Station, Aldgate Station or London Fenchurch Street.  You can’t miss it.  Just look for it in the skyline poking out.  If you are going to visit The Swiss Re Tower for Open House London, get there early.  By noon on the Sunday of the Open House, we saw that the line to enter The Gherkin snaked around several city blocks.

If you are staying in the City of London Corporation, I have friends who highly recommend the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell. The Zetter is also a family-friendly boutique hotel which provides interconnecting family rooms, baby monitors, cot beds etc.  The buzzing creative neighbourhood of Clerkenwell has lots of restaurants, cafes and bars. In fact I used to live around the corner (before it became an epicentre of cool though).  You can walk easily into the financial centre or the West End.

Further Reading

[easyazon_link identifier=”1590204328″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Norman Foster:  A Life in Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Deyan Sudjic

[easyazon_link identifier=”1902910389″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]London Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Marianne Butler

[easyazon_link identifier=”0415825024″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]London’s Contemporary Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Ken Allinson

[easyazon_link identifier=”1447276272″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]This is London[/easyazon_link] by Ben Judah

[easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”1590204328″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”107″][easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”1902910389″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”160″] [easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”0415825024″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”113″] [easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”1447276272″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”105″]

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A Must-Try in Cornwall:  Fun Facts About The Cornish Pasty

A Must-Try in Cornwall: Fun Facts About The Cornish Pasty

Everywhere you go in Cornwall in England, you can see a sign for the Cornish pasty.  So I wasn’t surprised to hear that the Cornish pasty industry adds £65 million into Cornwall’s economy. I am a big fan of anything encased in a pastry (Indian samosas, Jamaican patties, American pie etc) so was really looking forward to trying a Cornish pasty in Cornwall.  I was not disappointed! Real Cornish pasties are delicious and an easy, quick dinner for all of us after a long day of travelling.  As with any traditional dish, there’s a lot of tradition,  culture and stories associated with the Cornish pasty.  Here is a quick introduction to this traditional favourite and twelve fun facts about the Cornish pasty.

Fun Facts about the Cornish pasty

The Cornish pasty is a fast and delicious meal whose popularity still runs high.

What is a Cornish Pasty?

The traditional Cornish pasty is a pastry filled with chunky vegetables and meat. The standard vegetables used are swede, potato and onion. When cooked together with a light seasoning, the meat and vegetables forms its own gravy.  The slow-baking process ensures that the delicately seasoned flavours are maximised.

In the old days, the pasty flour itself would have been tough and made from barley flour.  Poor mining families would not have been able to afford wheat flour for the pastry.

The pasty was a good way to use up leftovers in a time when every little bit of food had to be used.  Fillings can be as varied as the protein available, such as bacon, rabbit, eggs.  There is some question on whether fish can be an appropriate filling.  I would think not because these miners needed a solid meat and potatoes meal as fuel for the hard labour they did.

The pastry itself is shaped in the form of the letter “D” with one side crimped.  The crimped side is handy for holding the pastry. (The purists will tell you that a Cornish pastry should be crimped on the side and not the top).  Some people have said that the crimped side could have served as a handle. I expect the miners eating  the pasty would have been so hungry the whole thing would have been eaten.

Nowadays, we saw lots of different types of Cornish pasty.  My daughter was a big fan of the cheese and onion vegetarian pasties.  The rest of us preferred the traditional steak variety.  We saw lots of variations in the fillings of the Cornish pasty in Cornwall. I can just imagine the Cornish miner’s face if his wife had packed him a Thai Chicken pasty!

Fun facts about the Cornish pasty.

You can get lots of Cornish pasty you can get today.

The History of the Cornish Pasty

You say the word pasty to sound like the ‘a’ in past not paste.  The word comes from an old English word that means made from pastry.  The Cornish pasty started off as a convenience food for working men to take for lunch similar to the Bunny Chow in South Africa. Men working in the tin mines or the clay pits needed an easy but filling meal they could take to work.

Wrapped in paper or cloth, the pasty was a self-contained hearty meal complete with vegetables, meat and carbohydrates.  These men worked long shifts underground. If the pasty was baked in the morning, thanks to the pastry crust, the filling inside could be kept warm for up to 10 hours.

As we discovered in our tour of the salt mines in Salzburg, getting down to the mines was quite the task and so going back above ground to get lunch would have been a serious waste of time and effort.  Keep in mind also that miners were paid for the amount of ground they had broken.  Dilly-dallying for lunch would seriously cut into their take-home pay.

In the 18th century, Cornish miners would have produced half the world’s tin supply.  The work would have been long and gruelling but better paid than any other work they could have gotten at the time. It is said that 19 out of 20 of Cornwall’s men under 25 would have worked in a mine during the peak of the mining boom.  After their shift at the mine (or clay pit) ended, the men would have gone to do a second shift as farm labourers.

Cornish pasty in Cornwall

There is probably a pasty filling that will suit everyone in the family.

12 Fun Facts About the Cornish Pasty

  • The oldest pasty recipe we have is from 1746.  It is kept at the Country Records Office in Truro.  The pasty though is a much older type of making food.  In the Middle Ages, pasties (and meat pies) were the food of the aristocracy.
  • There are 120 million Cornish pasties made every year.
  • Since 2011, according to European Union regulations, a genuine Cornish pasty needs to have a minimum of 12.5% meat and 25% vegetables.   Moreover, the pasty needs to be made in Cornwall.
  • Using carrots in a Cornish pasty is considered heresy.  The only sweetness allowed is from the swede!
  • A pasty may be an easy portable meal but don’t take a pasty on board a ship.  It’s considered bad luck!  This myth was probably started by the miners who didn’t want the fisherman to take their pasties.
  • Some say the traditional Cornish pasty crust should be tough enough to drop down a deep mine shaft and not fall apart. Can you imagine how tough your teeth have to be to chew that?!
  • The ‘oggie oggie oggie’ chant heard at rugby games came from the Cornish pasty.  According to legend, pasty sellers would yell Oggie, Oggie Oggie at the top of the mine shaft and the miners would yell  Oi Oi Oi back to signal they wanted a Cornish pasty thrown down at them.
  • Oggie comes from the Cornish word ‘hoggans’ which were an early pasty filled with pork encased in barley bread.
  • You can get a ‘rounder’ which is a round pastry filled with the same ingredients but bigger (and round!).   You get rounders served for Sunday lunch or on special occasions in Cornwall.
  • The largest Cornish pasty ever made was 32 feet long!
  • Sometimes the Cornish miner’s wife would put his initials on his pasty so he could tell his pasty apart from that of a co-worker.  Moreover, the miner may have left a bit of pasty for the magical sprites who lived in the mines who could be placated with bits of food.  If he lefts some of the pasty with his initial on it, the sprites would know who not to trouble.
  • The Cornish pasty emigrated worldwide along with Cornish immigrants. For example, pasties are popular in Michigan because they have made it to the mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1840’s.  Thanks to EU regs though these pasties can not be called Cornish pasties because they are not made in Cornwall.  I wonder if Brexit will affect the terminology – deregulation of the Cornish pasty could be coming soon.

Where To Buy Cornish Pasties

As I said, every little village in Cornwall seems to have home made (and delicious) Cornish pasties.  I was really surprised because the one I had previously tried in London was nothing special.

Fun Facts about the Cornish pasty

The famous Chough Bakery in Padstow.

There is a World Pasty Championship held every year at the Eden Project in Cornwall.  Just when I thought Rick Stein had taken over all of Padstow, I found out that the Chough Bakery in Padstow is the current reigning champion.  Within the United Kingdom, you can mail order their Cornish pasties to your home. Alternatively, you can follow the recipe on the Chough Bakery website.


Why We Loved Fowey Hall, a Luxury Family Hotel In Cornwall

Why We Loved Fowey Hall, a Luxury Family Hotel In Cornwall

Have you ever wanted to live the English country house lifestyle but sadly you lack the requisite English country house?  Fowey Hall Hotel is perfect for you. A grand mansion comfortable decorated with dogs and children running around on landscaped grounds, Fowey Hall should fill your curiosity about what those grand manor homes like Downton Abbey would be to live in today. By the way, in true quirky English fashion, Fowey is said like it is spelt Foy. So Fowey Hall, a luxury family hotel in Cornwall, gave us a cool escape into country life if only we had been lucky enough to be born with a silver spoon in our mouths.

fowey Hall a luxury family hotel in Cornwall

Fowey Hall, a luxury family hotel in a former 19th Century country home

Fowey Hall History

Looming above the little port town of Fowey, you can make out a series of large Monterey Pine trees. Behind the trees stands Fowey Hall, the former home of Sir Charles Hanson.  Hanson was a local boy who went to Canada, made his fortune as a lumber baron and returned home in spectacular style.  The town elders felt his home dominated the view of the town (and in fairness they were right).  Hanson planted the Monterey Pines to soften the look somewhat so that it is only from certain angles that you can see how enormous the house is in relation to the town.

Fowey Hall a luxury family hotel in Cornwall

Fowey Hall looms over the town of Fowey behind the trees.

Around 1889, Hanson acquired his land from the Rashleigh family who were the local landowners. He was a man with a plan and lots of spare cash. Not only did he have his own money but he had married a Canadian heiress.  Hanson created his home in the latest style with no expense spared – lots of wood, marble and even central heating.  The grounds were more extensive in Hanson’s day than they are today.

Fowey Hall a luxury family hotel in Cornwall

Monterey Pine Trees hide Fowey Hall from the town below.

Hanson used Fowey Hall to entertain and to further his political ambitions.  Telegrams from the day show that he expended great energy trying to get the Royal Family to visit.  Plenty of notables did visit and Fowey Hall was overflowing with life and energy.

From 1900, Hanson based himself mostly in Belgravia in London because of his interest in politics. He became a member of Parliament for the nearby town of Bodmin in 1916. The next  year, Hanson got himself elected  Lord Mayor of London, the highest political office he gained. Hanson remained in Parliament until he died in 1922.  His family eventually sold Fowey Hall in the 1950’s.

Fowey Hall May be the inspiration for Toad Hall in Kenneth Grahame’s famous book, The Wind in the Willows.  Grahame was a frequent visitor to Fowey Hall as a friend of the Hanson family.

Accommodation at Fowey Hall

We had a ground floor room because we brought our dog with us. Our neighbours had dogs, too, so I gather we were in the dog-friendly wing of this luxury family hotel in Cornwall.  The sliding doors opened directly onto the lawn so that he (and the kids) could go running outside in full view of the room. Our room was spacious  with 2 fold-up beds for the children and a queen-size bed.

Fowey Hall a luxury family hotel in Cornwall

Our dog in the less formal breakfast room with the Mr. Toad statue

The bathroom had a full shower and a bathtub.  My kids got bath bombs from a store in Fowey which made bath times lots of fun.

Fowey Hall a luxury family hotel in Cornwall

A stand alone bathtub is a perfect place to unwind whether you are a kid or an adult.

Amenities at Fowey Hall

Fowey Hall Hotel has all the amenities you would expect from a luxury family hotel in Cornwall.  There is a spa and a large pool.  My children spent every evening playing in the pool. Then we would borrow DVD’s from the front desk and snuggle up and watch movies.  To my delight, they had Stardust, a 2007 British fantasy romance which my children had never seen. We all liked it so much, we watched it several times. yay!

Fowey Hall hotel a family friendly luxury hotel in Cornwall

Although the interiors are as grand as you would expect, the hotel is very family friendly (right down to the little mocktails the kids were given to accompany our pre-dinner drinks).

Family-Friendly Fowey Hall

Run by the Luxury Family Hotel group, Fowey Hall Hotel has put a lot of care into making sure families are  felt welcome and catered.

Kids’ Meals

My children ate from a mixture of the kids menu and the adult menu.  For example, every morning my son insisted on having dippy eggs and soldiers (an English kiddie breakfast item of toasted slices and semi-boiled eggs).  My daughter preferred the adult version of oatmeal (with honey) to the children’s version of oatmeal (plain).  The oatmeal, by the way, was delicious – cooked slowly on an Aga not the microwaved quick oats kind.

Fowey Hall a luxury family hotel in Cornwall

Is there anything more English than a steaming cup of Breakfast Tea?

After breakfast, the highlight of every day was feeding the chickens at 10AM and checking for eggs. My kids joined the children’s club members for this activity only.  The children’s club at Fowey Hall Hotel is open for children up to 8 years old. It is in a separate building from the main hotel.

Fowey Hall a luxury family hotel in Cornwall

The kids received kites as welcome gifts which they were desperate to fly.

There is an early dinner time if you wanted to eat early.  Even if we didn’t eat at the hotel, we would have snacks and cocktails (mocktails for the kids) in one  of the warm and cozy lounges.

Kids’ Activities

Every morning without fail, my children would run out the door and go on the zip wire.  Seriously, they could not get enough of that zip wire.  There was also footballs to kick around, little trampolines to bounce around, and a playground to explore.

Fowey Hall a luxury family hotel in Cornwall

The zip wire was a major hit with all the children, not just mine.

Luckily, the hotel provided Wellies (aka rain boots, gum boots etc) because my son had outgrown his pair from the last time he had worn them.  He ran around the entire estate with his sister and the dog without ruining his trainers.

Fowey Hall a luxury family hotel in Cornwall

Little wellies that you can borrow by the front door.

Fowey Hall Hotel’s Location

Fowey Hall Hotel is located on a ridge above the charming Cornish harbour town of Fowey.  The main town car park is located next to Fowey Hall.  There are town buses down the hill and back up to this car park if you don’t feel like walking the steep 10 minutes into town.  These buses (more like minivans) run every 15 minutes during the day.

Fowey Hall a luxury family hotel in Cornwall

The lawn at Fowey Hall is great for an impromptu football game.

The location above the town means Fowey Hall has a great view of the Fowey estuary.  Mornings you can see the mist drift away and the town appear below you.  At night, the town lights sparkle down the hill below you.  The best place to see the sunset is the pool deck area.

Fowey Hall Hotel in Cornwall

We were in this little colonnade part with a lawn in front of us.

Visiting Fowey Hall Hotel

My children LOVED their stay at Fowey Hall Hotel which pretty much made their visit to Cornwall.  They loved having (i) a zip wire outside their door, (ii) their dog with them, (iii) an indoor pool to play in and (iv) feeling like grown ups with their mocktails playing board games in a lounge in front of a glowing fire.

My husband and I enjoyed ourselves as well.  We felt the hotel was very conveniently located for tourist attractions on the south coast of Cornwall.  We liked the comfortable shabby-chic atmosphere of the hotel where our children and dog felt at home too.

Fowey Hall Luxury Hotel in Cornwall

From top clockwise (the side lawn, a fairy tree, the view over Fowey estuary and a snug nook in one of the lounges)

Unlike many other primary school children, our children had 2 weeks off for their October break.  We stayed for 5 days in the week running up to the one week of that most children in the UK had. The beginning of our stay was quiet and peaceful with more adults than children. As our stay progressed, the hotel did have more children to stay. It did get noisier but we never felt overwhelmed by all the children.  It helps that the hotel is huge!!

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