This week… conkers, coffee and Christmas lights

Autumn seems to have arrived in all her glory with chilly mornings, cool evenings and stunning sunsets. Despite the focus this time of year on hibernation in the natural world, it’s a season of magnificant abundance and colour. This is a time to enjoy nature, to ‘bank’ the remaining sunny days and the splendour of nature while we can. We need all the positive experiences we can muster to carry us through the long winter months to come.


An afternoon this week exploring the gardens at Hinton Ampner, the Neo Georgian country house on the outskirts on Winchester, was an opportunity to supplement my photo stock, enjoy the fresh air and the magnificent gardens. Some of the estate’s original Tudor elements remain, including parts of the walled garden and the lime tree avenue. Some of the trees in the landscape date back to around 1720. To my delight, a shower of conkers from a mature horse chestnut tree fell in a continuous staccato to the ground. A reminder of nature going about her business without any interference from human beings.

The first glimpse of winter cyclamens and autumnal dahlias in burnt orange at Hinton Ampner gardens.

Mindfulness is something we do automatically when we’re out walking, enjoying the feel of the ground beneath our feet, the air caressing our skin, the sounds of the leaves rustling in the breeze, and the way the light can dramatically change the landscape.

Autumn retreats

We’re all feeling a little fractured right now. After months of uncertainity, fear and isolation in the UK we’re facing more of the same for the coming winter. We are in sore need of nurturing for the mind, body and soul. Despite indoor wellness retreats being limited at the moment, there are some creative solutions to enjoy the benefits of taking time out for ourselves. Me-time is no longer a rare treat but an essential act of self-kindness if we’re to get through these tough times.

Go wild at Gleneagles this autumn.

At the top end of the market, Wild Wellness at the iconic Gleneagles in Perthshire, a new two-day nature-based retreat programme for autumn, sounds idyllic. On the basis that being in nature has significant physical and mental health benefits the two-day retreat offers guests hill walking, fishing, seasonal foraging and forest bathing in the calming stillness of 850 acres of forest and woodlands surrounding the Gleneagles’ secret Loch. Guided meditation sessions and moments of quiet and contemplation, such as stargazing under the inky-blue Scottish skies, will aim to help guests develop a focus on breathing and relaxation to enjoy a deeper connection with nature.

Gleneagles’ Wild Wellness programme will run on selected dates from October to March 2021. Rates for the package start from £3,280 in October, (two people sharing a Manor Room for two nights). If you’re going solo rates start from £2,880. Check the web site for the small print www.gleneagles.com

Retreat at home


The Sharpham Trust, an historic estate in Devon, is offering virtual retreats visa Zoom with experienced teachers supporting you at home around the principles of nature and nurture, and connection to an online community. Expect guided meditations, mindful movement practices such as qi-gong and yoga, and audio practices to download and take you away from the screen, as well as individual time and talks with tutors to enhance self-compassion to remain ‘steady in uncertain and challenging times.’

Prices from a 1-day Retreat: Mindfulness for Challenging Times from The Barn Retreat centre at Sharpham. Prices are based on what you afford and they suggest £45 but more or less is welcome as all income will go to The Trust’s General Fund. Ideally you will have a private room in your home for the duration of the retreat where you will not be distracted by other people, the family dog and other interruptions. Dates include 4, 17 and 27 October.

International Coffee Day

1st Otober is the annual international celebration of the dark aromatic brew. While the exact origins of coffee are lost in myth and speculation there’s no doubt that it’s attraction is an enduring one. In the UK alone there are 95 million cups of coffee consumed per day! While 80 per cent of households buy instant, the more discerning coffee drinker will give their coffee selection the same consideration as buying and appreciating wine.

When investing in a luxury coffee, taste is obviously the first thing to think about, although this is not immediately obvious from the packaging. Taste is very subjective depending upon your palate. Your daily cup: How to taste and buy speciality coffee


In Puerto Rico coffee beans grown in the mountains are ground fine and served strong, with the addition of melted cheese. Sounds bizarre but it apparently adds a nutty, creamy flavour. Sometimes hot chocolate is also added to a strong espresso with a thin wedge of hard cheese so that the sweetness of the chocolate blends with the salty notes of the cheese. This is entirely understandable and a similar taste experience to salty pretzels dipped in chocolate, a surprsingly good combination. www.discoverpuertorico.com

Café Centrea, Vienna.

Viennese coffee house culture goes way back, as it does in London, from Café Central to Café Sperl where time has stood still since 1880, and Café Hawelka, a popular meeting place for art and cultural icons such as Andy Warhol. In 2011 Vienna’s coffee houses were listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

Columbia’s coffee growing region.

This coming week I’ll be Zoom-travelling to the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, a UNESCO World Heritage site located at the foothills of the western and central ranges of the Cordillera de los Andes. I’m looking forward to a virtual tour of the coffee growing plantations amongst the spectacular mountain scenery and learning more about production. I’ll report back in next week’s Journal.

Food fortnight

“It’s a marvel to see and taste all the incredible British varieties we can reconnect with… of apples, pears, quince, medlars…” Raymond Blanc.

This week continues the celebration of the sustainable, high animal welfare, environment enhancing, delicious food produced in Great Britain. Food Fortnight Week runs until Friday 4 October. Hashtagtravelling.com Journal continues to champion British produce and producers, from Raymond Blanc and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons’ orchard, to single-estate Welsh honey and independent coffee roasters. Delicious cocktails by Tom Savano using artisan spirits, to Pentire Drinks’ delicate botanical non-alcoholic spirits made with Cornish herbs. Let’s all support British produce and producers who are working in a sustainable and seasonal way.

Stargazing: Mars

The Lowell Observatory in Arizona stages guided, interactive, virtual viewing sessions. Mars at Opposition (October 27, 8pm AZ/PT) from the Giovale Open Deck will provide the opportunity to gaze upon celestial objects through the observatory’s 14″ PlaneWave CDK telescope, and especially Mars at its biggest and brightest. You’ll then be able to choose which objects to see next courtesy of YouTube’s chat function. Afterwards, there will be discussion around significant past research, as well the future of Mars research and exploration. Note: This is subject to the weather!

In my inbox

We have ignition

Lighting up the winter at Gibside.

The eighteenth century Georgian gardens at Gibside in the Derwent Valley in North East England, will be lighting up after dark this December for the first time. The estate covers 600 acres of woodland and countryside and encompassing a tree-lined avenue, Neo-classical Chapel and orangery.  Ignite: Gibside, open on selected days from 11 to 30 December. As with all National Trust properties at the moment, you’ll need to book a time slot but I’ve found recently that this avoids over-crowding and makes for a much more enjoyable experience. Advanced tickets adult £15, child £10.00, family tcket avaiable, includes parking. #igniteatgibside

That’s it for this week. Have a peaceful and safe week and if you try any of these ideas, let me know how you got on in the comments and share your photos on @Hashtagtravelin on Instagram and Twitter #hashtagtravelin.


As always please check the Foreign travel advice web site for the latest on international travel guidelines.

Unless otherwise stated, I have no affiliation with the brands mentioned but simply aim to share places and products that have caught my eye. I will always state if a post is sponsored or gifted.

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