Tag: Cheshire

How to drink to English Wine Week at the Carden Park Hotel in Cheshire

Cheers! It’s English Wine Week.

I went to raise a glass at my nearest vineyard, nestled in the Cheshire countryside at the Carden Park Hotel and Spa estate [pictured above], for a national newspaper feature.

* The edited article was published yesterday in the Sun on Sunday. This is my original version.

The vines stretch out across the estate, the grapes ripening in the sunshine. By late October, they should plump and ripe to pick for the wine-making harvest.

But we’re not in Bordeaux or the Barossa Valley. With English Wine Week starting today, we have given up on the amber-list lottery in favour of a grape British staycation in rural Cheshire.

Wandering through the three-acre vineyard at Carden Park, the Cheshire country-estate hotel around 30 minutes from the city of Chester, feels like a walk in the Napa Valley wine country — without the airport scramble.

Carden Park is home to one of the more northerly of the 770-odd vineyards in England. The majority are found in the Southeast but there are also over 30 vineyards in Wales and nearly 90 across the Midlands and the North.

The vineyard produces on average 7,000 bottles of sparkling Carden Park Estate Reserve wine each year from its two grape varieties, Seyval Blanc and Pinot Noir.

“The sandy soil and microclimate in this part of Cheshire suit those grape varieties to produce the best yield,” says Estates Manager Peter Pattenden.

WINE TRAIL

English wine travel is also booming with an average of 4,449 monthly visits to vineyards according to Wine GB, the national association for the English and Welsh wine industry.

Some larger wineries, such as Chapel Down in Kent and Llanerch in South Wales, have championed wine weekends away, combining meals and accommodation with winery tours.

Carden Park currently offers a more informal, self-guided stroll through the vineyard. There are plenty of options, however, for a wine-pairing weekend of Great British food and drink with wide-screen Cheshire countryside views.

After we had explored the estate, we headed into nearby Chester to meet local wine expert Richard J. Smith. He founded the Wine School of Cheshire and recently opened The Tasting Room in Chester, offering tasting events and wine-appreciation classes.

English wines are, he says, finally give the French and new-world winemakers a run for their money at international tastings.

Traditionally, English wines were sparkling but Richard champions still wines, favouring new grape varieties, such as white-wine Bacchus, that grow well in cooler UK climates.

“The Romans brought vineyards to England but, when I tried my first English wine around 1990, I simply poured it down the sink,” says Richard.

“English wine has transformed in recent years with new winemakers, technology and, of course, the effects of climate change,” he adds, opening a bottle of Pinot Noir with hints of burnt raspberry from the Gusbourne Estate winery in Kent.

We also taste a glass of Atlantic Dry from the Camel Valley winery in Cornwall. It’s fruity and fragrant — perfect with white fish or goat’s cheese.

“Our wineries are often family owned and the grapes are hand-picked,” adds Richard, who has four tastings planned for English Wine Week, and runs regular summer-evening wine cruises on Chester’s River Dee with the local boat company, Chester Boat.

“I love the sense of personality this brings to the new generation of English and Welsh wines.”

FINE DINING

Back at Carden Park, it’s time for dinner at The Vines, Carden Park’s new fine-dining restaurant inspired by the estate’s vineyard. The plush-green decor and starched tablecloths create a genteel atmosphere, complemented by a fine collection of wines from around the world.

The hotel also recently opened Vertigo at Carden, new aerial adventure course, while the Spa at Carden is ideal for some next-day recovery after a glass of vino too many.

But, for now, we tuck into lemon sole with local asparagus and roast beef, all washed down with a bottle of Carden Park Estate Reserve Rosé, priced at £47 in the restaurant.

The speciality coffee-bean ice-cream, served with amoretti biscuit, is our new favourite desert.

As the sun sets over the vineyard, we finish our stay by raising a glass to the new breed of English winemakers taking home-grown wines to the world.

Read the story at Sun Travel.

Behind the scenes as Chester Zoo prepares to re-open to visitors

Preparations for post-Covid visits to Chester Zoo.

The moment the gates swing open on Monday morning is one staff feared they would never see.

“We were three weeks away from closing down,” says Jamie Christon, Chief Operating Officer, pulling up the collar of his Chester Zoo fleece against a sudden downpour.

“I went through the four stages of grief in 48 hours. Then,” he smiles, “we decided to fight.”

Chester Zoo found itself threatened with extinction on June 1 when the government ordered it to remain closed indefinitely — despite having put measures in place to make visits Covid secure.

The subsequent fundraising campaign secured over £3m in a week to ensure the zoo, founded in 1931 and home to 135,000 animals, could be saved.

The public support contributed to the announcement by Boris Johnson this week that English zoos could re-open within a partial easing of lockdown measures.

“We had been haemorrhaging money since closing on March 21,” says Jamie. “It costs £0.5m per month to feed the animals alone.”

Fresh start

Mandatory online tickets (including those for members) are now on sale, although visitor numbers will be limited to 3,000 per day — compared to an average of 10,000.

But, while all three wildlife areas, plus the nature reserve, will be open, visitors will notice changes to comply with social distancing.

So, what to expect? I’ve come to Chester Zoo for a preview.

Beyond the gates, I find a series of 2m markers leading to self-scanning ticket booths and the first of 30 hand-sanitisation units on site.

A pressure-value system will operate at the entrance to manage numbers, Jamie explains, so ticket holders are advised to avoid the 10am opening queue.

Walking around the 128-acre site, we inspect some of the pinch-point measures installed at the more popular attractions, such as the elephant and giraffe enclosures.

New protective screens, regularly deep cleaned, stand between visitors and animals and stand-off markings on the floor indicate the line to stand behind.

Footsteps illustrate the viewing points behind the line to maintain social distance between visitors.

The new rules will take some getting used for both the visitors and animals. When we approach the Humboldt Penguins, splashing playfully in their giant tank, a couple swim over curiously.

“Some species, such as the penguins and giraffes, are very social animals,” explains Jamie.

“The eerie quiet of the zoo during lockdown has been disconcerting for us all.”

Day trip

If you’re making a day of it, then 12 kiosks are opening for take-away snacks and all the toilets will be open, albeit with queueing outside likely until a traffic lights system is installed.

The picnic benches have been strategically placed at 2m intervals.

All inside habitats and the gift shop will, however, remain closed for now. Some sections of the play areas for children are still roped off and the ATM is closed.

We finish our tour outside The Oakfield pub, the restored former family home of zoo founder George Mottershead.

It’s also closed, although the beer garden may open in coming weeks as Government regulations evolve.

It may be a while, however, before visitors are allowed back into the cosy library room to admire the archive of Mottershead family photographs over a pint of Deuchars IPA.

Despite the clear markings, the main challenge, I find, will be enforcing social distancing.

This task falls to some 100 furloughed staff who have returned to work, many retraining as welcome staff with a “friendly but firm” brief to ensure visits remain safe.

Looking ahead, there are plans to extend the opening hours to include two weekday evenings until 8pm, plus cheaper afternoon-only tickets as visitor numbers are slowly increased.

The zoo will also run more of the virtual-tour days that proved so popular online during lockdown.

Picnic time

Jamie will be there to open the gates on Monday morning and is hoping for blue skies, the re-opening ensuring the zoo’s conservation work in 40 countries worldwide can now continue.

“My advice is to bring a picnic and make use of the new outdoor spaces. We’re delighted to welcome people back,” says Jamie, who is planning a much-needed UK staycation for the autumn.

“After all, people power saved our zoo.”

Read more at Telegraph Travel.

An exclusive preview of Chester’s new heritage attraction

Today was the opening day at Chester: A Life Story [pictured above], the new heritage attraction in Chester.

I was there early this morning for an exclusive preview of the exhibition, researching an article for The Guardian in the family travel section.

Here’s the recent news item I wrote for the Cheshire Ultimate Guide by way of a preview of the story to come.

A new family visitor attraction has opened in Chester to celebrate the city’s rich social history in time for this year’s Chester Heritage Festival.

Chester: A Life Story puts the emphasis on the often-overlooked stories of ordinary people, using multi-sensory interpretation to highlight the folk who have shaped Cheshire over the past 2,000 years.

Including sections on crime and punishment, and health and medicine, it traces human stories from Roman Chester to the present day via the Middle Ages, aiming to put the story of Chester into a global context.

The heritage attraction is based at St Michael’s Church on Bridge Street, Chester, and managed by Big Heritage, the company that also runs Western Approaches, the wartime secret bunker in Liverpool.

The Chester Heritage Festival runs June 21-29 this year with events around the city.

Chester: A Life Story

Read the full Guardian Travel story here.

How To Spend A Family Day Out At Tatton Park Cheshire

Stuck for a family day out this summer holiday?

Here’s a suggestion based on my latest article for The Guardian and centred around my home patch of Cheshire — well, East Cheshire but it’s near enough.

It centred on a new attraction for the summer holidays at Tatton Park. The Farm [pictured above] is designed to introduce kids to the idea of provenance.

Here’s a preview:

The dramatic highlight is a visit to The Slaughterhouse where the opening salvo is a projected image of a pig hanging upside down from a winch.

It’s a Horrible Histories-style audio explanation of slaughter process, explaining how parts of the animals are used for different products and the importance of good animal husbandry.

Morrissey fans look away now.

Read the whole article: The Farm at Tatton Park, Cheshire, review