afternoon tea · days out · food · reviews · tea

Review: Biddy’s Tea Room, Norwich

Today’s tea review is of Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich, located in Lower Goat Lane. Fortunately the locale is more attractive than the name suggests, featuring an array of boutique shops and a distinct lack of udders and goaty genitalia…

Review: Biddy’s Tea Room, Norwich

First impressions…

As we approached Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich, the first thing that struck me was the old fashioned, apothecary style display in the big glass windows of the shop. But instead of displaying weird and wonderful pills and potions, it displays jar after jar of exotic teas. So far, so exciting… And as you step through the door, the oldey-worldy impression continues.

There’s not a theme, exactly, but if there was it would be something like Colonial Kitsch; Biddy’s is described on its website as a ‘vintage tearoom’, but you can forget the images of dainty pink lace and bunting that the phrase ‘vintage’ tends to conjure up. If other vintage tearooms tend to be designed with Miss Marple in mind, this is a tearoom for Sherlock Holmes or Phileas Fogg. The sofas are big, shiny brown leather affairs, and the walls and cabinets are stocked with curios and the occasional deer skull (although in fairness, the antlers are decked in fairy lights, presumably as a sop to any Miss Marple types passing through).

The enormous main counter is stacked with a huge variety of cakes, brownies, muffins and more to match the array of teas on offer. It’s hugely appetising and easily enough to lure even non-tea lovers into the shop…

Around the World in 80 Teas (…ish)

Once you’re seated, it’s time to pick your tea… Which is easier said than done, as Biddy’s tea menu includes over fifty different loose leaf teas. Most excitingly of all, they also promote tea “mixology” (i.e. blending different teas together) and while their menu gives a few different ‘house’ blend suggestions, they also let customers create their own blends off the cuff. Pretty cool and a bit of a unique selling point for the shop.

As well as tea, Biddy’s in Norwich offers an impressive variety of coffees, floats, milkshakes and FreakShakes (which I believe are like milkshakes but with more calories). We didn’t try any of them, because it was my birthday and that means TEA.

My husband and I actually were both originally going to go for the same tea, a black cherry tea. As it would clearly be ridiculous to both order the same tea from a menu of over 50 options – and did I mention it was my birthday? – my husband kindly swapped and ordered black almond tea instead. Both were fragrant, delicious and served in enormous metal teapots which ensured neither of us ran out of tea or needed a hot water top up.

A Cake Of Identity

And now: the cakes. As it was my birthday (did I mention it was my birthday?) the plan was always to have a piece of cake with our tea. Biddy’s Tea Room had a good selection of gluten-free cakes, which made my husband very happy; he settled on a gluten free chocolate brownie and I went for carrot cake. They also had a number of vegan cakes, so it felt like they catered well to special dietary requirements.

We realised our error when the cakes arrived, however, because they were straight up enormous. I tried to take pictures to show them to scale, but in fact it just looks like the teapot is small rather than showing how big the cake slices are. You’ll just have to take my word for it… You could easily build a structurally sound cottage for a wicked witch, using Biddy’s cake slices as bricks.

The cakes were delectable, and the buttercream that came with the carrot cake, complete with a salted caramel drizzle, was a particular triumph. I hate wasting food though, and there was just no way I could eat all that cake myself. I would happily have paid the same amount for a smaller slice or been forewarned to share a slice with my husband.

Biddy’s Tea Room Review: Conclusions

In fairness, cake sizing is a relatively minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. We spent a very contented hour or so lounging on the comfy sofas in Biddy’s, sipping tea, munching cake, and trying to work out what exactly was going on in some of the stranger Victorian-era artworks on the wall (I’m pretty sure the artist had never seen a hippo, for one thing). The staff were friendly without being overbearing, the atmosphere was relaxed and cosy, and there’s a surprising amount of space inside meaning you actually stand a good chance of getting a table.

If you love great loose leaf tea – or you’re in the habit of eating two slices of cake in one sitting – I can thoroughly recommend you check out Biddy’s next time you’re in Norwich. You can also find them online, with tea and cakes available to order from their website. Or, if you love a themed afternoon tea venue, why not head to my review of the Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wands & Wizards Exploratorim…?

craft · days out · Just for fun · lifestyle · Seasonal

Window Wanderland: Making An Illuminated Window Display

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve used pretty much all my spare time when Little Man was sleeping or doing his settling-in sessions at nursery to work on creating an illuminated window display for Window Wanderland 2020. I themed the display around the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro, because a) it’s one of my favourites, b) I assumed there would be lots of families out and about with kids, and c) honestly the characters have nice simple designs that should be easy to recreate in a papercut.

I was really happy with the final result!

The front view

In this blog post, I’ll talk about how I created my window display, and also share some photos of some of my favourite illuminated window displays from my local Window Wanderland event this year. Hopefully others will find it useful for information, ideas and inspiration if you’re planning on creating a illuminated window displays yourself. But first things first…

What Is Window Wanderland?

Window Wanderland is a scheme encouraging communities to set up “fun, local, all-people-friendly, window-display-based walking trails then share them with the world.”¬†Illuminated window displays are set up by individuals or families in their homes over a couple of days, and then you can look up a map of your local area showing you where to find displays. It’s a really fun scheme, and obviously it’s especially great this year with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, because it’s all outdoors and compliant with Covid-19 restrictions.

How Do You Make Illuminated Window Displays?

The flippant answer is: however you want to! As I walked around the illuminated window displays in my local area, I would say that it looked like most people (like me!) did displays using coloured crepe paper and black card. I did spot what looked like a display that had been painted onto tracing paper (?) so that it illuminated beautifully, which I thought was a great effect and allowed for a lot of detail:

How Did I Create My Window Wanderland Display?

By taking over the dining room table for about two weeks! Apologies to my very patient husband. I’ll outline exactly how I approached it and some of my top tips for how to make an illuminated window display with paper and card…

Step 1: Measure your windows

We have quite a complicated downstairs front window set-up, with 10 panels of varying shapes and sizes, so the first thing was to measure them up. I did a really bad job of this and actually got the measurements for six of the panels wrong, which I only discovered on the night when I went to put my display up in the window… Oops. They were only about 1cm out, but still! I recommend measuring everything twice…

Step 2: Buy your supplies

For my display, I bought a pack of 10 sheets of A2 black card, and a mixed pack of 20 sheets of coloured crepe paper (I already had a lot of the dark blue crepe paper that I used for the background colour). I didn’t use tracing paper as a backing, but lots of people do, especially if you’re going for a more collage-style effect.

My dining room table is in there somewhere…

I already had a craft scalpel in the house, which was essential for the finer lines, and a cutting mat. I also already had Pritt Stick glue in the house, but I ran out on the last day and had to run to the shops to get more – so make sure you have enough glue, as if you have large windows you can end up using a LOT. I also used blu-tack to stick the panels to the windows.

Step 3: Plan your design

I had a vague idea in my head of what I wanted to do, but I first cut my panels of black card into the right sizes for all the window panels – in some cases I also had to stick extra bits of card together to get the right size and shape for my windows. Then I outlined a reasonably thick border around the outer edge of each panel, and then started designing.

I did this as an iterative process, working panel by panel and outlining a design in pencil – rather than designing every panel from the start, before beginning to cut and paste, and I’m glad I did, because the first panel I did was way too complicated and took forever! After that, I simplified my designs a little, and also learned what shapes were easy/difficult to cut etc. as I went. You can see my excessively complicated first panel here – the top one with all the leaves:

I definitely think that when coming up with your design, less is more! I saw some amazing illuminated window displays around town that were just done with two colours – black card and a white background (for instance, see the Halloween themed Window Wanderland display below!). I think the simpler panels of my design have more impact as well.

Spooky…

Step 4: Cutting and sticking

My method was to cut a design out of black card, using a craft scalpel, and then stick coloured crepe paper in the gaps. For a few features, such as the eyes, I then glued more bits of black card on top of the crepe. It was quite fiddly, but I definitely got faster as I went along.

Actually one of the trickiest things was just finding somewhere I could put the panels while the glue was drying!

From indoors, you can see the construction more

How To Illuminate Your Window Display

I simply used blu-tack to attach my pieces of card to our front room windows. We then put the lights on in the front room. To make the display brighter, I also placed a lamp on a table by the window. If you’re wondering how to make your Window Wanderland display brighter, using extra lamps or even a projector will help light up the windows perfectly.

Window Wanderland Ideas and Inspiration

Before I started making my Window Wanderland display, I really wanted to see other people’s displays, for inspiration! So I thought I’d share a few more illuminated window displays that I particularly liked from my local area. Perhaps they will give you ideas for your own window display. Personally, I think windows work best when they have a strong theme – I really liked some of the Halloween themed windows we saw, and those themed around literature or music. As we get closer to Christmas, I imagine that Christmas themed Window Wanderland displays could be really awesome as well. Anyway, here are a few photos of displays from my local event… and my thoughts on how to make something similar.

Koi carp and irises window:

This beautiful display looks like it was made in a similar way to my display: cutting the design out of black card, and backing it with crepe paper.

Abstract colours window:

This abstract design is so beautiful and I think something like this would be easily achievable if you’re not feeling confident about making your window display. Again, it looks like it’s made with black card backed with crepe paper.

Prehistoric ocean window:

This lovely prehistoric ocean display looks like it was made by glueing strips of crepe paper onto tracing paper, and then sticking black cut outs on top.

Your Experience of Window Wanderland Events

I hope this post has been helpful if you’re looking for some inspiration and ideas for a Window Wanderland illuminated display!

Are you taking part in Window Wanderland in your local area? I’d love to see your designs and ideas! Let me know in the comments or tag me on social media for a share.

how to make an illuminated window display for window wanderland pictures and inspiration the sickly mama blog art and crafts
days out · Just for fun · lifestyle · parenting · reviews

Review : Lavender Picnic at Castle Farm Kent

Queen Victoria allegedly loved lavender, even eating lavender jelly with her roast mutton, rather than the more traditional mint. When my mother plans a picnic, it’s typically on a similarly extravagant scale, and to be honest you’re guaranteed a grand feast even if you end up eating it in a car park. So when we set off for a ‘lavender picnic’ at Castle Farm, the UK’s largest lavender farm, we knew we had the ‘picnic’ part covered. It was up to Castle Farm, Kent to provide the lavender.

Booking Your Lavender Picnic

I had booked our picnic at the last minute, thinking it would be something fun and a bit different to do after months spent in lockdown, while remaining safely outdoors and socially distanced. Tickets were ¬£10.25 per adult, which to be honest is pretty darn steep for the privilege of spending two hours in a field. In fairness, the price does include access to a porta-potty. I’m charitably assuming that Castle Farm need to make a bit of extra cash after the impact of coronavirus.

Our Evening At Castle Farm Kent

But if the ticket price matched the rather steep gradient of the lavender fields themselves, we were far from the only ones prepared to pay up. Although the event was definitely busy, the field we were in was so large that there was more than enough space for everyone to set up their picnic rugs at a safe distance from each other, but right up close to the rows of lavender plants. This was no mean feat when some of the picnics were as lavish as ours (for context, the meat selection alone included roast beef, corned beef, salami, ham, chicken drumsticks and scotch eggs).

lavender fields at castle farm kent during sunset

Of course, it’s possible that we actually had no need to worry about coronavirus transmission, as the ancient Greek surgeon Dioscorides noted lavender’s protective effect against the plague, and centuries later during the Black Death, plague doctors stuffed their masks with lavender to try to prevent themselves from catching the disease. Castle Farm make no such claims about their lavender. Perhaps their gift shop is missing a trick, given the new requirement for face masks to be worn in shops.

Instead Castle Farm, Kent emphasize the relaxing properties of lavender, even marketing their own range of natural sleep products. Relaxation was certainly in the air as we sat and enjoyed our picnic in the gently cooling breeze. Little Man had a very cosy nap in my arms, meaning I had to ask Martin to cut my food up for me so that I could eat it with one hand. Before we knew it, an hour and a half had slipped by and we had barely stepped beyond the first two metres of lavender.

mum and baby in the lavender fields at castle farm kent

So, with a newly-awake Little Man, we set off up into the heart of the fields. If the scent of lavender on the breeze was beautiful at the site of our picnic, it was incredible when you were right in the middle of the field. Along the rows of purple flowers, there were hundreds of bumblebees and honey bees hard at work; when you stood still, you could hear a gentle buzzing in the air. Little Man was fascinated by the flowers and the bees, and he enjoyed smelling the lavender as well. Older children from other parties were having a wonderful time running up and down the neat rows of plants.

baby close up in the lavender fields at castle farm kent

The views across the purple hillsides were stunning with the sun just starting to set, and the bullocks in a field nearby were in a playful mood, treating us to the sight of them gallivanting about and going for a swim in the river. It seemed only fair that they enjoy life before achieving their ultimate destiny as Castle Farm Beef. I haven’t tried the beef myself, but I can attest that it does indeed seem to come from happy cows.

Picnicking on a slightly overcast evening, amongst cascades of British lavender, felt like an experience that was at once very English (the weather), very French (a la Provence’s purple fields of lavender*), and somewhat Japanese (a la hanami, the celebration of the transient beauty of flowers).

Overall, it was a wonderful, memorable experience that was more than just the opportunity to get some instagramable photos. I’d be interested in the future to try one of the Castle Farm lavender walks, and learn a little more about the farm and how they produce their lavender and essential oils.

enjoying a family picnic in the lavender fields at castle farm kent review

Accessibility at Castle Farm, Kent

The car park was nice and close to the field, so if you have reduced mobility, it would still be possible to access the site – although the ground is uneven and flinty, which may be a challenge for wheelchairs or anyone very unsteady on their feet. There are no designated car park spaces for disabled vehicles although you could park away from other cars if you needed the space. We put Little Man in his carrier rather than test the pram’s off-roading capabilities.

Toilets and baby change facilities were provided, albeit as temporary portaloos with steps up to the door, which again could prove challenging if you have mobility issues.

* Actually the “lavender” in Provence is lavandin, which is distinct from British lavender. Both are grown at Castle Farm, so let’s not quibble too much…

More ideas for days out in Kent

Check out this list of other family days out in Kent for inspiration for your next day trip!