Best of 2021— Part II

Top 10 posts — Part II

The best of the best from 2021

5. Cozy and covered dining — Six weatherproof options for London and Surrey

4. Snowy Surrey saunter — Hour-long walk worth bundling up for

3. May flowers bloom into June —Catch the flowers while you still can

2. Favorite Custom Gifts — Skip the mall madness and support small businesses on-line instead

1. Bridgerton on location — Bridgerton on location

As we turn the corner on 2021 — cheers to 2022 and everything it holds!

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Best of 2021

Top 10 posts — Part I

After being locked in, posts about getting out were popular along with gift-giving and of course those involving the royalty:

10. Hampton Court Flower Show blooms on — World's oldest and largest flower show takes place in July
9. London Cocktail Week — £7 drinks at 250+ venues in October

8. Experience Gifts — Five gifts not to be missed

7. Fit for a Prince — Duke of Edinburgh Royal Warrant Appointments

6. Gifts for Mum's Day . . . — Mothering Sunday and beyond

Best of 2021, Part II will feature the best of the best from 2021.

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Experience Gifts

Five gifts not to be missed

For the person that has everything or needs nothing, an experience gift might just be the perfect fit. Some of my favorite ones are offerring gift vouchers, including:

Bisley Shooting Ground — Set within 3,000 acres in Surrey, Bisley Shooting Ground is Europe’s largest sporting clay ground and one of the top shooting schools.  Here's a chance to try one of the fastest growing sports in the country with no prior experience required.Vouchers available £50 — £150

Coutours Emma Parker uses her PR background to discover London's hidden gems, including 'Feast from the East' (street food in London's East End) and 'History of London in 4 Drinks' (tea, coffee, gin or beer). hidden gems, including 'Feast from the East' (street food in London's East End) and 'History of London in 4 Drinks' (tea, coffee, gin or beer).
Walking tour vouchers start at £20 / person

Perfume Studio — After an introduction to 18 blends created by their Master Perfumer, you'll have a chance to sample, test and combine them to create a signature fragrance of our own to take home.
Fragrance experiences starting at £49 /person

Shoreditch Street Art Tours — This tour always offers something different since new art shows up all the time and in the most unusual places. Think of it as live Where's Waldo, but the art you are looking for ranges from famous Bansky to C215 to piggy sculptures.
Public tour vouchers £20 / adult, £10 / child

Sweet Tooth Tours — Led by Le Cordon Bleu pastry chef Lynne Staartjes, Sweet Tooth Tours highlight London's best sweets (bakeries, chocolate shops, gelaterias), savories (cheese mongers) and more.  Once you have tasted London, head to Paris where Lynne leads similar tours!
London experiences start at £58 / person (minimum of 2 for a private tour)

While you are shopping for someone else, you might just find something for yourself too!

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Favorite custom gifts

Without heading to the shops

Black Friday marks the official start of the holiday shopping season. Skip the mall madness and support small businesses on-line instead:

Original Welly Boot Collection
Since 2002, This is Nessie has been producing signature watercolor wellie prints. Designs are updated every season and comes framed or ready to be framed.
Bonus : 20% off orders £60 or more

Personalized Metal Street Sign
— Not on the High Street’s popular aluminum street sign can be personalized with your family’s name and post code. If this doesn't suit, they have 5,000+ other small creative businesses to choose from.
Bonus : On sale for £12.80 with free UK delivery

Vintage Map 
Select a special place, a message and design and let Posh Totty Designs do the rest. Their pieces are handmade and made-to-order, including keepsake jewelery.
Bonus : Free UK delivery with code 'DASHER'

London Needlepoint Kit
— Not exactly custom, but considering it is just the kit — each one comes out as one-of-a-kind. I personally didn’t have the patience to stitch it. Thankfully my sister did!
Bonus : £5 off small kits with code SMALL5 and £10 off big kits code BIG10 for orders placed by Tuesday

Order on-line now for discounts and holiday delivery!

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Halloween Happenings

Something for everyone in Surrey

Halloween has become increasingly popular in the UK and is one of the country’s biggest cultural events. Here are a few ways to celebrate in Surrey:

For kids
Claremont Landscape Garden (Esher) — Complete the spell and save creatures from an evil wizard and earn your own wand.
£2 / trail added to normal admission
+44 1372 467806
Portsmouth Road, Esher, Surrey, KT10 9JG

Garsons Farm (Esher) — Garsons will award prizes for spotting colored pumpkins and spooky silhouettes, the most creative pumpkin colouring contest and guessing the weight of their giant ghost pumpkin. Visit to take photos among the pumpkins and their photo booth.
Free 1372 460181
Winterdown Road, Esher KT10 8LS

For Adults
The Ivy (Cobham) — Why should kids have all the fun? The Ivy has teamed up with Cazcabel Premium Tequila to serve up Halloween hand-crafted cocktails, including Diablo Verde, Bone Marrow, A Clockwork Orange and The Skull Crusher.
Starting at £9.75 1932 901777
48 High Street, Cobham KT11 3EF

For Family & Friends
The Oatlands Park Hotel (Weybridge) — Afternoon tea includes finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream along with Halloween themed cakes and pastries and feature tea from T2.
Starting at £26.95, £15 (for under 12s) +44 1932 847242
146 Oatlands Dr, Weybridge KT13 9HB

Painshill Park (Cobham) — Afternoon tea will include pumpkin and apple scones along with other Halloween themed treats. £30, £21.50 (for children) includes entry to the Garden and Fairy Door Trail +44 1372 701107
Sandown Sports, More Lane, Esher, Surrey KT10 8AN

While fancy dress is not mandatory, it is highly encouraged!

London cocktail week is back

Original cocktail event runs until October 31

London Cocktail Week will again extend to the end of the month. A £15 wristband entitles you to £7 drinks at 250+ venues. There is also an option to have £7 cocktails delivered to your door with The Drinks Drop. Other specials include ‘your first drink is on us’ for NHS workers and students and six tickets for the price of five for groups.

Some photo-worthy spots include:

Aqua Shard
(London Bridge) — Take in views from 31st floor of The Shard, London's tallest building, while sipping a Hennessy VS Cognac cocktail.

Christopher's Martini Bar (Covent Garden) — Enjoy Pining for you made with Grey Goose Vodka, Apricot Brandy Liqueur, Pineapple Juice, Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice, Homemade Chamomile Syrup & Fresh Basil Leaves in the heart of the theatre district.

City Social (City) — Sip Hazelnut Negroni (Bombay Sapphire Gin, Red Vermouth, Campari and Hazelnut Liqueur) or a S & T (Amaro Santoni Liqueur and Premium Tonic Water).

Ham Yard Hotel (Soho) — Step into this chic bar for a Fords Gin cocktail served with homemade orange, jasmine and lemon bald soda.

OXO Tower
(Southbank) — Pop into this riverside bar for views and a fruity Beluga Noble Vodka cocktail.

sketch (Soho) — Stop in at this stylish bar for Born to Swizzle (The Botanist Gin, Paragon Timur Berry, Green Melon, Pineapple, Lime, Sugar and Bitters) and Huggy Bear (Belsazar Riesling, Diplomatico Rum, Dark Rum, Martini Fiero, Vanilla Syrup and Salted Chocolate Bitters).

Even if you miss your chance for £7 cocktails — these bars are all worth a visit!

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West End Eats

10 stops in 35 minutes
Screenshot by Author of Google Maps
Now that theatres are open at full capacity and restrictions on social contact have eased, it is the perfect time to visit (or re-visit) London’s theatres. There is truly no shortage of places to eat in the West End.  Here is just a taste of places for afternoon tea or pre-theatre dinner:

BONUS : These stops also follow the Art of London digital art trail on display until September 30th.

London Digital Art Trail

Must-see art experience of the year

Art of London has teamed up with National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Academy and broadcast partner Sky Arts to present the Augmented Reality Art Gallery. From now until the end of the month, some of the most popular paintings can be viewed outdoors through a free augmented reality app.

To get started download the Art of London : AR Gallery on iOS or Android. In the app you will find a map detailing the trail throughout the West End, from Orange Street to St. Martin’s Lane, Leicester Square through to Piccadilly Circus, around St James’s towards Piccadilly. Once you locate an Art of London plaque, scan the QR code with your phone and you’ll be able to view the painting on the wall through augmented reality.

The 20 stops include Malala Yousafzai by Shirin Neshat (Orange Street), Bathers at Asnieres by Georges Seurat (130 Jermyn Street) and Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh (Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly) from the National Gallery and Sir Tom Jones by Duncan Shoosmith (114 St. Martin’s Lane) and Sir Ian McKellen by Christian Hook (Wyndham’s Theatre) from Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. There is also a digital map to explore other arts and entertainment offerings in the area.

Screenshot by Author of Art of London

Catch these classic paintings before they disappear!
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Organic September

September 1 — 30
Organized by the Soil Association, Organic September is a month-long British campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of organic food and farming, which include: 1) supporting biodiversity and wildlife; 2) helping to combat climate change; 3) the highest standards of animal welfare; 4) reduced exposure to pesticides; and 5) food as it should be, and food you can trust.

Some of the healthiest places to eat in London and Surrey are:

  • Borough Market (London)
  • Daylesford (Multiple)
  • Farm Girl Cafe (Multiple)
  • Orangery Tea House at Garsons (Esher)
  • Ottolenghi (London)
  • Petersham Nurseries (Multiple)
No better time to de-tox from the summer and have something delcious to eat at the same time!

BONUS : Watch the eye-opening Netflix documentary, 'Kiss the Ground', to learn about newfarming practices designed to combat climate change and perserve the planet.

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Bank on holiday fun

Despite the unpredictable UK weather, three ways to enjoy the last days of summer:

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to . . .
...Picnic at a palace
Buckingham Palace — Buckingham Palace is once again open to the public this summer. While tickets to get inside have long been sold-out, tickets are still available to visit Buckingham Palace Garden and picnic on the lawn. Refreshments can be purchased on-site or bring your own.

Book before 3:45 pm and add-on a Garden Highlights Tour, includes guided visit of the the rose garden, summer house and wildflower meadow. Tickets are £16.50 adults, £15 student / senior, £9 children under 16 (5 and under free) or a family ticket £42 (2 adults and up to 3 children). Garden Tours are an additional £6.50 / person. Limited availability through September 19th 3031 237334
Buckingham Palace, London SW1A 1AA

Try your hand at . . .
...Sketching like the masters
National Gallery — As part of London's Inside Out festival, National Gallery is displaying life-size replicas of some of its most famous paintings, including Botticelli's Venus and Mars and Van Gogh's Sunflowers outdoors on Trafalgar Square.

They are also offering free drop-in Sketch on the Square drawing sessions. While all the artist-led sessions are booked, daily drop-in sessions are available on a first-come, first-served basis. No need to worry about inclement weather either, since sessions are moved inside the Piggot Education Centre, as needed.
+44 2077 472885
Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN

And should the forecast change, you can still . . .

...Sing in the rain without getting wet
Singin' in the Rain — Following sellout runs at Chichester Festival Theatre and London’s Palace Theatre, this is the last chance to catch the special summertime return of the classic Singin' in the Rain at Sadler's Wells Theatre. With tickets as low as £15, it's a perfect way to stay cool, dry (unless you are in the first few rows) and sing your heart out. Through September 5th
Rosebery Avenue, LondonEC1R 4TN

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Hampton Court Flower Show blooms on

The world’s oldest and largest flower show, RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival, runs through Sunday July 11th. The summer showcase takes place for the first time since 2019 during its usual time-frame, while the more widely recognized Chelsea Flower Show shifts to September for the first time in its 108-year history.

During the pandemic, gardening has been the second most popular lockdown activity behind watching TV and one of the most searched terms in Google in the UK. With many citing health and well-being benefits, it is not surprising that nearly half (45%) of the UK population are gardeners. In addition to highlighting innovative gardens and featuring stalls selling plants, tools and gardening accessories, the event will focus on the impact of environmental changes.

Visitors will need to be fully vaccinated or show a negative covid test and practice physical distancing. In case you can’t make it to the show or get a ticket (starting at £63.75) since attendance is limited, here are this year’s medal winning gardens. 2031 666000
A308, East Molesey KT8 9AU

Two more ways to get your flower fix:

Save the Date : September 20th — 25th

Chelsea in Bloom, ‘Extraordinary Voyages’, Chelsea

Save the Date : September 21st — 26th

Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Hospital, Chelsea
Tickets starting at £66.75 8452 605000
Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4S

Mark your diary and book now to avoid disappointment!

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Wimbledon returns

What to expect this year and next

After being cancelled in 2020, Wimbledon is back. It is the only Grand Slam played on grass and the only one to be on hiatus for two-years. Coupled with the tournament being on track to be the wettest in 15 years, this year’s event has certainly been different and full of surprises — especially on the women’s side where most of the top-seeded players have been eliminated.

Attendance has been limited to 50% for Centre and No. 1 courts (expected to be at 100% for semifinals and finals), 75% for other show courts and iconic Henman Hill is limited to 50% too. Ticket holders have been required to show proof of covid status upon entry and wear face masks while moving about.

There is no overnight camping out for tickets or the famous Queue, nor reselling of tickets within the grounds. With players staying in London and no courtside autographs allowed, spectators will not have a chance to interact with players or celebrities that usually stay in Wimbledon village.

Regardless, the return of the first, oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament is a welcome.  On-site, strawberries and cream is being served in sustainable cardboard containers and reusable cups are being introduced — hopefully the few changes that will remain.

If you were not fortunate to get tickets, you can still catch the elaborate displays in Wimbledon and enjoy other special offerings in honor of the tournament:

— Wimbledon Afternoon Tea £90 (served with Laurent-Perrier Brut NV or PimmsRoyale) 2076 298860
Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR 

The Ivy Café Wimbledon
— Wimbledon Cocktails £9.75 (three different Pimm’s infused cocktails), Tennis-inspired melting bombe £8.95 2030 96933
75 High Street, Wimbledon Village SW19 5EQ 

. . . And then there is always next year

In anticipation that Wimbledon will be fully back to normal, enter the Wimbledon Public Ballot for the 135th anniversary tournament by joining myWIMBLEDON for tickets June 27-July 10, 2022:

It is not too early to save the date!

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Kids Week is back

Tickets on sale June 30th

After a year off, Kids Week is back. This year's promotion will be for kids 17 and under since theatres were closed due to covid last year. Also, instead of one full price ticket and one free kids ticket; it will be two half price tickets (additional children will still go half-price).

Organized by the Society of London Theatre, the promotion will extend the entire month of August for 35 shows, including:

  • Disney's Lion King
  • Les Mis : The Staged Concert
  • Mamma Mia!
  • Singin' in the Rain
  • The Play That Goes Wrong
  • The Tiger Who Came to Tea

    For the best selection, pre-pick your show dates and be online Wednesday, June 30th at 10 am when the tickets are released. After a year off, tickets are likely to sellout fast!

  • For more: Download the London via Surrey Book App

    Snag Sunbury Antiques soon

    Next Tuesday will only be the sixth time Sunbury Antiques Market at Kempton Park has welcomed guests since last March.

    For 40 years  the country’s most popular antiques fair has offered free admission and parking — until now that is.  To control the number of guests, they have had to introduce a staggered admissions fee (6.30 am — 8.30 am: £10, 8.30 am — 10 am: £5).  Free admission to all after 10 am and free parking is still available.

    If Covid restrictions were not enough, there are added complications.  This includes limiting operations to primarily outside and a smaller indoor building.  Stallholders are also dealing with the fallout of Brexit, including custom declarations.  These are slated to go into full effect January 2022.

    While it is still unclear how this will impact the 700 stallholders, it is likely prices will go up.  A summer visit to Sunbury may be your best bet for unique new and vintage goods. In addition to the first and last Tuesday of the month, Sunbury Antiques has added an extra date at Sandown Race Course (admission and parking remains free at this venue) on Sunday, August 15th.

    No better time to visit — rain or shine! 1932 230946
    Kempton Park Racecourse, Staines Road East, Sunbury-on-Thames TW16 5AQ
    Sandown Racecourse, Portsmouth Road, Esher KT10 9AJ

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    May flowers bloom into June

    While the last few weeks have been wet in the UK, a heat wave is on its way. Catch the flowers while you still can:

    The Valley Gardens Punch Bowl (Windsor) — The 250-acre Windsor Great Park features thousands of azaleas and rhododendrons in every color, shape and size.
    The Royal Landscape, Valley Gardens, Wick Road, Englefield Green TW20 0HNN

    — As a protected species and nearly half of ancient bluebell woodlands are the UK, there is a good chance you can still spot some fields.

    — Considered the new 'British olive oil' and commonly known in
    the US as canola oil can be seen on the side of highways and from above in case you take to the skies this bank holiday.

    Just like the weather, it is hard to predict just how long these will last!