by Fiona Duncan-Steer

Recent Posts

One The Brayford, Lincoln

One The Brayford, Lincoln

My recent stay at the stunning self-catered apartment, One The Brayford in Lincoln was made all the more special when I discovered just where it was located- adjacent to the waterfront known as Brayford Wharf with a spectacular view overlooking the harbour. A stroll along […]

The Alchemist Nottingham

The Alchemist Nottingham

The meaning of the word alchemist translates to a person who transforms or creates something through a seemingly magical process.  This perfectly sums up the entire ethos behind The popular bar/restaurant The Alchemist, where I had the pleasure of visiting recently in Nottingham for a […]

Hilton East Midlands

Hilton East Midlands

Hilton Hotel group have always had a great reputation for doing exactly what they say on the tin, consistent, affordable accommodation with all amenities covered and Hilton East Midlands are no exception, with their fantastic location just four miles from East Midlands airport, this is a popular stay for holiday makers, as well as families and those on business; based on the fact they offer conference facilities, free WIFI and a cyber lounge area.

I recently stayed at Hilton Nottingham and I have to say this is different again in design, layout and décor, so clearly you cannot compare all Hiltons as each are individual in style but as mentioned have similar facilities and cover everything you may need, from leisure, pool, gym, jacuzzi to breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea.  Afternoon tea is just what we enjoyed upon checking into their branded restaurant Whisk and Ladle…

The afternoon tea is more than ample with a good amount of finger sandwiches with various fillings including egg mayonnaise, falafel, roasted vegetable with hummus and mixed cheese, which came in both brown bread and wraps, beautifully presented.

The freshly baked scones were still warm and of course served with strawberry jam and clotted cream- a must.  The cake selection was very colourful and again varied with miniature Victoria sponge cake, lemon tart, chocolate slab cake, fruit baskets, macarons and more- a real feast and too much to manage in one sitting, so lucky for us they were happy to box up the remaining to take to our room for later.

We enjoyed a glass of Prosecco and a pot of tea also, English breakfast and fruit tea – where a selection of other options were also available to choose from.

We retreated to our room to enjoy a much needed end of the working week afternoon nap and the bed I have to say was super comfy, fluffy ‘sink your head right into’ pillows and the cosiest of rooms- almost loft bedroom style with a slanted roof and Velux windows.  We happened to be there the weekend we were blessed with twenty-four hours of torrential rain,  so to hear the rain pelting onto the roof and windows gave a very cosy feel to our stay and believe it or not aided our sleep even further.

Dinner was at 8pm and we were seated to the rear of the restaurant- which was rather large with plenty of covers.  Our service was tentative, and we decided to go for a starter each with a main course and leave out dessert on this occasion, due to the fact we had cleverly saved our cakes from our afternoon tea sitting.  As a vegetarian I opted for the cheesy nachos served with lashings of sour cream, salsa and guacamole plus the odd jalapeno which I have recently started to brave.   Main course was the bean crockpot, served in just that – a good sized portion I was never going to be able to finish but gave a good go.  The bean chilli was served with a small bowl of rice and more nachos and was very tasty indeed, along with a pot of cooling sour cream.

My non-vegetarian dining partner opted for the pork belly pieces to start with followed by fish and chips which were served in a wire basket with baked beans instead of mushy peas (upon request), tartare sauce and a wedge of lemon.  The food was all very tasty and well portioned.

The end of the evening saw us retreat to our room to enjoy a bath and film before we caught some Z’s with another fantastic night’s sleep, before waking for the mammoth of breakfasts!

Breakfast is always a highlight for me at Hilton Hotels as they do it so well, covering all bases plus more.  You can expect a full continental and I mean full, with all of the pasties, freshly baked muffins in various flavours, yogurts, fresh fruit, cereals, juices, teas, coffees, smoothies, meats, cheeses and fish as well as bagels, various breads to toast and healthy toppings.

Hot breakfast choices on offer include the full English naturally with tasty veggie sausages and eggs cooked anyway you like by the chef.  I went for my usual beans on toast with hash browns, sautéed button mushrooms and scrambled egg, plus a bowl of cereal with almond milk.  Vegetarian, vegan and gluten free are all catered for and any other special dietary requirements can be upon request.

There is plenty of parking at the hotel with a sheltered loading bay right outside the front entrance coming it handy when the rain is relentless upon check-out. 


The high light of the stay on this occasion for me was the fact that I slept like a baby the whole time I was there, which for me is unusual.  The bedroom was cosy, the bed super comfy and the pillows- well let’s just say I need to get ordering some of the same!

The Sleepy Vegetarian

at1.SPACE + The Sensory Kitchen

at1.SPACE + The Sensory Kitchen

We recently witnessed a full moon and to my discovery many celebrate this through various ceremonies, including the act of yoga and meditation. Nottingham based at1.SPACE did just that, as I was invited to join in on a Full Moon Ceremony during the evening at […]

The Hilton Nottingham

The Hilton Nottingham

Nottingham Hilton Hotel (formally the prestigious Victoria Hotel) for those of the generation to remember was my recent ‘home for the night ‘as I visited to experience what facilities they had to offer and I was not disappointed… I decided to take along my mum […]

Saco Nottingham- Beautiful Spacious Self-Catered Apartments

Saco Nottingham- Beautiful Spacious Self-Catered Apartments

Susanna and Peter were very welcoming as the first faces we were greeted with upon arrival at Saco Nottingham, located in the affluent Ropewalk/Park Estate border of Nottingham.

It was Peter’s first day in training and he did very well in making us feel welcome and helped with our bags to our self-catered apartment, which was absolutely lovely.

The first feeling on opening the front door was just how spacious the surroundings were, the new carpets and the view overlooking the attractive buildings of College street, holding such character- something you just never notice when walking on foot along the same street.

The living area was open plan to the kitchen, which was very modern and looked brand new. Saco Nottingham have recently undergone high spec refurbishments in some of their rooms and we were blessed to have been given one of those, which felt fresh and smelt nice and new.

A two seater sofa, Television and contemporary style black leather seat sat to one side of the living room with a good sized glass dining table and chairs to the other, to which we later enjoyed a home-cooked meal on with a glass of Pinot Noir.

The kitchen contained all of the necessary appliances with good quality white goods, a large fridge and an easy to use oven/electric hob.  There was plenty of cupboard storage space and everything you need utensil wise to cook up a storm in the kitchen if you felt so inclined.

We were given a nice welcome pack of Dorset luxury muesli, milk in the fridge and tea/coffee and Border biscuits.  Plus the bathroom was complete with L’Occitaine toiletries and fluffy towels.

The bathroom as it happens was a real feature of the apartment- clearly newly fitted out with an all singing all dancing power shower , which again was very contemporary and stylish in design and looked like something from a sci fi movie!

The bright and breezy bedroom and bed was a good size, very comfortable and contained a large wardrobe, safe and television with views again overlooking the Ropewalk area.

The service throughout was excellent, as the reception was manned for most the time we were there and we were easily able to log on to the free Wifi throughout our stay.   Upon check-out we dropped our key card in the self-check-out box and drove straight out of the automatic gate in the underground car-park, located just off College Street.  Parking by the way is included in your stay and is safe and enclosed within the building, so very convenient for loading/unloading the car.

The location of the apartment block itself is very central and convenient to all main road routes, and local amenities with plenty of shops and every cuisine of restaurant you may desire during your stay, with popular restaurants Harts and Browns within a short walk away- we enjoyed a lovely breakfast at Harts the following morning following check-out.

My husband and I very much enjoyed our stay with Saco Nottingham and couldn’t believe the value for money you can achieve by selecting to stay in a self-catered apartment over a regular  hotel as an alternative- something we don’t always think to do, but most certainly will do now!


My stand out memory of the stay was the fantastic ‘futuristic’ looking power shower over the bath and stylish mirror fronted cupboard with light over the sink- so refreshing to have a brand new, clean and contemporary bathroom in overnight accommodation, as so often this room gets overlooked.

Fiona Duncan-Steer

Birdhouse Cafe, Nottingham

Birdhouse Cafe, Nottingham

The Birdhouse Café located on the corner of Middle Pavement and Weekday Cross, in Nottingham recently opened its doors with owner Dan Shaw present to offer a warm welcome to those who attended the launch evening.  Dan brings a wealth of experience from his background […]

SACO Derby Apartments- The Millhouse

SACO Derby Apartments- The Millhouse

Set in a stunning refurbished mill, Saco have converted what was once a mill house into a set of beautiful self-serviced apartments just a short walk from Derby city centre… Located within a private courtyard behind electric gates the security is high and as this […]

Brewery Experience Day- Brewhouse & Kitchen

Brewery Experience Day- Brewhouse & Kitchen

Masterclasses are quite obviously on trend at the moment and due to their vast array of themes they are also extremely popular group activities to undertake- gin making/cocktail making/flower arranging you name it there’s a masterclass for it, all making for perfect team building or celebratory activities to entertain all ages and demographics.

Brewhouse & Kitchen do these very well I recently learnt, as I discovered the Brewery Experience Days held in-house at their Nottingham venue…

Our group was made up of five altogether, but numbers differ depending on dates and how big your own group happens to be, though they can generally cater for large numbers.  I went along with a friend of mine and so we were put together with another group of three who happened to be great fun, so it turned out to be a productive networking/friendship making experience too- bonus!

To take part in the experience you will need to commit the day to the love of beer as the timings are 10am-5pm, though you can shoot off a little earlier if you need to as the latter part is made up of mostly sitting around drinking.

I myself have never actually been a beer drinker, so you may ask why I went along… Honestly I love to try new things and get to the bottom of how things are made and so I was both excited and intrigued to take part.

Andy Moore our head brewer for the day bought us teas and coffees to wake us up first thing following a brief introduction of the day ahead- 8 beers were on offer throughout the day for us to look forward to trying, as well as breakfast, lunch and the chance to actually help brew the next batch which would be sold behind the bar.

We placed our breakfast orders (bacon butties for most and a hash brown and mushroom butty for me – yum!)  We then had a tour of the brewery which is located just opposite the main bar in the venue.  The copper drums are actually very attractive pieces to look at so not an eye sore at all like you may expect, but rather an addition to the beer themed pub/restaurant and throughout the day many people came over to have a sneek peek at what we were up to over the railings. 

We realised very quickly that we were going to be required to roll our sleeves up and get stuck in and manual work it was too- at one point I felt the need to remove my jacket to give myself full movement and potential whilst using my spade to scoop out the malt from the drum into several sacks below- this was most certainly a two man/woman job; one to be chief ‘scooper’ and the other to hold the sack open so it didn’t spill all over the floor- my friend and I made a great team, as the others in the group watched on.  What was great was that there were plenty of jobs for everyone to do, so no one went without some kind of on-hands experience, whether it was measuring or weighing ingredients, pouring in wheat/malt from the sacks into the drum or stirring and as it was just a team effort this is why I could plainly see this experience day as being perfect for team building and corporate away days.

Andy explained what ingredients were used to make beer and to make the beer and I asked how you get the different flavours – his response was that it is simply the ratio of ingredients you include and the temperature in which you brew it – this basically determines the strength of the beer as well as the taste.

The beer we were tasked to brew that day was called Tricky Tree (sold on their menu) at 5.5% described as bitter, citrusy and hoppy.  Hops wasn’t the best smelling ingredient I have to say, in fact it was my least favourite out of the bunch, with malt being the clear winner in the group- reminding us of the popular bedtime drink-Horlicks.

Step By Step Guide To Brewing Beer

  • Hot water (77c) from the HLT (Hot liquor tank) is mixed with the malted barley and speciality malts in the mash tun.  After mixing well the grains are left to steep (for an hour) in about 68c water this activates the enzymes which turn the starch in the grain into simpler sugars for the yeast to consume later. 
  • After the grains have steeped for an hour a process called re-circulation takes place which draws the now named wort from the bottom of the mash tun back onto the top and the husks from the grain act as a natural filter, therefore making a clearer wort.
  • The next process is called the sparge – this is where the wort from the mash tun is transferred into the copper (the boiling vessel) and at the same time the remaining liquor in the HLT is transferred on top of the mash (grain) to rinse the grains of any residual sugars.
  • The boil – this is where we aim to balance out the sweet wort with bitterness from the hops and also where we add our hop flavours. 
  • The whirlpool – this is where centrifugal force pulls all the hop matter into the middle of the copper and therefore allows to run clearer wort from the side of the copper.
  • Heat exchange – The wort is then transferred into a fermenter via the heat exchange, where the wort temperature drops from 90c+ down to 20c.
  • The final job of the brew day is to add the yeast.

The last steps

  • Fermentation – which will take about 4/5 days when the hops is added for dry hopping.
  • The beer is then cold crashed to about 3/4c for 2 days to help drop out any sediment/yeast/hops.
  • Packaging – the beer will be packaged into a keg and branded ready for sale.

Wheat, barley and ninety kilos of pale ale malt are added to the tank as the main ingredient as well as hops for flavour and something called carolite and yeast.  This is then mixed together by hand initially which was pretty hard work as more ingredients were added the mixture became thicker and thicker- the automated system then takes over with the flick of a switch and you can leave it to do its thing for a while, whilst you enjoy more drinking time.  Andy however did keep checking on the temperature and the tanks in general throughout the day to ensure everything was as it should be.

67/68 degrees was the perfect temperature to reach for our particular beer, however each one differs, depending on whether you are making beer, lager, stout etc.. each temperature wiill determine the strength and taste, as well as the hops.

We were kept hydrated throughout the day with drinks orders being taken (namely water/soft drinks/teas and coffees) and then various beer samples were placed in front of us at any given moment so we certainly never went without.  We sampled an 1899 pale ale, Talladega beer, Old big head (named after Brian clough) and a fruit IPA with tropical notes in particular mango and this was strong at that being 7 percent.  We sampled a stout with notes of chocolate and coffee and various others with a few extras thrown in for good measure – Andy really was a good sport.  He was very knowledgeable about the industry and was on hand to answer any questions anyone had, being attentive throughout the entire day.

The final beer we tasted which we all really liked was actually brewed by a group of women in aid of International Women’s Day who were there on a previous beer experience day, which they named ‘raspberry whip’ because of its distinct sweet, raspberry flavour.  This was most definitely my favourite one of the day.

Half way through the day after working up an appetite we were awarded lunch – again this was chosen by us from a nice selection on the menu- I opted for a healthy superfood salad and most others went for the burgers, which all looked great served in brioche buns with chips.

As a reward for all of our hard work , we received not only a certificate for our efforts, but a keg of our choice to take home with us- a really nice bonus and so I went for the Raspberry Whip as did my friend- a great addition to my next BBQ I think!

The Brewery Experience Days are held at Brewhouse & Kitchen venues across the country, are priced at £85 per person for a full day, 10am-5pm and include breakfast, lunch, 8 beers to sample, the chance to try brewing yourself and a certificate and keg to take home.

Fiona Duncan-Steer

All You Yoga

All You Yoga

I’m so pleased to have recently discovered All You Yoga ran by Lee-ann Cordingley. As a self-confessed, not by any means expert but enthusiastic yogi, I have practised yoga for many years- different types, different classes, different teachers and have enjoyed all experiences, as I […]

My Diary

Belvoir Castle

Belvoir Castle

Belvoir Castle has been on my list to visit for years and so when I was recently invited for a tour of the castle and gardens this June, I was delighted to accept…

My fiancé and I checked the weather leading up to our Sunday visit and were pleased to see a scorcher of a day was forecast, so we planned a picnic with our new wicker basket, complete with china crockery and napkins – well if you’re going to do it, do it properly!

After checking into the ticket office, we walked through a tree lined pathway, which led to the crossroads to which you could choose which garden/trail you visited – we opted to do ‘The Duchesses Garden’ and a good choice it was to, as this turned out to be our most favourite of them all and the destination choice of our picnic a little later in the day.

The four acre garden (rediscovered in 1970 by Frances, the Dowager Duchess of Rutland) is within a valley with stone steps leading down to a small pond with an elegant statue at the foot and beautiful flowers, plants and trees along the way.  The top of the hill featured an unusual structure- ‘The Moss House’, built in 1818 and restored again in 2014.

We then found ourselves in ‘The Hermits Garden’, a seven acre plot adjoining ‘The Duchesses Garden’, which we were pleased to learn had just undergone a huge clearing, regeneration programme, which is clearly an ongoing project and something we look forward to revisiting in years to come, when it has matured.

After doing a U-turn, we then found ourselves in ‘The Japanese Woodland’, aptly names due to the amount of Japanese and Chinese plants in the area.   As the area is again within a  valley dip, it provides a natural shelter for many exotic plants that thrive there.

A steep walk led us to ‘The Rose Garden’, where for the first time the astounding first sight of Belvoir Castle is awaiting- what an impressive view!

Various statues live in the grounds of Belvoir, including the striking statue of ‘Winter’ by Caius Gabriel Cibber and a further six statues in ‘The Rose Garden’, which amazingly are some of the oldest statues in England and the current roses you see there were all planted by the current Duchess of Rutland- Emma.

The pathway from the rose garden then led us around the castle, offering beautiful views over Leicestershire, eventually leading to the castle entrance…

Pre-booked tours of the castle do take place regularly (timings are all on their website), however we opted to take a leisurely walk around ourselves and there were several friendly tour guides along the way to offer assistance or answer any questions, advising the best route to take to ensure you didn’t miss anything.

Interestingly the family of Belvoir have resided in the castle unbroken for almost a thousand years and is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland.  The land was a gift from William The Conqueror and many works of art and portraits don the walls of past kings and queens, giving you a real feel of history as you wander around the ornate rooms.  My most favourite room was the ‘Elizabeth Saloon’, intended for ladies to reside to after dinner.  With gold gilt, plush cherry red and coral fabrics and extravagantly designed furniture, including of course a chaise longue or two.

It was also nice to see modern photographs of the current family in each room, giving you a real feel for the families who have resided there through the ages. Interestingly the castle was given its French name ‘Belvoir’ meaning ‘beautiful view’ (now pronounced ‘beaver’).

At the end of our tour, we visited the castle gift shop and naturally bought some Belvoir shortbread to take home, however there were also a lovely selection of homemade jams- made by the Duchess herself as well as several country style items on sale.

A tea room can also be found at the end of the tour offering afternoon /cream tea and a selection of refreshments and lunch items.

As mentioned we opted for a picnic in the beautiful surroundings of the Duchesses garden and the weather did not disappoint, we managed to sunbathe as did a few others in the area and thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Belvoir, which most certainly won’t be our last.

Entrance into the castle and gardens on a combined ticket costs just £15 for Adults and £8 for children aged 4-16 (children under 3 are free).  It is also possible to just have garden tickets at a cost of £8 for adults & children are free.

Fiona Duncan, RSViP