Family travel with flair

Cotswolds: Delicious food at the Upton Smokery

Tweet  One of the delights of the English countryside is farm shops. Countless times we’ve followed modest signs pointing to discover gustatorial Aladdin’s caves, full of luscious cheeses, tempting meats, fruits so beguiling they’re a little bit obscene. Often I’ll also pick up some bowls or interesting kitchen knickknack as a gift. When we visited the Uptom Smokery (@Uptonsmokery), I wanted to take everything home.   My in-laws got us hooked on the idea of visiting when they pulled out a package of smoked salmon they’d acquired there. “Look at that,” my husband said, eyes glittering as he looked at the slightly coral-coloured wedge of fish. “You can just tell that’s going to be good.” And it was. Delicious, full of flavour. You could discern from its shape before cutting that it had actually been part of a fish — so far from the uniform packaged slabs at the supermarket. We had it in scrambled eggs, then on brown bread, then the next day in rice salad. “I want to visit that smokery,” my husband said several times over the next 12 hours, each time as if the idea had just occurred. So what did we do? We put on our shoes on and drove to the smokery.     Upton Smokery is just outside Burford, a few short steps off the A40. The actual smokery is closed on the weekend so we couldn’t see it in action. So we visited the farm shop. The spring day was bright. As we walked in, it took our eyes a moment to adjust. Somebody appeared at our elbow and offered us fresh coffee, served in a ceramic cup. Then we ooh’ed at a panoply of goods that could tempt you to spend this month’s mortgage. Let me loose in a place like this and I can’t control myself. I run from section to section, caressing the packages, reading the “story” of how they make whatever it is out of virgin’s tears and fresh-dug fairy root, how it is massaged into deliciousness, by hand, using traditional methods. “Look, look!” I cry to my husband. Olive wood cutting boards! Tubs of sour cherries! Smoked duck confit! Biscuits made by small producers! Cherry tomatoes with the stems on! We were lucky to get off as lightly as we did.       We left with a package of 5 smoked chicken breasts (really, you must eat them, you must eat them now, and they were a relatively modest £12.95 for 5); 2 packets of...

Gifford’s Circus: the country circus nobody should miss

TweetNapoleon prances round a picture of Russia, throwing knives at it from his mouth. A woman called The Comet mounts a board seated on the shoulders of two men and vaults 15 feet in the air, doing breathtaking flips. Can’t quite place the story? It’s War and Peace, Gifford’s Circus-style. Where other circuses might content themselves with a loose theme of, oh, “the jungle” or, even more simplistically, “the circus”, this year Nell Gifford’s troupe of acrobats, actors, horsemen and musicians have soared much much higher, performing an adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic. “It’s not My Little Pony, is it?” said a woman behind me on the simple wooden benches under the big white tent. How to describe how charming, richly textured and awe-inspiring Gifford’s Circus is? We’ve been attending for five years this country circus that tours Gloucestershire. Here is the experience: you park your car in a farmer’s field and walk toward the painted gypsy caravans while the sounds of a fairground band organ play. You squeeze together onto benches and watch the clown Tweedy (a clown familiar to all the nursery aged children in the audience) work the audience and lose his hat (“it’s behind you”).  Then the show begins. Two handsome young jugglers radiate charisma while tossing flaming torches. Acrobats do flips and swing high into the air just feet from where you sit. A tap dancing couple fills the tent with the cheerful rhythm of dance before the man dons taps on his hands and walks down a set of stairs, tapping out a beat upside down. Nell Gifford promenades on a horse while a hawk circles inside the tent. Each act corresponds to the classic story. At one point the entire cast, including the live band, dons masks made of feathers, leaves and bits of fabric for a big song and dance. Then, like the Russian winter, it snows inside. Petya dies. (“Daddy, mummy, why did he die?” a 4-year-old asked, in what was certain to be her first lesson in Russian literature.) Tweedy A painted caravan Natasha dancing Tent peg Drinking on high Tea and milk in proper mugs/jugs The handsome jugglers Well-prepared circus-goers Le drapeau A violin-playing acrobat falling Fighting in the snow Musicians and actors The effect is transporting, overwhelming. Each time we go to the circus I feel so overcome by a combination of excitement and emotion that I get a lump in my throat and my vision turns watery. Last year we also tried Circus Sauce, the pop-up restaurant...

Giffords Circus: one of the best things you could do this summer

Tweet“You have to come, the kids will love it!” we cried to our friends J and B. “It’s back after a year off so you don’t want to miss it!” we said, grabbing them by the lapels. If the Ringling Bros Circus was billed as “the greatest show on earth” Giffords Circus claims the title in a much larger arena. This intimate, independent circus has deliciously intricate costumes, a glamorous tight-rope walker, handsome horses, clown acts that are actually funny and a community spirit. It’s magical in a way that would make Walt Disney turn green. In a small tent, set up in a field in the Cotswolds countryside, you feel the immediacy of the daring acts on display. The performers stand just a few feet away performing acrobatics and feats of skill, singing, dancing and entertaining the pants off the rows of adults, children and even teens (teens!) in the audience. We’ve gone to the circus for the past 4 years, excluding last year’s hiatus, and as the ringmaster announces the show and the performers stream in to do an opening song and dance, I have gotten literally choked up with excitement in a way I last experienced as a child. We’ve seen loose-rope walkers (who knew of such a thing?), a troupe of family acrobats (mum, dad and the kids), Cossack trick riders, and an act that consisted of a man doing flips and tricks on a bendy board held on the shoulders of two other men. This year, the highlight for me was charismatic jugglers Bibi and Bichu, seemingly levitating innumerable pins while cheekily working the crowd. For my friend B it was the live band playing everything from stand-up bass to plastic bottles – including the bit where one musician made music with her feet, tap dancing on cymbals in the ring. For B’s son, the chicken running round the ring was a delight. My daughter loved the clown Gabor Vosteens playing first one, then two, then five recorders at once. My husband was amazed by the unicyclist who caught bowls, a teacup and a spoon on her head, while atop a ball. At the centre of the circus is the inspiring Nell Gifford, its creator and the woman who develops each season’s theme – this year it is based around the story of a young girl who loves to train horses. Nell is a horsewoman herself. She founded the circus and runs it with her husband Toti. She also designs the gorgeous, retro costumes – snazzy, sexy outfits...

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