Hickory’s Smokehouse, Chester

Well here’s a thing. How about sitting by the river, drinking in the local vibe and enjoying some scrumptious food to boot? If that apeeals, then I advise you to head for Hickory’s Smokehouse sat on the banks of the serene River Dee in historic Chester.

So, new to the city, and feeling hungry, I left my hotel and followed the signs down to the river, and duly discovered Hickory’s. And for a Tuesday night, the place was buzzing with young and old alike; which is always a good sign methinks.

The menu is varied, interesting and quite frankly – very appetising. Yeah they have ribs, pulled pork (of course), Texas Style Brisket, steaks, skewers, waffles, burgers and if you’re feeling really hungry – the truly awesome Smokehouse Platter. This dish cleverly enables you to try all their classics in one go. I however, went for the XXXL burger.

Inside the 2 creaking halves of your burger bun (skewered to keep everything together), you will find the following: 2 burgers, pulled pork, streaky bacon, gherkins, cajun onion rings, lettuce, tomato, their rather tasty house sauce and American cheese. This fullsome tribute to some kind of American culinary dream is accompanied by fries served in a mug and their very own coleslaw. This of course can be washed down with a refreshing chilled beer. Perfect.

Not content with dinner, I returned the following morning for breakfast and swerved around the usual temptation to go for the full English (I was still full from the night before), and choose instead the pancakes. Not just any pancakes though, but the Hickory Pancake Stack complete with Blueberry compote and cream.

This comes with a pot of maple sauce, the contents of which I used to saturate and envelop my pancakes with a sweet, sticky sheen. Anyway, the result was absolute deliciousness, and since they are served all day, there is no excuse not to try them. Of course you can always come back later and go for the lunch menu which advertises 2 courses for £10.

So, if haven’t cottoned on yet, I’m recommending you come here when you’re next in Chester, or anywhere nearby for that matter. The location is great and the staff are real friendly too, which all adds up to a winning combination. Great for the food scene and great for Chester.

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On the wings of an eagle…

DSC_4751North Devon is the home of a farm that is helping to rescue men from the iron grip of addiction and homelessness.

Eagle Community is a Christian 2nd stage rehab situated at Ovis Farm in North Devon, on the edge of Exmoor. They take prison offenders, and those who have struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism and street homelessness. The work is enormously varied, and no two days are ever the same as the residents tend to present different issues and problems on a regular basis.

Carole Jones, founding trustee and a director of Eagle Community, explained how she became involved in work here. Carole had lived in Zimbabwe for most of her life and returned to the UK in 2003. Eventually, she got a job working as an administrator at Ovis Farm which was then being run as the ‘House of Heroes’ drug and alcohol rehab. She said: “I worked there for seven years and then I retired. After a while Ovis Farm became vacant, the previous tenants left and the owners of the farm, David and Margaret November wanted the farm to be used for used for Christian purposes.

“So a group of us met regularly to try and think of a way forward and eventually in November 2014 I got a phone call from a woman who I had been supporting for some time who had previously been at the women’s rehab and she said, ‘My son is coming out of prison and he wants to get himself sorted out. What is happening about Ovis Farm?”

Carole went on to relay how in that very moment she felt a divine calling to carry on this work and start up the rehab again at Ovis Farm. “I immediately spoke to the owners of the farm, David and Margaret November, and within a week I had actually got two men and moved out to the farm and started Eagle Community at that point which was early December 2014.”

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The community can now accommodate ten men, and seeks to rehabilitate them through a program of practical work, the learning of life-skills, working with local tradespeople, training providers and offering valuable assistance with form filling, debt issues, and family and relationship problems. Counselling is available to those who want it, and the staff are always on hand to chat and pray with the residents. The work can often be long and arduous, but the rewards are immense when the men are able to really move forward with their lives.

Carole talked about some of the pitfalls and problems that she has faced over the years. She said, “The main problem has been the lack of finance. To start of with, the owners of property funded us until we could become viable which took about six months. Starting a thing from scratch, it’s quite heavy going particularly when you’re battling on your own. I did have various volunteers who worked with me over a period of time, but for the first two years, I lived in the house with the men and we went from there. The biggest thing was trying to cope with all the different aspects of the work; it was quite comprehensive.”

Thankfully, Carole is no longer alone in this work and has gathered a small but effective team around her. A key member of that team is Jason Huxtable, Projects Manager for Eagle Community. Jason described what he does on a day to day basis at the rehab: “My role is simply to try and organise a plan for each day, to make sure the house is in a fit and organised order and to listen to the men on a daily basis, not so much give advice but just be someone that can walk alongside them, chat with them, befriend them, and introduce them to God. It’s the last stage of people’s recovery where they can basically start to piece their life together before they move on. It’s a place where people can push the pause button. A place where they can meet God and start a new journey.”

It is very evident that the work that Carole and her team do here at Eagle Community is highly valued by both local authorities, clergy, the police and also the prison and probation service, as applications for prospective clients land on her desk regularly. I asked Carole about her motivation, and what was it that kept her going in such a difficult and challenging line of work. Without any hesitation she cited her God given passion to work with the men saying: “In this kind of of environment I just thrive, I really enjoy it, and that’s why I do it.”

If you would like to find out more about Eagle Community, including how to apply for a place here, please visit: https://eaglecommunity.co.uk/, email: eaglecommunityinfo@gmail.com or phone 01598 710726

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The Riverbank Bar Bistro, Bideford

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Situated at the ‘East of the Water’ end of the ancient Torridge Bridge in Bideford, you will find The Riverbank Bar Bistro. Chef Proprietor James Priestley is at the helm of this foodie venture, and by the sounds of it, he’s carving out his own niche right here in North Devon. James moved down from Yorkshire and has been living locally for over 2 decades, acquiring The Riverbank 2 years ago. He’s friendly, approachable, but professional and ably assisted by a small but effective team.

The Riverbank, as you would have guessed by the name, sits right on the banks of the River Torridge, and with a sundeck to the rear you can observe the very same river slip silently and peacefully by. On a sunny afternoon, with one’s favourite tipple in hand and in the company of friends or indeed a loved one, I would imagine it would be utterly delightful.

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Invited to partake of the inaugural Greek Night for 2018, my appetite was already whetted as I prepared myself for my very own Hellenic odyssey. It’s not every night you can sample some tasty Greek food in North Devon now, is it? I asked James about his inspiration for holding Greek nights at The Riverbank, and he said: “I was lucky and privileged to have worked with some top Greek chefs so that is where my passion comes from.”

With glass of chilled beer in hand, I dived straight in and ordered the Garlic and Lime Chicken Kebab, which is described as a ‘Char grilled chicken kebab with garlic & coriander sauce and salad leaves.’ Well all I can say is that it did exactly what it says on the proverbial tin, so to speak. In fact the aforementioned chicken kebabs were nothing less than deliciously garlicky, limey and full of flavour. Other starters on offer were, Keftedes (Spicy Meat Balls) and a Traditional Greek Salad.

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Next on the menu, was the Marinated Chilli Salmon Fillet. In the menu I read this: ‘Marinated for 12 hours in chilli, coriander, garlic, citrus and honey.’ The highly marinated, and perfectly cooked salmon was laid upon a bed of Mediterranean rice and served with warm pitta bread accompanied by juicy wedges of lemon and lime on top. This was most satisfying and like the starter, looked thoroughly tempting on the plate.

Alternatively, I could have chosen a ‘Greek Butterfly Sirloin Steak,’ ‘Beef Stiffado,’ or even ‘Oven Baked Greek Chicken Breast.’ Admittedly, I’m no expert when it comes to Greek cuisine (sadly, it’s been 14 long years since my last Hellenic adventure), but I reckon this is a jolly nice offering for the people of North Devon, and makes a refreshing change. The menu overall was fairly compact, but I think there was enough on offer to tempt most palates.

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Not exactly Greek, but I concluded my night with a delicious homemade chocolate brownie (lovingly created by James’ wife, Vicky) with a pot of clotted cream, both situated at the opposite ends of a long, narrow plate with a winding river of chocolate sauce in between. I was by this stage imbibing a sumptuous glass of Argentinian Malbec, which is described in the notes as: ‘Fair Trade and Organic, lovely rich chocolatey Malbec with structure and spiciness from the Bonarda.’ I think that sounds like a pretty good match to me…

I would judge the evening to be a great success, and would certainly consider returning in the not too distant future. I definitely recommend that you check this place out as I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! Greek nights in 2018, are every Thursday, April to September.

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Psalter’s Restaurant @ The Luttrell Arms

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The Luttrell Arms Hotel is situated in Dunster, a rather splendid medieval village in beautiful West Somerset. Enclosed within the ancient walls of this 15th century hostelry, is the Psalter’s Restaurant. I was invited to stay at the Luttrell by Head Chef Barrie Tucker, with a view to trying out the culinary offering. Barrie, locally born, is very much at the helm of the brigade of chefs there, and is the driving force behind the food on offer.

I arrived on Sunday afternoon, after a not so long drive from North Devon, and was immediately impressed by the professional, courteous manner of the staff. I was at once ushered to my room, interestingly called Rodney (he wasn’t in there thankfully), and I soon found myself relaxing within my sumptuous and spacious surroundings.

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My accommodation was supremely comfortable, with a vast queen size bed, sofa, reading chair, writing desk (how thoughtful), TV, and of course a lovely, modern en suite bathroom. I would say that Rodney was a mixture of modern decoration and antique style; and jolly nice it was too. I felt like an absolute king peering out of my second storey window over the historic Yarn Market below.

Having earlier spent some time unwinding in the bar – not far from the fire, I navigated my way eventually to the Psalter’s Restaurant, whereupon I was ushered to my cosy corner table. The menu was most definitely stimulating, offering a really good choice of varied and appetizing dishes.

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Not wishing for the grass to grow under one’s proverbial feet so to speak, I quickly selected the wine for the night, which of course is the altogether superb Malbec – having an ‘explosive red berry nose with chocolate and soft vanilla notes.’ Sounds like a meal all by itself…

Now for the food. I opted for the Pheasant and Cranberry Terrine, followed by Roast Rump of Beef with Pepper sauce. The terrine was beautifully presented and prepared, resembling a work of art. It really looked fabulous on the plate, and tasted equally delicious too. I considered this a perfect way to begin the evening, and I couldn’t wait for the next course.

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The Roast Rump of Beef with Pepper sauce arrived shortly after. The beef was rare, and I’m not sure that there was a choice with this, but either way, the two slices of beef draped across my very stylish graphite colour plate were melt in the mouth delicious. The attendant pepper sauce, with a hint of sweetness, was quite unlike anything I had ever tried before and extremely moreish.

Keeping the beef company on the plate were spinach, wild mushrooms and fondant potatoes. A very tasty, balanced and mouth-watering offering. All the while, this was being washed down with my ‘Hefty, deep fruited’ Malbec, making this a somewhat enjoyable experience.

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My dessert choice for the night was Treacle Tart with Lemon Curd and Lemon Curd Ice Cream. This was not as overpowering as it sounds, but was in fact a delicately balanced finish to a wonderful evening. When you’re cooking at this level, it’s not always about strong flavours but something a bit more subtle.

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The next morning, on the way to breakfast, I checked out the terrace overlooking the compact courtyard, which in turn leads out to the lovely Secret Garden overlooking the grounds of Dunster Castle. In warmer weather, this would be a marvelous place to eat and drink. I eventually exited the Luttrell arms after an immensely satisfying Full English Breakfast, containing hog’s pudding and potato cake. I think anyone who stays at the Luttrell will honestly have little to complain about, and will find it a very refreshing break.

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The #EatExmoor Food & Drink Trade Show

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Wednesday 7th February sees the inaugural Eat Exmoor Food & Drink trade show, at the Beach Hotel in Minehead. The #EatExmoor initiative is a joint project from the Exmoor National Park and Visit Exmoor; the tourism authority for this special area. Local producers, chefs and hospitality providers are invited along for a day of networking, cooking demonstrations, informative, interesting and helpful talks about how to maximise your business, in and around the national park.

The day will also be celebrating the launch of the #EatExmoor Guide and the #EatExmoor Marketing Toolkit. So, if you are connected to the hospitality industry in the Exmoor area, you know where to come: The Beach Hotel, Minehead 10-4pm. Click on the link below for the day’s programme of events.

The #EatExmoor Food & Drink Trade Show Programme of Events

The Royal Oak Inn, Winsford.

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The Royal Oak Inn, Winsford. Image courtesy of Julia Amies-Green Photography

Sat in the bay window of the charming Royal Oak in Winsford, near the log burner and of course the bar, it’s easy for a feeling of contentment to wash over you. Winsford is not a village on the main road, so you need to take a bit of a diversion to get there, but it’s well worth it.

There has been an inn on this site for possibly over 800 years, and present owners Mark and Sally Bradley, have been here for 4 of those years. David Sylvester, the talented and hard-working Head Chef, is a local guy and has lived and worked in and around Winsford for over 27 years. And for much of that time, David has worked at the Oak. Which is why, no doubt, it is a watering-hole of repute.

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Head Chef, David Sylvester. Image courtesy of Julia Amies-Green Photography

So onto the food, because that’s what we came here for. The Oak has an interesting and altogether inviting menu, including the intriguing homemade filled bread rolls, such as: Roast Beef & Horseradish and Prawns in Marie Rose Sauce. At £7 each, I would say they were definitely worth a pop.

Other delights on the menu to be found are: Steak & Exmoor Ale Pie – Homemade Proper Pie with Mash or Chips and Trio of Park Sausages, Grain Mustard Mash with Rich Onion Gravy. David also offers his discerning clientèle a range of 7 homemade desserts, truly refreshing when so much of what is offered these days comes straight out of the freezer.

However, it was to the offering chalked up on the specials board above the fireplace that I was irresistibly drawn. After no small amount of deliberation, I opted for Roast Lamb Rump with Rosemary Jus. And I have to say that this was an excellent choice.

The locally sourced Exmoor lamb from a butcher in South Molton was succulent, delicious and generous on the plate, and with the accompanying Ratte potatoes, rosemary jus and ring of cress encircling the meat, it was also perfectly presented too. The main dish was attended by a generous helping of buttered vegetables.

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Roast Lamb Rump with Rosemary Jus

The thing about this dish is simplicity. There was nothing pretentious about it; it was simple, beautiful, full of flavours and textures and most of all, filling. The cost of the meal was £17 which was good value for money I think in a hostelry such as the Royal Oak.

It soon became quite busy during the lunchtime, which is encouraging considering that this lovely old pub, as previously stated, is somewhat out-of-the-way and we are well outside of the holiday season for Exmoor, in the lull after Christmas. With David at the culinary helm, I think the Royal Oak is set for another busy and fruitful season.

 

Woods Bar and Restaurant, Dulverton.

If you ever find yourself in Dulverton, no doubt you will have noticed signs that proudly proclaim that you have now arrived at the gateway to Exmoor. True enough I’m sure, but instead of driving through, you should take some time to stay awhile and explore this charming little Somerset village. And if you are looking for food and drink, and shelter from the cold, then look no further than Woods Bar and Restaurant tucked away up Bank Square. Sit yourself cosily by the bar and the open log fire, and you’ll find it hard to imagine a greater level of enjoyment on a chilly, December afternoon.

Ed Heard has been the Head Chef at Woods now for about 6 years, and has certainly made his mark here in this perennially busy bar and restaurant. Ed is certainly a prolific, local talent, and he is very ably assisted by both Lloyd and Louise in the kitchen. The waiting and bar staff are friendly and professional too. Woods has a delightful ambiance, and I recommend that you visit here when you’re next in Dulverton.

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I arrived just after midday, and the restaurant was pretty much empty. However, within a very short space of time, it soon filled up and was packed to the gunwales with hungry customers. Woods was then replete with that pleasing hubbub that you get when you have a room full of happy, relaxed people.

Having ordered a local ale, my attention turned to the menu. Filled with delights such as the Northcombe Lamb Burger, with Cheese and Barbecue Sauce, or the Slow Roast Somerset Pork with Black Pudding, I was irresistibly drawn to the very seasonal Roasted Pheasant Breast, Fondant Potato, Sprouts, Chestnuts, Wild Mushrooms and Wholegrain Mustard Veloute. And at £13.50, I would say it represents remarkable value for money.

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I think the first thing to say about this dish is delicious. I know that might sound stunningly obvious, but it just was. Oozing with flavour in fact; the kind of flavour that just makes you want more and more. I can’t say that I’ve eaten a lot of pheasant in my time, but think after this little culinary wonder, I think I might be eating it a lot more in the days to come. Whether or not future pheasant dishes served in other restaurants live up to this high standard, we shall just have to see.

Presentation? Loved it. Colourful, interesting, different and not overpowering. So, adding together delightful, cosy, rural Westcountry ambiance, friendly staff, great ales and a knockout, value for money seasonal dish, I would say that was a jolly big success. Well done to owners Paddy & Sally and Chef Ed Heard and his team. Keep on doing what you’re doing, and I’m sure we’ll all be happy for eons to come!

6 Amazing things to do in Delhi, India!

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Lodhi Gardens

Delhi, with a population of more than of 25 million, is one of the mega cities of South Asia. And if you haven’t been yet, then you really should go. I’ve flown into the nation’s capital more times than I can remember, and yet it still retains a certain magnetism for me. Delhi is an ideal place to start your exploration of India, because there are so many other places within relatively easy reach. However, before you start trekking the length and breadth of India, stay a few days in the city and see what it has to offer.

Probably the best way of seeing the sights of Delhi is to either take a bus tour or hire a taxi for the day. There are plenty of agencies around the city catering for tourists that can offer you both. If you go for the taxi option, agree the fare for day before you leave and pay the agency. Alternatively, you could shell out a bit extra and book a tour online: https://www.getyourguide.co.uk/new-delhi-l231/delhi-private-full-day-sightseeing-tour-t2619/

However, here’s my recommended ‘must see’ list. I hope you find it helpful

  1. Rashtrapati Bhavan

The Rashtrapati Bhavan, otherwise known as the Presidential House, was designed by the renowned British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century. Built originally for the Viceroy, it now houses the President of India. Built from red and cream sandstone, it is striking in it’s appearance and makes a good starting point for your tour. Bordered by government offices on either side of Rajpath, you can simply view the Rashtrapati Bhavan through the black iron gates, and the tall Jaipur Column that stands sentinel in the foreground. Or, you can arrange to explore the presidential buildings, grounds and gardens by visiting: https://presidentofindia.gov.in/rbvisit/rbvisit.aspx

  1. Qutub Minar

The construction of this red sandstone tower was completed in 1193 by the Delhi’s first Muslim ruler, Qutb-ud-din Aibak. It was built to commemorate his military victories, and standing at 73 m it is definitely worth a look-see. Once upon a time you could actually go inside and climb to the top, but when a stampede killed 45 people inside the tower during a power failure in 1981, it was closed to the public. Continued fears for public safety have kept the interior closed to this day because of the sheer height of the tower.

But you can still experience it’s impressive dimensions, and marvel at this neck craning piece of ancient architecture at ground level. With some interesting ruins and delightful gardens to explore, it’s definitely worth asking your driver to apply the handbrake. Don’t forget to call into the government emporiums during your tour to pick up those all important quality souvenirs, although you will buy cheaper from street vendors.

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Rashtrapati Bhavan
  1. Lal Qila

Lal Qila, the Red Fort, was completed in 1648 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, in what is now called Old Delhi. This same emperor commissioned the Taj Mahal at Agra in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz. You cannot fail to be impressed by its lofty sandstone walls and battlements, which stand as mute testimony to the ruling Muslim dynasty across Northern India at that time. Accessible from Netaji Subhash Marg, the road running past the front entrance, the fort sits on the banks of the Yamuna River to the rear.

Worthy of your exploration, you can easily while away an hour or two roaming around the museums and fort grounds. Visit http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/231 for more info. Be aware that every tourist hot spot tends to attract a myriad of street sellers flogging every souvenir conceivable. If you are not interested, just say no or if you like, then barter!

  1. The Lotus Temple

The Bahá’í House of worship is built in the shape of a lotus flower, and was opened in 1986. Whether you’re a follower of the Bahá’í faith or not, you will find the cool interior to be a restful haven of peace and quiet from the heat, noise and bustle of Delhi. The temple is set within manicured lawns and surrounded by nine serene pools of water. Be careful in the crowds outside temple though, as pickpockets can operate in the vicinity. Keep your hands on your bags and possessions to be safe.

  1. Lodhi Garden

Lodhi Garden, east of Nehru Park and located in the south of Delhi, is one of the green lungs of the city. If you want to get away from it all, and that’s only a matter of time, then this is the place to go. Romantic couples can be seen walking or sitting together on the grass, whilst others amble through and just enjoy the natural beauty around them. A wide bridge spans the lake there, and paved walkways invite you to delve deeper into this green oasis. The verdant seclusion in the heart of the city, provides peace and tranquillity and a welcome relief from the urban sprawl of Delhi. It’s very historic too as the gardens contain tombs dating back to the Sayyid and Lodhi Muslim dynasties of the 15th and 16th centuries, otherwise known as the Delhi Sultanate.

  1. India Gate

Built to commemorate the sacrifice that Indian troops made in WW1, it looks like an Asian version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but on a smaller scale. Also designed and built by Lutyens, it is situated at the end of Rajpath and looks towards the Rashtrapati Bhavan at the far end. Flanked by the Children’s Park and the August Kranti Maidan on either side, it is a natural meeting point and a great place to gather socially. Here you will find Indian friends, couples and families coming to relax, chill out, get an ice cream or maybe indulge in some tasty street food. Again beware, as it tends to attract every street hawker imaginable, but it is a great photo opportunity and not to be missed.

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Near to India Gate

Exmoor Live @ the Dunster Show 2017

Click on the link below to view a short, but highly entertaining video about this great event I was privileged to take part in. Video courtesy of Fly Monkeys Limited and Julia Amies-Green Photography. Enjoy!

Exmoor Live Cookery Demonstration, Dunster in Somerset

Photo courtesy of Julia Amies-Green Photography.

Shakespeare Outside…?

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Now we all like a bit of Shakespeare, don’t we? Well, what about some Shakespeare outside then? That is exactly what you’ll get if you turn up at Shakespeare’s birthplace in super Stratford-upon-Avon, and wander through to the enclosed garden and courtyard at the rear of the property. Just call out your favourite play by the legendary bard, and the two or three assembled Shakespearean actors, suitably attired in period costume, will enact a pithy scene for your listening and viewing pleasure.

These guys (and girls), are real pro’s. Making it look so effortless and easy, the impromptu audience are lavishly entertained with scenes from ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ ‘The Tempest,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – and everything in between. To be quite honest, I could have sat there all day and lapped up this eloquent street theatre (or courtyard theatre if you want to be pedantic), and that would have constituted a perfectly acceptable day out, with time well spent.

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