Autumn-clean your Garden Tools and Buildings for a Head Start in Spring

Tidy up your growing space to steal a march on spring, with tips from the RHS.

As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, it may seem as though there’s not much left to do in the garden between now and next spring.

But there’s still time to join in the Royal Horticultural Society ‘Grow At Home This Autumn’ campaign, which aims to guide the thousands of gardeners who took up the hobby for the first time during the pandemic through this crucial time of the year.

The final week of the campaign is ‘Autumn Clean Week’ which, as RHS chief horticulturist Guy Barter explains, may not be the most glamorous of jobs but is vital to the health of plants and wildlife in the garden.

“Many people, including seasoned gardeners, don’t realise that an autumn clean and tidy-up in the garden is as important as a spring clean in your home,” says Barter. “By taking care of a few simple jobs now, you can give yourself a head-start for the next growing season, and ensure garden plants have the conditions they need to thrive throughout the winter.”

Barter shares the cleaning and tidying jobs you should be doing now…

Greenhouses and tools

“Get rid of spores and pest eggs by cleansing greenhouses with hot detergent and garden disinfectant, remembering to scrub over concrete floors and replace soiled gravel,” he advises.

Light levels are very low indeed in winter and grubby glass will exclude much light if not washed clean, not forgetting to remove moss and algae from beneath overlapping panes. Caulk any leaks with clear silicone mastic and replace any cracked panes at the same time.

“Compost any unwanted plant material and eradicate weeds, as weeds are reservoirs of pests and diseases,” he adds.

Stainless steel tools merely need a scrape clean, Barter explains, but those made of ordinary steel may rust unless cleaned well and oiled.

Lawnmowers and power tools may also rust in a damp shed unless exposed metal is oiled or paint retouched – you might as well sharpen them and change the oil now that there’s less to do in the garden.

Alternatively, take them to a garden machinery workshop for professional sharpening and servicing.

This is also a good time to clean and store plastic pots, seed trays and modules so they are ready for reuse next year.

Winter protection

“Unheated greenhouses are unlikely to exclude frost, so the tenderest plants, aeoniums and tradescantia, say, are best brought indoors to a suitable windowsill or ideally a conservatory,” he advises.

“Pruned and well-wrapped dahlias and canna will survive in a shed or even left in well-drained ground in milder regions, ideally under a 9cm layer of bark mulch.

“Abutilon, fuchsia and other tender shrubs can survive in a greenhouse or sheltered spot if protected by fleece, while hardy plants that don’t appreciate a rainy British winter, garden chrysanthemums for example, will survive well under a cloche.”

However, if you’re thinking about adding an extra layer of protection to your greenhouse, Barter warns: “Insulating greenhouses with bubble wrap cuts out much light and is best kept to the bare minimum – this also reduces plastic waste.”


With light levels much lower at this time of year, taking the time to clean accumulated dust from the leaves of houseplants will help them take up all the available light to stay healthy throughout the winter.

Barter suggests taking houseplants outside on a mild rainy day and letting the rain wash them clean, perhaps applying some ‘leaf shine’ when they return indoors.

“Go easy on watering through the winter and hold off on feeding and repotting until the sun comes up again in April,” Barter suggests. Plants that have been sheltering from scorching summer heat in north facing windowsills can return to their winter position in a south facing windowsill.

Consider a low energy LED growing light in dark homes with limited suitable windowsill space, to give your houseplants a boost during the winter.

Pick off any dead leaves now and take the opportunity to rub out pests, too. However, if your houseplants show symptoms of mealybug, this is virtually incurable and infested plants are best replaced.

For more tips, advice and videos to help you get involved with the RHS Grow At Home campaign, visit

10 Ways to be More Ethical with your Money

Keen to give your finances an ethical revamp? Vicky Shaw finds out how to get started.

The pandemic is prompting people to consider more ethical places to keep their money, according to research.

Triodos Bank found over a fifth (22%) of investors say they now feel motivated to explore investing in ethical funds, rising to 35% of under-35s.

Investing is just one of the ways you can use your hard-earned money to support good causes, as well as the environment. There could be plenty of other options for giving your finances an ethical makeover – and it may not be as hard as you think to get started.

Charlene Cranny, campaigns and communications director at Good Money Week (Oct 24-30), which aims to help grow and raise awareness of sustainable, responsible and ethical finance, says: “It’s easy to get bogged down with where to start when planning to give your finances a green overhaul, but there’s no need to be overwhelmed. There are so many easy ways to make greener, cleaner and kinder decisions with our money.

“People who are making steps to reduce their personal impact on the environment might already be reusing coffee cups, bags and bottles, cycling rather than driving, but might not have even thought about where their money is being invested, spent and banked, which can have a huge impact on the environment.”

Here are 10 suggestions from Good Money Week to give your finances an ethical overhaul…

1. Switch current account

Banks use the deposits in the accounts held with them to fund their other banking activities, from loans to investments. This means your money could be funding all sorts of projects that you don’t agree with. Thanks to the Current Account Switch Service, it’s easy to move to an ethical current account.

2. Change energy provider

The number of providers supplying renewable energy in the UK has increased in recent years – and did you know you can compare green energy suppliers? With the Big Clean Switch (, you can quickly search for planet-friendly gas and electricity suppliers.

3. Shop local

We should all be shopping mindfully and avoiding wasteful purchasing, but when you do need to shop, try going local. Plus, when you shop at the local butcher’s, baker’s, farm shop and greengrocer, a good bulk of the produce has had a relatively short ‘field to fork’ journey. As well as supporting local farmers, this means the food could be wrapped in less single-use plastic packaging.

4. Invest your pension ethically

Your pension can have a huge impact on people and the planet. Pension scheme Nest, for example, recently announced a new climate change policy. Ask your boss or your financial adviser about how ethical your provider is.

5. Move your savings

Although it may feel like sometimes the returns are very low, remember your savings are being put somewhere, working for a company or business somewhere else, so if you aren’t happy, make the move.

6. Consider investments

Abundance is an online platform which offers investments that create something good for the environment and society. Remember though that, as with other investment products, there are risks. Energy4all could also be a good place to start if you want to get involved in something at a local level.

7. Borrow rather than buy

Borrowing existing items, rather than buying new, is kinder to the planet. Some websites will also allow people to borrow items for a set period of time. And if you don’t want to borrow, there are also websites such as Freecycle, where you can get unwanted items for free.

8. Take part in Black Pound Day

Black Pound Day supports and raises awareness of businesses owned by black people. More than simply one day per year, Black Pound Day is a monthly campaign that encourages consumers to switch up their usual shopping destinations to local and online businesses.

9. Lend a small amount of money

If you are fortunate to be able to, you may want to consider lending a little money to someone in the developing world, who is trying to lift themselves out of poverty by running their own business. allows people to lend relatively small sums to people and the money is later repaid. The website cautions though that due to the pandemic, there is a higher risk than normal that repayments will be late or deferred, and in some ‘rare cases’ loans may be written off.

10. Donate to foodbanks

If you are able, buying supplies for your local food bank can be a real help to people in need in your local area, or you could donate monthly through their website.

Kitchen Cool: 13 Ways to Serve up a Feast of Style

Whether it’s a full-blown revamp or simple updates, Gabrielle Fagan stirs up some style solutions for the heart of the home.

Our kitchens are having to work harder than ever these days, as we’re spending more time in them – and we’re not just using them to cook up a storm.

That eating area now has to be able to perform as a family space, an entertaining zone, and maybe a home office for many of us too. So it needs to not only look the business, but to function well to facilitate our busy and multi-layered home lives.

Looking to give your kitchen an update? Follow our recipe for creating the perfect kitchen in your home, whatever your budget…

1. Island story

An island is still the most coveted design feature in a kitchen – and it’s easy to see why. It’s invaluable as a preparation area, and means you can flex your culinary skills without turning your back on the party.

“Kitchen islands and breakfast bars offer a versatile and adaptable space that can be used in so many ways,” says Joanne Emery, marketing manager at Burbidge.

“They can create zones in your area, giving the illusion of two separate functional rooms, whilst keeping the room clutter-free by providing additional storage. Consider incorporating open shelving for items you use frequently.”

2. Dark matters

Black is a design classic, whether for clothes or kitchen units, and paired with a metallic it’s a recipe for sophistication.

Choose handles, taps and kitchen accessories in brass, copper or bronze – the finishes which have taken over from last year’s polished chrome.

3. Cooking with colour

Our growing desire for colourful spaces is reflected in more vivid kitchen cabinetry and ‘colour pops’, which allow for a more playful, individual look.

If you’re worried you may tire of units or tiles in a vibrant shade, or they’ll look dated as fashions move on, simply shake up the space with colourful accessories instead.

Paintings, storage canisters, or worktop appliances in funky shades could be just the colour ‘pop’ you need, and they can be easily moved or updated in the future.

4. Double identity

There’s a real trend for kitchens to feel like extensions of living rooms now too. Our home-based lifestyle means we want spaces where it’s easy to cook for the family during the day, but have the ‘wow’ factor to transform into striking evening entertainment spaces at night, or just somewhere to relax and unwind.

Ensure your colour scheme in both areas – the kitchen and the lounge area – harmonises, which will make the space look bigger and blend together.

5. Savvy switch up

If a full-scale revamp is out of the question, don’t underestimate the power of replacing cabinet door fronts, which can transform your kitchen at a fraction of the cost of a refit.

If you’re into DIY, repainting kitchen units is fairly straightforward – but ensure you prepare the surface well beforehand, by lightly sanding, cleaning with white spirit, and applying two coats of paint. B&Q has a good range of cabinet paint, including the GoodHome Durable Delaware Matt Cabinet & Wardrobe Paint, £20 for 0.75L.

For a final flourish, invest in new handles and light switches to give the room an extra lift.

6. Ace the space

If you haven’t got acres of space to work with, you need to make the most of ever corner. A cook’s trolley, a hanging rack for utensils, and ceiling-height cupboards can all be a boon – and the plus point is everything will be within easy each.

7. Pendant power

Move over spotlights and track lighting – pendant lights currently rule in kitchens. One statement light, or a group of three, will brilliantly define a selected space, such as a kitchen island or dining area.

8. Make a splash

Swapping a tiled splashback for a striking mural will take a kitchen from functional to fabulous.

“Murals never fail in adding impact and are brilliant for adding drama and depth, giving an illusion of looking out onto a different scene, view or landscape. They can have a magical effect on a room,” says Michael Ayerst, managing director of Surface View, who recreate images on made-to-measure wall murals, canvasses, blinds and ceramic tiles.

Gilded Paper Wallpaper Mural by Richard Hamilton Smith GS, from the Trunk Archive at Surface View, from £40 per square metre,

9. Modern mix

“The enduring trend for kitchens is about mixing it up, whether that’s with contrasting materials such as wood and metallics, or textured and smooth finishes,” says Gary Griffin, UK sales manager UK at Rational (

“Cabinets incorporating the grain and beauty of timber are one of the keynote features of 2020. It’s hardly surprising, as natural materials such as wood suit both contemporary and classic homes and this is a great way to ensure that, no matter what your design choice, your home has a warm, relaxed feel.”

Whilst neutral palettes remain popular, Griffin notes there’s been a move towards the ‘dark side’, with bolder choices of black or grey units – but unlike their shiny predecessors of the Nineties, these now come in an understated matt finish.

Rational’s Uno handle-less kitchen combines an oiled cracked oak veneer with sleek matt black units in a Monolack, a new lacquered laminate finish. Features include a pull-out coffee machine module and a Passe-Partout internal storage system (from £12,000).

10. Take to the floor

A feature wall, a stunning chandelier, and a ‘look at me’ choice of flooring in a punchy shade could be the perfect ingredients for a glamorous space.

11. Love a larder

While the concept of a larder harks back to an era before refrigeration, they’re now the ultimate chic feature in today’s kitchens, and provide plenty of space for all those jars and ingredients that can clutter up the fridge or worktops.

Want to know the rest of the kit on the dream kitchen list? A range cooker, instant hot water taps, remote-control extraction units, and integrated recycling units.

12. Worktop wizardry

The worktop is the workhorse of any kitchen, and so it needs to be tough, practical and good-looking. View this feature as a way of demonstrating your taste and bringing individuality to the kitchen design.

As it will have a big visual impact, don’t leave your worktop choice ’til last – instead start with the surfaces and match other key pieces, like the cabinets, to them.

Decor tip: Veined marble is in vogue, as it’s more interesting than a plain top but won’t dominate. If you’re after a contrasting look, choose white marble and pick up on the veining colour for the paint shade on the cabinetry.

13. Rose-tinted touches

Pink is having a moment in kitchens. This soft shade can bring warmth to a cool space and works particularly well in an open-plan area, where you don’t want a harsh contrast between the living and cooking area.

5 Flowers to Plant Now that will Bloom in Winter

These beautiful florals will brighten up the colder months, says Katie Wright.

With the introduction of new lockdown rules looking likely for many of us, and restrictions already in place for some, there are plenty of reasons to feel pessimistic about the months ahead – especially as we inch ever closer to the clocks going back and dreary, dark days become more frequent.

One way to cheer up the chillier months? Buying plants and sowing seeds now that will flower during winter. Whether you’re lucky enough to have a garden, or you’re restricted to pot plants on a windowsill, there are plenty of easy-to-grow options that will deliver an abundance of colour later down the line.

Here are five winter-flowering plants to sow now…

1. Winter flowering pansies

Flowering from autumn until mid-spring, winter flowering pansies are bright and hardy, making them ideal for beginners, and can be grown in flower beds or pots. Fill a window box with yellow, purple or pink pansies to enjoy a daily splash of colour throughout winter.

2. Cyclamen

With delicate flowers in shades of pink, red and white alongside dark green leaves, cyclamen are very pretty perennials and they’ll start to flower from early winter. In the garden, they’re ideal for positioning at the base of small trees and shrubs, but they can also be grown in pots – and make for a great display either side of your front door.

3. Crocuses

Perfect for planting in pots, crocus bulbs can be sown up until the end of November, and will bloom from February onwards, their purple, yellow or white petals poking up through the soil. Many consider them the first sign that spring is beginning to wake up the earth. Alternatively, plant them throughout your lawn to create a beautiful meadow towards the end of winter.

4. Winter clematis

There’s a clematis for every season: cirrhosa is a winter-flowering variety with cream and maroon speckled petals. The climbing plant is ideal for covering a shed wall or trellis, and will bloom from November to February.

5. Christmas rose

Dreaming of a white Christmas? We can’t promise a flurry of snowflakes, but with the Christmas rose or helleborus niger you can have snowy white flowers during the festive season – if you’re lucky. This hellebore variety usually flowers from January onwards, but can bloom as early as December.

Rory the Vet: What your Family Should Consider Before Getting a Pet

TV vet Rory Cowlam advises on how to tell if your family is ready for a pet and how to choose the right kind. By Lisa Salmon.

Vet Rory Cowlam has had an affinity with animals “from day one” and can’t imagine life without them at work or at home.

Now affectionately known as Rory the Vet and a well-known face on TV -playing a leading role in the CBBC show The Pets Factor as well as appearing on Blue Peter, BBC Breakfast and Lorraine – Cowlam wanted to be a vet from the age of four when his family got a great dane puppy, Lulu, who he says was “my shadow and best friend”.

The family had various other cats and dogs (all of them adored, but not quite as much as his “kindred spirit” Lulu), plus chickens and ducks, as he grew up in the Cotswolds countryside. And the Royal Veterinary College graduate now has his own lurcher puppy, Nala, who Cowlam says was abandoned by travellers and found by some children, who contacted the RSPCA, for whom Cowlam is an ambassador. And after she was wormed and given plenty of food, the lucky pup was adopted this month by Cowlam.

She’s only just moved in with him, so she doesn’t feature in his new book, The Secret Life of a Vet, but it contains many other both heart-wrenching and heartwarming tales of veterinary escapades, which vividly illustrate the depth of feeling vets have for many of the animals they treat. Cowlam, 28, admits he’s been known to shed a few tears when he’s had to put much-loved pets to sleep.

Not surprisingly, the affable vet, who shares a house with his younger sister and Nala in London, is a strong advocate of pet ownership – but only if the circumstances are right.

“In my opinion, having a pet makes a family complete,” he says. “Whether it’s a fish, guinea pigs, a dog or a terrapin, they all bring such joy. If you’re looking to add a pet to your family, make sure to do your research and choose the right pet for your family and circumstances. Do this, and you can’t go wrong.”

Here, Cowlam, who qualified five years ago and works at a veterinary practice, discusses what families need to consider if they’re thinking of getting a pet.

How can you tell if your family’s ready for a pet?

“It’s always a really hard decision working out if your family is ready for a pet – it’s not one to take lightly and it’s crucial to realise that if you go ahead, you have to put the pet first.

“A really important thing to consider is the cost associated with having a pet – you must be able to afford it and everything looking after it entails. This includes insurance, food, vet bills and other costs.

“The other thing to consider is do you have the time that a pet deserves and needs? They take up a huge amount of time and you have to consider whether you’re willing to sacrifice certain things to be home for them. If you can provide this though, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.”

What do families need to consider before getting a pet?

“There are many things to consider, as I’ve already mentioned, but you also must consider whether the pet is right for your current circumstances. Things to take into consideration are where you live, whether you have young children, and whether you have the time and means to look after it. I really do urge anyone considering getting a pet to think long and hard about these things before going ahead.”

What are the best pets to choose to fit your family circumstances?

“This is such a difficult question, as it depends on all of the above. For example, a dog would require lots of time and training, whereas a goldfish requires very little! Make sure to thoroughly research your chosen pet before you adopt it though, to ensure you get the very best pet for your lifestyle. There’s lots of help and advice out there too.”

Which pets should particular families avoid, and why?

“There are few to avoid. I highly recommend rescuing; however, these are not always appropriate for families with young children. Again, please do your research before rushing into anything.”

What are the benefits of having a pet in the family?

“I’m a strong believer that children learn so much from pets that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to – for example, social skills and empathy. There are numerous studies that show pets not only help children but also benefit their mental health.

“I also believe they teach children responsibility as they realise they need to be looked after (given food, water, training, letting them out to the toilet, walking them etc for dogs).”

The Secret Life of a Vet by Rory Cowlam ls published by Coronet, priced £9.99. Available now.

11 Ways to Spook up your Space for Halloween

Set the scene for Halloween with pimped up pumpkins and haunting homeware, says Sam Wylie-Harris.

With ‘Halloween at home’ falling on a Saturday, and our own personal sanctuaries setting the stage for the spookiest night of the year – will a full moon in the offing – the idea of creating a little house of horrors has never been so bewitching.

Want to set the scene for Halloween? Here’s how to spin a web of intrigue and get to grips with ghoulish goodies…

1. Pack of Five Halloween Confetti Balloons, £6.95, Graham & Green

Stringing beastly balloons together with black ribbon is a wicked way to dress up the entrance hall for trick-or-treaters, especially when they’re filled with confetti disguised as creepy-crawlies, bats and bugs.

2. Wallsource 70614579 Wallpaper Mural, from £29 per square metre,

Move over Zoom backgrounds… if you really want to capture the chilling mood of Halloween virtual parties, a wallpaper mural is where it’s at. Made-to-measure and printed on demand to your dimensions, this wonder wall of jack-o’-lanterns in a spine-chilling graveyard is a real scream!

3. Sainsbury’s Home Halloween Collection: Skull Paper Plates, £1 for Pack of 8; Skeleton Arm Shot Holder, £5; Skull Beer Stein, £2; Black Ombre Plastic Wine Glass, £2; Skeleton Platter, £2 (other items from a selection or part of room set), larger Sainsbury’s stores

Devilishly good dining ideas, such as dressing the table with a little skulduggery, keeps adults entertained, as well as the kids. Themed treats, nibbles, skull-shaped snacks and hot dogs topped with gory ketchup will look so much better on a spooky black plate (not to mention wicked wines and shots served in black stemware).

4. Staub 24cm Pumpkin Cast Iron Cocotte Cinnamon, £259 (other items from a selection or part of room set), Zwilling

Not just a one-night wonder, pumpkins are a firm favourite on autumnal menus, all season long. For rustic-style table settings and those devilishly delicious pumpkin soups, curries and stews, nothing beats an eye-catching pumpkin cocotte (with black matte enamelled interior) taking centre stage. Suitable for hobs as well as the oven, it’s also ideal for rustling up a sauce for your pumpkin gnocchi.

5. Emma Bridgewater Halloween Themed Cobwebs and Midnight Spiders 1/2 Pint Mugs, £19.95 each, Emma Bridgewater

When you want to cup your hands around a warming hot chocolate or mulled pear and cranberry punch, only a generously sized mug – that can cope with a topping of frothy cream and cinnamon – will do. These creepy cups are ideal for Halloween hunkering on the sofa.

6. Gold Mercury LED Glass Pumpkin, £29.99 (other items from a selection or part of room set), Lights4Fun

When it comes to glamourous, ghostly ‘shelfies’ and tablescaping, a pumpkin with pizzazz makes a super stylish addition. This one’s made from extra fine glass and will proffer a shimmery, moonlit glow.

7. TruGlow Pumpkin LED Autumn Candle Trio, £19.99, Lights4Fun

Alternatively, this flickering trio made from real wax can be styled with berries, greenery and moss, or placed in the window to project shadows and illuminate your spine-chilling decos.

8. Nordic Ware Haunted Skull Cake Pan, £40.80, and Skull Cakelet Pan, £40 (other items part of room set), Harts of Stur

Don’t trust your cake-carving skills to whip up a beastly bake? Then these skull-shaped cake pans will do the job. Conjure up a red velvet skull and after it’s cooled, serve the cream cheese icing on the side, with gooey, chocolate eyeballs.

9. George Home Multi Halloween Dogs Reversible Duvet Set, from £10,

Come witching hour, when things start to go bump in the night, your Halloween costume party doesn’t have to end. Treat the bed to some spooky dressing up too.

10. Johnson & White London 2 Wick Candle, from £53, Johnson & White Aromas

For some grown-up black magic, you can up your squash game by spray-painting baby pumpkins black then hand lettering them in gold. Styled with a decadent candle, scented with bergamot, juniper, heady jasmine and hint of earthy patchouli, chances are you’ll be enchanted.

11. The Halloween Window Stencil Pack (42cm x 42cm), £9.99 (was £20), Snow Windows

It may be a little unnerving for onlookers, but when darkness falls, this wicked window display will certainly set the scene. To create this haunting, misty scene, position the stencil on the window, spray over with a can of Snow Spray (£3), peel off and wait for the squeals.

Are these the Quirkiest Hotels in the UK and Ireland?

The latest edition of the Good Hotel Guide reveals the weirdest and wackiest places to rest your head. Sarah Marshall reports.

If 2020 has been the year of discovering great hotels on our doorstep, then 2021 will no doubt provide an opportunity to delve even deeper into the welcoming world of domestic hospitality.

Every year, The Good Hotel Guide cherry picks the best properties on offer in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and never before has its expert recommendations been in more demand.

We asked the editors to select their top quirky overnight stays – from lighthouses and windmills to former railway carriages, because right now, we could all do with a bit of escapism. Here’s a selection of the most imaginative sleeps beyond your wildest dreams.

The Old Railway Station

Where: Petworth, Sussex

A first-class stay at this converted station is just the ticket, especially if you book one of the rooms in the four romantic Pullman carriages, with their colonial-style furniture, mahogany fittings and plantation shutters. Breakfast, drinks and afternoon tea can be delivered to your carriage door. Two more rooms can be found in the original Station House, of which the largest, with an impressive vaulted ceiling, is up a spiral stairway. Doubles from £150, B&B (

Talland Bay Hotel

Where: Porthallow, Cornwall

Whether you’re sitting on a zebra-print sofa looking at the 3D Mickey Mouse on the wall, or are perched on a wooden bench with giant budgies in the garden, you’ll find this hotel with a spectacular setting by the coastal path ‘curiouser and curiouser’. It is a fun place, although owners Teresa and Kevin O’Sullivan are very serious about hospitality. The service is slick, there is locally-sourced food in the restaurant, and some of the light, airy rooms have sea views. You can take your four-legged friends, too. Doubles from £160, B&B (

Twr Y Felin Hotel

Where: St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales

It’s not every day you find a contemporary art museum in a Georgian windmill. On the edge of the UK’s smallest city, Twr Y Felin houses more than 150 original works, some of which you will find adorning the walls of the contemporary restaurant and vaulted lounge. A dozen artists were specifically commissioned to create works inspired by the surrounding area. They include Marcus Oleniuk, who photographed St Davids peninsula; and there are magnificent views of the real thing from the observatory that’s part of the Tower Suite. Doubles from £220, B&B (

St Cuthbert’s House

Where: Seahouses, Northumberland

You can seek sanctuary in Jeff and Jill Sutheran’s imaginatively converted 19th-century chapel, with its arched windows, wood flooring and double-height living room, complete with cast iron pillars. Even the original carved pulpit and the harmonium are still present. Some of the six country-style bedrooms are quite snug, but they do come with bathrobes, coffee machines and digital radios. Breakfasts are taken seriously here, with home-made kipper paté, kedgeree made with oak-smoked haddock from the Seahouses smokehouse and a full Northumbrian on the menu. It’s just a short stroll to Bamburgh Castle. Doubles from £130, B&B (

No.15 Great Pulteney

Where: Bath, Somerset

The Georgian facade of this Grade I listed building may be traditional, but there’s a world of eccentricity within: the spa is in a former coal cellar, room keys are kept in a doll’s house, and The Dispensary restaurant holds the contents of an antique chemist’s shop. There is artwork everywhere you look. The elegant rooms range from cosy doubles with murals on the wall to junior suites in the neo-Gothic coach house, with large pieces of statement art, coffered ceilings and fireplaces. Doubles from £184, B&B (

The Dial House

Where: Reepham, Norfolk

Most rooms are geographically themed at this Georgian house on the market square. You can pick from Africa, with vaulted beams, bright patterns and a free-standing bath, Parisian Garret with its antiques, or China, a celebration of Willow Pattern. A revolving bookcase reveals a secret dining room, where the menu features local produce cooked over sustainably-sourced charcoal. There’s even a retail wing, Vegas Vintage, which sells everything from antiques to aged biker jackets and Eighties puff ballgowns. Doubles from £125, B&B (

Belle Tout Lighthouse

Where: Eastbourne, Sussex

You won’t know which way to look from the lantern room of this unique B&B on the South Coast: there are superb sea views in one direction and all the beauty of the South Downs in the other. It’s the perfect place from which to watch sunrises over Beachy Head Lighthouse or sunsets over Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters. If it’s mild, there’s a walkway outside the lantern room, or the lounge below is home to a crackling fire. Only one of the six rooms is in the tower, with the bed reached by a ladder. Doubles from £160, B&B (

Tuddenham Mill

Where: Tuddenham, Suffolk

The waterwheel is in the bar and the gearing apparatus of this 18th-century mill is on show in the beamed dining room, where creative field-to-fork meals are served. In among the history, the mill’s bedrooms are stylish and contemporary. Hobbit-style huts in the meadow have hot tubs on the terrace, and enormous rooms in the beamed eaves come with a double-end stone bath in sight of the enormous bed. Other rooms have access to the millstream, where swans glide beside the enormous chimney. Doubles from £150, B&B (

The Ceilidh Place

Where: Ullapool, Scotland

The Urquhart family’s hotel has only 13 rooms in a series of cottages, but it is also home to a bookshop, coffee shop and events space. There’s a more traditional bar, and a restaurant which serves creative bistro-style food fished or farmed locally, including venison burgers and langoustines. Bedrooms are full of character, with a Roberts radio and books instead of a television. There’s even a bunkhouse across the car park for those travelling on a budget. Doubles from £300 for two nights, with dinner and breakfast (

The Quay House

Where: Clifden, County Galway, Ireland

Don’t be surprised to find a Buddha statue rubbing shoulders with a Cupid in the Foyles’ B&B, packed with curios. There are clocks – broken and working – a collection of bovine horns and family photos a-plenty in the former Georgian harbourmaster’s house and three of its neighbours, overlooking Owenglin estuary. Most of the elegant bedrooms boast harbour views, as well as antiques, original artwork, and perhaps a four-poster or half-tester bed. Doubles from €175/£161, B&B in October; the B&B closes for the season in November (

The Good Hotel Guide 2021: Great Britain and Ireland, is priced £16,

7 Tips for First-time Buyers Hoping to get on the Property Ladder Right Now

The economy is in a tough place – but there are still lots of things first-time buyers can do to boost their prospects. By Vicky Shaw.

While parts of the UK’s housing market have undergone a mini boom lately, there have also been signs that life is getting tougher for first-time buyers.

The choice of low deposit mortgages has shrunk in recent months, as concerns about ‘riskier’ lending have grown. According to NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents) Propertymark, first-time buyers made up 23% of home sales in August, a fall from 25% in July.

However, while the Covid-19 crisis has brought big financial challenges, it also appears to have made some aspiring first-time buyers more determined than ever.

Just over a third (35%) say the pandemic has had no impact on their plans to buy, according to research from Legal & General Mortgage Club.

With many people spending more time indoors than they normally would this year, more than half (54%) of first-time buyers say lockdown conditions have made it easier to save money. A small group of buyers (8%) have even brought forward their plans to buy.

To find out more about how first-time buyers can make the jump onto the property ladder in tough conditions, we asked Kevin Roberts, director at Legal & General Mortgage Club, to share some top tips…

1. Consider getting advice

Get an adviser on your side and get them to do the work for you. They’re going to know the market. Bear in mind that the mortgage market is busy at the moment and applications could take longer than usual. An adviser will work on your behalf to get your application through as quickly as possible.

2. Be prepared

If there is going to be a ‘flash sale’, which some lenders are doing now, you really want to work with your adviser and have everything ready – your payslips, your identification, everything that you need. Be really on the front foot and know what you can afford. Think about your spending habits – you need your credit score to be as good as possible.

3. Can you save a bigger deposit?

A bigger deposit could give you more choice. For example, if you can stretch from putting down a 10% deposit to a 15% deposit, there are more lenders at this level.

Legal & General Mortgage Club’s research has suggested that some people have been able to save more during lockdown, whether that’s from saving on rail fares or fewer coffees, people have been able to save some money.

4. Do you have a family member who can help?

Perhaps a parent or grandparent may be able to help you to top up your deposit. There are also ‘family assist’ mortgages out there, such as Barclays’ family springboard mortgage, where a helper transfers money into a linked savings account for a fixed period.

5. Could other schemes give you a helping hand?

The government schemes available, such as Help to Buy and shared ownership initiatives, may vary depending on what part of the UK you live in.

There are a broad range of lending opportunities around shared ownership. Some options may allow borrowers to ‘staircase’ out of shared ownership, where they purchase chunks of equity back over time.

There is also the Lifetime Isa, which is available across the UK and comes with a Government bonus. Someone must be aged 18 or under 40 to open a Lifetime Isa.

6. Have your priorities changed?

Lockdown has changed where some buyers intend to purchase and the types of property they are seeking. Think about how your needs may have changed over lockdown and if you do plan to buy a bigger property, don’t overstretch yourself.

7. Finally, remember all is not lost if you can’t buy right now

Borrowers need to get their housing plans moving if they want to take advantage of the temporary stamp duty holiday currently in place. Stamp duty applies in England and Northern Ireland, but similar holidays are also in place in Scotland and Wales. But if you’re not in a position to buy right now, you may still find good opportunities in the months ahead.

There have been some signs recently that rising demand may have potentially increased house prices in some areas. While no one can say for certain what will happen in the future, for some people, it may potentially be a good time to buy next year, when things may be a bit more settled and buyers may possibly find they are in a better position to negotiate.

So don’t give up hope, as by really thinking about your outgoings, trying to save and talking to family members, you could really boost your ability to get onto the property ladder.

Apples Galore in your Garden? Time to Make Chutney and Jam

Add Your Heading Text HereExperts offer advice on the best apples to grow for particular dishes, and how to preserve your bumper harvest. By Hannah Stephenson.

Fed up with the thought of endless crumbles and pies? So, what else can you do with your bumper crops of apples?

It’s easy to make chutneys and jams from huge gluts, say experts from Arundel Castle ( in west Sussex, which has this year had an amazing harvest.

Senior organic kitchen gardener Izzy McKinley and artisan jam and chutney maker Christine Hart, owner of Sussex Jams And Chutneys, are helping to make the most of the season’s best.

Why bother preserving apples at home?

For much of the year, the apples on supermarket shelves are months old, says McKinley. Often imported, they are stored in warehouses with modified atmospheres that prevent them from ripening.

Preserving them in chutneys and jams during autumn is a more traditional way of enjoying British apples throughout the year.

While Pink Lady and Jazz apples are imported, your own apples may be just as suitable. Varieties you might grow yourself, such as ‘Egremont Russet’ and ‘Bramley’, can be transformed into delicious dishes.

Choosing your apples

McKinley and Hart agree that the best all-rounder is the ‘Peasegood’s Nonsuch’, a large apple from Lincolnshire. It is a cooking apple but requires much less sugar than other cookers, says Hart.

She says: “Never be put off by cooking apples, they are excellent to work with. It’s quicker to peel and prepare a large apple, and these varieties have a wonderfully sharp flavour. You can add sugar as you like. Cooking apples still produce deliciously sweet jams.

“While chutneys and apple sauce are popular choices, I like to make apple jams and serve with scones, as an autumnal alternative to a classic cream tea.”

Other ways of preserving apples this autumn include…


Making chutney is like making jam, except it will have a longer cooking time and include vinegar, less sugar and more savoury ingredients, such as onions. Unleash your creativity and experiment with adding spices, fruits or even seasonal vegetables, such as squash. Curry lovers can try making their own apple and mango chutney, the experts suggest.

No-cook relish

Make your own apple relish without having to cook. Combine apples, vinegar, sugar and seasoning, then store in the fridge for two to three days, shaking each day. It’ll keep for up to one week. As with all preserves, it’s vital to sterilise the jars properly first.


Thinly sliced apples should be dipped in an acidic solution (such as lemon juice and water) to prevent browning, then dried in an oven at a low temperature or in a food dehydrator. Both methods take up to 12 hours. The apples can be stored in a Ziplock bag and, if optimally dried and stored, will last up to six months. Eat them as a sweet snack or crumbled on granola.


While freshly home-made apple juice will only keep for two to three days in the fridge, it will last for a few months stored in plastic bags in the freezer, so it’s worth making plenty of your own, says McKinley.

Frozen apple juice has a range of culinary uses – use it as cooking liquid for gammon or serve over the festive season in spiced cocktails and mocktails.

Her top pick for juicing is the lesser-known variety ‘Ingrid Marie’. “It has a lightly aromatic juice and is a cross between ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ and ‘Elstar’,” she says.

Apple juice aficionados should also keep a lookout for the ‘Jupiter’, another ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ cross, which bursts with sweet juice, she suggests.

“For the ultimate home-made apple juice, our head gardener’s secret is to add one or two pears. The sweetness and texture that a ripe pear brings to an apple juice is unparalleled,” she says.

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