The Tea Junction, Hulme End, May 2017

The Tea Junction at Hulme End opened in 2009 after much controversy over the costs of refurbishing the former railway shed, even though the railway that it served closed in 1934!

We first came across it in 2013 when we were camping just a few hundred yards away. It’s the perfect place for some food and drink at the start or end of your journey up or down the Manifold Way, which runs along the old railway bed from Hulme End to Waterhouses (near Leek). If you start at Waterhouses, then it’s perfectly placed in the middle of your “there and back” route.

There’s the usual selection of hot drinks including several teas, various soft drinks and plenty of home made cakes to accompany them. Savoury options too, including soup, Staffordshire oatcakes and sandwiches.

Today we dropped in at the end of our walk to Wetton Mill and back (via Ecton Hill and the Manifold Way). A well earned cup of tea and some cake was our reward for a lovely walk. An added bonus is the delightful mish mash of crockery that you are presented with:-

There’s always the opportunity for a chat with the lovely owner Rebecca, who is genuinely interested in everyone who comes in, what they’ve been up to, what they’ve encountered whilst out and about and anything else you want to talk about.

This quirky little cafe is a delight, and a great place to stop for refreshments on the Manifold Way.

The Hydro, Buxton, April 2017

A short and sweet post. We were meeting up with friends for a wander round Buxton, but first we needed some quick refreshment. We had arranged to meet here and were soon settled in and ordering teas and coffees.

I had a reasonable latte, although the service was rather slow. And that’s about all there is to say.

Afternoon tea, Aqua Shard, London, March 2017

We do enjoy a spot of afternoon tea. Normally it’s in slightly more low key surroundings, but today is Mrs MOFAD’s birthday, and we wanted something special to celebrate. I booked this a few months in advance, and even though it was just an “ordinary” Tuesday, it was just as well that I did because it soon got very busy very quickly.

After a relaxed morning of present opening, breakfast and then an easy train journey (despite East Midlands Trains doing their best to spoil it by screwing up their reservations again), we were soon at London Bridge station, and outside the Shard. We stood and gawped for a little while and then entered the gift shop. Let’s get the Shard facts out of the way and then move on to lunch.

The Shard is a 95-storey skyscraper in Southwark, London. It is 309.7 metres (1,016 ft) high, currently the tallest building in the United Kingdom, the fourth tallest building in Europe and the 107th tallest building in the world. That will change soon I’m sure.

The glass-clad pyramidal tower has 72 habitable floors, with a viewing gallery and open-air observation deck on the 72nd floor, at a height of 244.3 metres (802 ft). It was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and replaced Southwark Towers, a 24-storey office block built on the site in 1975.

So, there are the facts, let’s move on to our visit. You arrive at the ground floor, after a short stroll from London Bridge station. You can have a look around the gift shop if you’ve got some time to spare. When you’re ready, you are greeted in the lobby, and then your bags go through an airport-style x-ray scanner. Once they pass, you enter the lift and zoom up 31 floors to Aqua Shard.

We ordered the full afternoon tea experience for our lunch, and spent two hours leisurely grazing our way through it, accompanied by a glass of champagne and infinite tea.

Here is the tower of cake (more on those later).

There’s a huge selection of teas to choose from but we kept it trad with some English breakfast style teas, and they just kept on topping them up with as much tea as you want. You can also spot chocolate/meringue lollipops, more on those later too.

A slightly blurry sandwich shot next, some very traditional ones in this line up. Smoked salmon and cream cheese, cheese and pickle, egg, bacon and tomato, and cucumber on rye bread. This was the first plate, another was to follow.

Some cakes next, a light sponge with chocolate and caramel, and a shard of chocolate on the outside. If you have a restaurant in the Shard, you have to have a shard somewhere in your food. You can also see a fruity/moussey/crumbley thing.

No afternoon tea would be complete without freshly baked scones, both plain and with golden raisins. You will note that these are pictured being served correctly, jam first.

More cake? Ok then. A light and fluffy victoria sponge with cream and jam. I’m not sure that the WI would quite approve, but I certainly did.

There has to be a chocolate cake somewhere, and this chocolate brownie with an orange cream was a delicious cocoa-ey bite.

And last but not least, that chocolate meringue lollipop, blurred here to show you the view from the Shard.

The service was relaxed, friendly, unhurried. A comedy French maître d’hôtel kept us entertained, jokingly chastising a junior colleague on a small error, photo-bombing some old ladies’ selfies and just generally keeping things light. No need for lots of starched stuffiness. When you opt for a dining experience like this one, there’s always a worry that you will be made to feel uncomfortable if these surroundings are not places you spend a lot of time in. That was not the case.

Nor were we surrounded by hordes of hooray Henries, which is another potential worry. There were a few corporate lunches going on around us, but the overwhelming majority of tables were filled with couples enjoying a pleasant lunch and relaxing, high above the hustle and bustle of central London.

When the bill arrives (as it inevitably must), it also appears with understated elegance.

And even the view from the toilet is rather splendid.

Just time for one last look down before hopping into the lift and zooming back down to the ground. floor

A fantastic lunch. If you are looking for a special experience for a special occasion, this won’t disappoint. Aqua Shard has put together the right mix of everything to make things feel just right.

Wild Weather Storm in a Teacup Earl Grey IPA

Wild Weather is another of the N&P’s breweries of 2016. Who can forget the wonderful Motorcycle Emptiness, Big Muddy or Stormbringer? Me, because I haven’t had any of them yet! Storm in a Teacup is my first venture into the third Needle & Pin craft beer selection box.

Two things are loved the world over; a warm cup of tea and a cool glass of beer. And it’s with this worldwide love affair firmly in mind that Wild Weather crafted this beer. Using hops from the America, New Zealand & Australia, tea inspired by China and the finest English malt. A true intercontinental behemoth that takes a slightly sweeter approach to bittering, and pairing with hops that will compliment, but not be drowned by, the aromatic bergamot charisma of the Earl Grey.

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This was my 19th beer of #Tryanuary, and it does exactly what it says on the tin. “Earl Grey IPA” is what it says on the tin. It is literally that. There are hops. There is tea. A hoppy cup of tea or a tea flavoured beer. Whichever way you look at it, it delivers on its promise.

RSPB Minsmere cafe, Suffolk, October 2016

A quick post this one. We came to Minsmere last year, and had a great day out bird nerding (we are very much amateur twitchers, with a general appreciation for wildlife).

One of our only definite plans for our Suffolk week was to return to Minsmere, and as today had the best forecast for all of the week, we drove down from Southwold and set off on our birding adeventure.

We made our way around several hides in the morning, spotting marsh harriers again:-

There were plenty of water fowl, a baby deer and a bearded tit:-

A quick note to TripAdvisor, a bearded tit is a common wetland bird, aka bearded reedling (latin name Panurus biarmicus), and you should really allow it through your profanity filter when it is clearly mentioned in the context of bird watching and not a cheap reference to Bill Oddie.

And if all those birds weren’t enough excitement before lunch, we also caught a bittern in flight:-

After all that excitement, we needed a lunch break. Today, there were some problems in the kitchen, so they couldn’t offer a full menu. So no ploughmans like last time, and I had to make do with just a ham and cheese sandwich:-

It was very nice, absolutely stuffed with good ham and cheese, not just a couple of wafer thin or tasteless slices of each. In fact the filling was probably thicker than the slices of bread containing it!

More bird nerding followed, with shoveller, teal, wigeon, heron, little egret, meadow pipit, black tailed godwit, redshank and snipe:-

We think we saw 27 species of bird today, a grand day out. After all that excitement, we popped back in to the cafe for tea and cake, and this maple and pecan slice (one of the few things Imago can do well) hit the spot:-

Mrs MOFAD was disappointed not to get a toasted teacake, as apparently you can’t have one after 2:30pm, which is just madness. Instead she had a too sweet piece of millionaire’s shortbread.

Minsmere is a great place for a relaxed day of bird watching, ideal for beginners, amateurs or professionals with their £8,000 camera lenses…

Ash Pit Road camp site, Lake Rerewhakaaitu

Wild camping is a big thing in New Zealand. Essentially, the law states that you can camp pretty much anywhere on public land, unless there is a sign that says you can’t, and provided that you have a self contained unit that meets certain criteria.

On our trip we had just such a thing in the form of Bruce our motorhome, so we opted to have a night getting away from it all, camping on the banks of Lake Rerewhakaaitu (try saying that after a couple of New Zealand IPAs).

Whist we have been to some fantastic camp sites on this little tour, it was great to try out something a bit different. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing (it’s hard work getting level if someone hasn’t been round flattening your pitch in advance) we were set up and ready to enjoy some tea and cake. But first, we had a wild visitor:-

The cheeky little thing just hopped around and sat with us for a bit. But it was soon time for tea and cake and a lovely view.

Before a night of sitting out looking up at the staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrsssss (copyright Brian Cox), it was time for a bit of dinner, the campervan staple of pasta and bolognese. It was easy as (as they say around these parts), as I’d made the bolognese last week and it has been in our freezer travelling around with us ever since. There was time for a few more local brews too, like this Garagista IPA, which had good bitterness, but was lacking in a certain hop character.

You always hope that you have saved the best for last, but that’s not the case when your last is Monteith’s. A fake craft ale, that was in no way double hopped. An interesting malt character, but no hop character really. Nothing like a double hopped IPA.

Talisman Cafe, Karangahake

Today was wet. Warm still, but wet. For the first 20 minutes, it didn’t rain. For the remaining 220, it did.

We set out on a bike ride from Waikino to Karangahake and back, on the Hauraki rail trail. Disused railway lines turned into cycle paths? Old railway tunnels lit up with disconcerting drips coming from the roof? Sounds familiar. It’s the Monsal Trail with some more interesting plant life, and a more impressive river.

And, much like Derbyshire, there are quirky cafes around. This is certainly one of them. For example, instead of a number for your order, you get a plastic animal.

There are also a random selection of local arts and crafts and souvenir tat available to buy.

Anyway, it was a good place to dry off, warm up a touch and have some lunch. It’s a simple menu, burgers, chips, pies, toasties and the like.

I had a tasty ham and cheese toastie, with good chips but a weird Chinese soup spoon full of tomato sauce, shown below…

As it was such a wet day, we needed a pot of tea to warm up. We might be turning into Hazel!

We decided to linger a little longer and had a tasty chocolate fudge cake. Just the kind of thing to cheer you up on a dreary day. I’m aware that the photo needs rotating, can’t do it on this dodgy Internet connection…

It’s fair to say that there’s more than a touch of the Grindleford station cafe about it (if you’ve been to Grindleford, you’ll know what I mean).

An interesting lunch stop!