Friday, 22 June 2018

Tiptree Jam Jar Bar

Tiptree jam cocktails! Proof that Wilkin & Sons is taking over the world comes with the opening of the Tiptree Jam Jar Bar at the Fenwick department store in Colchester. The bar was opened to coincide with World Gin Day and serves fruit gin liqueurs and Tiptree-flavoured cocktails, based on Wilkin & Son's successful jam gin launch. Cocktails are served in stylish jam jars, and It is, of course, said to be jam-packed with shoppers turned Tiptee tipplers.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Essex Man About Tarn

A Lake District epiphany for an Essex Man features in my new Kindle Single book Man About Tarn. There's a chapter devoted to the Shenfield School Geography A Level field trip of 1976 where I yomp up to Stickle Tarn in a pair of high-leg Doctor Martens. Where were the Ford Cortinas and burger vans? It was like Essex — but with tarns and mountains and no shops called Mr Byrite. 

"My home county is peopled by geezers driving done-up Ford Cortinas, with their names emblazoned in sun-strips stuck across the windscreen. My parents are tenant farmers who don’t do holidays because they can’t leave their cattle. You can see the Post Office tower on the horizon from my dad’s fields and there are plans to build a motorway across his land. It’s the last piece of green land before greater London. For most people in Brentwood the countryside means a country club with chicken in a basket and maybe a glimpse of a West Ham footballer. A trip to the mudflats of Southend down the A12 Arterial road or a hippy bonfire at Mersea Island is my Essex idea of adventure. But here are the biggest mountains I’ve ever seen."

Click on the link for more details. 

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Write stuff at the Essex Book Festival

The Essex Book Festival is now underway having been opened by Billy Bragg, who spoke about his book Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the WorldCheck out the Essex Book Festival websiite for details of this month's events. Highlights include writer-in-residence Syd Moore talking about her Essex Witch Museum mysteries. Plus radioactive stories in the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker, a crime-writing masterclass with Nicola Upson, eating like Queen Victoria with Dr Annie Gray, Nicci French on being a husband and wife writing double act, mountaineer Andy Kirkpatrick, Guardian columnist Erwin James on writing from inside, Gail Honeyman on Eleanor Oliphant and much more. The Festival runs until the end of March.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Sunshine (and hail) on Leigh


Leigh-on-Sea was looking particularly striking on a winter’s afternoon. Our party arrived at Westcliff-on-Sea station, surprised to discover the sea is only an hour from London. We walked along the seafront to Leigh, much to the delight of dogs Vulcan and Livvy. Even Kent Girl Paula was a convert. 

The tide was out and at times the sun glistened on the estuary mudflats, despite the wind and rain. While the layered clouds were various hues of gunmetal grey and Kent power stations brooded across the water. Chalkwell station has fantastic views out to sea and some fine Essex artwork in the ‘portals’ on the beach wall too. 


We passed the Crow Stone, a mysterious obelisk that marks the end of the City of London's authority over the River Thames. Our walk ended in Leigh, via the seafood shop and heritage museum. As the weather turned we headed for the pub. There’s little better than sitting in the warm window seat of the Crooked Billet looking out at the hail coming down, enjoying fine fish and chips and a pint of porter. We shall make more visits to estuary Essex in the winter.



Thursday, 21 December 2017

The changing face of Tilbury

Check out this excellent video on Tilbury by BBC Newsnight's Jack Shenker. It sums up a lot of what is happening in Britain today, with pubs and old jobs going to be replaced by a giant Amazon warehouse with insecure jobs. Shenker looks at he history of Tilbury from the days of the SS Windrush arriving at the port, to the Sun's notorious expose of "aggro Britain" with a piece on the town. He talks to an old docker, a kick boxer and councillor and looks at Thurrock's flirting with Ukip and Brexit. A sad look at the economic changes in Britain and it all ends with footage of the old power station chimneys by Tilbury Fort being demolished.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Great grapes of Essex vineyards

Just completed a great tour of Essex vineyards. My first stop was New Hall Vineyards founded in 1969 and set in the farmland of Purleigh. It’s an ancient wine growing area. Purleigh wine was drunk by King John and during te signing of the Magna Carta, says enthusiastic manager Lucy Winward. 

We tasted a number of wines and the New Hall Bacchus and Signature were really excellent. It’s a good area for white wine thanks to the mild climate around the River Crouch. So the Crouch Valley might soon rival the Loire Valley. It’s also worth checking out New Hall’s giant barn turned into a Christmas grotto.

Then it was on to West Street Vineyard in Coggeshall. Jane Mohan went to France aged 17 to learn the language but came back with a love of good wine. Her first attempt at making wine ended in disaster, “it was foul and we had to turn it into brandy!” But Mohan, who sold her house to fund the vineyard in 2009, persevered and now makes fantastic wines including West Street’s crisp white wine, rose and sparking wine. It’s a full-time business being a wine grower and Jane told us about one cold spell in April when she was out all night lighting fires to try to save her vines.

Jane’s used her Australian ancestry to bring a bit of Aussie style to Essex, where visiting the vineyard is a relaxed informal experience in a modern building with large windows. You can have an award-winning meal overlooking the vine fields. We enjoyed a fine veggie lunch of fried Camembert and risotto (with battered egg on top), followed by an array of puddings.

Our final stop on the wine tour was Dedham Vale Vineyard in Boxted, close to Constable country where he painted The Haywain. Again it’s an ancient wine hotspot, with the Romans having grown vines there. The restaurant overlooks a lake and manager Simon Ward had just seen a kingfisher when we arrived. Top wines here included the Colchester Oyster. It also hosts a walnut festival and is a tranquil setting for marriages. Dedham Vale produces 32,000 bottles a year and until three years ago, when it expanded, it was entirely self-sufficient in energy.


Lovers of the film Sideways, where two old friends tour California wineries, can now be reassured that a similar Bacchanalian pilgrimage can be made in Essex. Check out the Visit Essex website for more details of Essex food and wine.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Brentwood's brewing

Brentwood is now synonymous with beer rather than Towie. The Brentwood Brewing Company was the result of, "a drunken evening in the pub in 2006 when we decided we could brew better beer than what we were drinking," according to co-founder Roland Kannor. He set up the company with Dave Holmes, who has now retired to Spain. The brewery has made remarkable progress, with Brentwood Best being declared Camra's champion bitter of East Anglia in 2007. Britain's Beer Alliance has also judged it to be the best companion beer for pickled eggs.

Roland Kannor is a man who clearly believes that the pun is mightier than the sword, as exemplified by the Beer Grylls snack bar outside. Beer names are sometimes dreamt up while sampling the product. "You don't think up a good name in the office. Carol our accounts lady came up with Good Elf." Other great names for beers include Chockwork Orange, Frosty Baubles and Elephant School Mellowphant stout, so-named because there was once an elephant training school at the site of the Ford offices in Warley. Hope and Glory is named after Roland's daughter, who is apparently called Hope Ann Gloria.

We also meet Ethan, who is possibly the youngest head brewer in the country at 26. He likes to brew in shorts and talked us through the process of brewing with complex tanks that are basically, "giant saucepans and kettles." His beers have won prizes from as far afield as Northern Ireland.

Brentwood Brewing has also boosted international relations, with three German brewers arriving with German beers for Brentwood's celebration of Oktoberfest. Roland says that, memorably, his German guests were refused admission to Sugar Hut for wearing lederhosen, presumably on the grounds that such gear would make the punters, "well jel."

If you want to sample the friendly charms of the Brentwood Brewing Company then there's a Christmas Beer Festival on December 9 at the brewery at Calcott Hall Farm off the Ongar Road, from 10.30am-5pm. Check out the Brentwood Brewing website or Visit Essex for details of Essex's burgeoning range of food and drink.