Archive for September, 2013

Delicious and Nutritious Irish Soda Bread

Monday, September 30th, 2013
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There are few things more comforting on a cold autumn night than a bowl full of hot soup and a thick slice of bread. I know for some people any bread related comfort food may only include white bread smothered with lashings of butter, but for me it is brown bread all the way. The nutty deep flavour just can’t be beaten, and when it’s dipped into a steaming bowl of homemade soup…..mmmm…. Food heaven!

soup + irish soda bread

While home baked bread is always best, it can be pretty labour intensive. Hours of waiting for it to rise and bake, only to discover that something has gone not quite right, can leave one hungry and frustrated with the brick that they’ve just laboured to produce. The solution? Irish wheaten bread.

Irish Wheaten Bread

Irish Wheaten Bread

Every regional recipe has a story and Irish wheaten, or brown soda, bread is no different. The climate of the Emerald Isle makes the production of hard wheat, the type which is needed to make yeast leavened breads, difficult to cultivate. Due to this fluke of climactic fate the Irish stuck to the traditional quick bread method that worked best with their soft wheat flour and we today get to savour the results.

The making of wheaten bread couldn’t be easier and the results are no less tasty than the time consuming alternative. Whole wheat flour, oats, salt, bicarbonate of soda, and a bit of sugar are mixed with buttermilk and an egg, the whole mix is poured into a loaf pan and baked to golden perfection. The resulting loaf has a crumbly texture and is more dense than yeast leavened bread, but is no less delicious.

brown soda bread loaf

Wheaten bread suits both sweet and savoury flavours equally well, so feel free to top it with anything from marmalade to smoked salmon (though probably not at the same time). On a trip to Ireland you’ll find that wheaten bread, which is sometimes just called brown bread, is served with every meal of the day at restaurants ranging from local pubs to Michelin starred restaurants.

So, before your next visit to Ireland why not give making your own Wheaten Bread a try? Not only is it easy but it’s delicious and nutritious too. All in all it’s a winner!

Irish Wheaten Bread Recipe

1/2 lb extra coarse wholemeal flour

3 oz porridge oatlets

1 teaspoons bread soda                  mix together

1 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoons sugar or honey

1/2 pint buttermilk                                 mix together

1 egg

Add wet mix to dry mix. The mixture will be wet and sloppy.

Pour into a greased loaf tin.

Sprinkle some more porridge oatlets on top.

Bake for 45 minutes to 50 minutes at 190° or 170° celsius (fan assisted oven) or gas mark 5. Done when golden brown and a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.

Let cool for 10 minutes on a rack. Slice and enjoy!

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Sunday Snapshots: Westonbirt Arboretum

Sunday, September 29th, 2013
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With the smell of autumn in the air, there’s no better way to embrace the new season than with a walk in the great outdoors. As a child, I spent numerous happy hours at Westonbirt, home to the National Arboretum and some 16,000 trees! Planting began here during the 1850s and today the site has gained international importance not to mention the fact that it is home to 80 champion trees! There are 17 miles of accessible paths to discover at Westonbirt as well as numerous ways to explore the forest with guided walks, photography workshops and arts and crafts suitable for all ages. Westonbirt is a feast for the senses throughout the year but never more so than during the autumn when leaves of every hue imaginable provide a backdrop to the stunning vistas at every turn. This week’s Sunday Snapshot is best enjoyed with a cup of tea and, for me, at least, a dose of nostalgia. Don’t forget to explore the charming market town of Tetbury, located just three miles from Westonbirt. With numerous antique shops, delis and cafes to linger over, I can’t think of a better way to while away a Sunday afternoon. If this has got you thinking about an autumn holiday, why not take a look at our Cotswolds cottages and experience the colours of the season for yourself?

Westonbirt Arboretum

Westonbirt Arboretum

Westonbirt Arboretum

Westonbirt Arboretum

Cracking Up

Autumn Walk

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Sykes Cottages Hits 100,000 Bookings!

Saturday, September 28th, 2013
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Yesterday was a record-breaking day at Sykes Cottages as staff celebrated taking 100,000 bookings this year! This fantastic achievement could not have been managed without all of the hard work and commitment our staff have put in and they have truly excelled themselves. So well done to all of the staff at Sykes Cottages!

Cake

 Staff celebrated at lunch time with cake and champagne and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we all tucked in and thoroughly enjoyed the delicious buffet spread that was set on for the occasion!

It’s been a banner year for Sykes Cottages- we’ve reached the 100,000 bookings in a year milestone; been rated as “Excellent” for the third year in a row by Trip Advisor and we’ve also been nominated for an award at the prestigious British Travel Awards. If you’re one of the 100,000 people who’ve booked a holiday through us this year and you want to let everyone know how much you enjoyed it, please head over to the Travel Awards website and vote for us. We’re listed under ‘Best UK Holiday Companies and Tourist Attractions’ and then we’re in the sub-category of ‘Best UK Cottage/Self-Catering Booking Company’. We’d really appreciate your vote.

Last but not least, from everyone at Sykes Cottages, we would like to thank all of our customers who have booked not only this year but over the last 25 years. We hope that all of our customers have had a fantastic time on holiday and that that you choose to book with us again next time!

 

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Louise O'Toole

By Louise O'Toole

Louise loves reading, shopping, baking and cosy country pubs with log fires. A nice cup of tea will never be turned down. She has spent many childhood summers on the beach in Cornwall and walking the hills of the Lake District.

Enjoy a self-catering city break this autumn

Friday, September 27th, 2013
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With the onset of autumn and the sun’s increasing absenteeism, swap flip flops for ankle boots and put a smile on the other half’s face this season with an impromptu weekend city break from Sykes Cottages. We’ve a growing number of super inner-city cottages, entrenched within the borders of some of the UK’s most palatial metropolises, including York, Chester, Edinburgh and Lincoln, which provide the perfect base for a spot of urban exploration! With fewer tourists and cooler temperatures, there’s really no better time to pound the pavements of your favourite city than autumn, but if you’re still in need of a little inspiration, read our handy guide to three of the UK’s top stops for a self-catering city break.

Step back in time on a cottage break in York

The Shambles, York

Via Flickr

We’re sure you’ve read about York in one history book or another, but until you’ve paid it a visit yourself it’s difficult to appreciate the scope of history that is encased within the city’s ancient walls. Speaking of walls, that’s where we’ll begin. Take a lap around the city of York from the vantage point of this spectacular roman-age structure to get a feel for the panorama of this archaic city, before stooping into The Shambles to pick up a trinket or some local produce from one of the street’s original oak fronted medieval shops. Swap the modern age for the Viking age in the JORVIK centre, home to an interactive Viking city as well as a deluge of funky Nordic odours! Or, terrorize yourself at the York Dungeon, where you’ll be petrified by the Plague Doctor and witness the sticky end of Guy Fawkes. Take a tumble back to yesteryear for yourself with one of our self-catering cottages in York; who knows what you’ll uncover on your weekend escape in this age-old city!

Eat well in Edinburgh on your next city break

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh

Via Flickr

Edinburgh, birthplace of Hogmanay, haggis and Sean Connery, and now the jewel in the UK’s culinary crown. If you’re out to indulge on your next city break, there’s really no better place. You’ll find all manner of Scottish gastronomy amongst the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants, food markets and specialist delicatessens, making Edinburgh an outright mecca for foodies. Gorge on Highland Bay langoustine and Aberdeen steak in the city’s top restaurants; sip warming Scotch over a plate of hearty fare on the Royal Mile, or cook up a storm in your Edinburgh cottage kitchen with ingredients sourced from the weekly farmer’s market, before snuggling up for a supper of oatcakes and chutney in front of your cottage’s open log fire. Can you think of a better way to spend a sumptuous weekend away?

Soak up some city culture in Plymouth

Plymouth Barbican, Plymouth

Via Flickr

With a pseudonym like ‘Britain’s Ocean City’, it’s easy to assume that the only thing on offer in Plymouth is its maritime heritage and golden Devonshire shoreline. But don’t rule out the culture of this South coast city just yet! As it turns out, Plymouth offers a plethora of cultural activities for the urban gadabout, including exhibitions, concerts and regional fêtes, making it the perfect place for an enriching city getaway. Scrutinise the work of top UK artists at the Artist’s Make Faces exhibition, commissioned by Monika Kinley; enter the ‘live studio’ of Edward Waite as you sidle through his Urban Architecture; fill your Plymouth holiday cottage with homely antiques and kitchenalia acquired at the city’s annual Vintage Fair, before heading to Café Acoustica, an evening of unplugged music and performance poetry at Plymouth’s B-Bar.

Our short city breaks are available on a last minute basis, so why not spice up your weekend with a spontaneous urban getaway? To find out more, take a look at our self-catering city breaks page today.

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Jonathan Tuplin

By Jonathan Tuplin

Jonathan is a lover of books, music and good food. Originally from Yorkshire, there's nothing he likes more than a cycle in the country. One of his favourite spots in the UK is Tenby, where he spent many a happy holiday as a child.

The Homecoming 2014

Thursday, September 26th, 2013
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2014 is going to be a massive year for Scotland with the return of the famous Homecoming Celebrations, although this years edition promises to be bigger and better than ever. The Homecoming was established in 2009 in order to showcase Scotland’s culture and heritage on the world stage, and here at Sykes we thought that we should do our bit to help out. That’s why we’ve decided to list some of the exciting things that best illustrate what the Homecoming is all about.

Scottish Heritage

Bagpipes

Via Flickr

Ask anyone about Scotland and you can pretty much guarantee that some of the first things that will pop into their head will be kilts, bagpipes and haggis and where’s better to see these things than at a traditional highland gathering? As usual there will be numerous gatherings taking place around the country but as they are inspired by the Homecoming the 2014 editions are not to be missed. The Braemar Gathering, held in the heart of the beautiful Cairngorms National Park, is one of the most famous Highland Games attracting visitors from all around the world and next year you could join them, albeit with the added incentive of a cosy cottage where you can put your feet up at the end of the day.

2014 also sees the 700 year anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, and this momentous occasion is taking centre stage during the Homecoming festivities. To commemorate the event the Bannockburn Live festival has been arranged at the end of June. The event will see the grand opening of the brand new visitor centre, huge re-enactments of the battle and also many more traditional festival attractions with traditional Scottish foods, music and literature being celebrated; what more could you want from a day out?

The Scottish Countryside

River Fecklin from White Bridge - Whitebridge South Loch Ness - Inverness Scotland

Via Flickr

The Scottish countryside really is a wonder to behold with its eerie lochs, stunning wildlife and breath-taking views, and from 2014 onwards there will be a new way in which you can soak it all in. As part of the Homecoming celebrations a brand new country trail will be opened that stretches all the way from Dunbar on the east coast, to Helensburgh in the west. This is in honour of one of Scotland’s great exports; John Muir, a world famous naturalist and conservationist who is known in America as the father of the National Parks, so why not pay homage to him and visit the Scottish countryside yourself.

Scottish Sport

Road Hole

Via Flickr

Scotland has had a rich sporting heritage down the years and this continues right up to the present day with numerous olympic heroes, not to mention Britain’s first Wimbledon men’s champion in over 70 years in the shape of Andy Murray. 2014 looks set to continue this strong tradition with the Commonwealth Games coming to Glasgow and the Ryder Cup being held at the world famous Gleneagles course. If this inspires you then why not make the trip up north yourself. With almost 600 golf courses and numerous other sporting venues, you’ll be spoilt for choice, and what’s more if you book a holiday cottage in Scotland with Sykes you’ll have the perfect place to rest those tired legs afterwards.

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Jamie Tomkins

By Jamie Tomkins

Jamie is a big fan of long weekend walks with the dog, especially when there is the chance to refuel with lunch in a country pub. Living in Lancaster for three years gave him the perfect opportunity to spend a lot of time in the Lake District.