Sunday, 31 August 2014

How to make the most of a British summer holiday

This year, I have been lucky enough to enjoy two gorgeous city breaks (the first, to Paris and the other to Berlin), several adventures for magazine travel pieces (including a fantastic visit to Iceland) and some really brilliant out-of-season festivals, including Horizon Festival in Bulgaria.

By the second half of the year I decided it was time to reign things in a bit. Instead of taking another flight, booking another hotel and negotiating the logistics of another set of transfers, I decided that a holiday 'chez mes parents' was in order (they live in St Just in Cornwall, portrayed rather sweetly in a postcard I found by illustrator Joseph Mason, above).

We took the train from Bristol Temple Meads down to the final stop of the line, Penzance, and spent a week in traditionally-mixed English weather enjoying wild South West Cornwall. We braved the rain to see old mine buildings, managed to enjoy two beach days, snatched one glorious barbecue and, of course, enjoyed plenty of cosy pints in the pub. Here are several ways to make the most of a summer holiday in Cornwall.

Embrace the rain
If it hasn't stopped raining since the wee hours and is showing no signs of stopping, then dash out, dodge the puddles and see if you can still see some famous landmarks. We managed to get over to The Crowns in Bottallack – though none of us were brave enough to climb down for a closer look in the persistent drizzle.

Snatch the beaching opportunities
As soon as it is sunny, grab the bikini, Ray-Bans and Mum's oldest towel and hotfoot it to the nearest and most beautiful beach. Swimming through the waves at Sennen was a highlight of my holiday.

Go to the pub
When it does get nippy – and because you have survived your day until the afternoon – get yourself down to the pub for a cheeky half (or four). English pubs are unbeatable and a family favourite is The Queen's Arms in Bottallack.

Ride an open-topped bus
For fantastic views and fresh air getting where you need to go, nothing beats the open-top. Just be prepared for high winds, overhanging branches and a change in the weather. And don't expect that hair to stay neat. We took the 300 between St Just and Lands End.

Visit the end of the earth
By which I mean Land's End, of course. The miniature village we found there is cute despite the lack of seeming to have any real purpose. And we saw an Oompa Loompa (I kid you not).

Brave a barbecue
If the clouds still haven't descended following a blissful beach day, stay out! Light up the barbecue and enjoy a burger of unadulterated beef packed with salad, sauce, pineapple and too much cheese – one of the best burgers I have ever had (and I have had a few).

Wrap up warm to take in the scenery
Sometimes just looking at Cornwall is enough. How about wrapping up and enjoying a walk along the coast? A light lunch at The Godolphin Arms overlooking the beach was the perfect way to break the day up when we went for a stroll around Marazion before getting the train back to Bristol.

A typical Cornish view...
Wrapping up against the wind and rain
Surfers at Sennen
Sennen pier
Porthcurno, Cornwall

On Porthcurno beach
The miniature village at Land's End
Oompa Loompa doompadee-doo...
St Michael's Mount from Marazion
A view of Cape Cornwall from the open-topped '300' bus

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Monday, 18 August 2014

Live from the Lawn, Tyntesfield

On Saturday I had the privilege to join my lovely friend and singer-songwriter Rosie Sleightholme playing a gig at Tyntesfield's Live from the Lawn. What was fantastic about this day of live music is that we got to play two very different sets: one in Tyntesfield's stunning chapel (one of the best acoustics I have ever played in – we both regretted not recording it!) and the other in a big marquee on the croquet lawn. It was all very pleasant with the weather lovely and sunny, and the atmosphere very chilled out. There were several acts playing on different stages and people just wandered around and relaxed.

It was wonderful to discover the beautiful house and gardens of Tyntesfield. Located seven miles away from the centre of Bristol, the house was built by William Gibbs in the 1860s in the Victorian Gothic revivalist style. It was so nice to be making music in such an incredible place.

Another brilliant part of the day was discovering the delicious fare of Barefoot Stonebooked Pizza Co. – that sorted out any hint of a hangover there may or may not have been lingering in the air. It was amazing to see how quickly those handmade bases curled up protectively around lashings of tomato, mozzarella, pepperoni and rocket.

And, being on a National Trust property as we were, we couldn't leave without that obligatory over-priced slice of cake and milky tea to finish off a lovely day.

Listen to Rosie's Great Oak EP below.

Tyntesfield House, North Somerset | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The chapel at Tyntesfield | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Inside the chapel, Tyntesfield | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Setting up | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Rosie performs 'Sabrina' | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Live from the Lawn, Tyntesfield | Photo: Rosie Pentreath


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Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Playlist: Trentemøller

Trentemøller's Lost album is an eclectic mix of different vocal collaborations (including with The Drums's Jonny Pierce and members of Low), dance tracks full of driving synths and spectral dream-pop songs. I think the eclecticism is what has kept me returning to it time and time again.

Candy Tongue featuring Marie Fisker is a memorable track, as is Never Stop Running with Jonny Pierce, his familiar Drums-voice soaring over the 80s-style quick beats. Deceive featuring Sune Rose Wagner is another good one; perfectly dark and dramatic.

Anders Trentemøller emerged out of Denmark a few years ago with his debut The Last Resort, which is a much more ambient and abstract dance album, kept more in focus by a uniform style.

I think a lot of the tracks on the latest album owe their greatness to the collaborations, not Trentemöller himself. Still, it's a good listen for those looking to add a bit of 'Scandi Chic' to their record collection. For something more authentically Trentemøller turn to the two earlier albums, The Last Resort (2006) and Into the Great Wilde Yonder (2010).

Monday, 4 August 2014

Ten typical festival goers

We're halfway through the festival season and I haven't yet been away to one – it is the first year in six that I didn't excitedly pitch my tent at Glastonbury and I even missed Lafrowda, the small festival in my hometown that I have been to every year since it was established. To make myself feel better I have watched plenty of coverage from the big ones and imagined myself in those filthy crowds with the best of them...

We have all had moments at Glastonbury or Bestival or Green Man where we see a girl coming towards us, far too clean and fresh to have engaged with the festival at all. In comparison, we are covered in smears of mud, sporting lank hair that is miraculously greasy and frizzy at the same time and, of course, carrying that faint whiff of farm antics that one acquires after not washing for days. The aforementioned clean one is more-than-likely your typical festival day-tripper – someone who has the luxury of swanning into Glastonbury from a place with a four poster bed and fresh towels. And there are other festival goer clichés that I have also noticed. There is the timid festival first-timer (we were all one once!). And that old-timer who you know used to go to Stone Henge for  the Summer Solstice and party right on through to Pilton in the festival's early days. Here are ten of the best festival-going clichés that I have seen (and been).

1. The old-timer
This seventy-plus-year-old raver tends to pitch an armchair in the middle of the patch between the Pyramid Stage and its sound system, wholly unconcerned by the surging crowds around them. Instead they pass out under that head of matted grey hair, spliff in one hand, a beer in the other, and nod along with the music.

Source: Matt Dunham/AP

2. Front row keen
These kids are the opposite. Still excited by the Festival Experience, they have got to see the very pores in Lily Allen’s face to feel satisfied.

When I went to Glastonbury in 2010 I spent enough time right in front of the Pyramid Stage to be snapped by Guardian photographer Mark Large and slapped on the cover of the next morning's paper

3. The Cara Delevingne fan
You may have thought you were waiting to see Rita Ora, and that so were the group of screaming teens to the right of you. Wrong. Cara Delevingne is the word on their lips. The same model-spotting goes on in the name of Alexa Chung, Georgia May Jagger and, of course, famous festival veteran Kate Moss.

Cara Delevingne: more rockstar than the rockstars? | Source: Aimee Blaut/The Formula Blog

4. The day-tripper
These girls and boys impress us and infuriate us in equal measure. While they are able to take a hot shower in the morning and smell of Thierry Mugler Alien all day, we have been reduced to l’eau de Pilton, the ‘wet wipe shower’, and washing our heads under a cold tap. Come on girls, give us a chance – this is hardly a fair fight.

Photo: Rosie Pentreath

5. The happy family
These kids have the coolest parents ever. They are parents that love festivals so much that pregnancy, twins and two tiny toddlers can’t stop them. They are likely to be spotted at the circus tent by day and safely tucked up in family camping at night.

Source: Victor Frankowski/The Guardian

6. The super-fan
This rarer breed wears the t-shirt, carries the home-made banner, owns the mug and screams themselves hoarse when their best-band-of-all-time emerges. They have waited a year for this and endured violent elbow-in-the-rib moments at the front of a growing crowd. When the set starts, it’s all about knowing the entire album in order and singing along word for word.

Yannis Phillippakis of Foals wears a Buckwheat t-shirt | Source:

7. The lone ranger
This cool cat meanders into the festival at his own time with a single backpack, beard and brown clothes of varying shades. The hundreds-of-thousands strong crowds can’t distract him from a solitary and soulful experience of the music.

Photo: Ryan Mahon/Facebook

8. The campsite dweller
These guys, on the other hand, are pack animals. They don't seem to mind that they have missed Radiohead on the Park stage. Instead, they are making giant wands from the beer cans they have been emptying down their throats since dawn and guarding the large gazebo that marks their territory.

Photo: Sasha Calontiw/

9. The hippy healer
Rarely seen outside the healing fields, this pleasant breed is all sunshine and smiles, oblivious to the hedonism that ensues with deep house only one field away.

The best hippy vibes have to be those found at Fire in the Mountain in Wales. This was taken in 2012 when I played there with singer-songwriter Rosie Sleightholme (right) | Photo: Mina Bihi/FITM

10. Twenty-four-hour-party-people
These youngsters spend all their time in the dance villages of the summer festivals. Fueled and goaded-on by their best friend Mandy, they continue even after the rest of us have collapsed under a hot Sunday sun.

Photo: Emily Pentreath/Instagram

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Friday, 25 July 2014

The Playlist: John Grant

What is it about John Grant's music that makes it so good? I have been listening to his 2013 album Pale Green Ghosts constantly and it still feels fresh.

The lyrics, to begin with, are brilliant. Many of them meet in long stream of consciousness-style, self-aware sentences that describe feelings, situations and possibilities in earnest detail.

Back then I often found myself / Driving on the road at night, / And the radio was broadcasting the ocean. / Warm late Spring wind whips through my hair. / I am right here, but I wanna be there, / And no one in this world is gonna stop me. Pale Green Ghosts

The harmonies are simple (though definitely not simple in the all-too-obvious, one dimensional way that chart toppers often are) but utterly brilliant. Listen to the way the chorus of Pale Green Ghosts (below) resolves. Also, interestingly, Sinead O'Conner provides backing vocals for GMF (below).

The rhythms make many of the songs danceable on top of their deep meanings. Always a plus. This album is actually more electronica-inspired than the 2010 album, Queen of Denmark, which is also great incidentally.

His voice is strong and distinctive and, perhaps most importantly, full of utterly believable conviction.

The instrumentation is varied. One minute some flutes are cutting through a guitar sound, the next synths are controlling things with backup from wood blocks and brass.

Hailing from Michigan, John Grant transformed himself from a life of substance abuse to music-making through forming a band, The Czars, with Chris Pearson and others and then recording as a solo artist after the band split in 2004. The singer's journey has taken him to Colorado and then New York, London, Berlin and, most recently, Iceland – all some of my favourite places in the world.

"I’d take the I-25, between Denver and Boulder, which was lined with all these Russian olive trees, which are the pale green ghosts of the title: they have this tiny leaves with silver on the back, which glow in the moonlight,' explains Grant when talking about the album and its title track. 'The song is about wanting to get out of a small town, to go out into the world and become someone and made my mark."

Pale Green Ghosts is a fantastic album – go away and listen to it. It will improve your life. It will. And, to quote John, 'you could be laughing 65 per cent more of the time'.


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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Spreepark, Berlin

Trying to find Spreepark in Plänterwald was one of the biggest adventures, or non-adventures, of my recent trip to Berlin. Described by our Airbnb host as 'a fantastic destination for an excursion, with life-sized dinosaurs, kaput ferris wheels and a choo choo train that runs on the weekend', we set off on the metro towards Plänterwald with high hopes of a unique Berlin day out.

The first obstacle that presented itself was the lack of a train running to Plänterwald that morning – none went as far as we needed due to track works.

"Not to worry!" We got ourselves as far as Treptower Park and asked if the distance to Plänterwald was walkable, something that was met with a unanimous "no". Having resigned ourselves to a cheeky taxi ride, we felt some elation in that we would soon be exploring abandoned roller coasters and looking skywards at old ferris wheels.

Unfortunately, our taxi driver had no knowledge whatsoever of an abandoned amusement park. After making a couple of phone calls and asking us to repeat over and over the details of our destination, he took us to Plänterwald where, on the river Spree, we found cafés on boats, pedalos and a holiday gathering of boogying geriatrics. Still no sign of that huge wheel...

Upon asking the nearest ice-cream man to direct us to "the abandoned theme park" we were met with another blank gaze. "I've never heard of it."

It being a beautiful sunny day, we decided to walk along the manicured tarmac woodland path beside the river, keeping our eyes out for the odd neglected swan ride or 'choo choo' train. Then – there it was! Through a red fence emblazoned with the word 'VERBOTEN' every hundred yards we glimpsed an abandoned train. Excited, we quickened our pace.

Further along the verboten fence we met three people coming from the other side. "There's a guard. I wouldn't risk it." After our host's enthusiastic recommendation, a fruitful internet search (Google it right now to see how fantastic the pictures look) and battling Berlin's chaotic public transport, it seemed that this park really stood alone and empty, and more abandoned than we ever thought. Eventually, we turned our backs and resorted to a beer and an hour on a pedalo.

It took a second, more focused Google search once reunited with our smartphones that evening to find out that Spreepark, opened in 1969, had been the only entertainment park in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and, after a tortuous journey through debts and dubious owners, it was closed down in 2002. Wikipedia also informed us that it has been abandoned since then, with tours operating until March 2014. So the official take was that we had missed it by four months!


On returning to Bristol, my only regret was not waiting for that guard to leave and passing through the hole in the fence to explore Spreepark. 

And to add salt, I have since discovered up-to-date reviews on Tripadvisor with tips and tricks to avoid the guards. Their advice (and now mine) – stray from the main path, take yourself in to explore and stay vigilant for guards!

The broken down choo choo | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Strictly verboten | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The abandoned ferris wheel | Photo: Rosie Pentreath 
Our first impressions of Plänterwald on the Spree | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A weekend in Berlin

Berlin. The city of nightlife, graffiti and hipsters. I have just returned from my first visit – a four-day exploration of the streets, dive bars and parks of this city where history is everywhere, prices are low and the people are stylish. 

known for being laid back, the streets are thronged with relaxed smokers and people walking along drinking beer on the weekends. And our last night happened to coincide with the World Cup final so – with Germany reigning victorious – we were even able to join in with loud celebrations, side-stepping fireworks that sprang up on the pavements and covering our ears against the constant sounds of car horns. 

The adventures lay in trying to find underground bars in the back streets, working out which train stations would remain open for any one journey and following directions to an apparently non-existent abandoned theme park (watch this space for my blog about that). 

Staying in an artist's flat in Kreuzberg; walking past the murals of the East Side Gallery of the Berlin wall; seeking abandoned amusement parks; and languishing in pop-up bars – all of these things contributed to Berlin's ability to more than meet my expectations. This is a city that never sleeps and constantly moves forward with makeshift galleries and edgy shops cropping up everywhere – even the down-and-outs are entrepreneurial, collecting glass and plastic bottles from bins to make money from recycling.

Here are the highlights in pictures (see captions for details). As usual, I used a Pentax K1000 and 35mm film for all of these photographs.

We stayed in a flat in an old building in the east of Kreuzberg, owned and wonderfully decorated by artist Zoë Claire Miller. This fantastic poster watched over our bedroom | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The kitchen was home to these marvellous creatures | photo: Rosie Pentreath
Charming details like this quirky lamp emerged all over the flat during our stay | photo: Rosie Pentreath

I instantly recognised street artist ROA's style from Bristol in this mural of hanging animals in Kreuzberg | photo: Rosie Pentreath
Even the fire stations in Berlin carry murals | photo: Rosie Pentreath 

Make Love Not War | photo: Rosie Pentreath
Oberbaum Bridge, Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath

Berlin graffiti | photo: Rosie Pentreath

Kate takes stock under the watchful gaze of Berlin's street art models | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall | photo: Rosie Pentreath

Cyclists enjoy welcome respite from the rain | photo: Rosie Pentreath
I <3 Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall | photo: Rosie Pentreath
The East Side Gallery, Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The East Side Gallery, Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath
This club has taken up residence below ground level in central Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath 
Alexanderplatz, Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The Fernsehturm TV Tower, Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath

Berlin Dom (Berlin Cathedral) | photo: Rosie Pentreath
On Sunday we stumbled upon the tranquil weekend retreat of local Berliners – a hamlet of restaurants and attractions around the river Spree. We enjoyed taking a pedalo out in between the leisure boats and seaplanes | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The birthday champagne | photo: Rosie Pentreath 
This lively pair appeared to be about to spring off their podium in Kreuzberg  | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The best street corners in Berlin are home to Photoautomats, the greatest selfie-makers there are. Strips of four photographs take five minutes to arrive outside the booth and when they do you have to shake them dry for another five minutes | photo: Rosie Pentreath

Visit: to see more photography from my travels