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Let it rain…. we have a plan!


Well it has been beyond wet hasn’t it? On Valentine’s Day there was no whispering sweet nothings in our house – we had to shout to be heard above the howling wind and torrential downpour and sat fearfully in our home wondering if the chimney was going to collapse or a tree get blown through the window or that our village pond would burst it’s banks and flood us!

We’ve been quite lucky. We’ve had a few issues. Our chimney has either leaked or so much water has rained down it that our airing cupboard which sits adjacent to the chimney smells a bit musty. And our gazebo lovingly built by hubby for my 40th birthday now seems to have acquired a sunroof but that’s the worst of it.

Some people have not been so lucky – you would have to have been living in a cave not to have seen the devastating pictures of flooded towns, villages, farms, roads….Add to that the wind damage which has caused fences to be ripped up, walls to collapse and trees to fall it feels like it’s been a catastrophic winter.

I’m sure the insurance companies will be very busy for the next few months. I’m glad I renewed my insurance at the beginning of the winter because it was a comfort to me to know that the house and its contents were fully covered at up to date prices. Have you looked at your policy recently? Would the sum insured for a re-build really cover a rebuild? You don’t want to find out it doesn’t after the tree has smashed through your roof!

In years gone by you had to take the insurance you got with your mortgage and many people don’t realise this isn’t the case any more. The insurance premium still comes out with the mortgage payment and you may find you aren’t getting the best price or the best cover. It might be time to ring around or go online and find out if you can get a better deal.

For instance did you know many insurance companies now offer to pay for rented accommodation for you to stay inif your home is so badly damaged it is uninhabitable? And did you know that some top letting agencies offer short term or flexible lets for just such an occasion?

So you can camp in a soulless hotel or you can have a home from home while the builders make your own home safe and secure again – anything from a week to a year or more – though I hope none affected by this winter’s weather is out of their home for that long!

English: Fallen tree

English: Fallen tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In furnished accommodation you can just move right in and many places even offer WiFi so you can sort out your repairs and shop for replacement furniture online if need be.
h I do hope no-one has to move out for that long following this dreadful winter!

What are you waiting for – drag out your insurance policy and have a close read – and if your house is already damaged make sure you check to see if you are eligible for temporary accommodation. You’re not? Still worth getting in touch with a letting agency like Lets Unlimited to see how much it would cost to move into one of their properties while the builders get to work on your home.

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Planning some building work? Plan for disruption!


building work can be disruptive

It’s that time of year – New Year, new start and after cramming a Christmas tree, elderly relatives, over-excited children and extra chairs into your home you possibly made a vow that 2014 will be the year you finally bite the bullet and extend the house!

As I type I am seeing out of the corner of my eye, a pile of timber and glazed units that hopefully will be transformed into a lovely garden room by this time next year.

I would use the word conservatory but it does have connotations of uncomfortable wicker chairs with pastel patterned cushions and potted palms and I’m thinking more squishy cosy sofas and a good docking station so I can relax away from Minecraft, Super Mario and the endless parade of terrible American teen shows my daughters favour. Anyway even the conservatory fitting companies on the radio have started using the word Orangery so I need to keep one step ahead of the trend. A garden room it is.

My husband promises the room will be ready by next Christmas. I am hoping it’s well under way by the time summer comes as currently the materials (rescued from a friend’s extension project) are rather taking over the garden including our gazebo which is where we while away many a summers eve eating and drinking with our friends.

Luckily I think the garden will take the brunt of the work – I don’t anticipate a lawn you could play bowls on by the end but at least we aren’t taking any walls down so the house can remain my sanctuary from the mud and holes outside.

My friend who donated the conservatory however is less lucky – they have had to move out of their home as the roof is coming off and most of the walls are coming down too.

It made me think it would be useful to pass on some top tips on making the best of the nightmare which is building work.

1.Be prepared to be flexible. Don’t plan a big party the week after your builder SAYS your work will be complete. Take the completion date with a big pinch of salt. The builder cannot predict the weather, ill staff or the unexpected archaeological find under your kitchen floor

2.Label and package valuables and things of sentimental value. Workmen will obviously do their best to limit disruption but a vibrating drill or a swinging ladder might just mean the end of your favourite vase. Move it, don’t lose it.

3. Make some dust sheets. Plaster dust and brick dust gets everywhere. TVs and computers don’t like dust and if you have any special clothes or soft furnishings you don’t want stained red it’s best to cover them. The same goes for carpets! Roll up rugs and take them somewhere safe. Use old duvet covers or throws for cheap cover-ups.

4. Relocate precious garden plants. If your prized plants are anywhere near your extension or the workmen’s walkway (usually the quickest route from their van to your extension) then dig them up and relocate them temporarily away in pots, the end of the garden or in someone else’s garden!

5. Move out! For a truly stress-free experience rent somewhere near enough to your home to be able to pop in regularly but far enough away to avoid mud, dust clouds and draughts. This is a particularly good top tip if you have pets or children.


Sit in a dusty draught? Or rent short-term to avoid the stress.

You might be thinking it would be too expensive and you have to sign up to a 6 month lease, or a year but most good letting agencies will have some short term properties on their books on flexible terms which you can rent for just a week or two or a month or two.

My local letting agency  has in its portfolio a huge range of properties in Herts, Beds and Bucks – all over the Chilterns region in fact -properties of all styles and sizes which lend themselves beautifully to being a second home while your first is being torn down and rebuilt.

So when you are planning your extension or attic conversion don’t forget to plan for disruption – or rent somewhere lovely and spend your time in warmth and comfort surfing the web for new furniture and accessories instead of wading through mud and wondering when the electricity will come back on!

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Scenic Cycling


Aldbury in Hertfordshire
pic credit http://www.madmumof7.com

I am a recent convert to cycling. Don’t misunderstand me – I’ve not kitted myself out in head to toe lycra or anything, I don’t want to scare the deer, but I have realised that for me, riding my bike is faster and mostly easier than walking.

I am very lucky that I live in the Chilterns region which is stunningly beautiful. So wherever I cycle I am spoiled with lovely views and the occasional glimpse of some normally shy wildlife which I might have missed whizzing by in  a noisy car.

Whether you choose to ride mountain bikes, road bikes or, like me, just an old lady bike complete with a basket on the front, there is terrain to suit any age, ability or type of cyclist.

When I was out and about the other day I found a fantastic resource in the form of a leaflet called “Cycling in Herts”. Produced by the Countryside Management Service (CMS) it features an easy to read map of a lovely area of the region to cycle in along with two suggested rides.

The first is an 18 mile/29 km route taking in the villages of Long Marston, Wilstone and the reservoirs, the picturesque market town of Tring where cyclists can stop off and visit the fascinating Walter Rothschild Museum and the picture postcard pretty village of Aldbury complete with pond, stocks and not one but two great pubs offering food.

The second route  is shorter – 13miles/22km  and takes in the historic town of Berkhamsted where remains of the ancient castle can still be seen. The route meanders through scenic countryside and tree lined lanes through the Ashridge estate which is owned and managed by the National Trust where visitors are often allowed to climb the famous Bridgewater Momument, built  in memory of the pioneer of canal building, Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater.

English: The Bridgewater Monument, Ashridge Th...

The Bridgewater monument was built in 1832 in memory of Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, 1736-1803. He is referred to as “the father of inland navigation” because of his pioneering work in building the Worsley to Manchester Canal, and later the Liverpool to Manchester Canal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cycle tours would be great to have a go at any time of year – I drove through Ashridge yesterday and was mesmerised by the swirling leaves dropping from the trees featuring every autumn colour imaginable. Forget New England – you should see the Chilterns in the fall (or Autumn as we call it!)

Although they are quite long rides (to me anyway!) The maps are designed so you can start and end at any point and enjoy lots of lovely views and pass through lots of interesting places. The CMS warm that there are a number of hills on the routes but most are gradual climbs. Mostly the cyclist will be taken through country lanes but may pass through busy towns so the CMS advise that children would need supervision and be used to riding on roads.

The CMS also list other organisations offering resources and route suggestions for cyclists and safety tips along with contact details for local road and rail providers and tourist information.

Many of the routes pass through areas where Lets Unlimited have holiday and residential properties available so why not take the chance to have a holiday with a difference and bring your bikes.

Or if camping is more your thing then Town Farm Camping is really convenient for following the routes on the CMS leaflet – or head the other way and explore Dunstable Downs by bike.

If you are in a cottage or camping you could make up a fabulous picnic to take with you – but there are lots of fabulous tea rooms, cafes, restaurants and pubs dotted around the area so it might be nice to choose to eat out.

For more details on the work of the Countryside Management Service or to find out how you can get a copy of their informative resources go to their website.

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Celebrity Lunches

Being so close to London, the Home Counties attract people who need to be in London for work – and this includes celebrities!

English: Johnny Depp at a ceremony for Penélop...

Johnny Depp(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So living or holidaying in Herts, Beds or Bucks you are highly likely to bump into the stars of stage, screen, politics, sport or the music industry while going about your everyday business.

If you want to increase your chances of rubbing shoulders with some of these familiar faces you could check out some of their favourite haunts whilst enjoying the A-ist lifestyle yourself for a little while.

Français : Kylie Minogue at the Cannes Film Fe...

You could start at The Grove in Watford. Known as London’s country estate past guests include Johnny Depp, Kylie Minogue and  Take That’s Mark Owen.  Most of the cast of Eastenders and the Arsenal football team are regulars here drawn by the luxury surroundings, golf course, spa and rolling parkland less than an hour out of London.

But you don’t necessarily have to have starred in a top box office hit to afford a trip here – spa days start at around £150pp or you could enjoy afternoon tea which won’t break the bank.

If fine dining is your thing then the 2-Michelin starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is the place to be. Set in rolling Chilterns countryside this famous gastronomic sanctuary is owned and run by internationally famous chef Raymond Blanc OBE.

Set in tranquil surroundings the country hotel offers a range of courses for children and adults at its cookery school. A half day “let’s cook!”  experience includes tuition, morning or afternoon tea and a certificate which would surely take pride of place in any kitchen! The school is currently offering 20 per cent off it’s November “Tastes and textures from afar” course which includes morning and afternoon tea and an informal lunch!

Since the food is so consistently good – the restaurant has maintained it’s 2-Michelin star status for decades – there is a steady flow of famous folk through the doors so there’s a good chance you might find yourself dining next to someone you recognise.

Champney’s, the world-famous spa near Tring in Herts is another celebrity hotspot. Treat yourself to a day or evening spa and you are highly likely to spot soap stars, ex-Big Brother inmates and X-factor contestants. The food is great – don’t think it’s all carrot sticks and water and prices start at  a bargain £35 for an evening spa session which includes a lovely 3-course meal!

Frank Bruno, Naomi Campbell and David Beckham are all Champney’s fans so keep your eyes peeled whilst enjoying a little bit of luxury.

If you aren’t local but fancy star gazing in the Chilterns region why not treat yourself to a break in a cottage in the countryside or a smart apartment in one of the bustling towns in the region? The lovely people at Lets Unlimited can find you a property in easy reach of any of the places I’ve mentioned today.

Or if you want to make your break as cheap as chips, check out Town Farm Camping. The site offers plenty of home comforts including showers, washing machines and tumble dryers and onsite broadband so you can enjoy a relaxing countryside break and spoil yourself with some celebrity-style meals in the area.campsite1

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