BIGGSY TRAVELS

unique travel experiences

Category: UK (page 1 of 5)

Driving a classic MGB around Silverstone

What’s it like to drive a classic MGB around the legendary racetrack at Silverstone?

Having grown up hearing about my dad’s various MGB GTs back in the 60s and then having had the pleasure to hire a lovely red 1969 model for his 60th birthday, I thought I’d ticked all the MGB boxes, apart from possibly owning an MGB in the future that is. But then along came the opportunity to be driven around Silverstone in one as part of MG car club’s MGLive! meeting. Helped by the fact that my girlfriend is an MG Car Club Member.

Heading under one of the many Silverstone bridges

Heading under one of the many Silverstone bridges

This was back in the Summer of 2016 and was made even more special as Rory from Top Gear was filming there on the same day, and on the track at the same time, albeit sufficiently far in front of us that we didn’t appear in any of the subsequent ‘Extra Gear’ footage! Here you can see them prepping the £95k MG Abingdon with its swift 0-60 in 3.8 seconds offering!

Extra Gear preparing the MG Abingdon for its circuit tour

Extra Gear preparing the MG Abingdon for its circuit tour

So what’s it all about? Well MGLive! is the biggest gathering of MGs in the world and even though my knowledge of MGs only really stretched to MGBs there were of course older MGAs, newer MGCs and many MG Rovers and MG Maestros as well. There were also many old men with beards but this didn’t appear to be a prerequisite for attending.

Check out our YouTube video below

Visiting the event myself and perusing the various trade stands, aisles of display cars and watching the racing out on the track would have been perfectly sufficient but we’d already booked a few laps on the track in our own MBG! (well my girlfriend’s parent’s MG). Her dad had explained it was a little bit different in previous years, whereby you could pretty much fly around the track as quick as you liked, so I was pleased that the circuit tours driver briefing dictated a 50mph maximum, no overtaking, and leaving plenty of room between cars. All fine by me.

The circuit tour driver's briefing

The circuit tour driver’s briefing

During the racing lunchtime break we assembled in a car park near Brooklands Corner where you could sense the excitement in the air. There was time to check out the row of waiting cars but we were told not to stray too far away as they wanted everyone to drive around the track in their allocated order. After about 20 minutes we were giving the nod to “start your engines”, although by the time the snake of cars actually gets going there’s plenty of time to switch on the ignition. However not wanting any awkward, embarrassing moments we made sure we started up along with everybody else. We didn’t want to blow our big moment!

Waiting near Brooklands Corner waiting for our circuit tour to start

Near Brooklands Corner waiting for our circuit tour to start

So following the queue of cars in front of us we went out onto the track and commenced the first of our two 3.66 mile long laps. Rather than finding the list of rules restricting it actually meant we could enjoy it more as we never felt anybody was going to be up our bum! In fact we never did get up to 50. Maybe 40 was our top speed. It was quite the thrill driving under the Silverstone banner on one of the long straights, and even though we were hardly speeding along, you lose all sense of speed on such wide, sweeping tracks anyway. There was no opportunity to swap drivers on the 2-lap procession and anyhow, I haven’t yet been signed off to drive the dad’s pride and joy. I’ll keep working on that 🙂

Acting as co-pilot to my driver as we set out onto the track

Acting as co-pilot to my driver as we set out onto the track

Keeping an eye on the MGF behind us

Keeping an eye on the MGF behind us

So after maybe 10/15 minutes we were all done and dusted and after passing the “chequered flag” along the ‘International Pits Straight’ we headed back to the communal car park to meet up with the parents. So no incidents. No dramas. A nice little spin for our M-reg Citroen yellow MGB GT and the bonus of seeing Extra Gear filmed, which did lead to my girlfriend’s dad making a small cameo appearance – I’m fairly sure chiefly due to his signature MGB owner’s beard 😉

Check out our experience watching our first Silverstone MotoGP race too.

My girlfriend's dad (white shirt) making an appearance on Extra Gear

My girlfriend’s dad (white shirt) making an appearance on Extra Gear

 

Doctor Foster filming locations in Hitchin

Hitchin in Hertfordshire has served as the main backdrop to many a scene in the latest series of Doctor Foster, acting as the fictional town of Parminster. Many a Hitchin resident tuned in initially back in 2015 to see what parts of town would be shown, but now we’re just as engrossed as everybody else. With the last episode of this second series being shown tonight where exactly are the key locations?

Doctor Foster filming in the Market Square back in September 2016

Doctor Foster filming in the Market Square back in September 2016

With signs being out up in the centre of town back in September 2016 most of us already had a good idea where they would be, including the local Hitchin Running Club who were politely asked to do a little detour one evening as bright neon green, pink and yellow doesn’t look too good on camera. But for those who missed a few of them here are the key locations.

A lot of the action is filmed around Hitchin’s Market Square. This panorama photo sets the scene and shows a lot of the locations that were used.

Hitchin Market Square panoramic shot

Hitchin Market Square panoramic shot

The key locations in Hitchin

The key locations in Hitchin with Google link

The Market Square and Café Air Coffee Shop

Hitchin’s Market Square serves as the location for characters to grab a coffee before visiting the Courtyard Parminster Community Centre. The Square is a delightful, enclosed location which has various stalls on a Saturday throughout the year, a kids’ bouncy slide and sometimes even an old school merry-go-round too. The Square also hosts the annual Christmas carol service and is considered the main hub of the town. It also leads through to the most picturesque view of the town, looking over to St Mary’s Church.

Neil grabbing a coffee in the square

Neil grabbing a coffee in the square

Kate grabbing a quick coffee too

Kate grabbing a quick coffee too

Hitchin's Café Air coffee shop in the Market Square

Hitchin’s Café Air coffee shop in the Market Square

Doctor Foster with the traffic warden

Doctor Foster with the traffic warden

The road around Hitchin Market Square where the traffic actually goes the other way

The road around Hitchin Market Square where the traffic actually goes in the other direction

The Courtyard Parminster Community Centre café … aka Cooper’s Yard and The Dogs Trust

The orange clad windows actually belong to the Dogs Trust charity shop and the walkway leads up to Kinetic Cycles / Wakelin’s coffee shop rather than opening out into a Courtyard cafe. Maybe some clever “green screen” was going on here.

Doctor Foster striding towards the Parminster Community Café

Doctor Foster striding towards the Parminster Community Café

Hitchin's Dogs Trust leading up to Kinetic Cycles and Wakelin's Coffee

Hitchin’s Dogs Trust leading up to Kinetic Cycles and Wakelin’s Coffee

Strattos nightclub … aka Osinsky’s and Waterstone’s

This nightclub is actually a pool hall, bar and restaurant called Osinsky’s, with its facade outside being the front of Waterstone’s bookstore. In the show Doctor Foster and the teacher are shown walking UP to get out but you actually walk up the stairs to get IN with Osinsky’s bar being on the first floor and not underground. When I was taking the photos below a group of 5 women were amusingly trying to recreate some of the scenes from episode 2.

Doctor Foster going up to leave the nightclub

Doctor Foster going UP to leave the nightclub

Hitchin's Osinsky's bar where you actually go up to go in

Hitchin’s Osinsky’s bar where you actually go up to go IN

Doctor Foster shouting Simon outside the nightclub

Doctor Foster shouting “Simon!” outside the nightclub

Hitchin Market Square looking back towards Osinsky's and Waterstone's

Hitchin Market Square looking back towards Osinsky’s and Waterstone’s

Simon taking that photo of Doctor Foster

Simon taking that photo of Doctor Foster

Hitchin Market Square without Simon, looking towards the Rose & Crown pub

Hitchin Market Square without Simon, looking towards the Rose & Crown pub

The bench … on the top of Windmill Hill

Perhaps the most iconic setting is the bench on the top of Windmill Hill that looks back west over Hitchin, which treats you to some beautiful and far-reaching sunsets in the summer. The hill faces Hermitage Road which is soon becoming one of Hitchin’s coolest streets with the Hermitage bar, the beer shop, Gatefold record coffee shop and Farley’s hairdressers. Look up towards the hill and you will see two wooden benches. The “Doctor Foster” bench is the one on the right

The Doctor Foster bench on top of the hill

The Doctor Foster bench on top of the hill

Sitting on the Doctor Foster bench at the top of Windmill Hill

Sitting on the Doctor Foster bench at the top of Windmill Hill

Find Hermitage Road and look to the top of the grassy hill

Find Hermitage Road and look to the top of the grassy hill. The bench is the one on the right of the two up there.

Hitchin Market and St Mary’s Church

When Kate and her friend are wandering through town they walk adjacent to St Mary’s Church before turning through Hitchin Market. St Mary’s Church is the largest parish church in Hertfordshire and is remarkably big for a town of the size of Hitchin – cited as evidence of how Hitchin prospered from the wool trade.

Kate walking through the market

Kate walking through the market

Hitchin Market and St Mary's Church

Hitchin Market and St Mary’s Church outside Manny’s café

Churchgate Shopping Centre

They then find themselves in the “once” futuristic looking Churchgate Shopping Centre which was built in the 1960s, sadly removing some old buildings which had completed the enclosed feel of the Market Square.

Doctor Foster heading back into the Square

Doctor Foster heading back into the Square

Hitchin Churchgate Shopping Centre and the Market Square

Hitchin Churchgate Shopping Centre and the Market Square

Kate having a chat with her friend's friend

Kate having a chat with her friend’s friend

Further down Hitchin's Churchgate Shopping Centre outside the Persian Rug Shop

Further down Hitchin’s Churchgate Shopping Centre outside the Persian Rug Shop

Hitchin Churchgate Shopping Centre Entrance

The Churchgate Shopping Centre entrance

Are there any Hitchin locations I missed? I think I got most of them? 🙂

Also check out the post by Hornblower Travels that wonderfully portrays our beautiful little market town and all the things there are to see in it, from music festivals to Indian festivals and from lavender fields to historic old pubs and buildings.

Doctor Foster preparing for a scene in the Market Square

Doctor Foster preparing for a scene in the Market Square. Source

Lavender fields and sunflowers in Hitchin

You don’t have to go to Provence in France to see beautiful lavender fields. There are many dotted around the UK and one just happens to be 35 miles north of London outside the small market town of Hitchin (‘The Travel Bunny’ has a full list of English Lavender fields on her blog). The very end of July/start of August is the perfect time to visit but be quick as the season is a short one and you don’t want to miss out! Hitchin Lavender’s flowering season is between mid-June to the end of August.

Hitchin sunflowers, lavender and wigwam in the background

Hitchin sunflowers, lavender and wigwam in the background

The lavender fields in Hitchin are set on a rolling, south facing hill with lovely views across the Hertfordshire countryside as you look down from the top. They have sunflowers on the eastern side of the complex too which right now happen to be in full bloom and are a lovely, complimentary addition to the dozens of rows of various types of lavender.

A trio of Hitchin sunflowers

A trio of Hitchin sunflowers

A sunflower poking up above all the others

A sunflower poking up above all the others

With the Hitchin Lavender fields you simply park up and pay your entrance into the field which is £5 per adult, with children between the ages of 5-14 being £1. Anyone under 5 gets in for free. Adults get given an A4 sized paper bag and a pair of scissors to pick the lavender, wildflowers and the sunflowers (sunflowers are 50p a stem). Any extra bags you’d like for children or if you fancy a whole load of lavender is another £4. Simply pay in the farm shop, in the museum, or up on the main field itself.

Down among the lavender

Down among the lavender

But it’s not just for people wanting to pick lavender. Entrance permits you to “Instagram” and photograph away until your heart’s content, although portrait shooters and commercial photographers are charged a £50 fee. In fact when I was there it was a 50:50 split between photographers and lavender pickers.

A cute little family photoshoot

A cute little family photoshoot

I visited on a Tuesday evening as I wanted to take my shots in the setting sun but it’s also open late on Friday’s until 21:00 too. I wasn’t alone in my thinking when I visited but the lavender field covers a large area so there’s plenty of room for everybody.

When I arrived there was an Indian film crew, two “brides” doing magazine covershoots and at least 3 families with small children with their accompanying professional photographers. It was as much fun watching them as it was taking photos myself. It seems that Hitchin Lavender is becoming a nice addition to the tourist trail for visitors to London who want to see and appreciate a bit of the green English countryside.

Hitchin lavender visitors to the UK

Hitchin lavender visitors to the UK

Before I even got to the main field we stumbled across a group having a yoga lesson as well! I can’t think of a better place to have one, and this particular location has both a large wigwam and outhouse building for various outdoorsy arts and crafts activities too.

Hitchin lavender yoga at the base of the hill

Hitchin lavender yoga at the base of the hill

Lots of people were either taking arty shots looking down along the rows of lavender, taking close-ups of the bees, snapping photos of other people or simply enjoying wandering up and down with the lavender brushing against their shins. I took the majority of my shots amongst the sunflowers, many of which seemed to be facing the “wrong way”, lagging slightly behind the sun as it swept slowly across the field, but the odd one was bathing directly in the evening sunshine, making for some beautifully saturated yellow colours.

A clever sunflower facing into the setting sun

A clever sunflower facing into the setting sun

Hitchin sunflowers and a sunburst

Hitchin sunflowers and a sunburst

As the evening drew to a close the sun began to set behind a hazy bank of clouds so I wasn’t able to take any sunburst photos but here’s the one I took the year before that happened to win their annual photo competition … and it was simply taken on an iPhone 6 so nothing fancy.

My competition winning Hitchin lavender photo

My competition winning Hitchin lavender photo

I didn’t buy anything from the café/shop this time round but did take a look to see that there’s an array of food to choose from, comfy chairs to sit on (both inside and out) plants to buy and a whole assortment of different lavender products to purchase, ranging from candles, to bath salts and body oils. A new addition is a little museum that explains some of the facts and figures, and history of lavender farming in the region.

The Hitchin lavender cafe and shop

The Hitchin lavender cafe and shop

As the evening drew to a close I nothed that I’d taken over 50 photos so I put away my camera, filled up my paper bag with lavender and then walked back down a 150m aisle of lavender, arms out wide touching the tops of the lavender as the sides brushed against my legs. The bees seemed to be far too full on nectar to be remotely interested in what I was doing. You return the scissors back near the entrance and then that’s the lavender fields visited for another year, although with a few weeks to go I might well go back before the Summer’s over.

Who wants to visit? 🙂

A bee enjoying the sunflowers

A bee enjoying the sunflowers

Hitchin lavender from the top of the hill

Hitchin lavender from the top of the hill

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