Sometimes in our busy lives we just need a weekend away to recharge our batteries, have a little down time from the daily grind.
What could be better than a weekend of gin and steam trains – a quintessentially British mix of the present and past?
A weekend trip to Staffordshire allowed me to indulge my love of both. We booked into a beautiful bed and breakfast not far from Uttoxeter, down winding roads through glorious countryside. The Grange is a stunning property, a 17th century barn converted into a welcoming home.
Our hostess Mary was wonderful, nothing was too much trouble. We were immediately made to feel part of the family.
We stayed in a large en-suite family room with views across the fields. The attention to detail in all parts of the house made you feel you were just staying with friends for the weekend. Breakfast was a relaxed affair, with a good variety of options. I would recommend the oatcakes – wonderful little pancakes that went perfectly with eggs.
With a hearty breakfast inside us, we were ready for a day of gin exploration.
Gin production in the UK has seen a huge upturn in recent years and many distilleries around the country are springing up, sharing their love of all things juniper with the general public.
The history of gin is fascinating and many gin schools are opening.
Nelson’s Gin and Vodka School Experience is a great way to discover this heritage.
Leaving with a bottle of gin, blended to your own specifications, is the aim of the day, and expert David is an engaging speaker well-versed in all things gin.
Throughout the day he tells the story of English gin and its place in our history. This includes an exploration of the botanicals used in gin and the variety of ingredients that can be combined to make the perfect blend.
We plumped for liquorice, fennel and caraway as the main ingredients in our own concoction.
Gin school is a very communal affair and we all had fun testing and ranking each other’s recipes. Be warned, there is a fair amount of alcohol consumed during the day, along with an impressive lunch, so it’s worth leaving the car behind.
Another opportunity to escape from the car, for a while at least, is a day spent at Churnet Valley Railway.
Steam trains always evoke images of rolling British countryside for me and an era I’m actually too young to remember but have always been in love with. In much the same way as the gin industry, heritage railways are making a place for themselves in our modern world, drawing us into their love of steam engines with fascinating museum offerings, weekend timetables and special events to appeal to all ages.
Churnet Valley Railway offers an 11-mile round trip from Froghall, the main station, through to Consall and Cheddleton.
Froghall is a good place to start your journey, with ample parking and a café. Several different timetables run throughout the year so it’s best to check before travelling. Your ticket allows you to travel as many times as you like through the day so it’s possible to visit all the stations in one trip if you time it right.
All the stations have beautifully restored buildings and Cheddleton has a museum that is well worth a visit. The locomotive sheds are also open to the public where it might be possible to see the excellent work done by the volunteers who keep this railway running.
Beautifully restored carriages and engines make this a steam enthusiast’s perfect day out and we sat in several different carriages, from a six-seater First Class one to the Diana dining car where we indulged in an afternoon cream tea, just one of a variety of special experiences the railway offers throughout the year.
A weekend of contrasts in Staffordshire was the perfect way to unwind. Let the train take the strain – to borrow an old advertising slogan – and indulge in a little modern nostalgia.
Weekend in Staffordshire
Lis Lambertsen was a guest of Nelson’s Gin & Vodka School Experience in Uttoxeter. This learning, teaching and tasting academy allows customers to develop their own 70cl bottle of gin or vodka made from their own unique selection of botanicals. The experience day lasts for five hours, and costs £115 for a single still. See nelsonsdistillery.co.uk for details.
Lis stayed at The Grange Bed & Breakfast, where rates are from £75 per night for a double room. Visit bandbthegrangestaffs.co.uk.
Complete your staycation with a steam train journey on the Churnet Valley Railway. A rover ticket for the day on the rails starts at £12.60 for an adult. Or celebrate a special occasion with a Staffordshire Cream Tea aboard dining carriage Diana for £28.50 a head. See churnetvalleyrailway.co.uk.