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Autumn brought a trip to Woburn, and it was a truly spectacular time to see the gardens in Woburn Abbey with the firing up of autumn colour in full glory.

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GPlandscapeA few weeks ago we caught the last of the snow in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a gorgeous town in the Bavarian area of southern Germany.  We did a little skiing, but I was left wanting a summer visit to see more of the town itself and take the opportunity to take trips out to the surrounding sights.

Actually made up of two towns (Garmisch and Partenkirchen!), it only became one when they were forced to unite by Adolf Hitler in 1935, just before the Winter Olympics of 1936.  These are not as famous as the summer Olympics held in Berlin later that year, but it was the first time that Alpine skiing was included in the games (won by Franz Pfnur, men and Christl Cranz, women) and the only time that the British team won a gold medal at the ice hockey!

Partenkirchen is the older of the two market towns, dating from Roman times, whereas Garcmisch appears to have built up hundreds of years later, and you can still feel this difference today. The Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain, overlooks the town, providing a dramatic backdrop.

Next time, I’d like to see the Partnach Gorge, where the Partnach river is forced through a narrow, mile-long gap between high limestone cliffs, the castles of Ludwig II, and to take the train to Innsbruck and Oberammergau.

Of course, I’d also like the opportunity to taste more the wonderful local pastries and would return to the Thron Café and Konditorei, a fabulously old fashioned spot for afternoon tea serving delicious cakes!

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As you can see from my header photo (of Hayling Island), I have an irrational fondness for beach huts.  I’m obviously not alone, since many of them around the UK are now so popular, that to buy one will set you back more than the cost of a castle in Scotland.  I was particularly taken with these huts on Mudeford Spit, which overlooks Christchurch Harbour on the South Coast.  They are also famously expensive – Hut 39 is currently for sale, price £250,000.  Many of them are micro designer crash pads, some even having upstairs areas for beds, as well as gorgeous views whichever way you look, with the harbour on one side and a soft sandy beach the other.  But there is no road access and residents have to use a toilet and shower block.  Still, they really captured my imagination and I really did fancy staying in one for a while!

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No sooner has one service station featured on these pages, than we feel compelled to write about another.  The new Gloucester Services on the M5 is run by the Westmorland Family group who also run Tebay Services, serving home made food from local producers.  Currently the services are only open on the northbound side, but the southbound will be opening next year.

The vegetarian and vegan food is being supplied by The Parsnipship, a great, Cardiff based company, producing unique seasonal food.  In-house bakers have also apparently perfected a gluten free Chocolate and Almond cake – check out the recipe on their blog.

We haven’t had the chance to visit yet, but that all sounds like a services should, and the pictures show a lovely, inspiring design, making for a relaxing break.  We can’t wait to go, but if you get the chance, let us know what you think!

Gloucester Services, between J11a and J12 on the M5 northbound (sounthbound 2015)

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We don’t often cover motorway services on this blog, but the original Offmotorway website was created because of the dire state of the food (particularly vegetarian food) served at the UK’s motorway service stations.  The site existed to recommend getting off the motorways and finding alternatives, which is still largely to be desired of course.  However I do occasionally cover interesting developments when something pops up!  And in this spirit, I finally made it to the new(ish) services at Beaconsfield, Junction 2 of the M40.

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The services caused a stir when they opened earlier this year as this is the site of the first pub allowed at a motorway services, operated by JD Wetherspoon.  But that aside, this is a slightly different service station, which makes for a pleasant stop.  It feels more like a shopping centre than a services, with a large, airy interior.  There’s a huge selection of food outlets, so no shortage of veggie options, although they are all chains.  Patisserie Valerie are there, a favourite still, despite it’s expansion over recent years to near ubiquity in every town in the country!

What sets this place apart though, is the outside space, with a lake, small walking trail, picnic area and children’s play area.  All free to use of course, even if you bring your own sandwiches and flask of tea.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of having a pub at a motorway services, at least here there is evidence of careful thought having gone into the design.  And you can take a proper, relaxing break here if you want to rather than just be ripped off buying terrible food!

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