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UK foodie holidays for caravanners – part 2

Introduction

Our first foodie holidays guide received a lot of positive feedback, so here’s part 2!

This time we’re covering:

Just a little word though about attribution because we know this can be a touchy subject with local people.

Many of the fantastic regional dishes in the UK are ‘claimed,’ in origin terms, by several different parts of the country. We touched on one such squabble, about whether cream teas originated in Devon or Cornwall, in part 1 of this guide.

Just to be clear – we’re not taking sides! We’re just using traditional definitions and names. We hope nobody feels too strongly that they’ve been ‘snubbed’.

Enjoy this guide and your forthcoming caravanning trips.

Scotland

“Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,

And dish them out their bill o fare,

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware

That jaups in luggies:

But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,

Gie her a Haggis”

Ah, the bonnie hills and braes!

While known for its stunning scenery, Scotland also has a unique culinary tradition that’s well worth exploring the next time you’re north of the border. If you’re wondering, the dialect verse above is from Robert Burns’ (1759-96) famous address extolling the virtues of the haggis.

Local dishes

Scotland’s food is a lot more than just the haggis but it needs to be given pride of place amongst an impressive list:

  • Traditionally, a dish eaten by the poor, it originally comprised minced lamb, oats, pepper and spices, put inside a sheep’s intestine, just as originally sausages were. Today it’s sometimes found with beef too, though purists reject that as sacrilege. You can get excellent vegetarian versions too. Traditionally served with ‘neeps’ (turnips) and mashed potatoes plus a healthy shot of whisky;
  • clootie dumpling. This is a pudding made of raisons, currents and suet plus mixed spices. A ‘clootie’ is a small cloth, within which the pudding is cooked. Oddly, it’s often served with a fried breakfast and it really does work;
  • Cullen skink. This is a delicious soup made of smoked fish, onions, potatoes and milk or cream. It originates from the small town of Cullen in Morayshire, in the north east of Scotland, though is now widely found elsewhere too;
  • Arbroath smokies. As the name suggests, these originated in Arbroath (well, a small nearby village called Auchmithie) in Angus, again on the east coast. They’re essentially ‘just’ naturally smoked haddock but the taste is superb. You can eat them as you wish but with wholemeal bread and a little dressing, they’re marvellous;
  • wild salmon. With the greatest of respect to food companies, until you’ve eaten salmon that’s been freshly caught locally, you haven’t lived. There are various ways of preparing and serving it and they’re all fantastic due to the freshness of the produce;
  • This is a dessert made out of cream, whisky, honey and oats plus perhaps some fruit. It sounds delicious and tastes likewise.

Where to eat

Scotland is a country that covers a vast area. As such, trying to pick out an individual restaurant or two might be counter-productive if your visit takes you nowhere near them!

So, here are a few thoughts about generalities:

  • As the capital, it boasts a huge variety of top-class restaurants. Some specialise in local Scottish dishes. Get local advice though about ‘local food credibility’ because many restaurants are international and others are targeted at the tourist trade;
  • This is a very trendy city now and is preferred by many younger Scots for its fashion and ‘electric’ street-cred culture. Once again, great restaurants abound and there are fewer aimed exclusively at tourists than is the case in Edinburgh. Prices though may seem high to visitors from other parts of Scotland or England (outside of London);
  • rural Scotland. Outside of the above two major cities, plus others such as Dundee, Perth and Aberdeen, much dining in Scotland is either hotel or pub based. There are small specialist restaurants in some villages and smaller towns and these are worth trying to find. Don’t be put off by ‘pub dining’ either – it can be excellent, particularly if it has a good chef and makes use of the abundant local ingredients such as game. Ask nearby residents for advice – they’ll know where the good restaurants are.

Keep in mind though that if you’re staying in the highlands or in fact in many other parts of Scotland too, this is still largely wild country. In isolated areas, there may not be a huge choice of restaurants apart from that nearby pub or hotel.

Where to stay

A lot will be influenced by which part of the country you wish to visit:

  • Witches Craig (near Stirling). Apart from being set in stunning scenery, this location also has the advantage of being very well positioned for easy access to Glasgow, Perth and Edinburgh. It’s also a great springboard for the southern Highlands;
  • Noah’s Ark Caravan Park (Near Perth).  Perth is a lovely small city and known at the ‘gateway to the highlands’. Not too far from Edinburgh either (say 1hr20m outside of peak times);
  • Bught Park (Inverness). Here you’ll be right in the heart of the Highlands. Marvellous for exploring untamed nature. 

Birmingham

Birmingham is sometimes known by the locals as “Brummagem” or “Brum” for short.

That’s an interesting survival because it partly reflects the area’s original spelling in the Domesday Book nearly over 900 years ago.

It’s probably fair to say that the city is best-known for heavy industry and its historic role in the Industrial Revolution and Victorian enterprise but it also has a proud cultural heritage as well. What that means is that you can get some excellent dining experiences in and around ‘Brum’.

For example, at the time of writing there were no less than 4 Michelin star restaurants in the city.

Local dishes

Ready to start? Well, why not try:

  • Indian food. OK, perhaps a surprise but people from the sub-continent have been settling in Birmingham for centuries and in numbers for several decades. That means around places like Sparkbrook with its famous ‘Balti’ restaurants, you’ll find some of most authentic Indian (or Pakistani/Bangladeshi) food anywhere;
  • pork scratchings. Some people believe this originated in the Black Country – a once heavily industrialised area to the north of Birmingham comprising towns such as Walsall and Aldridge. It got its name from the sooty appearance of many buildings due to the use of coal in the factories and homes. The scratchings are usually eaten as a snack and are crispy skin and rind from pigs. Don’t be put off – try them and see just how good they are;
  • groaty pudding. Groats, in this context, are the husks of cereals. Traditionally they were cooked slowly overnight with leeks and onions in a beef gravy. The end result was a porridge that was and is delicious on a cold night. It can still be found in some pubs here;
  • faggots and peas. A controversial one this, as many parts of England claim it as ‘theirs’ but the locals make a strong case for making it a Brum invention. It’s meat offcuts wrapped and cooked in an onion and breadcrumb coating with plenty of peppery seasoning. It’s then served with peas, usually in a bowl, with lots of gravy;

Where to eat

If you’re looking for the above, you’ll probably find them served with a degree of authenticity in a good pub or perhaps modernised and even slightly sanitised (in presentation terms) in a fine dining restaurant. Expect to pay far higher prices in the latter!

Good food pubs in Brum include:

  • the Plough. Another great pub close to the city centre. Renowned for its food and atmosphere;
  • the Victoria. Very traditional in one sense but also very trendy.

*Top tip* – If you’re looking for real local delicacies, check in advance about the pub’s menu for a given day/period. Not all will necessarily offer local dishes every day.

If you want to try an authentic Balti house, try:

  • Al Frash – Ladypool rd;
  • Shahi Nan Kebab – Stratford rd.

Remember, ‘spicy‘ in a Balti house can really mean ‘spicy’. Don’t go overboard trying to prove that you can take it!

Where to stay

Obviously, you’re going to struggle to find a caravan park in the heart of the city.

Fortunately, there are some excellent sites just outside town, including:

Bedfordshire

Bedfordshire sometimes suffers a bit from being a little ‘invisible’.

That’s partly because it’s so close, relatively speaking, to London and partly because its major city, Luton, is often seen as little other than an air and railway gateway to London.

That’s all unfortunate because this is a beautiful county that marks where the Midlands end and the South begins. It’s awash with lovely villages and pretty smaller towns that are well worth exploring.

Local dishes

When you’re in the area, why not try:

  • a Bedfordshire Clanger. Granted, this isn’t one of the most attractive names for a dish but it’s delicious. It comprises a long suet pastry pie (imagine a longer and thinner pasty) which has a savoury filling at one end – usually meats and vegetables. At the other end, it has a sweet filling of stewed and spiced apples or something similar. So, it’s a complete meal in one package;
  • True, Indian cuisine didn’t originate in Bedfordshire but due to the people from the sub-continent who settled in and around Luton, it’s now a great centre for some fantastic Indian cuisine. Incidentally, apologies for the generic term ‘curries’ but it covers the wide range of south Asian cuisines you’ll find around the county;
  • Meat pies (various). Bedfordshire is the county where the Midlands start and Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire all have great meat pie traditions. So, unsurprisingly, you’ll find some great savoury meat pies in the local Bedfordshire pubs;
  • Traditional roast lunches. A meal of beef and roast potatoes is well loved in and around the area though other ‘roasts’ are becoming more favoured these days. Locally the tradition is to serve the beef fairly ‘well done’ which is an old British tradition that is under some threat from the continental tradition of rare beef.

Where to eat

  • Gastro-pubs. There are some truly excellent pub-dining establishments around the county. Long gone are the days when pub food was largely a ‘quick pie and chips’ though do ask around because some pubs are better than others. Try the Black Horse in the very pretty village of Woburn;

Where to stay

There are some really top-notch caravan sites in this county. Worth thinking about are:

  • Turnpike Farm. This is a nice site for those who like their sites to be quiet, calm and “à la nature” rather than massively developed with lots of facilities. Shops are nearby though;

Norfolk

One of England’s ‘East Anglian’ counties, Norfolk was, until fairly modern times, considered to be largely isolated and somewhat mysterious.

Although it’s often said to be a flat county, in fact it had some very beautiful countryside with some pleasant rolling hills. It’s perhaps though most famous for its Broads and beaches. The former are large areas of inland marshy waterways which are a haven for wildlife and boaters alike.

The beaches here are often under-rated. There’s lots of sand, rolling waves and quiet countryside behind them. Its largest city, Norwich, is also exceptionally attractive and something of a hidden gem.

Local dishes 

  • jugged hare with forcemeat balls. This is essentially a slow-cooked hare in a stew which contains liberal quantities of wine! To that is added fried bacon, breadcrumb and spices, all shaped into balls. A very rustic meal and delicious;
  • the Duke of Norfolk’s pudding. This is a very rich recipe dating from the 19th It comprises brandy, eggs, nutmeg, sugar, rice, and a pint of madeira, all slowly cooked together. It’s then baked in a dish with puff pastry on top. Absolutely beautiful but not for those counting the calories;
  • Stiffkey blues. The coastal village of Stiffkey (locally pronounced ‘Stookey’) sits astride large cockle beds. The prevailing environment means that the shells have a lovely blue tinge – hence the name of the dish. In fact, it isn’t one dish but a description of a range of cockle meals. The traditional way is in a little light vinegar with some brown bread but they’re also used in local restaurants in a variety of ways;
  • Norfolk dumplings. These are seasoned bread dough balls that are lightly boiled. As they contain no suet, they float while being boiled and that’s why some call them ‘floaters’. They’re traditionally served with carved boiled bacon together with some vegetables. Marvellous!

Where to eat

Norfolk’s a large county and good dining can be found almost everywhere.

  • the White Horse, Brancaster. This restaurant overlooks the local marshes near the coast and specialises in local fish – including the famous Cromer crabs;
  • the Grunton Arms, Thorpe Market. A fantastic gastro-pub, here you’ll find not only fish dishes fresh from the coast but also venison and pork sourced from the immediately surrounding area;
  • Benedicts, Norwich. An unpretentious ‘high street’ appearance but don’t be put off by that. This is a hand-crafted menu with all dishes prepared to perfection. Lots of local options are available as well as some exotics like guinea fowl;
  • Eric’s Fish and Chips – Thornham. If you think you know fish and chips, be prepared for a surprise! They’re absolutely incredible here with the freshest of fresh local fish on offer.

Places to stay

Norfolk’s wide open spaces mean that there are plenty of sites guaranteeing peace and tranquillity. Why not look at:

  • Incleboro Fields – Cromer. A great site with a nice location. Convenient for the beach and local countryside;
  • Norfolk Broads caravan site – Ludham. Nice facilities and very convenient, as the name suggests, for exploring the Broads;
  • Thetford Forest caravan site – Thetford. Set in acres of forest, this location has something of a Scandinavian feel to it;
  • Sandringham Estate caravan park – Sandringham. Located at the very heart of ‘Royal’ Norfolk, this is a chance to explore the heartlands of the county. Once again, nice facilities in a rural backdrop.

Summary

There’s no doubt that over the past 20-30 years, British cuisine has undergone a transformation.

The old obsessive compulsion to “serve it quick and cheap then get the customer out as fast as possible” has now largely, though admittedly not entirely, gone from many of the UK’s best restaurants. Today, there’s emphasis on relaxation and quality, in other words dining is becoming part of leisure and not something of a chore.

That change has gone hand-in-hand with a re-discovery of the UK’s incredible richness of local produce and our phenomenal legacy of regional dishes. So, wherever you go today, you will find the chance to discover unique food.

Of course, there are a few final tips before you set off on your exploration of some of the areas touched on in this guide:

  • when searching for your local dining, do ask around or research in advance, the specific options in the area you’re visiting. Just driving around and hoping you get lucky, can lead to some culinary disappointments;
  • generally speaking, the better local restaurants will be busy and particularly so Friday and Saturday nights. Booking ahead is always a good idea because even if it’s not necessary, it certainly can’t do any harm.

Have a great time and enjoy your caravanning and dining!