10 Things you Simply must do in the North Cotswolds

The Cotswolds are a beautiful part of the world. Rolling green hills, golden stone brickwork and chocolate box villages make it one of the most desirable tourist destinations within the UK. It’s also a large region notoriously hard to pin point.

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According to this map Swindon and Evesham are in the Cotswolds which frankly is the funniest thing I’ve seen all day.

Who better placed to review North Cotswold attractions than someone raised in a border village? After all, no one goes on holiday to spend hours in tourist information centres.

asf.jpg‘North Cotswold Triangle’ shown on map above.

10 Things you Simply must do in the North Cotswolds

1. Chipping Campden

This little market town marks the most northern point of the region and typifies a lot of the features you’d expect to find in a place that made its wealth in the wool industry.

Chipping Campden has been able to retain vibrancy in its little independent shops, pubs and coffee houses spread along the main high street and having attended secondary school in this sleepy town I can certainly vouch that it’s worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time. During school holidays you can park in the school’s car park or, if you can’t park along the street, there’s a small pay and display car park in the centre.

Fun fact: Chipping Campden is home to the design studio of popular silverware brand Robert Welch.

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2. Walk the Cotswold Way

Linked to the above, Chipping Campden is one town that sits on this popular walking path. On this one I won’t compete with the multitude of books and websites (there’s plenty of information out there) but I would encourage anyone visiting the area to tackle a shortened route or section.

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3. Broadway Tower

Representing the highest point and one of the most iconic Cotswold symbols, Broadway Tower gives the best views for miles around. Don’t be fooled by the title though, this charming folly is located a short drive away from the market village of the same name, that said the hillside has considerably developed in recent years enabling visitors to linger a little longer and treat themselves to stylish interior buys and coffee in the converted barn.

If views aren’t your thing there’s also an underground nuclear bunker on site which is open to the public on weekends during the summer period (April – September). Closed in 1991 but restored to its 1980 appearance, it’s one for Cold War era fans.

Worth noting that this site gets busier during peak times (e.g. summer and weekends) and while fairly substantial the car park does fill up. Given the hillside bumps that sit alongside the tower, sheep are sometimes let lose to keen the grass trim resulting in lots of ‘little presents’. For both reasons sensible footwear is recommended.

Top tip: You can pay to go into the tower itself where a brief history of the area and exhibitions are presented. At time of writing tickets for adults are £5. My advice? Save the money and invest in coffee and cake at the tea shop.

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4. Cotswold Lavender

In many of the fields near Broadway Tower you’ll find the purple shrub growing in large quantities, spoils of which go into making the popular scented products sold by the Cotswold Lavender company. When the lavender is in season a visit to the farm is an experience for all the senses.

In a rush? If the lavender is in full bloom make the effort to drive down the country lanes that cut through the crops. The intensity of fresh flowers combined with a gentle breeze is something you won’t forget in a hurry.

5. Go for a drive (and give the sat nav a rest)

Take a map and a basic idea of where you want to go and just drive. There are some beautiful Cotswold lanes and undiscovered hamlets to be found across the North Cotswolds and, better still, the roads are all of solid quality and easy enough to spot (even if they’re not always signposted well).

If you want to really experience the Cotswolds you have to avoid the well trodden path. Everyday large numbers of coaches take visitors (from the UK and overseas) on day visits to the main destination towns. Popular towns are popular for a reason and in peak season it’s not uncommon for individuals to come away feeling disappointed with the experience they get at such places. My advice? Ditch the crowds and gain a unique experience by going for a scenic drive. Who knows, you may even discover a location or pub you go back to later on.

Word of Warning: the unique experience will also mean a lack of mobile phone reception and make sure the tank is full of fuel before setting off (petrol stations are not a common sight in the rural Cotswolds).

6. Hidcote Manor Gardens (The National Trust) and/or Kiftsgate Court Gardens (Privately Owned)

My family home is quite literally at the bottom of the hill so I’d be foolish to not give a mention to these world famous gardens, both of which are neighbours. That said, having spent my entire life living in the shadow of Hidcote my opinion on the gardens themselves are a bit mixed (personally I think there’s a touch of Emperor’s New Clothes about them). I do however respect their popularity and historic value and would always encourage people in the area to visit either Hidcote or Kiftsgate (or both) because they are a big deal and a ‘must do’ if holidaying. 

Hidcote is free to National Trust members, Kiftsgate has an admission fee. As per a lot of attractions these gardens get busy so my advice would be to go early and on a nice day (if it rains there is little to no shelter).

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7. Stratford-Upon-Avon

Whilst not located within the parameters of The Cotswolds, Stratford brings with it a different vibe compared to that of its rural neighbours. As well as being home to Shakespeare Stratford also has a rich history dating back hundreds of years. A quick google search will provide you with several days worth of activities.

Depending on where you’re holidaying in the region Stratford is only a short drive away and worth exploring to get a comparison. It’s also home to a number of high street shops and well known eateries during the day and stylish wine bars and dining at night.

Top Tip: Don’t kid yourself into thinking the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will have a multitude of same day performance tickets available. The majority of tickets sell out months in advance so book them at the same time you book your accommodation. Also check out ‘Stratford ArtsHouse’ – a venue that has come leaps and bounds in recent years. This small theatre pulls in a number of touring comedians and plays.

8. Bourton on the Water/Broadway/Stow on the Wold etc.

Granted these places do get busy but there’s a reason for that. Heavily photographed and easily accessible, any of the above towns will be found on number of visitor check lists. Each town has their own history and charm, for example Bourton is frequently referred to as ‘the Venice of the Cotswolds’. Avoid these places like the plague on August weekends/bank holidays, but otherwise they’re worth a visit if you’re seeking souvenirs and wanting to experience the pure essence of what the Cotswolds are all about.

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9. Batsford Arboretum (near Moreton in the Marsh)

If you’re visiting the North Cotswolds in Autumn and not considering this as a destination then think again. Batsford is home to a large number of tree species and is coincidentally the country’s largest private collection of trees and shrubs. That aside, it’s also a great place for photography, wandering and (if kids or big kids are present) running around and letting off steam.

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10. Snowshill Manor (The National Trust)

Located near Broadway, this National Trust property houses the collections of Charles Wade who bought the property in 1919.

The random but fascinating treasures held in this house define both the owner and period and show an early 20th Century interpretation of what the modern day rich do when money is no object. If you don’t dwell too heavily on the wealth being sourced from slave plantations in the West Indies then you’re in for an insightful experience. Each room provides a different exhibition of artefacts, it’s history within history.

Top Tip: during peak periods entry to the house is administered on timed tickets. Visit the property first before lingering in the gardens. The property itself is also a short walk away from the coffee shop/entrance which is worth noting before you set off.

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(11. Stanway House and Gardens)

Stanway is probably the best kept secret of the North Cotswolds, if not the entire Cotswolds. Only open two afternoons a week in the Summer (Tuesday and Thursday), this fully functioning family home will provide a truly different experience to anything you’ll see at a National Trust property.

Volunteers run every element of public-facing operations, from collecting tickets and acting as room guides, to running the tea shop in the converted stables. Inside is an explosion of old vs new, antique tables and tapestries coupled with modern day invoices and weekly food shops. The garden outside displays a dramatic jet fountain which rises to 300 feet (making it the highest jet in England).

Wonderfully eccentric and undiscovered to the majority of tourists (but well known by locals), this is the attraction that none of your friends or family will have visited.

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And there you have it…

…some starting points for things to do in this Cotswold pocket. Of course there are a many number of other places to visit in the region (for example Bourton has a record-breaking model village and Chipping Norton is also a popular go-to destination). However I hope this list gives you a feel for the range of attractions and culture us Cotswoldians are proud to have as our own. If you want a taste of the Cotswolds (and beyond) then the North is certainly your best bet to get all you need from a relaxing mini break.

Think I’ve missed off a notable attraction? Add your comments below!

Useful Links (please note that all direct to external websites)

Broadway Tower

Cotswold Lavender

Kiftsgate Court Gardens

Hidcote (The National Trust)

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)

Stratford ArtsHouse

Batsford Arboretum

Snowshill Manor and Garden (The National Trust)

Stanway House and Fountain

 

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Jolly Lobsters, Glamourous Thermals and Stick Deer: Could This be the Most Hipster Christmas Ever?

woke up this morning to find God had bestowed a belated birthday/early Christmas present on me…

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Now I know most normal people would look at this with utter delight, but because I am basically the love child of David Mitchell and Richard Ayoade I naturally am disgruntled by this sight. If God had four Christmas parties to attend to and several board meetings lined up I’m sure He’d feel the same.

So my day started with that, followed by the world’s most middle class Christmas argument, fuelled by the family having too many Christmas lights:

“We’re not putting multiple sets of lights on the tree.”

“But look, these are similar.”

“The clue is in the word ‘similar’. They’re not the same.”

“We can make it work. Lets lie them out first and turn them on…”

“Oh just turn the frigging lights off. Look, I’m having to get off my backside now to do something.”

“Wow, that language is a bit strong.”

“Dad, if you’re going to judge Mum’s use of the word ‘backside’ then seriously we’ve got issues. Also, I’ve just found another box of lights…”

I kid you not, Times Square has nothing on the Bennett household right now.

The evening has now drawn to a close with four adults heckling The Snowman (35 years later and I still think it’s nothing on the 1998 often overlooked classic The Bear)

(Why did you take the bear from his home! Then the girl loses her toy and starts crying even though her Mum gets her a replacement and then…well it’s about then that I start to lose my faith in humanity and become an emotional wreck. It’s a rapid spiral I grant you.)

Anyway, I digress (and have had multiple Christmas parties and realise I should really get this post written before Mariah gets put back into her festive cave with Michael Buble and half of Band Aid).

Ah Christmas, that wonderful time of year where decorations cover the shops, festive TV adverts fill our little homes and language that in any other context would be weird and mildly uncomfortable is apparently acceptable.

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It’s also a time for those working in marketing to don their “how far can we push this?” hat in a bid to convince consumers that very uninspiring, essential, items are really amazing things.

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(“Oh Jeffery, you saucy man you. I thought we promised to keep presents strictly Victorian this year? You know what Georgian clothing does to me.”)

 

That said, I did wonder if we were approaching the end of the world and/or Christianity when, before Advent had even begun, I saw this in Wilko…

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(Naturally I stock piled a lot of thermal leggings and chocolate in preparation for what would happen on the 14th December. Spoiler – my boss still expected me to be in work and double spoiler the Devil didn’t make an appearance. Let down.)

As for me this is the first Christmas in my new house (would be smug but have no money), I set out on the very new experience of buying decorations for one’s own home. Typically the conversation in my childhood around buying festive ornaments has gone something like this:

Alice: “Mum can we buy this bauble?”

Mumma Bennett: “How much is it?”

Alice: “£4.”

Mumma Bennett: “No.”

(Still better dialogue than Twilight.)

And, to be fair, one must be watchful because if you’re not careful the big retailers can run rings around you. Take these decorations for example. Now although they’ve been reduced in price, if you look very closely you notice there’s actually nothing ruddy well there.

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(Don’t worry, it took a while to spot it myself.)

This year however the conversation on my purchase of decorations was altogether different…

Mumma Bennett: “You must buy lights.”

Alice: “Ok. Here, what about these?”

Mumma Bennett: “Oh no! That many will not do, you need more. Here, get the next box up.”

Alice: “Really?”

Mumma Bennett: “Trust me, a tree with too few lights is worse than one with too many. They’re worth paying the price for.”

*Days later*

Alice: “Hey Mum, it’s Alice. So what you were saying about lights the other day…yeah, I have too many. Decided to put them around the large canvas and hope they don’t burn the house down. How flammable is oil paint? In other news, Georgi has never seen mulled wine in a bottle and the other Alice thinks Tree Skirts are the work of black magic. Gotta dash, speak soon!”

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When I returned home next I returned the favour of giving bad advice by getting them to play this awful, awful song:

Other than the minor health and safety issue of LEDs and poorly labelled products, I’ve discovered that there are also a great wonder of WTF goods out there to be bought. E.g. when it comes to buying Christmas interiors I draw the line at pooping into an elf.

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I mean, this girl has standards.

And as for this craze which randomly appeared overnight and now is at every Christmas market…what?

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I know a way to radically reduce your costs and overheads. You get a stick and sell it – it’s called a stick man. Even better, get a few and you have this wonderful thing called kindling which you can set on fire and use to keep warm. No need to thank me.

But then I see a pair of punny socks and my blood pressure drops a little.

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Then I see this sign and I hope to goodness that the designer drew their inspiration from Friends.

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If not than this whole hipster craze really needs to calm the shizz down.

Oh, and for anyone buying me presents this year, don’t get me this:

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Or this:

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And women, if you really want to please your man, may I recommend you take him to this stand and leave him whilst you do the present shopping?

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So there you have it, another Christmas edition of Alice Bennett’s inner warped, deeply sarcastic, but wonderfully enlightening mind. Things to take away from this piece:

  • The Bear is amazing, snow on roads is not
  • Christmas lights were sent by God to test us, just like a number of stupid products being sold under the umbrella terms “festive” and “Christmassy”
  • Thermal leggings are NOT a suitable present.

 

So Merry Christmas to all, and to all may your gingerbread lattes be overflowing and your heads forever covered by wolf hats.

 

AB. x

“They Do Like Their Turtles Don’t They?” Zante (Zakynthos), Greece, 2017

“Ah.”
“What?”
“I don’t think I’ve packed the extra pair of long trousers.”
“I left everyone in charge of their own packing, if you’ve forgotten anything you’ll have to buy it out there.”
“Can I pull over and check?”
“We can’t turn back now.”
“Please, it’s starting to play on my mind. I’m not sure if I packed them or not.”
“No.”
“Mum, just let him pull over. I can’t take the suspense at 2am.”
“I’m pulling over.”
“Fine.”

The Bennett holiday had begun.

 

This time the choice location was the Greek Island of Zante, located in the Ionian Sea (fun fact – in Greek the island is actually called Zakynthos. Who’d have thought, another culture manipulating foreign words just to suit themselves?)

Ah Greece, the land of fine olives, ancient culture, traditional music and, most importantly, free alcohol:

(Greece were robbed of their victory in the 2013 Eurovision, robbed.)

Because we were staying at an all inclusive the alcohol actually was free, free by the bottles of gallons (I wasn’t in the slightest bit smug about this). I was literally drinking wine by the pint.

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In fact I wondered if Greece had the whole drinking culture nailed more than us Brits. I mean, why have one glass bottle of 750ml when you could have plastic bottles of 1.5 litres for half the price?

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It might also explain the tombstone craftsmanship.

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Anyway, back to the hotel. It had an awesome infinity pool, WITH NO CHILDREN!

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And some stunning sunrise and sunset views.

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Don’t ask me to explain the yellow dot on the left. Just tell yourself it’s God. And yeah, that silhouette is mainland Greece.

The hotel’s entertainment was funny but not in the intended way. The Bennett clan being very British and dry in humourous outlook, we found the various failed attempts of the hotel’s animation team hilarious. One example was ‘botched Bingo’. Having done it outside for an entire season, two members of the team struggled to set up the Bingo projector inside, constantly trying and failing to prop up the canvas on a table, followed by difficulties putting a projector into focus. It was the apparent simplicity of the task which made it comic gold. Having sat down after a 18 hour day travelling and fuelled by a couple of cocktails we were howling at the two men. Later in the week the Greek Gods would reap their revenge on us via the kids club.

“Oh no.”

“What?”

“The clown and donkey are heading towards us.”

“Jesus Christ.”

But, saying that, the place wasn’t too shabby as a whole. I had muchos Greek yoghurt and hummus every day. Even the ants wanted in on the local cuisine.

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The resort’s local town was a short walk away (but then holiday reps call anything under an hour ‘short’). It contained a suitable amount of tourist tat shops, bars, restaurants and had a lovely coastal strip. It passed the ‘makes Alice look sophisticated’ qualification so all was good there.

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Look at me, I look like ruddy Audrey Hepburn

Particular highlights of the holiday included a visit to the island’s capital town which funnily enough was called Zakynthos. There we learnt you could purchase a range of goods including turd toys and spend money in a store called Euro Shop where nothing is a Euro.

(Brexit strikes again if you ask me.)

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Zakynthos is NOT the place to go if you have a phobia of Turtles. It’s basically the island’s spirit animal. There are frequent excursion trips to a see them swimming about so the only logical argument we could devise is that the turtle toy reps invaded sometime around five years ago.

No turtle is too weird or creepy looking to be on a shop rack somewhere.

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If you don’t buy a piece of turtle merchandise you’re basically damaging the local economy and may be arrested on the plane. I luckily purchased a pair of tasteful turtle earrings thereby avoiding a fate of becoming turtle food.

Jokes aside (and I won’t dwell on it too much), but outside of the shiny streets and away from the club strips and bars that get featured on all those awful 18-30 Channel Four documentaries, behind all that is actually a tourist island that is barely surviving on their limited tourist season. For every one nicely done-up street there are at least ten falling apart in the local resident districts. It makes you wonder, if this island can only just hold it together then how is the mainland coping? These people were hardly living a life of luxury. But, like I said, that is a debate for politicians and scholars to have. When they pay me to impart my pearls of wisdom I’ll spend more time writing, less time taking random photos.

The island as a whole still remembers and suffers from the massive damage caused by an earthquake that hit the island in 1953. As well as the loss of most of the island’s historic buildings, the long term damage included mass emigration, with a high proportion of residents emigrating to the USA, UK and Canada following on from the natural disaster. This royally buggered up the economies of Zakynthos and neighbouring island Kefalonia.

In an attempt to remind people of what existed in the past and preserve it for the future, Zakynthos’ art gallery holds a collection of religious art and frescos taken from ruined churches and monasteries across the island.

That said, Mary doesn’t half look scary when she covers for God on his holidays:

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And I’m sorry if this is a stupid question, but why is there a cow here?

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Another highlight of the holiday was a general trip around the island which took in all the cultural highlights Zakynthos had to offer. This included visiting the monastery of the island’s Saint, taking in some breath taking views out to sea (i.e. of a tourist-ified ship wreck) and a tour around the famous blue caves

We choose to not dwell on the boat only having a couple of foam noodles in case of a emergency and the bus parking strategy.

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India and I may have also had a few too many of the free sweets and samples of the commonplace unbranded liqueur…

Which, combined with a hot bus, resulted in this:

You may well laugh, but we’re presently being considered to represent Greece at the 2018 Eurovision.

I used this holiday and trip out as a chance to get a selfie of the whole family – something which had only been done in the past with limited success. The difficulty was convincing Mumma Bennett round to the idea. To her the selfie stick resembled the work of dark magic.

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Voldemort lives!

Other than that, not a lot to report. A week of predictable sun (there’s something to be said about walking along the beach in a thin dress on October 1st), bottomless food/cocktails and the odd random conversation along the way (“do they prevent all male and female parties at Centre Parcs because they’re worried they’ll get murdered in the woods?” “…What?”)

I suppose a good gage of how well a holiday went is linked to how Papa Bennett adapts to the environment. As a comparison, he looks at lot better in Zakynthos than he did waiting for a plane at Birmingham International Airport.

And if that’s not the sign of a good holiday I don’t know what is. Well it helps if you don’t contract Swine Flu…

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…And it’s also nice to get, after 500 million attempts, a decent family selfie by the sea. That too.

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A Lesson in Modern Culture? High Street Fashion (Spring 2015)

With an upcoming holiday to Cyprus on the horizon, a compulsory holiday clothes shop was in order.

As a woman you would think this would be a straight forward enough task. My usual shopping pattern is enter shop, walk around, exit shop, walk to a shop at the far end of town, walk back to the other end of town, walk past Costa half a dozen times before deciding it’s quiet enough to go in, have coffee and read a my book for about an hour. (Intellectual box is ticked, however sophisticated attractive man coming up to me and saying “Hey there, reading Handmaid’s Tale I see. I personally preferred Atwood’s earlier dystopian work, but it’s better than 1984” box will remain unticked). After this I’ll then exit the coffee shop and then my retail habits begin all over again.

Even I don’t understand my walking pattern. Before Christmas I went to Bath and it got to the stage I was holding casual conversation with the big issue guy every time I walked past him in my wolf hat (which was about six times). I was his ‘wolfie’ and he was my ‘big issue man’.

Anyway, I was going clothes shopping which would normally be simple enough, however this Spring the shops seemed flooded with a lot of WTF (what the fudge) clothing. It’s like the High Street has become the embodiment of the human version of the super-hipster. While some things do look kinda cool if you’re into that thing (or ‘rocking that look’ as the hip kids say), other things are just all types of no.

At this stage I’m going to stop typing so much and post a selection of photos from the wonderfully awful camera on my Nokia Lumia 635 from recent shopping trips…

This long sleeved top in H&M:

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…Because daddy/childhood issues is sooo in this season.

This bikini top in New Look that features an insect ladder at the back:

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It’s either to ensure insects can climb to safety should they get stuck in the pool, or so they can slide down you as part of their insect pool parties. It’s a two in one.

This sheep skin, long sleeve outfit, perfect for pagan ceremonies:

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You’ll by the hippiest hipster in this outfit. Darn you New Look for beating my organisation into stocking this! For an added hippy look, add flowers in your hair and skip down the main High Street. You’ll soon be pulling in the instagram followers and trending across Wiltshire.

Clothing that features puns:

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Ok, I’ll admit this is a good pun or something I’d buy just to get this reaction from friends initially:

There were a few of these around town. This one was borderline:

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Clearly all the good puns were taken though when H&M designed their Spring 2015 clothes range. They’re currently stocking this…

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Little Mer-Kitty? What on Earthhh? On the upside it’s a conversation starter. (“Hey, where did you get that top and where is the nearest petrol canister and matches?”)

Clothing which features food:

For goodness sake High Street, I thought I’d covered this in my recent blog post from when I was in Cardiff (http://wp.me/p5kuli-2I). Having food on your clothing is just weird and it encourages either obesity or cannibalism!

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WP_20150321_14_57_07_ProWho decided that this year would be the year of the junk? (The type of food on the clothing is also unhealthy). Surely this clothing breaks EU regulations on food offering? I mean where is the salad skirt or the veggie vest?

This rebellious jewellery range:

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The photo speaks for itself.

This cool cat:

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Oh sorry, this photo shouldn’t be here. I forgot this post was about awful fashion choices…

This outfit that was designed for management:

WP_20141018_13_50_39_ProYou’ll never need a name tag again! Your team will entirely respect your decision and reasons for buying this outfit.

Finally, this long sleeved crop top that is still trying to ‘find itself’:

WP_20150321_14_54_40_ProI mean is it a crop top or is it a long sleeved top? Is it French or is it English? It is probably best not to ask, the person who chooses to wear this top is probably just as confused.

The only products I did have time for were at Paperchase:

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It’s tough cookies! Because they’re cookie cutters with tattoos that traditionally tough people had. Hah!

So…

These photos came from a selection of outfits from a selection of shops. There were plenty more varying degrees of what I’d consider to be crimes against fashion, however shop assistants don’t tend to take too kindly to people who just photo products and don’t try anything on.

Overall, I have wasted a good deal of time recently gaping at hideous clothes when I should be buying my fifth dress that I really don’t need. I mean who is designed and signed these outfits off? Who is buying these clothes? Most importantly though, WHO SAT THERE AND TOLD THE HIGH STREET STORES THAT THIS IS FASHIONABLE??!!

I want to start a petition, tell the world to boycott some of these products, but then I really, really, hope that the world has an ounce of common sense to avoid awful fashion when they see it. I’m certain I’ll do another similar post to this again in the future. A mouse can’t halt a bull and I can’t halt the wrath of the fashion industry. Has anyone ever dared to tell the fashion world that perhaps they might occasionally get it wrong? Just because the emperor says something looks amazing it shouldn’t follow we accept it at face value. That said, since typing this I would love to see photos of super skinny models wearing clothing with cake designs. Two polar opposites, just like a sad clown. Now there’s something I’d like to see. Do that fashion industry and then we can talk.

Right, on the subject of fashion and being cool I’m off to eat dinner in a pair of jogging bottoms, an oversized university hoodie with my hair scrapped back into a pony tail. It doesn’t matter how fabulous I look this evening because I’ve got a box of chocolate fingers and a night in with this man…

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Aka Poldark, aka Aiden Turner, aka the only person I’d ever wear a mer-kitty top for.

Yum.