Belated Birthday Treats….

When Mark and I visited Crook Hall and Gardens a few months ago we never expected to come away so much in love with a location. As a rule I am not the biggest fan of old properties but there is something about the magic at Crook Hall that simply blew us away.

When my Mum had her birthday way back in March last year, I promised to take her for Afternoon Tea, however I told her that it would not be until I found the most perfect place. So when Mark and I got talking to Maggie at Crook Hall about the private space they have for Afternoon Tea. I instantly knew I had found the venue for Mum’s, by then, very belated birthday gift.

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Where did October go?


You blink then it is gone……

Well that’s what it feels like to me. Where on earth did October go?

I seem to have fallen in to the habit of filling you all in the monthly happenings in The MaryLou house so here goes nothing….

October traditionally stands out to me as the month that we have half term and the month that we celebrate Halloween. I dare say for most of us this is also the case. In some cases you will have started your Christmas shopping and in others you may have completed it (OMG I wish).

We started out the month launching Libby’s event “The Big Chop”. I am sure you have read the post already but in case you haven’t I will give you a brief rundown.


Libby recently asked us to explain to her what Cancer really was. We are very honest with the children and obliged, telling her in as much detail as we could, but still keeping the details child like, what Cancer is, who it can affect and the treatments it can involve. She went away and processed the information and decided she would like to raise money for children and their families “near our house” that are and have been affected by Cancer.

She had already decided she would like to have her hair cut and donate it to The Little Princess Trust but she decided she would like to gain sponsorship for The Toma Fund.

I set about finding a Hair Salon that would be happy to help us and to our delight Toni and Guy came forward and offered to help us at their Durham Salon.

From there, fundraising has gone from strength to strength and over on JustGiving we have so far raised just over £250, we have sponsorship forms out and about that have raised about the same so far, along with that I am running a raffle. When I told Libby’s story there were some amazing people and companies that stepped forward and said they would like to help. We have had some fantastic prize donations from Metro Radio and Brian Moore, Newcastle Greyhound Stadium, Sunderland Greyhound Stadium, Begu Tea, Sharron Bates, Sweet Evangelines, Tanfield Railway, Arriva, Chiquito, tombola, Lickety Split, 3M and Babsyliz.

Numbers are still available over on the Facebook page. Priced at £1 each. All money raised goes to The Toma Fund and will be drawn on the 18th of November or when all the numbers are sold.

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School photo’s….they happened…’s really scary how much a like these too are. Love their pictures though (really must remember to order them this week).


October brings the delivery and publishing of the “Santa Clause Toy Books” to us adults that is the Smyths Book, Argos Christmas Book, Tesco Toy Book and the random other Christmas Toy Books. This year Libby is circling items in Red Pen and Penny has the Black Pen.

As you can see from the picture Penny has spent a lot of time writing her very understandable lists…

We have yet to write our lists properly but high on Penny’s list is a Furby, A Cry Baby and a new Baby Doll.

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Libby has asked for a Hatchimal, a Cry Baby doll, Harley Quinn Doll, Harley Quinn Dress up and a Shibajuku doll.

Lets hope Santa is preparing himself for the pages and pages of the tatty toy books that are heading in his direction.


Penny and I had some lovely jaunts in October to collect prizes for the raffle and just because.

We visited Seaham one very cold windy morning, but there is something so homely about the seaside for me. As you know from previous posts I lose all my woes when I go to the seaside (Even if it is cold, wet and windy).

Whilst there we visited the amazing Lickety Split. We had never been before and I was so desperate to have a try of their treats. Penny was very adamant that she would like a Pink Ice Cream, So she got a Sundae with Strawberry Ice Cream, Bubblegum Ice Cream, Strawberry Sauce and M & M’s.

Her face says it all…..


I was sensible and ordered a Panini…..(lets not mention that I finished Penny’s Sundae shhhhh )


Definitely worth a visit if you have not been before.


A month would not be complete without a night or two with my bestie.

Deborah (Country Heart and Home) and I were invited along to the Autumn and Winter launch at Katie’s Garden in Sunderland. It is always a good night no matter what we do but on this occasion we got craft and create fairy houses together. To read more the post I wrote about the night is Katie’s Garden – Sunderland.


Then came the buying of Halloween Costumes. I begrudge paying an absolute fortune for them and was quite stressed that both the girls needed a new one. Regan had decided that dressing up for Halloween was “not his thing” this year so that left me with just the two too buy.

I did the usual browsing around and was absolutely blown away by not only the selection in Home Bargains but the prices too.

Penny chose a “Pumpkin Witch” Dress and I chose for Libby and got her the “Witch Bride” dress.

Both girls were delighted with their dresses and the hyper for Halloween began.


I had a very productive ride up to the Intu Metro Centre. (I say productive, it was simply made productive as I found my Christmas Eve box PJ bottoms.)

Every year I go up before Christmas and see PJ’s that are Chritmassy and think, yes they are fabulous, I will get them the next time I am here. Then I go back and who knew? They have none left. So I ceased the opportunity and got them and the girls Christmas PJ’s from Primark.

It would be very rude not to pop over to IKEA while I was there of course. So I ventured over and came away with some bits and pieces for people for Christmas, some candles (standard for me ) and some irresistible wrapping paper.


Then came the week of Surgery.

The day before I went in Mark and I were invited to the amazing Crook Hall and Gardens in Durham. What an amazing place to visit. To read more about our visit it is the Crook Hall and Gardens post.


On the evening of the night before surgery, following a family funeral, the hair got cut off. It needed to be off so my surgeon and I could see what was really going on under it. I do find it so liberating having no hair. Cutting it off wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The gut wrenching when the first clump dropped to the floor was quite significant but I made sure I went straight down the middle first. (No turning back that way) and before I knew it, the hair was no more.


The following morning involved a 4am start and an early arrival at hospital ready for my surgery. I was first on the list and arrived in recovery 4 hours later having had 13 BCC’s removed.

I was really quite poorly after and incurred an overnight stay as a result. Due to the excellent care of the Nursing Staff at UHND,  I went home the following day and I did feel fractionally better. Yet in so much pain. The kids were all on standby though and as one left me to go to bed another one of them took over and made sure I was OK.


As the days have gone by and the stitches have been removed and fallen out I feel a lot better and the scars are so neat and well healed already. The support I was offered by not only family and friends but people that don’t know the full story was unbelievable and I can only thank you all for that. The flowers that got sent from work were also amazing.

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To read more you can find the story on the Surgery Update post and if you want more in depth pictures check out Before, During and After.


Dance Schools Halloween Party. Costume outing number one. In hindsight spraying her hair red for the first outing of the white costume maybe wasn’t the most sensible of ideas but it added to the effect. (the dress however looks like someone has sprayed fake blood all over it).

We painted her face with a lovely little kit from B & M . I got the face paint in there last year and was over the moon to find that they had the same kit in for this year (£3.99). A fraction of the price that bigger shops were selling.

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Oooooh now, Mark’s Bovril addiction is no secret and I thought my Peppermint Tea one was just as bad. That is until my hospital stay. As I can not have caffeine my options were a cold drink or Horlicks. Well I fear I may have developed an addiction that rivals the Bovril addiction.


I have always liked it, but not to this extent. Saying that I think my addiction has been made worse by the fact that I am having to limit myself to one cup a day due to the sheer amount of milk that you use to make it.

Last but not least was Halloween with Deborah (Country House and Home).

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As you well know we always have a good night and it was lovely to be invited down to share Halloween with my Bestie and her beautiful family. The house was decorated fantastically.

This is the first year in quite a few where we haven’t had a party or decorated much. So the decision has been made that we are going all out next year.

Deborah had arranged a Tin Can Alley, Put The Smile on the Skeleton, Bobbing for Apples and some other lovely games for the kids and an amazing spread for us all. Every little detail was considered (I wouldn’t expect anything else from Deborah though). What a fantastic night.

The kids went trick or treating on Halloween itself and came hold with their bags full. They have had “The most fantastical Halloween ever” apparently. I certainly will not argue with that……


Crook Hall and Gardens


A few weeks ago, I was browsing for places that I would like to visit for Breakfast or Afternoon Tea and stumbled across Crook Hall and Gardens.

My knowledge of unique places in and around Durham is getting better, but I can honestly say I had not heard of Crook Hall and Gardens. When we decided to pay them a visit we had no idea what to expect.

There are so many words I could use to describe the gem that Crook Halls and Gardens is. You will see as you read through this what we mean and although we tried hard to capture every ounce of the charm, character and magic that is on offer, a visit is a must to take it all in for yourself. Hopefully I may tempt you in to doing so.


First and foremost we pulled up and paid a visit to “The Garden Gate Cafe”. Parking on site is limited but there is plenty of parking on the street and it is located a couple of minutes away Sidegate Car Park.

We were greeted by Maggie (Maggie and Keith own Crook Hall and Gardens) and her team in the Cafe. We were made to feel so very welcome and picked a table right next to the Garden Window.


The Cafe is pretty with some lovely additions including items for sale such as Clocks, Artwork and locally made preserves.


The Menu is fabulous and all the cakes and bakes are made on site. We had the pleasure later on in our tour, to see the aga that is used for a lot of the baking.

On first glances I have to say it is very reasonably priced.


We ordered Tea, Mark normal and me Peppermint and they were served in some very pretty teapots.

Teapots and Saucers make me so happy ….

For Breakfast Mark ordered ….

Bacon & Egg on Brioche Bread with a Tomato Relish and Side Salad

and I ordered….

Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese on a Toasted Bagel


Not something I order very often I must admit, but I savoured every mouth full.

After breakfast we had the pleasure of being guided by the very lovely Beth, round not only Crook Hall and Gardens, but “The Apartment”.

The Apartment sits above “The Garden Gate Cafe” and is a luxury apartment that has been designed with pure relaxation in mind. It has two bedrooms, one is twin and the other is a twin room that can be changed in to a double if preferred. It has a lovely bathroom and a utility room that has a toilet in it. The kitchen is very well equipped with everything you may want and the living room is spacious with a TV to watch. Why you would need the TV with the Balcony Terrace I have no idea however. To sit there on a night with your feet up, a hot toddy or a glass of wine in hand, with the sound of the birds singing and the river flowing……perfection. The Apartment is available for hire via the Website.


Now what followed was truly beyond our expectations, when you look at The Gardens from the roadside, or even sat in the cafe you can not see the extent of what treasures there are too come.

At this point I am going to say that I will let the pictures do most of the talking for The Gardens….

We wandered up through the gate and entered The Maze Garden.


It is as it sounds and has a charming Maze for you to tackle. In the middle of the maze there is a raised area where you can take photos of the views.

From here we ventured on and as we wandered I couldn’t help but mention Alice in Wonderland on numerous occasions.


The Cathedral Garden, with it’s perfect views of the Cathedral, the hedges are cut so that you feel you are looking through the windows of a church or Cathedral.

The Shakespeare Garden, it has a very theatrical appearance, with the Garden Gate to enter, trees and hidden nooks that could well be the stage for a scene from a Midsummers Night Dream or such like. The statues set it off nicely.


The Orchard plays host to some rather large fruit trees, with our visit being in Autumn there was a wealth of apples on the trees and on the ground. We were very encouraged to hear that they use as much as they can of the produce they grow, in the Cafe and the Tea Rooms.


The Silver and White Garden holds a very heart warming little story to it. The previous owners of Crook Hall and Gardens, Mr and Mrs Hawgood, had, whilst in residence, celebrated their Silver Wedding Anniversary. As a present to his wife, Mr Hawgood had the Silver and White Garden planted, only to contain Silver and White Flowers and Trees, so no matter what time of the year you visit the Gardens there will be something Silver and White to see.


From there you wander up through the trees in to the The Moat and Pools. This part of the Garden is so enchanting. The fairies must have been hiding while we were there but it is the most perfect fairytale home for them. We were told about events gone by and how they used to have lights on the pond on night time events. Looking at the Facebook Page I have found pictures of this and it looks to have been such a special experience.



The Moat and Pools area plays host to the current Outdoor Wedding area. With a very charming little Bandstand/Gazebo and plentiful space for seating under the old trees. There is also a swing hanging from the branches of the Trees.

The aisle to walk down is scattered with leaves because of the time of the year but the Uncommon Toad stands proudly watching over the proceedings.


Crook Hall and Gardens have recently employed another gardener and between herself and the gardener they already had, they are working to create a new area for ceremonies. The Woodland Setting is fabulous, with stumps to sit on in the middle of the woodland.


The faires and other woodland creatures would watch on, in what is set to be a true fairytale setting. Currently they are working on a Woodland Archway for people to get married under.


The Vegetable Garden followed and it is exactly how it is described. A fully functioning Vegetable Garden with mini pumpkins galore. A lot of the salad and bush grown fruit used in the Cafe comes from the Vegetable Garden. Mark was quite taken by the fellow that looks on in the corner of the garden.


The Secret Garden along with The Walled Gardens are so very pretty and you really do feel like you are a millions miles away from the busy city. I have to say if I mentioned Alice in Wonderland a million times, then Wedding Vow renewals was used just as frequently.



The autumnal colours are amazing and before long the trees will be bare. It was so relaxing to wander and see what delights the Gardens held, what surprise was lurking round each corner and how they all linked together.


From here we ventured on in to Crook Hall.

Walking through the door in to The Screens Passage you are immediately hit with the warmth from the roaring fires throughout the building.


The passage leads on to the Medieval Hall where indoor weddings and functions are held.


The hall is cosy and grand, with the features remaining beautifully original. Steeped in historical facts for you too read as you go around, you are left with no doubt as to what the building has been used for in years gone by.

As you wander through the Hall there are some beautiful pieces of art. A lot of them are painted by Keith. He has a studio upstairs that he paints from. A very talented artist indeed. They also host exhibitions from local artists and their art is also for sale.


There are various displays of memorabilia as you wander through the house including a very charming display of Royal Family collectables from through the years. (I thought I had a few bits and pieces but this collection was lovely)


We wandered on and went upstairs to view The Attic Room. This is the room that brides get ready in, the room that Santa borrows at Christmas and it is also used for many other purposes. At the top of the building the room is simple but is perfect for its many purposes. (Personally I would have to remove my shoes before attempting the staircase in 3 inch heels, or maybe just wear flats)


Down the stairs from the Attic Room is The Minstrels Gallery and this is used as extra seating for Events. The Gallery overlooks the The Medieval Hall and adds to the character.


On the way down the stairs I was intrigued to find out if there had been any ghostly goings on over the years. A property that age must have some spooks…..well apparently, Maggie and Keith have experienced some goings on around the unused staircase just round the corner from The Medieval Hall. A lady is said to have made her presence known over the years.


Wandering down to the other end of the house, where afternoon teas are held, we bumped in to Maggie again, who was busy in the kitchen. She showed us the rooms that are used for afternoon tea and also as extra space for events. We spoke about the events that they plan, the Afternoon Teas, Weddings and the book collections that are present in one of the Tea Rooms.


It is very clear to see the passion that Maggie has for Crook Hall and Gardens and that rubs off in to the people that work there. You get a sense of family as you wander through and meet the staff around the property. We were quite simply blown away. Not for one minute did either of us expect to come away totally in love with the place. (Now for me that is no easy task to achieve, but for Mark to come away totally speechless and in love, well then it is simply a must see)

As we said our thanks and goodbyes and wandered back down the garden path to the exit we had a look through some of the pictures and views that Mark had managed to capture on our way round. The view of the gardens, and Durham are second to none.


We will certainly be going back, I have had a good look at the list of events that are coming up and I would love to get more involved with Crook Hall and Gardens and their events in the near future.

Thank you for having us and I can’t wait to see you all soon….