The Urban Guide to the Countryside
Edition

My Fave Places: Sarah Lowther

11 Jan 2016

Just before Christmas, I was invited to be a guest on the weekly ‘Sarah on Sunday’ show on Radio Dacorum – a local online station that promotes all things Herts-based (hoorah!) but has listeners as far afield as Japan and the United States.  I had an absolute blast as I got to pick the music and talk about myself (me, me, me!) for a whole hour – listen here if you missed it! – and thoroughly enjoyed meeting the lovely and multi-talented host, Sarah Lowther.

sarah lowther at the station

Sarah volunteers at Radio Dacorum, as do all the presenters and behind-the-scene folk, and has a CV that is filled with all sorts of exciting things, radio-related and otherwise.  She was the face of Daybreak on The Money Channel, then the voice of Bloomberg Business Breakfast, and is currently presents ProactiveInvestors’ online ‘StockTube’ channel and hosts Share Radio’s flagship breakfast show ‘Morning Money’ twice a week.  She’s also created a series of business-related podcasts for The Guardian, and advised the EU and Number 10.

What’s more – get this – she once escaped a kidnap attempt while hosting a nightly business show in the Philippines.

And here are her favourite places….

Frithsden Vineyard  

1405 frithsden

After a decade of getting up at 1.50am every morning to host financial-related breakfast shows, I was mercifully laid off in 2009 when my company became a victim of the financial crisis it had been reporting on.

I spent the summer realigning my sleep patterns and reacquainting myself with my neighbourhood which includes the idyll that is Frithsden Vineyard and Winery.  While on gardening leave, I helped the owners Natalie and Simon Tooley bottle up the previous year’s vintage of Solaris, Rondo and Phoenix and harvest the current year’s.  I was rewarded with magnificent food, soul-mate companionship and access to a boutique 6000-vine strong vineyard that is increasingly recognized for hosting sell-out alfresco themed dinners and wedding receptions.  It’s not surprising that there’s often a waiting list to be a volunteer at harvest time.

Sanuk 

sanuk

About the same time I discovered Frithsden Vineyard, I was introduced to the pocket of paradise known as Sanuk.  It’s a shop and tea room in the woods next to Heath Farm Nursery on the outskirts of Potten End.

Initially, I thought I had discovered a bit of Bali just outside Berkhamsted – with its Fairtrade handcrafted items ranging from wardrobes to elephant ‘piggy’ banks to delicately fragranced incense.

But for me the attraction was the range of cake served on porcelain plates and tea served on mismatched cups and saucers – a style that was ahead of its time then, but now commonplace in the afternoon tearooms that have proliferated in the county.

For years, Sanuk was the only place to have high tea served throughout the week and it still takes some beating.  The owner asked me to work there for four days in 2009.  I served the tea, soup, cheese scones, cake to the hungry both inside and outside the tearoom while serving in the shop. To date, it remains the best job I have ever had.  ‘Sanuk’ means ‘to enjoy oneself’ – and I certainly did.

The pub that shall remain anonymous

beer

For years when I travelled up and down the M1 to see my folks up North, I would cut through small villages that kissed the A5 before I hit the motorway.  I would pass a house at the foot of a hill in Flamstead, assuming I was passing the gathering place of the local British Legion.  An ex of mine saw the door open one day and people holding pint glasses, went in and jubilantly told me he had discovered a pub where time had stood still – including the prices.

It’s a superbly tiny two-room pub frequented by farmers, accountants, legendary sports commentators and lots of dogs, and has been given top ratings by beer aficionado websites.

It was also the scene of my last great dressing down.  I had been driving non-stop for five hours down the M1 and what was driving me was the thought of good company and a half pint of something cold and delicious in aforementioned unidentified pub.  I arrived during a village festival, had a wee (in the ladies), plonked myself on the bar stool and devoured the ham and mustard sandwiches which had started to curl in the car.  The mild-mannered landlady went uncharacteristically ballistic.  Normally this behavior would have been tolerated, gone unnoticed maybe, but that day was the rare day the pub was serving food for a charitable cause. I was mortified, but have been back since and am often teased about this episode.

Berkhamsted Cricket Club on the second Saturday of September

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The second Saturday of every September has become synonymous with Berkofest, a celebration of local and national music which is both affordable and has family-wide appeal, the brainchild of Charlie Hussey, which is held on the manicured lawns of Berkhamsted Cricket Club.

I have been involved on the fringes of the festival since it started –assisting other volunteers by promoting the acts and activities via off-the-wall tweets or straightforward interviews on my show.

sarah berkofest

Two years ago I was one of the photographers at the festival, and this is a rare photograph of the photographer showing ‘affection’ to Lee Thompson (aka Kix and El Thommo), formerly the saxophonist with Madness.  Weeks earlier, he had appeared on my radio show and presented me with one of the most challenging dialogues I had ever had to deal with – and you can see how grateful I was for that experience.

Berkofest 2015 saw me enjoy the event as a punter.  It was total bliss and while I thought I would miss the back stage razzmatazz and the post-festival euphoria at the pub, I had a different and equally wholesome experience.

And the post-festival-euphoria pub that I frequent and am very, very happy to mention is The Rising Sun. Now that pub is one hell of a community.  Fine beers, tongue-tingling ciders, bible study, cheese and wine, risqué quizzes, pop up restaurants and nods to comedy duo Hinge and Bracket.  When you get to know the pub and its owners you’ll understand why the abbreviation ‘The Riser’ is so apt.  Just follow @theriserberko on Twitter and it won’t take long to figure it out – some of the best tweets you’ll read!

Returned to Glory 

 sideboard award submission

I hate shopping and from an early age I would have relatively spontaneous nose bleeds every time I went into a shopping centre.  And it always seemed to be in Marks and Spencer.  From toddler to teen, my parents could not get me into a store so it was left to my mother and my god-mums to dress me and until my early twenties I dressed like them – my own uncopyrighted and uncopied version of middle aged chic.

My aversion to shopping and all things consumer was heightened in 1998 after I was involved with famine relief in Mindanao, The Philippines.  It was a secret crisis and one that the government there wanted to remain unpublicized while the country held its first open and fair elections since the Marcos regime.

Roll on 16 years and I have started to take an interest in non-grocery shopping and stopped feeling guilty for my good fortune thanks to the fantastic work of Returned to Glory.  It’s a pre-loved furniture warehouse in Berkhamsted that supports The Hospice of St Francis.

It’s an amazing charity and the items that are gifted are equally amazing. It’s not pure retail, though, as the space is also used for courses including distressed painting, shabby chic’ing and in many ways intended to encourage us to restore and revitalise instead of throwing away.  Of course, if you do want to discard – that’s the charity that would benefit from your unwanteds.

I don’t buy new now because I don’t have to.

My Allotment

allotment

It’s probably no surprise to learn that after my famine relief work and shopping aversion, that I have an allotment.

It was in very poor condition when I got it four years ago and it’s still not quite right yet – being recently judged fifth-from-bottom in the best allotment award.

I love it, though, because it has provided potatoes, raspberries, award-winning rhubarb, giant pumpkins, onions, courgettes, garlic, onions, leeks, spinach, parsnips, cabbages, carrots and cauliflowers.

It’s a place of reflection and meditation, but can be incredibly social when you want it to be.  It’s the sharing of knowledge that I love most and for months I was blaming insects for my disintegrating veg until I was educated about sweet-leaf-gorging pigeons.

It’s also a pastime that makes you realize how much you love the man in your life because he does most of the graft now and I only get to cook it when he lets me.  Allotments, I have found, are where real and metaphorical love grows.

mixcloud.com/SarahJaneLowther

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside -
Hertfordshire Edition