Length: You'll want to grab a cup of tea to get through this one
You know those weekends that are so perfect they don't feel real? One weekend last year celebrating Ant's thirtieth birthday was definitely one of those. In typical fashion, we had left it to the last minute to put together plans for this very important celebration. Ant just knew he wanted a weekend away with a group of close friends, somewhere in England.
Everywhere we looked for Ant's actual birthday weekend was either fully booked, or very expensive, or not quite right. With a guestlist of 10+ we had to take in to account how people would travel to said venue, and what we would all do once we were there. In order to find the perfect place, we expanded the dates we were searching for, and let go of the notion of doing something actually on his birthday. This was the best decision and led to an incredible weekend.
I found Old Brooder Bunkhouse and it looked great. I sent an enquiry to the owner and it wasn't available on the other dates we had...but did we know that they also had a converted Tudor barn that slept 24 people that we could hire on the same dates? Tudor Weekend was born.
Normally Milden Hall don't take bookings for thirtieth birthday parties, but I explained our plans were to cook and eat good food, go for a bike ride and have a murder mystery dinner party. We are a fairly chilled group of twenty-thirty somethings and all of Ant's friends are beyond lovely. The owner was super helpful and loved our murder mystery dinner party idea. You see, with the hire of the Tudor barn, you also get access to their costume cupboard! Also, if your budget is bigger than ours was, you can even hire in caterers who will make an authentic Tudor meal.
Because we split the cost of hiring the accommodation with our guests, we wanted to cater for everyone as much as possible. We drew up a menu that covered dinner and breakfast on both nights. A long shopping list in hand, we headed to Lidl and our full shop came to less than £40! The joy of forward planning and vegetarian food. In advance of the weekend, I baked 4 cakes and Ant prepared lentil bolognese and pie fillings for twelve people. We just asked our guests to bring a bottle, and a cheese for the cheese course of the big murder mystery dinner...because, cheese is great.
On the Friday we set off with Ross and Juliette and a whole lot of food crammed in to our tiny car. When we arrived we squealed with delight as we explored our new home for the next 2 days. It honestly felt like the most special weekend from the second we arrived and we were giddy with delight. We unpacked all our food and drink and sussed out who was sleeping where. The rest of the group began to arrive and as each person arrived, they got an excited tour.
That night, we ate dinner in the kitchen- which has a table large enough to seat twelve people. We dined on Anna Jones' lentil bolognese and Nigella Lawson's chocolate Guinness cake (made by us, obvs). Both were a huge success. People were excited and chatty, and many of us hadn't been together in a really long time. It was just perfect (I'll probably say that a lot). After dinner we all changed in to our PJs, made huge mugs of steaming tea, and headed in to the main hall to light a fire in the hearth and play The Werewolf Game (such a great game!). After many rounds and lots of laughter, we made our way to bed in the epic four poster beds in the hall.
The next morning we awoke refreshed and excited. The weather was really warm for October and the sun was shining for us. Some of the boys raced out to play table tennis and the rest of us nattered in the kitchen over tea and toast.
With hire of the Tudor barn comes the use of bikes! We each grabbed a bike, with the expert cyclists in the group making sure people like me had their seat at the correct height. Off we whizzed, around the beautiful Suffolk countryside (mercifully very flat), trying to chat as we went. We stopped for lunch and drinks at a pub in a beautiful village...and then headed off again!
When we got back to the barn, it seemed like the perfect time to crack out the two tea loaves I had baked earlier in the week, along with lots of tea and coffee and more chatting. Ant and I jumped in to action preparing the dinner for that night- we had planned a 3 course meal. Tomato and butternut squash soup, 'chicken' and mushroom pie/roast veg and houmous pie with mash and greens and pear and ginger cake. All followed by an epic cheese feast.
Food prepped, we distributed the characters for the murder mystery- we had a Shakespeare themed game where the murderer changes each time you play as you pick a card at the start of the game which tells you if you are innocent or not! With access to the AMAZING array of costumes, everyone really got in to their characters and genuinely everyone looked on point. It was joyous. The game itself was really fun, but nearly impossible to decipher who the murderer actually was...and no one guessed correctly, boo. We laughed a lot though. And ate a lot!
After dinner was done, there was a huge group effort to clean everything and do the washing up (did I mention how perfect this weekend was). After everything was clean, we got back in to our PJs, headed to our favourite corner with the sofas and the fire, and played The Werewolf Game for many many more rounds.
The next morning was all tea and toast and more catching up, plus a final sweep of the barn to make sure everything was even cleaner than when we had arrived (I once had a teacher who said 'you should always try to leave a place in better condition than when you arrived and it's kind of stuck with me)
Final goodbyes and thank-yous, we all headed back to our normal lives, with the memory of a truly fantastic weekend that still makes me smile when I think about it.
Happy Birthday Ant! We all love you!