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The sunniest and warmest day of the year so far happily coincided with the tenth birthday of the middlest apprentice. My children spend a large part of their freetime living  ‘the famous five’ life so the opportunity to pack a picnic and go exploring was too good to miss.

Salisbury is one of our regular haunts. There is usually some event or other happening at Old Sarum. In the past we’ve flown kites and stepped back to the 1940s as well as being Vikings, Romans, Saxons and Roundheads. The Cathedral is impressive and the Close has several interesting places to visit including Mompesson House.

This day had ‘stroll and picnic ‘written all over it so we decided to download a treasure trail and solve a mystery. We’ve done several of these in the past. They are equally good for groups or individual families and perfect if you want to explore somewhere you’ve visited before with fresh eyes.

Of course the picnic is VERY important. Whilst we don’t transport tables, chairs and the best candelabra we like to do things properly. I’m not a great fan of tupperware , cling film and carrier bags. And too many days spent on the beach in my youth eating sandy, soggy tomato sandwiches has put me off certain outdoor food combos. So here’s my recipe for the perfect birthday picnic for a sunny March day.

  1. large plaid blanket – preferably with a waterproof underside
  2. large willow picnic basket with a set of mismatched plates, cups and proper cutlery. We keep ours permanently ready for impromptu picnic moments. (A coolbag or sturdy cardboard box with handles will do!)
  3. Sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper and tied with string. They travel better and are a treat to unwrap. Keep the fillings simple – ham and mustard; lettuce and marmite – a favourite of one of the apprentices; cheese and chutney. Some fillings are better eaten the day after they’re made so embrace this for picnics. Try roasting some peppers, olives and aubergine. When cool cut into  chunks. Spread a ciabatta with pesto and fill with the roasted veg. Put in the fridge overnight, weighted down with a board and a couple of cans of tomatoes. Next day cut into portions, wrap in paper and string and enjoy later.
  4. Crusty bread and a pot of olives, a cucumber to cut into chunks and a bag of crispy apples are also good.
  5. A tin of homemade shortbread or a lemon drizzle cake wrapped in paper.
  6. A flask of ice, some sprigs of mint, a jug and bottles of homemade gingerbeer. This is our default drink on sunny days. There’s usually a jug of it in the fridge. It’s particularly good for journeys with children because ginger can help relieve the symptoms of travel sickness. I’ve tried making it in dozens of ways but by far the easiest is the one below – which I think comes courtesy of Jamie Oliver.
  7. a site where you can watch the world go by
  8. a family or group of people with a few hours to spare and plenty to talk about. Picnics should be leisurely affairs.

Easy peasy ginger beer

• 140g/5oz fresh ginger
• 4 tablespoons muscovado sugar
• 2 to 3 lemons
• 1 litre/1¾ pints soda water or sparkling mineral water
• sprigs of fresh mint

First of all you need to grate your ginger on a coarse grater – you can leave the skin on if you like. Put the ginger with its pulpy juice into a bowl and sprinkle in your muscovado sugar. Remove the rind from 2 of your lemons with a vegetable peeler, add to the bowl, and slightly bash and squash with something heavy like a pestle or a rolling-pin. Just do this for 10 seconds, to mix up all the flavours. Squeeze the juice from all 3 lemons and add most of it to the bowl. Pour in your fizzy water or soda water. Allow to sit for 10 minutes and then taste. You may feel that the lemons are slightly too sour, therefore add a little more sugar; if it’s slightly too sweet, add a little more lemon juice. To be honest, these amounts are always a little variable so just follow your own taste. Pass the ginger beer through a coarse sieve into a large jug (or bottles if you are going on a picnic) and add lots of ice and some sprigs of mint before serving.

An hour and a half looking for clues (or more if you stop off to visit places) along the way was just the thing to work off a hearty picnic before heading home for birthday cake.