Online dating. It used to be a little bit taboo, back in’t day. I met one of my ex boyfriends online (albeit not through a dating site, but through a forum) back in 2004, and I remember during our three years together, I was rarely honest about how we met. But times change - after a few fairly unsuccessful stints doing online dating, I actually met my current boyfriend on one of said sites and we have since moved in together. We are also always honest about where we met! It’s fair to say that I now have a pretty soft spot for online dating.
Whether on or offline, it can be a challenge to keep up the originality, and plan fun and memorable dates. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going to a favourite restaurant, traditional stuff like cinema trips or cocktail bars. It does get a teeny bit complicated when your date confesses to you he’s taken other girls to a particular place. Or if you go to an old favourite place that you frequented with an ex and find the ex there too (since it's also their old favourite). One of the pitfalls of living in a city, even one like London is that it seems big but, in fact it isn’t.
If you’re a serial dater, or even if you’re in a relationship and trying to keep the dating magic alive (something that is super important!), then you might want to check out eHarmony’s comprehensive ‘Great Date Guide’, which is a compilation of date ideas from their successful couples. They cover everything from bars and restaurants to sporty things, museums and more. They got in touch and asked me to recommend my top vintage picks from the Great Date Guide and since it's so close to Valentine's Day, I thought, why the heck not. But boy, it was tough! There were lots of personal favourite places in there, so I have tried very hard to be impartial and pick things that are unusual or not known to me, not to mention lots outside of London. There might be a couple of slightly more obvious ones that sneaked through…
1. Bibis, Leeds
Still popular after forty years of business, Bibis in Leeds has been charming customers with their top-notch Italian food and glitzy 1920s décor for decades. The glamour of the roaring twenties has never been more popular thanks to the Great Gatsby, Boardwalk Empire et al, and apparently there’s no better place in the North East to go to experience it first hand. High quality cocktails paired with live soul, jazz and Motown music is the order of the day - the Wednesday-night Showtime event comes highly recommended!
2. Dunham Massey Hall and Gardens, Altrincham
Dunham Massey Hall is just outside Manchester - a stunning Georgian house with an amazing Winter Garden, as well as a deer park. About to reopen as Stamford Military Hospital on May 1st, it will be transformed into a fascinating recreation of a WWI army hospital so you can escape into history while enjoying the beautiful surroundings. Get cosy over an afternoon tea in the Stable Restaurant, where they try to source much their ingredients locally, including meat, plus sustainably caught fish and fair-trade everything else.There’s even a craft brewery producing small batched of undoubtedly delicious beer on the estate. Mmm, beeeeer.
3. Aberdeen Beach, Aberdeen
Couples have walked hand in hand along beaches for centuries, so going to one is a pretty timeless date. It probably isn’t swimsuit weather yet, even all our favourite high waisted 50s numbers but if the rain stops for long enough for a romantic, wind-swept walk along the sand, then it’s a lovely idea if you reside in that neck of the woods (or fancy a trip away). As we can’t ever be sure of clement weather, it’s good to hear that Aberdeen Beach not has some lovely views, rain or shine, but also a row of little cafes to duck into and warm up with a cuppa.
4. Tulleys Farm, Crawley
I never really thought a farm would be a suitable date location but having been to the lovely little Hackney City Farm a couple of summers ago, I changed my mind. Unlike London’s many City Farms, at Tulley’s Farm there’s an added bonus of romantic countryside all around. There are plenty of animals to touch and poke (gently) at the petting zoo and a good old-fashioned tea room. If you’re more of an action-woman (or man) there’s also the chance to see the countryside at rather less leisurely pace from a 350cc quad bike. I’ll stick with the piglet poking, thanks.
5. The Old Station & Carriage, Bristol
I have always wanted to go to a hotel near my parents’ house, which is made entirely from an old steam train Pullman carriage. But as it’s near my parents’ free ‘hotel’, I never have. So I love the look of The Old Station & Carriage, where you can take your date to eat dinner in a similarly restored, disused but very beautiful Pullman carriage, complete with train seats and curtains. Based between gorgeous Bath and Bristol, the inside of the main pub, built in the 1920s is just as good, full of ace old knicknacks, memorabilia, vintage signs and other quirky things. Very much on my personal to-do (or to-date with the man) list... just look at that enormo-burger!
6. Tintern Abbey, Chepstow
Inspiration for Wordsworth, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Ginsberg among others, a wander through Tintern Abbey’s picturesque ruins is something I have always wanted to see myself. Talk about a date location for true romantics... the foundation stone was laid in May 1131, it started decaying into ruins after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in the mid 1500s before it became trendy for ‘romantic tourists’ to visit in the Victorian era. How apt. Do your own romantic tour of the rolling Welsh countryside and stare at the sky through the Abbey’s open-air ceiling… rain permitting.
7. The Live and Let Live, Bringsty
The fabulous Live and Let Live is a 15th Century former cider house and the only thatched pub in Herefordshire. Worth a trip to the Midlands to sit in its cosy, antique-filled front room with roaring fire, vintage enthusiast or no. Serving no-nonsense, down-to-earth British cuisine and delicious real ales, it seems like the perfect place for those wanting a taste of the past for an intimate date.
8. Swing Patrol Dance Classes, London
I’m a big fan of swing dancing classes, regularly attending one in London with my darling bud Bethan. Swing Patrol is the one that is included in the eHarmony guide so here it is! No longer the domain mostly of ladies, there are often more men than women in classes these days! The rotating class system is a great ice-breaker and the activity itself is perfect for daters who want to get active as well as those who want to acquaint themselves with the style and music of the past. You’ll always find at least one or two dressed in fabulous vintage clobber and, of course, you will dance to 1930s and 1940s music - the most swinging tracks of the day, by default! Recommended by yours truly. Even though my chap won’t come to swing as he much prefers jive!
9. Proud Cabaret, London
I went to a brilliant press party at Proud Cabaret last year - it’s such a decadent club that it would make a great place to take a date. The acts they book are top-notch - funny, elegant and perfectly rehearsed - so you are always guaranteed a night of brilliant entertainment, though admittedly the drinks aren’t that cheap. They are well-mixed though! Apparently they enforce a strict dress code for entry so it’s perfect if your date is a stickler for smart dressing (and darn right too)… and I must say even the lady door bouncer looked downright glam when I went - complete with carefully styled peroxide hair, false eyelashes and meticulously applied makeup! Fabulous!
10. Chatsworth House, Chatsworth
My last date idea pick is Jane Austen’s own inspiration, Chatsworth House. This historic stately home in far-flung Derbyshire is a great location for proper old-fashioned romance. Rebuilt from an earlier house in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by the 1st Duke of Devonshire, it was nearly sold to the V&A post WWII, but the Duke’s family kept a hold of it and the current family members are quite active in promoting it to visitors. The interiors sound quite magnificent, with trompes l’oeils, exhibitions (and 100 private rooms that only the family can see) and the landscaped gardens have a maze as well as fountains (plural), a temple, ponds and greenhouses. Going back to Austen, you might have seen this majestic building on the big screen as it set the scene for the film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.
After reading the Great Date Guide, I now have loads of excellent ideas for day trips and weekends away with my love… though we aren’t celebrating on Valentines Day itself as I am doing a do at the Churchill War Rooms with The Vintage Mafia (do come).