Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Suffolk country grandeur, to Constable Country – 27 June 2010

Starting at Stratford St Mary, we enjoyed meandering through delightful country towns, many associated with John Constable. He caught the stage coach outside The Swan in Stratford St Mary, to unsuccessfully try and interest the London public in his paintings.

Next was Nayland, where we saw one of only three religious works by Constable, and this is the only one to still be in the location it was painted for.

Kersey is a real 'chocolate-box' village. The ford, which is still in use, is a must for photos. We carried on until Chelmsford, where we left the route for a detour to Helmingham Hall Gardens. These gardens are wonderful, and unlike yesterday's, these definitely are in our top five favourite gardens list! The moated Tudor house is a draw-card in itself, even though it is not open to the public. The main gardens are also moated (possibly a Saxon moat), and an absolute delight to visit. The roses were stunning, and I would recommend a visit in June, to catch the gardens at their best. There is also a lovely formal garden behind the very tempting 'Old Stables' tearooms.

Back on the AA route, we went through the colourful town of Hadleigh to East Bergholt, where Constable was born. The church there has the distinction of not having a church spire. The tower was started by Cardinal Wolsey, but never finished, and the bells still hang in a temporary wooden enclosure.

Flatford is just around the corner, and the National Trust have preserved Willy Lott's cottage and the boat building dry-dock, and it is possible to walk around the area, looking at the various sites where Constable did some of his most famous paintings. The afternoon was so warm, we did a boat trip from in front of Bridge Cottage, the NT display centre. This took us along the River Stour, which featured in many of his paintings, to the Fen Bridge where Constable crossed the river twice a day going to and from school in Dedham.

The last stop of the Day was Dedham to visit the church, found in 26 of Constable's paintings, and which also has one of his three religious paintings on the wall. Although this was originally painted for the church in Mannington, it was displayed here when that building was demolished with the intent that at least one of Constable's religious paintings should be on show in Constable Country.

Dorneywood – 26 June 2010

When the new government were voted in, we were reminded that the National Trust holds a few open days at Dorneywood, the country home usually allocated to the Chancellor. We had visions of a stunning country pile, surrounded by manicured colourful gardens, so took Andrew and Hilary for a drive in Clara to see the gardens.

The good part was that Clara performed well and we reached the gardens in good time for afternoon tea in the barn, the sad news was that we have seen many better English gardens, and this one won't make the list of top gardens in the UK. But the drive there is beautiful, through the lovely Chiltern woodland of Burnham Beeches.

On the way home we stopped for a picnic tea at Burnham Beeches, followed by a delicious desert and coffee at the Fox and Pheasant.

Clara did find the heat too much on the way home, and refused to start again in Denham, until she managed to cool off. But as Denham is a very pleasant place to be stuck in, no one minded.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Half Marathon in Five Hours – 20 June 2010

A very early start got us to Stansted Airport by 6.15am, to drop Janine off for a flight to Spain. Rather than return home, we decided to do a ten mile walk not far from the airport, starting in the attractive village of Radwinter.

The walk was in our 2002 edition of 'Country Walking', but we found a few changes had occurred in the countryside in the intervening eight years, as some of the tracks were so badly maintained, that they were impassible. So, as a result of this and some very inadequate instructions at two places which meant we lost our way a few times, our ten mile walk turned into at least a thirteen mile walk.

Half way round was the attractive village of Ashdon, where unfortunately, we were too early for the pub to be open. But the walking instructions intrigued us by describing the Cromwell Room in the pub, where it was discovered the walls were covered in drawings by Royalist prisoners held by Cromwell during the Civil War; and the blackboard outside tempted us to return, and reward ourselves after our long and challenging walk, with a Sunday Roast.

We would heartily recommend a Sunday Roast at the 400 year old Rose and Crown, and would say it was the best Sunday roast we have had at a pub in this country. The beef was still slightly pink, the gravy was home-made and not full of bisto – in fact “home cooked” sums up the whole meal, served with a dish of horse-radish sauce. In the huge side-dish of perfectly cooked veges were peas, fresh beans, cabbage, carrot, boiled potatoes as well as a side of cauliflower cheese. Alongside the roast beef was a freshly cooked yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and parsnip. A truly delicious dinner which we did justice to, before returning home in time for the NZ vs Italy Football Match at 3pm - an excellent end to our day.

Pilgrimage – 19 June 2010

Morris dancers, Abingdon
Saturday was the only chance to take Janine out for her first excursion in Clara.
Britannia Coco-nut DancersBritannia Coco-nut Dancers
The weather was coolish, but that suits Clara perfectly. We decided to drive to Abingdon, the town were the MG factory was situated, and re-run the test drive, which Clara would have originally been taken on.

Morris dancers with ceremonial iconWhen we reached the town centre, we had to stop and watch the very English scene taking place. This was the annual election day for the Mayor of Ock Street. To start the proceedings, the town's Morris dancers were in full swing. We've seen Morris dancers before, and it's always entertaining to watch. But Abingdon also invited the Britannia Coco-nut Dancers, a legacy from pirate days in Cornwall, hence the blackened faces, and costumes.

Clara by London to Abingdon mile marker on test routeThe test drive was a triangular route out of Abingdon, with a bumpy edge to one side originally, used to test suspension rattles, and a smooth straight for wheel balance. Clara would have last done this 60 years ago!

A stop at Ewelme to show Janine the Almshouses and a delicious late lunch at The Fox & Hounds just before Turville, rounded off a pleasant drive.
Ewelme AlmshousesGardens at Ewelme Almshouses

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Out and about near Nairobi – 12 June 2010

Elephant OrphanageOur final day in Nairobi was spent with a driver taking us to the Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Centre. Even after seeing the real animals in the wild, this was a different look at these animals.

The baby elephants have been rescued from different situations, and are raised hElephant Orphanageere until they are able to be released back into the wild. The keepers sleep with the babies, feed them every 3 hours, night and day, from large elephant sized bottles, help them throw dust over themselves. In fact, they teach the baby elephants everything they would normally learn from their mothers.

Giraffe CentreThe Giraffe Centre was a close up look at five giraffes. A tall viewing platform allows visitors to feed the giraffes with animal pellets. The sight of a slobbering giraffe up close, is a bit daunting, but in the informative lecture given in the Centre, Giraffe Centrewe learnt that giraffe saliva it a very effective antiseptic and antibiotic. So there is no danger posed to those hardy souls who opt to feed the giraffes mouth to mouth!! However reassured, we still washed our hands after the giraffes had slobbered over them.

We then asked the driver to take us to a shopping centre, to visit their Saturday market. It's not a large market, but we all found items that we wanted to purchase.

Carnivore RestaurantThe real highlight of the day was dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant This is rated in the guide book we had, as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. It was certainly a fun experience. A set price covers a three course meal, the feature of which is the main course, where a constant round of waiters offer different meats cooked on the open circular fire. Carnivore RestaurantThe meats ranged from lamb, pork, chicken and beef to crocodile, camel and ostrich meatballs. The meat is brought to the table on swords or skewers and carved directly onto your plate. The salad for seven of us was the size of a salad for one at a normal restaurant. This is definitely not a place for vegetarians, but for the carnivores, it's a really fun experience.

Lake Nakuru – 11 June 2010

Flamingos at Lake Nakuru
Monkey with lollypopNorthwest of Nairobi is Lake Nakuru National Park. We booked a day trip there with Gametrackers, and once again, Tom was our driver and guide for the day. This trip is equally unmissable, and complimented the previous trip. Amazingly, we had not seen any monkeys in the Mara, but the first animals to greet us at the Nakuru Park gates, were many monkeys. One with a pink lollipop was entertaining a group of school children.

The first sight inside the gates is the lake, with a pink fringe formed by the thousands of flamingos. The sight is stunning, and we spent some time admiring them, as well as seeing zebras and water buffalo drink at the stream running into the lake along with various other bird species including large storks.
Two of the many rhinos in the Park
Mum with the twinsBut there is more to this park than flamingos, and we were able to compliment our previous safari experiences. There was a herd of 8 Rothschild giraffes, who appeared to be walking towards our vehicle, and ended up crossing the road just in front of us. This was an amazing sight. The other new animal was the white rhinos that were all around the southern end of the lake. The driver had to keep to the roads, but even so, was able to drive right up to a mother and baby. Rothschild giraffesThe fantastic thing from the safari trips was that every animal we saw, we saw really close; there was no staring into the distance or any need to use binoculars to possibly make out something “way over there”. The animals all performed fabulously, either walking right past us or sitting right beside the tracks. The rangers have obviously trained them well!
Dung beetle with ball of dung Water buck
Hostess greeting us at Sarova Lion Hill LodgeThe day out was complimented by a superb buffet lunch at Sarova Lion Hill Lodge. We were able to glimpse how the 'other half' go on safari! A beautiful girl met us with warm towels, and we were taken through to the very extensive buffet lunch. The only aspect to mar the experience was the many mosquitos, something we had been spared in the Mara.
Zebras reflected in Lake NakuruZebras