Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In search of heather – 21,22 August 2010

Despite previously going north to Yorkshire and the Peak District in August to see heather blooming, we have never caught it at its best in Sussex, right on London's doorstep. This year we were determined to change that. So, although the forecast was for overcast weather in Sussex on Saturday, we set out, and ran into drizzle before we even arrived. To give the rain a chance to clear, we visited the Priest's House in West Hoathly. This 14th century house was restored 100 years ago, and is a fascinating house/museum. The garden was too damp to explore, so we travelled onto Hartfield for a “cream tea” lunch at 'Pooh Corner'. This delightful town is near where AA Milne lived and wrote his famous children's books.

We were determined to see the heather despite the rain, so drove south from Hartfield, where the heather was looking stunning, through the misty rain. At the top of the hill, where normally there is a lookout, the mist was so thick, we turned round and headed back to London.

On Sunday, the weather forecast was still bad for the south, so we headed north-west for Chorleywood. The common there has a few patches of heather, so we had to be satisfied with that.

Moving on to the Chilterns we had morning tea beside the Pitstone Windmill, the oldest windmill in the British Isles. From there a pleasant drive across the countryside, dotted with lovely villages, brought us to Claydon House. This house appears plain from the outside, but the lavish interiors bankrupted the then owner of the property. The main entry room is full of wooden carved wall and ceiling decorations. The remaining principal rooms have plaster decorations on the walls and ceilings; they are all totally stunning. Now in the care of the NT, although still lived in the descendants of the original family, we were, most unusually, allowed to take photos of the architectural features.

The garden is still cared for by the family, and as we were about to leave, we discovered our own family were visiting at the same time. So it turned out to be a family day for us too!

We travelled on in convoy to another nearby NT house also still lived in by the donor's family. The Rothschild's Ascot House has to be the most stunning weekend retreat we have ever seen. Filled with wonderful art works and priceless Chinese porcelain, it is a really wonderful place to visit. The gardens are equally stunning, and the tree plantings are very picturesque.

Our day ended with a lovely canal-side dinner with Ngaire, Stuart and Laura.

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