Monday, August 15, 2011

Blooming heather again - 13,14 August 2011

Heather is blooming again, and although we have previously travelled to other parts of England, such as Yorkshire and the Peak District, to enjoy it, we hoped for better weather than last year to explore the heather right on our doorstep.

Cobham Common is the largest National Nature Reserve in southeast England, and said to be the best example of lowland heath.

We took Clara for a spin and then enjoyed a 7 mile walk all around the heather clad heathland. This was at it's best, and what can only be described as a totally bleak and barren landscape for the rest of the year, comes alive with the slopes covered in purple flowers.

The week of the London Olympic showcase to the world, as it ran trial events, was also the week of the worst riots since the 1980's, and the worst skyline for burning buildings since the blitz.

Today we drove through one of these events, although we were unfortunately unable to see anything, as we journeyed to Sussex, through the London to Surrey practise long-distance cycle race.

Sunday continued the heather theme. We took this as potentially our last chance to see the heather in bloom at Ashdown Forest, also the home of Winnie the Pooh. Last year we attempted this, but low cloud and drizzle forced us to abandon it. Today, the clouds rolled away to leave a pleasant day.

Our drive started in East Grinstead, a town we have often driven through, but today we stopped for coffee on the lovely terrace overlooking the church, and had a proper look around the town. The High Street is full of wonderful old Tudor buildings.

After leaving East Grinstead, we were into Ashdown Forest. In places there are great view points, and everywhere masses of purple heather. Ashdown is of course famous for the Winnie the Pooh stories, and we did a walk which took in some of the famous spots from the walk – 'The Enchanted Place' (enchanted because Christopher Robin said no one could be sure if there were 63 or 64 trees), the 'Heffalump Trap' (this large hole was supposedly dug by piglet) and Roo's favourite 'Sandy Place'. It was a wonderful nostalgic trip to remind us of hours spent reading those wonderful stories to our children.

Lunch at Duddleswell Tea Rooms followed, and this is a must for anyone in the area. The tearooms are very attractive, set back from the road with wide lawns and lovely flowers. The cream teas are delicious and a meal in themselves, but we had to go for their Pooh Bear Tea, which not only had one of their giant scones with honey and clotted cream, but also our choice of a piece of cake.
Making that choice wasn't easy, as they had an amazing range of great home-made cakes, and when our choice (pavlova full of cream and strawberries and raspberry roulade) was served, the sizes were enormous. Although, as Pooh once said, “My tummy is feeling a little eleven o'clockish.”, we could easily have shared a Pooh Tea. But we made it through eventually, and decided a salad would be all we should allow ourselves for dinner!

We continued a circular drive, through a variety of interesting towns, finishing once again in Ashdown Forest. Walking around a few a few towns as well as Bentley Wildfowl and Motor Museum, helped overcome the 'I've eaten far too much' feeling.

Bentley happened to be on the route, and as the entry price was modest and the day was so lovely, we decided to visit. We actually enjoyed it because it was so different to normal country houses, with a very varied range of attractions.
In addition to visiting the country house and garden, there was a huge area of ponds (admittedly rather green) and heaps of different wild water birds, including two from NZ that we don't remember every seeing before, a ride on railway just like our children loved 30 years ago, craft shops and a Motor Museum. Basically something for everyone, and their tearooms served the best ever Pimms!

So after walking the extensive grounds, and visiting a few village churches, we felt able to do justice to dinner, keeping to our plan of a salad, but the 'Red Barn' have very delicious imaginative salads, the perfect end to a great day out!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Home through the Cotswolds – 8 August 2011

Monday morning gave us time to browse the shops and visit Ludlow Cathedral, known as the Cathedral of the Marches. (after the area – not walking) It is a beautiful example of the Perpendicular architectural style with wonderful stained glass windows, elaborate tombs, but best of all are the wonderfully carved misericordes. As well as pious scenes, there are carved scenes of everyday life.

We travelled south to re-visit Hampton Court gardens, which we first visited in the autumn last year. The water features looked great in the autumn, but summer sees gardens at their best, and we enjoyed seeing the yellow and mauve wide border gardens and the vegetable gardens, arranged artistically, to even make vegetable look appealing.

From here we plotted a route along the B roads and byways straight through the Cotswolds to London: enjoying a drive through many appealing villages; with a lunch stop at the classic favourite of Broadway.

Ludlow – 7 August 2011

As we have travelled around England, we've seen many wonderful historical towns, with exciting looking old Tudor or other era buildings, and often said 'it would be wonderful to come back and stay there'. This weekend we actually did this for the first time.

Ludlow has always stuck in our mind as one of the most beautiful towns in England. A guidebook said it had the most Michelin Stars per head of population outside of Paris. (We don't believe that however, as Bray is smaller and has 3 times as many Michelin stars.) We booked into the Feathers Hotel, one of the most beautiful Tudor buildings in the town and when we checked in, we discovered they had upgraded us to the honeymoon suite, so our plans for a special weekend suddenly got better.

We set out for Ludlow, stopping off at Deerfield, a tiny town which has two pre-Norman churches. The oldest is from Saxon times, 'lost' for years as a house was built onto and “over” it.

Tewkesbury is another stunning town, with a huge Abbey, and streets of wonderful old buildings.

North again we visited Spetchley Park Gardens. These were not at their best for borders, but had many wonderful roses, all labelled, so we noted some which looked and smelt the best. The church on the estate is definitely worth a visit, with a very elaborate tomb near the altar.

Our next exciting find of the day was marked on the map as a tithe barn. This turned out to the oldest cruck-framed barn in the UK. It is an amazing structure, with each huge floor to roof cruck beam is one continuous piece of an oak tree, selected and felled for its special shape.

Before reaching Ludlow, we stopped at Berrington. This palladian stately home gives a look at how life in the country used to be. The entire house is open for viewing, and affords a very comprehensive look at the roles of the servants below stairs.

Sunday is the day for an antiques market in the Ludlow castle square. We browsed the markets, walked down to the river and the silk mill, and then visited the castle. The castle dates back to Norman times, but is now just a ruin, with several towers which can be climbed. We enjoyed wandering around it in the sunshine and seeing the rare circular Norman chapel.

Random Roaming – 6 August 2011

A long weekend away from London was the plan for the weekend, with no fixed ideas of where to go. But high on our list of towns to stay in is Ludlow, on the Welsh border. To break the journey, we spent Saturday night near Gloucester.

Today's travels took us to villages on the east and west banks of the River Severn. First up was a garden at Westbury-on-Severn. Westbury Court gardens are rather special as they were left to deteriorate, when anyone of note was replacing their 18th century gardens with the latest look by Capability Brown. The gardens have been restored by the National Trust, and are a wonderful place to visit, with a real air of by-gone eras. Then onto lunch at Newent, a wonderful town, with timber buildings and a market house building on stilts.

North west took us to Kempley Church, with it's Roman arch architecture and medieval wall paintings. The next village has a medieval knight on his tomb but, unusually, he is carved from oak and further down the church are some somewhat newer relations of his, resplendent in marble, resting for all time in a private chapel.

The Malvern Hills were next and onto Upton-on-Severn This is an even bigger market town than Newent and very attractive

We ended the day at the Gloucester Docks, which have been redeveloped into apartments, cafes and an Arts and Crafts centre. Here we finally purchased a hand crafted glass bowl.

Years ago we saw a glass dish in an arts centre in Painshill. We were very taken with it, but walked away. Then at the Gloucester Cathedral floral festival, we met the artist, and he had some similar dishes for sale there. But the dish we had seen was dramatic in black and white. He had only made three of this style. One had been sold, one was in his rural studio, and one in Gloucester. During our day out, we called by the studio in a tiny rural community, far from the main roads. We arranged to meet him at The Docks at the end of the day, to make our selection from his two remaining dishes. The Docks area is worth a visit in it's own right, but we had double pleasure, as we came away with a memory to commemorate our 'Gloucester connection'.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Battle Proms – 30 July 2011

Battle Prom is a series running through the summer, just like a traditional Proms in the Park, with a few extras thrown in. The Proms are being held at many major historical houses, within a couple of hour's drive from London. We choose Highclere Castle, after seeing it on the Downton Abbey historical drama series. It proved to be an excellent choice, as the weather was perfect. Compared with recent Saturday nights this summer, we were exceedingly fortunate, as we had a perfectly fine and mild summer evening.

Ngaire and Stuart came with us, and we combined the trip there with an AA circular tour centred on Newbury. On the way there, we did the northern half of the route, which left the M4 motorway, and wove under and over the M4, as it explored the lovely little villages of Yattendon, Peasmore and Boxford,

Yattendon has a great Pub, with a really lovely garden, where we relaxed in comfy chairs under a grape arbour, and enjoyed a coffee.

Coffee was nearly our undoing, as we enjoyed another, after checking into our Travelodge (booked using their summer special at only £15 – a perfect compliment to our Proms just a few miles down the road). But although we left there in plenty of time, we joined a queue stretching 2 miles from the Castle, and it just wasn't moving for long periods. A nail-biting 90 minutes later, the queue finally started to move, and we arrived 30 minutes before the 'calvary charge', which opened the programme.

It was virtually impossible to see the cavalry charge, due to the 7,000 other people there, but we did manage to see the riders over the heads of the spectators, as well as on the big screen.

The next highlight was a Spitfire, piloted by a women who does stunts in her husband's plane, after he was killed in a car crash. She was brilliant, doing loops and rolls all synchronised to the music being played by the orchestra..

The programme followed a typical mix of favourite classics, such as the Sailors Hornpipe and 1812, accompanied by 70 field guns. The 'battle' accompanying Battle Symphony was most realistic with plenty of atmospheric red smoke from the cannons and fireworks.

The evening finished with the traditional favourites of Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory, accompanied with a magnificent fireworks display, they even had more fireworks prepared for an encore.

We expected the exit to be as slow as the entry, but were pleasantly surprised by a smooth and swift return journey.

On Sunday we experienced the queues at Highclere again. As it is open to the public on Sundays, we had planned to visit. On the way we stopped by the ruins of Donnington Castle and the Sandham Memorial Chapel. This is a very moving place to visit. This consecrated church is was built after WW1, by friends of Stanley Spencer, so he could paint his war experiences as a medical orderly, as a type of therapy. These have recently been cleaned, and the murals are so vivid, you feel they have just been painted.

On to Highclere, only to find long queues at the ticket office, so time for a change of plan. After completing our circular AA tour, from Newbury to Buckleberry (sounds like something from Middle Earth), we headed for the nearby Thames, and enjoyed a lunch on the terrace of The Swan, overlooking the Thames, with the pleasure boats out enjoying the warm summer day.