OK, so this is not the review I wanted to be writing! I should be doing a review on Cape Verde, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic. Then my son booked a villa for us all in Spain, but we had to cancel when the quarantine laws came in. He changed it to France but we again had to cancel when they also were included in the quarantine laws. It looked like we might have to spend the whole of the summer holidays in South London but my son, always resourceful, came up with the idea of us having a few nights away in England and visiting some National Trust properties.
We left London in my son’s car and our party consisted of me, my son, Scott, his partner, Pauline and my 15 year old grandson Andre. (Obviously a tour of National Trust places is not at the top of a 15 year old’s “to do” list so he had packed enough electronic devices that I was allocated only the tiniest space in the back seat of the car!) Our first stop was Highenden Manor, near High Wycombe. This was the former home of Prime Minister Disraeli. Obviously the houses at National Trust properties are not open at the moment but the grounds here were very nice. They are designed in an Italianate style. There was an orchard and a walled garden where pears and prunes were growing. We wandered around the 680 acres until that old killjoy (the English weather) forced us to run back to our car to avoid getting soaked. Undeterred, we headed off to our next destination Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury. This has a very spectacular house built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 1870’s. It was quite a long walk from the car park to the grounds (about 25 minutes) but there is also a shuttle bus which some people were taking advantage of. The house has fountains and statues all around it and in some ways it reminded me of a mini-Versailles. For younger children there were lots of places to play and as we had no younger children with us we felt obligated to try out the small zip wire in one of the playgrounds. (Unfortunately it wasn’t made for adults and Pauline and I spent the rest of the day with very muddy trousers!). There is a spectacular aviary with quite a few colourful birds and we ended our visit there with cake and drinks in the cafe in the stables. They also had an exhibition by the Photographer Nick Knight entitled “Roses from My Garden”. It seems he takes pictures of roses on an iphone then retouches them to give them the style of the Dutch artists.
A little National Trust-ed out we headed off to our overnight hotel. The Best Western in Buckingham. All the hotels we visited had pretty good social distancing rules and guide lines so we didn’t feel worried in any of them. The Best Western was fairly standard for that type of hotel. We headed into the town for dinner and found a lovely pub called The Woolpack (not the Emmerdale one unfortunately). They had a very hands off policy for ordering your food and drinks. We had to scan a QR code and then order on line. This was to prevent too much contact between the waiter and the guests. However, despite having a 15 year old techno genius with us, the QR code would not scan on our phones and in the end the waiter spent more time trying to help us than he would if he had just taken our order! Nonetheless the food was very good.
The next day after breakfast in the hotel, we headed off to National Trust place No. 3,
Stowe in Buckinghamshire. This was my very favourite National Trust property. What a fabulous place it is. Lakes, temples, bridges, 250 acres of landscaped gardens and all of it was stunning! The weather was unexpectedly lovely today so we spent a lot of time here just admiring the views and walking round the grounds. This is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the area. Mid afternoon we headed off to Hidcote, near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. Having exhausted ourselves at Stowe we were pleased to find that this was a small property. It’s arts and crafts inspired gardens were created by the talented horticulturist Major Lawrence Johnston. It had a nice homely feel to the place and only took about 35 minutes to walk around. We ended the visit with a nice ice cream in the sunshine. Very pleasant. En route to our next hotel we went to visit The White Horse in Uffington, Oxfordshire. This is supposedly the most famous and oldest chalk figure in the country, dating back to the Bronze Age. However, after a long trudge up a hill (with amazing views of a rather flat Oxfordshire) we realised that you can’t actually see the White Horse very well at all. You can’t go too near it and can only see parts of it from the path. A huge disappointment! It really wasn’t worth the climb up the hill. So off we went to our next hotel, The Holiday Inn Express in Swindon. It was a long drive and so, on arrival we decided to order from their menu and eat in our rooms and we were all ready for an early night!
The next morning the Holiday Inn Express gave us a “grab bag” breakfast which consisted of one person in your party going down picking up bags for everyone and filling them with things on display. (A rather slow process as only one person could go in to the room to pick up the food). So breakfast was in our room again. Then we headed off to our next National Trust property, Chedworth Roman Villa. It was very near the hotel and it is the ruins from a roman villa with a lot of preserved mosaics and areas you could make out to be latrines, kitchens and steam rooms. It isn’t very big but it was interesting and they have a little museum as well. Then we were on the move again, this time we were heading to Crickley Hill in Birdlip, Gloucestershire. This was a Country Park and had the weather been better we would have enjoyed a long bracing walk but it poured down on us. We did a short circular walk and the rain did stop long enough for us to enjoy the lovely views but then we headed off again. However, we had a bit of a Sat Nav disaster (as in, our 15 year old put the wrong post code in the Sat Nav!) and we found ourselves nowhere near where we wanted to be. However we saw a sign for Rodborough Common and my son and I remembered we had been here before. In 1984 I took my parents, for their 40th wedding anniversary for a weekend at The Bear at Rodborough Hotel on the common and my son (then aged 13) had come with me. We decided to revisit this venue and,as the rain was still pouring down, we decided to have a pub lunch whilst there. It was the best meal of our trip and the pub was cosy and welcoming .After the meal we visited the foyer of the hotel and found that the stuffed bears that were there in 1984 were still there on display.
After our meal we headed off to Dyrham Park, Nr Bath. This property is spectacular! We parked up and headed off down a lovely avenue of trees towards the 17th Century house. There were actually a herd of deer sitting nearby and the views from the gardens are great and look out over the Welsh hills. We wandered around the house and found the pool garden and had a respite from the rain until we headed back to the car! Luckily tonight’s hotel was nearby. This was the Best Western (Compass Inn). It was a bit different from the bog standard type of hotels we had encountered so far. This was a small, low, old building with pretty gardens and it was hidden away from the main road. We stayed two nights in this hotel.
The next morning we headed off to Bath. The weather had cheered up and we walked the length and breadth of Bath. We walked along the River Avon and passed the Roman Baths and through Guildhall Market and up to The Circus and The Crescent and back through the park. A nice day in a lovely town.
The next morning we were heading back to London (via some National Trust places) and our first stop was Lacock, near Chippenham in Wiltshire. This is such a cute place, there is a whole olde worlde village and an Abbey. There were sheep grazing outside the Abbey and there was also a museum but that was closed. This area has been used in numerous films, Harry Potter and Downton Abbey to name just two. It was where Henry Fox Talbot captured the first photographic negative. It was a pleasant place to wander round.
Then we headed off to our last stop Stourhead, nr Mare, Wiltshire. This was the first garden to showcase Palladiun architecture. It has hills, water and lots of classical architecture. It resembles Stowe but is maybe not quite as impressive. It was described in the 1740’s as ‘a living work of art’ . There is a lake as a centrepiece and we wandered the paths around it. They also have a nice cafe so we had lunch before heading off back to London.
So this isn’t the review I intended to write but in this very strange time we can still enjoy a few days away and still be amazed at what there is to see.