It never ceases to amaze us, the things that one can discover in London. There is a set of stairs by Temple Station that features in many movies set in “old London town” and right beside them is a building that we have walked past many times and admired from outside and which has recently been opened to the public.
2 Temple Place is an absolute gem; a Victorian Gothic revival, built as the London abode of the Waldorf Astors when they moved to the UK from the USA. With the funds at his disposal, no expense was spared on the internal fit-out of this town-house which is now owned by Smith & Nephew.
The building has recently been opened to the public as a gallery, currently holding the contents of the William Morris gallery which is undergoing refurbishment. This means one can see fabulous tapestries, paintings, tiles, wallpapers and sundry other William Morris/Burne Jones items in absolutely sumptuous surroundings.
Having had our fill of Victoriana we wandered outside to see that the next-door Inner Temple area had been commandeered as a film set for a new production of Great Expectations. Unfortunately the “heavies” near the entrance made it abundantly clear that the public were not invited to watch!
Crossing the Thames we set off in search of a photo-op of the, under-construction, Shard tower and stumbled into the back of Borough Market. It is never a hardship to wander through this part of London and having sampled the mulled wine we set off for home.
Every year we enjoy visiting grand country houses, decorated for Christmas. This year, the real treat was that the house we visited today, was very close to our new home.
Hughenden Manor was the home of twice Prime Minister – Benjamin Disraeli. It is a lovely liveable home, and today looked even more inviting, decorated for Christmas. Disreili was a friend and confident of Queen Victoria, and she even visited him there.
A fascinating exhibition explained the war-time activity conducted at Hughenden. The house was requisitioned by the army, and used for top secret work by map-makers. Like Bletchley Park, nothing was known of what went on there until very recently. The exhibition showed photos of the rooms converted into map-making studios. The maps were drawn from aerial photographs, and maps produced here, were used for the D-Day landings and the Dambusters raid.
After watching every episode of Downton Abbey, we couldn't miss the opportunity of visiting 'Downton Abbey' aka Highclere Castle, open especially for Christmas.
Even though it is only an hour from home, we decided to make a weekend of it, and booked a night at the nearby 'Bell at Boxford'.
A circular drive starting near Boxford, took us through lovely countryside and many beautiful villages. The best architecture had to be in the two big towns of the area – Hungerford and Marlborough. Both were prosperous market towns, it is said that 200 coaches a week passed through Hungerford in the 18th & 19th centuries, travelling from London to Bath. We had never properly explored this town before and it is really delightful, with a stylish Victorian town hall.
The road from here led through the Savernake Forest. This is a private road (although available to the public) and has deteriorated considerably since we last visited in 2007. The large and frequent pot-holes made driving with a small sports car very difficult.
Marlborough is larger than Hungerford , with wonderful 17th century buildings. It was delight to walk around the shops admiring the Christmas decorations.
Not far from here was Aldbourne, the best of the villages we visited. A large green, handsome church and cute houses, several pubs; it was a great spot to stop in. The church has two hand-operated fire-engines donated in 1778 after a disastrous fire in the previous year.
On Sunday we visited Highclere Castle, along with hundreds of keen Downton Abbey fans. The Christmas decorations were rather minimalist, but it was still interesting to see the castle again, as we now had the TV series to place in the various rooms.
Having just finished our move to the country, Saturday was the ideal day to do the explore the town centre. There are no empty shops here, the town is well cared for, although not full of lovely historic buildings, it has lots of cafes, and all the useful things like a Library and Medical Centre.
According to the Web, Chorleywood was voted as one of the 'happiest' places to live, in a 2004 government survey. More recently, it has been rated as one of the 'least deprived' areas. We have certainly found it a pleasure to come home to.
Sunday was a glorious day, so we caught the train to Chesham, and walked the Chess Valley walkway, back to Chorleywood. The beautiful balmy winter weather seemed to get lots of other walkers out of doors, as we've never met so many people on a walk before.
The valley is known to have been settled from at least Roman times and the river provides the ideal conditions for watercress cultivation with one commercial cress farm still operating. Just before we arrived at the cress farm there was a free-standing brick tomb seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
In the past there was a church nearby but in 1777 the current occupant decreed that his body be buried here, well away from the church-yard as he wanted to make sure that his bones did not get mixed with others come the resurrection. His cunning plan was somewhat foiled when his wife was buried in the same tomb some 30 years later.
We decided to take some time out of packing, to enjoy the unseasonably warm November day; this gave us a chance to do a short walk not far away, before leaving Brent.
There was no need for hats, coats or scarves in the warm sunshine. We lost count of the open-top cars also making use of the potentially last nice day of 2011, in this hemisphere.
Totteridge Common gives the impression of being way out of London in the countryside, but the nearest tube station is in Zone 4 for the Underground, the same as we are, in a very dense urban area. The walk had no special highlights, just autumn trees and the obligatory pub lunch halfway round.
Summer seems to be hanging in, and with an extra hour on Saturday night, it was a perfect weekend to go away. Having read good reviews about the Haycock Inn in Wansford near Peterborough, we booked a room and set off for a weekend in the area. Peterborough is just six miles away, and we spent the day in that area.
After a coffee stop in the lovely market town of Whittlesey south-east of Peterborough, we visited the Flag Fen Archaeology Park. The Visitor Centre is built beside a bronze age causeway, which lay undisturbed in the swampy fens for about 3000 years, until discovered in 1982 by a drainage ditch digger. A section of the causeway is preserved in a swampy environment inside a building, exactly as it was found. A Roman road also passed very near the causeway site, so the area has been a busy area for travellers for centuries.
We drove to the outskirts of Peterborough, and parked at The Boardwalks, an area of canals and lakes. From here we walked along the waterways into the city centre. Apart from the very impressive cathedral, Peterborough has a very pleasant town centre with other fine buildings, and even another old stone church very close to the cathedral.
Wansford is a cute stone town, on the northern 'Cotswolds' stone belt. The hotel has been a hostelry for five centuries, and is a really special place to stay. Previous guests have even included royalty – Mary Queen of Scots and young Queen Victoria.
Having fully enjoyed the extra hour's sleep in on Sunday morning (thanks to the end of daylight saving), and the best hotel breakfast of our recent expeditions (this is saying something, as they have all been of a good standard), we set out to enjoy the national garden day at Boughton House. En-route, there were many pretty villages, and we passed several other stately homes.
The best village (apart from Wansford where we started the day), would have to be Geddington. Apart from the lovely stone houses, pub and church, Geddington has a ford over the river, as well as a lovely old hump-back bridge used by small vehicles and foot traffic, but it's main claim to being special is the 13th century Eleanor Cross. These were built by Edward I to mark the funeral procession of his wife Queen Eleanor, from Harby where she died, to London where she is buried. Only three of the original crosses have survived.
Boughton House is close to Geddington, and the grounds looked wonderful with their autumn makeover. We had visited the house many years ago, but since then the gardens have been restored to replace most of their original formal water features. These are surrounded by mature trees, reflecting in the still mirror surfaces.
As well as the restored lakes, a new garden was developed two years ago, the first addition to the landscaped grounds for 300 years. Orpheus is a spiral water feature, based on ever diminishing squares to formed from a golden rectangle. The largest feature of it is an inverted grass pyramid with a reflecting pool at the bottom. It really was a massive project, and with the added enhancement of autumn colours, a wonderful place to pause and enjoy.
From here, the trip back to the motorway and home passed through other lovely villages, the most picturesque probably being Barnwell, also enhanced by a golden glow. Even the journey home along the motorway was attractive, as clever use of trees made a colourful changing autumn kaleidoscope, which was actually better than most of the scenery we saw on our New England trip.
The Chilterns and The Thames are a wonderful backdrop to London. We spent the weekend enjoying both.
We converted a seven mile walk from Whitchurch-on-Thames to Goring, which relied on public transport to provide the missing link, into a ten mile walk by returning along the Thames Path. This looked easier on the computer screen than in reality, as the Thames Path climbs high above the Thames here along a cliff top. But despite this, it was a really enjoyable day out.
Goring is a particularly beautiful town, as most of the Thames side towns are. At the completion of our walk we drove to another town close to the Thames, Dorcester-on-Thames. Oddly, Dorchester is actually on the banks of the Thame river, just above its confuence with the Thames and to make it even more confusing the river downstream of Dorchester is the Thame while upstream it is the Isis.
Dorchester-on-Thames is a beautiful small town, and we stayed the night in the White Hart, a lovely old coaching inn, where we enjoyed a great dinner. When booking the room, the important criteria were, is there a large screen in the bar, and will you be showing the Rugby World Cup final on Sunday morning?
We were the first to breakfast on Sunday, and also the first in the bar at 8.30am, so had the pick of seats! A few other guests joined us eventually, surprisingly there were some French supporters, but no other Kiwi supporters. Along with the whole of New Zealand, we felt the 'tension is mounting in the stadium' type nervousness, and it felt more of a relief to have won, rather than an exciting triumphant conclusion!
After the cup presentation, we checked out and enjoyed the rest of our day doing an AA tour which started in Dorchester. Highlights of the trip were the lovely towns of Warborough, a stunning Romanesque church in Iffley, a very grand school in the tiny village of Cuddesdon, Abingdon, Clifton Hampden and The Whittenhams.
The church in Iffley was built 1160 and retains many original features, some of which show quite a decided eastern influence. We visited a number of other lovely churches on the tour, ending up outside St Peter's in Little Whittenham. This also has a Romanesque entrance. Opposite the church is a walkway to the top of the Whittenham Clumps. This hill has a terrific view, which highlights just how many churches there are in relatively close proximity.