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.