Friday, June 29, 2012

Literary Oxford – 24 June 2012

Following on our very enjoyable day out yesterday, we decided to have another literary day out, and revisit our “neighbouring” town, of Oxford.

To get there, we headed across the Chilterns to a coffee break at Abingdon. From here, on to Harcourt Stanton, where the village church had a very colourful jubilee floral festival.

Then it was on to Oxford. First off, we visited Magdalen College, where CS Lewis was a tutor for 29 years. The beautiful, timeless buildings and Chapel are a real treat.

Then a pub lunch at Eagle and Child, where Lewis, Tolkien and his literary friends met in the Rabbit Room. The Rabbit Room was full of people waiting to order, so we enjoyed our meal in a quiet room off this.

Down the road is the recently remodelled Ashmolean Museum, where we spent some time looking at the excellent displays.

Nearby (everything is nearby in Oxford!) is Bailliol College, one of the oldest – established 1263, so for £1, we couldn't resist wandering another college.

More wandering, took us to a Dickens exhibition at the Bodium Library. Even though he did not attend Oxford, the display was more about London, And very interesting.

Finally it was time to stop wandering back streets, and we headed home across the leafy Chilterns to Chorleywood.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Literary London – 23June 2012

London currently has an outdoor art exhibition with fibreglass replicas of the iconic London phone box dotted around the capital, all decorated differently.

We decided to combine a Dickens themed walk with phone-box hunting and discovered a lot of interesting things about Dickens, as well as passing by places his friends lived. When we reached Rules Restaurant, just before Covent Garden, we found that apart from being the oldest restaurant in the UK, it had been a favourite eatery for many famous people, including Charles Dickens.

We decided we would dine where they dined, and would thoroughly recommend the experience. The staff were very attentive, the food was absolutely delicious, and beautifully presented. The old-world atmosphere of the restaurant, was a total contrast to the hustle and crowds of nearby Covent Garden.

We found the highest concentration of replica phone boxes around Covent Garden. With all the patriotic bunting still on show, it made us realise how colourful the icons of London/UK are.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Gardens and Country Houses – 17 June 2012

Banbury is an hour away, and the start of our circular drive. After driving through Banbury, we stopped in nearby Wroxton, where Wroxton Abbey, once the country home of Lord North who was Prime Minister at the time of the American War of Independence, is now an American University. They allow the public to wander in the grounds, so we enjoyed walking around the immaculate grounds, surrounding the typical Elizabethan E shaped house, detouring to the Dovecote and Obelisk.

From here the next stop was Broughton Grange Gardens. We last visited in 2006, and were so impressed, another visit before we leave the UK was the focus of the day. The owners have been there since 1992, and developed the gardens with the help of Tom Smith, in 2000.
Since then, Tom has gone on the win a gold prize at the Chelsea Flower Show six times. The whole look is like a giant Chelsea Flower Show garden. We were just as impressed as when we first visited. It's the sort of place to inspire anybody thinking of creating a garden.

Nearby is Broughton Castle, and as it did not open until 2pm, we were forced to retrace our route back to the attractive nearby town of North Newington. The pub there is old and quaint, as are the staff. We enjoyed a leisurely Ploughman's lunch, before heading back to the Castle.

This castle is amazing to visit. Not only do they allow photographs inside, you feel as you are a guest with the run of the whole house, from the Great Hall where we entered, to the roof, where we could wander freely over part of the lead roof.

The house has not been spoilt and 'modernised' in the Victorian era, instead the modernisation happened in the 16th century and since then has remained largely unaltered. This means wonderful Jacobean ceilings and a truly castle-like feel.

The garden is lovely too, the sort of place to sit for a while, and we met the helpful, friendly owner too, out working in the garden.

From here, we drove via the Tyso villages, to Upton House. This National Trust property was set up for a 1930's weekend away. A video made at an actual house party, set the scene, along with the odd fur stole draped over chairs, snooker available to play on the full-size billiard table, and easy chairs to relax in while reading books in the library.

Nearby is the Edgehill cliff-top castle Pub, dating from the 18th century, commemorating the battle between Charles I and the Roundheads in 1642. The perfect place to stop for coffee. The road descends rapidly to the village of Radway, where the battle actually took place. It's quite a different feel in this tranquil village today.

From here we crossed the M40 and climbed uphill to a really magical place – Burton Dassett. After crossing a cattle-stop at the top of the hill, an open area with a grassed over 'craters of the moon' look, is ideal for private picnics. The old grassed over iron quarry has an unreal feel. Cars seem to be free to drive off road to park in amongst the grassy hillocks, people had picnics set up around every corner. The church is also very different The floor seems to follow the contour of the hill, and definitely has a decided slope. Large windows with clear glass and the plain walls, give a very open, European feel.

The day was nearly over, but we had time for one more stop, the village of Cropredy was also part of the 17th century battlefield. Charles and the Roundheads were based each side of the river Cherwell.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Local attraction – 10 June 2012

Although we live in the Chilterns, which is brilliant for walking, there are few entry-fee type tourist attractions . Today we decided that, as one of these attractions was walking distance from home, we would have to visit.

 We have seen the sign to the Chiltern Open Air Museum many times over the years, but didn't feel compelled to visit. Somehow that feels different when it is “walking distance”. It was about 3k each way along countryside footpaths over open fields.

 The Museum started in 1976 to preserve buildings, that would otherwise disappear. Buildings of various styles, reflecting a disappearing heritage from the past, have been dismantled and reassembled here. On their 45 acre site, there is plenty of room for future expansion, so far they have accumulated a village of over thirty buildings.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hampshire – 9 June 2012

After the wet Jubilee celebrations, with the Duke of Edinburgh ending up in hospital, no doubt due to the cold wet day for the River Pageant, Saturday was offering sunny skies. We set out for a circular drive starting in Bassingstoke.

We have never visited before, and would now see no reason to visit again, but did find their town museum really excellent, and a credit to the town. Normally we avoid such places, but were glad we visited.

From here, the drive took us through rural Hampshire, with several lovely towns. First of these was East Oakley. The village demanded a photo stop, and while photographing a lovely thatched cottage with a super garden, the owner came by and it was fascinating to hear how her husband was born in one of the rooms under the thatch. Then 20 years ago, they found it for sale in a derelict state, but now it is the picture of English perfection.

There were a number of lovely old churches on the route. One at Pamber was part of a Priory, at Wolverton, the church is a perfectly untouched original Georgian building, but our favourite was the church at Kingsclere, where King John paid for a weather vane in the shape of a bedbug, because he had suffered from bedbug bites when staying at a nearby monastery.

The town of Kingsclere is also lovely, with an interesting mix of old buildings. We enjoyed lunch at a cafe looking directly at the weather-vane. We were reminded of an article in the Metro recently, regarding a girl who has a dog trained to sniff out bed-bugs, and has been employed to go around London hotels this summer, as they are afraid the huge number of visitors from all around the world, may bring bedbugs with them.

The final stop was the lovely town of Aldermaston, where we had a bite to eat at the Hind's Head pub, From our table we could look along the High Street toward the handsome brick gate-lodge at the top of the High Street.

Village Jubilee – 4 June 2012

Having participated in some of the Jubilee celebrations in London, we set out to visit a small town, where they were also celebrating in small town fashion.

 Kathy Brown's Garden is open several times a year, and it opened this weekend to coincide with the Jubilee Weekend. The village was decorated with bunting, and to mark the occasion, they had a village well dressing.

 The well was a place of pilgrimage in medieval times; as the well beneath the church, which attracted pilgrims in the Middle Ages. John Bunyan also used the well as the place where Christain's burden fell away. This scene was depicted in the well dressing picture.

 We finished our small village celebration, with Victoria Sponge & tea in the village hall, having enjoyed the gardens and the well dressing.