June 8th. I awake at 4:30 to a quiet house with pre-dawn light outside the window. The difference in time … seven hours from Thailand … means there is no chance of going back to sleep. I dress quietly and creep out of the house hoping not to find deadlocked doors in my way. The morning air has a chill to it that I have not felt for some time. I choose the lane for my first walk in England and set off at an easy pace. It is full summer and memories of my childhood in the south of England come unbidden. Lanes such as this led to my youthful playgrounds in the woods of beech or oak, or up onto the open spaces of the chalk downs. In the high hedges on either side of the lane are hazel and thorn; dog rose, ivy and blackberry, underpinned by stinging nettles, foxgloves and sticky william. Above them oak and horse chestnut trees alongside sycamore and lime. A group of scotts pine are set off by a magnificent copper beech. The morning chorus is in full swing and I scour my memory for names to put to the bird song. I smell the tang of a fox as I watch a grey squirrel leap easily from branch to branch.
Then a gap in the hedge and a sign. Public Footpath! This great british institution that maintains ancient rights of way leads me into a wheat field with a neatly mown path across it’s centre. I walk out into the open field accompanied by a cock pheasant calling in the distance. The morning sky is blood red and I hope that the old adage “Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning” will not apply today. In the middle of the field a skylark flys up from among the wheat singing continuously as it rises higher and higher into the morning sky.
And so … England! We are here both to visit relatives over the next couple of weeks and to get a feel for how it is these days. It is six years since our last visit and we wonder what is in store for us this time. It will no doubt be a very pleasant whirlwind.
We are with Jacqui’s brother Tim at the moment. He lives in a cottage on the edge of a golf course near Crazies Hill (amazing name) which itself is to the west of London near Henley-on-Thames, home of the famous regatta. It is the heart of rural England and mostly for those who are lucky enough to live on the wealthier side of life (as Pippa would say). Sitting outside eating lunch on a warm summers day it is the most beautiful time of the year; the garden is full of flowers; the lawn covered in daisies; the roses and lavender in full bloom. Voices of players drift in with the crack of golf ball on club. Memories of long childhood summer afternoons … memories, however, that don’t include the vapour trails of jet airliners, (sometime four or five at once); the thud of helicopter rotors as they pass overhead; the roar of the small planes practicing their acrobatic manoeuvres in the blue sky above; the constant hum of traffic on the motorway in the distance. Times have changed but it is still lovely. Tim is a very good host and we look forward to our time here.
Jacqui’s sister Jenifer lives not far away and has arranged a family gathering at Rosehill, her family home, for our second day in England. We wonder whether we will be able to cope given the time difference but the weather is fine and it good to catch up with the family goings on. We meet some of the next two generations represented by young people: from babes in arms through teenage years, to those who have families in their own right. The other four of Jacqui’s siblings are here and for the first time for as long as anyone can remember, all five are together. It is quite a celebration! The fine summer day and the flow of conversation drift by, interrupted only by lunch and then a visit to the stables to see the latest horses and foals. As the afternoon goes on those who have travelled begin to say their farewells and a lovely day comes to an end.
My first writing of this blog turned into a “and then we went here and stayed with, and then we went there and stayed with”; a parade of sorts. Now I feel the details do not need to be enunciated. Suffice to say that we are slightly overwhelmed by the amazing welcome and hospitality given so freely by everyone we visited. They were: Tim; Jenifer and extensive family; Brian and Sue; Olly and Corrinne; Tony and Beryl; Ken, Jude and family; Lynn, Andy and family; Jose; Simon, Prim and family; Rollo and Rebecca; Jane and last but not least, Mary, Brian and Iona.
We are off again, this time down to Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset. One of our objectives for this trip is to see how England is, as it were, and so we go via Salisbury to see the cathedral.
The building of the cathedral was started in 1221 and was largely completed over the next thirty eight years. This sort of building doesn’t exist in Australia, so as we wander through it’s vaulted archways and admire the stained glass windows, I contemplate the reason it is here. Salisbury is steeped in the history of kings, noblemen and the church.
There are strong connections to the Magna Carta, the basis of English law. The cathedral is a symbol of power and wealth. It is also beautiful and serene. The social conditions which brought this building into being are difficult to imagine in this digital world we inhabit.
After staying for a couple of days in Somerset, we decide that time out is needed for us so we head to an internet booked guest house on the promenade in Weymouth. We have a second floor room looking out onto the beach.
It is a classic English seaside town with a pebble/sand beach; lines of sterile beach huts (costing 12 pounds a day); paddle boats (7 pounds for 30 minutes); deck chairs (2 pounds per day); the very Victorian Royal Hotel nods to the very Victorian clock tower on the esplanade; several amusement arcades filled with noisy machines for when it’s raining. It is cloudy, the wind is cold enough to warrant a raincoat and wooly hat and the beach is absolutely deserted. Mmmmm.
Jacqui is doing her Tai Chi on the beach before breakfast. It is still cold and windy. Breakfast over and the magic has happened. The sun has arrived, the wind has dropped and the esplanade is suddenly full of people in summer clothes walking along the promenade.
The change is slightly disconcerting but we get in the mood and with a couple of fellow guests from New Zealand, we are off to discover the delights on the Jurassic Coast (so called) at Lulworth Cove. I have been to Lulworth Cove many times in the past … say forty odd years ago … and I wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer numbers of people.
We arrive relatively early and already the main car park is nearly full. We and our guests go our separate ways and we walk down to the cove itself and then up onto the coastal cliffs accompanied by the oddly disturbing sound of machine gun fire and several explosions from the army camp on the other side of the hill. It is sunny and warm and the coastal scenery is magnificent. We don’t get as far as Durdle Door, the rock hewn archway just along the coast, but I remember a past visit when, feeling very keen, I swam through the archway to the small beach on the other side. After a few hours, I came to swim back only to find that the tide had gone out and the thick seaweed that I had swum above on my way, was now floating on the surface and I faced the long swim back through the thick slimy weed. My skin crawled …
As we leave the overflow car park is now nearly full and we wonder what it will be like in the high season to come.
Back in Weymouth we are parked by the harbour. It is a bustle of boats and holiday makers, open air cafes and old harbour cottages. An ice cream seems in order and while we are licking contentedly the road bridge opens to let a number of boats go through in each direction.
Weymouth is obviously a well used boating centre and yesterday evening, in spite of the cold, the yachts were racing back and forth across the bay.
We are now back in Henley, and decide to put on our tourist hats and catch the train to central London to make sure it is still there. Sitting upstairs on a bus from Paddington we are soon at Marble Arch, then along Oxford Street and down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus. We exchange stories from our youth when we worked in these familiar surroundings.
We get off in Trafalgar square to begin our tour. Crowds of people; Nelson standing tall; a florescent blue cockerel stands on another plinth; the lions hidden by a truck setting up a stage; the famous pigeons have mostly gone, along with the vendors selling the bags of peanuts with which to feed them; a living Yoda (who in the Star Wars movie said something like “there is no such thing as trying; there is only doing or not doing”) hovers above the square; a line of barriers seem to be doing nothing; a small electric band serenades the masses.
We dive into the past when entering the National Art Gallery, and for a while we wander among the Rubens and the Van Dykes before emerging once again into the sunlight. Down to Charing Cross station and across the bridge to the South Bank where we eat some lunch in a riverside cafe.
We book a ticket on the hop on, hop off, circular river tour and are soon cruising up towards St Pauls cathedral. We get off and having taken the obligatory photographs of the new Globe Theatre, cross the Millenium footbridge to look at St Pauls.
A 14 pound entry fee puts us off so we return to the boat and enjoy the trip under Tower Bridge, admiring the tall, shining Shard as we do so, before turning back up river to Westmister, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Like all true tourists, we are now exhausted.
Today we are off to a one day equestrian event in Sussex. Anna (Jacqui’s grand niece) is riding three horses for Pippa Funnel, who is one of three day eventings sporting elite, having won many major competitions in her illustrious career. Anna is very lucky to be training with her and is showing signs of being a successful rider in her own right.
It is a very English day. Horses and horse trucks (and a few horse floats); dogs; jodhpurs, whips and spurs; jackets and ties; white faces; loudspeakers for the jumping and the cross country; a row of dressage arenas each with it’s blank screened car where the judges sit, intimidating; the crashing of poles as some unfortunate rider sails over a jump recently demolished by their horse; riders at full gallop emerging from the woods on the far side of the course; a field used as a car park; a man checking for dogs left in cars in the summer heat; the coffee and ice cream vans doing good business.
I am in the middle of the cross country course when someone calls my name. Who would know me here? Who should be there but my niece Lynn and her daughter Maria, who are competing later in the afternoon. It is lovely to see them there, and we take the opportunity to introduce them to the other side of the family, as it were. Although we had to leave early, I heard later from Lynn that Maria did well in the jumping and cross country but the dressage let her down. Anna came third with one of her horses.
June 25th. And now for something completely different; today we catch the Eurostar train via the channel tunnel to Paris … but that is for another day 🙂