Monday 29th June 2009, Exeter
We have been back in England for a month now and Ian's damaged elbows are healing well - so well that he returned from his hospital appointment today with several physio' exercises to practice and the glad news that we should be able to resume our travels later in the week. He still needs to take pain killers however and his arms are covered in interesting blue and yellow bruises.
Despite our enforced return we have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with family and friends. Indeed, we found ourselves reprimanded by Kate and Matt for being out so much and returning home so late! I hope they were teasing! Ian has basked in all the sympathy and the unaccustomed attention and we have managed to bring some semblance of temporary order to the garden - though as fast as we hack back in one corner it bursts out in all the others.
One of the highlights of the last month has been a coach ride up to London to take part in a family birthday tea party at the National Gallery. The coach left so early and returned so late that we spent almost the entire journey sleeping, but the day was well worth the effort. Apart from the pleasure of seeing his sister, cousin and nephew, Ian was able to enjoy yet more of those sticky cream cakes to which he is so addicted. We also managed to fit in a bit of sight-seeing, walking through St. James's Park and along Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace.
We spent a happy weekend in Didcot visiting Neil, Jeev and our granddaughter Deyvi. She is now twenty months old and is a squirming, anarchic bundle of emotions, playing with sounds and repeating everything she hears like a cheeky echo.
During our stay with them we all visited the National Trust property of Waddeston Manor, one of the numerous homes of the Rothschild family. English stately homes and their gardens are something the British do very well indeed, particularly the gardens. Those at Waddesdon are sublime with wide grassy lawns, rose-filled flower beds, immaculate hedges, topiary, magnificent native trees – copper beeches and spreading oaks, pine trees and giant sequoias. There are lakes and fountains, an aviary of exotic birds, ornate stone troughs brimming with bright flowers, statues, arbours and picturesque bridges. A driveway, flanked by lawns, statues and flowerbeds leads up to the house, built in the late nineteenth century. Inside it is decorated with heavy, ornate, rather ugly French furnishings of the same period. It did not look a comfortable place to live.
Returning home from Didcot we stopped for lunch with Lesley and David, last seen in Greece a year ago. Modestine and Erik were overjoyed to see each other again.
Nearer to home, we've made several brief excursions down to the seaside at Sidmouth and Dawlish and have also fitted in a very enjoyable visit to our friends Rosemary and Peter in Wiltshire. We continued on from them to spend a couple of nights camping in the New Forest as a test for Ian's arms before we venture further afield. The sunshine was glorious but we were astonished at the amount of weekend traffic on the roads. We've become spoilt with the empty roads of most of mainland Europe.
The New Forest lies mainly in Hampshire. Stretching down to the coast it forms the hinterland of the large coastal towns of Southampton and Bournemouth. It is a vast area of open heathland, mainly scrub, with ferns, clumps of deciduous woodland, pine trees and areas of bogs and lakes. There are several picturesque little towns each with their own character. The coastal town of Lymington for example, lies opposite the Isle of Wight on the wide shipping lane, the Solent, leading down from Southampton docks. We visited on a hot summer Saturday and spent most of the day there, browsing the lively street market packed with holiday makers and selling locally sourced meats, cheeses and cream as well as home made cakes, jams and chutneys. We ate a picnic lunch under a yew tree in the old churchyard surrounded by battered headstones that had seen better days – as had the occupants of the graves beneath. We next explored the quayside with its sleek yachts, crowded pub terraces and morris dancers with their bells, sticks and brightly coloured handkerchiefs. There were just so many little things to hold our attention and, after so much travelling, we were acutely aware that England too has much that is original and charming to offer. When we live here all the time we take too much for granted. What can be prettier than a terrace of 17th century thatched cottages with roses at the gate, marigolds and alyssum beside the path and hanging baskets of petunias, lobelia and geraniums at the front door?
We indulged in afternoon coffee in a typical little teashop with low timber beams, dark wood tables spread with white cloths and a counter groaning with coffee and walnut cake, lemon drizzle sponge and freshly baked scones, cream and jam.
Later we decided it was time to use our pensioners' bus passes. Modestine was happily parked on the outskirts of Lymington, so we caught the local bus towards Christchurch on the edge of Bournemouth. This cost us exactly nothing! For just how long will the government be able to sustain subsidising free buses for the elderly? Hey, that's us! Guess there has to be something positive about getting older!
Not only does the New Forest have pretty little towns and impressive coastal scenery with views across the water to the Needles - the series of white chalk stacks with a lighthouse off the tip of the Isle of Wight - the forest itself offers grazing rights to local farmers. Animals are free to roam anywhere in the forest and at this time of year it is teaming with horses and ponies with their skittish young foals. Unfortunately they are so delightful tourists cannot resist feeding them and they tend to cluster along the roadside causing a major driving hazard and long tailbacks on hot weekends. There are also donkeys, deer and cattle roaming free. Scattered around the forest are several low-key campsites run by the New Forest rangers and it was in one of these that we camped. They provide only the most basic facilities, if indeed any. We found one with toilets and hot water but no electricity. Most visitors were in tents and there was a very happy atmosphere with families of excited kids running around in their pyjamas after supper, unable to sleep as daylight lingered until gone 10pm. Meanwhile the wildlife of the forest continued around us with posses of ponies strolling amongst the tents, stopping to browse the bracken or leave a large wet pancake immediately outside the doorway of somebody's tent. The cattle were actually rather scary. They are really big and unpredictable. The thieves of the forest though are the donkeys. We were all warned not to leave anything edible where it could be found and our breakfast nearly disappeared from the table when I popped back inside in search of a teaspoon! It was though, delightful to lie in bed at night, our windows open to the night air and the smells of the forest, listening to the derisive braying of a couple of donkeys that had presumably discovered something edible foolishly left outside by an innocent camper!
Our next travels will be shorter. Kate and Matt will be moving out in a few weeks and we will return home again, for a while at least. For those friends we have not managed to see this time, we promise to make you a high priority when we return. Meanwhile, we hope you will all continue to travel with us as we set off on our next mystery voyage. Even we, as yet, have no idea where we will be going!