Having been in lockdown for a full six weeks you’d think that I would have had plenty of time to catch up with my blog, but alas, no.
Perhaps the memories of the freedom we had (until recently) to gallivant around Europe is just too difficult to recall in our present circumstances. Maybe it’s just other activities have seemed more appealing or more likely, I’ve been procovidernating. Regardless, I have resolved to push on now and get writing!
We had been staying with friends in a sweet village called Berwick St John in Wiltshire. The previous day we had had an amazing, exhilarating but thought provoking encounter with the local hunt (https://saltytalesfrombalihai.com/2020/04/14/tally-ho-sailing-friends-and-an-unusual-encounter/).
That night there was a tremendous storm and we were thankful to be tucked up in our campervan and sheltered from the turbulent weather by the sturdy house belonging to our hosts.
By late morning, the weather had settled a little but was predicted to get rough again later in the day, with gales and flooding forecast. We set off for Bournemouth, just over an hour’s drive away, to pay a quick visit to our good friends there before heading to Suffolk to spend a couple of nights with Jonathan’s younger brother.
The bad weather brought us good fortune as after leaving Bournemouth the roads were almost empty – in fact we didn’t have to stop at all until we were brought to a halt at by a flooded road and diverted just shortly before we had reached our destination.
Once off our planned route, we muddled our way through the back roads and by-ways and eventually arrived at Jonathan’s brother’s house.
After a happy but fleeting visit- one of the highlights of which was an extremely delicious full afternoon tea in a farm shop in nearby Elveden – we headed to Birmingham where we were meeting our daughter Hannah and partner Pieter off a flight from Amsterdam.
We stopped for the night in a pub in Nether Whitacre recommended in the “Brit Stops” book which details places where camper vans can stay overnight for free. Many of these are pubs and all they ask of you is to go in and have a drink or a meal (or both!) in return for a night in their car park.
The pub was within easy reach of Birmingham Airport and we managed to find Pieter and Hannah quite easily without having to enter the paid parking area (there was no free drop off/ pick up arrangement.)
It was still grey, windy and rainy so we decided to head first to nearby Leamington Spa where my parents and younger brother had lived many years ago.
Our children sadly never met my father who died too young. It was therefore very special to show Hannah the Church where he had worked for a short time before he died and where we held his funeral service and his ashes were interred. It was my first time back for almost 40 years so it was a very emotional experience.
We walked round to look at the house where my family had lived in the upper storey apartment and we had a delightful chat to a lady who had moved into the house many years earlier but quite a long time after my Mother and brother had moved.
Still reminiscing we walked in the beautiful riverside gardens nearby. They looked glorious even in the incipid spring sunshine.
Eventually our wandering took us over the river to an excellent restaurant in a converted cottage called The Drawing Board.
This great little eatery had games and vintage children’s “annuals” (story books issued once a year, usually at Christmas) containing all the favourite cartoons from my childhood such as the Bash Street Kids and Denis the Menace, as well as Dan Dare and Captain Hurricane. Lots of atmosphere and the food was delicious too!
After a long lunch we drove on to another pub for the night which was close to Stratford on Avon, which in turn, was near to our final destination, Talton House – a grand country residence set in 34 acres of woodland, fields, lawns and gardens.
Twenty-eight members of our family were gathering at this magnificent old manor house to celebrate our brother-in-law’s milestone birthday.
Our first meal together was reasonably chaotic even though my sister had superbly organised every item of food that was to pass our lips over the weekend. The Aga kitchen range was the problem as it didn’t heat things as quickly as we were used to and regulating the heat was quite a challenge! Nevertheless, all of us (except for some poor people who had to work a full day and then drive a considerable distance to get to rural Warwickshire) were able to sit at the magnificent dining table and enjoy a delicious and memorable meal.
The following day was celebration time. Sadly the weather was terrible but who cared? The house was so big (huge kitchen, dining room, four reception rooms, games room, hot tub etc.) we all found plenty to do – including raiding the massive fancy dress cupboards on the upstairs landing for the birthday parade and cake cutting ceremony.
After a fabulous lunch of home made soups with a variety of cheeses that would shame a top restaurant and fabulous oranges and mandarins that we had bought at the roadside in Portugal, we all went our separate ways to prepare for the festivities.
At three pm we reconvened for the dress up parade and after cat walk twirls and many photos we danced with abandon to “We are Family” on repeat.
Characters from Hogwarts, English country gentlemen and a stylish Lady of the Manor, University professors, Mary Poppins, a French onion seller, a thief, a crocodile, a jester, a bride and many others jostled for space on the dance floor. My crazy family!
After the cake we wandered off for walks or the hot tub or a little lie down before the big feast that the birthday boy most generously paid for.
The meal was prepared and cooked (with an able assistant) by the proprietor of the beautiful house, who is also a chef by profession.
We had dinner in the large hall In order to fit all the adults round the table together. It was such a fantastic experience!
The following day there was more eating, walks in the flooded countryside and games in the table tennis/ snooker room.
It had been a really wonderful weekend and looking back we feel so thankful to have had this big, joyful, family gathering shortly before the Covid-19 virus stopped the world in its tracks.