Welcome back to 2020! The reason for today’s visit was an invitation to a private tour around Kelmarsh’s well-known Gardens (where Mrs P is a volunteer-gardener).
What is Shambala?
The Shambala Festival is a four-day festival contemporary performing arts. In addition to contemporary music, the festival hosts rock, pop, folk, world music, and other arts. Read more HERE
9.55am: On arrival, we followed the arrows to the rear of the Hall, where a member of the Kelmarsh team pointed us in the right direction. Given the tropical weather of the past few days, this morning looked like it was going to be a bit of a disappointment! There was a trace of blue in the sky – just a trace – but that was to change later to grey, accompanied by a well-needed downpour of rain of biblical proportions! Luckily, we were to miss the moisture by a whisker!
10.10am: Given the really hot weather of late – and the lack of rain, first impressions of the Gardens were excellent, with hardly a weed in sight, with a blaze of colour for us to enjoy!
…even if I didn’t know the names of some most of what I saw! 😮
Mrs P did though! 😘
10.25am: Looking at the sky, where its light blue hues had changed to a depressing mid-grey – so we quickened our pace..! 🙄
…but in spite of the deteriorating weather…
…the flora still looked in rude health!
10.30am: We could hear thunder in the distance, so we called it a day and headed back to the car
10.40am: It had been a very memorable (but slightly curtailed) visit, but the Gardens looked fantastic and it was great to see Kelmarsh Hall again after all these years. We hadn’t been in the car long before it belted it down with rain, so it looked as if our timing had been well-judged.
As usual, click on the button below to see the photo gallery with some additional photographs (and none of my chat!) 😁
9.55am: We drove the (just under) 90-mile journey to Hardwick Hall today, to meet up with fellow lovers-of-old-buildings and all-things National Trust, Dennis and Sandra. We last visited here back in October 2010 for a Murder-Mystery evening with Ralph and Karen (BTW, the Butler DIDN’T do it! 😁).
Hardwick is a spectacular Elizabethan house filled with rich furnishings and tapestries preserved by successive generations of the Devonshire family (thanks NT!) – you can read more HERE.
Although the Hall itself was still closed to everyone because of COVID-19, our plan was to look round the Gardens and surrounding land, as we’d never done that before.
We’re building up quite a ‘back-catalogue’ of our get-togethers with Dennis & Sandra, having explored the following, in the past few years…
It certainly looked like it was going to be a nice day for it! 😎😎😎😎
11.35am: When we arrived, it was already quite busy, and after bumping elbows, we were joining the short queue to get in! In typical NT efficiency, we were processed in the nicest possible way and soon examining the site-map for inspiration. Who needs foreign climes when you can enjoy days like these here in ‘good ol’ Blighty?!?! 👍👍
There is a lot to cover here and that’s without visiting the Hall, so best bring your walking-shoes. Bring a picnic too because providing it’s not too busy, there are quite a few picnic tables just inside the entrance. Not into picnics?, there’s café and an ice-cream vendor too! Yummy! 🤗
Ever tasted mulberries? Well, Ann and I hadn’t! Dennis and Sandra pointed out the trees during our walk around, and so we sampled a few! If sweetness is measured on a scale of 1 to 10 – these scored 11! 😛
After Nature’s sweetness came a call from the same source! 😣 (See what I did there?)…
…These days, the ‘new-normal’ dictates some compromises, and the Loos were having to be managed manually (so to speak!). Quite how the member of NT staff managed to do it so enthusiastically and efficiently – and with a smile, is beyond me! Her sole task was to determine which cubicles were empty and then announce them by their letter-designation – “Cubicle D, Sir please!” – a sort of Bog-Bingo without any prizes! 🤔
12.15pm: After completing our Bingo round, it was off to the walled garden. And what a delight! Given the time of year and considering the NT is probably short on garden-volunteers – it looked stunning! Full of colour and not a weed in sight!
1.05pm: There’s something about eating outdoors isn’t there? Everything tastes nicer and if the weather is good, that’s a ‘Brucie-bonus’. Today, I even ate lettuce (surely the world’s most useless salad-component – it takes up so much space on the plate for so little return!!) 😉
2.00pm: Time to walk off that lunch! Fortunately, there are quite a few to choose from here. We re-visited the map and headed off in the direction of ‘Lady Spencer’s Walk’. It all went horribly wrong in terms of the direction of travel with further signage (apart from the one above) cunningly concealed to test our natural sense of direction – and eyesight. Luckily Dennis and I were on the case, although I’m not sure I helped much, as my sense of direction only tends to work if I can get a GPS signal! After a couple of missteps resulting in us getting up-close-and-personal with a barbed-wire fence, we did eventually make it back to the car park.
3.05pm: It was time to say our goodbyes, compare elbows and our walking apps!
Not a bad distance and our speed clearly illustrated that this had been a slow stroll rather than a sweaty sprint! 😯 We had a super day catching-up, and we really only scratched the surface of the ‘walky bits’. We’ll be back again (hopefully before another ten years has passed) and maybe next time, the Hall will have re-opened as well!
You can see ALL our photos from today, and bypass my commentary using the link below…
11.35am: Ralph and Karen arrived after a trouble-free journey from theirs. With hardly a moment to catch their breath, we whisked them off to The Old Forge for a pre-arranged lunch at 12.20. 😁. We hadn’t been here for a while (July 2012 according to my Blog, but I definitely think we’d been more recently), but even with the restrictions of social-distancing, it was a great experience, however you choose to measure it – as good as we remember it! A great experience, and good to support a local business! 👍👍
2.15pm: We spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden soaking up the Sun. Boy! was it hot!! Apparently, the hottest day of the year so far and the third hottest on record according to the news. Here in Kettering, it was into the mid-30s… and extremely humid! 🥵🥵🥵🥵
Rating: 4 out of 5.
7.45pm: We eventually retreated to the coolness of the lounge and (literally) chilled-out for a few hours. Ann prepared a simple supper of cold meats (followed by a not-so-simple Baked Alaska) and we watched Triple Frontier on Netflix. Starring Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal as a group of former U.S. Army Delta Force soldiers who reunite to plan a heist of a South American crime lord, for me, it got better and better, with some great actio sequences and high production values.
10.15pm: With the movie over, we caught up with the news headlines – NOT good news as we learned that planned relaxation of some of the lockdown rules were now postponed due to an increase in confirmed cases.
10.40pm: Nighty-night! 😴😴😴😴
9.25am: A simple breakfast of fruit, yoghurt followed by toast!
10.35am: I took Ralph and Karen out for an extended walk taking in the top meadow, St Botolph’s Church, the bottom meadow…
…and then Wicksteed Park…
…leaving Ann and Karen to weave some magic in the kitchen ready for tonight’s meal!
1.30pm:Ralph and I caught up with the British GP Practice and Qualifying laps from Silverstone that we recorded earlier.
2.25pm: A snack for lunch – Toasted Cheese! 😍 followed by not-very-much for us boys, but the girls were busy in the Galley!
5.30pm: Nick and Celina joined us. We haven’t seen them for well over a year and we all had lots of news to share. Ann and Karen had done a great job in the kitchen turning out a menu that was ambitious as it was delicious (unsurprisingly!) 😍😍
7.15pm: All the food was ready… WE were ready… and so we tucked-in. The only BIG decision was whether to eat inside or out – and so we took a vote and the (almost) unanimous decision was ‘OUT’, but carefully socially-distanced, of course. It was a bit blowy to start with, but it soon settled down. Not surprisingly, the Lamb took centre stage! 😁
…closely followed by those very Summery desserts! We all did the menu justice and there wasn’t much leftover by the end, save a slightly thinner look lamb! – I feel some meaty leftovers coming on for next week!
11.20pm: Well, the evening flew by! We sank a few litres of the grape and caught up with everyone’s news. Before we knew it, it was past 11 and getting colder, so we headed for the Lounge.
After (ahem!) testing and tasting some more grapes, we found ourselves watching highlights of the cricket! As the wickets tumbled, we were all too well-mannered (or tired, or drunk, or something) to call it a night 😂
00.07am: …and then Saturday became SUNDAY! Collectively and individually, we were all shattered – socialising is such an exhausting activity but eventually, just like the Irish cricket team, we eventually admitted defeat.
We waved goodbye to Nick & Celina and staggered to bed. 😴😴😴😴😴. Even for me, I felt a lie-in was going to be necessary… 😮
7.45am: Well, that was the lie-in sorted. Ann continued though, whilst I got on with some faffing (and writing this!)
9.35am: For breakfast, we ate outside – again, blowy but warm!
10.55am: We said goodbye to our best friends, and they headed for home by way of a Sunday lunch somewhere!
A great weekend catching-up with great friends! 😍😍😍😍
It was only a short drive to the land of bargain-shops, and after topping up with electrons, courtesy of InstaVolt* in Swindon, for the journey home tomorrow, we were ready to splash some cash.
*InstaVolt was a new experience for us, and from our charging session today, they are the simplest, most straightforward Chargers to use. 👍👍👍👍👍
Ten minutes later, we were parked at the Outlet, and warming up our plastic! 😉
Opened in 1997, this particular Outlet has been built on the site of Swindon’s Great Western Railway Works. It’s easy to get to, and is located off junction 16 of the M4. As you might expect, there’s plenty of parking and quite a few places to eat (although given the current coronavirus, many had restricted eating arrangements).
11.05am: Everyone likes a bargain, but our experiences with ‘Outlets’ is that they can be a bit ‘hit or miss’. Sometimes there’s plenty to tempt the shopper, whilst at other times there’s hardly any bargains at all. Happily, today, it was the latter for us! 😁 M&S did well from our patronage with prices so low they even surprised seasoned-shoppers like us! 😍
Given the Outlet’s heritage, it’s great that they’ve respected the past and blended the old with the new. They also have a regular rotation of ‘chuff-chuffs’ in the entrance on long-term display. If you like your steam locomotives, there are more details HERE on past and present exhibits.
12.45pm: All that bargain-hunting sharpened our appetite, and just before 1, we looked for somewhere to eat. Not everywhere was open (or didn’t look like they were!) so we chose Wagamama, who seemed to be doing a reasonable trade…
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about how restaurants are suffering from the impact of lockdown – happily Waga’s business doesn’t appear to be one of them (looking at how full they were and the growing queue outside). Somewhat paradoxically, if you know Waga’s format you’ll also know that their standard seating arrangements doesn’t really lend itself to these socially-distanced times – they’re just too communal!
Ingeniously however, they’d installed table-mounted moveable partitions to create a degree of separation between neighbouring tables. They could be adjusted to accommodate different group sizes and from our time there, it seemed to be a good solution to every restaurant’s nightmare.
The place was really buzzing and our food and service was excellent – in fact, apart from the partitions, it all seemed very ‘old’ normal’. They were doing a healthy trade, and the staff seemed to be enjoying themselves. No waiting around to pay the bill either, instead, we paid by mobile during our Dessert! 👍👍
1.45pm: This hadn’t been the day for lots of serious walking (we only covered just over a mile) so we drove back to the Hotel to gloat over our bargains – and to begin the process of packing. We’re home tomorrow by about lunchtime.
Push the button to see all the photos (and none of my waffle) from this week’s adventure
We’ve done a lot and covered quite a few miles (200+) since we arrived last Sunday. Given that we only really decided to take this break because we couldn’t get our money back on the booking (and our event at nearby Marlborough College was cancelled) we came with a degree of hesitation, but determined to make the most it.
Accommodation: Our home for the week was, in the end, just about ‘OK’ (just!). Given that the hospitality industry is fighting hard to regain the ground it’s lost during these unprecedented times, our particular Hotel seemed to have ‘missed the memo’. At breakfast (our main point of contact) it was if they were just ‘going through the motions’. There was no conversation, just a ‘pursuit of process’ – bordering on the unfriendly, with just one member of the staff being an exception, who tried her best. You’d expect me to say this, but ‘a good bit of basic training wouldn’t have gone amiss’. It’s the little things that matter, but they didn’t get the big stuff right either! OK, F&B is only part of the operation and elsewhere, Housekeeping were on the ball and the (occasional) staff on Reception were obliging and efficient. Even making allowances for these difficult times and that we were in ‘holiday-mode’, and we’re NOT official hotel inspectors, it was all a bit lack-lustre. Overall, taking it everything into account, it left us with a very poor impression of the Hotel and the brand. 😮
Are Friends Electric?: Bringing an EV for a full week’s holiday was always going to require some detailed planning. That was no trouble at all for us, and we knew exactly where to go to ‘fill up’ before we left home. And although things didn’t always go to plan, we were never ‘out of charge’ nor anywhere near it. However, the wisdom of ‘always having a Plan B’ was never truer!
The Surroundings: The ‘bigger picture’ for the holiday is happily much more positive! We don’t know Wiltshire that well at all, and after just a few days we grew to love the surrounding area. The spectacular views and the varying architecture (both old and new) left a lasting impression on us both. We’re both pretty sure that we’ll be back to explore the area in more detail in later years…
According to the forecast, it’s another warm one today, so we plan to make the most of it. We’re heading out to Heale House and Gardens in nearby (ish) Middle Wooton and then onto NT’s Cherhill Downs – armed with a picnic of course! 😁
Actually, the day would turn out to be one of those where we covered a lot of miles (75!), but didn’t feel we’d done that much! So, let the day begin…
9.05am: Breakfast without a hitch again today! That’s a good start! 😊 Yummy sausages too!
10.55am: An hour charging the car, and we were then 96% full and had an extra 100 miles in the tank – all for less than £9! Happy days! 😊
Heale House & Gardens
11.45am: As planned, our first stop was Heale House and Gardens. It covers eight acres of beautiful gardens and lies beside the river Avon at Middle Woodford, just north of Salisbury. Those that know me, know that history is not my specialist subject but I’ve learned that much of the house is unchanged since King Charles II hid here in 1651 before taking a hovercraft to Calais riding to Shoreham and taking a ship to France. The House and Gardens are now privately owned and judging by how full the tea-room was (with plenty of socially-distancing outside) when we arrived, it’s a popular destination. I don’t think the loo will win any prizes though – shall we say functional rather than attractive? 🤔
As pretty as it all was, we’re not sure where the advertised eight acres were! We’d covered it all in about 25 minutes. Visually, the flora was a bit past its best and in truth, we were disappointed with what was on show. The upper lawns were very neglected and the roses needed dead-heading – and that looked like a few days’ work in itself, given the quantity. It all felt a bit unloved and probably not worth the £6 each to get in. A real shame! 😮 Maybe, seasonally, we just timed it badly…???
…and the fact that the House was closed (as expected) limited our options!
Thus far, it was all a bit lack-lustre, but at least the kitchen garden had some colour and variety in it…
1.05pm: After being slightly underwhelmed, we reverted to something much more predictable – our picnic lunch – so we set up the chairs and table next to the car and enjoyed the food and the local sunshine!
1.35pm: Well, at least the picnic impressed us! 😋 Whose turn for the washing-up?
With these on the to-do list, we knew we were in for a treat! I’ve never seen any sort of horse-on-a-hill before and we’d both commented how interesting the Lansdowne Monument looked when we saw it on the horizon earlier in the week.
2.40pm: As things turned out, all three were out of our reach (literally!). The first challenge was actually locating the three attractions (and they’re apparently all pretty close to each other). Why? A combination of inaccurate sat-nav co-ordinates online put us down a road that was definitely lacking in any horses of colour – instead, a row of houses and a guy clipping his hedge. A quick check online gave us another post-code to follow, some 12 miles away. WTF!!!! 😣
We took off, hopefully in the right direction this time. 25 minutes later… and success!… as we got close, we could see the Monument in the distance. As we counted-down the miles to the sat-nav location, it became one of those times where it was ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ – AND WE DID! Fortunately, the roads are pretty quiet down here at the moment, so we u-turned half-a-mile-or-so later and re-traced our steps. We just couldn’t figure out where we’d gone wrong. 🤔🤔
It turned out that the official stop-point was actually just a lay-by (capacity, three cars, with two already there). We parked-up and looked around us – and there were the two out of three! The Horse and the Monument, both in the distance, with a makeshift path that would have challenged the best of the SAS! As we didn’t have a rope, a walkie-talkie (mobiles don’t work down here!) and only enough food for two days, we (ahem) ‘declined the opportunity’.
…and before you say ‘they don’t look that far away in the photos’, the pics above were taken on 10x zoom! 🙄
2.55pm: So now all we needed to do was work out where the ‘Castle’ was – and based on our performance so far, we didn’t hold out much hope! Ten minutes later, we gave up, only then to see a single damaged (small!) sign on the same side of the road around 100 metres BEFORE the very same lay-by! But by then we were driving in the opposite direction!! 😣😣
3.05pm: We love the National Trust and everything they do, but this was a big disappointment for us. Apart from the sat-nav error, a bit of obvious signage on BOTH sides of the road would have made all the difference! And how about a decent footpath? We’re not all mountaineers! 🤐
We headed back to the Hotel feeling that today hadn’t been one of our most enjoyable ones. It’s all pretty desperate when the highlights are 1/ a successful car-charge and 2/ the sausages at breakfast. 😟😟
7.00pm: We took an evening stroll around the local area taking in the Stonebridge Wild River Reserve.
The weather forecast for tomorrow is atrocious, so we’re heading INSIDE and for the Shopping Outlet in Swindon to bag some bargains.
6.10am: I certainly slept better than yesterday and if they can get the service right at Breakfast after yesterday’s fiasco, then all will be right in the world!
7.55am: It’s breakfast time and I’m happy to report that it all went very smoothly and there was no visible wounds showing on the staff from where the ‘pointy stick’ had been inserted! Amazing! 😣😣
Guilty as Charged!
8.45am: We’re off to Salisbury and our first stop will be the iconic site – Stonehenge. But not before we’ve made a quick pit-stop at a whizzy new EV charger located on Solstice Park Industrial Park near the town of Amesbury. It all started very well – the bay was empty! We plugged in and were soon charging Robert courtesy of the unit’s CCS plug. Thirty-five minutes later we’d added another 40-60 miles to the tank and were ready to leave. Total cost? £3.33! 😉
Then things got tricky! As all EV owners will know, you normally cannot remove the charging cable from your car until the charge is switched off. In our case, the instructions on the Charger said ‘present debit card to cancel the charging process’. I dutifully did this, but it made no difference – the car continued to charge and I therefore couldn’t remove the cable. I tried a few more times – no change! Drastic measures were called for and it was time to press that emergency red button located on the front of the machine. I did this, the charge stopped and I released the charging cable. Success! 😉
Now ordinarily, that would have been the end of it, but this process was to return and ‘bite us on the bum’ later… 😮 Read on…
10.15am: We arrived at Stonehenge in good time. You can see it from the road as you drive towards the Visitor Centre – and even at a distance, it looks impressive. Once we’d parked and had our tickets checked, there was a 1½+ mile walk to the actual stones. Not for the faint-hearted, and there is a courtesy bus both ways for the ‘less inclined’.
There’s really nothing to say about Stonehenge that hasn’t already been said, except to suggest that seeing it ‘up close and personal’ was impressive. Given that it was my first time and Ann hadn’t seen it since she was at Primary School, made it all the more jaw-dropping. More information about this fantastic piece of engineering can be found on Wiki HERE. Definitely worth a visit if you’re this way, but start saving, as for non-NT/English Heritage members it’s a mighty £21.50 each to get in!
How the heck did they build this???? 🤔
12.02pm: We arrived in Salisbury with just under an hour to kill before our 1pm ‘ticket’ for the Cathedral. The sun was shining, it was lovely and warm and a walk around this old town was on the cards!
Neither of us had been here before and I think we both fell in love with the place immediately! But it was sad to see so many shops in the shopping area either closed or struggling and I guess at the moment that’s the new ‘normal’. Architecturally speaking, it certainly had a lot to offer – even ex-PM, Edward Heath had a house here (the white one above) and the NT have got Mompesson House – an old town-house dating back to 1701 (currently closed because of the virus). I’m sure we’ll be back for a more detailed look around sometime soon. 😍
12.25pm: The main purpose of the visit was, of course, the Cathedral, and it looked glorious in the sun, against the deep-blue sky. We’d arrived slightly early for our ‘1pm timed-ticket’ but it didn’t seem to be a problem and were soon looking around inside, 35 minutes ahead of schedule.
Sadly though, this was another location where it lacked a bit of atmosphere due to an absence of people. It was all lovely to look at, but somehow sad that it only had around 20-30 visitors inside.
What I WASN’T expecting to see was the world’s oldest working clock (above right) dating back to 1386! It was fully restored in 1956 and it’s amazing to see it working after so many years! 😉
Ironically, it was good to have the space to look around and to be able to take photographs without having to wait for people to move!