Tag Archives: National Trust

I prefer my summers in the key of Military Operation: don’t judge

Photo 21-07-2016, 12 52 22 pm (819x1024)

I am now physically incapable of saying ‘THSUMMER!’ without that Olaf-style lisp and intonation, which is a neat coincidence because we’ve also spent a lot of our time melting since H broke up for the holidays. Oof, July! Bring on the heat! Before August crashes in with thirty-one straight days of grey drizzle, that old dog!

I have poor memories of last summer, and I think it’s because I didn’t appreciate how long six weeks would feel without a plan. It rained a lot and we drifted too much. I am convinced that you need to spend your summer-with-children doing exactly what helps you maintain the most robust level of sanity. If that’s pyjamas till eleven every day, do that. If it’s TV time while you work, do that. For me, I need to get out. Plan trips, pack picnics. Plan rests, too. I want routine, even when it’s a slow and lazy one. Judging by how many times a day H asks me what we’re doing next, so does he. So this summer I have made one.

I wrote a giant list of local activities we could do in the sun or rain. I made reading charts for H (and PLEASE POO IN THE TOILET charts for T, but that’s by-the-by). I bought in pound-shop craft supplies. I coloured in my lists, because I am a nerrrrrd. Then I set up a little routine where, four days a week, we’d go on adventures in the morning, H would read with me while T had his nap, then spend late afternoons playing with toys and watching TV. On Friday we stay local, visit the library, bake if I’m feeling like a masochist, and hang around in pyjamas for a bit longer. I have been finding cushions of time to read, exercise and do bits of work (though mostly doing work in the evenings so far). We’ll probably end up switching it around when we find what works better, but that seemed like a good place to start.

I made an Instagram hashtag too, but that’s between me and my personal embarrassment.

Anyway, I’ll be posting some of what we do here, mostly so I can remember it and adjust it for next time, but if any of you are Royal County-dwellers, there might be some ideas here too.

Did I mention we now have a local IKEA, and now both boys are old enough to go into their soft play area? Not planning on abusing this AT ALL, but where’s my Kindle, no, I’m not asking for any reason, it’s cool.

On Thursday we spent the morning at Basildon Park. They set up a ball run every summer, and you can bring your own tennis ball to do it – though if you need a new one, TEDDY, it’s a frankly outrageous £3. There are a couple of stations hidden in the woodland walks, too, which persuaded them round one of the trails. We avoid the house, for now. Don’t set grubby boys loose in Netherfield, is the first rule of visiting Netherfield.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

This was strung up in the entrance hall. The lady at the desk thought I was the weirdest person ever for taking a photo, which, COME ON. This biz has Instagram all over it.

Photo 21-07-2016, 11 41 54 am (800x600)

Yes, milord.

Photo 14-07-2016, 11 49 55 am (800x640)

Hey gardeners, tell me the secret of not killing plants! TY, TY.

Photo 21-07-2016, 12 48 48 pm (800x683)

Yeah, see above.

Photo 21-07-2016, 11 29 46 am (800x600)

Picnic dudes.

Photo 14-07-2016, 10 47 20 am (800x532)

Ahhhh. That’s better, isn’t it?

Keep up with us on Instagram, if you feel like it! (@makealongstoryshort) Next time, cakes. Masochism: I went there.

Starting school has actually made us happier. Cheers, school.

Photo 17-10-2015 12 45 08 pm (819x1024)

It’s the last day before half term, and I’m being entirely serious when I say: now we’re mostly over the big settling-in phase, having school back in our lives is the bizniz.

For H, definitely. He’s happy when he’s learning new things in a structured environment (I noticed that last year with nursery, but even more so now it’s full-time). I know school environments are trickier for some kids than others, but for this one we seem to be lucky: he really thrives. For the first couple of weeks he refused to tell me anything (‘What did you do at school today?’ ‘Hmm, I’ll tell you tomorrow’) but now he chatters the whole way home: facts about bones, about rhyming words, about experiments he’s done with cars and inner tubes. He tends to need a small circle of friends to call his own, and now he has one he’s much more settled and content.

For me too, though. In hindsight I think he was ready to move on to something I couldn’t give him. Honestly, we spent the last few months before September driving each other up the wall. Now I look forward to him coming home all day, and squeeze him to death all evening. He’s enjoying being the older, responsible sibling at the moment, and is nicer and funnier with it. So I’ve got more energy for tantrums and the bedtime routine. I am tired when Tim comes home, always, but not usually emotionally beaten down. And spending one-on-one time with E. bear during the day is just loveliness, from start to finish.

Then there’s the weekend. Do you remember getting through lunch in the dining hall, at school, and knowing you had just one set of lessons left before the weekend? You could smell it, in the whole building, a buzz of excitement and release. Friday. Almost there. I don’t know about you, but when I had babies that was one of the things I missed the most: no more Friday feeling. Now we have it back, because at the weekend we get to spend time with each other, all four of us. It feels like a holiday all over again. SATURDAYZ RULE. I feel like switching on SMTV Live again and doing the Postman Dance.

We spent last Saturday at Cliveden, a rambly old NT property that we haven’t been to for a couple of years (follow that link for hi-larious Tiny Bald Hen photos). There were bright leaves on every surface, a big maze we got thoroughly lost in, and a woodland walk that turned into a gorgeous path by the Thames on the way back. The boys were killing it in their woolly jumpers. We stopped in the tea room for scones and hot chocolate before we left. I genuinely thought that it can’t get much better than this. Jumpers. Scones. All of us together on a Saturday. We’ve got school to thank for that, I think.

PHOTOS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. I brought the camera but forgot to check the almost-dead battery – and it turned out to be the sort of place where not having a proper camera is like a dagger in the heart, so thank goodness for iPhones. Here’s one I got before the big camera packed up.

Photo 17-10-2015 12 47 12 pm (818x1024)

In case you are fortunate enough not to be familiar with the Disney Planes universe, the plane T is holding is called El Chupacabra. Obviously perfect for a two-year-old to wrap his tongue around. He’s called El Blah Blah in our house, and I think it’s an improvement.

Photo 17-10-2015 7 38 01 pm (800x800)

May your photos always contain a casual hedge lean for extra sass.

Photo 17-10-2015 1 16 57 pm (800x650)

We’re all smiling because we made it to the centre of the maze before anyone died of starvation. RESULT.

Photo 17-10-2015 1 45 56 pm (675x800)

Photo 17-10-2015 1 59 19 pm (800x800)

So help me, I am obsessed with little boys in jumpers. It’s all we’ve got, we mothers of boys. No little dresses to squeal over. It’s got to be jumpers, and I am all over it.

Photo 17-10-2015 2 14 00 pm (800x800)

The first of several hundred steps back up to the house, and between us we can count as high as twenty. It took a while.

Photo 17-10-2015 2 30 30 pm (767x767)

Photo 17-10-2015 2 31 05 pm (627x627)

Ah, motherhood. To always be the head upon which they wish to dump their leaves. I’ll take it.

Happy half term, loves!

The manor house that sanity forgot

It's all fun and games until someone starts *trampling* the flowers

It’s all fun and games until someone starts *trampling* the flowers

I think we are probably the National Trust’s biggest fans. I have never in my life turned down the chance to ooh and ahh at some fancy tapestries. It doesn’t matter who lived there; I get a little vicarious thrill when I climb their staircases and imagine their footfalls on the carpet, however long ago.

We’ve been NT members for a few years, and love, love, love it. The boys and I visit our nearest places (Basildon and the Vyne, holla) probably once a fortnight at least. We never go into the houses now they’re old enough to enjoy swinging off priceless furniture and see a ‘do not climb’ notice as a personal affront. But the gardens are always large enough for a good roam around, and there are often secret trails and playgrounds too. If I’m feeling especially flash (or it’s freezing) we might pop into the tea room for hot chocolate and cake.

There are just not many places where I’m sure I can distract, entertain and manage them both by myself for an afternoon without any of us suffering a nervous breakdown. National Trust properties do it all splendidly. And there’s always cake.

Yesterday, with it being a Bank Holiday and a Daddy Holiday and everything, we decided to go a bit further afield. I’m so glad we did. We ended up at Waddesdon Manor, and frankly it was bonkers. You know it’s going to be good when the gates are all swanky with gold leaf, and a shuttle bus takes you from your car through rolling woodland to the main house.

It wasn’t really a house, either: it was a sprawling asymmetrical manor with aspirations of castledom and turrets stuck in places just for the heck of it. The gardens were genuinely, even-by-NT-standards, huge and lovely, with naked statues glamming it up round every corner. Some gardener had decided to make some giant birds out of flowers, and fair play to him. There was an aviary. There was a woodland trail. There was a huge playground built into a hill and covered by trees. It was amazing. We didn’t even get inside the house! I’m already agog about the possible state of the tapestries.

Look at it. Someone just went a bit mad, didn’t they?

Photo 25-05-2015 12 19 59 pm (700x530)

Suddenly my flowers shoved in pots seem a bit casual.

Photo 25-05-2015 12 24 53 pm (559x700)

The bird. Well, why not?

SAM_1742 (700x560)

Here are two boys plotting the best way to get in and ride the bird. *sigh*

Photo 25-05-2015 1 40 59 pm (559x700)

This turret was covered in a big lattice of trained ivy. As you do.

2015 05 Waddesdon

Pretty flowers.

SAM_1746 (700x560)

Do you think they’d let us move in? Come on, they wouldn’t even notice.

Photo 25-05-2015 5 20 31 pm (700x560)

We ate a picnic next to an expansive carpet of flowers, made friends with the birds in the aviary, ran up and down like savages in the woodland playground, and walked till we were sore. It was fantastic. When can we move in?

UPDATE: someone has just informed me that it’s even better at Christmas; CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE; does Saint Nicholas himself descend from turret fourteen dressed in a golden cape or what.

Our other favourite NT destinations: Basildon Park, the Vyne, West Green House Gardens, Cliveden, Mottisfont, basically any of this dreaminess in Dorset.

 

A love letter to our favourite camping holiday

SAM_9945

I have decided some things about camping holidays. I have decided it’s alright to need a daily shower and a hairdryer, even when you’re in a field. You are you, right? You are approaching thirty, and you are good at lots of things, and roughing it really doesn’t have to be one of them.

I have decided that it’s a good idea to get there before dark. If you arrive at 9.30pm in a gale, and your toddlers wake up simultaneously in a pitch-black, cold car and are distressed, and you run back from fiddling with tent poles and forget the car windows are now rolled up, and plough smack into the window with your nose, well – you only have yourself to blame.

And I have decided this: even if you’re not a camper (I am not), and even if it rains (it did), camping in Dorset with little boys is FUN. I will go further: it is magical.

We’ve been busy and stressed this summer. So we planned this little weekend holiday as a love letter to family, and Dorset, and the National Trust. Our much-beloved NT membership runs out at the end of August, and we’ve decided not to renew it till our house bills are paid, so we made as many free trips to historic sites as we could squeeze in. We went to Downshay Farm, where we went a couple of years ago: a campsite on a hill overlooking Corfe Castle and the old Swanage railway. The steam train clattered past three times an hour, and it never got less exciting for this boy.

SAM_9984

I really did almost break my nose on the car window the first night. Oh my giddy aunt, it hurt. Lying groaning and streaming in wet grass, I was afraid I’d actually broken it, and tried to comfort myself with the thought that Dumbledore managed to carry it off quite well. You will say that Dumbledore didn’t break his by running into his own car. You would be right.

The first day we did Corfe Castle. I can’t tell you why I love this castle so much, but when we drive in and see it, craggy and chalky on the hill, I always take a breath. They had a little medieval village there, and with a thousand nooks and crannies to climb through and jump off, both the boys were in heaven.

SAM_0009

SAM_9990

SAM_0006

SAM_0049

Tim’s brother and his family joined us for a night and a day that evening. Hot chocolate and running in wellies are both better with cousins, we can attest.

SAM_0084

The next day we went to the beach, and the Studland beach area down here is our favourite. Having done both, we prefer Knoll Beach to Shell Bay, but they’re both the kind of white-sand, clear-water, heather-on-the-dunes kind of places that look like they belong in a postcard.  There’s also a nudist beach between them, and one day we’ll be brave enough. JUST KIDDING, THIS IS ENGLAND AND IT’S STILL COLD.

SAM_0109

SAM_0114

That evening we took the steam train back to the castle for the Purbeck Film Festival. I was worried about tackling the old train with a double pushchair, but the drivers couldn’t have been more helpful, and Henry and Teddy were beside themselves. We ate fish and chips while we waited for the sun to set behind the hill, then watched The Lego Movie projected against one of the old castle walls. We laughed a lot, even when it got cold. It was wonderful.

SAM_0135

SAM_0148

SAM_0154

SAM_0166

Sunday was our last full day, so we took the chain ferry over to Sandbanks, then a little yellow boat to Brownsea Island. This is also managed by the National Trust, and was a real find: a 1.5 mile-long nature reserve covered in woodland and heather, with amazing views over Poole Harbour. We took a long walk through the forest, pine needles underfoot, soaking up the quiet. Then Hen threw his sandwich to one of the geese and I almost got trampled in a bird stampede, which killed the tranquillity somewhat. Imagine opening your eyes to see the underside of a goose above your head. Now scream.

SAM_0174

SAM_0189

SAM_0214

SAM_0199

(Just a little hint: if you ever go to Brownsea, park on the Studland Bay side in the NT car park, and take the chain ferry on foot. It’s much cheaper, and it will save you spending 45 minutes trying to park on the Sandbanks end like we did. Also, the yellow ferry to Brownsea Island is free until you’re six. Result!)

I don’t think we would’ve left if we hadn’t been rained off site early the next morning. The boys loved everything from the sleeping bags to the marshmallows. We have come back with to-do lists as long as our arms. But somehow, with four days of castles and steam trains at our backs, and in this company, I feel like it could be a walk in the park.

SAM_9926

Henries were here

SAM_6708

Summer! Allow me to let you into a secret: when faced with sunshine, my top half converts it all super-efficiently into freckles and third-degree burns, while my bottom half simultaneously takes on a whiteness so blinding all light rays are reflected back into space. This is my superpower, and when I become a time traveller I will use it to be considered fashionable in all eras of history.

I know it’s no adamantium claws and accelerated healing, but.

We’ve spent as much time as possible outside this month. On one day, when the boys and I had driven out to our almost-new-neighbourhood to drop off some forms, we drove a little bit further out to The Vyne, in Sherborne St John. This is one of my all-time favourite National Trust places. Large gardens, a huge front lawn stacked with deckchairs, a lake, an adventure playground, a tea room, and the house – which was visited by several Henry Tudors and Jane Austen, AND has the ring that inspired Mr Tolkien to write the world’s manliest fantasy epic. The little chapel has medieval Flemish tiles, and the back corridor is hiding the biggest, oldest map of England I’ve ever seen. You need a torch to read it, it’s so gloriously faded and mouse-nibbled. They actually provide one (a torch, I mean, not a mouse).

SAM_6702

That morning we had a picnic lunch, with the boys in twin high chairs and me passing them sandwiches and yoghurt and mopping up spills at frantic speeds. Afterwards we spread a blanket on the grass, ‘wilaxed’ in deckchairs (ha!), poked busily around underneath trees, and used every bribery tool in the book to get Henry to leave the chickens alone and come home.

SAM_6680

SAM_6673

Any gardeners know what this flower is called? It smelled amazing.

SAM_6677

SAM_6717

SAM_6672

SAM_6723

Toddler picnics make me fervently wish for an extra pair of arms, but somehow I always do feel very relaxed at The Vyne. Maybe it’s the one ring.

In like a lion, out like a lamb

And March came in with a beam.

SAM_3276

Of course it did. After the long, brown dreariness of January and February, in comes March with a spring in its step. It’s my favourite month, and not just because it crams in our anniversary, my birthday and mother’s day with more celebratory breakfasts than you can shake a stick at. March is the month of the purple crocus, crowding under any old scrubby tree it can think of. It comes blazing with the promise of brighter things.

We spent today altogether – O, miracle! – at Mottisfont Abbey and Gardens, in Hampshire. You drive down a long, straight Roman road just the other side of Winchester, past a quarry, through a village, blinded by sun and green. Since we came with wellies and pushchairs, we decided not to do the house today, but the gardens were a dream. Sometimes I feel like the National Trust designs these places with little boys in mind.

SAM_3194

SAM_3197

SAM_3218

Here’s a secret: one of the best things about having small children is that when you get to a walled garden path just begging to be a runway, you can buzz around like an aeroplane and no one stares [much].

SAM_3258

SAM_3229

SAM_3297

We decided to do the Meadow Walk, forgetting that now it would be an Underwater Walk. It was, but we sloshed on, fording the bog with the pushchair. Teddy made a valiant effort to stay asleep, and very nearly managed it. I remembered – again, too late – that my beloved Joules wellies have a hole in the bottom, and it might be time to find some more that I could love as much (NEVER). There were daffodils waiting on the other side.

SAM_3311

SAM_3361

Look, I hate to brag, but Henry now says ‘en guarde!’ when he wishes to challenge you to a sword fight, and I kind of think it’s my finest motherhood achievement to date.

SAM_3352

SAM_3330

(PS, if you think you know how to spell ‘en guarde’, but you’re not entirely sure and you don’t want to look stupid, don’t Google it. The first hit is a Wikipedia page called…well, you can look it up. Is this a Google joke?)

SAM_3226

One of the trees was called Madame Lemoine. Is this not an utterly perfect thing? Everything was budding and poking its way through grubby earth towards the sun, and I sympathised entirely. March is my favourite month, and you guys, we made it.

SAM_3200

A temple a day

Oh, we lived life on the edge today. The VERY EDGE.

My beloved, best-ever sister offered to watch the boys for the afternoon so Tim and I could do something nice. We were so overwhelmed by the possibilities that we took most of the morning to decide what to do. I never descend those stairs without carrying a car seat, a box of raisins and twenty nappies, holding Henry’s hand and keeping up a running commentary of ‘no, there are no bears down here. Yes, you’re wearing your shoes. Don’t poke Edward in the eye. Thomas is a train; he doesn’t need shoes. Hold on to the wall please – holdonholdonholdon… Argh’.

You know what I left with today? Face powder, and no carpet burns. It felt like living.

We ended up at Stowe, a 250-acre landscape garden that used to be top destination for the posh in the 1800s. Now, in your average National Trust property you might get a large, fancy house, some manicured lawns and maybe a little temple with Roman statues. This one had the largest house we’d seen outside Buckingham Palace, three lakes, and a temple everywhere you looked. A riot of temples, an embarrassment of temples – all of them with the sort of acoustics that just begged for a bit of Mariah Carey, and architecture that needed a Pride and Prejudice reenactment. You know, one of the really intense scenes, where everyone’s windswept and wearing jodhpurs. We were happy to oblige.

Oh, and the views. And the sky. And that lake threaded with fallen leaves like something out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting.

We did the whole circuit – something like four miles – and had uninterrupted, hand-in-hand conversations. As we walked back through the gate towards the car park and home, we saw a tiny blonde boy riding a bicycle, his legs pumping furiously, cheered on by parents who were obviously regretting giving him that bell.

Once, we would have talked about how fun it would be to bring a boy here someday. Today, we made a plan for October.

Photo 28-09-2013 04 51 42 PM

Photo 28-09-2013 03 43 41 PM

6E95217D-060E-4A7E-8980-F8D640F2C2B8

Photo 28-09-2013 02 53 17 AM

Photo 28-09-2013 03 10 34 AM

Photo 28-09-2013 04 06 18 PM

Photo 28-09-2013 03 13 51 AM

Photo 28-09-2013 03 51 26 PM

Photo 28-09-2013 02 42 08 AM

Castles and canvas

So guess what? It’s raining, and since I’m underneath an actual roof, I’m totally casual about it. Rain on, my friend. Rain on.

Of course, we knew when we decided to go away camping for Bank Holiday weekend that it would rain. August Bank Holiday and rain are like bacon and…more bacon: two stalwart adventurers that will never be separated. BFFs for life. They took a blood oath and everything.

Oh gosh, I’m tired.

Anyway. We did go camping for August Bank Holiday, and it did rain for a fair bit of it, but it was so unbelievably brilliant that we didn’t mind. For me, camping is a traumatic experience – I don’t believe in choosing not to sleep in a bed, for a start, and a have a pathological attachment to hot showers, for a continuation, and terrible things happen to my hair without a hairdryer, for a conclusion. But in this company and in this setting, it was all just marvellous.

We went to Dorset, and camped at the top of a hill overlooking rolling hills, a ruined castle and a steam train. We traded an incredible view for an incredibly long walk down to the toilets and showers, but it was worth it. Views like that are food for the soul, even in drizzle.

We looked around Corfe Castle village, tramping around medieval castle ruins, tiny stone cottages and a big, echoey old church. We [I] slept badly, shivering and getting up three times to check on Henry, who each time had squashed himself into the smallest, most suffocating space in his sleeping compartment. He thought it was all a grand adventure, and didn’t mind at all.

Then there was the beach: a quiet little alcove we found in Studland with clear water, myriads of shells and properly golden sand. I had no idea we had beaches like this in England. Unexpectedly, Henry was beside himself with excitement. He sat,  hair stuck up in every direction with suncream, flinging sand everywhere and toddling off to the sea.

That evening we boarded a steam train (!) back to Corfe – OR HOGWARTS, YOU DECIDE – and watched a film at an open air cinema in the castle grounds. With fish and chips, and chocolate hobnobs, and the sky fading to indigo behind the ruined keep. Oh, wonderful. When we arrived back off the train near midnight, I put on two jumpers and an extra sleeping bag, secured Henry in place with rolled up blankets, and slept like a log.

Then it was nearly over. We packed up the car in the morning, drove off our hillside and through Corfe Castle for the last time, and went to visit a National Trust country estate at Kingston Lacy on the way home. It felt like we were suffering a little from grandeur-fatigue, but it was still delightful. It had an old organ in the dining room. Wide marble staircases up to huge arched windows. Paintings on every wall. High carved ceilings that made you gasp when you looked up, and up. Oh, and a cafe in the old stables, where we had cake (obviously).

We’ve been so busy this month, and Tim away so much, that our lives have shifted into autopilot. Work and dinner and meetings and bed, over and over, and hardly a conversation that didn’t involve practicalities or Henry. I missed our connections, the little habits and happinesses that make us ourselves. We found them again in Dorset, and I just can’t express how lovely it was. Even – yes, even – in the Bank Holiday rain. Please ignore the hair.

%d bloggers like this: