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.

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The afternoon Mr Bingley did not invite us for tea

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There are two reasons for visiting Basildon Park. One is that it’s the house they used as Netherfield in Pride and Prejudice (the film version), and I’ll take any excuse to prance around the grounds on an imaginary horse, shouting OH MR GINGER BINGLEY I ADORE YOU. Don’t even tell me you wouldn’t do this, because I know you would.

The other is the chance to put your son next to a wooden rabbit to see how astronomically he’s grown in almost two years.

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Please put away those giant legs, Master Jeffcoat, and go about your business.

I came here with my mum just after Henry was born. Apart from a moment of madness where we made him ride the aforementioned wooden rabbit – which produced the best Benjamin Button face of disgust we’d ever seen – he managed to sleep through the tour, unimpressed by chandeliers and scones the size of his head. Last week he took rather more interest in the surroundings, though for that reason (and lack of time) we only visited the grounds rather than the house. It’s one thing to climb a fence; quite another to climb an 18th century four-poster, no? We followed the trails with sun on our faces and the sounds of a four-person choir floating over the hill, and it was just beautiful until we tried to take a group photograph, when it wasn’t.

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We only scratched the surface, and they’ve worked so hard to make it exciting for children: there are miles of footpaths we never reached and an interactive ball-run exhibit, not to mention a tea-room and many more unsat-in deckchairs. There is something about a deckchair that makes me feel all lah-di-dah. It’s not quite a carriage, but it’ll do.

Oh, and in news not unrelated to these photographs, I finally have a haircut scheduled for next week. Goodbye, insane wig-head. The way I feel now, you’ll be lucky if I don’t get a buzz-cut.

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Basildon Park, Lower Basildon, Reading.

Come in the summer for the walks and scones and open-air cinema.

And then come to my house, because we’re ten minutes away!