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20th April:  King's Lynn and Sandringham - Terry Threlfall

It was an overcast day and a long journey, but so worthwhile. King’s Lynn is a delightful town dating to mediaeval times, with many old buildings. Some of these relate to the Hanseatic League when Lynn was a major port. A quick run through the town enabled many of the major buildings and their history as well as the many shops to be viewed and a quick cup of tea to be gulped down, before going back on the coach to the royal estate at Sandringham.

The house is set in a vast parkland, so large that even substantial buildings such as the stable complex, now a cafe and museum, are hidden in the trees until one suddenly comes upon them. The house from outside is a jumble of styles, reflected in the jumble of furniture, furnishings, ornaments and trophies overfilling the inside. What saves it and makes it so wonderful is that every item is exquisite, often with a particular history and so well looked after, all gleamingly polished, no speck of dust anywhere. The rooms are surprisingly light and airy for a Victorian building, despite the overcrowding, because of their large windows and pastel décor. The helpful and immensely knowledgeable staff added much to the house visit. After admiring the royal lounges, dining room and ballroom and wondering how King Edward VII could possibly have needed 50 hunting rifles I went to the tearoom and then to the museum. A myriad of ornaments is distributed between house and museum, an eclectic mix of what the aristocracy and royal families and others have given each other over the centuries. A chess set from Nelson Mandela, bejewelled gifts from Indian princes, painted wooden ducks presented by the World Wildlife Fund, carved plaques and masterpieces of the silversmiths’ art, musical instruments, statues, armoury, tapestries, drawings and paintings all compete for space, interspersed in the museum with royal vehicles.

Then on to the stream walk. This a delightful and varied stroll through overhanging trees and shrubs, finishing up at the lake and dell, to me the most varied and interesting part of the gardens. The background of trees reflected in the waters of the lake with glimpses of Sandringham house appearing from time-to-time between the greenery gave many photographic opportunities. Once more round the grounds at the back (really the front!) of the house and a quick run through the formal gardens, disappointing because we were between seasons with the many daffodils mostly gone and summer flowers yet to come, before time ran out. Back to the coach, when it started to rain, very kind of it to wait. But any hopes that it might have extended to the drought-ridden gardens of Upminster were soon dashed. Thank you, organisers, for a lovely long day out!
 

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16th May: Tonbridge and Knole  -  Stella Hazlewood

Based on the previous day (wet and grey), expectations of good weather on our outing to Tonbridge and Knole House were far from high.  However, imagine our delight to board the coach on a very warm and sunny morning - all faces bore a smile.

Arriving in Tonbridge. we parked beside the Normal castle (a sight to behold) and headed for coffee in a "real cool" café, "Beyond the Grounds", a name which might be debated from several angles. Refreshed, we moved further into the town taking in its history (the Gatehouse, one of the first in England, still stands at its heart) and importance right from the Middle Ages to date.  Tonbridge remains a delightful and bustling market town in all imaginable terms.

Taking advantage of the sunshine, we strolled around the castle grounds and along the banks of the River Medway, then onwards to the High Street where, as always, pottering was essential.  We also discovered that Jane Austen's father was born and educated in Tonbridge and her grandparents buried in the grounds of the Church of St Peter and St Paul. Just some of the interesting aspects of the day.

Moving on to the main theme of the outing. the visit to Knole House, a short distance away, was very informative and interesting. Originally built as an archbishop's palace, the house passed through royalty to the Sackville family.  It displays world-class collections of paintings and furniture, parts of which are to be found in the top of the recently restored Gatehouse Tower in the private rooms of former resident Edward (Eddy) Sackville-West.  In the 1920s and 30s, the "bright young things" of the Bloomsbury set met here.  Oh, those days!

Outside, we explored the courtyards, walled garden and orangery, walked in the magnificent park enjoying the early growths and even caught sight of wild deer.  What a marvellous place.

To finish, let me quote a friend of the Sackville family, Virginia Woolf.  "The great house lay more like a town than a house with all its chimneys smoking busily as if inspired with a life of its own". Smoking apart, an apt description to ponder on our trip back to suburbia following a wonderful visit.

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21st June:  Windsor and Savill Gardens - Pam Masterson

It was predicted to be the hottest day since 1976,when we were given an early warning of global warming. Many of us were working then and remember that coaches, offices, and public transport lacked air-conditioning. We boarded our coaches equipped with sun hats, bottles of water and, for myself. a small umbrella for use as a parasol. With only a short slowdown on the M25 we arrived in the coach-park at Windsor. We disembarked into the blazing sun and set off in search of refreshments.

There were many groups of foreign tourists of all ages in the town taking 'selfies' and photographing the Castle and the Changing of the Guard. There are opportunities for high-class shopping in Windsor as well as a great selection of eating places. An alternative attraction to the main town is a walk in the parkland bordering the river or maybe a Thames riverboat trip. We left Windsor at half past one and set off for The Savill Garden. I recall my first visit to the garden in the late eighties, when men were dealing with fallen trees and general devastation after the hurrricane of 1987; of which, happily, there is no evidence today.

From the carpark we passed through the amazing 'rolling-hills' building, which houses the cafeteria, shop and other facilities, and entered the garden. The Spring show of azaleas, rhododendrons and spring flowers was over, but the shrubs and small trees displayed strong growth of shiny new foliage. The herbaceous areas, unfortunately, were showing some effect of too much heat, with foliage a little shrivelled on some plants. All the perennials were well grown, bushy and tall, particularly the stately acanthus and the delphiniums, white, vivid blue and purple. Large clumps of hemerocallis were just coming into bloom in shades of yellow through orange to bronze. The roses were displaying well with the heat bringing out the wonderful rose perfume. Plants with grey foliage, purple spiked lavender and senecio for example generally tolerate drought fairly well. A useful tip for gardeners.

Most visitors strolled slowly using the shade provided by the many trees around each area and took advantage of the seats placed under them. Around the lakes were numerous gunneras with leaves of a spectacular size. The Savill Garden is 35acres wonderfully laid out in seasonal areas which guarantees that it is worth visiting any time of the year. Our journey home was slow and tortuous; thank goodness for air-conditioning and a patient driver.

20th July:  Burford and Cotswold Wildlife Park - Molly Piggott

We started our July trip to Burford and the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens promptly at 9.30 am knowing it would be a long trip towards Oxford. We thought we would get there for coffee but the weather and traffic changed our minds. We were delighted to see sunshine and blue skies when we eventually arrived in Burford which continued for the rest of the day.

Our first sight of Burford was beautiful little cottages and most shops and other buildings made of the local Cotswold stone. All very elegant and signs of bygone riches from the wool trade. We decided to have lunch there rather than coffee. Walking down the street towards the river Windrush we saw the local Church of St John the Baptist which was very interesting to visit.

On joining the coach, we made our way to the Wildlife Park. The Park has enclosed areas for the animals, reptiles and birds. There are garden areas all round the animal enclosures with flowers and shrubs. Also a walled garden, an exotic plant house and an outdoor cacti area. So much to please all ‘tastes’.

A small train runs through the grounds to give visitors a view of the whole area so you can decide which places you wish to visit. This trip was very popular and cost £1 for the round trip. This was a great help so we were able to decide which animals, etc. to visit first. I think we all enjoyed the way the animals were free to roam in their own areas – without restrictions of cages. There were some gardens with prairie-style planting around the rhinos! The flowers were so colourful which made it a delight to see. One was able to see as much and as many as one would like or would have the energy to get round the whole area. Personally, I enjoyed the lions and giraffes – they always look so grand and important. The birds were particularly beautiful to see up in the trees.

There were plenty of places for refreshments and as the weather was so good, ice-creams were very popular, as well as cups of tea.

Our journey home was very good in spite of joining the rush. We were all very tired and happy and our coach driver was so good at getting us all home safely.

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16th August: Midhurst and West Dean Gardens - Gill Meacher

We had a hassle free journey on the M25, reaching the edge of the South Downs in beautiful sunshine. Passing through the pretty town of Petworth we arrived at Midhurst in time for a late coffee. We duly found our way to the old historic part of the town tucked behind the Main Street, passing the 15th century Spread Eagle Hotel. The Market Square has been in the centre of the town for almost 1000 years, the old Town Hall displayed stocks and a pillory, last used in 1859. The imposing church of St Mary Magdelene and St Denys is a listed building being 800 years old. It has a very attractive stain glass window showing the old and new generations since Roman times which replaced the original one which was bomb damaged in the war. It has a curfew bell and a chiming clock, the bell being rung every night at 8pm (now using an electronic system). The houses all round the square have been very well preserved. There is a small museum which is free and run by volunteers. The themes on display are changed every month.

Onward by coach for the short journey to West Dean Gardens, set in 100 acres of gardens and parkland. So much to see, at its best on a warm sunny afternoon. The walled garden full of amazing dahlias of every colour, the Victorian glasshouses well preserved. The kitchen garden contained a large variety of vegetables and so many fruit trees all very nearly ready to be harvested especially pears and apples and tomatoes (named labels would have been good). The sunken garden was very peaceful and the Edwardian pergola, although very green must have looked a picture earlier in the season when in bloom with roses and wisteria. The arboretum was just too far to visit but looked impressive from a distance - perhaps another time.

The impressive West Dean college which advertised various courses was set in the middle of the park.

There was the inevitable shop and plant stall and a nice restaurant for a welcome cup of tea.

After a very enjoyable day we travelled back through the leafy countryside of West Sussex, on to a slow drive on the M25 arriving back in Upminster soon after 7pm. A long day but very worthwhile.

14th September:  Saffron Walden and Audley End  - Pat Brown

After a comfortable coach ride, we arrived at the pretty market town of Saffron Walden.  The town's charter was granted in about 1300 and it was then called Chepyng (Market) Walden. The town's later name came from the saffron crocus (crocus sativus) which in the 16th and 17th centuries was widely grown locally.  The flower was valuable as the extract from the stigmas had a wide variety of uses, originally as a dye for the East Anglian wool trade and then as medicine, food flavouring and as an aphrodisiac! (suttons Seeds sell Crocus Sativus with instrutions on harvesting your own Saffron - don't all rush!).

After a restorative coffee, we explored this charming medieval town with so many lovely and interesting buildings.  We then found our way on to the Common and had a look at the ruins of the castle and viewed the Turf Maze.  It is the largest Maze of this type in England and the earliest record dates from the 17th century, although the origins may be earlier.  I believe it is about a mile in length, but we just looked.

We then proceeded to Audley End which was one of the great houses of early 17th century England.  When Thomas Howard, 1st Duke of Suffolk, inherited the property, built on the site of Walden Abbey, he rebuilt it on the scale of a Royal Palace, but during the ensuing years, the size of the property was greatly diminished. After being requisitioned for war use in 1941, it served as the Headquarters of the Polish Section of the Special Operations Executive.  It was bought for the nation in 1948.

Only about a third of the original Jacobean house remains, but this offers a glimpse of the magnificent style in which they lived.  The painting collection was mostly put together by 3rd Baron Braybrooke (1783-1848) who was the family incumbent at that time.  It contains a large number of early English portraits as well as many Old Masters and was well worth the visit.

A Grand Day out.

 
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