Our last day. Let’s make it great. I had all sorts of intentions of getting away nice and early and going like the clappers. We don’t. We’re repacking. Hubby’s been banished from the process more or less. This takes packing skill. I’m not quite to the level of expert that my son-in-law is with trailers, boots and sheds, but I’m good. Everything out. Redistribute the weight. The carry-on bag that can be 23 kg is getting the heaviest books, lighter books and a few more books buffered by my souvenir Isle of Mull hoodie. We can only carry food and fragile on the plane this time along with the essentials like noise cancelling headphones, which although excellent are reasonably bulky. Done. But look at the time. We’ll be right up against the 11am check out limit. Oh. Well that’s not all bad. We can go to have a quick look at Newark Park. It doesn’t open until 11.
It’s only 10 mins to Newark Park. Lovely scenic route but that goes without saying doesn’t it? We’re in the Cotswolds. Heck we’re in England, Britain, divvy it up however you like we haven’t come across an ugly backroads landscape on this island yet. A large paddock has been nominated as the parking area and a little temporary ticket hut and toilet block has been set up. We do the usual National Trust entry routine and head on. There’s a number of what look like lovely walks around the Estate. Obviously we’re not doing those but I’m sorely tempted.
I go through the gate to the start of the shorter of the walks called into the dim shade by the siren calling of the local birds. I realise the peril and tear myself from the grasping, feathered claws and break through the gate back to safety. Let’s just go to the views and make this quick. An attractive stone walled ditch crusted with moss, small ferns and other greenery underlines the row of trees lining a boundary.
A carpet of pink where tiny cyclamen are naturalised,it is highlighted where the mowers have stopped. Others bravely poke their flowers up daintily through the roughly clipped grass here and there. A café has been established at the edge of a large rough grass lawn. Tables are out in the open, chairs tilted to avoid sitting water.
I’m making straight around the house to find the view which drifts on forever as far as the Mendips. Or so the sign tells us. It’s not all that clear today but it doesn’t really matter, the view is lovely. A Buddleia nearby is flowering fitfully, its cultivation seemingly limited to an occasional clipping. It is none-the-less attracting the attention of the butterflies who sit uncurling their long tongues in the deep tubes then flutter and settle again and again. It feels like coming full circle and my mind is thrown back to the abundant and cossetted Buddleia at Dalqueich Farm early in our trip and the frenzy of butterflies there seeking a sugar rush to power their short lives. It takes almost no time to walk through. A small garden is walled in from the view, herbaceous border basking in the sun against the bricks. There’s a touch of whimsy from a sheep statue painted in convincing zebra stripes and a promise of autumn bounty from immature bunches of grapes on a vine over a small folly. The whole is presided over by a man sitting smoking on stone steps that run down from French doors out of the house. The flowers in the herbaceous border are mostly past their best display. We’re not the only ones in wind down mode today.
We backtrack around the house and notice a feature we’ve been told to look out for in our travels, the fake exterior windows. Many houses had windows bricked up when the window tax was implemented. They are not immediately obvious at a glance, but there’s plenty of black checked faux windows on Newark House.
On the steps into the house a coarse mat is provided for us to wipe our feet and step into the interior. There’s clearly a good training program for National Trust workers, we again go through the guest reception script, it is so consistent across the various properties. We’re welcome to get some refreshments from the café and sit in the interior of the house to consume them should we wish. Highlights of the house are explained. The whole was constructed over several key periods, starting with a Tudor hunting lodge that retains many original features, later extensions added to the house rather than overwriting it.
We spend a half hour or so quietly moving from room to room, reading the information boards about the families who lived here across the hundreds of years since the hunting lodge days. Most information is about the period from the 19th century with a particular focus on the two world wars and the roles that the house played in these intense periods of national trauma and loss. There’s clearly not been much chance yet to progress any significant program of restoration work. We chat with a staff member in the master bedroom where redecoration and modification for a Laura Ashley photo shoot has left its imprint. As much as I like schmick, it is interesting to see Newark Park in its state of faded glory.. which should not be interpreted as my thinking it should be left as it is...
A friendly man makes sure I go right into a little cubby hole and get the full appreciation of the medieval garderobe. …No you need to go right over and look right down… I go back in and do as he watches on in satisfaction. How extraordinary that was never filled in. The stink was thought to protect the clothes hanging in that space over the hole from moths. Gosh people must have reeked back then. Possibly my favourite feature is the water closet. I’d come to think of WC as a term for toilet, but this closet is located towards the top of the stairs and served as a water point for the filling of hip baths. I think of the tour we did of Como House in Melbourne years ago which in the mid 19th century had showers installed. To have a shower the staff would have to carry many gallons of hot water up across the roof and into the ceiling and manually fill the water tank for each person. What a boon it would have been to have this water closet and a family still happy to have baths, and again, how extraordinary that it is still there in what looks like pretty much original condition. In all the many houses we’ve visited we’ve never seen a water closet before. On the final level there is an art exhibition. Just a low key affair of local amateurs by the look of it.
We are all done by 12:30 ish. We’ve browsed the room where a little gift shop is operating and carry a teeny little wooden jigsaw puzzle of the glass feature window in the house across to the young girl serving. It’s not expensive and I have cash, reaching into my wallet for a £5 note I had across the pounds Stirling. That’s Scottish money, I can’t take that. She says. You’re not serious. I say. Nope, she’s never seen one of those before so she’s not accepting it. Don’t I have some English money? But this is a 5 pound Stirling note. Sir Walter Scott stares blankly out of the blue. I do have an English fiver and just shake my head and hand it over. What the? So now we’re wondering about this system were the notes are issued by the banks. Scottish by the Bank of Scotland and English by the Bank of England. Well, I say, perhaps Scotland needn’t have worried about losing the pound had they voted yes, if their money isn’t good enough in England anyway. I wonder how many everyday slights like this go on around the place. Time to go. We’ve spent more time here than we really intended but it’s of no real matter. Where next?
I check the manifesto. It’s now after 12.30. We’ve got all afternoon to kill but quite a long way to drive and I have no intention of taking the fastest route. We program Tommie to head for Burton on the Water. I’m thinking perhaps of seeing the penguins fed at the Bird Park. We mosey on over, no music this morning, we’re just enjoying the countryside and I’m vege-ing out.
As we near I’m expecting some sort of park and ride but Tommie takes us to the council parking lot and we pay and display. More than we need to as it turns out. The entrance to the Bird Park is close by but first I want to take a wander down along the water and see the village. Hubby parks himself on a bench. The water is a wide, shallow, man-made affair. Obviously cleaned regularly. No slime or life in it as far as I can see. In fact I’m rather surprised people don’t throw money in it. Perhaps they do and the local council is proactively banking it. I walk up as far as the pedestrian bridge. Watch as a 4WD splashes through the water next to it. Up a little further so I can see what else is around other than the hordes of people.
There’s some ducks paddling about looking hopeful. Nice homes with frontages to the footpath along the water. A few cafes. The ambience is somewhat lacking though it feels like a theme park. Quite sterile. Yeah, look, I hate to say it but I really don’t like this place. I head back to Hubby. He’s walking this way now. We head back to the entrance of the Bird Park. I study the map. I just want to be somewhere else. Hubby’s decided he wants a look for himself up where I’ve been, feet or no feet. I go with him and we stroll along the water again. My antipathy is rising. We should get some lunch given it’s now after 2pm. I have a half-hearted look at the menus along the way. Meh. I am developing a strong urge to get out of this place. We opt for a pastie and a sausage roll from a place that has both small shop entrance and hole in the wall servery for ice cream. We’re eating our food as we walk. Yeah. Well, it wasn’t very nice food really. Back at the carpark Hubby want’s to take the opportunity for the facilities seeing as we’re here. Another place where you have to pay, this time it’s a turnstile sort of situation and you have to put in your money to get the turnstile to work.
OK. Get me out of here.
Well, let’s drive to Heathrow via Stow on the Wold and Burford. I don’t know what Tommie means by Via. We didn’t see anything that looked like a Stow let alone one that’s located on a Wold or park and ride or anything that would tip us off as to where to go to visit the village. We drive on. I don’t care.
Heading to Burford is more interesting. We particularly enjoyed some of A361 and pull over to enjoy the expansive views. We pass carefully through nice little villages quietly keeping their light under a bushel. Good for them. A Porsche goes screaming past us, travelling like a bat out of hell. Moron. We hope the cops get him. By a quarter past three we are driving at traffic speed down the main street of Burford. Ooh, I like this place a lot. There’s lots of people but reason for them. The street is lined with interesting businesses and it just feels like a real, timeless place. Lots of character with bustle. I guess we should stop for some afternoon tea, but we don’t.
Given how much we’ve enjoyed the driving I think perhaps we should go see Banbury Cross. We tell Tommie about it. It’s all a bit ramshackle and incompetently conceived but in my defence I am sick. We get on and off and on the motorway and rapidly give up.
As drive we discuss the things we haven’t seen yet, which includes Oxford and Cambridge, they are things for the short list next time. In the end illness and apathy overwhelm the desire to eek every last moment from our time on the ground. We just let our robot master take us to Heathrow the final stages now somewhat familiar along 4 lane each way high speed motorway. We hit a very small period of congestion but we’re pulling up to the Enterprise depot to hand in our car half an hour early.
I muck up the check in and Hubby mucks up security. We're a sorry old pair of travellers. Just as well we resolved not to leave our travel until we're retired. God knows what condition we'll be in by then. We're incompetent enough now.
I'll spare you the blow by blow detail of our flights home. When we finally touch down in Sydney immigration and customs are a total shit fight. Conditions aren't suitable for flights such as ours to land during curfew as scheduled so we had an extra hour sitting on the tarmac at Singapore and now the processing arrangements are overwhelmed as the planes which have been backed up spew forth their passengers all at once. The layout with the machines is confusing for people as well. What a debacle.