Steph and I have two lovely daughters.
Hannah (on the left), the elder, lives in St Paul, Minnesota, and is married to Michael. They have two children: Callum, who will be six in mid-August, and Zoë, who turned four last May.
Philippa (on the right) has stayed in the UK. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, and married Andi in 2010. They have two boys: Elvis will be five at the end of September, and Felix will be three on 1 September.
But until this past week, we had never all been under the same roof. And the grandchildren had never met each other.
Two years ago, Hannah and Michael had planted the idea of coming over to the UK for a summer holiday. But where to stay, and what to do—apart from enjoying each other’s company? With us living in the Midlands south of Birmingham, and Philippa in the Northeast, it seemed logical to plan a holiday somewhere nearby to either of those locations. Unfortunately our home is not large enough to host everyone. Northumberland to the north of Newcastle is a beautiful county, but was eventually ruled out as probably not enjoying the warmer weather everyone hoped for.
So we eventually focused on the New Forest, west of Southampton, an area I know well having family links with the area, as well as from my undergraduate days at the University of Southampton. But apart from a week’s holiday there in the late 1980s, I haven’t been back since.
For various reasons the 2015 plans fell through, and even this year nothing was settled until quite late. Originally we had said that if Hannah and family came over to the UK we wouldn’t plan to take our usual break in Minnesota this year. As a trip to the UK didn’t seem to be in the offing, we went ahead and booked flights in early September for a three week stay in Minnesota. Then, Hannah and Michael confirmed that they would fly over here after all, and the search was on for a holiday home that would accommodate six adults and four small children. Thank goodness for the Internet. Hannah quickly zeroed in on three properties, and we eventually chose a five bedroom house in the village of Dibden Purlieu on the eastern edge of the New Forest National Park.
Our holiday began on Saturday 2 July, and we planned to get to the holiday home by about 5 pm, in time to be there when Hannah and Michael arrived from Southampton Airport. However, we decided to make something of the trip south, calling at Avebury in Wiltshire to visit two National Trust properties: the 16th century Avebury Manor and Garden, and the world famous Avebury Neolithic henge, comprising three stone circles. We spent just over two hours exploring the manor house and garden, but because of my current walking limitation, were not able to walk the length of the stone circles.
Sunday was a rest day. Hannah and family didn’t emerge from their beds until after noon, so we decided to spend the rest of the day relaxing around the house.
Phil and Andi didn’t arrive until Monday evening, so we decided to make a short excursion before lunch down to the coast at Lepe, just a few miles south of Dibden Purlieu. Callum and Zoë had a blast on the shingle beach, and afterwards in the play area above the cliff in the main part of the country park. Just what was needed to flush away the remnants of jet lag.
After Phil and Andi arrived, it didn’t take long before the newly-introduced cousins were playing together and running round the garden having a grand old time.
Tuesday was a very bright and sunny day, hot even, so we set out to cover the 40 miles plus drive west to Corfe Castle in Dorset (another National Trust property). Visiting a castle was on Callum’s list of things to do over here in England. So he was somewhat unimpressed—to begin with—when all he saw was a ruin. But once inside and we had the opportunity to climb on to the walls, peer through the narrow windows, imagine what life would have been like centuries ago, and even dress up in medieval clothes, then all the grandchildren had a whale of a time.
Wednesday saw us at Exbury Gardens just south of Beaulieu on the Beaulieu River, purchased by Lionel Nathan de Rothschild in 1919, and where he developed a world collection of rhododendrons and azaleas (which had mostly passed flowering when we visited). But there were many other features to explore, such as a very large Rock Garden, a steam train ride, and all the space the children needed to run around.
On Thursday, we set off for a walk from Beaulieu Road Station across the heath at Shatterford Bottom towards the southwest edge of Denny Wood, then on for a picnic on the edge of Matley Heath. After lunch we headed to the coast at Barton-on-Sea where the children could get their feet wet; the water was too cold for any swimming. And to watch the paragliders. We had hoped to have a fish and chip supper in Barton, but we’d finished on the beach by 4:30 or so. We therefore decided to head back to Hythe and had a pub meal at The Lord Nelson overlooking Southampton Water, where we could watch the huge container ships and cruise liners pass by.
Friday was a lazy day, and we didn’t head out into the forest until after lunch. Fritham was our destination, for another walk through the forest, and hopefully grab a bite to eat for dinner at The Royal Oak, a small pub I first visited in 1969 when I was Morris dancing with the Red Stags Morris Men (University of Southampton) and we joined the Winchester Morris Men on one of their tours.
Just south of Fritham, we visited the Rufus Stone where the killing of William II (William Rufus) in August 1100 is commemorated. I first went there as a young boy with my elder brother and mum and dad in the 1950s. It was great to be able to take my grandchildren there.
After a walk of a mile or so, we returned to The Royal Oak for a welcome pint. The pub, although modernised, still has all the kegs of beer lined up behind the bar, just as in the later 1960s.
There was no food to be had at The Royal Oak, but we found a child-friendly pub, the Coach and Horses, at Cadnam.
On Saturday, the children were desperate to have a pony ride. So while they all headed off to a petting farm near Ashurst, Steph and I decided to visit an English Heritage property nearby. Calshot Castle, constructed by Henry VIII in 1539, guards the entrance to Southampton Water at the tip of Calshot Spit. For many decades it was an RAF base for flying boats and seaplanes; the original hangars are still there.
On the Saturday evening, Philippa and Hannah prepared a lovely roast chicken dinner that was washed down by several bottles of wine, and preceded by not a few G&Ts.
We departed for home on the Sunday morning, leaving Hannah and Phil and families to enjoy another week together. And from all accounts they have had a wonderful time.
But we didn’t head straight home. First we went due west about 45 miles, to Kingston Lacy, a 17th century country house and estate built by Sir John Bankes after the family was expelled from Corfe Castle during the English Civil Wars (between 1642 and 1651).
Kingston Lacy must be one of the jewels in the National Trust crown. It is sumptuous. In fact the only property that we have visited that can rival it is Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. But Kingston Lacy is several centuries older. The Bankes family apparently never threw anything away, and amassed a magnificent collection of works of art by several masters, furniture and porcelain. What a feast for the eyes!
From Kingston Lacy it was a direct, but rather winding, route north towards Bath and the M4 motorway, before joining the M5 motorway near Bristol, and covering the last 80 miles or so to Bromsgrove in much less time than I had feared. I think many people had stayed at home to watch Andy Murray win the Wimbledon Men’s Championship, or the British F1 Grand Prix. Or maybe they were settling themselves to watch the Euro2016 final from Paris between hosts France and Portugal. In any case, we did not have any hold-ups, thankfully, and were home not much after 5 pm, to enjoy a welcome cup of tea, and reflect on a wonderful week’s holiday with the family.