Harry treated me to a lie in of 5.50am (yes, that is a lie in). We got up slower than usual as my husband was away (due to Harry’s early wake ups, we treat each other to a 7am lie in on alternate days), then went downstairs where Harry enjoyed his breakfast in front of the cartoons and I was amazingly productive in clearing the draining board and even throwing together my weekly loaf of bread – a seedy wholemeal loaf, but more on that in another post. Harry then shared my breakfast with me, before I got another productive streak on and prepared some pancake batter (made with coconut milk rather than egg and milk, courtesy of Rachel de Thample – delicious!). When my husband arrived home, the bread was in the oven, and I then made some coffee and the pancakes which we enjoyed during an episode of Heartbeat – another Sunday morning tradition!
It was a sunny day with promises of turning horrendous, so we decided to make the most of it and visit two places we had wanted to visit since living in Bedfordshire (and with only three weeks until we move, we couldn’t guarantee another sunny weekend). First of these was The Lodge, an RSPB Nature Reserve – actually, the RSBP HQ – near Sandy. We had a map of the different trails, but didn’t have any intentions. Although, this was probably a good thing as I was adamant we were walking in the opposite direction to what we actually were!
The Lodge was previously a heath, and although signs of this remain, the numerous conifers that were planted have changed the habitat and biodiversity here. However, we were not there for the birds, but rather the stunning walk through heath, woodland and grassland scattered with wildflowers of many summer colours, under the shelter of the conifers where Harry began one of his current favourite hobbies – collecting fir cones.
We branched off and the path we were taking led us down make-shift steps which wound round and down to the old quarry and the location of the RSPB HQ. Although not ideal with a pushchair, it was an easy walk – Harry enjoyed walking down the shallow steps and was fascinated by the views, especially when he looked up at all the steps he had just walked down; and James pushed the pushchair down the hill beside the steps – and it was wonderful being our and not rushing anywhere and not having some place we wanted to be. At this point, it began to rain – only a brief shower – but we were sheltered by the trees so we barely noticed.
Our next path led us out into the open again and the views here were amazing. We were low down and everything surrounding us stretched up into the blue and white patchwork sky, the sunshine lighting up every flower, tree and rock. We began our ascent up Galley Hill. It was so peaceful: the only sounds were of passing trains (surreal, in such an environment) and the greetings of passing walkers (what I love about walking in places like this is how people always say good morning to passing strangers, something that is so rare nowadays).
At the top of Galley Hill, fields of wildflowers stretched on forever on front of us and, to the left, the path wove round to an old Iron Age hill fort where they had once farmed cows and sheep. Harry was tiring now so he went back in the pushchair as we explored the hill fort (there are placards all around telling the story of a shepherd who lived and worked on the hill over 2000 years ago). We then continued along the path, through another shower of rain, back to the car park.
Hungry after our long, beautiful walk, we stopped off to buy some food, half of which we ate on the way to our next destination, Wrest Park. We have been English Heritage members for a year now and, as the biggest site bear our current home, it seemed silly not to pay it a visit! We only stayed there for an hour, and so only had a taster, but we would like to go back and make more of a day of it (for non-members it is £8.50, so definitely worth a longer visit).
We approached Wrest Park from the village of Silsoe, and turned off onto one of those wide long tracks that disappear into the distance and you just know it leads to somewhere grand. On our left, there was a cricket match taking place and, then suddenly, on our right was a sturdy wall behind a makeshift car park. We parked, then walked through the grand gates to where there was a busy café with lots of indoor and outdoor sitting (we did not stop on this occasion), and the ticket office and shop. From there, we walked under an elegant arch to a beautiful garden of red, white and blue, the flowers very subtly arranged as the Union Jack, and the side view of the house which we did not visit on this occasion. Instead, we strolled along the beautiful boulevard past sculptures, fountains, people all in white playing croquet, views of a Chinese Pavilion and pretty bridge through the trees, to a long lake lined with bulrushes. Here, we sat on a perfectly positioned bench and ate the rest of our lunch with lovely views of the Archer Pavilion in the near-distance, as the sky ahead grew ominous, thunder rumbled far away and we occasionally glimpsed the blink of fork lightening.
We continued alongside the lake, Long Water, to the pavilion, then turned and walked back towards the house on the other side. The dark clouds were now over the house, growing ever closer, and as we went through the archway, umbrella started going up, and after a quick look in the shop the rain was lashing down and people were rushing into the café from the patio – although children still played in the play area – and we raced to the car, thinking how well we had timed everything!
That night we enjoyed a pork cider stew with rosemary croutons – a perfect dish for a not-quite-summer’s day!