Saturday, 4 June 2011

Doing it - In Hampton

It is so nice to have some time to catch my breath, rest up and enjoy the wonderful hospitality of my friend Hilary. Hilary is Scottish and is the sister in law of a girlfriend who I went right through school with. Some 23 years ago she visited New Zealand and stayed with me for a few months taking her time to explore NZ. Her Dad, Jim also came and stayed with me on a several occasions. So we go back a long way, but have not seen each other for a very long time. You all know how it is though you just pick up where you left off and away you go. With 20 odd years to catch up on there is an awful lot of talking to be done.

The weather is absolutely brilliant here. Stunningly gorgeous spring days with lots of sun, heat and blue skies with vapor trails criss crossing it as Heathrow is only about 20 mins drive away. Hampton is a 41mins train ride out of London, not far at all and has a lovely village feel to it. Hampton’s claim to fame is Hampton Court Palace which is a short walk away and is surrounded by Home Park- the park of the Palace which was enclosed by Henry VIII in the mid-16th century for hunting.

Hilary's address is the delightfully named Kings Paddock, Park Close where I am told  King Henry VIII used to hunt in this very vicinity. Yesterday we went for a 5 mile walk (imperial here!) through Bushy Park which is the second largest of the Royal Parks and covers an area of 1099 acres. Squirrels scurried about on and across the tracks, huge geese and swans were in abundance and wild deer are everywhere from the baby fawns to the proud males with stunning headgear!
I had been telling Hilary about my disappointment with the standard of scones in England...the mother of all scones so to speak. The challenge was on! We set off to Kingston on Thames which is the biggest shopping area closest to her. So sitting right by the river Thames and on a scale of 1-10 I had to rate the scone we had. It was the best one I had so far and was brown and crisp all over and very different from the sickly pale doughy versions we had previously. It was definitely an eight and whats more the coffee was also one of the better ones I have had, but sadly nothing beats home yet for both the coffee and the scones.

Very close to Hilary is a heated outdoor swimming pool so it was a great opportunity to check out the swim fitness. It was not so great, it’s been a while but I swam a mile and a half (more than 2 km) and really enjoyed it. I do miss my swimming.
It is a little community pool (33 meters) with a small gym and several classes, pool aerobics, yoga and pilates going on. Hilary went to do a circuit class and afterward we sat at the cafe overlooking the pool and I met all her gym buddies. Most people ask about ChCh and I am told that there was extensive coverage. They also think that we are going to win the Rugby World better tell Graham he can lighten up.

We visited an exquisite walled garden in a little place called Sunbury (Sunbury on Thames) not far from Hampton. Walled gardens were a particular feature of the larger Georgian and Victorian houses, and were used for the growing of high quality fruit and vegetables for the wealthy owner of the house. It covers   two acres with the original walls in many places being 8 to 10ft high. We strolled amongst wonderful roses in full bloom and the fragrances wafted out. There was an amazing array of plants, shrubs and flowers in this wonderfully planned out garden that was established in the 1800's. Today it is run entirely by volunteers including the cafe on site. That probably explained why the woman grumped at us for asking for two tea bags and that was only for Hilary. Like any good Scotswoman- she takes everything strong!

 I have finally started to read the books I downloaded onto my net book before I left. It puts a different take on ...I think I will go and read my I think will go and read my computer. It’s not as weird as what I thought it would be and it does mean less you have to carry. I am fast learning whatever you pack/buy you have to carry..... although the greatest reminder of this fact left on a plane a few days ago.

Hilary has a wonderful Peugeot 307 convertible and with the days being so settled we put the top down and are off.  Not quite like Thelma and Louise but close.

Hilary was keen to show me a place called Richmond about 4 miles away. Richmond on Thames to be precise. We walked up Richmond Rise to take in the most expensive view in London as it is known.
It must be good as the age old Mick Jagger has a home there which we walked past ( no long driveways or walls and gates) and  somehow he has managed to get consent to put in a glass elevator up the side of his building. Not a good look when it is surrounded by stately English homes. Apparently Jerry Hall lives there and he has a penthouse up on top for when he is visiting. Rock stars aside the view is quite beautiful and all of this 20 mins away on the train from London.
 We wandered down by the Thames and had lunch on one of the many riverside cafes. Some of them were wonderfully up market and their menus outside attested to this. Hilary took me on a walking tour of Richmond on Thames, through Richmond Green another wonderful park, walking through the grounds of Richmond Palace (a former home of Henry VII, VIII and Elizabeth I.) and then swinging past the shopping area with its little lanes and alleys and old English shops. Being one of the most expensive areas in England you can imagine the real estate prices here. Hilary has some friends that have shifted from Sydney last year and we called around as she wanted me to see the inside of the "flat" they are renting for 6000 pounds a month. The dining room was huge and the fitting and furnishings were all that you would imagine and much more. It was a treat to see inside one of these types of homes as from the outside many of them look very similar and not always attractive designs…. and of course they are mostly all brick.

Not only have I been taken around some of the local sights Hilary has introduced me to some of her friends and acquaintances. I have been fortunate to have everyday conversations with the "people" in these communities and that aspect is incredibly interesting and allows some insight and understanding of their culture and way of life.

I have been fortunate to visit Hampton Court Palace built in the late 14th century. The most famous resident was Henry VIII and his 6 wives. By the time Henry finished his building works at Hampton Court Palace in about 1540, the palace was one of the most modern, sophisticated and magnificent in England. 

There were tennis courts, bowling alleys and pleasure gardens for recreation, a hunting park of more than 1,100 acres, kitchens covering 36,000 square feet, a fine chapel, a vast communal dining room (the Great Hall) and a multiple garderobe (or lavatory) - known as the Great House of Easement - which could sit 28 people at a time!

It is a fascinating place where you were left to explore in your own time. Many of the places we have been have had little restriction on taking photos and this was no exception. The guard room in particular stood out as a vast array of weapons, mostly guns and knives were displayed high up on the walls in amazing designs.

To be standing on the floorboards where Henry VIII once walked in the 1500's on many an occasion (or one of his wives) and take in the richness of the history that surrounds you is very special.


Equally impressive are the 60 acres of stunningly beautiful gardens ( some of which I saw from a horse drawn carriage) that run down to the River Thames, the oldest and largest grapevine in the world ( 230 years old) and the hedged maze . Yes, I got lost and could not get out for at least 10mins.

It will be saying goodbye to Hilary tomorrow after a lovely week together where I have been well looked after and pampered. Especially great was the home cooked meals and fresh fruit and vegetables which I had missed so much. It has been a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the people in this community that bring another dimension to a country that you have not visited before.

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