We were naughty. We were planning a picnic last Sunday, but the weather turned against us, so Tom and I rescheduled our Monday lessons to Friday in order to make the most of the Monday sunshine. After a leisurely morning, we packed a couple of overnight bags and got the train from Euston to Tring (a real place. Not somewhere hobbits live, I promise). Tring is the nearest station to the village of Aldbury (just west of London), blessed by being a short trot from the Ashridge Estate, a National Trust managed former hunting ground of Henry VIII.
It’s amazing. Full of fallow and muntjac deer, wide paths for galloping along and smaller, secret trails for wandering deep into the forest’s heart. You often spot cyclists or walkers, but they’re usually following parallel or perpendicular paths, and never the twain shall meet (if I have anything to do with it). We checked into our hotel first, Pendley Manor in Hertfordshire, eyes peeled for the peacocks I’d been promised. It’s not quite the Prestonfield (just outside Edinburgh, and my favourite hotel that I’ve encountered), but it was originally a nineteenth century country house so I’m not complaining.
As soon as we’d divested ourselves of a surprising amount of luggage, we changed into Country Clothing (sort of – read ‘semi-sensible’) and headed out to the woods. They’re about a twenty minute walk from the hotel, and half of this is uphill, so I admit I was sweating a bit once we’d reached a suitably secluded picnic spot (Tom, however, was like the bloody Terminator, and seemed to relish carrying a heavy wicker hamper stuffed with food and champagne uphill. Whatever).
(He often reminds me of Tom Sawyer – always looking for trouble)
Looks like weird forest grass, but actually tiny bluebells preparing to flower
The secluded clearing we laid claim to
Now THAT is a picnic!
Hmm. Did I really say I would share the picnic with you Tom? I forget. Perhaps it’s all for me…
Champagne, olives, smoked salmon, salami, fresh bread, a huge pork pie and quince-jelly (no idea – sounded good though) from Fortnum and Mason, brie and port salut, chopped avocado and chilli beetroot (thank you Waitrose for somehow making beetroot even better – I crave this stuff like a drug), strawberries and a F&M chocolate-owl for dessert. An excellent picnic! We even saw a tiny muntjac deer mere metres away, wandering past us without a care in the world, which made it even more special. We engendered the same type of outing a year ago, and were surprised by five fallow deer in ‘stealth mode’ trying to creep past us. It was wonderful to see antlers bobbing past so close, and we had to stifle giggles at their pink panther tactics (completely invisible guys. No idea you even exist).
We tried a ‘selfie’ but came out looking like serial killers. Never mind.
Hunting chocolate owls
(This is my ‘scanning the horizon’ pose. I’d have been great in the army)
Then Tom… ripped its head off. It was delicious though.
Afterwards we climbed trees, as any respectable adult would of course do, and played catch with a tennis ball (I am surprisingly skilled at the game of catch when I concentrate, thanks to years of training from my dad. He wanted a boy, he got me. Thus have I acquired Boy Skills such as building fires, and passable catching and throwing). Trees creaked and groaned in the breeze, a blackbird screamed his war-cry and the bushes rustled, but otherwise we were surrounded by astonishing silence. That is, until ‘catch’ moved to the top of a fallen tree, and my imaginative expletives filled the air as I darted up and down trying to catch Tom’s intentionally-erratic throws.
We wandered through the woods, sometimes following paths sometimes not, and came across this empty clearing. Or was it…
A short rest.
We eventually headed back down to Aldbury when the sun began to set. The walk back is all down-hill (thank god), and you end up at a lovely little pub called The Greyhound. Village duck pond, old houses, open fires when it’s cold and plenty of ales and ciders on tap… a very nice pub indeed. You know how in London sitting outside a pub means dealing with roaring traffic, chain-smokers and guffawing city *ankers? Not here. Here you’re watching ducks waddle around the pond, buzzards soar overhead, and cats pretending to be feral (they’re completely nuts – far too much time on their paws. You can see a theme-tune being mimed behind their crazed eyes as they ner ner nER ner, ner neer ner around the pond and under parked cars).
After a couple of drinks and mad-cat sightings, we lazily got a taxi back to Pendley and went to dinner. The meal was lovely, and the service excellent, though our waiter remembered our order wrong and I was brought duck rather than duck egg (I’d gone for the vegetarian option, so this wasn’t ideal), but they came back with what I’d actually ordered in a remarkable ten minutes, and brought us a free desert.
We then made our way to ‘The Shakespeare Bar’ (recently refurbished and – cringe – re-themed). I had a couple of great cocktails though, and spent a pleasant hour writing, curled up in a leather armchair with my feet tucked underneath me and a tartan woollen shawl wrapped around my shoulders.
Pendley has a spa and swimming pool (as well as offering clay pigeon shooting, hot air ballooning, croquet and other fun outings), so Tom and I went for a swim before breakfast the next morning. Growing up surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on an 8.1 sq mile island, I’m pretty good at swimming, but chlorine makes my gills itch, so as usual Tom showed me up with the speed and efficacy of his polar bear stroke – a bit like doggy paddle, but more alarming (in the sea, however, I literally swim circles around him, but you’ll have to wait until summer to see this!)
Three lovely older ladies had a sort of water… dance class going on, which we politely tried to ignore but nearly drowned in our sudden curiosity when they were instructed to ‘do the seahorse’. They soon gained an audience…
We had breakfast in our room, after a bit of peacock spotting, then got the train home. If you’re tired of London, but aren’t able to go on a proper holiday, then a brief sojourn to Tring is exactly what you need. Does anyone else have any secret escapes for when the fug of fumes and blare of voices gets too much? Let me know!
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