A week in the New Forest in October in a house in the trees with rain forecast every day didn’t seem to augur too well. In the event the rain held off at critical times and at other times we didn’t mind getting wet. After all, being British, we accept bad weather with the equanimity it deserves for what it is. Getting wet is not something you seek, but when you are wet, well you’re wet and that’s sort of ok.We were all converging on the house from different directions. F and me in our car from Cornwall, Katherine and Aiisha from Southampton airport, and David and Jennifer from London. On our way we called into Forde Abbey as it was on our route and free to HHA members. A good call for lunch. Forde Abbey is a former Cistercian monastery dating back to the early 12th century. One of the richest abbeys in England it was of course quickly dissolved by Henry VIII. It then had a rich and varied history as a private home. Its first lay owner entertained the Duke of Monmouth as he planned his rebellion and ended up in the Tower of London, and Jeremy Bentham also rented the house for a period during the 19th century, and did much of his writing here.
It was in fact converted into quite a palatial family home during the mid 17th century. The house has exquisitely ornate plaster ceilings throughout the state rooms, together with a collection of very impressive Mortlake tapestries woven from cartoons drawn by Raphael for the Sistine Chapel. It is indeed a unique family house.
Throughout the 20th century the 30 acres of gardens that surround the house have been transformed by the present owners. The gardens are now a diverse and breathtaking landscape fit for the house that they surround, from the productive Kitchen Garden, to the Arboretum, Rock Garden, Herbaceous Borders, Bog Garden, and Woodland Garden.
And with it being near to Halloween they had lavish displays everywhere of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes…A fleeting but fascinating visit. Now, the clans having gathered and made ourselves at home, we set out on the first full day for Lymington as I knew the market was there on Saturdays….the journey there gave us some inkling of just how many ponies we would see in the following days…..they are everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, (and very friendly).We loved Lymington, who wouldn’t, and the busy and engaging market stretched in two rows a long long way down the main shopping street, and was great. We also found amazing bargains in a charity shop where we purchased 5 or 6 games suitable for children and adults (bearing in mind the weather).At the end of the main run a couple of very pretty cobbled streets took us down to the harbour….where we availed ourselves of some refreshments and lunch.A great place all round. A bit later in the day we walked along country paths to Beaulieu where we encountered rather a lot of donkeys (also friendly).Now why didn’t the others follow the example of this one sheltering under a large archway? Mind you, they do always seem to look sad….Back ‘home’ it was time for a belated birthday cake for Katherine and Aiisha which went down well, and after it some of the games we had bought.The ‘Load the Camel’ game was hilarious and we played with it lots of times. When overloaded it kind of jumped into life shocking me more than anyone every single time, and scaring poor Aiisha!Sunday was to be our adventure day. We walked to the Outdoor Activities Centre at Beaulieu….and prepared for our bike rides. Very very enjoyable if a little scary (as one of the main cycle routes was closed for pony counting!!) leaving us no option but to travel on busy main roads. Having completed our rides we prepared for canoeing. As you can see the rain was not putting anyone off.We travelled upstream to the weir at Beaulieu where we called into a little inlet for cups of hot chocolate provided by our instructor Chris. He was a terrific guide pointing out lots of rivery things, and always aware of which birds and features we were seeing…A great day all round, and highly recommended.Always nice to have a pint or whatever in the local Beaulieu pub after our exertions……And a nice sky on our walk home.Another day took us to Portsmouth where we were to see the Mary Rose (something I have always wanted to do). The dockland surroundings were very impressive and we glimpsed some very famous ships before entering a very active repair and building shed……..where we had a very decent lunch ( and did a bit of colouring)…..Getting closer to the Mary Rose museum we were intrigued and impressed by Nelson’s very own HMS Victory…and in between it and the Mary Rose was the iconic 25ft statue ‘Embracing Peace’, also known as Unconditional Surrender. This European replica of the US based original has been touring Europe, the original statue famously depicting an embrace in Times Square, New York, at the end of the World War II, between a returning serviceman and a local girl. Very impressive indeed.At last the Museum. We didn’t really know what to expect and whether it would be suitable for a 5 year-old. We were not to be disappointed. The ship itself at the centre, of course, of the museum is encircled by a “Hot Box” chamber that houses it whilst a highly technical drying out process takes place. Spotlit in different places at different times it is magical to see, and surrounding it on several floors equivalent to the decks are many of the items recovered from the ship which tell us so much about the England of Henry VIII and those who worked in its navy.Items which show the essence of a very powerful warship of its day, and a warship which moreover had already had a successful career of 34 years (news to me).And items which show us how its crew lived – and died.These are items from the carpenters store….and in their midst something which to me was the most astonishing thing of all…..….this multi-purpose tool. How incredible, a Swiss Army knife of the sixteenth century.There was so much to see that we only were able to have a good look at a tiny fraction…..Who could not be impressed by the galley with its two large, brick built ovens each with a huge copper cauldron on the top. Meat and fish were boiled in these to feed the 400 or 500 men on board. No chimneys – the smoke was trapped in a box-like area above the ovens, where it could be used to flavour fish and meat.The adults were entranced. And as for Aiisha, there were interactive games..skeletons to rebuild…..clothes to dress up in….food casks to see what people eat….and a kind of treasure hunt where successfully spotting various things all around the museum was rewarded with a certificate and badge. What a successful day. And we can return any time in the next year – we will!Yet another day found us at Poultons Park a theme park like no other and the #1 UK theme park as voted for by TripAdvisor, Mumsnet and Which readers, and most definitely by the Smith family. It was quite exceptional. Our first job on entering was to get ourselves fed and watered. And I can honestly say that the curry I had was one of the very best (and cheapest) curries I have ever had. Terrific to find such quality in a theme park.And what then struck us before anything else was the beauty of the surroundings with Japanese gardens, dinosaur jungles, and lots of birds………But of course some of us had come for the rides, and they were great. Naturally neither F. nor I ventured onto the more extreme, adrenelin-inducing rides but we did try some of the more moderate ones which gave us ample flavour of what theme park rides are about…..And what I found fascinating was the way that Aiisha not only got super enjoyment from the big rides, but also from the gentler ones too……And at the end, to cap it all off there was Peppa Pig’s World, and who couldn’t like that?A really, really really successful day…..well done to Paulton Park!