Sunday, 30 October 2016

Escapes to the country

I promise my long-held silence doesn't mean life has suddenly become boring. In fact, it's been anything but and proof lies in my empty bank account. Dressed in a fresh pair of pyjamas and armed with yet another cup of tea, I've definitely resigned myself to a PJ day and I'm pretty sure it's well-earned today, not just a means of avoiding spending.

One of my favourite things about this Autumn so far has definitely been my country escapes, of which there have been plenty. It all began with a trip to Boxhill in the North Downs in Surrey in the final weekend of September. Provided with several different walks to choose from, we went for the 'Stepping Stones Walk' which I admit I thought sounded sweet so was surely going to be a gentle amble. Needless to say, Boxhill is called Box'hill' for a reason; we definitely walked off our picnic and my time in the gym has not improved my lung capacity. Our longest dog walk to date, it was nevertheless so lovely to spend a day surrounded by green and space as far as the eye could see.

I welcomed October with a visit to Norwich (which probably explains where all my money disappeared to) then the following weekend was spent in Ripe for a glorious weekend of singing interspersed with lots and lots of food, drink and general merriment. This was the second time I had joined the choir for their annual getaway and it was just as wonderful as the year before. Ripe is the sweetest of villages in East Sussex peppered with quaint houses and home to a beautiful little church where we sang in a workshop all day on Saturday for a concert in the evening and then again in the Sunday morning service. I do think being in the countryside really emphasises the changing seasons; for lunch we devoured home-made soups (curried parsnip, tomato and red pepper or broccoli and Stilton) with a cheese board on the side and an endless supply of fruit afterwards (all seriously heart-warming, foods) and of course the surrounding scenery was so picturesque and the country pub so cosy. After the service on Sunday we walked the long lane back to the home of our host and hostess then before lunch we were given a tour of the vegetable garden which was honestly like something straight out of Beatrix Potter's stories. Idyllic doesn't even begin to describe the Ripe weekend.

Two weekends ago I was craving another dose of country air so myself a fellow Norfolk-dweller headed on an Epping Forest adventure. I'm not sure that we would have expected it to be much of an 'adventure' but it saw us getting shamefully lost on our walk which was mostly spent potentially trespassing on farmland and skirting the M11 and M25 when we took one of many wrong turnings. Four hours (advertised as a 2-hour round trip) of fresh air and what can only be described as a proper 'romp' did us good though, even if we did have to back-track multiple times and (oh the shame) set our phones to satellite mode in order to establish our location when faced with fences of a high or electric nature on several occasions. I feel like this country escape was possibly the least relaxing of the few I've had this season and maybe even slightly traumatic but it was nothing that beer and pub food couldn't fix. We'll be back, now we know the way...

Half term arrived and home beckoned so on Thursday I was Norfolk-bound on a super early and surprisingly busy train. As happens every October half term, I've got the cold to rival all colds but I hoped it was nothing that couldn't be fixed by country air, home cooking and love. An early departure meant an early arrival thus we had a whole day on Thursday to get out and about. Our day began in the village of Walsingham, home to fascinating churches for several denominations of Christianity and two beautiful shrines to Mary as well as a tearoom with the tastiest cake and a farm shop with the prettiest produce. From Walsingham we carried on to the coast and Brancaster Staithe. No crab left at the hut in the harbour so we just took a hot drink back to the car to admire the view.

On Friday we first drove to Wolfertoon Woods where we often go for our Christmas day walk. I thought it might be looking particularly pretty at this time of year and I was right. We were met by every shade of golden and red and a plethora of toadstools growing all around. The curly-haired cows were up a lot closer and more personal than usual which was fun and because we're so used to clear paths in winter we actually took a wrong turning and ended up traipsing through bracken to find the path again. From Wolferton we headed again along the coast to grab a crab sandwich to prepare us for Thornham, my favourite beach and the one that I felt Mallorca was reminiscent of with all its pine. Back in the summer we were put off staying by yuppies with rugby balls and enormous picnic hampers but this time we were glad not to encounter too many other people at all as we made the walk along the bank to the pleasingly empty beach.

It sure is reassuring to know that the countryside complete with its air and space is never too far away and is always available, no matter the time of year. I think this month has definitely shown me that country escapes don't have to be so infrequent as they had become.