September is mere days away and I haven’t posted since June, whoops.
Well, it wasn’t for lack of things to write about in August, my most social month in a very long time. A short summary;
We saw humans and stayed in a hotel! It was our first overnight outing since the pandemic, and consequently a bit weird but still pretty great. Saturday morning we packed our bags, did our tests, then caught the train to Reading, grumbling the entire way about all the unmasked people. The Novotel had a mask policy but low customer compliance. The lifts had signs requesting single group usage, but the hotel was full of families so it was easier to take the stairs anyway. The real shocker was breakfast, which was a buffet with no pandemic measures in place at all. Almost worse, they had those awful self-serve coffee machines.
The bus to Steve and Julia’s stops right across the street from the hotel, and Steve kindly met us at the bus stop with an umbrella. Liz and Alison were already there, and as we settled in Julia fed us coffee and snacks, and introduced us to the cats. When the rain stopped we headed to Double-Barrelled for beer and food truck nachos, then returned to the house for a lovely dinner. Liz was also at the Novotel, so we rode the bus back together, then met up for the aforementioned breakfast in the morning. It almost felt like a convention! Sunday was similar, with a delicious lunch and another trip to Double-Barrelled, but this time Mark and Claire joined us. The Octothorpe Trio managed to fit in a quick podcast recording before joining us at the tap room, and we all chatted away happily till closung time, then dispersed to our various homes across the country.
John and I took had taken the following week off to play local tourist and otherwise laze about.
Monday was Stonehenge! I’d wanted to go for ages, but had it in my head that it was difficult to get to. Quite the opposite; you take the train to Salisbury, then the official Stonehenge bus from the station. If you have an admission ticket you get an audio tour of Salisbury and Stonehenge on the way. There’s a snazzy new visitor center, with an excellent gift shop (and museum, and other educational stuff). They provide shuttles to the site, or it is about a half hour walk, lovely in nice weather. Often I’ve found Brits can be a bit dismissive of the monument, talking about how you can’t walk between the stones anymore, which is true (except by appointment/on special ocassions) but it’s still well worth the trip. The landscape is beautiful, the stones impressive, and the perimeter means that the henge stands empty, your view is uninterrupted. On the back side you do get quite close, and visiting on a weekday probably helps. Your ticket includes Old Sarum, and works on the regular buses that use that route to town, so we took full advantage. We had time for a nice meal at The Old Coffee and Ale House, which cleverly uses beach huts as outdoor booths, and little wander though Salisbury before our train home.
Tuesday was Watership Down! This was another place I had visualized as remote and inaccessible, and in fairness it kind of is. We took the train to Basingstoke, which is a bit less quaint than Salisbury but has a lovely cafe with excellent pastries, then the bus to Kingsclere where we picked up supplies. John had cobbled together a walking guide from several online ones that almost-but-not-quite did what we wanted, and we set off on a four-hour hike along the downs. The countryside is beautiful, we saw more butterflies seemed possible, and we reached Watership Down about ninety minutes in. I had expected nothing except the landscape, so we were delighted to see that there is a tree planted with a dedication to Adams. We had our lunch on Ladle Hill, site of an iron age fort, then walked back past Nutthanger Farm, and even spotted a rabbit in the woods. Excepting a stretch at the end where you’re forced to walk along a country road with no pedestrian path (so stressful) it was really lovely.
Wednesday we went to the cricket! The Southern Brave played the Welsh Fire in the Hundred, first the women and then the men. The Hundred is a bit jazzier than regular cricket, so there was a halftime show (Lauran Hibberd, which I enjoyed) and the Brave won both games! It was a nice night so we walked home.
Thursday we rested our feet, got haircuts, and watched a weird little movie called The Endless.
Friday was Vibrant Forest! In what you may have sensed was a theme, we had previously sort of planned to do this when we had visitors with a car, thinking it was a faff to get to. Turns out there’s a bus from the city center, so we had a chill afternoon of drinking beer at their excellent tap room and finished with a burger at The Black Phoenix
As if that wasn’t enough, Saturday morning we took the train up to Peterborough for John’s mother’s birthday. It was a surprise, so his father cleverly asked her to come along and pop into Waitrose while he picked up a parcel. We met him at the car, put our bags in the boot, and off he went to get Ruth as we hid giggling behind the car. Well, it was definitely a surprise, because she spent another fifteen minutes finishing up her shopping! Our knees were barely up to the task, and doubltess we looked very suspicious back there, but eventually they came back and we jumped out. Happily, she seemed delighted.
It was a relaxed visit, we ordered pizza and watched Rocket Man, then a Sunday morning walk followed by a birthday lunch with John’s brother, his wife, and her mother.