Lovely sleep in until 8. Took the puppies up to The Forge which had a rather large quantity of small dogs. When Mirinda noted this, the man said “Yeah, it’s all old people this time of year.” Then he stopped rather awkwardly, realising he was calling us old. He changed the subject but it was too late. Deeply insulted we marched back to our car and drove off in a hail of pebbles. He, bending down by his chainsaw, saw nothing.
Back home, we packed and left by 1:15. Our route was pretty simple and one we knew rather well, so there was little chance of getting lost, though Mirinda generally assumes I will until proven otherwise. I’d made some sandwiches and filled a flask with hot water so, in true English style, we pulled off the A303 into a little lay-by, and soaked up the countryside through gallons of heavy vehicle exhaust, while eating and drinking.
The lay-by had an information board regaling us with the beauties and wildlife of the Test Valley. As soon as we were refreshed we returned to the road, not that impressed with this particular part of the Test Valley. Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s very popular. Two trucks and three other cars stopped there at the same time as us.
Retracing our early first steps in England, we went through the Podimore roundabout, skirted past Yoevil and turned off to Crewkerne. And ten minutes later we pulled into the Cricket St Thomas drive.
The first observation I feel I have to make, is that Grantley Manor cannot be seen from Audrey’s Lodge. Or rather, the lodge at Cricket St Thomas is too far away to see the manor house. OK, there’s a building that’s quite close to the manor, but I don’t think Mrs Fforbes-Hamilton would have lived there.
Something has just occurred to me. There is a link at Cricket House to Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton – strange because I don’t know what it is – and Audrey’s surname in To The Manor Born is Fforbes-Hamilton! I’m assuming this was intentional by the writer.
Anyway… we parked in the massive Disneyland style car park and trotted the 30 miles back to reception for our instructions. We are in the walled garden section which is to say the furthest from the main house. The view from our window is lovely however, with the Church of Cricket St Thomas poking above the garden wall.
While Mirinda had a quick snooze I went for a wander round the grounds. There’s a world famous wildlife park in the grounds, housing camels, zebras, lemurs, leopards, flamingos, and hordes more. It was developed by the Taylor family who bought Cricket St Thomas in 1965. I couldn’t hear a lot of wildlife (it was dusk) but the smell was very clear.
I walked round and through the lovely little church.There was a church by the 12th century but then a fire in the 19th century burnt it down and it’s thought that it was rebuilt in 1820 by Lord Bridport. There is a large marble memorial on the left side of the chancel to Reverend William, Earl Nelson and Duke of Bronte who was Lord Nelson’s (of the Trafalgar fame) brother. I guess this explains the Hamilton link which, incidentally, is also the name of the ala carte restaurant.
By the altar there is a very rare wooden font made from Sicilian chestnut. Outside, in the churchyard, they are a couple of very impressive monuments. The white angel with the big sword marks the grave of General of Viscount Bridport (1814-1904). Behind this is a couple of little kids playing round a grave. These are little bronze statues, the same as are scattered all around the grounds – I can find no information about them except this grave is that of Hugh Garner Taylor (1910-1981). But my favourite is a little plaque under a tree which states that Irene Hand was “gay to the last.”
I walked around a hotel up to Cricket House, looking lovely in a setting sun, then through to the main entrance, Terrace Bar and billiards room. It’s all very lovely but the constant reminder that you are surrounded by hotel rooms tends to bring you back to earth.
On the way back to the room I stopped at the Balcony Bar for a pint of Worthington’s (excessively expensive and badly poured) and a read of the local paper where I found out all about egg shackling, the ancient ritual of shaking eggs in a strainer until they break. Obviously it’s some sort of ancient way of ensuring tough chooks.
Back in time to wake Mirinda and head off to Hamilton’s for dinner. Warners has this great idea of their own credit type cards which you can use at bars, gift shops, restaurants, etc – we used one at Littlecote and it means you don’t need much cash. Unfortunately, due to an unspecified technical error, they are unavailable this weekend. Very annoying. There are no ATMs either. What it means is that you can’t put meals on your room. Annoying, annoying, annoying.
Still, the meal was lovely. I started with mushrooms in a stilton and port sauce, followed by “Lord Nelson’s duck breast” and Mirinda started with smoked chicken and mango then followed with “Lady Hamilton’s pork tenderloin”. We finished with a delicious slice of pecan pie each.
We ended up back at our room, after a lovely moonlit garden stroll, at about 10.