Whales ! – A quick stop in Queensland.

Sunday 20 July 2014 – Brisbane, Australia.

After an early walk with my mum on Friday morning I packed up the remainder of my stuff – I have accumulated enough extra bits and pieces to be taking a second bag back to London. Surprisingly I did not buy anything in New Zealand – apart from essentials like wine and four packets of Tim Tam biscuits to take back with me 🙂

My daughter, Meliesha was taking me out to the airport so mum and I met her at the newly renovated Lopdell House in Titirangi. I used to be on the committee of the local community arts council in Titirangi and we had a gallery in Lopdell House. The gallery has recently re-opened after the renovations and the new space is so much better than the old one, with some really nice natural light. Mel, mum and I met on the new roof terrace and some lovely views over the start of the Waitakere Ranges and the Manukau Harbour – and such a glorious winters day to be up there.

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After saying my farewells to all I was dropped at the airport for my flight to Brisbane, Australia where I am going to spend some time with my oldest son, Dom. I was on time for my flight, unlike the plane – though you can see it has just landed in the distance.

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It was a good flight over the Tasman and I was only a little bit late landing. I have decided to rent a car while I am here as distances are long and public transport not quite at London standards. I drove down to the small town of Beenleigh, which is about half way between the Gold Coast and Brisbane airport. Dom has been back in Australia for three weeks now and has started work as a plumbing apprentice, he is living with his mother, my ex-wife and I am going to be staying there as well. Thankfully we are on good terms ! I have been gifted a lovely head cold by my mum, so did not stay up too late on Friday night.

Last night we kicked around a few options for things to do while I am here and decided that if the wind dropped we would spend a pile of money, do something mega-touristy and go whale watching. Luckily it did, so we did…

I am not really one for large scale organised tourist activities so it was a bit strange to be forking out almost 200AUD to go whale watching with SeaWorld. We arrived 2 minutes before the boat left, so grabbed a quick coffee before getting on board. IMG 0127

The journey started from the harbour created by the Spit and there was a good mix of bird life on the low tide sand banks while we waited for the boat to head out.

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It took about fifteen minutes to get through the harbour and out to the open sea, to the south was the ugly expanse of hotels that is Surfers Paradise and to the north, where we spent most of the trip, was South Stradbroke Island.

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We spotted our first whale soon after getting into the ocean. The humpback whales spend a little bit of time in the large Gold Coast bay as they head north (and then back south again) in their migration from the winter Antarctic oceans to their breeding grounds off the coast of North Queensland. I was testing out my new Canon G16 camera today and was pretty pleased. All the shots were taken at maximum optical zoom, any closer photos posted here have been cropped.

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I was not sure what to expect from the experience, visiting animals in the wild is never a guarantee for any sort of action, nor any close up shots. The boats are not allowed within 100 metres of the whales – of course the whales can come closer to the boats if they desire – though this did not happen for us.

The trip started off fairly slow, with some distant viewing of solo whales and small pods. So I did do a photo swap with Dom while I had the chance 🙂

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We followed one whale for a while and when it chose to dive, we did get the opportunity to get the ‘tail shot’. Though this means the whale has dived deep and could be gone for up to 45 minutes !

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We soon spotted a small pod of whales in the distance and motored over to have a look. Often the whales are spotted in the distance when they blow out water as they exhale, and all hundred or so of us on the boat were scanning the water for the tell tale spouts. This group made it easy to spot.

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We were told that this group was likely made up of a mature female and two or three young males seeking her attentions. She was obviously getting frustrated with them as she started to bang her fin on the surface, a humpback whale signal for leave me alone ! It was very cool to watch.

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After a few minutes of banging her fin, she decided to give up and took a dive.

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We were looking around for a while when all of a sudden there was yelling from some of the other visitors and I turned round in time to see a humpback just smashing back into the water after a breach – when the whale ‘jumps’ out of the water.

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According to the whale expert on the boat they do not see breaches every time they go out, so this was really exciting for us. The whales breach for a variety of reasons, most likely to clean barnacles or other hitch hikers off of their skin or to have a good scratch of something that is itching. Whatever the reason, it was very cool to watch and we were lucky to see three or four of them. They are also really hard to photograph as you never know exactly where they are going to appear.

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After the action was over and the whales disappeared beneath the surface we waited for a while before this group finally re-appeared on the surface.

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But they did not stay long and this was our final view of them. We turned around soon after they left and headed back to land.

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It was a great outing and I was really pleased we did it. We saw way more than we expected and the breaches were amazing to watch.

Back in the car Dom and I cruised down the the coast as far as the coastal road allowed before heading in to a mall for some lunch. After lunch and still with a few hours of day left we took a drive up into the coastal hills and visited Mount Tamborine. We stopped off for a beer near the top and I took a photo back down over the coast and the other side of Surfers Paradise to the one seen earlier in the day, this was the last photo I took in Australia for some reason.IMG 0128

After popping in to visit my ex-brother in law on this 40th birthday, Dom and I went to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane to join 38,000 others to watch the NZ Warriors lose to the Brisbane Broncos in a NRL rugby league game. It all started so well (the Warriors ) were 12-0 up after only a few minutes.

On Sunday Dom and I went for a posh lunch in a restaurant in Sanctuary Cove before heading to the movies to see Transformers 4. It was OK, longer than I expected, but I mostly enjoyed it. The CGI is getting pretty special these days. And that was pretty much it for my holiday. In the early evening I drove back to Brisbane Airport to return the car and with a massive head cold boarded the plane for the shorter of the two flights back to London. Amazingly I had a whole row to myself and actually slept for a good couple of hours on the flight. I was very pleased !!

I had a good time in Aussie, it was great to spend some time with Dom, and really pleased he is doing well over there. It was good seeing my ex, Deana and I really appreciated being able to stay at her house as it saved me having to find accommodation that would have been quite a distance away.

I had three hours in Singapore airport and caught the little train over to terminal two to see if I could find the Kobo e-reader I left on the flight to Singapore from London. It had been found and was in lost property. Sadly lost property is on the other side of immigration and there was not enough time to get out of the airport to get it. Though Singapore Airlines are going to send it to London for me to collect, nice one!

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The almost fourteen hours of flying to London was pretty awful, I did not sleep at all, and the plane was very full. I watched a few movies (Lego movie) and seven episodes of the new TV series ‘Believe’, but was hugely relieved to land in London !

It was a very short, very busy and very enjoyable trip to NZ and Australia. It was great seeing my family again and the new addition, Luca.  I love you all and look forward to seeing you again soon.

Ten days in New Zealand.

Thursday 17 July 2014 – Auckland, New Zealand.

After a fairly relaxing weekend away near Donnington Castle. about two hours out of London I spent the following Monday morning doing a final pack before heading off to Heathrow airport for a two week trip back home to New Zealand, and a final couple of days visiting my oldest son in Queensland, Australia. I had vaguely planned my departure to be after the one time when I would be really close to somewhere where the Tour de France was passing by, sadly I had gotten the time completely wrong and the lead riders were due to pass through Walthamstow as I was due to be heading to the airport, Doh !

I am not one to sleep on planes, I have trouble enough sleeping in bed, let alone planes, and though the flight from London to Singapore was in the evening and was reasonably comfortable I did not really doze much more than a few minutes at a time over a number of attempts – I did watch some bad movies though – and once I arrived in New Zealand found I had left my e-reader in the plane. (Yay to Singapore Airlines, they are sending my e-reader to London for me to collect !)

Changi Airport in Singapore is an interesting place, I was there for four hours so had a pretty thorough look around terminal three, If I had not been so damn full after eating at least three meals in the past twelve hours I would have been up there eating some lovely noodles like a shot.


I was less tempted by the pokie machines though. I have never seen gambling in an airport before!


The airport is pretty massive, and I walked a good ten minutes up to where my flight to Auckland was to depart from, only to find it had moved, almost the same distance away in the opposite direction. It was good to stretch out with a walk though.


But, there was a lovely sunset to make it all worthwhile.


I arrived in Auckland mid afternoon on Wednesday, what seems like two days after I left London. The primary reason for my trip this time was to see my new grandson, unnamed at the time I left and I was thrilled to see him when my son, Aiden, brought him around to my mum’s house after work on the day I arrived. We had a lovely family dinner that night and it was great to see everyone, and I got my first hold of my first grandson – Luca Ken (Ken was my late father’s name, it brought a tear to my eye when I found out) . Yes, it was pretty damn cool!


I hadn’t really planned anything beyond seeing family, apart from sorting through some of the stuff I have stored at my brother-in-laws house, disposing of the stuff to be disposed of, and maybe sneaking some vinyl into a bag and taking it back to London.

I spent the first couple of days relaxing and hanging out with my children and on Friday I took a trip down to Mt Te Aroha for a very windy bit of outdoors adventure with my friend Vicki.

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With most of my friends working during the week I had a fairly full weekend of catching up with people and took a trip with old friend Chantal,out to Piha on Auckland’s west coast , which is my favourite part of Auckland and the one part of the city I miss. The weather was not the friendliest but we did get to walk along the beach for a bit between the showers, and had a pretty good lunch at Piha Cafe.


In the afternoon I had a great catch up with some friends I met many years ago via Flickr. I missed seeing them last time I was in Auckland, and I really enjoyed our brief couple of hours together – next time we must go and spend some time taking some photos. We had coffee in a couple of cafes including this lovely cafe on K Rd, It looks to be part of a closed theatre but I cannot place one there.


I also took a quick walk around to look at some of the limited range, but quite cool street art in the area.




On Monday mum and I took a trip out to Muriwai Beach, another one of my best loved Auckland locations, dad’s ashes are scattered here and we always come out for a visit when I am in Auckland.




That was pretty much it for the week, I spent two days organising my stuff, visited the kids a few times, hung out with some friends and saw my sisters my lovely new house.

On my last day I went for a walk around mums ‘hood in Henderson. The council here have done a great job over the years in building and linking up walking paths that snake around the greener areas of the suburb, taking walking and cycling off of busy – and in some cases ugly, light industrial roads. Mum walks these regularly and it was nice to get out for a couple of walks while I was staying with her – especially on such a nice morning, cool though it was.


We walked through Tui Glen which is now a park, but back in the 1970’s it was a caravan park village and we lived here, in this small home when we first arrived in New Zealand from England in the summer of 1973. We stayed here for a few weeks while my parents found jobs and a place to set down roots. I will say it was the most unhappy time for me and I suspect all of us. A lot of the flats have been knocked down, but some like this one – now called Glen Oaks have been preserved.


I had to take a photo of this mill house in Henderson it is 170 years old and an historic place. After recently walking on Roman ruins from almost a thousand years ago in London, I do find it so amusing that anything of a century old in Auckland is considered historic – though it will never get to be a thousand years old if they are not preserved now!


And that was pretty much the end of my NZ trip. I did buy myself a new camera, this time I have gone for a more traditional point and shoot style with a Canon G16. Time to replace my Lumix’s. I won’t say I will miss the GX1, I found it too frustrating to use in the end, but the GF1 served me very well all around South East Asia.

Next stop Brisbane, and my other son Dom. Yay!

My Grandson….

Friday 18 July 2014 – Auckland, New Zealand.

I am going to act like some large multi-national corporations do with UK tax law and act within the wording of the rules, but ignore the spirit of them. Just like Amazon doesn’t pay tax in the UK because it does not sell anything there – all 7 billion pounds of UK sales come out of Ireland**, I am going to put some photos of my new grandson here, which will be linked to FaceBook, though no photos will actually be on Facebook 🙂

His name is yet to be officially recorded in the book of births, but I have been assured it will not change (probably) so here is Luca Ken Platt, born on 19th June, two weeks early.

I am going to say I was not overly excited about the prospect of being a granddad at only 51, but my heart melted when I had my first cuddle and looked into his blankly staring little eyes. He is really lovely and I am very proud of my son Aiden and his partner.

These photos were taken over a few days during my ten day visit to Auckland. I am writing this at the airport as I wait for my flight to Brisbane to see my other son, Dom, before heading back to London on Monday. I miss them all already !





Luca and my mum.


Aiden and his sister, Mel.




I had forgotten what it is really like to hold such a small, vulnerable life in my hands, the little wriggly strength, the squishy faces they pull and the strange rumbles as they fill their nappy. It is pretty magical, and I look forward to holding him again.

He is not really ginger – not of course there is anything wrong with that !  I have finally got sick of my Lumix Gx1, was disappointed with the quality of the shots of Luca so went out and bought a new Canon G16 yesterday and I will sell the Gx1 when I get back to London. Too late for baby photos this time!

** The numbers may or may not be fact…

A Mt Te Aroha micro-adventure.

Friday 11 July 2014 – Te Aroha, New Zealand.

When I decided I should visit New Zealand a couple of weeks ago I also decided that I would try and squeeze one day of adventure into a very tight time frame. This is not something I would ever normally say, but I was sort of sick of the Waitakeres, so I was looking for somewhere I would not normally go to. I floated a couple of ideas over my friend Vicki, and as she was not working today we decided to head south east and walk/run or ride the Karangahake Gorge. I love K Gorge, I did not go there that often when I lived in New Zealand, so it is always fresh. It has a nice mix of rock strewn stream, native bush and some ruins left over from New Zealand’s ‘historic’ mining past, so is great for walking, riding and photography – all things I love.

That was the plan anyway. Once I arrived in NZ I discovered that I could not find any of my riding or running gear, except my bike and my trail shoes. The plan was then changed to walk K. Gorge and explore the open tunnel networks, I did find my head torch – bonus !

That was the plan anyway…. On the way down, Vicki floated the idea of doing Mt Te Aroha instead, as it was a similar distance away. She had never been up it before, though most of our running buddies had. I suspect that that was her plan all along, knowing I would agree very quickly – and she was right. I had been here once years ago and had ridden some newly open mountain bike trails in the lower slopes of the hill so was keen to revisit, and head to the summit.


Mt Te Aroha sits at the far southern end of the Kaimai Ranges, where the hills meet the Hauraki Plains, it does look quite bizarre, shooting up so abruptly from the flat expanse below. Sadly the top of the hill and its mast was obscured by the clouds.

We drove down to the small Te Aroha town-ship and parked just outside the domain area, the walking and mountain biking trails are quite clearly marked though I had to ask someone where the trail to the summit started. It was quite a windy day and we were advised it would be very windy and cold at the top.

As the sign says the hill is 950 metres high, but what it does not tell you is that the trail is just over 4 kms long… That makes the walk quite steep !



The trail started off with a fairly gentle gradient, and it was warm under the trees as well We soon reached a reasonable height and the view over the planes was long and reasonably clear. We could feel the wind a little bit on this side of the hill, and as we were standing taking photos of this rainbow a rain squall past round the side of the hill, we could see it but not feel it , and we stayed perfectly dry.


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Vicki is the New Zealand editor for a trail running magazine and was looking for some action shots for a trail review, not that we were really running anywhere – especially up hill, I am way too unfit at the moment and long pants are not really conducive to running. Where ever there was an opportunity to grab a couple of actions shots we did – I used the opportunity to take a rest!


As we got further up the hill, the gradient got steeper and steeper and as we drifted further round the hill the wind got stronger and stronger. We were a little nervous of some of the large trees that were creaking very loudly – and with the amount of trail litter – including some quite large branches, it was a well founded nervousness. There was also another rain squall that blew past by the side of the hill, but again we were sheltered from the worst of it.

The only bloke walking up Mt Te Aroha in an old Ramones t-shirt 🙂 (Tommy Ramone, the last remaining original member of the Ramones, passed away last night)

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As we approached the summit we could hear a roar overhead, it was incredibly loud and sounded like a jet engined plane just sitting above the top of the trees – though we could clearly see there was nothing there – intriguing! Just before the final push to the top there was a small ridge where there were no trees to provide shelter from the wind, as it was so strong we ended up sort of half crawling half stumbling across to avoid getting blown off the top – or that is what it felt like anyway.

Naturally the last section was steep! My legs were pretty shot by this stage and I was glad to stop and take photos every now and then, and even gladder to get to the top.


Wow ! The wind was incredible on the summit, and we found what was making all the noise, the wind through the mast was just incredibly loud. You can see how strong the wind was, not often you see hurricane fencing blown over. It was a lot colder on the top, though it was cloudy up there it was not really wet, though we put coats on for the wind.



We took turns taking photos at the trig, we were both hanging on in the fear of being blown over – I have never ever felt wind that strong before, it was incredible – and it had calmed down a bit from the previous days as well.

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I think this advice should have been posted at the start of the trail, given today’s conditions!


We did not stay long on the top before heading back down into the relative shelter of the trees were we took a snack as we started on the way back down. As we were reasonably high the trees were very different to what we get in the Waitakeres, short scrubby trees covered in ferns and moss, it was a lovely section of bush and I have failed to capture it very well sadly.


Once we were clear of the steep, rocky, rooty, slippery section closer to the top I managed to break into a light jog for most of the rest of the way down to the bottom. Needless to say it was a short trip back down ! I slipped over once on the way down, my leading foot hit a large leaf and shot out in front of me, over extending my leg. I had a small flash of pain and really thought I had pulled my groin muscle. There was a nervous limp for a while, but it soon worked its way out, much to my relief.


I felt good after the walk, and only seized up a little on the drive back to Auckland. The next three days however….. lets say I avoided walking down steps!

We were lucky with the weather, a couple of strong squalls passed us by on the hill, but we managed to stay dry both times. It was drizzling as we walked back to the car, but stopped as we did a quick change into some clean clothes on the road side. In the domain there is a thermal spa and some thermal swimming pools, with naturally heated water. If we had known we were coming here before we left Auckland I would have brought some swimming gear and dropped into a pool after the run to soak the legs.



I am so glad we did Mt Te Aroha rather than Karangahake Gorge. The gorge would have been fun, but Te Aroha was an adventure, a microadventure, especially in that wind ! Thanks Vicki 🙂

I bought the book ‘Microadventures‘ by Alistair Humphreys to read on the plane and to get some adventure ideas for when I get back to London, a great read so far.

Donnington Castle.

Saturday 05 July 2014, Donnington Castle, Newbury.

All of a sudden July has become a very busy month, with me not being home for more than a couple of days. With a full on fourteen day trip to New Zealand starting on Monday it was nice to have a bit of a relaxing weekend away before I went.

With school exams now over El decided to take her sons away for a weekend to celebrate the end of another school year, so she booked us to go to a golf based hotel near Newbury in West Berkshire. Neither El or I are golfers but one of the boys is keen so as it was their holiday this was where we went. We all had a good time, though I must admit I did eat way too much – good food!

Once the holiday was booked I had a look around for things interests to check out in the area and found Donnington Castle was within walking distance. A castle –  YES !!

Like so many castles, Donnington has had a complex history and a broad range of owners and residents. In 1386 the lord of the manor of Donnington, Sir Richard Abberbury was granted permission by King Richard II to build the castle, and the tower that remains is from that period. In 1398 the castle was sold to Thomas Chaucer, the son of the famous poet, who gifted it to his daughter. It was later taken from the family by the Tudors after the family fell out of favour. It was returned years later and swapped owners from then until its destruction after the English Civil War as the owner at the time, Sir John Boys was on the losing side. The gate house and tower that are standing now are as it was left in 1646 – over 350 years ago, that is so cool. The castle has been under the governance of English Heritage since 1946 and what remains is in great condition.

It was only a ten minute walk from the hotel, so even though there were some clouds looming on the horizon we decided to take a risk and head out there soon after we arrived.

As with most castles it was built on the top of a hill, albeit a rather small one. I am always bubbling with anticipation when I approach a new castle or other ancient ruin. In this case I was really hoping that we would be able to go inside and walk up to the top of the tower, but alas it was gated off and access was not allowed. There were some great wild flowers on the road up the hill.



The towers were in excellent condition and it was interesting walking around them, I am constantly amazed at how these castles were constructed so long ago, from such a diverse range of stone and other material. It was obvious from the boarded up windows and the mast on the top that the roof was accessible, I guess it was just not considered overly safe.








The clouds started to come over as we were rounding the castle so we decided to beat a hasty retreat back to the hotel before the rain set in for the afternoon. P1030860


The following day this balloon drifted over the hotel, it was great timing as I had been looking for an excuse to take a photo of the fields over the road from our room, and it just was enough to make the shot more interesting.


It was a good weekend away, nice to spend some time out of the house before I left for New Zealand the following day.

To the manor born.

Saturday 21 June 2014 – Weston Park, Staffordshire.

As part of her job in the publishing world El gets invited to a few events, launches and openings throughout the year. Most of which she cannot attend – some just would not work for the magazine readership and some are just not timed right. Occasionally there is one that meets all the needs of her publication and is on a date that she is free and even more occasionally there is one where I am invited as well. This was one of those occasions – and what a lovely occasion it was too!

Weston Park is an old English manor house set in a thousand acres of lovely Staffordshire countryside in the English midlands. The park is open to the public and already has a popular cafe and restaurant. They are planning a proper English afternoon tea offering in the manor house soon, one of the reasons for the press event. A proper English tea is not just a cuppa and a biscuit; it is a real event with sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, little cakes – and of course there is loads of tea (no coffee !!)

Weston Park was gifted to Britain in 1986 and is now run by a private trust, it is not part of the large National Trust estate, though it is run on similar lines and is largely open to the public. The main manor house itself is not often open to stay in – though it is available for weddings, parties and corporate events, so it is a rare opportunity to be able to stay there the night.

Weston Park is now most famous for being the site for the massive V music festival, though in the past it has held rounds of the Northern Ireland peace talks and the G8 summit.

We left London a bit late after some faffing on the platform at Euston while a train driver was found, though we did arrive reasonably on time at Stafford station. El and I were collected with five others by a taxi-van that took us out to Weston Park, about a half an hour drive from the station. The park is surrounded by five and half miles of wall, and we seemed to drive round all of it in the journey, it just kept on going and going ! But once we got there is was pretty wow ! While I have visited a few manor houses and small castles on my travels I have never had the opportunity to stay in one over night so was quite excited about the prospect.

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Construction of the main house was started in the 1670’s, under the design and guidance of the lady of the house Lady Wilbraham and built in the popular restoration style. The house has been changed significantly over the years with the front door and reception area being moved and a whole new wing added from the 1860s. The last major changes to the structure of the house.IMG 9200

The house was open to the public when we arrived and as we are staying the night we were allowed to cross into the roped off area and head upstairs to our room.

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We stayed in the ‘Church’ room at the back of the house with a view to Weston Church next door as well as out over one of the gardens – and the roof of the Orangery.

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The room was massive and the bathroom was almost the size of my flat ! It was comfortable, though the bed was a bit short for me.

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After settling in we had canapés and juice by one of the gardens outside the orangery and met the other guests, mostly similar to us – a writer and their partner.

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We also met the people who ran the house who soon took us on an interesting tour of the building and told us about the history of both the area and the families who lived there. This included a walk through the old stables building and on to the main public areas outside.

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After a very nice afternoon tea we were allowed to wander around the house and gardens and have a general explore on our own. As this was after the public opening times all the rope barriers had been removed and we could go where we liked. It was very interesting, and quite different to be able to look and touch things that are normally out of reach.

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The library – though the books were all locked in, some are incredibly old – and very interesting looking.

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The drawing room. I had not noticed on visits to other houses, but the library was very masculine and the drawing room very feminine. I had not realised there was a clear definition between rooms before.

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The dining room, where we had our evening meal. As part of the major refit in the late 1800s the dining room was created by removing the first floor and a load of walls to create this lovely large space. I ate my dinner sitting in front of an original Van Dyke portrait of Sir Thomas Hanmer from 1637. I have never eaten a meal in front of a masterpiece before ! It is the bottom left painting.

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Dinner was preceded by bubbles outside in the sun over looking another of the gardens as well as an interesting event where we were all 360degree scanned so a 3d model can be printed, though these were not printed on site as they take a long time and we are waiting to see ours.


The meal was fabulous, five lovely courses, matched with lovely wines. Heavenly! This was followed by coffee and port in the library and then sleep.


After breakfast El and I went for a walk around the back of the house, through a small gate.

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Into one of the free public areas. This used to be a working farm and I liked these derelict sheds we found,

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Before walking back to the house around a small pond.

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After our walk it was time to go on the official walk with the head gardener. He is the third generation of his family to have worked on the estate, so he knew it pretty well. He was a very interesting man, and has a major passion for the estate and ensuring that the vision of the original developers is maintained. The core of the estate was planned and built around a design by ‘Capabilty’ Brown in 1765. Capability Brown is a famous (I have discovered) gardener and landscaper and was involved in some of the most famous gardens in England.

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We walked up to the temple to Diana – the goddess, not the late princess !

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After lunch at the public restaurant it was time to catch a ride back to Stafford and jump, heavily with full bellies after thirty six hours of eating, on to the train back to London.

The following day was an Audi hosted function and as we were leaving the Audis were starting to arrive. I was hoping they were going to be a parting gift !

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It was a great night away, the house and gardens are beautiful and the people who run the show are very knowledgeable and engaging. Thanks 🙂