Christmas 2021: A Walk on Boxing Day

A Boxing Day walk is traditional; in more recent years around Stourhead. It’s here that we’ve walked off the Christmas excess of roast potatoes, our own bodyweight in cheese and, this year, a raspberry roulade that would have fed the entire avenue. We’ve been there on crisp, cold days with grandparents – now achingly no longer with us; with friends when the snow was melting; on grey days, just the five of us when clouds hung low and gloomy. We’ve completed reindeer trails with our three lively pre-school explorers and imbibed gluwein or hot chocolate beside the Christmas tree in the thatched cottage with them transformed into teenagers who raced ahead together, chatting or sporting headphones. There are dozens of happy memories woven into the fabric of the place. Rarely though has it felt less Christmassy than today.

Perhaps the Christmas spirit had been packed away carefully by the National Trust staff until the after-dark Christmas light event. It’s hard to sparkle all day long when the weather makes it feel more like October. Three cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ (I have one in the garden) put on a brave show near the temple of Apollo however, as an aide memoire that we have just celebrated the Winter solstice and there was room for a mince pie or two in the cafe. Finding it difficult not to roll my eyes at the conversations taking place around us about how keen people were to dismantle Christmas “now that it’s over” I popped into the shop to pay for the last cornus in the plant section and carry it home. A celebration of Christmas 2021- still at its height in our house – and of those yet to come.

Driving back home in the late afternoon, the mists were beginning to weave and curl through ancient forest on either side of us, caressing the gnarled bark of ancient oak and ash. There’s still midwinter magic to be savoured if you open your eyes and your hearts to it.

Looking backwards and forwards

We managed to book a trip to Stourhead on a glorious Easter Sunday. It has been a regular haunt of ours ever since the children were tiny. In latter years we’ve rocked up in an impromptu fashion, ambled around the lake, visited the thatched cottage and treated ourselves to coffee and cake in the cafe.

This year because of COVID restrictions and two of our three returning from Uni with testing and isolation involved we had to plan ahead, take our chances on the weather and pack a picnic. It felt like old times -and none the worse for that.

From time to time I reflect on how quickly my brood have grown and lament all the things I said we’d do and didn’t but on glorious days like these none of that matters. We have shared experiences and happy memories of times gone by and plenty of new and different ones to come.

Surely this mingling of old and new, of experience and potential, of what’s been and what’s to come is Easter in a nutshell?

December Saturdays

Saturdays in December are not for schoolwork. And so today we headed to Stourhead for a pre-booked walk, a mince pie and hot drink in the cafe and a spot of Christmas present shopping before picking up our Christmas tree from a farm in Rode.
No stress, no fuss. Just relaxing family time. It did feel somewhat strange without the boys but by the end of next weekend we will be back together again and hitting the Christmas Monopoly tournament with a vengeance before the last week of term.
December Saturdays are precious, perfect opportunities to recharge the batteries. This year many more people are appreciating a slow build up to Christmas, appreciating what they have, what they can make and how actions and experiences speak louder than ‘stuff’. 

Slowly easing towards the end of the year

Holy Trinity Church,Bradford on Avon taken by Simon Howell

Some Christmas traditions change; some remain.  But there will always be a craving to get outside, seek the light and to curl up later with some heat in Midwinter. This year there has been no trifle and no mince pie making, no holly and no huge get together with friends on Boxing Day. There has been a magnificent Christmas dinner, Monopoly and Cluedo, log fires, cake, crackers, homemade chutney and cheese and new books to enjoy.

Today we took ourselves off to Stourhead for a midwinter tramp around. Later I planted a new hellebore underneath the laburnum in the front garden at dusk, then scuttled back indoors for some heat in the form of cumin,paprika and chillies stirred through mashed sweet potatoes and steamed buttered kale for an easy supper.


Sweet peas, the great shed debate and living the Regency life.

Yes. It is over a month since my last post. Despite living almost entirely in a parallel Jane Austen universe, (courtesy of a return to my directing roots) I have manged to achieve a moderate amount on the plot.  Much as I would like to create the impression that work on the plot is continuous and organised, like most things around here, things happen eventually.

And so, I turned down an invitation to go dancing in Devizes with Aled Jones and the Jane Austen Dancers (coming soon to BBC1) and opted instead for clearing away  two half tonne bags of rubbish from the allotment, planting raspberry canes,  and supervising the  spreading of my Mothering Sunday gift….half a tonne of manure.

Today saw a second sowing of sweet peas in clay pots to go with the ones I started off back in October in the cold frame. With any luck they’ll soon be looking like these we enjoyed at Stourhead last Summer.  This year I’ve opted for four highly scented varieties  – Maracuna, Lord Nelson, Painted Lady and Black Knight.  I ordered them in plenty of time from Sarah Raven’s online store – not known for speed of service or readiness of communication though they have been considerably more communicative since I mentioned this on Twitter. Mmm. Wonder why?

Meanwhile the shed debate continues on the plot.  I think we’ve cracked it by resiting the playhouse on the allotment, freecycling the redundant one, putting a new superdelux model at the bottom of the garden (how much will it cost?) and building the chickens a permanent run. At least that’s this week’s idea – until the assistant gardener gets back from Leeds with another scheme.

Sometimes I think the Regency life would be easier – though I’m more likely to be scampering about the countryside with my petticoat six inches deep in mud than covering screens and playing the piano.

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