We took ourselves off to Wallington today, which is a National Trust property out towards Morpeth. It's an unassuming sort of a place which doesn't have the grandeur or pretentiousness of some of the NT's other properties. It is, nevertheless, a deeply charming place, and well-worth a little visit if you're ever in the area.
The house itself is fairly standard in terms of these sorts of places, with lots of Victorian and early 20th century tapestries, a few William Morris paintings and a couple of rooms set out to look like they would have looked in the olden days. There were a couple of charming architectural features including a "cabinet of curiosities" on a mezzanine floor where all sorts of curios including a wall of stuffed bird were stored, and a room full of enormous dolls' houses which had a tiny little attic space where adults were only allowed if "accompanied by a responsible child."
My responsible child was little Jeanie, sister of my godson Will, whom I very much view as one of my own (as it were!) Jeanie was great company and we spent an hour or so searching for the ten small toy squirrels which the National Trust staff had hidden in various rooms around the house.
We had a picnic in the garden. It's been a nice day, good and warm when the sun was out but a bit chilly in the shade, but friends in Leeds and London have told me it's been mega-hot elsewhere, which is not necessarily what I wanted to hear. This is our ninth camping holiday with this particular group of friends and we've never been lucky with the weather. Generally speaking it's always lovely the day we arrive and the day we leave!! The forecast for the rest of the week is dreadful...
Wallington has a beautiful walled garden which is planted in the English cottage garden style, with glorious flowers of every colour of the rainbow shambolically bursting from the beds.
We had ice cream at 5pm, and then jumped into cars to head back to the Youth Hostel.
My car-share companions for the week have been Meriel, Sam and Nathan and we're all child-free and fancy-free, meaning it's possible to drop everything and spontaneously stop-off anywhere on any of our journeys. On many occasions I've told Nathan to stop the car so that we can get out to sample a view, and on our way home today we crossed over a river which I thought might be a good place to get out for a wander. My instant was good. Underneath the bridge the river was shallow and ran over a series of giant, flat stones which stretched like a granite chess board as far as the eye could see. The stones created an almost perfect maze of natural stepping stones. Some were above water. Others were slightly under the surface, so that, as you stood on them, you could feel the water rushing over your feet. There were fresh water rock pools, tiny waterfalls, and little platforms where you could sit in the middle of the river without getting anything but your feet wet. It was a truly magical experience. The sun was low in the sky, painting our faces orange, glinting like copper on the water and casting long shadows towards the river banks. The trees in the ravine above us were the darkest green, the sky was blue, peppered with brown clouds and the tall bridge over the river glowed like honeycomb.
Tonight's communal food was cooked by Raily and Iain. Mexican. Tapas. Re-fried beans. Rice. Delicious.
We went for a night walk at 11pm to look at the stars on the first clear night we've had since coming here. We walked for about a mile along the country lanes with the bats fluttering about above us, and the stars getting brighter and brighter. At that sort of time, all the senses seem to sharpen. We could hear the sound of people talking across the valley, the sound of a stream from half a mile away. We could smell the aniseed-meets-Germolene scent of Meadow Sweet in the hedgerows and feel the dew forming in our moustaches. As we returned to the Youth Hostel, the stars started glowing like never before. We could see the great cloud-like mists of the Milky Way, and then, as a reward for staying up late, nature presented us with a little meteor shower. Meriel saw her first shooting star! Perfect.