Back in the Christmas holidays, husband and Anna invented a jam jar system. They wrote down on slips of cardboard (recycled Christmas cards, actually) all the places that we might want to visit for day trips. Then they divided them up into three jam jars – one for local places for when we just have a couple of hours to spare, one for trips of a few hours such as into Central London, and one for whole day trips. The idea was that when we have some free time and fancy an adventure, we just pull a slip out of the relevant jam jar and away we go, saving hours of debate and analysis paralysis and a feeling of being overwhelmed by choice.
It’s been such a busy year so far we haven’t used it much, but Sunday was an invitingly free day in the calendar, so we decided to jam jar it, and as a result set off for Fenton House, a National Trust property in Hampstead.
Now, Sophia’s tolerance for meandering round historical properties is slim to non-existent, so we decided to make a day of it by going via Golders Hill Park on the other side of Hampstead Heath.With lots of space to run around and play with a ball, a pond complete with newly hatched ducklings, well-equipped playground and a miniature zoo, the children were absolutely in their element. Watching their enjoyment, and the profusion of amazingly beautiful flowers everywhere meant that we were too. Is it just me, or are the springtime flowers and blossoms even more spectacular than usual this year?
We had our home-made cheddar mushroom and caramelised onion pizza picnic on a bench in a little woodland glade, and then walked across the Heath to Fenton House. Hampstead is almost ridiculously picturesque. If it wasn’t in London, it would undoubtedly be a tourist attraction in its own right. Like Bath, it flourished as a Regency spa town – then of course it wasn’t within London – and it is every bit as lovely, albeit quite different.
Fenton House is a beautiful 16th century merchant’s house, and I can tell you that they did themselves alright those merchants. It is beautifully proportioned, and the kind of stately home-lite that I can actually imagine myself living in. Chatsworth et al are stunning, but hardly homely. Shamefully we entirely skipped the culture bit of going round the house itself in favour of hanging out in the stunningly lovely walled garden and orchard. Anna compared it to Mr McGregor’s garden, and it definitely had that feel about it. I alternated between dreamily imagining myself in a period drama and stopping Sophia eating handfuls of gravel and picking the flowers.
Husband and I could easily have spent the rest of the afternoon there, but there’s only so much gravel a girl can eat, so before boredom could set in, we meandered through Hampstead to Burgh House – another miniature stately home which happens to have a delightful garden cafe. We had delicious scones with jam and clotted cream, lemon drizzle cake and homemade pink lemonade whilst listening to the strains of classical music floating out from a concert taking place in the house itself. Whether it was the sugary indulgence, the calming music or her fascination with the little dog with the people at the next table, Sophia behaved utterly angelically and so we all got to enjoy our afternoon tea, rather than gulping it down and departing in a rush to the accompaniment of a screaming baby. Not that that has ever happened to us, of course.