January 2022

Walking is a national pass time and one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in the United Kingdom. This may involve walking in a park, exploring some of the beautiful National Trust homes and gardens, fellwalking in the Lake District, hillwalking in the mountainous areas, hiking in the South Downs and Yorkshire Dales or just rambling on some of the rights of way across private lands.

We both love to walk and with the omicron variant raging through the country, and a National Trust membership that gives us free access to many beautiful, historic sites; we have been able to enjoy some amazing sights and sounds even in the dead of winter. With a work from home directive in place, our Christmas staff party involved an illuminated, evening walk through Leonardslee Gardens and we enjoyed a Christmas day walk with our Global President and his family.

Our favourite activity is to pick a nearby attraction from our National Trust guidebook and take a drive out to see what there is to be discovered. And we have not been disappointed. The winter here is much milder than we are used to, and we are always amazed to see how green and lush it still is in January and by the fact that some plants continue to bloom year-round. This week’s walks took us to Nymans House which is an elegant, stately home that is currently being rebuilt but is surrounded by walkways along tree-lined lanes, hidden gardens accessed through stone archways, beautiful vistas over the Sussex Weald and the surrounding forests and lakes.

Wakehurst is a wild botanical garden with over 500 acres (200 hectares) of beautiful ornamental gardens, woodlands and a nature reserve. It is also the home of the Millenium Seed Bank which houses seed collections, research and plant conservation facilities. The day was a little chilly, hovering around freezing but we had our trusty thermos of coffee so enjoyed the ramble.

Meeting up with some Cayman friends who were flying out of Heathrow gave us a good excuse to wander around Windsor and get a glimpse of the castle where the Queen is currently in residence. We explored the town for a bit but mostly spent the day walking along the Thames with the swans and enjoying tea in an a sun drenched little pub along the river bank. Checked out Eton College campus while we were there. Walking is good for the aging body and a great way to explore the wonders of this country.

Our family Christmas was once again influenced by the restricting reappearance of the Covid virus in the Omicron variant. Fortunately, England chose to remain largely open, so we were able to travel north to see my sister and her family. Her daughter, Claire, had just taken a new position, which limited her vacation days, so the get-together didn’t take place until the Dec 28, but it was certainly well worth the wait.

Our trip up was largely uneventful. Mindful of crowds in these anxious times, we carried drinks and snacks with us, and stayed in our car in parking lots when we needed a break. We did allow ourselves a brief look around the stunning Lincoln Cathedral, now well over a thousand years old, whose central spire at 524 feet would not be surpassed in height until the Washington Monument was built in 1884. After a short walk around the grounds, we journeyed on to my sister’s place just south of Brigg in North Lincolnshire. She had a cosy little room set aside for us and we had meal of fish and chips and a pleasant evening together.

The following day we headed over to the other farm where Roger and son-in-law Phil were cooking up a storm and clearing enjoying doing so. We gathered in the front room with Rosey’s son Colin and his wife Verity and their two kids Jack and Willow, and Claire and Phil’s two kids Megan and Joe. Colin has now completely taken over the farm from his father, though Covid has meant that he had to give up the cows, and there were no herdsmen to be found who could manage the work. Verity has taken her expertise with animals into the classroom with a special interest in providing kinesthetic connections for the developmentally challenged.

When everything was ready, we moved into the dining room. There were twelve of us around the table, and we were all in good spirits. It had been ten years since Pam and I had last had a meal in this house, and we have never shared Christmas with my English family, so it was a rare and special treat to share the stories and the warm camaraderie of the meal. Feeling the need for a good airing after stuffing ourselves, we all – including all three dogs – went for a walk in the very pleasant Lincolnshire countryside.

Then we settled back in the dining room for dessert and the opening of Christmas gifts. We had brought a few small things for everyone from our trips into London, and they were well received. While the adults cleaned up, the kids settled into one of the board games on hand until it was time to depart. It really was one of the nicest Christmases we have had since we left Canada over fourteen years ago.

We had saved one special gift for Rosey, which we gave to her in private. It was a photograph of our grandmother, Edith, presenting at an exhibition in what our best guess is around 1909. Cousin Ros was given the print by her mother and was passing it on to Rosey as the family historian. I had it suitably framed and before we left the following day made sure it was properly mounted on the wall.

The drive home was difficult and tedious. London is a massive city and the traffic was clogged for miles. But we got home safely and though we were tired it really had been a wonderful visit. Hopefully when the weather gets a little warmer we could go north again, perhaps all the way up to Newcastle next time.