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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spring Bank Holiday Monday Outing To Packwood House

Carol is currently on Half-Term holiday from Milton Keynes Academy this week. Unfortunately she has developed a really nasty cold with a sore throat. It seems vastly unfair that you work yourself half stupid for the previous half of the school term, to then come down with a cold when you have time off to enjoy things and relax. We had intended going somewhere or other, most likely a National Trust property and had consulted the National Trust website to see what was the closest property which we hadn't visited before. We had considered Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, which we had hoped to visit over the Easter holiday period, and when we had driven up the M1 had got caught up in such awful delays caused by roadworks that we'd abandoned the journey and didn't actually visit any property on that particular occasion. So this time we decided on Packwood House, in Warwickshire, and not far from an English Heritage managed property, Kenilworth Castle. We had to put petrol in the car so went to the Shell station in Grafton Street before driving towards the A5 and out of Milton Keynes, thus avoiding travelling north on the M1 as we had looked at the A.A. travel website to discover that the roadworks on the Motorway were continuing. We drove up the A5 as far as Weedon and then turned off onto the A425 for Leamington Spa, a road we have used on several occasions.  Having driven past Daventry we had a need to find a toilet, and none appeared to be available immediately (a hazard of driving on long journeys, we find, not too uncommon, unfortunately.) Then we saw a sign at the side of the road for Skylark Fields Farm Shop, which appeared to have a cafe on it's premises and seemed perfect as a place to stop, with toilets ('comfort station' as Americans call such facilities. I don't like euphemisms particularly, but this one seems more than appropriate.) We had gone past the entrance and so it was too late to draw in to the entrance so we went about another quarter of a mile and turned the car round in the entrance of an agricultural machinery business and headed back to the turn for the farm shop we'd just seen. When we had done so we weren't even sure that this place was going to be open and then saw a field full of chickens, in amongst what looked like Christmas trees. These were free-range chickens and there seemed to be hundreds of them, possibly thousands, all happily pecking the ground and enjoying a very pleasant existence, certainly far better than hens that are kept in wholly unsuitable battery cages. We drove into what was definitely a farm yard with plenty of places to park and the cafe was indeed open and alongside a farm shop. We went into the cafe and were treated to a very pleasant sight with a well-stocked counter with cakes, sandwiches and other delicious food items. We sat a a table and we were able to see even more of the chickens outside in the meadow below the cafe in a delightful valley and a really lovely landscape of fields and trees beyond as far as the eye could see and not a single sight of roads or towns. We ordered coffee and I had chocolate cake (this after we'd used the toilet facilities, I must add.) All  extremely well served and the cake was excellent. Considering we hadn't known about this place it was very welcome to come upon it the way we did and from what we saw of the cafe, which when we were there was very busy, particularly by a large group of cyclists who seemed to be enjoying the food and drink. We next went into the adjacent farm shop which was well stocked with a wide range of food items and Carol was able to purchase a jar of raspberry jam which was sugar free, although I don't know how you can make jam without sugar as it's the principal ingredient of jam, along with some sort of fruit. The address for this delightful place is Shuckborough Road, Staverton, Daventry, Northants, NN1 6JY. There is a website at www.skylark-farm.com. we have decided that we must return as there is so much in the farmshop we'd like to sample, and the cafe is far to tempting to not return to as well as being able to watch those hens peking around in that field as well as enjoying the scenery.

We drove away from 'Chickenopolos.' I was put in mind of the closing sequence of the animated film "Chicken Run" where the chickens who escape from Mrs Tweedy's chicken farm, which is run along the lines of a  German prison of war camp and that the chickens are eventually going to end up being processed into pies through the use of an automated machine of gigantic preparations, in a sort of 'chicken utopia.' You'll have to view this fantastically clever film to see what I mean. But the chickens at the place we'd just visited really looked well looked after in their huge free-ranging meadow.

It is one thing to  study a map of the roads leading to Packwood House, but it was another being able to find exactly where we were going in reality. The road network around that area is very confusing, to say the least, and it took us some time to find the place. When we came off the Motorway there was very poor signposting to Packwood. This seems to be the case whenever we go looking for quite a few National Trust properties. I do think they ought to put up a good deal more signs to these places. When we eventually found Packwood it was around midday and the carpark was very  busy. Considering that it was a Bank Holiday and the weather, although not sunny, was fine. Having parked the car we walked to the reception area, a recently built and opened building. It seems that quite a number of National Trust properties have had new visitor centres and cafes built, including Stowe Landscape Gardens, Waddesdon (with it's new carpark facilities.) amongst others. We then went into the restaurant and had another coffee as well as roast pork baps and wedge potatoes. Very tasty indeed. Having eaten we wandered out into the gardens and spent time admiring the quite magnificent features of Packwoods surroundings.

A somewhat quirky and original garden design. A great many clipped hedges made up one area of the garden and it must take a great deal of time and effort to keep these hedges shaped and so well kept. We had a timed ticket in order to visit the interior of the house and this was due to be at 2.30 so we had a couple of hours to fill before we could go back to the house for our tour. We walked around the lake and saw some delightful follies which had been built. A bit difficult to describe, but here are a couple to give you an idea as it's a bit difficult to describe in words.

Original and certainly unusual, particularly the huge bed. Never seen anything like these constructions before.

We went into the shop to browse and I bought a Packwood guidebook. We have quite a large collection of other National Trust  guidebooks properties we'e amassed over the years. The house is interesting but not the most fascinating place we've visited and I have to say I found the gardens more interesting than the house. We didn't spent that long looking around and then came back outside and returned to the car and drove back home, but it was a pleasant enough day considering the weather and one thing and another.
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