Out and About: A visit to Knole

We spent last weekend in Kent.  (Rox and I attended a Hen's Party there on Saturday, which was a lot of fun!)   This was our first visit to Kent and we will definitely be returning soon, not least because we have a wedding to attend next month!  Both my paternal and maternal families originate in Kent, so I have lots of genealogical scratching to do there too.  

On Sunday, we decided to break our journey home with a visit to Knole.  It was a spur-of-the-moment visit, so I hadn't done any research and had no idea what to expect.  It turned out to be a lovely place and we will definitely take Paula and Cal there when they visit next month.

We began our visit with a walk through the medieval deer park.  It was such fun to see the deer up close.

The littlies enjoyed messing around in the forest den (a feature of most wooded areas we've walked through here in the UK)

We then wandered up to the cafe, where we had a lovely lunch.  Most of the National Trust places we have visited have had really good quality, reasonably priced meals available.

After lunch we took a wander around the 600 year old estate buildings, which were originally built as an archbishop's palace.  We didn't do an in-depth tour of all the rooms as we had the grandchildren with us, next time we'll definitely wander through more of the showrooms.  We absolutely loved what we did see.  So beautiful!

Knole is definitely one of the most child-friendly estates we have visited, with loads of hands-on features for the grandchildren to fiddle with.

The children were encouraged to touch the displays in the estate room above and there were even bits of paper and stamps provided for them to use.

We absolutely loved our visit to Knole and highly recommend it.

Out and about: Bluebells at Dockey Wood

I have a new love in my life.... the English Bluebell!  Living in South Africa, bluebells weren't something I had ever really thought much about and then we moved to UK and they became something of an obsession!  

I've discovered some interesting facts about these pretty little blue flowers since I sat up and took notice, for instance: I discovered that almost half the world's bluebells are found in the UK, they’re relatively rare in the rest of the world.  The entire bluebell plant is poisonous to humans and animals.  Although common in the UK, bluebells are threatened by habitat destruction and cross-breeding with non-native bluebells (eg the Spanish bluebell) They are pretty fragile, they can take years to recover from being stepped on and bluebell colonies take a long time to establish - roughly five to seven years from the seed being planted to flowering.  Bluebells are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), making it against the law to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy bluebells

Since the beginning of April I have been on "bluebell watch", eagerly awaiting our first visit to see the bluebells.  Bluebells usually flower from mid-April to late May, depending on the weather.  Finally, a couple of weeks ago we saw the first bluebells appearing in the odd garden and then, the first week in May, I heard that the bluebells were looking beautiful in some of the local woods and so we made our first visit to Dockey Wood to see these beautiful flowers.  We were not disappointed!  What a sight to behold!

Dockey Wood is part of the Ashridge Estate - for more information and directions, click here.

Living in Prestwood - Part 2

(continuing from my previous post about living in Prestwood)

Prestwood is a small village in Buckinghamshire, located in the Chiltern Hills.  It's about 35 miles from central London.  The train from London to our nearest station, in Great Missenden, takes roughly 45 minutes and you can also catch a tube to London, from Amersham, which is a short drive from us.

High Wycombe is the closest big town to us - about 5 miles away (it's sort of similar in size and infrastructure to Pietermaritzburg I'd say).  Personally, I think High Wycombe is a bit of an armpit of a place, but having said that, it has a lovely shopping centre, a really nice Waitrose (not that we go there often... being poor and all....) and some other good features too.  So, walking through High Wycombe can be a downright depressing experience, but the town serves it's purpose.

Great Missenden, which is just down the hill from us, is a lovely village, with a beautiful high street. It was once home to Roald Dahl and the Roald Dahl Museum is located in the high street, along with some interesting little shops, restaurants and pubs.

Great Missenden high street with the Roald Dahl museum to the right

Prestwood itself isn't exactly gorgeous (Great Missenden beats it hands-down in the beauty stakes!) but I think it's a nice little place.  The village boasts a couple of churches, two small grocery stores (Sainsbury's and Co-op) there are a couple of pubs, and take-aways, a charity shop, a post office, a florist, a butcher, a couple of hairdressers and we also have 2 doctor surgeries, a dentist, an optician and a lawyer in the village.  There is also a brewery in town, a garden centre (with a lovely coffee shop and gift shop) and an awesome farm shop.  Oh and we have a little duck pond, but awkwardly our ducks have absconded!  Here are some pics of our little village:

The pub on our high street

post office and charity shop

the little shopping area on the high street

dentist (I've been seeing too much of him lately!) and optician
Grant and I live in a small flat just off the high street.  No prizes for guessing which windows belong to the South Africans!  (We seem to be the only people in the block who perpetually leave our windows open...)

Prestwood is situated in the Chilterns, an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" and the countryside is absolutely gorgeous and SO accessible.  That is something I absolutely love about living here!  There are thousands of miles of footpaths threading their way through the countryside, just waiting to be explored.  We literally walk out of our door and down the road and within minutes we are walking in fields or the woods.  The footpaths run right through farms and woods, alongside canals and rivers, so the scenery changes as you walk, it's really lovely!

Our favourite walk is from our flat, through the woods, to Great Missenden, where - depending on the time of day - we either stop for a coffee at our favourite coffee shop, or a drink at the pub, before walking back home through the woods.  Here are some scenes taken on the walk between Prestwood and Great Missenden

Great Missenden at the bottom of the hill

There are some fantastic places to visit within roughly half an hour drive of us:  Hughenden Estate, Cliveden, Bourne End, Marlow, Ashridge Estate, the Tring Reservoirs, Pitstone windmill, Wendover canal, Hellfire caves....  There is so much to see and do!  We have a long list of places that we still want to visit, it's just a matter of finding the time.

While Prestwood is by no means perfect, I'm happy we chose to live here. 

How we came to live in Prestwood, Buckinghamshire

I thought I'd write up a couple of blog posts about where we have settled in the UK, explain how we came to choose this area, describe what it's like and include some general information about this lovely part of the world that we are now lucky enough to call "home."

Prestwood wasn't our first choice when choosing a town to move to, in fact it wasn't even on our radar when we were choosing a place to live, so it's quite incredible to me that we are now happily living here.  Believe me, getting here has been quite a process!

When we decided to emigrate we did so en masse - Rox, Jon and kiddos, Paula and Cal and Grant and me.  So the town we picked had to meet the needs of the entire extended family.  Where to start?!  (I did a blog post here where I explained our process in more detail.)  Basically, when we were deciding where to live we looked at most places that were within an hour's commute of London - we reckoned that for Grant, Jon and Cal, finding work in London would be relatively easy if they struggled to find anything more local to our homes.  Paula and I then sat and went through the various universities that she could study at (she is coming over on a Tier 4 visa, to do her Masters) and narrowed the towns down to those that were an easy drive to varsity.  We had a few more boxes that the chosen town had to tick and we went through a whole bunch of places and filtered them out, based on those criteria.  In this way we gradually narrowed our choices down and by the time we came to the UK on our look-see-decide trip in June 2018, there were only a couple of towns left on our list.  So we came over, looked at the towns and ....decided to live somewhere else!!!  (I wrote about the mega change of plan here.)

So once we had finally settled on a general area to move to - we had decided on the Great Missenden area - the next step was finding a school for our Issy.  

One of the issues faced by those immigrants to the UK who have children, is finding a suitable school that has a spot available for their child.  The UK makes something called the "Ofsted Report" available to the public,  this report rates schools on various criteria and gives them a score from "Outstanding" all the way down to "Inadequate".  Obviously, when choosing a school for your child you ideally want it to have an "outstanding" or "very good" rating.  (In the interest of transparency I will say that, in my personal opinion, this method of selecting a school isn't always foolproof - the Ofsted is largely based on academic criteria and sometimes, for a child who is not particularly academic, other criteria may be more important.  Having said that, I still think there is value in the Ofsted rating, as a school that is performing really poorly is probably not a good option for any child.)  The trouble is that many, MANY of the desirable schools are "over-subscribed", which basically means they are full and not able to take any new pupils.  Also, the schools here are quite big on catchment areas, so you need to choose a home largely based on what school you want your children to attend.  (and you thought choosing a town to live in was simple?!?!)  

The school in Great Missenden was over-subscribed so that ruled out the village of Great Missenden (which was pretty much our first choice) for us.  We then set about finding a nice village in the area that had a good school that was not over-subscribed and THAT is how, after Roxy and I had spent many hours researching schools, we landed up living in Prestwood!  As it turns out, we could have chosen to live ANYWHERE because Issy is now home-schooled.... quite hilarious really!