Tag Archives: National Trust

Christmas Snapshots

I always enjoy the idea of winter. I like cuddling up by the fire, wrapping up in woolly jumpers, stuffing my face with mince pies, and being able to work from home in my pyjamas because of icy train tracks. (Especially that last one.) But on rare days where the sun shines through the bleak midwinter, I light up like a Christmas tree suffering from seasonal affective disorder. A brief cloud burst is all it takes to make me realise that when the world is grey, I feel grey. I like sunshine, and blue skies, and warmth on my face. When that isn’t an option, I use Christmas as a nicotine patch for summer.

Gem's tree 2014
Gem's Christmas Cake 2014
Christmas with a control freak can’t be an easy affair, and after countless tinsel based tantrums the rest of my family can’t so much as spy a misplaced bauble without shooting me a panicked sidelong glance and rushing to fix it before I explode like some kind of meticulous monster. I told my extremely dubious looking little sister that I didn’t mind what colour scheme we did this year, and managed to last about two whole minutes before admitting defeat and also admitting that we would be having a “natural, rustic theme with red and gold highlights”. I am not proud of myself. But you can’t deny it looks nice. (Well, you could deny it, but you would need to be confident you could take me in a fight.)

After the decorations are hung and the cake is iced (and the bowls are licked) getting outside into the cold is my idea of heaven. Ashridge is my favourite place for autumn colours, wintery walks, and a café full of home cooked snacks. Ted enjoyed getting his paws filthy, but didn’t very much like watching me and Rhys eat mince pies and hot chocolate. I’ve missed them both a lot, so an afternoon catching up with one and letting the other lick my face (I’ll leave that to your imagination to decipher) was seriously lovely.

Ted in the woods

Ashridge mince pie

Ted and Gem

After that there’s nothing much left to report other than wintery sunsets, evenings in front of the fire, cuddles with my cat, snoozing in my Christmas bed set, and chain smoking my White Company ‘Winter’ scented most-delicious-smelling-candle-in-all-the-land.

Sunset from Gem's bedroom

Bird decoration

My Cat

White Company Candle

Boat decoration

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!



Picnicking Perfection

Picnic is my favourite word. I’m also a big fan of Akimbo, Wiggle, Kerfuffle, Whimsical, Pyjamas, and Sausages when you say it whilst moving your mouth as little as possible. Soshergis. But picnic is my favourite. Say it as fast as you can: picnicpicnicpicnic. Or as slowly as possible: pic-ker-nic. Whatever the speed you choose to utter it, it’s the best thing in my vocabulary (which includes gems like Sycophancy, Loquaciousness,  and obviously Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious) because as well as being easy on the ears, it combines two of my greatest loves: food, and the outdoors.

And you rarely say Picnic unless a picnic is on the cards. It would be a little bit superfluous (another classic) and more than a little bit mean. So in the spirit of sharing, I’m inviting you to be a sneaky fly on the wall at the very best picnic I’ve ever been on.

Gem and hamper

Once you’ve packed yourself up a hamper full of deliciousness, there are just a few more ingredients you require if you wish to achieve picnicking perfection. In the Gemma book of picnicking, these are as follows: a view (preferably of the breath-taking variety); a tree (the more romantically shaped the better); and a rug (must be featuring a checked pattern otherwise it’s scientific fact that the food won’t taste as good).

Coombe Hill view

Picnic tree

Picnic view

Picnic spot
Let’s just all take a moment to bow down before the utter perfection of this picnic spot. Coombe Hill, ladies and gentleman, was unbeatable on a sunny Tuesday afternoon at the end of July.

Gem on picnic rug

Picnic view


With the sun beaming, the harebells dancing in the breeze, the hillside awash with the sound of leaves rustling, the swaying sea of rosebay willowherb resplendent in all its purple hazey glory, and the vale spread out below us, we unpacked our treats. In my beautiful hamper – thank you so much Lucy! – and an extra canvas bag I’d squeezed: a mini bottle of Champagne; tea cakes and strawberry jam; the mother of all sausage sandwiches for my decidedly non-vegetarian picnic partner (comprised of caramelised onion and pork sausages in a cooked baguette with fried mushrooms, caramelised onions, and barbecue sauce, with cheddar melted over the top – salivate away, meat-eaters); roasted pistachio nuts; and last but by no means least, wafer cones, raspberries and Chantilly cream to create picnic-proof ice cream cones (patent pending).

Best picnic ever




Make-do ice cream cone
Sat up there, with good food, and good company, I felt like I was in some kind of strawberry jam and Chantilly cream flavoured dream. A few families were making the most of the school holidays, and dog walkers with various charming four-legged friends were enjoying the beautiful weather too, but up on the hill away from the world the murmered noise of play and far away conversations only added to the atmosphere. It’s by far the most peaceful I’ve felt for months.

Gem and teacake
With tranquillity seeping into my soul with every breath, it was easy to see why the commanding structure of Coombe Hill was erected here. Perched at the end of the ridge, where the view stretches to both sides of the horizon, is a memorial to the 157 men of Buckinghamshire who gave their lives in the Second Boer War. Overlooking the land for which they fought, and the homes where they lived, loved, and tragically never returned; I can’t think of a better place for their memories to linger.

Coombe Hill momument
The stone reminder that our existence is a fleeting one possibly explains why, of all the people with whom we shared our afternoon on the hill, my inner romantic was most drawn to a pair of elderly gentlemen who were sat on a bench quietly gazing over the vale with the manner of two people who have perfected the art of contentment. I hope that I’ll still spend afternoons sitting in sunshine watching the world go by when my hair is grey and my face is lined with a lifetime of memories.

Old friends
That’s a long way away though, and for now, I’m happy. I don’t remember a day that better matches my favourite Oogway quote so perfectly: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift – that is why it is called the present.”


Operation pull-funny-faces-at-the-last-minute-and-sneakily-ruin-Gemma’s-attempts-at-a-‘nice’-photo may well have been a roaring success, but I think that second one might be my favourite picture of us, ever.

Eventually, with much less stored in the hamper and much more stored in our tummies and on my camera’s memory card, we decided to head home into the cooling afternoon. And then, as if there wasn’t already enough happiness in the world on this sun-soaked English Tuesday, the breeze and my dress conspired to decide that this was the perfect moment to show Coombe Hill my knickers, and I very nearly have photographic evidence.

Happy ‘today’, everyone!

National Trust-ing

You may well love dressing up, going out, and dancing around in your highest heels as much as the next girl, but it’s hard to deny that sometimes there is nothing better in the world than exploring National Trust gardens in your wellies, eating an inordinate amount of cheese, and sinking into a bubble bath with a glass of wine. So scampering off for a thoroughly middle-aged adventure with one of my favourite partners in crime (and cheese, and wine) for the weekend was an excellent idea on her part.

Right next door to our little flat for the weekend was Peckover House.

Right next door to our little flat for the weekend was Peckover House.

We booked ourselves in to a National Trust-owned converted coach house loft apartment with a key to the gardens at Peckover House in the Cambridgeshire town of Wisbech. The description of Peckover House on the National Trust website is of “a hidden gem”; an “oasis hidden away in an urban environment”, and when we explored Wisbech we understood why. If you want to go to a nice town, where you won’t see people urinating in public in the middle of the day, then perhaps don’t visit Wisbech. At this point we aborted our exploration and practically ran back to our little National Trust sanctuary, where there was beauty and calm, and the people were friendly (and wearing pants). Who needs access to a pub anyway? We had a lot of fun with the fauna and flora on offer. Yes, you heard me: we had a lot of fun with plants.

Jess having aforementioned fun with plants.

Jess having aforementioned fun with plants.

If you’ve never been in an orangery in the middle of winter before then you might not quite understand why we were so excited. Walking into a fragrant greenhouse filled with citrus hues and a miniature jungle of fresh green foliage, in December, was like walking into a summer holiday in the Mediterranean.

See? Fun!

It makes people pull this face.

Spot the very happy Gemma.

Spot the very happy Gemma in the jungle.

When I’m grown up I would like a giant greenhouse to play in, please. But as much fun as plants undoubtedly are, we were happy to find some four-legged friends too.

This kitten liked Jess' mitten.

This kitten liked Jess’ mitten.

The inside of Peckover House was equally lovely, especially as the smell of mince pies cooking was wafting up from the Georgian kitchen and two elderly gentlemen were performing a duet of Christmas songs with a piano and violin. Feeling thoroughly festive, we headed back to the loft to crack open some wine, have a bubble bath, polish off a block of Wensleydale, and watch Strictly Come Dancing in our pyjamas. (We’re so, so cool.)

So, this happened. Possibly the greatest photo of Jess, ever.

So, this happened. Possibly the greatest photo of Jess, ever.

Only one National Trust adventure per weekend just isn’t enough for us crazy kids, so we popped into Wimpole Hall Estate on the way home on Sunday. We were, erm, moderately excited to find that Wimpole Home Farm had resident donkeys, pigs, shire horses, goats, sheep, Shetland ponies, and a cat named Gina who spends her time sleeping on the shelves in the National Trust shop. (There’s only one thing better than a National Trust shop – a National Trust shop with a cat.)

We also made friends with a donkey.

We made friends with a donkey.

We would have made friends with these piglets but they were too busy napping.

We would have made friends with these piglets but they were too busy napping.

All in all, a thoroughly excellent weekend!