Now that I’m halfway through my second year of National Trust membership (which is £30 a year if you’re 13-25 years old), and Lauren is coming up for a year since joining, and we haven’t been to any since September, we figured it’s high time we visited somewhere. As Lauren had some holiday to use up, and I was home alone for a week, we picked the Wednesday of half term for our day out.
What we didn’t factor in was just how many of them would be closed.
Petworth House, near Chichester, was our fifth or sixth choice to visit, after looking at several others, only to find that they were closed, for the winter, for weekdays, for refurbishments… After so many thwarted options, we thought we’d struck gold with Petworth. Sure, it would be a hundred-mile round trip, but that’s no problem for such a lovely house.
Imagine our disappointment when, having only had one very small navigational error (in which Lauren missed a junction because she was preparing an S Club 7 playlist) and some bowling along country lanes, we discovered that the house itself was closed. Luckily, the grounds were open, so we set off for a clomp around the park.
We’d been very prepared and brought packed lunches, and sat on a bench admiring the view. After lunch, we set off for a walk in the park. It’s beautiful. It was designed by Capability Brown, who was born 300 years ago this year, which will be celebrated by a nationwide festival, showcasing his work. My favourite of these that I’ve seen so far is Chatsworth, where the road crests a hill and suddenly the valley, with the house at its bottom, opens out, and it’s absolutely stunning. Petworth is similarly sweeping and beautiful: in front of the house is several hundred yards of flat, open grass, which ends at the edge of the lake, ensuring that nothing gets in the way of the impressive view of the building, but past the lake’s banks, the park rolls and dips, hills peppered with perfectly-placed groups of trees.
Petworth has the UK’s largest fallow deer herd, but for ages we didn’t see any. Actually, I tell a lie. We did see one. And it was lying in a dip, dead. I immediately took a picture to send to Pooley, who likes stuff like that, and she was duly pleased. We saw lots of tiny footprints, which led to me wondering, repeatedly, how their bodies can be held up by such twiggy legs, but no deer, until, eventually, we saw some in a paddock. The gates were open, so we wandered in to get a closer look. Almost all of them were bucks, and they were mostly quite chilled, though a few were fighting, which sounds a bit like kicking a plastic bucket around. We watched them for ages and it was really peaceful. Then we wandered off again, wondering whether we’d see any more. I spotted one, on his own, a little way away, so we crept over to get a good photo (which Lauren managed beautifully, thanks to me stepping on a twig at just the right moment), but by the time we got close enough we realised that there were way more deer than we’d expected: hundreds of them, scattered across the valley. It was lovely.
After watching them for a while longer, we strolled back round the end of the lake and up to the house to visit the tearoom. Our friend had told us that the cream teas there were awful, but we hoped that a National Trust tearoom would at least do a half-decent victoria sandwich. We were wrong. It made us laugh though, and I was incredibly glad of a cup of tea and a bit of sugar to keep me cheerful for the drive home.
It may have been a bit of a disaster of planning, but we had a lovely walk – once I got over being annoyed at myself, that is. And I think it did us both a lot of good to be out in the countryside for a few hours.
Besides, it’s only an adventure if something goes wrong.