1-021Happy Easter Sunday! Hopefully as you read this you will be halfway through gorging yourself on your body weight in chocolate with wild abandoment. Hopefully it will also be sunny and bright, with blue skies and some warmth in the air. However, in the manner of almost all bank holidays so far to date, it will probably be grey and rainy. Either way, if you’re around the South London/Surrey area and fancy walking off your food coma, mosey on down to Morden Hall Park, which is that rare thing: a National trust property which actually counts as being in London.

1-040(On a side note: yay, we finally made it to another National Trust property! And it only took two months…)

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Last Sunday afternoon, Ben and I made the short drive to Morden Hall Park, a former deer park behind Grade II listed walls in South London. We were looking for somewhere we could tick off in a matter of hours without worrying that we may not see everything in time. And this ticked the box entirely, whilst also getting us out of the flat for a few hours to blow away the cobwebs.

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Most of Morden Hall Park is just that, a park. The River Wandle winds through a protected patch of land where you can get a dose of country living in the middle of the city. Though I personally found it quite weird to be able to see factories and houses all around the edges of the property – I like my National Trust properties a little more rural and rugged! You can take the girl out of the country…

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Now, I’ve got to be honest, the afternoon started off a bit grim and grey, and the park did look a little like a dystopian wasteland in some lights (not helped by the tram line which cuts through the park!) But as we waded through the mud (thank God for our walking boots!), the sky lightened and we even got a few spots of sunshine through the clouds.

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One of the hiddden gems of this site is the Deen City Farm. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a city farm as an adult, but it was actually a lot of fun.I’ve always loved animals anyway, and as a country girl I’m not a stranger to seeing sheep, pigs and goats roaming the fields. But I love that children growing up in the city get a chance to see them too, and even get to be hands on with feeding them as well! Though I think these ones probably felt a bit short-changed that instead of getting food from me, they had a camera pointed at them instead…

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(We also managed to time our visit just as the resident barn owl was getting to stretch her wings!)

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I have to admit, this did remind me an awful lot of the Lord of the Rings swamp scene. We were definitely doing our best Hobbit impressions at this point, though I don’t think Ben appreciated it when I started singing…

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Luckily, as we headed back from the farm, the weather took a decided turn for the better. The skies cleared, the sun came out, and the temperature even notched up a few degrees for us! Enough that I could throw caution to the winds and even remove my jacket! (temporarily…)

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I call this look ‘Cocktail Bar Meets Jane Austen’…

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Blouse: Sugarhill Boutique || Jeans: Gap || Earrings (Accessorize, old): Similar || Leather Jacket (Ancient Jane Norman, I think): Similar

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We then returned to the tea room for an obligatory round of tea and cake (it’s like the law when you visit the National Trust, right?), before setting off on the short journey home to order pizza and binge watch The West Wing. Winning at Sunday life!

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I hope you’ve all been enjoyingyour bank holiday weekend. I’ve been on nights Friday and Saturday, so will only be enjoying Sunday and Monday off with everyone else, but I then get Tuesday and Wednesday too, so I can’t complain. Whatever you’re doing, have fun!

1-207So, as of this Christmas, Ben and I are now official members of the National Trust for 2016. As a teenager I got so bored of trailing around one National Trust site after another with my parents. But, as we are all fated to turn into our parents, as I settle into my mid-twenties I have discovered a new-found interest in the various sites of historical and natural interest our country has to offer, which the National Trust safeguard for the public. Last year Ben and I visited Polesden Lacey and Winkworth Arboretum, and we decided to kick off this year and our membership with another Sunday National Trust trip. This time we were visiting Basildon Park, just outside of Reading.

1-024You may recognise it if you like your period dramas, as Basildon Park has played host to the filming of both Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey. It was also used for a film due to be released this year – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (I am SO excited about that one!) In Pride and Prejudice it’s Netherfield Hall, home of Mr Bingley and location for a grand ball. I have loved it since I first watched the film as a teenager, so it was pretty exciting finally getting to see it and imagine myself drifting around the grand house in a beautiful dress with the Bennett sisters.

1-034The only problem I’ve found so far with the National Trust is that a lot of their properties aren’t open during the winter months, meaning you have a far more limited time frame to visit sites throughout the year. So when we saw that Basildon Park ran limited tours of the house year round, I dragged poor Ben out early on Sunday morning to get us there in time. And lucky I did, because we were there in time for a tour of the house at 11:30, which focused on the property being used as a film location. At this time of year the house is under renovation, so only the first floor was open, but it still gave us a good indication of how gorgeous the house is.

1-043The estate was bought by its first owner, Francis Sykes, in 1771. The house which stands today was built on the site of the original on the designs of architect John Carr, using that golden, glowing Bath stone. Sykes made his fortune in the East India Company, and there are several griffins scattered across the house in various decorative details. Apparently, in Indian mythology griffins are thought to be protectors of gold sources, a rather significant nod to Sykes’ work in India and a hint at his status and wealth.

1-046Basildon Park has had a varied history, passing to another family in 1838, being used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during the First World War, and finally falling into the hands of Lord and Lady Iliffe in the 1950s. Lady Iliffe is credited with the renovation and restoration of the house to its glorious 18th century heyday, and sourced period furniture and ornaments from various auctions across the UK.

1-044This room is my ideal library. I dream of having walls lined with bookcases, full to bursting with books! I’m afraid I don’t know my Downton Abbey very well, but apparently this library was used for an after-dinner card playing scene. With every new take they had to light fresh cigars – cigars which cost £16 each! Good job Downton was an all-expenses paid affair…

1-0541-0761-067Looking back through my camera reel I realised that this post may as well be titled ‘I Have This Thing With Ceilings’…but with a house this grand it’s hard not to wander around with your neck perpetually craned skywards.

1-0871-0941-099The Iliffes may have restored Basildon Park to its 18th century glory, but at the same time they updated the kitchen to contain all the most up-to-date mod cons and innovations of the 1950s. This is why you’ll find the strapline for the property is 18th Century House, 1950s Home. The National Trust have had donations in with a range of pieces from the era to transport you back to the Iliffe’s state-of-the-art kitchen. Looking around, you can certainly see where modern day homewares have found their retro and vintage inspiration!

1-109Our tour of the house done, we went in search of food from the cafe on the ground floor. We both opted for venison stew, which ended up being more like venison soup, but it was warming with a nice flavour to it, the perfect thing to sustain us on a chilly winter’s day!

1-113Food consumed, we left the house for a wander through the grounds in the winter sunshine.

1-0271-1171-126Unfortunately our lack of walking boots meant we had to concede defeat and turn back part-way along the trail we’d planned to hike, but we can’t wait to head back once the weather’s improved and make the most of the walks the grounds have to offer.

028Basildon Park is a lovely little estate for a morning or afternoon out, and a great start to our National Trust membership. I’m already planning our next adventure!

1-640Following (rather a lot) of drinks on Halloween night, Ben and I had a very hungover Sunday morning recovering at home (Our hangover cure may have consisted of an entire packet of crumpets, slathered in butter…maybe). But I dragged us out of the flat and down the road to Godalming that afternoon with a purpose – the hunt for autumn colours and a bit of National Trust culture before the end of the day. Our destination? The gorgeous Winkworth Arboretum to prowl the grounds with our cameras and enjoy a bracing, foggy walk before a cosy evening in with Criminal Minds and home-cooked risotto.

1-191We last visited a National Trust property in March when we spent a day at Polesden Lacey, enjoying views of the rolling Surrey hills, wishing we lived in the grand old house, and pratting around in the children’s playground. We insisted that we were ‘doing the National Trust ironically’, but to be perfectly fair we enjoyed it far too much for twenty-somethings and had to pay a visit to a new site. I chose Winkworth because I fondly remembered a family trip there many years ago, and fancied somewhere which would be nice and photogenic for the time of year!1-166Unfortunately, I do have two main criticisms, not of the site itself, but of the facilities. It was a busy Sunday and yet the staff in the tea room were so slow at clearing the queue that it took us about 20 minutes just to pay for sandwiches, cake and cream tea! I had also checked the website for the opening hours, and saw that Winkworth was due to stay open til 5pm. However, on arriving we found a sign by the ticket office which said 4pm, and on enquiring the lady did not seem surprised, and didn’t even offer an apology. At this point it was 3:15, so we only had 45 minutes to make a tour of the grounds. So Ben and I were sadly underwhelmed on our arrival. But the grounds of Winkworth were in themselves enough to make up for it.

1-177A hillside arboretum, Winkworth slopes down several low valleys to Rowe’s Flash Lake at the bottom, surrounded by woodland and full to bursting with rhodedendrons, azaleas and many other varied plants and flowers. Though at this time of year the leaves were all beginning to change and fall, and the trees were beginning to look rather bare. But there was something entirely magical about wandering through the grounds and witnessing it all, especially under a cloak of chill fog.

1-1931-1951-615We stumbled upon this rather ominous looking cabin in the woods and misty lake, and felt rather like we’d stumbled onto the set of a horror film! Maybe The Others? Or the actual Cabin In The Woods? But I loved it – embracing my inner gothic side! If I could have a little time portal to step through whenever I felt like striding broodingly through the mist and gazing pensively across lakes, I would be visiting Winkworth in the mist every week!

1-6031-1871-2161-227I was hunting for autumn colours, and I certainly found them! Everywhere we looked we saw leaves in flaming hues burning through the fog like beacons. Poor Ben had to stop every two minutes so I could take another atmospheric photo! I bounded from tree to tree, cold unnoticed, camera clicking away over-excitedly at the riot of autumnal hues.

1-2311-6231-6361-6051-624I loved this patch of trees. Eerie, blood-red and mystical, wandering through them was like walking through a dream. I couldn’t stop staring around me at the surreal atmosphere. (I also felt rather like an extra in a film like House of Flying Daggers!)

1-2231-2331-2401-2031-611Shirt: American Eagle Outfitters (Men’s, Vintage) || Jeans: GAP || Cardigan: GAP || Necklace: Tatty Devine

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Our visit to Winkworth was sadly all too short, but it was the perfect trip to enjoy all the benefits of Nature in Autumn! So, if you go down to the woods today, make sure they look as impressive as these! Wander through the mist and fog, admire the fiery kaleidoscope of autumn colours, and then return home for a hearty meal and a boxset catchup under blankets on the sofa. Because keeping that balance between bracing time in the outdoors and indoor coziness is what it’s all about as the year draws to its close.

1-216As a child growing up in 90s Britain, my interests were fairly mainstream – listening to S Club 7, reading Harry Potter, watching SMTV Live (anyone else remember this?) and going horse riding. Thanks to my dad, I also grew up with some not so normal past times – listening to male voice choirs, going to (endless!) steam railways, and visiting National Trust sites. I was the epitome of cool…

Sadly, having hit my mid-20s (very nearly and very begrudgingly), it seems that I am taking after my dad. Because last week Ben and I made a trip to a National Trust house. And we actually really enjoyed it! As I get older I am taking more of an interest in homeware and domestic life (thank you Pinterest and homeware magazines….). And as much as I probably should still be going out and getting trashed at weekends and stumbling home from clubs at 3am, to be honest a day rambling in the countryside often holds far more sway for me. Although I could never do it all the time, I am hankering for an evening in with Ben with a Chinese takeaway and a Netflix marathon! (I’m thinking of starting The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Has anyone seen it? Thoughts?)

Anyway, back on track. Ben chose Polesden Lacey, a gorgeous Edwardian house not far from Box Hill, in the Surrey Hills. We took the trip down Wednesday afternoon, and from the moment we stepped out of the car I was transported back to my childhood. Heavy layers, walking boots and an obligation to visit the tearoom, stat!

042Polesden Lacey is the glamorous country home of Edwardian socialite Margaret Greville. Born to an inauspicious start in Scotland, she inherited a great fortune from her father, the owner of a brewery. Marriage to the Hon. Ronald Henry Fulke Greville soon followed (or Ronnie – eldest son of a baron, no less!), and in 1906 they made Polesden Lacey their holiday home away from home. They paid £80,000 for the privilege (if only we could all buy country mansions for so little these days!). Following a redesign by the architects behind the Ritz, the house was thrown open to lavish weekend house parties, where guests could escape from the hectic whirl of London living and indulge in good food, good drink and good company. Think The Great Gatsby meets Downton Abbey! Everyone from the upper echelons of society were welcome – even Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son and King of England, visited here with his wife, his mistress and her husband. If the walls could talk, we would not doubt hear some scandalous tales!

1-246(Ronnie is the rather dapper-looking man in the moustache, who unfortunately also looks like a slightly suave Dr Crippen. Can you also spot King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother?)

Margaret Greville sounds like the sort of woman that would make your life far more exciting for knowing her. Her steely ambition drove her into the highest social circles, and when she died she left all of her expensive jewellery to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Friends in high places indeed! Yet Margaret Greville is also famous for saying that “I would rather be a beeress than a peeress”. A woman after many hearts!

1-261Because we are eternally on the drag, Ben and I arrived with only a few hours to look around, but it turned out to be enough. The National Trust only took the house over in 1942, when Mrs Greville left it to them in her will. Sadly a lot of the original furniture was sold on, so the renovations are still ongoing now to try and restore the house to its former glory. However, nothing can take away from the gorgeous view that greets you when you wander down the gravel drive to the front of the house. The butter-coloured house, set against the rolling green hills under a wide open sky, is one of the most beautiful sites I witnessed. I fell for it completely and utterly before even walking through the front door!

1-209When a house looks like this, who couldn’t love it? And the inside looks pretty stunning too. Come take a little tour with me back to the height of Edwardian design…

1-2021-2031-2211-212Funky wallpaper, isn’t it? It looks to me a bit like a more pastoral take on the Wild West print that Cath Kidston had in a few years ago.

1-2141-213The above photos were all from upstairs, particularly the rather grand bathroom. But the downstairs was even more opulent…

1-2351-237A dining room laid for a formal dinner entertaining the royal family…

1-252Predictably, the library was one of my favourite rooms, and I could have happily curled up in that cosy, mustard-coloured armchair for an afternoon of reading by the fire.

1-268The gold room was insane. Gleaming like a Gringotts vault, it had such a warm glow, and reminded me a little of the ballroom at Brighton Pavilion.

1-2601-255I got a bit obsessed with this chandelier. One of the stewards recommended that I lie on the floor to get a good photo. I resisted, but I haven’t ruled it out in future!

1-2571-265A particularly epic urn. I imagine it storing a vat of cocktails, or masses of ice studded with bottles of champagne! Have some…phish!

1-2721-2771-276Polesden Lacey also opened its doors to wounded soldiers during the First World War. One of the rooms has a small exhibition dedicated to the fact. I couldn’t imagine anywhere more peaceful to recover, and the struggle they must have had to leave the safety of Surrey and return to the battlefields. This list of names below shows the name of every soldier who was sent to Polesden Lacey to recuperate during the war. The ones with the poppies next to them died on the battlefield.

1-275With that rather sobering finale, we took a break in the landscaped gardens. Sadly, being March, the roses are all currently in hiding until the warmer months. However, there was some lovely spring blossom putting on a show!

1-292And somebody decided to photobomb my sun dial photo…

1-286Though you can’t deny it adds something!

We then made a compuslory stop off at the tea room, before heading back into the grounds for a final mooch around. Now don’t be put off by the gloomy lighting around the house – I know with the clouds and shadows it looks rather imposing, like something out of a Victorian gothic novel! But it truly is a gorgeous place.

1-342We got very lucky, and happened upon that mythical ‘Golden Hour’, so sought after by photographers, when everything is bathed in a gorgeous glow and adds an automatic softness.

045You can’t tell so well from this one, but these photos of us posing with this awesome carved bench shows it better.

1-359 1-366And, ahem…

1-368…Oh so sexy.

And, while we were there, we couldn’t resist pratting around in the children’s playground. As you do! I think Ben justified it as us “doing the National Trust, ironically”. Whatever makes you feel better, dear…

1-3741-384With our goodbyes said to Polesden Lacey, we made one final stop off on our way home, to Box Hill. Ben and our mutual friend Nathan (the ever loyal Frostblade, my staunch supporter and commenter on this blog!) had cycled to Box Hill from Hampton Court the week before. Ben thought I might like to see the view. And he was very right!

055All in all we had a gorgeous afternoon at Polesden Lacey, and if you’re in that part of the world I would highly recommend you stop by for a little trip back in time. Gaze out across the lawn and imagine the sound of croquet mallets clicking and pimms glasses clinking on a perfect English summer’s day.

1-2781-395Have you been to any (or, as I have, many) National Trust properties? I’m sure we can swap notes! Do you have any you can recommend to me?