Saturday 1st. Our transport to East Anglia was an air conditioned Redwing coach. As the holiday progressed the weather got hotter and the air conditioning revived flagging KHS holiday makers.
It also became apparent this was the last holiday Nigel and Jane would organise and was their swan song so perhaps we should have been on a Whitewing coach.
Our first stop was for coffee at the Clacket Lane Services, 4 miles south of Biggin Hill, then on to RHS garden at Hyde Hall, Essex, relatively new, but with an already well established and beautiful dry garden and rose garden.
Scattered through the garden was sculpture both abstract and figurative nudes. Perhaps the vision would have been complete with the appearance of the naked gardener.
Then on to Flatford Mill made famous by John Constable. It does take some imagination and a good visual memory of the ‘Haywain’ to transport one back to Constable’s day. Even the author's friendship with Constable’s grandson John Constable at Ipswich Art School was little help. The turquoise flash of the Kingfisher (if you were quick enough) made the visit.
On to historic Bury St. Edmunds past the WWII USAAF Thunderbolt fighter station at Raydon and to our hotel where the coach driver did what became a daily miracle to park the coach in front of the hotel in the congested car park, much to the consternation and annoyance of one or two locals. A member of our party soon put them in their place.
Our hotel, the Angel (it features in Dicken’s Pickwick Papers) was thankfully modernised and was comfortable and well appointed. The food was very good and well presented throughout our stay.
Sunday 2nd. A beautiful day, to Cromer, Norfolk, to enjoy the sun, blue sky and sea. For some a visit to the life boat station but for everybody a sandwich lunch at the Rocket House Cafe (that’s rocket as in whoosh and not roquette).
The sea breezes having blown away the cobwebs, on to Blickling Hall, a Jacobean construction of 1616, a difficult to find walled garden and a small museum on the nearby WWII RAF station.
Monday 3rd. A day off and a look at Bury and its architecture with a chance for those from the area to visit old friends. Such is the attraction of Bury St. Edmunds I am reliably informed Lord Tebbitt has taken up residence.
Tuesday 4th. To Ickworth House, an enormous pile. The Herveys (Earls of Bristol) who built Ickworth also had a town house in Bury (p100 Another Six English Towns, Clifton-Taylor, Alec).
The concept for Ickworth was to house the enormous art collection of the Earl Bishop which was somewhat nullified by a chap named Napoleon who confiscated all the art.
However it has a large silver collection and a famous painting by Hogarth, ‘the Hervey Conversation Piece’.
Late morning to St. Ives for a sandwich and a glass of ale at the Dolphin Hotel on the banks of the Great Ouse. Those with more energy set off over the bridge, on which was a 15th century chapel, in search of the seven times bigamist.
Wednesday 5th. Another glorious day, to Wimpole Hall, a beautiful house with architectural contributions by Gibbs, Flitcroft, Soane and Kendall and landscaping and distant folly by Brown. The last owner was Rudyard Kipling’s daughter, who gave it to the nation.
The parterre was being manicured during our visit and in conversation with one of the gardeners it seems the head gardener reserved the best bits for himself , trimming the conical buxus hedges.
A sign on the gate to the kitchen garden requested we ‘close the gate to keep out the rabbits’ As Jayne Harris stood in the one spot of shade in the garden (after closing the gate) enjoying the vista, Peter made a bolt for it through a gap in the box hedge to the vegetables.
For those who were tired of gardens there was the added attraction of the home farm with Shire horses, rare breed sheep, cattle and pigs.
The Imperial War Museum, Duxford was obviously not far away as we had the bonus of a free aerobatic display by a Tiger Moth and later by three P51 Mustangs in formation practicing for the ‘Flying Legends’ weekend.
In the afternoon to the Cambridge Botanic Gardens with interesting experiments in gardening (the best wild flower seed mix to attract bees) and a history of the arrival of garden plants to this country in chronological plant beds.
The greenhouses too, if one could stand the heat, had interesting plants, of note Dendrobiums in large baskets suspended from the roof.
Thursday 6th. Another sunny warm day and back to Kingston upon Thames. On route we stopped at Knebworth, the home of the Lytton family since 1490, an Elizabethan House turned into a film set and rock band venue in the nicest possible way.
When Mrs Bulwer Lytton inherited the house it was in a dilapidated state but it’s thanks to horticulture that the property was restored.
Mrs Bulwer Lytton raised and grew pineapples and sold them to other members of the aristocracy in sufficient quantities and at a price to restore the house in 1813. The local vicar sensing tithes were due to the church from the sale of pineapples was told in no uncertain terms by Mrs Bulwer Lytton what to do. The feud persists.
The coach arrived back to a very hot Kingston in good time, another indication of Nigel and Jane’s immaculate planning.
The Bury St. Edmunds holiday will be the fifteenth and last Nigel and Jane have organised and must rank as one of the best. The holidays were always action packed. We were synchronised, organised and shepherded in our hotels and about the place although some managed to get lost in a slate quarry in Wales.
Jayne and I went on the first holiday and most of the others (as the word spread how good the holidays were we weren't always lucky in the draw) so I can probably speak for most of the KHS members and say thank you to Nigel and Jane for giving so much pleasure and enjoyment to the KHS membership for fifteen years.
Robert Harris 23/08/17