I went up to Birmingham to visit my daughter, Nicola, over the weekend. We’re both members of the National Trust and so yesterday decided we’d visit a Trust house and gardens near to where she lives. The weather was a bit mixed. It had definitely been rather autumnal in Birmingham on Saturday but Sunday was a little better. Visiting a house and gardens gave the option of going inside during any rain showers.
Nicola had been to Hanbury Hall before – it’s a great place for a walk even if you don’t want to go into the house with lovely gardens and an excellent tea room. About a half-hour drive from Birmingham, we travelled into Worcestershire and through some pretty villages. The hilly terrain gave us wonderful views at times despite the dull weather and some rather ominous dark clouds. We’d had an abortive attempt to find me a coffee somewhere en route – unlike London, cafes didn’t seem to open for Sunday breakfast. Thus, by the time we’d parked up at Hanbury Hall, just after 10.30, our first instinct was to head straight for the cafe and sustenance. You really don’t want to be around me anytime my morning coffee is late in coming!
Hanbury Hall’s new tea rooms – Chambers – has taken inspiration from the lawyer Thomas Vernon who built the house in 1701. They serve morning coffee, light lunches and afternoon tea.
There was a good choice of food and drink and friendly staff. They use products from their vegetable gardens and so there were things like Beetroot chocolate fudge cake – which was also ‘cake of the month’ and a recipe available – to a lovely ginger cake with plums on top, which I chose.
My coffee addiction would have been better satisfied by asking for an extra shot in my cappuccino but the cake was lovely, as was Nicola’s chocolate and raspberry scone. The tea room looks out on to the formal gardens.
We’d booked a free ‘taster’ tour of the house and made our way there next. Our friendly and informed tour guide, Len, gave us the history of the house and the Vernon family who built and owned it for 250 years until it was passed to the National Trust in 1953. It was a fun thing to do.
An interesting story for cat lovers was that Doris Vernon owned 25 Maine Coon cats (huge cats!) and we were shown early cat flaps – smaller windows within large windows that could be opened to let the cats in or out. When we came out we wandered off to explore other areas of the gardens. We visited the vegetable garden and orchards. There was a stall full of lovely fruit and veg that you could choose and then pop your money into the honesty box. I bought some wonderful yellow lemon cucumbers that looked like small squashes but definitely tasted of cucumber when I put them in a salad in the evening.
There were chickens, beehives and an old mushroom house – a dark old, cold house where mushrooms were once grown but seemed to now be used for storage. The old dairy was being restored.
And there was an ice house too – a huge deep pit, now empty, but once full of ice – 24 tonnes of it! – in the days before fridges and freezers. Even though there was no ice there now, we still felt how much colder it was as we entered a tunnel that led through to the pit.
We came across a beautiful meadow of wild flowers near the orchards, which were full of apple and pear trees heavy with ripening fruit.
As lunchtime approached we were joined by Rachael and we went into a small cafe near the shop where we ordered sandwiches and cold drinks. The sandwiches were made to order on lovely fresh granary bread. My coronation chicken sandwich was excellent: a deep filling, good chunks of chicken and a lovely spicy ‘coronation’ curry mayonnaise.
At this point the rain came back. Fortunately it wasn’t heavy and we just moved our lunch on to another table under a large umbrella. I was really pleased to find a dwarf pomegranate tree in the shop. I’ve been looking for a pomegranate tree for ages. I’m not sure how fast it will grow or whether it will ever produce any pomegranates but I’m really pleased to have it, and it will also remind me of a lovely weekend.
Nicola bought one too and the kind shop assistant offered to keep them safe for us while we went for a walk across the fields and up a hill to the church. Although the rain had stopped, it was still chilly and grey. Even the sheep were taking shelter under a tree.
There was a touch of the gothic novel in approaching the church with heavy dark clouds hanging over it.
We’d walked up for the view and even in the drab weather, it was still worth the climb. Nicola pointed out the Malvern Hills in the distance.
Then the rain came again, pretty heavily this time, and we were forced to take cover for a short time until it petered out and we could retrace the path across the fields, past the sheep, and back to Hanbury Hall. We’d had a really great visit and I’m sure if I lived close by I’d go there a lot – for walks, fruit and vegetables and the lovely food in the cafes. Now it was time to head back to Rachael’s house – only 15 minutes away – for a cup of tea and short rest before heading back down to London via a couple of hours’ drive on the M40.