Active Autumn

As I walked through woodland this morning amid a cascade of falling leaves, it was clear that Autumn is very much here again.  September has been a time for harvest but also the last throes of summer-style travel and partying.  I now see October as a time for buckling down for some rather delayed home-based administration and task tidy up before our next trip to Edinburgh in November and then the excitement of Christmas.

Autumn Colour (In This Case, The Incongrouously Named Black Bryony)

September was certainly busy and was capped last weekend by a long-delayed visit to us by my Dad and my sister.  That was quietly relaxing and allowed my Dad to catch up with developments in our house since his last, pre-Covid visit, and meet up with a few other local relatives.  It also allowed us to jointly celebrate Middle Son (MS) and his partner moving into their newly-purchased, pretty, terraced house in Bristol.  A few days ago, that hard-won purchase suddenly seemed in jeopardy as the Government made a big misstep that caused interest rates to surge and mortgage deals to be pulled from the market.  Our very happy afternoon with MS and his partner was blessed by Virgin Money’s forbearance and lovely sunshine.

Earlier in the month, not only did I manage to visit London and Edinburgh, but I also attended Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) college reunion with a bunch of her fellow physiotherapy students 40 years on from their graduation in Leeds.

The reunion was held in Buxton which I had not visited for decades.  We stayed in a very comfortable and central hotel (The Buxton Crescent Hotel) which produced substantial breakfasts and very good evening meals for the group.  The whole event over a long weekend was an enjoyable mix of free time, a long walk across the local Peak District, and organised eating, drinking and socialising both in the hotel and in nearby bars and restaurants.  There were a few other (non-physio) partners of LSW’s fellow graduates in attendance so I didn’t feel too out of place.  There was a wide variety of personalities, and everyone was interesting in some way.  It was a nice thing to do and LSW really enjoyed the mass catch-up.

On The Three Shires Walk Near Buxton (Starting In Mist At The Cat And Fiddle Pub, Finishing In A Bit Of Sun)

Buxton itself is a lovely spa town with many impressive Georgian and Victorian limestone buildings – like a smaller version of Bath, which we know well, and similar to Harrogate which we visited on the way to Edinburgh last year.  The evening/night life was surprisingly lively and well catered for by a large number of busy and interesting craft beer bars.  We sampled a couple of those with and without the reunion entourage.

A Variety Of Attractive Buildings In Buxton

On our ‘free day’, LSW and I went off for a fairly long but pleasant drive to Hardwick Hall.  It’s an impressive late-Tudor building surrounded by attractive gardens that I recall – as I do Buxton – from holidays with my parents very many years ago.  The weather was kind, the afternoon was lovely and it was great to get value from the life National Trust Membership that my parents bought us so generously when, I think, we got married.

Inside Hardwick Hall

Back in our home village, my schedule has been peppered by the normal smattering of walks, gardening, short shifts at the local Food Bank, my team’s football matches and Men’s Mental Fitness nights (which have helped salve the depression cause by the poor football results!). 

A Local Walk Under A Luminous Autumn Sky

LSW and I also went to a film showing – ‘Drawn to War’, a film about the life and work of the painter and Second World War artist Eric Ravilious.  It was our first cinema outing together of the year and was very enjoyable due both to the content of the film and the novelty of the evening outing.

However, the recent Autumn highlight in the village was a substantial, superbly organised and hugely entertaining 50th birthday party of a friend of ours.  The invitees were a mix of her relatives, long standing friends and more recently acquired friends from the village like ourselves.  The entertainment was a combination of a bar, a wonderful buffet, an open sided marquee with a dance floor, a DJ, a couple of fire eaters (believe it or not – see below!) and varied, if increasingly inebriated, conversation.  I’ve not danced so much for a decade and LSW and I both had great fun.

Local Fire Eating!

September has also been a time when I have reaped a harvest of onions and potatoes.  Both have been surprisingly productive given the lack of rain during much of the summer.  That shortage of rain hampered bean germination but judicious watering has saved some of the squash and chard. 

A Fraction Of This Year’s Garden Produce

Also, the dry, hot summer enabled me to grow a lot of tomatoes in an open vegetable plot for the first time since I left my allotment in London 25 years ago.  Inevitably perhaps, most of the tomatoes are very green but, with our climate inexorably warming, I will try tomato growing again next year.

Finally, as I have in previous years, I find I have to comment on the late summer/early autumn flowering of our remaining two dahlia plants.  I have simply never enjoyed cutting flowers and then displaying them in our kitchen/diner so much as I have these Café Au Lait dahlias.  Their blooms are large, subtly coloured and, once they start, simply go on and on until the first frost.  Now we are in October, those frosts will come soon enough but, for now, these dahlias continue to be a splendid echo of summer and a thoroughly rewarding aspect of Autumn.

Retirement Tourism

In August LSW and I went through our diaries to work out when we might be able to go away for a night or two to explore parts of the UK countryside. I was surprised to find LSW’s work and community commitments, plus my commitments to Forest Green Rovers fixtures, meant that we struggled to find two contiguous days when we could be away.

We ended up identifying two days earlier this week as the only dates we could get away before we head off to Australia for a month at the beginning of October. We decided to use the time to visit my parents in Nottingham and then go on to stay in Derbyshire and see Chatsworth House.

It was very good to see my parents – something we haven’t done enough even since I retired. They are coping well into their 80’s despite the aches and pains probably to be expected at this stage of life. Nottingham feels a long way away and so it was good to combine the visit with our first slice of real tourism since I retired.

We dined and stayed overnight in Stoney Middleton in the heart of the Peak District and which is the location of the legendary Lovers Leap. We walked to Eyam, the so called ‘Plague Village’. We also strode in the breeze along the dramatic Curbar Edge – a recommendation from my Dad. It was exhilarating there. It’s a landscape similar in some ways to our Cotswolds home, but also refreshingly different. It certainly reminded us of various TV and film re-enactments of scenes of contemplation and unrequited love from Victorian novels set ‘Up North’ (the breeze even gave me the teary eyes).

The Joe Wright film of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice also came to mind when we visited Chatsworth House the following day. The house is set in terrific grounds. The views are archetypally English (designed by Capability Brown), the kitchen garden was full of produce and inspiring, and the house itself is breath-taking. The rooms were particularly good due to its lighting and a current fashion exhibition that was beautifully displayed and which brought the house to life.

It was a good couple of days of tourism. We have another couple of tourism days coming up in London next weekend – though that feels more like just going back to old stomping grounds – and then we have the Australia trip. It’s largely booked now and an exciting prospect.