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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.

I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Getting to know Hughenden Manor, near High Wycombe

National Trust membership is a brilliant way to explore and get some basic history, access to lovely gardens and treat yourself to delicious tea and cake. Most recent trip was to Hughenden Manor, two miles from High Wycombe in BuckinghamshireWords by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

The monument for Disraeli at Hughenden Manor built by his wife.
On this trip Pete (my husband), our daughter Nell and our dog.
Before I had children I promised myself I would never send my kids to a boarding school, unless I hated them. I was 11 when I made this promise! Now that my daughters are 20 and 17 I can admit that my views did change. Of course there's a right time and right reasons to send children to boarding school, but I'm so glad that mine didn't go and were able to use state schools locally. And those kids I know who've been to boarding school (or private schools) seem less like they live in a privileged bubble.

When I was 11 I was sent to a girls boarding school, Wycombe Abbey in Buckinghamshire. I'd never visited it before I arrived with my boater and trunk. Thankfully there was one girl in the same year (still a friend) who'd come from the same old school as me, but I don't remember much else about this school that suited me. In fact my memory is that it was a self-satisfied place that prided itself on producing clever young women which it had picked thanks to their high marks in the 11+. Given that we were a generation who probably were all going to want to (and even have to) work it was strange that marriage was seen as a high priority too. A careers advisor in my fifth form year suggested I should be a farm secretary and learn to do accounts so I could marry a farmer with horses! The lack of ambition offered was pathetic. The lack of pastoral care was close to criminal.

With so many clever, parent-pleaser girls the students were miserably competitive about their grades and anorexia was rife.

My mum talks about her horrible boarding school (a different one) with real affection and humour. It was the girls against rather grim staff. My experience at Wycombe Abbey was a strange deprivation of life's good things - love, humour, food and freedom.  The saving grace was its astonishing Buckinghamshire location. It is still there, one of the country's top girls' private schools, right in the middle of High Wycombe, dominating one hillside of this valley town with its parkland. The boarding house I lived in was located a half mile steep walk from the school buildings reached by a path that took us through a mature beech wood. You couldn't hear traffic and yet it was obvious that on the other side of the wall there was a real world happening.

I left after O levels to attend a different sixth form and really didn't take any friends with me (eg, those intense letter writing, lots of visiting friends). I did at least get removed from an environment I found toxic and went to a sixth form I much preferred which had far less rules and unkindnesses.

It's a shame about the friendships as I remember my Dad promising that he was sending me to boarding school so I would meet lots of people who'd be lifelong friends. I'm sure my own personality had plenty to do with that friendship gap, but when I see the tightness of my teenage daughters' friendships I can see how harmful that must have been. No surprise that for years the words High Wycombe made me shudder. I'd have panic attacks seeing the signs if I was driven past the turn-off on the M40.

No wonder I didn't go and visit the lovely countryside in the area... and then in 2017 we joined the National Trust. It was one of those, OK, "I should just do this" decisions and it's been great. Sutton Hoo in Suffolk was a two day explore. But around High Wycombe, which is just 30 minutes train ride from London, there are some breathtaking Chiltern days out.

Dogs aren't allowed into NT properties so we went for a walk
in the shady woods while Pete viewed the inside of Hughenden Manor.
Hughenden Manor was owned by Benjamin Disraeli (who became the Earl of Beaconsfield), who for some reason was my favourite Victorian PM (actually Queen Victoria's favourite too). The National Trust runs the house now. Visitors can also enjoy the walled veg garden, a formal garden you can play croquet on, a picnic orchard (lovey!) and endless signposted walks in the woods. At the viewpoint over the valley two red kites were circling. It was magical.

When I was incarcerated in Buckinghamshire there were no red kites - they were reintroduced to the Chilterns between 1989 and 1994. Nowadays it is hard to avoid spotting red kites in this area and sobering to think that it was during Disraeli's time they were driven to extinction.

Disraeli was born in 1804, made a love-match marriage (with a widow) and had no children. Politically he was a Conservative (his rival Gladstone a Whig). He was the one who likened politics to climbing a greasy pole. Disraeli is wrongly known as Britain's first Jewish PM, conveniently forgetting that his father had converted his family to Christianity when Benjamin was about 11 years. In many ways Disraeli was similar to Boris Johnson - an outsider (who'd done all the insider things), multi-talented and a politician known for wit and writing (Sybil: or the two nations  by Disraeli, looks at the contrasting lives of rich and poor Victorians).

Even now his Buckinghamshire house feels like a home with its generous entrance hall, modest-sized rooms (compared to a stately home) and a cosy upstairs study which Disraeli allegedly preferred to work in than the formal library crammed with books.

Amazing viewpoint plus two red kites circling (though my camera didn't pick
this up, sorry!).
After a good look at the rooms and a top floor packed with the gifts Queen Victoria gave Disraeli, which weren't always that nice but he was clearly flattered, as intended, we walked up to the memorial Disraeli's wife, Mary Anne, created on the estate, one hill from the house. Goodness knows how she kept the building of it a secret, but the memorial now does offer a fabulous view towards his house and the couple's bedroom with its big picture of Victoria and Albert over the fireplace. On the walk to the memorial there were 11 red kites circling the bailer machines which was both amazing, and slightly sinister - they are of course looking for the many animals that get killed when farmers' harvest.

During this super hot weather it was lovely to be out of London on a Saturday, enjoying a lazy look around a very beautiful place. At the tea shop (in the stable courtyard) our dog seemed to attract the attention of lots of other families, many of whom had driven over to Hughenden Manor from London. It was certainly a change to be in a place that's not a knock-em out destination (like Churchill's home or historically significant like Sutton Hoo) nor on a tourist route so there were less visitors, which meant it was easier to have a really good look around the building.

We bought a BBC series about Disraeli's premiership in the gift shop because... well, I still spend a significant amount of time (and money) thinking about ways to educate my children without them realising film night is actually a crash course in history. And that just might be an unexpected - and happy - legacy from my own unhappy school days.

BASICS: High Wycombe area
One hour from London, with a railway station on a hill and a massive fortress (girls's school, Wycombe Abbey formerly owned by the Carrington family) dominating one hilly side of the town. Apart from this aberration (the screamingly obvious rich/poor divide) the town is very dull but the countryside around is amazing. Buckinghamshire is wealthy commuter belt as you'll notice - everyone seems to drive.
Easy journey? Yes. High Wycombe 30 mins from London Marylebone
Ticket - weekend Network South East off peak
Highlight? this is the Chilterns an area of outstanding natural beauty, there's lots to see and discover. A National Trust membership is a bonus.
Wish list? Take a bike and explore the nearby beech woods.

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