Here’s tracing our steps through March as we explore England and visit Hungerford, Newbury, Bedford and St Ives. Four places in three different counties.
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Before we left SA, Leah asked if we’ll see snow, filled with excitement to think that she could see and play in it again. She was not disappointed.
We arrived in the UK just in time to get from Heathrow to Iverwood Barn, kick off our boots, close the door and light the fire before the “beast from the east” hit the country and we’re snowed in for almost a week. The kids were delighted because the next morning everything was covered in bright white soft fluffy snow.
Our base is Hungerford for all of March, as we settle, get things done and organise ourselves while exploring. Take a peek at the things we got done and organised, the technical less fun stuff, in THIS post about the cost and logistics of getting from South Africa to the UK.
People come from far to buy antiques in Hungerford. It’s an antique-lovers paradise. Pre-children, I spent many hours slowly browsing through antique shops enjoying all its vintage treasures. Wouldn’t dream of it now with three children in tow.
They have a nice little farmers market in the main street every Wednesday and you can go on canal boat trips from here. We got shopping done at the local Tesco, which offer free parking too. Nice to get around town and nip into places like the post office and library around the corner quickly without having to fish for pounds for the pay and display parking on the main road.
Note to self: Put together a little container with essentials, including coins for parking and trolleys, to keep under the seat.
Snow and sub-zero temperatures kept us indoors most of March giving us time to catch up on homeschooling but we explored the area despite the weather. For a closer-to-nature outing, we went to nearby Badbury Hill and The Great Coxwell Tithe Barn in Oxfordshire. Read about our outing here.
Hungerford is close to Reading and Newbury and great for exploring Wiltshire and Berkshire. Iverwood Farm, where we stayed, is very close to the small villages of Shalbourne and Ham.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Hungerford is a trip down memory lane. We lived here for two happy years from about 2007 to 2009 and Nick was born during that time. Yes, we took our first baby home to our little terraced house in Hungerford. Sweet memories.
Most of Nick’s firsts happened here. He took his first steps in the local play park, had his first birthday here and had his first swim at the leisure centre. It was lovely to be back and to take the children to places that held special memories for us.
The Barn at Iverwood Farm
Our Airbnb was a cosy barn conversion on a farm just outside Hungerford perfect for a family travelling with the bare necessities and in need of a warm fire by a smart HD TV so Mommy can binge-watch The Crown. It had everything we needed including toys and games for the kids and our host, Erica, is such a nice lady. She brought books about birding and nature when she found out that Nick loves birds and she brought a sledge for the kids to play in the snow. When we needed help with anything or we were expecting mail she was very helpful.
The barn is far away enough to be secluded and peacefully nestled in the tranquil countryside, but too far to walk to the shop with little kids in the cold or to catch a bus so having a car helps. Each place will have its pro’s and cons. A highlight of our time at Iverwood farm was watching a couple of barn owls hunting in the surrounding fields on early mornings. There are lots of bunnies in the field and we spotted a variety of birds.
Time To Catch Up
There are a few friends we still need to look up and visit. Sue Irving Jones and Anna Tobin, friends since 2007 from when I worked at Vodafone HQ and Frances and Leigh. Next time we’re in the area we hope to catch up.
Nick’s first ever fellow baby neighbour and friend, Scarlet, still lives in the same house in Hungerford and we go visit them. She is just a month younger than him and although they don’t remember much of each other, Tina and I do. We remember very well how much time they spent checking each other out as tiny newborns and how many times we popped over for a quick baby social. All the special birthday parties they shared in and how many milestones they had here, together.
They played with each other long before their brothers and sisters showed up! Who knows, they might be good friends when they grow up and they’ll thank us for all our effort. What do you think Tina?
We spend a day in Wantage to visit our good friends Rob and Lisa and their three boys. Rob is also godfather to Nick and Leah and has worked with Brendan for about fifteen years.
Rich in History
King Alfred the Great was born in Wantage in 849 and it is of him that the tale is told of the burnt cakes. It’s one of the best known stories in English history according to History UK. It is told that he was on the run from the Vikings and hid in the house of a peasant woman who asked him to watch her cakes in the fire. Distracted by his problems, he let the cakes burn and got a good ear full from the peasant woman.
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Rudyard Kipling.
In Vikings Season 1 to 5, one of the characters portrays a young Alfred as they battle bloodthirsty Vikings in brutal combat. It’s loosely based on historical facts and I’m fascinated by any series that brings history to life in an entertaining way, same as The Crown. I wonder if the new Viking seasons will include the story of the cakes.
Wantage is a place I’d like to see more of, but not today. Today we spend time with our friends.
The children play up a storm in their living room and back garden while the adults catch up over lots of coffee. We all stroll down to the park for fresh air and a quick play. Leah gets to walk Poppy, their lab, who the children especially adore because she looks just like our Bella back home. Of everything and everyone in SA, Leah misses our dogs, Bella and Buddy, the most. Being with Poppy is extra special for her.
We meander further on down beside a stream with nice trees to climb and hills to race down and I take too many photos and video of the Daddies catching kids squealing with delight.
Newbury is good for shopping with a variety of big supermarkets and high street shops. You can buy the best meat, droëwors and boerewors in town at Griffin’s butcher in Bridge street. We passed it this time because the queues were out the door.
The Kennet Center carpark offers good parking for town centre access and we also park behind the Poundland and at the Newbury Museum carparks next to Newbury Park and the canal. Remember to have pound coins on hand for the Pay and Display carparks and to get shopping trolleys at some supermarkets. I always forget!
Good Play Parks Everywhere
Something I love about England is that we always find a well-maintained playpark where-ever we go. Good and well-kept playparks are not so common where we come from. In the UK many of them are like little theme parks! Just awesome.
Victoria Park is great too. It’s not a little theme park, but still pretty nice with tennis courts, a skate park, water play area for summer, a boating lake, a bowls club, a bandstand, a statue of Queen Victoria and of course a really nice kiddies play area. On the other side of the canal is a tea garden from where you can take a 1,5hr canal boat ride for £7,50.
Right next to the park is the Museum and the library and the town centre is just a short walk away. The area also has an active homeschool community who often meet at The Nature Discovery Centre on the outskirts of Thatchem.
If you find yourself kiddie free in Newbury there are fun things for grown-ups to do too. You’ll find fancy restaurants, a cinema and few pubs and clubs but we like The Watermill Theatre and The Corn Exchange, where I saw and fell in love with British stand-up comedy for the first time.
On our way to St Ives, we stay in Bedford with our friends, Pieter and Marike, for one night which gives us one morning to learn about Bedford. The John Bunyan museum was up first followed by a relaxing walk down the embankment canal next to the River Ouse and a play in Russell Park. A fine morning indeed.
There is a lot of indoor family entertainment to choose from in Bedford, it’s a big place, but we did not want to spend the morning cooped up in one building. I think the best way to get the feel of a place is on foot. For us, with limited time, three children and the pram, walking around town was a nice option.
Read about our visit to the John Bunyan museum here.
St Ives, Cambridgeshire (NOT Cornwall)
Grafham Water Lodge is our Airbnb accommodation for four nights on a spur-0f-the-moment trip to St Ives with Brendan for work. It must be a stunning place to stay in summer, but it is freezing while we are there and we stay indoors most of the time to get work done.
We plan to go there again one summer to explore properly. It’s a place of special scientific importance with an abundance of birds and wildlife and easy viewing on walking trails and from bird hides. The surrounding area also has much to offer in terms of history and nature and worth another visit for sure.
Our outing in St Ives starts with early morning breakfast and bottomless coffee and hot chocolate at Morrisons. Then a walk around town because it’s market day and we love market day. The stall owners just put the last touches in place, ready for the days business. Freshly baked bread, pies, cakes and Turkish delight is irresistible and we can’t pass without buying. In the middle of St Ives is one of the four statues in England of Oliver Cromwell. A controversial but powerful character that we must learn more of. Not sure if he was a good guy or a villain yet.
Inspiring Big Dreams
We spend the rest of the morning at The Raptors Foundation learning about Meerkats and watching a bird show. The place is empty on a school morning apart from two other visitors and volunteers. We get extra attention, no queues and uninterrupted viewings of all the bird enclosures. The highlight is that Nick gets to hold one of the birds during the show. Soon after this experience, determined to do bird conservation, he starts to draw plans and writes up a mission statement for his own bird sanctuary. Every big accomplishment starts with a small dream.
They have a nice cafeteria, a bed and breakfast on site and a little play park. Which comes in handy when Kate will not sit still during the bird show. To protect her from becoming bird feed, I take her to the park for a play and the show continues in peace. I miss Nick’s raptor flying experience, but one of the other spectators, Hannah Mottershead, comes to the rescue. She takes a photo of Nick flying the owl and runs after me when the show is done to share the pics. Superhero! How thoughtful of her to do that. Thank you again Hannah.