The lodge at Grafham Water
Destinations, England, Europe, Travel

Explore England: Wantage, Newbury, Bedford, St Ives

Part 2 of our travels in March as we start to explore England and visit Wantage, Newbury, Bedford and St Ives.

Wantage with friends
Wantage with friends

Wantage

We spent 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 an old friend and work colleague of Brendan’s.

 

Wantage
Wantage

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 the English 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
Crossing a stream on a fallen tree stump.

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.

Buddy and Bella
Bella & Buddy. The children miss their dogs. Thank you, Dean, for taking good care of them for us.

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, Berkshire

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 center 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!

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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 center 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.

Bedford
Bedford

Bedford, Bedfordshire

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.

Russel Park, Bedford
Russell Park, Bedford

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
St Ives, Cambridgeshire

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.

The lodge at Grafham Water
The lodge at Grafham Water
St Ives
St Ives

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.

St Ives Market Day
St Ives Market Day

Inspiring Big Dreams

We spend the rest of the morning at The Raptors Foundation learning about Meerkats and watching a raptor 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.

Nick's bird experience at The Raptor Foundation.
Nick’s bird experience at The Raptor Foundation. Photo credit: Hannah Mottershead. Thank you Hannah!

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.

 


Read Part 1 of our travels in March as we Explore England: Hungerford 

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