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Reading is the home of my dearest friend Kim and we are lucky enough to be able to stay with her and her family whenever we are in the UK. There is nothing better than being able to wind down with people you know, in an environment which feels like home and that’s how it is when we stay there. After nearly 7 weeks away from home, it was time for a few days catching our breath after our flight from Madrid.

Washing was the first task on the list and we took the next day at our own pace,  beginning with a 7km walk with Lexi, the gorgeous family dog. England is such a beautiful country with fantastic public walks and byways available everywhere, taking you through leafy lanes, pretty woodland areas, open fields – you name it, you can find it.

I have family in Bournemouth that I had never met, so the next task was to get on the train to Bournemouth and meet my nephew and his delightful family.  The train trip was pleasant and quick, but quite expensive. The family meeting went well, and despite worrying how it might go, we felt very comfortable with each other.

A bit of shopping in Reading was still to be done and we ticked that off our list plus a visit to the excellent Indian restaurant at the end of Kim’s street was a must. Then the real fun began – a weekend in the New Forest, staying at the charming Montagu Arms in the pretty village of Beaulieu.

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The place is very traditional in style, and perhaps needs some refurbishment, but it is in an idyllic setting, the rooms are cosy and clean, it boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, and also Monty’s Inn, the excellent pub where we chose to dine both nights we were there.

Once settled in, it was time for lunch. Steff’s Kitchen was the place to be and what a find. The selection of foods was impressive, the portions large and the place had a lovely feel. We determined to return for enticing cakes and coffee the next day.

While Kim’s husband attended to some business, the three of us went exploring in the village and wandered around the pretty lake. As we were in the New Forest, there were several horses grazing on the roadside near the lake, and even three very cute donkeys in the the town!

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A couple of chics by the Lake in Beaulieu

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After getting our bearings we decided to venture on to the Palace House and the Abbey Ruins. We paid our entry fee to see the House and grounds, but not the National Motor Museum. The house is no longer a full-time residence to the Montagu family and parts of it are open to the public, complete with living history guides (in our case the maid and valet were on duty) but we chose to “go it alone”.

The history of the house and the family is very well presented, and quite fascinating. The house itself is not palatial in my opinion, rather it was quite a warm cosy feeling. I loved the coloured vaulted ceilings, and the children’s playthings on display and the beautiful stained glass window. The grounds are immaculate too – obviously well tended.

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Palace House, Beaulieu

Having had a really good look at the Palace and taken in some of the family history, we ventured outside and walked to the Abbey Ruins. The abbey was built in the C13th century on land donated by King John and destroyed in the C16th at the request of Henry VIII. The history of the Abbey is available to view in the Domus, and is a fascinating watch. What was once the Monk’s Refectory survived and is now the Parish Church.  The ruins have a tranquil feel about them, and have been preserved with the aid of the Montagu Family, some of whom are buried there.

On our return the village, we had a real English afternoon tea in a very quaint teashop near the hotel – delicious scones with clotted cream for us and Victoria Sponge for Kim. I felt like one of the Famous Five….

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Pre-dinner drinks in the bar at Monty’s Inn set us up nicely for our dinner there. The menu choice was quite wide and we even found a nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the wine list.  We thought the Inn was ambient and comfortable, so we were happy that we had booked to eat there both evenings.

Saturday morning’s breakfast in the hotel, was in the very traditional dining room which is currently being refurbished. The new carpet was interesting with deer being a focus….! We took our time over breakfast – we had no reason to hurry as the weekend was all about taking it easy, and relaxing in each other’s company. It was precious time spent together.

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Our plan was to walk to Buckler’s Hard, about 4 km away so we set off after breakfast under sunny skies, though it was a little nippy. The walk was pleasant – through woodlands and along the banks of the Beaulieau River – we envied the homes set on the river banks – very posh and in a perfect location. The river was calm and reflected the images of the boats moored there – idyllic.

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Buckler’s Hard was much smaller than we had expected – an C18th ship-building hamlet with pristine Georgian cottages leading down to the Beaulieu River – some of which are set up as they would have been when inhabited all those years ago.

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It took only a short time to see everything so we determined to return to Beaulieu, have a cake and coffee at Steff’s Kitchen and drive to Lymington.

By the time we reached Lymington, the weather had deteriorated, and when we began our walk through the main street, where the Saturday market stall-holders were just packing up, the rain set in. It was a pity because the town was delightful, especially down near the harbour, but the rain took the gloss off our walk.

Having returned to the Montagu Arms, we rested up a while and then went back to Monty’s Inn for another excellent meal. The Mushroom Risotto was delicious!

Sunday saw us enjoying breakfast at the Montagu Arms and returning to Reading to complete packing for our late afternoon flight to LA. The weekend away was exactly what we needed to recharge our batteries.  It was relaxed, and comfortable (and comforting) because we were with two special friends, and that again would be the case LA when we reunited with Roger and Frances.

I love LA! The weather is so good, and the shopping is amazing. I have generally left shopping to the end of our trips (usually in LA), because the variety is enormous, everything is so cheap, and it makes sense to keep cases light until the final flight home.

Each morning began with a walk from Redondo down to Manhattan Beach where we stopped at Peets for coffee and a Morning Glory muffin (to die for!). The walks always turn up something interesting to photograph – this time it was the Halloween decorations – such fun and lots of floral colour along the way.

Three of the four days we were there involved some pretty intense shopping (the refurbished Del Amo Mall has everything you could want), for ourselves, our daughters and our grandchildren – mission accomplished!

The morning of the day of our departure was spent at Griffiths Observatory – amazing, such views!  LA Live in dowtown was a perfect place to lunch on the way back home – we met a delightful would-be actor who waited on our table – very handsome, and with such perfect teeth. He reminded me of  a young Tab Hunter – I hope he succeeds.

Our flight departed late in the evening – it was a perfect flight too – it was bringing us back home to our girls, our gorgeous grandchildren and friends. Sadly, it meant the end of the magical Grand Tour, but all good things come to an end as they say – however, it also meant we could start planning the next one… watch this space.

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