Let’s face it. Eating al fresco in the UK could be classed as an extreme sport. We have approximately 6.2 sunny days where it is warm enough to sit outside without a coat (although it is always wise to have one to hand “just in case”). Then we have to compete with the BBQ fiends at the supermarket checkout – they are the ones with 40 buns, a bumper pack of sausages and a crate of lager; we are the ones with any food that looks like it can be decanted into Tupperware. And then you have to pick the right spot. If you picnic in a park, you run the risk of being trampled on by a spontaneous game of football, or decapitated by a Frisbee; in a field or meadow, you run the risk of sitting in a cowpat, or being chased by a farmer with a shotgun for disregarding the country code. And don’t get me started on the difference between a packed lunch and a picnic…
This is where a National Trust membership comes in handy. One little card, a sticker on your windscreen and the world is your picnicking oyster. Well, the world as long as it has that lovely little oak leaf and acorn logo. There’s generally picnic areas aplenty, and some of the UK’s most beautiful countryside and green spaces are at your fingertips. So yesterday, with the temperatures hitting a balmy mid-20s – as good as it gets for August in England – Mr Fletche and I packed up our decantable food into Tupperware and used some sort of Tetris-type logic to get everything to fit into our lovely picnic basket. Not one for choosing places on our doorstep, we head south down the M40 towards the Chilterns. This “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” straddles Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and our map is dotted with National Trust and Picnic area symbols. Where to go?
We head towards Wendover – Mr Fletche has done a bit of prior research, and declares that Coombe Hill is the place for today’s al fresco spread. The sat nav doesn’t appear to have ever heard of Coombe Hill, but by a combination of educated guesswork and luck we find ourselves at the right place. Mr Fletche is loaded up with picnic basket and his ever-present camera. I carry the picnic blanket. Instead of heading for the Boer War Memorial at the peak, we lay our blanket on the hillside, overlooking Aylesbury and Chequers. We don’t think the Prime Minister is home. It’s a beautiful place and Mr Fletche is already assessing its potential for some sunset shots later in the day.
Post-picnic, we take a stroll to the monument, dodging the dog walkers and kite-flyers, and then take the woodland path back to the carpark. The Chilterns has an abundance of National Trust properties, but we head towards Hughenden, even though it’s getting a little late in the day. Hughenden Manor was the home of Prime Minster Benjamin Disraeli – “Dizzy” – from 1848–1881. We don’t pop into Dizzy’s house – impressive though it is – but we do take advantage of the handily placed deckchairs in his lovely back garden. Further research (the leaflet given to us when we arrived) also reveals that Hughenden was used as a secret intelligence base in World War II, plotting maps of Germany from aerial photographs, and was a top Nazi target – except they never managed to locate it. The Nazis must have had our sat nav.
Mr Fletche is still planning sunset shots from Coombe Hill, but we decide to pop for a quick drink beforehand. It is true that Wallingford in Oxfordshire is not particularly close to Coombe Hill, however my lovely cousin Tara runs The Boathouse pub here and it would be rude not to drop in on family whilst we’re in the area. Shameless plug here…. Fab riverside setting, excellent selection of pub grub and wonderful staff – The Boathouse, Wallingford. I will claim my PR reward in wine next time I’m down there 🙂
As dusk approaches, we find our way back to Coombe Hill. We have packed sufficient picnic for a second helping, so once more we (Mr Fletche) lugs the picnic basket up the hill. Picnic No 2 is just as good as the first, and as Mr Fletche goes off on a photo-taking stroll, I wrap myself in a scarf, and settle down with my Kindle, with the sun setting on the horizon. Mr Fletche returns, proclaiming that it’s the wrong kind of clouds (or something) but with a normal lay-persons, non-photographers eye, it looks pretty amazing to me.