Thursday 20th January
Last night, after watching a film about Siegfried Sassoon, I took my sneezy self to bed, held the old git’s hand and let Dennis squeeze between us. Twas asleep before 3.00a.m. I turned the alarm off knowing I had to get some proper shuteye. The dawn dawned without me and the sun rose perfectly well without me gazing into it. To be fair neither dawn nor her sister sunrise gave a fuck about me I was the one who missed out, although I did sleep through till 9.00, the sniffles practically gone.
At 10.00 my haircutting pal arrived with her silver box, mousse and hairdryer. I sat in the middle of the piano room on a twizzly stool. She snipped and shaped, sprayed and teased and before you could say Vidal – not related to Siegfried – I was transformed into a woman of potential. She had cut away 6 months of stress.
The old git laid the stove, put on a hat, zipped up his coat and found a pair of gloves, picked up his walking pole and locked the door. We were off to Hastings our first outing of 2022
Norm, our sat nav controller, sent us towards Chailey, where Ian Dury went to school, towards the Bluebell Railway. Hastings was way down the road, but the detour included a wrong instruction which took us into an industrial estate and some steep steps with a cone forbidding us from walking across country to Sheffield Park, which is where Norman was sending us.
Out I reversed, in my lovely clean, newly hydraulically fixed boot and newly welded exhausted motor. I manoeuvred out of the car park and headed for the t-junction. We switched off Norm, he was more trouble than he was worth. Sped past the Bluebell Railway and into the real car park of Sheffield Park.
Mothers and toddlers, partners and dogs, family groups all driving off after their lunch.
Helen Agnes ‘Nellie’ Peel, the granddaughter of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, was just 23 years old when she left London in 1893 aboard the steam-yacht Blencathra bound for the Arctic inspired by ‘youth and a love for adventure’.
Nellie’s link with Sheffield Park came in 1919 when she married owner Arthur Gilstrap Soames, the passionate plantsman who orchestrated much of the stunning spring and autumn colour in the Grade 1 Listed garden.
As you walk round the gardens there are placards of Nellie’s adventures
Nellie’s Arctic Adventure brings to life the story of the remarkable Nellie Soames, former owner at Sheffield Park and one of the first women to venture into the Arctic.
The chilly Sussex wind blew as we read about her route from London to Russia. To be honest we had never heard of Nellie, but good old Miss plucky, skinned up in a sledge, deserved a pat on her back for her work in helping design her garden.
Most of the trees and plants are named: Rhododendrons that were planted in 1890; Dead trees with trunks that looked like they had been sculpted into fantasy figures; 150 year old blue Cedar trees; 150 year old red cedar trees; Thuja which is used muchly in homeopathy.
We walked past several couples like us. White haired, anoracked, with the smile of people happy to still be breathing. Booted elders with lightweight rucksacks and walking poles. We walked round a frozen lake with ducks and geese, we walked past two grounds people with wheelbarrows and empty sacks. We walked past the giant Redwoods and lichen covered trees. We smiled at the other oldies believing we did not look like them, knowing that actually we did. Woolly hats, big gloves and National Trust passes.
We took lunch, as Nellie would have said, in the Coach House restaurant. Walking through the wood panelled dining room into the garden room which allowed dogs, a Springer spaniel watched as we munched on a Coronation Chickpea sandwich, a bag of crisps, a gluten free Rocky Road, which I have to admit was disgusting, and a St. Clement’s almond cake.
Then we disposed of our tray in the disposable tray rack and walked out to the car. But not before we visited the second hand book shop. Ex librarian, Marygold, from America, ran the little shop with a firm hand. Firstly she commented on my hair, which on the scale of one to ten synchronistically speaking came in at a stunning ten gold stars.
Marygold showed us round the shelves and managed to flog us a quinoa cookbook, a Harry Potter 2022 annual and a book called, ‘Teach your dog Japanese’. The old git can now teach all the dogs he knows how to say ‘Hajimemashite’ which does not translate as ‘Hi Jim d’ya need a shite?’ but ‘Hajimemashite’ translates as ‘Nice to meet you.’
We discussed Buddhism with the ex-librarian, took a photo of the map of the Park and bid our farewells.
Sheffield Park is a perfect place to see trees in the winter, but it is the place for spring and when the colours turn in the autumn it’s time to buy a membership for The National Trust.
Home after three and the Northern ‘oosbind lit the fire and I face-timed America, Portugal and Chatham, well somebody has to.
I made a mushroom potato stir-fry, not from the quinoa cook book, although the recipes are interesting.
We’re now settling down for series two of ‘Succession’.
Sheffield park was the perfect detour from Hastings. The cold, the tees, Nellie and the frozen lake.
Next week Hastings, although a rematch with Sheffield Park on Wednesday maybe on the cards.