Shafts of sunlight from across the frosted lawn early this morning signalled the glorious day we were to have. As I walked through Minstead joyous church bells vied with celebratory birdsong for attention. The solitary crowing cock barely competed.
Berry stopped her car and got out for a chat. She has been engaged in rescuing a pony. This creature, now billeted with her own two, disappeared last summer and has been sought ever since. He turned up recently in a very sorry state, really thin, and not eating much. Apparently he is not a good forager and has just spent an awful winter trying to do just that.
Just past Football Green, on the right, there is a rough road going uphill past a large imposing building. Ignoring the ‘No Through Road’ sign, I took that route. Williams Hill House is the big one. There are also two farms, one of which is called Mill Lane Farm. Eventually the road peters out into a wide footpath. This is very churned up. Walking down it I was puzzled to see two bridged streams in quick succession running under it. I also had to battle with the mud-suction for possession of my walking boots. Having run down to the streams the path then rose and turned round to the right revealing a most idyllic sight. Perched atop a wooded bank was a group of old brick buildings having undergone recent renovation. The bank sloped down to a wide and deep millpond whose clear waters reflected the surrounding trees.
I considered that if it were possible to continue the way I was going I might emerge somewhere in the vicinity of Emery Down. As I wasn’t sure, I was rather relieved to see the sunlit steam of human exhalation billowing like tobacco smoke from the leafy bank. A woolly-hatted bearded head, and then an athletic looking body, rose into view. I was looking up at Robert, with whom a long chat ensued. Robert had spent twenty years turning the buildings into a most attractive home. He explained that the mill itself was no longer in existence. He also confirmed that if I continued up the slippery path, I would soon reach a road which, turning right would bring me to Emery Down.
Some time later I was in Emery Down, from where I took my usual route back home. In that village there is a rather beautiful collection of almshouses, a banner on the railings of which announces a refurbishment project for 2013.
After lunch we joined Elizabeth and Mum at The Down House in Itchen Abbas. This is a large private house that was open today under the National Gardens Scheme. The organisation enables home owners to display their gardens to the public on two or three days a year. The small entrance fees are donated to various charities. Jackie and Mark Porter, the owners, had a splendid day. Parking was well organised and catering was excellent. The garden was very well laid out, the woodland walk being at its best at this time.
In the evening, Elizabeth, Jackie and I dined at ‘The Hampshire Bowman’, at Dundridge, near Bishop’s Waltham. This is reached by following a long winding single track road perhaps a couple of miles long. I had been to this real ale pub once before for a drink with Paul Newsted. Tonight we chose to sit close to the log fire. The mantelpiece contained a row of candles in their brass sticks. As the barman lit them before transferring them to tables, he told us why the one on the left hand end burnt down quicker than the others and produced nobbly stalactites. It was in the direct line of a draft between two doors, so the flame was always flickering with interesting results. A small boy, on leaving the pub, couldn’t resist peeling off some of the nobbly bits.
Proud of its range of beers, the establishment only reluctantly serves the odd lager. Fortunately for Jackie, there was Becks on offer. Elizabeth and I drank Wallops Wood. Jackie and I consumed excellent mushroom soup. The very good main courses were roast chicken for Elizabeth; roast lamb for me; and fish and chips for Jackie. Blackberry and apple crumble; sticky toffee pudding; and bread and butter pudding, were all equally delicious.
An ageing lurcher, to no avail, sat hopefully under our table.