Oh to be in England - a day out in Berkhamsted
It's marvellous how a half-hour trip from London's Euston station can lead you into a traditional English world. Right by the station is a motte and bailey castle, begun by the brother of William the Conqueror in 1066. Its moat is to one side of the railway line, the barges manoeuvering up the Grand Union Canal are to the other.
A short walk from the station, past grazing horses and a tractor bailing grass, found us walking across Berkhamsted Common. This is ancient heathland, trees, heather and bracken. Our guidebook had long since lost us, but then guidebooks have done most of their work by giving you a starting point. People kept appearing to direct us back on course.
Frithsden Woods is an area of ancient pollarded beeches, some of them 250 years old, now managed by the National Trust. Immediately you are inside the space, once a medieval pasture, you see how rich such unspoiled places are in the wildlife they sustain. Roe deer scampered through the trees to either side, while a jay sent a tawny owl swooping to the safe protection of a tree.
Then back down to the town and a garden fete, run by the local Lions Club. Does any other nation hold such fetes? This large event many of the classic ingredients - a barrel organ greeting you on the way in, a dog show, tombola stalls, tradjazz band (should have been a brass band for tradition, but not bad going, Jaguar cars, a marquee for tea and cakes, a coconut shy, and of course a Punch & Judy. It was beautiful to be out among happy families on a sunny afternoon.
I bought a couple of old paperbacks, and read Katherine Mansfield's story 'The Garden Party' on the train home, weeping quietly at its close as we drew into Euston station. A perfect day out!