Monday, September 25, 2017


Mute Swan on the Thames

One of the problems with emigrating from England to Australia is the distance you suddenly are from family and friends. Platitudes about the world getting smaller don't really cut it when you're sitting on a 13 hour flight after an 8 hour "short leg"! There are a lot of theories about jetlag but it is probably safest to say that it affects each person differently. My wife, Caroline, for instance, suffers minor jetlag problems, while it hits me quite badly.

We left Melbourne late on Wednesday flying Malaysian Airlines.The first flight was comfortable and the service was excellent. A 3 hour stop in Kuala Lumpur was followed by the gruelling 13 hour flight landing in London on Thursday afternoon. It's a short drive to my family which is our first destination, Basingstoke, in north Hampshire.

Village clock in Burley, New Forest
In Australia, when people ask me where I come from in England, I say that I am from about 70km west of London. Trying to describe where Hampshire is can be difficult, and as soon as you move away from London in a description, you have lost the main reference point that people have about England. So where is Basingstoke, really? Basingstoke is a crossroads, a market town between the historic centres of Reading to the north, Winchester to the west, Southampton to the south, and of course, London to the east. While it has historic prominence from Basing House, which sits to the east of the town, Basingstoke is essentially a new town, growing in the 1950's and 60's from London overspill. And as a new town, Basingstoke is a hotch-potch of housing estates built around a relatively small central shopping area. In itself, the town is not very exciting, but its location is excellent. Basingstoke is an hour from London, an hour from the coast, a short hop to the Thames, and surrounded by places of historic interest.

The bridge at Pangbourne over the Thames
Our plan was to have a couple of fairly easy days when we first arrived, so as to get used to the new time zone. We were treated to drive to the Thames on our first day by my brother and his partner. The Thames is a beautiful river through the counties of Berkshire and Oxfordshire and we were driven to the village of Pangbourne just west of Reading, about 30 minutes drive from Basingstoke. A pub lunch by the river as narrow boats and swans glide past is about as idyllic as it gets. This was followed by a riverside walk. It was a mild autumn day, and we were enchanted by scenes which inspired Wind in the Willows illustrator E. H. Shepherd, and the author, Kenneth Grahame retired to Pangbourne.

Thatched roof in Burley, New Forest
The following day I was still suffering from jetlag. So another short trip was welcome. The weather has been very pleasant, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures in the high teens Celsius. So we went off to the New Forest to search for ponies. Again my brother drove and the 4 of us headed to the picturesque village of Burley. The magical natural countryside has an ancient history with evidence of prehistoric barrows while the area was the land of the Jutes in Anglo-Saxon times. Royal interest goes back as far as William the Conqueror, who proclaimed the area a royal forest. For us, though, it was a matter of having a scone and seeing some beautiful wildlife, and both of these were found!

New Forest pony in front of an Oak

Pony on the New Forest heathland
Sylvan magic
It's been great to see family, and see how my former home has changed over the 30 years since I lived here. And its been a beautiful start to our trip to England with a couple of stunning days out.

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