An Afternoon in Northampton
One hour east of Birmingham is a magical place called Great Brington, a small village with a population under 500, home to a few of the most kind and generous people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Joe and Sarah live in a beautiful, traditional English home complete with gardens, an emerald green Aga cooker, and magnificent views of the rolling countryside.
I LOVE their cooker!!!! Are you familiar with the Aga? I couldn't be a total creep and start photographing their appliances so you'll have to click through and check it out. Beautiful ovens unlike the type we use in America.
Joe studied abroad in Scotland with Connor's uncle. Years later, they reconnected, and Joe and his wife invited us and Penny to their home for lunch, tea, and a walk. The four of us plus their daughter who is our age, and 4 dogs (Penny, Storm, Tiffin, and Henry) had a great afternoon! Americans are really missing out on the afternoon tea + cake and walking traditions, by the way. We seem to have taken these enjoyable moments and reduced them to simple necessities. A snack and maybe another cup of coffee are enjoyed at our desk, in the car, or on the go as we multi-task our way through life. Walking is simply a mode of transportation or a necessary evil if you have the pleasure of owning a dog. Anyway, I'm feeling the spirit of England and shedding my go-go-go anxiety and loving this slower, more mindful lifestyle.
SO. Now for some history! The parish church in Great Brington is just up the bend from Joe and Sarah, and It. Is. Ancient. According to their website, the church stands on the site of an old Saxon church, and the Domesday Book has record of priests in Great Brington as early as 1086. The oldest part of the existing building (the tower) dates to around 1200.
And! George Washington's great-great-great grandfather, Lawrence Washington, is buried here! They fly the American flag on the 4th of July and President's Day to honor him. So that's pretty fun! Sorry for the poor camera angle. I didn't want to be annoying so I snapped quick photos with my phone when no one was looking.
We took the dogs out for a walk and followed their usual route through the country.
This route takes them right past Althorp House, the 13,000 acre Spencer Estate, currently owned by Charles Spencer, Princess Diana's younger brother. The house was built in 1508 and has been the Spencer home for 500 years. Somehow I missed the fact that Diana's ancestors were so fascinating. After her grandfather, the 7th Earl Spencer, passed away, Lady Diana Spencer moved to Althorp House with her father, two older sisters, and younger brother. She was 13. I say this all so casually, but THIS WAS PRINCESS DIANA'S HOUSE! For a time. She went to boarding school and all that jazz so she might not know all the secrets of the gigantic house, but still. She lived here. And she is buried here. There are 500 people in this town and one of them used to be Princess Diana.
If I had 13,000 acres, you bet I'd set my mansion back from the road. Deer and pheasant were everywhere. I've never seen so many deer in one place - there must have been at least 50 grazing on that front "lawn" when we first walked up. Joe told us the game birds and wildlife were brought in years ago so Henry VIII could hunt on the grounds. It was an honor for the King to hunt on your estate, and important that there were enough animals running around that he didn't get bored or frustrated. (Especially if its Henry VIII we're talking about.)
Tea and cake followed our walk, and then Joe roasted some coffee for us to take home. He has a gigantic roaster for large batches as well as a mini one. Fresh roasted coffee!!!! It's amazing. We've been drinking it all week. Never had better.
Then we got out the ladder and Connor climbed up to pick some apples from one of their trees. This was such a treat! Apple picking is always an exciting outing, but picking apples in your own backyard is brilliant and even better. They also have plumb trees and a good sized garden where they grow other fruit and veg. Sarah spoiled us with a big bag of cooking apples, another big bag of regular apples, a loaf of homemade soda bread, a jar of homemade marmalade, and even a special kind of coffee maker!
Bellies full and car packed with goodies, we drove back to Birmingham marveling at what an incredibly nice day we had. Joe and Sarah, if you ever read this, please know how supremely grateful we are for your wonderful hospitality and kindness. We have been feasting like kings since we left you and now we're rather spoiled!