P A R T 1It was a beautiful morning on Wednesday when the office decamped, blindingly, at Petworth House, after a rather early start from Waterloo to Petersfield where we all piled in to what felt like the school coach. Once a year, we love to organise a day out, which until the moment it happens always feels a bit stressful and then feels like the best thing we've done all year. Capability Brown's beautiful parkland stretches before us... Jeremy Musson, my old friend, architectural historian and writer, leads our group - as he does a series of lectures through the year. Here he is explaining the majesty of Petworth's palatial Baroque west front. To his left is a special guest, Martin Drury, former head of the National Trust, and before that curator of Petworth House. It was wonderful to meet him, and hear his many tales. The views to the South Downs are astonishing - perhaps the best borrowed landscape I have seen in a while? Team photo! And then the inside tour, what a treasure house this is. Here are some details that caught my eye. I adore glimpses through windows in ancient paintings. Time worn. The grand stair. Glimpses! This is from a part of the house where you may not take photographs, which I do respect, but I hope you will forive me snapping this beautiful example of 19th century Morris & Co wallpaper, Willow, pale blue on paler blue. In the dining room. Henry VIII's thigh and slipper, a beautiful shoe. In the sculpture gallery. And then we headed across Sussex to the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum - which I haven't visited for years and years. A magnificent collection of ancient vernacular buildings, threatened by demolition in the 1960s and 70s, relocated and re-built in this wonderful site in the rolling country on the edge of the village of Singleton. A few scenes follow. An ancient Wealden farmhouse is perhaps the star of the show. There is a farm, looked after in the old ways. Perhaps my favourite house of all - a tiny toll house.... Team photo 2. Final stop - West Dean Gardens, just a tiny hop up the road. A landscape of astonishing beauty. We started at the Harold Peto designed garden. And then to the Walled Garden, which regular readers will remember I blogged about a couple of summers ago - you can read, here. When we last visited it was high June. Here we were in the beauty of autumn. The garden was looking astonishing. This truly is, I think, the most beautifully cared for traditional walled garden in the country. As before, it was completely deserted. I love it here so much.
P A R T 2 - L O N D O NAnd we rolled back to the station and into London - I think we were all happily exhausted. This weekend, Charlie and I were in London, for Bridie's birthday party. Yesterday we decided to take the boat down to Greenwich. There is really nothing better than a trip down the Thames, with all its contrasts. Make what you will of our more modern interventions on the skyline. Beautiful Tower of London - a place I promise to revisit one day soon. Wonderful wharfside buildings - this one, on the left, beautifully untouched and unrestored, somehow. We disembarked and headed up to Greenwich Park, first destination Ranger's House. Then we headed across Blackheath to the Paragon, dreamy late Georgian gem. Back to Greenwich Park - I was fascinated (as a Cornishman) to read this plaque in the wall. The view overlooking Royal Greenwich from the hill. We made a wonderful visit to the Queen's House - serenely beautiful, filled with a brilliant collection, beautifully displayed - and completely free. Paintings by John Worsley. I would be interested to know more, but for now, here is a link to Wikipedia. The view from the Queen's House to the Royal Naval Hospital. Pen drawings by Van de Velde senior.... beautiful - on show until January. Amazing treasures - this altas, by Pieter Goos... Wonderful paintings Elizabeth I as princess - aged 7. Anne of Denmark, for whom the Queen's House was originally built... The Somerset House Conference, 19th August 1604 - celebrating the peace treaty between England and Spain. Elizabeth 1 in court dress. Henry VIII. This place is like the National Portrait Gallery, without any other people there. Charles I. And of course, Inigo Jones, architect of this magical building. Jones's remarkable Tulip staircase. Down to Greenwich... When I was 10, we lived here - Dad was in the Navy, and for three years, our house was those three windows on the far left hand end. Maybe something about being here then rubbed off? I think it feels possible. Those tiny windows up top were my bedroom window. The Trafalgar Tavern, looking wonderful bedecked in more flags than ever. And home. The happiest evening for Bridie. Today we mooched. Pub lunch, and down to Westbourne Grove to meet our friend Wilfred for a further pint this afternoon. Here's the view over Notting Hill chimney pots from Wilfred's roof. Heaven. Is there anywhere more beautiful than sleepy, dusty, slightly run down old London? Just every now and again, it's a good thing to be a tourist in your own town.