It’s a hard old life, working for Landed Houses – very high stress, lots of antisocial hours. We’re not just drinking cocktails you know, we’re working. So imagine how lovely it was to be invited for the weekend by one of our houses, for a little break – ‘Do come, and do bring the family…’. Oh, hardship, hardship.
So, as the boss was indisposed (hobnobbing at Burghley House dontcha know), Carlie had to step up, along with husband Stephen and two small daughters (aged 8 and 6), and drive to the home of the Lamp family; Plas Dinam.
Early Saturday morning, we kissed goodbye to the dogs and set off from our house in North Oxfordshire, headed for Mid Wales. Stephen and I were in high spirits, glad to escape the usual weekend flurry of taxiing children and catching up on jobs forgotten during the week. The children were not so bright – mulish from being taken away from their village buddies. We made good time whizzing up the motorway towards Birmingham, and we decided on a diversion to Telford and the Iron Gorge for lunch. Sadly, the huge canyon I remembered as a child had shrunk dramatically, and my daughters were unimpressed by the first iron bridge in the world; Mummy, it’s really small. Oh. Yes, it is, quite.
Never mind. We stuffed ourselves with pork pies from Eleys’ Pie Shop , and piled back in the car. More easy driving, and shooting through Halfway House, into Wales. ‘It always rains in Wales’, muttered our eldest daughter, and we laughed uneasily, not voicing that creeping dread that comes of introducing grumpy children to kind strangers who’d invited us to their house.
‘It will be brilliant,’ I trilled, shelling out sweets.
‘Pah. You said that about the bridge.’
‘Ah,’ I said, swivelling in my seat. I played my strongest card. ‘But there’re puppies.’
Ignoring Sat Nav (which is WRONG when it comes to Plas Dinam), we arrived outside a quietly grand set of gates, and started up the drive to the house. By the time it swung into view, both children were practically in our laps, screeching with excitement – Mummy, Mummy! We’re really staying here? After the squib that was Ironbridge, they were ecstatic.
We were met by Eldrydd Lamp, the daughter of the current Lord and Lady Davies, and her family – within moments we had all been swept in and installed with tea on the terrace whilst the children (thankfully jollied-up) ran off car-fatigue and hurled frisbees across the lawn. The terrace is a very nice place to be, sheltered and sun drenched, with a giant shiny BBQ all poised for action. After such rubbish weather in England, my husband and I basked shamelessly, admiring the rolling bucolic views and speculating which of us would win a game of tennis, down on the court below.
Eldrydd and her husband, Tyson, were very easy company, and after a stroll round the garden (Eldrydd armed with secateurs to gather roses for the house), we were shown to our rooms. Oh, blissful rooms. Stephen and I were in the Wedding Night Suite, light and airy with a huge bay window looking out over the lawn and to the hills beyond.
The bed was a high and wide, I had to stop myself from swimming onto it and sinking into the soft pillows.
‘Wine o’clock,’ called Eldrydd, and I gave the counterpane a quick stroke before forcing myself away.
Once the children had been put to bed, we drifted around the garden in the evening sun, the only sound the tinkling of ice in our gin and tonics, and the odd moo from a cow below. The stresses of Oxfordshire and real life seemed a long way away; the peace of Plas Dinam was stealing like a benevolent mist over our minds. Possibly helped by gin.
Dinner was served in the bay window of the oak-panelled sitting room (yet more glorious views), and wine was sloshed into our glasses as roast chicken and new potatoes appeared on a hostess trolley. By the time we reached the cheese, the plans for the next day had been set. We could have done any number of things – gone to the beach, horse riding, mountain biking, rally car driving…but as we had the children, we decided on a long rambling country walk and a visit to see the puppies at the hunt kennels.
We woke to sunshine and blue skies, which made us all squint a bit with our poor wine-sore heads. Luckily, a big breakfast perked us up and before 10 o’clock, we were off and out, striking towards them-there hills we’d seen from our supper table the night before. The climb through the bracken was hard – a bit like trying to run in the sea – but very worth it – the Llandinam valley was spread before us like the most glorious feast. Eldrydd pointed out Plas Dinam, far below, and woods and coverts shot by the Llandinam shoot.
‘Umhmm,’ I said, too breathless to speak.
‘Puppies,’ muttered our eldest daughter, always mutinous when required to walk up hill.
‘But Mummy,’ said our youngest daughter, peering over the steep edge of the hill. ‘Where do we get down?’
Straight, would be the answer. The Lamp Family introduced the Lee Family to one of their favourite sports – Hill Diving. The idea is to hurl yourself downwards, as fast as possible, using the thick bracken as a sort of mattress/spring-board. The Lamp’s boys were particularly good, throwing themselves with abandon and hooting with laughter. It was madness, but exhilarating, and we all collapsed at the bottom by a stream to catch our breath. I flopped back against the bank, to look at the sky. It felt very good to be alive, and in Wales right now, this very minute.
Eventually, after fantasies of bacon sandwiches delivered by helicopter (sadly unfulfilled), we staggered back to Plas Dinam, diverting to the David Davies Hunt Kennels, for the promised cuddling of the hound puppies.
The eldest daughter was in dog heaven, fussing the hounds and laughing in delight at the two pups with their long legs and pot bellies.
‘No,’ I hissed, before she could ask. ‘We can’t take them home.’
Lunch was served in the lovely big family kitchen – delicious local oggy pies, and quiches from the local deli. Suddenly, the big clock on the wall almost seemed to be spinning round – it was time to pack and leave. The children melted away to cram in a few more minutes enchanted play, and Stephen and I loaded the car, trying to ignore the siren call of the cloud-like bed.
All too soon, the car was packed, children corralled, hugs and kisses dispensed. As we slowly rolled away, all four of us turned for one last look at the magical house.
‘Oh,’ sighed a daughter. ‘We didn’t finish our game of ping-pong.’
‘Au revoir,’ we said. ‘Au revoir Plas Dinam’. We will so definitely be back…