H1ghgr0ve is a lovely place, tranquil and friendly, with 16 acres of meandering garden, as well as its accompanying farm, set out in various styles, most of them informal and based on greenery rather than flowers. I suspect that it's best seen earlier in the year, when bulbs or wild flowers or tree blossom are out, but I loved it now too. The policy is to leave as much as possible, so there is ivy on the trees, some visible (small) weeds and heaps of mole-hills on the wild-flower meadow. Around the house there are several small gardens, more laid-out and themed - one is a cottage garden, one has a black and white (more like blues and purples, white and green) theme and another, the most stylised, has a Persian carpet inspiration to its layout. There is also a substantial kitchen garden, although I noticed that the runner and french beans have not been picked recently.
We were taken round in two groups. Mine was led by a very attractive and slender woman called Michele. Her skirt was tight and flared and reminded me of an Edwardian riding skirt.
What I'd liked about our greeting was its friendly informality. I had expected to go through a security check of some sort but, apart from the photo ID check at the gate, we were treated as guests. At the end of the tour, which took rather more than an hour and a half, we were given tea and some divine biscuits (not the usual Duchy ones, but some only available at H1ghgr0ve) and then the shop was mentioned in a generously 'you might like to' sort of way. Sorry to be so uncritical, but I even liked the shop.
I was in the second group and Andrew our driver, who had stayed with the coach (it would have been really nice if he could have joined us, which is my only criticism), was already having tea with the first lot. He came over when he saw me and said he'd better go back to the coach. "Actually," he said, "I'm waiting for ATS to come. We've got a puncture."
If you remember, he had started the day by finding the car he'd expected to use had vanished and had, for a while, believed it was stolen. Then we'd had the breakdown at the motorway service area, when the coach battery had suddenly failed. Now there was a socking great bolt in a rear offside tyre. It could so have not been his day, if he hadn't met us, for we were lovely to him. Indeed, I went so far as to put a consoling hand on his shoulder.
I left him to it for twenty minutes or so while I pottered round the shop and bought things - I felt he would be happier if not fussed. The whole thing only delayed us by a short while. It was lucky that he had taken a stroll around the car part and noticed a hissing sound...
We were so lucky. I told him that, whilst I'd obviously jinxed this trip (he said that he had only had two coach problems in ten years, and now there were two in a day), I was a useful person to have around, as I am unnaturally lucky. It's not that things don't go wrong around me, but they always end well.
Which is obviously a note to finish on, so I'll spin this out for one more day.