With the economic uncertainties of recent years British families have been tending towards a ‘staycation’ over a holiday abroad. Frankly it is not hard to see why. Economy worries aside, family holidays are expensive at the best of times and our country has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, wildlife, adventure and culture. Staycations don’t just mean staying somewhere else in the UK either (though those National Parks are forever calling my name). So many of us are tied up with school runs, jobs, commutes, after-school clubs and all manner of other engagements during the week that we have limited time to explore our immediate areas and we are often missing out.
This usually comes home to roost for me when we have someone visiting. In an attempt to make sure our guests have plenty of options for excursions and outdoor explorations I trawl through all my favourite walks and hit the library for leaflets of upcoming local events and attractions. It’s at this point that I remember all those places I’ve been meaning to visit locally but somehow have never quite got round to – all those stretches of gorgeous countryside whose secrets remain hidden behind high hedges and forests as I zoom by un-heedingly on my weekly errands. Of course we do explore and it is one of my greatest pleasures to colour in those unknown areas between major roads that form my mental geography of home. Even so, whenever a long weekend beckons we usually turn our sights to elsewhere, using the chance of a few days’ break to visit friends or discover and entirely new part of the country.
This weekend the joy of a staycation truly hit home. Sunday dawned brightly and with the promise of many hours of sun to come. It was too good a day to waste on jobs or sitting in the car for hours and we’d had a manic couple of weeks. It was time for a locally based mini-treat. Today we would play the tourists.
On a whim we booked in to have breakfast at the Coppa Club, at The Great House in Sonning. The riverside village of Sonning in Berkshire is somewhere we regularly drive through and yet it has been a while since we got out and explored by foot there. I can’t remember the last time we went out for breakfast somewhere local.
The Great House sits on the river-bank, overlooked by whimsical willow trees in the very image of a rural Thames idyll. The small but busy road over the bridge passes right by but tall trees screen the traffic. My last visit there about four years ago was disappointing – lovely setting but overpriced, substandard food. It has since been refurbished and I have been curious to go back and see if much has changed for some time now. Fortunately the refurb seems to have done the trick and I was impressed with the presentation of the restaurant, the spacious baby change facilities and a decent breakfast menu with prices in line with other eateries in the area.
We spent a happy hour on the sun drenched terrace watching the boats and ducks go by whilst eating a really good breakfast. The girls were on fine form. I’d forgotten how reliable breakfast is as a time to eat out with kids. The wait for food isn’t too long, there is only one course and the kids are hungry! Beth amazed us all by eating a huge stack of pancakes we had thought we’d be sharing out between us all. Not a chance! There was none of the uncertainty of witching-hour dinners out with kids. We really should switch dinners for breakfast out more often. N.b. If you’re thinking of breakfast at The Great House yourself I’d recommend booking in advance and go as early as possible. Seats on the sun terrace cannot be allocated in advance. At 0900 it is fairly quiet but by 1030 on a sunny weekend the main riverbank is busy and the breakfast terrace full.
When we eventually prized ourselves away, we set off to explore the southern bank of the Thames that leads directly in front of the Great House. We have walked along the river in all other directions/bank sides before but never this way. It proved a pretty route. The path took us a short way along a beautiful stretch of Thames and past Uri Geller’s old house where the security cameras and notice made us grin and only more curious about what lay behind the fence.
There is a sculpture on the river-bank here donated by Uri Geller to Sonning – his home for several decades and where his children went to school. The railway sleeper bears the inscription ‘bent by the mind’ and was a gift presented to Geller by two brothers whose bending tricks were inspired by the master of the mind himself. Roo and Beth remained unawed and merely wanted to climb on it, before we saw the sign saying ‘no climbing’. Whoops!
A short way on we followed our noses onto a permissive path not marked on my OS map. This looped up through beautiful meadows full of wild-flowers and butterflies. The route passed the sewage works (not remotely smelly that day) and along a leafy country track brimming with wild-flowers before returning to the main-street of Sonning. We only met one other person on the footpath – incredibly secluded compared to the busy footpath that leads into Sonning from Reading in the other direction. Far too much goose (sticky) grass though – Roo had far too much fun pinning it to the clothes of her unsuspecting parents!
Instead of returning to The Great House along the main road we instead chose to wander the back-streets. Again, I drive through these so often on the way to Reading or some club or other of the children’s and despite knowing that the houses are very pretty I’ve never really paid much attention to them. I’ve been too focused on weaving through the narrow streets avoiding other cars. Sonning is a village blessed with good looks but cursed by its position as one of only three river crossings into Reading from Oxfordshire. There is a new crossing being mooted soon. I hope for the sake of Sonning’s residents that it relieves some of the traffic congestion they experience on their tiny streets.
It was a pleasant amble through the village, with time to admire the charming houses, many swathed in wisteria purple. Passing through the churchyard we passed the back entrance to The Bull Inn – supposed favoured hang-out of Sonning’s latest celebrity resident George Clooney who is in the process of doing-up a large property nearby. Cutting north-west through the churchyard we rejoined the river-bank, now teeming with day-trippers out enjoying the sun.
The girls kicked off their shoes and headed into the river for a paddle before we slowly made our way home, feeling very much like we’d gone somewhere totally different for a day, not just a few hours to a village we pass so often on our weekly grind. Plus I got to colour in just a little more of that mental map of our countryside!
When the weather is as glorious as it was last weekend there is nowhere better to be than the UK. It’s pretty good the rest of the year too. We only have to take the time to open our eyes and look at what is already on our doorsteps.
Where is your favourite place for a ‘Staycation Sunday’? Do you stick at home or prefer to explore somewhere a bit further away?