It was such a joy to open the curtains this morning to clear blue sky and piercing shards of sunlight. Up went the sash windows and in poured the fresh air. I can't even begin to tell you how rare this is - our ground floor flat is tiny and can be very dark at certain points in the day, even in the height of summer. Weather like this can't be sniffed at, particularly in winter, and could mean only one thing - a route march to Hampton Court Palace. And the prize for this 6 mile stomp? Lunch at a super gastro pub, The Albany in Thames Ditton.
Now, I have a confession to make. Despite living here for two years we have never fully explored Hampton Court Palace, its gardens or the park. In fact we've only been there once and that was for the annual RHS flower show and that was in 2006. On that occasion we hopped on the super little ferry at Harts Boatyard (£1 each) that merrily deposited us on the opposite river bank and off we walked along the tow path and into the palace.
This time, with good company and walking boots, we walked into Kingston, crossed the bridge and meandered along the river path. We then nipped into Hampton Court Park, having stopped to ogle briefly at a beautiful house, and came to the Rick Pond. It was so quiet and serene, and amongst the flock of white swans was the most beautiful black swan. I've always loved black swans as you so rarely see them - so magical. I spent a huge amount of my childhood mucking about on the river with my grandparents and it was always such a treat to see one.
Having been hissed at by his fellow white swans we made a swift exit onto the rather exclusive golf course and followed the curve of the river towards the palace. After a little bit of a trek, and with our destination in sight, we came across a huge herd of deer. Bambi eat your heart out!
The walk up to the palace was stunning and almost like a fairytale but with golfers. To enter the gardens you have to go through the most ornate gate - very french. The rear of the palace reminded me of the Schonbrun Palace in Vienna. The gardens are breathtaking and were created by Capability Brown (we had the name on the tip of our tongue, and eventually gave up and found someone to ask!). Having spent half an hour trying to get out of the grounds, we were eventually pointed in the right direction and our mission to the pub resumed in earnest.
After a few wrong turns (my fault), we eventually rocked up to The Albany and were shown to a table. We naturally ordered with our eyes and ate a ridiculous pile of food. Baked camembert, tapas, roast chicken and a hot chocolate pud, eased down with a couple of beers. We could not move. Or speak. Or see. The food broke us. We eventually got the bill and finally made our way home. We will definitely be going back to The Albany to sample more of their delightful menu (sensible ordering required) and I can't wait to go back to Hampton Court to explore, draw and absorb the architecture and structural forms of the formal gardens.
And so, the second week of January begins with a full tum, an evening spent slumped on the sofa (albeit with knitting needles in my hands) and the gluttony resolution in tatters. Lettuce and water for the next couple of days and renewed efforts to get to the gym I think!