My birthday bucket list – part 2

In part 1 of this bucket list blog post I wrote “doing one [activity] a week during August seems logical but it might not work out like that” and that’s just what happened. I was a third into the month before I seriously thought about any of the four items so it was time to do at least one of them. In the event, I did the first two in 24 hours.

First up was Hitchin Lavender, which I discovered is not actually in Hitchin. It’s just outside a place called Ickleford. It could be could be an idyllic rural North Hertfordshire setting if it wasn’t for the Virgin Trains sweeping by on the main line to Scotland every 30 minutes or so.

Our visit to Hitchin Lavender itself could also have been a quiet and relaxing experience if it hadn’t been for the visitors (us included of course). Little did I know that it had featured on BBC TV just 4 days before because of the dramatic growth in Asian visitors, following publicity on Chinese social media. This may have explained the loving couple being photographed waist-high in the purple stuff, but I didn’t ask (despite my surname being Chinese for plum).

And there are lots for visitors from near and far to see. Yes, you can gather lavender (paper bags and scissors provided) for a fiver and visit an attractively small one-room museum, but you can also buy anything and everything to do with lavender. You can, of course, have a nice cuppa (I was surprised not to see an Ickleford Lavender Cream Tea) and you can even do yoga classes. I was impressed – as much by the entrepreneurialism of the owners as the size of the lavender fields. I also learnt, despite six years of commuting in to London, that the lavender fields are visible from the train.

Without a pause to consider which bucket list adventure to pursue next, a good weather forecast for the night – dry and clear – made it an ideal opportunity for sleeping under the stars. And not just any stars, it was the weekend for viewing the Perseid meteor shower promising 100 shooting stars every hour between 11pm and 4am. That morning I’d reclaimed an 8ft x 4ft wooden pallet from the builders next door – so my bed was sorted. Clearly choosing that day for my ‘night out’ was, er… written in the stars.

That night I lay on my pallet wrapped up in a sleeping bag with a tarpaulin to keep me dry from the dew (it didn’t). I’d like to report I lay back wide-eyed with wildlife sounds around me to be treated to an astronomic lightshow overhead. I wasn’t. The sounds were more man-made – motorbikes and cars on the A505, planes (Luton and Stansted airports are just 40 minutes away). Soon after settling down, I did see one shooting star out of the corner of my eye. I was then so intent on seeing more… I soon fell asleep as light clouds came across to deny me a real spectacle to sleep through.          

Next was Scott’s Grotto and it surpassed its low-key billing. You may remember, I’d been ‘finding time’ to visit for 23 years, and it was well worth the wait. An unassuming entrance – no neon lights and even the small official lamp post sign was unreadable – was easily missed.

If the word grotto conjures up images of Santa and his little helpers, well there was no Santa (but a very friendly and helpful guide) but there were plenty of little elves – rushing up and down the underground tunnels, flashing torches and knocking a shell off the wall in the process. It will take more than a lively child or two to damage the six underground chambers – the grotto has been there since 1760. And there were literally thousands of shells, flints and bits of coloured glass left lining the walls when they were gone – a truly impressive display. Like the lavender field’s proximity to the commuter line to London, I realised on leaving that I’d been driving regularly within about 50 metres of the entrance to Scott’s Grotto for the past 15 years. And did I mention the 18th summerhouse on the same site I’d also overlooked?

Watch badgers: Badgers permitting, this was potentially going to be the most exciting item on the list for me. I’d only recently discovered it was possible to do it through the local Wildlife Trust.

We had to wait a good few weeks to get to the front of the queue, but the visit was everything I hoped it would be. We entered the hide (glass-fronted from floor to roof) just as it was getting dark. As the natural light went down the show began across a natural floodlit stage. All it needed was Carnival of the Animals playing in the background. Rats were the warm up act – scurrying in and out from under the hide to eat the food the Wildlife Trust put out each evening. The scene was set for the main act – ahead stage right we could see what looked like a pathway down to the badger set. First a couple of rabbits with walk-on parts crossed the field ahead.

20 minutes in, the first badgers appeared – lolloping up the pathway towards the hide, in twos and threes. We didn’t know how many to expect – there were eventually ten. In between two appearances (the badgers were scared off back to their set, but not by us) two foxes ambled across the stage. The whole evening was brilliantly choreographed – not 100% natural but wildlife as close-up as possible, the wildlife relaxed and apparently oblivious to the audience (or playing to the gallery?) A great night.

Finally, I didn’t tell you that while waiting our turn for the badger-watching, I’ve added a fifth activity to my birthday bucket list – learning to hula hoop. I spent some birthday money from my mother-in-law on a hula-hoop which comes in six pieces making it easy to store and carry – very smart. Several YouTube videos later…

I’m still useless at hula hooping or however it’s described. Much to my annoyance, my wife is an expert. Once I’ve caught up with her, I plan to use a bike wheel rim for a real workout. I don’t know whether it’ll work but, in case it does, remember you heard about it here first.

Further information

Hitchin Lavender goes viral in China  www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-essex-40878901/hitchin-lavender-farm-experiences-huge-growth-in-international-visitors

Shell-lined grottoes are not as unusual as you might think  http://www.blottshellhouses.com/Products/Homes_and_Antiques_%20Sept%202013%20%20Cilwendeg.pdf

My birthday bucket list – part1 https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/by-birthday-bucket-list-part-1

Bucket list photo gallery https://www.facebook.com/leeinroyston/media_set?set=a.10155175734702104.1073741827.684052103&type=3

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