A few years ago I met a man on the internet.
It isn't as sinister as it sounds. I was doing genealogical research and had posted a query about my husband's family in Australia. A year or so later, out of the blue, I had an email from a man in England who was writing to see if the family I was looking for was also the family he was looking for.
Turned out they had the same not-very-common last name but were not, in fact, related.
We exchanged an interesting set of emails, determined that we were not connected, and I expected that that would be the end of it.
It wasn't. He was retired, at something of a loose end, had, as a result, just removed a several hundred year old hedge from his property with his Volvo and a winch, and was looking for something else to occupy his time.
Did I have any loose ends I wanted tied up, he wondered. Any families in the UK I couldn't track down. He'd be happy to take a look for them. Otherwise, I got the feeling, the rest of the hedges had better watch out.
Well, I did have some loose ends, as you do if you've done genealogy for any length of time. There are ALWAYS brick walls.
So I gave him the name of a cottage in a little village in Cornwall and said I was trying to find out where it was. I wasn't having much success. Did he want to try?
Did he?! Oh, yes.
Within days he emailed me with an approximate location -- and a list of three local people I should contact who could tell me more about the cottages and the area. "Call them," he said. "That's what I did."
So I did. And I've since done more than that. I've visited the area myself. I have spent a few days with the people he found for me -- and one of them introduced me to a cousin who was born in the cottage I was seeking.
Unexpected pleasures, all of them.
So the next time I went to England, I emailed him and said, Could I take you out to lunch?
He said no.
No. I was a visitor in his country. He'd take me.
The day we went out was an absolute pleasure -- an exquisite luncheon and an afternoon spent in the gardens of Gravetye Manor.
Built in 1598, it is a stunning Elizabethan manor house set amid some 35 acres of amazing gardens surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest.
As we drove in, two deer leapt across the road right in front of us. I realized then it was going to be an amazing day.
The manor's gardens, its greatest claim to fame, are a memorial to William Robinson, one of England's greatest gardeners and a proponent of the "natural" garden. He bought Gravetye Manor in 1884 and developed and maintained them until his death in 1935. After years of neglect, the house and gardens were purchased by a hotelier, Peter Herbert, who set about restoring them.
He did a magnificent job. I could have wandered in those gardens for days. I could have sat in the beautifully appointed -- but equally warm and welcoming -- public rooms for even longer. Every time now that I am in need of an English manor house -- or an Irish manor house for that matter -- Gravetye Manor pops into my head.
There are doubtless bigger, more lavish, exquisite places in England. But it is the standard against which I measure them all. And because I had such a wonderful day there - because it was so unexpected and so delightful, as well as proof of the way serendipity can bring people together -- Gravetye Manor remains my favorite.
I'm looking at unexpected events now, trying to work out the starting point of a new book. Gravetye manor seems like a good place to begin.
Tell me about your most unexpected pleasures. I'll get my unexpectedly useful golden retrievers, Mitch and Micah, to pick a winner from those who comment, and I'll send the winner a copy of my upcoming book, Hired By Her Husband. The husband in question is George Savas, my single-minded physicist, who turned out to be an unexpectedly sexy hero.
You never know, do you?