For more years than I care to remember my only daughter (OD) and I have been going to Burghley. First it was just for the cross-country, then it was a dressage day as well and ultimately we made it the full four-day girlie weekend.
It has evolved its own rituals — OD tries really hard to ensure we don’t watch any dressage. I try really hard to ensure we see at least one session. We plan our shopping with military precision — armed with lists of rug sizes, stirrup lengths etc. We walk the cross-country course, watching one horse at each fence, two at each water and we always sit for 10 minutes before going home on the Sunday overlooking the huge fences and the car park across into Stamford and promise to come back next year.
There have been several memorable years:
- the wet one, where we needed pushing out of the car park;
- the hot one, where we discovered we would pay £10 for the very small but last bottle of sun cream in the pharmacy;
- the foot and mouth one where we got irate at people trying to avoid the disinfectant foot baths; and
- the football one.
It was 2001 and a crucial football match (Germany v England) was scheduled for the evening of the Saturday. (Did I mention that the whole family are sports mad, both playing and watching?) The problem was, should we miss the end of the cross-country to try and get ahead of the traffic to find a pub with a TV? Or sit in a traffic jam (or the car park) listening on the radio?
OD was embarrassed as I pestered every stall holder to find out where would be the best place to watch the match. The answer came when it was announced that the match would be shown on a big screen — problem solved.
Come the appointed time we settled down with a drink and watched the game unfold. When Germany scored we wondered if maybe we could still get a table at The George, but decided to tough it out. Two England goals followed and by half time we felt better. The crowd had thinned out and we joined a couple at a table under cover.
The next half was incredible — after the third England goal the woman we were sitting with turned to her husband and insisted they leave now. He pleaded with us to tell his wife how important this was, but we decided not to get involved in that dispute and they disappeared into the twilight.
The final whistle saw incredible scenes, including a chorus of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” by some guys who obviously didn’t see much round ball action. OD pleaded with me not to try and set the record straight with a rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
We then experienced one of the most magical times at Burghley, walking through the shut-up and deserted trade stands back to the car park — which was bathed in moonlight — with our car standing alone in the huge expanse of parkland.
Driving out of the park with no cars behind or in front was an experience I will never forget.