Friday was Amandas birthday. We were off to Hampton Court Palace for the weekend, but we had to do a couple of gardens first. Try as we may to bump work up in a way that will leave a whole day to pack and travel, it rarely happens, as weather and the unpredicted always occur.
It was a lovely and warm morning, and we had two of the nice gardens to do, so all was pretty good. Around 12 noon, all was done, and so before we headed home to get ready, a nice cup of tea at the Haven Ferry to round things off.
We arrived at the hotel at around 3pm after just under a couple of hours driving. A lovely 300 year old building, with a large log fire burning in the bar area. We were shown to our room, and we didn't take long to unpack as we were eager to get into the gardens of the palace. The hotel is part of the boundary wall, with the Lion Gate right next door, and the maze immediately behind.
As you can see, the view of the maze from our hotel was pretty good!
It was quite late in the afternoon by now, and so we walked and explored an area called 'The Wilderness'. Cherry trees, Magnolias and large Beeches just breaking bud, all underplanted with different varieties of bulbs. In the picture below, the Lion Gate can just be seen in the background.
Time flew by, the sun set, and it got quite cool, and so we headed back to the hotel for dinner. The following day was to be quite an adventure!
The whole of Hampton Court Palace is actually divided into two separate palaces. The familiar red brick being the one famous for being where Henry VIII lived, and adjoining it a more 'modern' palace which was the abode of William III and Mary. We started with a walk along the long approach to Henrys place.
Needless to say, the gardens are stunning, and all maintained to a standard that I haven't seen in a long time. Completely weedless borders, lawn edges straight and clipped, plants gently tended and nurtured.
Yew trees that are 350 years old
And all beautiful, and with a sense of calm and peace.
We were going inside eventually, but found it very hard indeed to leave these surroundings.
Housed in this greenhouse is the largest grapevine in the world. The bare soil you can see is kept like that all of the time as the roots grow here, and nothing else is allowed to compete for nourishment in any way.
The Orangery is huge, and flanked by several exquisite and intimate gardens, each with their own design.
But for now we had to leave the gardens as the palace beckoned.
And what a palace!
As rooms and passages are explored, courtyards would occasionally come into view.
Beautiful tapestries, all original, but only a few remain of the many, many that Henry originally had.
The Watching Chamber, with it's floor to ceiling stained glass window and spectacular ceiling, stops all in their tracks as they enter. That is all except Henry himself, who, along with Anne Boleyn and her brother, move throughout the palace with shouts and tempers as passions rise.
The eating at Hampton Court is legendary. Lunch at 10am, dinner at 4pm, and 600 courtiers feasting together always. The amount of food, wine and beer was vast at each meal, and the kitchens are suitably huge to cope. The room below is just one of a series, with many anti-rooms leading off.
Henry had just been shouting after Anne as she stormed away from him, refusing to return. I simply got a stern look and a 'Good day' from him.
There was a special exhibition of the royal beds as well, 'The Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber'. Places where it quickly became apparent that the best times were to be had in those days. Marriages were fixed and ruling decisions secured between the sheets. Indeed, it was because of Henrys desire to get Anne Boleyn into his bed that turned England from a Catholic nation, to a Church of England one.
As well as very impressive bed after bed, one of the larger rooms was darkened, and the floor covered in very soft, raised mattresses, where all are invited to lay and absorb the dreamlike animation on the ceiling. It was strangely unsettling, lying there in the darkness, in the knowledge that people were passing by only a few feet away.
But like all good things, it had to stop at some point, and so we headed back to the hotel to prepare for dinner, but not before having a go at the maze! Did we do it? A piece of cake, for Amanda at least. I simply followed as she uncannily walked straight through to the centre without a wrong turn, and then proceeded to exit in the same manner. Quite extraordinary.
A gorgeous Italian meal that evening at La Fiamma, just opposite the hotel. Super food, Champagne and good conversation left us heading back to the hotel really rather late and tired, but a perfect end to a perfect day. The following day turned out to have some surprises as well.
With it being Sunday, we had decided to attend church that morning, and of course the Royal Chapel at Hampton Court Palace had to be the venue. Very high Anglican, we settled into our pews just underneath where Henry VIII and his court used to sit. It was at this point that we were invited to sit with the choir in the choir stalls. Never the types to miss an experience, we nervously took our seats (just to the left of the person with the backpack in the picture) and spent the next hour participating in the singing of some spectacular hymns. The service was Choral Matins, and so there was a lot more singing than at a usual service, and all rounded off by what I can only describe as some of the best and enthralling organ playing that I have heard.
After such a heady experience we wanted to do some antiqueing, as the local area is alive with antique emporiums. I didn't find any glassware that inspired, but Amanda did pick up a very special teacup by way of a birthday pressie from me. She also took a liking to a vintage purple leather chair that cost an arm and a leg, and weighed a ton. Still, she had me to shift it so it had to come home with us.
And so that was our break at Hampton Court Palace.
Take care and enjoy your week.