Hampton Court, the Tower of London and Hever Castle are my favourite historical locations. They are so well maintained that I could easily imagine Henry VIII walking around bellowing orders. I would recommend anyone who loves history, nature or beautiful architecture to add these locations to your must-see list!
I visited Hampton Court first, and I could have easily spent all day here. When I first walked through the gates, a wave of excitement hit me as I saw the huge castle at the end of the long driveway, I just wanted to run towards it like a little kid running for the ice cream man, but I kept my composure (kind of) and power walked towards the entrance. I stopped every few meters to take a photo of the magnificent building and pinch myself to make sure it was really happening. The beautiful red brick just popped against the clear blue sky and manicured green grass. I admit I didn’t take any artistic or unique photos of the exterior, my brain just wasn’t in the zone, instead, the same thoughts were sprinting through my mind “oh my god you’re here!”, “RUN! Get inside! Look around!”, “take some more photos, but quick! You only have 5 hours”.
So in I went and picked up an audio guide and Harry Potter robe (they’re actually “King’s robes” to help you feel like a King walking through his castle but I felt more like Harry Potter which was even cooler) and made my way through the castle. This is where I will applaud Phillipa Gregory again; walking through the various rooms, I imagined the various scenes I had read in her books. She did such an amazing job of describing each location that when I visited places she had written about, I could see Henry VIII sitting in the chapel for his morning prayer, I could see Mary Boleyn sitting by the river with her children at Hever and imagine Anne Boleyn walking towards her execution at the Tower of London. These locations came alive for me and allowed me to appreciate their historical significance even more.
After walking through the beautiful interiors and listening to some stories from the staff spread out throughout the castle (The staff at Hampton Court were fantastic and full of interesting tales about the castle) I made my way outside to the gardens and they did not disappoint. When I first walked through the doors, I could see a fountain down the path which continued to a lake. As I walked up to the lake, I could see swans relaxing in the sunshine, I just loved that the lake had swans, it was so royal. The castle was surrounded by so many gardens; one of my favourites was the small sunken garden along the side. It had so many beautifully coloured flowers, immaculately manicured hedges and a small fountain in the middle surrounded which. I could just imagine relaxing here with a good book.
I also had my first chicken and leek pie served with Mushie peas, and it was delicious! The pastry was buttery and flaky on top and deliciously crumbly on the bottom. The filling was a perfect mix of gravy and superbly cooked chicken and leak. Mushie peas were a wonderful accompaniment to the pie and will be a staple in my kitchen from now on!
I had been to the Tower of London previously and completed the Yeoman Warders tour (popularly known as ‘Beefeaters’) which I would definitely recommend to those wanting to know more about the history of the Tower. This time around, I took the time to explore every nook and cranny with the knowledge I already had. It wasn’t hard to imagine what it would have looked like in the 1500s with the information displayed in each room. There are so many interesting facts in each area that you can easily do a self-guided tour (if you don’t mind reading). This is another location you could spend a day in if you took in everything this place offers. It was very humbling to think about all the people who had walked these grounds before me, to appreciate that I can come and go as I please and feel safe doing so when so many before me didn’t have that privilege.
To fully appreciate the Tower of London I would suggest reading a bit about the history before you go or at least take a guided tour as they cover some ‘highlights’ of the darker times at the Tower and some celebrations.
My last stop in England was Hever Castle. I would not have known about this location if it weren’t for Phillipa Gregory, and I found out through my travels that few people knew about it. It felt a little special that I had found this gem, and even if you have no interest in English history, you will still enjoy this location. I booked a room as soon as they became available, as there are only a limited number of rooms available to stay.
The castle is in Kent, which is just over an hour out of London or an hour and 20 minutes by train. For more information, I would suggest checking out the Hever Castle website. The Village is beautiful and you could easily spend a few relaxing days here. I stayed in the Bramley room located in the cottage behind the Castle. As I was staying the night they gave me private access to most of the grounds outside the public opening hours and unlimited access to the Castle during opening hours.
The Castle is a beautiful experience on what it would have been like to live during Tudor times, as most of the original furniture is on display throughout the castle with interesting facts displayed with each piece. One thing I can say for sure after my trip to England, is the English know how to do gardens! And the gardens surrounding Hever Castle were no exception. Much like Hampton Court, Hever Castle had an array of gardens, from a hedge maze to Italian garden, rose garden and ever a water maze just to name a few! There is even a beautiful lake you can take a relaxing walk around or laze about in a rowboat under the midday sun.
The morning of my departure, I walked through some gardens. The back of the Italian garden near the Loggia was closed for a wedding, but that just made it feel even more magical. As I walked down the path through the Italian garden and into the rose garden, I felt a calm happiness melt over me as I could hear the wind gently blowing through the leaves, the warm morning sun glowing on my face and birds chirping in the distance. I stood among the brightly coloured roses and took a moment to take it all in, to appreciate how far I had come and how much care they had put into this beautiful place.
Now that I am home, of course, I miss it, but hopefully, I can recreate even a portion of that relaxing garden in my future home so I can relive that feeling every day. I encouraged everyone to visit these amazing places and if you can’t, to take a little time to explore your local attractions. It’s important to take some time and appreciate what you have around you and the stories of the people that came before you.
Stop and smell the roses