Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Windsor Castle, Runnyeade and Thames River Picnic

With 1000 rooms, Windsor Castle is the largest inhabited castle in England and is a favorite home of Queen Elizabeth II.

William the Conqueror first ordered a castle be built on the site, King John stayed here while waiting to sign the Magna Carta, Queen Victoria mourned her beloved husband Albert who died there in 1861 and the Royal Family waited out World War II behind its walls.

Located by the Thames River, Queen Elizabeth I fled there from nearby London during the plague and ordered anyone coming there from the city executed.

It is an imposing structure located by the scenic Thames River.  This is the the town of Windsor near to where you enter the castle.

And here is Windsor Castle.

I do not currently have pictures of the interior of the castle and St Greorge's Chapel but will add them later.

Here's a pretty girl in period dress outside the castle gates.

Near to Windsor is Runnymeade where King John signed the Magna Carta, one of the world's greatest documents.

This structure marks the spot where the actual signing took place.

The Thames River runs near to this site so we planned a picnic. It is a picturesque setting with slow moving boat traffic cruising by.

We decided it would be fun to have a picnic by the the Thames River.  We had gone to a deli in the Cotswolds and purchased fresh baked bread, local cheese, ham, fruit and cookies.  Here's Laura with the Thames River in the background attempting to slice the bread. 

We abandoned that idea so Tim sat the loaf on a nearby wooden railing and hacked it off for us so we could make some really good sandwiches.  Tim turned us on to "doorsteps" (the end of the bread) slathered with mayo, jam and cheese.  It was actually pretty good but I think I'll leave the mayo off next time!

It was a gorgeous day and perfect setting.

Althorp, Princess Diana's Home

We had a chance to see Althorp, the ancestral home of Princess Di where she is also buried.

Laura and Bonnie came to stay for a couple of weeks and Laura wanted to visit a small chapel that her father had helped build during WWII.  It was located a long way from our cottage so I set about finding something we could do in the area to make the visit worthwhile for all of us.

Luckily Althorp was holding a Literary Festival June 10-12 so off we went.

Let me begin by saying I have NEVER been to an aristocrat's home who is still living.  All my experience has been visiting homes bequeathed to the state after their deaths or palaces that are seldom used.

Let me tell you, I had NO idea how these people lived and believe me it is something else.

Althorp has been owned by the Spencer's for 500 years and it is one GORGEOUS place.  It is HUGE and the grounds are to die for.  It is usually open to the public only 6 weeks out of the year so we got lucky.

Here is the entrance.  Imagine the royalty that has come through those doors.

Here's a side view!

Check out these grounds.  This is the view from the front of the house.

This is the side yard!

And this is the back yard (the estate is comprised of 14,000 acres!)

Here's the Stable Block.......

And here's Laura and Bonnie strolling by....

Now to the most poignant part of our visit, the final resting place of Princess Diana.

This is the lake with the island in the center where Princess Diana is buried.

And this is the memorial Earl Spencer renovated for his sister.

Before we left we chatted up the driver of the van that transported guests from the west gate. He has worked for the family for 11 years.   Laura tried to pick him for information but he assured her that if he told her anything he would have to kill her.  He did, however, explain to us the symbolism of the two rows of trees that line either side of the drive.  Earl Spencer had 37 trees planted on either side of the drive to mark each year of Diana's life.  When full grown they will form a beautiful canopy through which guests will enter the grounds.

So if you are wondering where the pictures are of the interior, I don't have any, strictly forbidden.  Of course that didn't stop Bonnie so when we get home whe is going to send me a couple.  We only got to see the Great Room where we entered, the Marlborough Room where we listened to some English minstrels and the loo where I was only allowed to go since it was an emergency.  I took Bonnie there and was immediately thrown out by this evil woman volunteer since that area was apparently off limits.

I did, however, speak to the Earl. 
Let begin by saying that he is a one good looking man, a real handsome rich guy. 

So here's my Althorp anecdote.  We went to hear an author lecture on the book he wrote about the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson.  Bonnie, Laura and I spread out since there was plenty of room and I sat in the next to last row.  In walked Earl Spencer and his friend.  I heard him comment behind me that they should sit in the last row since those were much more comfortable seats. (I agreed.)  Well, there were a lot of seats so I got up, commented to them that if the back was good enough for the master of the house, that worked for me and sat down a few seats down from him.  A little while later he came up and asked if I minded moving down a few seats.  Being the uncouth yank that I am I said, "Sure, it's your house!"  His friend chuckled, had noted my obvious American accent and asked if we had planned to stay for the day.  He was very courteous.  In came the Earl's family and other guests and there we sat......all together.

I did ask if they would like me to move and was told of course not, I was fine where I was. What they couldn't see was the cheshire cat grin on my face.  I was dying for Laura and Bonnie to turn around and see me sitting there with them but they never turned around to give me the pleasure!!

Bonnie and Laura did however get up to leave in time to see the Earl, his family and me filing out!

Cotswolds Olimpicks and Scuttlebrook Wake

Chipping Campden has hosted the Costwolds Olimpicks and Scuttlebrook Wake for the last 400 hundred years originating in 1612.

The weekend events begin on Friday with competitions such as shin kicking, tug of war, etc. that date back hundreds of years.  They are held on Dover's Hill about a mile from the heart of Chipping Campden.  The evening culminates with fireworks, bonfire and parade into town.  The parade, led by a local band, was comprised of spectators carrying lit torches down the hill and into the town square where the party continued until midnight with a band and dancing.  We didn't get to see the competitions but the parade ended right by our cottage.  Here are the partygoers with their torches and the local police managing the crowd.

The next day the festivities continued with the Scuttlebrook Wake.  First there was the parade.  It included a band, the judges, the Morris dancers, the Queen and her Court, costumed locals and homemade floats.  This is a wonderful rural community affair that is great fun!

Here's the band leading the parade.

Here come the judges!

Here are the Morris Men Dancers pulling the Queen and her Court
led by the Joker and Horseman.

Here is the Queen and her Court!

Then came the costumed locals!

Followed by the homemade floats!

I especially liked this one the "Volunteer Drunkards Because We're Worth It!"

Then it was time for the judging in the town square.  Homemade costumes are judged in each age group.  Here we have some of the winners!

The costume judging was followed by dancing!  First were the children from St. Catherine's school who danced a few of the fun olde Engish dances that have been done for centuries.  (The kind we only see in period movies!)

Next came the Maypole dancers from St. James school.  I have to admit I have never seen an actual maypole dance in my life, have always been curious and now I know (and probably couldn't do it!)

Then it was time for the big boys, the Morris Men Dancers.  The tradition is passed down from father to son.  Their uniform includes bells that jingle when they move and they dance with scarves and sticks to centuries old tunes.  They are led by the Joker and his sidekick the Horseman.

And here's the littlest Morris Man, all dressed up in his Daddy's arms representing the next generation!

After the dancing the fun fair opened which is similar to our traveling carnivals.  There were rides and games for the kids, stuffed animals and cotton candy.
This was a wonderful community event.  No expensive floats or costumes, no excessive showy displays.  Just wonderful, traditional, family fun!!