We’ve been back from England for a few weeks now and are now fully recombobulated. I was determined to promptly process all the photos I took on the journey and set myself the task of going through all 1693 photos at the rate of 100 a day. That’s done (whew). So now comes the fun part! Reliving and sharing our adventures with pictures of the most interesting places we visited.
We began, as usual, in London, where we always find something new to discover. We took a day flight from Toronto and thus reached our destination after dark, passing the lighted-up Waterloo Bridge on the way to our hotel.
We arrived at The Goring Hotel around 10 p.m., and after checking in, went straight to the bar for a glass of wine and a bite to eat. It was so good to relax after a long day of travel.
The following morning, we joined our friends David and Jennifer, with whom we spent the next three days. They’d never visited London and took a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour to get a feel for the layout of all the sights and an overall sense of the city. Glenn and I headed off on one of the Hidden London Tours of the Underground presented by the London Transport Museum. As described on their website:
Imagine going behind the scenes at some of London’s busiest stations as expert guides reveal the extraordinary infrastructure and feats of engineering usually hidden away below your feet. Discover something completely new as you venture into ‘forgotten’ historical Underground stations, typically closed to the public.
Step into a time capsule of historic posters, signage and vintage tiles in a long-disused tunnel or stand where history was made during the Second World War. You’ll learn about the people who shaped London’s transport network, as our knowledgeable guides use research from London Transport Museum’s collection to share incredible stories.
Our tour was of Down Street Station, which had a very short life as a working station—from 1907 to 1932. Located in Mayfair, between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park stations, its demise was precipitated by its position on a side street off Piccadilly—out of sight (and out of mind) for most users of the tube. But after a covert transformation, it served as the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof headquarters during the Second World War. Specific engineering features in its construction made it a bomb-proof structure, and it was within walking distance of Prime Minster Winston Churchill’s War Rooms beneath 10 Downing Street. Indeed, Churchill secretly took refuge in the Down Street Station at the height of the Blitz.
We trooped down the spiral staircase, which was the route taken by the worker bees during the war. The interior caged lift (no longer in use) was reserved for the executives.
Once in the dark tunnels, we saw the remains of the executive offices built on the former platforms of the station, as well as the separate dormitories and bathing facilities for the men and women who worked underground for up to three weeks at a time. We were in the dark a lot of the time, using flashlights to navigate, and had to douse the lights when the trains whizzed by in both directions. The lack of lighting made photography difficult, but we enjoyed the tour immensely. Highly recommend!
The London Underground system is vast today; even more astonishing is how developed it was in 1897, as shown on the Pocket Map below.
I’m eager to do more tours, including Baker Street, which opened in January 1863—the world’s first underground station!
The following day, Glenn and Dave went on a pub crawl, and Jennifer and I had tea at Claridge’s, something I’d long wanted to do. I have (and love) the Claridges Cookbook, and I used their recipe to bake their signature Chicken Pot Pie (delicious).
The tea was everything Jen and I hoped for—attentive service, beautiful surroundings, a delightful selection of sandwiches, and a perfect selection of teas.
On a previous trip, the female members of the family had enjoyed tea at the Ritz. While their insistence on dress code was amusing to watch (inappropriately attired would-be diners lined up to rent jackets and ties and exchange sneakers for approved footwear), it was all a bit oppressive. Claridge’s was relaxed opulence in stunning Art Deco surroundings.
On our third day, we visited Harrods. The food halls are second to none, and there is always something new to see. They had Christmas goodies out already, styled in the rich red tones suitable for the holiday.
The red glass birds would make beautiful decorations for the tree (except for the cats, of course).
Even chocolate Teddy bears!
The floral counter was overflowing with blooms.
The shaggy chrysanthemums and yellow-centred roses won my heart.
With our tea at Claridge’s still on our minds, Jen and I were eager to see what Harrod’s tea room had to offer.
The tables were set and elegantly placed beneath an elaborate sky-lighted ceiling.
The roofed terrace runs alongside the tea room and offers sushi lunches.
There is an Art Deco-styled restaurant on the same floor as the Tea Room and Terrace.
The petal-shaped chairs upholstered in deep blue velvet are a striking decorative item (though I did wonder how comfortable they might be).
The very tall, stemmed Baccarat crystal goblets caught my eye. Gorgeous, but the proportions made me very uneasy.
I could envision the bottom of the glasses being smashed against the table as unwary drinkers miscalculated how high to hold them to return them to the table. To say nothing of unwary hands knocking them flying.
A new pattern by Wedgwood was on display—Parkland. Very elegant in grey-sepia tones.
We exited Harrods through what was originally called the Egyptian staircase, now renamed the Main Staircase (no doubt the work of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer). At the bottom was an old Mini all decked out for autumn.
Jen and Dave were meeting up with her godson for lunch on our final day, and Glenn and I drove to Hatfield House, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth I, where she learned of her accession to the throne, as depicted in this stone carving in the garden of the property.
In a later blog, I will do a full write-up on this fascinating house, but here is a peek at the gardens outside the Old Palace.
We bid Dave and Jen goodbye the next day as they headed for the Eurostar train to Paris. Glenn and I drove to Derbyshire, where we settled into the Russian Cottage on the Chatsworth Estate for the next three days. The driving instructions provided were very good, but after the final turnoff onto a long, winding road, we began to wonder if we had taken a wrong turn. Apparently, this is a common fear. as signs started to appear at regular intervals, urging the traveller onward: A Little Further… Nearly There…. and finally, You’ve Arrived.
The cottage itself was well-appointed and very comfortable; you can always rely on Chatsworth for that. A delectable welcome basket greeted us with eggs, bacon, butter, two kinds of milk (one full fat for coffee), bread, baked goods, cheese, fruit and wine, all in generous quantities. A box of Chatsworth tea bags that lasted us through all our self-catering cottages for the next three weeks.
The surroundings were very peaceful.
And the views were breathtaking. The mist rolled through the Derbyshire Dales early one morning.
We took day trips to Wentworth Woodhouse and Bolsover Castle, which will get their own write-ups. Wentworth Woodhouse is located in Rotherham and has an utterly fascinating history. Below is the eastern front of the house, the longest country house in England at 606 feet.
It was brought back from the edge of utter destruction during the last decade by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust. Of the more than 300 rooms inside, they’ve restored the entry hall and a few staterooms (one shown below)—enough for weddings and other large events to generate revenue to fund further restoration.
I’ll save the rest of the story for the full blog, but suffice it to say the house has been through the wringer, first with regular wear and tear, then ultimately due to the UK government nationalizing coal just after WWII and insisting on excavating the property for a small amount of inferior quality coal, in the most destructive manner possible. Here’s a picture of the house with dirt from the excavation from the open pit in the East front piled in front of the West front. The minister in charge of the nationalization was a real piece of work – vindictive to the core, by all accounts.
Particularly in light of its history, it’s heartening to see how the house is coming back to life. The human spirit and drive for growth are indeed very strong, and The Preservation Trust is doing a splendid job.
Bolsover Castle is described on the English Heritage website as :
…the fantasy hilltop pleasure palace of a horse-mad Cavalier playboy – and even today this Stuart mansion never fails to impress. Be transported to a lost age of aristocratic extravagance as you discover lavishly decorated rooms, the astonishing riding school and the wonderfully recreated garden. Hear tales from the past from costumed storytellers, roam the ruined Terrace Range and take in the stunning countryside views from the restored wall walk.
It was all that and more. Glenn seemed to enjoy it!
The wall walk is wonderfully restored.
Surprisingly spacious, it affords beautiful views over the castle and the surrounding countryside.
That’s a wrap for today. More to come. Week 2 includes our stay at Bamburgh Castle, from where we visited Lindisfarne Priory, Durham Cathedral, Whitby Abbey, and Beverley Minster.