Today I got up really early (8:15) and then spent a couple of hours doing service in the London Temple. It was delightful and peaceful, and a nice change of pace from the last nine days. I got back to my room at about 11:15 and then spent the next couple of hours getting our hotel in London squared away for tomorrow through Wednesday (when we leave for Paris). We still haven’t been to London, really, yet, and that’s what the last few days will be.
So what do we do today? Hm… we planned on going to the beach. If we go south we are only about 45 minutes away from a beach, but if we go “an hour and forty five minutes” east we’ll hit some amazing, awesome views… check this out (spoiler: we didn’t go here… but we sure wanted to):
When we looked for directions, we got this:
YUUUUUUUCK! That would put us on a train for 7 hours today, assuming the return trip is about the same as getting there… not to mention the changes (the last column), which are really a way of messing up a trip (“get on the wrong train and lose your airbnb plans!”).
What else could you do in this quiet, sleepy town (we are still about an hour south of London)? We already walked through town (delightful, of course), but what now?
Thank goodness for the intertubes… a quick search showed a castle that was only 9.4 miles away from us: the Hever Castle. Oh please, let this be the castle experience I’ve been looking forward to!
The girls were not feeling well, so it was just me and William. He was excited to get out of our little room, and off we went, in a taxi 9.4 miles down the road. For reference, here’s where Hever Castle is from London (not from where we are staying):
I know there is tons to do and see in London, but man, if I ever come back here with family, I want to take a day trip and go see this castle again. It was so, so cool!
The Hever Castle is famous for being the home to Anne Boleyn. Don’t know who that is? Must be because you are American. What I learned today is that Anne was the second wife to King Henry VIII (that is, The Eighth). They were only married for three years before he had her beheaded, and then went on to have four more wives (if you are a counter, you are up to six now). One of the signs said that he wasn’t really fit to be a king… really good at sports, pretty sucky as a king. And as a husband, apparently.
Anyway, Anne was four when she went to the castle… the grounds, the castle, everything was AMAZING. Here’s a picture of the castle… I was trying to learn this new-fangled technology and might have messed it up a bit… but you get the idea, don’t you?
Ah, just kidding! That’s the worst one we took. You’ll see plenty of cool things as you scroll down.
We got out of the taxi (that was 16 pounds) and then went to the entrance of the grounds… I didn’t even think that this was a hundreds-year-old structure that was the first point of entry to the grounds:
When we got our tickets the lady kept saying that by 5:15 we better start getting out! She repeated this enough times I wondered if it was 5pm already… it wasn’t even 2 yet! Anyway, some 30-something pounds later we had access to the Castle and the Gardens, and started walking down the path. What I kind of didn’t realize was that we were already a good fifty yards into the castle grounds, and we couldn’t even see it yet.
On the way, there was plenty of water, and ducks and some geese all around:
Most of these pictures are from William, who is really enjoying his new Cannon:
We had to walk down, wind our way around, and then it kind of popped out of nowhere.
My first thought was “this is pretty big.” Why? Because a comment online said it was “small and felt crowded.” Well, the castle in Antwerpen was small, and there were only three of us in the courtyard, and that felt crowded! So anything bigger than that would have been cool. The castle was big, it had a good sized (20 or so feet wide) moat, and was a few stories tall. Big enough to enjoy.
First, we cross the moat, so we can go through the imposing death gates:
And then we entered the courtyard. The moat was full of koi:
A funny story about the moat. It’s not filled with alligators, so why not just jump in and swim around? Well, I learned that the “toilet” system is basically sitting on a wooden toilet seat and your waste goes… into the moat. Imagine a moat filled with the waste of dozens and dozens and dozens of people. That’s why, my friends, you don’t swim in the moat!
This is a picture of the courtyard, inside the castle, where the line is to go inside:
We got in line and quickly made it to the front. There was a Brittish chap checking for tickets, then a few feet later a lady who welcomed you… and off you were, on a self-guided tour of the castle. The next set of pics and thoughts are not in order… they are all from inside the castle:
Here’s a view from one of the bedrooms into a room that was shut, and there were no signs… but it’s like the worship room (about the size of a master closet). It was very ornate in there, but it was tucked in the corner of the bedroom and I didn’t see anyone else even peak through the tiny holes in the door:
Surprisingly, throughout the entire castle were little signs like this, that talked about literature thatwas somehow connected to the castle. I didn’t the connection why, but Peter Pan seemed to dominate these signs, being in at least four out of every five of them:
In the castle there was a ton of artwork, paintings of kings and princes, etc. from various countries, and plenty of drawings of the castle itself, like this one (depicting a visit from King Henry VIII Himself):
On one of the lower floors we were about to head up a staircase when William said “Dad… DAD!” I was focusing on my footing, so as not to reinjure my ankle and ruin this trip, and I kept walking while saying “What? Oooouweeee…” In these castles you need to focus on the down AND the up! Here’s how low the doorway is:
From one of the top floors, looking out the window, you can see the chess set garden. Isn’t this cool? Can you find the King and Queen?
William’s shot is much clearer of the chess figures:
Here’s a great closeup of showing the wood and windows:
When I was five to eleven my mom did real stained glass… so whenever I see real stained glass I think of her 🙂 This was made in the 1400’s:
This is looking out one of the windows to the servant’s quarters (I think… I wasn’t super clear on the surrounding buildings). See the moat? Don’t swim in it!:
There were a lot of three-legged chairs here. Since I’m not so stable (physically!) I wondered why three, not four?
Here’s the library, which had many collections of awesome books, including a bunch of Dickens, the Exciting History of Kent (4 volumes), encyclopedias, and more. I’d love to spend a few months reading through those books!
The ornate designs didn’t disappoint… this is the fireplace in the dining hall:
Here’s the table… I though it would have been wider and fit more people:
The ceilings were really impressive. Instead of paintings they were 3D art:
I don’t know room this was, it was between the foyer and the dining hall… the woodwork design is mindbogglingly cool (in another room it said a piece there was from walnut… super hard wood!):
This must have been the guest/entertaining room, with the piano and all the couches:
After exiting the castle we went to the left to go through the shrubbery maze. This is made from Yew bushes, which grow very slow (William pointed out that if they grow slow, you don’t have to do maintenance on them a ton) This was my first time in a maze like this (well, in England, of course) and it was really quite fun! They look like they are symmetrical but once you get in everything is crooked… the bushes are not straight up and down, and some of the paths are curving into one another… it’s definitely an optical illusion. After three minutes, though, I was out, waiting for William, who took FOREVER.
It seemed like 15 minutes later and he finally came out. Where you in there the whole time?” “No, I came out like ten minutes ago, but you weren’t out, so I went back in.” Of course… my kid is one step ahead of me, but making me feel like I’m ahead of him :p Here’s the exit… you can see this girl is waiting for her people, still wandering around the maze. Notice how high the bushes are… even tall people aren’t going to cheat their way out of this maze:
From there we walked to the chess set… you can see a the rooks, bishops, knights, queen and king, and pawns. Pretty amazing.
After the chess set we went a little bit up the path to this pond thing (man-made, rectangle pond that had a cool bridge that William tried to go to, but every way he tried it was cordoned off. There were tiny fish and lots of lily pads:
Then we went towards the Italian Gardens. Seriously, this estate just doesn’t end! This is acres and acres of what was marshlands that were redesigned to be the place to show off one of the owner’s (from the early 1900’s, I think) Italian statues and artwork. it was fascinating, and on the side we walked, flanked by what seemed to be a 15 foot wall of waterfalls, at least a hundred yards long. The entire path was covered in vine, so it was shaded. What am amazingly delightful, peaceful place!
This was in the Italian Gardens too, and it reminded me of a family friend who recently broke his nose and had to where a nose cast (shout out to Justice!!):
We went further away from the castle, above the Italian Gardens, probably where horses and hunters rode for the last several hundred years. It was so amazing to be on this estate walking around where the heavies did their noble business!
here’s a super old staircase with a random Englishman’s hat (or, the smallest person in England is under that hat, trying to get up the stairs!):
Towards the end of our walk around the grounds, before we headed for the pub, we came across this little thing… what is it? A hopscotch playground? Or just decorations?
No, actually it’s the nobleman’s doggy grave… with a bunch of headstones. Here’s the plaque:
And here’s the headstone for Jeff:
All around the castle, and it seems like in other areas, you’ll see signs of me walking down the stairs:
Thank goodness that really wasn’t me. I only had a twisted ankle scare once, but nothing bad happened. Whew!
The nature around the castle (and in the castle grounds) was really just stunning… witness the furry bark tree (I named that):
And these ferns along the rhododendrons walk:
This is a staircase who’s only purpose seemed to go from one pathway to another pathway:
It was dinner time, so we walked out the main entrance and just about thirty yards away to the King Henry VIII pub… it was big, and really cool looking. We chose to eat outside, way in the back… on our way we passed all the inside tables which had candles… this was the coolest one:
We had a super nice view (I thought I had a picture of it, sorry… but we were looking at the pub courtyard, the old pub, and behind it the super old church tower). We got the “pie of the day” and the burger, of course… and split them to share. Both were excellent… I have heard of these meat pies but had no idea how freaking good they are!
After we ate I went back to the pub bar to order some icecream (William chose honey comb and I couldn’t pass up the maple walnut!). If you have never been to a pub, here’s how it works: You stand at the bar, by the cash register, and hope that the person on the other side of the counter is paying attention to you. There is NO line… everyone just kind of crowds around. I thought they would do a first-come-first-serve, but it is more luck-of-the-draw. I think I was chosen to order in front of a lady who was before me, so I said “oh, you can order.” She did, and then the cashier went on to three or four other people before another cashier took my order! I don’t know how to get their attention, but I’m not going to be that obnoxious American that pushes his way in front of others… so I waited patiently. Here’s a picture from the front door… all of these people (and more that you can’t see) are kind of bunched up waiting to order:
I must have had a bad accent because our two orders of ice cream only became one… here’s William enjoying his honeycomb ice cream by the pond, with the super old church tower in the background:
By this time we only had fifteen or twenty minutes before the taxi came, and I wanted to walk around the church… isn’t this super old entrance gate cute?
There were a lot of graves in the church yard. Here are two that seem misplaced. What do you figure… were these here first, or was the path there first?
Here’s a cool picture William took with the church tower in the background:
After a short walk around the church, and a short wait on the corner… check out this super old bench by the church with lichens on it!
And, across from where we were waiting was this, the most ineffective gate in the U.K.:
Finally, our Pakistani taxi driver picked us up and delivered us home. We weren’t out long today, but we packed a lot in, and this castle experience was so fulfilling!
Tomorrow… we leave for London, close to Westminster Abbey!