“Wander the corridors of royal power and pleasure.” Hampton Court Palace
If there’s one thing us Brits do well it’s history. Love them or hate them our Royal Family is legendary and so are our historic palaces and royal residences. I found myself in Hampton Court last weekend and with a few hours to spare so decided to explore Hampton Court Palace as my last visit was a school trip many, many years ago.
Now one thing we most definitely don’t do well is the weather. A brief mini heatwave tricked us into thinking summer had actually arrived but on the afternoon I decided to explore Hampton Court it was literally chucking it down. I found myself wedged under an umbrella attempting to take photos as well as listen to the style telephone audio guide all at once, quite the juggling act being a tourist. Located just outside Central London, Hampton Court is a striking Tudor mansion situated on the banks of the River Thames. It’s a beautiful setting with stunning gardens, a legendary maze and preserved buildings showcasing original artworks and artefacts. You can literally walk in the footsteps of Henry VIII and the monarchs that followed his reign, each one putting their own stamp on the palace according to the architecture and decoration of their respective eras.
Henry VIII was not only famous for being an over-indulgent king but also for collecting wives, six of them in fact and two of them were actually beheaded at another famous royal landmark, the Tower of London (remember that rhyme from your history lessons that helped you remember Henry’s martial antics ‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived’). His Renaissance court was party central, there was even a fountain with free flowing red and white wine to compliment the best food in the land (now that’s an idea).
Huge stained glass windows, an ornamental hammer-beam roof and magnificent tapestries line the Great Hall and it’s here that you get an idea from the lavish surroundings and commentary of the debauchery and overconsumption that went on here. Alongside all his partying Henry VII was also an innovator who commissioned lots of new construction and artworks during his years in power, he was responsible for spending vast sums of money extending and remodelling Hampton Court too.
Once I had my dose of history I ventured out into the sixty acres of pristine formal gardens which are awash with colour and order. Symmetrical lines of trees and flowers, gravel drives, golden royal carriages, water features, royal tennis court, a huge flower statue of Henry VIII himself sit alongside regal themed deck chairs that offer visitors somewhere to relax on sunny days and have picnics. Shire horses pull charabanc carriages for those who want to ride through the gardens for an additional charge. This summer visitors can go on a gnome hunt in the palace grounds. Colourful recreations of Umbriel, Hampton Court’s gnome can be found in various locations throughout the grounds to tell the secrets and stories of the royal gardens. Perfect to keep younger members of the family amused, Gnomes Unearthed runs until 2nd October.
The famous maze is the ground’s major attraction, I managed to negotiate my way round and found my way out without too much of a problem, eventually. The three hundred year old multicursal maze (with more than one possible route to get out) is the UK’s oldest surviving maze that was commissioned by William III. The tall yew tree maze has many confusing twisting paths and dead ends along the way to keep visitors entertained.
Being on the tourist trail is thirsty work especially on a site as big as Hampton Court but fear not as there are different cafes dotted about to grab a coffee and a bite to eat if you dare not risk the inclement picnic weather. As well as being a historic tourist hotspot, Hampton Court is also the location of many annual events. Over the three day Bank Holiday weekend later this month (27th – 29th August) Hampton Court will host the BBC Good Food Festival in the picturesque gardens. The festival will showcase cooks, chefs, artisan producers, live music and promises great fun for all the family and hopefully the sun will be shining! For more information about What’s On click here
The history of Hampton Court Palace spans across hundreds of years of royal kings and queens and is referred to as the ‘story of two palaces’. Firstly the Tudor palace of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey that was acquired and made more grandiose by Henry VIII and then the baroque modifications under the reign of William III and Mary II. If you like history and fancy a day out then Hampton Court is ideal, my advice check the weather forecast and never leave home without your rain jacket and your brolly
Hampton Court Palace
Location: Hampton Court Road, Surrey, England KT8 9AU
Telephone: +44 (0)20 3166 6000
More information about all the Royal Historic Palaces here
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2016. All rights reserved.