Life often doesn’t go according to plan, and this was one of those days. My original plan was to get moving in the morning so that we arrived at Hampton Court Palace as close to opening time as possible. In doing my research for the trip I had read that Hampton Court takes about 3 hours to tour the inside portion, and then there are the gardens and a maze. So in order to give ourselves time to see everything, I wanted to arrive early. However, when traveling with other people, one must accommodate for their crazy ideas as well. This is how we ended up at Greensmiths.
My Mom had read about a small grocery store near our flat that was more of a farm-to-table type place and she recommended that we stop there to find lunch food to take with us to Hampton Court. No amount of arguing that Hampton Court would have cafes and I really did want to get there early, would sway her, so we walked to Greensmiths. The first counter upon entering the shop was the butcher with his meat. This is where we lost Micah. He would have stayed there all day chatting with the butcher if we’d let him. At the back of the room were bread and pastries. The next room had 4 stories with a staircase down the middle. On the bottom floor I found dairy products, above that vegetables, then a half floor above that might have been drinks, and the top floor held a very small restaurant.
The kitchen used the locally sourced food from the shop for their dishes. The breakfast menu included a Full English Breakfast, and since we hadn’t had one of these yet, I retrieved Micah and we took a table. We started with glasses of apple and orange juice, which are pressed in-house. I’d never had freshly pressed apple juice before! The scrambled eggs were amazingly delicious. I’d been missing eggs for breakfast, which we have at home on the weekends, so these hit the spot. Finally, after breakfast, full and minus lunch food, we took the train to Hampton Court.
I had watched a documentary I’d found on Netflix about Hampton Court and decided I had to visit when I discovered it is only a half hour train ride from London. Which, had I thought about it, makes sense because when Henry VIII beheaded two of his wives, he sent them by boat from Hampton to the Tower of London to await their executions. Hampton Court is most famous for being the home of King Henry VIII. I had learned from the documentary that the palace was never really finished because with each successive wife, Henry would change the design and decor to suit his current wife, so it was always a work in progress. The great hall had the initials of Henry and Anne Boleyn carved into the woodwork, and an adjoining room had the crest of Henry and Jane Seymour patterning the ceiling. A few of Hampton’s later monarchs in residence also had a profound impact on the architecture of the palace. King William III and his wife Mary II tore down half of Henry’s Tudor style palace to build their own in the newer Victorian style. Later King George I had his section built in the “Georgian” style. We had audio tours for the Tudor and Victorian parts of the castle, but there was none for the Georgian section. I would have preferred a historically costumed guide, but the audio was sufficient. The palace also had cloaks and tunics available with the audio tour, so in a red velvety cloak I excitedly traced Henry VIII’s long-gone footsteps through the rooms and halls of his palace.
Interestingly, when I reached the gallery where it is said Catherine Howard had escaped her confinement and run to find Henry to explain herself, only to be caught by guards before ever reaching Henry and dragged screaming back to her room, the audio tour stated that the majority of tourist fainting incidents happen in that room. The narration also said that people often report feeling a chill come over them in this gallery. I felt neither faint nor chilly, but sat on a bench along the wall and imagined the dismal scene playing out in front of me. I imagined Catherine Howard, at age 21, a woman younger than myself, wearing a full dress, as suited to her status of Queen, attempting to make it down the hall crying out for her life while being restrained. I shuddered and moved somberly out of the gallery.
There is so much to see and do at Hampton Court that you really should plan your day. Of course, we did not pay much attention to the small booklet we had been handed with our ticket that said, “Plan Your Day.” So after touring the three King’s different palace compartments, we hurried out to the gardens to find the hour-long Historical Garden Tour. The tour took us through Henry’s old Tilt Yard which had later been turned into a garden when sword play had gone out of fashion, through green houses, underneath the world’s largest single grape vine, and finally past the maze. When the tour ended at 3pm we thought we would get some food at the cafe before attempting the maze. Turns out the cafe stopped serving hot food at 3pm, so we just missed out. Later when we tried to catch some of the historical re-enactor events listed in the booklet it seemed they happened early and we missed them. So perhaps planning our day wouldn’t have helped much anyway.
The hedge maze was not as exciting as I thought it was going to be. The sign out front claimed that royal visitors used to get lost for hours in the maze. It also claimed it was the first hedge maze to have twists and turns and dead ends. Previous mazes had one path that wound to the center. We found the center of this maze fairly quickly and then found our way back out the entrance, which we then learned was also the exit. So we completed the maze in short order.
After hours in the hot sun in the gardens we returned indoors to see the last section of the castle we hadn’t toured yet. This was Henry VIII’s kitchens. Yes, plural. I had no idea the kitchens would be an entire section of itself! The most interesting part, I thought, was the way the Medievals compensated for having no refrigerator. There was an open air hallway with high brick walls built such that the sun would never reach the ground. The rooms off of this hall were considerably cooler than anywhere else and this is where they kept fish and other meats that needed to be kept cold. Another room had several fire places where meat was put on spits and turned manually over the fire. We had missed a demonstration of meat cooking earlier in the day, but the fire was still glowing and quite warm when I stood by the spit racks. I can’t imagine how any poor soul stood for hours turning these racks with a roaring fire during Henry’s time.
As with all our previous touring days, we left the palace just as it shut down for the day. We walked back to the train station and realized we had just enough time to take the train back into London to catch an evening Ghost Walk.
One of our relatives had recommended we go on an evening London ghost walk because the tour guide was in his chorus and he had heard very good things about the walks. He also told us that this tour guide went by the moniker “Richard III” because he was the 3rd Richard to join the walking tour guides position. The walk took us through the LSE (London School of Economics) campus, the theater district where we stopped for a pint, before moving on to the Covent Garden piazza. Along the way our guide told us stories of ghosts, unexplained visions, and also pointed out gas street lights still in use in London. These days the gas lights are lit by timers or light sensors rather than people.
The tour finished at 9:30pm and we were starving since we hadn’t eaten since early afternoon before the maze. Richard III had left us on a street near several restaurants which he recommended, one of which was a Jamie Oliver Italian restaurant. This is where we ended up having a very late dinner of half size portions before returning to our flat completely spent.