[Words originally written on the plane ride home on September 27, 2014]
As I walked on the paths frequented by Kings and Queens and Dukes and Duchesses of the past, I imagined what it would be like to be them. Not just filling their foot steps but being in their minds, embodying their hearts and souls. The pressure of protecting an entire country and way of life on my shoulders…
Let’s just say that I am glad to be a commoner in the year 2014 in the great State of North Carolina!
England has been an absolute dream, exceeding even my wildest expectations. I can remember watching Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey, and Top Gear and wanting to visit this beautiful country so much that my desires preyed on my mind enough to make an imprint on my dreams. From the delicious food, amazing hotels, beautiful countrysides, magnificent manors, estates, and castles, and our fun tour group, I can honestly say that I have experienced the culture England has to offer to the fullest extent.
One of my favorite parts of the trip along with the scheduled visits has been the spontaneous trips we took, like when we found the Sherlock Holmes Pub, enjoying this delicacy dessert called “Mess”, riding on the London Underground and the double-decker bus, and cruising on the River Thames.
Hampton Court Palace
Standing inside of the palace of the notorious King Henry VIII of the scandalous Tudor family was almost daunting in a way. I’ve studied his 6 wives for years, but actually BEING inside of where they lived was unsettling. The exuberance of his palace exceeded opulence even by today’s standards.
From the massive, industrial-sized kitchens to the golden-archways in the ceiling of his courtroom, decorated with colorful little eavesdroppers, I observed the grand and minute details of the palace. If the inside of the house wasn’t enough to bring someone to their knees, all they needed to do was take a stroll through the Hampton court gardens.
Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey)
The theme from Downton Abbey was ringing in my ears as I walked up the famous path at Highclere Castle with the Earl of Grantham and Finse wagging his tail by my side in my imagination. We were greeted at the door by our guides and then treated to tea and biscuits. I sat down, cup in hand, and thought, I’m having tea and biscuits… in DOWNTON ABBEY.
To an observer, I must have been smiling like a child on Christmas morning. Our tour guide, Rosemary, was this charming, animated woman who loved showing us the Abbey as much as we loved touring it. The highlights of the tour for me were the library, dinning room, salon, and staircase. Yes, I did say staircase because that is THE staircase used by the lords and ladies of Downton Abbey. When I descended the stairs, I had to slide my hand down the railing as if I was Lady Mary.
Fun fact: George Clooney once visited Highclere and asked to take a book from the library to use as a prop for something he was filming, but even he was denied the privilege. Rosemary showed us that not even a famous actor like him could touch one of the sacred books. Even the cast of Downton Abbey is limited to water bottles because eating and drinking anything else is prohibited in the castle.
Towards the end of the tour, I stumbled upon a man polishing the Carnarvon family car: a 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III. This gorgeous piece of engineering is the Earl’s most prized possession of all of his cars.
Our visit to Stourhead contained a grand surprise for me within its lush, green paradise. In the Keira Knightley edition of Pride and Prejudice, there’s this scene I have always loved more than all the rest. It’s the first time that Mr. Darcy declares his love for Elizabeth, and they’re under the cover of a beautiful stone gazebo to escape the pouring rain. Sadly, she completely rejects him (this time), but I’ve always loved the scenery there, and I have had many, many dreams that have taken place within that very gazebo.
Even when I first laid my eyes upon on the beautiful pond surrounded by incredible architecture, I still did not realize that this was the place I had dreamt of. It wasn’t until that fateful moment when we were on the pathway that led up to the famous gazebo when I realized where I was.
I am not ashamed to say that I cried when it triggered the influx of memories and dreams. It was one of the most surreal experiences I had ever had.
I scoured my memories of the movies and tried my best to remember the exact column where they stood when Mr. Darcy first professed his love to Elizabeth.
My memories of this place will stay with me until I die. For the first time in my entire life, I was in a place I had dreamt of; a place that I never even imagined I would get to see; a place that I had no idea I would see until my own eyes saw it.
I am thankful for my absent-mindedness during some of the meetings and tour discussions I was a part of with my mom because if I had really paid attention, this wouldn’t have been the ethereal surprise that it was. I cannot believe that I got to be in this beautiful place, and it will forever live on in my heart.
The home of Winston Churchill was beautiful. We enjoyed a nice walk through his gardens before reaching the house. It stood out as being one of the only houses we toured that was brick, not stone. This was one of mom’s favorite places since she’s Winston #1 fan.
It was truly magnificent. Throughout the house, paintings done by old Winnie himself decorated the walls. He left his mark in more ways than one in Chartwell and the world. Some of his more famous quotes were shown in the informational room and among those, my favorite is “dogs are below us, cats are above us, and pigs treat us as equals”
I have so many things to say about Basildon Park! I love Pride and Prejudice (both versions, but the Keira Knightley version a little more only when I don’t have 6 hours to watch the classic one), and I have always wanted to see this beautiful estate. It did not disappoint!
When I reached the first floor, there was a circular room overlooking the gardens in the back, covered wall to ceiling in a beautiful Indian-themed mural. Off to the side stood this beautiful Steinway piano that said “Pianists Welcome,” so naturally, I sat down. Unfortunately, I was so giddy with excitement that I couldn’t remember how to play any of the songs that are usually burned into my brain. I remembered a little bit of the Pride and Prejudice theme, and as I began playing, more and more came back to me. So it was definitely a treat to be able to play that at Basildon Park.
Side note: Lookout for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies coming soon to a theater near you. Sets were being worked on in the front lawns of the estate, awaiting the arrival of an entire bus of zombies. (No, this is not a joke).
Harry Potter Harry Potter Harry Potter Harry Potter Harry Potter was all was thinking as I walked through the corridors of Lacock Abbey. The town surrounding the abbey was small, but it had a great amount of personality.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets were both filmed at this location. Snape’s classroom was filmed at the Abbey and the crew even left the caldron behind for visitors to enjoy.
The London Eye
At the top, your eyes can literally see as far as the Eye can see (I know, that was really cheesy, but I just had to). I thoroughly enjoyed viewing such places like the Tower of London, Big Ben, and The Gherkin as they sparkled in the rays of the setting sun. It was glorious!
The Sherlock Holmes Pub
This was easily my favorite on-your-own dinner options. I enjoyed Mrs. Hudson’s steak and ale pie within the confines of the homey pub, adorned with posters and decorations of the Sherlockian theme.
England was a complete and utter dream. From the castle, gardens, and countrysides to the food, friends, fellowship, and special memories I made with my mom, I experienced pure magic. I found a second home in England, and my heart yearns to one day return to that beautiful country.
Thank you to wonderful people at UNCTV for your hard work and dedication to this trip, making it completely enthralling and unforgettable. Thank you to the incredible tour friends who joined us on our journeys. And thank you to my mom for making this trip possible. I will cherish these memories with her for the rest of my days.
To my dearest England: though I am flying away from you now, I know in my heart of hearts that I will come back to you someday.