A trip to Kensington Palace

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I hadn’t ever thought about visiting Kensington Palace but when I told my Mum I wanted to visit London for the day and asked her what she fancied doing she said she had always wanted to visit! Even better, you can get Kensington Palace entry tickets by exchanging your Tesco Clubcard vouchers, bargain!

Kensington Palace is situated in Kensington Gardens and has been the residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th Century. It is currently the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, and Princess Eugenie.

Kensington Palace was built as a royal home for William III and Mary II at the end of the 17th Century. It has had many roles over the years, including a museum and a barracks for soldiers guarding the Great Exhibition. It used to be a small mansion known as Nottingham house. In 1689 the new monarchs, King William III and Queen Mary II, purchased Nottingham House for £20,000 and only weeks later, Sir Christopher Wren began work on transforming it into a royal palace. The new palace had a chapel, courtier accommodation, kitchens, stables, barracks and many grand rooms and state apartments. Queen Mary died in 1694 of smallpox in her bed chamber in the palace but had spent many years before designing and furnishing the palace.

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William didn’t make many alterations to the Palace, and his successor, Queen Anne, only reigned for a short time and so only added the orangery during her time. Anne left no heir and so the palace passed to her distant relative, George Ludwig.

The new King George liked Kensington Palace but found it to be in very poor condition and so plans were made to rebuild it on a much larger scale. A new set of State Apartments were built to replace the old Jacobean house in 1718 to 1722.

During the reign of King George II between 1727 and 1760, the Palace was used to its full potential as George and Queen Caroline enjoyed entertaining their guests in lavish ceremonies. Unfortunately, after Queen Caroline’s death in 1737, the King closed off half of the palace. King George died in his private apartments at Kensington Palace in October 1760.

George III showed little interest in Kensington Palace throughout his reign (1760-1820), but this did mean that the furnishings and paintings were left untouched in dark rooms for this time. The Palace eventually became home to George III’s two sons, Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. Prince Augustus was a book collector, and amassed over 50,000 volumes in his apartment! Prince Edward was the father of Queen Victoria, who was born in the palace in 1819. In June 1837 she was told of her accession to the throne, and held her first council in the Red Saloon.

Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice, later lived in the palace. Louise was a really gifted artist and left the legacy of the statue of the young Queen Victoria which sits at the east side of the palace.

A major restoration of the palace took place in 1898 under the orders of Queen Victoria and in 1912 the rooms were filled with display cases when the palace became home to the London Museum. A lot of damage was caused to the Palace by incendiary bombs during the Second World War.

In the 1960’s, Princess Margaret came to live at the Palace, and further members of the Royal Family began to arrive in the 1970’s and 1980’s, one of the most famous of these being Diana, Princess of Wales, who lived at Kensington Palace up to her death in 1997.

There are several tours you can take within Kensington Palace which are:

The Kings State Apartments

The Kings Staircase leads to the King’s State Apartments, and all visitors for the King would have climbed this staircase, (provided that their clothes and jewels were acceptable to the guards!) The staircase paintings were completed around 1726 by an artist called William Kent, who included a portrait of himself on the ceiling in a brown artists cap and holding a palette. Kent’s work was inspired by the work he had seen in Rome, where he trained to be an artist.

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The Presence Chamber was where the King would sit on his throne, under a crimson silk damask throne canopy, and important guests would be ushered in to bow to him.

The Privy Chamber was one of Queen Caroline’s favourite entertaining spaces. It has another amazing ceiling created by William Kent in 1723 and shows Mars, the Roman god of War, and Minerva the goddess of Wisdom, and surrounding them are the emblems representing the arts and sciences.

The Cupola Room was probably my favourite room of the Palace. This room was the first room decorated by William Kent. In this room he re-created in paint a baroque Roman palace but with the Star of the Order of the Garter as the ceiling’s centrepiece. George II and Queen Caroline hosted really lavish parties in this room.

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The strange object in the centre of this room is a clock and a music box as well as a piece of artwork, and was completed in 1743.

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The Kings Drawing Room would have been packed full of courtiers back in the day, who would have all attended the King’s parties seeking power and patronage.

On the ceiling William Kent has shown the powerful god Jupiter, who accidentally killed his lover Semele, and portraits of Venetian doges line the walls. Next door to this room was the King’s bedchamber, and halfway through the evening he would emerge to make his grand appearance.

The Council Chamber is located in one of Christopher Wren’s pavilions, built on the corners of the original Nottingham House and it has served William III, George I and George II as a meeting place for the Privy Council. The sort of court dress that would once have been worn in these state rooms is on display here.

Queen Caroline’s Closet is a small room which originally belonged to William III as his bedchamber. George I used this room to store books but these were removed after Queen Caroline made one of the most important art discoveries of the era. In 1727, she found hidden in a cabinet a portfolio containing many drawings made by Hans Holbein, the younger of Henry VIII and his courtiers. Caroline later made this room a gallery filled with 300 paintings, miniatures and embroideries.

The Kings Gallery was built for William III as an addition to Wren’s design in the new South front and was finished in around 1700. It was in here that William III played soldiers with his little nephew and intended heir, the Duke of Gloucester. After a riding accident at Hampton Court, it was here that the King caught the chill that led to his death on 8th March 1702.

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The gallery was transformed in 1725 by William Kent for George I. Red damask replaced the green velvet walls and the fine oak joinery was painted white and gilded. Kent and his assistants painted the seven large ceiling canvasses that show scenes from the life of Ulysses.

Queen’s State Apartments

The Queen’s State Apartments are deliberately plainer and lower-key than the Kings, both inside and out. Here you can learn more about the lives of Mary II, Queen Anne and the House of Stuart.

The Queen’s Staircase is a sharp contrast to the grand marble King’s staircase. These apartments were built for Queen Mary between 1689 and 1694.

The Queen’s Gallery was painted white and hung with full length portraits of Kings and Queens  of England. Later, Mary developed a passion for collecting treasures from India, China and Japan. She filled the gallery with artefacts such as Turkish carpets, embroidered hangings and lacquer furniture, alongside her collection of 150 pieces of oriental porcelain.

The Queen’s Closet was where a terrible argument took place between Queen Anne and her childhood friend Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.

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The Queen’s Eating Room has beautiful panelling which has survived from the 17th Century. In here, William and Mary would share simple private dinners of fish and beer. Mary would also use this room to make tea with the ladies of her household.

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The Queen’s Drawing Room used to be filled with Mary II’s porcelain. This room is the room which is claimed to have lost most of its original character, as it badly damaged by an incendiary bomb on 14th October 1940. Most of the panelling was destroyed which is why the walls are now wallpapered.

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The Queen’s Bedroom was used by Mary as her State bedroom when she and William first moved into the palace. Just as soon as Christopher Wren had finished work on the Queen’s Apartments, Mary had her rooms extended to provide her with more accommodation. This resulted in the Queen’s Gallery and a new private bedchamber being built.

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Victoria Revealed

We were very disappointed because this exhibition was closed when we visited, and it was one of the main exhibitions we wanted to see! We will definitely have to revisit to see this. In this exhibition you can visit the rooms Queen Victoria grew up in and learn more about her life right through from her childhood to her final years. In this section of the palace we would have been able to see:

The Stone Staircase where Princess Victoria first met her cousin and future husband, Prince Albert, for the first time in 1836.

The Red Saloon where Victoria held her first Privy Council on the morning she became Queen in June 1837.

On this tour you will also learn more about how Victoria and Albert fell in love and Victoria’s lonely family life growing up at Kensington Palace.

There is also a separate exhibition about Price Albert known as the Great Exhibition, which was in 1851 and would later be known as his greatest piece of work. It showcased technological and cultural achievements from over the world and attracted over six million visitors.

Modern Royals

This is a changing display – when we were here it was a beautiful Diana exhibition showcasing some of her most famous outfits. Well worth a visit and it slightly made up for the fact that the Victoria exhibition was closed.

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The first dress below was designed by Bruce Oldfield, who designed many dresses for the Princess. She wore it at the Courtauld institute of Art, Somerset House in 1990 and again at the Buckingham Palace state banquet in 1991.The Princess chose the second dress in the below picture for an official visit to Japan. The colour was chosen to complement the flowering cherry blossoms.

Diana chose to wear the Spencer Tiara, a sparkling family heirloom, on a state visit to India in 1992. This second dress was designed to complement it. The embroidery on the bodice of this dress was based on traditional Indian patterns.

The Princess wore this first dress when she danced with actor John Travolta at the White House. This second dress was embellished with falcons, the national bird of Saudi Arabia, when the Princess visited there. The high neckline and long sleeves also respected local customs.

The second dress below was worn by the Princess when she visited Brazil, shortly after their national football team lost to Argentina in the World Cup. Conscious of her hosts feelings, she instructed the designer, Catherine Walker, to avoid the blue and white colours of the Argentinian team when she designed the gown.

The second dress below was worn to the New York gala event before the Christie’s Auction.

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You can also visit the beautiful Palace Gardens, which were transformed in 2012. During the winter months, Queen Anne’s orange trees were protected from the cold inside her magnificent orangery, which was built for her between 1704 and 1705. In the summer months, they were transferred to the terrace outside. Anne also added fountains and an alcove with a garden seat to the south gardens. This still exists but was moved to nearby Lancaster Gate in the 1860’s. In 1705, 100 acres were added to the east side of the palace to form a paddock for royal deer and antelope.

The majority of the works done to the gardens were down to Queen Caroline. She extended the plantings, laid the Broad Walk and had the Round Pond dug in 1728. The Serpentine was formed as a boating lake by flooding several smaller ponds.

The Sunken Garden was laid out during the reign of Edward VII and opened in 1909, and is the most popular of the Palace gardens.

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The east and the south sides of the palace were laid out in 2012 with a new scheme designed by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, inspired by the old layouts of lawns, trees, borders and topiary of George II’s time.

Queen Victoria is present at the front of the Palace in the form of a statue, which was designed by her daughter Louise.

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Kensington Palace was a lovely day out in spite of the cold, wet weather! A place I will definitely have to visit again so I can see the gardens properly in the sunshine and hopefully finally get to see the Victoria exhibition when it re-opens, which should be any day now….

Sudeley Castle

I’ve been wanting to visit Sudeley Castle for ages and we finally went in December 2016 for their Spectacle of Light event. It was a fantastic event which you can read more about here, but we were a bit disappointed that the tickets for this event didn’t include access to the castle, just the surrounding grounds. Anyway, after we had finished wandering around the beautiful grounds we knew we would have to come back very soon to visit the rest! We chose a fantastic day to visit – bright sun and clear skies, and best of all, perfect conditions to take some photos!

The Tithe Barn is one of the first things you come across when you follow the path from the visitors centre. It is pretty stunning for a building which doesn’t have many walls left!

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A tithe was a compulsory payment to the church and represented a tenth of a person’s income. Tithes were frequently paid in agricultural goods and this barn was a store for these goods.

The barn was built in the 15th Century by Ralph Boteler but was destroyed by troops in the Civil War. Surrounding the barn are lovely flowers and shrubs including foxgloves, primroses and hydrangeas. Next to the Tithe Barn you will find a pond full of koi carp, along with your first views of the stunning castle.

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After visiting the Tithe barn you wander along the path until you come across “the Dungeons“. Above the Dungeons is the beautiful castle terrace where you can look out to the Isbourne Valley to Spoonley Wood, the site of a Roman Villa. The mosaic which appears on the terrace is an exact replica of one of the Spoonley Wood floors.

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Next you will come across the Mulberry Garden which lies alongside the terrace and was planted by Emma Dent in the 19th Century.

Mulberry trees were special to Emma, as she was the daughter of a silk manufacturer, and the leaves of a mulberry tree were the only source of food for the silkworms. There is in fact only one mulberry tree in the garden, however there look to be more than this because several trunks grow from one root.

The Dungeon Tower is next to the Mulberry Garden and is listed as an Ancient Monument in its own right.

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The basement area, (which you no longer can go down to unfortunately), housed the original dungeons which went down a total of three levels! In the 19th Century the tower was converted to stabling and offices. A human skeleton was found during the restoration works under the stones and another skull was discovered when the Mulberry Garden was planted. Unfortunately, to this day, it remains a mystery who the remains belong to….

The Royal Ruins are so beautiful to look at and great to photograph with the sun beaming down on them! During the War of the Roses, Sudeley Castle was confiscated by Edward IV, who gave it to his notorious younger brother, the Duke of Gloucester, (more commonly known as Richard III.)

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Richard recreated this area of the castle and built a huge and spectacular banqueting hall in the north east corner, the evidence of which still remains on show today. The huge gothic windows which formed part of the banqueting hall are particularly stunning.

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A large hole can be seen on the far side of the Octagon Tower in the corner,  caused by a cannonball during the second of the two sieges Sudeley endured during the 17th Century. After the war, the winning side ordered the castle to be snubbed and, as a result, most of the inner yard, including the banqueting hall, was destroyed.

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The ruins are now covered with plants and flowers including clematis and roses.

On the ground floor and mezzanine exhibition levels within the castle you will find a children’s museum, which includes a display about Brock, the family’s pet badger, and period-style costumes for the children to try on. Other exhibitions start at the Old Stables which show Sudeley’s timeline and some prehistoric and Anglo Saxon artefacts which have been discovered on the estate over the years. And if all that isn’t enough, you will also find a WW1 exhibition here!

In the upper exhibition levels in the room called the Long Room you will find the Richard III exhibition. In 2013, Richard III’s skeleton was discovered under a Leicester car park. As a result of this discovery his head was forensically reconstructed and in the Richard III exhibition you will find a model of this work. Richard was the owner of Sudeley at the time he rode out of the castle to lead his brother’s army into the battle of Tewkesbury. The model looks out through the Long Room windows towards the ruins of his beautiful banqueting hall….

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The Richard III exhibition leads into the Tudor Room. After Richard III came the Tudor’s, and the castle was owned by all three of the Tudor Kings at some point – Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Henry VII.

Henry VIII stayed here with Anne Boleyn and later, his widow, Queen Katherine Parr, came to live here with her new husband, Thomas Seymour, who had been granted the castle by Edward VI. Katherine Parr is buried in the beautiful church within the gardens.

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Along the corridor from the document room is the old Sewing Room, which is still used for the conservation of textiles today.

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Next you will come across the West Wing Rooms. These small areas haven’t long been opened to the public. In the West Wing rooms you can find some very rare documents, including an extremely important book known as the Bohun Book of Hours. The book contains works which were probably put together for Henry VIII including musical scripts and manuscripts. To this day it is not known how the Book of Hours came to be in Sudeley’s collections.

You leave the West Wing by going down the staircase known as the Haunted Staircase, which forms part of one of the most ancient parts of the castle.

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Sudeley’s housemaids often used to take the long way round to avoid using this staircase! There are said to be three ghosts haunting the grounds at Sudeley – the first is said to be Queen Katherine Parr, seen wearing a green dress, in the library and the gardens. The second is thought to be lady by the name of Janet, who was the housekeeper of the Dent-Brocklehurst family, and has been seen on the Haunted Staircase and in the South Hall. The third ghost is said to be a white hunting poodle called “Boy” who belonged to Prince Rupert of the Rhine and was given the run of the castle during the Civil War. Alongside these three, there were also reports of a darker, more evil presence which resulted in a shamanic exorcism which, hopefully, seems to have done the trick so far!

After you come down the Haunted Staircase this leads to the Queen Elizabeth Corridor. This corridor connects the east and west wings of the Castle. Along the corridor you will find the story of Queen Elizabeth I’s three day visit to the castle in 1592.

Around halfway down the corridor there is a door leading to the Knot Garden. It is a stunning garden and the pattern is based on the pattern of dress worn by Elizabeth in the famous portrait known as The Allegory of the Tudor Succession, a famous group portrait of the Tudor dynasty which was previously in the Sudeley collection.

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Beyond the Knot Garden, in a corner in the ruins, is the small Queen Elizabeth Garden. This is the oldest surviving part of the castle, with walls as old as the 12th Century. A beautiful tableau has been created here, showing Elizabeth in her Presence Chamber, ready to make a formal entrance to one of her banquets being held in the adjoining banqueting hall.

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If you return back to the Queen Elizabeth corridor you will reach the film shed, where a short film is shown about Lady Jane Grey, known as the tragic Nine Day’s Queen.

When the Castle was renovated by the Dents, the converted the East Wing into their principal rooms (I think I would have too, as they have stunning views of the garden and church from here!). The South Hall then became the main staircase of the house, and contains some beautiful Dutch Painted glass, dated between 1580 and 1620.

The Morning Room is a beautiful sunny room and is said to be the favourite of Mary Dent-Brocklehurst, the present owners mother-in-law. Despite being called the Morning Room, this room is still regularly used by the family in the evenings. Other rooms you can visit include the Library, Chandos Bedroom, and the Katherine Parr Ante Room and Katherine Parr Privy.

St Mary’s Church was formerly called the Castle Chapel. It was built in the 15th century and originally had a covered gallery linking it to the Castle. The lost gallery between the old chapel and the Castle has been recreated by a series of arches.

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Katherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey are represented by topiary figures draped in ivy and roses, as they often took this route. The last time they visited St Mary’s Church together was when Lady Jane was Chief Mourner at Katherine’s funeral. Awfully, Katherine’s widower, Thomas Seymour, did not even attend his wife’s funeral. Katherine Parr is the only Queen of England to be buried at a private residence, and you can visit her tomb inside St Mary’s Church.

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Strangely, her coffin was unearthed in the 18th Century beside a wall of the old chapel, and when it was opened her body was still almost perfectly preserved! Her remains were laid to rest again at Sudeley under a beautiful effigy, when St Mary’s church was restored.

The garden immediately surrounding St Mary’s Church is called the White Garden, with its colour symbolising the purity of the Virgin. Along the South wall you will find white roses, peonies, clematis and even a white passion flower.

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To the South of the Church lies the Queen’s Garden which is bordered by double yew hedges. A new rose garden was added to the site in 1989, as roses were the emblems of the Lancastrian, Yorkist and Tudor royal dynasties which the Castle is closely associated with.

In a corner between the castle and the church is the small East Garden. This garden was inspired by Marvell’s poem, “The Garden”, written during the Civil War. It was designed to be a “calm and meditative refuge based predominantly on shades of green”.

The walled Secret Garden can be found to the north of the church. This garden was replanted in 1979 to celebrate Lord and Lady Ashcombe’s marriage, and then replanted again in 1998 to celebrate the marriage of Lady Ashcombe’s son, Henry, to Lili Maltese.

You can find the Pheasantry on the far side of the secret garden which is thought to contain the largest private collection of rare pheasants in the country. You will also find a pair of Snowy owls and an Eagle owl here! When we visited the Pheasantry we managed to make a very pretty peacock friend who followed us nearly all the way back to the car! He seemed to bask in the attention thats for sure! Little scamp!

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A path from the pheasantry leads over the canal to a small Tudor Physic Garden which contains some of the plants that were used for medicinal purposes when Katherine Parr lived at Sudeley. Many of the plants in the garden are actually highly poisonous if not expertly prepared, such as Monkshood and Deadly Nightshade!

Further along the path is the Herb Garden which was created by Sir Roddy Llewellyn in 2011 with planting designs by Jekka McVicar. The final tableau at Sudeley, which you can find at the edge of the Herb Garden, is of Emma Dent. She is depicted in topiaries of yew and is relaxing in a quiet corner of the garden reading a book! I don’t blame her!

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As you can tell, there is so much to see and do at Sudeley Castle, and I’ve not even covered everything! A fantastic day out for all of the family and a place I would definitely re-visit very soon!

Happy Birthday to me!

It’s wrong to say Happy Birth”day” to me because in actual fact I have a Birth-week not a Birth”day”! I always pack my Birthday week full of fun and days out with family and friends and this year was no exception!

Here’s what I got up to during this AMAZING week!

On Monday, Mum and I caught the megabus to London! Yes it takes ages but it cost us only £8 each for a return from Gloucester to London! The coach stops at Victoria Coach Station which just so happens to be a five-minute walk away from one of my favourite bakery’s in London – Dominique Ansel’s! So, we popped in here for breakfast before starting our busy London adventure!

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I had an amazing turkey croque monsieur and one of their Blossoming hot chocolates, which I have wanted to try for ages!

I also had a delicious Cookie Shot, a shot glass sized cup made out of cookie and filled with delicious creamy vanilla milk! I bought a pack of six Cookie Shots to take home with me as well! The cakes in here are incredible – check out these lovely Blizzard Bear cakes!

After our lovely refreshment break we caught an Uber over to Kensington Palace. We had a lovely time here, so much so that I am writing a separate blog on this amazing place – the Diana Exhibition which is currently on was definitely an added bonus! Even better, we didn’t pay the entrance fee because we managed to pay for the tickets using our Tesco Clubcard vouchers!

After a few hours exploring Kensington Palace we moseyed on over to Cutter and Squidge for our Genie’s Cave afternoon tea! I really love attending these themed afternoon teas! I have been trying to get into the Tale as old as Time one for months but it is always fully booked. Then after going to the amazing Mad Hatter’s Tea Party afternoon tea in December last year I was on the hunt for something similar and came across the Genie’s Cave version! This was another brilliant experience with amazing food, so a a separate blog is to follow on this too! A word of warning though – the Genie’s Cave theme is due to end at the end of March so get booking if this is something you fancy!

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After stuffing our faces we wandered around and did the only thing we know best – bought more delicious treats to bring home with us! We visited Doughnut Time who sell THE BEST doughnuts ever! Move over KrispyKreme!

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After visiting all of our favourite food places we wandered slowly back over to Victoria Coach Station via Buckingham Palace to catch our coach home. What an amazing start to my Birthday week!

Tuesday was far less exciting but definitely a lovely day off – I basically got up at the normal time and got ready and then spent the morning in my local Starbucks catching up with writing my blogs and updating my Instagram and Twitter accounts. I managed to publish a blog every day in December for Blogmas, and over the Christmas holidays I had intended to get my blogs up to date and to have them scheduled several weeks in advance, but unfortunately this fell by the way-side and since mid-January I have been struggling to get my weekly weekend blog published. The week commencing 19th February I didn’t publish anything, which was the first time in a long time. I’ve found it especially hard to focus and get back into the blog writing since our lovely dog Skibba passed away last month as well. Anyway, today gave me a chance to catch up and draft as many blogs as possible, plus drink ridiculous amounts of my favourite coffee! A nice calm and relaxed morning!

After a few hours of getting square eyes I wandered over to the business park next door to have a look in some of the furniture stores to get some decorating ideas for our house. We’ve got the plasterer booked to plaster most of the upstairs and the dining room ceilings next week and after that we can get cracking with the decorating, so I need to start thinking about designs and colour schemes! I’m hoping by the time we have been in the house six months (beginning of June) I can write a blog about the progress we have made so far, but things are moving far slower than I had expected and the weeks and months just seem to be whizzing by!

Anyway, I came across some lovely dining room tables and chairs, bed frames and wallpaper and kitchens and nursery furniture so plenty of food for thought!

In the evening hubby and I went out for a lovely meal to Zizzi’s which is one of my favourite restaurants. Plus, we had £40 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers to spend in here, so it was practically a free meal which was brilliant!

On Wednesday, my Mum and I traveled over to the nearby town of Tewkesbury. I’ve always wanted to see Tewkesbury Abbey and, as it is not too far away, Tewkesbury seemed to be a lovely day out. It is a really beautiful building with lots of history so, you guessed it, a separate blog is to follow!

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After visiting the Abbey we grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant called Café E Vino. The lunch was delicious and they had plenty of vegetarian and vegan options which I thought was very impressive! I had a delicious meal of gnocchi in a gorgonzola and speck sauce – really tasty!

After a hearty lunch we wandered down to the waters edge to see the river, although we didn’t hang around for long as it was absolutely freezing and the water level was really high after the recent snowfall had melted.

After a lovely day we hopped in the car to go and collect my amazing Birthday cake from Claire’s Cakes Cheltenham! Isn’t it beautiful!?

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She has made several cakes for us over the years including an amazing Winter Wonderland cake, two amazing Game of Thrones themed cakes and a Harry Potter themed cake! This year’s cake was a Geode cake and as usual she has outdone herself and made a spectacular creation! Can’t wait for friends and family to see it tomorrow!

Thursday was my actual Birthday so my Sister and I started the day going to Hubble Bubble, one of our favourite coffee houses, for one of their famous freakshakes! We tried the Easter edition this time!

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After our sugar overload we ventured into town for a bit of retail therapy,  coffee  and lunch. The centre of Gloucester isn’t great for shopping however Gloucester Quays Outlet Centre is only a short walk away so we spent most of our time here. I had planned for us to go to The Grill Shed for lunch but unfortunately I woke up this morning with a stinking cold so I didn’t feel up to having a big meal! We ended up having macaroni cheese in Costa instead which was just what we needed!

After our shopping trip I came home and prepared a little buffet for the family and friends who were popping over to visit me for my Birthday! It was really lovely to see everyone and catch up with them and after the buffet we all enjoyed a large slab of Birthday cake! My Mum and my Sister bought me some beautiful flowers and people came over with mounds of presents!

When everyone had gone I had the important task of opening all of my cards and gifts! I just hadn’t had the time so far! As usual, I’ve been absolutely spoilt! My Mum bought me the amazing shoes I included in my Valentine’s Day treats post (and believe me they look as good in real life as they did in that picture!)

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My Sister asked me if I wanted anything in particular but she knows me very well and is brilliant at present buying so I told her to surprise me! And she did! As well as my beautiful flowers she bought me a lovely pair of grey trainers, a keyring, a pen and a Columbo boxset! (I LOVE Columbo!!!)

Hubby asked me ages ago what I would like for my Birthday and I really couldn’t think of anything I wanted but as my Sister and I were walking through town today we walked past the Pandora shop to have a peep in the window. I’ve always wanted a Pandora bracelet and really love all the amazing charms you can get, but I have always worn gold jewellery, and all my existing jewellery is in gold! The gold bracelets and charms are available but are really, really expensive and I would never want to spend so much on a bracelet. Anyway, when we looked inside they were promoting the new Pandora Shine collection which is basically thick gold plated jewellery and obvious makes it far more affordable than the solid gold range, so it was as if it was meant to be!

So I had a beautiful gold Pandora bracelet and two charms from hubby in the end! I was so pleased to finally get one and he was pleased I had chosen something I really wanted for my Birthday! I’ve been very spoilt! I also had cash and vouchers from family and friends so I’ll take these with me when I’m working in London next week to see what lovely things I can find!

A perfect evening with family and friends – except the washing up afterwards of course!

The Friday was another brilliant day because I got to spend the day with my Sister and my Mum! It would have been nice to venture over to nearby Cheltenham as there’s plenty of places I would like to visit, but unfortunately my Birthday always lands in the middle of Race week at Cheltenham Racecourse, so Cheltenham and the surrounding areas are jam-packed with people! Even trying to get a restaurant reservation in Gloucester during this week is quite difficult so we thought it would be best to go a bit further afield and visit Blenheim Palace! It is only around an hour away from us and once again we were able to get our tickets using £8 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers! We’ve done extremely well over the years exchanging these vouchers for days out or restaurant vouchers!

Before we set off I wanted to treat my Mum and Sister to breakfast so I booked a table at one of our favourite restaurants for breakfast – Cote Brasserie. In fact, I’ve not been here for lunch or an evening meal, only for breakfast! I always have the Croque Monsieur – it is to die for!

After a hearty breakfast we set off for Blenheim Palace. I’ve wanted to visit here for a long, long time so I’m really pleased I finally got round to it! I definitely want to re-visit in December when they have the “Christmas at Blenheim Palace” theme going on. I can imagine the Palace will look even more beautiful at that time of the year!

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We spent a few hours here, there is plenty to do and see and to be honest I really underestimated how big this place is! I will have to come back soon to finish looking at the parts of it we hadn’t got around to.

As a special treat I booked for the three of us to  have Afternoon Tea in the Orangery which was really lovely and the food was delicious.

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We finally got home after sitting in traffic for ages and luckily I hadn’t made any plans for the evening, so this gave me the chance to have a sort through and edit all the photos I had taken this week (and to have a well earned rest and hot bath!)

On the Saturday night we went over to our friends house and they cooked us a delicious dinner, my friend also made me this beautiful cookie mermaid, rainbow and unicorn display! Isn’t it amazing? She’s so talented!

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She also bought me a mound of presents including some sparkly trainers, amazing cocktail liquors chocolates, keyrings and some amazing Pusheen slippers! I’ve been wearing them all weekend!

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Our friends only live about a 15 minute walk away so we walked home, and just in time really as shortly after we arrived home the “mini beast from the East” struck and it started heavily snowing again! I don’t ever remember there being snow around my Birthday before! Fingers crossed Spring will be here soon and we can start the Easter celebrations!

Another fantastic Birthday! I’m so grateful to have such great family and friends!

Bowood House and Gardens

If anyone is looking for a good family day out, my Mum, my two Sisters and I had a really great day out at Bowood House and Gardens earlier this year.

The only downside was that we had to contend with a torrential downpour whilst we were exploring, but we all still really enjoyed ourselves! We didn’t get to spend as much time exploring the gardens as we had hoped due to the awful weather so I think we will be re-visiting in the future so we can take full advantage! On the plus side it meant the house and gardens were really quiet!

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Bowood House and Gardens is in Wiltshire and is currently home to the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne.

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The house sits inside 100 acres of beautifully landscaped ‘Capability’ Brown Parkland and has been home to the Lansdowne family since the 1st Earl of Shelburne purchased it in 1754.

Over half of the house is open to visitors, with the family still living in the remainder. The places you can visit within the house include:

The Orangery

Originally designed as a large conservatory, the Orangery is now primarily a picture gallery, containing the remaining parts of the two great Lansdowne Collections of paintings and sculpture.

The Chapel

Opposite the Orangery entrance are the great doors to the Chapel. Created in the early 19th century for the 3rd Marquess by C.R.Cockerell, the Chapel is still used for special services and concerts.

The Laboratory

Through the doors at the east end of the Orangery is a small room known as the Laboratory. Here, scientist Dr Joseph Priestley, tutor to the 1st Marquess’ two sons, discovered oxygen in 1774! In those days the room was full of scientific equipment but unfortunately all were sold when the 1st Marquess died.

The Library

It was in this room that the great Bowood house parties would meet after dinner to read, play chess, sing, and talk about politics and other topics of the day.

The Sculpture Gallery

Through a small entrance hall at the other end of the Orangery is the Sculpture Gallery, created by the present Marquis of Lansdowne in 1980. Designed originally as a menagerie or zoo for wild animals, a leopard and an orangutan were kept here in the 18th century! Nowadays, the gallery houses pieces from the Lansdowne sculpture collections.

The Exhibition Rooms

A staircase at the west end of this gallery leads to the exhibition room which displays examples of 18th-century and 19th-century costumes. The Victorian Room holds (among other memorabilia of the period) Queen Victoria’s wedding chair!

Also on show in the Top Exhibition Room are the Keith Jewellery Collection, family miniatures, and the Napoleonic Collection. The Napoleonic Collection also came into the family via the 4th Marchioness; it includes Napoleon’s death mask, pieces of gilded Imperial Sèvres porcelain and other unusual treasures, such as Napoleon’s handkerchief!

The Gardens

If you can, try and get on one of the scheduled monthly tours of the Private Walled Gardens.

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Bowood’s Gardens have beautiful sloping lawns stretching down to the lake.  The park includes the Cascade, Doric Temple, Terrace Gardens and for children, the fantastic Adventure Playground!

Sorry for the lack of garden pictures, the rain was so bad I was worried about the welfare of my lovely phone!

A separate Woodland Garden, which hosts Rhododendrons and Azaleas, is open to the public between April and early June every year, according to the flowering season.

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There is an on-site cafe called the Treehouse Cafe which serves lovely paninis and delicious homemade cakes! Plus lovely hot chocolates and coffees which were greatly appreciated after being soaked through to the skin! British weather hey???

Adult ticket prices are £12.50 and child prices are £7.50 – £9.50, and family tickets are also available.

Bowood House and Gardens opens again on the 1st April – choose your visiting dates wisely though as it’s not called “April showers” for no reason!

Shakespeare’s Stratford Upon Avon

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We booked a trip to Stratford Upon Avon through my Sports and Social at work – the trip was arranged on the weekend of the food festival but my Mum, my sister and I have been wanting to visit all the other sights here for a long time so this trip seemed perfect!

We paid for a full story ticket which gets you entry to the five different places – Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall’s Croft. Full story tickets are £22.50, or you can book online for a 10% reduction in ticket prices – book your tickets here. We booked our tickets on the day because we had been saving our Tesco Clubcard points to put towards the the entrance fees – and even better, Tesco Boost means you can get £10 worth of vouchers for only £2.50 of your Clubcard points – excellent!

The tickets are good value for money, as they are valid for a year from the day of purchase, so you can revisit all these places as many times as you want. Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall’s Croft are all within walking distance so we spent the day at these three places. Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage are a short car journey away from the town centre, and the leaflet on Mary’s Arden’s Tudor Farm says you could spend up to a day here so we agreed to visit these last two places on another day!

We had a great day visiting Stratford, here’s what we found out during our Shakespearean adventure –

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

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We visited here first and were amazed at this beautiful old building! When you first enter the house you walk through the Shakespeare Centre where you can see how Shakespeare has been interpreted and enjoyed over the centuries. In here you will find wonderful artwork, memorabilia, a timeline of Shakespeare’s life and Shakespeare’s First Folio.

After the exhibition, you can walk through all the rooms in the house where Shakespeare was born, including his fathers glove-making workshop. The house is a 16th Century half-timbered house. It is believed that Shakespeare was born here in 1564 and spent many of his childhood years here.

The house itself is quite plain but was considered to be a substantial dwelling in those days! William’s father John was a glove maker and the house was divided into two parts to allow him to run his business from the family home.

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The ownership of the house passed on to William upon the death of his father, however William already owned New Place by this point, so the property was rented out and converted into an Inn known as the Maidenhead.

Once the family line had come to an end, the house was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair until around the 18th Century. Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott are among the notable people who have visited the house, and many of the signatures of it’s famous visitors still remain on the windowpanes. In 1846 the house was bought by the Shakespeare Birthday Committee (today known as the Shakespeare Birthplace Place) for £3,000, and restoration work began soon after.

The garden at the back of the house has been specially planted with flowers and herbs that would have been known in Shakespeare’s time.

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Whilst you are out in the garden there are some amazing actors performing the works of Shakespeare. They take requests if you would like them to perform your favourite Shakespeare piece too! My Mum requested a scene from Macbeth and the gentleman performed it beautifully!

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Shakespeare’s New Place

The house actually no longer exists as it was when Shakespeare lived here, which is a real shame. The original house, as it stood at the time, was the largest dwelling in the borough, and the only one with a courtyard. It was built in 1483 by Sir Hugh Clopton and originally had ten fireplaces, five gables, and large grounds. The footprint of Shakespeare’s New Place is marked in bronze within the paving.

William Shakespeare bought the house in 1597 for £60 (a LOT of money back then!) During his ownership of New Place he wrote 26 of his 38 plays and had his sonnets and other poetry published.

Shakespeare died in 1616 and the house passed to his daughter Susanna Hall, and then his granddaughter Elizabeth Hall, who at the time had recently remarried after the death of her husband Thomas Nash, who owned the house next door. After Elizabeth died, the house was returned to the family of the gentleman who had built it, the Cloptons.

In 1702, John Clopton dramatically altered, or practically rebuilt, the original New Place. A further owner of the property, Reverand Francis Gastrell, applied for permission to extend the garden. His application was declined and the tax payable on the property increased (due to its size) so Gastrell unfortunately demolished the house as a result.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust acquired the property in 1876 and today the site of New Place is accessible through a museum within Nash’s house, the house next door. The entrance to New Place marks the spot where the main door in the Gatehouse once stood.

Whilst there you will see the Gatehouse where you’ll cross the threshold where Shakespeare’s front door used to be, the Strongbox, the Globe, the Well, the Golden Garden, the King’s Ship, the Armillary Sphere, along with –

Play Pennants and sonnet ribbons

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His Minds Eye

This beautiful sculpture represents Shakespeare’s creativity and the effect his genius works had on the world.

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Shakespeare’s Chair and Desk

All of Shakespeare’s works began at a humble writing desk – here you can take a seat in the great man’s chair.

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The Great Garden and the Mulberry Tree

The Great Garden houses a beautiful sculpture trail featuring sculptures by Greg Wyatt. All of the sculptures are based on Shakespeare’s most famous works.

The Mulberry tree is believed to have grown from a cutting of the tree planted by Shakespeare himself.

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Behind this sculpture you’ll see the Mulberry Tree

The Greenwood Tree

A beautiful tree sculpture, you can pay to have one of the leaves on this tree dedicated to whoever you want – there are only 300 available leaves though and space is running out! Click here for more info! The photos don’t do it justice!

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The Knot Garden

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Keep reading for the full story behind this!

The Exhibition

The house next door to Shakespeare’s New Place was built about 1530 and has now extensively renovated to house the Shakespeare’s New Place exhibition. The exhibition is over two floors and there’s also a viewing deck which is worth visiting for views of the garden.

The Signet Ring

Ok, as promised above, I said there was a story behind this! In 1810, nearly 200 years after Shakespeare’s death, a gold 16th century “WS” initialled ring was discovered by labourers in nearby field next to the burial ground of the Holy Trinity Church. Signet rings were used to imprint a personal seal on a blob of wax. It was very common in those times for even ordinary people to  possess their own seal. The ring itself shows very little wear, suggesting it as relatively new when it was lost by its owner.

It has not been confirmed that the ring belonged to William Shakespeare, however looking at the evidence it would appear to be pretty likely. The Holy Trinity church was William Shakespeare’s local church, he was baptised here and is now also laid to rest here. It has been suggested that Shakespeare lost his ring whilst attending his daughter Judith’s wedding, which took place at the Holy Trinity Church in 1616. Shakespeare died later that year.

The document you see in the bottom right picture above is William Shakespeare’s last will and testament. These documents would usually be “sealed” with wax and then the owner of the signet ring would press the ring into the wax, thereby leaving behind their initials on the document. Shakespeare’s will was amended and the words which originally read “hereunto set my hand and seal” were amended to read “hereunto set my hand” and the document signed by Shakespeare instead, presumably because he couldn’t find his beloved signet ring when the time came to sign!

Is it Shakespeare’s signet ring? It certainly looks likely!

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Hall’s Croft

This historic Jacobean house is where Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna lived with her husband, the wealthy physician Dr. John Hall.

The main part of the property was built in 1613 – it is a really beautiful timbered property and was even used as a school in the mid-19th century.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased the property in 1949 and opened it to the public in 1951.

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John Hall was a great physician and his case notes were published in a text book and used by doctors for many years after his death in 1657.

Dr Hall had a preference for treatments made from plants, herbs, animal extracts, gemstones and rocks, as opposed to other physicians who would practice blood-letting or astronomy.

Upstairs in the property you can find a brilliant exhibition called Method in the Madness which explores medicine in the lifetime of Dr John Hall. Don’t forget to check out the syringe from the 1500’s and the uroscopy station!

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Holy Trinity Church

I couldn’t wait to see this beautiful church – and it did not disappoint!

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Located on the banks of River Avon, the Holy Trinity Church is considered to be one of England’s most-visited Parish Churches and is the site where William Shakespeare was baptized in 1564 and buried in 1616.

A “Church on the banks of the Avon in Stratford” is first mentioned in the charter of 845, signed by Beorhtwulf (Bertulf), King of Mercia. This church would have been a wooden construction and it is likely that the Normans replaced this with a stone building, however no trace of either construction remains. Building on the present limestone building started in 1210 and the building was built in the shape of a cross.

The Church is approached along an avenue of lime trees, said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles.

The church is accessed through two 15th century doors. On one of the doors is a sanctuary knocker where fugitives would grab the ring to seek 37 days safety before facing trial.

The original nave would have been shorter and lower than at present. Between 1280 and  1330 the tower was built and the nave’s rebuilt to include side aisles.

The Clopton Chapel

Hugh Clopton became the Lord Mayor of London and was a great benefactor to the town. He completely rebuilt the Chapel of the Guild of the Holy Cross and provided the stone bridge over the Avon which carries his name, and the traffic, to this day. He had a magnificent altar-tomb built in the then Lady Chapel but was, in fact, buried in London. After the reformation his descendants claimed the chapel as their own and it now contains the finest renaissance tomb in all England. The Clopton Chapel was recently professionally cleaned, revealing the beauty of the painted decorations.

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The Grave of William Shakespeare

In 2016, Channel 4 broadcast the results of an archaeological investigation of Shakespeare’s grave. The team used ground penetrating radar equipment to try and establish what lies beneath his mysterious looking gravestone. This equipment allows a below ground level scan to take place, without disturbing the burial site.

For years historians and archaeologists have argued over the burial site – questioning the size of the stone which is far too short for adult burial and which doesn’t even have a name engraved on it, only a chilling curse which reads:

“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear,

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

The key findings of the investigation included “an odd disturbance at the head end” which investigators believe shows that someone has disturbed the grave and removed the head of Shakespeare. It is rumoured that his head was stolen by trophy hunters in 1794 – I’m sure I wouldn’t risk stealing anything from that grave with such a curse engraved on it!

The ground penetrating radar also showed that William Shakespeare, his wife Anne Hathaway and other members of the family whose grave stones lie beside his, were not buried in a large family vault deep underground, but in shallow graves beneath the church floor. William Shakespeare’s and Anne Hathaway’s graves are actually less than a metre deep!

The graves of both Shakespeare and his wife were found to be significantly longer than their short stones which makes them the same size as other family stones.

There was no trace of any metal in the graves which suggests they were not buried in coffins (as coffin nails would be apparent) but wrapped in shrouds instead.

Following on from the missing skull, investigators visited another church around 15 miles away where, in a dark sealed crypt, was a mysterious skull which had long been rumoured to be the skull of William Shakespeare. The team were granted access to the vault to scan the skull which revealed the skull to belong to an unknown woman in her 70’s when she died, so the mystery of Shakespeare’s missing skull still remains.

All very interesting and spooky stuff!

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So as you can see we had a great day out in Stratford – we learned so much and are looking forward to visiting the final two places which our tickets grant us access to which is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm. I hope these places are as fascinating as all of the other places we’ve visited during our Shakespearean adventure!