In the Footsteps of King Henry VIII

Our weekend at Hampton Court began with an easy journey on London's M25 Orbital Motorway. At Junction 8 we turned inwards, passing through Ewell and Kingston before crossing the River Thames and viewing Cardinal Wolsey's red-brick summer Palace in the evening sunshine. Our base was the Liongate Hotel, adjacent to Bushy Park and opposite the Lion Gate entrance to the Palace grounds. This comfortable inn was originally a gentleman's house, built in the early 18th Century.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny and, after a full English breakfast, we set out to explore the Palace and its grounds. The Lion Gate is next to the famous Maze, though we left our visit there until later. The Palace, confiscated from Wolsey by King Henry VIII early in his reign, is in remarkably good condition. With its late-Restoration and Georgian additions complementing the Tudor original, it is an architectural masterpiece.

Liongate Hotel
Hampton Court Palace

It would take more than this photo-essay to do justice to the many interiors but worthy of special mention are the Tudor Kitchens and the King's Apartments, fully restored after the disastrous fire of 1986. Those interested in the fire and the subsequent rebuilding can watch the video presentation near the entrance to the apartments.

It's possible to take in the whole Palace and its grounds in a day but we had no need to do so, staying as we were nearby, so we spent part of the afternoon cruising the Thames on the "Yarmouth Belle". Built in Great Yarmouth in 1892 for pleasure trips on the Norfolk Broads, this screw and paddle vessel has been tastefully restored by its owners, Turk Cruises.

Yarmouth Belle
Oriel window

Just as we disembarked from the "Yarmouth Belle", the heavens opened for a short summer shower of warm rain. This was as good a time as any to visit the excellent gift shops and catering facilities.

It was then time to tackle the Maze. Thoughts of Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat" accompanied us in, with its tale of people wandering around inside for days, having lost all hope of seeing friends or family again. The reality is much more enjoyable, with lots of good humoured banter with other maze visitors sharing the experience. We reached the centre and worked our way to the exit in less than 30 minutes. By then the air was electric - the storm was approaching and it was a matter of when it would rain rather than if, so we called it a day and returned to our hotel.

Sunday morning couldn't have been more different from the one before, with heavy rain falling while we took our breakfast. Luck was with us - the rain stopped and we resumed our exploration of Palace and grounds, including the Real Tennis Court, the Banqueting House, the Great Vine and the Lower Orangery (which houses Mantegna's series of paintings Triumphs of Caesar). After a final stroll in the gardens we returned to our hotel for lunch before bidding goodbye to Hampton Court.

Tudor people

We made our way back through the outer London suburbs to Chelsea for our final call of the weekend. There we visited Carlyle's House in Cheyne Row, the home of the 19th Century writer and historian Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane. This Queen Anne house is in the care of the National Trust and contains many possessions of the Carlyles and their contemporaries. It is a must-see for anyone interested in English literature and one of the sharpest minds of his era.

Carlyle's House

We left Carlyle's House as it closed and drove past Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament bathed in sunshine, back along the Thames Embankment, by the Tower of London and eventually home to Brentwood. We'd had a most enjoyable weekend in a glorious location almost on London's doorstep, proving that you don't have to travel far to find places of beauty and interest.