No, not an invite to get our gongs for services to parcels but a weekend stay at Hampton Court Palace with our friends Tony, Jane, Steve and Lou. In other words, the Saltdean Six.
Here's how it came about. The Landmark Trust preserve and maintain historic houses and buildings of interest. To help fund this important work they rent out these properties to the general public during the year. This particular stay was a present from Jane to Tony, and they asked their dearest friends to join them - but they weren't available so they had no choice but to pick us!
We decided to drive up. It was only sixty miles away and, with it being self catering it would be easier to carry all the stuff we needed to take, so at about 3pm on Friday afternoon we set off. We took our car, and Steve his, both boots fully loaded with all the essentials for a long weekend - gin, whisky, wine and beer. Oh, and some food and clothes as well.
The journey took just over an hour. When we arrived we drove in through the main gates and were directed to the reception off to the left hand side to collect the keys and to unload. The apartment itself was located in an area called Fish Court in the service wing, just along from the original Tudor
kitchen and was once used by the Officers of the Pastry. Yes, you read it right. Pastry. There are many more apartments here, let as 'grace and favour' properties to impoverished Lords, Ladies and over dignitaries that have fallen on hard times.
It was a three bedroom apartment, well, four really, but two were singles. As me & Trev had been together the longest we chose the singles! There were also two big bathrooms, kitchen, dining room and lounge. Stairs from the entrance led up to the main floor. Two smaller stairways led up from the hallway, one to the double bedroom, the other to a small landing and off to the two single rooms.
As we were staying three nights it made sense to divide up the catering duties between the three couples. Trev & me would do the first night and breakfast the following morning. In good old Blue Peter tradition Trev 'prepared one earlier' and a gigantic cottage pie was one of the many things to emerge from the boot.
The first night dinner went down well - and stayed down too thankfully, but with everyone stuffed full it was decided a night time stroll was needed. As we were effectively residents we got unlimited access (sounds like a broadband deal) to the grounds of the palace as well as all the public rooms during opening hours. That is, except Friday and Sunday nights when they have the ghost tours of the palace courtyards and they didn't want the tourists startled - something of a paradox here I think. Anyway we could still explore the gardens, and even though it was dark, we had a look around although we really only saw one corner of them.
The rest of the evening was lovely and relaxed. Tony taught Steve the finer (and coarser judging by some of the language!) points of crib whilst the rest of us indulged in that wonderful pastime of 'monging' disturbed periodically by visits to the kitchen for refills. Lou was pleased to have an opportunity to practice her reflexology skills on my feet - and so was I. Absolutely divine.
With Trev on duty in the kitchen a humungous breakfast was promised – and duly delivered. With everyone suitably stuffed again it was time to burn off some calories and go exploring.
First stop was the magnificent Tudor kitchens, built to feed the court of someone who would certainly have enjoyed one of Trev's huge breakfast s- a certain Henry VIII. The annual provision of meat alone for the court was something like this: 1200 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar. Of course all that meat would make you thirsty so add about 600,000 gallons of beer to the list too.
We passed through one of the wine cellars which led us into the inevitable gift shop, then on to the Royal Chapel. Those who had the telly on at 3pm on Christmas Day will know that Her Maj gave last years speech from here.
Then it was on to the main palace itself. We saw the state and private apartments of William (of Orange no less), Mary II and of course old Henry himself. The quality of the restoration and preservation of the rooms and furnishings was amazing.
It was approaching lunchtime and although, unsurprisingly, no-one was hungry, an injection of caffeine was called for. As residents of course we weren't at the mercy of the pricey cafes on site but instead nipped back to the apartment for our fix.
It was agreed after a very short discussion that a different liquid was called for but first we headed out of the palace grounds, across the bridge and into the village of East Mosley. Affluent is probably a good as
description as any, even the local pak, sorry corner shop kept thirty quid champagne in the fridge alongside the inevitable red bull. We resisted the lure of the overpriced fizz and settled instead for some baked beans and reading matter - well a couple of daily rags anyway.
Necessary provisions having been procured it was time to sample the local brew. Our night time ramble the previous evening had revealed the presence of a boozer by some gates on the northern perimeter of the palace grounds and it was here at the Kings Arms we spent a very pleasant couple of hours or so.
Back at the apartment, more monging for some of us while dinner was prepared. Beef pie was on the menu tonight and was absolutely delicious. Another night time stroll, this time around the palace courtyards and the obligatory night cap or two concluded a very enjoyable day.
Sunday was to be visiting day. Tony's Mum & Dad live a short distance away in Ealing so after another gut buster breakfast we headed out through the gates dodging the steady influx of tourists. We drove through the delightful Bushy Park, also known as deer park with it's huge fountain at the centre. Next up was Richmond park, the circumnavigation of which was gentle owing in some part to the large number of lycra clad cyclists and joggers burning off the calories and generally looking too bloody fit and healthy for a Sunday morning. The horses under the bonnet barely got above trotting pace, but given the beauty of the surroundings it certainly didn't matter.
Tea and biscuits were gratefully accepted on arrival at Tony's' Mum & Dads house, then a quick hop, skip and a jump brought to Ash & Stu's new home. Ash, Jane's son had, a while back got a new job in London and they had, just the day before moved down from their house in Nottingham.
Visiting duties completed we headed back to base. Jane & Tony were on catering duties for this evening and being a Sunday nothing less than a traditional roast would have been acceptable. The lazy afternoon (well, it was for the rest of us!) was disturbed however when the fire alarm went off. Within seconds two of the security staff came pounding - well, one was pounding, the other was puffing quite alarmingly - up the stairs to see what the problem was. The problem was, that Jane had decided to open the oven
door. The smoke alarms, fitted throughout the apartment are particularly sensitive - a fact which, to be fair they warned us about. However, no harm was done, and with advice to keep the kitchen window open, the door closed imparted, and the promise of a roast dinner each, the security men exited.
Satisfied that the chicken would behave itself, Tony, Jane & Lou went off to Evensong at the Royal Chapel. The ensuing peace and quiet was disturbed only slightly - by the sound of Spanish lessons from my laptop, a movie from Steve's and snoring from the corner in which Trev was sitting.
The roast dinner was delicious and the now familiar pattern of night time walk, cheese & biscuits, reflexology (aaah!) and a nice scotch or two rounded off another enjoyable day in the company of great friends.
We had sort of planned, on the Monday morning to see the rest of the gardens but the weather had other ideas, It was persisting down. We scurried back and forth loading up the cars with what was left of the food and drink (not a lot, unsurprisingly) and said goodbye. It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and, if you divide it up, not overly expensive either.
Take a look at: http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/ for info about the Landmark Trust
and: http://www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/ for info on Hampton Court Palace.