Next: time for some retail therapy, so just around the corner and into the North Laine. Well it was busy and very trendy compared to my last visit; in fact it even crossed my mind that I may well be able to live there, it all has a very bohemian atmosphere. We wandered around in and out of a myriad of different shops and trendy boutiques selling typical smutty holiday cards, health foods, beads, books etc.; time for a cup of coffee. It was still drizzling and where had the time gone.
On a grey wet day just after Christmas we set sail for Brighton for the day. Motorway all the way down makes the journey even more grey than the weather but it does save a lot of time, and before we know it a sign comes up saying ‘Brighton & Hove’. I haven't been down this way in years so it will be interesting to see what has changed. First up parking, found the station car park easily enough but how do you pay; no machines in sight. We found a sign that said pay by mobile phone, except the system stated that our phone number is withheld and it’s therefore not possible to continue. Of course, we don’t have a UK mobile number. What to do? We walked a quarter of a mile to the car park’s booth but yes you've guessed it: no one there; next step try in station. Just as we were about to go a woman appeared saying she just had to do her rounds and that we can pay her. All’s well that ends well, even if it had taken us twenty odd minutes to get this far.
Next stop the Dorset Bar & Kitchen in the North Laine to meet friends for lunch. After a quick phone call for directions we are off. No time to waste as we were informed that they were already on the white wine. Can't be left out of that one… We were sat on the biggest table in the middle of the pub even though our friends had explained we may be a bit noisy, no problem they said. Seeing friends again after a certain amount of years always incurs a certain amount of screams and shouts but we soon calmed down. Brighton still seemed very busy even though the weather was still inclement. We had a great lunch of steak and chips, burgers and chips all washed down by a couple of glasses of white wine.
We needed to leave at about 4 o'clock and that left us just 45 minutes so we downed the coffee and headed back out into the throng, we did catch a glimpse of the sea at a distance but a walk along the sea front would have to wait till next time and I hope that won't be too long.
There's nowhere else that has a Christmas filled with centuries of tradition as an English Christmas, and I've had a few around the world. I do, though, feel that commercialism has taken its toll and not in a good way; but a turkey roast with all the trimmings and a proper Christmas tree hasn't changed a bit. It is one of the most colourful times of the year where houses are lit all sparkle and glitter. As I'm writing this we’ve had enough food and drinks to sink a battle ship and I wouldn't mind not seeing another slice of turkey between now and next Christmas.
Yesterday we went for yet another after Christmas dinner, this time to The Tally Ho Freehouse in Eversley, Berkshire. Unfortunately, it was a mistake from the moment we entered the place. Having to wait for drinks far too long, as soon we were seated we got told our orders couldn’t be taken for another 20 minutes. We almost got out unscathed until a waiter threw a tray of drinks all over us (a nice mix of white wine and beer); we will never darken that places door again, dreadful service.
Coming home the other night in almost balmy warm weather, especially for the UK in December. The moon was full; you could almost see a face in it and a few wispy clouds: it played its part in the Christmas season. The radio and TV playing Silent Night hearing "trim the halls with bails of holly tra la la la la la la”. As soon as Christmas is over, British TV is full of over-priced package holidays to the likes of Spain and Greece, holidays that will be much cheaper if people just wait for a few more weeks at least. But now the major rush of merry making is over with, just a few more days to go before it revs up again for new year.
Destination: Highclere Castle. Although I grew up within spitting distance of this place I'd until recently never heard of it. Onto the M3 motorway in the pouring rain we go. The M3 was undergoing major road works so from the moment we got on to the moment we turned off nose-to-tail traffic and still raining. Tom Tom took us off the motorway in Newbury and I expected the castle not to be much farther away but it was, so another twenty minutes after we arrived at the entrance to Highclere Castle.
Online we had looked for tickets; it said sold out, but would it be on a day like this? Lucky for us not so; after parting with £26 for two tickets we headed for the front entrance. I’m going to have to mention a certain tv-series that took place here at some point, so why not now. Downton Abbey had put this place on the map again. With some 1400 visitors each day (5 days a week) and at £13 per head minimum you can do the maths: a pure gold mine. Still raining - I'll call it liquid sunshine from now on - and dark, the grounds and the natural rolling English landscape looked amazing. I'm not a particular big fan of Downton Abbey but I did recognise the huge tree in the grounds where Hugh Bonneville walks with his Labrador at the beginning of the programme. The grounds themselves - originally designed by Capability Brown - cover some 5,000 acres and are now owned by the 8th Earl of Carnarvon.
Once through the front door - note not the servants’ entrance - we arrived in a large room in which I could hear everybody saying, ”Yes, I remember this from the programme”. I didn’t, in fact I didn't recognise any of it ( reminder to myself re-watch Downton Abbey). The castle from the outside looks quite magnificent but I didn't have that feeling inside, it looked a bit forlorn, to be honest. We headed up stairs and placards saying, “This was Lady Grantham’s bedroom, Lady Sybil’s, this is the room Mr. Kamuk died”. It all revolved around Downton Abbey, not the real history of the place.
In each room there was a guide and I got talking to one in particular about the filming and she said all the actors were picked up in London in the morning and driven down to Highclere, but by the time everything and everybody was ready to go at 5 ‘o’clock, an average of only about 4 minutes of filming was done per day. I asked how many visitors they got and it was on average 1400 (both online and walk-ins). Even on busy days they try not to turn any visitors away, especially coming from Scotland for instance.
Next we headed to the main central room with a huge fireplace and buckets strategically placed around the room to catch the rain. Now, with 1400 visitors per day and at £13 per head you would have thought they could have had the roof fixed. Talking to another guide she was quite happy to tell me how the Queen was a regular visitor, especially to the horse stud at the castle. I also have been around horses for a large majority of my life but once I started asking too many questions on the subject she backed off, back to the subject of the Queen.
It didn't take very long to see all we wanted and before we knew it we were in a courtyard at the back with the usual gift shop. I poked my head around the door and soon realised there was nothing in there for me and headed for the grounds.
The liquid sunshine had stopped but the view over the hills with low clouds covering the tops looked amazing and that's just your back garden if you happen to live there. I think we were very lucky to visit on what was a quietish day, no queues plus enough time and space to see everything, all in all an enjoyable morning. Time to head back to the car parked in a wet field then a quick pub lunch and home. High time I started watching Downton Abbey again.
Born in Chiswick West London, grew up in Royal Berkshire, currently living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands