Today’s plan was to visit Windsor, a short drive from Henley on Thames. The plan was a good one – get there early, secure parking and spend the day exploring. We succeed in the first part, but when we get to the dedicated motorhome parking area, it’s been sequestered for coaches. Windsor is overrun by tourists, a product I suspect of the recent royal wedding. Given that there is already a coach parking area (virtually empty) the size a football field, this seems a little unfair, but there’s no reasoning with the parking attendant who has been given one rule to follow, and follow it he will. In the end, we get to see a glimpse of the castle wall, Queen Victoria standing imposingly in front and a coach of the horsey variety.
Plans foiled, we drive to Cliveden instead, once a gracious and very grand manor house, now a National Trust garden and woodlands. The house has been converted to a luxury hotel and spa.
Cliveden’s history dates back to 1600s when it was built by Lord Buckingham.
Of recent times, it was the home of Lord and Lady Astor (he of the Waldorf-Astors) for the first half of the 1900s, and even more recently, the site of the Profumo affair. In its time, the house has been host to royal mistresses, politicians, kings and queens, recovering vetrans during both world wars and Hollywood’s finest. But it’s the gardens we’re here to see.
The sun has taken its toll here too, you have to strain imagination a little to imagine lush greenery, but the gardeners have done the best they can with makeshift hoses. That’s the thing about normally rainy climes – they have no watering infrastructure to deal with the heat when it comes.
The gardens are divided into formal plantings and water featured wetlands but most of the grounds are dedicated to woodlands running alongside the Thames. It’s not until later, in the gift shop on postcards, that we get an idea of how the gardens should look. The areas that have been watered are gloriously green.
There’s plenty to still see though, bumbles at work, abubdant fountains and ancient trees.
Respite from the heat is found in the shade. All the better to admire a set of fabulous gilt gates, very recently restored. It’s painstaking work, gilding – they must have taken months to complete.
A final walk through the steep woodlands eventually tires us out and it’s off home. At least the nights are cool and sleep is possible.
I can’t resist a book on my way out – a tome by Lady Astor’s lady’s maid of some 35 years, promising a detailed look into the intricacies of upstairs/downstairs life. Chris has only himself to blame for my ever growing book collection – he spotted this one!