Category Archives: Blog

Liberty 2016

A London Boxing Day…Without Shopping

Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, has become another extension of the commercial frenzy of the holiday period. Especially in London. But it doesn’t have to be.

(I’ve been lifted off my feet by the press of the crowd during the holiday season around Oxford Street Tube Station. Now I avoid it until February at least.)

Instead of rushing around to the post holiday sales, take advantage of this year’s extra-long, 4-day UK Bank Holiday weekend*. Shopping can wait.

Have a lie in, eat chocolate and Christmas cake for breakfast, watch movies on the telly – or football, if you must.  Then, when darkness starts to fall, head for London’s Regent Street and Piccadilly to enjoy this year’s fabulous lights and shop windows away from the urgent press of hysterical shoppers on Oxford Street.

The Regent Street lights, designed by ex-theater designer Paul Dart,  are particularly spectacular this year. And at Fortnum and Mason – which has brilliant windows year round – they’re reflecting the current mood by bringing normally warring pairs together in a festive dance.

Here’s what to expect…

And at Fortnum’s

The Lobster and the Chef share a champagne toast. Photo © Ferne Arfin
The Lobster and the Chef share a champagne toast. Photo © Ferne Arfin
The Boy and the Brussels Sprouts at Fortnum and Mason. Photo by @copy; Ferne Arfin
The Boy and the Brussels Sprouts at Fortnum and Mason. Photo by @copy; Ferne Arfin
The merry dance of the turkey and the butcher - an no one loses any limbs. © Ferne Arfin
The merry dance of the Turkey and the Butcher – an no one loses any limbs. © Ferne Arfin
One occasion when the polar bear and the penguin are not poles apart, © Ferne Arfin
One occasion when the Polar Bear and the Penguin are not poles apart, © Ferne Arfin
The Wolf leads a Choir of Sheep. © Ferne Arfin
The Wolf leads a Choir of Sheep. © Ferne Arfin
The Woodsman the the Christmas Tree in peaceful coexistence. © Ferne Arfin
The Woodsman the the Christmas Tree in peaceful coexistence. © Ferne Arfin

And After

Check out the decorations in the arcades off Piccadilly, Burlington Arcade and Piccadilly Arcade are particularly splendid this year. And as for the goods for sale – well who knows, you might win the lottery one day.

Then warm up with tea and treats or a hot chocolate at Fortnum’s casual restaurant, The Parlour. It has an all day menu to 10pm but you might be wise to make a reservation.

Other good choices –

  • Richoux – an old favorite, best for teas, coffees, cakes and treats
  • Kahve Dünyasi – a Turkish coffee shop on Piccadilly with amazing hot chocolate, cold and hot drinks.
  • SAID dal 1923 – the London branch of a Roman chocolatier. The shop, with all its chocolate molds and constantly bubbling cauldron of chocolate must be seen. And you can stand a spoon up in the tiny, dense cups of hot chocolate. It’s just a short walk away on Broadwick Street in Soho.
Whatever you get up to for the holidays and between the holidays, have a great time. Merry Christmas and back in 2017.

*In the UK, both Christmas and Boxing Day are bank holidays. So when Christmas falls on Sunday, most people get Monday and Tuesday off. 

All Aglow for Christmas at Waddesdon Manor

When Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild plonked a somewhat edited copy of the 16th century Chateau Chambord in the middle of traditional English Buckinghamshire in the 1870s, the neighbours were aghast.

Even as late as the 1940s, when a Rothschild heir offered the house, Waddesdon Manor, to the National Trust, the Trust wasn’t sure it really wanted it. Afterall, the house was hardly English; it looked like it belonged in the Loire.

View of Waddesdon Manor @copy; Ferne Arfin
View of Waddesdon Manor @copy; Ferne Arfin

Fast forward to the 21st century and Waddesdon Manor is now one of the National Trust’s most popular attractions.

One reason – apart from the sheer fabulousness of the house and its contents – may be the regularly changing exhibits from the collections of Ferdinand  de Rothschild and Alice de Rothschild (his sister); a dazzling array of paintings, furniture and Renaissance objects d’art.  Another is, undoubtedly the  steady stream of guest exhibitions, art commissions and special events supported and organised by the Rothschild Foundation (who manage Waddesdon).

And every year this fabulous treasure house – built to show off Baron Ferdinand’s collections and to entertain his friends – becomes the backdrop for a Christmas spectacle that’s worth a special trip.

We went along this week for a preview of what the creative team at Waddesdon Manor got up to for Christmas 2016.

Christmas 2016 at Waddesdon

Winter Light at Waddesdon Manor. Photo © Kathy Chantley/The National Trust
Winter Light at Waddesdon Manor. Photo Kathy Chantley ©The National Trust

A shuttle from the public parking dropped us off at the North Fountain so we could walk up The Avenue while enjoying Waddesdon bathed in a changing array of coloured lights. Music, from a dramatically good sound system, filled the grounds with familiar classics.  What we didn’t know until later is that most of the music played for the “Winter Light” son et lumiere was chosen from the works of composers and musicians who had a connection with the Rothschild family. Chopin taught piano to several Rothschild children. Rossini was a frequent visitor to the house.  And there were others – but that was all just the warm up. The best was yet to come.

"Batterie de cuisine" © Ferne Arfin
“Batterie de cuisine” © Ferne Arfin

Inside, an entry passage beside the Manor Restaurant – once Waddesdon’s kitchens – was a sparkling tunnel of coppery trees, twinkling lights and copper painted pots and pans.

The theme within the house in 2016 is Magical Materials. Broadly interpreted, that ranges from a giant ammonite fossil resting on a nest of brightly colored, polished stones to a ten-foot tree created entirely from sculpted paper flowers, an ethereal passage lined in illuminated lace and decorated with lacemakers’ bobbins, and 12 different decorated trees.

Giant Ammonite at Waddesdon © Ferne Arfin
Giant Ammonite at Waddesdon © Ferne Arfin

Gingerbread decorated tree in the White Drawing Room Mike Fear © National Trust Waddesdon Manor
Gingerbread by the Biscuiteers decorates a tree in the White Drawing Room M ike Fear © National Trust Waddesdon Manor

Tree of books©Ferne ArfinTree of books in the Bachelor Wing ©Ferne Arfin

Red tree outside the White Drawing Room ©Ferne Arfin
Red tree outside the White Drawing Room ©Ferne Arfin
Gingerbread decorated tree in the White Drawing Room Mike Fear © National Trust Waddesdon Manor
Gingerbread decorated tree in the White Drawing Room Mike Fear © National Trust Waddesdon Manor

Ten feet of paper roses in one of the most original trees © Ferne Arfin

Paper roses reach a height of ten feet in one of the most original trees © Ferne Arfin

Undersea "treasures" in a Victorian bathroom. ©Ferne Arfin
Undersea “treasures” in a Victorian bathroom. ©Ferne Arfin
Lace corridor, part of the Magical Materials decorating theme. ©Ferne Arfin
Lace passage under a ceiling strung with lacemakers’ bobbins, only looks chilly – an effect of the Magical Materials decorating theme.  ©Ferne Arfin

Dress Up Warm for the Pièce de Résistance

The corridor of lace may have looked chilly but was just an illusion of light and colour – the magic of magic materials. The star of this year’s Christmas at Waddesdon is Bruce Munro’s outdoor installation, Field of Light. And we had to bundle up and find our way through darkened woodland paths to find it (word of advice, bring along a little LED torch or charge up the flashlight on your smart phone).

Find a place to stay near Waddesdon Manor on TripAdvisor

It was well worth the effort. The international artist, known for light-based immersive installations, has filled Waddesdon’s Aviary Glade with 9,000 glass globes topping slender stems like enchanted, glowing flowers. They’re linked and powered by optical glass fibers and cover acres of gently rolling landscape with ever changing waves of light and colour.

Field of Light by Bruce Munro © Ferne Arfin
Field of Light by Bruce Munro © Ferne Arfin

After, we warmed up with flatbreads topped with grilled meats and salads (£6.50) and very gently mulled wine (or hot chocolate for teetotallers and designated drivers) in the Wigwam Café.  It’s tucked away in a little forest glade, lined with twinkling lights and surrounded by trees decorated with more lights.

The Gingerbread Dollhouse

Gingerbread Waddesdon by the Biscuiteers. ©Ferne Arfin
Gingerbread Waddesdon by the Biscuiteers. ©Ferne Arfin

Down in the Stables Gallery, The Biscuiteers, Notting Hill-based icing artists, had been busy creating a two-metre long gingerbread model of Waddesdon itself. We were hit by a wave of sweet, gingerbread scent as soon as we entered the gallery.

The Gingerbread Waddesdon by the Biscuiteers Photo by Mike Fear ©National Trust Waddesdon Manor
The Gingerbread Waddesdon by the Biscuiteers Photo by Mike Fear ©National Trust Waddesdon Manor

This extraordinary (edible but who would dare) masterpiece will be on display at Waddesdon until March.  Compare these pictures of the gingerbread dollhouse rooms with their actual equivalents, to judge the skill and craftsmanship involved.

State Bedroom Photo by Mike Fear ©National Trust Waddesdon Manor
State Bedroom Photo by Mike Fear ©National Trust Waddesdon Manor

The State Bedroom, above, and the gingerbread State Bedroom, below.

State bedroom in gingerbread ©Ferne Arfin
State bedroom in gingerbread ©Ferne Arfin
Dining room at Waddesdon Manor. Photo by Chris Lacey ©National Trust Waddesdon Manor
Dining Room at Waddesdon Manor. Photo by Chris Lacey ©National Trust Waddesdon Manor

The Dining Room, above, and the gingerbread Dining Room below.
Gingerbread Dining Room ©Ferne Arfin
Gingerbread Dining Room ©Ferne Arfin

Essentials for Visiting Waddesdon at Christmas

  • Where: Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP18 0JH England
  • When: Christmas at Waddesdon, including Dazzle@Waddesdon – the outdoor sound and light experience, Bruce Munro’s Field of Light and the decorated Bachelor’s Wing will be on from now until January 2, 11am to 6pm Wednesdays to Sundays and Tuesday December 27.
  • Admission: Adult admission for the grounds and the house is £20, for the ground only, £10. Advance booking to tour the Bachelor Wing is required and sells out long before Waddesdon’s Christmas opening. But, don’t be discouraged. This year, Waddesdon is holding back 100 house tour tickets every day for sale on the day.  These tickets go on sale at Waddesdon at 11am and must be purchased at the Waddesdon ticket office in person. National Trust members are admitted free but must book for the house tour.
  • Visit the Waddesdon Manor website for directions and information about other holiday events and shopping.

Time to Think About Wimbledon?

Yes I know, it’s a long way away. But if you think you’d like to go to the Wimbledon tennis tournament in 2017 and want to have a chance at good seats without camping overnight in the Wimbledon queue, you have to enter the public ballot for tickets right about now.

Andy Murray, photo by Ian Dick ccl
Andy Murray, photo by Ian Dick ccl

Applications for the ballot are being taken by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) now – and until December 15 – from members of the public in Britain. If you are an overseas tennis fan and want to enter the ballot, you’ll have to do it online. Instructions for overseas visitors will be published on the AELTC website on 1 November.

To find out more about how to apply for a chance at Wimbledon tickets through the public ballot as well as other ways to land a seat at the world’s top Grand Slam tennis tournament, click here for full details. 

Strawberry Hill – London’s Little Suburban Castle

When it comes to visiting historic houses, it’s rare to find an empty one as interesting as one that’s full of antique treasures. Strawberry Hill is an exception.

This mini-castle in Twickenham, one of London’s western suburbs, is a true jewel box of a house — but its collections were sold off in the 19th century and it’s completely empty. 

It hardly matters.

Horace Walpole, an 18th century dandy, Member of Parliament, collector, world traveler and writer (his novel The Castle of Otranto was the world’s first Gothic novel) was enamored of Medieval Gothic. So much so that he kickstarted the fashion for neo-Gothic architecture decades before it really took off.

His house, built to show off those now vanished collections, was the first in the style and one of the only examples of it in domestic architecture, inside and out.  And Strawberry Hill’s very emptiness adds to the Gothic romance, the ghostly whispers that follow when you walk from room to room, armed with the guidebook Walpole wrote himself.  Gilt ceilings, gothic windows, stained glass, mirrors and the most amazing fireplaces and chimney pieces are everywhere you look. 

And it’s just a Tube and bus ride from Central London.  Check out the pictures below, then click here for more pictures and to find out more about English eccentric Horace Walpole and how to visit  his fantasy house, Strawberry Hill.

Strawberry Hill House
Pictures of Strawberry Hill often make it look like a substantial mansion. In fact, as castles go, it’s really tiny. It was built from two suburban cottages.

The Long Gallery at Strawberry Hill

All the rooms at Strawberry Hill have gilt details but the Long Gallery, with it’s elaborate ceiling, has more gold than any other room in the house. It was inspired by a chapel ceiling at Westminster Abbey.

The Holbein Chamber
The Holbein Chamber once displayed a collection of copies of Holbein drawings. The chimneypiece was inspired by a tomb in Canterbury Cathedral and the red hat of Cardinal Wolseley (hounded to death by Henry VIII) was once part of this room’s collection.
Walpole's gothic chairs.
The black, gothic style chairs in the Great Parlour were designed by Walpole and his friend, Mr. Bentley. These are copies – the originals are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Gilt frame at Strawberry Hill
This picture frame combines 18th century Rococco style with very modern technology. It was made by creating 3D photographs from 2D drawings, then printed in plastic as a template from which the gilt plasterwork frame was finally made. It was put together from more than 30 pieces.

Plan a visit to Strawberry Hill.

Read traveler reviews and find a place to stay near Strawberry Hill. 


The Mary Rose Unveiled in Portsmouth

Henry VIII’s lost flagship, The Mary Rose, has finally been revealed at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth.  More than 50 years after her rediscovery in the Solent and after 34 years of undersea archaeology and preservation,  the wraps are finally off. Visitors to the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard, can finally breathe the same air as this 500 year old ship.

Watch the moment of her unveiling and then find out more about The Mary Rose and how you can visit her.

A Café for Windsor Castle at Last!

Windsor Undercroft
The 14th-century Undercroft at Windsor Castle will be developed into a visitor cafe as part of the £37 million Future Programme developments at Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House. Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

April 5, 2016 – The Royal Collection Trust, the charity that makes the UK’s Royal Palaces available to the public, has just announced it will spend £37 million in the next two years on improvements to Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh. The plan, rather unimaginatively to be known as  Future Programme, will:

  • add more welcoming entrances and learning centers to the palaces,
  • open up previously unseen and private areas of Windsor Castle,
  • create themed pathways through the castle and palace, offering visitors more choice and
  • create the first ever café for visitors in Windsor Castle….Hallellujah!

If I seem overly excited about the prospect of a café in the stony Undercroft of the castle, pictured above, it’s because it is about time this long overdue and much needed facility was added.

Starve, Die of Thirst or Just Leave

Windsor Castle is huge and fascinating; the sort of place most people can easily spend a whole day visiting. Unfortunately, it has never had any place to take a break, to relax, to look over your  brochures or your pictures and to fuel up for your next foray into a gallery, exhibition or series of fabulous rooms.

The most the Queen ever offered members of the public was the chance to buy a bottle of water and, in winter, to stand outdoors on the windy castle hill to drink it.  The alternative was to leave the castle at lunch time, try to find something besides a Big Mac in the unpromising retail precincts of Windsor town, and then return to the castle to continue your visit – permitted with your ticket but inconvenient and unrewarding.  So the prospect of a casual café by 2018 is very encouraging.

Appropriately, the Undercroft, where the new cafe will be located, was used for centuries as the refectory where the royal household staff took meals. We hope there will also be some space for families and groups to bring their own packed lunches.

Works Getting Underway

Designs for Future Programme are getting underway now and construction is set to begin in 2017 with completion planned for 2018. Windsor Castle and Holyrood  will both remain open to the public as normal during the works. Financing for the £37 million project is coming from admissions to the castles, palaces and houses in The Royal Collection as well as associated retail sales.

Book a Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge Tour with Rail Europe

Find out More About Visiting Windsor at United Kingdom Travel:

Windsor Castle under a moody sky.
Photo by Craig ccl