Updated: Jun 21, 2022
London is a great place, and sometimes it’s good to get away for a day - just to appreciate it more upon return.
These five places are all within reasonable distance out of Central London, and all five can be reached by public transport as well as by car. All five have great historic meaning as well…
1. Hatfield House
Tucked away in rural Hertfordshire, Hatfield House is known as 'the childhood home of Elizabeth I'. This great estate offers quite a lot to explore: there’s the Stuart manor, Tudor Old Palace, magnificent gardens and woodland walks. It is one of these woodland walks that takes you to the site of the original Hatfield Oak - where (by legend) Gloriana was told she was now Queen. Today the tree is gone, but has been replaced by another, planted by Elizabeth II.
The grandest building onsite is the Stuart manor, built by Robert Cecil, Elizabeth I's Secretary of State. Hatfield has been a continued seat of the Cecil family since then - that's your Earls of Salisbury today ('promoted' to Marquesses in 1789). The House is replete with palatial rooms and exquisite artefacts from our nations' history. There are many letters, portraits, photos and books to look at. My favourite is the Four Generation photo - Queen Victoria, her eldest son Edward VII, his eldest (surviving) son George V and the baby Edward VIII. Proud parents all. Next to the grand manor is the Old Palace - dating back to Tudor times and the only structure that Gloriana would have recognised today. It was indeed her childhood home, but not too much is left of it now. The Great Hall in almost intact, and definitely worth a visit. It's not open on all days, so do check prior to travel.
Bonus fact: It is a frequent filming location with Batman (1989), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), V for Vendetta (2005), Batman Begins (2005), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (2016), The Favourite (2018) - all partly having been filmed here.
Hatfield is about half hour away on a train from King’s Cross, with additional 10 minutes walk to the House itself. Book here.
2. Dover Castle
Dover Castle is one of the castliest castles in the whole of Britain. It's situated on the South East coast in Kent. When you're in Dover, you're closer to France than you are to London. And that's the point. Dover historically was the welcome mat to England...that is when one was welcome. The Romans, The French (Napoleon) and the Germans (WW2) have all tried to utilise this narrow stretch of the English Channel for their gain - La Manche, if you will.
Because its history goes back to the Romans and has been very relevant through a lot of conflicts right up to the Cold War, there is simply almost too much to visit. The castle itself, i.e. the palatial and the museum rooms; the underground tunnels, the endless battlements, the Roman lighthouse - all of this and more, plus the views from the castle are second to none. You can practically see the Eiffel Tower..very small, of course. *
* - you can't, but you definitely can see France on a clear day, it's only twenty miles away.
Bonus fact: the castle is not a stranger to Hollywood. One of my favourite examples is the film Into The Woods (2014) where it was the castle of Chris Pine's kingdom... I may actually visit again soon...
Dover Priory train station is just over an hour away from St. Pancras, however you’ll need another half hour to reach the castle, and spoiler alert, given the geographical advantage of this fortress - the walk will be uphill #cardio. Book here.
3. Hever Castle
Hever is definitely one of the dreamiest castles in the land. The moat around it is one of the few that are actually still filled with water, complete with fish and ducks.
Hever was Anne Boleyn‘s childhood home and at some point belonged by her successor Anna of Kleves. Hever retains its Tudor idyllic look, and many a costume drama was filmed here. In addition to the castle itself, the estate boasts extensive gardens with gorgeous sculptures and a lake with its calorie-burning woodland walks. It’s a day out like no other.
Apart from the Tudors, another prominent family that made its mark on the castle was the Astors of New York City and its gilded age; one of those Astors actually died on Titanic. Later in the twentieth century the castle was frequented by such personalities as Elizabeth Taylor and Judi Dench.
While the house was used in filming several Tudor dramas, the Loggia at the lake is a star in its own right, having been in many films and TV shows, ranging from Star Wars: Phantom Menace (1999) to The Great (2020 - ).
Hever Castle is in Kent, and can be reached by a half hour train from London Bridge. This week the search is showing me a stopover in East Croydon from Victoria. Still, it's an under one hour journey from Central London. Mind you, you’ll need to walk through the signposted woods to get to the castle from the station. I suggest wearing shoes you can wash if you're visiting Hever: walk from the train station may get muddy, and walks around the lake may get even muddier.
This year there's a special exhibition Anne Boleyn, entitled Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court; it's on until 9th November. Book here.
4. Arundel Castle
The second location on this list that is still a home to a Peer of the Realm - in this case the current Duke of Norfolk, who is also the Earl of Arundel. Arundel is a beautiful picturesque castle in West Sussex that dates back to the Normans and the Plantagenets.
It has born witness to an epic stand-off between Empress Matilda and King Stephen; it has hosted Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and many years later, was transformed into a film set for the Young Victoria (2009) biopic.
The castle’s unique gardens and its medieval towers won’t be something you’ll forget in a hurry.
The family who has been occupying the castle almost throughout have been the Howards, whose illustrious line-up includes Elizabeth Howard (Anne Boleyn's mother), Katherine Howard (needs no introduction), the pesky Dukes of Norfolk opposing Henry VIII and Elizabeth I and many others. Their line has continued to the present day, and if you remember your Crown (2016 - ), you'll recall Tommy Lascelles saying: 'Organising coronations - that is what Norfolks do'. Yup, those Norfolks.
Until recently, the castle boasted the prayer beads held by Mary Queen of Scots at her execution. Sadly, they were stolen last year...#investigationcontinues
Even without this precious item, there's still plenty to look out for, like an original Van Dyck of Charles I or a death warrant for the 4th Duke of Norfolk, authorised by Elizabeth I herself.
Arundel is about 90 minutes on a train from Victoria Station, and you’ll need an extra 15 minutes to walk from the train station to the castle itself. Book here.
5. Hampton Court Palace
This place is probably the most resplendent on this list: it's the pleasure palace of the Tudors and the filming location for both The Great (2020 - ) and Bridgerton (2020 - )...what's not to like?
Originally a country mansion of Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII's right hand man, the Palace changed hands when the Cardinal fell from grace. Its new owner, Henry himself, made it into a true Tudor luxury home.
There is quite a lot to see: the Tudor and the Baroque halves of the Palace both need time exploring, as this is basically the Versailles of England: the finest palace in the land. Apart from the palace and its mighty Tudor kitchens (also used in the filming of The Favourite (2018)), there are spacious gardens, the Real Tennis court (not always open) and a Maze. I say gardens, it's more like a park, really. It’s perfect for a sunny day out.
So, we've got five royal residences, all of whom played a part in British history; whole three of them much frequented by Anne Boleyn (those beginning with H).