2. Dream Come True
With only about 4 hours of sleep between the two of us we began our vacation with traffic jams and narrow country roads. It was baptism by fire for Daniel. No chance of being on auto pilot, this was the kind of driving that requires all of your attention. Although Daniel is from England the majority of his driving has been done in California. He used public transportation when he lived in his native country so driving on the left doesn't come right back to him. Needless to say we had a tiny tiff where I was told to stop panicking cuz I was making him nervous. I did a lot of door handle clutching that first day.
To be honest I felt guilty for making Daniel hit the ground running as much as we did that first day. I've been dying to go to Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, since I was at least 13 years old. We have never been that close to it, so the opportunity just hadn't presented itself for me to be able to go there. Our first planned destination was Canterbury, and while technically not right on the way Hever Castle is in that general direction between Heathrow and Canterbury. The only way it was going to work for me to go was to stop there that first day. So with bleary eyes we took the detour to one of my bucket list destinations.
The road to Hever.
I can't really explain what it truly felt like as we got nearer to Hever Castle. When you have almost a lifetime of expectations wrapped around a place it's a really surreal experience to know you'll finally step foot there. I won't go into great detail about why Hever Castle and Anne Boleyn mean so much to me- I hold it really close to my heart- but I will say that I've always had an affinity for Anne Boleyn. She was like a friend to a painfully introverted tween and I knew her life inside and out. I couldn't wait to walk the halls where she walked and maybe feel her presence? I wanted to sit in the garden she might have sat in, nursing a broken heart after being banished from court. See the bedroom where she road the waves of the sweating sickness, almost dying. Stand in the Long Gallery where she might have entertained a King with the sweet song of her lute. The excitement was building.
As we pulled up it became evident that this wasn't just a normal day at Hever Castle. We got directed away from the main car park towards one across the road along with a very long line of cars. I couldn't believe my eyes, I knew it was a tourist attraction but I thought it was just a minor one. Turns out we picked the worst weekend to visit the castle. Not only was it a Bank Holiday weekend but there was a May Festival going on at the castle that weekend. The place was absolutely teeming with people!! It was both lovely and disappointing! It was really cool that people are still enjoying the beautiful grounds and care about the history of the place but for me personally I had hoped to find peace and quiet. I really wanted to take my time going from room to room and really communing with the place. Having said that I was so incredibly happy to be there that I just went with the flow.
Hever Castle is actually a rather large estate. While the castle itself is pretty small as far as castles go, the grounds are extensive. It sits on 125 acres, with a lake, various gardens, mazes, ponds and a golf course. Much of what we see today is the result of restoration and extension by the Astor Family, namely William Waldorf Astor. Astor bought the estate in 1903 and built what is now called the Astor Wing. It's quite deceiving as it looks like a little Tudor village and seems as though it dates back to Anne Boleyn's time. You can actually stay in that part of the castle, which of course I tried to do, but it was booked. The Bullen Family (Anne changed the spelling to the French spelling of Boleyn when she resided at the French court while she was a maid of honour to Queen Claude) owned the castle from 1462-1540 when it was given to Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. An interesting fact that I somehow didn't learn until after leaving the castle, it was owned by distant relatives of mine, the Waldegraves from 1557-1715. The first Waldegrave to own Hever Castle, Edward Waldegrave, was the cousin of my 12th Great Grandmother Dorothy Waldegrave Spring. It was really cool to find out this personal connection to Hever, even after I'd already left.
We got a cheeky sausage roll (and by cheeky I mean heavily calorific) at the cafe, paid entirely too much for bottled water and set off to explore the grounds. Of course I immediately wanted to just go to the castle so we got in line and waited in the unexpected heat. While standing on the bridge over the moat, waiting for our turn to get into the courtyard and then the house I admired the Boston ivy which climbs the walls. Whenever I've seen photos of the castle this ivy is always a gorgeous red, so it never dawned on me that it would be green in the spring. I also took note of the chains which thanks to William Waldorf Astor will still raise the drawbridge we were standing on. The view from the drawbridge is just lovely. The moat which was once probably rank as the toilets emptied straight into it, is now filled with large coy fish and jolly ducks. Hever Castle only sits 120 feet above sea level and the moat would ocassionally flood the courtyard due to it's connection to the nearly River Eden. A large operation was begun in 1906, again thanks to Astor, to make the moat watertight thereby solving the problem of the flooding.
The ceiling of the entrance between the two portcullis. Part of the Gatehouse which is the oldest part of the castle, built in the 13th century
After you walk through both portcullis gateways you enter the Tudor courtyard built by Anne Boleyn's great grandfather, Sir Geoffrey de Bullen. We were quite lucky as the facade of this courtyard was covered in scaffolding just 2 years ago. Work was done to restore and replace timber that was affected by the death watch beetle as well as replacing some rendered paneling that had been badly repaired in the past. It was absolutely breathtaking to enter that courtyard. It's so much smaller than I had imagined but incredibly charming. It was a reminder of how much shorter and smaller people were in Tudor times. I could have stayed there for awhile just taking it all in but the lack of sleep was catching up with me and my toe was throbbing. We stayed in line and pretty quickly were let into the castle.
The first room we saw upon entering the castle was the old kitchen, now called the Inner Hall. This room was part of the original castle and would have contained a well in the center of the room from which the cook could draw water. The beautiful Italian walnut gallery above the room was added in 1905 again by William Waldorf Astor, inspired by one found at King's College Chapel in Cambridge. This room contains a replica of the clock Henry VIII gave to Anne Boleyn as a wedding present. The original was purchased by Queen Victoria herself from Horace Walpole in 1842, and is currently held in the Royal Collection. This is the closest I'll get to the original, so I'm just as happy to have seen the replica.
Part of the Italian walnut gallery over the the Inner Hall
After the Books of Hours room you find yourself in The Queens' Chamber which contains the portraits of Henry VIII and his wives. I quickly breezed through this room because it was so crowded and stuffy. Since I am well researched in Henry and his wives I didn't need to stop and read all of the placards. We moved on quickly through the remaining rooms to The Long Gallery, which was the only other room I had interest in. The Long Gallery runs the entire width of the building and was constructed in 1506 by Anne Boleyn's father Thomas Bullen (Boleyn). The room served many purposes but the one I found most interesting was it's use for exercise. It was like a Tudor home gym! When the weather was too bad to be outside they would use the Long Gallery to walk in. This California girl forgets that it's not walking weather year round everywhere! Currently the Long Gallery contains mannequins telling the story of Anne Boleyn's life, which I just love! I love nothing better than a mannequin or wax figure dressed in authentic period clothing so I can pretend I'm really there. I love the clothing and accessories of the Tudor time period- little known fact about me, if I ever win the lottery I'm totally commissioning an authentic Tudor dress and hood to just wear around my house. I've already informed my husband of this so that he's not in total shock if it ever really happens. He needed to know what kind of weirdo he actually married!
The replica of the clock given to Anne Boleyn by Henry VIII on their wedding day.
I had no interest in the parts of the house that weren't authentic and original to the Boleyn period so we whizzed past The Drawing Room, which was an Astor creation, and weaved our way back through the crowded Entrance Hall. In through the Library, once an estate office I was eager to get to the second story where the bulk of the Bullen rooms were located. When you ascend the staircase you're rewarded with your first view of Anne Boleyn's bedroom. I was struck with how incredibly small it was. I had to remind myself that this slip of a girl who dreamed in this room was not yet a queen nor was she expected to be anything but the wife of an Earl, so insignificant was she that her birthdate isn't even recorded. This was not the grand room of a Queen but that of a daughter of a Knight of the Garter, a man who's titles and accolades would come years later thanks to his daughter's involvement with the King. The room contains an ornate wooden headboard purported to be from her bed. I learned later that it doesn't appear to date any earlier than the 1600's (she was beheaded in 1536), it's considered by those in charge of the castle to be a Victorian piece pretending to be authentic. I was disappointed to learn that but not surprised. Her fall from grace was so steep that many things associated with her were destroyed, it's amazing anything of hers survives at all really.
Within the castle there does exist two authentic pieces belonging to Anne. Her Books of Hours are proudly on display behind glass in a room devoted to them. Both books bear her signature and inscriptions by her hand. These particular pages are rarely on display to protect them from heat and light damage, so alas I didn't see her signature up close and personal but I did get to gaze on pages that she once devoutly read and touched. This is what I came for. The real connection, physical objects that bore witness to her life. One, a prayer book, is thought to be one she took with her to her execution at the Tower. I don't think this can be proven, it certainly would have had to have been smuggled away from her execution by a loyal friend, but the inscription does make it seem likely. "Remember me when you do pray that hope doth lead from day to day." She certainly would have wanted to have been remembered in people's prayers while awaiting her tragic fate in the Tower.
The "Le Temps Viedra" (the Time Will Come) Book of Hours
The "Remember Me When You Do Pray" Book of Hours. This is the book thought to have accompanied Anne to the Tower.
At this point the heat was getting to us and I'd seen what I really came to see so we tried to get through the rest of the house as quickly as possible. Once we got through the crowds and back out on the grounds we found a quiet space for a few moments before other people found our space too. We walked through the Tudor Garden and found a lovely bench right next to the outer moat. It was so picturesque and for those few moments we were alone.
Our view from the bench. Our quick moment of solitude before others found it as well.
The Astor Wing visible behind Hever
By this point we were utterly exhausted having been awake for far more hours that we should have been. I personally was starting to sway and we still had about an hour and a half drive until our final destination for the day. We decided the wisest choice was to say goodbye (for now!) to Hever Castle and get back on the road.
I will absolutely return one day to this beautiful piece of land. There is still so much that I missed, the yew maze, rowing on the lake, the sunken garden. I need to walk through the rooms again, taking my time. But for now a Cathedral was calling to us...