Episode 4: Twenty-Twelve - The journey continues... travel blog

Althorp, with Bev and Darrel




Althorp, the stables

Cynthea and Charles Spencer at Althorp

Diana is (supposed to be) buried on the island in the middle...

Cynthea and Bev at the Diana memorial, Althorp


St Mary's Church, where Diana's private family service was held

Not many funerals are held at St Mary's these days

Ride a cock horse...

... to Banbury Cross

With Bev and Darrel at the Chinese restaurant

Facebook album link - anyone can view the album of photos, copy and paste this link:


Thursday 23rd

Fiona is off to work early, so Tony has to make his own way to the bus station. There is no direct bus there, and it ends up being easier (and cheaper) to walk to the railway station at Pokesdown, and take the train to Bournemouth, where the bus and rail station are together.

Tony reaches the bus station with plenty of time to spare. There are two busses ready to go to London, but he is booked on a later one, and they won’t allow him to switch (unless he coughs up an extra fare). So there is a bit of a wait for the midday bus.

The bus to London gets in early, taking just over two hours to get there. Tony heads to departures, but cannot find the bus to Oxford on the notice board. He is told it leaves from outside, cross at the lights and turn left, stop number 10. He does that, but can only find stop “Y”, so heads back to check directions. It seems he was supposed to go through the departures building to Buckingham Palace Rd, and THEN cross at the lights (sigh). They also say something about the Oxford Tube, and Tony says he doesn’t want the Oxford Tube, he wants the bus to Oxford, the town. Yes they say, you want the Oxford Tube, but it takes a while before they explain that he has not booked on a Megabus service, it is called “Oxford Tube”, and is all run by the same company. You would think that bloody people would realise their customers would be confused by this! At least there is plenty of time. He arrives at the stop, and the bus is there, so he boards. They check his ticket and tell him he is booked on the next one, leaving in 15 minutes. This one is near empty, and Tony asks if he can switch, but again the answer is no, unless he buys a new ticket. This one only cost £1, and hopefully there is enough time in Oxford, there is not a lot of time to spare at the other end, so he hopes the bus is not late getting in.

The bus leaves on time at 3pm, but there is a lot of stops on the way, and lots in Oxford itself, but none near the railway station. It takes just on two hours to get to Oxford, and it is a quick walk to get to the station to pick up the tickets for the 5.30 train. The walk from the bus depot was not as long as he thought it might be, so that was good, and the train is running late, as are the trains just before it. One pulls into the station and Tony boards, thinking it is the one he was waiting on, but he should have checked the departure board more carefully. Someone showed him where seats were available, and Tony said no thanks, getting off at Banbury… but this train isn’t going to Banbury. Oops! He got off just in time, with three others who also made the same mistake!

Tony tries to call Cynthea, but cell phone service is very patchy, and cuts out frequently. As the train arrives in Banbury he gets a text from Cynthea telling him she is at the bus stop, so he hurries up there to get the next bus to Brackley, five minutes to spare, phew. It is a muggy day, and Tony feels in need of a cool shower, yuk. Cynthea asks the ticket prices, it is £8.40 for two singles (urk!), we could have got PlusBus tickets for £3, but didn’t realise it would have covered Brackley. We ask about a return ticket, because we have to be back in Banbury in the morning, that is £15 if we buy two separate ones, or £12 “group” ticket. So we go with that and are thrilled to find it is a 24 hour pass, so we will be able to return to Brackley on it tomorrow afternoon as well. Why the hell do they have to make it so bloody complicated!

Bev and Darrel meet us at the bus stop, and we walk down to the Indian restaurant in town. It looks very posh, and Tony feels a bit underdressed in his backpacker gear. The meal is very reasonably priced, dishes about £8 each, and filling enough. We even get a complimentary drink at the end of the meal, Tony had a whiskey, and the girls had a Baileys. Darrel missed out, he had a darts game on and left early. We should have said he was in the loo, and we could have had his drink too!

We are staying in the guest room at Pegasus Court, very basic, but more than enough. There is no fridge or cooking facilities though, so it will be pubs and takeaways while we are here! Cynthea has to be back at work Sunday afternoon, Tony is going to London on Tuesday afternoon and will stay on an extra couple of nights.

Next morning we went into Banbury and while there walked up to Banbury Cross. We had been there several times before, but not realised what it was! That night we had tea at the Greyhound, across the road from Pegasus Court. After tea we borrow Bev’s hair clippers, and Cynthea cuts Tony’s hair. It is not a good sign when someone says “oops” as they take the first hack. Tony thinks she is winding him up, but Cynthea thought she had the wrong blade on the clippers and was going to make him a skinhead. It turned out fine though, and the hair is not too short after all, it will soon grow back!

On Saturday Bev and Darrel took us to Althorp, the family estate of Princess Diana. It is only open two months of the year, so we are lucky to be able to visit as this is the last weekend it will be open for the year. Next week it is the 15th anniversary of her death, 31st August 1997. It costs £15 each to visit Althorp, and that includes entry into the upstairs area of the “house”. The courtesy coach leaves as we are buying tickets, but it is only a five minute walk up the drive to the stables. Light rain is falling as we walk up the drive, and the sun is shining brilliantly. Althorp is the family home of the 9th Earl, Lord Charles Spencer, and his family. We are not allowed to take photos inside the house, oops, Tony didn’t see that sign when he came in, and it was only later when talking to his lordship that he found out. It is something to do with their insurance, so Tony better not put them on facebook! However many similar photos are shown in the books he has for sale in the shop, hmmmm….

We expected the estate to be very busy, but it seems that there are not that many people about. Mind you it is a very big estate, and even two coach loads arriving hardly make an impact.

We approach the house from one side of it, and are amazed when we get around to the front, it is huge. This is a family home, and the rooms we are to see are in regular use. From time to time during the “open season” some rooms are closed off for public viewing. The wing that we look through has six bedrooms up stairs, those in each corner have a large bathroom off the bedroom, a dressing room off the bathroom, and a smaller bathroom off that, just in case one bathroom isn’t enough. Cynthea asks if the bedding is just for display, and is told everything we see is in use by the family and their guests. There is a lot of silverware to polish. As well as the bedrooms upstairs there is a chapel, a small dining room and a formal one. Every inch of wall space has a painting of family members down through the ages, these portraits are life size, and one wonders if they build on a new wing to accommodate new family members’ portraits, because there certainly doesn’t seem room to put any more. At the top of the grand staircase two portraits dominate the landing, they are those of Charles Spencer and Princess Diana. That of Charles Spencer is very realistic, and at first glance looks more like a photograph than a painting.

Back downstairs we pass through the library, with some 10,000 books in the room, through the large formal dining room and a lounge. There is a small shop here, with a taster of what the main shop has on offer, and as we leave there we see another dining room. Apparently you can order a flash afternoon tea, but it is fully booked today with a couple of coach tours. There is a poster advertising a Christmas afternoon tea, with champagne, just £42 per person! What a shame we will be back in NZ by then, so wont be able to go.

We had just finished viewing the house when we found out that Lord Spencer is in the shop autographing books, so we head off there to meet him. Cynthea has on her list of “things to do” to invite someone famous to NZ, so that is something else ticked off the list. He is very nice to talk to, and we ask for a photo after he has signed the book Cynthea bought (it is a copy of Lord Spencer’s speech at Diana’s funeral, £25, but very nicely bound). He says sorry, no photos inside because of insurance requirements, but he is due to head away in a few minutes, and if we catch him outside he might be able to oblige. He says he doesn’t “do” photos normally, because once it starts he finds it difficult to get away without seeming rude. We head out to get a coffee at the cafe, and think that perhaps he will sneak off, but he comes over to our table and says if the camera is ready, and we are quick we can take the photo. He quickly heads off after the photo is taken before someone else can nab him.

The estate is huge, 14,000 acres in three different counties - Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Norfolk. One wonders if they all hit him up for rates and taxes! The old stables are a very grand looking building, and have been converted to house a gift shop, café, and the Diana exhibitions. Souvenirs in the shop are tasteful and of good quality, made especially for the shop, and some are even reasonably priced. Charles Spencer has written a number of books, mostly on Althorp, but it is the bound copy of his speech given at Diana’s funeral that Cynthea chooses to buy. We have lunch, the food is good and not overpriced, however we have to eat indoors because a huge number of wasps tried to join us at our table outside. Bev is allergic, and Tony might be, the last time he was stung by a wasp was over 30 years ago, and his arm swelled up so much he could not get his shirt off for a couple of days.

We have a look around the exhibition where we see there are home movies on show, also momentos, photos, toys and scrapbooks from Diana’s childhood. “The” wedding dress is on display, but once again photographs are not allowed. Although it is not surprising that there are no photos of Prince Charles, we are surprised at the few photos featuring William and Harry. Another room highlights the many charities Diana was involved in. In the last exhibition there are many of the dresses and outfits Diana wore, and finally see wee some of the many, many tribute books sent to the family. Nearly 15 years on books continue to arrive.

The day is warm, but there are frequent showers, and there are huge black thunderclouds looming. During a dry, and sunny, spell we walk to the lake where the memorial to Diana is. Her tomb is on the island in the middle of the lake, though some believe her actual burial location to be elsewhere, and a closely guarded secret. It is a beautiful setting, none the less.

Cynthea, Darrel and Bev take the coach back to the gate, the driver says he is picking up more passengers from another gate first, so Tony says he will walk. There are not that many seats left, and they do say it is a priority for disabled and elderly, and the walk is a short one. At least the rain holds off, but there is some really loud thunder happening.

After we leave Althorp we visit the 800 year old Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, where Diana’s private family service was held. We leave our coats in the car when we go to the church, so you would expect Murphy’s law to kick it. It does, and the rain buckets down as we reach the church. Darrel goes back for the car to bring it closer so we wont all get wet, and the rain stops as he arrives. Typical, haha.

We head back to Brackley and then go to Banbury for tea at a Chinese restaurant. We thought it was going to be a buffet style meal, but instead you are presented with the menu and you choose which dishes you want brought to the table. You can have as many as you like from the starters, second courses, mains, rice and noodles, but once you start on desserts you cannot go back to the rest of the menu. Very reasonably priced at £15 each, and you are not allowed a doggy bag, haha. Fair enough, this is sure to cut back on a huge waste from people over loading plates when eating buffet style.

On Sunday Bev and Darrel are off to down south to visit children (and grandchildren), and will be away overnight. Cynthea needs to be back at work later that afternoon, so Tony will be left all on his lonesome. It will be a chance to catch up on editing photos, and writing the diary. There is also ancestry work to do. Tony put files on Cynthea’s phone, but she does not know how to access them, so instead he transcribes the documents for her, to email once he has a connection. It takes a while to do, and there a few words he cannot “decode”, so he prepares a file to send to the museum, hopefully they can help. There are also several files to go through from the Biggar Museum, and Tony spends time sorting those. Both that afternoon and the next day (Bank Holiday Monday) are wet, so he has an excuse not to venture out, other than to feed. Bev and Darrel came back briefly on Monday, but had to leave to visit Darrel’s mother, she is most unwell.

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