Saturday, July 27, 2013

To Britain

To Britain
My first travel tickets to Britain came tucked inside the pages of books.  There, midst black words on white pages, I was whisked away to a land where it was possible, after the merest sprinkling of fairy dust, to think wonderful thoughts and fly right out through one’s bedroom window on starry, moonlit nights.  It seemed that in Britain, parents employed nannies who either floated down through foggy skies holding on to nothing more substantial than parrot-head umbrellas or, for the luckiest children, were responsible Newfoundland dogs.  In Britain, I learned, it was possible to fall headfirst down a rabbit hole in one’s garden and land smack dab in the middle of a brightly colourful world where everyone was, quite pleasingly, mad.

When I got a bit older, books spirited me across the centuries where I met real Kings and Queens, poets and writers, musicians and artists, every one of whom ensnared my imagination with a permanent hold and served to make Britain utterly irresistible to this little girl from the South.  Then the day finally dawned when I realized it was possible to actually travel, in real time, to this land of my dreams.  That journey became my one wish, my pot of gold at the end of a rainbow of stories and tales that stretched back beyond remembrance.

One might be forgiven for expecting this confession to end in disappointment, for how frequently does one’s reality match one’s dreams in seamless perfection?  But fear not, romantics and dreamers alike, for Great Britain is every bit as wonderful as it appeared to be in the pages of Peter Pan.  Visit Lord Leighton’s magical home in Holland Park and you’ll realize Lewis Carroll’s imagination was not unique.  Wander the hills above Lake Windermere and you’ll have no doubt where Wordsworth got his ideas.   Take the ferry over the sea to Skye and you’ll find it easy to see Bonnie Prince Charlie sailing alongside you, despite his clever disguise.  Stand at the edge of the world in the ruins of Tintagel Castle with the sea spray in your hair, and you will know King Arthur must be much more than myth. Through many visits now, the sceptered isle continues to captivate and inspire me and each time I board the plane home I am already scheming a way to return.

My most recent trip proved no exception and I thought I’d share some new finds, just a little bit of my own quirky taste when it comes to Great Britain.  Of course it’s a given that one must see Westminster Abbey and Harrod’s Food Halls, but this short list is a little more off the beaten path, a little more eclectic, and perhaps it will capture your own imagination.  And if it does... well... it’s all just a plane ticket away, you know.
(The photo above, by the way, is Vita Sackville-West’s library at Sissinghurst.  Lots and lots of tickets to exotic places in there, I’m sure.)

1. The Three Chimneys Freehouse
There are so many treats to be found traveling through the British countryside on one’s own, little surprises tucked in along the side roads just waiting to be discovered.  Such was the case for this deliciously atmospheric pub just a stone’s throw from our bedroom at Sissinghurst Farmhouse in Kent.  It was almost dark when we entered, a navy blue sky streaked with painterly strokes of mauve and rose hung over our heads.  We pulled open the heavy old door and found ourselves in a cozy room where, to our delight, dog beds of every shape and size were tucked into corners, under tables and next to the ancient fireplace in which orange and red flames slowly flickered.  There were smiles all round, warm greetings for two strangers who were a bit worn out from the day’s adventures.  The food was amazing, the surroundings unbeatable.  
We loved it so much we ate there the next night.
Read about it HERE.

2. Charleston Farmhouse Gift Shop
As the story goes, dear Virginia Woolf used to love to walk the South Downs near her cottage in Rodmell, East Sussex.  She did so frequently and on one such walk, she happened to look far down below her and spied a charming farmhouse in the middle of an idyllic little valley.  She went home and wrote her sister, artist Vanessa Bell, telling her that she’d found the perfect country home for her.  And so she had.  Fortunate beyond belief, I wandered the rooms of Charleston Farmhouse this past May on a sunny afternoon, The Songwriter and I the only visitors present.  I’m still digesting the experience and will write about it soon, I know.  But in the meantime... the gift shop!  Oh my soul.  Simply the most tempting little room I’ve been inside in years.   The Fabrics! The Wrapping Paper!  The Books!  The Prints!  and The Ceramics!  One could lose one’s mind.  Do not miss it if you are anywhere near.
The fabric above was designed by Duncan Grant for the lounge of the Queen Mary, but never used. 
 Available exclusively from Charleston now. 
See more HERE

3. VV Rouleaux
In an area of London so evocative even the most pedestrian of imaginations finds it easy to suspend any attachment to the modern day, the shop of VV Rouleaux sits serenely on a corner.  You are to be forgiven if you stop stock still on the pavement in front of its windows.  They are that breathtaking.  In Springtime, silk butterflies float in the air, iridescent wings catching the light, their colours more tempting then candy.   You may find spiders in October, fat tarantula legs that beg to be entwined on a green velvet hat.  And Christmas, well, you can just imagine.  I have been visiting VV Rouleaux for years, for a meter or two of ribbon as sublime as any diamond necklace, for a handful of velvet leaves to adorn holiday gifts, for a cluster of flowers the precise colour of Edward’s white fur.  It is a shop known to make the hands of my watch spin; minutes become hours as though bewitched.  You must, simply must, visit.
See more HERE.

4. Middle Temple Hall 
When From the House of Edward was released last year, I was contacted by the lovely London writer/blogger, Jayne Ferst, requesting an interview.  Her questions were so much fun to answer and proved, even though we’d only met once before, she completely had my number.  (You can read that interview HERE.)  Naturally, I wanted to spend some time with her on this latest trip and when I wrote to say I was returning to London she told me she was taking me “someplace special”.... someplace I was sure to like.  So, on a chilly Saturday afternoon, we met at my hotel and made our way to Sloane Square station.  When we popped up along the Embankment near Fleet Street, I had no idea what to expect.  My anticipation peaked when we stopped before a large and ancient door.  A gentleman opened it, we stepped over the high threshold and, just like that, we were in the Elizabethan age.  Tudor buildings lined cobblestoned pathways and looked down on manicured gardens.  This was Middle Temple, one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call members to the English Bar.   A guide, perhaps a bit bored by the quiet Saturday afternoon, took us under his wing and gave us a private tour into rooms rarely seen by the public.  Such a treat. Of course the highlight was Middle Temple Hall itself with its glorious paneled walls and stunning windows.  I actually ran my hand along the twenty-nine foot wooden table, a gift to the Hall from Queen Elizabeth I.  Made from a single tree, it was floated down the Thames from Windsor Forest.  Can you imagine? 
 Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night premiered here in 1602! 
 Yes, I was giddy with delight at the whole experience.  
Try to arrange a visit if you can.
See more HERE.

5. Theatre
It is no secret that London theatre is different than American theatre.  Actors enter the stage already immersed in the play and the audience, loathe to break the spell, never roars with appreciation at their appearance.  The theatres themselves, being much older than ours, are therefore often smaller and provide a much more intimate connection with the play.  Such was our experience when we were fortunate enough to sit in the presence of Dame Judi Dench as she performed her role of Alice Hargreaves in the play Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre.  She was a marvel to watch and I’m so happy to have seen her in this new and rather difficult play. 
 It’s always fun to see the “big” shows of course.  The Lion King and Cats will always reap large and enthusiastic audiences.  But quiet plays with great actors?  Now that’s heaven.
(At present, I’m holding tickets in my hot little hands to see Vanessa Redgrave as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.  Needless to say, I’m thrilled.)
You can see what’s coming up on the London stage HERE.

6. Partridges
Often, when I’ve walked miles and miles during a London day, a restaurant meal just doesn’t appeal.  I long to pull on my pajamas and dine in the privacy of my room.  That’s when I stop off at Partridges on my way back to my hotel.  A family run market, Partridges carries only the best of everything.  I gather up the best yogurt, the best cheese, the perfect apple and... for those of you who, like me, crave a custard tart every time you happen to watch the British sitcom As Time Goes By.... the most scrumptious custard tarts known to man.  Lionel would be pleased. Those treats, along with the latest issues of Tattler, Vogue and Country Life, a bottle of sparkling water, and I’m totally set for the night.
See more about Partridges HERE.

7. The Draycott Hotel
Of course, for someone like myself, where I stay is a vital ingredient to the whole London experience.  No sleekly modern hotel for me.  No, I want to visualize Jane Marple knitting serenely in the corner of a sitting room.  I want fresh flowers.  Tea and biscuits in the afternoon.  I want access to a private garden, stairwells that twist and turn and beckon.  I want fluffy beds, soft pillows, and mugs of hot chocolate on a cold, windy night.  In other words, I want The Draycott Hotel.
I don’t exactly remember when I first discovered The Draycott, but it’s been “my” London hotel for years.  Just around the corner from John Sandoe Books (another favourite, must see location), The Draycott sits quietly in the maze of Victorian lanes just off Kings Road near Sloane Square.  I can easily walk to the V and A from here, easily walk to Harrod’s and, while cabs are plentiful just a stone’s throw away, I always feel like I’m heading home whenever I turn down the shady lane to the Draycott.  
I love everything about it.
Read more about it HERE.

I guess I should stop here, knowing full well how tiresome it can often be to hear a traveler prattle on about their latest adventures.  But.... if you’d like to hear more about Britain, leave a comment and let me know.  I’ll add some more in a few days if you’re interested!


  1. I love your taste and your finds. A hotel suited to Miss Marple, the library at Sissinghurst, all the treasures you share here. My reading often immerses me in England, a lovely place to travel, whether on a page or in person.

  2. I consider myself an Anglophile and yet, I don't know that much about England. I stayed in London for four days and enjoyed it, but I long to go to Bath and the Cotswalds. I need to think of it like you do; it really is just a plane ride away. I haven't been able to do much these last few days while waiting for bonney Prince George. It must really be a pivotal time for the royal family.

  3. More Britain? Yes, please, I want some more!

    Loving every word and picture of your trip. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you for such wonderful finds we can now explore as well. Seeing Judy Dench must have been extraordinary!

  5. Of course I am interested Pamela - any Briton loves to hear someone speak of their love of our country. I could say the same of my love of your country - we have spent so many happy times there.
    Next time you come here you should visit the Yorkshire Dales where we live.

  6. Such a super post!
    Yes, Britain has much to recommend it but I echo Weaver's thought that the US has much too offer too!

  7. I love your writing and the tour was wonderful. That Church is awesome.
    Judy Dench is a favorite of mine.
    If I ever get back to England I want to find where my Grand Mother lived in Sheffield and see area where King Arthur is supposed to have been from
    Congrats on The New Prince George.

  8. Thank you so much for this delightful trip to England. You lifted me right up from my morning doldrums and put down on that Emerald Green Island that I love so much. Made me want to go do my exercises and stay on my diet so I'll be able to walk and walk and walk. Please write more.
    Rose in Dayton, OH

  9. I love that old library. I've lived 3 years in England and visit most years and you've shown me some new places. I shall have to reference this next trip. A most timely post following the royal birth. Cheers!

  10. I love this post, and would love to hear more!

  11. Janis in ScotlandJuly 25, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    Hi - was visiting family in London around the time of your trip. You were in my thoughts when I saw the signature "Pamela" in the visitors' book at the Charles Dickens museum in Doughty Street and wondered if it might be you. If not, worth putting on the list for the next trip - very atmospheric despite slightly in-your-face staff. Another recommendation is Dr Johnson's House Museum in Gough Square. Thanks for your blog Pamela which I've enjoyed reading since the 'granny' referral from The Telegraph!

  12. Oh thank you so much for leading us away on the most wonderful escape from our daily doldrums!! I'm going to be in Normandy for several days this September and then ack to my favorite London!!! PLEASE do go on and write more~ we'd all love to hear!!!
    Barbara from Maryland

  13. Oh to be in England (no matter the time of year). These places sound truly enchanting. More, please.

  14. You found such glorious places and had memorable experiences on your latest visit to England and I really enjoyed hearing of them, some of course I had not heard of.

  15. Thank you, Pamela, for such a lovely post. Yes, please write more! We must share the same taste as I have visited a number of places you cited. Like you, I tend to choose a path of adventure rather than the well-trodden one. And also like you, my dog is a very big part of my life, a beloved beagle.
    Barbara W.

  16. Oh do tell more please! I can never get enough!

  17. Yes, please write more! Have you ever visited the Dennis Severs House in London? I've only seen it through the website and long to go in person.........alas.

  18. Yes, yes, yes!! Please, please, please! more!!

  19. I too am in love with London! am doing a clients house there in Chelsea Green, Walk by the hotel on my way to Harrods or VV Rouleaux. must see a few of the places you suggest, more please.

  20. I never tire of your descriptions of places across the pond!

  21. I am hoping to travel to London and Scotland sometime next spring. It will be my first trip to the UK, so I am bookmarking all of your suggestions. So much to do and see, I don't know quite where to begin. Your help is greatly appreciated.

  22. I just came back from London! I love it too and would enjoy hearing more of your favorite spots. I've been many times, but my friend brought me to some new places this time - Columbia Road flower market, Borough Market, and Leadenhall Market were fantastic. We tried to go to Dennis Sever's house (she's already been and loved it), but it's only open a couple of days a week. It definitely sounded like something you would like. I loved Dickens' house when I went years ago, and of course the museums are wonderful. I also have to wander around in Liberty of London when I get the chance. Sigh. And we went to Bexleyheath, Kent to see Red House (William Morris's house) So many wonderful places.

  23. No one, no one tells a story the way you do, Pamela. What a splendid post, enchanting me with every word.
    I love the food court & Partridge's, and the antique hunting and dressing up. Just fabulous!

  24. am i interested???
    oh i'm enthralled. i am an anglophile since my 13th year when a british friend of my mother brought her a stack of english magazines. i was literally hooked.
    like a little fish. never wanting to let go.
    and to stay in the epitome of 'bertram's hotel'... well...
    oh my dear. YES! more! more!!!
    please. xoxo

  25. Hi Pamela,
    Well, as I am English and adore my country, I love hearing of your travels in the UK. and you always wax lyrical about every place you visit.
    I have been to all of the places you have mentioned { apart from the pub, although I have been to MANY similar ones !! } I LOVE Lord Leighton's house and always recommend it as a must see, along with Dennis Sever's house of course.
    You never need worry that you post about your travels .... keep them coming. XXXX

  26. Further regarding our mutual interest in Charleston, I love the fabric designed by Duncan Grant for the Queen Mary. Wouldn't it make a lovely endpaper for one of the books published by Persephone? Or for anyone else's book for that matter. I would love to suggest to Persephone that they use the endpaper fabric designs for bookmarks to sell in their store .... unless by chance they already do that and I've just been asleep at the wheel. :-)

  27. Pamela,
    England is my favorite vacation spot and I haven't seen nearly all I hope to see. This list will be added to my list.
    It sounds like you and the songwriter had a wonderful time.
    Xo Karen

  28. It ws lovely to read of your experiences in Great Britian. We also have lovely memories and I would be please to share more of yours. Keep writing.
    Rosalie from Australia

  29. Dear Pamela, this could not be more timely. I am going to London in the fall and am taking notes here. In fact I will just print this entire post and take it with me on the trip. The Middle Temple! After reading Old Filth, I have to go there. And Twelfth Night having its first performance there! Tantalizing detail! And all the other treasures in this post. Thank you!!! And yes, I would like to hear more.
    xx Sunday

  30. A Time Goes By addict, I am so envious that you actually had a custard tart! Your other special treats are stored for a future visit to see dear UK dog friends and enjoy the unsung treasures you've found.

  31. Thanks to you and Jayne Ferst my husband and I now consider The Draycott to be 'our' hotel too!. If you are over in the summer I recommend trying to get tickets for whatever is on at the Regent's Park open air theatre. We were lucky enough to see To Kill a Mockingbird there in June and it was wonderful. Taking a canal boat from Little Venice past the zoo was a highlight also.

  32. I would walk a mile - in seldom worn 4" heels and my tuxedo suit - to see Dame Judy act in anything! We first saw her on the West End stage - The Palace Theatre in London - in 1968. She played Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" and, although not the strongest singer, her acting, and the little bit of huskiness in her voice, made us certain a future star was on that stage! She is a very special woman, and I have to say everything she has ever appeared in has been a joy to watch.

    Love the sound of Partridges, the pub, know the beauty found in VV R's, and my long ago London uncle took me for a drink in his club in the Inns of Court - I was 20 and on my first visit home to England via that original Queen Mary where Duncan Grant's fabric sadly was never used!

    Well this post certainly brought back memories for me Pamela - and as always was a joy to read.

    Thanks and hugs - Mary

  33. I love, "As time goes by'.Watched it last night with Choc. chip Yogurt

    I was disappointed with the
    Selfridge show. The lead Piven just did nothing for me. He just didn't seem to fit the part. That's the way I saw it.

  34. No such thing as 'prattle' when it comes to Great Britain. I can never read enough.

  35. Keep them coming..I am loving them all! I have been in and out of blogging...but when the sun sets, a beer is in hand after a day in the garden and I look out to the mountain, I think of dear Pamela and her latest musings. Thank you for your tweet...a loaded question! Each day, I promise myself I will write about life at Tahilla and at the end of each day, I think 'tomorrow'. I look forward to sharing a beer here with you one day...I think you will 'get it' too. xxx

  36. The best of Britain, Pamela... and I hope you return very soon... :) xv

  37. Hi Pamela,what a delight to read your lovely post about all things British. Especially so because I'm the buyer and manager of the Charleston gift shop. I'm a huge craft and vintage fan and I love a little bit of thrift thrown in the mix too. If you have time take a look at my personal blog.


  38. I love Partridges and am lucky that there is one in the close market town of Burford. I remember buying the biggest artichokes there last summer. They were like a meal in one. So yummy!

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