A right royal trip to regal Kingston SUE CARR
Follows in the footsteps of King Henry VIII
“WE’LL just go in here, so that you can say you’ve been, but it’s very simple,” says Harris of Hampton Court Maze in author Jerome K Jerome’s account of a boating holiday on the Thames.
I, like scores of visitors before me I’m sure, assumed the claim that it took them hours to get out was added for comedic effect. Forty-five minutes later, as I broke into a run to follow a child who had confidently yelled “mum, this way” I could only apologise for doubting the Three Men In A Boat and began to sympathise with them instead.
Thanks to boy wonder – I owe you one – I got to the centre point shortly afterwards. The ‘fast exit’ sign probably didn’t exist in 1889 but it was a welcome sight.
One of the most famous, if not the most famous maze in the world, you can’t visit without giving it a whirl.
It sits in 60 acres of spectacular gardens which hosted a pop-up cinema while we were there and every summer is home to the worldfamous Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
But be sure to leave plenty of time to explore the palace as well, an imposing structure on the banks of the River Thames befitting the former home and reportedly the favourite royal residence of King Henry VIII.
Henry’s story, the subject of BBC drama The Tudors, is one of the sexier ones in British history. But even if you’re not a history buff, it’s told in an engaging and interactive way with character actors and regal cloaks to wear (adults too!) as you wander around the grounds.
The palace is also home to England’s oldest surviving real tennis court where Henry once played as a young man.
Visitors during the summer months can watch games from the viewing gallery.
Fancy a match? It might set you back a fair whack but it still operates as a private members’ club with past presidents including the rather splendidly named Sir Spencer Cecil Brabazon Ponsonby-Fane.
By and large, my trips to London are confined to the city, so it’s nice to discover a less hectic side.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Surbiton – a pretty, half-hour walk along the river from Kingston which has a bustling centre with an impressive range of shops and places to eat.
We chose Cote, a French brasserie with good food and friendly service and on a warm evening a lovely place to sit outside in the light of Kingston Bridge.
After a hard day’s sightseeing at Hampton Court, the next day we caught the short boat cruise back to Kingston – Turk Launches run them regularly both ways – and ate at the hotel’s ‘curry club’ which takes place every Friday night.
You might be in a hotel restaurant but with aching feet there’s something to be said for knowing that you’ve only got to stagger back as far as your room.
The other selling point, of course, is that it was delicious. Dishes are cooked to traditional Delhi recipes and served by friendly and knowledgeable staff with impeccable attention to detail – music and decor as well as the food.
We ended the weekend with another meal that Henry VIII himself would have been proud of – a sumptuous champagne afternoon tea at nearby Warren House.
Once home to the local aristocrats, it is now hired out for events and is a popular wedding venue.
We ate our tiny sandwiches on the terrace, looking out on to the beautiful grounds and you can see why so many people choose to get married there.
With so many holiday deals about, it’s sometimes easy to forget what’s almost on your doorstep.
I say almost because you still have to do battle with the M25.
Drive or get the train but make sure you pay a visit to Hampton Court and this palace of a place.
Kingston market is one of the many attractions worth a visit
●● Hampton Court Palace. Above right, Turks’ cruise and Warren House
●● Kingston marketplace