Hampton Court

July 6, 2008 at 6:08 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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What can you say about Hampton Court? It is impressive in scale and the remnants of its former glory are scattered throughout. It is big but not so big, it is grand but not so grand and it is interesting but not so interesting.

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Hampton Court’s most famous resident is arguably King Henry VIII after he kicked out Cardinal Wolsey and the Catholic Church. Wolsey’s residence had even competed with the King’s as the finest residence in England. Henry and his successors have since built and demolished various wings of the grounds. In later years the building lost its position as a centre of Royal activities and fell into some disrepair.

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Canal near Hampton Court. You can take a boat from/ to London.

Queen Victoria opened the building to the public on Sundays for free and it’s since become a tourist attraction for the nation. The fact that it used to be free (granted only on Sundays) meant that paying for a ticket seems somehow wrong.

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The main square with it’s astonomical clock and Tudor period characters. 


Halfway from the gate to the Palace is the gift and ticket shop. Complimentary with your ticket is an audio guide. After purchasing your ticket you can go left into some of the gardens or into the main Palace. At this point I got confused. No not between straight and left but where the audio guides came from. After a bit of a wander I came across the information office. Getting into line I overheard one of the attendants saying they were out of guides and with that, I left the line and set out on my own.


Normally, I’m prone to using audio guides as they often provide texture and anecdotes that give a place life. In the end, I was quite happy to get through quickly with only the smallest sliver of text in each room. Watching people with the guide in various stages of sitting, standing or slouching while waiting for it to finish underscores that sometimes you can have too many anecdotes and they start to negatively impact on the experience. 


There also appeared to be a few guided tours as well, some lead by characters in Tudor period costumes and others by modern staff. I feel as though I received a decent overview of the Palace and its history through the display in the rooms near the audio guide shop, which gave me more time to wander through the building and surrounds.


The rooms on the ground floor are comparatively less impressive than the high ceiling and artwork on the second. By chance, I’d started on the ground and so when I finally climbed the stairs and looked out and up and I was duly impressed by the staterooms. The Tudor kitchens may not be a finely decorated stateroom but they are equally massive and quite interesting. Throughout the many rooms set aside to prepare the meals for the Royal Household, the servants, courtiers and hangers on the palace museum has helpfully put out lots of herbs and fresh produce to provide a wonderful aroma. They also cook but I missed this particular activity!


Part of the kitchens is a dark wine cellar (just opposite the entrance to yet another gift shop – this one focuses on traditional foods). Apparently this is the spot for gay couples to make out (probably the same in Henry’s day too), meanwhile at the back of the church was a straight couple making out.


One of the most famous features of Hampton Court is its maze. As a child I remember coming here, thinking the maze was cool, and there was a real possibility of getting lost. Whether they’ve changed the layout or it’s just the eyes of an adult, getting lost is never an option in this maze. For the most part, you’ll follow a winding path with only a few sidetracks that quickly come to dead ends and within a few minutes you are out after making a slight detour to the centre. The maze was a complete let down.

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Almost the width of the maze and it’s centre.  


The maze is situated within the Palace gardens. These are quite relaxing and I spent an enjoyable time going through them. Heading back to the main entrance from the maze you’ll walk through the Rose Garden and depending on the time of year you will see and smell a wide range of the titular roses.

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The Rose Garden.

At the back of the Palace is the Great Fountain Garden. Oddly enough, it features a fountain and again is quite pleasant. A traditional tennis court is also located in a building in this these gardens so you may have the opportunity at watching the old rules in action – it’s no Wimbledon!

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The final sets of Gardens are those around the Privy Garden with its statutes, flowers and fountain and large vine covered walkway.

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Next to the Privy Gardens are more gardens that are formal and the Great Vine – longest vine in the world and the Orangery building, which is currently featuring some Roman artwork.


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The Vine and greenhouse on the Left and The Orangery on the right.

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According to the brochure, there are any number of activities going on at Hampton. It’s excellent that they are making the effort to make the experience a well-rounded one. I’m glad I came and visited  but if I’m honest I’d say that’s just so I can cross it of my list. At the end of the day, it was pleasant and reasonably engaging but for the admission price, train ticket and commuting time, I was not enthused. Or rather one is not enthused.

More photos on Flickr.

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