I am so sad to say goodbye to The Queen. She has been a constant presence in all of our lives here in England, having reigned for 70 years and overseeing governments run by Churchill to Boris. I know the concept of monarchy is seen as outdated by many, and I don’t disagree that the history is difficult, but I am still a royalist. The Queen gave her life in service to this country and I am very sad she is no longer here. It is a huge loss to this country, and watching her funeral today was definitely emotional for me and for many others.
So it felt fitting this week to post about my trips to Sandringham – the last being on a glorious day just a few weeks ago, in August. And I’m referring to it as The Queen’s House, as it was when I visited.
A Summer visit
Sandringham is about a 1.5hr drive from my house and it’s famous for being the Queen’s retreat, where she spent every Christmas and in the jubilee year I thought there was no time like the present to visit again. Little did I know just a few weeks later she would no longer be here.
My tickets were for 10.20am but I was running late. On the way, 2 cows had decided to set up home for the day in the middle of the road and I couldn’t get through causing a longer than I would have liked detour. When I finally arrived at Sandringham, the road was closed because the tarmac had melted in the heat making it impassable. I turned up at 10.35am flustered, sweaty and overheated.
I looked at my phone – it was 34 degrees (93F). The UK is built for temperatures between 10-20 degrees. When it’s too cold we have warnings to stay in and stay warm. When it’s snowing we don’t go in to school or work because we get warnings it’s too dangerous on the roads. And when it’s too hot…well, we all receive an amber warning to stay indoors as the roads were melting.
And so, to a virtually empty Sandringham I arrived.
I registered my car at the kiosk for free parking (‘oh you were brave driving today, I heard people’s steering wheels were melting’….WTH kind of cars do people have?), and then hurried in to the grounds. The house appeared on the horizon – wow. I can see why the Queen liked it here.
I explored the gardens, enjoying the North formal gardens (my only company was a pigeon walking round in circles…must have been the heat), the Lawns and a walk around Alexandra’s Nest – a beautiful big lake outside the house. Alexandra was the first Queen to call this place home, when King Edward VIII purchased the house in 1862 for himself and his wife.
Since then, it’s been the private home of generations of British Monarchs. Unlike most Palaces (e.g. Buckingham, Windsor), Sandringham is personally owned by the Queen herself, not the Crown. The Queen spent about two months each winter on the Sandringham Estate, including the anniversary of her father’s death and of her own accession in early February. In 1957, she broadcast her first televised Christmas message from Sandringham. In 1977, to mark her Silver Jubilee, the Queen opened the house and grounds to the public for the first time and today we can all still visit.
It was time to escape the heat and head inside. No photos are allowed, but it was lovely. Much less grand than Windsor and much more like a very posh house. They had the little Paddington Bear/Marmalade Sandwich sketch from the Jubilee earlier in 2022 set up in one of the rooms which made me smile, and I loved all the family photos everywhere.
Back in to the heat I headed to St Mary Magdalene Church, where the Queen attended church on Sundays and Christmas Day when in residence. It’s a beautiful little church.
A final walk round the grounds brought me to a temporary art installation of beautiful blue butterflies everywhere. I really liked it, and as I felt the sun on my face I smiled.
Before I left I went to the restaurant to have some lunch. It was empty, apart from an American couple by the window – of course I was directed to sit right next to them. The lady was lovely, oooing and ahhhing at everything from the place mats to the spoons. She ordered a cup of English tea and when it arrived poured it straight from the pot in to her cup (not realising the silver strainer was to get the leaves out), and then complained it was ‘full of bits, English tea sucks’. The man had ‘the most beautiful toast he’d ever seen’ (it was just some toast) and they sat there cooing that they wished they could be English and ‘see the Queen regularly’.
It made me sad actually at the time as I thought ‘she won’t be here much longer’. So many people love her and I think she has given her life to serving this country. I’m glad she could find somewhere to call home and be peaceful at Sandringham.
I headed back to my car. The steering wheel hadn’t melted.
A Winter Visit
On my previous visit to Sandringham, in December 2020, the steering wheel was unmanageable for another reason. It was so cold I needed gloves.
For goodness sake Hannah, why are we going out at night in the freezing cold in mid-December, the roads will be icy and dangerous – proclaimed my husband. Yes darling, we might be in danger…but then again we might not, and we might even have a nice time, I replied.
So off we drove to head to the Christmas lights trail at Sandringham, Luminate. It was a lovely trail, full of light installations to enjoy on a 1hr round loop of a walk around the estate. As the Queen was in residence, there was no way of getting close to the house let alone seeing inside – but the gardens are so big it didn’t matter.
The gardens and park at Sandringham are over 600 acres and are maintained by a large number of staff. Sandringham is somewhere the Queen, and the Royal Family for generations before, have liked to hunt – the boxing day pheasant shoot is famous. Recently Sandringham faced a hunting scandal when a protected bird, a little owl, was killed on the Estate. It will be interesting to see if future generations continue hunting in these grounds.
Anyway I digress. Also on offer were lots of glow sticks, and marshmallows to roast on open fires, and some little stalls selling nice things. I bought my grandpa a postcard and some lemon curd, and myself some gin (I know, I know). My husband moaned about how cold it was for a few hours, but cheered up when we bought some food.
I had a really nice time. And in the end we decided to extend the evening by stopping at a festive looking pub on our way home – The Dabbling Duck. The perfect way to warm up on a cold night.
Sandringham is beautiful to visit in any season and is a special place. I’m glad the Queen had so many happy times and memories here, and I can’t believe my visit in August was my last with the Queen still alive. Rest in Peace, Your Majesty.