Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010 "My Vicar of Dibley" and "To The Manor Born" Moments

Arundel Castle where they filmed parts of The Young Victoria
I seem to be seeing scenes from all the British comedies and Masterpiece Theater programs, and English period piece movies I have ever watched.

This village shop looked like it was straight out of Harry Potter.
Today, I took the train from Victoria Station to Arundel. The village of Arundel is about an hour and a half southwest of London and very close to the coast. I was reminded of this because the sound of the sea gulls screeching and fighting echoed all over town, and the humidity level was through the roof!  This area of England is called the South Downs.  I guess it got this name because the land literally rolls down to the sea. There was chalk under those hills. I saw it peeking through on some cliffs. Arundel Castle is still the home of the Howard family who have been one of the most powerful families in English History. One of Henry the Eighth's wives was a Howard.  The Howards have always been staunch Catholics. In fact, one of the Lords of Arundel (they all seemed to be named Thomas Howard) was declared a martyr because he refused to suppress his faith.  This didn't sit well with some king, probably Horrible Henry, so he had Thomas Howard executed. The church quickly had him declared a martyr to the faith and then a saint.

The castle was a true military fortress built in 1067 to protect Norman England from invaders. Vikings? The French?  All the history was starting to swim around in my head! But, because it was built for defense, not cultural shock and awe like Windsor, it looked just like you would think a castle would look like. Thick walls, narrow arrow slits, towers, turrets, a castle close, and incredibly narrow spiral stair cases. You know those movies that show the Anglo-Saxon peasants running up and down the towers trying to defend the castle from invaders. Well, I don't think any running took place on those staircases! I was holding both walls for balance and looking carefully to make sure my foot made it onto the tiny pie shaped stair! Running was not even a question!

To get to the castle, we had to walk up and around a steep hill. I couldn't see the town or any paved roads. There were just tall trees, tall grass, and chirping birds. At one point, pictures from illuminated manuscripts of the Medieval peasants going about their work for each season popped into my mind's eye. It was so easy to picture. For a second I saw my own foot in wool stockings and pointy leather shoes! And, then the image was gone.

The other part of the castle has been lived in continually by the Howard family. It really looked like our image of a rich British family's ancestral manse. Very grand. But of course, since it was so gorgeous, we lowly tourist were not allowed to take any pictures!  It had it's own private chapel which was peaceful, serene and oh so expensive. The chapel had individual chairs instead of pews, since it was a family chapel.  After all, they weren't going to invite the locals in to worship services!  There was also a long hall filled with family portraits from the last thousand years, and finally, a gorgeous long library. The library was paneled in dark English walnut and even still smelled faintly of pipe tobacco. The west side of the room was filled with gigantic floor to ceiling windows each with it own private reading nook.  Quite the thing, I imagine, on a cool Autumn afternoon.  It was quite easy to picture myself as a Victorian lady of the manor, in a crimson velvet dress, worrying about the servants and the roses and trying to decide on a suitable husband for my daughter.  I've always thought I would fit right into A Room With A View. 

Cornflowers and Poppies
The gardens were fittingly fabulous. They were filled with a huge variety of salvias. That surprised me. I always think of salvias as hot climate, low water flowers.  In the kitchen gardens they had planted a large patch of fragrant  strawberries.  The scent was absolutely intoxicating.  I felt very tempted to steal just a couple of strawberries right off from the plants.  But my favorite part was a section of the garden that they had skillfully seeded with English wildflowers. There were daisies, blue corn flowers, poppies, and nasturtiums all mixed together and almost as tall as me! Gorgeous! I just wanted to send all the tourists home and lay down in my field of cornflowers.

Fields, hedgerows, and clouds.  Ahhh!!!
Because the castle was built on hill and the village was small, there were breathtaking views from every direction. In the distance were hills covered with a patchwork of fields in varying shades of gold and green. Each of the fields was separated by hedgerows and dotted with sheep and cattle. I kept thinking that the scene looked awfully familiar, but I couldn't think why. Suddenly, it occurred to me that it looked just like the English countryside they show at the beginning and the end of "The Vicar of Dibley." I wondered if it was the same place? It was beautiful, pastoral, and peaceful. I really need to learn some more adjectives!

On the way back to London, I realized that I only have a few more days left until I have to go home. Sad! But I am looking forward to air conditioning, large glasses filled to the brim with ice, and my own soft sheets and squishy pillows.


The private quarters of Arundel Castle where the Howard family still lives.  We were not invited into this section of the castle!

The River Arun and the surrounding countryside

Arundel Cathedral - in the village, not the castle.

Isn't he gorgeous!!!  The guy's not too bad, either.

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