Queen Victoria: “We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist.”
Reality set in on Friday. Our fifteen day trip to England had started out rolling along smoothly … well, okay, “fairly” smoothly … but now the wheels threatened to come off. The reason? Common, ordinary, we’ve-all-been-there, it-gets-worse-as-you-get-older, fatigue. The long hybrid travel day of TueWednesday, followed by the urban walkathon on Thursday, which climaxed with a gratuitous drenching in the streets of Windsor late that night, all contributed to the state of dormancy I awoke to on Friday. My tried and true antidote for lethargy – a five mile run, this time along the Long Walk from the castle to the copper horse and back – failed miserably, and I arrived in the breakfast room that morning intent on doing nothing the rest of the day. But knowing Elizabeth R’s resilience in England, I would happily settle for doing next to nothing.
As I set about operating the French press to prepare my first three cups of coffee for the day, Elizabeth R chatted with chef Stuart about the prospects for our visiting Frogmore. I didn’t have any clue as to the difference between Frogmore and Kermit the Frog, but I didn’t much like the sounds of this. Something about gardens, fallen down buildings, and dead people. Fortunately, from the snippets of their conversation that I could overhear, Stuart did not appear sanguine about our prospects. Maybe instead, I might get to visit my own special place of interest, “Nap-more.”
Little did Ol‘ P realize, but one of my primary reasons for proposing Frogmore for Friday’s excursion was, pure and simple, exhaustion. See, we do agree on some things. While Ol’ P was on his run and I was smelling delicious aromas wafting upwards from the breakfast room, I was doing some stationary exploring on the Web. I had known of Frogmore in my vague, Anglophiliac kind of way, but a book about Queen Victoria I had recently finished alerted me to the fact that Frogmore was in Windsor. How had I been here 6 times and failed to notice a huge site of Victorian – everything?
Not only, said the National Trust’s website, did Frogmore possess grand formal gardens and a lake, but there was a magnificent stately home and, best of all, a RUIN. It was a Gothic ruin of a temple, and it had been one of Queen Vic’s favorite spots for sneaking off for a quiet afternoon of reading. It also was the home of Queen Victoria and her beloved consort Prince Albert’s mortal remains, in the separate and impressively elegant Mausoleum. I did read on the website that the Mausoleum was closed for all of 2013, but I felt just the tiniest twinge of regret. There was so much more, and it was all right there in Windsor.
Victoria’s Gothic Ruin.
Probably Not As much Furniture Here, So I Can Probably Deal With Touring This
Stuart patiently and courteously tried to dissuade Elizabeth R from her quest to view the ruins by the frog pond in Frogmore, but I knew he hadn’t a chance to win this one. There are times when Elizabeth R’s English brand of logic (ruins rule the day) carries more weight than a Churchill authored argument, and during those times, Stuart, it’s best to just get out of the way and prepare to follow. Elizabeth R would not be forbidden Frogmore!
Stuart‘s polite attempts to thwart my plans were simple. He said that as far as he knew, and he went online to check to be sure, Frogmore was only open to the public 4 days a year, none of them being this particular Friday. I thanked him, and ignored him. How could it be possible, said I to myself, that such a marvel of English history, with it’s own website and owned by the National Trust, be closed 361 days a year.
Left unsaid in Elizabeth R’s reasoning, but not unnoticed by the men in the room, was the fact that she really wanted to see those ruins. Fearing that Stuart might conclude that he was unsuccessful in providing us with proper guidance, I gave him the opportunity to solve a mystery for me. I mentioned that I had been prevented from running all the way to the castle by some sort of construction near the gates, but due to the early morning darkness I couldn’t tell what was happening. What was the problem? Were the pipes from the royal outhouse in need of repair?
Stifling a grimace at such a suggestion, Stuart advised us that the “construction” was of a coronation arch that would be unveiled the very next day as part of the “coronation arch unveiling ceremony,” or some such thing. Apparently this arch had been assembled from a gi-normous number of willow branches, and later this very day would be decorated by a similar number of roses. Adjacent to the arch were five, disease resistant, elm tree saplings whose containers would be similarly festooned with roses. I had to admit that all of this would probably smell a whole lot better than broken outhouse pipes. Meanwhile, across the table, Elizabeth R was becoming glassy eyed at the thought that HM Queen Elizabeth II might actually be in attendance at the unveiling, and if so, so would we. We HAD to check this out! With that, my hopes for a lengthy nap began to evaporate.
The Coronation Arch Nearing Completion – Woven Of Willows, Each Of The Six Sections Represents A Decade Of HM Queen Elizabeth’s Rule
Craftily telling Stuart that we were off for a gentle walk – not wanting him to know that I had spurned his advice – we set off for Frogmore. I had ascertained that in August and September (I had done my homework, after all) access to Frogmore was through Shaw’s Farm Gate on Albert Road. I, of course, had no idea where that was, other than it was in Windsor, but Ol’ P naturally had that under control. Albert Road bisected Ol‘ P’s running route on the Long Walk, so we left the Great Park and set off on a narrow sidewalk that offered scant protection from the heavy traffic whizzing by. On our left was a tall brick wall, offering not the slightest peek into what I was sure was the glory of the Frogmore House grounds and gardens.
Shaw’s Farm Gate did provide an opening in the wall, but, as Ol’ P pointed out, it did look a trifle….deserted. Undaunted, I strode up to the guard’s station, where an older gentleman was engrossed in his magazine.
“Good morning,” I cheerily commenced, “Are the house and gardens open today?” I already had a pretty good idea of what he was going to say.
“Oh, no, Madam. They are only open 4 days a year.” (I will listen to your advice from now on, I silently promised Stuart.) “After all, it is a royal residence that is constantly in use, and they are at home.”
“Of course,” said I, “How silly of me.” And then, trying to prolong the conversation just a bit, I asked if he had heard if Her Majesty would be in attendance at the opening of the Coronation Arch.
“It’s possible, Madam. The Queen has 5 events scheduled for Saturday, (he knew this – how cool is that?) and no one knows in advance which she will actually attend.”
“Security,” I replied, as we both nodded sadly at the state of the world. But as I thanked him and returned to Ol’ P, I gleefully thought, “Yesss – a 20% chance!”
So, no Frogmore, but a lovely walk in Windsor. Anyway, I later discovered that Queen Vic’s beloved “Gothic Ruin” had in fact been built by architect James Wyatt in the late 1700’s – and built AS A RUIN. I felt just the tiniest bit betrayed.
You know, folks, if builders at home intentionally built something as a ruin, they might have to look for another line of work. I’m not sure that I’ll ever figure out this country, England. Anyway, having satisfied ourselves that no more information could be obtained about either Frogmore or the Saturday ceremony, Elizabeth R and I headed into town for the obligatory shopping that one must do while on vacation. Each of us had things we needed or wanted to purchase, but the absolute top of my list was a waxed cap. I had been caught in enough English showers in the first three days to realize that my cream colored cotton covering afforded my barren skull insufficient protection from the elements, and an upgrade was in order. Besides, I thought that a waxed cap might make me appear to be a bit more sophisticated, and I need all the help I could get in that department.
Being a town inviting of tourists, Windsor had an extensive shopping district. As Elizabeth R sampled various stores, quickly identifying and purchasing what she needed, I furtively stalked the elusive waxed cap. I am not a shopper by nature, but I do have one hard and fast rule: unless desperate, never ask for help. If I can’t find the item on my own, then I generally interpret that as proof that I really shouldn’t buy it. I guess you could say that, like Elizabeth R, I sometimes employ my own brand of “logic.” And that’s what happened on Friday with the waxed cap. I didn’t buy it because I couldn’t find it … but, also like Elizabeth R, I am not easily deterred. The hunt shall continue! First, however, it’s time for that nap.