In the footsteps of a king, and a bloke from round my way

Cardinal Wolsey and puss with a fan

Cardinal Wolsey and puss with a fan - Credit: Archant

I have been able to rule a line through one of items of my bucket list.

Shame it’s called that. A bucket is so utilitarian.

Anyhow, what I did was visit Hampton Court. I was brought up in Thomas Wolsey’s Ipswich... I may not have put that well. I do not mean I am his contemporary, we are two people, separated by three centuries, with the same birthplace.

Poor Tom (I can call him that as we’re virtually related), was Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor but fell from grace and died in Leicester. Wolsey built Hampton Court for himself and then generously bequeathed it to the King (the King may have taken it). But I’ve always been keen to see the palace my fellow townsman built.

Until comparatively recently, Wolsey had a bad press but he has been rehabilitated thanks to historians and Wolf Hall, the first novel in Hilary Mantel’s weighty trilogy about Thomas Cromwell.

With the benefit of hindsight, Wolsey might have preferred to flee to the continent and live quietly in a French monastery rather than getting politically involved with England’s most famous serial husband.

We set off at 7am to avoid the Saturday traffic. The Saturday traffic also set off at 7am. Leaving the London orbital at junction 9, we quickly found out why the AA route planner had recommended coming off at junction 10. A road was closed and diversions were in place. A big illuminated display read: “Follow the diversions, not your sat nav”. There was obviously an issue here.

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We arrived at the historic royal palace before opening time. Parking was £1.50 an hour but having come from a town where the car park nearest to M&S is £3 an hour, it seemed a reasonable deal.

Our son, daughter-in-law and grandson were meeting us there later so we spent the morning exploring the Tudor parts. Of the Palace. In Wolsey’s apartments several blocked doors bore the legend “this doorway led to Wolsey’s gallery”. The gallery itself wasn’t there. We suspect Sir Christopher Wren did away with it when he built the extension. The guidebook might have told us more but we were too mean to buy one. (see cafeteria, right)

Henry VIII’s part of the palace was much more grand; the dining hall hung with tapestries and the ornate chapel where the king sat on a balcony overlooking the nave. I like to think I have communed with Henry’s special place. And that was enough history for one day.

We met up with Caitlin, Mark and little George in the cafeteria... a cafeteria, I might add in which my chicken escalope and chips, bottle of diet Coke and bottle of sparkling elderflower cost £16.50. A King’s ransom.

George went straight from crawling to running. While his mum and dad did the Tudor tour, grandpa and I supervised his running. He ran ahead and then ran back, collecting a stick on the way. Hither and thither he ran, enthralled by the swans and cygnets on the water, the heron strutting along in slow motion, the moorhen and her chicks. It was all so thrilling George broke his stick.

We bought ice creams. George was initially suspicious and took a dim view of his wafer which he encouraged to slither from his mouth. While he worked out the correct ice-cream cone etiquette, I was on stand-by with baby wipes for his face, hands, arms, legs, hair, T-shirt and so forth.

The rest of them went into the maze. I don’t like them (mazes, that is). Years ago, when my family went into the Longleat maze I thought I would never see them again. I read most of a novel while the children followed their father’s infallible maze-negotiating “system”.

With a famous maze like the one at Hampton Court, I thought they’d be gone ages but they were triumphantly back in 10 minutes. It looked as if the system had finally worked.

And so at the end of a happy day we said our goodbyes and drove off in different directions.

“I wonder why they’ve gone that way,” said my husband.

Twenty minutes later, as we met the sign warning us of the London congestion charge, we realised we’d gone the wrong way. In fact, incurring the London congestion charge is also on my bucket list but I don’t want to whizz through all that excitement too quickly.