It’s Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll’s 90th year with her second official birthday on 11 June, so the next few months are a particularly good time to do a Royal-themed trip to Great Britain.
I haven’t been to London in forever and visiting in a year that marks an auspicious occasion, such as HM The Queen’s BIG birthday, was an incredible experience. Spring has sprung and London is in full bloom – summer is imminent, the atmosphere is festive and one is constantly aware of the passion the British folk feel for their monarch with events, parties, menus and teas dedicated to her.
So it was that I arrived at Heathrow and hit the ground running…
Let’s begin in Windsor where I was fortunate enough to be when the Queen turned 90 on 21 April. I was among the throngs of people who cheered Her Majesty on as she edged down Castle Hill in a stately classic Bentley, giving the royal wave. What a moment to be able to witness it all, so close it felt personal. Windsor Castle, where the Queen spends a great deal of weekend time, has been a Royal residence for almost 1 000 years and it’s a splendid palace indeed. It’s one of the oldest occupied working palaces in the world, employing approximately 500 people. The castle has a superb line-up of events throughout the year, with something to suit everyone and loads for the children to enjoy – like activity trails, craft classes and dress-up games.
In London, an hour away by bus, I joined the masses lining up to watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. I’d never seen it and when I first heard, then saw the Palace Guard striding smartly towards the Palace Gates in their red and black finery to the accompaniment of the stirring brass band, I got very caught up in the traditional flair, pomp and ceremony.
If you feel like taking in some beautiful art, walk around the corner from the palace to The Queen’s Gallery, where two wonderful exhibitions – the Scottish Artists and Maria Merian’s Butterflies – are both running until October 2016. For a complete change of scenery, do a walkabout of the Tower of London, with its gruesome history and raven superstitions and pose for a selfie with a Beefeater. The Tower is a stunning historical landmark, circa 1066, and at one end overlooks the Tower Bridge that straddles the Thames. The Crown Jewels in the Jewel Tower are spectacular, and the largest diamond in the world, discovered in Pretoria (viva SA!) in 1905, is magnificently poised on top of the Royal scepter – the Great Star of Africa.
A visit to Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly is an event in itself, with six floors of everything you could wish for. Why not take home one of Her Majesty’s favourite things (look for the Royal Warrant on products she has endorsed), like the Highgrove Organic Clotted Cream Biscuit Tin, shortbread that’s reputed to melt in your mouth. Children can amuse themselves and build their very own sundaes in F&M’s in-house ice cream parlour while their parents work the plastic. Personally I was drawn to the Launer handbags, Ghurka luggage range and Floris perfumes, but for obvious exchange rate constraints, settled for a divine F&M shopper. All that retail therapy is bound to make one ravenous, so tea at The Rubens at the Palace in Westminster where their special Royal Afternoon Tea Experience will delight. A sumptuous three-tiered offering awaits of sweet and savoury pastries and delicate finger sandwiches, Lanson champagne and an array of loose-leafed teas, including another iconic SA brand, Rooibos.
Before dinner, a Dubonnet and gin cocktail is essential as it’s Her Majesty’s favourite tipple. Enjoy one in the Leopard Bar at the Rubens and, afterwards, book a table for an early dinner at The Ten Room in the plush Hotel Café Royal on Regent Street. Perhaps a ballet or opera performance afterwards at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden would be the perfect end to a fabulous evening.
On the Queen’s second “official” birthday on Saturday 11 June, the spectacular annual Trooping of the Colour procession will head down the Mall before the Queen appears to inspect Her troops. This is pageantry, pomp and ceremony at its finest. Also exciting is the 41-gun salute in Green Park scheduled for the same day. And don’t forget that this year also marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death so a visit to the Bard’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon is a fine idea, or catch one of his plays on the boards at The Globe in Bankside.
If you have time and want to venture further into the realm, get yourself to Edinburgh, a stunning city. Why not include a visit on Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, berthed at Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh. What a treat to see this majestic vessel that was home to the Queen and Royal Family at various times over some 40 years. What I loved was seeing how homely the interior was, once again proving that while Her Majesty is the uber Royal, her taste appears to be unfussy and in no way ostentatious. Our own Nelson Mandela was entertained on the yacht many years ago, following in the footsteps of other great guests like Winston Churchill. (More about Edinburgh on a Sawubona blog to follow).
So if you’re up for a trip to Great Britain, these are a few options to inspire you and make your adventure a truly memorable one, in this most auspicious Royal celebratory year. Long live the Queen!
For information go to the Visit Britain website.