A Fascinating Tour of the Historic Heart of Trinity College Cambridge

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” ~ Sir Isaac Newton

Monday 25th June was an important date in my diary. My job was to take my younger son, William, to visit Trinity College Cambridge for an Arts Open Day. The invite had come via his school, and I was determined that he shouldn’t miss the opportunity to get an idea of what it might be like to study at one of the most respected universities in the UK, if not the world.

Trinity College – the Great Court and fountain

Until now, Will has not considered attending university; he wants to go to a specialist drama school after A-Levels. But he now has another option depending on his academic results at GCSE and A-Level over the course of the next two years.

The invite came as part of the university’s drive to take on students from more diverse and less privileged backgrounds than they traditionally would consider.

Trinity College Cambridge – Clock Tower

Trinity’s motto is Virtus Vera Nobilitas (Virtue is true nobility), a fitting slogan for all who aspire to achieve, no matter their circumstances.

I was hoping the experience would inspire William and create a belief that anything is possible regarding his future – if he is prepared to work hard. He has shown an incredible work ethic in year 11 and while studying for his GCSEs, to the point that his school have bestowed an award for his attitude to learning which will be formally presented at a special ceremony on 17th July.

Trinity College – the Great Gate from inside the Great Court

Trinity College – Dining Hall – presided over by Henry VIII!

There is no doubt that Will was impressed by Trinity, and he is absorbing the information he received during the visit. He would not be able to study drama there, but under the subjects encompassed in Arts & Humanities he could read History. Trinity only take around 10 – 12 students per year as undergraduates in History, so he would have to get top grades in history and across the board, as well as pass an entrants exam and interview.

History is probably his favourite after drama, and one of his chosen A-Level subjects.

I don’t have a glass ball with which to predict the future, but I do know that if he sets his mind to something he will move heaven and earth to make it happen.

“History provides an intellectual training and a stimulus to the imagination: it enables one to put expertise into its human context.” ~ Trinity College Cambridge

Whilst Will was involved in his history discussion subject, as a parent, I was permitted to have a tour of the college.

Trinity College Cambridge – view of the Dining Hall from Nevile’s Court beneath the Wren Library

Trinity College Cambridge – Bowling Green off the Great Court.

I would have been rather at a loose end in Cambridge for most of the day after I dropped Will off to register and attend the welcoming lecture, as no parents were allowed to accompany their children. My dad and step mum live near Colchester and so met up with me for a leisurely lunch on the terrace at Prezzo’s, watching the punts go by on the peaceful and serene River Cam.

River Cam

River Cam by Queen’s College, Cambridge

We then returned to Trinity for our tour of the college. It was the hottest day of the year so far, marking the start of the current heat wave sweeping the UK. I don’t think we could have asked for a more beautiful day to see the college.

Afterwards we strolled along past Gonville & Caius College, King’s College, Corpus Christi and Queens College before a much needed drink to cool off in The Anchor.

The Corpus Clock and Chronophage in Cambridge, photo taken at 3.13pm

There’s an amazing, if somewhat bizarre, clock on the route, the Corpus Clock:

King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

A recording of the famous King’s College Choir inside King’s College Chapel from 2011:

Entrance to King’s College Cambridge

A university side street

Corpus Christi College Cambridge

Will loving the Cambridge vibe…

The Round Church (Holy Sepulchre) in Cambridge c. 1130

Short history of Trinity College Cambridge

Trinity College was founded by King Henry VIII in 1546, as an amalgamation of King’s Hall (founded in 1317 by Edward II) and Michaelhouse (founded by Hervey de Stanton in 1324).

1575 map of Trinity College Cambridge

Henry was hell-bent on plundering the monasteries, abbeys and church lands, (as touched on in a previous post about Tintern Abbey), and Cambridge University may well have suffered the same fate, but for the intervention of his sixth wife, Catherine Parr; who persuaded her husband to create a new college from existing ones rather than shutting them down.

Henry’s statue on the exterior of the Great Gate commemorates his forming of Trinity College.

Trinity College Cambridge – The Great Gate from Trinity Street

The Great Court

Just stepping inside the Great Court makes you feel intelligent! Perhaps it’s a sense of being part of something bigger than even the University of Cambridge and its constituent colleges such as Trinity, Corpus Christi, St. John’s and King’s – the act of higher education itself.

The centuries of learning that has taken place on this site has somehow seeped into the bricks and permeates the air with inspiration…

Trinity College Cambridge – the Great Court (Great Gate and fountain).

The Great Court was designed and conceived by Thomas Nevile (Master of Trinity from 1593 to 1615), who adapted buildings where necessary and added new ones, including the Great Hall in the early 1600s, to what is essentially still in daily use.

Unknown artist – Thomas Nevile (1548-1615), Master (1593-1615), Dean of Peterborough (1590-1597) and Dean of Canterbury (1597-1615); Trinity College, University of Cambridge

Print of the Great Court and Nevile’s Court of Trinity College by David Loggan c. 1690

Trinity College Cambridge – Dining Hall from the Great Court, adjoining the ivy covered Master’s Lodge.

Trinity College Cambridge – Lavender around the fountain in the Great Court.

The Great Court Run is a long running tradition; an all-out 400 yard dash undertaken by freshers around the court on the day of their matriculation dinner, (portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire about the British Olympic runners of 1924).

Trinity College Chapel

It was especially wonderful to experience the college chapel, built in the Gothic Tudor style, and Grade 1 listed like much of the college. The chapel construction dates to the mid 16th century by order of Queen Mary,  completed by Queen Elizabeth I.

The only part of Trinity College Chapel seen from Trinity Street

The chapel is on the right as you enter through the Great Gate. We were fortunate to hear choral undergraduates rehearsing. Their voices resembled a choir of angels, rising like ethereal vibrations into the vaulted ceiling, wafting peace and tranquility over us  mortals below…

Trinity College Cambridge – entrance to the chapel from the Great Court

Trinity College Chapel during a choral rehearsal

Beautiful windows inside the chapel

Trinity College Chapel – Royal crests on the ceiling

Marble statues of Tennyson, Newton, Bacon and other great alumni are placed in the entrance to the chapel.

Trinity College Chapel – Tennyson

Trinity College Chapel – Sir Francis Bacon

Trinity College Chapel – Sir Isaac Newton

The Wren Library

As the name suggests, Thomas Nevile also built the smaller, eponymous Nevile’s Court in 1614, between the Great Court and the River Cam.

Trinity College Cambridge – the cloisters of Nevile’s Court

Trinity College Cambridge – facing the Wren Library from the opposite side of Nevile’s Court

Its elegant cloistered space remained three sided until the addition of the prestigious Wren Library, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1676 and 1695 to house the college’s burgeoning requirement for books and keep up with Trinity’s growth and diversity of interest.

My dad admiring the Wren Library

View from the lower stairs at the back of the Wren Library over the River Cam.

I could have spent all day in there, but it is a place of scholarly reading and not generally open to the public. I was thrilled to see one of two of Shakespeare’s First Folios housed in the library, alongside a handwritten poetry book (which preceded paradise Lost), by John Milton – the only known example of his handwriting.  My eyes devoured original writings by Alfred Lord Tennyson, A.A. Milne and A.E. Houseman.

The Wren Library also holds Sir Isaac Newton’s own original copy of Principa Mathematica, (Will was stoked to see that and took a sneaky photo).

The Wren Library – Newton’s Principa Mathematica

There have been many notable and famous alumni across diverse fields of study and achievement: science, mathematics, politics, literature, music, history and philosophy.

“Cambridge has seen many strange sights. It has seen Wordsworth drunk, it has seen Porson sober. I am a greater scholar than Wordsworth and I am a greater poet than Porson. So I fall betwixt and between.”
~ A. E. Housman, in Richard Perceval Graves A.E. Housman: The Scholar Poet 

Two British composers that had much success here included Sir John Villiers Stanford, who would go on to teach Trinity Alumni Ralph Vaughan Williams at the RCM as a post graduate.

“Stanford’s music the sense of style, the sense of beauty, the feeling of a great tradition is never absent. His music is in the best sense of the word Victorian, that is to say it is the musical counterpart of the art of Tennyson, Watts and Matthew Arnold.”
~ Ralph Vaughan Williams

Portrait of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the top of the stairs leading to the Wren Library

Stanford’s most well-known composition is probably ‘The Blue Bird’, set to words by Mary E. Coleridge:

“The lake lay blue below the hill.

O’er it, as I looked, there flew

Across the waters, cold and still,

A bird whose wings were palest blue.


The sky above was blue at last,

The sky beneath me blue in blue.

A moment, ere the bird had passed,

It caught his image as he flew”.

My favourite composition by Ralph Vaughan Williams is The Lark Ascending, for violin and orchestra, closely followed by Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis:

Land and investments

Trinity is thought to be the richest of the Oxbridge colleges, with a landholding alone worth £800 million. Trinity is sometimes suggested to be the third or fourth wealthiest landowner in the UK (or in England) – after the Crown Estate, the National Trust and the Church of England. In 2005, Trinity’s annual rental income from its properties was reported to be in excess of £20 million.

Trinity purportedly owns:

  • 3400 acres (14 km2) housing facilities at the Port of Felixstowe, Britain’s busiest container port
  • The Cambridge Science Park
  • The O2 Arena in London (formerly the Millennium Dome)

There is so much history and greatness embedded within these ancient, sandy walls, but as you would expect, plenty of learning, debating, drinking, socialising and unabashed fun as part of atavistic university life.

I would be thrilled if he made it into their hallowed ranks, but either way, I’m immensely proud of him.

“I am looking forward very much to getting back to Cambridge, and being able to say what I think and not to mean what I say: two things which at home are impossible. Cambridge is one of the few places where one can talk unlimited nonsense and generalities without anyone pulling one up or confronting one with them when one says just the opposite the next day.”
 ~ Bertrand Russell, Letter to Alys Pearsall Smith (1893)

Photos and Musings on the Beautiful, Pioneering Tintern Abbey

“Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul.
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep layer of joy,
We see into the life of things.”
 ~ William Wordsworth from Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798.

Some places are sacred. Their energy flows through you and fills you with a tangible connection to the past, a gratitude for the present, and a hope for the future.

Tintern Abbey in the Welsh Wye Valley is one of those places.

Arches in the north-east corner

Arches along the south-west transept

It’s customary to map out your goals and plans for the year ahead in January, something I advocate and do myself; but I also think it’s also good to spend some time in contemplation, and to glance back at the positives and negatives of the previous year, especially to share and savour that which nourished your soul.

The timeless tranquility of Tintern Abbey filled me with wonder during our family visit on new year’s eve.

My youngest exploring

After a scenic drive through the Forest of Dean my children were keen to stretch their legs and explore. A heavy rain storm ceased abruptly before we parked, and the sky began to brighten auspiciously for our visit. Equipped with a poor choice of footwear for the muddy and quagmire like ground, we gradually lost ourselves among its crumbling and ascending ruins.

Tintern’s mottled, lichen covered, Old Red Sandstone walls, and lofty symmetrical arches, have housed and presided over numerous beings that lived simply and stoically throughout four centuries of tumultuous history.

There is a sense of nobility and majesty in the fresh air that pervades its spectacular, ruinous spaces.

High walls and arches…

Our eyes roamed over the soaring remains of this 12th century Cistercian settlement, still standing resplendent inside a sweeping bend of the ancient River Wye, which weaves and curves like a silvery snake through the heavily wooded Wye Valley.

Tintern Abbey by Benjamin Williams Leader

Remote, often shrouded in mist, you soon get a feeling of reverence for the architectural brilliance that has defied the elements for over 700 years. It’s not just the complexity and beauty of the buildings either, the surroundings are peaceful, pristine and primal.

The early Cistercian monks could not have chosen a more picturesque and serene setting for their new home…

View towards East window and transept

Sketching the Ruins of Tintern Abbey by Samuel Colman (1780 – 1845)

Any place that has been built for the purpose of devotion and worship of the divine creator carries a pure energy, a high vibration I can only describe as a sort of ‘healing’ vibe.

Even the children were in awe at its impressive design, scale and sheer longevity…

Alignment and height

As I walked from west to east along the water logged great church I could imagine the ghostly chanting of the choir, devout voices floating ever upwards…

A major turning point for Tintern Abbey came when King Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in England and Wales (for both financial and religious reasons), after he broke with the Catholic Church in Rome.

Book repositry and Sacristy

Abbot Richard Wyche and his 12 remaining monks surrendered their dwelling to the king’s men on 3rd September 1536; the defining historical moment of its decline.

Tintern’s lead roofs were removed and sold, and the buildings systematically stripped of all valuable material.

Outside the North window

After 400 years of continuous habitation on the site by Cistercian monks, and with their peaceful home plundered – Tintern Abbey was finally abandoned. Without the attention of its dedicated inhabitants and open to the onslaught of the welsh weather, it fell into disrepair and neglect.

West window and transept

The abbey lay forgotten and slowly decaying for nearly three centuries, until it was rediscovered by fervent artists and poets in search of wild, unspoilt and romantic landscapes to inspire their art and creativity in the early 19th century.

Tintern Abbey – North Window by Frederick Calvert c. 1815

A new road to the area in 1820 made the site more accessible to adventurous and well heeled tourists, and the decaying buildings were eventually saved when Tintern Abbey was purchased by the Crown on behalf of the nation in 1901.

View towards monks’ quarters from the infirmary

There are some wonderful watercolour and oil paintings of the abbey by Turner, Colman, Calvert, Dayes, Leader and van Lerberghe from this time period, during which its sturdy walls and pillars languished under copious ivy growth and masonry lay scattered throughout the transept.

Tintern Abbey – The Crossing and Chancel, Looking Towards the East Window by JMW Turner c. 1794

East window with sepia effect c. 2017

A wonderful recital of the poem ‘Tintern Abbey’ by William Wordsworth:

Or, if you prefer, you can read the lines whilst listening the Moonlight Sonata, which was composed by  Ludwig van Beethoven only 3 years after Wordsworth wrote his poem :

Over the next 27 years an extensive programme of conservation was carried out, as well as in later, subsequent years.

Tintern Abbey took my breath away, and I can only image the splendour it must have exuded in its medieval heyday.

This stunning aerial footage really gives you a sense of the scale of the abbey in its location, accompanied by the celtic lilt of Loreena McKennit (The Mystic’s Dream):

History of Tintern Abbey

The abbey was founded by Walter fitz Richard de Clare, the Anglo-Norman lord of Chepstow, on 9th May 1131.  Tintern was only the second Cistercian house in the British Isles and introduced the order’s pioneering brand of monasticism to Wales.

Looking towards monks’ quarters from north window gallery

The original 13 ‘white monks’ who settled here travelled from the abbey of l’Aumone (Loir-et-Cher), itself a branch of the order’s great Burgundian ‘mother house’ at Citeaux, France. The site at Tintern was chosen in this secluded country location because it was ‘far from the haunts of men’, as was typical of those preferred by the Cistercians.

This newly formed, pioneering religious community needed land to prosper, and Walter de Clare granted the monks a substantial estate on both the Welsh and English sides of the River Wye.

South window and transept

The land was organised into compact farms known as granges, and throughout the site’s growth in the 12th century the land was consolidated into areas for arable cultivation, the construction of farm buildings, cutting down woodland and draining coastal marsh to improve productivity.

Unlike other monastic orders, the Cistercians (who had no Norman links), found much favour in Wales, and could be self-sufficient with generous grants of land from Welsh rulers.

Emily and Will under the West window – the main visitor entrance during Tintern’s Medieval era.

Will chilling outside the great church

It’s thought that at first the monks lived in temporary wooden structures, but by the middle of the 12th century they had built a relatively modest stone church and monastic buildings set around a square cloister. As the community grew the monastic buildings were gradually rebuilt over the first half of the 13th century.

Rick Steve extolling the beauty of the Ruins of Tintern Abbey:

The chapter house and refectory date from this period. Without doubt, the abbey’s greatest glory is the stunning Gothic church which still dominates the site today, built between 1269 and 1301, when it was consecrated under the patronage of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk (1270 – 1306).

A corner of the cloister

North window and transept

The great church is 228 feet long and 150 feet wide. The tall east window’s original stained glass contained the 5th earl’s coat of arms in gratitude to its benefactor.

Unsurprisingly, the numbers of lay brothers fell during 1348-49 when the Black Death struck England and Wales. We walked around the foundations and low walls of the infirmary, which was almost as large as the church. The infirmary housed the sick from Tintern village and surrounding areas, as well as their own modest population.

Foundations of the infirmary – main hall

Monastic life of the Cistercian Order

The Cistercian way of life began in 1098 when a group of pioneering monks departed from the Burgundian abbey of Molesme with the intention of leading a life of austerity and perfect solitude.

An east facing window

Robert, their abbot, led them to settle in an area of forest and marshland and their ‘New Monastery’ was given the Latin name of Cistercium, now known as Citeaux.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a charismatic French abbot who transformed the Cistercian Order; somewhat of an early trailblazer (and today’s equivalent of religious brand marketer), for his influence on the creation of the Cistercian identity.

By the time of his death in 1153 there existed around 340 Cistercian abbeys across Europe, organised in a network of ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’ foundations.

Over time there were upwards of 700 white monk abbeys across the length and breadth of Christendom, with 86 of these living in Great Britain.

Tintern Abbey Interior by Moonlight by Peter van Lerberghe c. 1812

View from North to South

In 1165 Rhys ap Gruffudd, prince of Deheubarth gave his support to Strata Florida, and the daughter houses of Wales flourished. Whitland Abbey in the heart of Wales became a ‘daughter house’ of Clairvaux.

The Cistercian adventure proved to be one of the most successful and remarkable phenomena of the medieval church.

Eastern and northern corner

View of Tintern Abbey by William Havell c. 1804

Cistercian Values

Their main focus was to lead a contemplative life, a strict interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict, with an insistence upon poverty. They shunned wealth and luxury and observed a rule of silence whilst living on a meagre vegetarian diet. It doesn’t sound like much fun, but in many ways it was free of the pitfalls and complications of what we might consider a modern, desirable lifestyle.

They would have been men of virtuous character, living off the land, focused on their inner life and service to God and community.

There was a grand total of three fireplaces in the whole of Tintern Abbey, one in a ‘warming room’ adjacent to the monks’ day room, one in the kitchens, and one in the infirmary, so heaven only knows how cold and drafty it must have been in the winter… or at most times of year come to think of it!

Admiring stranger, that with lingering feet,
Enchained by wonder, pauses on this green;
Where thy enraptured sight the dark woods meet,
Ah! rest awhile and contemplate the scene.
These hoary pillars clasped by ivy round,
This hallowed floor by holy footsteps trod,
The mouldering choir by spreading moss embrowned
Where fasting saints devoutly hymned their God.

Tintern Abbey and the River Wye by Edward Dayes c. 1794

Unpitying time with slow but certain sweep
Has laid, alas! their ancient splendour low:
Yet here let pilgrims, while they muse and weep,
Think on the lesson that from hence may flow.
Like theirs, how soon may be the tottering state
Of man–the temple of a shorter date.
 ~ Edmund Gardner, Sonnet Written in Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey is a masterpiece of medieval architecture created in a time when construction methods did not have the benefit of modern technology and machinery, which makes it all the more inspiring.

Arches at the intersection of the transepts

Do go if you get the opportunity, it’s a wonderful, sacred place and you’ll be following in the footsteps of Wordsworth, Turner and countless other admirers…

There are some stunning walks nearby at Symonds Yat Rock, where 300 million years of nature’s patient erosion has formed a breath taking river valley view and scenic woodland trails. We did a short trail as the light was fading and Emily was a tad grumpy, so progress wasn’t as brisk as usual.

It was a wonderful few days to close out 2017 and see in the New Year. All blessings for 2018!

“For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity.”  ~ William Wordsworth

A Sunny Sunday at the Beautiful and Bucolic Blenheim Palace

One never needs an excuse for a family picnic. As Sunday was my birthday, and rather fortuitously, the sunniest and hottest day of the year to date, we drove to Woodstock and spent a fabulous few hours at Blenheim Palace.

Roughly 25 years have flown by since my first visit and my children have never been, so we decided to explore the vast park and gardens that have been home to the Dukes of Marlborough for 300 years.

Blenheim was also the birthplace and ancestral home to former UK Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, being a grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough and a direct descendant of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.

“Under the auspices of a munificent sovereign this house was built for John Duke of Marlborough, and his Duchess Sarah, by Sir J Vanbrugh between the years 1705 and 1722, and the Royal Manor of Woodstock, together with a grant of £240,000 towards the building of Blenheim, was given by Her Majesty Queen Anne and confirmed by act of Parliament . . . to the said John Duke of Marlborough and to all his issue male and female lineally descending.”

~ Plaque above the East gate of Blenheim Palace

It was fascinating picking up bits of history through an exhibition in the stables, just off the main front courtyard.

Aerial views of Blenheim in winter:

The Battle of Blenheim

During the War of the Spanish Succession, John Churchill 1st Duke of Marlborough proved to be a canny general and diplomat. England was allied with the Dutch Republic, Austria and the Holy Roman Empire, together forming the Grand Alliance against Louis XIV in his brazen attempt at dynastic rule over Spain and their European territories.

The Battle of Blenheim (fought at Blindheim, Bavaria on 13th August 1704), was won under John’s leadership in alliance with Prince Eugene of Savoy, and was a major turning point in deciding the European balance of power.

Rather than engaging in siege warfare against Marshall Tallard and his French forces, Churchill made a strategic, surprise attack forcing an open battle. It was hard fought and hard won, with many casualties on both sides.

The Duke of Marlborough signing the despatch at Blenheim c. 1704

He won further victories at Ramillies in 1706, in Oudenarde in 1708 and Malplaquet in 1709, elevating and securing his position as one of the most successful and respected generals in Europe. The Battle of Blenheim was such an important turning point for Great Britain and its emergence as a military and political leader in Europe, that the estate in Woodstock was gifted to John and Sarah Churchill by a grateful monarchy.

Despite the glorious victory that preceded and heralded Blenheim’s existence, much acrimony surrounded its construction. Blenheim’s birth was not an easy one!

Plan of Blenheim Palace and Gardens c. 1835

A major reason for discord between the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough was John’s controversial choice of architect, Sir John Vanbrugh.

Aided by Nicholas Hawksmoor, he designed and built Blenheim Palace in the English Baroque Style. However the duchess, Sarah Churchill, a close confidante of Queen Anne, had wanted to employ Sir Christopher Wren, who was unassailable after St. Paul’s Cathedral. There was constant bickering between the Duchess and Vanbrugh.

The two could not agree about the fate of the existing Woodstock Manor and lodge, which had served as a royal retreat since the time of King Henry I.

Princess Elizabeth, before ascending to the English throne had been held captive in the lodge between 1554 and 1555 by her half-sister and Queen, Mary Tudor. It had lain in ruins after its destruction at the hands of Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentarians since the Civil War.

Ruby in the perfect climbing tree near our picnic spot.

All but a stone pillar was swept away before construction of Blenheim Palace at the behest of the duchess; against the wishes of Vanbrugh, who had wanted to conserve what remained of the original dwelling.

Political infighting with the Tories and Whig Party and a fall out with Queen Anne sent the Churchill’s into ignominious exile on the continent, only returning after Queen Anne’s death in 1714. They took up residence in the east wing of the then unfinished Blenheim, and found themselves back in favour with the new monarchy, the Hanoverian dynasty.

Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough

Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough first cousin of Winston, inherited his dukedom in 1892 under the shadow of personal and family bankruptcy.

The debts incurred by the extravagant spending habits of George Spencer-Churchill, 5th Duke of Marlborough, which John Winston Spencer Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough had not been able to stem, even after selling off many of the family’s heirlooms, forced him into a mercenary and loveless marriage with Consuelo Vanderbilt; the beautiful, young American railroad heiress in 1895.

9th Duke of Marlborough with Consuelo and their sons, by John Singer Sargent

New world Vanderbilt money ensured old world Blenheim’s survival, but the Duke and Duchess were unhappy together. They had two sons to carry on the Marlborough line, but separated in 1906 and divorced in 1921, after which Charles had their marriage annulled.

Consuelo Vanderbilt by Carolus Duran c. 1900

We didn’t go into the house, my daughters made it clear that walking round a stately home would be a fate worse than death; but we did enjoy parts of Blenheim’s formidable 2,000 acres of gardens and grounds.

The Fountain Terraces (complete with sculptures from Bernini’s Italian studio) and lakeside walk are a pleasure to amble through on a sunny afternoon. An ice cream treat doesn’t go amiss either!

Blenheim Palace is unique as a country house in that it is the only non-royal residence (apart from the Church of England’s Lambeth Palace) allowed the status of ‘palace’. Its grandeur had even beguiled Hitler, who instructed that it not be bombed during World War 2, eyeing it as a possible residence should he invade the UK. Fortunately that nightmare scenario did not prevail!

Blenheim Palace was first opened to the public in 1950 and made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

The estate is now home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and his family, who in his younger, reckless days was labelled the ‘Black Sheep’ of the family by his estranged father John Spencer-Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough, also a cousin of Winston Churchill and given the nickname ‘Sunny’, (but not due to his temperament). Eventually father and wayward eldest son were reconciled.

The millions of visitors each year provide the funds for Blenheim’s onerous upkeep.

Before we departed I wandered over the Grand Bridge built and designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, with the Column of Victory looming before me.  Ruby was very tired and had taken to dragging her feet whilst pulling my arm and wailing intermittently.

She begged me mercilessly to let her roly-poly down the steep hill, but I decided the generous amounts of geese poo and the thought of her rolling straight into the lake prohibited that particular fancy…

Grand Bridge and Victory Column

The sun was slowly sinking, its fading light reflected as brilliant, squint inducing starbursts off the water, shimmering and glinting at passers-by, illuminating every last drop of Blenheim’s peace and tranquility.

I eventually turned to head back to our picnic spot to search for Emily’s lost bracelet, but took a moment to admire the distant sandy coloured façade and columns of the palace, standing noble and proud to this day. Blenheim will always be an emblem of courage, fortitude and empire that presides over its Capability Brown landscape and beyond.

William also admiring the view!

Blenheim Palace is the legacy of its founding father and his outstanding military achievement, but each generation of its famous chateleins, (the Spencer-Churchill family), have left their mark in the process of preserving Blenheim for future generations – a national treasure with a magnificent, historic heritage.

“At Blenheim I took two very important decisions: to be born and to marry. I am content with the decision I took on both occasions.” ~ Sir Winston Churchill

The temple of Diana, where Winston Churchill rather romantically proposed to Clementine Hozier during a rain storm in 1908. He later wrote: “My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.”

Bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the WC Memorial Garden

I hope you like my photographs of the grounds and gardens. It’s well worth a visit if you’re ever in the vicinity of Oxford. It will be especially fun for families this Easter weekend. Happy Easter!

A Day to Remember at the Stunning Temple of Stonehenge

“Stanenges, where stones of wonderful size have been erected after the manner of doorways…no one can conceive how such great stones have been so raise aloft, or why they were built there.” ~ Henry Huntingdon (History of the English People c. 1130).

When we arrived at Stonehenge early on 30th December 2016 it was shrouded in a thick mist and we couldn’t see much. It felt cold too. We were surrounded by a soft, ethereal light however, as the sun was trying to burn the mist away, it suffused the air with a warm shimmer.

By the time our American and London relations arrived the mist was thinning, and the patches of visible sky were bright blue and devoid of cloud. It illuminated beautifully the captivating atmosphere of an ancient, Stone Age landscape that had been so venerated by our early ancestors.


I’d never visited Stonehenge before. I’d been close by several times, but I’m glad we did it that day. I’ve included a selection of my photographs.

When we finally got on the bus and walked up close to the stones it took my breath away. Along the walk information plaques were placed so that you could learn about the actual site in its entirety, not just the stones.  Most of us had audio guides, which were highly informative, but I had to concentrate on what my daughters were doing so I couldn’t totally immerse myself.


The Neolithic temple of Stonehenge is something to behold. You may wonder why a group of old, sturdy stones elicits such touristic fervour, (1.3 million people visited the site during 2013), and I’m not sure I can quite put my finger on it, except to say it’s something of a spiritual experience.

Even though other people are milling around you, the general mood is one of quiet fascination. To be so close to something that was built with such skill and precision four and a half thousand years ago that is still standing tends to pull an all-encompassing blanket of awe over you!


I’m sure the Pyramids at Giza (built around the same time period), would do that and more, but for us Brits, Stonehenge is a profound and enduring monument of determination, perseverance, ingenuity and devotion. The crows seemed to admire the sarsen stones as well, they were hopping about on top of them and circling above the horseshoe while we were there.

The stones have an intense air of mystery about them, as if they are proclaiming their sacred heritage and history, but at the same time keeping some of their recondite secrets to themselves…

When I saw the news today in The Guardian that the government has given the go ahead for a new road tunnel under the site my heart sank. I can’t help feeling this is a terrible mistake. I understand they are trying to reduce congestion, which is considerable, but in the process of coming up with a solution to one problem they are perhaps creating an even bigger one.

Stonehenge stretches over a huge area. Although the actual stones only cover a limited space, the burial mounds, the avenue and surrounding land is sizable. Surely such disruption will damage the aesthetics and archaeology of the site, making it less of an attraction? This smacks of putting profits before protection and preservation.



The audio guides made it clear that although they do know a lot about how the site was created and amended over the centuries, the materials that were used and the type of dwellings that the builders lived in, they still don’t know the exact reason for its construction.

One of the clear ways in which it was used was to measure and track the movements of the sun and the changing seasons.

Brooding painting of Stonehenge by John Constable.

Brooding painting of Stonehenge by John Constable.

Winter would have brought immense hardship for the Neolithic and Bronze Age people, not just because of the cold weather and lack of light, but scarcity of food and crops. They would have been keen to know the turning point in the levels of daylight during the sun’s annual journey. They must have been very in-tune with nature, for the alignment and positioning of the stones was achieved with startling accuracy to highlight the shortest day of the year: the Winter Solstice.


The axis of Stonehenge creates an alignment that runs north-east to south-west, up the straight section of the avenue and through the enclosure entrance. Because of the way the sun moves through the sky during the course of the year, the sunset at the winter solstice occurs on exactly the opposite side of the horizon from the midsummer sunrise.


When the Great Trilithon stood intact the effect would have been even more dramatic than it is today, with the setting sun dropping rapidly down the narrow gap between the two upright sarsen stones.

Burial and worship

Other thoughts were that it was a place of burial, (cremated and buried human remains have been found at the site), as well as animal bones and artefacts in the surrounding ditch, it therefore also served as a place of worship and procession. One theory is that the stones represented their ancestors and the wooden equivalents present at the time represented living people.


The name Stonehenge is derived from the large, outer ditch and bank (a ‘henge’, meaning ‘hanging’) enclosing the stone circle within. It was used for cremation burials early in the area’s history.

Unbeknown to me there is a Woodhenge site not far from Stonehenge, to the south of Durrington Walls, also built in 2500 B.C., which was 50m in diameter and held large upright oak timbers. It was discovered in 1925 after aerial photographs revealed it to be a levelled henge.

The stones used in Stonehenge

The five large sarsen trilithons (from the Greek word for three stones), are arranged with a pair facing each other across the open end of the horse shoe, and the tallest, the Great Trilithon (only one stone now remains upright of this pair), which is 7.3 metres high and one of the tallest standing stones in Britain, faces the enclosed entrance. It has been noticed that of each pair, one seems deliberately more upright and well-shaped and the other is rougher.  Perhaps this was meant to signify male and female or art nature?


“How grand! How wonderful! How incomprehensible! ~ Sir Richard Colt Hoare (Ancient History of Wiltshire)

On 3rd January 1797 an entire trilithon collapsed and was the first recorded fall of stones at Stonehenge.

These epic sarsen stones were taken from areas relatively close to Stonehenge, the Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs. Still, transportation must have been a major undertaking. It’s thought they were maneuvered onto large wooden sledges with rollers that were pulled by a team of up to 200 people. Our ancestors knew a thing or two about teamwork and co-operation.


They were erected with considerable engineering skill considering the basic tools that were available to the builders, with the sarsens being put some way into the ground and the stone lintels sitting atop each pair were fixed into place using the tongue and groove method. Pretty impressive!


The other type of stone that was used in the temple are the bluestones.  It’s thought that originally as many as  60 of these were placed in inner concentric circles to the sarsens, much of which is now fragmentary, indicating that many were moved or destroyed sometime after construction. The bluestones are a particular type of volcanic stone found in the Preseli Hills in Wales; an amazing achievement by itself to transport them a distance of 150 miles.

The Heel Stone

This massive, unshaped sarsen boulder was thought to be the only stone to originate from Stonehenge, and stands just outside the earthwork enclosure and within the line of the avenue.


It was raised to its upright position, being the first stone to be deliberately placed at Stonehenge. Although it stands alone today in a small ditch, archaeologists discovered a hole next to it in the roadside verge in 1979. The second stone may have held the heel stone in place or been placed as a pair with the Heel Stone as two upright sarsens just outside the entrance to the enclosure.

The builders

It’s thought that people travelled down from the far north of Scotland as well as from the south and from the continent to work on Stonehenge. Ancient Britons were the builders, perhaps a collective of farmers, engineers and tool makers etc. Local excavations have provided information about the types of dwellings they lived in.


All I can say is they would have been a tad drafty in winter!

This documentary by Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University,  Barry Cunliffe and Social anthropologist Lionel Sims explain in much more detail than I can here; if you want to delve into the history and mystery of Stonehenge:

Excavations and restoration

Among the entire site items such as Roman coins (Roman Emperor Commodus) dating to about 186-7, as well as brooches and pottery were found during William Gowland’s excavations at Stonehenge in 1901. One theory is that the Romans altered and tried to adapt the site as their own shrine.

The earliest surviving painting of Stonehenge - a watercolour by a Dutch traveller, Lucas de Heere c. 1574

The earliest surviving painting of Stonehenge – a watercolour by a Dutch traveller, Lucas de Heere c. 1574

In 1883 Stonehenge was officially recognised as being of national importance and included in the monuments listed in the Ancient Monuments Protection Act. This did not offer any real protection in practical terms and Stonehenge remained neglected and crumbling a the close of the 19th century. On 31st December 1900 another stone fell.

Ongoing repairs and restoration were mostly undertaken during the 20th century and early into the current time period. Stonehenge was granted World Heritage status in 1986.


The visitor centre is fabulous. It comprises a spacious café, a shop and a museum/exhibition area, complete with artefacts, interactive media, historical stories and information about the Stonehenge site, and even a carbon-dated human skeleton complete with facial reconstruction, which provides a fascinating window into a mysterious past.

If you get the chance to go it’s definitely worth a visit, especially before they dig out the tunnel under it!

Pile of Stone-henge! So proud to hint yet keep

Thy secrets, thou lov’st to stand and hear

The plain resounding to the whirlwind’s sweep

Inmate of lonesome Nature’s endless year.

~ William Wordsworth

Ultimate Life Lessons – An Amazing Day on the Charisma Connection

“Charisma is an authentic power that captivates the hearts and minds others.” ~ Nikki Owen

I’ve been through many self-development and training workshops over the course of my career. All of them have been valuable in their own right, but some make such a profound impact that the experience as well as ‘aha’ moments can continue to be applied to your life long after the initial learning has been assimilated. The Charisma Connection was one such day.

Creator of the Charisma Connection: Nikki Owen

Sylvia Baldock

Sylvia Baldock

I had not come across the work of Nikki Owen before I attended this workshop, but was persuaded by a dynamic business woman, Sylvia Baldock, the Regional Director of my local Athena networking group, who I know and trust; that it would be a worthwhile investment. I’m glad I listened to her!

Sylvia met Nikki through her membership of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) and became fascinated by her work on charisma as it tied in closely with her own expertise on Talent Dynamics and Flow.

Charisma - Sylvia logoTo cut a long story short, Nikki trained Sylvia so that she could be accredited to deliver her pioneering work.

Thirty years of research have been distilled into a life changing day of learning, laughter and limitless possibilities.

As part of the study materials for The Charisma Connection we each received a signed copy of Nikki’s ground-breaking book: Charismatic to the Core, our workbooks and access to her amazing Hypno Meditations, our online charisma profile to identify our charismatic potential as well as a follow up call with our trainer Sylvia.

Nikki’s story is incredibly moving and inspirational. You can read about her achievements, get your own charisma profile and more, on her website.

Charisma - Charismatic to the Core

I had a few doubts in my mind before I arrived at the venue, the Crowne Plaza hotel in Marlow. Could I really afford to take a whole day out of the office that wasn’t geared to my business? I was thinking of all the writing I should be doing and the meetings I wanted to set up.

All the machinations in my mind were dispelled virtually the instant Sylvia greeted me. I knew it was going to be a worthwhile day and a much needed investment in myself. Sylvia’s positive energy radiated and connected with mine before she even said a word.

Our seats were laid out in a semi-circle with all our materials in a bright and airy room scented with beneficial aromatherapy oils, and Sylvia’s warm introduction set the tone perfectly. There were eight of us in the group which meant that we could get the most out of our individual and team exercises.

“When you are being true to who you really are inside, you shine in your own unique way.” ~ Nikki Owen


Sylvia gave us a brief overview of the day and began by telling her story. It was an emotional and uplifting start which bonded us beautifully.

We then began our first exercise, which was discussing the charismatic advantage in the areas of success, engagement, resilience, talent and health.

We split into two groups and did a wonderful exercise that highlights the processes going on unconsciously in our heads and how that translates to our emotions and subsequent actions. We had to put the right terms onto a magnetic board to show what happens when we are subjected to information and sensory input. It was harder than it looks! However, with a bit of guidance from Sylvia we got there eventually.

Charisma model

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor at the Drucker School of Management in California, every moment our unconscious mind absorbs over two million bits of information through our senses. Professor George Miller, Harvard Business School states that consciously we typically only process around seven chunks of this stream of information.

Who are you?

In order to create the right internal conditions for our charisma to develop Sylvia grouped us into pairs to ascertain our authenticity and purpose, which is vital to help our charisma grow and flourish.

For the first part of the exercise we sat comfortably facing our partners. Person A wore a blindfold to promote deeper introspection and person B asked “Who are you?” every 15 seconds, while remaining present and focused on their partner. As person A responded, person B made a note of their answers. We did this for five minutes and then switched roles.

Having the question “Who are you?” repeated continuously for this period of time enabled us to reach beyond our early superficial responses and reach deep into our subconscious minds to access our truth.

Charisma - youth

For the second part of the exercise we followed exactly the same format, except Person A asked person B “What do you want?”

This was an incredibly powerful exercise, and I’ve been looking through some of answers my partner Gerry wrote down.

Just before lunch Sylvia treated us to one of Nikki’s relaxing Hypno Meditations. Her soft voice spoke to us, specifically recorded with two to three dialogues speaking at the same time to have maximum impact on the brain, accompanied by binaural beats and music. Lunch was a delicious, healthy buffet, and we even managed to sit out on the balcony before the rain descended.

Survival or Growth?

The afternoon session was equally eye-opening. We began by studying the attributes of someone in either a survival or growth mindset. Again, Sylvia split us into two groups, each taking a mindset. We shared our findings and reflected on the specific behaviours and physical symptoms.

Afterwards we collectively went through the Survival/Growth models and Sylvia explained that when a person is in survival mode and typically stressed, their cells literally shut down, triggered by the release of cortisol and adrenaline. In order to protect themselves cells become closed silos by sealing themselves and moving into a protective operating mechanism. This in turn prevents other growth hormones from entering.

When we are living and working in a safe and supportive environment we release serotonin and oxytocin which increase an individual’s openness towards social belonging. This chemical reaction opens the cells so they can absorb nutrients for growth.

Charisma - survival - growth

It’s obvious to see why some businesses and organisations go from strength to strength and others fail. If individuals are placed in an environment where they feel stressed, that encourages selfish, closed thinking – a silo mentality. Nikki points out that a safe and supportive environment will actively encourage open, selfless thinking – a collaborative and caring culture. And the key to silos lies in our cellular biology!

We talked about charismatic leaders and the importance of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in attaining a growth mindset, both individually and as part of an organisation.

How to Develop Charisma

Sylvia showed us the five pillars of charisma and we covered each one in detail. These pillars were shown on a five point star. We could see how a downward spiral in the areas of balanced energy, driving force, compelling vision, high self-esteem and sensory awareness would create a silo, whereas strengthening these attributes develops charisma and improves your whole life.

“The symbol of star quality is based on the beliefs, values and experience of your past programming. The construction and constituents of each pillar is expressed through a variety of unconscious behaviours that in a work context influences a leader’s impact either positively or negatively.” ~ Nikki Owen

Charisma - five pillars - star

Charisma Constellation

We did an interesting exercise (again in pairs) to establish our charisma constellation. This powerful process meant we could engage with the depth, wisdom and awareness of our unconscious minds to gain intuitive insights about our charisma.

It involved using colours for each pillar, some of which are representative of the Chakra System.

We placed the colour squares for each pillar onto the floor in the positions and colours that felt right to us. My balanced energy point was yellow, at the start, close to my driving force which I chose orange, close to self-esteem which was green, alongside my purple sensory awareness looking towards my vision for which I chose blue.

Charisma - constellation

As we stepped on each square we had to notice how that colour made us feel in relation to each point on the star. We were allowed to rearrange the footprints until we established what felt in alignment with each person.

The Charisma Model

Thoughts Become Things

We saw the pictures of Dr. Masaru Emoto’s extensive experiments on the molecules of water crystals in samples that had been split into separate containers and labelled with worlds such as love and peace and hate and war.  The resulting images he later studied under a microscope revealed that thoughts and intentions profoundly affected the matter they were directed at.

Nikki did her own experiment in 2009, which she termed ‘The Big Apple’. It involved cutting an apple into two halves, again directing positive, loving thoughts to one half, and negative, thoughts, beliefs and emotions towards the other half. The results were astounding!

These results highlight the power of focused intent. It really shows how a leader can impact on the culture, performance and results of an organisation, or indeed a country.  Research by Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee (Primal Leadership) cite that the leader’s mood is not only contagious but it affects the bottom line.

Eliminating Limiting Beliefs

The final exercise of the day was invaluable. Sylvia discussed with us the impact that early programming in childhood can have as we grow up and thus implant self-limiting beliefs. I am always in awe of my children’s lack of guile, and of the generally open, honest and direct way they express themselves. They haven’t yet managed to sabotage their beliefs.

We paired up again with our course partner and chose a limiting belief that we wanted to exterminate. One person then asked the other various questions about their limiting belief, and in part two they asked more but different types of questions.

I had an amazing ‘aha’ insight that my empowerment doesn’t depend on anyone else. This was such a powerful exercise.

Charisma - limiting beliefs holding back

As I said to Sylvia, it’s a great feeling to challenge and destroy those beliefs that don’t serve our purpose, passion and potential. It’s liberating to cut loose the heavy ball and chain of the thoughts that hold us back.

I saw Gerry last week at our Athena meeting and she is as keen as I am for us to get together every month or so to continue our progress.

The day was rounded off with a different Hypno Meditation and Sylvia told us a very moving story. We each drew on a plate our thoughts of the day and explained a little about how we had arrived at our creations.


Lots of things ‘stuck’ for me on this day. Some of the teaching I had been exposed to before to some lesser degree, but it was taught in such a brilliant way that it affected me profoundly. The following days saw some incredible coincidences. I bumped into people I had been thinking about that I hadn’t seen for a year or more. Everything seemed to flow. I’m sure that’s because I was in a creative, growth place!

Big thanks and appreciation go to Nikki Owen for producing this material and to Sylvia Baldock for facilitating our learning in such a charismatic way. She certainly practiced what she preached!

Charisma - Sylvia logo2

I will continue on my charismatic journey. I have been starting and ending my day with the Hypno Meditations and working through the material again in my own time. I will continue to peel back the layers to reveal my authentic self. I have started to apply what I’ve learnt so that I can be a better parent and become a person who can inspire others.

If this post has inspired you, please do buy a copy of Nikki’s book, visit her website and that of our trainer Sylvia Baldock. You won’t be disappointed.

“Charisma is your birth right, it is a natural state that is within all of us, including you, just waiting to be awakened.” ~ Nikki Owen

Experience Review: Brooklands Museum – Planes, (no Trains) and Automobiles

“I feel safer on Concorde than I do driving on the M3. It’s a huge, gas-guzzling machine and yet it’s beautiful.” ~ Gordon Sumner aka Sting

Early in the New Year when the UK was under a deluge of torrential rain and the kids were going slightly loopy after being cooped up in the house, we all decided to go to Brooklands Museum on the recommendation of a friend. I had never heard of Brooklands before, but I should have, as it was the birth place of British Motor-racing and its evolution into the modern equivalent: Formula One.

Will on F1 simulator behind

Brooklands race track was conceived and constructed by Hugh F. Locke King in 1906 and was the first purpose built, banked motor-racing circuit in the world. The circuit at Indianapolis in the USA drew inspiration from Brooklands and held its first race event in 1909. Here’s a fabulous vintage video of racing at Brooklands in 1928:

As well as the circuit an aerodrome/airfield was built on the site and rose to become one of the UK’s largest aircraft manufacturing centres by 1918.

Geographically it’s located right next door to Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge, Surrey. It will certainly appeal to those with an interest in motor-racing and aviation. Even my daughters (aged 8 and 6) really enjoyed it.

For me it meant the chance to go aboard Concorde – albeit stationary – something I’ve always wanted to do but after they were taken out of service in the aftermath of the tragic Air France accident I thought I’d never have the chance.

Having worked for Qantas for eight years and in the travel side of F1 it was a no brainer for me!

Jackson - F1 shed

We started our exploration in the R.R. Jackson hut which takes you back to the early years of Formula One with cars from each era as well as memorabilia and information relevant to the sport at the time. Having a teenage son of course, meant that he made a beeline for the F1 Simulator tucked away in the corner.

He looked right at home in Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 McLaren show car! He soon got used to the steering wheel and the handling and did a very respectable lap of Brooklands at 217 KPH.

Wills enjoying the F1 simulator in Lewis Hamilton's 2008 McLaren show car.

Wills enjoying the F1 simulator in Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 McLaren show car.

There’s also Senna’s 1992 Honda F1 show car, which the museum allows people to sit in.  It was quite emotional to see his car right in front of us. I grew up watching Ayrton Senna racing on the TV, alongside his arch rivals Prost and Mansell.

Kids posing on Sennas car

We’re all petrol heads in my family; when I was a teenager my step dad owned an Aston Martin DB6 (which we used to polish the wheel spokes with toothbrushes in return for passenger rides), and I can still recall the smell of the leather seats and the sound of the engine when he used to put pedal to the metal on the straight at Silverstone. My mum had a Ferrari for a time also, those were the halycon days of my youth…

There are other huts for motor-racing related exhibits, but as we were short on time I took Will to the airplane hangar. They had many wonderful old airplanes in there from WW1 to the Harrier Jump Jet and a Wellington bomber that had been salvaged from the murky depths of Loch Lomond in 1985 after it had crashed soon after take-off during the Second World War.

The crew had bailed out, but sadly the gunner’s parachute didn’t open.

The whole hangar was filled with engines, photos, and volunteers on hand to explain about the different aircraft on display.

Whatever you do, don't push the ejector button!

Whatever you do, don’t push the ejector button!

Of course I had to take the obligatory photo of Will in the Harrier.

Outside they had one of the Sultan of Brunei’s planes and other various commercial jets that the girls loved exploring.

There’s also a very sizeable café with a separate section for young children that serves delicious hot food, pastries and snacks.


“While the US aimed for the moon, Britain aimed for supersonic flight – and we made it too.” ~ Reginald Turnhill (former BBC Aerospace & Defence Correspondant).

When I worked for Qantas Airways on two separate occasions I was fortunate enough to be allowed to sit in the ‘jump seat’ on the flight deck of a Boeing 747-400 ‘Longreach’ landing at Bangkok and London Heathrow. I also flew in Wunala Dreaming when she did her special flight from London to Prestwick for a day of golf for VIP clients.  You can imagine I was in my element to be able to see Concorde up close…

It was pouring at the end of our tour of Concorde 'Delta Golf'

It was pouring at the end of our tour of Concorde ‘Delta Golf’

I started my education underneath Concorde’s belly. A very knowledgeable character with an engineering background explained about her design, the engines, landing gears, air intake etc.

Concorde belly

I’m only sorry that I can’t do justice to his amazing talk. I do remember him saying that Concorde took-off at an incline of fifteen degrees, reaching a speed of 220 kt compared to 165 kt for most subsonic aircraft. In other respects it performed in much the same way. 

Concorde air intake

How the first British production Concorde G-BBDG was dismantled and transported to Brooklands to be re-assembled and renovated for display:

Our guide explained that on take-off Concorde required 25% more engine power and this was applied for one minute and fourteen seconds exactly and then the after-burners were switched off for noise abatement and to conserve fuel. Normally over south Wales they opened up the four Rolls Royce Olympus engines again to reach the speed of sound – Mach 1, at 670mph.

The term ‘Mach’ is named after Austrian physicist Ernst Mach and used to describe the speed of an aircraft as a ration of the speed of sound, with Mach 1 being the point after which the aircraft is ‘supersonic’.

When Concorde has reached her cruising altitude of between 55-60 thousand feet, and a speed of 1350 mph she will be travelling at twice the speed of sound – Mach 2. This is a dangerous speed as the engines can’t handle the extra air speed so Concorde was fitted with special air intake chambers, around eleven feet long containing computer operated angled slants which slowed down and spread the air so as not to damage the engines.

Concorde engine and cooling chamber

Around a ton of aviation fuel is burnt up on take-off, and at this point another nine tonnes of fuel is stored in the aircraft to make it across the Atlantic travelling at Mach 2.

Concorde Mach 2 sign

The morning flight took just over three hours, cruising at around 60,000 feet where the curvature of the earth is visible, and because Concorde flew faster than the earth rotated, passengers arrived to witness the sunrise in New York!

“I believe that every effort should be made to keep Concorde flying as it is such an important symbol of British innovation.” ~ Sir Richard Branson

This video shows the on-board experience of take-off, flying supersonic and landing. The pilot’s commentary also explains about pulling back on the power after take-off:

 When we went on board there was a great display that detailed the history of the aircraft. ‘Delta Golf’ as she’s affectionately known, was the first Concorde to fly supersonic with 100 passengers on board in 1974.

Concorde 1974 Mach 2

Part of the internal fuselage was left uncovered so that you could see the cooling system inside the cabin to keep passengers from burning themselves! What struck me was how small the windows were compared to subsonic aircraft, in case of depressurisation at high altitude.

Concorde interior - cooling system

We then sat at the front in the section that had been fitted with passenger seats for an in-flight simulation, which was brilliant!

Concorde interior front seating

“It is not unreasonable to look upon Concorde as a miracle. Who would have predicted that the combination of two governments, two airframe companies, two engine companies each with different cultures, languages and measurement would have produced a technical achievement the size of concorde?” ~ Brian Trubshaw CBE (leading test pilot & first British pilot to fly Concorde in April 1969)

In my humble opinion Concorde was one of the great machines of the twentieth century and one of the most elegant and beautiful flying machines of all time.

The flight deck of Concorde 'Delta Golf'

The flight deck of Concorde ‘Delta Golf’

Concorde facts & figures:

  • When travelling at Mach 2 (1350 mph) Concorde flew faster than a rifle bullet.
  • The airframe expanded by as much as six to ten inches during its flight due to friction, keeping it corrosion-free.
  • The temperature in the cabin reached 90 degrees and required its own cooling system.
  • The pointed nose of Concorde reached  a temperature of 127 degrees at supersonic speeds.
  • The ‘droop’ nose was lowered to give the pilots’ visibility for take-off and landing.
  • Only 20 Concordes were built, 14 of which remained in service, 7 with British Airways and 7 with Air France.
  • The very first commercial reservation to travel on-board Concorde was taken in 1960, nine years before the first test flights.
  • Proving the aerodynamic shape of Concorde took over 5,000 hours of subsonic, transonic and supersonic wing tunnel testing.
  • By the time Concorde was in commercial service it was the most tested aircraft in aviation history.
  • British Airways Concorde flight stats: 50,000 flights, 140,000 flying hours, of which over 100,000 were at supersonic, covering 140 million miles.
  • More than 2.5 million passengers flew supersonically on British Airways flights since the aircraft went into service in 1976.
  • Phil Collins took Concorde from London to New York to appear on both sides of the Atlantic in one day for the Live Aid music event in aid of famine relief in Africa.
  • There were more US astronauts than BA Concorde pilots!
  • British PM Jim Callaghan was the first supersonic prime minister when he flew to Washington to meet President Jimmy Carter to negotiate landing rights for British Airways Concorde in the USA.
  • The commercial supersonic era began on 21st January 1976, with British Airways flying from London Heathrow to Bahrain and Air France from Paris to Rio de Janeiro.
  • Due to Concorde’s high cruising altitude (50- 60,000 ft.) and the aerodynamic properties of its delta wing, its passengers experienced only one sixth of the turbulence experienced by subsonic jet travellers.
  • Concorde’s fastest transatlantic crossing was on 7th February 1996, when it completed the New York to London flight in two hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds.
  • The last ever flight of Concorde was on 26th November 2003 when G-BOAF was flown to Airbus UK at Filton for retirement.

For those (like me), who love aviation and have an interest in Concorde here is Captain Mike Bannister to commence an informative and nostalgic documentary about the history and remarkable achievements of Concorde:

In conclusion, Brooklands is well worth a visit. You could combine it with a visit to Mercedes-Benz next door, which is something I promised Wills in the future.

I’d love to hear from you if you ever had the privilege of travelling on Concorde…

“It’s hard to believe there will never be another supersonic aeroplane – inspired by Concorde’s achievements.” ~ Brian Trubshaw.

Experience Review: Tally Ho! An Afternoon on Horseback and Foot in Windsor Great Park

“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”  ~ Sir Winston Churchill

For Ruby’s sixth birthday I felt it was important for her to have an experience rather than more toys. She doesn’t have lots of toys, but she has enough. It would just be more to clutter up the house.

Instead, she had to wait until Saturday 4th July to have a two hour trek around Windsor Great Park with her sister.

Ruby on Banjo

Ruby plays almost exclusively with her ponies and toy horses; you could say she is extremely enthusiastic about all things equestrian! Therefore, it was a no brainer to organise a riding experience for her.

Ruby back at the car park

Tally Ho! Stables was the obvious choice. I met Jenny Yung, the manager, at a recent Athena training, and what they offered sounded perfect for my girls. I wasn’t disappointed…

I couldn’t afford to ride with them, so that meant keeping up with the horses on foot, which was no walk in the park on such a hot day! Strenuous but fun, it was very rewarding to see my daughters having such a great time.

Emily on Curo

Ruby was a natural – as I knew she would be – and even though she is just six years old she acted like she was a confident, regular rider. Even Emily, my eldest, who is terrified of dogs and at best wary of horses, seemed to find her groove.

When we arrived the girls were introduced to their mounts: Ruby was on a gentle cob known as Banjo (who we were told was a bit of gypsy) and Emily’s ride was a beautiful Bay from Andalucia called Curo. Both horses were perfect for their riders.

Ruby mounting Banjo

As the entrance to Windsor Great Park was a short distance from the stables we followed the horses in the large blue van to the park where they donned their riding hats, mounted up and set off initially down a sandy track. Most of the route consisted of sand paths, grass and some road.

we did it

Fairly early on they had to cross a main road, a point known as the Pegasus Crossing, which has red and green horses instead of red and green men! Then we ambled past the Crown Estate Manager’s country pad and were shortly inside the gates to the deer park, which contains some 250 to 300 deer.

They trotted up a hill, and after a while we came to what Jenny and Jean referred to as ‘the copper horse’, an imposing equine statue of George III (this time on a real horse), overlooking the Royal Mile down below him leading to Windsor Castle.

by the copper horse

We had a couple of glimpses of the castle at different angles before this point. We didn’t follow the mile road though, instead we carried on through the deer park and back out via a slightly different route. Throughout the ride Emily and Ruby were relaxed and confident on their horses.

There was never a moment that I felt they were not safe. Jenny and Jean were accomplished horsewomen and knew the characters of the horses and their behavioural traits. The horses were always paired up and led by each woman so the girls were never riding alone, which was comforting to me!

four horses in a row

Jenny and Jean were very knowledgeable about the park and engaged in conversation with the girls (mind you, my two can talk the hind legs off a donkey so I don’t think it was too difficult for them), and were reassuring, answering all their questions.

During the parts of the ride that I had enough puff to keep up with Blue (Jenny’s horse), I found out that Tally Ho! Stables looks after 35 horses and can pretty much tailor the experience to the ability of the riders. They will take only one person out, or they can easily look after a larger group of riders with mixed abilities.

View of Windsor Castle across the park

Jean was telling me that quite a few of their horses had been film stars, Curo had been a soldier’s horse in the recent Cinderella film and a gorgeous, friendly stallion back at the stables known as Forry (abbreviation of Foreigner), a magnificent horse from Belgium, had been in War Horse and another film that escapes my memory…

After the ride I noticed why Jenny’s horse for the hack was called Blue; he had one blue eye and one brown eye, (known as Wall Eye), which is quite rare for a horse. Banjo had this condition as well, but it was harder to see as his fringe was quite long!

close up of Blues Wall eye

The girls were keen to say good bye to their horses at the stables, so we followed them back and Ruby and Emily were allowed to feed them carrots and help groom them.

Ruby hugging Banjo

He knows when you’re happy

He knows when you’re comfortable

He knows when you’re confident

And he always knows when you have carrots.

~ Author Unknown

Ruby feeding Curo

It was a wonderful experience, one I would recommend for all ages and ability levels, Tally Ho! really do look after you and the scenery is just wonderful. We were lucky with the weather, but they do go out all-year round, except when it’s icy and the horses are likely to slip.

Jenny and her staff are regularly in touch with the park wardens and can always count on them for assistance should it be needed.

Emily saying thank you to Curo

Emily is already asking me if she can go back and do it for her 9th birthday, only next time I’m going to make sure I’m on horseback with them! They get 5 stars from me, it was worth every penny of the £80 per person fee. Happy memories are priceless…

happy girls after the ride

To make a booking, contact Jenny Yung on 01344 893700. The Tally Ho Stables website explains some interesting facts and history about Windsor Great Park, which was defined in 1240 by Henry III.

Windsor Castle is the longest occupied royal castle in Europe; built by William the Conqueror, it has been lived in and expanded by successive English and British monarchs since Henry I. The Queen is sometimes in residence at the weekends and the castle’s State Apartments hosts royalty and visiting dignitaries from around the world.

“There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.”  ~ John Lubbock, (Recreation, The Use of Life, 1894)