Towns / Cities Visited: 93
Countries Visited: 21
Steps Taken Today: 11,389
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,797,754
Today was going to be a crush for time, and as such, we were up and on our way early. Driving into Brighton we quickly found a place to park, and hurried off to our first attraction; Brighton Pavilion. As we walked through the gardens and finally caught a glimpse of this historic royal abode, its hard not to be blown away. It is so very different from the usual gothic or medieval style buildings we are used to. For those of you who have never seen it, it is constructed in such a way as to resemble an Indian style of architecture, with its silhouette being accented with countless spires and domes. This style is hardly surprising given the fact that India was the jewel in the crown of the British empire during the years of the pavilion’s construction. When viewed from the front there is something almost Taj Mahal-esque about it, and it really is quite striking. Now, this beautiful residence was built in 1787 as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales; the man who would later become Prince Regent when his father became too mentally ill to rule. As a Prince, a Regent, and later, as King George IV, he was known for his extravagant spending and his poor treatment of his wife, and, as a result, was not well liked by the general population. This over zealous taste, which left him bankrupt and requesting money from parliament just to finish the construction here, is on display in full force when it comes to this pavilion.
After having finally mentally processed the over the top, if slightly worn, exterior, we made our way inside. As with all of these past royal residences, the interiors are not allowed to be photographed, but I’ll add a few generic internet photos so you can see for yourself just how ridiculous this place is. With audio guide in hand, we began with the bottom storey of the building. Seemingly this area of the pavilion is decorated in keeping with the oriental style and in increasing levels of extravagance so that each room the visitor passes through on their way to the grand banquetting room, is designed to impress them more and more on the run up to the main event. For example; the entrance hall is painted an understated pale green, with dragon images on the wall panels; the long gallery after this however, is decked out with a plethora of Asian decorations, from carved wooden Chinese figures with nodding heads, to a large array of stunning porcelain.
Nothing can quite prepare you for the banquetting room though. It is two storeys in height, roofed with a massive domed ceiling, and hanging from it, the most breathtaking chandelier you’ve ever seen. Its not just the size of this low hanging chandelier, with its beautiful green tinged glass petal lampshades that make it so spectacular, but rather the massive silver dragon which appears to hold it in suspension above the table. The dome itself is painted to resemble palm leaves, with a few stucco leaves added behind the dragon to give a three dimensional feel to it. The rest of the room appears like nothing short of an Indian palace, with beautiful hand painted oriental style panels on the walls, and drapery which gives the feel of a massive tent. The bright reds and blues, along with the lavish amount of gilding, only adds to the feeling of luxury. To be honest we spent a goodly amount of time simply gawking at it.
From here, unlike in most palaces where the kitchens are kept separate to lower the chance of fires, but as a result meant that food often arrived cold to the guests, we stepped straight through the service area of the waiters, and into the beating heart of the culinary world of this palace. The kitchen seems almost as massive as the banquetting room, and even has its load bearing pillars decorated to resemble palm trees. Its true that Prince George loved to entertain, and that included showing his guests this kitchen, hence the decoration. At least the cooks were granted plenty of space to ply their trade, even if that was just a side effect of the Prince’s ostentatiousness.
We passed back through the exquisite dining room to continue our tour. Next up was the banquetting room’s long gallery, which runs parallel to the other long gallery. It acted as a sort of drawing room for the men to play cards and smoke after dinner. Filled with fancy furniture, and more drapery to carry on the Oriental feel, it is here that the guide explains about the Prince’s distaste for is wife, Caroline of Brunswick, who he didn’t even invite to his coronation, and from whom he unsuccessfully tried to divorce himself; his many mistresses; and the death of his only legitimate heir, Princess Charlotte, before his own death, resulting in the crown falling to his younger brother upon his passing. Overall George IV was seemingly a reckless and unbecoming monarch, despite him being known as ‘The First Gentleman of England’ in his earlier years.
From here we made our way past the saloon which was unfortunately closed for restoration, through to the music room, which was used by the King’s band to entertain guests, and is probably the second most breathtaking room in the pavilion. With its oriental style images embroidered in gold onto its red damask wall coverings; its stunning dome decorated with millions of tiny silver gilded cockleshells, and ringed with stunning blue stained glass windows; and its delicate painted glass lotus inspired chandeliers, its a spectacular show of wealth.
The remainder of the tour leads you through the private apartments which mix traditional English and French style furniture with the continuing theme of Asian inspired wall coverings. They include the King George’s bedroom, which was moved from upstairs to downstairs in his later years when he had become grossly overweight and was suffering from gout, meaning walking upstairs we not really an option. Upstairs are the rooms he had made for his two brothers, and which are known as the Yellow Bow Rooms, due to their bright yellow damask wall coverings, and the tour ends with Queen Victoria’s Rooms, which were set up for the Queen for her visits with her family in the 1830’s and 40's.
We could have easily have spent more time exploring this one in a million palace, but unfortunately we had places to rush off to, and with that we handed back in our audio guides and headed off. On the way back to the car we took a short moment to pass by the Brighton Palace Pier, on which is perched a small amusement park. We had intended on coming down and venture in last night, but the unending rain we had decided to give it a miss. Still, it was nice to pass by it, and perhaps one day we can come back and visit it properly.
Our next stop for the day was to be a quick dash into Winchester, but given the Bank Holiday traffic we found ourselves in, what should have been a 45 minute drive, became a two hour epic. By the time we made it into Winchester and parked, it was a mad dash to the sight we had come all of this way to see; The Great Hall. This medieval hall is all that remains of a castle which used to occupy this spot when it was built in 1067. The hall wasn’t added until the 13th century by King Henry III though. The main draw card to this place, aside from its obvious history, is, in fact, a large wooden tabletop which hangs on one of the walls, and is known as the Round Table. Despite myths of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, this table is not some mystical old relic, but is instead a 13th century table, repainted with the names of the fictitious knights for King Henry VIII. You will not be surprised to know that the image of King Arthur painted on it, looks remarkably like a young Henry.
Out the back of the Great Hall can be found Queen Eleanor’s Garden; a beautiful reconstruction of a medieval garden, added to the sight in 1986. Not only is it designed to resemble the kind of private gardens that kings and queens of the time would have had, but it only incorporates plants and materials which would have been available in medieval times. It adds greatly to the historic feel of the attraction, even if it is fairly new. As we quickly nipped through the corridor that leads to the exit, we were a little sad that we wouldn’t have time to stop and read the centuries worth of history they have displayed on panels, but we had a booked tour we had to make in Salisbury, and if the traffic was anything like it had been here, we were already looking at being late.
Luckily for us, we managed to make it to Salisbury in good time, mainly due to the quiet, more out of the way streets, the GPS had taken us down to get there. With the car parked, thanks to a little help from an attendant, we arrived at our last attraction for the day with fifteen minutes to spare; Salisbury cathedral. We hurried inside and checked in for our tour, before taking a little time to explore the interior before going over to meet our guide. This beautiful house of god was started in 1220 and took around 100 years to build, but the majority of it was built in just 38 of those years; which, given its size, is pretty damn impressive. Its everything you would want from a gothic church; a towering vaulted ceiling, beautiful medieval style stained glass windows, and more than a few extravagant marble memorials for the deceased aristocracy and wealthy churchgoers. There are, however, no graves below the floor, and there is no crypt. This seems odd until you realise that the water table sits just 4 feet below the surface of the ground; a fact that also means that somehow this huge structure has only 4 feet worth of foundations holding it up.
We were soon met by our friendly old guide, who began by explaining to us the construction of the church and the materials used. Despite what most people would think, that hulking vaulted ceiling is actually made of wood and plaster, not stone. I mean think about it though, imagine how heavy that would be if it were made of stone; the likelihood of it staying up is about zero to none. He also showed us one of the churches largest draw cards; the world’s oldest working mechanical clock, dating from all the way back to 1386. Like all clocks back then, it does not have a face, as it was made to simply ring out the hours and their fractions on a bell, which it still does to this day. It may not look more like a collections of cogs and pulleys, but there is something about it that you can’t help but be impressed by.
It was finally time for us to start the part of the tour we had truly come for; the tour of the tower. Now, for those of you who don’t know, the cathedral’s second major draw card is the fact it has UK’s highest church spire, at 123 metres. Its height is not the only impressive part of it, its also the fact that its manages to stay up at all. When it was constructed, it added an extra 6500 tonnes to the structure. As we stood on the balcony above the nave the guide drew our attention to the fact that you can actually see the stress this put on the building, as you can just see where the walls bow slightly under the weight. It is the huge flying buttresses on the exterior, and the countless wooden and iron support beams inside the tower, that have kept it standing all of these centuries, and prevented it toppling like so many others.
As we ascended into the roof space above the vaulting, we finally had a chance to see some of this almost 700 year old wood which still holds up the building to this day; a true feat of architectural genius. From here we headed along until we were within the spire itself. Taking a moment, we sat and heard the bells ring out for the quarter hour; a truly magical moment.
We took the narrow spiral steps up in stages as the guide pointed out some of the iron beams which were added in the middle ages, a rather surprising addition given the fact that iron wasn’t often used in construction at this point. Our guide also explained that only a couple of decades ago, there had been a call for funding from the public to help them to restore and strengthen the spire to prevent its collapse. As an incentive, anyone who donated over a certain amount was allowed to etch a message into a small square of glass, which all now sit in the windows of the spire. It was nice to take a moment and read the messages from the kind people who helped prevent the collapse of such an important historic building, especially the countless squares dedicated to lost loved ones. On the next landing the guide pointed out a small hole in the wood floor in which there is a rather impressive view down to where we had just come from; here I’ll show you.
After quite a few more stairs, we found ourselves at the final landing you can reach in the spire. It does of course continue upwards from here, and when the lights are turned on its almost vertigo inducing to look up at. At this point the guide told us that between 1864 and 1953 there were reports of Peregrine falcons nesting in the spire, and in 2013 a new family of falcons came and built a nest on one of the balconies just outside this landing. They even have a camera set up to monitor the eggs when the couple come to nest, although unfortunately they hadn’t come yet this year. Due to the nesting areas, we were only able to go out on three of the four balconies for a view of the surrounding area, but that didn’t make the vantage point any less impressive.
Eventually it was time to come back down to earth, but don’t worry, there was still one last impressive draw card that this church had up its sleeve. Heading out through England’s largest cloister, with its two gorgeous old trees at its centre, we made our way into the equally as stunning octagonal chapter house. Its central pillar stretching up to its vaulted ceiling looks almost as though you are standing beneath a fountain on stone. The room itself isn’t the draw card though, but instead it is what sits within the tiny curtained booth at the far side; the best preserved of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta from 1215. Seeing the centuries old pages, and the incredibly neat short hand Latin scrawled upon them it was hard to fathom the domino effect of changes this singular document made, not just to England, but to monarchies, and later, democracies worldwide. It was the beginning of the discussion about preventing the tyranny of leaders going unchecked. Although it was originally created to prevent the Monarch from illegally imprisoning barons, allowing them to a trial and to appeal their imprisonment, and to cap the ever increasing amount of their payments to the Crown, and was not, as many people think, designed to help the ordinary people. With this said, it is important to acknowledge that although it was only designed to protect the upper class, it was still the very first document which challenged the absolute authority of the Monarch and subjected him to the rule of law. It closed the door, to some extent, to the ability of the Kings and Queens to simply do as they pleased without consequence. It introduced the idea of a fair trial, which would eventually go one to become the basis of all first world legal systems, and individual rights for all.
Our visit had finally come to an end, and the sun was quickly approaching the horizon. A short drive saw us arrive at our Airbnb and after a home cooked meal we were happy to finally having a chance to relax after such a hectic day. As I thought about all we had seen, my mind returned once more to the Magna Carta. This document, this singular agreement between a king and his feuding barons, was the first step towards holding leaders responsible for their actions, and protecting their subjects from their abuse. It was designed to give rights to the Barons, but as the idea progressed over the centuries, and democracies as we know them now began to pop up, these fundamental rights and protections were altered, improved, and extended to all of the people under the rule of elected or hereditary leaders. In theory, democracy means that the power sits in the hands of the people; we are supposed to be in an enlightened era where human rights are flourishing, and our freedoms are at their peak, and yet, dishearteningly, as we look around the world we continue to see the struggle to hold corrupt leaders accountable.
We have leaders of first world democracies, like Donald Trump, doing huge damage to the rights and freedoms of many of his citizens, particularly minorities and the poor, whilst simultaneously creating a society where the ultra rich are allowed to evade taxes and do as they please, and yet despite the majority of the people being openly against him now, because of the way their government is structured they lack the power to remove him from office, despite the threat he poses to the very country he is sworn to protect. By all intents and purposes he is supposed to be held accountable for his transgressions and yet he is not. He dragging his country back in time to a bygone era where the rich get richer, and the other 99% of the population pay for it. He’s denying scientifically proven world issues like climate change, using fear tactics to make the average person believe that he’s right; he shouts ‘Fake news!’, or fires anyone who dare stand up and correct him; hell the man shut down his entire government because the majority of the elected representatives for the people will not support him wanting to build an unnecessary and wildly racist wall.
We act like the crimes of people like Hitler could never happen in this day and age, but they are occurring everyday, and his rule of Germany started much the same way. Fear and ignorance won Trump his position as President, as it did Hitler, and he will do anything to keep himself there. He is the kind of leader the Magna Carta was written to hold to account; a malevolent ruler who thinks he can do as he pleases because he is in a position of power, whether it is illegal or not; whether its inhumane or not. America has a constitution and a democracy based on the idea of checks and balances, and yet here sits a unbalanced man going about his crimes against his people unchecked. I may not be American but my heart goes out to them all the same; may they dethrone him before he does damage which can never be repaired.