There are hundreds of castles and palaces in England and it would be impossible for us to visit them all. Castles are particularly interesting to us as they were built with stone walls, secret rooms, and early defense systems (think boiling oil, falling boulders and painful surprises) to protect the inhabitants from invasion; palaces are simply royal residences. Some castles are still owned by the royal family, others as part of national parks and still others as private residences. There is a great TV show in England called Grand Designs showcasing people who are building unique residences around the U.K. Some of these are castles that have fallen to ruin and are being restored as modern homes. It’s interesting to watch the process and the finished products are really beautiful. They almost make you want to live in an old castle.
We are trying to make an effort to visit castles and palaces as we can since they are something we don’t have in the U.S. This week we visited Kensington Palace which has been and is home to some of the world’s most famous princesses. Princess Diana lived there from the time she first married until her death, as did Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth’s sister). It was also the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria, England’s longest reigning monarch. Now part of the property is under reconstruction to be a new home for Prince William and Kate.
The palace sits on the edge of Hyde park just west of central London and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. A large section is open to the public, but much of the grounds and many buildings are behind tall stone walls to provide privacy and protect the royal family that current live there. The public portions are not ornately presented like Windsor Castle. They are sparsely decorated and tell the historical stories of William III and Mary II (who died of small pox), King George I and Queen Victoria.
It is easy to think of all the lives and history that have occupied this building as we wander the limited space available to the public. This was truly a family home full of births and deaths, majesty, joy and also great sorrow.