Kings. Queens. Princesses. Princes. Dukes. Duchesses. They're all titles that seem like they've been plucked straight out of a fairytale. And yet, the books that I've really pulled them out from are the rows and rows of royal textbooks that line my bookshelf. Or more recently, The Crown on Netflix...
Why? Because for some unbeknown reason (even to me), I am absolutely obsessed with the Royal Family. Old or new, Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth. Princess Anne or the Duchess of Cambridge. I team through textbooks and newspaper articles as if they are a gossip column in a glossy magazine. Visiting Buckingham Palace is high up on my bucket list, meeting Kate nearly gave me a heartattack and the knowledge that Prince William will be coming to Milton Keynes this month has made me weak at my knees.
It's funny though that as a child I was never someone who dreamed of being a Princess. Don't get me wrong, I loved a good, traditional Disney film as much as the next kid but I always knew that it wasn't a goal. And then I grew up and discovered that Princesses and Princes are real. Still not attainable by any sense. But real. And that, I think, is where my obsession began. They are an elite that sits up in the clouds, shimmering with their fairytale-like aura and yet, they are real. Real people, with real lives. But that is what I find so fascinating. They are real people and yet in so many senses they are of a different world, a world with hundreds of years of tradition and I lap up any new information I can gather on them.
So, considering I only live twenty-eight miles away from Althorp House - the home of Diana prior to her marriage to Prince Charles and her current resting place - it is somewhat shocking that, until three weeks ago, I had never taken the time to visit it. The tickets cost £18.50, although I got in for £16 as I still have my student card and considering you have no timeframe for being there I didn't personally think it was too extortionate. And if you're a fan of state houses, enjoy nosey-ing into the lives of the rich and love strolling through a selection of beautiful gardens then I don't think you would find it too expensive either.
And regardless, while waltzing through Buckingham Palace is still high up on my bucket list, spending the day strolling through Althorp filled a gap inside of me that I didn't even know was there prior to my visit. Walking through the corridors and along the stairs of the house was about as close to my fairytale dream of living like a Royal as I will ever get. And that's ok because in many ways it exceeded my expectations. I had believed that the 500-year-old house would feel old, dated, unrelatable and it did in some ways. However, there were snippets of life all over the place - from the much loved and well used Snooker table in one room, to the table filled to the brim with half drunk bottles of expensive alcohol, to the modern day photographs resting on pieces of furniture wherever you looked. I found it pleasing to look up at a portrait that was no doubt hundreds of years old, to get a snippet of the history behind the house and then to see a hint at the modern day people to whom the house is not just a house, but a home.
To some extent I was happy to forge my own ideas on the possessions and the rooms. Content to act as a child and let my imagination run wild, concocting story after story about the people who must have also passed through the same rooms that I was standing in at that moment. But, it was also pleasing to find guides positioned throughout the ninety rooms who were more than happy to share their wealth of knowledge with me as I made my way from room to room. They really helped to bring the house to life with their (true) stories and when we eventually stepped back outside into the sunlight, I was pleased to be coming away with a little bit of knowledge about the building and its inhabitants (both past and present).
Especially as, prior to entering the house, I had been a little bit disappointed with the exhibition on Diana herself. It was largely made up of photographs, that were undeniably beautiful but had very little information to accompany them. And it was a shame because, as I was only three years old when Diana died, I was hoping to come away a bit wiser on her. It didn't ruin the day by any degree though - in fact by the time I had finished examining the contents of the house my initial disappointment had dissipated entirely and I was ready to explore the grounds.
Which, it goes without saying, were stunning. Admittedly we were incredibly lucky that the weather was so glorious when we did visit but I'm certain that it would have looked beautiful even if we had arrived on an overcast day. That being said, the sun did help to light up the gardens and added to the glisten on the lake - both of which were gorgeous enough to make us stand for a second of admiration before continuing on along the pathway.
After a stroll past the lake, via Diana's monument and through the gardens, we finished our day with a quick stop at the Stables Cafe. As the name suggests, the cafe is situated inside the old stable block and it was the perfect end to a lovely day. The cafe has been designed to perfectly match the original use of the building - with tables inside recreated stables, nameplates from the stable doors dotted around as decoration pieces and saddles hanging from high up on the walls. It was really nice to see that they hadn't simply gutted the place but had worked hard to keep the memory of its original usage going.
After admiring the interior, we all opted for a small pot of ice-cream, which was a bit pricey - but when are the prices cheap in places such as these?! - but well worth it and definitely needed after a walk in the hot sunshine!
All-in-all? A day well spent and for me, another tick on the Royal Bucket List.