|Two ugly sisters, apparently, in Hever Castle|
Although I've been to Hever a couple of times, Jan Willem is a fan of castles. He's visiting from the Netherlands and had missed out on seeing Hever the last time he was here. It's not easy to get to on public transport, but in the Christmas/New Year limbo, with industrial action on top, I took pity and said I'd drive.
I made sandwiches, packed slices of Mum's Christmas cake, mince pies, nut brittle, filled three flasks with tea, coffee and hot chocolate and we were prepared.
It was cold and damp when we got out of the car near the jousting field, and wandered towards the house. I was surprised by how busy it was and then we turned a corner. In front of the castle, masking our view of the entrance across the moat, was a funfair. Later I would notice the deafening music, but for now, we headed over the moat and into the courtyard clutching our tickets.
It took a while to sink in, but a bundle of rags hanging from a window was Rapunzel. A badly pasted sign told us the castle had a pantomime theme. Far worse was to come.
|The largest Christmas tree made it impossible |
to appreciate the portrait of Henry.
There were a lot of visitors, too many to fit into its small rooms. And someone had been determined to put a Christmas tree, garland, baubles or table decoration in every available corner and on every surface. It was impossible to stand and look or even consider the story we were walking through - that of Henry VIII, who cut off the head of a woman who was brought up here and then gave the house away to another of his wives.
Where was the story of incest and adultery? Anne's role as the mother of Elizabeth 1? Why were these stories being shoved aside in favour of badly presented summaries of fairy tales?
We found Sleeping Beauty in King Henry's Bedchamber - the four poster randomly draped in strands of plastic ivy - and Snow White had been put up in the Waldegrave Room's four poster, which was "decorated" with birds.
|Thumbs up from Snow White for the birdsong CD|
And towards the end of the gallery, a prince and princess stood in a white and silver grotto.
|Elizabeth 1 - Anne's daughter|
|Pantomime at Hever,|
Risenga in front of a
Prince and Princess
enjoying a white Christmas
So, to our picnic....we headed for a spare table and started to unpack until we realised that there was a hidden speaker in yet another festive display and it was pumping out volume. There was nowhere to hide. We bagged a spot under a heater where it was marginally quieter and decided to head for the lake (via the maze) for some peace from the tat, fairy lights, tasteless versions of Christmas and forced jollity. Even the topiary had been draped in lights.
The only truth in the day, the only really uplifting moment, was watching the geese lift off from the end of the lake and settle again in the sky's reflection under the mist.
I wondered if I was wrong to moan about the tat and baubles in every corner of a mainly reconstructed interior until I gasped out loud at the drab Sleeping Beauty, utterly without magic or anything in fact to make a story work, in her tired wig and dressing up costume, in the bed of this vicious king.... and the woman next to me said 'Yes'. She also had been wondering what the hell Hever was thinking.
And I realised I was embarrassed. Because we'd brought a visitor from the Netherlands, because there were tourists from Japan, the US, France, Spain, Germany, China, also squeezing through these rooms that they'd been lured to by the history business. It's bad enough having to discuss Brexit.
As we walked back to the car we wondered why, if they wanted installations to reflect the seasons, they (whoever they is in the management of the castle) hadn't employed light artists to do something outside and set designers to do something inside. Or maybe history doesn't matter now, or the visitor experience....is history in fact an inconvenience for those in the history business? And why was the only room they didn't touch that of the Astor's?
Hever Castle is owned by Broadland Properties Limited. It is a member of the Historic Houses Association.