One of the great joys of West London is how it offers the best of both worlds – proximity to the heart of the city, but a real sense of the English countryside. And Hampton Court, where Craven House is located, adds an extra ingredient – immersion in royalty and history.
In 2015, that is more pertinent than ever, as it marks 500 years since the building of Hampton Court Palace, opposite our front door, and 800 years since the Magna Carta was signed, not far from us in Runnymede.
Celebrations around that significant moment in democracy continue all year, and there are regular guided tours of the site, taking in highlights such as monuments to JFK and to the Allied Air Forces in World War II.
Similarly, there will be events throughout 2015 to mark half a millennium of life at the royal palace, including November’s Sing 500 – an event bringing stories to life through music. Hampton Court hosts all sorts of interesting events, in a stunning setting, throughout the year, including the RHS Flower Show in early July, the BBC Good Food Festival (with celebrity chefs and an array of British artisan produce) over the August Bank Holiday, and Luna Cinema’s showings of classic movies on the outdoor big screen, in August and September.
The gardens of Hampton Court are wonderful to walk through all year round, and are just part of the collection of green spaces in this part of London. Bushy Park is the capital’s second largest park, after Greenwich. Famous for its red and fallow deer, which make their home in the grasslands, it also has rivers, water gardens, fishing and boating ponds, as well formal plantations and long avenues of trees, where royalty used to ride their horses.
Talking of horses, one of the great traditions of an English summer is evening racing and there are two of the country’s best known racecourses – Sandown Park and Kempton Park – a few miles away, with two others – Windsor and Epsom Downs, home of the Derby, in easy reach too. It’s an excuse to dress up in your finery, order a Pimm’s or flute of champagne and relax – or go absolutely crazy if your outsider noses in front at the line.
The racecourses are making these evenings complete entertainment packages, with food, drink and music – in August, Sandown even has gigs by rockers Kaiser Chiefs and the ever-popular Irish boyband Boyzone at the end of the racecard. Both courses have racing throughout the year, with Kempton’s all-weather track and floodlights allowing evening racing throughout the winter too.
The sporting attractions of West London go beyond the four-legged variety, of course. Six short stops away from Hampton Court railway station is Wimbledon, home of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club and, arguably, the world’s greatest tennis tournament. (It’s also, to return to the four-legged for a moment, home to Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, if you want to experience a very different side of English culture.)
Also close to Craven House is Twickenham, or HQ as it’s known in rugby union circles. England play home matches there every year in the autumn (against the likes of the Wallabies and the All Blacks), and in the Six Nations Championship in February and March. And there are exciting games throughout the year, including the Oxford vs Cambridge Varsity Match, the Premiership final and an international sevens tournament.
This year, however, is particularly special, with England hosting the Rugby World Cup and key matches taking place at Twickenham – including the big game between the home side and Australia, both semi-finals and the final. And if you can’t make it to one of the big events, both Wimbledon and Twickenham have fascinating tours open year-round.
If you prefer sports participation, rather than spectating, there are at least a dozen golf courses within half an hour’s drive (by car, rather than Big Bertha). But why go further than Hampton Court Golf Club on the doorstep of Craven House and included in Golf Monthly magazine’s list of must-play courses. Unless you can secure a tee-time on the world-famous Wentworth West Course (home of the European PGA Championship), a short distance down the M3.
If all this sport is too much for you, there is therapy available near Craven House –retail therapy, that is. Kingston-upon-Thames boasts a branch of the British shopping institution John Lewis, plus Bentalls, which is a branch of luxury-brands retailer Fenwick of Bond Street. The Bentall Centre also contains a number of other great British stores: David Clulow, L.K. Bennett, Hawes & Curtis among them.
Elsewhere in Kingston, there are quirky boutiques and antique shops on Old London Road, and a daily market plus special themed markets in the Ancient Market Place.
And, remember, if by some chance you still need to find something to do, central London is a half-hour train ride away from Hampton Court!