After the impossible perfection that was four days in San Sebastian (with a side of Bilbao), I knew it would be pointless to return to the UK looking to recreate my Spanish mini break. Summer in London had been dismissed without so much as a cup of Earl Grey and a Hobnob, and I had more of a chance of marrying Harry (even with MM in the picture) than getting a glass of white wine for £1.80. Not to mention that my days were more back-to-work than back-to-the-beach.
But don’t cry for me, Argentina.
I was saved from the literal and metaphorical ‘couch of woe’, where dreams of pintxos and txakoli and Gerald’s danced in my head, by a duke, a queen and a right big house.
The day was September’s first Sunday and as I forgot to wish my dad a happy Father’s Day (while actually talking to him on the phone and hearing him describe the gift my sister had bought him), I boarded a train to the exotic locale of Brentford, headed into the unknown wonders of a place called Syon House.
As far as imposing English estates go, Syon holds its own. Many parts of the ‘home’ stopped me, and my breath, in their tracks. And while I don’t consider myself tall by any means, nothing can make you feel absolutely tiny than a room filled with marble statues and the art of wealth.
The long gallery – a mimic to that seen in Versailles – paved with leather-bound volumes made me want to move in, and spotting a copy of Town and Country in one of the many, many rooms, made me giggle in awe and jealousy that I was not the one to perch upon an irreplaceable and uncomfortable-looking chair and flip through the magazine at my leisure.
|Because all good estates should have their own mag collection
If, like me, you (*sob*) don’t move in such circles, you may be unfamiliar with the fact that Syon House is owned by the Duke of Northumberland and has quite the lineage of ownership. Not only that, Syon’s visitors are walking history pages. For there I was, in my jeans and wet weather gear (because it was three days after summer and so of course it was raining), standing on the threshold that led to a room in which the future Queen of England stayed. Yes, Princess Victoria often visited her governess, Duchess Charlotte Florentia, at Syon House (that copy of Town and Country was totes probably hers LOLZ).
But the beauty of Syon is that it doesn’t just capture the imagination of the recent past. Oh, no. For the most interesting, head-spinning part of my visit happened down in the crypt, as is want to happen with all good I-visited-a-duke-owned-English-estate-on-a-Sunday-after-a-trip-to-Spain blog posts.
Syon had ties with, among other English monarchs, King Henry VIII. Fascinating enough. But it was seeing the name ‘Catherine Howard’ that stopped me in my tracks. Catherine Howard, the seventeen-year-old queen to Henry’s forty-nine-year-old-king. Catherine Howard, who was executed a year later for adultery. Catherine Howard, who saw out the last months of her life at Syon.
I just… Wow.
The dark, tragic, winding paths of a country’s history was not what I had expected to find among the opulence and marble of Syon House on a colder-than-necessary September morning. But I did. As I read about the history that lay beneath my feet, that echoed around the rooms within which I stood, I couldn’t help but be a bit glad I was back in the UK. It might not have been a Spanish beach, or a bar that made my heart beat for home, or even a glass of good, cheap wine, but it was enough. Not perfect, but… enough.