Thursday 3 May 2012

The Queen's Narnia

Sandringham is where the Queen and the Royal Family spend Christmas every year in private, staying for about 6 weeks. It must be odd to have a house that you only live in during winter - it must always be associated in her mind with cold weather and fires, and chilly walks to the nearby little flint church with its unexpectedly extravagant silver altar and pulpit. "A land in which it seemed always winter", as Tennyson didn't say.

But evidently they sneak in for the odd weekend at other times of the year, the remarkably well-informed guides told us, when they slum it in another house on the estate; so they do get to enjoy the expansive gardens and grounds that today were entirely at the disposal of doughty and well rugged-up dog walkers. In the stables, there are immaculately polished cars - Daimlers,  Rolls Royces, Bentleys - as well as some outrageously indulgent large toy cars enjoyed by Royal children over the years. There's also a rather horrifying room bristling with horns and heads from big-game hunts long ago: three understandably glum-looking rhinos including a baby, plus a stuffed (in both senses) lion and lioness, cheetah and zebra skins, several bison  heads, a whole herd of deer and antelope, and elephant tusks. "Kept in celebration of the taxidermist's skills," the notice read - rather defensively, I thought.

The house, though apparently much modified since its Victorian heyday, is still very cluttered with stuff, all of it with a story that the guides can tell. The one stationed in the corridor to the ballroom which was lined with cases of shotguns including 33 Purdys, and masses of racing trophies and statues, who boasted that she could find something to link with every nationality, was stumped when I asked about New Zealand, though. She's probably still kicking herself. (It's very hard to take photos one-handed, by the way, holding the camera, focusing and clicking the shutter all with your left hand.That's my excuse.)

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