One of the most fascinating places on earth is England, a country so immersed in history you can travel in time simply by visiting it. There are many locales within the country, each of which offers a unique blend of customs, people and character.
My favourite spot in England is, without a doubt, Surry, around the Croydon area. It is one of the few places in the country, in fact in the world, where I would recommend renting a car, as there is so much to see and the distances are very short. Croydon itself is only 2 hours from London, but when you arrive, it is like stepping back into the land of the Tudors.
Seldom do I recommend places to stay, as I believe needs and budget should determine accommodations. In this case, however, I must break the rule and recommend Selsdon Park, a castle-like manor house built in the 900’s. The newly renovated property offers modern amenities while maintaining all of the charm of medieval England.
The service is excellent, but that is not why I would recommend it. When you walk through one of he many narrow hallways and enter the medieval style rooms and dining areas it is like being at the court of Henry the VIII. In fact, Selsdon Park is only 20 minutes from the family home of Anne Boleyn and many a night King Henry slept there while visiting the Boleyn family.
Shortly after I arrived, I went for a walk upon the 200 acres of rolling hills. I stopped under a shade tree, which was partially fenced off. I was careful not to walk on the lawn, which I assumed had been recently seeded, hence the fence. I was no sooner relaxing in the shade, leaning against the tree when a uniformed man came running toward me.
I looked around to see if anyone else was nearby, but alas, he was after me. Confused I stood as he approached. He explained that Queen Elizabeth I had planted the tree I was leaning against during one of her stays and he kindly asked me not to touch it. He wondered if I had not noticed the fence.
I apologized and followed him back to the main building. I looked back at the 400-year-old cedar and questioned if any of the trees in Palmer Park had been standing that long. The man offered me a chair on the patio and arranged for me to enjoy a Pimm’s, compliments of the hotel.
For those of you not familiar with Pimm’s, as I certainly was not, it is a drink made of gin, ginger ale and several fruits and herbs. It is extremely refreshing and can be sipped like fruit punch… until you suddenly stand up after two or three and realize maybe you should sit quietly for a bit.
While in Surrey I drove to Hever Castle, the family home of Anne Boleyn, and spent a day reliving the history, which sprang to life, as I walked through the 800-year-old building. The grounds themselves are as fine as any park I have been to. It was quite amazing to stand in a room where one of England’s most famous king and queen spent many a time.
Another fantastic highlight of Surrey is the pub scene. I stopped for lunch in a quaint stone building, only to learn it had been a pub for more than 500 years. The owner told me how the day before I was there, a woman in her early nineties walked in and said she had worked there when she was a girl of twenty. She looked and told him nothing had changed. When she removed, one of the pictures from the wall there was a ring of dust half a centimetre thick and a totally different wall colour.
I spent very little time in the city of Croydon, as unfortunately, it is not near as pretty as one would expect in the centre of the lush countryside of Surrey. Like most cities, it has grown without proper planning and made me appreciate how Port Perry has maintained its charm amid expansion.
I also ventured to Salisbury Cathedral, a ninety minute drive, where I stood face to face with one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta, written 800 years ago. The cathedral is spectacular and should not be missed. Fifteen minutes further lies one of Britain’s most famous attractions, the standing rocks of Stonehenge, but that is another story.
Next time you think about a five or six-day holiday consider Surrey. It is only 7 hours of travelling, but will take you centuries into the past.