Full disclosure: this day out was a lovely treat from Nana and we are all very grateful.
Weather: A typical British Summer day - slate grey skies and a flaying wind followed by hour upon hour of torrential rain. Glorious.
Logistics: Hampton Court is in the suburbs of London that is still sufficiently close to the city to ensure the roads nearby are narrow and unfit for 21st century transport. Expect traffic. It is well signposted though and GPS will take you to the pricey car park right on site - which is pleasingly close to the playground. You will pass an all day car park for six quid on the way and, if you don’t mind a little walk, it will probably work out cheaper to do that.
Activities: You’d better hope your kids like history. It’s all about the past at Hampton Court. There is plenty to see and learn about in the house but let’s face it, we’ve got the kids with us so it’s all about the playground and the maze to be honest.
We were lucky enough to get an hour in the playground before the deluge started and the kids really enjoyed it. You could spot the locals - bedecked in joules sweatshirts and hunter wellies whilst their kids romped unabashedly through the water fountains, sand and streams wearing only their pants with no concerns about having to do an hour long journey home in wet sandy underoos. Mine were treated to my basilisk impression, hissing at them that they would get hypothermia if they tried that nonsense. Imagine what kind of life you must live if you can afford to live a stones throw from Hampton Court Palace. *sigh* We were all pretty impressed with the playground - especially the massive dragon curled around the sand pit.
It is a beautifully designed play area with plenty of nooks and crannies for hiding in - statues to climb (I hope) and bridges to trip-trap merrily along. It says something that I could see kids from 2 to 16 playing merrily alongside each other all over the place.
It was the perfect place to spend a sun-kissed summer’s day - we didn’t get that so when the kids lips began to go blue we sought out the maze.
For me, this maze is the one by which all others are measured. I used to come here regularly as a kid and remembered it being a place of mystery, frustration and almost infinite in its twists and turns. Sadly, my kids seem to have inherited their father’s internal compass and they guided us to the centre within 5 minutes. We did see one group of adults involved in a rather animated discussion, voices edged with hysteria, so I’m glad I got to see some people reliving my childhood memories. There is also a pleasing shortcut out of the centre of the maze to the outside and, due to some rather stroppy behaviour from small kid due to some terrible injustice the world had wrought upon her, we were very glad to accept this.
After a spot of lunch and a morning of running around the kids were in prime condition to take on a bit of history. We all agreed the tudor bit was the best bit of the building. I get such a sense of the people who lived there; walking down those narrow red brick corridors, eyes wide, breathing heavily inside their corsets, mouthing ‘Henry’s done what now?’ I imagine it was a bit like living in the White House under Trump.
The scale of the place even managed to grab the attention of small kid who usually rockets around these things at a hundred miles an hour - I think she slowed down to about fifty.
I would have loved to have stayed and learned a bit more about what we were looking at but to be honest it was a bit rushed - there’s a bed, there’s a chapel, there’s a crown, oooh, a big painting. Oh look, it’s a baby (belonging to some affable German tourists). Are we done yet? Suffice it to say, the kids were getting increasingly jinky and I was beginning to envision some sort of incident involving dragging small kid out form under Jane Seymour’s death bed so we switched to the more spacious Georgian quarters.
In all honesty I had no idea that there was a Georgian section - so just discovering it was a treat. Also, it is remarkably easy to get big kid to pay attention to anything George related due to our shared obsession with Hamilton and therefore King George III. We agreed that the Georgians were a shower of bastards with very judgy nicknames for each other - a tall girl (somebody’s mistress I think) was called ‘Maypole’ and a short dumpy one was known as the Elephant. Charming. Georgians definitely didn’t pull their punches.
As the rain continued unabated, we decided to let the kids get a real feel for Georgian life and taught them how to gamble on the thoughtfully provided gaming tables, card and chips. We all enjoyed this very much. For a bit. The acoustics in those big stone rooms were surprisingly effective, as was proven by small kid’s indignant shrieks as she lost a game. There were also some excellent things being done with projections and shadow plays and some complex explanation of which Georgian had lived there and why but by this point my mum-alarm was bleeping non-stop and we decided to exit via the gift shop before things turned nasty.
Coffee: A bit too hot for my liking but excellent flavour - the yummy mummies of West London wouldn’t expect anything less frankly.
Food: I made the kids eat packed lunch because, whilst I will occasionally drop a fiver those tacky boxes with a manky sandwich and a drink full of additives and rubbish snacks, I refuse to let anyone else pay that kind of money for that nonsense. Nana treated me to delicious pea and mint soup. I am a very lucky daughter-in-law. The food here is excellent with lots of the produce coming from the kitchen garden right outside. I felt a bit guilty that my kids were chowing down on Aldi’s finest whilst I lorded it up on royal vegetables… but not enough to actually share with them.
Grounds: Fuck knows - it was pissing it down. I hear it’s nice.
Accessibility: It’s a very old palace with cobbles everywhere - I’m sure every effort has been made to improve accessibility but I didn’t see much evidence of it though. Having said that, Henry VIII couldn’t walk by the end of his life and used secret passages so he could be carried around without being seen. How cool would it be if wheelchair users got to use those passages?
Overall: I’m not sure that 8 and 5 are really the right ages for this kind of place, or maybe if the weather had been more forgiving and we could have stepped outside for the kids to burn off some steam they would have been able to engage with it a bit more. There has clearly been a huge amount of work to make the history of this magnificent place engaging and entertaining - I just wish I could have had the time to focus on it.