Tag Archives: culture
November 21, 2015

In search of Elizabeth Gaskell and the real ‘Cranford’

In search of Elizabeth Gaskell and the real ‘Cranford’

The opening lines of ‘Cranford‘ by Elizabeth Gaskell

“In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad.”

Elizabeth Gaskell in Knutsford

Elizabeth Gaskell Home Knutsford - zoedawes

Heathwaite House – Elizabeth Gaskell’s home in Knutsford

Standing outside an elegant double-fronted house on a rainy day in Cheshire, Caroline, our expert guide, explained how Elizabeth Stevenson (1810-1865) came to Knutsford as a baby in 1811 after the death of her mother. She lived with her Aunt Lumb until she went to school in Stratford, then stayed in London and around the country before returning to the town and marrying William Gaskell. Together they went to Manchester where he was the minister of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel.

King Street Knutsford Cheshire

King Street

I have been to Knutsford, not far from Chester, a number of times but had no idea that Elizabeth Gaskell had based her well-known novel, Cranford (pub. 1851) on this attractive little town, as well as Hollingford in ‘Wives and Daughters’. I was on a day out with a group of friends from our local Book Club to find out more about Elizabeth Gaskell and her connections to the North West. Caroline told us that many of the characters in Cranford were based on people she knew and some of the buildings still standing feature in her novels.

Miss Matty's house Cranford Knutsford - zoedawes

Miss Matty’s house

A blue plaque outside WH Smith’s states: This property built in the reign of George I is reputed to have been the fictional home of Miss Matty’, the principal character in Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford and was also the home of Miss Elizabeth Harker upon whom Mrs Gaskell based her Cranford character ‘Betty Barker’. Caroline informed us that actually it was probably the property next door …  Miss Matty was played with great wit and panache by the glorious Dame Judi Dench in the BBC TV adaptation of Cranford.

Royal George Hotel and dragon Knutsford

Royal George Hotel

We saw the old Assembly Rooms, sadly not open to the public, the Royal George and Angel Hotel, all with connections to the author and her stories. Most impressive was the Gaskell Memorial Tower and King’s Coffee House, designed by glove merchant Richard Harding Watt from Manchester. Influenced by the Continent and inspired by Italian architecture, Watt’s tower is remiscent of those in San Gimignano, and is dedicated to the town’s most famous resident.

Gaskell Memorial Tower & King's Coffee House Knutsford - zoedawes

Gaskell Memorial Tower & King’s Coffee House

This Grade II listed building features a copper bas relief and bust of the author, along with the titles of all her novels and a sign: This plaque was placed here on the occasion of Mrs Gaskell’s 150th birth anniversary, Sep 29th 1960 and to record that this tower was erected to the memory of Mrs Gaskell by Mr RH Watt in March 1907.

Bust of Mrs Gaskell- Memorial Tower Knutsford- zoedawes

Mrs Gaskell bust

We ended our tour at the 17th c Knutsford Heritage Centre, hidden in an alley through the pretty May Day Gate and past the giant Green Man sculpture. Knutsford May Day is a major annual event and ‘Jack in the Green’ always appears in the front of the May Day Procession. As well as leaflets on The Cranford Trail and an excellent Official Guide to Knutsford, the Heritage Centre has an exhibition of local artefacts, costumes and and items relating to the area’s history, which goes back to the Domesday Book in 1086. Did you know the town is named after King Canute (Cnut the Great), who apparently forded the River Lily here?

Knutsford Heritage Centre and Green Man sculpture - zoedawes

Knutsford Heritage Centre and Green Man sculpture

We didn’t have time to see the Knutsford Millenium Tapestry; we’ll have to return another day to see it and have another look round this charming home to Elizabeth Gaskell’s Amazons.

The Cranford Amazons - BBC TV series

The Cranford ‘Amazons’ – BBC TV series

November 10, 2015

The poignant story of Marienburg Castle, Germany

The poignant story of Marienburg Castle, Germany

Walt Disney must have visited Marienburg Castle or seen it in his dreams. It’s the epitome of a fairytale palace, all pointy turrets and rounded towers, set high on a hill amidst forested countryside in the heart of Lower Saxony, not far from Hanover (Hannover). Its story is a fairytale romance, though maybe more in the tradition of the Grimm brothers than Disney …

Marienburg Castle Lower Saxony Germany - zoedawes

Marienburg Castle

It was built for Marie Alexandrine Wilhelmine Katherine Charlotte Theresa Henrietta Luise Pauline Elisabeth Friederike Georgine of Saxe-Altenburg … She was the queen-consort of George V of Hanover (Hannover) in northern Germany. He gave her ‘Rehberg Hill‘ in 1857 and had the castle built for her 40th birthday. Theirs was a love-match, unusual for royal families of the 19th century, who usually had to make dynastic marriages, often to one of Queen Victoria’s relatives. King George was one of those relatives.

King George III and Queen Charlotte - zoedawes

King George III and Queen Charlotte and their children

He was the grandson of George III of the United Kingdom and nephew of William IV. Blinded in a tragic accident in the gardens of Kew Palace in London when he was only 13 years old, Prince George of Cumberland went on to become the last King of Hanover, dying in exile in Paris and buried in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. I recently visited Marienburg Castle to discover the poignant story of this proud, romantic king and his loving queen.

King George V and Queen Marie Marienburg Castle Lower Saxony Germany - zoedawes

King George V and Queen Marie in Marienburg Castle

If you are lucky enough to visit the castle before the end of 2016, you will be also able to see the excellent exhibition, Path to the Crown. Historical furniture, paintings and rarities of art history from the collection of the Royal House of Hannover are on display. The Hannoverian crown, along with the sceptre and bridal crown are on show for the first time since the end of the Kingdom of Hanover to mark the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Personal Union between Hanover and Great Britain from 1714 to 1801.

Hanover Path to the Crown Exhibition Marienburg Castle - photo zoedawes

Andre Mertens and The Path to the Crown exhibition

I was shown round by Andre Mertens, who explained how the castle had been designed as a summer residence and the Gothic/ Neo-Gothic appearance was designed to reflect ‘the true essence of Germany to be found in the Middle Ages.’ Royal family friend Major Eduard Witte proposed the first design, then architect Conrad Wilhelm Hase followed by Edwin Oppler created more detailed plans, with continuous input from the George and Marie. No wonder it took more than 10 years to build. The courtyard reflects the ornate, nostalgic vision of all involved.

Marienburg Castle courtyard - lower saxony - zoedawes

Marienburg Castle courtyard

By the time the castle was finished, Marie was besotted. She wrote in a letter, “Oh you cannot know how lovely it is here. It cannot be described, the most beautiful place on Earth,” and said it was her ‘little Eldorado’. Unfortunately, during the last year of building, Hannover entered into a futile war with Prussia, were defeated in 1866 and King George fled Germany. Marie moved into Marienburg Castle with her daughter Mary; she had only stayed there briefly before. A year later she too had to flee and join her husband in exile; the calender above her bureau still shows the date 23rd July 1867, the day she left. Above it is a portrait of the queen aged 85 years old.

Marie's Study and portrait Marienburg Castle Germany - zoedawes

Marie’s Study

The castle is a charming mix of romantic styles with ‘modern for its time’ furniture and fittings. The octagonal entrance hall sets the tone with its star arches, impressive columns and a large model of the castle. It has an absolutely glorious blue and gold ceiling with eight allegorical personifications of the Arts.

Marienburg Castle entrance hall ceiling - zoedawes

One of the most impressive rooms is the Rittersaal (The Knights Hall), which was unfinished at the time of the royal exile but has been fitted out with some magnificent paintings and the splendid Augsburg silver furniture, once owned by George II of Great Britain and Hannover. The Speisesaal (Dining Hall) has a fine sedan chair and elaborate uniforms that are still worn by servants in the British Royal household.

Augsburg silver furniture Marienburg Castle - zoedawes

Augsburg silver furniture

There are many fascinating rooms to explore, including the Queen’s Parlour with ornate carving, wooden ceiling and detailed ornamentation. The Princesses’ Room has wall paintings depicting scenes from popular fairy stories including Snow White (supposedly set near here) and the Sleeping Beauty. The corridor onto which this room opens is reminiscent of the cloisters of a monastery, with curved archways and dainty lanterns. The Chapel, now used for weddings, has a marble statue of Christ, a beautiful organ and modern stained glass windows; the originals were shattered during WWII. My favourite room is the Queen’s Library. Under a gothic dome painted in similar style to the entrance hall, are book-laden shelves and busts of famous literary and musical figures admired by the queen. It is perfect in every detail and a work of art in itself.

Marienburg Castle library - zoedawes

The Queen’s Library

Although George never lived in Marienburg Castle and Marie was only there for a year, it retains an air of romance and mystery. Still owned by the Guelph family, Prince Ernst August of Hanover takes a lively interest in the ongoing refurbishment, development and daily life of this magical place.

The Path to the Crown Marienburg Castle Lower Saxony - zoedawes

Marienburg Castle – ‘Path to the Crown’ video

I visited Marienburg Castle courtesy of the German National Tourist Office and the Lower Saxony Tourist Board on a trip to discover more about the British Royal Family in and around Hannover. My thanks to Andre Mertens and everyone in Lower Saxony who helped make this such a memorable trip.

November 1, 2015

Shopping with a dash of history in charming Chester

Shopping with a dash of history in charming Chester

Chester shops

On a shop-til-you-drop day out in Chester with a friend we combined an exploration of the streets, lanes and byways with an in-depth trawl through its department stores, boutiques and quirky independent shops.

Chester Roman soldier

This Roman soldier seemed oblivious to the light rain dripping down his steel helmet as he chatted to two people holding aloft signs encouraging passers-by to try the ‘All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet’ at the nearby restaurant on one of the main shopping streets in the walled city of Chester.  It summed up the universal appeal of one of England’s most attractive towns – ancient history, intriguing architecture, excellent shops and a multitude of great venues to eat and drink.

According to the handy ‘Walkabout Easy Map and Guide to Chester’ we picked up in the Tourist Information Centre next to the splendid Victorian Town Hall, “Nearly 2000 years ago, the Romans marched onto a sandstone ridge, built Deva (or Dewa),  largest fortress in Britain prepared to do battle with the wild, fierce Britons of Wales and the North.  Two millenniums later, the drama and passions of Chester’s history have left their mark in some of the most spectacular buildings in Britain.”

Diorama of the Roman Legionary fortress Deva Victrix in Grosvenor Museum, Chester. - image Łukasz Nurczyński

Diorama of the Roman Legionary fortress Deva Victrix – Grosvenor Museum – image Łukasz Nurczyński

We didn’t have time to visit the Roman ruins outside the city but the The Dewa Roman Experience, on Pierpoint Lane took us back to that feisty era with the sights, sounds and smells of Roman Chester with a look round a Roman galley and the excavated remains of a fortress in the heart of the city.

Figures on the Rows Chester - zoedawes

Figures on the Rows Chester

One of the most appealing aspects of this town is The Rows, covered walkways above street level, dating back to the 13th century.  The names of these Rows often reflect the original trades of the rich merchants who built their townhouses here ie Ironmongers, Shoemakers or more prosaically Northgate Row.  Nowadays they are a treasure trove of shops, cafes and bars and great for escaping the occasional rain shower.

Eastgate Chester - zoedawes

Our leaflet informed us a Town Crier dressed in 18th century finery proclaims the news daily at 12 noon in the summer months.  We didn’t see him but we were entertained by the numerous street performers playing funky music, standing still as statues til a coin was dropped in front of them, doing magic tricks and singing songs, some even in tune.  We spent ages wandering in and out of the shops, especially relishing the scented charms of the perfume counters in Browns Of Chester Department Store. Nearby is ‘The Olde Boot’ a 17th century pub with original seating and good food.

Olde Boot Inn Chester - photo zoedawes

Olde Boot Inn Chester

After a rather exhausting trawl through the myriad shops in the Grosvenor Shopping Centre it was time for lunch.  We decided to go next door and treat ourselves to a light bite in 5-star luxury in La Brasserie at the illustrious Grosvenor Hotel.  I can highly recommend their smoked salmon sandwiches!

The rain cleared in the afternoon so to walk off our meal we had an airy stroll around the City Walls. “The best ornament of the city is, that the streets are very broad, the walls in good repair, and it is a very pleasant walk around the city upon the walls, and within the battlements, from whence you may see the county around.”  Daniel Defoe wrote this in 1724 and the walls are still much the same today.  After walking part of the way round we dove back into the city streets for another quick shop then it was time for one last sight to see – Chester Cathedral.  Built on the site of an Anglo-Saxon church, it became the city’s cathedral in 1541.  There’s a guided tour every afternoon but if you’re in a rush, do take time just to enjoy its splendid majesty for a little while.

Chester Cathedral Cheshire - photo zoedawes

On our way back to the car park, swinging our fancy shopping bags like Carrie and Samantha along a Manhatten sidewalk, we passed under the ornate Eastgate Clock, installed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee. Its delicate red, blue, gold and black filigree decoration seems to sum up Chester – a colourful journey through time and history.

Eastgate and clock Chester zoedawes

October 11, 2015

Ancient Petra: a city beyond compare

Ancient Petra: a city beyond compare

The donkey snorted and stamped its hooves. A flag flapped and snapped in the brisk breeze. In the valley below a goat bleated and a large bird cried out as it wheeled away into the distance. Surrounded by craggy mountains, the late afternoon sun glimmered through the heat and the horizon was blanketed in mist.

Donkey at Petra viewpoint Jordan - photo zoedawes

Donkey at Petra viewpoint

I’d climbed up to this mountain top with a group of English friends and after an incredible day exploring, we had emerged from a land of ancient peoples into the wilderness. Far off, hidden in the haze, lay the Dead Sea and the Holy Land; behind us lay the ancient city of Petra.

Monumental Gate and Royal Tombs Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Monumental Gate and Royal Tombs

That morning, we’d walked along an old river bed from Wadi Musa (Torrent of Moses) towards Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our Jordanian guide, Burhan, pointed out significant sights along the way. The influence of Egypt and Greece could be seen in the Tomb of the Obelisks, dating back to reign of Malichos II (AD 40-71), king of the Nabateans, who had settled here thousands of years ago.

Horses ride past the Tomb of the Obelisks Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Horses ride past the Tomb of the Obelisks

The path gradually narrowed as horses trotted past carrying excited tourists. The vertiginous walls blocked out the morning sun, providing welcome relief from the heat. The rocks changed colour from white to grey, to cream then gradually to a richer, golden colour, striated with ochre, yellow, orange, brown, mauve, blue and pink. Every so often horse-drawn carriages charged past, swaying and swerving past each other in a race through the gorge.

Horse-drawn carriage in the Siq Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Horse-drawn carriage in the Siq

Walking along the Siq (dry river bed), I felt a sense of anticipation and nervousness increasing, as I was to finally get the first sight of Petra, a place I had longed to visit for over 30 years. Would I be disappointed by a lack of grandeur? Would it be overrun with tourists like Ephesus? Would it be hassle-central like the Egyptian Pyramids? Round a corner and there, through a dark, tapered opening, were butter-coloured columns, worn carvings, a shadowy doorway ….

The Treasury from the Siq petra jordan - photo zoedawes

The Treasury from the Siq

Moving into the sun-light was like stepping onto a stage, the most theatrical and awe-inspiring entrance to a site I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Protected from the wind by the surrounding rocks, the Treasury (Al-Kazneh) soars magnificently upwards towards the blue skies.

Facade of The Treasury Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Ornate facade of The Treasury (in the morning)

There are six columns on either side of a dark entrance, with a triangular pediment above. The upper part has a circular tholos (temple) with a conical roof and stone urn. It was thought this might contain a king’s fortune in gold, hence the name ‘Treasury’. Nothing was found on the site, though bullet marks identify where Bedouins fired their rifles to try to dislodge the treasure.

The Treasury Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

The Treasury (at sunset)

Many of the building’s architectural details have been eroded during the two thousand years since it was carved and sculpted from the cliff. The sculptures are thought to be those of various mythological figures associated with the afterlife. On top are figures of four eagles that would carry away the souls. The figures on the upper level are dancing Amazons with double-axes. The entrance is flanked by statues of the twins Castor and Pollux who lived partly on Mount Olympus and partly in the underworld. Wikipedia

Camels and tourists at the Treasury Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Camels and Tourists in front of the Treasury

What was wonderful, though not so good for the tourist-related businesses, was that the site was fairly quiet, with only a handful of visitors so we could take our time to absorb it in relative peace. Yes, we were asked if we wanted a ride a camel or buy a souvenir, but a firm No thank you, resulted in a charming smile and often a cheeky reply in English; ‘Have a break, have a Kit-Kat’,  ‘Lovely jubbly,’ ‘Cheap as chips’ – TV influences all over the world!

The Roman Theatre PetraJordan - photo zoedawes

The Roman Theatre

Walking on, we passed the 3,000 seat Amphitheatre and Street of Facades; numerous small tombs carved into the hillside. A ramshackle row of stalls selling the usual souvenirs and drinks was enlivened by a sign saying, THE BEST COFFEE IN THE MIDDLE EAST – RECOMMENDED FROM AUSTRALIA and Free WIFI. An Australian woman married one of the local Bedouins and apparently she gave this resounding testimony.

Coffee stall Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Grace at the coffee stall

Further on a row of lovely royal tombs stood out from the rocks above us. The Urn Tomb and the Corinthian Tomb have ornate façades like the Treasury but are more weather-beaten. The Silk Tomb is so-called due to the striations of coloured sandstone that resemble watered silk.

Camels and Royal Tombs Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Camels in front of the Royal Tombs

The route opened out into the Roman Lower City. From around 100 AD the paved main street was lined with public buildings, including markets, baths and Nymphaeum. The Monumental Gate still stands, framing the distant mountains. What was really noticeable was just how few tourists there were once we left the magnetic pull of the Treasury.

Lower City Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

The Lower City

We had an excellent buffet lunch and very welcome ice-cold drinks at The Basin restaurant, near the Museum, which we didn’t have time to visit. Then it was up on a donkey for a bumpy ride up to the Monastery. It was the best JD10 I spent on the trip! My donkey, appropriately called William Shakespeare, was led by Jack Sparrow look-alike Ram and his brother, who walked ahead to watch the path. Ram said they still live in the caves, though it’s officially illegal. He’d had his donkey since he was a 3-month old foal. Sure-footed and steady, William S took his time to get me right to the top of the uneven 1000+ steps, carefully avoiding slipping off the precarious mountain edge, through a stunning rocky landscape.

William Shakespeare and Bedouin guide Ram Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Ram and William Shakespeare setting off up the mountain

The Monastery (Ad Deir) comes as a big shock; unlike the dramatic entrance to Treasury, you clamber down a few steps, see an open area in front of you and then suddenly realise there’s an enormous temple looming up behind you. Unlike the Treasury, its width (50m) is greater than its height (45m) with an elegantly curved dome. Originally a temple, it was later used as Church. Most of the elaborate decoration has been worn away but still quite remarkable.

Donkey and Zoe Monastery Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Donkey and Zoe Petra

Once I had dismounted, Ram tied up William and took me over to the cafe. One of the young Bedouin lads legged it up the side of the Monastery and onto the very top of the central dome. Having stood up and waved down at us, he then sat down and dangled his feet over the edge. Crazy boy. Definitely not to be recommended and when a tourist tried it, he was immediately told to get down!

On top of Deir, the Monastery Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

On top of the Monastery

When my fellow explorers arrived we relaxed at the little café on low-slung seats and enjoyed the view. We were all amazed at just how much more there was to see in Petra than we had expected, and how visually impressive it all is.

Relaxing at Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Relaxing at Petra

As we were talking, a young man and woman posed for photos in front of the Deir. Suddenly he went down on one knee and was clearly asking her to marry him. From her excited response and his smile, I think she said yes. What a fabulously romantic place to propose …

Couple at Deir the Monastery Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Couple at Deir

Our final trek took us to the very highest point, egged on by hand-drawn signs enticing us onwards and upwards with the promise of unrivalled views of Little Petra and Wadi Araba (Jordan Rift Valley).

Petra view - signs to Wadi Araba jordan - photo zoedawes

Petra view – signs to Wadi Araba

The area was totally deserted except for two young lads under the canopy, who had bottles of drink to sell and seemed totally unbothered by the lack of trade.  Here, beyond the natural boundaries of the ‘Lost City’ of Petra, we took our time to reflect on all we’d seen and relish the opportunity we had to be in such genuinely awe-inspiring setting.

Viewpoint Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Petra Viewpoint

On our return, we were able to see Petra in the late afternoon sunshine. The buildings and rocks had changed colour from the golden hues of the morning to the fabled ‘red-rose’ (well, more pink really) of the evening sunset.  We had to wrench ourselves away from the tranquillity of the deserted Treasury and as we left, I turned back and there were a couple of visotors getting one last photo of this beautiful place, one none of us will ever forget …

The Treasury at Petra Jordan in the evening light - photo zoedawes

The Treasury Petra Jordan eve

As you can see, Petra did not disappoint. It exceeded expectations on every level; there’s nowhere else on earth to compare it with. I do hope you get to visit one day. It is justifiably known as one of the remaining wonders of the Ancient World and hopefully it will last for thousands of years to come. There’s a new Jordan Pass with some great reductions on entry to over 40 sites including Petra.

Camels at Royal Tombs Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Petra Royal Tombs and camels

At the time of publication Jordan has the same safety rating as Canada, United States, China and Germany and has fewer tourists at present so it’s a great time to go. Many thanks to our knowledgeable guide Burhan and Visit Jordan for inviting us to experience Jordan, a country beyond expectations. Check out their website for more information on what to see, where to stay and when to go.

October 2, 2015

Discover Hannover Royal Heritage in Lower Saxony

Discover Hannover Royal Heritage in Lower Saxony

The House of Hannover

House of Hannover Kings - Marienburg Castle - photo zoedawes

Hannoverian Kings of Great Britain and Sophia Electress of Hanover


If you’re British you’ll probably know about the House of Hannover (German: Hanover) from school history lessons or elsewhere but, if you’re like me, you may only have a vague notion of why and how we got a king from Germany in the early 18th century. It was due to the lack of an heir to the Stuart Royal Family. Their last monarch was poor Queen Anne who had 17 pregnancies yet no child outlived her. She was therefore succeeded by her second cousin, Protestant George I (1660-1727) of the House of Hannover, who was a descendant of the Stuarts through his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, a daughter of James VI and I.

Five Hannoverian British Monarchs - Celle Castle shop Germany

Five Hannoverian British Monarchs


I recently visited in Hanover (English: Hannover), a dynamic northern city in Lower Saxony, to find out more about the history of the British Crown in Germany. The city is a vibrant mix of old and new, the centre having been almost totally rebuilt after WWII. Arriving at Hanover Railway Station from the airport, first impressions are of fresh air, space and lively, friendly people.

Hanover City railway Station

Hanover City Railway Station

Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen

I started my exploration with a visit to the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen, one of Hanover’s most famous attractions. The Great Garden, a baroque gem, was created by Sophie, Electress of Hanover and mother of George I. She loved this horticultural sanctuary and walked in it whenever possible. This marble statue is near the very place where she died, two months before Queen Anne passed away. Had she lived, she would have been Britain’s first Hannoverian monarch.

Sophie of Hanover Herrenhausen Gardens - zoedawes

Sophie, Electress of Hanover


With exquisite planting and flamboyant statuary, Herrenhausen is a delight to stroll round. I was fortunate to visit on a warm late summer’s evening for the Glowing Gardens event when the many fountains and cascades are lit up, classical music and the heady scent of thousands of flowers fills the air. As the sun set the garden glimmered in a soft haze and it was easy to imagine artistocratic courtiers following the queen as she inspected her creation and was pleased with what she saw.

Herrenhausen Gardens Hanover evening - photo zoedawes

The Great Garden in the evening

Celle Castle

My next stop on the Royal Heritage trip was Celle Castle, about 45 minutes by train from Hanover. I was met by Irina, who was to be my guide for the morning. The oldest parts of the castle are from the 13th century – Irina showed me a piece of ancient wall in the ladies loo! Its beautiful facade glows white across the lake, in the heart of the town, which is riot of medieval half-timbered houses dating back over 500 years.

Celle Castle germany - horse with trainer sculpture - photo zoedawes

Celle Castle – horse with trainer sculpture


Irina was a walking Wikipedia on the Guelph Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg, the oldest princely house in Europe, explaining the links between this family and George I. His father, Ernst August, lived here, as did his wife Sophie, who was born here. George married his cousin Sophia Dorothea of Celle, daughter of George Wilhelm of Brunswick-Lüneburg. It ended badly; she had an affair and was exiled whilst her husband went across the water to be King of Great Britain.

George Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (later George I of Great Britain) and Sophia Dorothea of Celle - photo zoedawes

George and Sophia Dorothea of Celle

Highlights of my tour of Celle Castle included the beautiful State Chambers with lovely marble carvings and crystal chandeliers, a pair of regal thrones, the Royal Bedchamber and some very fine paintings. The Royal Theatre has been restored and plays are performed here throughout the season. There’s a very impressive Renaissance Chapel with stunning artwork and a delicately arched blue and white ceiling.

Celle Chapel - Germany - photo zoedawes

Celle Chapel

What most impressed me were the many portraits and objects belonging to the Hannoverian Royal Family in what, to most of us in Britain, is a relatively unknown, truly beautiful castle.

Hanoverian costume and art Celle Castle - photo zoedawes

Hanoverian costume and portraits

Watch video of Celle Castle and Town

Beautiful Celle Castle & historic town in Lower Saxony, Germany from Zoe Dawes on Vimeo.

Bückeburg Castle

The following day I made my way to Bückeberg Castle in the heart of Lower Saxony countryside. (I saw rather more of this fertile countryside than originally planned as I hired a car and the SatNav took me the scenic route rather than via the Autobahn!) As far as I could see, this Renaissance castle, belonging to the House of Schaumburg-Lippe for over 700 years, has no direct link to the Hanoverians but is a superb architectural masterpiece with very fancy decor.

Buckeburg Castle Lower Saxony Germany - photo zoedawes

Buckeburg Castle

I joined a tour group whose leader only spoke German so I had time to admire the elaborate furnishings and gold embellishments without knowing exactly what I was seeing. It didn’t matter. The whole place is like a giant cupcake, highly decorated, rich and delightfully OTT. The Renaissance Inner Courtyard with its ornate Chapel, the airy 17th c White Hall, the breathtaking Banqueting Hall, the bright Yellow Hall and tapestry-covered Gobelin Hall are amazing, but nothing prepares the visitor for the opulence of the Golden Hall. As its name suggests, it is lavishly decorated in gold, its crowning glory the Heavenly Gate, a lavishly adorned doorway replete with gilded figures and a veritable cornucopia of twirls, curlicues and flourishes.

Heavenly Gate Golden Hall Buckeburg Castle - photo zoedawes

Heavenly Gate in the Golden Hall

Leine Palace

Back in Hanover I went for a walk, following The Red Thread, a great way to see more of the city on foot. ‘The Red Thread is painted on the pavement, is 4200 metres long, and weaves its way through the inner city joining up 36 prime attractions.’ After a stroll around the Old City, well-restored to reflect its medieval history, I passed the Leine Palace, housing the State Parliament of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony). Sophia of the Palatinate, later Electress of Hanover, lived here and her son, King George I, who died near Hanover on a visit, was buried here. His remains were moved to the chapel at Herrenhausen after World War II when the Palace was bombed.

Leine Palace and bridge Hanover - photo zoedawes

Leine Palace and Venetian-style bridge

Historic Hanover video

Marienburg Castle

The final stop on my regal Hannoverian odyssey was to Marienburg Castle, a magical Gothic-Revival confection of turrets and towers on the south-west slopes of Marienberg Hill, about 20 miles from Hanover. Designed by blind King George V, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hanover, and built for his wife, Marie of Saxe-Alteburg between 1858 and 1867, it was hardly lived in by the family, due to the outbreak of war with neighbouring Prussia.

Marienburg Castle Lower Saxony Germany - photo zoedawes

Marienburg Castle

I was met at the impressive entrance gate by Andre Mertens, who showed me round and was both highly knowledgeable and extremely patient with all my questions. It’s a fascinating castle, magnificent yet somehow ethereal with an intriguing history. It’s still owned by the Guelph family, Prince Ernst of Hanover and his son Ernst August, who is active in the running of Marienburg Castle. Its interior is as charming as its exterior, but what is especially interesting is the ‘Path to the Crown‘ Exhibition, which has been extended until the end of 2016.

The Path to the Crown Marienburg Castle Lower Saxony - zoedawes

You can read the moving love-story of Marienburg Castle here.

Fountains in front of Grand Hotel Mussman hanover - photo zoedawes

Fountains in front of Grand Hotel Mussmann

I stayed at the Grand Hotel Mussmann, a chic hotel in the heart of Hanover, as a guest of the German National Tourist Office and the Lower Saxony Tourist Board. Many thanks to everyone who helped make this such a memorable trip. If you like culture, cities, castles, romance and discovering somewhere new, go to Hanover and explore – you’ll love it.


British Royal Heritage Lower Saxony Germany - Celle Palace - zoedawes

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September 29, 2015

Escape to Jersey for a weekend break

Escape to Jersey for a weekend break
Rozel Bay Jersey

Rozel Bay

Whenever I’m asked what my favourite travel book is, I always give the same answer; ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell. I first read it as child, having been introduced to Durrell via his fascinating TV series including ‘Two in the Bush’ and ‘Catch me a Colobus’. A passionate animal-lover, he collected many engandgered species from around the world and opened the ground-breaking Jersey Zoological Park in 1958. He established the ‘The Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust’ now called ‘The Durrrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’ to help deal with the increasingly difficult challenges of zoo, wildlife and habitat management, “saving species from extinction”.

Western Lowland Gorilla - Jersey Zoo Durrell

Western Lowland Gorilla at Jersey Zoo5

I went to Jersey over 20 years ago, staying with friends in the capital St Helier and spending most of our time in and around the city. I’d love to return, not only to visit Jersey Zoo and see the legacy left by Gerald Durrell, but to find out more of Jersey’s history and try some of its local food. On a recent trip to Guernsey and Herm I was really impressed with the French-influenced cuisine and the Channel Islands’ unique heritage.

Beauport-Bay Jersey

Beauport Bay

Jersey has so much to see and do that a weekend would only scratch the surface, but after the Zoo I’d make a bee-line for Le Hougue Bie, one of Europe’s finest Neolithic tombs, dating back to 3,500BC. There’s also a German bunker in the grounds, a reminder of the island’s more recent history. I’m into ‘Castle-Bagging’ (like Monro-Bagging but less tiring) so Mont Orgueil, Jersey’s oldest castle above Gorey Harbour would certainly be in my Top 10 Things to Do in Jersey.

Mont Orgueil Castle Jersey

Mont Orgueil Castle

Hamptonne Country Life apparently captures the spirit of rural Jersey, from medieval to Victorian times and the Channel Islands Military Museum has a rare Enigma decoding machine which helped to defeat the Germans in WWII.  I’d certainly visit 16 New St, a Georgian house now open to the public, showcasing architectural style and fashion of 18th century Jersey. I love islands and the sea so the Maritime Museum in St Helier would definitely be high on my list, as would the Jersey Museum and Art Gallery for a dash of culture.

Jersey Museum and Art Gallery

Jersey Museum and Art Gallery

I gather there are a number of wineries on Jersey so a wine tour would be in order. La Mere Wine Estate should fit the bill; it produces apple brandy, cider and perserves as well as local wine. There are food festivals throughout the year and the annual ‘Tennerfest’, where you can get an all-inclusive meal from £10 in over 100 Jersey restaurants, is a great idea. With so many top-class restaurants (including 4 Michelin starred), trendy bars, cosy cafes and friendly pubs I’d have no excuse not to find excellent food and drink all over the island.  Jersey is famous for its potatoes, milk and butter and if the crab sandwiches are as good as Guernsey’s then I’ll be VERY happy.

Eating out at St Brelades Jersey

Eating out at St Brelades

With a benign climate, scenic coastline and undulating countryside, Jersey would be perfect for a walk on the wild side. Grosnez Point has spectacular views of other Channel Islands from the cliff top and a trip around the island’s bays and beaches would satisfy my desire to be beside the seaside.

Bonne-Nuit beach jersey

Bonne Nuit beach

The Jersey Lavender Farm and the Eric Young Orchid Foundation, with Europe’s ‘most comprehensive orchid collection open to the public’, should provide a focus for my flower fetish, and if I am not there for the summer Battle of the Flowers, I could always visit the museum dedicated to this famous festival.

The Battle of the Flowers Jersey

The Battle of the Flowers

Of course, no dream holiday is complete without somewhere special to stay. For a very special and yes, quirky place to stay, the Durrell Wildlife Camp offers cosy camping pods next to the animals! However, I do like some luxury when I am on holiday as well as a view of the sea so L’Horizon Hotel and Spa ticks all the boxes. I remember a very relaxing drink in the bar here overlooking St Brelade Bay – very nice! Finally, for the ultimate in comfort with a truly historic twist, Longueville Manor looks stunning. Set within acres of woodland, part of the manor house dates from the 14th c, it’s got a ‘bijou’ spa and swimming pool, plus a croquet lawn. With a great reputation for food this hotel gets my top vote.

Longueville Manor Hotel Jersey

Longueville Manor

Find out more things to see and do in Jersey here.