The fairy tale that came true. For some people, that is.
I had grown up voraciously reading article after article on the late Princess of Wales' life. I have a respectable collection of British magazines, books, and newspaper clippings, devoted exclusively to the Royal Family, from when Diana was finding her way as a young princess in the maze that was her new Royal life. My biggest dream was to meet her one day in England and experience her sparkle. However, much like some of the modern day fairy tales, it vanished away on that fateful day in August 1997.
Fast forward many years, and as part of a gift for earning my university degree, I was overjoyed that I could actually plan a visit to the Spencer home, Althorp, where Diana once tap danced and passed the hours swimming and taking walks before being thrust into the spotlight at the tender age of 19. It was quite like a pilgrimage in a way, but also a way to pay my respects to a person whose Royal role was inspiring to me.
I'd been to quite a few English castles and stately homes prior to this visit, but there was just something extra lovely about both the stunning interiors and the delightful exteriors of this gorgeous estate in Northamptonshire. It has passed through nineteen generations and existed for more than 500 years.
It is an easy drive from London's Heathrow Airport, and if you enjoy learning about the Princess of Wales' childhood, English aristocracy and country life, or the Royals in general, you will want to put Althorp on your list to see, if you are in England during July and/or August.
After purchasing the entry ticket, the graceful pathway, called the Avenue, designed as a tribute to the Princess of Wales, guides you towards the estate.
The immense, gold-hued stone building encountered next are the Stables.
Here, I was able to view the Earl's professionally arranged display of many of his sister's possessions. He placed many of Diana's childhood belongings and a small collection from her wardrobe on display for visitors.
Viewing mementos from her school days, including her trunk with the initials, D. Spencer, is one way to help feel a deeper connection to her.
As of the time of this post, an exhibit of famed photographer Mario Testino's photographs of Diana are on display.
Diana's only brother, Charles, the Earl Spencer, maintains the estate, and its heritage. The history of the Spencer family is fascinating, and Earl Spencer has published several books on the subject. These can be found conveniently in the gift shop on the premises. If you are extra fortunate, you may find a sign outside the gift shop, revealing that Lord Spencer himself will autograph his books during a brief meet and greet on the day of your visit! I highly recommend this unique opportunity.
The Earl Spencer will occasionally autograph his books, which can be purchased in the Althorp gift shop.
The interiors of the Spencer home vary from both stunningly regal and stately to what I like to call 'English cozy'. There are interesting details about the former inhabitants and their connections to royalty in the past, so ask the docents questions. They are lovely people who want to share the complex and intriguing history of this beautiful home.
Art lovers will appreciate the sculptures and paintings by some of the Masters, found throughout the home's expanse, but especially around the gallery, where Diana's painted portrait overlooks this part of the house. The home's collection of first-edition books, ceramics, and furniture is remarkable and worth lingering over. The Picture Gallery was one of my favorites, featuring large, priceless portraits, including some of the late Spencers throughout several centuries.
Note: Photographs were not permitted of the interiors of Althorp.
Be sure to spend time on the parkland's grounds, including a walk to the small Oval Lake, where Diana is buried on the island. Don't miss the tribute to her by walking to the other side.
At the time of publishing/posting of this article, the official website referenced renovations were being completed to the Oval Lake area, but may be finished for 2018.
The area around the stables also offers a cafe with refreshments, including wine, fresh sandwiches, salads, and ice cream, and a chance to take in your surroundings and reflect on what it must have been like here over the centuries.
I can say that my visit to Althorp was a true delight and thrill for me. Though I never got to realize my own personal dream of meeting the Princess of Wales in person, I felt joy and a connection from my visit to Althorp, and would like to thank Earl Spencer for continuing to honor his Spencer heritage and memories of Diana, through sharing this magnificent estate with the public.
Althorp hosts additional events and festivals, so be sure to check their website here.
Always check the website for operating days and hours before visiting.
For information on transportation resources, including tips on driving in the U.K., click here.
Don't miss out on a British treat--click here for the World's Best Scottish Scones Recipe