Farnham Castle & Afternoon Tea for Two
Farnham is less than half an hour’s drive from Blackbushe Park, through Fleet and Church Crookham.
The House on the Hill
Farnham Castle is rather a hidden gem. You could easily drive right past it and down Castle Street into the town, having no idea that it is there. There are only a few places on the high street where if you look right up above the town, you might just catch a glimpse of the ramparts rising out of the trees. There has been a castle on that site for over 900 years, and the collection of buildings include the Great Hall and Chapel that date right back to Norman times. It is now protected by English Heritage, and is used as a private conference and events venue. But on Wednesday afternoons, there are guided tours round the Bishop’s Castle, and visitors can browse the History Exhibition and go up The Keep for fabulous views over Farnham’s eclectic mix of rooftops, some of which cover houses built as long ago as the Fifteenth Century…
The most striking feeling going round the Castle is that you see “what it was as well as what it is.” The contemporary usage sits sympathetically alongside the evidence of the ancient character of the buildings, and care has been taken to preserve the history of the place. “The weight of the doors and the shapes of the arches, give a constant sense of the grandeur of a castle,” even in narrow corridors and side-entrances. For the most part, even when you are deep inside the Castle, the scale is impressive.
One of the most enjoyable elements of the tour, is that for all the smart, corporate finish that has been applied to the Castle, there are lots of places where the “historical character peeps through.” In the pictures below you can see the gigantic fireplace in the wall of the room used for concerts and wedding ceremonies. Although now a peaceful room, laid out for seating, this was once one of the busiest parts of the castle, with multiple spits roasting on the huge fire, ovens at the back of it and a warming room off to the side. As you walk through the gardens, the two sundials pictured, keep a silent record of time passing. Although they now bear mottoes appropriate to the Castle’s connection to the Bishop, they originally read ‘Alas, the fleeting years slip by’ in Latin (from the Victorian reference book ‘The Book of Sun-Dials’ by Mrs Alfred Gatty).
When visitors are exploring the Castle, they benefit from the attention given to accurate and detailed information. Each room has an information board, covering its architectural background, and outlining the room’s original use, and in some cases its interim usage. So, the Norman Chapel with its beautiful arches, and staggeringly deep-set windows, showing walls several feet thick, was originally used as a place of worship, but in the Nineteenth Century was used as a servants’ dining room!
The tour itself is fantastically informative, but it is of quite unpredictable length, so wear comfortable shoes, and allow plenty of time. It’s best to arrive a little early, in order to be in the first group, so that you know when it’s going to start, and don’t have to wait around.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the fantastically detailed carvings on the Grand Staircase. Fascinatingly, this amazing feature was completely hidden – bricked in for 300 years – until it was rediscovered in the 1930s…
Tea for Two
The surroundings at The Bush Hotel are lovely. If you walk in from the high street, you pass under an archway into a pretty mews with a fountain and little box trees. The rear of the hotel has large lawns and a sheltered patio area where you can sit to have your tea on warmer days. The lounge is a cosy and relaxed place to settle in and have tea on a clear but chilly September afternoon.
The hotel is housed in a very interesting series of old and new buildings, so that as you walk out of the smart reception area, you pass down a corridor with exposed Tudor beams and into the sudden quiet that is so distinctive of those very thick old walls. The bustle of the town is completely hushed, and even if you had been on a very busy shopping excursion, The Bush Hotel gives you a complete haven from it.
Service is swift and courteous, and the tea itself is very tasty and is served on an impressive multi-tiered cake stand. There were a range of traditional sandwiches, the best of which were the salmon and cream cheese and cucumber and crème fraîche combinations. Cakes included a fruited apple cake which was delicious, as were the scones, with their clotted cream and jam. The prettiest dish was a tiny savoury petit four in a very fine pastry case, composed of a miniature sliceof Edam – tiny red sliver of rind showing – with two finely sliced halves of grape.
Images inspired by the perfect afternoon tea.
With many thanks to Mrs Thurlby, of Blackbushe Park, Hampshire, for taking the time to talk me through her walk round the Castle and her experience of taking tea at The Bush Hotel.
To find out more about Farnham, check out our Blog pages…
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