Monday, August 01, 2011

Battle Proms – 30 July 2011

Battle Prom is a series running through the summer, just like a traditional Proms in the Park, with a few extras thrown in. The Proms are being held at many major historical houses, within a couple of hour's drive from London. We choose Highclere Castle, after seeing it on the Downton Abbey historical drama series. It proved to be an excellent choice, as the weather was perfect. Compared with recent Saturday nights this summer, we were exceedingly fortunate, as we had a perfectly fine and mild summer evening.

Ngaire and Stuart came with us, and we combined the trip there with an AA circular tour centred on Newbury. On the way there, we did the northern half of the route, which left the M4 motorway, and wove under and over the M4, as it explored the lovely little villages of Yattendon, Peasmore and Boxford,

Yattendon has a great Pub, with a really lovely garden, where we relaxed in comfy chairs under a grape arbour, and enjoyed a coffee.

Coffee was nearly our undoing, as we enjoyed another, after checking into our Travelodge (booked using their summer special at only £15 – a perfect compliment to our Proms just a few miles down the road). But although we left there in plenty of time, we joined a queue stretching 2 miles from the Castle, and it just wasn't moving for long periods. A nail-biting 90 minutes later, the queue finally started to move, and we arrived 30 minutes before the 'calvary charge', which opened the programme.

It was virtually impossible to see the cavalry charge, due to the 7,000 other people there, but we did manage to see the riders over the heads of the spectators, as well as on the big screen.

The next highlight was a Spitfire, piloted by a women who does stunts in her husband's plane, after he was killed in a car crash. She was brilliant, doing loops and rolls all synchronised to the music being played by the orchestra..

The programme followed a typical mix of favourite classics, such as the Sailors Hornpipe and 1812, accompanied by 70 field guns. The 'battle' accompanying Battle Symphony was most realistic with plenty of atmospheric red smoke from the cannons and fireworks.

The evening finished with the traditional favourites of Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory, accompanied with a magnificent fireworks display, they even had more fireworks prepared for an encore.

We expected the exit to be as slow as the entry, but were pleasantly surprised by a smooth and swift return journey.

On Sunday we experienced the queues at Highclere again. As it is open to the public on Sundays, we had planned to visit. On the way we stopped by the ruins of Donnington Castle and the Sandham Memorial Chapel. This is a very moving place to visit. This consecrated church is was built after WW1, by friends of Stanley Spencer, so he could paint his war experiences as a medical orderly, as a type of therapy. These have recently been cleaned, and the murals are so vivid, you feel they have just been painted.

On to Highclere, only to find long queues at the ticket office, so time for a change of plan. After completing our circular AA tour, from Newbury to Buckleberry (sounds like something from Middle Earth), we headed for the nearby Thames, and enjoyed a lunch on the terrace of The Swan, overlooking the Thames, with the pleasure boats out enjoying the warm summer day.

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