The Princess Diana Tour

Princess Diana tour touches the heart and teaches amazing history lesson.

For those who were touched by the tragic passing of the beloved Diana, Princess of Wales, a trip to England to learn more about the Princess and visit her various residences could easily be the trip of a lifetime. Starting in 1985, I have visited England five times, each time including on my itinerary a site known now for its Diana connections. Therefore, I can recommend the following journey for those who would like to follow in her footsteps, both for further appreciation of the woman and her world, and for the invaluable history lesson such a trip entails.

Start at Diana's birthplace, Sandringham, the Royal country house near the northern coast of Norfolk in East Anglia. Set on 60 rolling acres of woodland, heath, field and formal gardens, Sandringham also comprises the surrounding 20,000 acres of park, villages forests and farms to support the great household. Made of carrstone, a light brown stone found along the northern England shore, the house has been modified several times since its inception in 1896 by Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, who built it for his wife, Queen Alexandra. The property had originated, however, from the Spencer family, hence the Diana connection.

Plan on half a day at Sandringham to visit the beautifully appointed public areas where HM Elizabeth II and her family relax at Christmas, during month-long summer breaks, and other times. Portraits of all the royals grace the walls, and the elegant gardens echo the grace of a life gone by. Horse stables and a monumental sculpture of Persimmon, the stud horse who helped finance the building of Sandringham, a coach house filled with restored antique vehicles, and more make for a fascinating visit.

Diana Spencer, however, was not born at Sandringham House itself, but in a subsidiary cottage, actually a large stone mansion in its own right, off to one side of the extensive grounds. Here in York Cottage, surrounded now with beautiful roses, hydrangea, shrubbery, and specimen trees, the young woman and her siblings were born. Appropriately, the cottage has been leased for a token sum to a charitable organization which operates a hotel for the disabled on the premises.

From Sandringham, travel almost due west to Althorp, a tiny village outside of Northampton, where the Spencer estate spreads itself out for miles, and includes Diana's girlhood home, a charming 16th c. mansion. Althorp is nearly as elegantly appointed as Sandringham. You'll find paintings by Gainesborough, VanDyck and Rubens, portraits of every Spencer for the last three centuries, and plenty of Diana herself. More importantly you'll be able to join the throngs of people, most of them English it seems, who walk the paths through garden and woods to the lake where Diana is buried on a small island.

Visitors may not travel to the island itself, but you can glimpse the marker at her burial place, and visit, at the end of the lake, a touching memorial tribute to the late Princess. Hundreds of visitors passed the memorial slowly and respectfully the day we visited, stopping to read the words of Diana's brother, the seventh Lord Spencer, and pausing to place bouquets and mementos at the wall. Back at the entry to the Althorp home, another building, once the stables and coach house of this elegant estate, now houses a museum by which to remember Diana. It is by far the most touching of any of the Diana-connected sites we visited. Tens of pictures and movies from her childhood, her wedding dress and ball gowns, souvenirs from the girl's life and the Princess' fame are included. There is a whole case of books full of tributes and sympathy messages, and a massive vat filled with the petals of the flowers people have been laying at her memorial site for three years.

There were few dry eyes as the guests left the museum. Yet everything at Althorp is done quietly, in good taste, and there is never a carnival atmosphere. My choice would be to travel further west and south now, to Broadlands in Romsey, the home of Mountbatten where Diana and Prince Charles spent their honeymoon.

Broadlands is an elegant Palladian mansion on the River Test. When we visited in 1994 I was struck with the serenity and beauty of the formally landscaped grounds that led down to the river's edge. Specimen trees, wonderful hedges, and the idyllic "Riverside Lawns" are worth an hour or two alone.

In the exquisite house, the architectural details and art treasures thrill the eye, and an audiovisual presentation on the life of Lord Mountbatten, whose home Broadlands became during the military man's life, is a refresher curse on World War II. Louis Mountbatten held important posts in the British navy, and in Burma before the war, and Chief of Commando Operations in the Pacific theatre. Eventually he became Supreme Allid Commander in the Pacific, a counterpart to Dwight Eisenhower's role in the European theatre. His strategic skills and courgae were well known. He was made an Earl for his heroism in 1947 and held Important posts in the British government. Admiral Mountbatten was tragically killed when a terrorist bomb blew up his fishing boat while he was on a vacation at his summer home on Donegal Bay in Ireland.

Pictures of the Prince and Princess of Wales are pointed out on our tour of the houose, and the mixing of old and new memories, some sad and some happier, cause the visitor to feel as though s/he walks in the very halls of history.

Conclude your trip with a stay in London. Kensington Palace,open to the public, in Kensington Gardens, was the official Royal residence of Charles and Diana during their early married life. Kensington is a modest palace, but built on a scale of grandeur that doesn't permit one to forget for a moment that s/he is in a Royal home, a residence for British monarchs since the 17th century.

Huge vaulted ceilings and staircases, art and artifacts, the State apartments used by the monarchs who lived there, and an impressive collection of Royal Ceremonial Dress are included in the tour. The Palace has recently been renovated, and is no doubt lovelier than ever.

Do take time for strolling in Kensington Gardens. The British use their parks, much as New Yorkers use Central Park, and if you want to get up close to British families, couples strolling about romantically, or children engaged in familiar and foreign-seeming games, stay for a hwile and enjoy the pastimes. No doubt Diana played with her children in some part of the Gardens in happier times. To walk where she walked and travel where she traveled, is to honor the memory of a legend. Her passing is best remembered by a few intimate moments spent in the footsteps of the Princess of Wales.

Fine Bed and Breakfast accomodations in the area of Sandringham can be found in a charming stone house called The Homestead, address High Street, Docking, Norfolk,PE31 8NH, or try

Near Althorp several inns and quaint hotels have sprung up in the wake of the opening of the home and Diana's burial, but excellent hotels exist in nearby Northhampton. We stayed inan elegant Hilton only 30 minutes away. Be sure to sign up for your Althorp Tour at the grounds the day before you plan to go, since the number attending is limited and prior reservations required.

In Romsey, site of Broadlands, you can't go wrong by staying at any one of the popular B&Bs. We stayed at The Old Post Office, New Road, Michelmersh, Romsey, Hampshire. The house is quaint, the host family delightful.

© High Speed Ventures 2011