Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe in February
... but if it's February, it must be time to flee to warmer climes before returning to plan for all those romantic occasions
Is February a month to be avoided if at all possible, or should it be a great moment to knuckle down and plan for sunnier days? It is hard to avoid, as it arrives inevitably after a trying January and sticks around for four weeks before introducing us to what is usually a blustery, cold and wet March.
The readers of this column will now realise from this barrage of grumbling, that I am not a skier, I do not hunt, follow the hounds, revel in going out with the guns to watch a pheasant slaughter, or enjoy any of the pursuits that many sensible country people have devised to take their minds off this dreary time of year. In my early life in America, the winter provided beautiful scenes with fallen snow and frozen lakes for sledging, skating, snowman building and the like and all the trimmings that went with them. At least that is how I remember it.
At Sudeley now we seldom see the Castle covered in snow described by Emma Dent in Victorian times as 'looking like a wedding cake.'
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Despite this, February has a special appeal for romantics and lovers with Valentine's Day to anticipate and it is around this time of year that many brides-to-be start dreaming of a fairy-tale spring or summer wedding. We are delighted that Sudeley has again won the Wedding Venue or the Year award and over the years we have received many wonderful and rewarding letters and accolades from brides and their families about their special day here. The backdrop of the castle provides an enchanting setting for the occasion and I often peep out of my window to see a bride arriving in a coach and four ... a scene right out of Jane Austen.
However, in February with fewer brides and romantic views from my window, I try and go to warmer, more exotic lands to escape the winter blues. For the past three years I have joined a group of friends in Goa, where we share a wonderful, sprawling house on the beach with not much to do but swim, laze in the sun, enjoy forays into the local markets, and generally eat and drink in a non-too healthy way. However, I always feel well and refreshed when I return. Although taking this time away from Sudeley, when I really should be concentrating on getting ready for the forthcoming season, usually creates a frantic and hectic rush to look forward to when I return.
This year, together with the Historic Royal Palaces and other Tudor houses throughout the country, we are planning to celebrate a very special event - the 500th anniversary of Henry the VIII's accession to the throne. Sudeley belonged to the crown in the 16th century until it was given by Henry VIII's son, Edward VI to Sir Thomas Seymour, who shortly after the King's death, married his 6th wife and widow Queen Katherine Parr and brought her to live at the Castle.
In 2009 we are focusing on another important moment in the Castle's Tudor history. In 1535 Henry VIII visited Sudeley with his then queen, Anne Boleyn, attended by a vast train of courtiers and baggage. While Henry and Anne Boleyn stayed in the Castle many of their entourage were lodged at Winchcombe Abbey where Thomas Cromwell, the Vicar General, was putting in hand the process which led to the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Anne Boleyn meanwhile decided to investigate the relic of holy blood - said to have been Christ's blood - which was drawing many pilgrims to the nearby Abbey at Hailes. On examination it proved to be duck's blood which ran out by a system of hidden levers worked by the monks. When Anne told Henry of this trickery he ordered the false relic to be removed, but it seems the monks only did so for a time and it was soon replaced.
While writing this piece, my mind keeps wandering to the task of bringing to life this extraordinary moment in the history of Gloucestershire and Sudeley. Creating a new exhibition is a stimulating challenge involving much planning and research. February would be the ideal month to work on this, but what about Goa, sunshine and beaches? Decisions, decisions... almost as many as the excited brides-to-be who are planning their fairy-tale weddings.
If you would like a copy of our wedding brochure then call Debbie Hillyard on 01242 602308 or email firstname.lastname@example.org