Not much drops through your letterbox anymore - not even bills. The daily post delivery (if you get one) generally consists of unwanted adverts, Domino’s pizza offers (is anything ever full price there?), begging letters from charities and the occasional letter from the tax man. But if you're very lucky, once in a while something very special will drop through your door. 2018 saw our postman deliver two such letters.
Our first, which was a complete surprise was a letter from ERNIE – master of the premium bonds - advising of a £25 win on my bond! As I am the owner of just £2 worth of premium bonds, won in a local newspaper colouring competition over 46 years ago (?!), it was a great surprise when they won a prize! It might not have been the jackpot and it didn’t take long to spend but it was a very enjoyable win!
Secondly, not so much a surprise but even more special to both of us, was the letter which arrived with a Buckingham Palace postmark confirming our attendance at a Royal Garden Party to be hosted by the Queen, after both being nominated through Chris' work for services to business in Manchester.
We RSVP'd and dutifully headed to ‘google’ for help and advice!
Now the beautiful invitations – something we will treasure for ever – came with a plethora of helpful advice and tips for the day but somehow, we needed more!
Our first job was to sort out our transport for the day. We are lucky to live on the West Coast Main Line so getting down to London from Wigan is a relatively smooth job thanks to Virgin trains. Book early enough and you can even manage to get first class travel at a bargain price. Thankfully this time we were lucky and managed to get first class tickets on our train of choice for under £20.
Now the clothes. Dress codes are a nightmare. Not so much for men as it is just a choice of suit style and colour but what do these ‘dress code’ terms really mean? Day dress? My ‘day dress’ usually involved my black or blue trousers with a selection of tops from Fat Face, White Stuff, Wallis and Next. I was quite sure at this point that none of those would be acceptable! Dresses are completely absent from my wardrobe, so my first job was seeking one out. Not being a natural ‘dresser up’ this was actually a really tricky choice coupled with the ‘should I wear tights’ and the eternal ‘will my high heels be comfortable?’. Thankfully there were blogs aplenty showing outfits people had chosen ranging from cocktail dresses to trouser suits and to my relief lots of fellow ‘non dresser ups’ (are these even words!?) wearing lovely ordinary dresses. I have to admit this was my least favourite part of the whole experience; racked by indecision and a total lack of confidence in my ability to choose appropriate clothes (if you know me you will understand..ripped jeans and scarves dominate my wardrobe!) I was finally dragged into Debenhams by my 80 year old Mum who declared we were not leaving until I chose something! Surprisingly of the two dresses I thought might do, I actually liked one of them enough to think I could wear it helped by the fact that there was a lovely blush jacket waiting in my wardrobe to go with it. So navy blue dress with a tropical print, blush jacket, a beautiful blush scarf (which I have loved ever since!) and some nude wedge heels – following the ‘no heels’ advice! Thanks to a good friend Angie I had a lovely feathery fascinator – blush again - and was ready to go. Not sure I was fully confident in my choices but basically, I ran out of time! At this point I’ll just mention that Chris chose his favourite blue suit and a white shirt which I dutifully ironed. So much easier for men….
The day dawned, bright and sunny. An early hair appointment with friend and hairdresser Lisa who transformed my hair then set it like concrete! Half an hour of deciding what to do about shoes – eventually we all decided that comfort should rule so out came some comfy (frumpy) blue wedge sandals (managed to get my ankle chain on though!) and the blush heels remained in their box for another time. The lovely Lisa dropped us at the station and we were ready to go.
In the lead up to the party I had done extensive research on umbrellas and coats and what actually happened if the ‘heavens opened’. I knew (thanks again bloggers) what umbrellas were acceptable and what would happen if it did indeed rain. Now I don’t know if you remember last year but something very extraordinary happened and we had a long period of hot and sunny weather. Coping with the heat I had not researched and not long after our arrival in London we were carrying jackets and searching shops for sunglasses!
You may know we love to walk, so travelled down to the palace on foot – thank goodness for the comfy shoes! It was almost like following the Pied Piper as at every turn someone else joined the walk – knowingly smiling at each other as the outfits gave away our destination.
As we arrived at the entrance to Green Park, we were met by volunteers who pointed us in the direction of the different entrances. There were substantial queues at all of them, so we decided to go around to the rear of the palace and join the queue there. This saved us no time as that was also a substantial queue, but it was extremely well organised, moved along quickly and you were surrounded by thousands of excited people. The sun was shining, it was very hot, and the crowds were friendly. It was at this point that we began to notice groups of tourists photographing us! You almost felt like shouting ‘we’re no one special!’ – what they imagined was taking place I have no idea!
As the line progressed you were greeted by friendly smiling police officers – heavily armed – but there to keep you safe and guide you in. Tickets checked and we were in. Actually, inside Buckingham Palace gardens. That feeling is so hard to describe. I am sure no one imagines that ever happening to them. We certainly didn’t.
Again, thanks to the research (thanks again bloggers!) we had a vague idea of where we needed to be and when, so we took the time to wander around the beautiful gardens. Happily taking photos for other couples and selfies by the bucket load! Being able to take your camera along was a very pleasant surprise. We chose to leave the Fuji’s at home and opted to go ‘mobile’ for the day. Cameras on mobile phones are of exceptional quality now and of course much more portable.
We reached the front of the palace (back entrance) still snapping happily away and met the crowds of people waiting for the arrival of the royal party. As you gaze across the immaculate lawns you realise the sheer number of people who are actually there with you – 8000 people are invited to each event with three parties across the summer months.
We joined the throng but had no real chance of seeing much through the lines of top hats! Bang on time out came the royal party onto the patio and made their way slowly across the garden to their tea tents; talking to what must have been pre-arranged guests. We got very close to Prince Edward at this point standing nonchalantly on the lawn chatting and resembling nothing more than a founding member of the Kingsman society! (geeky film reference sorry!)
We watched the Beefeaters march away, listened to the bands playing and then decided to go and sample the afternoon tea. Again (thanks bloggers!) thanks to the research done beforehand we knew exactly what to expect. Join one of the lines choose your drink and then select whichever sandwiches and cakes you want to fill your small plate. There was a large choice of drinks and we decided to sample one of each from the cakes and sandwiches. The queues looked long but the whole thing is extremely well organised and moves along quickly and efficiently. 27,000 cups of tea are served, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 cakes and every mouthful we tasted was exquisite. Not sure we have ever tasted such delicious sandwiches and cakes and despite your plate looking on the small side (we’re northern remember! Pies, pea and mash up here!) it perfectly fitted ‘one of each’. Now at this point I need to tell you that seating is not readily available. There were a lot of elderly guests and it was a very hot day. There are seats around and about the gardens but we, like many others, stood to eat our tea.
Due to the heat the next stop was the spotless toilet block to freshen up – sticky fingers! It was here that I realised my choice of the frumpy blue sandals was indeed the right choice as there were numerous ladies walking around barefoot carrying their stilettos in their hands (non heel wearers may not realise that once they are off and particularly on a hot day they are not going back on for the rest of that day!)
Not sure if this was a result of the heat or if this is a usual occurrence but there were plentiful bottles of water for you to have and even ice creams! We ate our ice creams leaning on the walls of Buckingham Palace (still can’t believe I am actually saying that!) and tried to take in what was going on around us. We met some very worthy attendees proudly telling their stories and introducing you to their families.
Words cannot describe what a good day we were having but it was at this stage that something quite magical happened. As we wandered around the lawns trying to catch a glimpse of the royal party in their tea tent, we saw the Beefeaters begin their walk back to protect the Queen. As we turned around to watch, a Beefeater stood directly in front of us and we realised they were forming a line for the Queen to walk back to the palace. Accidentally we found ourselves right at the front of this line and together with a lovely young couple from Ireland could not believe our luck! The royal party made their way through the line across the gardens towards the palace right in front of us. Time for some point and click photography hoping to get at least one good pic. Obviously well trained to smile for everyone we got some amazing photos of the party and several where they even appeared to be smiling just for us! Proudest moment when the Queen smiled for my photo – I’m definitely sure it was me she was smiling at!
Despite the retirement of the royal party there remained much to see and do – bands, music, the gardens and even selected areas inside the Palace (no photos allowed there!)
Sadly, as all great days come to an end it was time to leave to catch the train home. The exit was through the palace and the very famous doors you usually only see after weddings and visits of dignitaries. Time for some more snapping and then we went under the gates and out onto the front. Once again paparazzi style photography from hundreds of tourists, which by now I was used to and quite enjoying! I’d never see any of the photos so who cares what I look like!
Despite taxis everywhere we decided to walk back to Euston and once again the frumpy shoes were proven to be the right choice. First class ride home on the train (we were very tired!) and the end of a truly wonderful day. A day we will probably never ever repeat. I can’t imagine you would ever be asked twice, but what a huge honour to go just once.
It was about this time last year when we first received our invitation and began to plan. If you’ve just received yours congratulations and we hope you have a wonderful day! Maybe some of this might help you who knows! We came back from London with so many memories, new sunglasses, tights which didn’t ladder and a fascinator which thanks to Lisa stayed exactly where it should have done all day!
Our big 5 tips:
"Why am I here?
I wanna feel
I wanna see
I want to meet the queen..."
Brought up on the legends of Bury market and black pudding, coupled with the total disbelief when people pronounce it wrong (its Bury as in 'Berry' to us!) I was born just outside the town over 50 years ago and spent the first two years of my life living in the leafy suburbs of Whitefield. Unbelievably, apart from a couple of trips with the kids to the East Lancs Railway to meet Thomas the Tank Engine and more excitingly the real Santa (it was the real one wasn't it?), neither I, nor the rest of my family, have ever been back. My Dad's job involved us all moving around northern towns during my early years and it would appear as a family we just moved on and forgot all about places. One of our current photography obsessions involves taking the cameras out to highlight the great North West where we live and work, so it was time for a trip back 'home'.
I must admit I had mixed feelings about visiting Bury, I genuinely expected a town which had seen better days (in line with several other of our great northern towns) but I was looking forward very much to finding my first home and where I had spent the first years of my life.
From the moment we arrived I was taken aback by the modern, lively town that greeted us. From the town centre apartments over the bustling outdoor shopping centre to the stylish restaurants and cafes on every corner (there was even a Tim Hortons!) the town had a real 'buzz' to it. It benefits from having its own Metrolink terminus and at times it almost felt like we were in city centre Manchester (on a slightly smaller scale).
We paid a visit to the world famous market - packed full of stalls and shoppers and as a sewer how wonderful it was to see real fabric stalls. Fabric shopping online is cheap and easy, but so often I am disappointed with how the fabric looks and feels when it arrives - I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is to rummage through rolls of fabric and the off cuts basket!
Queues at the black pudding stalls, freshly baked goods everywhere (being good Wigan people we bought delicious pies for lunch!), cheap and cheerful trendy clothes and lots of people actually shopping and buying. How rare is this now? Often the shops are full, but the counters are not. Look in the shop then buy cheaper on the internet - probably the biggest problem our high street has to deal with right now and one we are also guilty of. All I could think is why have our other Northern towns let their markets fade away? Town planners need to pay a visit to Bury on market day and see what we are missing out on! If the high street is lacking in footfall follow their example and attract the coaches in -people will visit the restaurants and cafes and other shops and give our towns that special 'buzz'.
We took a tourist trip round the town walking as far as Clarence Park and Chesham Woods (past my Dad's first young man's 'digs') and then called in at the Transport Museum and the East Lanc's Railway en route back to the town centre.
Helped by clear blue skies and warm sunshine, the town was clean and well kept and was a genuine pleasure to visit (and photograph!)- look at the queues of cars waiting for the car parks and you'll realise how popular a town it appears to be.
The journey home took a slight detour to our old family home, which was surprisingly poignant. It was hard not to imagine my now eighty year old parents starting their married life off in this house, producing two children and just being young. It was a stark reminder to both of us how quickly time moves on and how you really need to try and make the most of every minute.
Social media is full of people demonstrating their ‘wanderlust’ – 50 countries - 12 months, bucket lists of jaw dropping locations, I gave up my job to travel the world… We gaze at their photographs of visits to places most people can only dream of and envy their courage to ‘up sticks’ and travel the world.
Sadly, for most of us life is much more mundane consisting of mortgage repayments, a job that you’ve stayed in too long and of course (let’s not forget!) supporting your kids as they travel through life. Is it possible to achieve ‘wanderlust’ with all of this against you?
Long distance travel to experience different cultures and visit remarkable places is something most of us can only dream of doing, but how many people look at what their local area has to offer? Do you visit your local areas? Research your local history? Take the time to explore what is in and around where you live.
We constantly look for different places to photograph and despite living in and around this area for many, many years we have during the past 12 months discovered all sorts of hidden gems of places to visit – many of which can be visited for nothing!
Although the Parbold Bottle may not inspire you with the same level of excitement as the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China - the view from the top of Parbold Hill is stunning stretching out to the Lancashire coastline across a remarkably flat landscape. The walk up to watch the sun go down should be on everyone’s bucket lists – if you are lucky you might even find an ice cream van there!
Despite Standish rapidly disappearing beneath new housing estates, there are still areas of outstanding natural beauty. The walk past the cricket club down to Elnup Woods gives you waterfalls, old buildings, bridges, benches (to rest for a while!) and even a spectacular ravine.
Worthington Lakes is another hidden gem – United Utilities reservoirs offering a 3km walk all the way round with birds and woodland and, if you feel like getting up early, amazing views of the sun rising above nearby Winter Hill.
Wigan itself is steeped in history from our world famous pier to Uncle Joe’s famous mintballs, unbelievable sportsmen and women and even a statue with a lucky foot! I wonder how many people just pass these wonderful places on their way to somewhere else.
So maybe we should all start our quest to achieve ‘wanderlust’ closer to home. Who knows where it may eventually lead?
Life and other