Queen Reopens Stately Home Of Sir Walter Scott

Abbotsford House, Sir Walter Scott
Christian Bickel

The Queen has officially reopened Abbotsford House, a mansion that was once home to Sir Walter Scott, the BBC reports.

The house, located in Melrose, Scotland, was closed for an $18.3 million restoration that is continuing in parts of the grounds. Work included building a visitor center, repairing the roof and making an inventory of Scott’s massive collection of antiques, medieval arms and armor, an extensive library of rare volumes, and thousands of other items such as a clock once owned by Marie Antoinette.

Sir Walter Scott was a hugely influential and popular novelist in the late 18th and early 19th century and wrote enduring classics such as “Rob Roy” and “Ivanhoe.” He died at Abbotsford House in 1832. He spent a great deal of time, money and care building the house and it reflects his passion for history. Basically, he set himself up like some feudal lord from one of his novels. A visit to the stately home gives you a look at what a creative, romantic individual will create if given enough money. There’s a 45-minute circular walk around the grounds that takes you through the broad gardens, a forest, and within sight of the River Tweed, one of Sir Scott’s favorite views.

The house, a visitor center and the gardens are now open. From August there will also be rooms available for people who want to stay overnight.
Abbotsford House, Sir Walter Scott

Bumping Into Queen Elizabeth II In Oxford

Queen Elizabeth IIIt’s not every day that you bump into Queen Elizabeth II on your way to work.

Walking from my house to the Bodleian Library in Oxford to research my next book, I noticed a large crowd and dozens of cops outside Christ Church College. It turned out the Queen was coming to take part in an old English tradition – giving away Maundy Money.

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, and since the Middle Ages, English monarchs have been giving away money on this day. Since the 17th century this has taken the form of a special issue of coins and the tradition developed to give them to old people who have shown good service to the Church and community. The monarchs used to wash people’s feet too, but that ended with James II.

I joined the crowd lining the street and waited for the Queen and Royal Consort, Prince Philip. I hadn’t seen them since taking part in the Field of Remembrance ceremony at Westminster back in 2000 and so I was looking forward to seeing them again. We really haven’t been keeping in touch as much as we should. Perhaps I should friend them on Facebook.

The crowd was a mixture of tourists and locals, some waving flags sold by an old man who hurried from one side of the street to the other, completely ignoring the cops who were trying to clear the way.

The royal motorcade soon appeared with her and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in the back of a beautiful old Rolls Royce. A great cheer rose up from the crowd and everyone waved. The Queen looked her usual regal and relaxed self and gave her trademark wrist-only wave. She didn’t look a day older than when I last saw her. Prince Philip gave a more enthusiastic wave but I couldn’t help noticing he was beginning to show the burden of his 91 years.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that this is the first time in almost 400 years that the ceremony has taken place in Oxford, so I was incredibly lucky to stumble on it. It’s one of those coincidences that always make up the highlights of any trip.

Tradition holds that the monarch rewards a number of people equal to her age, and so the Queen gave coins to 87 worthy people at Christ Church Cathedral in the college. Soon after the ceremony she headed out of town. Sadly, she didn’t have time to stop for a pint with me. Maybe next time. Long Live The Queen!

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. It was one of those “I really should have brought my camera” days]

Queen Elizabeth Immortalized In Antarctica Setting Off An International Incident

Queen Elizabeth Land in Antarctica sets off international disputeAs Queen Elizabeth‘s diamond jubilee year comes to an end, she has received yet another honor celebrating her 60th year on the throne. However, this latest nod to the Queen’s longevity has managed to anger another country, setting off a minor international incident in the process.

Recently, the British Foreign Office announced that it was renaming a section of Antarctica in honor of her majesty. The pie-shaped piece of land, which will now be known as “Queen Elizabeth Land,” starts along the coast at the Ronne Ice Shelf and comes to a point directly at the South Pole. The area of land is approximately twice the size of the United Kingdom itself and is bounded on one side by Ellsworth Land and Dronning Maud Land on the other.

Obviously the renaming of this large section of frozen ground at the bottom world was meant to pay tribute to the popular Queen, but there is just one problem. The land may not belong to the U.K. at all, which means they don’t have the right to name it anything. It turns out that both Chile and Argentina have claimed ownership of this particular region in the Antarctic, and the Argentine government has already issued a formal note of protest to the British ambassador. That note used strong language to condemn the action, saying the move was an act of “anachronistic imperialist ambitions that hark back to ancient practices.”

The statement went on to accuse the British of failing to act in accordance to the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed in 1959 to avoid the colonization or militarization of the frozen continent. Since that time, Antarctica has largely remained open to research and exploration, although occasional disputes have arisen over specific plots of lands. Those disputes have become more pronounced in recent years as nations seek to claim potential oil or mineral reserves locked under the ice.

What will become of this dispute between the U.K. and Argentina remains to be seen, but it is unlikely to turn into a major conflict such as the 1982 Falklands War. More than likely what will happen is that Queen Elizabeth Land will exist on British maps alone, while the rest of the world will continue to leave the section unnamed.

[Photo Credit: NASA]

London’s Most Famous Landmark Gets A New Name

London, Big Ben
Pop Quiz: what’s this called?

Undoubtedly, 99% of people will immediately answer, “Big Ben.” Actually, only the clock’s bell is called Big Ben. The tower as a whole is called Clock Tower. Everybody knows this iconic sight in London but nearly everyone misidentifies it.

Now the name is getting changed. In honor of the Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee, the UK government has decided to honor her 60 years on the throne by renaming the tower Elizabeth Tower.

While this is a nice sentiment, they should have probably picked some other landmark. Everyone is still going to call it Big Ben. The clock itself will keep its name, and everyone calls the tower by the clock’s name.

Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower is not open to the public, but you can get nice photos of it from several spots. Two good ones are about two-thirds of the way across Westminster Bridge, and from the little unsigned park just across the street from Victoria Tower Gardens, just to the south of the Houses of Parliament.

[Photo courtesy Vicky Brock]

60 Years Of Royal Travel: Queen Elizabeth II’s State Visits

royal travel - Queen Elizabeth II Perth AirportThis week, the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries are celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, commemorating 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II on the royal throne. The Times has an interactive, multimedia infographic detailing six decades of royal travel. Each decade details her Commonwealth and international trips with video and photographs from some of her most important visits. The 1970s-’90s mark her most prolific time as a traveler, with over 60 countries visited in those three decades. She slowed down a bit in the past few years, with just four foreign countries (plus Canada and Australia, members of the Commonwealth) visited since 2010 – but still pretty impressive for a senior citizen. Since her coronation in 1952, she’s visited an impressive 161 countries and spent a total of 3.5 years abroad.

[Photo courtesy The British Monarchy on Flickr, copyright Press Association]