At home in Belvoir Castle

They say that every man’s home is his castle.

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This was literally true last week when Jeff and I moved into Belvoir Castle, home of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland.  This extraordinary castle was our home base for a week of shooting excursions with friends.

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Belvoir is a stately home in the English county of Leicestershire, near the town of Grantham (how perfect for all those Downton Abbey fans!)   The name “Belvoir” has a Norman heritage given by French-speaking invaders of yore and translates to “beautiful view”.  The 16,000 acres of the estate are just that, beautiful.

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Back in the day, the native Anglo-Saxon population was unable to pronounce the foreign Belvoir, preferring to call it “Beaver Castle”, a pronunciation that remains today.  The castle is vast, and its roof spans two and a half acres!  It is expensive to repair a roof, and hence, the Duke and Duchess are willing to share their home.

The purpose of our visit was pheasant, partridge, and duck shooting.  It is the tradition of shooting that I most enjoy (not the act itself). The etiquette, the clothing, the meals, the rituals….all seem to hark back to an earlier time.  It is an interesting juxtaposition of refined civility with lovely manners and barbarous activity with loaded guns.

We awoke each morning to a generous breakfast while being serenaded by a lone piper traversing the castle terrace.

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Everyone was smartly dressed in the proper shooting “kit”:  The assortment of tweeds: vests, breeks, coats.  The hats and caps, often adorned with feathers. Tall colorful knee socks with decorative knit tassels on top.  Bright silk scarves and sporty ties displaying orderly ducks, quail, pheasants.

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After breakfast, the shooting party assembled in the boot room where thick, sturdy, waterproof boots replaced fine leather loafers. Outside the castle entrance, the loaders awaited with the guns and cartridges.  Then it was off to the first of several “drives”, the locations of the shoots.  The ritual of choosing “pegs” entails that everyone pick a number. This determines your location in the line.  There is always a brief calm before the beaters in the field flush the birds and send pheasants, partridges, and duck flying toward the storm of guns.

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Before long, it is time for “Elevenses”, aptly around 11:00.  Sloe gin and champagne are passed in pewter flutes while baskets of meat pies and sausage rolls make the rounds.

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More shooting follows with the dogs hard at work in pursuit of the morning bounty.

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Lunch was a either a proper banquet or brief picnic, depending on the day’s itinerary. We enjoyed crusty bread, creamy cheeses, and warm soup in a modest stone hut cheekily named the Happy Beater…

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and we dined on roast pheasant, rich dessert, and lush Bordeaux in a private stately mansion.

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Each setting was unique to the day’s shoot and offered a welcome respite from the cacophony of blasting guns and falling birds.

By day’s end, we were back to the castle.  On one hand, the Belvoir is a massive and impressive home filled with priceless antiques and art, vast collections of armor, proud tattered flags flown in ancient battles, centuries of history, and endless grandeur.

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On the other, it is no Four Seasons!  In our massive bedroom, the lighting consisted of two lamps which provided an insufficient glow reminiscent of dim candlelight, the plumbing produced warm but brown water from ancient rusty pipes (in which I bathed since there were no showers), and the heating consisted of an area heater designed for small closet (I slept in my down jacket).  I felt as if we had returned to the 18th century!

The evening banquets were extraordinary.  Everyone “dressed” for dinner.  Coat and tie, smoking jackets, cocktail dresses, and jewels replaced the morning tweeds. Banquet tables were exquisitely set for sumptuous feasts that lingered late into the evening. Priceless wines were poured, whiskey tasted, port sipped, and cigars smoked.

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Jeff and I reluctantly left after three days and returned to London for a reality check, back to the office for Jeff and home for me. We missed a Medieval theme night in which I’m told a court jester entertained and singers wassailed.

But the next night we returned for the black tie ball. It felt a bit like a Homecoming!  We were welcomed at the station by the Duke’s butler who had led us on a castle tour. We happily kiss-kissed the staff upon return who graciously greeted us with, “Welcome home”!  We quickly returned to “our” room to change and needed no directions en route to the grand reception and state dining rooms.

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Dinner was a magnificent affair. We took our places at a grand banquet table, dined on delicious gourmet fare, drank rare reserve wines, and were serenaded by a lovely ensemble.  Dare I say it was reminiscent of our evening at Buckingham Palace?!  Yet in this case, the Duke of Edinburgh was replaced with the Duchess of Rutland who gave a heartwarming toast ending with, God Bless America!

After our amazing week, I raise my glass in return:
God Bless England!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Luis Sorando May 23, 2015 at 11:12 pm

Dear Sir:
Is it possible a photo of our military British flags?.
Thank’s very much from Zaragoza ( spain)
Luis

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