Monthly Archives: November 2013

The “House of Dracula”

Dracula house (1)One day, traveling around Berkshire in England, we passed a very long fence with a big gate which appeared to be a hotel; we decided to have a cup of coffee and drove up the driveway which was about half a mile long. When we turned the last corner we came across the hotel, whose name meant nothing to us. As we followed the road looking for a place to park, we saw quite an unusual building at the back of the hotel with dragons and gargoyles adorning its façade set in front of a beautiful courtyard with a fountain and lots of statues in the surrounding gardens. At first we stood there admiring it when we noticed that it looked very familiar. Suddenly it dawn on us, It was the house of Dracula! As portrayed in many of the films we had seen. The interior was absolutely delightful with many original features and artifacts.

Dracula house (2)Upon investigation we found out it was a Victorian Gothic country Dracula house (3)house named Oakley Court, with views of the River Thames near the village of Bray. It was built by the High Sheriff of the county of Berkshire Sir Richard Hall-Say in 1859 for his French wife. Why he decided to decorate this house with it’s unusual architecture and adorn it with strange and unusual sculptures we will never know. The story of “Count Dracula” was based on Vlad II of Wallachia in Romania, who lived in the 15th century. It was embodied in the films of the 20th century in the form of a mystical fantasy. Oakley Court provided the perfect setting for capturing all the incredible scenarios depicted in the movies about Dracula.

From 1919 to 1965, Ernest Olivier was the owner of Oakley Court, after his death, the house was uninhabited for a very long time. Bray studios located nearby, used the house for 14 years to make over 200 horror movies. They were mostly mystical, portraying vampires and other figures, designed to tickle the nerves and frighten impressionable viewers. The film “Dracula” became the most famous in the series. Oakley Court looks very nice in daylight, even the dragons at the entrance are not so scary. To make the building spooky and mystical during the filming of Dracula, lots of candles were used to create the unusual lighting effect.

Since 1981, after the restoration of the property, Oakley Court became a hotel and in 2009 her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited Oakley Court by boat from her residence in Windsor Castle, to witness for the first time in her reign, the historic tradition of “Swan Upping” as all the swans in the UK are supposed to belong to the Monarch, every year there is a ritual of counting them, this tradition which is held along the Thames dates back to the 12th century. 

Back to main page

Russian version

“Monkey Island”

Monkey island (7)Monkey Island today is actually a beautiful hotel on an Island in the middle of the River Thames near the village of Bray in the county of Berkshire and is also a historic place which was named “Monkey” after the monks who lived there in the 12th century. Another possible version of the name Monkey is because during the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th century, the island was a place of refuge from theMonkey island (1) persecution of Catholics. During that time, it was believed that monkeys were a mythical animal and if they ever touched a human, it would turn them into a monkey. Possibly, the name “Monkey” was used to scare strangers and keep visitors away. The third version of the name “Monkey Island” which existed since the 18th century, was when the word money was translated into monkey by some parts of the population and still used to describe £20 by the inhabitants of London called Cockneys. The Island was so called by people due to the fact that the owners of the island at that time the “Spencer” family used the island as fishing grounds and fishermen who come here had to pay money (corrupted to monkey) for fishing.

Charles Spencer, the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, bought the island in 1723. The Duke was a famous fisherman and went about erecting the first two buildings on the island, a fishing lodge (now a beautiful Pavilion) and the fishing temple (now a hotel). He embellished the interiors by decorating the walls and ceilings with monkeys performing human activities. In 1840 the place became a lovely hotel on the river, which could only be reached by ferry. This hotel became very popular in the 20th century, after Edward VII and Queen Alexandra with their children became frequent visitors for tea on the lawn. Many famous film and stage stars as well as writers and painters were seen regularly visiting the island. Some time after that the island became a private residence and a magnificent pedestrian bridge was built so that the owner’s wife who was pregnant at the time could cross safely to the island. Then in 1970, “Monkey Island” became a hotel once again with beautiful peacocks roaming the lawns. In the 60’s and 70’s it was the in place for the beautiful people of the teenage revolution with parties being held there regularly.

Monkey Island was mentioned in the novel “Three Men in a boat” by Jerome K. Jerome about journey along the Thames valley.

In the nearby village of Bray, we walked through the small streets with their picturesque old cottages

and ended up at St. Michael’s Church built in 1293, which has brass reliefs of Sir John Foxley and his wife, dating from the year 1378.

We also visited a pub called the «Hinds head» which boasts a 15th century original fireplace.

In Bray there are two of the top four UK restaurants mentioned in the Michelin Guide. The «The Fat Duck» has been named the world’s best restaurant in 2005 and best in Britain for several years (it should be noted that the ranking was compiled by the British magazine “Restaurant”), and “The Waterside Inn” which also has three stars from the Red Guide.

That’s all about the cozy village of Bray. I hope to meet you next time at the House of Dracula on the River Thames

Back to main page

Russian version

The Crimean Mountains, a new home for African Lions

Lion Park  “Taigan”Today, inhabitants of Eastern European countries do not have to go to Africa to see the Lions of Africa. In the Crimean mountains near a town called Belogorsk a beautiful and wild safari park has been created by a man called Oleg Zubkov, who is also the current owner. He designed the Park with tree top walks that allow the visitor to see Lions in their natural surroundings. Well over 2 km of walks at a height of 6 meters have been established over very large areas housing more than 58 Lions.

From these specially arranged walkways you can witness Lion prides segregated by family groups, divide their territories, observe their various games and watch them play and enjoy their particular habits, with most visitors rushing to photograph them when their feeding times are announced over the specially positioned loud speakers.

This great Lion Park named “Taigan” after a huge reservoir nearby, houses a multitude of animals, apart from the African Lions there are lots of areas with over 2000 other animals, like zebras, camels, and giraffes, naturally some of them have been housed in cages to stop them escaping from the Park, such as birds of pray, bears, wolves and smaller mammals.

The park also contains a really modern Hotel for visitors who wish to have a prolonged stay in the park, apart from a very large cafe decorated with a multitude of fossilised trees and photographs of famous visitors, the grounds have been embellished with beautiful temples and a central fountain where most people gather.

The surrounding area is filled with artificial lakes housing many beautiful birds and lots of large lawns with peacocks roaming around freely, long avenues lined with tall trees and flower beds adorn areas where you can find many stone sculptures of animals and various other artifacts.

Finally, we have many small stalls selling various local produce, fancy crafts, a few stands selling ice cream or fruit and the almost inevitable unique souvenir shop.

This Park is conveniently situated just a few kilometers from the Capital “Simferopol”. 

Main page

Russian version

The naughty house at West Wycombe Park

West Wycombe parkLandscape designer Humphrey Repton designed the most beautiful gardens for West Wycombe house in the 18th century with ornate buildings in the classical Greek and Roman styles. The park has many species of trees and plants from around the world to create a place with a different mood, melancholic and mysterious. Strolling along the lake, you find yourself in a world of enchantment.

The estate has belonged to the same family for more than 300 years. It was purchased in 1698 West Wycombe parkby Baronet Francis Dashwood and rebuilt in a Palladian style. The lovely country mansion was used for entertainment and is associated with the famous Hellfire Club or Order of Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe, a private club of the English aristocracy (1749 -1766), whose motto was “Do what thou wilt.”

West Wycombe parkThe club was considered a travesty of morality and a total alternative to the existing gentlemen’s clubs at that time. In contrast to the sublime poetry and philosophical topics normally discussed in gentlemen’s clubs, the Hellfire Club proclaimed sexual freedom. Several similar clubs existed in England at that time but Sir Francis Dashwood, the owner of the estate in West Wycombe, had created a more famous club than the fabulously famous club of Lord Wharton. The club members made fun of religion, politics and morality in order to shock society. Many famous people were members of this club, including the 4th Earl of Sandwich. In various places of London they organized meetings for all members but at the country house of Sir Dashwood only for the elect 12 members were allowed to congregate. According to rumors, the estate arranged orgies and erotic religious rituals.

West Wycombe parkDashwood liked dressing up in different costumes. On one West Wycombe parkoccasion, he assumed the role of the Pope, in others he and his friends would be dressed in leather and decorated with vine leaves to celebrate libation (wine offering to the gods) on the artificial lake, built by landscape architect Thomas Cook in the form of a swan. There was a Spanish galleon that sailed for the entertainment of the guests. In the gardens there were many sculptures of various gods like Priapus, Daphne, Flora, Venus and Dionysus, some of them have survived to the present day.

West Wycombe parkThey say that evidence of sexual orgies was exaggerated. West Wycombe parkHowever, the idle life of the estate with an abundance of alcohol and free love was made known from the correspondence of club members. In later life, Sir Francis settled down and devoted himself to philanthropy. After his death in 1781 ownership of the estate passed to his brother the 3rd Baronet Sir John Dashwood – King.

West Wycombe parkOne of the heirs of Sir Francis, a Sir John Dashwood handed down most of the estate to the National Trust in 1943. The current head of the dynasty Sir Edward Dashwood currentlyWest Wycombe park lives in the house with his family and looks after its heritage. Today the estate’s house is a museum, sometimes used as a film set and a place for entertainment with concerts and fireworks being held there regularly.

West Wycombe parkAt summertime you can visit the house and see the some beautiful antiques, some specimens of which have been bought back and returned to the estate after they were sold by some of the heirs. The only surviving relics in the gardens are the Temple of Music with a scene on the island in the lake, built after the Temple of Vesta in Rome and was used as a theater, embellished in the foreground with two statues of nymphs. The Temple of Apollo with a statue of Apollo was used in earlier times for cockfights and finally a copy of the statue of Venus de Milo erected in 1820 to replace the destroyed Medici Venus.

This classic English landscape park abounds with appeal and charm, is extremely quiet with West Wycombe parkbeautiful alleys to create an atmosphere of unity with nature. From the park you can see a view of the church tower with its hexagonal mausoleum, where the members of the Hellfire Club are buried. 

Main page

Russian version