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Painting Through Tudor England: A Unique Way to View History

11/01/2016 01:29pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Barbara Ernst Prey painting at Thornbury Castle, England

I have books filled with my European and Asian travel drawings and watercolors. Some of them became illustrations for magazines such as The New Yorker, Gourmet, and The New York Times. I continued the tradition of traveling with my paints during a recent trip to England, returning to places I had painted years ago and exploring new places with a focus on some of the highlights of Tudor England.

After landing at Heathrow, I stopped to see Hatfield House, the childhood home of Queen Elisabeth I, and a great example of Tudor architecture. With the Yorkshire Dales as a goal, I spent the first night at the centrally located Arden Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. This was a wonderfully comfortable place to overcome the wear and tear of travel and jet-lag. Right on the banks of the Avon and just one block from the center of town, it was easy for me to go back and forth with my paints as the weather changed and begin the paintings process. Wanting to get out and explore the town, we went to the recommended Lambs restaurant on Sheep Street and ate in an upstairs timbered room with a warm ambiance. The trip began in earnest the next day, following a delicious breakfast on the terrace of the Arden.

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Stratford-upon-Avon, watercolor on paper

After exploring the charm of Stratford in the morning, I headed north for the Yorkshire Dales - winding through some very picturesque but quite narrow country roads -and came to the Timble Inn where I stayed for two nights. This hotel is the epitome of a charming country inn in a very small village. I would say it is an undiscovered gem, except that the parking lot was full. Not only were the rooms luxuriously comfortable and the staff welcoming and helpful, but the food was exceptional. We ended up having both meals there as the room with fireplace was so warm and inviting and the food delicious. Being the only American there (it is a bit off the beaten path, but worth the journey), I felt immersed in a real English experience. Then, it was back to the narrow and winding roads as I made my way to the Yorkshire Dales National Park to hike and paint

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Timble Inn, Yorkshire Dales

The Dales offered stunning scenery and a perfect location to paint. I hiked Malham Cove, where scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were filmed (recommended), and walked the roads with stone walls, grazing sheep and rolling hills. It was a bit overwhelming as there were so many options for subject material. I recommend a two night stay to get the full flavor of the region, not to mention the benefits of having a warm room to retreat to (should it rain during your hike, as it did for me).

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Thornbury Castle and Tudor Garden, watercolor on paper

Returning to the Tudor theme, I went to Thornbury Castle, which is also a hotel and was where Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed while on a Court Progress. This is a great stop for history buffs, and also a way to actually "live into" history - as you eat and stay in the site you are visiting. I spent time painting in the oldest Tudor garden in all of England, and the view from my room was of the church Henry VIII visited. I spent two days painting here and I was able to work both inside and outside because of the intermittent rain. I would recommend dinner in the lounge (not as expensive as in the main dining room, and with a warmer, more comfortable feel).

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Thornbury Castle, watercolor on paper

I then headed south to Salisbury and Stonehedge, where I stayed at the Burcombe Manor, a lovely B&B, run by a family who are tenant farmers of the nearby Wilton House. I always like B&B's as staying in someone's home offers a connection to the people and the country.

Again, following the Tudor theme, my next stop was Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. The Astor family owned the castle from 1903 until 1983 and there are some very fine paintings from their collection that hang in the Castle. I would recommend a headset for the visit. I stayed at the Hever Castle Luxury B & B, which has 28 rooms overlooking a Tudor village with the castle in the background. It was a delightful blend of modern comfort in a Tudor setting. After the gates close and the day visitors have all left, B & B guests can walk around the castle virtually on their own. I found this to be a nice quiet time to do some painting. The rooms were spacious and the hotel's walls had some very nice original artwork, both oils and watercolors. The gardens are exceptional, and the whole experience takes you back in time.

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Hever Castle 6 p.m., watercolor on paper

A short walk across the street is the Henry VIII Pub, which is great place to eat and has been around for centuries (truth be told, it's the only place to eat, but once you go inside and find a seat, you won't give a second thought to finding other places). It is directly across from St. Peter's parish church in Hever where Thomas Boleyn, Anne's father is buried. It was nice to have a personal connection to this as in 1503, Thomas Boleyn helped escort Margaret Tudor north for her marriage to James IV of Scotland (a relative 12 generations back). Hever Castle is only about an hour from Heathrow, and is a good first or last stop on your trip. But, if you make it the last stop, be sure your flight is late enough to enjoy their breakfast.

I always look forward to painting on site (despite all the inconveniences and distractions) as it connects one to the place and forces you to really look. I find it a unique way and insight to better understand the people and place while traveling. The trip to England did not disappointment.

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Tudor England, watercolor on paper

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Searching for Painting Ideas, Yorkshire Dales