It was off to North Norfolk last weekend for two nights in a quaint old cottage in the quiet little village of Docking. However, our first port of call was Sandringham, the Queen’s country house and estate. When we arrived, it was raining so we did something very British. All five of us (wife, daughter, son, son’s girlfriend and me) sat in the car to eat our picnic. While munching our sausage rolls, cold pizza, chicken and pasta salad, my daughter let on to the others that Dad (on my last return from Le Mans), had bought a cup of tea in one service station then driven to another service station to drink it. For some reason, everyone thought this was hysterically funny. I think we were overcome by cabin fever. Tip: if you buy a cup of tea at Thurrock Services on the M25 and find it has been superheated to 200°C, then drive to South Mimms and drink it; by that time the tea will be a drinkable (assuming you are driving anti-clockwise round the M25 otherwise it will be stone cold). This saves time and is much safer than drinking scalding tea whilst driving.
By the time the hilarity had died down and we had finished scattering cold food over ourselves and the car’s interior, the rain had stopped. So, we did another very British thing and headed straight to the Sandringham estate café for ….. a cup of tea (I suggested buying the tea there and driving to nearby Castle Rising to drink it but was out-voted).
Eventually, we handed over some hard-earned and entered the gardens, museum and house – seventeen years on from our last visit of which our kids have no memory as they were only about 2 and 4 years old at the time. The gardens are immaculately kept (as you would expect) with well trimmed expanses of grass, many beautiful trees and the odd statue and lake here and there. If you don’t fancy parting with any cash, then 240 hectares of the Queen’s private estate have been designated a Country Park and you are free to explore its nature trails, woodland paths, sculpture trail, adventure playground (remember to take an adult with you) and visitor centre with its shop, restaurant/café and all-important toilets. There are also campsites on the estate should you have a tent, caravan or yurt to hand.
Sandringham 2
Sandringham Gardens
The house itself was built in 1870 by the then Prince and Princess of Wales, (later Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) as their country retreat. We have visited many stately homes and, to be honest, the interiors get to look a bit samey (impressive but samey). Sandringham is a bit different because it is still a real home for the Royal Family and this is obvious from the pictures and photos dotted around the place. The knowledgeable and friendly staff in each room also promote this feeling with little insights into Royal life at Sandringham. For example, showing us where the Christmas tree is placed every year and where the family gather to open presents. Like other stately homes, it is grand but not excessively ornate or opulent and even has a certain informal feel to it.
Sandringham 1
Sandringham House
The tour of the house only affords access to the ground floor and the main living, reception and dining rooms. A tour of upstairs and the bedrooms would be too intimate – after all, no-one wants to see Royal underwear scattered on the floor and dirty coffee cups lying around.
After the house, we went to the museum in the old coach house and stable block which over the years have also been used as a police post, fire brigade station, carving school(?! that’s explained in the museum) and Royal garages. On show are various gifts given to the Royal Family over the years from around the world but the larger part of the museum is given over to a collection of Royal cars, including some interesting child-sized ones! One of these is a miniature replica of the James Bond DB5 built by Aston Martin engineers in about 1965 for the young Prince Andrew. It sports concealed dummy machine guns, a bulletproof shield which could rise out of the boot, electrically operated water jets in the rear light reflectors, a smoke discharger and more!
There were too many cars too feature here but here is a selection….
Prince Andrew’s Aston Martin DB5. Battery-powered, 10mph and gadgets.
Prince Charles’s toy – does 40mph! Confusingly, the blurb said it was electric powered but went on to say it had a 2-stroke engine. An early hybrid?!
King George V’s 1929 Daimler Double-Six 30 Brougham
R-R Phantom
Very regal. 1961 Rolls-Royce Phantom V used until 2002 for state and official occasions.
Ford Pilot
1951 Ford V8 Pilot Shooting Brake (“Woody”) ordered by King George VI just a year before he died. The bespoke trailer was for picnics.
The Queen Mum’s racing buggy. She qualified on the back row of the grid for the 1972 British Grand Prix (it was wet and she happened to be on the right tyres). In the race itself, she only lasted two laps before the battery ran out, having been lapped twenty-three times.


Ever wondered why Coronation Chicken is called Coronation Chicken? Because it was made in 1953. All of it. Every portion of this creamy, lightly curried cold buffet treat that you have ever had was made over sixty years ago. That’s why it’s gone yellow. Yes, this heavenly chicken dish was created for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. The Queen wanted a special dish that could be enjoyed at the coronation luncheon alongside the usual cold cuts (haslet, spam, tongue etc) and washed down with a specially-commissioned ginger beer. What’s more, the Queen wanted this dish to be a gift to the nation in order to lift spirits in those austere, post-war times when food rationing was still in force.

The Queen’s head chef at Windsor Castle, Barry du Brûlecoq, was tasked with creating the centre piece dish for the big day. Combining cold chicken, mayonnaise and spices from the former empire, Monsieur du Brûlecoq’s creation was inspired. Heaven on a plate, in a jacket potato or in a humble sandwich (or on the end of a finger straight from the tub in the fridge – but don’t tell the wife). However, this was to be a one-off. The Queen’s gift came in the form of a super-industrial quantity manufactured over a period of five months in conditions of great secrecy. After that the recipe was destroyed. The new dish, named Coronation Chicken by Monsieur du Brûlecoq, was a great hit at the formal luncheon which was attended by dignitaries and members of royal families from all over the world. The Jamaican ambassador was heard to pronounce “Man, that was sick”. Well ahead of his time. After the big day, Coronation Chicken was released for sale to a public eager to know what it was like to eat like royalty. It was a roaring success and has never looked back.

So, if the nation’s entire stock of Coronation Chicken was made in one large batch, where has it been stored all these years? Well, virtually in plain sight in one of Britain’s notable sporting landmarks. Did you know that the famous Gasholder No. 1 next to the Oval cricket ground in London is a Grade II listed building? Why? Because it is architecturally interesting? Really?? Of course not. It is because it holds the dwindling stash of the nation’s favourite cold chicken dish. The four gasholders next to the Oval were considered the perfect storage facility back in 1953 due to the fact that a gasholder physically reduces in height as its contents diminish (less air = fresher Coronation Chicken). Now three of the Oval gasholders are empty and Gasholder No. 1 will soon be giving up the last of its golden treasure. For proof, see the photos below. Black and white photo (1953): full. Colour (2012): almost empty.

In addition to the Oval gasholders, there was one other store. The Queen used to have her own stash in a brick-lined vault under Windsor Castle. However, after the devastating fire of 1992, she became the proud owner of a large amount of chicken tikka (the brick-lined vault proving to be an ideal tandoor when heated by the fire). Now Her Majesty and Prince Phillip regularly enjoy Chicken Tikka Masala and a pint of Cobra lager on a Saturday evening while watching Britain’s Got Talent.

So for how long will we be able to enjoy Coronation Chicken? Depressingly, experts reckon it will run out in 2018 at four o’clock. I know this will come as a shock to many of you. But don’t panic! Keep calm and make Taj Mahal Chicken instead. This is a recipe I got from my sister-in-law several years ago and I reckon it goes one better than Coronation Chicken. The addition of red wine is a sophisticated touch for these post-rationing times. So, Coronation Chicken is (almost) dead – Long Live Taj Mahal Chicken.

Here’s the recipe set out in a sensible fashion without too much puerile intervention from me. This makes quite a large quantity but maybe you could store the leftovers in an old gas bottle…



1 tablespoon oil; 1 medium onion; 3 teaspoons curry powder; 1 teaspoon curry paste;  100ml red wine; juice of half a lemon; 2.5 level tablespoons apricot jam; roughly 300ml / half a pint of mayonnaise; 1 large COOKED and COOLED chicken (about 2kg / 4lbs)

Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add onion and fry gently until tender. Add curry powder and paste and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in the wine, lemon juice and jam and cook over a brisk heat for about 3 minutes until they have reduced a bit. Leave this mixture to cool thoroughly.

Remove the meat from the chicken and cut or pull/tear (depending on your aesthetic preferences!) into chunks. Again, you choose what size chunks, there’s no law about this.

Now the original recipe says stir the curry mixture into the mayonnaise before adding the chicken. However, I found it is more sensible to add the mayonnaise to the chicken first. That way you can choose the overall mayonnaisy(?) consistency you want and you may avoid wasting some mayonnaise. Then stir in the curry mixture thoroughly. You can do this bit by bit until you have the strength of curry flavour you want. If you’re tasting as you go along, remember to use a clean finger each time. If you run out of fingers, then remove a shoe and sock. However, if it comes to that, may I suggest you’re being a bit cautious in the amount of mixture you’re adding each time.

There, all done. If you make this for a posh do (e.g. coronation, royal wedding), you could garnish with a sprinkling of paprika, lightly toasted almonds and/or some freshly chopped coriander.