Woburn Abbey: Where Afternoon Tea Ritual Started

As my deer, errr, as my dear friend, Monique and I entered the grounds of the Woburn Abbey, I couldn’t help but break out into whisper-singing this song:

As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee
You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship Thee

img_3323Monique spontaneously sang the melody and I went for the harmony.  The cinematography to our duet was unbeatable along the fringes of the 3,000-acre Woburn Abbey Deer Park that is home to about 1200 deer from nine species such as Pére David’s Deer, Sika, Axis and Barasingha, as well as the rare and shy Rusa Deer, Muntjac, and Chinese Water Deer.

The song is really a sweet homage to the Lord as being Number One, The Source of Joy. The deer may wander all day long but it can’t help but long for and come back to the water. It won’t be able to do away with the water because the need for it is so basic, its very lifeline…

I was so grateful to be able to return to Woburn Abbey and experience this again as the previous time I came in 2010, I hit the curb when I was driving out from Oxford so that expedition led me instead to Heathrow Airport and out on a slow train back to Milton Keynes, completely missing the Tearoom experience altogether.

So here, Take Two by God’s grace, a new chance to explore this beautiful place.  Thank God, Monique was so gracious, she decided to accompany me and we enjoyed our trek together.

While tea started from China supposedly in the third century, introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in the 16th century, the ritual or social custom is said to have been popularized in the 17th century here at the Woburn Abbey.  Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, (lifelong friend of Queen Victoria) felt weak by mid-afternoon due to the long gap from light luncheon to the elaborately prepared dinner so she asked for petite sandwiches and cake with tea to tide her over.  This Afternoon Tea meal served its purpose well and The Duchess soon began to invite her friends to join along. This caught on and until today, Afternoon Tea is a popular British social custom.

Our Afternoon Tea at the Bedford Room. The preparations were not extremely elaborate, but this was one of the most savoury, delicious afternoon tea food that I tried.  You could taste the freshness and tasty ingredients from each and every morsel of food.  The scones were also good.  Specially with the clotted cream, of which I could finish two pints in one go if no one stopped me.

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I thought to myself, because this is where afternoon tea began and I have enjoyed this experience very much, I would like to serve afternoon tea like this.

This was right outside the Bedford Room:

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In front of a Cedar of Lebanon tree which was our window view from the Bedford Room Afternoon Tea.

In 1547, the Woburn Abbey, formerly a home for Cistercian (religious order) monks was taken by King Henry VIII and given (along with the area that is now known as Covent Garden) to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford who was an English Royal Minister.

We were able to tour inside the Woburn Abbey itself. Unfortunately, no pictures can be taken inside.  Our tour guide, Kirsten, took us to see the state rooms, the treasures including different kinds of tea sets!  The dresses that the royal women used to wear had such huge boned bodices (to make them look slimmer) and umbrella like skirts in heavy fabric that in order to simulate the feel of walking around in one of those dresses, Kirsten told us to imagine that a small child latched onto our waist and we then walk around the halls.

The cobbled stone path would be an entrance for the servants while the best side of the house considered most impressive would be the East side so decorating the house would put all the best features on the East side.

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The lawn in front of Woburn Abbey’s main entrance.

img_3901-1It’s quite invigorating to be surrounded with nature and beautiful landscape. It’s perfect for whispering some praise songs in your heart.  The pictures do not justify the scenery.

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I wasn’t sure if I should approach the herd of deer by the water.

We stayed at the Woburn Hotel:

Right across the hotel is the Woburn Village:

Within fifteen to twenty minutes’ drive, we were able to visit Bletchley Park, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6)’s headquarters for codebreakers during World War II whose success in breaking the codes of the Germans sending commands to launch bomb attacks supposedly shortened the war by at least two years. The park was made famous by the 2014 movie, Imitation Game which starred Benedict Cumberbatch.

Monique also took me to dinner at ASK (yummy food) and the Bridget Jones’s Baby movie.

When I was planning this trip, Monique was supposed to be out of the UK but a few days before I left the Philippines, something came up on her end and she ended up staying in London.  I had known her since I was eleven when she was my classmate in first year high school. We both have two sons who were at one time all schoolmates and even though we do not get to see each other all that much anymore, we have a sweet, deep, precious bond.  I am thankful to God for the gift of a friend, the gift of time, travel, learning, seeing His creation, and for His presence everywhere.

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