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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On Board Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia


On the bridge

note the enclosed railings to protect the royal skirt from breezes



Want to spend a couple of hours stepping back into times and styles of the middle to late twentieth century?  Have a fascination with royalty and things British?

Ever dream of having tea with “Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith?”

You can, you know.  Yes, you can …almost…

Tour Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, relax with visions of Princess Di and her kids;  have a pot of tea and fluffy, oven fresh scones.  Magical.  Childhood dreams. Visions of grandeur.  HMY Britannia. 

Sadly the Queen no longer has the privilege of gracing her decks, yet her presence is still here.  There’s a fragrantly pleasing air about the expansive teak decks, the spotless railings, the armchairs that beg for a sunny book.

Now moored in the Port of Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland, the price and chore of Britannia’s upkeep falls to a Scottish charity.  They do a splendid job.  Getting to the port is only a matter of stepping on a bus in downtown Edinburgh.

Let’s begin Britannia’s lengthy tale with the story of the ship itself. Commissioned by Queen Elizabeth in1954, and after 43 years of faithful service, the Labor government had the vessel decommissioned in1997 as a cost saving measure.  The government also declined to build a replacement.  To make matters even darker, Britannia’s last overseas voyage was to bring the last British Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, and Prince Phillip back to the U.K., after the return of the former British colony to the People’s Republic of China.

Now, before you settle down to tea and a quick, but elegant bite, tour the ship and accustom yourself to ease and sea breeze.

In the 43 years of her service, the Britannia sailed over a million miles and served as the Queen’s family home, including several royal honeymoons, as well as a distinguished visitor center for such luminaries as Nelson Mandela, Bill and Hillary, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan.  If the place looks more homey and less formal than one would expect, it’s because the Queen supervised every phase of the interior design, wanting to keep it a ‘country cottage’ décor.

Although voyagers were restricted to Royalty and Royal guests, the Britannia was a proud Royal Navy ship, complete with a crew of some 330 sailors and marines, including a Royal Marine Band and a compliment of Royal Marine guards. The Marines were only on board when the Royal Family was.

Other oddities:  The yacht was designed to be converted to a hospital ship, should the need arise.  During the cold war, it was also to be the Queen’s safe haven, flitting from craggy loch to loch in Northern Scotland, as protection from nuclear calamity.

Ready for a tea break?  Just a couple of more items:  The Queen and Prince Phillip had separate, adjoining bedrooms.  Easy to tell one from the other.  One was frilly and flowery, and the other stark, as befitting a Naval officer’s cabin.

When Prince Charles and Diana honeymooned onboard, he had a double bed installed in a guest room.  Very bright of him, although I’m sure it was a complication for Camilla.

Tea need not be boring
On to tea.  The café on the Royal Deck was certainly not a café in the Royal days, but now it’s a bright and sunny spot on the upper deck.  Waitresses in black and white take orders from the small, but elegant menu, and of course the drink selection is all you would expect, both hot, cold, alcoholic and non. Starched table cloths.  Flowers.  Sparkling china, glassware, silverware.

Being old school, meaning married, old, and a complete slave to tired traditions, we succumbed to tea and scones, complete with fresh strawberry jam and clotted cream.

Tea is never just tea
Culinary tidbits:  clotted cream is heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized) heated several hours in a very low temperature oven, until clots rise to the top.  Here’s another:  the Brits called golden raisins sultanas. Our scones had both raisins and sultanas.

It’s hard not to linger.  Difficult not to order a second pot of tea, while luxuriating on a ship fit for a queen.  Ah, but times whisks away.

Another quick stroll around and it was time to be piped to shore, leaving behind a wonderful ship, which will unfortunately no longer proudly sail the seas.  Wish the government would’ve found another way to shave off a few pounds of fat. Want to see her back afloat?  Me too.  Meanwhile, you can walk the teak decks, stare at the Queen’s Rolls Royce Phantom and enjoy at least a brief brush with royalty.














The State Dining Room

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