Rand and I had intended to come back from England a few days earlier than we actually did. On the morning we were slated to leave, Rand looked at the weather report in Seattle, decided it was too damn hot, and moved our ticket.
These are the luxuries that are afforded to the lucky, the childless, the petless, the self-employed. Do not think this is lost on me.
It remains one of the more impulsive things my husband has done in recent memory (and this is a man who went to the barber with a full head of hair, and came back with half of one). Since he was the one who determined what country we would be in for the next few days, he left it up to me to decide what we would do while there.
I gave him two options. We could either go to the White Cliffs of Dover, something I’d long wanted to see ever since I’d learned that the name was not merely a matter of artistic license – they really are chalk white. Or we could tour around the Peak District, visiting the filming locations from one of the greatest movies ever made, The Princess Bride.
I honestly thought my husband would gently pat me on the head and drive off to Dover. Or he’s sigh and tell me that neither of those ideas were going to pan out, and we’d end up some place rich in history but entirely devoid of cliffs, where my constant use of the word “inconceivable” would be seen as a linguistic quirk, and nothing more.
I didn’t actually believe it when he told me we were going to Haddon Hall in Bakewell. The fortified medieval manor house dates back to the 11th century, when it was owned by William Peverel, illegitimate son of William the Conqueror. It would later be passed down to dukes and earls, surviving the centuries because it wasn’t technically a castle (and consequently not considered a threat or a strategic site to attack).
But I cared less about these matters, and more about where the hall’s history aligned with my own; Haddon Hall served as Prince Humperdinck’s castle in The Princess Bride.
It was from here that Buttercup escaped each day – finding solace in her morning ride. Where she and the scabby prince were married. Where Inigo chased Count Rugen through the halls. Where Westley was reunited with his true love and where Fezzik did something right.
I was going to have so much fun storming the hell out of this place.
There are times during my travels when I am trying to stay calm, but underneath my skin, I am sizzling and popping, like a fresh log thrown on a fire. It happens for a multitude of reasons, but most often it is because it coincides with some memory of childhood, some never-articulated curiosity about a place I had read about in books or seen on TV.
I don’t believe in bucket lists and never have. They’re too demanding, too privileged, too myopic. The closest I get is this – the knowledge that a younger iteration of me never would have even dared dream of visiting these places. And if I’d been told that I’d one day go there – to Humperdinck’s Castle, or any of the countless other places I’ve seen in my travels – I doubt I’d have believed you. I was a skeptical child. I’d have called bullshit on you and shook my head.
Sometimes the circumstances of my life cause me to do that still.
The drive to Haddon Hall cut through green countrysides. The road winds and curves just enough to make you pay attention.
We saw it in the distance, I pointing excitedly and shouting in a manner that does not ease my husband’s nerves when he is driving on the opposite side of the road to which he is accustomed. Rand parked the car, we crossed the street, and I stepped into my childhood.
Some parts of the hall stood out to me immediately, even though it had been years since I’d seen the film. This was the courtyard where Prince Humperdinck introduced Buttercup to his subjects. Even the pattern of ivy growing near the archway had not changed in 30 years.
This is the arch from which she emerges. (You can see it behind her here.)
And here’s the stone bridge from the opening scene of the film. It’s visible for a brief moment when Buttercup zips across it on her horse.
Other places felt familiar, though I couldn’t quite place them. Was this Humperdinck’s study?
Could I have been standing precisely where he and Count Rugen plotted all sorts of nefarious acts?
Or was it this room?
The fireplace certainly looked right.
I tried not to become so preoccupied with figuring it out that I failed to appreciate the beauty of the place.
This handsome fool of mine kept standing in the shadows and emerging from arches and making my heart skip a beat. All those years spent looking for Westley; I hadn’t a clue.
The back lawn, which plays no role in the film whatsoever, is absolutely beautiful.
While lovely, its omission makes sense. Sunlit, peaceful gardens don’t really fit with the impression of Humperdinck as a scheming, cowardly tyrant. On that afternoon, we had the place mostly to ourselves.
Rand had inadvertently dressed for the occasion:
There is a small chapel in Haddon Hall. I cannot say definitively that this was where Buttercup and Humperdinck were married. It looks a bit too small, and the stained glass windows do not match up with the scenes from the film.
But this small chapel has its own history.
In this quiet corner of the hall is a monument to Lord Haddon, who died in 1894 at the age of 9. It was designed by his mother, who wanted her son depicted in peaceful slumber.
It was a strange and sad thing to see, a sober moment in our colorful afternoon.
We walked back to the car, I continually looking back at Haddon Hall.
I’d been excited to visit, and it had been lovely, but I felt a small measure of disappointment. I suppose I was sad, as illogical as it sounds, that I could not step into the story itself. That’s the problem with visiting the site where any beloved movie is filmed – it brings you very close to your childhood memories, to things you’ve held dear for decades. The fictional becomes almost tangible, for a brief second. But it’s not; if anything, visiting these places make you realize that all those stories you loved from childhood are just that – stories.
There is no castle, no giant, no man in black. And Westley, in the end, was right – the R.O.U.S. really doesn’t exist. It’s all an elaborate illusion. But for a little while, it looks real.
And then it’s gone. You take a good look at your reality. Not quite poor, not quite perfect, with eyes entirely unlike the sea after a storm. But he is willing to take you anywhere, to oblige your wishes, no matter how ridiculous.
Fetch me that pitcher. Take me around the world. Storm a castle with me. Remind me that the only thing real about my beloved childhood film is the one thing I was always skeptical about: that twoo wuv exists.
I’d never have believed it until I met you.