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Sandringham a right royal country retreat

Associated Press Associated Press 9/05/2016 James Brooks

It is unique among royal residences, a country retreat that is the private property of Queen Elizabeth II, a place at once so private and so beguiling that King George V pronounced it "the place I love better than anywhere in the world".

Today it is the treasured country home of the Queen, who loves to spend time there with her extended family, particularly during the Christmas season, when she traditionally greets local people gathered outside a church where senior royals worship on Christmas morn.

Some 175km north of London, Sandringham has been a private royal home since 1862, sheltering four generations of British monarchs.

It's great for kids, too: vast open grounds, perfect for playing around. And the tall trees, chosen by Elizabeth in the 1960s, provide welcome shade and shield the royals from public view, giving them a luxurious sense of privacy.

"Unlike all the other royal residences apart from Balmoral, Sandringham is owned by the Queen privately, it's her own private home," says Helen Walch, Sandringham Estate's public enterprises manager. "Unlike say Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, which are official residences of the monarch, this is her quiet country retreat."

It was at the nearby St Mary Magdalene Church that Princess Charlotte, the daughter of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was christened last July. Princess Charlotte celebrated her first birthday on Monday.

Sandringham House, set among 24ha of gardens, first opened to the public in 1908.

Every generation of the royal family that's lived there is said to have left a mark on the property.

"It's a fantastic garden from the point of view of history," says Sandringham Estate's head gardener, Martin Woods, one of seven gardeners who maintain the lawns, glades and rose bushes.

During World War II, many of Sandringham's gardeners went away to fight. Labour-intensive gardens were dug up and replaced with sweeping lawns.

Sandringham Museum, in the former coach houses, is a treasure trove of royal-related artefacts.

Its wide collection includes several former royal automobiles, commemorative china and gifts given to the Queen and her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Key vehicles include a 1900 Daimler bought by King Edward VII, thought to be the first-ever royal car.

Other highlights include a converted electric golf buggy used by Queen Elizabeth II's late mother, also Elizabeth, known as the Queen Mother.

Nicknamed the "racing buggy", it was first used in the late 1990s to assist her at public appearances when she was in her 90s.

It's painted in the Queen Mother's horse racing colours - pale blue and yellow - and even has a black racing cap with gold tassels attached to the roof. Racing colours are worn by jockeys in horse races to indicate who they work for.

"This little electric buggy was the ideal way for her to do walkabouts and it was painted in her racing colours, as a joke I think, but it's very fetching," says Walch.

The museum's varied collection of gifts includes an intricately-carved chess set presented to the queen in 1996 by then South African President Nelson Mandela.

"It's beautifully done and showing tribal chieftains and oxen and all hand-painted," says Walch.

Some aren't so lavish, such as a handmade wood and string eel trap, presented to the Queen by the president of Kiribati during a visit to Windsor in 1986.

This year Sandringham's house, gardens and museum are open to the public from late March to late October, except for July 27 when the estate holds the Sandringham Flower Show.

SANDRINGHAM: Royal estate in Norfolk, England, about 175km from London; https://www.sandringhamestate.co.uk/visiting-sandringham/ .

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