Two weeks ago, a group of fifty of us General Course students had the opportunity to spend the weekend at Cumberland Lodge. They often say you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone, and this weekend at Cumberland Lodge reminded me how much I have missed the clean air, silent evenings, and starry night skies that you can only find in the countryside. While admittedly we could still see a faint glow of the city’s light pollution, these peaceful few days were just what a lot of us needed after a crazy first few weeks settling into London.

The first lecture, on Friday evening, was given by Professor Iain Begg on “The EU Referendum and Brexit,” and was followed by dinner in the wood-paneled dining rooms filled with new faces to meet. Shortly thereafter, we were welcomed with a history of Cumberland Lodge. We soon discovered that we were sitting on royal property, and also sitting in the “special house” given to the BFG in Roald Dahl’s novel. The estate has been passed from King Charles II all the way to Queen Elizabeth II (spoiler: we got to meet her!), who is the current patron of the Lodge. It seemed only fitting, then, that we learn more about the Queen herself, and Mr. Hugo Vickers provided us with a brief overview of the entire British monarchy, and a rich insight into Queen Elizabeth II’s ninety years. We retired that evening and slept soundly with the hopes of seeing the Queen on Sunday, and without a siren to wake us in the middle of the night.

We woke to a full English breakfast, but were soon off to our first lecture with Dean Hoffman, who gave us a useful outline of British politics so that we will be able to smoothly navigate the daily headlines and pub small talk in the next nine months. A brief coffee break fueled us for Dr. Rosalind Arden’s talk, but the pictures of puppies on the screen and her subsequent discussion were more than enough to keep us awake. Dr. Arden described her research of dogs’ general intelligence, and explained her methodology in constructing several tests of their cognitive abilities. While her work seemed to me the perfect excuse to play with dogs, her systematic approach is unprecedented in her field, and has profound implications for humans, too. She hopes that in developing these tests and measuring dogs’ intelligence as they age, researchers will be able to better understand and diagnose dementia. Her recent publication has caught the attention of the BBC and American news sources alike, and we were similarly captivated by her ideas, as evidenced by our peppering of questions after her presentation.

cumberland-lodge1Thus concluded our morning session, and a few of us decided to skip lunch to embark on the scenic long walk into Windsor. The grassy path took us into the fields, past a statue of George III, through a deer park, and up to the gates of Windsor Castle. Since we had a limited amount of free time, we chose to grab a bite to eat rather than try to rush through the castle, so we enjoyed wandering the touristy streets before catching a cab back to the Lodge for afternoon tea. Our lecture series was rounded out with Dr. Jill Stuart’s grounding discussion of who owns Outer Space, and what our future in the sky might look like twenty years from now. Her talk concluded the academic portion of the weekend, and we spent the rest of the evening socializing over another lovely meal and a few drinks in the bar.

The following morning we dressed in our Sunday best, and walked to the Royal Chapel for an intimate service in the Queen’s private space of worship. For most of us, it was our first Anglican service, but the pastor gave us a warm welcome, and the quaint building was filled with ringing voices that joined together in the frequent hymns. As we exited the building at the end, we found that the Queen had attended the service with us, dressed head to toe in a lovely pink outfit (with matching hat, of course). She waved at us and then proceeded to the driver’s seat of her green Jaguar station wagon, zooming off with a smile on her youthful face.

After our encounter with royalty, we returned to the Lodge for an evaluation session, quick group photo, and final meal in the dining room. Then, we were whisked away from our short retreat, refreshed, and ready to return to our readings at LSE.