YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Thousands Make Journey to Diana's Ancestral Home

Althorp estate, where the princess is buried, is off limits. Still, mourners clog streets as they throng to its gates to pay respects.


HARLESTONE, England — There's no getting to Diana from outside the black iron gates to Althorp estate, the ancestral home and final resting place of the princess of Wales. You can't see the tiny grassy island where she is buried or even the oval lake around the island. The only view is a tableau of rolling green fields and grazing sheep.

Yet thousands of people made the pilgrimage here Sunday. By midafternoon, traffic was backed up five miles along the two-lane road from the main gates southwest through the village of Harlestone to the town of Northampton. In the other direction, cars stretched for half a mile. In the middle, a constable directed vehicles trying to park.

Visitors were young and old, toting children and babies and dogs--and, of course, more flowers to add to the ocean of blooms already spread across the lawns flanking the wide entrance to the estate. Quietly, visitors trudged along the pathways next to the stone wall bordering the grounds, reading the notes to Diana stuck on the walls.

The fact that Diana was somewhere in those hundreds of acres beyond the gates was enough.

"Obviously, if you lose a member of your own family, you go to the grave site," said Lynda Warren, who lives 50 miles away. "This is as near as people can get."

A similar scene of even larger proportions unfolded outside London's Kensington Palace, the princess' last home. Any place related to Diana seems to have taken on a shrine-like atmosphere. The fact that the official funeral is over has not stemmed the public grieving. And the arrival of Diana's body at Althorp, the Spencer family home, has only drawn more mourners and admirers to its gates.

"She knows you're here, doesn't she?" said 22-year-old Tracy Davis, who came from Daventry, about 10 miles to the west, with her young sons, boyfriend and her mother.

Althorp also reportedly attracted flyovers by three airplanes, two on Friday and one on Saturday before the funeral cortege arrived, which may have violated aviation regulations. Britain's Civil Aviation Authority is investigating.

Whether Althorp will become a kind of enduring mecca for people enamored of Diana remains to be seen. The Spencer family reportedly is considering erecting a memorial to Diana outside the gates.

"I think it will be a while before this tails off," said Northamptonshire Police Constable Neil Woolston, one of 100 officers deployed in the area. "But it's no problem." On Sunday, people were quiet, orderly and unfailingly polite to one another.

When Warren finally made her way to the gates of Althorp, she looked down at her 5-year-old daughter, Rebekah, clutching a bouquet of roses. "You have to find a hole to put them through," the mother said. But the 8-foot gate was nearly a solid patchwork quilt of flowers. Rebekah wedged the flowers in as best she could.

"She was really the royal member that was of our generation," said Warren, 45, who is from Lincolnshire. "She's probably going to go down as the one who brought the royal family into the 20th century."

Visitors studied the flowers, teddy bears and numerous photographs, drawings and paintings left on the lawns as offerings. They read the notes and poems and snapped pictures.

"I just came to pay my last respects, just to feel part of--you can't call it an occasion--part of history," said Warren's husband, Michael, a truck driver. "You'll never see anything like this again in this country--not even when the queen mother dies."

Dorothy Roberts, a 74-year-old retiree from Daventry, leaned on a cane as she walked from her car with her husband, Derick. "If I was in a wheelchair, I would come," she said.

And many did.

"I just feel like we're by her just being by her family home," said Ana Colorado, 33, who came from Stratford-upon-Avon about 40 miles west, with her sister.

Colorado, a paraplegic, met Diana twice--most recently in Stratford in 1992, and the first time in 1989 at a competition for athletes with spinal cord injuries. Colorado was just watching the games.

"There was a group of us, and she asked us what hospitals we'd been in. She just treated us normally," Colorado recalled.


Many in the crowd spoke of Diana with reverence, reciting again her list of charity undertakings and talking of how she overcame adversity, including a husband many here viewed as oafish and in-laws whom they saw as cold.

Margaret Pearton, 52, came with her 85-year-old mother and her 30-year-old daughter. Pearton, a pub worker from Essex, dabbed tears from her eyes even though she had never paid a lot of attention to Diana. "Not very much while she was alive," Pearton said. "You don't know what you've got until you lose it, do you?"

The throngs Sunday only confirmed the wisdom of the decision last week to move Diana's burial site from the Spencer family vault in the old village church in nearby Great Brington to Althorp.

At a Sunday service in the church, Vicar David MacPherson had some advice for anyone thinking about paying their respects to Diana with a visit to the village: Don't.

"She is not here," MacPherson said. "She is with the Lord. You can be with Princess Diana wherever you are in the world."

Los Angeles Times Articles