Sisi rented Steephill Castle, a Gothic style mansion on the Undercliff, a sunny spot with its own warm micro-climate. She bathed in the sea, went riding, saw her first athletics competition and tried to avoid invitations from Queen Victoria who was in residence at Osborne House. Elisabeth took Marie Valerie on a trip to London.
Ex-Queen of the Sicilies Maria Sophia, Elisabeth’s sister, encouraged her to come hunting in Northamptonshire. It was here that she first met Earl Spencer and Bay Middleton. Sisi enjoyed riding out with the Pytchley and Grafton hunts. Reluctantly she took a short break from hunting to call on Queen Victoria. Normally the Queen never received visits at Windsor on a Sunday, but Sisi turned up in a snow storm. Despite leaving early her train was caught in a blizzard and she was very fortunate to get back to London.
Elisabeth wasted no time getting back to the Pytchley Hunt country and the friends she had made the year before. Great numbers of riders and spectators again turned out to see the Empress. Elisabeth sponsored the steeplechases at Hopping Hill that attracted thousands of spectators.
Sisi returned to hunting in England and rented Combermere Abbey in Cheshire for 6 weeks.
With Ireland in a ‘revolutionary’ state, Sisi was forced to switch her annual hunting trip back to England. She attracted great crowds as she rode across Shropshire and Staffordshire. Bay Middleton joined her as did some of her Irish companions such as Lord Langford, but Sisi missed the friendship and the challenge she found in Ireland.
The final English hunting trip at Combermere Abbey for a month.
The last hunting visit was spoilt by the absence of Bay Middleton as her pilot. Efficient as he was Major Rivers-Bulkeley could not possibly enjoy the close relationship Sisi had enjoyed with Middleton. Her presence still attracted great numbers to the hunt meetings but her heart was no longer in the sport. It would be her final hunting trip.
Elisabeth borrowed the steam yacht Santa Cecilia from Lord Alfred Paget, second cousin of the British Ambassador in Vienna for a cruise along the south coast of England. Sisi went ashore and one day walked 30 kilometres across the cliffs from Deal to Dover and after a train journey Folkestone back to Dover.
A month’s summer holiday at Tucker’s Hotel in Cromer on the North Sea coast.
The North Sea was one of the fashionable places for Victorians to enjoy a summer break. Elisabeth stayed at Tucker’s Hotel which was right by the beach and she enjoyed the sea air and wrote poetry inspired by Heinrich Heine. Large crowds wanted to gawp at her but the local fishermen helped protect her privacy and she befriended them.
Marie Valerie had last visited London when she was six and so she and Sisi came as tourists. Scores of royalty, diplomats, friends and former hunting companions called on her at Claridge’s Hotel. They shopped and visited the museums, tourist sites and the theatre. But they were most displeased when they saw the figures of Sisi and Franz Josef at Madame Tussaud’s. Marie Valerie must have been very emotional when she met up again with her former governess Mary Throckmorton.
The trip concluded with a stay in Bournemouth at Newlyn’s Royal Exeter Park Hotel which was re-decorated for the occasion. It was a very successful visit and the hotel was allowed to fly her personal standard every Sunday to remember the stay.