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Our Adventure to the Southeast of England and London

Our Adventure to the Southeast of England and London

Old Aug 21st, 2014, 04:45 PM
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Our Adventure to the Southeast of England and London

We just got back from our two week adventure to the UK. We are DH, DS and myself and this was our third trip to the UK but our second to London (last time we skipped London and ventured to Oxford, York and Edinburgh). This time we wanted to explore the castles and gardens of the Southeast for the first week along with a revisit to London for the second week. They don't call the Southeast the Garden of England for nothing.

I apologize for the length as I tend to be very wordy. I found other people's trip reports and comments to be very helpful in my planning so I want to return the favor and post our results in hopes it helps someone else who wants to plan something similar. Plus it acts as a memoir for us. Up front I want to thank Janisj, Palenque, Annhig, BigRuss, FlannerUK, PatrickLondon, and Latedaytraveler among others who offered excellent advice and suggestions throughout my planning. I apologize if I inadvertently left someone out of this prestigious list that should also be included.

On this trip I had a very long list of things to see/do and we were able to get to a good fair share of them. We did not get to Greenwich (again we missed it) nor the British Library and we had wished to do more London Walks especially the Lure of the Underground one but we did manage to squeeze in two walks with them. Not too concerned about the skipped places as they will remain on the list for the next time! Overall we were very pleased with what we were able to accomplish and I will elaborate as this trip report continues.

Prior to the trip we purchased a Royal Oak Society Pass which lets US residents get into National Trust Properties. We bought the family pass. In addition, we purchased through a promotion a month long English Heritage Pass good for two adults and children (although we only needed it for two weeks). Those two passes offered great savings. The English Heritage Pass also provided one cream tea for two at any participating English Heritage Property. In addition, we purchased tickets for Billy Elliott and tickets for a guided tour of the Matisse Cut-outs Exhibition at Tate Modern.

Our flight from the East Coast had a 30 minute delay for takeoff as we waited for folks from a connecting flight to board. DH and DS slept on the plane. I can not. We arrived early though and I thought since it was so early in the morning that the immigration line would not be too bad. Wrong! There were two flights that came in approximately at the same time. Our flight and an Air Canada flight both arrived at the new Terminal 2. We waited quite a while on the immigration line but it was moving--there were just so many people.

Let me describe Terminal 2 the Queen's Terminal--it goes on and on for miles it seems. There are escalators down and then there are escalators up and then there are at least 4 moving walkways before you spot the masses at the immigration line. After immigration we went to baggage claim. Signs say it is a 15 minute walk from the plane to the gate and vice versa. It prepares you for the tube rides and subways except you have luggage with you for this adventure. DH wanted to avoid the escalators so he took the lift and got used to it pronouncing "doors opening" and "doors closing". In the US, the elevators are not pleasant--they just close without any warnings.

Off to shuttle for the rental car to adjust to driving on the "other" side of the road for the first week. Our B&B in Tunbridge Wells did not want us to check in until late afternoon and it was very early in the morning. Airplane food is gross so our first item on the agenda was to get a decent breakfast somewhere before heading over to Wisley. When we arrived it was pouring with rain. When we got out of the rental car area it was brightening up a little. The nearest town near Wisley I believe is Woking and after getting lost we found it and a small bakery that was open. Yeah! Coffee and scones and croissants--Yum!

Once nourished we found our way to Wisley. On that day they did a birds of prey exhibit. Since it was still overcast and called for rain again in the afternoon, they brought out the big vulture to the morning show at 11AM which they usually save for the afternoon show. We saw vultures, falcons and owls flying about. The baby owl refused to fly. The show lasted an hour. It was great. We toured Wisely a bit and saw the big glasshouse with different climate zones. We also saw the rock garden, the rose garden that had a few roses still looking vibrant, and the bonsai garden.

We made our way over toward Tunbridge Wells and since we were close by the Seven Oaks area on our way we decided to pop into Ightham Mote. This place is hidden in very narrow winding roads and we are driving on the "other" side. Yikes. We went up the wrong road only for the GPS to tell us we were heading in the wrong direction. We found a spot where we could turn around after driving for a while and then finally found the correct approach into Ightham Mote. More about Ightham Mote later.

I find I encounter jet lag on the way back and not on the way there.
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Old Aug 21st, 2014, 05:36 PM
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Hi EUROPEANNOVICE,

I was excited to see the beginning of your trip report. Glad you landed safely and proceeded to your destination driving "on the other side of the road" without incident.

I will be following along with great interest....
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Old Aug 21st, 2014, 05:56 PM
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Oh - I'm really looking forward to this -- you had so many things on your SE wish list and were so enthusiastic. I hope everything went well . . .
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Old Aug 21st, 2014, 09:43 PM
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We leave in four days so hoping to get some last minute tips.
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Old Aug 21st, 2014, 11:24 PM
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on for the ride
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 03:54 AM
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Very interesting thus far, looking forward to more!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 04:03 AM
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Thanks for the encouragement. Son stayed away from shrimp this trip so all was well on that front We do have some interesting encounters/stories to tell.

Arrival Day Continued:

I know we probably shouldn't have tried to pack in so much but we were only there for two weeks total and wanted to cram in as much as we could. On arriving our energy levels were high.

After Wisley and before check in we decided to visit Ightham Mote because it was sort of on the way to our destination for the week.

Ightham Mote is a medieval manor house that dates back to the 1300's. The name mote really means meeting place rather than the square moat that surrounds the house. Ightham Mote was left to the National Trust by its final private owner Charles Henry Robinson, an American of Portland Maine who made his fortune in paper products goods and promotional materials. He loved the UK so much, he kept visiting on holidays and fell in love with this property. He found out the land was available asked his family about it and they said go for it so he purchased it and restored and renovated it. Since he did not have any kids, he left the property to the National Trust. We took one of the 15 minute highlights tours which really lasted about 30 minutes and garnered a lot of information about the history of the house and its former owners.

Plus in each room are guides to help explain to you the 100's of years of decorative history that are displayed in the rooms from medieval beams to modern furniture. I loved the pool table in one of the rooms. The central courtyard is really cool too. My DS decided to take a nap on the bench while we toured the rest of the rooms. This was one of my favorite properties that we visited throughout the trip.

Finally proceeded to Tunbridge Wells and checked into our B&B. Two rooms with a set price for the week. The whole place was well decorated. The owner served us tea and scones upon arrival. We were really feeling the fatigue now so we walked a couple of blocks to Kitsu and took out Japanese food to bring back to the B&B to eat dinner there. We were to bed by 20:00 for the night.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 04:12 AM
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Rickmav--have a great trip. Are you touring the Southeast too? Will look forward to your trip report when you return.

Janisj-- I hope your ankle is healed by now.

Bilboburglar, Latedaytraveler, and Cathinjoetown--thanks for the encouragement to continue. Bilboburglar--I should have mentioned you too when giving my initial thanks for advice etc. as well as to historytraveler too.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 05:01 AM
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Hi again EUROPEANNOVICE,

Enjoyed your description of IGHTHAM MOTE very much so I viewed the video available on their site. What a beautiful place - unique.

It put me in mind of the bequest of Lady Olive Baillie, an American heiress, who restored Leeds Castle back in the 1920s - similar to Charles Henry Robinson's legacy.

Waiting for more...
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 06:38 AM
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I thank you.....
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 07:04 AM
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Please tell me you didn't eat your Japanese takeaway in the bedroom at your B&B..? Hopefully you used the dining room / breakfast room with permission. I once stayed at a B&B that ponged of curry and when I complained, the owner apologised profusely and said she'd had trouble in the past with inconsiderate guests smuggling smelly fast food into their rooms - in most B&B's this is not permitted.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 01:55 PM
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Gordon_R rest assured we wouldn't think of bringing take away into the bedrooms. Yes we had asked and received permission from the proprietor about bringing take away back to the B&B and we ate in the dining room. He had provided plates and utensils for our use as well. He served us tea and scones in the parlor area earlier upon arrival.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 02:26 PM
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DAY 2 DOVER CASTLE, ST MARGARET AT CLIFF, WALMER CASTLE AND RICHBOROUGH ROMAN FORT

We woke up fairly early and had arranged for an early breakfast at the B&B. Breakfast consisted of a homemade fruit smoothie, cereal, scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato, toast, and coffee.

We wanted to go to Dover Castle this morning since the weather forecast was good for the day and a lot of the castle grounds are outdoors. During August, Dover Castle opens at 9:30AM and we managed to arrive prior to opening so we waited on the car queue for the gates to open and allow car parking. Dover Castle is part of the English Heritage Properties.

We stayed at Dover Castle from 9:30 to about 14:30 so about 5 hours. I am always interested in how long people need to explore a place and I know that some places require more time than others so I put the time we spent as a guide for others. Of course each person has their own tolerance and times vary from individual to individual but it is a good guide.

We first visited the secret war time tunnels since the queue for that often gets long and we were the first group of the day. You watch a film as you travel from room to room in the tunnels. It is a fascinating story on how the folks at Dover Castle saved over 300,000 soldiers from Dunkirk France during World War II. This exhibit is highly recommended and very informative.

Next to the war time tunnels entrance at the bottom of the hill is the tour of the operations room which is also done as a group tour. You walk through many areas of the tunnels and learn the uses of each of the rooms--bunkers, kitchen or mess hall, and operating room for the injured.

We saw the church and the old Roman lighthouse ruins. At the church they had a christening that morning and people were exiting the church when we approached. The church can be used for family members of the military.

We had lunch at the NAFI cafe and it was here that we cashed in our voucher for a cream tea. Tea, scones, clotted cream and jelly. Plus we had ordered some sandwiches. We were actually fairly hungry despite having a big breakfast that day.

Later we heard the castle story and toured the castle rooms. You get to sit on the throne set up for King, Queen and Prince/Princess. Folks took our picture and we took theirs on the throne.

PalenQ had mentioned that St Margaret at Cliff was nearby and would offer a view of the white cliffs so after Dover Castle we searched for the beach and found it. We took the photo op of the pebble beach and a bit of the white cliffs in the background.

Not too far from there is Walmer Castle and Gardens also an English Heritage Property. It is the official residence of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Duke of Wellington was once one of the owners. They give you an audio guide upon arrival and you can visit each of the rooms open to the public and view Wellington's boots. The first wellies I suppose. There was also a bed for Queen Victoria that was on display. The gardens are nice and the view of the water from the balcony is great. They provide some chairs for lounging. I would describe it as more of a stately home than a castle but it was pretty impressive.

We passed by Deal Castle but decided to skip it and went to Sandwich to visit Fort Richborough also an English Heritage Property to see the remnants of the Roman Walls. Again you are provided with an audio guide that tells you the story of the area and the use of the walls. They were open until 18:00

Upon returning to Tunbridge Wells we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant called Il Vusuvio which was very good. We struck up a conversation with the owner who is from Naples. At the end of the meal she came over with a complimentary lemoncello (a dessert liquor) for my husband and me that was really good.

Overall a great day and we crammed in three English Heritage Properties on that day.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 05:30 PM
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Forgot to mention that an important feature of the Roman Fort was the marshes or ditches surrounding it. They were in essence used as trenches. Interesting considering how far back those walls date and we thought trench war fare was invented during WWI.

Also I didn't think we could do three properties in one day without rushing but Janisj had mentioned that it is easy to do Dover Castle/Walmer Castle/Deal Castle in one day since they are so close. We saw Deal from the outside but DH preferred to visit the Roman Fort for a change of scenery rather than yet another castle. Dover Castle clearly demands most of the time. Walmer Castle can easily be seen in an hour or an hour and half without feeling like you missed out on anything and the fort is good for an hour.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 06:47 PM
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Reading your TR with great interest as I am off in eleven days for London for a week and then two weeks driving in Kent and Sussex.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 06:49 PM
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Hi again EUROPEANNOVICE,

"It is a fascinating story on how the folks at Dover Castle saved over 300,000 soldiers from Dunkirk France during World War II." Wow, that is an interesting point about Dover Castle. I only saw the Castle from a distance on that world wind day trip I took to Canterbury and Leeds from London but it looked formidable.

"Overall a great day and we crammed in three English Heritage Properties on that day." Good for you to cover so much territory.

Will follow along...
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Old Aug 23rd, 2014, 05:45 AM
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I'm pleased you enjoyed Ightham Mote. It's my favourite National Trust property - a hidden gem not on the regular tourist trail of Leeds Castle / Chartwell / Hever. If you search Ightham Mote on Youtube, you can watch the Time Team episode which covered the restoration.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2014, 11:20 AM
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Irishface--Glad you will have the extra week for Kent/Sussex. There is so much choice in the area and not enough time to do it all. Hard to choose among the wonderful properties. Do you have a list of places you would like to cover? Will be looking forward to your trip report when you return.

Latedaytraveler--Dover Castle is pretty formidable indeed. It is amazing how the castle is hundreds and hundreds of years old and was still in use in recent times during WWII. English Heritage did a wonderful job with the secret war time tunnels exhibition and the operations room exhibition.

Anicecupoftea--I think you had mentioned about the Time Team episode prior to our trip and I did watch it on youtube before the trip and was looking forward to visiting this property. It did not disappoint. Thanks for the recommendation because it was one of my favoriate properties too (I also really liked Chartwell). We saw Hever but skipped Leeds. More on that later. At Ightham Mote I loved the history--medieval beams juxtaposed with fairly modern furniture. The guides in each room bring life to the place and the inner courtyard is so nice. It really is a hidden gem.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2014, 12:25 PM
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"and went to Sandwich to visit Fort Richborough"

I'm surprised that you went to Sandwich and, apparently, didn't look round the town. It really is a wonderful old town with lots of narrow streets, alleys and old buildings.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2014, 12:48 PM
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Old_Buffer,

We did look around Sandwich a bit after the fort. We wanted to get to the fort first before it closed. I was told that although Sandwich is where the sandwich was invented, you can't find a sandwich shop selling sandwiches in Sandwich. Is that true?
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