Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Rickmav Trip Report – Two Weeks in Kent & Sussex

Rickmav Trip Report – Two Weeks in Kent & Sussex

Feb 9th, 2007, 10:50 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 897
fnarf999 - Thanks for another perspective. I didn't realize that my curiousity would elicit so many responses. That's the great thing about travel though, isn't it? It opens your eyes to seeing the world in a deeper way.

Part III - An Arts & Crafts Haven, Pooh Corner and the Wet Battle of Hastings

Raining today, but we are off to Standen, an Arts & Crafts House just outside East Grinstead in West Sussex. As it belongs to the National Trust it is covered, once again, by our GBH Pass.

The house was built in 1894 for James and Margaret Beale and their seven children. It was designed by Philip Webb, a friend of William Morris and his partner in Morris & Co., the seminal Arts & Crafts company. As you approach the house, you get the feeling that it was 'built up' over the generations, as many English dwellings are. But, in fact, it was built all at the same time; Webb wanted it to look as if it had 'evolved'.

Although I love Arts & Crafts, including the American version that we are quite familiar with in Canada, it was a bit overwhelming to see so much Morris wallpaper, textiles, furniture and pottery under one roof. The house is considered one of the finest surviving examples of Morris's total work, with his patterns on everything from curtains to chair covers.

The famous Morris chair is even lauded in 'My Honey's Loving Arms', a song by Bing Crosby, sung to us, surprisingly, by one of the room stewards. I looked up the verse on the Internet:

I love your loving arms,
They hold a world of charms
A place to nestle when I am lonely
A cosy Morris chair
Oh, what a happy pair...

Margaret Beale and her daughters also did needlepoint wall hangings based on Morris's designs. Many of the rooms were completely enveloped in them. It reminded me of Vanessa Bell's Charleston Farmhouse because both homes are so full of colour, texture and design.

There are 21 bedrooms in the house, although you only get to see three, the rest are being restorated. My favourite areas were the Billiards Room, where you could easily imagine the Victorian male household ensconced. The Larkspur Bedroom was beautiful; it's named after the exquisite Morris wallpaper on the walls. And the Dining Room is welcoming and elegant.

Family was very important to the Beales'. Their children and grandchildren kept returning to Standen for the next 70 years, so the house was always full. One of the room stewards told us that in 2006 they had a reunion of surviving Beale descendants and over 100 people showed up, from 'two to 92'. He also said that the children were known for their healthy appetites and once had an eating competition to see who could put the most weight on at one sitting. The winner gained five pounds! The last surviving daughter left the house to the Trust in 1972. If you are interested in the Arts & Crafts movement, this is the place for you.

Grabbed sandwiches and crisps from a Spar, handily located almost everywhere, and headed to Upper Hartfield. This is where A.A. Milne lived and where he created his famous character, 'Winnie the Pooh'. The town is in the middle of the Ashdown Forest, where Milne situated all the adventures of Pooh and his confederates. There's a shop in the town, called Pooh's Corner, which was actually a general store when the Milne family lived here. Milnes' son, 'Christopher Robin', would often ride his donkey to the store, accompanied by his nanny, and purchase the 'bulls-eyes', his favourite sweets.

Now, the store is dedicated to everything about Pooh. And I mean everything! We were the only people shopping, although there was a Japanese camera crew filming. We tried to stay out of their shots, but they kept following us around. We bought some things for our granddaughter, who is a Pooh fan, but then who isn't. On the way out, we drove through Ashdown Forest, it was quite spooky in the rain. Wonder what it looks like on a warm, summer day.

Had dinner tonight at the Eight Bells in Jevington, just down the road from us. Rick had Sussex sausages and mash; I had chicken, mushroom and bacon pie. With a ½ pint of Broadsides each, which was quite good, it came to about 20 pounds. The food was abundant but microwaved. There was a heavy smell of cigar in the bar, and the staff weren't that friendly. So, no thumbs up.

It was an interesting walk home, there are no streetlights in the village and our torch didn't throw much light. Was strange to look back at the pub, lit from within and with a few lamps outside and then all this darkness. Kind of spooky.

Rick put the fireplace on, which was cosy and made us forget about the cat urine smell for a bit. Earlier in the day, we'd seen a little sign on the side of the road that said 'Three pounds for logs'. Since we only needed a pound's worth, the fellow graciously gave it to us free.

The next morning we went to Battle, the site of the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066. Even though it was still raining, we thought it would be okay because we'd be inside the new exhibition centre. Unfortunately, when we got there we discovered that the opening of the centre had been delayed (I'd got the opening date off the Internet). So, the only thing we could see in the rain was the Museum of Monastic Life, located within the ruins of Battle Abbey (covered by the GBH Pass).

Before we went in, while we were trying to find a parking space, we were witnesses to a hit and attempted run. First, we saw this crazy driver back out of an alley at top speed. Then he hit a security van, put his car in gear and tore off. The van gave pursuit and since the traffic was so heavy, the car didn't get far. The van driver got out and we thought, with undignified enthusiasm, that we were going to see a fistfight, but forgot that we were in England. There weren't even any four letter words exchanged. Even so, kind of an exciting start to the morning.

The gatehouse at Battle is regarded as one of the finest medieval monastic gatehouses in England. The Abbey, built after the famous battle, was paid for by William the Conqueror in atonement for killing Harold II of England.

There was a lot of information in the Museum of Monastic Life and a good video about the daily activities of a Benedictine monk. Unfortunately, it was raining too hard to take the interactive tour of the actual battlefield. Perhaps, we've been too optimistic about the rain letting up, we'll just have to return one day and stand on the spot where Harold fell (for some reason this is touted in all the literature you're given as a real treat).

Had lunch at the '1066' in Battle, a typical, everyday kind of pub. No frills, full of characters. Good food and reasonable; Rick really liked the all-day breakfast.

On the way home, decided to detour to see Norman's Bay. On the map, it looked like a small town on the ocean. When we got there, we discovered it was a gated community and they wouldn't let us in! So drove to Eastbourne and walked along the promenade. It had stopped raining, but the ocean was wild. Shades of the French Lieutenant's Woman.

Tidied up the cottage and did our last load of laundry. I'm getting to be quite an expert now, although I'm not sure that's even an achievement. Tomorrow we head for our cottage in Tenterden Kent.

Next...A Famous Actress's Home, Underground at Dover and the Sounds at Sissinghurst.
rickmav is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 10:59 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,799
I hate to drag out the side-argument to this interesting report, but in the interests of fairness, I ought to point out that it's quite possible some British tourists to the US in the 80s got a bit confused by adverts in banks for what I eventually worked out must be Individual Retirement Accounts.
PatrickLondon is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 01:25 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 6,056
Rickmav - I don't know if you will get to see this in time, but have you considered visiting Bodiam and Rye, which are not a million miles from where you are staying.

Bodium is the archetypal moated castle - like something out of a fairytale. Rye is a very quaint old town then used to be on the coast but is now inland as the waterway partly silted up. Lots of cobbly streets, antique shops and a few good pubs.
RM67 is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 03:48 PM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 234
Love your report!! You have a great way of expressing yourself.

Hate the political diatribes. I had a whole paragraph typed about how not many know about the other side of the coin...being Catholic and living in the North and what drove the people to the extreme etc etc. But that would have just kept the discussion going. Enough said.
maureencol is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 01:52 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 5,056
There is no justifiable excuse for planting bombs with the sole intent of harming civilians.
nona1 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 04:30 AM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 5,950
Wonderful report & I feel as though I'm travelling along with you. England's history is hardly bloodless & without cruelty so the old glass house saying might apply.
Carrybean is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 05:13 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 2,627
rickmav - I am still with you and enjoying your writing very much.

SandyBrit is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 05:32 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 897
RM67 - Although we did not go to Rye and Bodiam on this trip, we have visited them both on previous holidays. We really liked Rye, and Bodiam was the first moated ruin we ever saw.

PatrickLondon, Maureencol, nona1 - Thanks for making my ramblings richer by adding your insights.

Carrybean, and SandyBrit - thanks for keeping me going.

Part IV - A Famous Actress's Home, Underground at Dover and the Sounds at Sissinghurst.

We left Jevington – and the cat pee smell - this morning for our self-catering cottage in Kent, although we are staying the first night at the owners' bed and breakfast at Whitfield Farm www.whitfieldfarm.co.uk/. On our way, decided to stop at Hastings again. The weather was beautiful and the Old Town has such a quirky and fun vibe that we decided to wander about and take more pictures. We found a great parking space, just past the black fishermen's huts on The Stade, right by the ocean.

So we sat by the water and ate decadent, chocolate brownies from Judges Bakery, an organic, artisan shop on the High St. An amazing store, with wonderful breads, cheeses and spices. We watch people taking the Hastings East Cliff Lift, on almost vertical tracks, and decide that we would rather be observers than participants. Kids are enjoying the rides at the amusement park, there's music playing somewhere and our faces are smeared with chocolate – a perfect, autumn day.

Next we drive to Smallhythe (covered by the GBH Pass), a strange and beautiful 16th c. timbered house owned by Ellen Terry, the famous Victorian actress. She bought the house in 1899 and lived in it until her death in 1928. Today, it's more a museum, dedicated to the English theatre, than a home. Terry had an amazing collection of theatre memorabilia, including costumes, from her plays as well as others. If you are a theatre buff, you'll love this place.

There's also a thatched barn in the grounds which Terry's daughter, Edith Craig, turned into a small theatre in memory of her mother and the other famous actors who visited Smallhythe. They were actually preparing for a play when we were there and we sat and watched them putting together the stage sets. One fellow even asked us if a painting he was hanging was straight! The grounds are very pretty, particularly the old rose garden. For some reason, Rick has a thing about roses and he lingered there while I explored the orchard.

We have a hard time finding Whitfield Farm B&B because the sign on the gate is in some kind of fancy script and we drive past it a few times before we figure out that this is the place we are looking for. It is a lovely home and Diane Barbour is a gracious hostess, although a bit over-protective. She wants your stay here to be perfect and it shows in her concern for her guests, the beautiful decor of the rooms and the lovely antiques throughout the house. The crisp, white sheets, luxurious bathroom and beautiful views from the bedroom make this a place I would definitely return to.

We drive into Tenterden for dinner and check out our self-catering cottage. It is set back from the High St. and looks very nice. There are many restaurants to choose from, we end up going to the White Lion Pub. Not that impressed, although their potato wedges are good. The staff are vague and slow, and you are expected to wait to be served at your table (we sat in the lounge). Later in the week, we go back to the pub, which is full of people and has a better feel to it. Our pints of beer are the most expensive of the trip.

Breakfast the next day at the B&B is great, there are two other English couples, travelling together, and we eat at one large dining table. They are in Kent for a golf tournament and are very funny, teasing each other and, eventually, Rick and I. They are quite curious about where we've been and where we are travelling to, and when they learn that I am in the midst of writing a mystery, dredge up all kinds of gory ideas for a great murder. I'm not sure what our landlady thinks of us as she brings in our breakfasts. The meals are a treat, the yoghurt, jam and bread are homemade and the eggs are from chickens in the back garden. She buys the sausages and bacon from a farm down the road and everything is beautifully presented.

Since we can't get into our cottage until the afternoon, we decide to go to Dover for the day. It's very warm and, as it's Sunday, that tends to bring out the crowds. But Dover Castle, where we begin, is so large it seems to fit everyone. Again, our visit is covered by the GBH Pass. Even if you had to pay the 9.50 pounds per person, I think the place is good value for money.

We start with the Secret Wartime Tunnels, a place we've visited before and really like. Walking down into the tunnels, you gradually lose your sense of the present and by the time you see the first video at the beginning of the tour, for us anyway, we are immediately back in WWII England at 'Hellfire Corner' (the name for this part of Kent, where so many aerial dogfights took place).

Seven hundred people worked and lived underground and the tour of the tunnels tries to make their story come alive. Although there is a tour guide, you really follow the taped voices of sentries, nurses and doctors as they tend to a wounded pilot being taken into the underground hospital. You also get to see the Command Centre, familiar from so many movies, with the large plotting table tracking movements of planes and ships. You get to see where the soldiers and staff ate and slept (with accompanying smells), the main military telephone exchange and the operating room – all the time there are the thuds of bombs being dropped outside, the lights flicker – it's very good.

The walls of the tunnels leading to the Dynamo Room are lined with graffiti from the people who lived and worked there. What's somewhat eerie are the thousands of crosses and vertical lines in among the initials and dates. The guide told us that soldiers carved a vertical line before they were sent into battle. Men who returned made the horizontal additions that form the crosses.

The only negative was that there were a number of children on the tour and some of them definitely did not want to be there. They were screaming even before we went in. You have to wonder about the intelligence of parents who would subject their small children to dark tunnels, with strange sounds and lights going on and off, when the child is pleading, even before we went in, that he was afraid. At least two kids were crying and screaming the entire time. I would definitely check out who is waiting to go in the tunnels before I went on the tour again.

We enjoyed two other exhibitions, above ground, at Dover Castle. One was the 1216 Siege Experience. It uses light, film and sound technology to show how a siege might feel from within the castle. In 1216, a group of rebel barons invited the French Dauphin to seize the throne of England from King John. Only two castles in the southeast, Windsor and Dover, held out against the French. So, you actually experience the sounds and sights of warfare in the 13th c. It was well done. Only 10 people can go in at a time, and there is a clock outside that tells you when the next group can enter.

The second display was in another part of the vast grounds and shows Dover Castle preparing for a visit from Henry VIII in 1539. The king was visiting all the castles that formed the chain of coastal forts that were being readied for an invasion from France and Spain. It shows how Henry's bedroom would have looked, including all the trunks that preceded him, half open with the things the king would have brought with him. You get to hear carpenters making furniture for the dining room, take an interactive test on the identity of Henry's many queens and listen to a whispering wall, with all kinds of different voices spreading court gossip. Had a very enjoyable day in Dover.

Back to Tenterden to check into our new cottage (http://www.aplaceinkent.co.uk/). We picked the town because it is in a great location in southeast Kent. And the cottage because it is situated in the middle of Tenterden, yet far enough back from the High St. to be private and quiet. There's also a little garden in the back with table and chairs, although it's a bit overgrown. The cottage has two bedrooms on three levels, with only one bathroom, but equipped with a full-size fridge, dishwasher and clothes washer. It's very charming, but a bit tatty, which surprises us since the B&B was so perfect. But at least there's no smell of cat urine! The only real negative is that there is no parking – so we have to find our own on a side street.

Have dinner that night at Prezzo, an Italian restaurant not far from our cottage. It is very good. The restaurant is surprisingly large, it looks so small from the street. We share an order of the pane con cipolla - garlic bread with caramelized onions and mozzarella and it is delicious. I order ravioli di pollo - char grilled chicken ravioli with peas in a creamy sauce; Rick has linguine con salsicca picante – spicy Italian sausage and roasted peppers with pasta. Very good. With a ½ litre of wine, the meal costs us about 30 pounds. We take a walk after dinner to work off some of the meal and check out the town. Very quiet and clean.

Had a lie-in the next morning, then headed to Sissinghurst (covered by GBH Pass), one of the world's most famous gardens. It was bought by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson in 1930 and over the years, they worked to create a wonderland. We've been here a number of times - we are fledgling gardeners - but have never been in October.

Another glorious sunny day. There's a Farmer's Market just outside the entrance to Sissinghurst, so we load up on tomatoes, carrots and potatoes. First, we climb to the top of the tower, which used to be the gatehouse of a long ago estate, taking lots of photographs of the amazing views. Then we ponder Vita Sackville-West's writing room halfway down. She never allowed anyone in, and you still can't enter but have to press your nose against the grillwork to try and see as much as you can.

One of the room stewards told us that Vita's son's grown children and grandchildren still come here and while we were walking around the grounds, you could hear all this laughter and chatter from the family's wing. Made you want to knock on the door and invite yourself in.

My favourite spot at Sissinghurst is the Long Library – it's a toss-up whether I love this huge room or Kipling's study better. There are so many books, in both places, and such layered feeling. You know the spirit of the writers is still present, they can't leave either.

The garden at Sissinghurst is divided into a series of rooms filled with easy arrangements of plants around a theme: the White Garden, the Purple Border, the Rose Garden and, my favourite, the Cottage Garden. If you visit in May or June, the abundance of plants is quite startling, but in October, many of the shrubs take over, although there are still blooming asters, dahlias and lilies. The grass is so green and my husband keeps staring at it, you can never get a green like that in Canada.

Later, we walk around Cranbrook, the town nearest to Sissinghurst, and pick up some more mysteries and English decorating magazines (hoorah) at a charity shop. Then we take our time driving through the countryside on our way to Biddenden, where we plan to have dinner at the Three Chimneys. What a wonderful place – the building is timbered and dates from the 15th c. and it is very cozy with lots of little dining areas and low ceilings. We had to wait a bit until dinner was served, but had a pint outside in the garden. Rick had lamb liver and bacon – yuk – but he liked it; I had the vegetarian dish, which was a risotto with goat's cheese and red peppers. Also very good. Cost about 32 pounds with drinks.

It's getting quite dark by the time we leave the Three Chimneys. Rick has left a light on near the front window in our cottage and as we open the gate and walk along the grass to our front door, it really does feel as if we are coming home.

Next...The Most Haunted Village in England, Churchill's Digs and Delicious Dixter.
rickmav is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 11:11 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 5,950
You're writing a mystery? I hope you'll let us know when it's published. Glad I'm not the only one who buys tons of English decorating magazines. They get passed around here among all my friends.

You seem to have found many wonderful places to stay (except for the cat-smelling one.)
Carrybean is offline  
Feb 11th, 2007, 01:32 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,799
Not sure if this would be your thing, but Vita Sackville West's children (and theirs) went on to be writers and artists - one son a sculptor, another a writer and genuinely honourable Member of Parliament, and his son wrote "Sea Room" about the Hebridean islands inherited by the family, and "Atlantic Britain" about a long-distance sailing trip.
PatrickLondon is offline  
Feb 11th, 2007, 07:00 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 6,056
Sorry Rickmav - I didn't realise this was retrospective. Have reread your opening post, and now realise this all took place last year! 8-)
RM67 is offline  
Feb 11th, 2007, 10:18 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 2,627
rickmav - Agree with you about parents taking children into the Dover tunnels who obviously have no interest, are not old enough or just plain frightened. For adults they are a must do.

I actually had wondered if you were retired from sort of connection to the written word because of your ability to express yourself so beautifully and the fact you could take a four-month trip. It all makes a bit more sense now. Do you have other books that are published?

SandyBrit is offline  
Feb 11th, 2007, 01:40 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 897
Carrybean - I am writing a mystery, or perhaps it's better to say I have been writing one, off and on, for a number of years. I finish it, hate it, revise it, finish it - ad nauseum. One day, I'll send it away. (I'll think about it tomorrow at Tara.)

PatrickLondon - I have read a book by one of Vita's sons about his parents' marriage, but didn't realize there were even more generations of writers. Some more treats to add to my reading list.

RM67 - I probably haven't been clear enough about the dates, we were in England from Sept. 6 to Dec. 30, 2006, with a three week break, in the middle, in Italy.

SandyBrit - I was in Communications and Public Relations for the oil and gas industry for a zillion years, then after getting my master's degree chaired the Public Relations program at Mount Royal College in Calgary. I'm now retired and threatening to turn my master's thesis on leadership communication into a book (in PR you get to see leaders in a whole new light!), as well as chugging away at 'The Mystery'. Thanks for asking.

Part V - The Most Haunted Village in England, Churchill's Digs and Delicious Dixter.

Today, we decide to explore Tenterden, and then drive through the countryside, stopping wherever we please. One place we want to visit is Pluckley, which is supposed to be the most haunted village in England. It's also where the 'Darling Buds of May' was filmed, another favourite TV series of ours, starring a very beautiful and young Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The village is spread out a bit but I have printed a map off the Internet that shows where all the ghosts hide out (http://www.london-walks.co.uk/50/plu...-most-ha.shtml). We have such fun tracking them down. It is somewhat silly to walk around an English village with a map hoping to see a ghost, but that's just what we did – and we saw two.

The self guided walking tour starts at St. Nicholas's Church. According to the tour notes, located at the top of the first aisle, is the Dering Chapel where numerous members of the family are buried. "A strange, dancing light has frequently been seen in the upper section of the window to your right. It is often accompanied by the sound of knocking coming from the family vault beneath your feet."

That's when the knocking began. I'm telling you, the looks on both our faces were priceless. You know in the scary movies when you are yelling at the hero, "Run, run, get out of there," and she stupidly stands there and lets the psycho-wacko hack her to bits – well, neither one of us could move. But eventually, and it was probably only seconds, the blood started pumping again and we realized that the knocking wasn't coming from under our feet, but from above our heads. We looked up and saw two small windows near the ceiling and on the outside of one of them was a huge raven (I kid you not). And for some strange reason he was banging his head against the window, looking right at us as he did.

Suddenly, I got the giggles, probably delayed hysteria, and both of us started laughing. Thankfully, there was no one else in the church or they would have had us committed. I don't know what ghost it was, the notes didn't say anything about a raven, but there was definitely something Poe-netherworld like about that bird.

After we toured the village, following the places on the map, we retired to The Black Horse pub – which is also haunted. Apparently, a ghostly prankster hides things belonging to the staff and customers, and has even locked out the landlady a time or two. Didn't actually see the ghost, although I did get a picture of him. When I looked at the photos I'd taken that day when we got home, there were two of the inside of the pub, although I swore I only took one. The first was fine; the other was like a double exposure, with everything very wobbly looking. It looked a bit like the water running against the shower curtain in Psycho. Now, explain that!

We really enjoy the pub, lots of atmosphere and very friendly people. The place is decorated with photos from the Darling Buds of May and watercolours for sale. We both have the homemade soup of the day, potato and leek, served with a crusty roll, and a ½-pint. Nothing fancy, but filling. Although we do manage to share a cream donut from the bakery in the Post Office and General Stores across the street on the way home.

We've already seen Sissinghurst, the home Vita Sackville-West and her husband bought in the 1930s; today, we plan to see the incredible estate where she was born. And then to Chartwell, Churchill's beloved home. They are both quite close together, and both covered by our GBH Pass, so it makes sense to see them in one day.

Quite a bit of traffic on the road (a Wednesday), and we are almost sideswiped by a lorry at Goudhurst. By the time we get to Knole we are hungry so have a tuna mayonnaise bap and a Coke each at the tearooms. Somewhat expensive for a dried up sandwich, but we didn't want to hurry through the house because we were anxious to find a pub or restaurant.

Knole is very impressive and on this over-cast day looks formidable. There is a huge herd of reddish-looking deer grazing outside as we drive towards the parking area and we discover later that there are over 800 deer, and two types: the Fallow deer and the Japanese Sika.

Knole was built in the 15th c. by the Archbishop of Canterbury, although there were ruins from the 1100s already here. Henry VIII took possession of the house at the Dissolution of the Monasteries and Elizabeth I eventually gave it to her favourite, the Earl of Leicester. It wasn't until 1603 that the Sackvilles owned it. Today it has one of the world's best collections of 17th c. furniture and textiles. Because of this, the light in the rooms has to be carefully controlled and I kept wishing I could turn on all the lights to get a good look at everything. Some of the room stewards had torches and they would highlight a particular painting or carving for you. It would have been better if they had handed them out to you at the entrance, particularly on a grey day.

Vita Sackville-West was the only child of the 3rd Lord Sackville and as she was female could not inherit her childhood home. It went to a cousin, who eventually handed it over to the National Trust. Knole is the largest private house in England and, according to one of the room stewards, is called a “calendar house" because it has 365 rooms, 52 staircases, and 7 courtyards!

You are only able to see 13 rooms and they are equipped with fact sheets that tell you what to look for. A room steward told us that Vita Sackville-West was a lonely child who loved the house, explored every corner of it, and knew it better than anyone. She eventually wrote a book about Knole, which I bought from the gift shop. It is a very atmospheric place; you get a great sense of all the history that has taken place within these walls. For a creative child, Knole must have been Vita's own Narnia.

By the time we left Knole, the skies had cleared and the sun had come out. So we headed to Chartwell, in anticipation of seeing the beautiful gardens as they were meant to be seen. For those who plan on visiting, note that entries are timed, so you may have to wait a bit to get inside the house, but there are lots of things outside to amuse you.

I've visited the house a few times before, but like many other places we've been to in England, you never tire of it and always see something new. Churchill lived here from 1923 until his death and wrote that a day spent away from Chartwell, was a day wasted. After the war, when he was suddenly voted out of office, he was in danger of losing the house because he was not a wealthy man. A group of friends and admirers got together, purchased the house from him, and gave it to the National Trust with an endowment, on the understanding that Churchill could live in the house for his lifetime.

One of the room stewards told us that Churchill's surviving daughter, Mary Soames, still visits, and the grandchildren often bring people through. Although the house is large, it's still quite cosy and you can easily imagine Churchill living here. There are so many of his things you can look at, including the 200+ books he wrote. There's also a Monet, although I can't remember the name of it, a gift to Churchill from a good friend (I wish I had friends like that!). After Churchill died, his wife Clementine graciously donated all the furniture, books, etc. to the National Trust – like Kipling's daughter at Bateman's.

There's an exhibit on Churchill's life at the end of the tour and I was moved as I listened to the audio of his funeral broadcast. Churchill became quite a prolific painter, you can even see his studio in one of the outbuildings, but I can't say I'm that crazy about his stuff. A few things I'd hang on my walls, but nothing really wowed me. One of the room stewards told us that Churchill was good friends with Walter Sickert (a.k.a. Jack the Ripper) and that Sickert helped shape Churchill's painting style. I think he could have done with a better teacher.

Dinner tonight at Caffe Uno in Tenterden. We are really getting into our Italian mood – we leave for Venice in a week. I had pizza (salumi misti) and Rick the spaghetti Bolognese. Cost 20 pounds, nice ambiance, friendly staff, and the only place so far in England where I saw people asking for 'doggy bags'.

Lazy start the next day. Wandered about Tenterden, checking out all the shops and took care of some 'administrative' stuff. We are sending one of our suitcases to the cottage in Wilmcote where we will be staying after our return from Italy, so checking out the most efficient way to do that (it turns out the post office is the best). Tried to find some driving maps of Tuscany and Umbria, but decided to wait until we are in London. Stopped at the library to check what we can and cannot take on the plane. We are flying British Airways to Venice and still can't take liquids on board.

Lunch at home. Rick has invented this amazing sub/sandwich. He buys the partially cooked baguettes from Tesco. As soon as he takes them out of the oven he puts on mayo and English mustard, then adds English cheddar, roast turkey from the deli, tomatoes, cucumber (English, of course) and lots of pepper. It's so good. We've tried to duplicate it at home in Canada but it just doesn't taste the same.

In the afternoon headed out to Great Dixter, the famous garden developed by Christopher Lloyd from work begun by his father, Nathaniel, and Edward Lutyens. The original house dates from the 15th c. and a 16th c. house, which Lloyd moved to the site, was added to it. You can visit a few rooms, as well as tour the extensive gardens. This place is not included in the GBH Pass, and it costs 7.50 pounds to get in.

It's actually the first place I've noticed a lot of Americans, which either means they've blended in with everyone else in England, or the people at the garden were more talkative and it was easy to detect their accents.

I think Lloyd's ideas on gardening are popular in North America; I know I first heard about him from reading a stash of Architectural Digests I found at a garage sale. He was a follower of Gertrude Jekyll, who touted the supremacy of the English cottage garden, and Lloyd put that into practice at Great Dixter. I can't believe how lush the garden still looks in October.

Although you are left to wander as you like in the gardens, you must go on a guided tour of the house. Our guide was perfect, in her late 70s with this very dry, English humour. The corner of her top lip would lift a bit so you knew she'd made a joke and it was okay to laugh.

Although it was warm outside, they had the fires on in the house, which added a lot of atmosphere and just a little smoke. One woman had to leave the tour because it was bothering her breathing.

You enter the Great Hall, which has this high ceiling and exposed beams and these huge windows with individual panes. The sun was shining and there was all this old, highly polished wood and autumn flower displays – it was lovely. The windows look out to the gardens in the front and back.

In 1994, a lot of the contents of the house were sold off to pay out other heirs and Lloyd decided to add to what was left by periodically commissioning a piece from an unknown furniture designer. Some of the results are quite startling. Of a table and chair set, the tour guide said, in her dry English way, "Well, it's been here 18 months and I'm almost used to the chairs." I wonder if in 200 years, the modern pieces will still stand out, or at that point will it be irrelevant.

Lloyd wrote a column on gardening for Country Life magazine for 46 years and he possesses the only complete set of the magazine in existence.

Sent off our suitcase the next morning; was quite a struggle to figure out what we would need in Italy and whether we could get it into one suitcase, but we did. Got my hair done, cost me 40 pounds, which is about what I pay in Canada. Had a load of questions about English customs, etc. for the hairdresser. I realized at one point I was grilling her, so let up a bit, but I had a lot of things to ask about.

First, laundry. She said most English people have tumble dryers – although only one of our self-catering cottages did. Halloween (my husband's favourite time of year) – didn't use to celebrate it at all, but in the last few years English children have got into it. Christmas – everything is similar to Canada, except they have roasted potatoes instead of mashed, and parsnips (yuk). Also, they wrap cocktail sausages with bacon and serve it with the meal and usually buy their dressing, which comes in little balls, from Tesco. They serve their Christmas pudding with brandy butter, cream and ice cream(!) and buy their trees from garden centres.

Looking forward to our first Christmas in England. But first, we have three days in London, and then three weeks in Italy.

Hope I've managed to interest you in Sussex and Kent. It's an area we've visited before but return to because there is so much to do in such a small area.

I will post our London instalment by itself. Thanks for your ongoing support and interest.
rickmav is offline  
Feb 11th, 2007, 05:56 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 2,627
rickmav - Well done. Enjoyed every word about Kent & Sussex and lots of wonderful information for anyone planning a visit.

Laundry in the UK - The washing machines are quite small so laundry is done almost daily and hung outside to dry. There are still many people who do not have a clothes dryer.

Christmas - at our house we always had a choice of hot custard, cream or brandy sauce on the pudding. Roasted parsnips are actually quite tasty.

I think Halloween is still a very minor holiday in the UK.

Looking forward to the London bit and I think the way you have set this up on the various threads is terrific.

SandyBrit is offline  
Feb 12th, 2007, 07:16 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 5,056
I don't even believe in ghosts but I think that tapping Raven would have scared me witless!
nona1 is offline  
Feb 12th, 2007, 07:54 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 2,575
Why "Yuk" for parsnips?
They are my very favourite root vegetable.
Go to Delia's website http://www.deliaonline.com/
search under "parsnips" for several good recioes.
I certainly have a tumble dryer and only hang clothes out when it is warm and dry outside, not very often at this time of year.
MissPrism is offline  
Feb 14th, 2007, 08:12 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 897
Just thought I would post the link to our next instalment - we spend three days in London before leaving for Italy. London trip report:


Thanks SandyBrit for the additional information. I often find it's the ordinary things that make a culture so interesting.

nona1 - Pluckley was certainly an atmospheric place. Apparently, at Halloween hordes of people descend on it to wander around the churchyard, etc.

MissPrism - we did buy parsnips for our Xmas dinner, we wanted to try and duplicate as much as we could what a traditional English meal would be - but I probably over-cooked them. Thanks for the delia site - lots of juicy things there.
rickmav is offline  
Mar 11th, 2007, 11:40 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 897
After London, we flew to Italy for three weeks:


And then back to England for Christmas:

rickmav is offline  
Feb 25th, 2008, 09:01 PM
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 2,123
book marking for a 'proper' read of report later. (sorry if it puts to the top the side topic!!!)
aussiedreamer is offline  
Related Topics
Original Poster
Last Post
Mar 25th, 2009 06:56 AM
Jul 20th, 2005 03:26 AM
Jun 25th, 2004 06:02 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:32 AM.