National Trust and English Heritage

Since 2011, Steph and I have been enthusiastic members of the National Trust (NT)

In 2015, we also became members of English Heritage (EH)

We visit as many of their properties as we can each year, always a good reason for an outing.

For obvious reasons, we have visited more properties closer to home (north Worcestershire) in the Midlands than elsewhere. And, as we tick off these local ‘low hanging fruits’, so to speak, we have to travel further afield to experience somewhere new.

In 2015, we toured Scotland, and with our reciprocal membership in the National Trust for Scotland, we visited four sites.

In 2017, we spent just over a week in Northern Ireland, touring National Trust sites all around the Province.

Last year, we spent a week in Cornwall, taking in properties in Somerset and Devon on the journey south, and on the return.

And, as I write this (late April 2019), we are getting set for a week in East Sussex and Kent, and have already planned a long list of places we want to visit.


Here are the NT and EH places we have visited and, for most, I have written a story on this blog. Each property is shown on a region map as either a NT or EH logo.

Click on the logo to open links to a blog post, the NT or EH web sites, and a photo album of my own photos. All of the sites have their respective NT or EH link. Most have a blog link, and many already have a photo album linked. I’m in the process of uploading and editing the remainder (mostly Midlands properties, some in the North).

In any case, here is an alphabetical list (with links), by region, of the properties we have visited:




  • Eastern England (region map) – no properties visited yet




 

A National Trust trip around Northern Ireland

Well, if I count the visit to Plas Newydd on the southern shore of Anglesey, on the way to Holyhead to catch the ferry over to Ireland, Steph and I visited twelve National Trust properties in eight days.

We have wanted to visit Northern Ireland for many years, but until now never really had the opportunity, or we felt that the security situation didn’t make for a comfortable visit. All that has changed. Now retired, we have time on our hands. ‘The Troubles‘ are a thing of the past (fortunately), and the Peace Process in Northern Ireland has transformed the opportunities for that part of the United Kingdom.

Being members of the National Trust, and knowing that there were some splendid houses to see over in Northern Ireland, as well as some Trust-owned landscapes such as the spectacular Giant’s Causeway on the north Antrim coast, this was just the incentive we needed to decide, once and for all, to cross over to the island of Ireland again. We have visited south of the border several times. I first went to Co. Clare in 1968, and Steph and I had holidays there traveling around in 1992 and 1996.

Planning the trip – finding somewhere to stay
For a number of recent holidays, I have used booking.com to search for hotels when I was planning our road trips across the USA. So I used this company this time round when looking for an overnight stay in Holyhead, convenient for the ferry to Ireland early the next morning.

In Northern Ireland we were looking for somewhere central from where it would be a relatively easy drive each day to any part because the National Trust properties we wanted to visit were scattered all over (as shown in the map above). After reading various online reviews (are they always reliable?), and looking for value for money, we chose The Drummeny Guest House in Ardboe, Co. Tyrone (Mid-Ulster council district), on the west shore of Lough Neagh.

Me and Tina Quinn on the morning of our departure from The Drumenny Guest House

What a find! Our hosts, Tina and Damien Quinn, were the best. What a friendly welcome, and hospitality like you would never believe. The reviews on booking.com were all very positive. Were they accurate? Absolutely! In fact, our experience was even better than previous reviewers had described. Such a breakfast (full Irish), and lots of other extras that Tina provided. In fact, staying with Tina and Damien it felt as though we were staying with family, and a week at The Drumenny was better than we ever anticipated. So, if you ever contemplate a Northern Ireland holiday, there’s only one place to head for: The Drumenny Guest House in Ardboe. You won’t be disappointed.

Less than a mile away there’s a good restaurant, The Tilley Lamp, that serves good, simple food, and lots of it. Very convenient.

Day 1: 8 Sep — home to Holyhead, via Plas Newydd (168 miles; map)
Our Northern Ireland trip started just after 09:15, and because of major road works (and almost certain traffic congestion) we decided to travel northwest from Bromsgrove via Kidderminster and Bridgnorth, before joining the A5 south of Shrewsbury. We then continued on the A5 through Snowdonia, and over the Menai Strait to Plas Newydd House and Gardens, just a few miles west of Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.

Home to the Marquesses of Anglesey (descendants of the 1st, who as the Earl of Uxbridge, served alongside the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, and had his leg blown off by a cannonball), Plas Newydd stands on the shore of the Menai Strait that separates Anglesey from mainland Wales.

Day 2: 9 Sep — Dublin to Ardboe, calling at Derrymore House near Newry, and Ardress House (120 miles), Co. Armagh
Our Stena Line Superfast X ferry arrived to Dublin Port on time, just after noon, and we quickly headed north on the M1, crossing into Northern Ireland just south of Newry in Co. Armagh.

Derrymore House lies a few miles west of the A1, and is open for just five afternoons a year. That was a piece of luck that we happened to pass by on one of those days. It’s a late 18th century thatched cottage. The ‘Treaty Room’ is the only room open to the public, and the 1800 Act of Union uniting the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland is supposed to have been drafted there.

Further north, and the route to Ardboe, we also visited Ardress House, built in the 17th century, and embellished in the 18th. It has a traditional farmyard.

We arrived to our guesthouse around 18:00, and enjoyed a meal out that evening at The Tilley Lamp. The best pork chops I’ve ever tasted.

Day 3: 10 Sep — Ardboe Cross, Co. Tyrone, Springhill House, Co. Londonderry and The Argory, Co. Armagh (53 miles)
Sunday morning. We decided to briefly explore the Lough Neagh shore near Arboe, and see one of Ireland’s national monuments, the Ardboe Cross.

Springhill House is a typical 17th ‘Plantation‘ house, showing the history of ten generations of the Lenox-Conyngham family.


The Argory is just 20 miles south of Springhill, and was built in the 1820s and was the home of the MacGeough Bond family, and has remained unchanged since 1900. It has magnificent interiors, particularly the cantilevered staircase.

Day 4: 11 Sep — Florence Court and Crom Castle, Co. Fermanagh (169 miles)
Florence Court is the furthest west of all of the National Trust’s properties, a few miles southwest of Enniskillen in Co. Fermangh. It was the home of the Earls of Enniskillen, and was built in the 18th century. There are beautiful views of the nearby mountains from the front of the house. Inside, where photography is not permitted, the walls and ceilings have some of the finest stucco plaster work I have seen. In 1955 there was a disastrous fire and it’s credit to the National Trust how well they accomplished the refurbishment. Remarkably many of the precious items in the house were saved.

On our route back to Ardboe, we diverted to make a quick visit to the ruins of Crom Castle, on the banks of Upper Lough Erne. There was time for a walk to the ruins from the Visitor Centre before it closed for the day, and approaching showers drenched us. There were some lovely views over the lough to Creighton Tower.

We also saw how convoluted the border is between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Sorting that out during the Brexit negotiations will be a challenge, nightmare even, and so unnecessary. It is an invisible border, and hopefully obstacles will not be put in place by this incompetent Conservative government that will undermine the economic and social progress that Northern Ireland has made in recent years. This story on the BBC website (20 September) has a video of the very road we took back to Ardboe between the counties of Fermanagh (Northern Ireland) and Monaghan (Republic).

Day 5: 12 Sep — Giant’s Causeway and the Antrim coast, Co. Antrim (162 miles)
The Giant’s Causeway has long been on my Bucket List of attractions to visit. And we weren’t disappointed. We had carefully monitored the weather forecasts and chose what we hoped would be the best day of the week. In general it was. The drive north from Ardboe took just under 2 hours. We passed through the small town of Bellaghy, Co. Londonderry, burial site of Nobel Literature Laureate Seamus Heaney. I wish we had stopped.

Although it was not yet 10:30 when we reached the Visitors’ Centre at the Giant’s Causeway, it was already very busy, and just got busier over the three hours we stayed there. There were visitors from all over the world – particularly from China.

It’s a walk of more than a mile down the cliff to the actual Causeway, so we took a leisurely stroll there. But we did take advanatge of the free bus ride (as National Trust members) to go back up the cliff road.

We then headed east along the north Antrim coast, and stopped for a picnic at the Rope Bridge car park where a torrential downpour spoiled the view and prompted us to move on rather than have a wander around. Then we headed down the east coast on a road that hugs the bottom of cliffs along the seashore, before reaching Larne and then heading west around the top of Lough Neagh and home to The Drumenny.

Day 6: 13 Sep — Mount Stewart, Co. Down (127 miles)
On the northeast shore of Strangford Lough, just south of Newtownards, the Mount Stewart estate was purchased in the mid-18th century, and became the home of the Marquesses of Londonderry when the current house was built at the beginning of the 19th century. It has a beautiful formal garden, mostly the work of Lady Edith, wife of the 7th Marquess.

Day 7: 14 Sep — Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh, Donegal (Republic of Ireland), and the Sperrin Mountains in Co. Londonderry and Co. Tyrone (200 miles)
On Day 7, we headed west once again to visit Castle Coole, situated just outside Enniskillen. We were not able to visit there when we had travelled west on Day 4, as the property had been closed for a special BBC Proms in the Park event.

Castle Coole was built by the 1st Earl Belmore between 1789 and 1797. It’s mostly the design of famous English architect James Wyatt, who also designed much of the interior and even the furniture. Photography is not permitted inside, and I’m unable to show you some of the splendours of this house, particularly the Saloon, which must rank as one of the finest examples of its kind among any of the stately homes in this country. The current Earl Belmore resides in a cottage on the estate.

Leaving Castle Coole, we headed west into the Republic, turning north at Donegal and crossing back into Northern Ireland at Strabane. We decided to cross the Sperrin Mountains, and had the weather been better (much of the journey north of Donegal was in torrential rain), I could have taken some nice photos. But we did have one surprise. Having taken one wrong turn too many when road signs petered out, we stumbled across a Bronze Age site of stone circles and cairns, at Beaghmore. It had stopped raining, everywhere was sparkling in the evening sun, and we enjoyed a half hour walk around the site.

Given the sunshine and showers, conditions just right for the appearance of rainbows. We saw ten throughout the day, some double.

Day 8: 15 Sep — Rowallane Garden and Castle Ward, Co. Down (136 miles)
Just south of Saintfield alongside the A7, Rowallane Garden is a haven of tranquility, about 50 acres, created in the mid-19th century by the Revd. John Moore and his nephew Hugh Armytage Moore. It’s also the headquarters of the National Trust in Northern Ireland.

Then we headed the further 16 miles southeast to Castle Ward on the tip of Strangford Lough. It’s an extraordinary building: Neo-Classical Gothic! The two architectural styles are reflected on the front and rear of the building, and mirrored inside, because, it is said, the 1st Viscount Bangor and his wife could not agree.

The Ward family, originally from Cheshire, settled here in the late 16th century, and there is an old castle on the estate – used in the hit HBO TV series Game of Thrones.

Steph (L) and Clare at Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens

Day 9: 16 Sep — Arboe, Co. Tyrone to Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow (224 miles)
We travelled south into the Republic, taking a winding route through Co. Monaghan, Cavan, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly, Kildare and Wicklow to spend the night with old IRRI friends Paul and Clare O’Nolan. Paul had been the IT Manager at IRRI; Clare was my scuba dive buddy (video) for several years. On the evening of our arrival, Clare took us on a tour of the Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens close to where they live on the edge of the Wicklow Mountains.

Day 10: 17 Sep — Rathdrum to Dublin, Holyhead to home (235 miles)
We left the O’Nolans just before noon, and headed north around the M50 to Dublin Port for our 15:10 Stena Superfast X ferry to Holyhead. We disembarked at exactly 19:00, and the drive home to Bromsgrove took four hours. Fortunately the roads were quite quiet and we made reasonably good progress until we were less than 20 miles from home when we were slowed down by major roadworks on the M5 motorway.

Ten days away, 1594 miles covered, twelve National Trust properties visited, seven enormous Irish breakfasts enjoyed. Northern Ireland was everything we hoped for: beautiful landscapes and friendly people. We had delayed our visit there for too long. And the National Trust was our excuse, if one was needed, to make the effort to visit.

All in all, ten days well spent! Here are the detailed posts for the properties:

 

 

Dr. M. Redux . . . courtesy of the National Trust!

It is fifteen weeks today since I went base over apex and broke my leg. But I have made good progress, and I’m pleased to say that since I saw my surgeon at the end of March, and finished with formal physiotherapy sessions, I have been able to get behind the wheel and drive again. And we have been fortunate that despite the mixed weather that April has brought us so far, there have been one or two really spectacular late Spring-early Summer days that have permitted us to get out and about.

20160410 018 Hanbury HallI still can’t walk more than about a mile and a half before I feel the need to sit down and rest my leg. The ankle and lower leg swell up quite badly, and where the various pins and screws are holding my bones together, it really does hurt from time to time. That hasn’t stopped us, however, and two weeks ago (10 April), a Sunday, we decided to head out to our ‘local’ National Trust property, Hanbury Hall.

It was a glorious morning, if not a little chilly in the stiff breeze. We were hoping to see Spring flowers in the parterre garden. And we weren’t disappointed. What a magnificent display of hyacinths!

20160410 034 Hanbury Hall

20160410 033 Hanbury Hall

20160410 001 Hanbury Hall

20160410 035 Hanbury Hall

The Hanbury parterre

Last Wednesday (20 April) was an even better day, weather-wise. Warm and sunny, and a joy to be outside in the fresh air. So we headed southeast from home, just 17 miles by motorway (and less than 30 minutes if there’s little traffic congestion) from home to Packwood House, another National Trust site we have already visited on several occasions also, but about which I don’t appear to have posted anything on my blog. That will have to be remedied. Packwood is a much-restored Tudor manor house. One of its signature features is the Yew Garden.

Anyway, we just wanted to enjoy the gardens, the lakeside meadow, and have a bite to eat in the lovely refurbished café there.

Packwood map

The Carolean Garden, and its beautiful yellow border . . .

20160420 045 Packwood House

The sunken garden, part of the Carolean Garden, installed in the 1930s.

20160420 046 Packwood House

The Raised Terrace, leading into the Yew Garden, from the Carolean Garden.

Scenes around the Yew Garden . . .

20160420 036 Packwood House

Packwood House from the Lakeside Meadow.

Until my leg heals further, our National Trust visits and walks will be limited to a wander round the gardens closest to the various properties. A walk at Croome Park, for example is certainly not on the cards in the foreseeable future. But, after being confined to a chair for so many weeks, followed by limited movement around the house, it’s great to be in the great outdoors. And our membership of the National Trust is, as always, a great encouragement to make the effort to take an outing.

 

 

2015: a great year for National Trust and English Heritage visits

Steph and I have been members of the National Trust for five years now. We even qualify for the Seniors discount from January! And we’ve been members of English Heritage for just a year.

But we will be renewing our membership of both organizations in 2016. Why? Because they both offer excellent value for money, and certainly give purpose to our trips out, whatever the weather. Be it a visit to a stately home, a ruined castle, a country park, or a beautiful garden, there are so many properties to visit and experience so many aspects of our cultural heritage.

Looking back on our 2015 visits we have certainly had our money’s worth, and annual membership has more than paid for all the entrance fees we would have had to pay in any case. And much more!

So here is a pictorial summary of our great visits this past year, beginning in early April and ending just last week when we visited Charlecote Park to see the Christmas decorations. And there are links to individual posts about each visit.

NATIONAL TRUST

Lyveden New Bield (9 April)

20150409 092 Lyveden

Brodie Castle (National Trust for Scotland – 29 May)

Brodie Castle

Culloden Battlefield (National Trust for Scotland – 29 May)

Scotland 082

Inverewe Garden (National Trust for Scotland – 1 June)

Scotland 312

Arduaine Garden (National Trust for Scotland – 7 June)

Scotland 877

Rufford Old Hall (8 June)

The main entrance in the seventeenth century wing.

Tredegar House (18 June)

Tredegar House, near Newport in South Wales

Chirk Castle (1 July)

20150701 147 Chirk Castle

Hawford Dovecote (9 July)

20150709 010 Hawford dovecote

Wichenden Dovecote (9 July)

20150709 022 Wichenford dovecote

Hardwick Hall (12 August)

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire

Newark Park (28 August)

20150828 031 Newark Park

Croome Park (12 October)

20110328046 Croome Court

Charlecote Park (16 December)

The entrance hall.

ENGLISH HERITAGE

Rushton Triangular Lodge (9 April)

Rushton Triangular Lodge, Northamptonshire

Stokesay Castle (14 April)

Stokesay Castle, Shropshire

Wroxeter Roman City (14 April)

20150414 130 Wroxeter Roman city

Kenilworth Castle (21 April)

cropped-20150421-023-kenilworth-castle.jpg

Goodrich Castle (21 May)

Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire

St Mary’s Church, Kempley (21 May)

20150521 135 St Marys Kempley

Witley Court (9 July)

20150709 091 Witley Court

Hardwick Old Hall (12 August)

Looking down six floors in the Old Hall. And the magnificent plasterwork on the walls.

Wenlock Priory (18 August)

20150818 043 Wenlock Priory

Ironbridge (18 August)

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ironbridge

It’s all about Trust and Heritage

When I fell over last January and broke my leg, and was incapacitated for almost three months, I never thought that we would be able to get out and about for National Trust and English Heritage visits as we had in previous years. How wrong I was!

Once I’d been given the all clear to drive, around the end of March—and relying on my trusty walking stick—we managed to visit eleven National Trust properties (including four times to our ‘local’ Hanbury Hall), and to five run by English Heritage. I have indicated the distance from my home in Bromsgrove, although we visited some properties while we were on holiday in the south of England in July.

National Trust
During our holiday in the New Forest we made a day visit to Corfe Castle, and on the way home a week later we stopped off at Kingston Lacy. Further on, we passed the entrance to Dyrham Park, north of Bath, but didn’t have time to visit then. So we decided to return later in August.

Not long after I gained my mobility, we visited three properties that are quite close to home, not to visit inside the houses, but to enjoy the gardens, and relax with a cup of coffee or a bite to eat for lunch. The restaurant at Packwood House, renovated over the past couple of years or so, is particularly nice.

If I wrote a specific blog post about each of these visits, I have included a link below.

Hanbury Hall (10 April, 4 May, 29 August, and 18 November) 6 miles
Hanbury is our local National Trust property. I think we’ve been inside the house only once, several years ago, but during the year we did pop over there, in about 15 minutes, to grab a cup of coffee, and walk through the gardens. Of particular interest for me is the glorious parterre, kept immaculately by the resident gardeners and volunteers.

Packwood House (20 April) 17 miles

Baddesley Clinton (12 May) 19 miles

Shugborough Hall (22 June) 53 miles
One of the things we particularly liked about Shugborough was the number of rooms open to the public. As always the volunteers were most helpful in pointing us towards items of interest.

Read about our visit here.

Avebury (2 July) 81 miles
We stopped in Avebury on the way south to our holiday in the New Forest. It was a good halfway place to have coffee and lunch. There’s much to see, with the stone circle and the house (with each room decorated in a different period).

Read about our visit here.

Corfe Castle (5 July) 176 miles
We visited Corfe Castle on a day trip from our holiday home in Dibden Purlieu on the east of the New Forest. The drive west was about 47 miles, on quite busy roads.

Read about our visit to Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy here.

Kingston Lacy (10 July) 134 miles
Kingston Lacy was owned by the same family as Corfe Castle, about 19 miles to the north. This must be one of the National Trust’s premier properties – it’s full of treasures. Well worth another visit sometime.

Claydon (19 July) 67 miles
Our visit to Claydon was a delight. Normally, photography is not permitted inside the house, but when I explained that I write a blog about our National Trust visits, they gave me permission to photograph many of the architectural aspects I am interested in. And I have to say that the volunteers at Claydon were some of the most helpful and friendliest that we have come across.

Read about our visit here.

Dyrham Park (12 August) 77 miles
It’s quite a walk from the car park to the house and gardens. Thank goodness for the shuttle service. On the day of our visit the weather was beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Read about our visit here.

Brockhampton Estate (26 August) 25 miles
We made our first visit to Brockhampton in September 2012. It was great to see that other parts of the medieval house had been opened to the public.

Greyfriars’ House and Garden (14 December) 12 miles (by train)
This was our last visit for 2016, and we hopped on the train from Bromsgrove for the 20 minute ride to Worcester Foregate. From there it was a less than 10 minute walk to Greyfriars’. Nice to see the rooms decorated for Christmas, and we had an excellent tour guide.

Read about our visit here.

English Heritage
This was our second year as members of English Heritage, and we didn’t visit as many properties as we would have liked. But that will be rectified in 2017!

Buildwas Abbey (27 May) 36 miles
We had tried to visit Buildwas in 2015, on our way from Wenlock Abbey to Ironbridge. But it was closed. We had the place to ourselves when we visited in May. Peaceful!

Read about our visit to Buildwas and Langley Chapel here.

Langley Chapel (27 May) 11 miles from Buildwas Abbey
Standing isolated in a field, this is a delightful example of a 17th century chapel catering to a Puritan rural population.

20160527 007 Langley Chapel

Calshot Castle (9 July) 136 miles
Calshot was just a few miles south of our holiday home in Dibden Purlieu. We were amazed to discover how well it had been maintained over the centuries. I guess this is not really surprising considering the active defensive role it has taken on all that time.

20160709 009 Calshot Castle

Read about our visit here.

Bolsover Castle (17 August) 90 miles
Bolsover Castle sits on the skyline to the east of the M1 motorway in Derbyshire. Whenever we travel north to visit our younger daughter Philippa and her family, we have to pass Bolsover. And for years we were intrigued by it, and what it might offer. We had also seen in the past few years a BBC program about the castle presented by historian Lucy Worsley. We were not disappointed in our visit.

Read about this interesting visit here.

Witley Court and Gardens (26 August) 16 miles
Witley Court is one of our local visits, just a few miles west of Bromsgrove on the far bank of the River Severn. We have been visiting Witley Court since the 1980s when you could just wander into and around the ruins. We had last been there in July 2015.

In the footsteps of Mr Darcy

There are few authors whose works I read, and read again. Jane Austen is one such, and my favorite novel of hers is Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813. I’m in good company; millions of Jane Austen fans have the same opinion.

In 1995, the BBC aired a six episode adaptation (by Andrew Davies) of Pride and Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. Who can forget that lake scene filmed in Lyme Park. Lyme was Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s country estate.

Lyme was the home of the Legh family since the late 14th century until it was given to the National Trust in 1946. Over the centuries, numerous additions were made to the original 16th century building.

The south entrance of Lyme seen across the Reflection Lake.

Lyme has a classic Palladian south front, from the early 18th century, best viewed across the Reflection Lake. However, its austere exterior (in this overcast weather) belies an elegant interior.

It was during the Regency Period of the first two decades of the 19th century that the house was extensively remodeled and restored. Thomas Legh commissioned Lewis William Wyatt to undertake that work. The interiors on display today reflect that Regency period. Many of the rooms are open to the public.


Lyme Park lies just to the west of the Peak District, in east Cheshire (and south of Manchester). Steph and I enjoyed a visit there a week ago. The mansion lies at the center of a 1400 acre park (map), surrounded by small but impressive formal gardens. It’s quite a drive from the main road (A6) south to the house.

Passing through the North Entrance, access to the house is from steps on the east side of the Courtyard.

The North Entrance.

The Courtyard and entrance to the house.

The National Trust has laid out a route around the house that ensures visitors do not miss any interesting room.

One thing that strikes any visitor on entering Lyme are the impressive tapestries that hang from so many walls. The tapestries in the Entrance Hall are large indeed, and throughout the house they do not fail to impress. Cost must have meant little to past generations of the Legh family, as in at least two rooms, the tapestries have been cut to fit around fireplaces and other features.

The south wall of the Entrance Hall.

The north wall of the Entrance Hall.

Tapestries cut to fit around features in the Ante-Room to the Dining Room, and in the Morning Room (on the north side of the house).

In the Library, the very early and rare Lyme Caxton Missal is on display. The room has a beautiful wood ceiling.

When first added to the building, there was no internal access to the Dining Room. With the early 19th century remodeling that anomaly was rectified. The doors at either end of the dining room have superbly carved wood lintels.

Beyond the Dining Room is a small room known as the Stag Parlour. It was once only accessible from the outside of the house, and was, apparently, where Jacobite sympathizers met. It’s named the Stag Parlour for the series of reliefs high on the walls depicting the life cycle of the stag. Again, there is a wonderful tapestry on one wall.

The main features of the Drawing Room are the floor-to-ceiling fireplace, the stained glass bow window, and reliefs high on the walls.

The Yellow Bedroom was prepared for King James II in the late 17th century. The eiderdown is original. On the wall is a portrait purported to be one of the king’s mistresses.

On the south side, the walls of the Saloon are decorated with the most exquisite wood carving by the celebrated sculptor and wood carver, Grinling Gibbons, d. 1721 (whose work we have seen at Sudbury Hall and Belton House).

On the second floor is the biggest surprise in the whole house: a 130 foot Long Gallery, along the east side of the house, and overlooking the Orangery and formal gardens.

One other room of note on the second floor is the Knight’s Bedroom, with its solid wood bed, carved relief over the fireplace, and ornate ceiling. The bed looks 17th century, but is apparently a 19th century copy.

At the bottom of the Grand Staircase is a huge oil painting of one of the Lyme mastiffs (now extinct). On the staircase wall is a painting of Thomas Legh, who was an adventurer, and responsible for the look of Lyme that we see inside today.

For more photos of these magnificent room, check out this album.


Access to the house also gives access to the gardens, walks, and the Orangery close to the house. A walk around the Reflection Lake, even when the weather was overcast was worthwhile.

The Italian Garden, southwest of the house, is best seen from the West Terrace.


The weather forecast for the day of our visit was not very promising, and it was heavily overcast, as you can see from the photos taken outside, and from the drive from the entrance to the car park. We toured the gardens first. As we left the house after about three hours at Lyme it began to drizzle. By the time we reached the carpark, which was no more than 200 m, the rain was almost torrential. And so it remained the whole way back home to North Worcestershire.

Nevertheless, it was . . .


I mentioned at the beginning of this piece that Lyme was one of the locations used in the filming of Pride and Prejudice in 1995. The National Trust provides a ‘Jane Austen Experience’ at Lyme, and there is a room where visitors can don Regency clothing, should they so wish. In fact, we saw several people touring the house and gardens in costume.

We have visited two other houses that were used as locations in the series. Belton House near Grantham was used at the home, Rosings, of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The interiors of Pemberley were filmed at Sudbury Hall.

On our way to the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show on the day before we visited Lyme, we passed Ramshaw Rocks, just north of Leek in North Staffordshire, where some scenes were films. And we passed through the village of Longnor, which became Lambton where Elizabeth Bennett spent a holiday with her aunt and uncle. It was from there that they visited Pemberley.

Here is a short video of Ramshaw Rocks and Longnor.


 

‘Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen’. Benjamin Disraeli

The more I write this blog, the more apt this quotation from Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeili seems.

Having visited seventeen National Trust and English Heritage properties in East Sussex and Kent recently in the space of a week, I can now hardly remember where we were on any particular day.

And, to add to the ‘confusion’, we added an eighteenth on the return journey from East Sussex to our home in north Worcestershire. Hughenden Manor, on the northern outskirts of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire lies almost equidistant between our holiday cottage and Bromsgrove.

Hughenden was purchased by Disraeli’s father Isaac in 1845 and, on his death in 1848, passed to his son and his wife Mary Anne. Built in the late 18th century, Hughenden was remodeled by the Disraelis in the late 1860s. Mary Anne took great interest in the gardens and was very much a hands-on participant in their redesign.

The formal gardens are not extensive, but blend harmoniously with the house itself.

Inside the house there is a wealth of Disraeli memorabilia on display. To the left of the entrance is a full size marble statue of Disraeli later in his life, and in the Entrance Hall itself there are two marble busts of a young Disraeli.

Besides being an important Conservative politician who loyally served Queen Victoria, Disraeli was also a poet and novelist with a prodigious literary output.

On the ground floor, several rooms are open to the public, with one of them dedicated to Disraeli’s political career. There are some excellent cartoons depicting Disraeli and current events, including his long-standing rivalry with Liberal politician William E Gladstone.

Above the fireplace in the Drawing Room is a large portrait of Mary Anne that Disraeli commissioned after her death in 1872. It was based on a miniature that is displayed in one of the cabinets.

In the Library, it’s not hard to imagine all the 19th century grandees who must have met there, and the matters of state that were discussed. Above the fireplace is a portrait of a young Disraeli.


On the first floor, the most significant room is Disraeli’s Study where he dealt with the contents of his Red Boxes, wrote many of his speeches, and his novels.

This room is more or less as it was in Disraeli’s time, with the original furniture. On the mantelpiece are portraits of his parents, Isaac and Maria.

In accordance with custom at the time, no women attended Disraeli’s funeral in 1881, not even Queen Victoria. However, a few days after the funeral, she visited Hughenden, left a wreath on his tomb, and asked to remain alone in his Study.

Just along the corridor from the Study is Mary Anne’s Boudoir and the Bedroom she and Benjamin shared. On the walls of both rooms are many portraits of Queen Victoria and Albert (some signed), and their children, gifts from the Queen herself.

In a final room, a number of personal gifts from Queen Victoria to Disraeli are on display. Disraeli had become a great favorite of the Queen especially since, in 1876, he introduced the Royal Titles Act which conferred on her the title of Empress of India.

I knew that Disraeli became the Ist Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876. What I hadn’t realized is that Disraeli had refused a title in 1868, so that he could remain in the House of Commons. Instead, Mary Anne was created Viscountess Beaconsfield in her own right. Once he became the Earl of Beaconsfield, he served as Prime Minister from the House of Lords. He died at his London home on 19 April 1881.

Disraeli’s death mask.

Wandering through Hughenden there is clearly a sense that this was not only a home, but somewhere the future of the nation had been decided during Disraeli’s years as Prime Minister (just as I’d felt visiting Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill, just a few days earlier).


But we discovered another side to Hughenden.

During the Second World War, it was requisitioned by the Air Ministry as a base (code-named ‘Hillside’) to produce the maps that air crews used to attack Nazi Germany.

The story of ‘Hillside’ is told through photos of the people who worked there, some of the maps they produced, and really interesting cartoons. After all, the map makers were skilled artists in their own right.

This added another layer of interest to our visit to Hughenden.

Please take a look at more photos of the gardens and inside the house in this album.


After a little over seven years, and more than 530,000 words, this is my 500th post on A Balanced Diet.

‘Ménage à trois’ . . . ?

During our recent trip to East Sussex and Kent, we visited three National Trust properties that are linked by family and membership of or association with the Bloomsbury Group (or Set) – check the map:

  • Knole, on the outskirts of Sevenoaks in Kent, family home, since the 16th century of the Sackville and Sackville-West families;
  • Sissinghurst Castle and Garden (24 miles southeast of Knole), home of poet, novelist and garden designer Vita Sackville-West and husband Harold Nicholson; and
  • Monk’s House  at Rodmell on the south coast near the Seven Sisters at Birling Gap (see map), the home of writer Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard, prominent members of the Bloomsbury Group.

Top: Knole; bottom left: Sissinghurst; bottom right: Monk’s House

The Bloomsbury Group was a group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists in the first half of the 20th century.

What was their ethos? Their works and outlook deeply influenced literature, aesthetics, criticism, and economics as well as modern attitudes towards feminism, pacifism, and sexuality.

So what is the particular connection, the ‘ménage’ as I’ve called it, between Knole, Sissinghurst, and Monk’s House?

Left: Vita Sackville-West (and husband Harold Nicholson); middle: Eddy Sackville-West, 5th Baron Sackville; right: Virginia Woolf.

Vita Sackville-West was the daughter of Lionel Edward Sackville-West, 3rd Baron Sackville. She was born at Knole in 1892. As a woman, Vita could not inherit Knole on her father’s death. Instead, Knole and the Sackville title passed to Lionel’s younger brother Charles. His son Edward (‘Eddy’), Vita’s cousin, became the 5th Baron. Although he was not a core member of the Bloomsbury Group, many of its members and ‘hangers-on’ were frequent visitors to Knole as shown in the guest book on display in the rooms that Eddy occupied in the Gatehouse Tower there.

Vita and her husband purchased derelict Sissinghurst Castle in 1930 and set about creating a garden that has received acclaim worldwide. Sissinghurst had been the home of one of Vita’s ancestors, Cicely Baker, who married Thomas, Ist Earl of Dorset in 1555.

Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf were lovers.

It’s not my intention here to discuss nor describe further the ancestral, social, or sexual links between all involved. I cannot comment either on the literary output of Vita and Virginia as I have not read any of their works, although I know what they wrote and the genre.

Instead, let me just describe some of my impressions of Knole, Sissinghurst, and Monk’s House.


It took less than an hour to drive north on the A21 to Sevenoaks from our holiday cottage near Robertsbridge. Driving along the High Street (A225) at Sevenoaks, it’s hard to believe that just behind the houses lies a 1000 acre parkland, with Knole and its gardens at the center. The park has herds of fallow and Japanese Sika deer, descendants of the deer introduced centuries ago.

Knole is a large house, but the public has access to just a few rooms. But what a feast for the eyes therein. Treasures aplenty! The items on display inside the house: oil paintings by the dozen, rare furniture and many others remain the property of the Sackville-West family that continues to live at Knole, under a 200-year lease from the National Trust. Robert Sackville-West is the 7th Baron.

No photography is permitted inside the main house; but no such restrictions hold in the Stone [4] and Green Courts [2], or from the roof of the Gatehouse [8]. Likewise photography is permitted in the Orangery [3].


Sissinghurst Castle Garden is a delight. But hard to appreciate fully when there are so many visitors. And on the day we visited, it wasn’t as busy as it must surely get!

Designed by Vita and Harold, Sissinghurst must be on every gardener’s bucket list. Like the garden we saw at Greys Court two years ago, Sissinghurst is also a series of rooms open to the sky, and best seen in their entirety perhaps from the top of the double turret tower, Vita’s Tower.

The White Garden from Vita’s Tower.

The South Cottage from Vita’s Tower.

Vita loved her tower, and had a writing room there. There’s no access to the room, but I visitors can look through a grille to see its layout.

The Library is open however. Over the fireplace there is a grand oil painting of Vita. It’s a comfortable room where no doubt she and Harold entertained their Bloomsbury friends.

Vita and Harold had a turbulent marriage, and both had same-sex affairs. Vita’s affair with Virginia Woolf was perhaps the most notorious. But their marriage survived, and together they worked on creating their garden at Sissinghurst.


Visitors to Monk’s House in the small village of Rodmell new Newhaven make a beeline to Virginia Woolf’s writing room in the garden.

Virginia and husband Leonard shared a 16th century cottage. On the walls are paintings by Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell (VB) and the person (TR) who became Leonard’s companion after Virginia’s suicide by drowning in 1941 (aged 59) until his death in 1969, Trekkie Parsons.

The ashes of both Virginia and Leonard were laid at the base of a wall in their small but attractive garden, with its views over the South Downs.

Before our visit to Monk’s House, the name of Virginia Woolf was familiar to me, but I knew very little of her life and associates. It was fascinating, however, to see the environment and work room that gave one of the great writers of the 20th century inspiration to continue, even though she suffered mental health problems all her life. For some of visitors I had the sense that their visit to Monk’s House was almost a pilgrimage.


Leaving Monk’s House to drive back to Robertsbridge, we chose a route that would take us down to the coast at Birling Gap where we hoped to have a good view of the chalk cliffs known as the Seven Sisters, where the South Downs meet the sea. It was a sparklingly bright afternoon, and we were not disappointed.

From the National Trust car park there was easy access down to the beach, where we could sit and take in the magnificence of that landscape.

Continuing our journey on from Birling Gap, we passed Beachy Head, although we didn’t stop. The short video below shows our departure from the car park at Birling Gap, and the climb on to the cliffs, passing the Belle Tout Lighthouse (now restored as a bed & breakfast establishment), and finally dropping down into Eastbourne, with Pevensey Bay in the distance, where the Normans landed in 1066. From that drop into Eastbourne you can appreciate just how high the chalk cliffs are at Beachy Head, at more than 530 feet (162 m).


Check out these photo albums:


 

1066 and all that . . .

It’s the morning of 14 October 1066.

On Senlac Hill (or Senlac Ridge), about six miles north of the coast in Sussex (map), a Saxon shield wall prepares to engage the Norman-French invaders under Duke William of Normandy.  The Saxons, under King Harold Godwinson, have just arrived after marching south from Stamford Bridge in the East Riding of Yorkshire where, just three weeks earlier, they had defeated another invading force under King Harald Hardrada of Norway and his ally, Harold’s brother Tostig.

Exhausted and possibly out-numbered, this is a make or break stand for Harold’s Saxons. But, if they stand their ground, they are better positioned than the Normans who must cross a shallow valley then climb Senlac Hill to engage the Saxons.

This is the view from just below Senlac Hill looking south to where the Normans were mustered on the ridge in the distance. They had to cross this shallow valley to engage the Saxons.

For most of the day the battle (of Hastings as it has come to be known) ebbs and flows with neither side gaining an advantage. Until, late in the day, the Normans appear defeated and in retreat. The Saxons break rank and chase the fleeing Normans. But it’s all a feint. The Norman cavalry in small groups of five or six riders turn on the pursuing Saxons, and cut them down. Harold is killed (by an arrow through his eye, so the story goes), and William is victorious.

And so begin several centuries of foreign rule of England, first under the Normans and then under the durable Plantagenets who reign until the death of Richard III (the last Plantagenet king) in 1485 on Bosworth Field in Leicestershire.

Shortly after the Battle of Hastings, Duke William (now crowned King William I, the ‘Conqueror’) founded Battle Abbey, a Benedictine institution, although he died before it was completed.

The abbey endured until 1538 when, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, under Henry VIII, the abbey was closed, the church demolished, and the lands sold off.

Today, Battle Abbey and the battlefield are owned by English Heritage, and there are many quite well-preserved ruins to explore. From the magnificent gatehouse there is an excellent view not only over the ruins and battlefield but also over the small town of Battle that grew up around the abbey.

The gatehouse (above) and the view over Battle (below)

Among the best preserved buildings is the Dormitory, and beneath it, the Common Room.

At the east end of where the Church once stood, the Crypt is now exposed revealing several chapels.

After the Dissolution, the Abbey passed through several families.

The independent Battle Abbey School now occupies part of the site of the former abbey.

For more photos of Battle Abbey and the battlefield, please take a look at this album.


Dover Castle sits high on the cliffs overlooking the town and modern port. The site has been fortified since at least the second century AD, when the Romans (who invaded in AD43) built a lighthouse (or pharos) there. But there is evidence of much earlier occupation back to Iron Age times.

From near Langdon Hole on the White Cliffs of Dover, looking west, this is the keep of Dover Castle on the right, and the Saxon church on the left.

The pharos still stands proudly beside a Saxon Church of St Mary in Castro (built around AD1000), and was once used as the bell tower.

A century after the Conquest, Henry II (great grandson of William the Conqueror) launched a major building program at Dover Castle. The keep was erected and much of what we see today began to take shape between 1179 and 1188.

Dover Castle has remained an important link in the chain of defences on England’s southern coast. During Tudor times, it was an important castle for Henry VIII. In the 18th century further garrisons were built to house soldiers sent there to face the threat of invasion from France. And it played an important role during the Napoleonic Wars that ended with Napoleon’s defeat and exile to St Helena in 1815.

The castle also played its part during the Second World War. There are antiaircraft guns mounted on the battlements. And deep under the castle there is a series of tunnels used during the war. These are quite separate from the extensive medieval tunnels on the north side of the castle, which we had the opportunity to explore.

We must have spent four hours or more exploring Dover Castle. It’s an excellent destination for anyone interested in England’s post-Norman history. And also a mecca for families with children. English Heritage makes great efforts to bring history alive.

More photos can be found in this album.

I mentioned that Dover Castle stands high above the town. Here are two short videos of the drive up to and down from the castle. They give a good impression of just how strategic its location is.

Just a couple of miles to the east are the White Cliffs of Dover. We walked only as far as Langdon Hole, but still managed a good view of the Cliffs and, once the haze had lifted, a view across the English Channel (La Manche) to the cliffs on the coast of northern France. Just twenty or so miles. It clear why Dover Castle was so important for the defence of the realm.

The White Cliffs of Dover are a National Trust property.


Near Lamberhurst in Kent stand the ruins of a Premonstratensian monastery, Bayham Old Abbey, that Steph and I took in late one afternoon on our way back to the holiday cottage near Robertsbridge (just 13 miles south).

Bayham Old Abbey was founded around 1207 and, like the abbey at Battle, survived until the mid-16th century.

The ruins, some of the best preserved in southern England, stand proudly alongside the River Teise. We enjoyed them by ourselves in the late afternoon sun.

Check out more photos here.


Once the Normans and their successors had their feet under the ‘English table’, so to speak, Saxon lands were confiscated and given to Norman families. Throughout southeast England, and more widely over the country, many of the estates we see today came from the spoils of conquest 1000 years ago.

During our exploration of National Trust and English Heritage properties in East Sussex and Kent, we took in three moated castles built in the 14th century.

Bodiam Castle was built around 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a knight formerly in the service of King Edward III (third great grandson of Henry II). It was occupied for almost three hundred years, until it was slighted (partially dismantled) during the Civil War of the 1640s.

Ask any child to draw a castle, and something resembling Bodiam is what they are likely to produce.

With towers at each corner, and imposing gatehouses, Bodiam Castle is surrounded by a deep moat full of large fish, probably carp. Unlike many castles, Bodiam does not have a central keep. The living apartments were built on the inside of the castle walls.

Owned by the National Trust, much of the castle is open to explore, and visitors can climb a couple of the towers, and enjoy the views over the moat and the central courtyard.

I have posted more photos and plans of the castle in this album.

There is a link between Bodiam Castle and the Second World War, and I now regret not taking a photo.

Alongside the path leading to the castle from the ticket office, there is a pillbox (a type of concrete blockhouse) that was constructed some time after September 1939 to help protect Bodiam bridge over the River Rother against a potential German invasion, although I’m not sure how this could have been successful in the face of a serious onslaught.


The moated manor house at Scotney Castle was built around 1380. It stands some distance from a large country house that was built between 1835 and 1843, known as Scotney ‘New Castle’.

You can just see the round tower of the ‘Old Castle’ in the valley below the terrace of the New Castle (L) and the ‘New Castle’ from the causeway on to the island of the ‘Old Castle’ (R).

The ‘Old Castle’ has not been occupied for a long time, and part of the castle has been completely demolished. Although begun in the late 14th century, the buildings date from different periods in the 16th and 17th centuries as well.

See the full set of photos here, including many photos of the interior of the ‘New’ castle. It’s a National Trust property.


Just east of Sevenoaks in Kent, Ightham Mote is one of the most delightful moated manor houses I have ever visited¹. It must be one of the most complete still standing. Over the centuries it has been owned by several families, each generation adding to its architecture (click on the image at right for a larger version), although the Selby family who purchased Ightham in 1591 resided there for almost 300 years.

But perhaps one of its most interesting periods dates from just over 60 years ago, when an American, Charles Henry Robinson (from Portland, Maine), purchased Ightham and lived there for some years. It passed to the National Trust when he died in 1985.

During our recent visit, we watched a short video about the conservation restoration of one of the wings of the house that the Trust commenced in 1989, and was finally completed 15 years and £10 million later. But how it was worth it!

Inside the house, the Great Hall, the New Chapel (with its ceiling panels painted to celebrate the marriage, in 1509, of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon), and the Drawing Room (with its exuberant fireplace and raised ceiling to accommodate it), decorated with 18th century hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, are of particular interest.

A visit to Ightham Mote is a stroll through 600 years of history, and the architectural and design interests of several families. What I particularly like about properties such as this are the small details that catch my eye, in the woodwork, the furniture, the wallpaper. The chapel ceiling immediately connects you with early Tudor times, for example, yet in other parts of the house, it’s clear that this was a home until just 35 years ago. Ightham Mote has a remarkable lineage.

Check out the full set of Ightham Mote photos and floor plans here.


¹ Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire (also a National Trust property) has to be the other. We visited there in 2013.

“The Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.”

So wrote Rudyard Kipling in his 1911 poem The Glory of the Garden, with its ages old image of a kingdom, state or community as a garden, with all its accompanying connotations of natural growth and development, seasonal change, decay and rebirth.

Rudyard Kipling.  Journalist, short-story writer, novelist, poet—one of the greats of English literature, the 1907 Nobel Laureate in Literature. He died in January 1936, a couple of weeks after his 70th birthday.

During our recent holiday in East Sussex and Kent, Steph and I enjoyed a visit to Bateman’s, the home that Kipling bought in 1902 and where he and his family resided until his death 34 years later.

The House and Quarterdeck (8 on the map below)


Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay (Mumbai) on 30 December 1865, the son of John Lockwood Kipling and Alice (née MacDonald). Rudyard. Such an unusual name for a baby boy.

So the story goes, his parents met at a picnic at Rudyard Lake (actually a reservoir to feed the Caldon Canal) in North Staffordshire, less than three miles northwest of my hometown of Leek. It had become popular destination for outings in the 19th century, and still was when I was growing up in the 1950s.

Kipling’s father was working in Burslem in the pottery industry as a designer. John and Alice married in 1865 and moved to India where John had been appointed professor of architectural sculpture in the Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay. He later became its principal.

Inside Bateman’s there are two small paintings, in the Parlour on the ground floor and Kipling’s study upstairs, showing similar scenes of Rudyard Lake, which I am reliably told show an inlet near the dam.

Although raised in India, Kipling returned to England for his early education. He returned to India in 1882, and it was during his time there that he wrote many of the short-stories for which he perhaps became most well-known.

In the exhibition room at Bateman’s there are six first edition copies of stories he published in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh in 1888.

Back in England, Kipling married Caroline Starr Balestier from Vermont in 1895, but they spent the first years of their marriage in the USA, returning to England in 1896. Two of their children, Josephine and Elsie were born in Vermont, and John in Sussex. Josephine died of pneumonia in 1899 during a visit to New York. John was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Irish Guards aged 16 in 1914, and was killed a year later at the Battle of Loos in September 1915.

Christmas cards to the children in 1897, hanging in the Parlour.


Bateman’s is an elegant Jacobean manor house, perhaps the most elegant of all the houses we visited during our week away.

Apparently Bateman’s had no running water or electricity in 1902, and Kipling installed both. He replaced the water wheel at the nearby mill with a turbine, in order to generate electricity. During our visit, the Mill Pond was empty and undergoing conservation work. The National Trust hopes to have the Mill operating again later this year, and milling flour powered by the water wheel.


Inside the house, four rooms on the ground floor are open to the public.

In the Dining Room, the walls are lined with painted leather panels, apparently very old.

At the foot of the stairs, there is an elegant bust of Kipling on a side table, and several paintings adorning the walls.

On the upper floor, the main rooms are Kipling’s study, and John’s bedroom. Another room is full of Kipling memorabilia, including his Nobel Prize citation.

Kipling’s study

Take a look at more photos of the house and gardens here.


Although I’m familiar with what Kipling wrote, the Just So Stories, The Jungle Book, and many others, I have to admit that I have never read any of his works. Having been inspired by Bateman’s, perhaps now is the time to load my Kindle and enjoy many of these stories a century or more after they were first published.

Chartwell: a family home where history was written

A recent visit to Chartwell, the family home of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill (he became Sir Winston, a Knight of the Garter, only in 1953) has left a deep impression on me.

It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with Churchill’s contribution to national life and politics over decades. His life must be one of the most thoroughly documented of any statesman in this country. Not least because of the various memoirs that he wrote, from his early adventures as an army officer in India and South Africa to his long life in politics, and the many biographies penned about him.

At Chartwell, that history becomes tangible. So many personal possessions, awards, and other memorabilia fill the house. There’s a real sense of connection with the great man.

During his lifetime Churchill attracted his fair share of controversy, and in some respects that has not waned. I’m no apologist for Winston Churchill. What is incontrovertible, however, is the crucial role that he played in securing victory over Nazi Germany during the Second World War. He took the helm of government when the nation demanded decisive leadership. Oh, for such a leader today!


A visit to Chartwell was at the top of the list of National Trust properties during our recent holiday in Kent and East Sussex.

Chartwell lies on the southern outskirts of Westerham in Kent, just five miles west of Sevenoaks (see map).

Chartwell is a rather unprepossessing redbrick house. I’m sure the Churchills did not purchase it (in 1922) for its ‘looks’. More for the views south over the Kent countryside from the terrace (off Lady Churchill’s sitting room on the ground floor), or from the walled garden, which are truly spectacular on a fine day.

The view from the Terrace, overlooking Churchill’s studio, and further southeast over the Weald.

However, there was once feature of the house that did catch my attention. From a distance, the columns either side of the front door look like stone. On closer inspection, they are clearly carved from wood.

Inside Chartwell, however, is a different matter. This was a family home, and we can see it today more or less as the Churchill family lived there in the 1930s. Lady Churchill and one of her daughters advised the National Trust how the rooms should be presented. Much of the furniture is apparently original to the house.

On the ground floor, there are three rooms open to the public: Lady Churchill’s Sitting Room; the Drawing Room; and the Library.

Above the fireplace in Lady Churchill’s Sitting Room is a fine oil painting of her husband of 57 years, one of many paintings and sketches around the house.

There’s a door leading out on to the Terrace from this sitting room.

The Drawing Room is the ‘jewel’ of Chartwell, and it’s not hard to imagine the Churchills entertaining the great and the good in this room.

Over the fireplace is a painting of Colonist II, the French grey thoroughbred colt that Churchill purchased in 1949 when it won its first race for him, and seventeen more during its twenty-four race career.

On the opposite wall, a 1902 painting, Charing Cross Bridge, by Claude Monet, was gift to Churchill. There is also a large painting of Lady Churchill. On a side table behind the sofa stands a large crystal cockerel (probably made by the famous French glassmaker René Lalique) that was a gift to Lady Churchill from Charles de Gaulle.

Also on the ground floor is the Library (not a large room), with two significant exhibits: a bust of US President Franklin D Roosevelt, and a large model (hanging on the wall) of the Port of Arromanches, one of the artificial harbours that played an important role in the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944.

Moving to the first floor, two rooms, Lady Churchill’s Bedroom and Churchill’s study are open to the public. Two other rooms contain exhibits of the many awards and gifts that Churchill received, and the uniforms he wore.

There are some exquisite Potschappel porcelain figures in the bedroom, but what caught my eye in particular, on a desk at the foot of the bed, are two small framed photographs. One shows his third daughter, and fourth child, Marigold who died in 1921 aged two. The other, equally small photograph is purported to be the last photo taken of Churchill shortly before he died in 1965.

In an Anteroom outside the bedroom there’s a cabinet of Dresden porcelain (one with a portrait of Napoleon, a face seen throughout the house; Churchill was a great admirer of Napoleon), and a wall covered in signed photos. I managed to take photos of two significant figures from the war: General (later Field Marshal) Sir Bernard Montgomery and General Charles de Gaulle.

In the Museum Room, Churchill’s Nobel Prize for Literature (1953) citation and medal, his Honorary US citizenship, and many, many other awards and gifts, too many to mention individually are on display.

Napoleon sits proudly in the center of Churchill’s desk in the Study. On one side of the room, against the wall, stands a mahogany lectern at which Churchill would work, standing up, dictating to one of his secretaries. He apparently had a small army or researchers helping him with his prodigious literary output. Among the most precious artefacts, hanging from the ceiling, is a Union Jack flag, given to Churchill by Earl Alexander of Tunis, who became Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean. This flag was hoisted over Rome, the first Allied flag flown over a liberated city in Europe.

The Dining Room, on the lower ground floor, overlooking the garden, is simply furnished, with two round tables. Churchill insisted on round tables as they encouraged conversation. I commented to another visitor that we could do with a few more round tables in Parliament these days.

Lord Camrose

There is also a painting of William Ewart Berry, Viscount Camrose. Why?

In July 1945, even before the war with Japan had ended victoriously for the Allies, a General Election was held in the UK. Churchill was booted out of office. Extraordinary really, considering the experiences of the previous five years. Worse still for Churchill personally was that he was bankrupt. And to sort his financial predicament he was faced with selling his beloved Chartwell. That’s when an anonymous group of seventeen wealthy individuals¹, headed by Lord Camrose, came to the rescue, and purchased Chartwell for the nation, with the proviso that the Churchills could live there as long as they wished. The names of these benefactors were eventually published in a newspaper; there’s also a plaque with their names at Chartwell.

The National Trust took over Chartwell in 1946/47


Churchill’s studio just below the house is full of many of his oil paintings. This became a serious hobby, and after leaving office in 1945 he thought of selling up and moving to the south of France, and paint all day long.

Many of his paintings that line the studio walls depict Mediterranean scenes.


The gardens and grounds are extensive.

Another of Churchill’s hobbies was brick laying, and he constructed part of one of the walls of the Walled Garden near the Studio.

From the terrace at the top of the Walled Garden is one of the best viewpoints in the whole of Chartwell.


We had arrived to Chartwell just after the café opened at 10 am, and enjoyed a welcome cup of coffee before exploring the gardens. Entry to the house itself is by timed ticket. We opted for the 11 am entry. This system ensures that, with a normal flow of visitors through the house, nowhere becomes particularly congested.

I was amazed that photography was permitted throughout the house and studio. Please look at the more extensive album of photos that I took.


Chartwell had long been on my bucket-list since I read (about 15 years ago or so) an excellent biography of Churchill by Roy Jenkins. Mission accomplished!

The visit to Chartwell was undoubtedly the highlight of our holiday in East Sussex and Kent. The NT staff and volunteers were very welcoming—as always—and knowledgeable. Always ready and keen to answer any question, however mundane. They make each visit so much more interesting and worthwhile.


¹Lord Camrose
Lord Bearstead
Lord Bicester
Sir James Caird
Sir Hugo Cunkiffe-Owen
Lord Catto
Lord Glendyne
Lord Kenilworth
Lord Leathers
Sir James Lithgow
Sir Edward Mountain
Lord Nuffield
Sir Edward Peacock
Lord Portal
J. Arthur Rank
James de Rothschild
Sir Frank Stewart

From the Second World War to the Cretaceous: exploring East Sussex and Kent over 84 million years

We live in the northeast of Worcestershire, shown in red, 180 miles from Robertsbridge.

. . . as well as corners of West Sussex and Buckinghamshire.

Steph and I have just returned from a week’s holiday in the southeast of England, a part of the country neither of us is familiar with, where we rented a one bedroom cottage near Robertsbridge in East Sussex (just 10 miles north of Hastings). This was our base for visits to National Trust (NT) and English Heritage (EH) properties. It lies at the heart of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

There are so many NT and EH properties to visit in the southeast, far too many for just one week. In the end we took in eighteen, including one on the trip south (to Down House, home of Charles Darwin in Kent), and Hughenden Manor north of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, the home of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, on the return journey. And, during the week, we crossed briefly into West Sussex, to Standen House near East Grinstead.

Check out this map for more details, including links to the NT and EH web sites for each property. I’ll also be writing about our visits to these properties in several posts over the next week or so.

What a week! Great weather. Lots of history, and beautiful landscapes, from the chalk cliffs at Dover and the Seven Sisters at Birling Gap, to the heavily wooded High Weald.

The view southwest over the Weald from Emmetts Garden.

At Langdon Hole on the White Cliffs of Dover; and the Seven Sisters at Birling Gap.

Our holiday home, Hop Cottage, was situated at the end of a half mile unpaved road, set among trees alongside a couple of other cottages. We had the site to ourselves.

And what a feast of bird song to entertain us. I’ve not heard a song thrush (right) for a long time. But, each morning, we awoke to one singing his heart out, perched high in the early morning sun. I thought I’d try my luck recording his song on my smart phone. Just click here to listen to my short (2 minutes) recording. Not bad for a first attempt.


As an evolutionary biologist, I couldn’t resist calling at Down House on the way south, the house Charles and Emma Darwin called home for many decades, and where they raised their large family.

It’s where he wrote his seminal On the Origin of Species, published to acclaim—and controversy—in 1859. We had free range of the gardens, but photography was not permitted inside the house except for a reconstructed bedroom on the first floor. Most of the items on display downstairs still belong to the Darwin family.

The Sandwalk (at the far end of his garden), where Darwin walked daily and pondered his ideas about natural selection and evolution.

While it was a great privilege to wander around Darwin’s house and garden, seeing many of his treasured possessions, his journals, we came away feeling there had been something lacking. I felt no emotional attachment to Down House as I have experienced at other properties, and which I did later in the week when we visited Chartwell, for example, the home of wartime Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, or Hughenden.


Our longest excursion, on the first full day, took us to Dover to explore Dover Castle, after which we continued on to the famous White Cliffs.

Built in the late 12th century by King Henry II, the first Plantagenet king and great grandson of William the Conqueror (see below for comments about the 1066 Battle of Hastings), Dover Castle has been occupied continuously in the intervening centuries, right up to the Second World War (1939-45). We didn’t visit any of the WWII tunnels at the castle or defences further along the White Cliffs. But on the day after our return home we learned all about them in a Channel 4 program about Dover and its defences, presented by Professor Alice Roberts.

Henry II was not the first to fortify Dover. There’s a Saxon church within the castle walls and, alongside that, the ruin of a lighthouse that the Romans built almost 2000 years ago. In a chain of defences along the south coast Dover Castle has always been one of the most important, and throughout the castle, its long history of protecting England’s coast is on display.

We only walked a short distance from the NT car park along the White Cliffs as far as Langdon Hole. Just above the cliffs, near the Coastguard Station, two original radar towers from WWII (on the left), are still standing.

As the hazy conditions over the English Channel improved, we could clearly see the coast of France, just 20 miles due east of where we were standing. Such a short distance yet such a cultural chasm.

On our way back to Robertsbridge, we made a detour via Dungeness, a large shingle beach jutting out into the English Channel. I’ve always wanted to visit Dungeness. It’s a unique landscape of pebbles with scattered vegetation. A small hamlet has grown up along the shingle, and its most notable house is Prospect Cottage, once occupied by film director Derek Jarman.

Prospect Cottage

You can see more photos from Dungeness here.