day one – Hever Castle and Sissinghurst Gardens

I am perfectly aware of how lackadaisical I have been with my posting… for months… and I could use the ‘oh life has been so busy’ excuse, but let’s face it, everybody’s life is busy… truth to be know I’ve lost my mojo for sharing stuff. I have been afflicted by a very 18th Century kind of ennui, if you want.

There has still been lots of walking, exploring new places and revisiting old ones. I’ve discovered a cracking woodland walk which has been a blessing in the recent heat, and have trampled new trails that I’d never thought existed. I’m really lucky to live in such a beautiful part of England.

Today, I want to show you a different part of the country however. Back in June I packed a small bag, left family and dog behind and had a three days mini adventure in the South of England. My dissertation had been handed in, the boys were home from Uni and the young one had finished his exams… my duty was done!

Is there anything more exhilarating than hitting the road on a fresh summer’s day, the sun ahead leading the way, maps, guidebooks and nobody moaning about anything next to you? Not for me there isn’t. My favourite holidays are driving holidays, never still, always after a different horizon line. For these three days I had arranged a packed itinerary, trying to compress as much as possible out of my solo time and even so, there was so much I had leave out… Nevertheless, I pointed the car in a South Easterly direction, and coffee in hand I waved the family goodbye. Actually I didn’t, as it was early and everybody was still in bed, but metaphorically I did.

The first stop was Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.

First impression? Impressive.

The gardens are the first thing you walk through. There are roses everywhere and not just in the rose garden. Roses of every colour and size and fragrance… climbing, rambling and simply looking magnificent.

At this point I have a confession to make. Before this trip, I didn’t like roses, didn’t quite understand the obsession or the big deal that everyone makes about them. I still don’t think much of rose bushes/shrubs, and I don’t regret to have gotten ridden of the rose garden when we moved in to our house, BUT… I’ve fallen for climbing and rambling roses, and I wish I had somewhere I could grow some.

Hever Castle gardens are home to some 5000 roses, plenty for everyone’s taste.

There is also a huge lake (with a tempting trail all around it I didn’t have the time to explore)…

… and a loggia overlooking the water (delicious icecream stand tucked away in a corner too)…

The loggia is part of the four acres Italian garden, tall hedges, porticos, antiquities; it truly feels like stepping back in time.

My icecream and I had a wonderful time lazily sauntering around admiring the flowers and the manicured lawns.

And then the castle finally appears:

I was surprised at how small it is. The word castle conjures up something big and majestic and imposing… Hever Castle might be ‘small’, but it is beautifully formed, as they say.

The Castle was indeed the childhood home of Anne Boleyn (Henry the VIII stayed here too), and after her… demise… was passed onto another of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne of Cleves, and from 1557 onwards it was owned by a number of families including the Waldegraves, the Humphreys and the Meade Waldos.

Gradually it fell into decline before the American businessman William Waldorf Astor invested time, money and imagination in restoring the Castle. He also commissioned the ’Tudor Village’, now called the ‘Astor Wing’ and the construction of the magnificent gardens and lake.

The interior is beautiful… if not exactly authentic!

The Drawing Room was my favourite room. Waldor Astor and his architect copied examples of Tudor interiors from other castles and homes and recreated them here in exquisite combinations. No shortcuts were taken and it is truly impressive. The purists might shudder, but Hever Castle went from ruin to being a comfortable home and I think that’s a good thing.

The library was another beautiful room.

Amazing to think that two characters that completely changed the course of history walked this halls, ate and slept in these rooms.

(I don’t think they actually sold children in the shop though!)

Back to the car and off to my second destination: Sissinghurst Castle Garden. I had wanted to visit Sissinghurst since forever and I wasn’t disappointed. It was – is – simply splendid. It sits in the beautiful Kent countryside, of rolling hills, and checkered fields, orchards and wide skies. I have a deep fascination for all things Bloomsbury and the fact that Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf had a relationship put this place firmly on the map.

I had lunch at the National Trust cafe, sitting at a window overlooking the meadows surrounding the garden and I felt so at peace.

The garden is a series of rooms, some more formal than others, of different colour flowers, purples and pinks, whites, yellow, and roses roses roses! The weather was mild, with a gentle fragrant breeze, it felt outside time. Like time had stopped for while… or better like time didn’t matter at all.

Vita loved white flowers.

Her studio was sadly closed for restoration, but the tower was open. The view from the top was open for miles.

The library was open to visitors… cozy, with big sofas and big tables, over 3000 books and a fireplace. Pretty perfect.

I took my time. I sat on stone benches and took it all in. I left the daily life behind somewhere for a while and it was replenishing and quenching. I could fill my head drinking it all in, drinking new ideas, old thoughts, gratitude, happiness, sunshine and wind.

Just perfect. I knew I’d like this place and it was even better.

And did I mention the roses?

I came away with a desire to learn more about gardening and to read more about Vita and Harold’s marriage and relationship and more of her novel. I have only read ‘All Passion Spent’ which I thought was absolutely brilliant…

This is them, then and in 1961 at Sissinghurst. Cool couple.

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