South East adventure – Charleston and Monk’s House

The last day of anything fun and pleasurable is always bittersweet, but this time it is also super exciting… in fact the whole little trip was planned because I have been wanting to visit the two houses on today’s itinerary for years: Charleston and Monk’s house.

I’m on a tight schedule, so I have the first coffee in the room as I pack and take a quick breakfast at coffee shop where I had lunch yesterday. I’m the first customer of the day and I sit on a comfortable armchair surrounded by wooden shelves full of books and freshly baked cakes.

The weather has turned and I drive through rain and low clouds. Everything is coloured in shades of green and grey.

Charleston was the house rented by Vanessa Bell, her lover, the painter Duncan Grant and his partner David Garnett in 1916. “Almost as soon as they moved in, Bell and Grant began to paint every surface in the farmhouse, transforming it into a living, breathing work of art. Over the following decades, Charleston became a gathering point for some of the 20th century’s most radical artists, writers and thinkers known collectively as the Bloomsbury group. It is where they lived out their progressive social and artistic ideals.

And it is beautiful. It has a beautiful inspiring soul… I’d challenge anyone to visit the place and not having the urge to paint something, to create something.

The tour begin in the kitchen… and immediately I am surrounded by traces of these extraordinary people. Fabric designed by Vanessa, handprinted tiles and mugs (her son, Quentin, was a potter)

They painted the furniture, the walls, the doors.

Vanessa and Duncan’s fabric covered the chairs.

The knowledgeable guides tell you the story of each room and its inhabitants and really bring to life the house and the objects in it. I want to pause, close my eyes, imagine.

Everything feels so personal. So freeing and free. Nothing feels contrived or self-conscious.

What must have been liked being part of that group of people.

I take so many photos that I fear my phone might melt, but I’m too afraid to miss any details… Already I know I want to come back.

Every surface is painted and yet the house feels calm, welcoming, restful.


The studio is the last room we see… what a magical place…

I need the peace of the garden afterward. I need nature to balance the sense.

There are fruit trees and beautiful flowers, a pond too.

Thought the house there are innumerable incredible paintings, too many to show here, but I found this one in particular very moving, it is an elderly Vanessa, and was done by Duncan. The detail of the shoe, falling off her foot, is so intimate…

I try to slow down, but I don’t have as much time as I wish I had, so I grab a quick – and totally delicious lunch at ‘Caccia & Tails’, the local cafe’ on site, and I’m on my way…

… to Monk’s House, the holiday home of none other than Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf.

Readers I cried. (Ten points if you can tell me where does this butchered literary reference come from…)

Monk’s house is down a quiet lane, wood cladded, a beautifully fragrant mock roses welcomes you by the gate. I stole a bud from the floor and tuck it in my pocket. I need a memento. I need to take something from the last few days, but mostly from this place back home with me. As a reminder of possibilities. As a warning of not giving up the learning and the reading and the words and the dreams.

Attached to the back of the house is conservatory full of plants, succulents mainly and geraniums, vivid pinks and reds.

The cottage is small, has a low ceiling. The upstairs is not visitable, but the ground floor is perfection. The furniture is mismatched, some is painted by Vanessa, the walls are green, Virginia’s favourite colour.

There’s a small dining room next to it, with beautiful art on the walls…

It’s a private place, not set up to show off nor impress, but for quiet days with friends, peaceful times away from the hustle and bustle of life in London. The Woolfs used to arrive by train to Lewes from the city, and walk the 4 or 5 miles to the cottage.

Virginia’s bedroom is built to the side of the house…

Her shawl on the chair really gets to me, such a personal object.

Her sister Vanessa painted the firework tiles and the bedside table lamp, Duncan Grant’s fabric is used for the curtains.

At the end of garden is her writing room with her desk. I find writers’ desks magical places. They have their own auras…

I sit on a deck chair by the croquet lawn for a while, and stare at the view that Virginia could see sitting at her desk. The river Ouse, where she drowned herself is only a few field away, and I can’t bring myself to go and look for it.

So I sit.

It is soon time to go back home, tired, replenished.

And grateful.

“By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.” From A Room of One’s Own

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