Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Another five days in England...this time in Maidstone at Leeds Castle

September 16, 2016

This was a day off so no new castles or gardens to show you. 
Thanks to my friend Florence Lovejoy Hannigan, I realized I'd forgotten to show you the Sissinghurst Castle and gardens. They really are spectacular and a must see on English Garden Tours. Enjoy these few photos and put it on your bucket list. It was late when I posted yesterday....we played cards before I did my tasks...
Walked from our cottage to the castle tonight after the rain stopped. Nice evening walk before dinner.

September 17, 2016
Today the promised clear skies were still drizzling off and on but we were on schedule and out the door by 9:30 am to our first National Trust home called Stoneacre. We took the shorter route on the byways and enjoyed multiple villages and didn't hit any of the mirrors on cars parked on the narrow roads. I just close my eyes and pray...
We arrived at 10:30 am and discovered both the gardens and the house were closed until 11 am.
We walked up the hill to the house in light sprinkles but about 15 minutes later a couple walked up and opened the gate. We followed through exclaiming how happy we were that the gardens were actually open. They explained that no, they were volunteers arriving for work; but they invited us to tour the garden early as we were the only ones there. As we reached the back we met the tenant/caretakers and had a conversation with them about the property. Alex was very friendly and he and Jim kept up a running conversation most of the time we were there. It has been in the National Trust for almost a hundred years and has been surprising and delighting visitors ever since. It's a typical medieval timber-framed yeoman's house hidden away in Kent. Began in 1480, it has seen many owners and changes. In 1920 it was practically a ruin when it was purchased by Aymer Vallance, a writer and designer, who returned it to its original splendor using original materials available from the many great homes being torn down at that time. A jewel hidden in the woods.
We left about noon and headed for Chartwell, house, gardens, studio and estate of Winston Churchill. We'd made a reservation online last night for a 2:15 pm entry to view the house. We arrived at 1 pm and squeaked into the 1:30 que early. No photos inside, but a beautiful family home where they raised their children in the 1920 and 1930s. And retired to in later life after friends gathered and purchased the estate for them with the caveat that it be given to the public after their death. It is now a museum for their personal mementos, his awards and gifts along with a massive collection of his paintings. When it was turned over to the National Trust, his wife requested that Winston's private bedroom not be opened to the public. It is rumored that it will soon be opened since all of his immediate family have passed away and there is a high demand for the opening. They do have photos to show the visitors now when requested.
Another great day. We did follow the GPS and took the faster but longer way home on the freeways....arrived by 4 pm and enjoyed dinner in our cottage.

September 18, 2016
Sunday morning we drove to St. Francis Church in Maidstone for mass and then back to the cottage to fix our breakfast before we walked over the hill through the field to visit Leeds Castle. It's about a 10 minute walk but very pleasant. Many people but not too crowded. We strolled through at our own pace and could take as many photos as we wanted. We'll probably go again during the week with less people. Weather was overcast and cool but no rain.
There is a wedding at 4 pm in the castle today...must be a very expensive venue. We saw the bride arrive at 1:30 in a beautiful old white Rolls Royce...the dress was carried in behind her. Staff was concerned about some hovering helicopters and there was much excitement. Would love to know who they are.
From there we walked towards the Falcon area for the 2 pm show. Early so we walked towards the area where they keep the birds of prey. The area is directly behind the maze so I took Jim on a shortcut. Oops....we got lost for a long time and Mr. Jim was more than a little upset. I love the challenge but he tells me he has NEVER gone into a maze because there is too much unknown. This one was really difficult and we finally located the exit under the grotto in the center! But we did make it out with some help from the staff.
We then walked around the maze to the bird area and enjoyed their birds of prey that are used in the show. Walked back to the show field in front of the maze and found a bench to sit on during the show. Jim was startled when a Harris Hawk on his way to the handler flew so close that he felt his wings ruffle his hair! It really startled him as it happened so fast. Great show with six different birds and two handlers.
We walked back across the castle grounds and found our neighbors in the Keepers House enjoying the sunshine which finally popped through the clouds about 2:30 during the show. They left for home just before dinner and we are alone again by the duck pond. Another wonderful day. Fixing dinner soon and then we'll enjoy chocolate with our daily game of hand and foot cards.
Remember the wedding today...it's now 9:30 pm and just as we were going to bed the fireworks started over the castle. I had to turn my camera back on and go outside in my pajamas to get these photos. Great ending to a marvelous day. The dark area to the right in the photos is the weeping willow tree outside our cottage over the pond. Good night everyone.

September 19, 2016

We decided to ignore much advice about not going to Dover and left on the M20 this morning to see Dover Castle known as the Key to England. This was never bombed because Hitler wanted to celebrate victory in this castle when he took England.
We toured both of the underground tunnels. One was used for the Operation Dynamo which was the evacuation of Dunkirk. The other was an underground hospital. These tunnels actually go back hundreds of years and were used in the French vs England wars.
We climbed up and down the 100 plus stairs in the old castle and visited several of the other sights.
Finally decided to call it a day and headed back on the M20. It was traffic free both ways.
We arrived home to two black swans on our pond and freshly cut grass and trimmed hedges. We're walking up to our castle at dusk to see the lights on the castle at night.
I thought you'd enjoy my photos I took this evening of our Leeds Castle with the lights on. It was very dark for the walk home but we had flashlights with us to light the way home.

September 20, 2016
Overcast day, but no rain. We drove about an hour north and visited two beautiful National Trust properties today.
Our first was Knole House, a very old 15th Century home that was once a royal palace. It has so many building that people refer to it as a village. This huge house has been in the Sackville family for the past 400 years. And they retained the right to live for 200 years after they deeded it to the National Trust. It was the birthplace of Vita Sackville-West but she could not inherit the property because she was a women. She later purchased Sissinghurst that we visited on the 15th. She was the writer who wrote in her castle. Knole House was also owned by the Archbishops of Canterbury, until King Henry VIII decided he wanted the Knole House as one of his palaces.
We then went to Ightham Mote. A beautiful old Tudor home that is surrounded by a moat. It is 700 years old and at one time an American heiress lived there with her family and entertained lavishly with notables of the day including the Novelist Henry James. He was inspired by his visit and wrote "The Turning of the Screw" after he left. More beautiful gardens and then home. We stopped along the way and picked up fish and chips which we enjoyed at home.

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