Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019

Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca

Friday 6 April 2012

Thursday 5 April 2012 – Canterbury, and a North Downs Way Bimble

Canterbury Cathedral Quire

Sue had never been to Canterbury.  Today’s overcast skies allowed her to remedy that omission.  She enjoyed the cathedral, and the walk through gardens by the River Stour was very pleasant, but much of the town resembled any other medium sized conurbation in the UK.

Canterbury Cathedral

We adjourned to the nearby village of Wye, with its view towards the Millennium Crown on a nearby hillside, before parking at the top of the hill on the route taken by the Long Distance Path known as the North Downs Way, which in this area also bears the name of ‘European Route E2’.

North Downs Way and E2 signs

I wonder whether we’ll find similar signs on the E5 route we plan to take in a few weeks time.  We certainly won’t be taking a laptop computer with us on that trip!

A brighter day would have shown the North Downs in a better light, but despite the chilly gloom, and a scarily vacant picnic table from the Marie Celeste, we enjoyed the empty countryside on this pleasant amble.

North Downs picnic bench

Those invisible skinny-legged picnickers need very long arms to reach the condiments, but from what were they hiding?

Here’s our route – 10 km, with 300 metres ascent, taking 2-3 hours – one of a plethora of walks you could devise in this well footpathed part of the world.

Our route - 10km,300 metres ascent, 2.5 hours

Sadly, that’s it for now as we imminently embark on a long journey northwards, so after any interlude that we may or may not report on, it’ll be back to the delights of the Lancashire Trail and the Bridgewater Canal next week…

Thanks go to Gemma and Ed, the owners of Waters Edge, for providing such a delightful abode, via English Country Cottages, for our week in Kent.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Wednesday 4 April 2012 - Scotney Castle and some Kentish Bimbles

Bluebells at Forsham - 4/4/12

Much to our surprise we were greeted by yet another sunny day, so wet weather plans were deferred in favour of a trip to nearby Scotney Castle, which may not yield childhood memories for many of my readers as it was only relatively recently opened to the public.

We arrived early, making time for a 7-8 km walk around the circumference of the estate, using the marked ‘Parkland’, ‘Woodland’ and ‘Hop’ paths.  Here’s Sue, dashing on ahead in the woodland…

Onthe woodland walk at Scotney Castle

… and here’s where they grow the hops for the local Westerham Brewery’s beer.

Hops at Scotney

By the time we got back the tea room was open for us to refuel before embarking on a tour of the house, built in 1837 for Edward Hussey III, whose last descendant lived there until 2006.  It has a rich history, being renowned in its heyday for lavish entertainment. 

In later years the upper floor was divided into flats, one of which was surreptitiously occupied by Margaret Thatcher when she was leader of the opposition, as her safety in her nearby matrimonial home couldn’t be guaranteed by the people who look after that sort of thing.

Scotney Castle - The House

At the bottom of the garden lies an abandoned medieval moated castle, stones from which were used in the construction of the house, the castle being left in a deliberately ruined state, as the focus of the celebrated gardens.

Scotney Castle

After lunch we scrapped plans to visit Bewl Water and a nearby Pinearetum due to exorbitant parking charges, and headed back to Waters Edge, from where we could enjoy an equally scenic 9 km circular walk.

This led us along pleasant byways with expansive views over the Kentish countryside….

A Kentish byway

… and on to the village of Rolvenden, past fields full of bleating lambs, and this splendid windmill.

Windmill at Rolvenden

St Mary the Virgin, Rolvenden, was passed as we ambled along the High Weald Landscape Trail…

St Mary the Virgin, Rolvenden

… past the impressive house and grounds of Great Maytham, where another green woodpecker was seen foraging in the grass.  Then it was back to Forsham down the ever quiet Wassall Lane.

Here’s our route, a much abbreviated version of Saturday’s walk – 9km, 130 metres of ascent, taking about 2 hours.

Our route - 9km, 130 metres ascent, 2 hours

All in all another splendid day, aided again by the BBC’s seemingly unending ability to get the weather forecast wrong, though we aren’t of course complaining about it being sunny all day, again!

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Tuesday 3 April 2012 – Sissinghurst Castle, Tenterden and Smallhythe Place

Daffodils at Sissinghurst

An unexpectedly sunny morning saw us heading off to Sissinghurst.  Like Rye and Bodiam it’s only 15 minutes from Waters Edge, so travelling this week has hardly been arduous.

Sissinghurst isn’t really a castle.  It started life as a Saxon pig farm, but it prospered and a manor house was built.  Only part of a moat from the original structure survives today.  By the late 16th century wealthy owners had built the existing tower and a magnificent Renaissance courtyard house with 38 fireplaces and a vaulted gallery 40 yards long.

The Tower at Sissinghurst Castle

Deterioration took place when the building was leased to the government during the Seven Years War (1756-63).  It was used as a prison camp for over 1000 captured French sailors.  They called it Chateau de Sissingherst or Sissinghurst Castle.

After the French sailors had wrecked the courtyard house, much of the building was demolished, but from the 1800’s a series of owners carried out repairs on many of the remaining structures, and used the fertile land to great advantage in the production of a wide variety of crops.

However, the photos from the time when Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson bought the place in 1932 show that its condition was very far from the pristine sight that greets the viewer from the top of the tower in these days of comparative affluence.

View to the library and oast houses, from Sissinghurst Castle Tower

Harold and Vita got to grips with the building and the garden, and left a fine legacy to the National Trust, with their grandson still involved with the estate.

The gardens will be brilliant in the summer, but even now certain sections are in fine fettle, keeping a team of nine gardeners fully occupied.

Tulips at Sissinghurst

After our usual picnic lunch we hopped back into the car for a few minutes before parking up at the small town of Tenterden.  Although the town dates from early times, the oldest building these days is thought to be a 15/16th century gatehouse cottage on the main street.  There’s lots of interest in the town, but time permits only a snippet just now… (slide show later, perhaps).

This ‘snippet’ is the old Miller’s/Chandler’s Warehouse, a three storey 18th century building.  Looking up to the roof you can see the doors and a pulley, clues to its former use.  It is edged with white wood quoins and clad with ‘mathematical tiles’, so called because, made geometrically and laid flush, they present the appearance of sophisticated brickwork.  Many buildings from around 1770 to 1800+ used this technique of laying tiles on old timber frames to produce a new brick like appearance.  The illusion was impossible to disguise at the corners, hence the use of the vertical timber quoins to finish the edges and assist in weatherproofing.

Tenterden - Mathematical tiles on the Chandler's Warehouse

A couple of miles down the road, Smallhythe Place, another National Trust property, houses many interesting artefacts and possessions of a leading actress in her day, Ellen Terry.  One of her notebooks shows that she cleared over £300 profit in one week for a performance around 1900.  She was one of the wealthiest women of her times, and clearly very influential in the world of theatre.  The rickety-floored timber framed house in which she lived in later life seems to be held together by a series of metal bars.  Like many such places, it has probably seen a huge number of changes in its long life.  In the garden, a theatre in a thatched barn occasionally draws today’s leading actors to perform short programmes in honour of the great lady and of old traditions.

Smallhythe Place

It was only a ten minute drive back home from this interesting spot where there were some very helpful and informative National Trust guides.

But Ellen Terry’s death mask was a bit disconcerting.  Would you like to think your descendants will remember you for ever as they view your death mask displayed in a cabinet in their front room!?

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Monday 2 April 2012 – Rye and Winchelsea

Rye - a typical street

Another cloudless day, perhaps the last for some time, saw us heading back into East Sussex and down to Rye, one of the Cinque Ports, for a browse and a bimble.

Rye has pretty streets and a fine hilltop church, St Mary’s, which dates from… well, there’s a list of its Vicars, Rectors and Patrons since 1036.  The clock dates from 1561 and is one of the oldest working church tower clocks in the country.

(I’m saving today’s ‘church’ photos for a later slideshow.)

We freed ourselves from the fleshpots of Rye, notably Fletcher’s House Tea Room, for today’s 17 km bimble, which headed first into Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. 

The first target was Camber Castle, built in the reign of Henry VIII to protect Rye from the growing threat of French and Spanish invasion.  This was one of a chain of south coast defences protecting vulnerable areas.  However, shingle soon built up in front of the castle, and after a while its cannon fire would no longer have been able to reach the sea.  So it was abandoned in 1637 and now lies a mile inland.

Camber Castle

A short walk from the castle is a bird hide that we had all to ourselves today, a day of deserted but well marked paths (as is the norm down here) in bright sunshine.  Our brief stop at the hide quickly revealed the following birds:

Mute swan, Coot, Mallard, Black-headed gulls, Tufted duck, Lapwing, Shelduck, Teal, Cormorant, Shoveler, Oyster catchers, Greylag geese, Gadwall, Moorhen, Canada geese, Wood pigeon, Chaffinch, Marsh harrier, Blue tit, and Reed buntings.

Adjourning to a sunny bench for lunch, we added the following to that list:

Carrion crows, Rooks, Blackbird, Robin, Magpie, Kestrel, various sparrows, Blackcap, Heron and Linnet. 

And given that we just have a very crappy little pair of binoculars, limited knowledge of bird species and negligible knowledge of their calls, we probably missed many more.

Continuing onwards,  we found that Winchelsea proudly announces itself to the world.

Winchelsea welcomes you

It’s a quaint little place, with another big church.  At one end of the village the Strand Gate has failed to halt a recent spread of buildings, but in the countryside to the south of the village the ‘New Gate’ was never reached, due to a decline in population following the ‘Black Death’ epidemic.  Perhaps the houses will get there during the 21st Century.

After passing through both gates and the intervening village we found ourselves beside the Royal Military Canal.  This was built from 1804 to 1809, when Napoleon was threatening to invade.  The excavated soil from the 28 mile canal was piled up on the landward side to protect troops from enemy fire.  Every 500 metres along the length of the canal a kink (‘enfilade’) was inserted to enable cannons to be fired down each stretch.  In practice, the canal was never called upon for defence purposes, but it did help to control the smuggling that was rife on Romney Marsh at that time, albeit subject to the corruption of the authorities that is now practiced in the UK in more subtle ways, but is still commonplace in its more blatant guises across many parts of the world.

Beside the Royal Military canal

The flask was de-dregged at a pleasant spot beside the canal, before a pleasant wander back into Rye and our expensive incorruptible car park.

Here’s today’s route – about 17km with not much more than 100 metres ascent.  Given the distractions, it took us all day.

Our route - 17km with minimal ascent

Monday 2 April 2012

Sunday 1 April 2012 – Bodiam Castle and a Kent and Sussex Bimble

Bodiam Castle 

The sun returned today, if not all the warmth of the past week.

Bodiam Castle tea rooms provided sustenance before we explored the medieval castle, which has a long history.  It was home to gentry for hundreds of years before its royalist owners fell foul of Cromwell’s men.  This resulted in a steady deterioration to dereliction before Lord Curzon bought it in the early 20th century.  He restored parts of the building and staunched the path to complete ruin before passing it on to the National Trust.

Well worth a visit, and a cornetto…

The moat seems to be full of giant carp that compete very strongly with the ducks for the generous provisions offered by the children of Kent.  Or should that be Sussex?

Fighting for scraps of bread

Across the road, the Castle Inn advertises all day food, so why not drop in for a picnic.  These people skilfully avoided the trees to do just that.

Lunch at the Castle Inn?

Meanwhile, enthusiasts of a bygone means of transport were enjoying the journey between Tenterden and Bodiam.  I reckon speeds of 10 to 15 mph were being achieved, nearly as fast as yesterday’s biplanes (which were slightly cropped just to avoid a sparsely populated frame).

First train of the season on the Kent and East Sussex Railway

After lunch outside the castle we enjoyed a three hour, 12 km, bimble, featuring sections of the well maintained Sussex Border Path, and the interesting church whose hilltop position made it the centrepiece of this walk – St Nicholas’s, Sandhurst.  The St Michael’s Window in this church dates impressively from 1450.

St Nicholas Church - Sandhurst Cross

That ‘cornetto moment’ followed a descent back to the castle via some picturesque oast houses, after which we tootled off home having admired this late afternoon view of the well fortified castle.

Bodiam Castle

It was so well fortified, in fact, that the French never attacked it.

Here’s our route – 12 km with about 200 metres ascent, including a stroll down to the station.

Our route - approx 12 km in 3 hours

I’ll provide some links to more information on antiquities etc that we encounter this week in due course, but in order to access the internet I have to stand on a chair with the computer on a high window sill: it’s not the best position for surfing the web!