Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Day Trip from London

Fairytale dreams of little girls often are filled with castles, but big girls like myself, also enjoy spending a real day at a castle too.

Did you know that England has more than 1,500 castle sites? I figured I would start by visiting the castles that are within an easy reach from London.

With work and weekend trips, I don’t get to update this blog like I used to when we first moved abroad in 2010. And even when I have a mid-weekday off, I often make the effort to take a day trip from London as well.

Exploring Hever Castle & Gardens
One destination that has been on my to-do list was the magnificent, moated Hever Castle, which is an easy day trip to do from London. I took a train from Clapham Junction, had a brief transfer at Oxted, then disembarked at Hever Station and cycled one mile up to the castle. (Trains also depart from London Victoria and London Bridge.) You easily could walk the mile along the country roads to the castle too.
Of course, you’ll pass a cozy-looking, half-timbered pub named after King Henry VIII.
Inside Hever Castle, I visited the rooms where Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife, spent her youth, and where the King courted her as well. Anne Boleyn was the Queen of England for just 1,000 days, mother of Queen Elizabeth I and the woman who convinced Henry VIII to renounce Catholicism and create the Church of England so the pair could marry. 

The castle later passed ownership onto another of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne of Cleves, as part of their marriage annulment settlement. The rooms feature a mix of historical styles from the 15th century to the 20th century, from Tudor-era half-timbered walls and finely woven tapestries to a 100-year-old telephone and plush pink sofas.
 It is traditionally believed that Henry VIII stayed several times at Hever Castle. The ceiling here dates from 1462 and is the oldest in the castle.
Today, much of what you see in the castle is the restored efforts by William Waldorf Astor, the former New Yorker tycoon who moved to England in the 1890s and bought the run-down castle in 1903. He used his fortune to restore and extend the castle in the early 20th century, including a 100-room wing in the Tudor style. The Astor Suite is decorated in the 20th-century style and showcases pictures and memorabilia relating to the Astor family and the Edwardian period.
My only regret is visiting Hever Castle in August. It didn’t register with my brain that local children are still on summer break, so the castle was a popular destination for young families.

Gorgeous Italian Gardens
But outside the castle walls was the real highlight for me! Astor also spent his money and employed hundreds of staff to transform the castle’s small, modest garden to a gorgeous Italian Garden that would be at home at any Italian palazzo. Covering four acres, the garden features long sweeping lawns, marble columns lining the pergola walkway, blooming rose and perennial beds and marble sculptures, some 2,000 years old.
At the manmade lake end of the garden is the impressive Loggia, flanked by classical Roman sculptures inspired by the Trevi Fountain. Who needs to visit Rome when you have this?
Cycling to Chiddingstone
After spending several hours at Hever Castle, I finally cycled onto the small, nearby village of Chiddingstone, about 15-minutes away by bike, but on a much hillier route than I had anticipated. What’s interesting here is that the entire village, apart from the church and Chiddingstone Castle, is owned by the National Trust. Chiddingstone is described as being “the most perfect surviving example of a Tudor village in the county,” which seems relevant given its proximity to the Tudor-era Hever Castle.  

I stopped at the Castle Inn to have a classic pub lunch of a pint of Kentish cider and a cheeseburger with chips. I figured I had earned all those calories after cycling up those hills!
It’s worth having a wander around the village to admire the preserved half-timbered buildings, the 16th-century St. Mary the Virgin Church as well as the Chiddingstone Castle. The castle has Tudor origins, Victorian rooms and was remodeled in the 19th century to resemble a medieval castle. Astor also owned this castle at one point, but the last owner, art collector Denys Eyre Bower, bought it 1955 to house his extensive art collection. Today, the castle is open to the public on select days and would be the perfect backdrop for a romantic wedding.
Travelling by bike in the Kentish countryside meant I also got to see other Tudor-era houses and old brick hop houses which Kent is famous for. The cultivation of hops was imported from Flanders (present-day northern Belgium) to Kent and the surrounding counties as early as the 15th century and reached its heyday during the 17th-19th centuries. (You can read more about Britain’s history of hops here.)

Stay tuned for my next photography post from the Kent countryside!

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Friday, August 9, 2019

Day Trip from London

I figure the best way to entice my husband on a day trip from London is to mention “bike ride and beer” while really, I’m gunning for gardens and farm shops in the countryside.

During June, both of us were working a lot, so on the weekends, I tried to plan activities that would get us out of the city. On a return trip to the annual CAMRA Real Ale and Cider Festival in Tenterden, I picked up a flyer for visiting private gardens in Kent through the National Garden Scheme. I’d never heard of this project, but since I love gardens, it piqued my interest.

I love visiting the Kent region as it’s one of the easiest for us to reach by train from London and because it’s so green. Kent is nicknamed the “Garden of England” because it has so many gardens, orchards and old hop gardens.

Apparently, UK’s NGS coordinates with towns, private garden owners and manor house owners to open up their gardens to the public during a certain time period. The annual project gives access to more than 3,500 private gardens in England and Wales and raises money for nursing and health charities through the admissions fees and selling of teas and cake. You can check on the NGS website for open gardens as many are still hosting this project from now until the autumn months.

Farmer’s Market Stop
So, we started off our Sunday adventure by taking a train from Victoria Station in London to Ashford and from there we cycled about 4.5 miles to Perry Court Farm, a family-owned farm shop just outside of Wye. We had a look around the lovely produce and then had cake and coffee outside at the farm’s café. Surprisingly, I have no photographic evidence of said cake, but I can tell you that the Victoria Sponge was delicious.
We continued cycling into the village of Wye and stopped at the 15th-century St. Gregory and St. Martin Church to buy our garden tickets and map for £5 each. The tickets gave us access to six or seven different gardens in and around the village of Wye. We had our bikes so it was easy to ride from one garden to the next.
Gardens Galore in Wye
We started at the home of Steve Bloom, and his wife, a UK-based wildlife photographer. What made this garden stop so interesting is that some of Bloom’s wildlife photos were displayed outside, peeking out from the greenery and flowers. His wildlife images were amazing!
The other private gardens in Wye featured a wide array of roses, foxglove, delphiniums, hollyhocks, lavender, lupines, peonies, fruit trees, vegetables and many flowers that I don’t even know the names of. Plus, all the garden owners were always on hand to have a chat and answer any questions. As I’ve said before, the English people LOVE their gardens!

Beer Break
After a few hours of cycling and viewing gardens, we stopped for a beer break at the Tickled Trout, a charming village pub with a large beer garden overlooking the Great Stour River.

A Country Garden in Wye
We ended our garden tour at the Spring Grove Farm House, a large country garden filled with lots of colorful flowers and a small pond.

And More Beer
Finally, we cycled back to Ashford station and stopped at the newest brewery in Kent called Curious Brewery. This brewery, started by the English winemaker Chapel Down, opened in May and features a huge two-story building where you can taste and drink a few pints and even do a brewery tour. We had hoped to dine here, but unfortunately, the restaurant stops serving food at 5 p.m. on Sundays. Oh well! We sampled some of the brewery’s ales instead.
If you’re looking for a day out of London, there’s plenty to do and see around the village of Wye, which once was a historic market town that was settled as early as the Roman period.


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