Friday, July 20, 2012
This is Sissinghurst Castle, one of my final stops during our stay in Kent. It consists of a couple of Tudor-era buildings and a few later structures, the remains of what used to be a much larger stately home with a courtyard. The home was used to house French prisoners during the Seven Years' War and then used as an almshouse for the poor, which left it in such a dilapidated state that it was eventually torn down. This is all that's left.
The grounds include incredible gardens, created by British writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, who lived here from the 1930s onward. When they died, the house went to the National Trust, and it's now available for public visits. When I was there, it was abuzz with several busloads of German tourists.
I don't know much about Sackville-West, except that she and her set were notoriously sexually adventurous. She was pals with Virginia Woolf and the rest of the Bloomsbury Group. Her book-lined study is in the tall tower structure at Sissinghurst, and she and Nicolson converted a stable in the adjoining long building into a beautiful library.
I took tons of photos in the gardens, which I'll put on Flickr. Included among the interesting plants was pink chicory -- something I'd never seen before. I'm more familiar with the blue variety.
Visitors can climb the narrow, twisting staircase up the tower and view Sackville-West's study. Unfortunately, interior photography is not permitted -- but I snuck a picture of this windowsill on the stairs. After all, it's almost outside.
This is the view of the gardens from the roof of the tower. The gardens are grouped into planting areas based on color, and bounded at the far end by a moat that dates back to the Middle Ages.
As you can see, we actually had sunshine on this particular day! Believe me, that was unusual.
Aside from the gardens, there's an old barn, an oast house (once used to dry hops for beer-making, but now an exhibit space), a gift shop and restaurant, a plant shop and a cafe. I walked out behind the barn and found this field littered with big white blobs -- which turned out to be sheep! ("Surely they're not dead," I thought, and then they moved and twitched and one stood up. I had no idea sheep lie down when they sleep, but I suppose that makes sense.) Sissinghurst is on fairly high ground, with the countryside sprawling away in all directions.
Dave unfortunately couldn't go with me to Sissinghurst, because he was working that morning. But he and his coworker Gordon joined me for lunch at a nearby pub called the Three Chimneys -- probably the best pub we've been to so far in England. That night, Dave had his final concert and we drove back to London -- through rain, of course -- arriving home around midnight. Thus ends our Kent idyll!