East Kent Holiday

Report by Mo (Dove)

4th - 9th September, 2016

Sunday 4th September was the beginning of what transpired to be yet another very interesting holiday organised by Sue. Leaving the West Country for East Kent, via a coffee stop en route, and then lunch, we arrived at the Knole (NT) early in the afternoon, on what was sadly a dullish day… reflecting this somewhat moody atmosphere, Knole is currently ‘under wraps’ due to major renovations to the stone work. However, history of this lovely old building compensates - the oldest parts were built in the 15th century by the then Archbishop of Canterbury (Thomas Bouchier), then eventually during the reign of Elizabeth I, Knole came into the possession of her cousin, Thomas Sackville and descendants of the family have lived there since the 17th century. The well-known gardener, poet and author Vita Sackville-West grew up there but due to ‘Salic Law’ she was unable to inherit when her father the 3rd Lord Sackville died in 1930. Corridors full of art collections, (by Reynolds, Gainsborough, Van Dyck to name but a few) textiles and furniture abound, including the famous ‘Knole settee’. Once believed to have been called a ‘Calendar House’, it boasts 365 rooms, 52 staircases (now reduced), 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. An amazing property, gardens and parkland with fallow deer; we just didn’t have enough time to see everything!

WSNTA Knole House
Knole House

Staying in a comfortable hotel in Ashford for the duration of our holiday, after a pleasant dinner and night’s rest, we set off the next morning for Rochester. One could understand why this was a favourite of Charles Dicken’s, living nearby at Gads Hill Place, inspiring many of his novels from the area. Split into groups we had an excellent walking tour and were told by our guide that the diocese is the second oldest in England and centred on the cathedral, which founded The King’s School in 604 AD, and which is still flourishing today! Watling Street runs through the town, and Rochester for centuries was of great strategic importance through it’s’ positon near the Thames and by the River Medway and down through the county to the coast. We were able to see some of the most important buildings such as The Restoration House, the Guildhall and the Corn Exchange. Rochester was also famous during the First World War when the Short Brother’s aircraft manufacturing company developed the first plane to launch a torpedo! Notable residents of Rochester included the actress Dame Sybil Thorndike who was the daughter of a canon at the cathedral. An enormous amount of history, far too much to write here, but a visit is thoroughly recommended for those who have never been! Then onto to see Chatham Historic Dockyards - this is a huge complex. Chatham was established as a Royal Dockyard by Elizabeth I in 1567, but in 1613 the dockyard moved from its’ original location, to its’ present site! By the beginning of the 1770’s it stretched to a mile and included an area of in excess of 95 acres. Over the centuries, the site has expanded employing blacksmiths, joiners, carpenters, sail makers, riggers and ropemakers. A visit to the ropery was included in our visit and we had a very good demonstration of rope making. With the 20th century, submarine HMS C17 was launched in 1908 and a dozen were built here. In the dry docks, we saw HMS Gannet (1878) a sloop built of wooden hulls over an iron frame, also located here and launched in the early 1960’s is the HM Ocelot submarine which was the last Royal Navy warship to be built at Chatham. The RNLI Historic Lifeboat collection is a massive exhibition, and last but not least - the HMS Cavalier, the Royal Navy’s last operational Second World War destroyer. This visit was fascinating, very interesting, and not just ‘toys for the boys’! Our guide told us that some of the buildings are used extensively in filming, especially for the TV series ‘Call the Midwife’ - the dockyards representing Poplar in the East End of London!

WSNTA Rochester

Tuesday - to Dover Castle. Sue had told us there was a lot to see, she was right! After spending the day there, I still didn’t see everything on offer, but what a wonderful visit this was - from the ‘Operation Dynamo’ tour (the story of Dunkirk) in the underground tunnels with an excellent visual audio guide, the underground Hospital, the superb museum of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, Henry 2nd Tower, the Roman Lighthouse, the mediaeval tunnels and the church of St Mary de Castro. Dover Castle (EH) is a Grade I listed building, a vast area of defence and one can quite see why on this high ‘white cliff’ overlooking the sea it was built on this spot - for on a clear day, one can see the coastline of France 21 miles away across the channel, but sadly not on our visit, as it was misty (but very warm!)

WSNTA Dover Castle
Dover Castle
…“its wonderful history never ceases to amaze me …”

Wednesday dawned very hot and sunny for our visit to Canterbury and to meet our tour guide. This is a World Heritage Site, with its’ city wall founded in Roman Times (and still in good condition!) St Augustine came here and was the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and considered to be the founder of the English Church. Geoffrey Chaucer as everyone knows, wrote the Canterbury Tales and some of us visited a re-enactment of the tales on a ‘tour’ similar to the ‘experience’ of the Jorvik centre in York. The cathedral is one of the oldest and well known Christian structures in England and especially renowned for its pilgrimage destination to the site of the murder of Thomas Becket, the cathedral has had extensive rebuilding and extensions over the centuries. There is another King’s School here, founded in 597AD. Canterbury has lots of little alleyways, (not unlike York) and obviously very historic and interesting buildings, along with plenty of cafes, and modern shops which a few of us couldn’t resist, but there were some that took a boat, to cool off, on the River Stour!

WSNTA Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral

Thursday - a quieter day! We drove to the wonderful Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne near Folkestone, high up overlooking the seaside resort, it was hot and sunny and the sea literally shimmering! What a splendid place, the whole site is shaped in the form of a large propeller, and outside on the grass - at its’ centre, a statue of a seated pilot looking out to sea. There are replicas of a Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire and the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall, on which appears the names of the almost 3,000 fighter aircrew who flew in the Battle. Inside, is an excellent exhibition and audio visual show; with a well-stocked shop of good books and souvenirs. This was a moving experience, for my own uncle was a spitfire pilot, although not involved in this particular battle, but of another and was one who survived to tell the tale, unlike many of ‘the few’.

WSNTA Battle of Britain Memorial
Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne

Then to something a little brighter (and even hotter) - to Brogdale Fruit Collection at Faversham for lunch - home of the National Fruit collection. After lunch, we had a tour of the orchards, some of us in a trailer pulled along by a tractor, some of us walking, both groups with excellent guides, explaining that set in 150 acres of farmland, Brogdale is home to over 2,000 different varieties of apples alone, there are numerous collections of pears, plums, quince, cherries, medlars and cob nuts. They have some very old species and some relatively new. Examples were picked for us to taste, scientific tests are made regularly and grafting is used to produce new varieties. Most of us I’m sure have our own particular favourite. We had the opportunity to purchase fruit juice, fruit and preserves made from the fruit on the farm, (but I guess not from the very ‘special’ collection!)

WSNTA Apples Brogdale
The apple is the largest collection at Brogdale

Friday – our last day and onto Chartwell (NT) - this was my fifth visit, but a first for some. This lovely house and its wonderful history never ceases to amaze me, oooozes atmosphere and the warmth of a family home is paramount here. The studio, where paintings are exhibited, the ‘famous’ wall built by Churchill himself, the lake, black swans and the gardens and water features, are unique. A fitting end to a glorious few days in this lovely county where there is so much history – ancient and modern. Sue did us proud as she always does, so thank you for all your hard work, we had ‘sueshine’ a great driver (Lorraine) and a welcome cup of tea and birthday cake on the way home…traffic…. well… no matter, we all got home safely and have some wonderful memories!

WSNTA Chartwell

Mo Dove