Don’t wait, Just Go!
We are blessed in England with some of the finest historical properties and some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. So what better way to see some of these, and let someone else do all the work, than an escorted tour by Just Go! Holidays. In conjunction with The National Trust (NT) they have put together a number of tours across the country and we went to the Garden of England to get our slice of history and horticulture.
The tour is based at the comfortable Mercure HotelTunbridge Wells and our Tour Manager Richard met us in the lobby with room keys in hand, check in already completed. That evening Richard gave us an overview of our week and we met our fellow travellers, who we were to enjoy many great visits and fine meals with over the next three days.
Our first visit was to Ightham (pronounced “item”) Mote near Sevenoaks which is a moated Manor House dating from 1320. Described as the best example of a small medieval Manor House in the country, it’s picturesque courtyard, Great Hall, crypt and Tudor painted ceiling are all fascinating relics of it’s past. What impressed me most though was the engaging manner of volunteers that are the lifeblood of this property. They meet visitors of all ages with a friendly smile, volunteering some anecdote or snippet of information that enhances the well preserved artefacts you can see. They talk with a passion for Ightham Mote, none more so than Brian Davison who gave an excellent introductory talk. Ightham Mote is surrounded by peaceful gardens with an orchard, water features, lakes and woodland walks. Cheeky Silver travel Bag took two deck chairs as he relaxed in the grounds (picture).
Our afternoon was spent in Royal Tunbridge Wells. Retaining much of the charm of its Georgian heyday, its origins date back to the discovery of the Chalybeate Spring which still runs today (taste it if you dare). The main attraction is The Pantiles, a white colonnaded walkway, full of cafes and local shops. Treat yourself to an ice cream at Gastronomia. G in Bath Sq. So good it feels like a naughty treat. The Visitor Centre in the Corn Exchange can provide you with an interesting heritage walking trail map and the SPA Valley Railway is close by too.
Next day we visited the old sandstone house of the great writer Rudyard Kipling (no he didn’t make exceedingly good cakes). Andy (Gardener) gave us an interesting “behind the scenes” tour, covering not only the history of the gardens surrounding the house but the extensive efforts that go in recycling and reuse. Multi-Year compost making operations and fresh produce grown for use in the Mulberry Tearoom are just two examples. The House looks so lived in, just like Kipling has just popped out for a cup of tea between scribbling the next part of Mowgli’s adventures. You know he’s in because the phonograph is still playing and his Rolls Royce is in the garage.
Our afternoon treat was Sissinghurst Castle Garden; it gained the Castle title by being used as a prison camp for French sailors during the Seven Years War. Resurrected from virtual ruin by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson when they acquired the property in 1932. I climbed the tower (78 steps puff puff) to get some perspective on these beautiful gardens, a true labour of love for poetic Vita. Up top you could see the theme of different “rooms”, each one with a different planting scheme, colour and scent. The library houses an impressive book collection, whilst the Oast houses’ display provides a glimpse into their unconventional (a little scandalous for the time) marriage through letters, articles and stories.
Visitors are still able to visit Hever Castle largely due to wealthy American William Astor, but the 700 year old double moated castle is more readily associated with being the birthplace of Anne Boleyn. A real plus of an organised tour is access to a guided tour prior to public opening. Harriet was outstanding, providing us with information in a humorous easy style that made it fun to learn about the furniture, tapestries, antiques and paintings on display (I wish my history teacher had been like that). Over the drawbridge we attempted to explore a fraction of the 125 acres, including the giant topiary chess set and 4,000 rose bush garden (heady fragrances). Costumed figures roamed the grounds including Anne Boleyn (alive and well) proving that Hever Castle is exciting but nothing to lose your head over.
There was no more fitting way to end this historic tour, in the year that marks the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s passing, than a visit to Chartwell. The house is largely presented as a family home of the 1920s or 30s but alongside the personal items are the reminders of Churchill’s important role during the war. The staff here are more than willing to elaborate on any aspect of the house or the multitude of artefacts, but my favourite was the certificate and passport from President Kennedy declaring Churchill an honorary Citizen of the USA. The house has a high position affording magnificent views over the gardens and countryside, views which must have fed the artist within him. We had access to the largest collection of his paintings in the Studio.
Richard turned out to be an excellent Tour Manager, seamlessly guiding the group from one venue to another, ably assisted by our skilful luxury coach driver Neil. This is such an easy way to absorb some of the vast history on offer in this country, with tours liberally interspersed with free time. In the evening our eclectic group could enjoy each others company over an enjoyable 3 course meal, knowing that we just had to turn up the next day and all would be organised. Too soon our time together was over, with some making the included return coach journey with Neil, others under their own steam.
So what are you waiting for … Just Go!
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Just Go! Holidays