After a long evening journey in mist, we arrived at our ‘accessible’ cottage, Hexden Lea at Rovenden in Kent, only to find that my friend had left the key to her mobility scooter in her own car back at my place! We’d be limited to sightseeing by car, or short walks using a walking stick.
So you can imagine what a welcome surprise it was to open the door and find two large cups and a packet of lemon shortbread thins on the table! A quick recce revealed that the place was stocked with teabags, fresh milk in the fridge, washing-up liquid, dishwasher tablets, washing powder, kitchen roll, handwash, an ironing board, a selection of novels, local area leaflets, and even a cozy throw! It’s the little touches that make the difference. The bathroom – a priority for anyone with mobility problems – achieved top marks for its modern, wheelchair-friendly fittings and a portable shower seat.
We were intrigued by the odd snuffling noise we could hear from the decking, but the mystery was solved next morning; we had a field of friendly sheep just the other side of our garden fence!
The cottage was warm, snug and draught-free. Both the large bed in the bedroom, and the sofa bed in the sitting-room, were extremely comfortable. We slept soundly.
Sipping our first cups of tea on the decking next morning, whilst watching the birds on the bird feeders and trying to count the sheep, we remarked on the beauty and tranquillity of the location, the style of the furnishings, and the easy-on-the-eye decor (neutral with a splash of teal). And we loved the rocking chair! The information file contained everything needed for a trouble-free stay.
The owners, Margaret and Bertie, called over to introduce themselves, and couldn’t have been more helpful or welcoming. We learned that they had stayed in the cottage themselves before letting it out, so that they could understand the guest experience and improve anything that needed to be improved. Friends were invited to stay, too, on the promise of honest, critical feedback. This has definitely paid off as the only improvement we could think of – and this was to benefit them and not us – was an additional doormat for the floor inside the French doors in case of wet weather.
After a lazy morning (we really didn’t want to leave that view, and were getting on well with the sheep) we pottered into the 15th century Bull Inn at Rolvenden for an early lunch, eating outside in the sunshine – the best fish ‘n chips for many a year! A 10 minute drive past oast houses on a quiet road, brought us to Tenterden, one of the Cinque Ports until the River Rother silted up. Today the varied architectural styles – including pretty, white, weather board buildings – are evidence of a long and prosperous history. On to the Station to catch the Tenterden to Bodiam steam train!
The Station is a heritage gem boasting an old-fashioned ticket office, trolley truck wagons piled with old cases, classic metal signs, railway carriage works, friendly staff in old-time uniforms, a cafe, shop and railway museum (the train ticket includes entry). The Station car park is only yards away on the other side of the manually-operated level crossing, and the train and platform are fully accessible. It wasn’t cheap, but the slow trundle to Bodiam and back through miles of unspoilt countryside, was worth it: we were in a different world. Pheasants and black-faced sheep watched us go by, and we spotted partridges, a buzzard and a heron. On the return journey we treated ourselves to a cup of tea and a pastry from the trolley.
We went into picture-perfect Rye – another of the Cinque Ports – for the evening, and drove slowly through the picturesque, cobbled streets, past lively bars and eateries in converted warehouses, and tiny independent shops. Our favourite street was Mermaid Street, the home of the Mermaid Inn (rebuilt 1420!) and cottages with evocative names: ‘The House Opposite’, ‘The House with Two Front Doors’, and further along, ‘Gull Cottage’ and ‘The Santa Maria’. The 900 year old Church of St. Mary, dominating the town, has the oldest working turret clock in the country (construction began in 1515) unique in that the pendulum swings in the body of the church. In the1930s it was discovered that the same 15 cwt pendulum – at that time hanging over the heads of the choristers – was resting only on a two-inch rusty nail!
Opting to drive on to Battle – just to say we’d been there – we were able to see some of the preparations for the October 2017 Battle Festival, as well as the exterior of the magnificent Abbey and the 1066 sculpture on the roundabout on the way in. With its roots in the defeat of King Harold 11 by William the Conqueror in the 1066 Battle of Hastings, this town definitely merits a day of exploration in its own right. We could see there was something for everyone, including shoppers and bon viveurs (plus the spectacle of ‘Battel Bonfire Night’ in November!).
Next day it was on to the gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, driving through pristine Benenden (where Princess Anne went to school) and Cranbrook on the way. Cranbrook’s Union Mill loomed over the long high street, with its weather board cottages, timber framed houses, medieval cloth halls and the handsome St. Dunstan’s Church. We glimpsed plenty of independent shops and busy tea rooms: another beautiful town to visit on another day.
On arrival at Sissinghurst – uncrowded at this time of year – we picked up a mobility buggy. Flashes of autumn colour and fruit-laden trees were a delight to the eye, and helpful chalkboards explained exactly what the gardeners were doing in each garden ‘room’. We caught the ‘Speak Its Name’ exhibition in the Oast House, which chronicled the lives of the garden creators, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, and their friends in the ‘Bloomsbury set’, listened to a talk and sampled the home-grown food in the restaurant.
Tempted by a ‘Market’ sign outside the Village Hall, as we went through Rolvenden on our way home, we picked up artisan bread, locally grown veg and Marsh lamb for an evening meal on the decking instead of eating out. But we went on to celebrate our visit to Kent with a couple of real ales in ‘The Star’ back in Rolvenden, whilst enjoying yet more beautiful views of the local countryside from the patio garden.
Such a pretty area! And we’d barely scratched the surface of what there was to see: no time to visit Smallhythe Place, Bodiam Castle, Scotney Castle, Lamb House, Batemans, the Rare Breeds Centre, or any of the local, specialist museums.
I shall certainly be back – anyway, I have to finish counting the sheep!
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