A Very English Day Out

Last weekend, after three days of being a hermit, gorging myself on delicious food from my mum’s fridge and luxuriating in bed until 10am, I was ready to get out and about. Emma, my dear best friend from university, has recently moved to Kent, so we decided to have a Kent tourist day as opposed to our usual London tourist day. We did some research and picked out a beautiful nearby National Trust property, Scotney Castle, and off we went on what turned out to be a fairly sunny Saturday to explore.

The drive over to Lamberhurst, the small village where the castle is situated, was absolutely lovely; we drove down meandering lanes that opened up into tiny, gorgeous little villages with ponds and pubs and ancient churches, and when the hedges disappeared from the sides of the country roads, we were treated to spectacular views across the fields, already starting to blaze with autumnal glory. My heart just sang with joy the whole way; I had missed the unassuming beauty of the English countryside.

We arrived at Scotney Castle just in time for lunch. After a sandwich from the very nice cafe, we flashed our membership cards and wandered down to the main house. The house was built in 1837, in the fake Jacobean style popular at the time. It was designed very much as a family home, and it feels like it; the rooms are not overly large, and feel warm, comfortable and happy. It was actually lived in until 2006, when the Trust took it over, which I think is why it feels so homely. Every room was filled with books, which delighted me; unusually for the National Trust, which normally stocks its homes with books from a central bank, all of the books actually came with the house, and seeing the choices on the shelves gave me a small window into the tastes and habits of its former owners. The last owner, Christopher Hussey, was a well known architect who gave his home to the Trust, and wrote a regular column for Country Life. As such the shelves were heaving with related books on design and heritage and local history, but there were also plenty of middlebrow favourites, presumably his wife’s; I spotted some E F Bensons, as well as Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians, and an Elizabeth Von Arnim or two.

The house, however, was not the main attraction. Down in the valley, amidst breathtakingly beautiful gardens, sits a 14th century half ruined castle on an island in the middle of a moat. Picturesquely dismantled by Edward Hussey when he had the new house built in 1837, it became a folly rather than a home, and you can’t go inside, but my goodness, it is stunning. It’s truly the stuff fairytales are made of. The gardens are wonderful too, and there is a magnificent quarry garden, built in the pit made by the extraction of sandstone used for the building of the new house. Apparently it contains a dinosaur footprint, but I didn’t spot that!

After a leisurely stroll through the gardens, which offer wide ranging views across the surrounding countryside, we stopped off for tea and scones and chatting before a brief stop in the shop. I find all National Trust shops totally irresistible and always find myself buying things I don’t need and can’t afford. This time however I snapped up a copy of this for just £10 and am now busily browsing it, looking for our next location in which to have an adventure. Sissinghurst is probably top of the list at the moment, though I am also desperate to see Monk’s House. And Smallhythe Place. This part of England has so much history and it’s a pleasure to be back amongst it!

28 comments

  1. What a lovely trip you had! It is hard to imagine a day trip to a castle. I do the same to see log cabins or old stagecoach stops. Your photos are beautiful and I thank you for sharing them. I’m sure spending the day with a good friend added much to your enjoyment. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It really was a lovely trip Janet! Scotney Castle is one of the most beautiful National Trust properties I’ve ever been to. It was just so breathtaking. I’m glad you enjoyed a peek at my photos!

    1. Hahahaha! I haven’t heard of Miss Marple having trouble on National Trust land!

      Thanks for that, Liz – no that book has not passed my radar before…not sure it would be my cup of tea!

  2. You will love, adore and revel in Monk’s House. I saw it and Charleston in one day and it was one of the most beautiful and best days I ever spent in England. While I’ve got your ear – did you receive my book order, Rachel? The Etsy thing doesn’t send confirmations or anything. Glad you are safe back home, cheers!

    1. I can’t wait to go there, Diana – and to Charleston too. I think that’s going to be my next little countryside jaunt. Thank you! Yes and I sent it off yesterday so fingers crossed it will be with you very soon!

  3. Oh you must go to Sissinghurst – we went there on the Bank Holiday and it was WONDERFUL. I love how having an NT card opens up a whole world of fun!

    Slight correction; the NT may well supply some books from a central store, particulalry if the original books are lost, but in the vast majority of properties the books are indigenous. I used to do data entry on the NT cataloguing project, reporting library holdings to the English Short Title Catalogue (a record of everything printed pre-1800) and much of the time they had original bookplates relating to the family that owned the house.

    1. I will, I will – I’ve been meaning to go for years! Glad it’s such a good day – I will look extra forward to it now!

      Oh well that’s good to know! I’m glad for once that I was misinformed as it made me sad whenever I went to a property and browsed through the books thinking i wonder if these are actually belonging to the people…clearly most of them do so I can stop being sad now! Thanks for telling me that! One great NT house for books is Chartwell…Clementine Churchill had excellent taste – lots of middlebrow lovelies!

      1. Also – if you look carefully at Vita Sackville West’s books at Sissinhurst they are exactly the sort of books you’d expect her to own!

  4. Green with envy am I, here, Rachel, loving this journey every step of the way. Your pictures are beautiful and your words, ah, your words have me pining for visits to every building and castle and garden the National Trust has to offer. Sissinghurst is way up on top of that list – a gardening dream.

    1. Oh Penny! I hope very much that you will be able to come to this part of the world one day and see the beauty of the countryside and the National Trust properties…I am certain you would be in heaven every day!

  5. Rachel, I love your “English Day Out.” I will be in London soon and I have planned a day out in the country. We are visiting Knole, Monk’s House and Charleston Farmhouse. I think Knole is in Kent and I know the others are in Sussex. I agree with you that there is nothing like the English countryside and I loved reading your story and seeing your photos of the experience.
    Sunday xx

    1. Oh, Knole is right by my house! It’s wonderful – you’ll love it. You MUST drop by Chartwell when you visit Knole – it was Winston Churchill’s country home and is literally a 15 min drive away, also a National Trust property. It’s beautiful. Glad you enjoyed the photos and I am so pleased you will be able to see the same sights as me so soon!

  6. Oh, to be able to drive and see such beauty. This is the landscape in my heart, and as I noted on another post, I am so happy this sort of place still exists. We read such negative news about England now, and it breaks my heart.

    1. I know what you mean Nan – deep down the real England of the popular imagination is still there. I am glad of it. Hope you will get a chance to come over and see it some day!

  7. *sigh* When I come visit will we go to castles? I haven’t seen a castle in a hundred years. When I first went to England, we did a day trip to Leeds Castle in Kent — the loveliest castle in England, its brochures said! It was indeed very lovely, and the tour guide was incredibly interesting and knowledgeable. I’d like more castle experiences just like that.

    1. Yes we will my darling – I shall take you everywhere. We’ll go to Hever and see Anne Boleyn’s childhood home and the amazing maze. Leeds is supposed to be amazing but I’ve never been as it was always too expensive! I need to go actually. Maybe this year!

  8. What fun. We explored Eltham Palace for the first time on Saturday. I think I’ll enjoy having it as our local home. Looking forward to hearing about Sissinghurst when you go & most excited about Persuasion read along.

    1. Oh how lovely, I am jealous! Glad you are enjoying your new environs! Can’t wait to have your comments on Persuasion, I must say. I am nearly finished my re-read and having a wonderful time. I love it!

  9. So jealous! I was born on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Sounds wonderful, my idea of a perfect day — as long there was a nice spot to sit and read for a bit while had I had my tea and scones.

  10. *laughs* You know, I think every bookish American longs and longs to be having English Days Out. This looks lovely, lovely, and I am wishing I could be there. If I ever win the lottery, I am definitely going to use every day of my tourist Visa rambling around the English, Scottish, and Irish countryside.

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