My sister moved house at the weekend, to a village just up the road from mine. It’s a lovely spot; down a quiet lane, opposite a 15th century church and with unspoiled views across the rolling countryside. It is classic Jane Austen country; the surrounding lanes are filled with pretty little flint cottages, Georgian houses and grand mansions, all set against a background of green fields and flower filled hedgerows. The village is famous for being the highest point in Kent, and a site of the Enigma code breakers during WWII, plus its neighbouring village of Cudham will be of particular interest to Persephone readers, as it is the scene of the murder of poor Harriet Staunton. Another literary link is that Knockholt station was the inspiration for The Railway Children; little did I know that the young E Nesbit sat on the very bank I whizz past on my way to London, watching the tunnel my train goes through being built. She lived locally as a child, and the steep bank and tunnel cut into the Downs to form the London-Sevenoaks line inspired her famous train and petticoat scene. Who knew?
On Sunday, once I had done my share of helping to unpack and supervising rambunctious nephews ‘exploring’ (read: destroying) their new house, I asked my sister to take me on a tour of the village. So, with our mum and also my littlest nephew in tow, we set off. Directly opposite my sister’s house are the gates to a mysterious stately home, the only part of which we could spot were the chimneys poking above a wall. Subsequent research revealed that it has actually had a very interesting history; though it currently appears to be in private hands, it was once a home for children who were being sent to the colonies to work. I had no idea this even happened, and it was fairly recently too.
Next to the gates to the house is the church, which is surrounded by a very spacious, atmospheric graveyard that looked stunning in the dappled sunlight of late afternoon. We wandered around, looking at the graves, some of which are incredibly old, and then popped into the church to have a look at the stained glass, which was pretty, but nothing unremarkable. The most interesting aspect of the interior are two striking memorial plaques to brothers killed in WWII; their upper bodies have been reproduced in marble, and it was incredibly touching to think of these being commissioned by their parents and gazed upon every Sunday by the people they had grown up amongst. It always shocks me when I visit tiny village churches like this and see the sheer number of names on the war memorials; when you consider that most of these villages would have had a population of about 200, to lose 30 or 40 people would literally mean losing an entire generation in one fell swoop. It certainly brings the reality of war home.
Behind the church is a stile into the gardens of the aforementioned stately home, and beyond another stile was a beautiful wooded glade carpeted with buttercups. Beyond that was a lovely open field which is so high up that you can see Canary Wharf and the Shard shimmering on the horizon, and then beyond that were undulating green hills filled with grazing sheep. I was in raptures. My sister is so lucky to have such a pastoral idyll right on her doorstep, and the best part is, you can still see the lights of London glittering in the distance. Us country folk aren’t quite as cut off from civilisation as it may seem!