South England 2018 – Day One – A Not Quite Spontaneous Weekend Away

Those that know us will know that we aren’t known for our spontinaity and have our lives planned in meticulious detail months, even years, in advance. So when I discovered a couple of weeks ago that we were free this weekend and suggested that we go away for the weekend it came as a surprise to both of us! What came as an even greater surprise was just how difficult it was to get accomodation.

We don’t have that many free weekends choosing to pack them with visits to family and friends or away on holiday so a completely free weekend is unusual. When we decided to do a “mini break” the first question was where to go? We quickly narrowed it down to either Worcester or Kent, the appeal of the latter being a visit to Leeds Castle. I was somewhat put off by the steep prices for entry there but discovered that there were plenty of equally good National Trust places that would be free to enter for us as members.

So location agreed it was time to find a nice little B&B somewhere and one with a traditional oast house there too would’ve been a bonus. We tried lots of places, contacting ten or more and all were fully booked. We did find one that could accomodate us but only if we did two nights. This would have meant tackling the M25 on a Friday night. No thanks! So in the end we booked into the not-so-quaint Premier Inn at Wateringbury just outside of Maidstone. Not quite what we had in mind but at least it was a known quantity.

So Saturday morning we left Reading early and made our way to our first stop which was to be Sissinghurst Castle Gardens.

There’s not much of a castle here but the gardens certainly do excel. We’re in the process of considering a revamp of our own garden and Sissinghurst has plenty of different areas for us to tap into to find idea. We arrived early and found it not too busy but when we left at lunchtime the narrow garden paths were congested.

From there we went onto Bodiam Castle. On arrival I went to the National Trust reception office to register my tickets. The woman there started by asking me a very odd question: “Are you going up to the castle?” Perplexed by this I responded “Is there anything else here?” to which came the reply “No.” It transpired that some people turn up and just go from the car park to the coffee shop. What a terrible waste of time because the castle is a fantastic place.

Bodiam is a proper castle on a little island surrounded by a moat. Back in the 14th century when it was built it would have been forbidding and difficult to breach today it is just absolutely beautiful and terribly photogenic. This fact was confirmed by the large numbers (for me) of likes and retweets my picture posted to Twitter got:

Final stop was Smallhythe Place a tiny National Trust owned cottage that once belonged to Dame Ellen Terry who I had never heard of but was an actress and contemporary of Oscar Wilde. After the highs of the first two this place was a little disappointing and, with hindsight, we should have done this one first.

Nevertheless it was an excellent day out at the NT properties.

In the evening we had booked to go to a restaurant, Kits Coty, that sounded good and, supposedly, had great views across the Weald. As ever I checked the reviews on TripAdviser and they were very mixed.

What’s interesting about these is that it all depends on your perspective and what is your norm. One mans cheap is another mans expensive. For us the drinks and the food both arrived quickly, almost too quickly as we’d have rather lingered a little, and was very tasty. The views, however, were less of the Weald though and more of the car park. Still an enjoyable way to end an enjoyable day.