A Weekend in the Weald of Kent

This mid-August break got off to a less-than-auspicious start - after we'd taken 2 hours to travel 11 miles on the M25 from Brentwood to the Dartford River Crossing. Consequently we reached the White Lion at Tenterden, our hotel for the weekend, a little before 9pm.

White Lion Hotel
Martin Chuzzlewit

Tenterden is a charming old town with a variety of fine buildings. The White Lion (telephone 01580 765077) is a coaching inn with a 350 year history and associations with Charles Dickens (who wrote "Martin Chuzzlewit" while staying there).

Sissinghurst - Main Building

The following morning - after a stroll around the town - we went to Sissinghurst Castle Garden. Created in the 1930s by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Sir Harold Nicholson and since 1967 in the care of the National Trust, this is perhaps the most famous garden in Britain after the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.

"My garden all is overblown with roses,
My spirit all is overblown with rhyme,
As like a drunken honeybee I waver
From house to garden and again to house
And, undetermined which delight to favour
On verse and rose alternately carouse."

Vita Sackville-West

Something of a "honeypot" for tourists, there weren't too many visitors that morning and the visit proved to be very enjoyable, especially the White Garden and the Elizabethan Tower. The views from the top make the long climb worth-while. The old gentleman we saw working in the gazebo could well have been Vita and Harold's son Nigel Nicholson - writer, publisher and one-time Member of Parliament.

For further information telephone 01580 710700.

Sissinghurst - Garden View

We set out back for Tenterden, stopping for a drink in the village of Biddenden. In blazing sunshine, sitting outside a pub, we observed a bridegroom take his last drink as a bachelor in the company of his friends. Some thirty minutes later we watched the bride arrive at the parish church, a respectable five minutes late, in a 1920s Morris.

With some time to spare before our next planned visit we went to Biddenden Vineyard. There are "long" and "short" vineyard trails (we took the long one - we need the exercise) and the winery buildings are open to visitors.

After our "constitutional" we sampled the wines and cider and bought a good selection. For details of what's currently available, telephone 01580 291726.

Biddenden Vineyard

After a short return to the hotel we walked down the hill to Tenterden Station, headquarters of the Kent and East Sussex Railway. Built in the final years of the 19th Century under the Light Railways Act 1896, this is the quintessence of the British rural branch line. These lines were constructed on a low budget in an effort to bring the railways to rural areas. Regulations regarding curvature, gradients and fencing were eased in exchange for restrictions on the speed and weight of trains.

Despite these concessions most light railways operated at a loss and survived only by subsidy from the main line railway companies who gradually absorbed them.
K&ESR Tickets

The line now runs from Tenterden, Kent to Northiam, East Sussex between wooded glades and open fields, passing among other things a crayfish farm. We paid the surcharge and travelled 1st class in a delightfully upholstered Victorian six-wheeled carriage, fit for royalty! For information telephone 01580 765155.

K&ESR Train

Rare Breeds Centre - logo

On Sunday morning we visited the South of England Rare Breeds Centre at Woodchurch (telephone 01233 861493). This is a project run by the Canterbury Oast Trust which helps to preserve the historic breeds of British farm animals and, at the same time, provides care, training and employment for mentally and physically disabled people.

Eileen, a farmer's daughter, has a special affection for pigs - especially Tamworths and Large Whites - so was in her element at this worthy venture.

 Rare Breeds Centre - pig

We returned to Tenterden for a pub lunch before going on to Smallhythe Place, a half-timbered Tudor yeoman's house that was home to the actress Ellen Terry from 1899 to 1928. This is something of a shrine for devotees of the theatre with displays of Miss Terry's costumes from some of her most famous roles, plus countless playbills, programmes and other theatre memorabilia.

Smallhythe Place
Ellen Terry

Ellen Terry was fortunate to retain her good looks throughout her life, as confirmed by a photograph taken in 1927, the year before she died.

The photograph on the left was taken at Freshwater, Isle of Wight, in 1856 by Mrs Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the pioneering women of photography. At that time Miss Terry was 17.

Smallhythe Place (telephone 01580 762334) is now in the care of the National Trust.

Our last visit of the weekend was to Tenterden Vineyards. Regular visitors to this website will have gathered by now that we actively support English wine producers. It's a pity our Government doesn't see things the same way, imposing the same duty and taxes on the home product as on imported wines. It's inconceivable that our Continental neighbours would steadfastly ignore the potential of a rural growth industry as we do, all in the name of being "Good Europeans".

Tenterden Vineyards is now in the same ownership as Chapel Down Vineyards, justly famous for their "Epoch" range of wines - call them on 01580 763033 for details. British readers can obtain these wines from their local Waitrose supermarket.  Thus ended a weekend in what must be God's own corner of England.

Tenterden Vineyards

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