Mr PP has a few days off work this week so we decided to have a day out. It can be tricky to decide where to go sometimes as we have been to so many places within a reasonable (and others bordering on the unreasonable) drive from home, but somewhere we hadn’t been before is Chiddingstone Castle and Gardens in Kent. Being the end of September, the weather can be a bit unpredictable and today started off with rain, but ended mild and sunny. Driving up to the house via a wooded driveway the house stands in open lawned grounds and looks every bit the Baronial country residence.
This grand facade is actually a fanciful remodelling of an earlier and plainer house, but it doesn’t look out of place. There is even a fully functioning Victorian pillar box outside the front door! As it was almost noon when we arrived (and we had both been up very early) we decided to go straight to the cafe and get some tea and lunch. Tucked away at the back of the house the tea room is quaint with an attractive courtyard sitting area. Sadly the food wasn’t quite so appealing. The tea was passable and served in a mix of ‘vintage’ china; but sadly the sausage baguette (which we both chose for lunch) wasn’t great either in taste or in presentation. Two very uniform sausages (these looked to me like supermarket specials and not local handmade sausages) served whole between two halves of a mini baguette. Two small individual packs of butter on the side of the plate and a basket with generic mass-produced ketchup, brown sauce and mustard were the only accompaniment. No salad, or trace of anything remotely resembling it anywhere to be seen. The sausages weren’t even particularly hot. Not good.
Tearoom and Chiddingstone Castle
Tearoom courtyard at Chiddingstone Castle
On entry to the house we were greeted warmly and given instructions on the route around the house after which we were left to wander at will. The house was the home of Denys Eyre Bower from 1955 to his death in 1977, he was a passionate collector of art and artefacts dedicating his life to their acquisition, many of these can be seen on display in the house. The collections form four distinct areas – Japanese, Buddhist, Ancient Egyptian and Royal Stuart and Jacobite Collections and Bower was an expert in each of these fields.
The house itself dates back to Tudor times and has undergone various remodellings including the addition of a baronial style Great Hall with oak panelling and some interesting a quirky smaller rooms including Bower’s own study where you can read extracts from some of his personal correspondence and find out how he was convicted of the attempted murder of his ex-girlfriend, but was later acquitted on appeal.
Looking down from the galleried landing into the Great Hall
Quaint chest in an upstairs bedroom
Wash hand basin in the ladies lavatory – note the taps! (The water comes out through the holes in the sink!)
Going outside the grounds are laid to lawn offering a “Big Sky” view across the surrounding countryside to the North Downs. At the back of the house stands the Orangery with its contemporary glass domed roof which is reminiscent of the British Museum and which was used in the 1950’s by a girls school as an open air theatre.
One of a pair of stone dogs which stand guard at the front door of Chiddingstone Castle
A short walk across a wooden footbridge and through an area of woodland brings the visitor to the bottom of the main street of the village of Chiddingstone.
One The Village, Chiddingstone
This picturesque tiny village (it is really only one street) was purchased in its entirety by the National Trust in 1939 thanks to a single bequest by a gentleman from Bournemouth!
At the top of the High Street is a footpath leading behind the village primary school to a large rocky outcrop known as the Chiddingstone or Chiding Stone where legend has it that villagers would pass judgement in medieval times.
A rather quaint and unusual sign stands at the entry to the footpath, erected by the Holiday Fellowship (now known as HF Holidays http://www.hfholidays.co.uk) it asks that visitors to the area respect the beauty of the countryside – in rhyme!
Friend when you stray, or sit and take your ease
On moor or fell or under spreading trees
Pray leave no traces of your wayside meal
No paper bag, no scattered orange peel
Nor daily journal lettered on the grass
Others may view these with distaste and pass
Let no-one say and say it to your shame
That all was beauty here until you came
Walking back to the castle and the car we stopped in the village tea room, the Tulip Tree for tea and a cake. Another quaint tea room this time in a converted barn which also doubles as the showroom for a ‘shabby chic’ furnishings decorator, bizarrely everything, including all the tables and chairs was for sale! Appearances can be deceptive though. the choice of cake was limited to a couple of croissants, some oldish-looking fruit scones, a piece of carrot cake or apple cake. We chose a piece of apple cake and a piece of carrot cake and shared together with a pot of tea. Oh dear, another culinary disappointment. The tea was weak, even after being left to ‘brew’ in the pot and both cakes were on the dry side. To add to our disappointment it was obviously the afternoon for the meeting of the village and surrounds Yummy Mummy’s who colonised a table shrieking loudly.
Painted tiles announce the name of the tea room
large mirror reflecting the loud Yummy Mummy table!
It was a strange visit, the collections and the personal history was fascinating and the views across the grounds are stunning. Sadly the catering let it down and not just at the castle – perhaps lack-lustre food is a feature of the area!