EAST SUSSEX: Weekend away

Wadhurst Castle Cottage exterior 2 lrThe sitting room at Wadhurst Castle Cottage lr
L-R: Castle Cottage and its sitting room
By Tim Saunders

Of the 100 or so castles in England, more than 30 are in the South East.

Why? Historically this region has always been vulnerable to attack from foreign shores.

And so it is perhaps of little surprise that when we stay at Castle Cottage in East Sussex there are views towards the delightful Wadhurst Castle, a complete castle that is still lived in. Quite a rarity.

“Does Rapunzel live there?” questions Harriett (4). No but it has been in the same family for over 50 years and is certainly the stuff of childhood dreams.

Its Regency architecture is a joy to behold and Castle Cottage also shares this design. Large windows let copious amounts of light in. It is happy and airy with many original features including sash windows. From the middle and back bedroom there are views towards the castle and the walled garden where those seeking an exclusive wedding venue are married. The views, into the distance across the wall, are magical. Beyond this there are views across the beautiful East Sussex countryside. The first night is always a little difficult for little Heidi simply because she is unfamiliar with her new surroundings. Harriett, being a couple of years older, quickly settles into her new bedroom. We all enjoy a good night’s sleep on the second and third night because the beds are so comfortable and the surroundings so peaceful. This cottage will accommodate six guests on a self catering basis. All mod cons are included as well as a dishwasher, washing machine and tumble dryer; extremely useful when travelling with little ones. The elegant furnishings tastefully compliment the architecture. We really enjoy the light that comes through the large windows. We all snuggle up on the large inviting settees and the girls enjoy watching some children’s television. I am drawn to the bookcase where there are various leather-bound works by the greats as well as an interesting read about Alistair Cooke, the journalist famous for his Letters from America. I can’t pretend to have read this large volume in a few days but it was a nice luxury to dip in and out of. We all love this large and spacious characterful house, which is finished to a high standard. It is so lovely to sit at the dining table with light projecting through the sash windows as we enjoy the sweet birdsong of a little blackbird sitting on the garden wall.

It is easy to walk to the village of Wadhurst from the 140-acre working estate. It quickly becomes clear that this part of the world is not only extremely affluent but that it is pleasingly home to a high proportion of independent traders. You have to look hard to find a well-known supermarket chain and yet it is only an hour away from London. That cannot be said of much of England.

“Many guests will visit the National Trust properties,” says Fiona Whittington who shows us round the cottage.

There are a variety to choose from in this area and having read the visitor book in the cottage Sissinghurst Castle comes highly recommended. Only about half an hour away, which is adequate for our two little rascals, over the border in Kent. The castle itself has a varied history including use as a prison in the 1700s. We all enjoy climbing the Elizabethan tower and eventually make it to the top where there are splendid views across the 450-acre estate and its magnificent gardens, transformed by Vita Sackville-West, the poet and writer, and her diplomat and author husband, Harold Nicolson, in the 1930s. Harriett and Heidi thoroughly enjoy playing hide and seek throughout the gardens with their newfound friend Arthur, while we enjoy seeing the various flowers and plants.

There is much history in East Sussex. For instance, Michelham Priory, the site of a former Augustine Priory, has 800 years of history as well as England’s longestwater filled moat, which surrounds the site and dates back to 1229. We learn how about the important role Michelham played in the Second World War as a home to evacuees, British and Canadian forces as well as being a working farm complete with land girls. There’s also a rope museum and a forge which is still in use today. Owned by Sussex Past it is a great day out with archery at weekends, again some lovely gardens to sit and enjoy. A display of plants used for medieval purposes in the physic gardens is very interesting. There are even art exhibitions throughout the year in conjunction with Creative Coverage. In fact Jonathan Mitchell recently sold a painting here.

On our way to Brighton to visit grandpa, we stop off at Sheffield Park and Gardens, another National Trust property, and a chance for the girls to let off some steam in the historic parkland and woodland. With influences of Capability Brown there are useful information sheets dotted around the park. While we are munching our lunch and making acquaintance with some of the ducks, we learn that some trees bear scars from lightning storms and that some are home to bats. Harriett and Heidi enjoy being followed around by the ducks and can now recognize a male and a female. The lakes provide beautiful mirrored reflections which are apparently best viewed in autumnal colours. It is a real privilege to just sit and enjoy the surroundings.

We have only just touched the surface of the wonders of East Sussex.

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