Sunday 18th September – With Dave Scott, coach driver for Travel Wright of Newark, it was a 9 o’clock start for 43 residents of Winthorpe and friends as we set off on a sunny day for a 5-day coach holiday to North Kent.
Kent, whose county town is Maidstone, is in South East England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders with Greater London to the North West, Surrey to the west, East Sussex to the south west, and across the Thames Estuary is the county of Essex and the east is the English Channel. Kent has many guises, the oldest county in the country, the Garden of England and the Gateway to England, thanks to its close proximity to mainland Europe. The county is known for its hops, fruit and picturesque oast houses.
Following a coffee stop at Frost’s Garden Centre at Brampton we arrived at London’s historic Greenwich. Greenwich, giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian (0º longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time, is notable for its maritime history. Set in Greenwich Park, a Royal Park, are the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House Art Gallery, and the Old Royal Naval College. Just a short walking distance away, is the Cutty Sark, the world’s sole surviving tea clipper. It is now being preserved in a dry dock by the River Thames. The Queen’s House and the Old Royal Naval College were closed for maintenance. I managed to get time to look around the National Maritime Museum and walk down to see the Cutty Sark before setting off for our destination the 5-star 100 bedrooms Bridgewood Manor Hotel, near Rochester.
Monday 19th September – On a bright sunny morning we set off to visit Leeds Castle, near Maidstone. The castle is often cited as “The Loveliest Castle in the World.” I have visited many castles in the British Isles and this is the finest one I have seen. As the castle was quite a distance away from the entrance, many of us travelled to the castle by ‘Elsie,’ the land train. The castle, with its ancient Gatehouse, is surrounded by a moat and has 500 acres of parkland and gardens. It was originally the site of the manor of a Royal Saxon family and later became a Royal Palace, housing Kings and Queens of England for 300 years. In the 13th century it came into the hands of King Edward 1, for whom it became a favourite residence. During the 16th century, Henry V111 used it as a residence for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The castle today dates mostly from the 19th century. Lady Baillie, the last private owner, left the castle, upon her death in 1974, to the Leeds Castle Foundation, a private charitable trust, whose aim is to preserve the castle and grounds for the benefit of the public. Amongst the many rooms that I passed through, I remembered in particular the richly furnished Dining Room with its table set out for 14 guests; the Queen’s Bedroom with its elaborate high bed; Lady Baillie’s Bedroom with its pale blue wall paper and the Library with books from floor to ceiling on its four walls. I was intrigued by the Dog Collar Museum, situated in the courtyard. It had a unique collection of over 100 historic and fascinating dog collars. We all think of dog collars being made of leather but these collars were made of brass, ornately decorated and of different widths. Some were used years ago on hunting hounds. Apparently this collection is the only one of its kind in Great Britain.
The wonderful herbaceous garden was full of late summer flowers. I didn’t try to navigate the maze, as I had a problem finding my way out on a visit to the castle, many years ago.
Following a light lunch we then travelled to the fishing port of Whitstable, famous for its native oysters. The High Street and Harbour Street are home to many independent shops, each having its own characteristics, selling all manner of locally produced goods. On the harbour quayside, alongside the tied up fishing boats, were recycled plastic boxes. These boxes, being used a lobster pots, were similar to the World War 2 jerry cans. The other side of the harbour, with its fish market, whelk stalls and a couple of seafood restaurants had chairs outside their premises. These chairs were being used by people watching the activity of a barge being unloaded. At the far end of the harbour, a vibrant community of local artists and independent entrepreneurs were selling their wares from traditional timber fishermen’s huts. Here were quaint galleries, fashion, craft and gift shops.
Alongside the shingle beach, with its weathered groynes, were seaside houses, beach huts and boats in varying states of repair. Nearby were a pile of disused oyster shells left over from the July’s Oyster Festival. Restaurants put these shells there, ready to be put back into the seabed, thereby creating an area for baby oysters to settle on.
Tuesday 20th September – Following overnight rain, we set off on another bright morning to visit Wildwood Nature Park at Herne Bay on the north coast. Now a conservation charity, the reserve is dedicated in protecting British wildlife past and present. Set in a 40 acres woodland, which reminded me of Hill Holt Wood at Norton Disney, the woodland was split into smaller fenced off areas, where animals are allowed to roam freely. Among the 30 plus different varieties were Badgers, Beavers, Bisons, Cranes, Foxes, Owls, Red Deers, Red Squirrels, Reindeers, Storks, Wild Boars and Wild Horses. Many of these animals are now extinct in the UK or are under threat. I was intrigued by the antics of a red squirrel, in a fenced off area, about a yard in front of me. It was jumping backwards and forwards over a small branch, which was lying on the ground. I watched it for several minutes and it never stopped. I just couldn’t take my eyes of it. I was totally mesmerised. Was it suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder? (OCD) Who knows!
The woodland’s trees, which are regular coppiced were used for fencing and shredded for wood pellets for the companies boilers.
The afternoons visit was to the walled city of Canterbury. Canterbury, whose Roman name Durovernum Cantiacorum, is a delightful city and has many important historic sights. The city’s cathedral is the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is primate of the Church of England.
Founded in 597, the cathedral was completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077. The east end was greatly enlarged at the beginning of the 12th century, and largely rebuilt in the Gothic style following a fire in 1174. The Norman nave and transepts survived until the late 14th century, when they were demolished to make way for the present structures. The cathedral is a major focus of pilgrimage following the 1170 martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas à Becket, where he fell by the swords of his attackers. In his honour, a candle burns continually 24 hours a day in the north-west transept, the place where he fell.
Archbishop Thomas à Becket (he hadn’t been canonised then) and King Henry 11 didn’t always see eye to eye with each other. Thomas à Becket was engaged in a conflict with King Henry 11, over the rights and privileges of the Church. Archbishop Roger of York, in an audience with Henry said: ‘Whilst Thomas lives, you will have neither quite times nor a tranquil kingdom.’ Henry then flew into one of his customary rages, cried, ’Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’ Taking Henry at his word, four knights set off to Canterbury, entered the cathedral and using their swords murdered Thomas à Becket.
St. Thomas à Becket is also known as St. Thomas of Canterbury.
Pilgrims have travelled to Canterbury in a bygone era, but in the 21st century Canterbury has become a Mecca for shoppers. The ancient King’s Mile was alive with musicians and people browsing for antiques and specialty goods. Among the many stores was Fenwick, Kent’s oldest independent department store. One lady, from our group, had bought her wedding dress from a northern Fenwick’s store. I think they call her Jean.
Time did not allow me to visit the historic St. Margaret’s Church on St. Margaret’s Street to watch the characters performing Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic 14th century The Canterbury Tales. The tales are a collection of stories within a story in which a bunch of pilgrims exchange a series of yarns to while away the time as they journey from London to the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket, in Canterbury Cathedral.
Wednesday 21st September – Another sunny morning for our 10 o’clock start for the visit to The Chatham Historic Dockyard located on the River Medway. It was an important Royal Naval dockyard for the building and repair of the Navy’s warships. The yard closed in 1984 after more than four centuries. During the 17th and 18th centuries it was one of the country’s largest and most important industrial sites. One third of the Georgian dockyard, which occupies 84 acres, is now a maritime museum.
Among the many exhibits were three historic warships in dry docks. HMS Gannet, a Victorian Sloop built in 1878. HMS Cavalier, a Second World War destroyer built in 1944 and HMS Ocelot, a submarine built in 1962.
Ocelot was the last submarine to be built in the Chatham Dockyard. Never having been in a submarine before, I jumped at the chance for a visit. This was a 45 minutes guided tour. Propulsion for Ocelot was by two diesel engines when above the surface and used two 6,000 horsepower electric motors when below the surface. The submarine carried a payload of 24 torpedoes. After climbing down a narrow steep stairway, our guide explained the boats operational procedures whilst squeezing along low ceiling one person passageways, lined with all manner of mechanical and electrical items, through knee high circular hatches, requiring a special technique to enter each compartment. It was claustrophobic. There was very little privacy for the 60 man crew. Each member had a small locker for their personal belongings but they had to share bunk beds.
My next visit was to the destroyer HMS Cavalier. Built in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1944, she saw active service off Norway towards the end of the Second World War and undertook Cold War patrolling duties. Nearby was a sculpted bronze monument erected as a memorial to the 142 Royal Navy destroyers that were sunk during the Second World War.
I was unable to visit HMS Gannet as it was closed to the general public due to repairs.
The highlight of my visit to Chatham was a guided tour of the Ropery, with the guide dressed as a foreman in a Victorian costume, complete with a bowler hat and a silver fob watch. Rope has been made at Chatham since the Ropery was established in 1618. To meet modern day requirements for rope, a new Ropehouse was built in 1790 as a replacement for the original timber building. It is a staggering quarter-mile long. I noticed that a bicycle is used to get from one end of the building to the other. Rope is made from the Hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. It is strong, rot proof and essential for all ships especially in the age of sail. About 31 miles of rope was needed for the 100 cannon gun ship HMS Victory. Different sizes of rope was produced, some looked to be well over 12 inches in diameter.
During the Ropery tour our guide, had us all in stitches in his use of cat-related idioms. There were at least a dozen. I can only remember the following:
Catwalk; cat’s cradle; cat o’nine tails; there’s not enough room to swing a cat.
I did enjoy this visit. A good guide makes all the difference.
Thursday 22nd September – On another warm sunny day and our last visit of the holiday, before journeying home, was to Chartwell. Chartwell set in the beautiful rolling hills of Kent is a short drive from London. It was the home of the late Sir Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine since 1922, when they bought this 80 acre property. No wonder Churchill loved the place. The house and gardens are exactly as Winston Churchill had left them. It is also where he painted many scenes that surrounded him, writing books and building brick walls in the garden. Upon the death of Churchill in 1965, Clementine presented the house, the following year, to the National Trust. A tour around the house with its many treasures was breathtaking. On the desk in Churchill’s Study, where he wrote many of his speeches, were his glasses, pens, pencils and many family photographs. In the Lounge, with its rich furnishings, were a writing desk and many books. Churchill was a prolific writer producing many books about his school and university days, army life, world and political affairs. One of the two museum rooms was filled with awards and gifts presented to Churchill from distinguished dignitaries from around the world. The other museum room was filled with his uniforms and his beloved velvet siren suits.
Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden, which she helped to design, had four beds filled with perennial plants showing their autumnal colours, shrubs and of course English roses.
Beyond the house was a crochet lawn, an orchard and then a wonderful neat and tidy colourful vegetable garden. Vegetables were grown in traditional rows, whilst on the borders were orange Calendulas and red/orange ground hugging Nasturtiums. Nasturtiums were used as host plants for aphids, thus helping to keep other plants in the garden clean. Tall sunflowers plants, their flowering having completed, were dotted around with large seed heads left for the birds. Pumpkins and squashes were being harvested and suspended from the ground. This keeps them fresh and dry ready for the kitchen staff to make stews. The busy female gardener told us that all the vegetables are used in the café. A novel way of growing haricot beans was allowing them to climb up 7 foot high willow branches arching over the footpaths, similar to a Laburnum Arch. Brilliant.
There were two medium size ponds. The upper pond had several small golden orfe lazily swimming around, whist the lower one had similar fish but much larger. Close by was a small white chair, in which Churchill would use whilst painting and feeding his beloved fish.
The Rock Garden with its massive lumps of rock had a stream cascading down over the rock faces and into a pool below. This sound was music to my ears.
Nearby was a large lake filled with water fowl, surrounded by well manicured lawns and majestic views of trees in the background.
Wonderful Day. A visit, which I will never forget.
Continuing our journey home, with a short stop at Peterborough, we arrived home at 6.40pm.
The total mileage was 500 miles.
Pat Finn. October 2016.
The Bridgewood Manor Hotel was superb; possible one the best hotels, I have stayed at. Everything about it was good, the food, superb accommodation, a lounge with plenty of easy chairs and friendly staff.
A special thanks to the holiday organisers Les and Christine Murray. This was their first venture in organising a village holiday and it proved to be a great success. A lot of work, and possibly stress, goes into organising something on this scale. Detail planning with Travel Wright staff, and more importantly Dave our coach driver. Booking a suitable hotel, letters to be produced, printed and posted, money collected etc. Counting that everyone is on the coach and that no one is left behind.
The weather was warm and sunny. Les and Christine obviously had the prayer mats out before leaving home.
Well done Les and chief head counter Christine for making this an enjoyable and pleasant holiday.
Many thanks, to Dave Scott, our coach driver, who with his safe driving skills, knowledge and sense of humour also helped to make this holiday enjoyable.
Thanks to the many helpers who assisted with the wheelchairs.
There is a small connection between St. Thomas à Becket and the stained glass window of St. Hugh in the north aisle of All Saints’ Church, Winthorpe. In the window St. Hugh is shown wearing a mitre and holding a crosier and a model of Lincoln Cathedral with a white swan at his feet.
That connection is King Henry11.
Thomas à Becket was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 by his friend King Henry 11.
Hugh (he hadn’t been canonised then) was appointed Bishop of Lincoln in 1186 by King Henry 11. Bishop Hugh immediately started to rebuild Lincoln Cathedral after it had been destroyed by a giant earthquake the previous year. Hugh was canonised on the 17th February 1220, and then became known as St. Hugh of Lincoln. He is the best known English saint after Thomas à Becket.
The Bridgewood Manor Hotel, near Rochester, Kent - 18th September 2016.
The dog collar collection in The Dog Collar Museum, Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, Kent - 19th September 2016.
Paschal Candles in Canterbury Cathedral, Kent - 20th September 2016.
HMS Gannet, a Victorian Sloop built in 1878, at The Chatham Historic Dockyard, Kent - 21st September 2016.
Holiday organisers Les and Christine Murray at Chartwell, Kent - 22nd September 2016.
Colin Appleby presenting a gratuity to Les and Christine Murray - 22nd September 2016.