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May 3, 2013 / annakpf11

Time and Place

Ightham posy

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

—Rudyard Kipling (1865—1936)

On a blue sky Sunday morning, Dave and I set off to discover historical sites in southwest England. We begin by making a familiar pilgrimage.

Chartwell

Flowering magnolia trees line the approach to Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s beloved country house. We stroll around the expansive brick-walled kitchen garden, some of the masonry accomplished by Churchill himself, and soak up the atmosphere of Churchill’s library and study, before taking our leave, for we have a full day ahead, and are certain to be back again.

Dave & Tulip Tree

A local deli provides a roadside picnic of chicken, cheddar and cucumber sandwiches and then we resume our drive through woodlands carpeted with daisies and bluebells. Our next stop is only a few miles down the road, but hundreds of years backward in time.

Ightham in toto

In 1320, life in late medieval England was still fraught with danger, but gradually becoming less so, and thus a gentleman of means no longer needed to build a castle in order to protect his family; he could do with a moated manor house. Ightham Mote is one of the few such surviving structures. Secreted away in a leafy hollow of a green, secluded valley, this perfectly preserved house is described by historians as one of the most beautiful and interesting in all England. That is saying a lot, but Dave and I agree; from first glimpse to last, we are enchanted by the place.

Ightham Entry

Ranks of brick chimneys stand at attention above half-timbered walls and a fortified entry of gray Kentish stone. Overhanging bay windows allow for residents to drop fishing line and baited hook, and the entire vision seems to float on the tranquil waters of the moat.

Ightham courtyard

Built around a stone courtyard (the 30,000 cobbles were painstakingly re-laid as part of the impressive restoration by the National Trust), the four wings include a soaring great hall, an oak paneled billiard room, a Jacobean staircase, airy 20th century sitting room and library, and 16th century chapel. The paintings on the chapel’s unique barrel-vaulted ceiling commemorate the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. We love this place, and depart determined to return.

Ightham Bike

A rambling ride through gently rolling farmland scattered with the region’s distinctive red brick “oast houses,” or hop kilns, takes us across the border from Kent into the shire of East Sussex, and to another wondrous survivor of the late Middle Ages.

Bodiam from afar

Surrounded on all sides by a moat large enough to qualify as a small lake, Bodiam Castle’s watery location is probably what saved it from being later dismantled for the value of its stones.

Bodiam courtyard Bodiam Doorway

Bodiam Girl in Red

How did men of the time construct such a massive, architecturally sound structure out of incredibly heavy materials? As Plato said, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Persistence over time helps too. Bodiam, begun in 1385, was completed in 1388.

Bodiam Arches

I am impressed. But I can’t help wonder, once the stone block walls were in place, how did they keep the place even marginally warm in winter?

Bodiam stairwell

And what did they eat? The outline of the great hearth and kitchen ovens are still visible, so presumably there was a lot of cooking going on. But I’m still glad I was not born yet.

Bodiam Lawn Girl

The wind picks up and the day winds down as we head to the coastal town of Rye.

Rye Blue Door

An important shipping port beginning in Roman times through the Middle Ages, today Rye’s chief industry seems to be tourism. The town’s economy began to falter in the 13th century when violent storms changed the course of the river leading to the sea and local landowners gradually reclaimed the surrounding marshlands, reducing the tidal-flows that were supposed to keep the harbor free of silt. Today, dilapidated boats rest on their keels in the mud. Steep cobblestoned streets and crooked, half-timbered houses impart authentic, if faded, old world charm.

Rye Street

Our destination for the night is Hastings, the seaside town of Foyle’s War fame. (BBC WWII period murder mystery series.) In contrast to Rye, the old town of Hastings feels like it’s on the road to gentrification: historic fishing village meets Coney Island meets Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Hastings Bakery

Still an active fishing port—the only one in England without the slightest protection from the sea—the town boasts a tiny fleet of small but sturdy craft, adept at racing in and out with the tide, and a cluster of 17th century “net huts,” tall, narrow box-like structures jutting upwards to heights of 25 feet.

Net Huts & Boat

Covered in clapboard siding and painted black to mimic the tar originally smeared over the wood, these so-called “huts” provided shelter for fisherman to repair, store and dry their fishing nets, ropes and sails.

3 Net Huts

A bit further along the gold-toned pebble beach, a burned out pier extends into the surf, devastated by fire in 2010 and scheduled to be rebuilt and reopened by 2015. Carnival rides, slot machine palaces, cotton candy vendors and Fish n’ Chip stands clamor for tourist dollars along the waterfront.

DSC_0530

But the vibe changes completely just a block away.

Hastings Street

Arty antique and second-hand shops, interior design storefronts, used bookshops, avant-garde galleries, coffee bars, quirky pubs and restaurants line the narrow streets. Everybody seems to have a tattoo, a dog, and at least one piercing.

Hastings Bookshop

Overall, we find the mood of Hastings up and coming, if still a tad ragged around the edges.

Hastings Junk Shop

We spend the night at what must be the best Bed and Breakfast on the whole south coast, a treasure found by Dave. Swan House is a haven of comfortable, eclectic shabby-chic style in an historic half-timbered building. A fire smolders in a great open hearth and a well-stocked Honor Bar hides in the bookshelf. Our bedroom, a former bakery flour loft, has been modernized and decorated to a high standard. Cloud-like pillows, linens and mattress, plus fresh flowers, a carafe of water and good reading light on both sides of the bed. Original artwork, artisan soaps, and a hand-made shell mosaic on the side of the built-in bathtub are just some of the artful details that make me wish we could stay more than one night.

Dave on Hastings Beach

But we have a date with destiny. After a breakfast of sophisticated comfort-food—corned beef hash with poached egg and homemade baked beans, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, seasonal fruit salad, home-made granola or muesli, Greek yoghurt, bagels and whole grain bread, to name just a few of the items on offer—we depart for Battle. This is where, on a crisp October day in 1066, the military engagement known to every British schoolboy as the Battle of Hastings took place, with dramatic impact on the history of England.

Dave and I pause on a smooth gravel path, cellphone-sized audio guides held to our ears, while we listen to a recorded voice describe the long ago battle. In one day, thousands of men died in the peaceful green meadow we gaze upon. I try to imagine wearing a heavy suit of armor and carrying a weighty shield plus weapon (double-headed battle-axe, sword, lance or bow), while climbing up a hill, all around me the noise and confusion of archers on horseback and thousands of foot soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Thousands. The scope and method of carnage boggles the mind. As do the simple logistics of arriving at the battlefield on time. The Norman invaders had to navigate the channel in a flotilla of sailing boats loaded with horses and gear. Led by William the Bastard (spoiler alert: he would soon be known as William the Conquerer), they advanced past the town of Hastings until they arrived near where Dave and I now stand on a grassy hillside dotted with daffodils. The defending Anglo-Saxon army, led by King Harold, waited at the top of the hill. Exhausted before the battle even began, Harold’s men had just fought off a fierce Viking invasion in the north and then speed-walked 200 miles in 5 days to arrive here. Medical and hygiene queries aside, what did they find to eat during their long march south? Surely there was no time to butcher and cook enough chickens and lambs to feed everyone. I find myself hoping they had perfected some early form of energy bar, perhaps mixing oats, honey, dried fruit and nuts?

Legend tells us that after a day of bloodshed, Harold died with an arrow shot through his eye. (The Bayeux Tapestries back up the story, though some say the stitching could have been altered to fit the tale.) Thus the Norman rule of England began, and apart from the slaughter, some say we are better off because of it. Life in Anglo-Saxon England was not much fun, and the slightly more modernized Normans probably inched standards up a notch or two. Linguistically, the Anglo-Saxon and Norman tongues gradually merged into the half-Latin, half-Teutonic hybrid we speak today.

Battle

After this sobering contemplation of the long-ago fight for the right to rule the land, Dave and I walk to the top of the hill, where Pope Alexander II ordered William to build a monument as penance for the many lives lost. Accordingly, William oversaw the construction of an impressive Norman church, the first of its style to be built in England, with the high altar marking the exact spot where Harold met his demise. Only the outline of the church foundations remains, but we explore the partial ruins of the adjoining abbey complex, including the vast and impressive vaulted stone ceilings of the novices’ common room.

Our last stop is unplanned, a serendipitous add-on discovered while deciding the best route homeward. A small red symbol on the map, cross-referenced in a guidebook, turns out to be Rudyard Kipling’s home, a place on my mental “to visit” list ever since hearing about it during a poetry circle meeting. Dave readily agrees to the small detour, and it turns out to be one of the highlights of our weekend.

Kipling's Wallpaper

Rudyard Kipling and his American wife Carrie came across Bateman’s, a Jacobean stone manor house and walled gardens, while on a motoring tour of the English countryside, and fell in love with it on the spot.

Bateman's

They purchased it in 1902 and lived here until Kipling’s death in 1936. When Carrie donated the house to the National Trust, she left many of the rooms as they were when Kipling lived there.

Kipling's Entry

Kiplings Desk

Such as his study, where he wrote the well-loved poem, “IF,” containing the resonant lines engraved above the player’s entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster


And treat those two impostors just the same”

Kipling's Front Gate

On that thoughtful note, we make our way home, already planning our next adventure.

For anyone interested, the full text of Kipling’s poem follows, written in 1909 as advice to his son, inspired by the achievements of a man betrayed and imprisoned by the British Government – the Scots-born colonial adventurer Dr Leander Starr Jameson.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
’
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

4 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Lauran Weinmann / May 3 2013 2:00 pm

    Anna — I LOVED this! Such beautiful words and images! Thanks for taking me along for your trip! Love, Lauran

  2. Barry Supple / May 3 2013 2:15 pm

    My dear Anna,

    I can’t wait until tomorrow to say how much I liked, admired and even treasured your wonderful blog on ‘Time and Place.’ The more so in that I used to live near Batemans and often visited it [Kipling’s papers were deposited in my former University, Sussex, by his daughters] and had a remarkable and long-remembered family visit to Bodiam – so photogenic! I thought that you captured the attractions and subtleties of all the places you visited and re-provoked my frequently held opinion that we ought to see more of the UK before travelling so far afield to foreign parts. Anyway, if we snatch a moment from admiring Ellie tomorrow, we can perhaps exchange thoughts about the attractiveness of English heritage.

    Love

    Barry

    PS Jameson was indeed betrayed – but in the sense that he carried the can, having done the naughty deed of his own volition………….

  3. Beautiful photography, spectacular turns of phrase, and great words of wisdom. What more can one ask! Loved it. Wish I could go on one of your rambles. Bee

  4. Lindsay Dye / May 14 2013 3:50 am

    We miss you and Dave so much, but can see clearly how you two need to ramble. If you find yourself again in the California sun, we’d love to catch up, but in the meantime, your blogs are like fertilizer for our imaginations! Thanks for writing so beautifully about your travels, and for including such lovely visuals as well. Best, Chris and Lindsay

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