Sunday 24 June, Sissinghurst
Our first English morning - everything was so pretty and green! Jane's house is called 'The Coach House' for the simple reason that it used to be the stables for the house next door. It was rather cosy with three of us living there, having come straight from the land of sweeping plains, but there was room for everything and everyone. And may Jane be granted an instant sainthood for offering it to us, as our budget hadn't planned on paying for accommodation for this week. (We were originally meant to fly out on Friday 29 June... but that's a long story.)
We wandered around Charing for most of the morning - it was very pretty, and if we'd had a couple of million pounds on us we would have bought one of the 17th century houses we saw for sale. When I win cross lotto, if I don't buy a theatre in Adelaide, I'll take Kate and retire at age thirty to Charing.
Then Jane took us to Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, where Vita Sackville-West and her husband bought the remnants of an old castle in about 1930 and proceeded to build a stunning garden around it. We picnicked on peanut butter sandwiches in a small garden conveniently located in the middle of the carpark - apparently picnicking in carparks is a very English thing to do - and then went up the tower thingy and wandered around the gardens.
The tower thingy is the last remaining bit of a twelfth-century castle, which was the first human-made object over 200 years old that I've ever seen. Kinda weird - people were climbing these stairs when Chaucer was wandering towards Canterbury. Apparently they didn't have Occupational Health and Safety back then - the spiral staircase is authentically medieval and very atmospheric, but the stone stairs were slippery stone with no handrails - Deadly Spiral Staircase Number One. I'm delighted (and mildly surprised) to report that nobody died falling down the stairs while we were there.
In the 1930s, Vita Sackville-West used to write in the tower - she was a friend of Virginia Woolf, and (sort-of) part of the Bloomsbury Set, and was actually the person Virginia based 'Orlando' on. Having studied this stuff in English Lit, it was strange to be actually here, where Virginia used to visit, before throwing herself in to a river a few miles away.
The garden was gorgeous, although the locals said it was (slightly) past its prime, with the excessively hot weather they'd been having - twenty to twenty-five degrees, for days on end. (Anyone who's ever been to Alice Springs will find their idea of a 'heat-wave' rather amusing.)