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Posts Tagged ‘Knole Park’


My home county of Kent has long worn the accolade of the “Garden of England” lightly but it also boasts an enviable heritage, including many fine castles. Below are photographs and brief descriptions of some of the most celebrated.

There is only place to start – with the great twelfth century Norman keep in my home town of Rochester, beloved of Charles Dickens. Standing on the east bank of the River Medway, it was besieged four times during its first three hundred years, but has survived, if much changed and as a magnificent ruin, ever since. Open to the public all year round, its pigeon poop encrusted turrets offer outstanding views of the river and beyond.

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Romantic Leeds Castle, described by the historian Lord Conway as the “loveliest castle in the world”, is approaching its nine hundreth anniversary, though the modern structure dates largely from the nineteenth century. More than half a million people visited the castle and its maze, aviary, grotto and golf course in 2010. As the third picture illustrates, all the public rooms are beautifully decorated for Christmas.

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Tonbridge Castle, with its magnificent twin towered gatehouse, is another product of the Norman invasion, and whilst it might not attract the volume of visitors enjoyed by Leeds, it occupies a prominent position alongside the River Medway towards the northern end of the high street, and locals and tourists alike enjoy the attached public park .

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The principal attractions of Sissinghurst  Castle are the stunning gardens created by novelist Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson, in the nineteen thirties.  The adjoining buildings may not resemble everyone’s idea of the traditional castle (it was originally a mansion set within a working farm), but, along with the imposing prospect tower, the beautiful brickwork and hanging foliage are  a delight. 

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My personal favourite is achingly beautiful Scotney Old Castle, whose ruins are the very essence of the dreamy fairytale English castle. Technically, Scotney Castle is the name of the “modern” house at the top of the gardens, but it is the older, smaller version,   complete with lily pad decorated moat, that entrances visitors.

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These are but a few of the beautiful castles and manor houses that are dotted around the Kent countryside. I am conscious that, on this occasion, I have omitted the mighty “Gateway to England” at Dover, Anne Boleyn’s home at Hever and the neighbour on the coast at Deal and Walmer. And I haven’t started on Knole, Chartwell, Groombridge Place and Ightham Mote.

I can see this becoming a series in its own right.

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It is a bright, balmy early summer’s day in Knole Park near Sevenoaks.  The 1,000 acre park not only contains the great house of the Sackville family, but one of the few remaining  medieval deer parks in England where both fallow and sika varieties roam freely.

I spot a buck that has been separated from the rest of its herd.  It does not appear overly discomfited by the human crowds. I edge towards it in pursuit of a close-up photograph as it watches me intently.  But then I discover that we are not alone.

A young girl, maybe four or five years old, in a polka dot dress is approaching it, equally cautiously, from a different angle, proffering a packet of crisps (potato chips).  Understandably, the deer’s gaze turns to her intriguing gift.

There are signs scattered around the park urging the human visitors not to feed the animal residents.  I call across to the girl to remind her that she must not feed the deer. She cannot understand why animals wouldn’t also enjoy crisps, and I try to explain the reasoning for the ruling, namely that they have their own dietary needs which are different from humans, and eating food designed for the latter might upset the delicate balance of their constitution and make them dependent upon visitors and, potentially, lead to conflict between man and beast.

The girl continues to look unconvinced whilst the buck’s increasing agitation suggests that he would welcome us coming to a mutually agreed solution sometime soon.  In response to her insistence that crisps could not possibly be harmful, I repeat my arguments.

After politely and patiently listening to this silly man’s sensible but boring explanation, she pauses and then delivers the clinching argument:

“But they are cheese and onion”.

I haven’t the heart to look back to see whether the deer prefers salt and vinegar or prawn cocktail.

But at least I got my photo.

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