Sunday, June 19, 2011
Monday, May 16
It is an hour's drive from Heathfield in Sussex to Leeds Castle in Kent. There is an historic connection between Leeds Castle and Virginia. In the 1600's the Culpeper family owned Leeds Castle, and John, the 1st Lord Culpeper was granted all the land bounded by the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers in Virginia; more than five million acres of land in in reward for assisting the escape of the Prince of Wales during the English Civil War.
Thomas Fairfax, the 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and son of Thomas and Catherine Culpeper, was born at Leeds Castle in 1693, and later settled permanently in the Virginia Colony to oversee the Culpeper estates. Virginia's Culpeper County and Fairfax County owe their names to the link to Leeds Castle. In fact there is a commemorative sundial at Leeds Castle telling the time in Belvoir, VA and a corresponding sundial in Belvoir telling the time at Leeds Castle.
The earliest construction of the present castle was begun in the early 1100's, although a manor house occupied the same site as far back as the 9th century. Eventually the castle was bought in 1926 by an Anglo-American woman who became Lady Baillie. In her will she left the castle and grounds to the National Trust, and it was opened to the public in 1976.
We enjoyed the touring the castle, and the grounds and gardens outside the moat. I had fun walking through the maze that was built in 1988 using 2,400 yew trees to form the impenetrable ten foot high walls of the labyrinth.
Sunday, May 15
Hugh preached the Sunday service at a very small church near Heathfield, accompanied by jackdaws chirping in the attic. The sanctuary provides most of the space in the church, with only a tiny room behind the alter and pulpit. There is no "fellowship hall", so after the service everyone simply stayed more or less in place while a few scurried to the tiny other room to prepare trays of tea and cookies, which they call bisquits.
After a pleasant half hour spent sipping and nibbling and chatting the twenty or so people who make up the entire congregation drifted away by twos and threes, and Hugh and Barbara and Jane and I drove a short distance to the "Runt-In-Tun" pub for our main meal of the day. The place was crowded with extended families and friends, infants, toddlers, young adults, middle aged men and women, and a few 90 year olds, everyone happily chatting, eating, and drinking.
After a big meal a walk seemed like just the thing. A short drive took us to the public paths of Ashdown Forest. Actually there is very little forest. Ther is gently rolling countryside with vistas off into the distance. At first I thought that the hills were covered with green grass, but as we walked along the wide path I realized that I was looking at fields of low growing ferns. In some places there were low patches of heather and and the prickly gorse that always seems to grow in the same places. There were a few sprinkles of light intermittent rain - the first we'd had. In the distance we could see several people riding the trails on horseback. Here and there were wandering clusters of sheep, and several cattle raised their heads to watch as we strolled by.
Saturday, May 14
Seven miles east of Heathfield is the village of Burwash, the place where Rudyard Kipling lived for thirty four years at the house he called "Batemans". His widow gave the house and thirty-three acres to the National Trust after Kipling's death in 1936.
We toured the house, built in 1634. It is furnished as it was in the early 1900's when Kipling lived there. The grounds are kept in beautiful condition. Ten foot tall hedges in front are kept trimmed so precisely that they look like solid green walls surrounding grass that looks smooth enough to be a putting green.
A formal walk at the back of the house leads past a large, shallow rectangular pond where bright orange goldfish swim in lazy random patterns. The surface of the water reflects nearby trees and the brilliant yellow and deep blue iris that grow along its edges.
Passing through a wrought iron gate in the stone wall at the back of the garden, the path follows the bank of a meandering stream a short distance, crosses a wooden footbridge, and ends at an old gristmill that is also part of the property.
The mill pond and the mill are kept in working order and operated by volunteers, and as we approached we could hear the water splashing onto the mill wheel, which squeaked faintly as it slowly rotated, and the rhythmic rumbling of the wooden gears inside, turning the big stone wheels of the mill. There was a steady quick-marching cadence clack-clacking coming from the second floor as we entered. That turned out to be wooden cams on the drive shaft that operated a lever designed to vibrate the screen where the corn was placed, shaking the individual kernels through and down between the mill wheels at just the right amount to keep everything grinding at the right speed.
The afternoon was cool and sunny, but pleasant enough that we enjoyed hiking several miles through buttercup-filled meadows near Heathfield.