Thursday, 18 July 2019

Caversham Heights Society

BETWEEN May 20 and 24 52 members and friends of the society joined the annual mini-holiday coach tour, which this year was to Kent.

The a ccommodation was in the comfortable Ashford International Hotel, which was centrally convenient.

On the journey down we had two stops. The first was at Down House, the home of Charles Darwin, near Biggin Hill.

Now under the control of English Heritage, it is both a home as Darwin left it as well as a museum showing the development of his travels, ideas and theories.

It was well worth the visit but, inevitably, there was insufficient time to absorb all that was on show.

Our second stop was to see Ightham Mote, a half-timbered manor house, parts of which date back to the early 14th century, surrounded by a splendid moat.

Now owned by the National Trust, which spent more than 10 years undertaking restoration work in the Eighties and Nineties, some of which was televised, this gem of a building and gardens must be among the jewels in the crown of the trust’s properties.

The first full day was spent in Canterbury. We began by “experiencing” a diorama of some of Geoffrey Chaucer’s (1345-1400) bawdy tales made upon the road from London to Canterbury before being let loose to explore this old city.

The afternoon was spent in groups being guided round the magnificent and historic cathedral by excellent and informative guides.

After an enjoyable cream tea in the nearby conference centre, we all filed in for sung evensong with the choir from one of the oldest schools in the country, King’s School, Canterbury. This was a beautiful and fitting end to the first day.

The next day we wandered around the historic dockyards of Chatham where such ships as HMS Victory were built and launched and where several former navy vessels and numerous lifeboats could be explored.

One of the most fascinating buildings was where we were given the history of rope-making as well as seeing rope being made.

Apparently, Chatham rope-making dates back to the 14th century and was only preceded by the rope- makers of Venice. Across the River Medway lies the ancient city of Rochester with its Norman castle and cathedral and quaint unspoilt streets and individual shops.

There is also a unique French Huguenot quarter and hospital.

While in the city and returning to our coach, we became aware of large numbers of Brexit supporters and Nigel Farage encouraging them and haranguing the TV cameras from his open-top bus (this was the day before the European elections).

On the following day, we were given a guided tour of Leeds Castle, a moated masterpiece dating back to the 13th century with many additions through the centuries. It is kept in immaculate condition and has been used as a secure place for top level confidential conferences.

It also boasts some lovely gardens, a maze and falconry. We had the opportunity to witness an enthralling display of birds of prey.

The day ended with a drive through the Kent countryside to Bodiam, with its magnificent castle, where we caught the Kent and East Sussex steam train for a nostalgic journey through unspoilt countryside to Tenterden.

On our final day we visited the Chapel Down Winery and Vineyards for a tour and some wine tasting before our final visit to Sissinghurst Castle and gardens, once the home of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson and now under the ownership of the National Trust.

Overall, the group had a varied, informative, interesting and enjoyable few days away from Caversham.

For more information about the society, email cavershamheights.org or visit www.cavershamheights.org

Keith Watson

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