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An easy walk – not

August 10, 2022

The last time I was in the UK my mate Tony and I had a day out to Hampton Court, which was a great deal of fun, so in the planning stages for this trip I asked if he fancied something similar. He did indeed and suggested Knole, which he said was an easy walk from Sevenoaks station. 

Easy walk, eh? Well that’s a matter of opinion and degree. When it’s 30+ degrees it ain’t an easy walk.

Well, it certainly is an impressive pile.

Here’s a potted history.

It was an archbishop’s palace for many years until Henry VIII came for a visit and decided he liked it. He had form. (See: Hampton Court, etc, etc.)

After changing hands a number of times, in 1603 the house and surrounding park became the property of Thomas Sackville, who also acquired the title Earl of Dorset. (Knole’s in Kent.) The Sackvilles and eventually their glamorous and infamous descendants the Sackville-Wests have maintained ownership ever since and reside in part of the house to this day.

If you want to know more, including the Beatles connection, here you go.

Early in the tour you come across this.

Lady Betty Germain’s china closet. When I ask no one in particular what the use could have been for the huge bowl on the floor, the guide immediately says, “Paella.” This makes me laugh, as I’m sure it was intended to do and we end up having a delightful conversation which for some reason includes me denouncing St Augustine. (“He gave up wealth, drink and gluttony, but couldn’t stop getting an erection when he saw an attractive woman, leading him to conclude women were the root of all evil. Bastard.”) 

So famous is this china closet that it is the subject of a painting by Ellen Clacy, which hangs not at Knole, but at the V&A.

Tucked away at one end of the portrait gallery…

… is the Carolean billiards room.

Not exactly billiard cues as we’d know them.

Oh, yes, the portraits. There are dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of them. Some, though not all, are of the rich and famous. Others not so much as I discovered.

Walking into one room I spotted this bloke.

Well, I thought, don’t you look pleased with yourself? So much so that I picked up the portrait guide to find out who he was. “Unknown man” previously thought to be Philip IV of Spain. (Guess that’s why they bought it. Bet they were annoyed to find the subject a nonentity instead of a king.)

This turned into a bit of a game. Pretty much every time a face caught my attention, the book would reveal the subject to be unknown. The guide in the portrait gallery was quite impressed. (Or at least pretended to be.)

And then this woman caught my eye.

Intrigued, I ended up having a long and enlightening chat with one of the guides about Arabella Cope (for it is she), third Duchess of Dorset. Fascinating and formidable woman. 

Interesting aside: Before the 3rd Duke of Dorset brought Arabella and her very large dowry to Knole, this sculpture of his mistress, the Italian ballerina Giannetta Baccelli, was removed to the attics.

I’m sure the surrounding park is a picture in the spring, but by August climate change had done for it. 

Not a blade of grass anywhere for the poor deer.

This is officially a deer park, so I know there must be feeding stations somewhere.

Off to the book shop to see if I can find out more about Arabella Cope, but alas it was mostly crammed with material about – and often written by – the more recent Sackville-West occupants. Most I could come up with later was this potted bio on the National Trust website. Someone (not me) should write a book about her.

Then a visit to the tea room for a refreshing cuppa and more scones. (Cream first for Tony, I’m pleased to say.) We tried to consume this outside at a picnic bench, but were driven indoors, not by the plague of wasps, but by a screaming child whose oblivious mother should have been locked up.

The long hike in the relentless sun up the half mile drive back to the High Street and then, be still my beating heart, a pub!

The Chequers, with seating outside in the summer – and in the shade – so I can have a fag with my wonderful pint of Cornish bitter. As I said to Tony, I could have happily stayed there all evening – if it weren’t in Sevenoaks and we didn’t have to get a train back to London. Still, plenty of time for a second pint.

From → UK 2022

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