Travelogue April-May 2023: The Tour’s Beginnings
It has taken me two months, to get to the main portion of our adventure in England this Spring. And I’m afraid with the other submissions and writing and writerly gatherings that have kept me busy lately, I haven’t had a chance to give it the attention it is due. Not to mention joining Threads, which has been fun and also a dreadful waste of time.
But I will attempt in this one post to give a peak into another few days we spent traipsing around Southern England. You can be sure I will leave things out, but these may appear elsewhere in my writing in some other form, someday. So don’t despair. You won’t have missed much.
The name of our tour with National Trust Tours, formerly know as Albion Adventures, was “South of England Stately Homes & the Isle of Wight.”
You can see how this title might have caught my eye. I have been, for most of my life, a most steadfastly loyal fan of Masterpiece on PBS, much of which is recycled British television. Since the invention of BritBox I have been getting my fix right from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and have voraciously consumed every conceivable sort of filmed tribute to the amazing homes that seem to litter the landscape over there.
To actually go there did seem like a lifetime wish. Seeing the homes up close, houses which held the film recreation of so many amazing works of fiction within their walls, was something I could not pass up. I was enthused. My husband, the engineer, maybe not so much. But since he was also in need of a vacation, it worked to both our benefits.
While we were still staying with my daughter at Great Dixter House, my husband and I took various side trips.
We went to Hastings on the South Coast and wandered about while our daughter did some shopping.
To Rye, a quaint little village near Dixter.
To Charleton House, where the Bloomsbury group lived.
Beltane Bonfire, Final Farewells to Dixter and Drive
On Mayday morning, after having spent the evening at a bacchanal Beltane bonfire party, at which a straw man was burned and various chants drummed along, and amazing feats of dance and storytelling were engaged in, we hastened on back to Heathrow to drop off our rental car and meet a driver which had been sent to us by the tour.
After that drive to drop off the car, we did not again have to lift a finger, to transport ourselves over miles of twisty-turny roads, all traveling in the wrong direction (to us Americans, anyway) and often through traffic circle after traffic circle. We rode either on a coach (bus), a ferry or a train (only once, on a tiny steam engine for the tourists). My blood pressure settled to a reasonable level from there on out.
We spent the night again at the McDonald Windsor hotel, Windsor and ate our first group meal with our fellow travelers. There were about fifteen of us from various parts of the US on the tour. I will not mention any names, to protect their privacy, but we really enjoyed their company and hope we may cross paths again someday.
Our tour director was great, very knowledgeable and yet down to earth. She managed to tread the line between, on the one hand, reminding us how lucky we were, to be enjoying this type of access to the interiors of homes, some of which are still partially in use by their owners, and on the other, sympathizing with our adverse reaction to aristocratic excesses, coming as we do, from a land where everyone is supposedly born a commoner. Our bus driver was terrific and very amiable too, and added an interesting Scottish perspective to the mix. Fortunately, I had prepped for this moment through years of watching Outlander, and I was able to decipher most of what he said.
We got on the coach after breakfast next morning and that day went to both Polesdon Lacey and Standen. Polesdon Lacey was a great stately home, very large and full of interesting things, some of which I have photographed here.
Standen was a property I was particularly interested in seeing, since I love William Morris papers and textiles. Standen was basically decorated by William Morris back in the day and his designs and those of his group are everywhere. I have a few examples for you.
It was really exciting for me to see the fabrics and papers in situ,. Because I have long fantasized about using them to decorate my own, older home. Unfortunately, the price tag in the States ($300+ a yard!) makes that venture somewhat prohibitive.
South Lodge Hotel and Spa
Following our afternoon at Standen (and yes, we did have a midday meal in there somewhere! We were amply fed throughout the tour) we went to our home base for the next several days, The South Lodge Hotel and Spa. This was truly a world-class accommodation the likes of which neither of us had ever experienced. The soccer team Manchester United was also there while we were, though our paths did not cross. The locals seemed secretly delighted that the local team for Brighton, the underdog, beat Manchester United that match.
The food was exquisite, the grounds very beautiful and the rooms perfect for a lovely sleep. The only mistake we made was trying to launder some clothes and mistiming the return of our garments. We ended up donating several outfits, since postage back to the states would have been insane. I have had a shortage of socks ever since.
Here are a few shots of our stay there. I’ll have to leave it there for now.
These sheep were so cute we could not resist bringing one home for a very special someone. After loading all these pictures, I am ready to count some sheep myself!
Next time, we’ll see even more stately homes.
Copyright 2023 Andrea LeDew
For more about our trip (in so far as I have documented it) read the other Travelogue posts: Introduction, Adventure, The Flight, Windsor,Great Dixter, Sissinghurst. For musings about a different kind of hotel read The Grand Hotel Abyss.