To celebrate my birthday Rob and I spent a lovely weekend in Kent. For Christmas last year my brother gave us a voucher for the Pride of Britain hotels and we had been waiting for an opportunity to use it when I didn’t have rowing and Rob wasn’t studying for his CFA exams. Since I had wanted to see Bodiam Castle for years and my mom and I had planned to visit Sissinghurst Castle Garden when she was here, but we didn’t get a chance, I decided we should take a trip to Kent for my birthday weekend.
We stayed at Eastwell Manor near Ashford, which is a gorgeous manor house with beautiful gardens and meticulously manicured lawns. With almost 1000 years of history, it was not the most modern of places. It was first recorded in the Domesday Book in 1069 and is the birthplace of two queens, the Infanta Beatrice of Spain and Queen Marie of Romania.
We arrived before our room was ready so we walked down to the modern section of the property, the Pavilion, where the more casual restaurant, the Brasserie, is located as well as the indoor pool, sauna, spa and beauty parlour. Most of the other patrons were guests of the day spa and were dressed in gowns and slippers while I was trying to be as proper as possible.
When our room was finally ready, we realized why it took so long to prepare. It was gigantic and very well equipped! There was fresh fruit on the table, still and sparkling water, and sweet and dry sherry. The furnishings were a bit dated, but it all added to the magic of the place. We had the most amazing corner room (top floor of the ivy covered left hand side of the building in the photo) with views over the rose garden and onto the front gardens.
There was always a fire burning in the big old fireplace in the lobby and the wood smoke permeated the entire building. It did provide an authentic manor feel, but I was a bit concerned that if the place did catch fire you would never be able to smell the smoke.
There were only three weddings on the Friday when we arrived, which apparently was a relatively light load. We did notice however that the red carpet was only rolled out for some of the weddings and that the flags over the door changed daily according to the nationality of the bride and groom. We must have been younger than their typical guests (well, at least the other guests we saw) because it took them about a day and a half to realize that we were actually staying there.
We did get the feeling it was a bit of a wedding factory, but I suppose they have raise the money for the upkeep somehow… and besides, the wedding guests seemed to all be staying down near the Pavilion in modern cottages while we had one of the best rooms in the manor house.
On Saturday we drove to Bodiam Castle and Sissinghurst. They were both quite busy although one crowd was considerably younger than the other. The exterior of the castle was just like a fairy tale, but the inside was mostly ruins. As an added bonus, there were hundreds of carp in the moat, which Rob enjoyed. We watched some little kids trying to catch them using a whole slice of bread tied onto a string. They were rather disappointed when the bread just fell off as it got soggy and their prize fish ate it right in front of them.
We made a quick stop at a nice country pub for a refreshment and then drove on to Sissinghurst. It was in full summer bloom and I know my mom would have loved it. Rob and I wandered around trying to not to get in the way of the uber-keen enthusiasts and their humongous cameras. There was a beautiful clematis in bloom as well as lots of roses, day lilies, red hot pokers and numerous other plants I recognize but don’t remember the names of. We climbed up the tower, where the photo was taken, and then walked down to the lakes behind the property before returning to the car and driving back to Eastwell.
We had supper in the dining room that night but it was not as good as we had hoped. The food was good, but the tables were too close together and the service was generally not very good, which we also noticed at breakfast. Supper was followed by coffee and petit fours in the lounge, which we had to ourselves for the first half an hour or so. Seated right in front of another wood fire, we had sat on a warm, worn leather sofa and watched the flames and read newspapers.