As I stated in my previous post I like to research my vacation before I hit the road. I know, I know, a lot of you like to just “wing it,” but I would rather know all about places of interest, restaurants, and villages that I am am really interested in and then add to that, if something exciting turns up. For this trip, I was glad I started early and took the time to look-up the gardens I was keenly interested in, on the National Garden Scheme, (NGS) so I could co-ordinate going from one garden to the next, (since our plan was to see several a day) I also needed to know how much time it would take to get from one to another, and where we would want to eat between gardens. Although the gardens on the NGS are open on the weekends, for the most part, some had specific times they were open. We would have been quite dismayed to have arrived at a garden only to have to wait to get in. So when I had the gardens lined up I looked for a local pub close to the gardens we would be touring. This was when I realized most pubs are open from 12pm-2pm for lunch and then re-open for dinner, usually 6pm-9pm. So I had to make sure we were at a certain place on schedule.
The first thing I learned was that there were GPS co-ordinates listed, for all the gardens in the NGS and all the historic National Trust estates, in their books. This would make the driving so much easier, in theory. But to be on safe side, I printed out maps and directions from garden to garden, to also have with me. As you can see from my work sheets, I made lots of notes. I also printed out the pub or special interest I wanted to see near every garden. I put all my notes, maps, and directions in plastic sleeves and then when I was ready for a particular day I just pulled out the necessary pages to carry along in the car. SB took a look at all my notes and quickly put together a spread sheet for me, so we knew where we WANTED to be everyday at least!
Now for reality. As Americans driving in the UK, it takes us at least three days to get used to, what is for us, a steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and driving on the wrong side of the road. We knew what to expect in that area. What we didn’t expect was that once off the M25 we would be on a village road that got smaller and smaller as we got closer to our destination. These were roads meant for horse and buggy and then pony and trap, but were now meant for a two-car highway. We were rear view mirror to rear view mirror! When we came to a village, the road narrowed even further in front of the stores, where the cars would be parked higgly-piggly in front of them. (I wouldn’t exactly call it parking) Cars were just pulled up at any angle, as long as the car would fit in (or not), and the car abandoned. Now this makes the road even smaller and one must wait your turn to go around and sometimes the car coming towards you is in a very big hurry so you have to creep past all the cars, zigging in and out at a crawl. SB’s habit as we came to a village, was to roll down the window and pull in the rear view mirror saying, “Do you know how close you are to that car?” My reply every time, “I didn’t hit it did I?” This is not the best of ways to start a vacation meant for relaxation, but after three days I could move along with the best of them. I am a terrible navigator, even with a map, so it is best that I drive and SB keep me on the correct side of the road and upon entering a traffic circle tell me which turn-off is the one I want, because I would be just carousing that circle in total chaos.
Also, using the GPS in the car, as it was originally set up, to get from Point A to B in the fastest time, did not prove to be helpful. The GPS, in order to save a mile or two, would take us off the main road and into a tiny lane (and I mean tiny lane) to get to our destination. Now I can truly say I saw some lovely cottages and gardens, that were not on any of my maps, in extremely small clusters of village life, that I am sure the average American tourist does not get to see. I am ABSOLUTELY sure I am the only American who knows that the Swim Club in Sevenoaks is reached by going off the main road onto a 180 degree turn, after you have gone through a section of newly landscaped cottages found on the opposite side of the road to the one I was looking for, then up a steep hill into what had to be the Sherwood Forest, on a road that got narrower and narrower as we came to our supposed destination, Knole. Arriving at the back entrance, I think, where no one could get in, yes the GPS got us there, kind of. It was Knole, but not the proper entrance. But hey, like I said, I know now where the Swim Club is, the drive was nice and shady, it only added a half hour to our trip time, and I AM ON VACATION RIGHT? We did that on a lot of days to various destinations. You just have to go with the flow! We reverted to looking at my printed maps for extra guidance.
After much grumbling, and some hysteria about my driving, we arrived at our first destination near Tenterden. I have to say, also, that we had planned to stop at a local vineyard on the way, but under the circumstances that didn’t seem prudent, as I don’t think SB’s heart could have taken it, so we saved that for another day.
Bulleign Barn, a find on Air B&B, was perfect after our harried day. Turning off onto a narrow one-lane graveled road we poked along for a mile or so following the canal to one side and the rabbit warrens on the other. The lodging, near the hub of Tenterden, (a large village compared to others we had been through that day) was clustered in old hop fields, at one time belonging to the Boleyn family. The long black barns were used for storing the hops. Our Air B&B accommodation was one of the long barns converted into a home with several bedrooms off the main section of the home. Our room was very spacious and modern with WI-FI, located on the main floor, with a private entrance, and set in a small walled courtyard near the old stone horse pool. There was a fridge for our trips to the vineyards too.
Every morning we were served a delicious breakfast of fresh yogurts, fruits, home made jams, along with croissants and specialty breads, warm from the oven. The outdoor table was set to our time-table and it was nice to talk to the other guests, and watch the playful dogs, chickens and a duck named Jemima.
There was also a family of white barn owls, who nested in the eaves, and one morning we got to meet a baby owl, which had fallen from the nest overnight. Our hostess skillfully set about to replace the fallen chick.
It was so nice to have found this country accommodation and start our day in such a relaxing way before we set off on our daily adventures to the gardens. We looked over the listings for quite some time, since there were so many varied spots to choose from. If you haven’t thought of using Air B&B you should give it a try. We had choices of garden sheds, gypsy wagons, tents, rooms in big estates homes, or entire homes in both rural and city settings. It’s just fun to see all the offers available out there and we have never been disappointed with a listing we have stayed in. To top that off it is much less expensive and if you like true interaction with your host and other guests, Air B&B will be for you. See you in the garden tomorrow!
Before leaving on our Tour of the Gardens, in the spirit of things, I decided to name my little house, The End Cottage. Every proper cottage in England has a name, most likely used prior to streets and house numbers, so why shouldn’t our place have a name I say? The Star was placed in my yard because I was selected for the Garden of the Month by my neighbors! Thanks !!!!!!