Tucked away in the Darent valley are some of our favourite places. Lullingstone Castle, once an estate of 6,000 acres, where family fortunes have waxed and waned over the nineteen generations that have lived there. The current house was built by Sir John Peachey whose two exceptional claims to fame were being the jouster – read carefully jouster, not jester- to King Henry VII, and being barred from court by King Henry VIII for ‘loud and lewd’ behaviour, doesn’t that get the imagination racing?
There are tales of elopements, racy neighbours and a more sedate descendant Sir Percival, whose admiration for Queen Anne knew no bounds. He even re-modelled the house so she could manage the stairs to the State Room in her later years, now there’s fealty for you. Sir Percival was not the only occupant renowned for service to queen and country; twenty rooms of silk worms did sterling work during World War II spinning silk for parachutes to equip the Boys in Blue stationed at nearby RAF Biggin Hill. Any pilot who deployed their parachute became an automatic member of the Caterpillar Club. After the War the silkworms continued their devotion by spinning silk for HM Queen Elizabeth’s lace wedding veil and her Coronation train.
The lawn outside Lullingstone Castle is extremely flat, levelled originally to become Sir John’s tilt yard or jousting arena, but more recently used in 1875 by Sir William and friends to develop the first real code of rules of Lawn Tennis as members of a sub-group of the Marylebone Cricket Club.
Today Lullingstone Castle is most famous for its wonderful World Garden inspired, designed and grown by Tom Hart-Dyke who has a few tales of the unexpected of his own to relate. He conducts personal tours of the garden which are not to be missed.
Within two miles of the Castle is Lullingstone Roman villa – resplendent with spectacular mosaics and rare wall paintings, a heated bath-suite and a ‘house-church’ from 100AD.
To visit the villa you pass through the pretty village of Eynesford – the ford is still in place to catch unwary motorists – now a picturesque stream, but a river to be reckoned with in the Middle Ages.
English villages are merited on their charm, cricket pitch and pub. Eynesford scores well on all three plus the added bonus of castle ruins; Eynsford Castle is a rare survival of an early Norman ‘curtain wall’ castle, undisturbed by later building activity. An important Eynesford resident to whom all BB guides pay homage was Arthur Mee, author of The King’s England, a guide to the counties of England. I wonder just how many of us have a copy of his works on our bookshelves!
A stone’s throw away is the Castle Farm, in summer the fields are awash with purple, and those travelling by experience a sense of calm as the lavender scent wafts in through the air-conditioning. On a few special days you can dine in the lavender fields, failing that you can help out with the harvest or join some of the lavender product tastings – so good for the karma!
Throw one more stone and you are in the pretty village of Shoreham where you‘ll find a museum dedicated to the Battle of Britain and those who took part from Biggin Hill. The exhibition includes some poignant personal letters written by pilots, and aircraft exhibits, many dug up from the local area which was known as Bomb Alley during the war. There is a good tea room at the museum and another in the village which serves the legions of ramblers walking all or part of the Pilgrims Way from Winchester through to Canterbury and on down to the coast.
Worth making a pilgrimage for!