Literary Landscapes in Kent & Sussex -- homes and gardens with a literary connection
5 days/4 nights from London
Special Event – tour includes the Broadstairs Charles Dickens Festival!
The county of Kent is known as ‘The Garden of England’ and we will see a variety of properties connected to some well known British writers including Virginia Woolf, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens and some film locations for recent Jane Austen films. If we’re so inclined, maybe see a place or two with a real life connection to our Ms Austen too!
In addition to gardens and the marvelously scenic countryside, dotted with oast houses and sometimes lavender fields, this region offers opulent stately homes, historic castles and a rich history dating from the time England began. All this plus the opportunity to meet the locals at the annual Broadstairs Dickens Festival, surely to be a tour highlight. This tour is designed to hopefully be a fun twist on the usual stately homes and country gardens tour, to satisfy the literary minded and general interest alike!
Note that the Dickens Festival is held annually 3rd week of June; the festival dates have not yet been officially released so we request you to not confirm non-refundable airfare until dates are officially confirmed, just in case there is a shift.
This tour begins and ends in London.
Day 1 Wednesday
We will depart our meeting point in London at approximately 09:00. A rare bit of motorway driving will bring us out into the luscious scenery around Lewes, East Sussex. From then on, never a shortage of ‘off the beaten track’ roads to explore!
‘Bloomsbury in Sussex’ is our goal today as we enjoy the homes of Virginia Woolf at Monk’s House, her final home, and that of her sister Vanessa Bell, Charleston Farm. Here we’ll visit the farmhouse that was the weekend getaway for Woolf, Lytton Strachey, EM Forster and TS Elliot among others. Entering these rooms is like stepping back in time. The gardens of Charleston are of the Arts and Crafts style infused with an Italian flair and certainly reflect the originality of its owners, featuring mosaic paving, original and classical sculptures and a variety of colorful plantings. Vanessa Bell described her creation as “a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples” while painter Dora Carrington wrote, “Never, never have I seen quite such a wonderful place!…What excellent things there will be to paint in that garden with the pond and buildings.”
Our overnight location for these two nights is in/near the charming town of Tunbridge Wells, a former spa town where Regency high society went to “take the waters,” as mentioned in various Jane Austen novels.
NIGHTSTOP: Royal Tunbridge Wells area PROPERTY: Royal Wells Hotel or similar http://royalwells.co.uk/
Day 2 Thursday
Our first main destination is Charles Dickens’ Rochester. This gem of a city, with its cathedral and Norman castle, overflows with Dickens’s sites, such as plaques on the places mentioned in his books and ‘Mrs Havisham’s House.’ The man himself lived here for a time.
During our day, we can meander through Ashdowne Forest, well known to author AA Milne and his famed characters Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin and friends.
Another visit is to a top garden, one with connections to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his timeless creation ‘Sherlock Holmes’ plus a popular recent film version of Pride and Prejudice. The romantic setting of Groomsbridge Place, a moated manor estate featuring formal gardens and a bird of prey centre, has been the inspiration for authors, gardeners and artists since the 17th century.
NIGHTSTOP: Royal Tunbridge Wells area, as above
Day 3 Friday
A full day of iconic sites today! Vita Sackville-West and Sir Harold Nicholson’s world famous garden of Sissinghurst will be our first main visit. You’ll have plenty of time to explore this intimate and intricate garden and to visit those parts of her home open to the public. Here, we’ll find a Tudor tower complete with Vita’s writing workshop, a walled herb garden, mixed border gardens, an oast house museum, a white garden and a cottage garden. Writer and friend to the Bloomsbury Group, Vita’s home also has Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s printing press on display.
Later, Dover Castle, where we’ll find a wealth of history from the mediaeval times of Henry V through to modern times with the WWII secret wartime tunnels. Dover Castle was used in the filming of Philippa Gregory’s novel The Other Boleyn Girl – not that we really need an excuse to visit this wonderful attraction!
En-route to tonight’s accommodation, time and interest permitting, we may see Goodnestone Park, the family estate of Edward Austen Knight’s in-laws. Here is a charming Regency garden with a fragrant Walled Garden, a place where Jane Austen was a frequent visitor.
NIGHTSTOP: Canterbury area, Kent PROPERTY: Cathedral Lodge (subject to availability) http://www.canterburycathedrallodge.org/
Day 4 Saturday OPENING DAY BROADSTAIRS DICKENS FESTIVAL
This morning historic Canterbury, we can pay our respects much like Chaucer’s Pilgrims inside the wonderful Canterbury Cathedral. As this is our overnight location, we should miss the main and madding throng of ‘daytrippers’ from London.
The rest of our day can be spent enjoying the Broadstairs Charles Dickens Festival, a celebration of the author’s life and works. There is a wide range of special events, Victorian costumed characters and the opportunity to mix with the locals in this lovely seaside resort town. As this is opening day, we should experience the Grand Parade and Opening Ceremony. The locals here, the setting for Dickens’ Bleak House, has held an annual Dickens Festival since 1937.
NIGHTSTOP: Canterbury area, Kent, as above
Day 5 Sunday
A leisurely Sunday to meander our way back into London via two lovely Kentish estates.
Finchcocks is a Georgian manor set within 13 acres of lovely gardens and parklands, home to a fine musical museum featuring over 100 period keyboard instruments. Amongst the collection are the instruments used in recent period films including Pride and Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, and Vanity Fair. Setting the mood, our visit should hopefully coincide with a short recital of classical pieces popular in Regency England.
Nearby the village of Westerham is the 17th Century manor house Squerryes Court, home to the Warde Family since 1731. This was the main filming location for the recent BBC mini-series of Jane Austen’s Emma. The estate features attractive formal gardens and parklands with fine views of the surrounding countryside. Originally laid out in 1700, the current gardens are designed following the 18th Century plan as a guideline and feature rich borders, parterres and avenues.
We will return to London by early evening; accommodation is separately priced tonight.
Please Note: All attraction opening times are correct at time of printing this website. While we do our utmost to include all properties, we reserve the right to change an attraction should it become impossible to visit due to change in opening times, days.
Oft imitated, never duplicated! This is an original SGT itinerary, property of Special Group Tours and to be used only with express permission/in conjunction with SGT.