Friday, April 20, 2012

London, Part Three: The Country Walk

 Time: 10:30am, a few weeks ago
Place: Borough Green station, a 45 minute train ride from central London

For an Arcadian outing, it wasn't the most auspicious of beginnings. 

But this book is never wrong. (It's been leading me deep into the countryside for years.)
Available HERE. And HERE.

We had taken the train from Victoria Station to Borough Green and were now heading out of the car park to embark on the first steps of a 9.3 mile journey.

Me (reading the guide): "In 175 metres, cross a car road to continue straight on along a public footpath, now a path beween fences, soon going gently uphill." 
Luca: I think I see it.

Would it sound melodramatic if I were to tell you that this leafy path was the bridge to a strange and enchanted land? Because I swear no sooner had we come back out into open countryside than things were markedly different.

Different dwellings...

Me (reading): "In 40 metres you pass an oast house." 
Piero: What's an oast house?
Me: Maybe that building with the cone-shaped roofs up ahead? 
Piero: Nah.
Oast house: a building designed for drying hops for beer.

Different wildlife...

Luca: Whoa! What is that?
Me: Is it a grouse?
Piero: I think it's a pheasant.
P.S. Pheasant.

And different rules.
If chased by a bull...split up.

There was an air of unreality about everything. This house felt naggingly familiar to me and I had no idea why.

When I got back to Los Angeles, I looked through some of my books and figured it out. (They must be long-lost cousins, right?)
(Dora Carrington, "Tidmarsh Mill", 1918)

And look at this darling little cottage. How many centuries do you think it's been standing there? And which literary character would open the door if you knocked?
(My guess: John Jarndyce from "Bleak House.")

How about this one?
(My guess: The Dale sisters from "The Small House at Allington." You?)

And who lives here with those incredible Alice-in-Wonderland topiaries? 

Me: (reading): "300 metres up this hill, you will see the strange, disused, isolated gateways of Fairlawne Estate."

And just as the guide book promised, there they were. Leading to absolutely nowhere. If I was penning a Gothic thriller, I would now write, "Suddenly the sun disappeared behind a bank of clouds and a long ominous shadow fell across the parched grass."

A little farther on we crossed in front of the house itself (300+ years old, now owned by a Saudi prince).  
Fairlawne House

According to locals, a ghost called "Lady Vain" (the name of the original family to own the house) still haunts the grounds of Fairlawne House. Tall, fair, middle-aged and dressed in a white gown, she's been spotted galloping on horseback through the fields that once belonged to her.

3/29/12: You: Dark, beautiful, wearing a wool coat. Me: Rain slicker, jeans, wellies. You looked up and made eye contact with me as I crossed through your pasture. Did we vibe? I thought so. 

(For actual footage of our encounter, see video below.)

An hour or so later we reached Ightham (pronounced "I-tem") Mote, a medieval moated country house built in the 14th century. What else can you do when you see this picture but repeat, "I. Am. Not. Dreaming."
Visitor information HERE

Unfortunately we didn't have time to tour the house, but we did sit in the garden café and share a scone with a garrulous local. 

Leaving the house, I turned and snapped one last picture. (Ightham Mote, you have not seen the last of me.)

We walked on and on, over hill and dale, sometimes talking, sometimes not. 

This is Harvey. He is one and a half years young. (We met his owner a couple minutes further down the lane.)

This liquid-eyed fellow likes apples. A lot.

At long last (when long last = four hours), we reached the last major sight on our country hike: Knole House, birthplace of Vita Sackville-West. It's one of my favorite places and I couldn't wait for Piero and Luca to see it.

Because the house is surrounded by a 1,000-acre deer park, that's why.

Knole is known as a "calendar house." Anybody know the reason?
(You in the front.)
Yup, that's right -- because it has 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. 

The main part of the house dates from the 15th century and was at one time a royal palace for King Henry VIII. It really is the most incredible place with its huge walled garden and its crenellated towers and gabled roofs and heraldic flags flapping in the wind. A quite wonderful feeling of insignificance descends upon you as you approach. 

We got there five minutes before they closed the ticket office.

Forgive me, but I've just been told I have to leave you here in the inner portico while we tour the house -- photographs aren't allowed inside. 

Leaving Knole, we climbed over a wooden stile and walked up this wooded footpath toward the village of Sevenoaks. It seemed only natural that our enchanted journey would be bookended by another leafy thoroughfare, this one taking us back to reality and a high-speed train bound for London.

(All photos by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti.)


Helen James said...

Lisa incredible ..... you need to write fairytales as well as live them, such a storyteller you are , I would love to visit Knoll, def on my to do list .... and when I do maybe i will take this path .. too

Emily said...

You do live the most scrumptious life Lisa.
Wish I had been in your pocket, so I too could have come along. These pictures look like something out of a Jane Austen book, and they are everything I would expect the English countryside to be!

Jon Mayes said...

Hello Lisa,
I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your recent post. A country walk in England is at the top of my "this is what heaven looks like" list. I was born in Berkshire (in a village near Newbury) and spent much of my childhood doing exactly what you did, looking for adventures over hill and dale, Rupert Bear shares our passion by the way. I also should tell you that I am in the book business and actually distribute the "Time Out" guides here in the US. If I may, I would like to send them this blog, I'm sure they will be most grateful. Oh, one more thing, I see that you have a link to where to buy the Time Out Books, may I ask you to add the "IndieNext" option ( so our wonderful independent booksellers aren't forgotten?
I wish you continued success and happy walks.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Helen James:
You would love Knole -- and when are we going to meet up? Can't remember if you're in NYC or the UK these days. xx (and thank you for the kind words about the post)

I wish you could have been there too! xx

Jon Mayes:
What a lovely surprise your comment was to read! Please do send Time Out a link to this post if you like. And I have added the "IndieNext" option and will do so in all future posts (thank you for telling me about it!) Happy rambles to you, x/Lisa

Lily said...

Oh Lisa,
Vita Sackville- West must surely have slipped you a magic fountain pen in a dark corner of Knole, a sort of hand off in the relay of storytelling because you are such a wonderful teller of tales! And the photos are enchanting illustrations!
Thank you for these weekly installments, it's just as thrilling as getting a letter in the post each week with an enveloped marked par avion...

JudyMac said...

Beautiful pictures and I'm very fond of the big fluffy sheep. Glad to pick up the IndieBound web site as I'm always on the hunt for book reviews and reading suggestions. JudyMac

Maria Speidel said...

Gorgeous! If I make it to England anytime soon, I am getting myself a copy of that book. Also, the first house reminded me very much of the Bennett's house in the Kiera Knightly version of P & P. Could it be the same? Have to go back to my DVD. It think they talk about it in director's or writer's notes.

helen tilston said...

Hello Lisa

I love how your researched this trip and it is perfect for all three of you.There is something for each one.
Luca is a great little traveller and shows such enthusiasm in the pictures.
May there be many more such wonderful excursions.

Helen xx

Anonymous said...

LOVELY PICS:) So typical english..
I really like your blog and will happily follow.

If you want some swedish decor inspiration, you can check out my blog:)
Have a great week.

LOVE Maria at

A Tale of Two Cities said...

New to your blog, and so glad I found it! I must put this on my list of "spring activities" to do, but it might help to have a copy of your book, I expect. What a treasure you found. Now I'm off to read a few more of your posts, and sign up as a follower....


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

The best yet!
I get the most wonderful London ideas from you.
And a ghost who rides horseback.

Sandra Sallin said...

Swoon, what a delightful trip. Aching to see it in person.

Thank you.

Claire said...

I love to see all this through your eyes - it looks so enchanted! And now I feel guilty because I often go to Knole and have friends who live in exactly the type of rickety cottage you photographed a couple of miles away from Ightham Mote and yet - I have never been to Ightham Mote! Will rectify that. And appreciate being able to go on those kind of walks a bit more...

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

Would you PLEASE set up a Bloomsbury Tour? Oh, my heart was pounding. I AM buying that book for my stepmom who is a "Lisa-wanna-be" i.e., tours London regularly, LOVES it, but I venture has not walked your walk!

Laurent said...

Outstanding. I am a recent discoverer also of this page, by gracious reference at Blue Remembered Hills; and after reading your remark on your dining room wallpaper's genius for framing the conspiratorial dinner party, I have suspected the presence of an imagination here which I like to think speaks for a family triumvirate. This page is a salutary contribution to the internet and I'm happy to cite it in "Context" at my own.

Anonymous said...

This was absolutely wonderful, Lisa! Thank you for recording your journey in this way. M.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why I got so teary eyed reading this. I wish so much I could be there? I don't triggered something.


lola said...

that was really nice.

AlwaysMe said...

You are such a wonderful storyteller and your words with the dreamlike quality of the pictures made it a story that made me feel the same way that I did long, long ago upon reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I don't know how you cast such an enchanting spell with words but I was absolutely mesmerized. This may be my favorite of all of your posts, of which there have been so many. I do also agree with others who said, "You do live the most scrumptious life Lisa." Here's to sharing those little gems with us - thank you.

noreen said...

do you think the house with the moat has a wet basement? i couldn't help thinking, that water is right up against the house!

what an interesting, unusual journey you took! the deer park - i wonder if they ever need to let some go due to overpopulation?

thank you very much for the introduction to this walking adventure!

kim at northerncalstyle. said...

What a fun adventure. I've always heard of English walking paths, but never been on one yet. This one has so many lovely gems on it.

Always enjoy your blog!


Sharron said...

Thank you for a walk through a fairy tale!

Veronica Roth said...

I'm writing all this down and this summer when I'm living back in West Cottage in E I'm going to find some of these places. Have you ever visited Merry Hall, Beverly Nichol's house in Surrey? It's private now but what a place to see and dream about!By the way, the West Cottage robin has layed her eggs in the tool shed this year. I'm hoping when I get there we will have several robins about.

the designers muse said...

What wonderful post. I felt like I was there. Thanks for sharing. Also I've got to get a copy of that book for the next time I go to England. Fabulous.

Mel said...

I hope you ARE penning a novel, gothic, thriller or otherwise. You have such a wonderful imagination.

Anonymous said...

Magical! As are you. At least the quality seems to hover wherever you go. ;)

Lisa said...

What a wonderful armchair visit to the countryside. Photos almost self-explanatory but your prose made them more special. I only hope Percy didn't feel a twinge of jealousy from your meeting a new wooly friend.

Mystica said...

This is so un-real! it so beautiful that words fail me!

Helen James said...

Lisa I am back in Ireland at the moment, hopefully our paths will cross on one continent or another in the near future, would be so fabulous to meet up, let me know next time you are crossing the pond as I am in London often x x

ASL said...

i was wondering if you would run into the green witch from the black sabbath album cover...

lovely tour, now i am ready for a proper nap on my Knole settee(wishful thinking).
lisa from japan

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