London has been sweltering in the heat this last week, so today I decided to get out of the city. Knowing the seaside would be heaving in any place that could be reached by train, I instead decided to head for the leafy, inland countryside. But where to go?
I'm currently part way through reading Orlando, by Virginia Woolf. My first of her novels... I realised that this was a gap in my literary adventures that had to be filled, and I'm glad I've now addressed the gap, because I'm loving her writing. But the relevance of this is that Orlando is apparently a semi-biographical work, inspired by Vita Sackville-West, although also steeped in fantasy and history. The novel starts in the Elizabethan period, with the titular character brooding and wandering around his family seat. And the manor house in the novel is based on Knole House, where Vita Sackville-West was born and grew up. So, I thought, what better place to head to carry on reading my book under cool, shading, ancient trees?
Some deer came to join my quiet spot, as I sat on an old tree trunk, reading my book.
I later found the deer were prolific - roaming and feeding in groups - as I walked along The Gallops.
My parasol and shoes, tossed aside, felt a fitting photographic homage to the early twentieth-century female authors who documented and loved Knole...
I felt more like ambling in the park than going indoors, and got there a bit late in the day to make it worth going inside the house itself, but I had a quick wander in the courtyards and orangery.
Knole's origins are actually in the fifteenth century, when it was built for the Archbishop of Canterbury on the site of an earlier house. (Another reason why I wanted to visit, given that my thesis was about historic bishops' palaces.) The Archbishop relinquished ownership of it to the Crown during Henry VIII's general rampage against monasteries and the established Church. It then came into the ownership of the Sackvilles in 1566 and they have lived there since, although Vita Sackville-West was traumatised to see it bequeathed to her male cousin upon her father's death, as she was his sole child and women were not allowed to inherit... It's now run by the National Trust and the public are allowed to access parts of the property.
The wonderful garden can be glimpsed through the orangery windows but is only open on Tuesdays. I think I will have to organise a day off work in order to go and stroll about it... and see the rest of the house, while I'm there.
Even without seeing inside the house, I can see why Vita was heart-broken when the inheritance of Knole passed away from her..