We are just coming to the end of a pretty amazing two weeks, spent in beautiful gardens, castles and forests, exploring big cities with friends. I apologise in advance, this is going to be a very long post. We have just done so much in the last fortnight and heads up, I am going to cram this post with heaps of words and heaps of photos.
We were pretty fortunate to get a two week house sit in ‘the garden of England’, Kent. More specifically, we were in a pretty, semi-rural village called Sissinghurst. This place had, for us, a few winning factors that combined to make this one of our favourite places so far:
1. The house was awesome – a lovely lived in home, 300 years old with some beams that were 500 years old, so pretty cool history-wise, a trampoline, playground, toys and games, a lawn for Pete to mow, dogs and some pretty cute little gerbils.
2. There were so many things to do that were within 20 minutes of the house. We are pretty used to driving up to an hour to see a ‘local’ attraction, but it was amazing to be able to go to great places practically around the corner.
3. The weather was incredible. Warm days, drenched in sunshine. We were in bliss after a cold winter that has had us missing Australian climes (although, maybe not the heatwave we hear you’ve all been having, let alone the weeks of rain…). We finally bought ourselves a picnic rug and have put it to good use already.
We kicked off our stay in Kent with a visit to the incredible Bodiam Castle, and it has definitely made it into our top 3 castles of the trip so far (we’ve seen a few by now!). It was pretty cool – exactly the kind of castle you think of when you are imagining knights, and dragons and sieges. It is wonderfully symmetrical and has an awesome moat running all the way around it. It was built in the 14th century during the Hundred Years war, apparently for defence, although it is clear that aesthetics played a huge part in its design. We loved it. It was pretty fun doing a bit of an Easter trail along the way as well, where “Elena” had to search for different dragon eggs around the castle grounds.
Sissinghurst Castle Gardens
Only five minutes away from where we were staying are the famous Sissinghurst Castle Gardens. We loved strolling around the beautiful gardens, filled with beautiful spring flowers and even featuring a little moat. When I say strolling, I mean that one of us strolled with Kili and the other chased Elena around, who was loving exploring the different lanes and walks in the Gardens. We enjoyed it so much that we went again a week later. We also found that the Gardens were a really great running route – just over 5k return from our house so we enjoyed running to and around the castle (I admit, Pete may have run a little bit further than me). It was fun to just casually pass a castle on our evening runs!
Boom. Three castles in three days – a new record for us. Like Sissinghurst Castle, the new castle at Scotney was more like a large manor house with spectacular grounds and sprawling gardens. The old castle was beautiful though, with a lovely little moat wrapped around it and very attractively ruined (as we found out, the builder of the new castle actually ruined the castle on purpose to make it look romantic and charming). We had a lovely day exploring the castles and grounds and doing a ridiculously vague kids treasure hunt.
Lunch with some new friends
As Bible-believing Christians, we know that going to church is an important part of our faith and our spiritual growth. We make sure to go to church every week wherever we are, and while there are lots of challenges to not having a home church (it makes us miss our church back home a lot), we’ve really loved meeting new people and seeing how Christians in another country live and practice their faith.
We were very pleased to be invited over to the home of a lovely couple, Frederick and Lorraine, from Sissinghurst Trinity Church and share a really nice meal with them. They were super friendly and hospitable and we are glad to have met them and experienced such an inspiring example of hospitality!
Pete needed to catch up on some uni work and assignments (have I mentioned that he is doing his Masters of Education, by correspondence?), so I took the kids out to a pretty cool reserve called Bewl Water with a couple of playgrounds, right next to a huge reservoir. We all had a great time playing in the sun and sand, and getting muddy on the shores of the reservoir. We even got sunburnt!
We headed to this huge forest that was great for walking, exploring and adventure playgrounds. We had fun creeping through the dark forest and balancing on things, before continuing on to do a Gruffalo trail, a clever way to get your kids to walk instead of be carried (as is normally our situation). It involved a series of signs and clues that you have to find before you discover one of the Gruffalo characters, culminating in a huge statue of the Gruffalo itself. We love the Gruffalo so it was pretty fun. For those not in the know, The Gruffalo is a children’s picture book that you definitely should check out. There was also a huge playground, although sometimes I don’t know why we bother finding awesome things for Elena when all she does is play in the dirt next to the playground. I joke, she did move over to play with the sand eventually.
We walked the 2 miles or so over to Cranbrook village and had a pretty awesome lunch at an Italian cafe – the Italian owner chose for us, and then told us that it would be the best panini that we would ever have. It was. It was also the only panini I have ever had, but… details. Ha ha. It was actually incredible. So good. If you are ever in Cranbrook (ha ha ha ha ha), go to Fabio’s!
We finally headed a bit further afield to discover Dover Castle, sitting right atop the White Cliffs of Dover. It was pretty majestic driving up and seeing the castle high up on the shining white cliffs, towering over the ocean and the rest of the city.
The castle itself boasts some excellent history, focusing on the medieval era and its place in World War I & II. I especially loved the keep which had been restored to some of its medieval glory, and some of the rooms had been fitted out like a royal palace would have been in the 12th century. It was pretty interesting seeing an ancient lighthouse in the grounds, that was built by the Romans at the turn of the millenium. We also did a tour through the tunnels which housed the command centre for naval operations in WWII, which was a riveting glimpse into how Dover Castle played a part in the war. We would definitely recommend a visit to Dover Castle, it was brilliiant.
Our time in Sissinghurst ended on a high, and we feel like we would definitely go back there if we ever return. But onwards to the big city! Our next stop was:
We left our housesit on Good Friday to head to London, after remembering the death of our Lord Jesus Christ with some of the best hot cross buns we’ve ever had, and reading through the account in the Bible. We were excited to head to London for part of the Easter weekend, partly because London is a pretty cool city, but mostly because we were going to catch up with our friends Dave and Lauren there.
We’ve been on the road for 3 months now, and Dave and Lauren are the first friends we’ve seen since we first arrived in the UK, so we were keen to hang out with some familiar faces! We had heaps of fun with them, exploring London by big red bus, enjoying tasty burgers in a shipping container paradise, as well as the most incredible milkshakes and ice creams I have ever seen. Dave and Lauren treated us in the evening by babysitting the kids for a little while in the evening so we could get out for a bit, no small feat as Elena was wide awake while we left. We felt pretty wild out and about on the streets of Kings Cross at the crazy hour of 9pm, getting hot chocolates… ha. We came back to find Elena fast asleep on Lauren’s lap, which was pretty sweet. Thanks guys.
In the morning we went and checked out Shakespeare’s Globe, which was quite interesting to see and hear about the history of theatre in London and life as it was in Shakespeare’s time. We said goodbye shortly after lunch, so it was a pretty whirlwind tour of London, but we loved seeing our friends and having another little taste of London.
We are currently in Hexham, Northumberland on our way up to Scotland. It was really just a place to break up the journey, but we had the pleasure this morning of going to church with our airbnb hosts and we had a really great morning celebrating the risen Jesus. Tomorrow we head off to Teen Ranch Scotland for three weeks. We are not too sure what our duties will be, but we are pretty excited to see what they do there and be a part of God’s work there!