It was a dusty day, you know when everything seems shrouded in mist. Soft, as the Irish would say. A pinky sun shone through a thin cloud on crops of dandelions, banks of bluebells, merry go rounds of primroses and crowds of faded daffodils. Our Hastings jaunts have been curtailed by Covid outbreaks, Easter holidays and the utter exhaustion of witnessing Russian presidents who slump over a war that effects the innocent and the horror show of Mr. Blobby whose pants are on fire. Disgusting men who make their mothers ashamed to have birthed them.
Still three young women clubbed together and bought me membership to Hever Castle for my birthday, Hastings took a back seat as off we went to Edenbridge. A simple 28 minute journey through old countryside. The old git drove and I navigated. The oak trees flounced their greenery, the hedgerows sprouted new leaves and the lambs hopped and skipped as we dawdled our way to Anne Boleyn’s gaff. It felt like a Sunday.
We were guided into a car park which was filling up with family saloons and doggy hatchbacks. I forgot it was St. Georges Day and Shakespeares birthday, not that it made any difference, but the weather felt like it must have felt back in 1564, all English and bucolic.
We walked down towards a huge lake, a blustery wind sending spray from a magnificent fountain into the air. It was Tulip time at Hever; pink, black, blue, fiery red. Velvety pansies and privet animals everywhere. Koi Carp the size of jumbo jets swum round the moat, and ducks waddled around the grounds. Gigantic white swans waited under the bridges to eat the bird food that was being thrown, liberally, by kids and the ‘oosbind, who declared he loved ducks and wished he had one as a pet.
We finally got to the information booth where we were photographed and given our membership cards. A mug of Earl grey tea was downed as the Northern cartographer read the map that would lead us to a maze. I do not like mazes, I nearly didn’t go in. But it was small enough for me not to imagine I was going to die in the clipped Yew. And then we paid £2.90 to enter the castle. I put on the headphones for the guided tour. The old git refused. The ceilings, the wood panelling, the furniture, the winding stone staircases. The armour, the swords, the Postilian’s boots. The tapestries the illuminated books, the portraits, the beds, the stained glass windows. On and on went the lavsh long rooms whilst in one of the Astor Suites tubes of paint we’re laid out donated by Winnie the Churchill.
It was impossible to take it all in in one go. We thought we might visit once a month to see the change of season in the magnificent gardens. The old git had a moment of rage as we sashayed past the paintings of the entitled. The grandeur the splendour, it felt almost immoral given the state of the world as it is. The rich getting richer whilst the poor stand and ogle at such ill gotten gains.
We had a coffee and cake and sat in the courtyard as we talked to Janet and Jo from Doncaster. Both retired teachers, their cheeks rosy from the April sun. Now in their late 70’s and mid 80’s, they take regular coach trips all over the land, tomorrow they’re going to Penshurst Place.
‘I had my 25th birthday in Armthorp Miners Welfare club.’ I said.
“Oh it’s not there now.’said Janet. ‘Its’s an Aldi.’
Me and him chatted to them till they heaved themselves up from the bench and headed off to the coach which was leaving in fifteen minutes.
We set off, his arm in mine, to the carpark. Worse than the maze. Couldn’t find the car for ten minutes. We got home by three. I bunged the first lot of laundry in the machine. From the sublime to the ridiculous. I mention this because our water works are playing havoc. There was a carsy in the castle, in the room with a display cabinet full of torture memorabilia. Manacles and spiky things and an array of metal nasties, the hole in the wooden carsy meant the royal flush went straight down into the moat. Our mixer tap in the bath, though 700 years younger than Henry V111’s facilities, requires careful handling. I was cold needed warming up but the trickle of hot water that came out of tap took so long to fill the bath that by the time it was full it had turned cold. It felt like my childhood when the hot water had run out and you had to lie in a luke warm bath under Luke warm flannels. Himself had laid a fire so when I came down it was toasty warm.
I set about hanging out the laundry, after the second load the washing machine decided to play silly buggers and flood the cellar.
So whilst waiting for the stop cock to be renewed we now have the added pleasure of mild flooding in the cottage. 700 year old Hever Castle is better preserved than our blacksmiths cottage. Not that I’m complaining, after the images of Ukraine I have no right to grumble.
As away days go this was up there. Walking through lavish gardens and through a wooden portcullis, running fingers over inlaid wooden panelling and listening to the ducks quacking in the fresh air, is something that the folk of Mariupol can only dream of, if dream they do.
The polarisation of our lives now. The Guthries, a Yorkshire family based in Scarborough are the current owners of the Hever Castle Estate, and the good old British public dip their hands in their pockets and pay a fortune to keep The Guthries in brocade and topiary. As the cost of living spirals I am extremely grateful for my wonderful present, I have a years worth of Hever heaven. In the Hever shop they sell tea towels that remind us of Henry’s reprehensible behaviour. Divorced, Beheaded, Died: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.
Honestly those rich fuckers get away with murder.