‘A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted’
Sir Winston Churchill
The 30 January 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s death, and a flurry of activity and commemoration commenced to celebrate the former PM and his achievements. It was also a timely reminder that we hadn’t visited Churchill’s former residence, National Trust’s Chartwell House, for nearly three years…
A Day Out at Chartwell House
With this in mind, and the sun making a wonderful appearance, we decided to head back and explore. Monkey couldn’t even walk last time we were here, so we knew on this occasion, he’d enjoy the gardens and the extensive grounds.
Chartwell National Trust was the much-loved Churchill family home and the place from which Sir Winston drew inspiration from 1924 until the end of his life. He brought it on 15 September 1922 for £5,000 on the same day his daughter Mary was born. Unfortunately, the house was closed to visitors during our time there, but we have had the pleasure of going inside previously – and were surprised to see the rooms remain much as they were when he lived here, with pictures, books and personal mementoes on display.Even though it was the height of summer on our last trip – all the foliage and flowers were in full bloom – it was interesting to the see a different aspect to the grounds – much bleaker and bare from the cold winter months – but still just as attractive.
One of the reasons Churchill bought Chartwell was for the water features he could create. The lake already existed but in 1924 a dam was built to create the upper lake. These were camouflaged by brushwood to reduce the risk of bombing raids during the wars. Nowadays, the views across the lakes and then back to the house are majestic.
Life and legacy trail
Following the ‘Life and Legacy Trail’, one of several walks available at Chartwell, which gives you interesting facts about the Churchill and his family, we sauntered along the pathway and Monkey stopped abruptly when he saw the swimming pool: he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t take a dip, although he did remark the water looked a bit ‘yucky’.
From here, he discovered the pretty rock gardens, built by Lady Churchill after she fell in love with a design at the 1948 Chelsea Flower Show. We then went to see the pond, where the great man himself liked nothing better to do then sit next to it and feed his beloved Orfe fish. We spent a good while trying to count them all. Continuing on the trail and through to the immediate gardens of the house itself, this gave us a fantastic vantage point of the entire estate. We also had a little game on the croquet lawn, after we’d finished looking at the pet cemetery, where Churchill buried his beloved brown poodles Rufus I and II.
From this point, we then discovered a raised platform that looked down onto the kitchen gardens. There were several people here just relaxing on benches and enjoying the peaceful surroundings. No such luck for us, as Monkey quickly led the way down some steep steps and through the rows of vegetable patches and beds.
Churchill himself built some of the walls to the kitchen garden at a rate of 90 bricks per hour. The garden produced fruit and vegetables for all his homes including 10 Downing Street. As we enjoyed wandering in the kitchen gardens, Monkey was very excited to spy Marycot, a playhouse designed for Churchill’s daughter Mary. It was still in mint condition and even though there was a little scramble from all the children over the toys, it eventually cleared out and Monkey had a play.
Black swans at Chartwell
Our next destination was to walk towards the main lake to see if we could spot Chartwell’s famous black swans. But first, we had to walk over the wooden bridge across to a small island. No swans there… so we headed to the other lake. Monkey was super excited to find them – although we were slightly nervous as we had been warned they are quite vicious!
The swans held no sway after Monkey saw several children in the distance running to the play area and its six swings. However, we persuaded him to take a long way round through the woodland loop trail and past the famous Nemon statue. We couldn’t resist this photo opportunity…Even though we wanted to walk further along the woodland trail to the Canadian Camp, Doormouse Den and Bomb Crater situated north of the estate – Monkey was determined to have a swing. So, trudging through the muddy tracks we finally found a vacant tree. Once on, it was lovely watching him and all the other children laughing happily as they swung through the air looking out on to the stunning vista.
It was pretty difficult getting Monkey off his ride, and only when another little girl wanted to have a turn, did he reluctantly give it up. Although the promise of cream tea at the Chartwell cafe soon had him skipping quickly back to the entrance. It’s easy to understand why Winston Churchill had such an infinity with his home. And, even though we didn’t get to explore the inside of Chartwell House or the substantial woodland trails on the other side of the estate, it was still a pleasant and refreshing way to spend our day. Knowing that there is still a lot more for us to see and do, especially when we can come back with a picnic in warmer weather, means that we will definitely not be leaving it three years until we next drop by…National Trust’s Chartwell, Mapleton Road, Westerham, Kent TN16 1PS; Open 10.ooam-17.00pm daily; Adult £13.00; Child £6.50; Family: £32.50. There are also programmes of activities including Chartwell Cinema Events. Check their website for more details.