‘A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted’
Sir Winston Churchill
There are many National Trust sites and properties that we visit on a regular basis, but if I was forced to pick a favourite, then Chartwell National Trust would definitely be in the top spot. Why? Winston Churchill’s former home has a certain charm. From acres of sweeping lawns and woodland, views overlooking lakes and the Kent countryside, and exquisite gardens filled with a variety of plants, flowers and even chickens, there is much to discover. We would happily return time and time again to wander the extensive grounds as well as learn about one of history’s prominent leaders and his fascinating home.
Visiting Chartwell National Trust during the lockdown
Following government advice, the National Trust is gradually opening locations but only with advance bookings. Currently, tickets are being released each at midnight on Thursday for the following week. Members and non-members will get the chance to book half-an-hour timed slots for arrival. You will need a ticket, and if not, you will be turned away.
We found the overall experience to be well-organised and stress-free. With a one-way system and clear signposts all the way around Chartwell House, it meant we hardly saw anyone. It wasn’t crowded, while the Chartwell Cafe was open for takeaway refreshments as well as toilets. We even got a cream tea!
History of Chartwell House
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. Inside the house, the rooms are impressive and remain much as they were when Churchill lived here, with pictures, books and personal mementoes on display.
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 to the rear of the house are pretty as a picture.
Exploring the grounds
It’s easy to just follow the trail around the pretty rock gardens, built by Lady Churchill after she fell in love with a design at the 1948 Chelsea Flower Show and the fish pond, where you can see lots of Orfe fish. It’s also pleasant to wander the walled gardens and the lawn surrounding the house itself. The main terrace offers the opportunity to enjoy the landscape of the entire estate as well a perfect spot for some hill rolling! Fancy some healthy competition? Well, grab a mallet and challenge your family to a game of croquet. Nearby you can also find a small pet cemetery, where Churchill buried his beloved poodles Rufus I and II.
Leaving the pet cemetery and following the path, you’ll discover a raised platform that looks down onto the kitchen gardens. 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.
This is one of my favourite spots at Chartwell. From a variety of different fruit and vegetables to brightly-coloured roses and fuchsias, the scents here are heavenly. Meanwhile, the chicken coop attracts a lot of attention from kids, as well as Marycot, a playhouse designed for Churchill’s daughter Mary. It is still in mint condition and there are several toys inside that allows children to role-play.
For kids at Chartwell
The main pond not only has Chartwell’s famous black swans, geese and ducks to admire but a wooden bridge that gives you a fantastic vantage point of your watery surroundings. Walk around the pond, and see if you can spot the statue of Churchill and his wife.
From here, you can take the trail that takes you into the woods, where kids will find a variety of activities that you will find hard to tear them away from including a bomb crater that has been there since World War II but now kids can climb in and out with ropes and a huge treehouse. There are slides and swings, too so plenty to keep them occupied.
The Landemare Café, named after Georgina Landemare who was the Chartwell cook for over 20 years, is pretty impressive with more than enough seating both inside and out to accommodate large numbers. As with all National Trust cafés, you can get all the usual cakes, sweet treats and refreshments, including lunch boxes for children and hot meals. But what makes it even more special is a lot of the produce served in the food is from the Kitchen Gardens. Fresh, organic and tasty!
A lovely day out in Kent
It’s easy to understand why Winston Churchill had such an infinity with his home. There really is something for everyone here. The vast walking trails through beautiful Kent countryside and woodland is fantastic for ramblers, the history of Churchill and his legacy is fascinating, as are the stories behind the house. Meanwhile, kids will love being able to explore so many different areas including the epic treehouse and bomb craters. But more than that is being able to soak up the postcard-perfect grounds and gardens, take a stroll or just sit under a tree dappled in sunlight overlooking the rippling water as ducks float past. It really is the perfect tonic and a great countryside escape.
* Chartwell National Trust, Mapleton Road, Westerham, Kent TN16 1PS