As I mentioned in an earlier post, John and I planned to spend a week at Sissinghurst Castle Gardens in Kent, England–much more on that in the days to come–but we had some time to kill between our overnight Transatlantic flight and our 3:30 check-in time. Since Sissinghurst belonged to Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, it seemed appropriate that we while away a few hours at her ancestral home of Knole which is conveniently located between the motorway and Sissinghurst.
When we arrived at Knole, I could not have been happier. The weather was gorgeously in the mid-sixties and the air felt so fresh, especially after flying all night. The sight of the house itself was like a calming tonic after the hour-long drive from Heathrow. Nothing unpleasant happened on the way, but I pretty much live in terror of driving in the UK. The first and last time I tried was about six years ago, and after a day of it I handed the keys to John and abdicated all driving responsibilities for the rest of the trip. It isn’t so much the other side of the road business as it is the narrowness of the traffic lanes and the propensity of giant trucks and buses and everything else to come flying at you at 70 mph on said narrow lanes. At any rate, John is much better at it than I am. I think it was because of his youth driving on the narrow, winding roads of coastal northern California that makes it more natural for him than for me who learned on the wide, straight, roads of Minnesota. So for this trip there was no question that John would be the sole driver. Despite having our GPS calling out directions, it was still pretty necessary for me to act as navigator, and so I was only marginally less stressed out sitting in the passenger seat. So when we parked the car, saw the splendid old house set in a medieval deer park and felt the fresh air on our faces, it truly did feel like we had arrived a long way a way from the stress and speed of our daily lives.
It also turned out to be a great introduction for our week-long stay at Sissinghurst. Knole was the house Vita grew up in and it meant the world to her. Being an only child, and a female, the house passed to her cousin Eddy Sackville-West, a writer, music lover, and all around aesthete. In fact, it was her dispossession that led her on the path to the ruined castle at Sissinghurst and the amazing gardens that she and Harold created there.
But, more than any of that, it was just a very pleasant place to begin to decompress.