Prior to leaving home for our trip to Sissinghurst, I read something online about how the library in the Priest’s House where we were staying was full of good things to read. I almost decided to do something really risky and only take one book for the plane with the thought of reading whatever I found in the house when we got there. I thought better of that and ended up taking along four books. This was probably a good thing as there wasn’t much on the shelves in the cottage that I wanted to read. Mind you, if I had run out of books there were definitely one or two that would have held me over, and maybe even surprised me. But there wasn’t anything enticing enough to make me put down any of the four I brought along with me. (I won’t even remind you of the fact that a 100 meters away at the plant shop near the car park there was a charity bookstall that had plenty that would have interested me.)
When I first saw the shelves, the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books jumped out like a sore thumb and automatically made me think that everything there was crap. It was only through the magic of alphabetization that I realized the situation wasn’t as dire as it seemed. It reminded me of the time at the DC central library when I couldn’t find a particular Trollope among the six or so shelves of his work. But after putting all of his novels in alpha order (and weeding out the Joanna Trollopes), like gorillas emerging from the mist (how’s that for a simile?), I discovered not one, but six, copies of the book I was looking for.
Some American “scones” may be delicious in their own way, but they aren’t scones. Now that we’ve got that clear, let’s move on.
Scone + clotted cream + strawberry jam.
I had at least one a day. The scones they made at the restaurant across from the gift shop were seriously good. I had one or two there, but more often than not we would get them to go so we could sit out in “our” garden. This would mean that I was eating them at 5:30 pm most evenings, but hey, when the sun doesn’t disappear until almost 10, why not?
I’m a big fan of rooms that are frozen in time, especially if they feature papers, or maps, or books, or push pins, or typewriters (Cabinet War Room anyone…). When you add Vita Sackville-West to this equation, and factor in the idyllic setting at Sissinghurst and the fact that her study is up in a tower, the whole concept starts to reach a ridiculous level of perfection. A room frozen in 1962, chock full of books, art, and a cozy chaise-longue.
During our week-long stay at Sissinghurst I visited Vita’s study in the tower on three separate occasions. Happily, each time I went it was late enough in the day that no other visitor was blocking the view and no one was waiting to see the view so I could stare to my heart’s content. Since you can’t actually walk into the room, my only regret is that I didn’t have binoculars to get a better look at the titles on the shelves. But I did stand there, probably with my mouth open, fantasizing about the space being mine. I would have settled for a couple of hours inside to browse the shelves and take a closer look at everything.
Bottom line is that it is the perfect room for me. I will let the pictures speak for themselves, with one exception. They keep the curtains drawn to preserve the books, art, and textiles, but the room has large banks of windows on both sides of the tower, which would make it a very light room–and one with cross breezes.
Day four of our Sissinghurst adventure started with sun and ended with sun…well, and then a bit of lightning.
When my eyes popped open around 5:00 am with sunlight flooding our room, I decided not to fight it and went for a walk across the fields. The weather was gorgeously cool in the low sixties (he says as he types in hot, humid, DC) and it was fantastically peaceful.
Just after lunch our young, charismatic, fun, smart, bookish, telejournalist, British friends, William and Lorna, who Simon Thomas virtually introduced us to several years ago when they moved to DC, arrived for an overnight stay. After a very brief orientation, I sent them out into the gardens before it started to rain and so they would have plenty of time to see Vita’s study and the library before they closed. In the true spirit of the setting, I was pleased when they came back to the house and said they wanted to just chill out and read while it spitted rain.
When drinks time rolled around, the light rain had stopped, the sun was coming out, the garden was closed for the day, Lorna made Pimms Cups, and we went and sat in the boat house pavilion. After a bit we heard applause in the near distance. Something of some sort was going on in our garden.
A few minutes later a tall man carrying a champagne flute and bearing the visage of a Nicolson/Sackville-West appeared, introduced himself as Adam Nicolson and explained they were having a little event and that he hoped we weren’t inconvenienced. We assured him there was no problem at all, John fanboy’d for a bit, and I asked if there was any part of the garden he would like us to avoid. All of this was significant for a couple of reasons. First, this was the author Adam Nicolson–grandson of Vita and Harold–coming over to make sure we were okay with him using his ancestral home for a small event. Second, even though by this time in our stay we were pretty comfortable roaming the property at all hours, it was a whole new level of comfort to have Adam Nicolson welcome us and reassure us that his garden was our garden. Third, the event included Adam’s wife Sarah Raven who is a garden maven herself and John tells me has Martha Stewart level cache in the UK. Again John fanboy’d, albeit from a distance this time, when we walked by while she was chatting with some guests in the White Garden.
I wish I had a some sort of picture to represent this, but alas, I don’t.
For dinner we went to the nearby Three Chimney’s gastro pub for dinner where they happily still had the smoked haddock with creamy leeks on the menu that I had had about six years previously. Then it was back to the house where we strolled in the garden as it got dark and the sky started to fill with lightning. By the time we all trundled off to bed we were in the middle of a proper storm with lightning, rain, and thunder–or at least what passes for thunder in the UK.