As I have mentioned many times about our week at Sissinghurst, we pretty much only went into the gardens when they were closed to the public. So, someone just asked me last week, what did you do between 11:00 and 5:30 when the gardens were open? Well there was perusing the little charity bookshop on site, there was a stroll into the village of Sissinghurst, there was lunch eating, some shelf reorganizing, etc.
But the one thing that really put a sybaritic twist on the week of leisure was my afternoon bath. Our bathroom had a nice deep tub and it was right in front of a window with a perpetual cool breeze coming in. Normally I can get pretty antsy in the tub, the hot water can be a little overwhelming. But with a cool breeze going, my linger time went up exponentially. I would read, snooze a bit, and most of all just sit back and bask in the luxury of doing nothing and not having to be anywhere.
The Long Library at Sissinghurst is a delight and a frustration. So beautiful and so chock full of things I want to look at, but none of it is allowed off the shelves and most of it is behind a velvet rope and defies attempts at photographic documentation. Our week in the Priest’s House gave us after-hours access to the gardens, but alas, not to Vita’s study nor the library. And unlike grander, stately homes that have lots of very old books, the books in Vita and Harold’s library are of a vintage that is more interesting to me. It was a really good thing that the books were secured on the shelves with what looked like fishing line because more than once I reached to take a volume off the shelf.
I’m not going to caption any of these photos. I put them up for you to click on and zoom in and explore on your own.
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.