Exploring South East England
by the Amateur Historians
Sarah Valente Kettler & Carole Trimble
When we finished our first book, The Amateur Historian's Guide to Medieval and Tudor London, it was with a tinge of sadness. We were reluctant to "leave" London behind, and so it was with some trepidation that we set forth to begin the research for the second book in our series, Medieval and Tudor England: Day Trips South of London.
We quickly found ourselves intrigued by the wealth of medieval and Tudor castles, abbeys, guildhalls and manor homes to be found very close to our favourite city. Our challenge was to share those discoveries with you in a manner that was entertaining, accessible and useful. We settled on "day trips", grouping attractions that would make for easy, enjoyable and compelling one-day excursions.
Using London as your base, you can depart the capital city in the morning and return in time for a night at the theatre or a leisurely in-town dinner. Works for us!
Travel time to most sites is under two hours and many (though by no means all) of the attractions can be reached by train.
Suppose you're not quite ready for total immersion in the ancient history of southeast England, amateur or otherwise. Maybe you only have a day or two to spare, or perhaps you'd rather just sample some of the delights outside of London before committing to the full menu. Or, maybe you'd rather just cut to the chase and have us prioritize your travels for you. Glad to oblige!
The following is our very subjective list of not-to-be-missed sites in southeast England?with some extra-added help in planning "theme" trips for all you specialists. When you've seen 'em all, we'd love to know your top picks!
When time is of the essence...
See Eltham Palace. It's less than a half-hour from London, the history is fascinating and the interior design is unlike any "medieval" site you've ever toured. (We'll let you in on a little secret: our hearts may belong to the Middle Ages, but our tastes are firmly rooted in 1930s Hollywood!)
Best close-in day trip?
This is a toss-up between Faversham and Rochester. For some, a trip isn't worth its salt if there's not a castle or a cathedral involved. Rochester has both, and a very nice side trip to the charming village of Cobham as well. However, for our money, Faversham has a slight edge. No castle, no cathedral, but an incredibly well-preserved medieval town, with houses, churches, inns and a guildhall that date from the Middle Ages.
Want to go farther afield?
It has to be Dover. Although almost too far to qualify as a day trip (two hours, each way), Dover is easily accessible by direct train, bus and motorcoach. The castle is one of the very best we've ever visited, with a compelling history and engaging displays. If you have time, you must visit!
Sleeping away from London, forsooth!
We suggest you set your sights on Rye. Rye is a convenient stopover between day trips to Maidstone or Sevenoaks and Dover. There are a whole host of ancient inns and eateries in a wide range of prices, and the medieval sites in Rye can be enjoyed in a few very easy hours.
See Sevenoaks. The entire day trip is devoted almost exclusively to Tudor manor homes, including Anne Boleyn's childhood home, Hever Castle. There are so many sites, you'd be hard-pressed to see them in a day.
The Arundel day trip is all about castles - although you'll need to spend the night at Amberley Castle in order to see it firsthand. If you do choose to spend the night and want to stick with the castle theme, combine this trip with a visit to Lewes.
We're taking a big risk here, but we both agree (and therefore, cannot be wrong!): Chichester Cathedral edges out most others we've visited, with fewer tourists and a very evocative sense of the spiritual. Of course, you can't beat the history of Canterbury Cathedral, and the town of Canterbury offers more than enough to keep you busy for the day. Your choice; we've given your our opinion!
All right, all right, we admit it. Sometimes we've had enough history and need some attitude adjustment to set us back on track. If it's too early for happy hour, shopping does the trick, and we have found the best shopping (outside of London) in the town of Guildford. By the way, the historic sites here are top-notch, too.
Well, there you have it - our cook's tour of southeast England. All that reminiscing makes us itch to pack our bags and jump the puddle one more time - which is just what we're going to do. This May (2002), we're off to research the third book in the Amateur Historian's series, which will focus on Windsor, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and the wealth of ancient sites in the English midlands. We can't wait to share what we find there with you! Happy Travels!
Sarah Valente Kettler and Carole Trimble are The Amateur Historians. Visit us at www.amateurhistorian.com. Or, click on this link to purchase a copy of the Medieval and Tudor England: Day Trips South of London or the Amateur Historian's Guide to Tudor and Medieval London.