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A Travelogue

 

Situated in the south-eastern corner of England, and within easy reach of London, the counties of Kent and Sussex provide between them the pleasantest countryside and the most convenient stretch of coastline for anyone wishing to explore the surroundings of the capital. In many ways very different from each other, containing as they do a wealth of varied scenery, villages, towns and architecture, they're geographically united by the Weald, a great stretch of what was formerly forest land, that runs westward from the heart of Kent, through Sussex almost to the borders of Hampshire. This inland plain, once a ridge of chalk upland, but now eroded, is largely denuded of the trees — mainly oaks — which covered it so densely during the Middle Ages, and which were a seemingly inexhaustible source of timber until they succumbed in later centuries to the charcoal burner and the builder. Known by the Saxons as "Andred", this forest was penetrated by few tracks until Elizabethan times, and it did much to isolate the ancient kingdom of the South Saxons, as well as parts of Kent, from the rest of the country. 

To the south, the Weald is bounded by the majestic sweep of the South Downs, the rolling chalk hills which curve in from the far west to terminate on the Sussex coast in the magnificent cliffs, five hundred feet high, which plunge into the sea at Beachy Head, near Eastbourne. And from their many vantage-points on a clear day may be seen the hills forming the northern boundary of the Weald — the North Downs, which in their turn conclude as the White Cliffs of Dover. 

Not least of the delights which Kent and Sussex have to offer the visitor are the many villages and small towns which dot the plain of the Weald and nestle in the downland valleys. In Kent, these villages are typically scattered through the hop-fields and orchards which form such a prominent feature of this "garden of England". Some of the more famous Kentish villages are Brenchley, with its weatherboarded houses, Cobham with its palace, Ightham with its mansion surrounded by a moat, and such places as Eynsford, Hollingbourne, Goudhurst and Tenterden. In Sussex, sheltered by the northern slopes of the South Downs, may be found a cluster of villages and small market towns which for secluded old-world charm are scarcely to be rivalled in the length and breadth of England. Chief among these, and set in a gentle countryside of meadowland and meandering streams, criss-crossed by hedge-lined lanes which seem to have IMe idea of where they are going, is Alfriston, with its ancient church, its picturesque inns, once the haunt of smugglers, and its famous market cross. But also worthy of exploration are many more, including Amberley, Graffham, Midhurst, Poynings and Wilmington. 

Villages such as these provide endless scope for gentle browsing, but the visitor with a taste for things which are historically and architecturally more dramatic is similarly well provided for in these two counties by their wealth of castles and stately homes. In Knole, near Sevenoaks in Kent, for instance, he will find one of the stateliest homes in England, with its great grounds and its three hundred and sixty-five rooms; while at Petworth House in Sussex he can see a superb example of the great English country mansion. Here can be seen a picture gallery containing a number of paintings of local scenes, by Turner, in addition to a splendid suite of reception rooms. One of these, the carved room, was designed and decorated by the famous seventeenth-century wood-carver, Grinling Gibbons. 

In Kent, the castles include that at Leeds, dating from the fourteenth-century, and, although extensively restored, still an outstanding example of a medieval moated stronghold; and the great Norman castle at Dover, which towers on its cliff above the famous harbour, gateway to England. Sussex boasts many castles, such as Hastings and Pevensey which sprang up as a means of defending coastal landing places and river-mouths, and others like Bodiam, Arundel and Lewes which were further inland and defended fords or bridges across the rivers. Of all these, Bodiam, perhaps, is the most perfect survival. Set among beautiful meadows and circled by its moat, it lies close to the Kent border, where, for the visitor whose time is limited, it provides the readiest imaginable gateway into both the history and the rural charm of this corner of England.