Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Guest Post by Billy Lane


Living in a country with so much heritage and history, one might forgive me for being somewhat blasé about all that is right there on my doorstep.  Allow me to explain.  Despite walking past numerous tourist attractions everyday on my journey into work in London, I never visit them.  I’ve yet to ride the London Eye, yet to visit the Houses of Parliament, yet to be enthralled by the Royal Opera House, yet to set foot inside the numerous galleries and museums housed inside impressive buildings.  The problem is, when it is on your doorstep and you see it everyday, in your recreational moments, you tend to avoid it.

That’s London, and that’s my excuse.  What I didn’t have an excuse for however, was not paying a visit to Chartwell - the home of Winston Churchill, Britain’s most revered and notable Prime Minister.  I had assumed, wrongly, that Chartwell was buried deep in the countryside somewhere, miles away from anywhere.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that it was a mere twenty minute drive from my house.  Imagine my further surprise, when I realised that during my jaunts in my car to stretch its legs and keep the battery active, the route I took narrowly avoided driving by it by about half a mile!

I joined the National Trust two years ago, with the intention of visiting some of the wondrous places my country has to offer.  Chartwell is one of the houses looked after by the National Trust, so I organised to meet up with some friends and make a day of it and see what it had to offer.

It had nothing to do with The Allen Family’s indignation that somewhere so historic and important and nearby was being ignored by me!

Chartwell is indeed buried away amidst country lanes and leafy surroundings.  You drive through narrow, twisting roads, lined with trees when out of nowhere you see the sign for the entrance.  The car park is situated a fair distance from the house, so as to not spoil the setting I suppose.  The walk is leisurely and comes with some impressive views of the surrounding fields and ponds (complete with black swans) that Churchill had put there.  Unfortunately, the gardens were not yet flowering, so all I saw in that regard was a bunch of twigs and soil, but I do intend on returning in the summer to see them in all their glory.  

The house is, of course, one very striking piece of architecture.  I took some photos from a vantage point in the woodland opposite, that show you how grand it looks.  Inside, it is very quaint, and kept as it was when Churchill lived there (even to the extent of having a fruitcake on the dining table).  The National Trust do not allow photography inside the house, as many of the items inside are personal artefacts of the Churchill family and not owned by the Trust.

The walls are adorned by landscapes Churchill had painted, each with their own attached story, and one of the upstairs rooms contains all his ceremonial dress and medals.  The kitchen is filled with the lingering smell of the spices that he was fond of, and the lower ground floor contains probably the most interesting and personal items one would hope to find - his personal love letters to his wife.  Reading through them, seeing their pet names for each other and how he would write to her to get things off his chest, or just to tell her something mundane, or to tell her how much he loved her, was heart warming and a joy to behold.

His studio is adjacent to the main house, separated by the gardens, and contains a large collection of his paintings.  The kitchen garden is nearby and continues to grow all the produce that Churchill grew in his days there.  Interestingly, the restaurant is seasonal and serves dishes based on what is grown in that garden.  I had a delicious cottage pie, so fresh and tasty - I can’t wait to go back in the summer and see what the menu has to offer then!
In the peace and serenity of the surrounding fields, you can look at the house, gardens and lakes and easily see how Churchill fell in love with the place.  It really is a sight to behold, and truly a remarkable insight into the life he lived there. 

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