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  • Carol Duval

Falling for the South Downs

What a change! From precarious mountain roads, thick forests and misty views of the Pyrenees to the hedged country lanes and green/golds of autumnal West Sussex. The first—rugged and a little bit dangerous, and the second—gentle and enfolding. The Romans knew a thing or two when they built their country villas on these warm southern slopes.

Northlands House, Chichester our UK base

Things didn’t start too well though.

First, when we arrived at Elaine’s lovely flat just outside Chichester, we couldn’t get into the car because the key battery was dead and then trying to open the door set off the car alarm. We had to virtually jog the 1.5 miles along country roads into Chichester and back, with darkness descending, to get our phones sorted. All was, again, eventually resolved with help from Elaine in Sydney. Thank heavens for texts and instant communication.

Then we had another car problem when Rick slashed a front tyre trying to avoid an oncoming vehicle on a narrow overpass on yet another dark rural road. Luckily we managed to drive to a pub where we waited for roadside assistance for a few hours moving into the freezing car when the pub shut. At last the rescue vehicle appeared out of the gloom around 1.30 a.m. and got us home, much to the consternation of an elderly neighbour who must have thought Martians were descending on the building, what with the flashing headlights and massive vehicle unloading us.

With the car problems resolved, we were able to enjoy the rest of the month visiting National Trust properties; towns and cities; and going on country walks.

National Trust properties

Visiting these places was rewarding in two ways. First, for soaking in the atmosphere of the previous inhabitants and learning more about their lives, family backgrounds and lifestyles. Second, for the gardens and walks. Autumn has not been a disappointment in this regard!

Hinton Ampner in Hampshire. Handsome Georgian country estate surrounded by ancient woodland. Should be spectacular decorated for Christmas! In fact, all these properties will be decorated in different special ways in December. Can’t wait.

Bateman’s in East Sussex and Rudyard Kipling’s house. Fascinating exhibition of letters and drawings of his favourite jungle animals. I hadn’t realised he’d lived in Vermont which he loved and only moved back to England after a dire family disagreement. The gardens were still blooming and the sun was shining.

Nyman’s House and ruins, home of German emigre banker, Ludwig Messel. Interesting family history with love affairs, links to royal family via Antony Armstrong Jones — Princess Margaret’s ex.

Mottisfont where we went on guided medieval walk and wetland walks. Bought in the ‘30s by Maud Russell, socialite with a lively love life, who ordered a crocodile from Harrods for her sons to keep as a pet. It lived in a bathroom until it grew too big and was sent to London Zoo. Even in autumn the raised vegetable beds were fascinating. But autumn is really taking hold.

Sissinghurst Castle Garden and Vita Sackville-West’s tower where she did her writing, South Cottage where she and husband Harold Nicolson lived, and a leafy lake walk. Hard to believe this lovely place was once a terrible prison for 3000 captured French soldiers in the mid-1700s. Another clear crisp late autumn day with breathtaking views from the roof. Perfect for a walk around the pond.

The Vyne—former Tudor palace with many makeovers from Tudor to WWI.

The nearby pub, the Mole, here seen with friends Avis and Peter Gunn, was a bit more up to date though with a hefty dose of the Wind in the Willows.

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