As Einstein observed; time isn’t just relative, it’s subjective. Six weeks passes quickly for an adult but for a child of five it’s an eternity. So I’ve set out to make sure Luca’s summer holiday is filled with as many nice things to do as possible.
Many of my childhood memories are of those endless six weeks of summer, of Augusts spent playing in the woods and fields of the Sussex Weald.
One of my favourite is of destroying a field of wheat next to our house. In those days wheat grew taller. Over the last hundred years it’s been progressively bred to be shorter and shorter, presumably because it makes it easier to combine and to control weeds. But in the early 1970s it was still taller than a six year old.
That means that walking into a field of wheat was like entering a jungle where the horizon was twelve inches in front of one’s nose. My brother Tim and me, together with two slightly older children from up the road, Oliver and Tamsin, made that field our playground.
We quickly discovered that by rolling along on our sides we could flatten pathways though the corn and when we rolled around in a circle we could make a camp. Between us we made a very early precursor to the now famous crop circles – albeit with none of the intricate symmetry of those found in Wiltshire – and one angry farmer.
I seem to remember that Oliver and Tamsin’s father paid. They were a bit older than us and he was a stockbroker who occasionally commuted to London in a helicopter, something beyond exotic in the early 70s, so I’m assuming that the price of a wrecked field of wheat was small change to him. From the point of view of a six year old it was someone else’s money well spent for a glorious summer of mischief and adventure.
Mazes have never lost their fascination. This year Penshurst Place planted its very own. Hedges take too long but a crop of maize springs up in no time at all. It’s great. I took Luca and his friend Ben.
It was a bit of a trudge around but as an added incentive we were given a map and a piece of paper on which to collects stamps from various locations around the maze. The prize was a sticker. How evolution has arrived at the apparent willingness of almost every five year old to do an amazing range of things in exchange for a small sticky piece of paper I really don’t know, but it’s very handy.
If you live within striking distance of Penshurst (just Northwest of Tunbridge Wells) and have pre-teenage children Penshurst Place is a great resource. House and garden tickets are £9.80 for adults and £5.80 for children over five, not so cheap. But a ‘garden only’ season ticket (£42.00 for one person + one guest or £68.00 for a family ticket; one adult plus three children or two adults plus two children, and you can add more children to the season ticket at £6.50 each per year) is great value if you’re going to visit more than half a dozen times during the season, which typically runs from Spring to Autumn half term.
Included in the price of a garden season ticket are a couple of single visit tickets to the house. That’s probably enough for most people. It’s nice enough as stately homes go but I don’t think it’s any great shakes. You get to gaze from a respectful distance at how the other half lived. In times of austerity when the few sail through and the many tighten their belts I can think of better things to do than dwell on past wealth. But that’s just me.
From the perspective of a small person Penshurst’s real value lies in its adventure playground. There’s a sandpit and a big slide and lots of things to climb on, swing from or balance on.
If you’re a grown up, or perhaps just an adult who hasn’t grown up all that much, Penshurst Place offers a nice mix. The adventure playground aside there are the gardens and you don’t have to be ‘one of those people who enjoys gardens’ to enjoy them, if you know what I mean.
Even Luca likes the gardens. From time to time they organise activities for children around its various parts. Last year we went on a pumpkin hunt at Halloween and back in the spring there was an Easter egg trail.
The wonder of the gardens is that you never seem to see anyone working in them despite the fact that they must take thousands of hours of work to ensure they’re as beautifully tended as they are.
Having trawled around a few chatueau gardens along the Loire four years back Penshurst’s lack their ostentation or grandeur. Villandry, with its geometrical arrangements of little hedges and ornamental vegetables offers a fine view. Penshurst offers intimacy. These aren’t gardens for seeing and being seen in. There’s not much latitude for Frenchified promenading. There are a score of nooks in which hands can be held, confidences exchanges, solitude contemplated and the passing of the seasons enjoyed.
So if you live in the Weald it’s worth exploring Penshurst and thinking about making it one of your regular haunts.