Castles, Steam Trains and Pizza.

One of the highlights of my long list of things to do with Luca over the summer was a repeat of a day out we had last year.

The Kent and East Sussex railway is a gem of a line that runs from Tenterden in Kent to Bodiam in Sussex.  Indeed if the enthusiasts had their way it would chuff onwards past Salehurst (home to one of my very favourite pubs) and onto Robertsbridge where it would meet the London Hastings line.

Every summer the K&ESR does a terrific offer whereby children travel for one pound.   Tickets are valid all day so if you wanted you’d probably be able to go back and forth at least twice (three times if you start from Tenterden).  The journey is 50 minutes each way.

However if sitting on a train all day isn’t your thing it’s still a marvellous way to travel through the Rother Valley.

Luca and I tend to drive down to Bodiam and have a wander around the castle before walking a couple of hundred yards up the road to Bodiam station.

Bodiam Castle must be one of the most perfect in England.  It’s a straight out of the box, toy castle just like the ones you can buy to go with your plastic knights.

It was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge at the height of the Hundred Years War.  Had it been built a century earlier its location might have made sense.  Until 1287 the Sussex Coast stretched inland up the Rother Estuary and Bodiam would have been close to its Westernmost reaches.  However the great storms of 1287 changed the course the Rother took to the sea, destroyed the old town of Winchelsea and sank that of Broomhill, left the port of New Romney a mile inland and collapsed the cliffs at Hastings tipping part of Hastings Castle into the harbour.

Photographer Antony McCallum

By the time it was built Bodiam was no longer a gateway to northern Sussex and West Kent.  It was the middle of nowhere.  Nor would the castle have done anything to prevent the ongoing raids on the Kent and Sussex coasts by the French, such as that which resulted in the sack of (New) Winchelsea in 1360.

Indeed much of the archaeology seems to conclude that a good part of the castle’s function was showing off, though of course archaeologists generally don’t use such bald terms.

Showing off Dalyngrigge may have been but that’s fine and dandy by me and Luca.  It’s a couple of quid to park in the castle car park (the car park being, obviously, a later addition) and free to walk around the outside of the moat.  Quite often there are activities in the grounds such as a bit of archery.  Hand over a fiver and you can shoot a few arrows.  Occasionally chaps are there wandering around in tin suits doing knightly turns and even more occasionally a vintage bus can be found in the car park to whisk would-be passengers to the station.

One of the things I like most about the K&ESR is that it has first class carriages on many of its services (it runs five-a-day in high summer) and you pay a supplement of just 50p to travel in style.  In my books that is a bargain.

If you fancy getting off at Northiam the gardens at Great Dixter are nearby.  Among the most famous in England they were created in the grounds of a 15th Century house by the architect Edwin Lutyens and the owner Nathaniel Lloyd and continued by Lloyd’s son Christopher, the well known gardening writer.

Gardens aren’t Luca’s thing really.  However pizza is, so we stay on the train and carry on to Tenterden.  Tenterden has to be one of the most attractive towns in the Weald.  It exudes prosperity both ancient and modern and, more to the point as far as Luca is concerned, pizza can be had for a modest sum.

It’s a perfect, lazy day out and the two of us can just about take in the castle, train and have lunch for £30 all in, so long as we’re not too greedy.

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