Last Sunday was just the sort of blue-sky day that begged for an escape from London and a carefree drive through the countryside. Mum (who’s always game for an adventure) and I decided to head off to East Sussex, home of the Bloomsbury Group and the inspiration for many of Eric Ravillious’ famous landscapes.
I’ve been to Lewes and its surrounding environs a few times in the past, but always in rather inclement weather. It says much for the beauty of the English countryside, though, that I was able to appreciate it even in biting winds and a perpetual mist. I do, however, remember thinking it quite remarkable that everyone didn’t freeze to death when I first visited Charleston in a particularly cold March. Clearly, the Bloomsbury Set were of hardier stuff than I!
Our drive on Sunday, though, couldn’t be more perfect, and we both gloried in the lush green landscape, dotted with fluffy clouds of May blooming in the hedgerows and sheep roaming the fields. Mum and I arrived in Firle (only a few minutes drive from Charleston) just in time for lunch, and thought a Sunday Roast at the charming Ram Inn would be the perfect start to our afternoon. We’d stayed at the Ram Inn twice in the past (it has wonderfully comfy rooms, with names such as ‘Bloomsbury,’ ‘Beanstalk’ and ‘Bo-Peep.’ I’m particularly fond of the Beanstalk!) and were big fans of the pub restaurant too.
I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of local English sparkling wine and an appetising roast, as well as spending some time in the garden skimming through some of my Bloomsbury Group related books. After our leisurely lunch, we went on to Charleston House. I’d forgotten that the Charleston Festival had started that weekend, so the gardens were rather crowded, and we decided not to go on a tour of the house (having seen it before), but it was still a joy to stroll through the pretty grounds, especially on such a pleasantly summer-like day.
The gardens at Charleston are a little untamed, which I think matches the house perfectly. Owned by Vanessa and Clive Bell, and home too to the artist Duncan Grant, as well as frequently visited by other members of the Bloomsbury Group (including Virginia and Leonard Woolf, who lived very close by), Charleston is a truly exceptional place. There is something almost child-like in the care free abandon in which Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant painted the furniture, walls and ceramics within the house. A stilted, formal garden would be too great a contrast to the artistic freedom that Charleston so inspiringly represents. Instead, the gardens are unfettered and comfortable: the perfect place to sit with a picnic (which many people were doing) and laugh with friends.
If you’ve never been to Charleston, I can’t recommend a visit enough! Tours around the house are timed, but if you go on a Sunday or Bank Holiday then it’s free-flow. Sadly, pictures aren’t allowed indoors, but it honestly is an absolutely stunning house with a fascinating history.
Have you ever visited Charleston? What did you think of the house and garden? I’ll be publishing my post on Monk’s House (Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s East Sussex residence) next week so do check back for that!