Sevenoaks, Kent: Ightham Mote

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Firstly, pronunciation.  On the way there, my boyfriend and I kept calling it “Ick-thum” Mote, as that was the best we could do with that spelling, but going by the people working there, it’s apparently more like “Item” Mote.  Just so you know, although I don’t think we attempted to pronounce it whilst we were actually there, so at least we didn’t publicly embarrass ourselves.

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Anyway, Ightham Mote is another National Trust property that we chose to visit primarily as it would give us an excuse to cruise the back roads of Kent, looking for local cherries (happy to say we found some, and bought two large bags, which were gone in a day.  The people at Ightham Mote may well have thought I was a vampire, with my pasty skin and blood-red, cherry-juice stained mouth and fingers).  Admission for non-members will set you back 12 quid, plus whatever they charge for the pay and display lot, in which case I’d probably just skip the property and retreat home to gobble down cherries in a darkened room.  But as we are members, we pressed on.

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As usual, information about the history of the home was somewhat lacking, but it was clearly Tudor (going by the exterior alone, not to mention the chapel ceiling commemorating the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon), though it turns out the original house was even older than that (14th century), and the exposed beams that give the house its character today are part of the Tudor extension.  It was evidently owned by a Victoria Cross holder (since there was a VC on display in the chapel), and latterly, a wealthy American businessman (he owned some kind of paper company in Maine, and was a WWI veteran) who left the house to the National Trust upon his death.

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Also, it is home to the only Grade I listed dog kennel in the country (which can be seen in the picture of the courtyard a few paragraphs up), though the only dog I spotted on the premises was an adorable old yellow lab (or maybe golden retriever, it was hard to say since I only saw his head) who likes to hide behind the counter in the gift shop.  I think his name was Frank.

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For the house, they only handed you a laminated map, not even one of those big fact sheets, although there were some in a couple of the rooms.  I was assured that the volunteers would only be too happy to proffer information, though that really only happened in the drawing room, the American dude’s bedroom (I just looked up his name, it’s Charles Henry Robinson), and the billiards room.  So, much of it was just blindly wandering, and there isn’t much to distinguish one stately home from another with no context.

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That said, the Drawing Room is decorated with rare hand-painted late 18th century wallpaper, with a bird design.  My favourite bird is pictured above (that expression!).  And there was also some kind of rare 18th century Chinese cabinet as well, which didn’t look terribly different from newer imitations.

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And there was that aforementioned Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon ceiling in the New Chapel (there was also an Old Chapel, but it was no longer used or decorated as a chapel, hence the “old” bit I guess), though I didn’t quite get how it related to Henry and Catherine, as I could only make out some castles and what was maybe a Tudor Rose.  Maybe there were some intertwined initials or something up there, but it was pretty faded so it was hard to tell.

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Also of note, though you wouldn’t have thought so from looking at it, was the exceptionally hideous yellowish carpeting in Charles Henry Robinson’s bedroom.  It is the same carpet that was used at the Queen’s coronation in 1953; they only laid down carpet in Westminster Abbey for the day, and then sold it off after they no longer needed it, so Charles Robinson snagged himself a big ol’ piece.  It is a particularly awful colour because red would have appeared black on black and white TV, and the BBC deemed that puke yellow would actually show up best, so there you have it.  The whole point of this is that you may well be walking on the same carpet the young Queen walked on, if that sort of thing is exciting to you.

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You have to leave the house and walk through the courtyard to get to the Billiards Room, but as I said, the guy working in there was the most helpful one in the whole property, so I wouldn’t skip it.  The Victorian billiards table weighs a tonne (literally), so this room had to be purpose-built with reinforced floors to accommodate it.  The volunteer offered to let us try it out, but I cannot successfully manage a cue for the life of me (I don’t understand what goes wrong, but whenever I try to play pool, there’s absolutely no force behind my shot, and the cue ball doesn’t even move.  It’s just embarrassing), so I went to look at the witches’ jars in the next room instead, which were found on the property filled with hair and things to try to keep witches out (though making a protection charm seems like a rather “witchy” thing to do for people who were anti-witchcraft).

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There are gardens all around the moat (mote), and apparently some trails as well, so we had a bit of a wander, but there isn’t much to be said about them, save for the midges.  We were contemplating sitting in one of the deck chairs that had thoughtfully been set up by the pond, when we realised there was a virtual cloud of midges hovering above them.  So we didn’t linger for too long.

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I did check out the cafe on the way out, in the hopes of obtaining a delicious millionaire’s shortbread like the one at the Vyne, but alas, it was not to be.  There was a small museum near the exit, which I think was a fundraising attempt, as it mentioned all the conservation work that needed to be done on the house and how much it all cost, although if I had paid 12 quid to get in, plus parking, I certainly wouldn’t be in any hurry to donate even more.  As it was, I was once again thankful for that membership as there is no way I would have been happy with parting with that much cash to see Ightham Mote, especially when the most valuable thing I learned there was how to pronounce the name.  3/5, another middling, albeit photogenic property.

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