Imagine the scene: you are a tenant farmer for the National Trust running a sheep and arable farm just outside Winchelsea in East Sussex and living in a handsome and unspoilt fifteenth century farmhouse with the most glorious views across fields to the sea. One day a location scout for a Hollywood movie knocks on the door. The film is Mr Holmes, starring Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes and the scout is looking for an old house with a garden suitable for bee-keeping and most importantly it must have unspoilt views across the English Channel. Wickham Manor Farm has all the external characteristics, the National Trust, as we know, is not averse to a sprinkling of star dust and the house is contracted. But wait, what about the inside, could that be suitable too? Oh yes, if anything the house is even more special inside as I know from staying there earlier this year.
We had spotted Wickham Manor Farm from the footpath when we were walking in the area on a golden day last October. My curiosity was aroused and I discovered that not only was it the birthplace of William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania in 1672, but that the tenant farmers offered Bed & Breakfast and thought what a special place it would be to stay one day.
But first back to that golden afternoon in early October last year. We parked outside the church in Winchelsea, the last resting place of Spike Milligan (“I told you I was ill”) and walked out of the village onto Pett Level which is bounded by the sea and the Royal Military Canal. The canal was built in the early nineteenth century as a defensive measure against the perceived threat of invasion by Napoleon. Nowadays it forms part of a long distance path but our route this afternoon was a 6 mile circular walk.
The area is rich in wildlife and the marshlands provide an ideal habitat for our native marsh frog.
We saw a large variety of birds including kestrel, green woodpecker, mistle thrush and this mute swan. Back in Winchelsea we visited the church which was open for Harvest Festival and beautifully decorated with the bounty of the season.
Consulting the map for our journey home I saw that we weren’t too far from Dungeness and as the golden day was slipping into evening we decided to make the pilgrimage to Derek Jarman’s fisherman’s cottage. The road leading to Dungeness is one of those endless and featureless roads but eventually the huge expanse of shingle beach unfolded before us. It is always exciting visiting a place you have never been to before but which you feel you know from film and literature.
Sea holly, Eryngium maritmum grows in profusion on the shingle and to protect it from being trampled too much a boardwalk has been erected from the track to the beach. Its flowering period was now over but I can imagine the blue flowers look stunning in summer.
We had a memorable day and to top it off we bought some fresh scallops from a real fisherman so supper that evening was a bowl of spaghetti topped with pan-fried scallops with chill, garlic and tomato.
As for our Bed & Breakfast stay at Wickham Manor Farm, well apparently our bedroom complete with four-poster bed was Laura Linney’s rest room and the dining room where we had the most delicious breakfast was turned into a library. I can’t wait to see the film, it opens today in the UK and if nothing else the location shots will be stunning.