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Alan Machin: Tourism As Education
Home page: blogs, introductions, links to main pages
Berlin: Editing a Townscape
... and reading a city that has had many rebuilders
Making Sense of The Travel Learning Experience- 1
1 Information Streams
Making Sense of the Travel Learning Experience - 2
Some basic theories
Back to Basics: Presentation given at the Cuba EduTourism Conference
The CETA Conference in Havana, Cuba, 8/9 November 2010
About the author
Comments - CV - photos
At the heart of the tourist experience
Learning through Landscapes
Exploring Oxfordshire (and a bit of Gloucestershire!)
The Environment As Data: Building New Theories For Tourism
How tourists relate to places
Sail Gives Way to Steam
A return visit discovers just how much has been achieved in this iconic restoration
Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth Reenactment
Visits to Leicester and the battlefield event, 2013
Along The Way
Recollections and Reflections of 60+ Years' Learning about the World and its Ways
On the Edge of the New World
Shaping New England
Exploring Holderness in East Yorkshire; October 2012
Past Historic
Graf Zepplin, Spain 1968, OS History, Much Wenlock Olympics, Chatham Dockyard, Hawes Tourism, Colonial Williamsburg,
A Summer of Travelling / Matthew Starr
Three months' backpacking in Africa, Asia and Australia
East Anglia
The Broads, Pensthorpe natural history, Radar Museum, Caister Lifeboat Service and more!
A Richer Earth
Discoveries in the landscape and attractions of Shropshire
Blog Index Page
Blog pages from 2009 listed
From Strip Map to Sat Nav
'Finding the way' aids to exploration
Showcasing the World
How the Tourist Microcosm took centre stage
Doing A Dissertation
Notes to help students preparing their proposals
The Japanese Tsunami Destruction at First Hand
Sarah and Tom Wadsworth saw for themselves
Showcases: Examples
The range and variety of tourism's focal points examined
Jigsaw: Frameworks of Knowledge
The tourist jigsaw puzzle of - knowledge
Books and other works useful in studying tourism as education
Tourism's Educational Origins: Part 2
The development of tourism as education, 1845 -
Tourism's Educational Origins: Part 1
Tourism's educational origins and management
Impressions of Tourism in Cuba
Thoughts on having seen some of the country myself
Captain James Cook: North Yorkshire Days
Tracing the early life of Britain's greatest maritime explorer
Hunting the Hound of the Baskervilles
Tracking down places that inspired the famous detective story and moulded Dartmoor's image
Exploring the Idea of Dark Tourism
What is it? Is it a useful idea?
Talking to Tourists
Visitor interpretation - guide books, visitor centres and other media
Shades of Light and Dark in the Garden of England
An exploration in East Sussex and Kent, June/July 2010
Hunting the Gladiator and the Gecko
A thirteen-year search for a wartime adventure
Steam Up For A Famous Film's Birthday Party
The Railway Children weekend on the Worth Valley line raises questions about heritage presentations
Anne-Marie Rhodes: Making a Difference in South East Asia
Leeds Met graduate of '07 describes her activities
Discoveries in Northumberland, April 2010
Alnwick Gardens; Winter's Gibbet; Holy Island, Cragside, Wallington Hall
Discoveries in the Midlands, March 2010
Bletchley Park National Codes and Cipher Centre; and the Rollright Stones
Alan Machin's Blog - April 2010
The development of tourism as education continued
Jigsaw Puzzle!
The Adventure of the Timely Tourist
Leaders Into The Field
People who inspired everyone to explore
Alan Machin's blogs - February and March 2010
Postings on the history tourism as education - redirection
Alan Machin's Blog - January 2010
Tourist photography and souvenirs
Earlier front-page blog postings - January 2010 onwards
Archived after being on the Home Page
News from higher education and - beyond
The Development of Educational Tourism
Key dates in the development of educational tourism
Alan Machin's Blog - December 2009
Christmas Quiz and other postings
Analysing Heritage Tourism
Ideas and perspectives on a hugely important sector
Alan Machin's Blog - November 2009
Visitors' Views of Stonehenge, West Sussex - and other Postings
Are Universities Losing Their Way?
Reflections having retired
Teaching Tourism At Leeds Met
Remembering the Best
Alan Machin's Blog - October 2009
Thoughts about university life and discovery by travel
Alan Machin's Blog - September 2009
Further postings about a trip last month to the USA, and about higher education
Alan Machin's Blog - August 2009
Postings about a trip this month to the USA
Alan Machin's Blog - July 2009
The Story So Far reaches the summer
Alan Machin's Blog - June 2009
The Story So Far looks back on seventeen years at Leeds Met
Alan Machin's Blog - May 2009
Another month of The Story So Far
Alan Machin's blog - April 2009
Yet more of the Story So Far
Alan Machin's blog - March 2009
More of The Story So Far
Alan Machin's Blog - February 2009
The Story So Far - pioneers, people and places
Alan Machin's Blog: January 2009
The Story So Far .... first postings of '09
Alan Machin's Blog: December 2008
The Story So Far .... latest postings
Alan Machin's Blog - November '08
The Story So Far.... continued
Alan Machin's Blog: October 2008
The Story So Far....
No Place Like Rome
The eternal city with the eternal tourists
Charleston, South Carolina
A photo essay about a fine historic city
Idealog - December 2007
Ideas, notes and comments
Idealog - November 2007
Ideas, notes and comments
The Educational Origins of Tourism
Discussion paper
Idealog - October 2007
Coton Military Cemetery; Education and Tourism; Chatham Maritime; Dickens World; Quiz Answers; Tourist Guides; Mediation In Tourism
Idealog - September 2007
Plane Paradox;Tour Guiding; Where in the World?; Do Tourism Students Know Where They Are?; Leeds Met's Wow!; Sea Harrier; Scarborough and Tourism As Education; Doing A Dissertation; Types of Tourist; A Media Lens; Cost of Travelling Alone; Risk of Bias?
Idealog - August 2007
A People Industry; Heritage Interpretation; Lud's Church; Tourists Go Home!; Stone Gappe YHA; Insight Guides; Eyewitness Guides; Bramhope Tunnel; Elizabethan Progress; Information Quality Matrix
Idealog - July 2007
Hidden Heroes, Health Tourism, Holme Fen Posts; Harrogate (again); Whitby Abbey; Dramatic Interpretation; Harrogate Interpretation, Attractions and Royal Hall
Idealog - June 2007
Christian Pilgrimage; Cincinnati Museums Centre; The Coming of the Guide Book; Talking to Tourists - Media, Stages of the Visit, The Service Journey; Tourism's Missing Link; The Final Call; SATuration level; Halifax's Edwardian Window on the World
Idealog - May 2007
Martin and Osa Johnson, Wensleydale Creamery, Malham Tarn, Thomas Cook, Northern Ireland's Tourism Rebuild, Jamestown Festival Park, Cite des Sciences
Idealog - April 2007
The Promenade Plantee, The Jardin des Plantes, Environmental Data, Victorian Beauty Spot Rediscovered, Jamestown, The Anglers' Country Park, Children's Museums, Fairburn Ings
Idealog - March 2007
A Sense of the Past- The 'Amsterdam', The Outdoor Classroom, Film-Induced Tourism, Making Tracks for the Coast and Country, Pictures, Context and Meaning, Classics-on-Sea, Hi Hi Everyone!, Dark Side of the Dream, Holodyne - The Action Cycle
Idealog - February 2007
Don't Go There!, Space Tourism, The Crystal Cathedral, New Books on Tourism, Dark Tourism - Undercliffe Cemetery, Showcase - The Louvre, A Class Act, First Impressions Count, Postal Pleasures, Canaletto in Venice, Serpent Mound, Capsule Culture etc
Idealog - January 2007
Capsule Culture,Seaside Style, Poble Espanyol, Mallorca, Edgar Dale, Children's Holiday Homes, Representations of Reality, Outdoor Education in Germany, Baedeker Guides, Geography Textbooks, Environmental Data Theory etc
Idealog - December 2006
Writers on Landscape, Story Books, The Deep, Flour Power and the Archers,Showcases: Grand Tour, Halifax Piece Hall, Books of Concern about Tourism, Tourist Traces, Tourist Typologies, The Growth of Educational Tourism, The Field Studies Council, etc
Idealog - November 2006
A blog of ideas, comments and notes
Travel To Understand: Belfast
Telling the stories of troubled times
World Quiz 2010
Geography with a tourism angle
The Monterey Bay Aquarium
An outstanding educational facility in California
Chicago: Tourism Re-Imaging
A closer view of an iconic city
Colonial Williamsburg
A Virginia history showcase
A Social Club Outing By Train, 1935
How to do Scotland in 30 hours flat
Going Dutch
Presenting the past in the Netherlands
Keukenhof: Business is Blooming
Using tourism to promote an industry
A View of Italy for the City
Trentham Gardens Revived
A Case Study in Heritage Management
A curious tale of misleading publicity
Old Rice Farm
The story of the house in the 'holler'
Perfection in Paradise: The Eden Project
New page being added: The Eden Project's design for success
Escaping From Slavery: Facing Our Past
The US National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Prague Tourist Shows
Outstanding showcase attractions in the city
Retracing the Steps: Tourism as Education
ATLAS Conference paper given in Finland, 2000
Tourism and Historic Towns: The Cultural Key
A background paper for a Council of Europe Conference
The Social Helix
Visitor Interpretation as a Tool for Social Development, 1989
Malta Residential, 14-21 Feb 2006 - Page 1
Reports and Pictures
Malta Residential, 14-21 Feb 2006 - Page 2
Photos and reports of Friday 17 Feb onwards
Malta Residential, 14-21 February 2006 - Page 3
Reports and pictures from Sunday, 19 February onwards
Tourism Alumni Reunion, 8 March 2003
Leeds tourism students reunion 2003
World Geography Quiz 1
A test of your knowledge
The Adventure of the Timely Tourist
The answers
Tall Ships Race 2010 Converged on Hartlepool
A major event-based boost for tourism in the town
Plymouth: From the Tamar to the Sea
Starting point for explorations round the globe
Plimoth Plantation
A reconstruction of the Mayflower settlers' village of the 1620s on the north east coast of North America
World Geography Quiz 2010 - Answers
Geography with a tourism angle
World Geography Quiz - Answers
Christmas Quiz 2009 - Answers
A day in the city including the Botanic Garden
Tourist Showcases
Examples from around the world

Shades of Light and Dark in the Garden of England

Biggin Hill display composite


Stuck in the past or learning from the past? One of the central arguments about heritage tourism in Britain is the degree to which it either informs or hinders national self-awareness. Do we recall it to learn from what happened and avoid the curse of history repeating itself? Or do we suffer from a blinkered, heavily out of date understanding of what our role in the world ought to be? Recalling military victories can obscure the realisation of what they really cost in terms of human suffering. It might also tempt our policy-makers into pursuing new military adventures. Iraq and Afghanistan could be examples. And so could the war over the Falkland Islands nearly three decades ago, which itself could be seen as a military success setting a precedent for a later government anxious to reap a similar political reward.

The light and shade of tourism is hardly better exemplified in the south east corner of England. The gardens of Sissinghurst and Down House are amongst many in Kent and East Sussex – indeed, further into West Sussex and Hampshire – which add to the orchards and patchwork farm fields and give the label Garden of England, by promotional claim to Kent but equally applicable to that wider set of counties. But this region was the one invaded and fought over again and again. The Romans and Normans succeeded: Napoleon and Hitler did not. Bonaparte’s troops never set out and neither did those of Hitler, but his air force did, bombing and burning cities across much of southern Britain. Those ancestors of modern cruise missiles, the V-rockets, terrified London. Hitler’s navy attacked the coast with heavy loss of life. Communities had to abandon their farms and villages. School children had to be sent to safety in distant parts of the country. King William’s Normans had landed, fought and won in the Battle of Hastings. Their success brought the casualties of war and one of the deepest revolutions Britain underwent before the industrial changes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. King William established a new ruling order based upon barons, castles, new squires and a powerful church system. All of these events have left their marks on Britain. In the south eastern corner there are remains galore spread across the landscape and deeply embedded in the whole culture of its people.

Which brings me to that great event involving British, American and German flying machines – fighters, bombers and others. Not the Battle of Britain, but a celebration of it seventy years later. The Biggin Air Display took place in front of 35,000 people in late June this year.

It was one of those days with something for everyone, even though six decades separated the oldest in our ten-person family group from the youngest. Though British-cloudy it was un-British hot. Long queues of cars wound through the lanes of the North Downs onto the open grass edging the long runways. At one end, about a mile away, were a static display, a funfair and army and air force recruiting stands. In those young children climbed over self-propelled guns and into the gizzards of troop carriers and tanks. They were having fun. It reminded me of when I had the chance as a young teenager to ride on top of a tank around an armoured corps driving range in Dorset. It was something to talk about for weeks. Along the edge of the spectator zone parallel to, but well separated from, the long runway, were family groups and individuals. Many took picnics, folding chairs and sunshades. Close to the rope barrier at the front were the camera-wielding enthusiasts. Beyond the barrier every now and then a steward wearing sunshades and walkie-talkie rode along on an all-terrain vehicle to make sure nobody got over-enthusiastic about literally joining the planes skimming along the tarmac.

Once the flying started it really got going with something up aloft, landing or taking off again constantly from about 11:30 to 5:30. There were small, fast and highly manoeuvrable aerobatic teams. A Chinook helicopter hauled a 4x4 and trailer several hundred feet over the airfield. Another circled much higher and then passed over as a team of parachutists jumped out to land in precision formation by the runway. Later in the day there would be displays by a Eurofighter Typhoon which would scare the pants off most enemy combatants just by flying in close and then hurtling up vertically while its engines deafened everything within a couple of kilometres.

This was the Battle of Britain Anniversary however. The heart of the show in every sense was the flying displays by World War II aircraft. In fact the preliminary to these came from biplanes of the 1914-18 war, climbing and swooping above and around the sky in a recall of the start of aerial warfare. Then there were the Spitfires and Hurricanes which engaged in a mock dog fight with enemy Messerschmitts. They were only play acting, but the sense of drama was there for any of the audience below who were familiar with countless books and films that have told their stories over the years. Over the public address system a commentary interspersed with sound effects of machine guns and explosions was relayed. Real eruptions of simulated bombs beyond the runway sent huge flames and billowing smoke into the air. Military marches rounded off the ‘defeat’ of the would-be invaders.

Whether all the excitement generated by the exhibition of flying put on in this was an attempt to relive the triumphs of the past or was a way of getting closer to knowing the horrors of warfare is an issue that is central to this kind of tourist spectacle. Sir Winston Churchill contrasted two mental images in his speeches at the time. In his 18 June speech in 1940 on the war situation he referred to the danger of sinking “into the abyss of a new dark age”. He also held out the prospect of a “move forward into broad sunlit uplands”. The enemy would be seeing it the other way round as they tried, as they would see it, to climb out of a dark age into the sunshine of a new, thousand year order. Pre-war Nazi propaganda such as the Leni Reifenstahl film “Triumph of the Will” from 1934 is built on the idea. Churchill’s speeches during the war are imbued with the same ideas, in reverse as it were. Different people have different shades of opinion on the situations that confront them. Opinions are never perfectly polarised but do have a whole spectrum of shading. The ways in which people interpret events like the Biggin Hill Air Display varies in like manner. It depends on who they are, what their experiences are and how they see these shows in the light (or dark) or those experiences.

For most people, the outcome of the Battle of Britain was good even though it necessitated death, injury and destruction. The outcome of the War was good, even though it involved tragedy on a vast scale and left the world, as all major conflicts do, full of potential for many further wars and tragedies. There was plenty to celebrate therefore and plenty to be proud about, even if that pride had to be balanced by regrets about loss and misery. Some people may say that preserving military aircraft and admiring them in museums or in flying displays is ignoring the fact that they are killing machines. Of course they are. But they were also contributors to the end of murderous military operations and the philosophies that led to the existence of those activities. Designing, testing and then turning them out in great numbers depended on high levels of human ingenuity and effort. Flying them and using them to defeat a deadly enemy required more skills and so often the ultimate sacrifice in what most would see as a noble cause. And besides all that, the wisdom of our collective experiences and understanding over the decades since 1940 should mean that we know of the downside, the divisions, death and destruction that those machines were built to be part of. The appearance of modern jet fighters like the Typhoon during the Biggin Air Display was impressive, perhaps exciting. But the earlier Second World War dog fights and mock bombings had reminded the spectators about the nature of warfare and the truths revealed by seven decades of education and media documentaries. Present day conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world bring home the reality of what wars mean to humankind.

And I couldn’t help thinking that the ideal Battle of Britain Display would be one in which Spitfires are flown by Germans and Messerschmitts by Britons.

Chartwell composite


... but also an exhibition and conference centre. Sir Winston Churchill’s beloved home in North Kent is, like Down House, a mix of exhibition centre and family home, but it is rather less successful.

Churchill bought the property in 1922 without telling his wife, Clementine, and it was the subject of a number of rows between them over the years. She never really took to it although she always supported her husband’s improvements to the property and set out a rose garden there. While he was Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland during the last World War he spent much time in London or on foreign missions. Before then and afterward losing the General election in 1945 it was very much the Churchill family’s home. It was there that he could relax in his hobbies of painting and bricklaying. There, too, he wrote the extensive output of memoirs and historical works that earned him copious payments. During his second term as Prime Minister from 1951 to 1955 he did much of his political work there, as he had before the war when serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer. According to Stuart Ball’s biography of Churchill he had always tended to live beyond his means, with financial rescue coming often from his writing. In 1946 a group of wealthy business people bought Chartwell from him for 43,800 before presenting it to the National Trust on condition that Winston and Clementine Churchill could live there until the end of their lives. The Trust continues to look after it to this day.

Chartwell is well known and as the home of Britain’s wartime leader and celebrated author, who became Sir Winston Churchill in 1954, it draws in large numbers of visitors from at home and abroad. Churchill loved it, laid out new gardens and lakes, and delighted in the long views out over the Weald of Kent. Visitors can enjoy these today. They can also tour the house and the separate studio where he painted his watercolours of landscapes. Yet going round the house is a little disappointing. First – and this is too an extent my personal view – the taking of photographs is banned, which detracts from the experience. They are banned at Down House as well; indeed, at all English Heritage houses. The National Trust made it the general rule to allow photography this year with the exception of just certain properties, Chartwell being one. It is a very welcome change, since being able to capture images of whatever interests the visitors allows them to recall much better the properties ever afterwards. At the same time issues of security and potential copyright infringement of works of art in properties are always up for serious consideration by managers.

The bigger disappointment for me at Chartwell is that rooms have been changed since Churchill’s day in order to make several of them exhibition areas on his life. There are displays of his many international awards and recognitions, cabinets with his uniforms and special clothing like his famous ‘siren suit’ worn for practical comfort. A photographic exhibition tells of his life. All of these are important, but ..... As I toured the house I viewed the entrance hall, sitting room, study, library and kitchen – and Lady Clementine’s bedroom. Where was his bedroom? They did sleep in their own rooms. There was a bathroom. And a dining room. But – no sign of the bedroom for the great man. Now, you might say that there is enough to show family life within the house. On the other hand the life of such a leader of his nation revolved around the parts of the house most personal to him and his working life – study, library, studio – and bedroom. According to Stuart Ball he was woken at 8am for breakfast and then spent the whole of the morning in bed dealing with correspondence and reading the newspapers before taking a bath and having a late lunch. Having walked around the house and garden I was puzzled by not having seen his bedroom and should have asked one of the National Trust volunteers where it was. Time was running out however and I moved on – not the mark of a dedicated visitor! According to later information found on another visitor’s web site the bedroom is next to the study but not open to visitors. I will endeavour to find out why.

The restaurant, shop and conference-cum-functions areas are away from the house. To me it was a pity that there wasn’t a visitor centre and museum there rather than in Chartwell itself. A number of rooms have been taken over which were really part of the house, reducing its impact as the home of the Churchills. At Down House the domestic story on the ground floor has a unity and the exhibition area on the floor has another. Both of them tell the essential narratives of the life of the Darwins and the nature of Charles Darwin’s work very successfully. Chartwell has an awkward and incomplete mix of the Churchill equivalents.



Sissinghurst Castle is hardly a castle at all. True, its central brick tower might look a bit like a keep. It carried the name of ‘castle’ up to the eighteenth century though by that time was looking much more like a complex manor house. When it housed thousands of French prisoners captured during the Seven Years’ War it suffered badly with whole ranges finally being demolished. The remnants became the Cranbrook Workhouse and later homes for farm labourers. In 1930 Harold Nicholson and his wife Vita Sackville-West bought the decrepit property, moving from their house near Sevenoaks which was threatened by nearby development. They began its repair and laid out gardens designed like outdoor ‘rooms’ separated by walls and hedges. Within each of these were different arrangements of trees, shrubs, flowers and open spaces, each with a unified approach such as the famous white garden with blooms chosen for their colour. Eight years after purchasing the property they began to welcome the public, many of whom had been enthused about Sissinghurst and gardening in general by Vita Sackville-West’s writings in the Observer newspaper. The garden and adjacent buildings are only part of a larger estate. In 1967 the National Trust acquired Sissinghurst with their son Nigel Nicholson and his family in residence in part of it. Work has gone on to reuse parts of the estate for traditional food production. For example, a large orchard has recently been planted with many different kinds of fruit trees.

This is truly a garden of England and one of its most famous by far. The planting that Vita Sackville-West introduced has remained the principal attraction. Light and shade and myriad colours personify the splendours of the place, with a great feeling of intimacy set out by the enclosed spaces. The story of the Nicholsons, their life and loves, supplies a richly varied backdrop to the landscape of this corner of Kent.

[Scroll to the foot of the page to read the postings in their correct order]

Down House composite


With the recent bicentenary celebrations of Charles Darwin’s birth producing numerous TV documentaries, at least one drama and dozens of print articles all showing his home at Down House the idea can become fixed in the mind that it is lost in the middle of the Kent countryside. When standing in the grounds of the house the impression is certainly one of rural calm – but Biggin Hill Airport is only a runway’s length away and the London suburbs are encroaching.

Darwin was a sensitive man, mindful of the needs of his family and of the public at large who would in 1859 read his book ‘On the of Species by Means of Natural Selection’. Money from his father and later from his book sales gave him a comfortable life devoted to biological research. After the momentous voyage that he undertook on HMS Beagle studying wild life around the world and especially in the Galapagos Islands, he settled back in to his home and it became the centre point of his world. There he could research, write and walk while thinking through his ideas. There he and his wife Emma could raise their family of ten children, supported by a few servants and partaking of the life of Downe village in a limited fashion. (Note that the village is ‘Downe’ and the house ‘Down’ with no letter ‘e’). Charles Darwin hated the public gave which followed upon the publication of his books and the shock waves that they began to make across society. He was sensitive to the worries of his wife who was a devout Christian and who could see the effects of his scientific investigation of the living world and the clash that theories on evolution had with those of the creationists. Darwin paid for the lane past their house to be lowered and the house’s front door to be moved to reduce the ease with which spectators could gaze at the family.

Darwin’s home is now open to the public. English Heritage has done a very good job in setting out the ground floor to show what life was like for him and his family, and the upstairs floor as an excellent exhibition about the man, his work and his legacy. It is much more successful than Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill’s home now run by the National Trust not far away, as will be suggested in one of the next postings. The family living areas plus Charles Darwin’s study, the gardens and his experimental greenhouse and shed have a unity that Chartwell has lost. In Down House the exhibition on the upper floor is beautifully done. It is confined in space by the size of the rooms when large groups of visitors are present, something difficult to control except by restricting the numbers admitted which is not presently done. The exhibition is successful in that most visitors when I was there seemed to be reading most of the interpretive panels, which is often not the case. The graphics are a delight – clear yet colourfully attractive. The display representing Darwin’s work area while on HMS Beagle is very well done, with a subtle use of a video showing an actor sat at a table working on researches. The work of Darwin’s contemporary, Alfred Russell Wallace, is set out with his parallel discoveries. There are discussions – well followed up with detailed books on sale in the shop – about the views of people who oppose the ideas Darwin was fostering.

Incidentally, car parking for Down House is necessarily limited, too, with some overflow space available, but the main area holds only a few dozen cars. A coach shunted itself into the slot provided for it as we sat eating lunch in our car. If a few coaches arrived together they would have caused chaos.

The gardens and work areas are essential parts of the Darwin story. His observations on the plants and creatures living within it are described in an audio and video guide given to all visitors asking for one. These generally work well. The small display screen can be difficult to see on a sunny day, however. Part way round I touched the wrong button and found myself looking at the tour of the house section and not knowing how to get back I abandoned it. I didn’t feel I had missed a great deal as it happened. The staff at the entrance were glad when the portable guides were returned as several of the units had been giving problems of one sort or another. These devices are very useful and can be very effective, as here, but they do have a high overhead of handling time required from the staff.

As is the usual case a personal visit puts a different perspective on the location from that seen on TV in programmes led by Sir David Attenborough or Jimmy Doherty. There is more to see, though the detailed presentations that TV can arrange are not available. In the shop at Down House DVD documentaries were on sale as well as the appropriate English Heritage guide book, a huge improvement on the guide books of old. Read up in advance, see the place for yourself, and then enjoy happy hours in follow up reading and viewing. This is very well designed presentation of evolution and its principal proponent.

Scotney Castle


The pretty-as-a-picture Scotney Castle looks delicious. Lovely flowers. Placid lake. War sun-kissed stone ... and all those little things that attract tourists. Great for photographers, the occasional artist and the dreaming mind of everyone who looks on it. There is a powerful image for so many people in the view of a fortified home. Just imagine lifting the drawbridge, lowering the portcullis and disconnecting the telephone. Just like the olden days (OK, without the phone, Sir Lancelot). And of course it wasn’t like that unless some evil barons were surrounding you with battering rams, mining experts and siege towers. Then ‘idyllic retreat’ would be the last way of describing how you had been bottled up and showered with deadly arrows. With the food running out, the latrines and garde robes overflowing and Lady Beautiful saying she shouldn’t have married you in the first place.

Scotney is also on an island. The moat is bigger than most of those owned by Tory MPs – it’s a lake, so the castle stands on something much more like a romantic island rather than a mound edged by a ditch. Islands are escapist and capable of providing seclusion and security. They have been the subject of lots of romantic tales from Robinson Crusoe through Coral Island to Blue Lagoon and Cast Away. True, old Robbo had to endure loneliness and the edge of starvation, the three young sailors of Coral Island witnessed cannibalism and the Lagoon children had to get through adolescence without benefit of clergy or a pharmacologist. Modern day-dreamers don’t think about such things. They win the lottery, buy a tropical island and live happily ever after. They hope.

Scotney was started in 1378. Over the centuries it was altered, extended and part demolished a number of times up to the middle of the nineteenth century when it was left as a garden feature. Between 1837 and 1843 a new ‘castle’ was built at the top of the hill overlooking the medieval building and lake. The new version was an imposing house constructed from stone quarried just below the crest of the hill. The quarry then became the site of a garden reached by steps and pathway. An ice-house used to store ice taken from the lake in the winter for use in the kitchen of the new Scotney is to be found on the edge of the quarry. From the new building the old building can be seen in the setting of its valley and lake. The National Trust now cares for the estate.

De La Warr


Along the coast from Hastings is the town of Bexhill-on-Sea. It was a town which grew out of a small rural village into a coastal resort thanks to the De La Warr family. They had owned Bexhill Manor since the time of Elizabeth I. Three successive Earl De La Warrs invested in a hotel, a ‘kursaal’ (pleasure garden or funfair, but here a more refined entertainment centre) and the first motor car racing event in Britain. Most notably for today, the 9th Earl, who was Mayor of Bexhill and Chairman of the Labour Party, promoted the building of the Pavilion which would later bear the family name.

The De La Warr Pavilion was intended to reinvigorate the town’s economy. This had been buoyant in the 1920s but suffered during the depression of the 1930s. There had been demands for an enclosed entertainment space since 1907: plans were advanced but never carried out. In 1933 the 9th Earl proposed a 50,000 project be undertaken just behind the earlier Colonnade along part of the town’s sea front. This was taken up as a public sector project. The Bexhill Council took specialist advice and announced a competition, declaring that it did not want a heavy-stonework structure. By the end of 1933 130 submissions were made and early in 1934 these were placed on public show. In February the winners were announced as Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff. The cost had risen to 80,000 so some elements were dropped as only a 70,000 loan was available to pay for the scheme under a Government initiative. The Pavilion was the first welded-steel building in Britain and one of the first, big International Modern pieces of architecture in the country. The white rendering contrasted with the darker glass, the blue of the sea and green of the lawns in front made for a very different landmark from the usual Victoriana and seaside clutter of other towns. The proportions were so different, too, long and low lines with a very open, welcoming feel. Not everyone in the town liked the style, nor the cost, however, which caused problems over the years to follow.

During the 1960s as tourists began to leave Britain for foreign resorts the town turned towards being a residential community for people often working elsewhere including London. In addition there had been several independent schools catering for the children of people working in the countries of the former British Empire. As those numbers declined many of the schools closed. The Pavilion was becoming neglected. But interest in 1930s architecture was on the increase. Thanks to this and the involvement of the newly-formed English Heritage the chances of saving it for the town grew. Local people became enthusiastic, with leadership especially from Councillor Jill Theis of Rother District Council (successors to Bexhill-on-Sea Council) who would later receive an MBE for services to local architecture. 6m was the restoration cost, out of which the town has gained one of the largest south-coast arts spaces with indoor and rooftop galleries, an auditorium seating up to over 1,000 people, a restaurant and an arts book shop. There is space for music events inside and out. The gallery entrance is free. It re-opened in October 2005 and now welcomes around half a million visitors every year. Bexhill-on-Sea has received worldwide publicity from the fame of the Pavilion and it now has a distinctive icon to add to its resources.

Battlefield of Hastings


Those ‘Horrible History’ books by Deary and Brown had their humorous equivalent in the 1920s in ‘1066 and All That’ by Sellar and Yeatman. The 1930 book was collected from pieces they wrote in Punch magazine during the ‘20s as a Memorable History of England – “all the parts you can remember”. That book – still in print today – became a classic of its idiom and, dare we admit it, the starting point for many people in developing a love of history. It in turn was partly a parody of a 1905 book called ‘Our Island Story’ by Henrietta Marshall (it’s available in reprint form from the think tank ‘Civitas’). Marshall wrote her book as a series of gentle stories for young children and, according to Civitas, it is recalled by many historians as their inspiration, too.

1066 And All That is better known. Its style is deliberately funny as it ought to be for the readers of what used to be Britain’s favourite magazine of humorous articles and cartoons. According to Sellar and Yeatman there were only two Memorable Dates in English history – 55BC and 1066 AD: the invasion by Julius Caesar and the later one by William the Conqueror. It is terribly tempting to start recounting more of their highly quotable version of English history, but you must find the book and read it yourself. Unless you’re a fuddy-duddy old history teacher in which case you will start spluttering and groaning. Just like you did at that Horrible History book you found in young Michael Wood’s desk.

Hastings faced invasions. Caesar arrived in 55BC up the coast near modern Deal. Bad weather played havoc with the logistics of his invasion force and he withdrew. The following year, 54BC, he returned with eight hundred ships and five legions. Caesar pushed the British back beyond the Thames before problems in Gaul made him decide to withdraw again. It was almost a century before the Romans invaded once more, establishing a new province in Britain and changing the place forever. In 1066 William of Normandy did the same – no, he did more, taking England as his own kingdom and ruling it from inside the country.

Duke William’s invasion is well documented. It is also well remembered (Sellar and Yeatman were correct) as a crucial date not only because of its revolutionary effect on the culture and political make-up of Britain but also because of the legacy it created in the shape of Norman castles and the Bayeux Tapestry. As generations of school children learnt about the sequence ancient Britons-Romans-Normans-medieval and modern Britain the landmark of the last successful invasion of these islands took on ever greater significance. We see it as the point from which, despite civil wars, plagues and rebellions the country laid the foundations of independence and greatness. At least, that is how its leaders have portrayed it, rightly or wrongly. And because school children left education at earlier ages than now, or because they were channelled into subjects other than history, many of them didn’t get all that much further than the Normans or later medieval Britain. I left the subject having got about as far as the Armada (1588) and only returned as a matter of choice in university.

So history books, pictures and perhaps a visit to the nearest Norman castle helped children to understand something about King William I. If they lived in the south east they might have visited the scene of the Battle of Hastings and thought about what it must have been like. They might have got a better picture in their minds about William’s landing at Pevensey in the late September, his opponent Harold’s march from a previous victory in battle three days before near York, and their meeting, not at Hastings as such but on Senlac and Telham Hills six miles inland. Standing by the ruins today of the Abbey which had been built to commemorate the battle it is possible to look out across the field of conflict. Now, a visitor centre, booklets, audio trail and interpretation panels are all on hand to describe the decisive day, 14 October 1066. The view above shows a panorama of the scene together with part of the Bayeux Tapestry (top left), an interpretation panel (bottom left), a section of the Abbey ruins (top right) and an artist’s impression of the battle from one of the interpretive panels (bottom right). The viewer had to discard the modern hedgerows, buildings and trees to imagine what it must have been like, and to add in the shouts of the armies, the screams of the injured, the whistling of arrows and the stench of humanity that by the day’s end was lying dead and dying across the shallow vale.

It is much easier to understand the Battle of Hastings by going to see for yourself where it took place and to view the modern interpretation supplied by English Heritage at the site. Books and classroom teaching lays a foundation. Movies (oddly, though, lacking about 1066 so far – rumours suggest this may be changing) and TV-archaeology shows add to it. Children can dress up and pretend to be Harold or William’s soldiers and followers, or they can go to see re-enactment groups fight the whole thing over again. The latter usually involves a bit of day-tourism as well. Put the whole caboodle together and they can get some good way towards understanding what it was all about. They can’t “step back into the past” in that awful marketing cliché, nor can they fully see the medieval world exactly as its inhabitants did. But they can get a long way towards it.

Click here for a five-minute video account of the battle

Foyle's War


Crime has also been given media publicity over the last decade with the popularity of the television drama series Foyle’s War, set in the town during World War II. A leaflet and booklet help tourists find locations used round Hastings. Detective chief Superintendant Christopher Foyle, played with old-style, low key reliability by Michael Kitchen, was supposed to live in the town in the large house shown in the photo above. Nearby the information panel also shown above can be found in a garden of remembrance to people killed during a 1943 air raid when a pub and some houses were bombed. With the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain this year and interest in the drama series being strong, Hastings and its history from Cinque Port to wartime crime scene has encouraged new visitors to arrive. I wandered a little round the Old Town and found the church seen frequently in the TV series. Just above, on a corner of Croft Road, is the property used as Foyle’s rather splendid home for exterior shots. It is a lovely building. I had hoped to find Honeysuckle by the front door. It was not to be.

Hastings Beach


This attractive East Sussex town is a port without being a port. Well, it’s a port alright and an ancient one, but it doesn’t have a harbour as such, boats being hauled up onto the beach as they are on Dungeness. The beach is made of shingle like others along this coast. Like them, it is fairly steep and so boats can get close in, often charging at the land in order to push themselves up the slope giving time to attach a winch to pull them clear of the water. Fishing boats are the users of the beach these days. Tall, tarred net huts were built to store the fishing nets when dry. Though many have gone the remainder have become something of an icon for the town. Visitors can wander around them and between the fishing boats. The Hastings Fishermen’s Museum on the Stade, as this part of the foreshore is called, contains an old lugger or fishing boat and many models, photographs, newspaper cuttings and objects. Next door is the Shipwreck Heritage Centre with more maritime history on show.

The town was made the leading member of the group of five ports along the channel coast known as Cinque Ports – pronounced ‘sink’ as the old French word for ‘five’ had long been absorbed as an English term. These ports were given special privileges of self-government and freedom from certain taxes in return for providing the king with ships and sailors in time of war. The range of privileges makes interesting reading with its medieval terminology:

"Exemption from tax and tallage, Right of soc and sac, tol and team, blodwit and fledwit, pillory and tumbril, infangentheof and outfangentheof, mundbryce, waives and strays, flotsam and jetsam and ligan".

Wikipedia gives the meanings as “Exemption from tax and tolls; self-government; permission to levy tolls, punish those who shed blood or flee justice, punish minor offences, detain and execute criminals both inside and outside the port's jurisdiction, and punish breaches of the peace; and possession of lost goods that remain unclaimed after a year, goods thrown overboard, and floating wreckage”.

By the reign of Elizabeth I the practice of relying on the Cinque Ports for naval vessels was being replaced by other means, but there are still some honorary positions and customs existing such as the post of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Besides the five main members a number of other Limbs and Ancient Towns were added during the middle ages. These form the basis of an association (with its own web site, needless to say) for the discussion of matters of mutual interest and promotion.

Hastings has a lot more to offer visitors. There are two cliff lifts, one being the steepest in the United Kingdom. Hotel accommodation has declined a little, perhaps day visiting by road and rail, both being easy, having replaced the traditional one or two weeks’ annual holiday. On the Stade a new gallery is being built for the Jerwood Foundation, a charity working in the arts world. It has its measure of opposition as well as local support. Bright yellow posters stuck on fishermen’s huts urge people to say No to the Jerwood project, though it appears now to be under way. Will it, as supporters claim, do for Hastings what the Tate Gallery has done for St Ives?

As it happens, common theft in broad daylight is prevalent along the Stade. We parked up in very traditional British fashion to eat a picnic lunch in our car before exploring. I put a piece of pie on a plate on the dashboard for a moment. Instantly a very large gull swooped onto the bonnet and began working out how to peck through the windscreen for the choice pork pie. I hadn’t come across the crime of pastrycide before. Shouldn’t it have been one of those felonies King Edward I allowed his Cinque Ports to deal with?

Crime has also been given media publicity over the last decade with the popularity of the television drama series Foyle’s War, set in the town during World War II. A leaflet and booklet help tourists find locations used round Hastings. Detective chief Superintendant Christopher Foyle, played with old-style, low key reliability by Michael Kitchen, was supposed to live in the town in the large house shown in the photo above. Nearby the information panel also shown above can be found in a garden of remembrance to people killed during a 1943 air raid when a pub and some houses were bombed. With the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain this year and interest in the drama series being strong, Hastings and its history from Cinque Port to wartime crime scene has encouraged new visitors to arrive. I wandered a little round the Old Town and found the church seen frequently in the TV series. Just above, on a corner of Croft Road, is the property used as Foyle’s rather splendid home for exterior shots. It is a lovely building. I had hoped to find Honeysuckle by the front door. It was not to be.

Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage


There in the middle of Dungeness is the black shape of Prospect Cottage. If Kent (and, for this web page of mine, East Sussex) is the Garden of England, then this is the bright splash of colourful garden of the Dungeness peninsula.

The south east of England has gardens a-plenty. Sissinghurst, Marle Place, Emmetts, Sprivers... grand, domestic, magnificent, modest, polychromatic, monochromatic, variety a plenty. But there is nothing like Prospect Cottage’s garden and there was nobody quite like the man who created it, Derek Jarman. This is not a garden tucked into a fold of the landscape like, for example, those at Scotney Castle, one set into an old quarry, another on an island in a lake within a valley. Prospect can be seen from a distance as it is placed onto the flat shingle of Dungeness. There is no fence and visitors can wander freely up to the Cottage and around its flowers, stone patterns and wood and iron features collected from things found on the beaches. Purple shoots of sea kale, yellow horned poppies, lavender, santolinas and crambes give colour in patches amongst the shingle ground. On one side of the tarred-timber cottage is raised wooden lettering, quotations from John Donne’s ‘The Sun Rising’ including the lines

Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here, to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.

Sometime later we were to visit again that so-favourite garden at Sissinghurst. Such a contrast! One so small and simple, the other so large and complex. Both are writers’ gardens. Sissinghurst Castle’s garden was the work of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Sir Harold Nicholson, both writers, both unconventional personalities. Prospect Cottage was the work of the writer, film-maker and artist Derek Jarman, made during the last years of his life when he was dying of an AIDS-related illness. Both gardens full of all things bright and beautiful, though Jarman’s was overshadowed for him by declining sight and eventual death. He left behind his films, books, theatre designs – and his house with its beautiful setting looking out across the shingle towards the sea.




There is little sense of anticipation in a flat landscape, little of the feeling of the tempting prospect of mountains or a distant townscape. Crossing the American salt pans of Nevada leaves the feeling that there is only more of the same to come. And yet even on those dry wastes there are intriguing details like patches of scrubs or a fitful stream bed. The scale may be tiny by contrast but the open dome of sky above Dungeness, the gravel flatland punctuated by small plants, has its similarities. Crossing it takes only minutes, and yet there is the instant impression that this is a barren place.

Dungeness. Bleak, windswept or foggy in a dead calm. Wintry, grey, a dingy place: the name recalls the quality. I had earlier asked my wife, Pat, who had been several times, which word she thought summed up Dungeness. She chose ‘bleak’.

On our visit it was not. It was brightly sunny with little sense of any breeze. Those associations with greyness and cold were lost to me. My memory of the place is of clear light, blue sky, of colourful flowers and green plants dotted across the pebbly ground. On the east side, giant banks of gravel thrown up by stormy seas – though with only flat calm out there even that looked unlikely. Neptune was not constructing his stone beaches that day.

There is no farming down by the Point of Dungeness. Fisherman still catch crabs, but many of those still working are there to take tourists out with rod and line rather than crustacean pots. Village life is scant: wooden shacks stand empty close to the hulks of old wooden fishing boats. Of manufacturing there is nothing to be found unless you count someone carving driftwood figures to sell to tourists. And yet.... on the end of Dungeness are two vast atomic power stations, bigger than almost any industrial landmark for many miles around. Huge pylons bring cables to the generators to be filled with zillions of volts of what the world desires most – power, and it is power that Dungeness has in plenty, coming from sources deep in concrete and steel containers, sources far, far tinier than those pebbles on the beach. One power station is no longer at work. It is being decommissioned. The scale of atomic energy generation is such that even taking a power plant apart is a vast operation taking years and employing numerous workers, people whose cars sit alongside those of the men and women from the active generating station in multi-acre parking lots.

Before the first power stations were built the tallest landmark here was the lighthouse. The old, traditional lighthouse is, like the first electricity generator, out of use. Close by is the slender tower of a modern, automatic light. It needs no crew or houses to shelter them. The old tower is now a place for tourists to climb floor by floor to the open balcony around the lighting system and lenses that warned and guide ships safely by. From up there – on days of good light and clear skies – the wave-formed pattern of Dungeness is plain to see and understand. Coastal drift in sea currents moved shingle along before it was tossed up onto high banks where the water became shallower. Fisher folk put up their huts and little houses, brought in their boats and hauled them clear of the waves after a day on the sea. A business extracted some of the gravel near the middle of the great triangle that had been formed. A businessman built a miniature railway down to the Point to bring tourists from Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch. It makes a circle by the lighthouse before taking its carriages back up the coast for reloading. Perhaps fewer passengers use it to go right down to the tip of Dungeness, choosing instead to explore other places along the route. Those who do find themselves in a different kind of place. They can wander the beach or visit the shacks now turned into tourist shops or they can climb the decommissioned lighthouse for the view. They will probably never visit that other monument of decommissioning across the road, the old power station.

Camber Sands


This popular stretch of sands uncovered at low tide is to the east of Rye. Sand dunes have banked up behind the beaches. Marram grass has helped to stabilise them. Holiday camps were built here and two main parking areas with cafes and beach-goods shops have been added. A little further east are other parking areas with no shops or dunes. The view above is to the west. Beach games, kite flying, paddling and sunbathing keep thousands of people happy on a day out, with cafes or picnic meals to keep them going. Yet during the Second World War this place was in the front line against enemy bombers. Steel posts were driven into the sand to catch any invading or crash-landing aircraft. Dragons’ teeth and huge blocks of concrete were set to prevent invasion vehicles from getting inland. In July 1940 virtually the whole population of the Camber area were given 48 hours to move out and the army took over the place. It was five years before they could return, though some had no homes to return to as wartime activity had destroyed many.

Camber Sands have been used many times for film making. The beach scenes in ‘The Longest Day’ were shot here, as well as supposed Sahara locations for the Carry On film ‘Follow that Camel’. They have been used in Dr Who adventures, ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ and ‘Nine’.

Drive east towards Dungeness and the army is still present. A drab landscape is fenced off with much open space, buildings and protective walls and embankments for small-arms practice. It seems to lead naturally onto the often-bleak surroundings of Dungeness itself.

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