England is full of fairy-tale and historic castles but I venture to say that few hold the magic of Knole House, part castle, part manor house, part architectural oddity. I readily admit it was the quirky architectural style that drew me to explore Knole House, which sits among 1,000 green acres in Knole Park. Over the course of its 560+ year history it has gone through a few changes to say the least.
Visitors are greeted by an army of resident deer which rule the manor and don’t shy away from human guests. I think I was more frightened of their proximity to me than I to them and made a quick beeline for the mammoth wood entryway.
You’re at once surrounded by the sprawling 365-room structure as you enter the formidable west courtyard of Knole, one of seven on the property. The Gatehouse Tower, home to the music-loving Edward Sackville-West, the Fifth Baron of Sackville, is open as you wait for your main tour. Explore how the Baron lived and his love of music while he was in residence from 1926-1940. His notable guests included Aldous Huxley, E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf who opined in her novel Orlando (1928) that Knole is “more like a town than a house.” Can you just imagine the parties that went on in this 15th Century tower and oh, the views to be seen?
The house, with its notable crenellated roofline, has recently undergone a massive restoration, which is ongoing. Visitors are brought through the property with that in mind. It’s fascinating to see how the great art work is stored and restored and how protective measures are in place while we stroll from room to room.
Knole House was built by Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was used by the Diocese until it was “gifted” to King Henry VIII in 1538. Henry had a habit of taking all the best properties for himself.
Knole remained in the royal family until Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, gave it to her reputed paramour, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. I had binge-watched “Reign” prior to my visit and had romantic visions of trysts taking place in all of Knole’s many rooms. Alas, historians say it’s unlikely that Dudley ever lived at Knole.
The grand house made its way back through royal leases eventually to Elizabeth’s distant relative Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, and has remained in his family for nearly 500 years.
I was enchanted by the Orangery which led the way to the vast gardens behind Knole House. I imagined enjoying wonderful tea parties or writing my next novel in its sunny space.
Knole House is about a 30 minute train ride from Central London (either Victoria, Charing Cross or London Bridge stations) and then a short 10-15 minute uphill walk from the station. Best to book ahead as the tours are timed and you may not want to wait around for an hour or more for the next open spot.
After your visit, meander through the village of Sevenoaks. It’s a yuppie area full of wonderful restaurants and shops. Do grab a bag full of tasty treats at The Chocolate Shop (69 London Road, Sevenoaks) for the train ride home. I’d venture to say that the assortment of eateries makes Sevenoaks a foodie travel spot when you want to grab a bite outside of London or for Sunday brunch, whether or not you visit Knole House (open March – November).