Discovery trip

2018 Discovery Trip

Our British Friends had organised the visit of the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells (Kent) on the weekend of October 6th and 7th. Our party gathered 43 Members who were present to board on our coach on Saturday morning.

Having left Dourdan at 7:30 a.m. we reached our hotel slightly before 4 p.m. The town (45.000 inhabitants) grew in prosperity after the discovery in 1606 of ferruginous water springs and becoming favourite destination of Queen Victoria and other famous people who liked to go there for health reasons. After their discovery by Lord North, the waters were dealt with as "miraculous". To-day the baths are disused, but the town still is famous for tourists.

After taking our rooms at hotel Mercure, located in the outskirts of the town, we took again our coach so as to have a look at the town centre and its well-known 18th century commercial walkway "The Pantiles", edged by colonnade Georgian buildings. The name of this parade came from its pavement in 1700 with tiles made from clay, so-named as shaped in a wooden pan before firing.


The Pantiles Royal Tunbridge Wells

It is said that Queen Ann, seeing her son playing in muddy earth had given 100 in 1698 so as to have the street paved. To-day tiles have been replaced with a classical paving, but the name has remained.

In 1909, considering the popularity of the baths near the Royal Family and aristocracy, King Edward the 7th decided to add the qualification of "Royal" to the name "Tunbridge Wells".

Unfortunately, the weather was not with us and we walked along the walkway under heavy rain. Nevertheless, we could glance at luxury shops, many antics and fashion. We also passed along many coffeeshops, restaurants and pubs all of them attractive. After the "Chalybeate Springs" building, now only opening from Easter to September, we carried-on to the station, passing in front of the church devoted to King Charles the Martyr (1625 1649), built in the 17th century. It seems to be used more as a concert room than as a religious building.

The rain compelled un to shorten our discovery of the town and returned, the more as, after the church, we were no longer sheltered by the colonnades. Anyway, some of us made a few shopping or had a drink in local pub. Afterwards we went back to our coach to return to the hotel and make ourselves ready for dinner.

Many of our British Friends had also booked a room at the hotel, so as to spend the evening with us, which we have very much appreciated. The dinner was, therefore, animated and friendly, as always when the two Twinning Associations Members meet around a glass. Gerard, our Chairman, thanked Wendy, his opposite number, and her team for the perfect organisation of the week-end.

Next morning, after a good English breakfast, we left for the visit of Scotney Castle, located a few miles away from the hotel. Fortunately, the weather had changed and a bright sun accompanied us during the visit.

Situated in the small village of Lamberhurst, the site actually comprises of two castles: a first building called "Old Castle", build from 14th to 17th centuries in the middle of an island and a second building called "The House", build in the 19th century by the new landlords, Family Hussey. The two castles are surrounded by a huge park (700 acres), typically English and very romantic.

The Hussey Family bought the property in 1778. They found the old castle uncomfortable to live in and, thus, decided to have a new house built. The building of the new castle started in 1835. During the works, the Husseys decided to partly demolish the old castle, so as to reuse the materials, on one hand and, on the other hand, give a more romantic aspect to it.

After death of the last Hussey, without any descendants, the property was given to the National Trust, which opened it to the public as from 2014, then very recently. Many of our English Friends did not yet have the opportunity to visit it.

English and French were asked to split into several groups with a stringent time for the visit, because the visit of the new castle only accepts a small number of people at a time. Waiting for the set time, we walked down to the old castle going through the park.

The building of the old castle is attributed to a local Lord: Roger de Ashburnham and started in 1377. It is said that the intention was to prevent from French incursions in Kent. On an island in the middle of river Bewl, a square shaped defensive fortress was erected, with four angle towers of which only one remains to-day (but it is not sure the other three were completed).

A later landlord, Family Darrell, transformed the fortress into an Elizabethan style castle at the end of the 16th century. At that time the catholic religion was illegal in England and the family hid a priest in a secret room that can be seen during the visit.

The visit enables to see what remains from the apartments. Some rooms are furnished, especially the lounge. Other places are only ruins, but the most beautiful in the visit is, undoubtably, the gardens surrounding the building, with the autumn colours and the view on the new castle on top of the hill.

After the visit of the old castle, we crossed back the park for the visit of the new castle.

In 1778 Edward Hussey bought the property to Family Darell. His grandson, also named Edward, called the architect Anthony Salvin, very popular at that time, to build a new mansion on top of the hill so as to replace the old castle, found uncomfortable to live in. Not only Salvin made the drawings of the building, but also was in charge of furnishing it and renewing the gardens. Peculiar detail: during the earthmoving works a dinosaur foot print was discovered.

Family Hussey lived in the castle up to 1970. At the death of the last descendant, without any successor, the castle was given to the National Trust, with its furniture that can be seen to-day as it was at the death of its last occupants.

After a last walk through the gardens and the bookshop, it was time to return to the hotel for lunch. At the end of it we had to hurry-up a little bit to say goodbye to our British Friends and take the way back to Dourdan. After a no problem journey we were back home shortly before midnight.

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Chalybeate Springs building and church

Dinner at Mercure Hotel

Arriving at the new castle

The old castle

The office and library