During the last couple of years my oldest son has become increasingly resistant to new experiences. The four-year-old boy who loved tasting the local food in Andalucia has turned into an eight-year-old who doesn't want to go abroad, thinks London's too busy and would rather visit the same place every week, as long as it doesn't involve spending more than 20 minutes in the car. His ideal day would probably involve crisps, Play Station, chocolate and a trip to a leisure centre.
On the plus side our carbon footprint is much smaller. However, I don't want my son's world shrinking to within a 10-mile radius of Lewes, so last Saturday I decided to take him and his brother on a mystery tour. I figured that if they didn't know where they were going or how far it was, then they'd have nothing to object to.
When we arrived, after over an hour in the car, I was prepared for the worst. It was raining and I expected my son to complain that we'd driven all this way just to visit a boring old castle, but the first words he uttered were wow and amazing!
I agreed. It was impressive:
Built in 1365, Bodiam Castle is tucked in a remote corner of the Sussex/Kent border and on a cold, drizzly Saturday morning, it was fortunately free of coachloads of visitors. Nothing kills the atmosphere of a historical site more than hordes of camera-wielding tourists, which is why I like visiting places out of season.
We climbed winding stone steps up to the top of the castle and pretended to pour boiling oil on the people below. Then we spotted an invading French army, fired a few arrows and prepared for battle. The boys loved it, more than I ever dared to hope.
Now that the castle visit had gone so well, I decided to really push the boat out and visit Bateman's, the home of Rudyard Kipling. We'd be passing it on the way home so it seemed a shame not to pop in. My son wasn't so keen on this idea and was unimpressed when I played the Jungle Book card. In the end, I resorted to bribery.
Whether you're a Kipling fan or not, Bateman's is worth a visit. It's a beautiful 17th century house surrounded by attractive, landscped gardens. However for me the visit was marred by the National Trust volunteers. Every time I entered a room they sprung up like meerkats and watched my every move. If my eyes rested on an object for more than three seconds, a voice behind me would start explaining its history. I soon began to find this oppressive. It seems churlish to complain, as each of the ladies was very nice and welcoming, but I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere of each room before learning the facts.
I suppose we all want different things from historical places. For me, facts are less important than the opportunity to imagine what it must have been like to live there in the past. There are exceptions: the guided tours in Charleston Farmhouse are fascinating. But on the whole, I rather read about a place before going there, then spend my time soaking up the atmosphere.