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Gardens are not made by singing 'Oh, how beautiful,' and sitting in the shade.
Bateman's (East Sussex, England)
Member Name: cmh4135
Bateman's (East Sussex, England)
Advantages: A reasonably compact property, packed with interest for Kipling fans
Disadvantages: Not fully accessible for the less able.
Mention the words "National Trust" and you'll likely get a variety of responses but one response is likely to be "oh yes, they of the stuffy houses and posh gardens oft frequented by late middle-aged, middle class bores". OK, maybe the language might not be that florid but the sentiment stands. Well, once, maybe this was the case, but the NT is changing and over the last few years has made a real effort to be less stuffy and far more accessible to all, so much so that we carried on a family tradition and bought my son life membership of the NT for his 5th birthday.
Bateman's is typical of many trust properties, a fine house and extensive manicured gardens - what was I just saying?! - but has much to offer all ages and interests. Situated in Burwash, East Sussex, not far from the historical towns of Rye and Battle, Bateman's is ideally placed to form part of a long weekend away (as we did) or a break from some of the more traditional seaside haunts of Hastings, Camber and, at a push, Eastbourne. It's a venue most easily accessed by car (and is clearly signposted) but there's also a station at Etchingham, around 3 miles from Bateman's with a bus service to Burwash (but you'll still be left with a bit of a walk and the busses are not that frequent!).
There's a large-ish car park on site (with facilities for bikes) and from the car park it's a short stroll to the ticket office and public conveniences. We were there on a July Sunday afternoon, arriving around 2.45pm. The car park at that stage was fairly full and we ended up in the overflow field, taking the space of a departing car. There was an event on over the weekend we visited and this might have contributed to increased visitor numbers but nonetheless the journey to the ticket office was easy, level and short making it one of the more accessible properties in the area.
On entering the property you are immediately met with a fairly formal garden which is home to a myriad of fruit trees and vegetable plots. For such a utility garden it is surprisingly attractive and a rather unusual first sight. From here it is a short path that takes you to the buildings that for many hold the most interest. Bateman's was once home to literary great, Rudyard Kipling, and it was here that he made house with his American wife, Carrie. Whilst the allure of Kipling makes Bateman's interesting the actual house far pre-dates Kipling's acquisition of it in 1902. The house dates, according to the engraving above the main door, to 1634. It is Jacobean in style and desparately attractive, being neither too large or grandiose to stop you from thinking "I could live here!". Unfortunately, for me, the allure of the house was to the exterior only, once inside I found it rather dark and oppressive in the main.
For those interesting in Kipling, his life and works, the house contains many exhibits and curios. There are some particularly nice illustrations inspired by what is perhaps one of his most famous works, The Jungle Book. Kipling's car, a wonderful Royal blue Phantom Rolls Royce, is also on display at the property in the garage.
Throughout the house (and gardens) printed guides are available telling you more about the property and exhibits. There are also, as with all NT properties, room guides who hold in their heads so much information about the property. All were helpful and clearly enthusiastic about their roles, imparting knowledge and answering questions. The NT seem to be making a concerted effort to remove ropes and barriers from properties and to allow visitors to interact with exhibits as much as possible. At Bateman's the ability to interact is fairly limited but there were some hands-on games and toys in Kipling's daughter's bedroom which amused many of the children.
Bateman's is also home to a working watermill. The mill is run on occasion (Wednesdays and Saturdays at the time of writing) and still grinds grain to flour which can be purchased on site. The mill is reasonably accessible to all who are able to climb stairs and is set out over two floors. Even when not in operation it is still easy to see how the mill works and a great place to educate kids.
Between the house and the mill lie several gardens, the most impressive of which lies next to the house and was created by Kipling upon winning the Nobel prize for literature. The centrepiece is a rectangular pond which was teeming with fish (Golden orf) and fry. Around this lies a formal garden that manages to marry formality with a very chilled-out and relaxed feel. Perfect for a sunny day and a book!
The mill stream area provides a more natural, wooded area for walks and part of this opens out into a meadow into which the NT have placed a bird hide and several bug hotels, perfect for a bit of nature watching.
It can often be hard to engage children in sites such as these but again NT are learning. Over holiday periods children's trails are available, encouraging youngsters to play detective, look for certain things and perhaps answer some questions. This summer there is an excellent Jungle Book trail where children have to locate stone statues of some of the Jungle Book animals hidden around the gardens. We've found that these trails allow us as adults the chance to explore more of a property than otherwise we might, although the downside is that, once an object is located junior invariably wants to dash off to find the next even if mum and dad want to linger a little longer! This particular trail cost us an additional £2.50 but a book prize at the end (worth around £7 RRP) made it feel like particularly good value.
Bateman's often hosts a number of events, particularly over the summer. When we visited there was an event on with Kipling readings on the lawn, "history in action" displays and reconstructions of soldiers and battles from the pre-war periods (including an excellent firearms display) and even tea with the Raj.
When you get peckish there is an excellent tea-room serving light snacks and drinks. They also sell wonderful local ice-cream. There's not much space for a formal picnic but there are spots should you so desire.
The NT shop is small and not easily accessible to those with mobility problems. This area, is, however, the only one suffering in this way (even the house has an audio-visual tour available for those who cannot manage the stairs). Toilets are available both at the entrance and near to the house and all are clean. Dogs, other than assistance dogs, are not allowed in the grounds, only on leads in the car park but there is, apparently, a dog crèche (whatever that may be!).
***Opening Times and Prices***
The property is open between 11 and 5, Monday - Wednesday and Saturday and Sunday between mid-March and the end of October and at Weekends during December. The gardens, shop and tea-rooms have slightly extended opening hours and are also open in the autumn and early spring. Best to consult the website for accurate details before visiting.
Entrance fees for peak periods (as at August 2011) are £8.60 for adults, £4.30 for children and £21.50 for a family. These prices include an element of Gift Aid which enables the NT to claim tax on the whole amount paid. You have the option of paying a lower price which does not include the Gift Aid element but no tax can be reclaimed by the NT on any of this price. As an example, a Gift Aid price of £11 would result in the NT being able to claim £3.10 from the Government making a total of £14.10 against a non-Gift Aid price of £10. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this split pricing - it's never been an issue for us as we are members (and the original membership was subject to the Gift Aid scheme) but there's a little bit of me that's uneasy with presenting a higher price by default with the option of a reduction. I think I might feel awkward asking for a lower price yet I'd rather more folks visited at a lower fee than less at a higher.
*** In Short ***
Overall I think Bateman's offers good value for money, particularly during events. You'd probably look to spending a couple of hours here plus any time added for picnicking or time in the tea-rooms. There are a number of other NT properties in the vicinity if you fancy making a day of it (and you may be able to justify NT annual membership on the basis of the number of properties nearby).
Summary: Once home to Rudyard Kipling, Bateman's offers a glimpse into his life and a peaceful day out.