In 1963 I was an apprentice Fitter and Turner in Chatham Dockyard working first for the Navy Works Department and then for the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works which meant that I got to go to the Marine Barracks at Deal as a fitter apprentice, and as an Oick in the drawing Office to the Royal Observatory at Herstmonceux. I went with the draughtsman to reset and monitor the air conditioning and heating in the administration building where they also had the Cesium clock. I recall that it was accurate recording a 17second difference with Greenwich.
As part of the exercise we were to have lunch in the restaurant which was inside the castle – instructed to take seating away from the Astronomer Royal’s tables. We had a waiter service including wine which the draughtsman paid for although the lunch was on expenses. I note also my memory recalls that it was July – there was a problem with uncontrolled rises of temperature inside the building which needed to be kept at a steady 21 degrees C. The radio was tuned into the cricket. We discovered that the cause of the problem was inadequate shading on the windows on the South and West walls. Problem fixed with extra valencing and re-setting the sensors.
Come July 2013 and I was there on one of the hottest days of the year to walk the grounds and see the gardens. The castle is operated as a working University, and the admin building is now houses of residence for students.
Instead of lunch in the castle I bought a sandwich and coffee from the Chestnuts Tearooms and had it at one of the tables outside before walking the nature trail and exploring the gardens.
There is a tour of the castle which lasts about an hour but I decided to walk in the gardens and woods instead. It was a hot day, bright and not good for the camera, the sun washing everything out even with a filter.
The walled gardens are magnificent with lawns gasping for water, flowers bright and blossoming as on flowers can do, and a rose garden a little battered, in need of some attention but looking beautiful.
I loved the Shakespeare garden and the butterfly garden beyond. The short piece written I parody here below:
Munching a sweet,
I lower my bum,
to wipe the sweaty drops,
from off my nose.
Beyond is a magic garden for the kids. I loved it. We must not disturb the Fairies but we could sit on the toadstools and the magic logs and look for them if we wished. But go there and explore – take children with you.
Walking through the woods is pleasant and although the hay paddock was harvested there were hundreds of butterflies. You pass a Wood Henge and a Pyramid on the trail and wander through magnificent woods to end up at The Folly and the secret garden. Look for Kingfishers in the lake and Dragonflies.
Follow the nature trail and if you wish you can also have a look at the Observatory and Science Centre – an extra cost but worth it.
The castle itself is Tudor although the lands occupied by the Normans and like many large buildings it suffered dereliction in its later years until in the early 20th C it was restored. It was taken over for Government use until 1965 as an Observatory and after that it was sold to businesses, and now is used by the University, with the Science Centre as part of the attraction.
Why the trip?
I had lunch there once and I thought I would like to do so again – oh, and the tea rooms sell small bottles of Shiraz so I could have wine with my lunch too. If I wanted. Ironically, last time I was there I got paid for my efforts but this day I had to pay for the privilege.