“I’m Puck, the oldest Old thing in England,” says the eponymous magical creature in Rudyard Kipling’s children’s book Puck of Pook’s Hill. The landscape around Kipling’s East Sussex home Bateman’s seemed very old, almost timeless when we visited on a beautiful crisp autumnal afternoon. It is that time of year when the leaves on the trees are at the precise moment of turning gold, amber and bronze before they fall.
We have been to Bateman’s several times and although it is not a huge country home, it is always a lovely place to visit. Having had their fill of Halloween related activities, the Little Weeds (and I) appreciated a garden trail based on the illustrations of Arthur Rackham, who brought Kipling’s fairy stories to life: they were soon searching for pishogues, goblins and sprites and were delighted to discover a little fairy house under a Japanese Maple.
You enter the National Trust property on the outskirts of the village of Burwash where Kipling lived from 1902 until his death in 1936 through the walled orchard and kitchen gardens, boasting purple and green stems of Brussel sprouts, while herbaceous beds gave out a last hurrah of wine-coloured Echinacea and tassels of Persicaria.
The house itself is surrounded by high yew hedges. Ever since watching the ITV costume drama My Boy Jack starring Daniel Radcliffe as Kipling’s short-sighted son who was packed off to war by his patriotic father – and killed in the trenches just weeks after his 18th birthday – I have thought Kipling’s personal life must have been rather a sad one. He and his fierce American wife Carrie had already lost their eldest daughter Josephine to pneumonia at the age of six – only one of their three children, Elsie, lived well into adulthood.
The wood-panelled house is as it would have been when the Kiplings were in residence. The Little Weeds were slightly horrified to discover the bathroom attached to the children’s bedroom contained just a bowl and pitcher for washing and a chamber pot – no mod cons here. Behind the house is a long fishpond and a rose garden which Kipling paid for with his prize money from the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.
Through more yew hedges, a wending woodland path leads to a little watermill which is raising money to be restored to working order. This part of the High Weald is a very beautiful and ancient landscape and it is no surprise that Kipling found this spot an inspiration for his writing. I’m sure we will be back again.