In Kent, Matt Baker island hops to Elmley Marshes on the Isle of Sheppey, Ellie Harrison explores Knole House in Sevenoaks and John Craven finds out about Kentish blue cheese.
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Hills with views over fields of gold.
A coastline that's rugged yet beautiful.
And vast expanses of marshland as far as the eye can see.
This is Kent.
If you're looking for isolation,
you can't go far wrong here on Elmley Marshes.
It's a haven for wildlife it's perfect for a bit of bird spotting.
But as these old ruins will reveal,
it hasn't always been a picture of tranquillity.
Further inland, one of the county's impressive country piles
is getting a 21st century make over.
This rather stately of homes
is in good nick on the outside,
but step inside Knole and it's rather a different story.
Previously unseen rooms in this magnificent house
are being transformed on a grand scale.
And I'll be one of the lucky few to get a sneak peak.
Helen's in the Wiltshire countryside -
a place that's provided inspiration for artists,
poets and writers for centuries.
One of the country's most famous war poets, Siegfried Sassoon,
chose to live here in Wiltshire for more than 30 years of his life.
He was famous for reflecting the horrors of war,
but when he moved here,
he chose to write about the beauty he found in the countryside.
Tom's looking into the pitfalls of mining.
This wet winter hasn't just meant extraordinary floods on the surface.
It's also waterlogged the ground,
making it incredibly heavy,
sometimes with jaw-dropping results.
Here, around 10,000 tons of rock and soil
simply fell down into an old lead mine.
So what can be done about the legacy of old mine workings
and their occasional tendency for catastrophic collapse?
I'll be investigating.
Hugging the country's south-eastern hip, Kent's a county of contrasts.
Patchwork fields give way to rugged coastline.
Stark shingle beaches hold austere beauty.
I'm just off the north Kent coast,
on the Isle of Sheppey.
It was once made up of three islands,
Sheppey, Harty and Elmley,
before the channel separating them silted up.
Now, today, we're being blasted by the wind
that's coming off the North Sea - the English Channel
and the Netherlands are just over there.
London is 46 miles in that direction
and you can just see Southend, appearing through the mist
on the Essex coast and there are some brilliant place names
around here, Halfway Houses and Horrid Hill,
not to mention Bedlams Bottom,
which you have to go down Raspberry Hill to get to.
But today, I am here to discover a ghost of Sheppey's past,
the Lost Village of Elmley.
I'm hoping islander Ken Ingleton can take me on an unconventional tour
through the wind and rain to find it!
Now then, Ken, are you all right?
Good lad, come on in.
It's absolutely horrendous! Very nice to see you, welcome.
-It's not exactly the day for a wander, is it?
it's probably one of the worst days to be here, ever, I think!
So, it's hard to believe that this area,
it was a hive of activity, wasn't it?
Yes, there used to be probably just over 300 people
lived in the spot we're on now.
Right - what were they doing here, why were they here?
They found a stone around the Isle of Sheppey
that they could bake in a kiln and make it into cement.
And during the 1800s, it was in great demand for the new bridges...
-Down in London?
-In London and here round the Isle of Sheppey.
The village of Elmley grew up around its Turkey Cement Works -
another great name.
The cement workers would beach their barges as the tides went down,
dig out the clay and float it round to the works.
There are still the remains of a boat here in the...
-can you see the ribs of it?
In the dock and that's where they used to bring the clay
and the claystone in.
So, all these workers that were around here, where did they live?
Well, the houses actually were on the road leading down to here.
-There were a few terraces,
-there were records of about 30 houses.
-And a pub.
The Turkey Cement Works closed in 1902,
ground down by competition from across the water in Sittingbourne.
The village population dwindled dramatically,
as residents moved away in search of work.
Within a few years, the whole place was deserted.
Now, as it's stopped raining,
I've popped out to have a look at the old schoolhouse.
In 1919, a local newspaper reported that this,
the smallest school in England would be closing,
because it only had five children on its books.
And three of them were the teacher's!
These skeletal remains are all that's left
of Elmley's industrial past.
But what industry lost, nature has reclaimed,
as I will be finding out later.
Not all the relics of our industrial past are as visible as this.
Beneath the British countryside, there are thousands of disused mines
and, as Tom has been finding out,
we're still paying the price for venturing underground.
Two centuries ago, this stunning gorge in Shropshire
was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.
But the revolution craved power,
so we went in search of this.
British industry was built on the backs of hundreds of thousands
of men, tunnelling beneath our landscape in search of this
precious source of energy, coal.
But that headlong rush for this industrial fuel
has left us with a potentially damaging legacy,
that, in places, risks taking the very ground from beneath our feet.
Ironbridge is claimed to be the birthplace
of the Industrial Revolution and now, it's a World Heritage Site.
But it WAS a cauldron of industry.
This has lead to unexpected consequences
and it falls to council engineer Neal Rushton to sort them out.
So, wow! What did happen here?
This hole collapsed in the road,
it's part of the legacy from past mining in the area.
Did it just open up like it is now?
Pretty much, it's getting steadily bigger,
which is what we'd expect to happen.
They're filling in the void,
but it'll keep collapsing down into the mine workings underneath.
15m down, there's a void and things are gradually settling in it?
Settling into it, exactly.
But the bad weather we've been having,
does make the risk higher and from an engineering point of view,
we've a period at the beginning of the year that we call shaft season,
when these collapses are most likely to occur.
If this hole is growing, I'll take one or two little steps back here!
Ironbridge may be particularly fragile,
but it's by no means the only place that has a problem with old mines.
'Imagine waking up to this -
'a hole that's swallowed your car, right outside your doorstep.'
There are more than 300 mine shaft collapses every year in the UK.
'It's at this moment, as a drill rig falls,
'that a workman is dragged, screaming in fear,
'into the exposed earth of a collapsing mineshaft.'
And he was holding on to my fence, screaming.
The recent wet weather means we've seen far more than usual
over the past few months.
We were rushing out and she was looking out the window,
"My car! My car! It's gone."
But as dramatic as these collapses are,
they're just one of the problems
caused by more than 300,000 disused mines and shafts
lurking beneath our feet.
Well, in order to understand the impact that mining can have
on the surface, I need to get down
and, quite probably, dirty, to where the problem starts.
Houses in the many ex-coal-mining communities like this one
near Wakefield are at risk, not only from the occasional collapse
of old shafts, but also from the more widespread problem of subsidence.
To find out why, I am joining mining engineer, Andy Smith.
So, how does coal mining actually work down here?
This disc spins round and cuts the coal,
the cowl pushes all the coal onto this chain conveyor
and it takes it out of the mine.
So those big teeth are cutting a slice of coal off there?
It's like a bacon slicer, yeah.
So, what about this lot here, all these hydraulic rams
and these machines?
These are what we call hydraulic chocks
and they control the roof lowering. When you bring these forward,
all the rock above us, all collapses because it becomes unsupported
-at the back.
-So, the whole thing is gradually moving in this direction
and as you're cutting out coal over here, it's collapsing over there.
It's collapsing at the back, yes.
So all that goes up towards the surface then.
Really, so even down here, and we're over 100m down here,
will eventually have an effect on the surface?
It produces the sagging on the surface, yes.
From mineshaft collapses to subsidence,
the legacy of our exploits underground
is still being felt today.
So, what's the extent of the problem that mining has left behind?
The responsibility for managing the effects of past coal-mining
falls to the Coal Authority.
Carl Banton is the head of public safety and subsidence.
This is an example of the legacy of mining above ground,
but most of it is below ground.
What's the scale of that impact on the surface?
It's quite extensive,
there are 26,000 square kilometres of coalfield area
of which we think is around about 20 percent of that,
where there is potential problems.
What kind of scale of problem, what number of properties are involved?
We think eight million homes on the coalfield,
but, bringing that down to around about two million
on the shallow coalfield.
Two million sounds like a lot of properties,
how many of them are actively at risk?
We get reported 1,000 projects per year,
but when we investigate, around 40%,
400-odd are actually our liability
and they can range from a minor problem, minor cracking
to something a little bit larger.
Coal-mining accounts for more than half of the disused mines
and mine shafts across the UK.
There are also miles of tunnels that we've used to get at lead,
copper and the many other precious materials
that lie beneath the British countryside.
All of these can cause problems, too.
If you've ever read your house survey
and seen the word subsidence on it, you'll know it can cost you dear,
so with more and more homes being built on undeveloped land,
is this a problem we should be tackling more seriously?
That's what I will be investigating later.
It's not hard to find beauty within the Kent countryside.
I'm taking a wander through woodland,
where a quiet and peaceful retreat awaits.
Deer have roamed this parkland for 500 years,
but older still is the ancestral pile that sits at its head,
It's been on show since the 15th century,
owned by former Archbishops of Canterbury
and later by the infamous Tudor King, Henry VIII.
But it's the Sackville family who have made this place their home
for the past 400 years.
What an impressive abode.
This place has got 365 rooms, one for every day of the year,
And 1,000 acres of prime countryside,
which is pretty much all the land you can see.
Once a private house, the National Trust took over most of the property
in 1946. Since then, it's opened its doors to the public.
But come winter, the team are painstakingly cleaning and dusting
every inch on show.
A house this size needs a lot of TLC,
and for the past two years it's been under renovation,
both outside and in.
But it goes way beyond your average DIY job.
With the exterior now wind and water tight,
it's down with the scaffolding as attention turns to the interior.
As part of the restoration project,
conservation volunteer, Vicky Patient is
working in Eddy Sackville's old tower rooms,
barely touched since the 1940s, and yet to be revealed to the public.
So, who was Eddy?
Well, Eddy was the fifth Lord Sackville
and he inherited from his father, so you can imagine a place like this,
it looks really grand and they were very asset-rich,
but running a place like this is a huge burden, financially.
So, a lot of them were a bit cash-poor, Eddy in particular.
-This is him, he had a taste for the fine tailoring.
-Look at that outfit!
The Sackvilles negotiated a 200-year lease
to stay in Knole's private apartments,
but in these unoccupied tower rooms,
there are many thousands of items to conserve,
before they're opened up in 2015.
So, are these his love letters?
Sadly not, no. A lot of tailors' bills.
Forster and Sons of Bond Street, 1924.
-That's quite a lot of money.
Yeah, I think he had a thing for silk shirts and vests.
Dresscoats, lined with satin. Wow!
So you'd write a little description of exactly what it is
and there's a box to tick whether you're confident
in your measurements or not!
-Why wouldn't you be?
-Well, you never know!
It's a very dynamic place, this house, always something to be done.
Yes, and with any luck, at some point,
we might actually get to the end of it, but I doubt it!
Like Eddy Sackville and his ancestors,
we all like to put a stamp on our homes,
through decorations or furnishings.
Everywhere you look at Knole, there's the family leopard motif.
But with every change of owner, and decor,
where does the unwanted furniture go?
Into the attic, of course,
or rather, the retainer's gallery.
It's here that inherited pieces or perks
from royal palaces have been stored over the years.
It's recently been handed over to the National Trust
and this once private space, where Sackville children
would have played, will soon be filled with the echo
of visitors' footsteps.
And in this house, the resident family
are never far from prying eyes.
The 7th Baron Sackville, Robert Sackville-West
and his family moved into a private wing six years ago,
inheriting his ancestors' intrigue
for the smouldering secrets of Knole.
I am now in the poets' parlour at Knole, it's our family dining room.
The reason I'm in this room now is because of this gentleman here.
A distant ancestor, Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset.
Charles was the patron of many, fairly distinguished
late 17th-century poets and playwrights.
Charles was something of a hellraiser.
He was a close friend of King Charles II,
who got him off two criminal charges, the first for manslaughter
and the second, in the words of the diarist Samuel Pepys,
for exposing himself indecently from the balcony
of a brothel in Covent Garden.
Living at Knole has inspired many Sackville family members
to put pen to paper, Robert included.
But perhaps the most famous was his father's cousin,
Vita Sackville-West. A celebrated writer and poet
in the early 20th century, Vita was born and raised
in this magnificent house.
As an only child, she roamed the attics
and used the eclectic family history to feed her imagination.
As a teenager, Vita wrote an impressive eight novels
and five plays in the summer house just behind me,
which was her favourite writing spot.
But for Vita, her time here ended on a sour note.
Had she been a man, she'd have inherited her beloved Knole
when her father passed away.
Sadly, it went to her uncle.
This was a house that probably meant more to her than any human being,
she absolutely loved it and was distraught to leave here.
Vita sought her own path and, in 1913, she married a young diplomat,
Harold Nicholson, in the Knole family chapel.
Theirs was to be a very happy, but very unconventional marriage.
Because over the course of their marriage,
each of them had a series of lovers of their own sex.
One of those lovers was Virginia Woolf, the novelist.
Woolf wrote a novel dedicated to Vita called Orlando.
With many references to Knole, the story ends with Orlando,
or Vita, taking possession of the ancestral home -
the only way she could inherit.
It was, as Vita's son, Nigel Nicholson, described,
the longest and most charming love letter in literature.
Although the sadness of losing Knole never left her,
Vita did find a happy home just a few years later,
deep in the heart of the Kent countryside she so loved
and that's where I will be heading.
JOHN: The Kentish countryside,
a landscape shaped by farmers and growers,
fertile soil and a warm climate
create perfect conditions for their produce.
Kent has long been proud of its foodie reputation.
There's no denying that the Kent landscape
really is good enough to eat -
it produces some fantastic food and drink as well.
But I am going to be finding out about a new product
that is produced entirely on one farm.
Kentish blue cheese.
Steve Reynolds comes from a long line of dairy farmers.
He bought this 250-acre farm
in the heart of the Kent countryside, 25 years ago.
It's a family business, with sons Archie and Frank
-helping out whenever they can.
Steve keeps around 100 Holstein Friesian cows in a closed herd,
meaning he doesn't buy in replacement animals.
All of the new stock is born and bred on the farm.
That means that all these ladies are related,
mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, even granddaughters!
It's a fine looking herd you've got here, Steve -
how important to you is it that it's a closed herd?
Very important, John. We keep all the disease away.
Vet bills become minimal and it's a much healthier herd.
You know everything about every animal as well.
We know everything about every individual animal,
every animal is identifiable.
With dairy farming having a rough ride over the past few years,
Steve and his wife Karen wanted to add value to the milk,
so they started making cheese.
By diversifying, they hope to secure the farm's future for the boys.
I think dairy farming is a good industry to be in,
I think dairy farmers have got to look,
particularly the smaller family farms,
we've got to look at our end product and how we sell our end product,
rather than just selling it to the supermarket.
-Why blue cheese?
-Purely because I love it.
20% of the herd's milk is pumped straight from the udder
to the cheese vat, so no food miles here, just a few metres.
We want all that warm milk to come,
we use it straightaway from when it comes out of the cow,
it goes through the filters, straight into the cheese vat,
it's much better like that, it's the raw, natural product.
The warm milk gets mixed with a powdered culture
called penicillium roqueforti.
This is the mould that makes blue cheese blue.
Then, rennet is added, which curdles the milk
Finally, the liquid, the whey, is drained off
and you're left with the curds.
-Can I have a taste?
-Have a taste. It should taste quite sweet.
-It's not like cheese, is it?
-It's more like scrambled egg.
-It's a cottage cheese texture.
Did you know anything at all about cheesemaking before you started?
No, we were complete novices,
Steve went on a couple of cheesemaking courses,
but the most important thing is that you learn on the job
and trial and error.
Are you tempted to go really big-time?
No, we're happy as we are.
We don't want to be supplying supermarkets or anything like that,
we're a family farm, we want to be able to pass it on
to our children and just enjoy what we do.
With just the two of them making it,
Steve and Karen produce only around 80 wheels of cheese a week,
which they sell at farmers' markets and to local businesses.
After about seven days,
the culture that was added starts to work its magic,
but it needs a helping hand for the distinctive blue veining
to develop inside.
And that's elder son Frank's job.
Gosh, there's a strong smell in here, isn't there?
-Yeah, it's not good.
You get used to it after a while,
but when you first come in, it smells quite bad.
What's your role in this family business?
Where you're standing, you put holes in the cheese to let oxygen in,
allows the mould in the cheese to develop.
How many stabs do you have to give each cheese?
Roughly, each one gets about 80 holes, 40 stabs,
so it takes quite a while.
How long are the cheeses in here before they're ready for sale?
They come in here for five weeks.
They develop around the outside, it gets quite furry,
the mould develops and after five weeks,
when they're eight weeks old, they go off for sale.
So, tell me honestly, do you just do this for a bit of pocket money,
or do you have a long-term interest in cheesemaking?
I plan to take over the business, and work on the farm
and cheesemake with my brother, Archie,
who's very interested in the animals.
Me and him, working together, I think will be quite good.
Seems that the boys' plans are, like the cheeses, maturing nicely.
Earlier we heard about the potential dangers
from hundreds of thousands of disused mines and mineshafts
underneath our countryside.
So, should we be making them safer? Here's Tom.
We've been digging out the rocks and minerals from under our feet
since the Romans were here, creating a vast void.
The result of that could be small earth movements
or sometimes catastrophic collapses, so just how firm is
our terra firma?
Here in the Peak District, the countryside was once heavily mined
for coal, copper, lead and other minerals.
The British Geological Survey estimates
there are around 50,000 mine shafts sunk in this area alone
and many more smaller workings,
leaving the land prone to gradual subsidence or worse.
And when the ground does give way, the results can be shocking,
especially if you live nearby.
At Christmas, we heard
a noise in the house,
sort of a whoosh!
And my wife thought she heard the central heating boiler rattle.
Looked round the house, couldn't find anything wrong and ignored it.
We looked out, and there it was.
Quite astonishing, something that size had appeared in the hill.
This gigantic hole opened up just before Christmas last year
and has been steadily growing ever since.
It was a shock, but it's something that happens in the Peak District.
The man who owns the land - and now a hole - is Peter Robinson.
That's an extraordinary great mouth opened up in the earth, isn't it?
I can't see the bottom. How deep does it go?
This is 90m deep, we survey it weekly,
because one of the important issues
is to monitor whether it's going to grow or stabilise.
It really is like something out of a Greek myth, the mouth of Hades.
What did it fall down into?
It's basically a build-up of surface water
that has created weight and it's basically slumped down
into the old lead workings,
dating back to 1600, that lie beneath this area.
The tunnels were timber-lined and have probably rotted
and collapsed many years ago
and it's just slumped down into the workings.
Work will start soon on filling this hole
and in a couple of months' time, you'd never know it was here.
But the repair may cost up to a quarter of a million pounds,
so is there a way to identify potential hazards before they occur?
This instrument you're putting in now,
is this to look for movement or to look for holes?
This is to look for the movement associated with instability
under the ground.
'Peter Styles is a specialist in geophysics
'and an expert in mapping disused mines.
'When the ground opens up, his team get called in, whatever the weather.'
So, how often are people like you asked to come in
and look at areas, what's the trigger for your arrival?
If you want my opinion, we're asked to come in too late,
because what usually happens is something becomes unstable
and you'll get one cavity and people will come and see it
and ask if there are any others.
It's quite clear that there are problems which we need to look at
in a more proactive manner. They need to take some notice
and start to inspect these sites before they give permission
for huge housing developments or large infrastructure,
because that's the only way we'll actually make these safe.
So, are we being too complacent about potentially dangerous disused mines?
Well, as we heard earlier,
the Coal Authority has responsibility for old coal mines.
Do you think you're doing enough to keep the homes of Britain
safe from falling down?
We are, we have to be very proportionate on risk,
we take risk seriously.
We heard from our geophysicist earlier,
that they thought people could be more proactive
in looking for potential problems
where they may be building a new housing estate
or new infrastructure - what do you think about that?
Although under our legislation we're reactive,
we've a proactive mine entry inspection programme,
we're inspecting 20,000 mine entries per year
to ensure that are any problems with these mine entries
that are under our responsibility
and we found that only 1% per year
is something we have to look at
and that's to do further investigation work.
The Coal Authority doesn't just deal with subsidence
and mine collapse, it also cleans up water contaminated by old workings.
Yet even with thousands of mineshaft inspections annually,
it'll take years to examine them all.
The coal authority only deals with old coal mines,
so what about other underground workings hidden beneath our feet?
Getting an answer to that question wasn't as easy as you might imagine,
but after being referred from one government department to another,
we were told that old non-coalmines
are mostly the responsibility of local councils.
That means there is no national inspection scheme
for well over 100,000 old workings and mineshafts.
We tend to think of mining, particularly coal mining,
as belonging to the past.
But what I've seen is that
you can't hide its consequences away from the present.
The land beneath our feet is likely to carry on moving a little
long into the future.
I'm on the Isle of Sheppey.
Earlier, I heard about the lost village of Elmley
that crumbled under the closure of its cement works.
Well, the industry may have long gone,
taking with it the people who lived and worked here,
but the neighbouring farm has managed to survive
in this wild and desolate place.
In fact, it's flourishing because not only is it a working farm,
but it's also a national nature reserve
and it really is one-of-a-kind.
This is the only national nature reserve in the country
to be run by a farming family.
That means they're top of the tree
when it comes to conservation management.
It's been Philip Merricks' labour of love since 1974.
So, Philip, was it always your intention, then,
to create a nature reserve here?
Oh, not at all.
-No, we came up here in the early 1970s.
And I was a very young, keen farmer
-and we'd farmed marshes all our lives.
So we were busy into farming
and of course it was arable farming in those days, very much so.
And how easy is it to farm and have a nature reserve as well?
Because I guess in your heart...
you're a farmer's son, you're a farmer yourself.
They are absolutely as one.
Don't put farming in one box and conservation in another.
They're completely intertwined. One is dependent on the other.
And I call it land management, whatever the objective is.
Managing the land means going with the flow.
Water is the key to its success.
As we look out here then, just give us an idea
of what is going on from a water management point of view.
Right, as you look at those rills,
-you'll come upon these little creeks we've created.
At the moment, of course, they're filled with winter water
and that will gradually drop.
Don't forget, although we're wet here,
you're in a normally dry part of England.
They will drop. And as they drop, they expose the wet mud,
which is of course a wonderful food source for the birds,
the breeding birds, and the chicks, the vitally important chicks.
I mean, the lovely thing is that nature has evolved
through what man has done over the years.
So if you actually make it more interesting,
then wildlife will come in straightaway.
And this year, they have come in record numbers.
The reserve has the largest concentration of breeding waders
in the lowlands of the UK.
These ducks you can see over here, they're wigeon.
They're fuelling themselves - they're grass-eating ducks.
They breed up in the Arctic Circle.
They come down for us in huge numbers.
We recorded, this year, over 27,000.
The whole marsh is like a giant bird table,
providing rich pickings for hungry beaks.
A lot of that is thanks to the animals that graze here.
Hold the doors, it's a bit blustery!
Looking after them is Steve Gordon's job.
So how many sheep would you be running here, in any one year?
Up to 1,000 sheep.
About 400 remain here all year round, until they go back for lambing,
and then I bring in about another 500 or 600 during the winter.
These Romney sheep act as living lawnmowers,
nibbling down the grass,
creating perfect conditions for ground-nesting birds
and the insects that they feed on.
But that's not all they're good for.
-Let's talk about poo.
-Because that's all part of it.
-That is the integral part of it.
One of the most important parts of the system, actually,
both from the point of view of bringing in the insect life...
It also gives a bit of camouflage for the chicks and the eggs
during, sort of, April, May - for the breeding season.
Elmley Reserve shows
that farming not only works in harmony with nature,
but if approached in the right way,
positively benefits wildlife by creating ideal habitats.
From the marshlands of Kent to the chalklands of Wiltshire.
Helen's at Heytesbury House,
once the home of one of our greatest war poets,
Before World War I,
the young Sassoon lived the life of a wealthy country gentleman,
indulging his passions for fox hunting and writing poetry.
But then came The Great War.
At first, Sassoon's poems
were filled with patriotism and enthusiasm.
But as time went on
and he witnessed the horror of trench warfare first-hand,
they were peppered with inhumanity and brutality.
'Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire
'Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear
'They leave their trenches, going over the top
'While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists
'And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists
'Flounders in mud.
'O Jesus, make it stop!'
As the country settled into peace after the war,
Sassoon found solace in the depths of the Wiltshire countryside
and bought Heytesbury House in 1933.
The house and grounds offered a
welcome relief from the pain of war.
Rupert Pulvertaft is the step-grandson of Sassoon.
He lives on a cottage on the old estate
and has some of the poet's very precious belongings.
This is Siegfried Sassoon.
Yeah, Siegfried Sassoon as painted by his wife Hester.
And she began the picture
when she moved to Heytesbury House with Siegfried, in the early 1930s.
But unfortunately, they'd divorced
by the time she'd actually got round to finishing it
so it remains unfinished.
-But I did manage to find the hat.
-So this is the hat in the painting?
The very same hat that you'll see in the painting,
that was in a barn somewhere,
covered in spiders and assorted other pieces of cobweb.
And if you look at the family album over here...
..you'll see Siegfried wearing the very same hat.
And this is George Sassoon, who was Siegfried's only son,
-who's my stepfather.
And then Siegfried looking very poetic.
I love that photograph.
Just the light and the way he's looking -
it's brilliant, isn't it?
And this is Heytesbury House, which he bought after the war.
Yeah, it was bought in the early 1930s,
with a legacy from Hester.
And that's when he started to write poems that were based around here?
-Around this general area, as well.
-Is this Heytesbury Wood?
Yeah, that's Heytesbury Wood
and indeed he wrote a poem about the wood itself,
which he loved very much,
called In Heytesbury Wood, where he did quite a bit of planting.
-Which is just out here?
-Just out here, yeah.
-Let's go and have a look.
-I'll bring the poem with me.
Here, it's incredibly peaceful, isn't it?
Yeah, very much so.
It was his country retreat where he was able to lay back
and enjoy the peace and solitude.
And he wrote a sequence of poems to do with the wood,
call The Vigils.
And he also replanted the wood quite extensively.
The perfect setting to write a bit of poetry.
Indeed. "In Heytesbury Wood."
"Return I think, next summer
"And you'll find such change
"Walking some low-lit evening in the whispering wood
"As will refresh your eyes and do them ghostly good
"See redolence befriend
"Neglect, no more estrange."
It wasn't just the woodland that Sassoon enjoyed.
He was often found on the village cricket pitch,
also in the grounds of the great house.
Through his love of the game, he made lifelong friends.
Dennis Silk was an up-and-coming international cricketer
and Andrew Pinnel's grandfather played village cricket with Siegfried.
This picture is 1936.
And you've got the landowner, the owner of the big house,
with his team.
And what Siegfried was prone to do...
He always wanted to have a bat in the week.
So he'd sit up all night writing his prose and poetry
and one of my grandfather's first jobs every morning
was to go into the study.
And he always said it reeked of pipe smoke
cos Siggy would smoke his pipe all night, as he was writing.
Then he'd say to the garden boys,
"Right, guys, come and bowl at me in the nets."
So he had his own net in the garden.
So they'd stop what they were doing and they had to bowl at him...
but very gently!
They wouldn't let him have it,
they had to bowl at him very gently.
Siegfried was not going to pull a muscle or anything like that!
He stood at mid-on
and if the ball was hit straight at him,
he would fold his arms
and present his shins to it.
But what he looked forward to most,
and it's documented very well in his diaries and his notebooks,
was when you came along to visit
and you sat on the porch and you'd listen to the cricket,
the test matches,
and you just talked about cricket.
And particularly in his later life, that was one of his great joys.
Dennis and his wife Diana
spent lots of time with Siegfried at Heytesbury,
until he died in 1967.
The house is now apartments
but it still holds fond memories for both of them.
Dennis, you spent many hours and many nights here with Siegfried.
Tell me about your evenings. What did you do?
I did a lot of listening
because there was such a wonderful thing to listen to,
as Siegfried in full cry.
And mostly about World War I.
He talked unforgettably
about what it had been like to be on the Western Front.
And more important than anything else,
the lives of his men.
Now, you managed to persuade him to record some of his poems,
-Yes, I did.
Was that difficult?
but I had to wait around a bit!
Well, luckily for us, you persisted, Dennis.
So this is some of your recordings.
'Why do you lie with your legs ungainly huddled
'And one arm bent across your sullen, cold, exhausted face? DENNIS MOUTHS ALONG
'It hurts my heart to watch you
'Deep-shadowed from the candle's guttering gold
'And you wonder why I shake you by the shoulder
'Drowsy, you mumble and sigh and turn your head
'You are too young to fall asleep for ever
'And when you sleep, you remind me of the dead.'
How does it feel, Dennis,
to listen to your friend read some of his great poems?
I can only tell you that it was a great experience.
What do you think that Siegfried will be remembered for?
I think that with 1914-18
already being hammered around,
his poems will have real meaning.
And, we hope, making damn sure
that no other country
is allowed to make a world war.
Because that would be the end of the game.
How did his writing change when he lived here?
Well, he loved the country, the trees.
He wrote wonderful poems about the trees.
He was superb at picking up
the really important bits of one's life.
One of the poems that he wrote about a tree outside
he named after his good friend Edmund Blunden, the great poet.
Would you do us the honour of reading it for us, Dennis?
"I named it Blunden's Beech
"And no-one knew that this
"Of local beeches
"Was the best
"Remembering lines by Clare
"I'd somehow rest
"Contentful on the cushioned moss
"That grew between its roots
"Finches, flitting crew
"Chirped their concern
"Wiltshire, from east to west,
"Contained my tree."
While Wiltshire provided inspiration for the poet Siegfried Sassoon,
it was the Kent countryside
that was a muse for writer and poet Vita Sackville-West.
So enamoured was she with this landscape
that when Sissinghurst Castle came up for sale,
Vita bought it.
And for a writer with romantic ideas,
this place ticked all the boxes.
It had land, and lots of it,
a pink-bricked ruin,
traditional Kentish oast houses
and this - an Elizabethan tower.
Together with her husband Harold Nicolson,
the couple slowly rebuilt the once dilapidated Sissinghurst,
to make it their home and her place of work.
Vita continued to write poetry, inspired by the new adventure.
"Green is the eastern sky and red the west
"The hop-kilns huddle under pallid hoods
"The waggon stupid stands with upright shaft
"As daily life accepts the night's arrest."
Although Sissinghurst looks well kept and much-loved today,
when Vita and Harold bought it in 1930,
there was a lot of work to do.
And it was here that Vita developed another talent -
gaining a reputation for garden design.
It was at this desk that Vita
wrote her popular gardening column for The Observer.
For 14 years,
her readers got to know Vita and her grand garden well.
And many of them became so taken with it
that they flocked here in their droves
to see it for themselves.
More than 80 years after Vita started planting this garden,
the greenhouses are full to bursting
with seedlings destined for the flower beds.
Gardner Jo Jones and senior propagator Emma Grigg
are following in Vita's muddy footsteps.
-Hiya, how are you doing?
-All right, thanks.
Glad to be working indoors!
-Yeah, windy and rainy out there at the moment, yes.
So what do you have to do in the depths of winter here?
I'm getting the seedlings sown for use for our head gardener,
Troy. He's planned what plans he wants to do this year.
Jo, how big is this garden?
-It's about seven acres.
So it's relatively small-sized
but it's very intensely planted
so it means it creates a lot more work for us, here.
Do you find yourself, as a gardener, inspired by this place?
It certainly was very special for Vita.
Oh, yeah. It's beautiful
to see all the different progressions through the season
and really nice to see different bits of the garden
evolving and changing, as well.
There are nine horticulturalists and 25 dedicated volunteers
dealing with the garden's very long to-do list.
Keeping true to Vita's experimental planting style,
I'm here to help assistant head gardener Wendy Tremenheere
reintroduce one of Vita's former flowers.
-I've got just the thing...
-..for that hole here.
One of these...well, it's hard to identify, isn't it?
-It's a rose, isn't it?
-Yeah, this is Empress Josephine.
It's a lovely gallica rose,
semi-double, pink, with veined petals...
So we're going to plant it on the edge of the path here
where people can actually admire the flowers
and smell it as they walk by.
-There we go.
-We'll sprinkle that.
A bit of bone meal.
And what was Vita's vision for her rose garden?
What did she have here? How many varieties?
Vita's head gardener made a list of the roses in the garden
and came up with 194 Roses.
Wonderful, like this lovely rose. Job done!
It was Harold who drew up the layout for this garden,
using clean lines and corridors
to connect different rooms for Vita's abundant blooms.
And its in winter, this time of year,
that you really get a sense of his blueprint for Sissinghurst.
But come the summer, when every inch is packed with flowers,
it's very much Vita's garden.
Yet Sissinghurst was more than plants and planning,
it was also Harold and Vita's treasured home.
Their grandson Adam Nicholson, also a writer,
spent his formative years here.
What was it like having visitors around and eyes everywhere?
Well, visitors were like weird alien creatures.
We used to drop eggs on them from the top of the tower.
But it was a magical place to be a boy, you can imagine,
it was beautiful, a completely life-shaping time for me.
How would you describe Sissinghurst?
Well, I think that it is a garden in a ruin in a farm.
It's like a precious garden with this abandoned Elizabethan house,
the farm buildings, the fields, the woods
and then the wider landscape beyond.
Vita died in 1962 and Harold six years later.
Like Knole before it, the heavy weight of death duties meant
Adam's father Nigel gave Sissinghurst to the National Trust.
But with strong ties to the place, Adam's had his own ideas
to reinvigorate the traditional and once thriving farm.
Now there's a lovely herd of Sussex beef cattle,
there's a flock of sheep, you've got a big fruit orchard.
We've put in, down in that wet bottom of the valley there,
we've put in a lovely hay meadow.
There was one in the Middle Ages,
and there hasn't been one for the last 50, 60 years,
so with the idea being that this is a rich
and beautiful frame for the garden.
It's no good having the garden as a little thing
just with a car park attached to it,
you want to feel the country embracing it.
Sissinghurst's a hive of activity in every season.
It might be most famous for its stunning summer blooms,
but this is a place of transformation -
a tribute to the vision of Vita Sackville-West,
writer, gardener, romantic.
We're exploring Kent.
While Ellie's been on the mainland at the home of writer and gardener
I've been exploring the remote Elmley Marshes
on the Isle of Sheppey.
Well, it wasn't just Vita who was inspired by this landscape -
Charles Dickens was pretty taken by it, too.
In fact, he took inspiration for Great Expectations
from these very marshes.
The marshland you see today is actually a man-made wilderness.
The water levels can be raised and lowered as needed
to create the optimum conditions for the birds.
And it's this delicate balance that keeps them flocking.
I'm joining Gareth Fulton, son-in-law of Philip the landowner,
who's using a nifty technique to combat the recent heavy rainfall.
Seems like the birds aren't the only ones wading around here.
What are we doing here then? What's the job?
We are managing the water level across the reserve.
What we want to do is keep just enough water in the fields,
to keep them moist, keep a good habitat for the breeding waders.
And we know there's a lot of rain coming through,
so we don't want any more water in this field,
so we'll take this top off, this pipe here,
and there's a tube going under this bank behind us
and it will drain the water out into another part that's not got as much.
I'll take that out now. Have you found that hole?
-Brilliant. So if you just let that lean.
We'll just walk out and we'll be able to see the water flowing through
and going out the other side.
This amazingly simple technique allows the water to drop to
the level of the pipe - gravity takes control
and pushes it elsewhere, just like a bath overflow.
How long will it take for this to get to the level that you want it?
It should take a couple of days, depending on how much rain we get.
You never really know in advance, you've just got to judge it, really.
-You can see that little trickle down there, can't you?
If you just see over there,
you see the upwelling where the water is coming up.
And the water going across will eventually end up through
the sluice and into the swale.
Have you thought about the miles of pipe you've got?
Yeah. There must be over five miles of piping in this place.
Managing this complex habitat so closely
is a huge undertaking for the family.
But the rewards are everywhere to be seen
as you drive through the watery wilderness.
I hear there's a view from a hide just up here that offers
the best of the marshes.
Is that some wigeon coming in?
Two people who love nothing more than escaping the city
and getting twitchy in the wilderness are amateur photographers
John Whitting and his son... John Whitting!
Now then, lads, hands up if your name's John.
-Good to see you, how are you?
-Have you had a successful morning?
-Oh, very good. Very nice day.
And is it a good day for bird watching?
Cos obviously a lot of stuff's been up and down, it's all over the shop.
It's a good day for what we've got here at the moment.
It is flocks and wildfowl and wild country, really, so today it suits.
You don't just obviously come down here with binoculars,
you come here with your camera and you have got some incredible shots.
John, just talk us through when you took these.
-These are all from here.
-Yes, it's all from Elmley.
That's a ringtail hen harrier.
-Who took this shot?
-I took that one.
That's a stoat which is a deadly predator.
They've got all the predator fences up around the reserve,
but the predators still get through and that's the damage they can do.
Now, that is a rarity, isn't it?
-On both accounts I guess.
-Marsh frog with a cattle egret.
You don't see many of them, but they are starting to increase now.
I've seen for myself the hard work involved
in managing this landscape -
judging by these photos, I'd say it's definitely worth it.
Well, that's all we've got time for this week.
Next week we're going to be in Scotland where Ellie
will be finding out why Perthshire is known as Big Tree Country
and John will be trying his hand at reed cutting on
the longest reed bed in Britain.
But from here in this cosy hide in Kent,
and from these two Johns,
-it's goodbye. Bye-bye.
The Countryfile team explores the coast and countryside of Kent. Matt Baker island hops to Elmley Marshes on the Isle of Sheppey. It is a peaceful place that has become a haven for wildlife. Out on the marshes, he meets the farmers managing the land with conservation in mind and joins wildlife enthusiasts out on a bird safari. Further inland, Ellie Harrison explores an ancestral pile being transformed on a grand scale. Knole has been a show home for many distinguished owners through the centuries but it was the Sackville family that made it their home for 300 years. Still partly a private home, a large part of the house is now managed by the National Trust. Ellie gets special access to rooms previously unseen where work is under way to repair and catalogue everything from photos to expensive objets d'art. John Craven finds out about a lesser-known Kent produce, Kentish blue cheese. He visits a dairy farm using its own milk for its cheese and learns the secrets to making a fine blue.
Helen Skelton is in the Wiltshire countryside. A place that has provided inspiration for artists, poets and writers for centuries. One of our most famous war poets, Siegfried Sassoon, chose to live in Wiltshire for the last 36 years of his life. Here he continued to write poetry and prose, motivated not by the horrors of war but by the beauty he found in the countryside.
Tom Heap discovers that there are hundreds of thousands of disused mines and mine shafts beneath the British countryside. They may be out of sight, but they are still causing problems on the surface - subsidence, water pollution and in extreme cases collapses that open up huge holes in the ground. Tom asks whether we should be doing more to find these old workings and make them safe.