A Walk Around Charleston – An Artist’s Home and Garden

I awoke to the sound of seabirds – one of the nice things about being by the seaside.  Although they can be a bit noisy at times, it makes a huge change from the sound of the planes going over my house at 5am in the morning.  At least the seabirds have the good sense to start calling to each other after 6am.  I am not normally a morning person, but I can’t help waking up when the sun is shining.  We get so little of it in the UK that I feel if I don’t go out and enjoy it I will regret it and feel that I missed out on something good.  Also, the days are getting shorter.  It is no longer as light as it used to be at 4am (sunrise is at 5 now) and the sun is going down at around 9pm instead of at 10pm.  We also have this saying here: Sunny at 7, cloudy at 11.  We can have glorious sunrises which fool us into thinking we are going to have a lovely day, and then it clouds over or starts to rain.  I carry an umbrella all year round.  This is why they always talk about the weather over here.

However, today we are lucky.  The sun is shining.  Clouds are being blown across blue skies.  The temperature is mild.  It is a perfect day for walking and exploring.  I want to go to Charleston.  I missed going when the Charleston Festival was on.  I pass by on every visit to the coast, but it is either too late or too early to visit.

I must admit my ignorance of the Bloomsbury set.  I am aware of them and what they did, but more than that I knew very little until I visited Charleston.  I have never read a novel by Virginia Woolf.  If your knowledge is the same as mine, I would recommend having a good look at the Charleston website.  It is extremely informative about every aspect of the house and grounds, café and shop.  This is one of the best websites I have ever come across for anything.  You will also get to see photos of the interior.  Taking photos of the inside of the house is not permitted.

East Dean, Birling Gap and Charleston2

We drove up the lane to the house and parked behind it where parking is free.  We arrived at Charleston 20 minutes early, so we wandered around the property which is surrounded by countryside.  There had been an event the evening before and there were people about clearing up.  I explored the loos (very pretty and very clean!), and took a few photos.  There were some other people waiting also.  Although opening time wasn’t until 12pm, they didn’t open until around 12:30 and were quite apologetic when they finally opened the doors to the shop where we had to purchase our tickets.  The entry fee is £7.50 for an adult and for a bit extra we gave a gift aid which entitled us to a free cup of coffee or tea.  By the time the doors eventually opened, quite a few visitors had shown up and therefore visiting times to enter the house was staggered, so Amor and I went to the café for coffee while we were waiting our turn to go into the house.  The café is lovely.  It is possible to sit outside in a garden area and they will provide picnic blankets (for a small fee) if you want to have a picnic in the garden.  There is also a room with a film documenting the property and its’ inhabitants.  It was impossible to have our coffee without cake.  They had a lovely selection of cakes staring us in the face and as we hadn’t had any breakfast…I chose the carrot cake and Amor had the coffee cake.  Although both were very good in their own way, I thought I made the best choice.  The fact that it had carrots, raisins and nuts justified it as being a healthier option. 😉

The house is smaller than I thought it would be and yet it is fairly spacious inside.  I somehow got it into my head that the place would be larger and grander considering the amount of people that used to visit and stay there at any one time.  Because the house is filled with furniture and the rooms are not grand in size, numbers are limited at any one time in order that people can move around freely and enjoy the place.  There is so much to see that one doesn’t really know where to look next.  There is a certain naivety about the decor.  Paint is splashed on the walls, doors and furniture.  Nothing matches and there is no particular colour scheme.  I loved it.  The dining table has its own unique paintwork and colanders are turned upside down, painted and used as lampshades.  There are many photographs and paintings on the walls in many styles.  There are stewards in the rooms that will try to answer any questions you may have about an item in the room you are in, and to make sure you don’t touch anything.  The place is so homey that it is easy to forget you are in what is essentially a museum and not in someone’s home that you have been invited to.  The stewards are generally very knowledgeable, although there was one nice lady there on her first day, but I am sure with time she will know as much about the place as everybody else.  Everyone who worked there looked very happy and all were eager to share what they knew about Charleston and the people who lived there.  During the week there are guided tours and one will be able to visit certain rooms, such as the kitchen, that aren’t available to view on the weekend.  These tours are more detailed and informative.

East Dean, Birling Gap and Charleston3

We worked our way through the various rooms and eventually to the studio which led out to the back garden.  There were lovely views from every room in the house, but the studio had the best light.  I could see why people would want to work and paint here.  Once we were let out to the walled garden there was no getting back into the house, but we had seen enough and wanted to be outside.  The garden is lovely and is very much an artist’s garden.  There is colour everywhere.  There is a beautiful scented rose that was just heaven.  There was a small pond at the end of a very tidy lawn and every once in awhile a sculpture would be encountered amongst the plants.  It was an English garden with a twist.  I adored it and could have sat out on the lawn all afternoon.

East Dean, Birling Gap and Charleston4

We eventually made our way out to the front of the house and walked around the larger pond that was teaming with carp.  They came towards us with open mouths hoping to be fed.  There were a few very large and beautiful sculptures out here and we also found a small apple orchard, glass houses and potting sheds.  It was fairly windy and the sound of the leaves rustling was very soothing and almost as lovely to listen to as the sound of the sea.  The walled garden offered more shelter and protection from the wind which hadn’t been noticeable earlier.

Before we left, I purchased a book from the shop that I had seen earlier.  Actually, I wanted to purchase more as there is a lovely selection of jewellery for sale that is reasonably priced as well as a few interesting items of clothing and other textiles.  I restrained myself and settled for Deceived with Kindness by Angelica Garnett (daughter of Vanessa Bell).  As both Amor and I were enchanted with the place and wanted to come back again for a guided tour, we took out a joint membership which will entitle us to free entry for a year.  There are many talks and special events that take place during the year and the place is so delightful that it is nice to know we have somewhere to go to when the mood takes us as there is still so much to see and learn.  There is a trail running through Charleston’s grounds that goes to the top of the Firle Beacon for views of the sea, so combining a walk and a visit to the house would make a lovely day out.

I found my visit to Charleston to be very interesting and inspiring.  I have come away with so many ideas for my next decorating project.  I heartily recommend a visit to this enchanting place.


It was time for lunch.  The first place we went to stopped serving Sunday lunch at 2pm!  It was a shame as the place looked lovely and there were wonderful views of the downs. (Also, the drive down was scenic with some amazing houses.  I think we went through Alfriston, which looked quite picturesque.)  However, they told us that The Giants Rest served all day and so we went there.  The view wasn’t as pretty, but the hospitality and food were very good and we would happily come here again.  After lunch I asked Amor to drive down the road to see where it took us.  It took us past The Long Man of Wilmington. There are some lovely walks here as well.  In fact, there seem to be many lovely walks in the South Downs.  It is one of my missions to try them all.  It might take me awhile, but at least I will always have something to do.  We drove past some beautiful properties on this road as well and eventually came to Cuckmere Haven.  It was getting late in the afternoon, otherwise we would have stopped here for a walk.  The weather was so clear and sunny that it made the river sparkle – another time.


Instead we drove back to Eastbourne and had a little snooze on the beach while listening to the waves making their magical sound.  We watched the clouds blow past and the wind would break them up and make them disappear before our very eyes.  After a while, the wind picked up and it started to get chilly, so we decided to head back home.  All in all, it was a pretty inspiring and wonderful day.

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