Friday 9 May 2008

Ightham Mote, Ivy Hatch, near Sevenoaks, Kent

Postcard-perfect, moated manor house dating from the fourteenth century, Ightham Mote nestles in a peaceful valley only a few miles from the suburbia of Sevenoaks. Owned by the National Trust, the miniature stone bridges across the moat, the cobbled courtyard and the ancient timber frames of the manor house quickly conjure up a bygone era.

Entrance to the dozen or so public rooms in the house is via the medieval great hall with its high, arching roof, suits of armour, crossed halberds and austere portraits mounted on the walls. Many of the subsequent corridors and rooms boast intricately-carved wooden panelling and beautiful stained glass. The simple New Chapel with its memorials to fallen soldiers from the First World War, ornate screen and dozen wooden pews, is moving and poignant. The mood changes in the light and airy drawing room, with its floral upholstery and 200-year-old Chinese wallpaper. You will also want to linger in the library and the billiards room with its elegant old table and leather armchairs.

The surrounding gardens are dotted with statues, fountains, ponds and medieval outbuildings. Inundated with visitors on fine weekends, the manor house's rooms, narrow lanes and paths can get crowded. Children love tearing up and down the large green lawn, which is framed by steep, grassy banks and a deep lake. After 4pm, most of the families head home and the manor house begins to assume a tranquil beauty that justifies the £9.50 entrance fee. 8/10