The Darling Buds of May, Kent


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The Darling Buds of May, Kent

The Kentish Weald , a landscape of orchards, hop gardens and oast houses, pleasantly gentle hills and little villages, is still for many the vision they would conjure of a rural idyll. For the poor of London it was for centuries their glimpse of another life as they migrated to the area just 30 or 40 miles away all too briefly for hop picking, and to gather the apples, cobnuts and strawberries that grew there in abundance. The Weald in fact stretches across Surrey , Sussex and Kent, a fertile band about 30 miles wide, now designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
H.E. Bates , The author of The Darling Buds of May and the four other books featuring the Larkin family, was born in Northampton . But when he married his childhood sweetheart in 1931 they bought an old granary with an acre of land, and set about creating their own little Garden of Eden in the Garden of England. They lived at Buss Farm, on the Smarden Road outside Little Chart, until the author's death in 1974.
Buss Farm is private, but once a year hosts a vintage car rally, offering fans of the author and of the TV series the chance to see the gardens and the outside of the house, as well as the Rolls Royce used in the programmes.
The village of Little Chart encapsulates something of the Larkin books: rural, with that unavoidable feeling of nostalgia - the ancient church which was devastated by a V1 flying bomb in 1944; the hall at Surrenden Park that burned down in 1952. But some important things endure - it still has its old pub!
H.E. Bates published the first of the Larkin stories in 1958, when the country was still recovering from the war, and times were hard. The stories were both nostalgic for the rural life lost to most, and hugely sensual, escapist even in a delightfully coarse and enjoyably guiltless way: tables groaning with two or more roasts; huge volumes of beer without the health-police muttering about units; fruit fresh from the plant. Charley and Mariette of course end up owning and running both a hop-garden and a brewery. Kent to this day is one of the great bastions of well-brewed real ale, with Shepherd Neame among many others keeping the tradition up.
Much of the filming for the TV programmes was done in and around the village of Pluckley, only 10 minutes off the M20 motorway to the west of Ashford. Aficionados will recognize the church, the village shop, and of course the regularly depicted pub. A good way to see the area is walking on the local parts of the two long-distance walks that take in Pluckley and the Chart Hills - Greensand Way, and The Stour Valley Walk. For those who believe in such things, Pluckley is supposedly the most haunted village in England, with a dozen or more ghosts noted there, and many more in the Screaming Woods outside the settlement.
If you choose to arrive by train, stop to have a look at the timber clad station building, which may well be the oldest railway station in the world, built in 1842.
Tenterden, a larger place at the southern edge of the Weald, also provided several locations for the series, and repays a visit: it has a 12th century church, St Mildred's, the Kent and East Sussex Steam Railway on the outskirts, and something that would have been close to Pop Larkin's heart, a vineyard - perfick.
For a side-trip still with Larkin connections, why not try Folkestone , where the Victorian Leas Cable Car Lift offered a very different backdrop for filming. Folkestone has terraces, streets and big hotels of confident Victorian architecture to enjoy in a stroll, and a burgeoning creative quarter, plus of course the lure of the old fishing harbour and the Old High Street with its independent shops.
"Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, and summer's lease hath all too short a date," which was Shakespeare 's way of saying get out and enjoy yourself while you can. This corner of Kent offers plenty of scope for simple pleasures Pop Larkin and doubtless the bard would have understood

1 Response to The Darling Buds of May

From Roger Holmes on 16th September 2010
One minor problem. You say "They lived at Buss Farm, on the Smarden Road outside Little Chart, until the author's death in 1974." This is inaccurate. If you replace the word 'Buss' with the word 'a' you would probably be correct. I know this because I live at Buss Farm which was the principal location of the TV series and it is not on the Smarden Road outside Little Chart. I open it one day a year to the public and raised 14,000+ for charity this year alone. A classic case of mixing up fact and fiction.

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