Day 29 (9 July): Great Britain and great gardens

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Today we set off for a drive in the Great British countryside. The Weald of Kent landscape offers the most picturesque viewpoints. We weaved our way through high hedgerows to our destination of Christopher Lloyd's house and garden at Great Dixter.

Great Dixter is regarded as one of Britain's finest gardens. We arrived just before any coachloads or crowds of Sunday day trippers and had the garden almost to ourselves.

The Navigator has (almost) come to love a great garden and surprises the Navagtrix with his insights. Anyone would enjoy the informality and colour this garden has to offer. The wildflower meadows and formal gardens surround the house and were alive with colour and buzzing with pollinators, turquoise blue dragonflys and big buzzy bumble bees darting in and out as well as a mass of smaller bees and crickets.

The colour palette of purples, rich reds and sunbright yellows in long borders made it almost impossible to take in the lush landscape.  Lloyd said himself of the colourful garden "I couldn't do whites and greys because that was Sissinghurst.  So I decided to do colours."

The oast houses and farm buildings take you back to a time when this was a working farm. The oast houses with their cylindrical towers were used to dry out the hops. Great kilns are built on the ground floor to heat and dry out the hops which were spread out on the second level. The cone towers allowed the heat to escape. These oast houses and even windmills can still be see all over Kent as a reminder of a time where this was the backbone of agricultural production. There has been a revival in hop growing to supply new craft beer brewers.

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We sat out in the sun and sipped on pear cider and Victorian lemonade.

Today marked the start of the anniversary of the Battle of Britain and we lucky enough to discover there would be a flypast at the Memorial near Folkestone in the afternoon.  Much to our surprise we came across a Hurricane and a Spitfire flying low over the fields nearby for another local airshow. 

We continued on to reach the Memorial perched high on the clifftops at Capel-le-Ferne, between Folkestone and Dover. Marquees were set out with people dressed in WWII uniforms, reenacting how they marked the allied and enemy aircraft by pushing wooden blocks around a table. How technology has changed. The Navitrix' Grandfather was stationed at one of the many airfields along this stretch of coastline supporting the crews as they defended Britain from the aerial attacks. There were Airforce Cadet bands and huge marquees serving afternoon tea to dignitaries.

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We scored a Pimms and a beer (unfortunately the Fosters had just run out - it's not often an Australian gets to have a Fosters) and sat on the hill with many others listening and watching for the sound of the approaching aircraft. We were treated with at least twenty minutes of a Hurricane and Spitfire flying low past the chalky cliffs and high into the sky over the English Channel performing loops and chases. The sound was incredible and one could only imagine how the sound of both allied and enemy aircraft over the Channel and the Downs must have sounded more than 75 years ago.

The heroic efforts of the armed forces and the general public in alerting any enemy air movements saved Britain from an invasion.  The memorial commemorates the approximately 3,500 pilots who lost there lives in the three month long Battle of Britain, as well as soberly reminding us of all the airmen who were maimed or badly wounded.