Monday, 5 June 2017

Northiam and Great Dixter

Great Dixter
A place that has long been on our radar for visiting is the celebrated garden of Great Dixter.  As it is clear the other end of Sussex we needed a day that we could plan for in advance.  We were also unsure whether it was worth the length of trip - a perfect way to extend the visit was walk number 1 in Volume 67 of Pathfinder Guide East Sussex and the South Downs.  It meant that the length of journey justified the modest length of walk as well as the garden.  We picked the perfect day - beautiful blue skies with puffy clouds floating along leisurely.

Our walk started at the village hall in the scenic village of Northiam.  For me this end of Sussex is relatively uncharted territory, especially as the scenery is a lot more reminiscent of the neighbouring county of Kent.  Our first task was to cross the busy A28 road and disappear down an alley running between some sumptuous looking gardens.  We were soon out into open fields and our decision to choose this day was vindicated when we saw how brilliantly all the lush new growth and flowers looked in this glorious weather.  It was one of those magical days that only come along a few times in the spring and which must be savoured.  The fields were largely left to fallow and were filled with buttercups, adding a touch of gold to this corner of Sussex.

New Foliage
To tell you the truth there was nothing particularly remarkable about the first half of the walk other than the luscious colours.  The path largely skipped between fields lined with blossom festooned bushes, mostly May.  Eventually at the sight of a large oak tree resplendent in its new foliage we turned direction and headed up a modest hill towards the house of Great Dixter itself.  As we climbed there was time to catch our breath and enjoy the views across the Weald behind us.  It was hard to believe that this area was once the iron industry capital of England so rural is it now.  The only sign of industry now is the large windmill at Sandhurst over the border in Kent a few miles away.

At the very top of the hill we reached the house itself.  This was built in 1910-12 by Edwin Lutyens using an original house on site and adding another structure rescued from Benenden.  Although the house is lovely it is surely the garden that stands this property out from others.  It was designed by Christopher Lloyd, the celebrated gardener, and manages to be structured and yet wild at the same time.  I loved its slightly chaotic feel as weeds were celebrated as part of the structure of the garden without being allowed to strangle it.  Of particular note for me with the huge angelica 'trees' that seemed to tower over everything else.  I'm no gardening expert but the garden is arranged into rooms, demonstrating to me at least that this is obviously not a modern concept.

Great Dixter Gardens
We spent a good amount of time in the garden enjoying the warm sunshine and even having a spot of lunch.  We didn't actually go inside the house (although perfectly possible to do so).  Somehow it didn't feel right on such a great day - maybe next time?  Eventually feeling that we had seen enough we headed back to the car and completed the loop.  What followed was rather more road walking than I like but necessary to get us through the village.  Northiam is characterised by traditional clapboard houses, a very distinctive sight at this end of Sussex.  Combined with the unique finger posts that seem peculiar to East Sussex, the clapboard houses are perhaps the characteristics that remind me that I am an East Sussex boy at heart despite living in the west of the county for nearly 20 years.
We left the village by another lane and eventually left the road behind opposite a well done barn conversion.  There was one little surprise in store as the path opened up to reveal a great view across fields with beautiful thatched cottages and an oast house over to the left and the spire of the church ahead of us.  A scene that was quintessentially English.  We crossed over the field and back to the church.  As we got closer a rather grand affair greeted us, unusually with an octagonal tower.  Just beyond it though was a sight that we almost missed - a very old oak tree that apparently Elizabeth I is reputed to have sat underneath.  It was an interesting point to conclude the walk.

Crossing The Last Field
This wasquite a short walk, clocking in at only three miles.  Adding the visit to Great Dixter to the walk is vital in my opinion - doing both together certainly justified the distance to travel over from Worthing.

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