Art & Gardens of Kent and Sussex
23 – 27 April 2018
About 20 members of Arts Society Hunts departed on Monday 23 April for Petworth House and Park, a stately mansion housing the finest art collection in the care of the National Trust. The state rooms are adorned with internationally important paintings by artists such as Van Dyck, Reynolds, Titian and Blake together with classical and neo-classical sculptures. We were treated to a well informed tour of the house and a taste of the magnificent art collection, before moving on to our hotel, the Crowne Plaza Hotel, East Grinstead where Dinner was served in the evening.
Tuesday 24 April
After breakfast, we travelled to Standen House in West Sussex, designed by Phillip Webb as a family home and containing many beautiful William Morris furnishings and decorations. The house feels comfortable and lived-in, with magnificent views from the informal garden surrounding the house. We had time to meet and chat to some of the volunteers who tend the garden regularly.
After lunch we continued to Great Dixter, home of distinguished garden writer Christopher Lloyd (who died in January 2006 at the age of 84). The timbered 15th century house was restored by Sir Edwin Lutyens who also planned the garden; developed further by Christopher Lloyd and by Head Gardener, Fergus Garret, since his death. The garden is a delightful relaxed example of use of colour, with ideas for every gardener to follow.
Wednesday 25 April
Today, we travelled to Dover Castle. The Castle’s position commands the shortest sea crossing between England and the Continent, which has given it immense strategic importance. The chalk of Castle Hill has been shaped and reshaped over the centuries into massive earthworks, ditches and mounds. Imposing walls and towers have been raised and networks of tunnels built beneath them. King Henry II began the building of the present castle in the 1180s, and over the next 800 years its buildings and defences were adapted to meet the changing demands of weapons and warfare. We were able to visit the fascinating underground Wartime Tunnels along with a guided tour of the Underground hospital. A most effective audio re-enactment of a plane crash in the Channel, with patients apparently presenting all around us in the hospital tunnels, added to the experience. Parts of the tour were steep and slippery underfoot, not helped by a brisk wind and blustery showers, but for many of us this was the first visit to the Castle and gave a fascinating insight into the importance of this ancient building over centuries of action.
Thursday 26 April
This morning after breakfast we headed for Leeds Castle; variously a Norman stronghold; the private property of six of England’s medieval queens; a palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon; a Jacobean country house; a Georgian mansion; an elegant early 20th century retreat for the influential and famous; and in the 21st century, one of the most visited historic buildings in Britain. We were again treated to an excellent private guided tour of the Castle , followed by free time to wander around the magnificent gardens.
The afternoon was free for a visit to the hotel pool or some gentle relaxation, culminating in a poetry reading session after dinner which was enjoyed by all.
Friday 27 April
After checking out of the hotel, we headed to the magnificently manicured gardens of Sissinghurst. This famous garden was created by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson from 1930 onwards and became the most admired English Garden of its time. Sissinghurst is a large connoisseurs’ garden consisting of a series of small romantic areas enclosed by the surviving parts of an Elizabethan mansion. It is also an unending source of inspiration for all gardeners. and continues to be one of the most-copied flower gardens in the world. A tour of the garden and its history provided a splendid close to our fascinating exploration of art and gardens of Kent and Sussex.
Thanks to Pennie Harrison and Sue Denney for managing their first short break holiday, and to our driver and the comfortable Dews coach, always punctual and efficient and appreciated by us all.
Thanks also to Brightwater Holidays for preparing the itinerary which forms the basis of this report. They booked hotel, visits and transport arrangements. The hotel was set up for single night accommodation for travellers using Gatwick Airport, and was not ideally suited to longer stays or for a group of our size. The visits to individual sites and the quality of guides engaged were without exception excellent and added greatly to our enjoyment. Thank you all.
Reports (and/or photos) of visits always welcomed! Please send them to the Honorary Secretary, Jane Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.