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Great Dixter and its Glorious Gardens

A very pleasant walk on the Sussex/Kent border, highlighting the skill and creativity of a famous architect and a gifted gardening writer.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 98ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and quiet roads, 11 stiles

Landscape Undulating farmland and stretches of woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 125 Romney Marsh, Rye & Winchelsea

Start/finish TQ 828245

Dog friendliness Dog stiles near Great Dixter and on Sussex Border Path

Parking Free car park on corner of Fullers Lane and A28, Northiam

Public toilets Great Dixter. Seasonal opening

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1 Turn right out of the car park and walk along Fullers Lane towards St Mary's Church. Take the path on the left, signposted to Goddens Gill, and keep to the right edge of the field. Cross a stile in the corner and look for an oasthouse on the right. Make for a path on the far side of the field and follow it between fences towards a thatched cottage. Cross a stile to the road.

2 Turn left and head for the A28. Bear left and walk along to the Crown and Thistle. From here cross the road and take the turning signposted 'Great Dixter'. Pass a telephone box and go straight on at the crossroads, following Great Dixter Road.

3 Pass the Unitarian Chapel and avoid the path on the right. Keep left at the junction with Higham Lane and continue to follow the signs for Great Dixter. Disregard a turning on the right and go straight on, following a path between trees and hedges, parallel to the main drive to the house.

4 Pass the toilets and head towards a cattle grid. Cross the stile just to the left of it and follow the path signposted to Ewhurst. Follow the waymarks and keep the hedge on the left. Cross a stile in the field corner and then head diagonally down the field slope to the next stile. Follow the clear path down the field slope.

5 Make for a footbridge and then turn left to join the Sussex Border Path. The path skirts the field before disappearing into woodland. Emerging from the trees, cut straight across the next field to two stiles and a footbridge. Keep the woodland on the left and look for a gap in the trees. Cross a stream to a stile and bear right. Follow the right edge of the field and keep on the Sussex Border Path until you reach the road.

6 Cross over the lane to a drive. Bear immediately left and follow the path to a stile. Pass alongside woodland and then veer slightly away from the trees to a stile in the approaching boundary. Cross it and go straight ahead up the field slope. Take the first footpath on the right and follow it to a gap in the field corner. Cross a footbridge under the trees and continue along the right-hand edge of the next field to join a drive. Bear left and follow it to the road. Turn left, then right to return to the car park at Great Dixter.

Deep in the tranquil, rolling countryside of East Sussex, close to the Kent border, lies Great Dixter, one of the county's smaller and more intimate historic houses.

Built in the middle of the 15th century and later restored and enlarged by Sir Edwin Lutyens, Great Dixter is a popular tourist attraction as well as a family home. These days this fine Wealden hall-house is owned and cared for by Olivia Eller and her uncle Christopher Lloyd, the gardening writer. It was Christopher's father, Nathaniel, who instructed Lutyens in 1910 to make major changes to Great Dixter, which at that time was in a poor state of repair. His main task was to clear the house of later alterations and, typically, the work was undertaken with great sensitivity.

But Lutyens didn't stop there. While all the restoration plans were beginning to take shape he and Nathaniel Lloyd seized on another opportunity to improve and enlarge the house. A complete timber-framed yeoman's hall at Benenden in Kent, scheduled for demolition, was skilfully dismantled piece by piece and moved to Great Dixter, adding an entire wing to the house.

One of Great Dixter's most striking features is the magnificent Great Hall, the largest surviving timber-framed hall in the country. Visitors never fail to be impressed by its medieval splendour. The half timbered and plastered front and the Tudor porch also catch the eye. The contents of Great Dixter date mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries and were collected over the years by Nathaniel Lloyd. The house also contains many examples of delicately fashioned needlework, which were completed by his wife Daisy and their children.

However, a tour of Great Dixter doesn't end with the house. The gardens are equally impressive. Christopher Lloyd has spent many years working on this project, incorporating many medieval buildings, establishing natural ponds and designing yew topiary. The result is one of the most exciting, colourful and constantly changing gardens of modern times. As with the house, plans were drawn up to improve the gardens, and here Lutyens was just as inventive. He often used tiles in a decorative though practical manner, to great effect. At Great Dixter he took a chicken house with crumbling walls and transformed it into an open sided loggia, supported by laminated tile pillars.

Beginning in Northiam, the walk heads round the edge of the village before reaching the house at Great Dixter. Even out of season, when the place is closed, you gain a vivid impression of the house and its Sussex Weald setting. Passing directly in front of Great Dixter, the route then crosses rolling countryside to join the Sussex Border Path, following it all the way back to Northiam.

While you're there

Travel a mile (1.6km) or so along the A28 to take a train ride on the Kent and East Sussex Railway. The railway, which opened in 1900, ran from Robertsbridge to Headcorn and was used mainly for taking farm produce to market, and for bringing in coal to drive machinery and for household fires. The coal yard at the station is still in use. The line closed to passengers in 1954 and to goods in 1961. Northiam station reopened in 1990 through the efforts of the Challenge Anneka television show.

Where to eat and drink

The Crown and Thistle at Northiam serves fish and chips and a range of good home-cooked food. There is also a Sunday carvery. When Great Dixter is open, you can buy soft drinks and basic prepacked snacks from the gift shop. There is also a picnic area.

What to look for

Walk briefly off the route to visit Northiam's parish church. Not much is known of its early history, though part of it dates from the 12th century. Most of the chancel is modern. Have a look at the church clock which was repaired and restored through the kind generosity of parishoners. A victory peel of bells rang out over the village on 8th May 1945 - VE Day - and the names of the six ringers are recorded inside the church.

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