The Beauty of Sissinghurst, Kent

22 05 2005

Where there is a network of criss-crossing paths extra care is required in reading maps. This is even more important in places where new paths are formed, new roads are laid, or man and nature take turns in filling the land. The possibility of wandering off in unintended paths is high when all that one has is an old map. So it is not much of a surprise that I have wandered wastefully within Bedgebury Forest, sometimes in circles, without really walking towards my destination of Sissinghurst. Finally, I did manage to leave the forest and head east across farms and fields.

Walking in late spring or any part of summer is an altogether different experience. The grass grows to the level of one’s waist and no obvious paths lead the way. Walking half-submerged in a field of long thick grass is a delight in itself. If someone had seen me from the edge of this field they would witnessed a head and a cap moving across waving blades of grass. It must have been a comical sight. Then one walks under the shade of trees full with young green leaves. Then one walks in narrow gaps within fields of wheat waving their growing leaves to an afternoon sun. The river flows. The clouds move. The sun shines. The birds sing. The spiders weave. The bees hum. The leaves shake. The flowers bloom.

The culmination of the day’s rewards, rewards as there must be for a long arduous walk across the country, lay in the gardens at Sissinghurst. The Long Walk at Polesden Lacey, delightful as it was, compares feebly against the well-deserved merits of walks within these gardens. For quiet reflection and a thoughtful stroll the Yew Walk presents a world of seclusion. In mood and purpose, this is not unlike the cloisters of ancient cathedrals or ambulatories in Buddhist monasteries. For a more inquisitive walk with senses responding to the chirp of birds, the smell of flowers or the sight of garden sculptures, the Lime Walk presents a pleasant invitation. For a greater sense of space, walks along the moat and the lakes will not disappoint. These offer an enjoyment of water plants and waders. Here we find ourselves closer to the wilderness of nature than elsewhere. Other gardens compete with one another in putting forth the best displays of their own individual specialised varieties. Plants climbing the walls, dangling from doorways and clinging to pillars grow naturally in such man-made settings as if they would fit nowhere else. There is a sense of order and formality so far as general garden layout and patterns that are part of the design. However, within such formality is nature’s unrestrained growth and display. Here we find the best of nature made most accessible and best presented for the enjoyment of man. Here is seen the lines of man balanced by the curves of nature in all her sweetness and profusion. Here is seen the hand of man but the gestures are those of nature. Here is seen an almost perfect balance of elements, a surprise at every turn, an interest at every corner and a delight in every bed. As such one cannot consciously follow any planned path but unconsciously yield to the mood and let it dictate one’s undetermined steps taken in leisure. The property too adds interest to the garden. The oast house with the characteristic sloping chimneys and wind-shifting cowls make it more picturesque. The tower gives fine views across the country and more importantly an excellent view of the garden from above. It is thus no surprise that over 2000 visitors have made their day at Sissinghurst today just as I have.

The day ended with a good walk from Sissinghurst to Staplehurst where I boarded the train back to Farnborough. The pleasures of walking across the countryside are many. This is easily felt in these months of spring in full bloom. Nearly thirty miles on foot across East Sussex and Kent and their winding border have been rewarding indeed. For some reason they call this unique area “The Weald”.