by Janis on 21st September 2021 / 0 comments

A captivating jewel in National Trust’s crown

Sissinghurst Castle Garden is in the heart of the rolling Kent countryside and just a stone throw from the picturesque High Weald and North Downs (AONB) regions.

It’s a gorgeous area of Kent and has so many exceptional places of interest and historical sites to visit.

Gary and I have recently become members of the National Trust. We have discovered some stunning places in the southeast.

Although, I must say Sissinghurst Castle Garden has become a particular favourite of mine already. I’m now trying to think of an excuse to revisit the gardens, especially the ‘Delos’ Garden inspired by the Greek island of Delos.

I was immediately blown away at how captivating Sissinghurst Castle was. It is so lovingly maintained by the National Trust, and even though the gardens are meticulously kept, they had this enchanting tousled and wind-swept feel about them.

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So, wielding our National Trust cards, we set off to explore Sissinghurst Castle Garden with a summer spring in our steps.
The green lawn in front of the Sissinghurst Castle’s turreted tower at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Sissinghurst Castle Tower

Where is Sissinghurst Castle Garden

How to get to Sissinghurst Castle Garden

- By Train
You can catch a direct train from London Bridge to Staplehurst Station, which is 5 miles from Sissinghurst Castle.

The journey time is around 50 minutes. A taxi rank serves this station.

- By Car
Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent is just 2 miles northeast of Cranbrook and 1 mile east of Sissinghurst village just off the A262.

There’s a free car park for National Trust members, or parking charges apply to non-members.

A brief history on Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Or is it château de Sissinghurst

Centuries ago, the ancient site of Sissinghurst Castle stood on what was once a Saxon pig farm, and the area was called ‘Saxenhurst’, ‘hurst’ meaning woodland.

During the Tudor era, Sissinghurst manor grew into a beautiful, moated home. It was in the 1560s when the wealthy owners of the ‘Baker’ family had The Tower built and formed the lavish entrance to a large courtyard for the house.

The path leading to the Elizabethan fronted manor house of Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Sissinghurst Castle Garden entrance

The Tower, the South Cottage and few walls are all that remain from that period. Having survived the English Civil War in mid-17th-century, Sissinghurst Manor was to become a casualty in the Seven Years’ War but not to the fate of the battle; it was at the hands of French prisoners-of-war.

The 3,000 French sailors were imprisoned in horrendous conditions with very minimal supplies. They proceeded to burn and demolish the Tudor buildings. Very little of the newly named Château de Sissingherst remained. This nickname was given by the French seamen caught-on and roughly translated into the new name of Sissinghurst Castle.

Looking up to the red-brick Elizabethan Sissinghurst Castle
Sissinghurst Castle’s turreted tower

Fast forward to the 1930s, and Sissinghurst Castle was purchased by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. They completely transformed the beautiful walled gardens, which were in disarray when they arrived and renovated the few existing buildings into their family home.

In 1967 Harold decided to hand over Vita’s beloved Sissinghurst into the loving hands of the National Trust.

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Arriving at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Visiting the Oast House Exhibition
When we first strolled into the grounds of Sissinghurst Castle, a smile came across my face as it was so enchanting, and I couldn’t believe we’d never visited before. You certainly wouldn’t know it was here; it is so hidden away from prying eyes.
The white-tipped conical roofs of the oast houses at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Oast Houses at Sissinghurst Castle Gardens

Ambling towards the gardens, there’s no mistaking you are in Kent as Sissinghurst Castle has eight eye-catching oast houses which are so synonymous across Kent’s skyline. Housed within the square roofed oast houses is a little exhibition on the history of Sissinghurst Castle Garden, hop picking and how the oast houses were used to dry the hops.

Just by the Oast House Exhibition is the visitor reception and information.

Visiting Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Where do you visit first?

Yes, it’s decision time already. Would you like to head straight into Sissinghurst Castle’s beautiful English country gardens or take a stroll around the ancient moat and lakes?

It’s so easy to while away the hours at Sissinghurst gardens it isn’t surprising that the old brick farmhouse has been converted into a B&B. So, what I suggest is to make the most of your visit to Sissinghurst Castle and stay overnight at the Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse B&B. That way, you can take your time and wake up to the captivating surroundings.

A small door & window in the red-brick front of the manor house of Sissinghurst Castle, Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent, England
Delightful hidden doorway
Potted plants around a wooden door in the red brickwork of Sissinghurst Castle, Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent, England
What secrets lie beyond?
Yep, I’ve made up my mind we’re heading towards the extraordinary tower, the Tudor dwellings, and the fragrant cottage gardens within.

Hiking the Kent Countryside

Sissinghurst is located in Kent nearby Cranbrook and Tunbridge Wells. This region of Kent is ideal for hikes as it is close to the High Weald and North Downs (AONB), an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To explore the trails in this region of Kent, the Ordnance Survey maps that will help you along the route is no. 136, ‘High Weald’.

Alternatively, why not purchase and download the OS Maps App, which covers all of Great Britain.

When is a castle not a castle?

That is the question...
The entrance through to the fairytale gardens is beneath an arched stone gateway with rambling roses clambering to the front of the delightful Tudor buildings. It lures in, and you want to venture off into a land of discovery.
The red-brick front of the manor house of Sissinghurst Castle, Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent, England
Peering through the archway

Stepping beyond the archway, the captivating tower reveals itself in elegant glory. The striking tower could almost be mistaken for a folly as it stands curiously alone in the middle of the garden.

However, this striking tower was erected in the 1560s and would have once been the imposing gateway to the courtyard of Sissinghurst manor and the Tudor buildings encompassing it.

A look through the entrance arch to the Sissinghurst Castle Tower, Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent, England
Sissinghurst Castle tower

The brick tower must have appeared like a castle during the 18th-century. So, while the French prisoners-of-war were ensconced within the walls, they referred to it as a château hence the translation to castle.

Therefore, it was never castle, but I honestly think Sissinghurst Castle wears the name well.

Part of the West Range, known as the ‘Big Room’, is open to the public. This section of Sissinghurst Castle is one of the few remaining buildings from the 1530s. It was converted from farm stables into a library by Sackville-West and Nicolson.

Within the library is a picture bought in recent years from an auction that depicts life during the time when the French prisoners were incarcerated within the castle.

It is believed that the image was drawn by one of the French prisoners.

A recently discovered picture of the 16th-century version of the manor house at Sissinghurst
 Picture depicting the French prisoner’s life at Sissinghurst Castle

Where to stay near Sissinghurst Castle Garden

- Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse – Yes, amazingly, you can stay within the grounds of Sissinghurst Castle Garden.

This beautiful farmhouse has been lovingly decorated throughout and offers a delicious variety of breakfasts.

- The Woolstore – This delightful holiday cottage is within a short distance of Sissinghurst.

The Woolstore makes a perfect place to stay while discovering the Garden of England. Wake up every morning amongst cherry orchards and sheep meadows.

Climbing Sissinghurst Castle tower

View across The Weald countryside

Yes, it must be done, if only for the magnificent views over the Kent landscape.

We head up the 78 narrow winding tower steps in anticipation of what we’ll find at the top. The climb isn’t too bad as it’s only three floors. The only point to note is that it’s the same route up as it is down, so you may sometimes have to squeeze in.

A view from Sissinghurst Castle tower to the rose garden and South Cottage in the estate grounds
View over Sissinghurst Castle rose garden and South Cottage

The turreted tower was Vita Sackville-West’s sanctum. The author would hide away in her study and write within the tower until her heart was content. The Tower is now Grade I Listed.

We reached the top, and it didn’t disappoint. You get a spectacular perspective of the incredible gardens surrounding the tower and the design and layout of each area in and around the walled garden.

I especially loved the view towards the oast houses, Elizabethan barn, and the enchanting ‘Delos’ Greek-inspired garden.

A view from Sissinghurst Castle tower to the oast houses & Elizabethan barn in the estate grounds
Bird’s eye view of Sissinghurst Castle Gardens
If like us, you adore this region of Kent, we have included the village of Sissinghurst on our circular ‘Road trip around the Kent countryside'. We explore 10 beautiful towns and villages and even enjoy a Tour and Tasting at Chapel Down vineyard.

Exploring the gardens at Sissinghurst Castle

From the English to the Greeks
Meandering through the beautiful gardens of Sissinghurst Castle was such pleasure, not knowing which delights were to be discovered around the next turn. Brushing past the fragrant lavender, admiring the fluttering butterflies, and listening to the sounds of silence.
A latticed wrought iron gate in the walled gardens of Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent, England
What lies beyond the enchanting gateway

You could so easily get lost in your thoughts and while away hours exploring the individual gardens that effortlessly unfurl from one enchanting, secluded hideaway to another.

There’s such an exquisite mixture of planting throughout Sissinghurst Castle. From the walled English cottage garden with its rambling heritage roses interwoven with scented honeysuckle to the vibrant green ferns tickling the surface of the pond.

A rag stone path through the purple border of Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Within the walled garden

I especially love a walled garden; the gnarly, crumbling backdrop brings a true feel of time to the meticulous and thoughtful planting.

The newest redeveloped garden, which was completed in spring 2021 by the National Trust, is the Delos inspired garden. Delos is an island in Greece that Vita and Harold visited in 1935.

A view of the Elizabethan Priest’s House with the planting of the Mediterranean themed Delos Garden at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
The Delos Garden

The couple tried to emulate the Mediterranean planting; however, the Kent climate made it a bit of a challenge decades ago. The gardening team's patience and perseverance have transformed this stunning garden in Kent into a little slice of Greece, and the Delos Garden looks incredible.

You instantly see and feel the similarities. With olive trees giving a little dappled shade, wispy planting peering between rocks, white gravel pathways and toppled Greek columns adding to the Mediterranean landscape.

The Elizabethan Priest’s House in the corner of the Mediterranean Delos Garden at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
The Delos Garden and Priest’s House
If you fancy treating yourself, you can stay overnight in the Priest’s House, and the gardens will be your own every evening. National Trust rent out their holiday cottages for you to enjoy.

If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".

You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.

Kent's Strangest Tales Cover

There’s more to explore at Sissinghurst Gardens

From The Nuttery to Lime Walk
We approach the ancient moat, strolling further through the orchard, passing the South Cottage, which once formed part of the Renaissance courtyard manor. The moat was created during the Saxon era when the pig farmland became a moated manor house. Traces of the original house have long since disappeared.
The white weatherboarded gazebo set again deep blue skies at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Gazebo by the moat
Alongside the moat is a charming white weatherboarded gazebo built-in 1969 by Harold’s sons in his memory. A little further is a delightful boathouse with colonnades where you can sit and watch the world pass by.
The boathouse with its red-tiled roof at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
The Boathouse
Every section of Sissinghurst gardens is utilised, creating an outdoor room for everyone. There’s the Rose Garden, White Garden, Herb Garden, South Cottage Garden, the Nuttery, Lime Walk, Moat Walk, the Purple Border, an Orchard and Delos Garden.
The gate to the vegetable garden at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent, England
Vegetable Garden
Strolling through the vegetable garden with the Sissinghurst Castle tower in the background
A view from the vegetable garden to Sissinghurst Castle

Oh yes, there’s also the Vegetable Garden adjacent to the family picnic spot. That’s another reason why I love National Trust sites is that they always encourage you to take your time while visiting and allow you the space to roll out your picnic blanket.

Now, back to that Vegetable Garden, you can’t miss this, you wouldn’t believe how many varieties of vegetables they grow. And if you fancy a little nourishment, visit the Granary Restaurant. Here you can sample the delicious produce harvested from Sissinghurst Castle’s own vegetable garden.

A view of the Granary Restaurant attached to the 16th century Elizabethan barn at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Granary Restaurant and Elizabethan Barn
Don’t forget if you see any plants that catch your eye, you can purchase them at the Garden Shop by the café and secondhand bookshop.

Escape for a few days

Are you looking for that ‘perfick’ holiday hideaway to relax in while you discover the Garden of England?

After a day exploring the Kent coast and its many historic castles enjoy one of the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.

Spend a day at Sissinghurst Castle

Discover the lakeside walk
There are a couple of walks that the National Trust have signposted around Sissinghurst Castle Gardens. One is a three-mile walk taking in more of Sissinghurst Estate and the surrounding countryside and woodland.
The white weatherboarded gazebo on the corner of the moated garden at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
The walk around the moat
However, there is also a one-mile walk which is delightful. It leads you around the bottom of the historic moat, encircles the lake and then you follow the trail through woodland until it brings you by the Farmhouse B&B, returning to the garden entrance.
Felled trees at the edge of the one of the lakes at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Strolling the lakes at Sissinghurst Castle

Our video of Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Captured on a perfect English summer's day

We have created a little YouTube video of our visit to Sissinghurst Castle Garden  Why not take a look?

Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?

The Thumbnail of our video - ' Our visit to the National Trust Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent '
Click on the image to open our YouTube video of the experience.

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