Luxury B&B overlooking the legendary gardens created by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson
Ask any gardener to compile a list of Britain’s must-see historic gardens and Sissinghurst Castle near Cranbrook in Kent is sure to appear in the top five. Now owned by the National Trust, the gardens were created by writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson between 1930 and the early 1960s.
Today the castle welcomes visitors from all over the world, attracted by the famous garden ‘rooms’ that combine Harold’s symmetrical, ordered design and Vita’s exuberant, colour-themed planting. And if you’re planning a visit, there is no nicer place to stay than Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse which overlooks the gardens and the famous red brick tower where Vita worked.
Sissinghurst Castle was a virtual ruin when Vita and Harold bought it in 1930, but the Victorian farmhouse was still the centre of a busy farm. The farm still produces food today for the local community but after extensive renovations by the National Trust, the house opened in 2008 as a 5-star B&B which skilfully combines the style of original property with 21st century comforts that include deluge showers, flat screen TVs and free wifi.
Sue and Frazer Thompson offer seven luxury bedrooms. Guests can arrive from 4pm and the Castle Farmhouse experience begins with tea and cake in the elegant drawing room on arrival, so I’d recommend arriving in time to enjoy this quintessentially English tradition. The rich fruit cake and scrumptious banana cake proved the perfect accompaniment to a glossy magazine and a chill-out after our extensive tour of the gardens next door.
Then it was through the spacious hallway, atmospherically adorned with stacks of old leather suitcases, and up the glorious wooden staircase to the first floor landing and our bedroom for the night. Disabled visitors are perfectly catered for with an accessible lift and one specially-adapted bedroom.
We stayed in Hareplain at the back of the house which affords a panorama across the greenhouses to Vita’s beloved brick tower from the huge sash window. (Climb the tower on your garden visit and you get great views back at the farmhouse too.) A small diamond window by the bedhead offers a ready-made frame for the tower, though summer visitors might want to ask Sue for her diamond-shape board to block the light if they don’t want to be woken by dawn in the middle of the night.
As with downstairs, everything about the bedrooms oozes quality and elegance from the heavy curtains and luxury bed linen to the welcome tray laden with shortbread fingers, chocolates, bottled water and an assortment of teas and coffees. The same quality was evident in our cosy bathroom with big fluffy towels and toiletries by Noble Isle.
There are no evening meals available at the farmhouse but Sue is able to recommend a choice of local pubs all with good food. We enjoyed dinner at The Three Chimneys in Biddenden, less than 10 minutes by car or – on light summer evenings – a 25-minute walk across the estate.
Breakfast next morning was enough to last me till dinner time, a leisurely affair which gives you time to come-to in the high-ceilinged Victorian dining room with its pretty china, ornate jam pots, and crisp white table linen. Help yourself to fruit and yoghurt then choose from a wide selection of hot dishes, all prepared to order and locally sourced, from the oats for the muesli, to bacon, eggs, and sausages delivered to the door by local producers. I can certainly recommend the flexible fillings of the Farmhouse Omelette which proved especially good with sausage, mushroom and thyme from the garden, plus a rasher or three of bacon on the side!
With Rye, Dungeness and Hastings less than an hour’s drive to the south, and two other National Trust properties – Bodiam Castle and Scotney Castle – nearby, Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse is a great base for a weekend break, and one I certainly intend to sample in different seasons.
Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse
nr Cranbrook, Kent
Gillian Thornton has been a freelance journalist for more than 30 years, writing everything from parenting features to celebrity interviews, corporate copy to heritage articles. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, she has been concentrating on travel writing since 1998 and is a widely-acclaimed specialist on France, writing for all the Francophile newsstand titles as well as for ferry magazines, airline publications and tourist boards. Gillian also contributes travel features to The People’s Friend, My Weekly, Woman’s Weekly, and Go Holiday, on destinations as far apart as Finland and Oman, Florida and Poland, but she also loves travelling round Britain. ‘I never mind where I go,’ she says. ‘There’s always something new to discover.’