Rye and Great Dixter, May 21st 2011.
It is a lovely sunny Saturday morning and Rye High Street is bustling with locals and tourists visiting the excellent specialist shops and sampling the coffee and cakes in the pavement cafes. The visitor numbers are swelled by 50+ Ipswich Society members all intent on making maximum use of their time in this ancient town which has managed to preserve its rich architectural heritage and retain a vibrant town centre.
I, however, am not going to shop (for the moment!) and I make straight for St Mary's Church at the top of the hill. I have not been to Rye before and am hoping for a good view of my surroundings. The tower is open, manned by extremely helpful volunteers who look me over and announce I will make it to the top. (Apparently there are ladders!) It's worth the climb - I emerge from the final ladder to find Rye and much of South Sussex laid out before me in the sparkling sunshine. To my north are the Georgian buildings of Rye town centre, amongst them the town hall, pump house and grammar school. On the south side, I look to my right down medieval Mermaid Street towards the quay and to my left towards the 13th century fortification, Ypres Tower and beyond across the marshes to Dungeness. Time to go back down, and half way I pause to inspect the workings of the 16th century French church clock. This is absolutely fascinating - still in good working order it has a spectacular 18ft pendulum which swings backwards and forwards in the body of the church.
I spend the rest of my time taking a close-up look at some of the medieval and 18th century buildings I have identified, and trawling the many antique and second hand book shops. I find a Mary Webb novel I've been wanting for some time and sample excellent coffee and cake in a craft gallery before returning to the coach park on the quay.
In the afternoon we drive north through Sussex to Great Dixter, the home of Christopher Lloyd and still in his family today. At the behest of Christopher's father it was restored to its 15th century splendour by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1910 and the Great Hall is the largest surviving timber-framed hall in the country.
Barbara Barker, to whom we are much indebted for organising this outing, and I enjoy together a tour of this wonderful house, and further delights which await us when we enter the garden. It is May and this superb English country garden is looking its best. Alliums, geraniums, foxgloves and tulips spill out of the long borders on to the neatly mown grass and paved pathways. We look for ideas for our own gardens - how to use roses in a mixed border; lots of self- seeded plants of differing heights and little patches of annuals in amongst the perennials. Then we stroll through the vegetable plot with its spectacular compost heap and into the meadows which are still full of orchids. We finish with an ice cream and I buy a pink phlox which reminds me of the garden I grew up in. Thank you Barbara- a fabulous day out.