Country houses for sale

A sympathetically updated country retreat, with sunken gardens, equestrian facilities and a Cheval Liberté barn

The home of former Australian eventer Robyn Whitehead is back on the market and more beautiful than ever, with 12 acres full of enchanting gardens and top-draw equestrian facilities. Penny Churchill reports.

Former Australian eventer Robyn Whitehead and her husband, Bruce, started the search for their ideal equestrian property in Somerset on returning from Australia, to be close to Bruce’s parents, some five years ago. However, their compass soon switched to East Sussex when Bruce discovered its proximity to the wine cellars of Calais and a crumbling Arts-and-Crafts house called Darwell Hill at Netherfield, near Battle, showed up on their radar.

Darwell Hill is for sale through the Tunbridge Wells office of Knight Frank at a guide price of £1.7m for the house, buildings and almost 12 acres of gardens and grounds. A further nine acres of paddocks, with a field shelter, are available by separate negotiation.

Designed in 1926 by the architect Leslie MacDonald (Max) Gill for Harold Heal of Heals of London, Darwell Hill featured in an article in Country Life (March 3, 1928), which revealed that Mr Heal had been searching up and down Sussex, Kent and Surrey for a suitable site on which to build his dream country retreat.

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The account continues: ‘It had to be a high site, with woodland all round, and at last he came to Darwell Hill. The house was built into the hillside, with its front windows looking across to the sea, Beachy Head on the left and the South Downs in the westward distance… Obviously, with this open view must come exposure to weather, and in carrying out the work, it has been very necessary to make everything stout and proof against wind and rain.’

Wind and rain had evidently taken their toll during the tenure of the previous owners, who had been there since 1970, although the site and the views were as captivating as ever. Having bought the property, the Whiteheads set about systematically remodelling and improving it, rebuilding the roof, installing new windows, heating and wiring throughout.

The house now offers five reception rooms, six bedrooms and two bathrooms. It stands amid enchanting gardens that include a walled garden, an old rose garden and a sunken garden partially screened by trees. Excellent equestrian facilities, with separate vehicular access, include a large Cheval Liberté American-style barn, a tack room and wash-down area, plus direct access to riding trails in Darwell Wood and beyond.

Darwell Hill is for sale through Knight Frank at a guide price of £1.7m. Click here for more information and images.