West Sussex

I've spent more of my life (so far) in West Sussex than anywhere else, so I have quite a lot to say. There's a great deal to see in this beautiful part of the country.

West Sussex - Facts and Factoids

  • West Sussex is the third county, moving west along the south east coast, from Kent.
  • Most of the coastal towns in West Sussex developed as holiday resorts, as the sea here is in a direct line, south from London. (Here we need to sing, the rousing 'Sussex by the Sea' an unofficial county anthem, written in 1907 by William Ward-Higgs.)
  • Worthing is the biggest coastal settlement, but the largest town is Crawley, on the northern border. (Crawley dates back to the Stone Age and, as a village, was a coach stop on the London-Brighton road,. However, it is, for the most part, a new town, developed to home relocated Londoners and later, to service Gatwick Airport. It's known locally as Creepy Crawley.)
  • The county town is the much smaller city of Chichester.
  • The South Downs, Britain's newest national park, are a defining feature of the county. They traverse it from east to west, dividing the north and south. The Downs are a chalk escarpment, which falls away sharply into the Weald, to the north and more gently toward the south. They are great for walking. The most notable path, of course, is the South Downs Way, starting on the edge of Eastbourne and ending at Winchester. (My legs ached for days after I did all 100 miles in one week.)
  • Another well known spot, on the Downs, is Devils Dyke. This is a picturesque, 100 metre deep V shaped valley, geologists say is formed by water run off from the Downs. The alternative, local explanation is that the devil, was annoyed that the people of Sussex had finally embraced Christianity. so, he decided to drown them by digging a trench to the sea. However, the hermit Cuthman of Steyning (later saint) devised a cunning plan, to stop him. He agreed that if the Devil could complete the channel in one night he could have Cuthman's soul, but if he failed then he would abandon his project. The Devil began work, with his digging reating the nearby hills of Chanctonbury Ring, Cissbury Ring, Mount Caburn and Firle Beacon, not to mention, the Isle of Wight. He was doing well, but just after midnight he lit a candle, and tricked a cock into crowing, at the same time. The Devil thought that dawn was breaking, and ran away.
  • The Weald is the name for the undulating clay and greensand (with some chalk), which occupies the space between the North and South Downs. Great views from many places on the South Downs Way. It was once heavily wooded and is still gorgeous. The High Weald National Landscape, lies at the core, the fourth largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England and Wales. It is a mosaic of small farms and woodlands, historic parks, sunken lanes and ridge-top villages.

The Coastal Strip

The narrow strip of flat land between the hills and the coast, in West Sussex, is utilised to the full. The conurbation stretches from the port of Littlehampton, through Worthing, and all the way past Brighton and Hove. It has a total population of almost half a million.

Shoreham by Sea

Shoreham by Sea gets the first mention. It's the first West Sussex town (just about, if you don't count Southwick and Fishersgate) on the urban strip, coming from the east. And it's where I lived from the age of six, and went to school. Old Shoreham dates back to pre Roman times. New Shoreham started life just after the Norman conquest, as a fishing port at the mouth of the River Adur (so it's not that new). It was thriving, with all manner of chandlery and carpentry. It also dealt with cargo from ports upstream at Bramber and Steyning, when the river was tidal and navigable.

The river has changed direction over the years, moving further east, due to shingle movement. In 1816, a new channel was cut through the shingle. The original course of the river became the Southwick Ship Canal, a mainstay of Shoreham Harbour. accessible through lock gates.

Today, there are pretty moorings, boast bobbing (or marooned sadly on the mud, at low tide) as the river runs alongside the town main street. There are beaches beyond the river (the start of a famous kite surfing area), houseboats which make for an edifying riverside walk and a small beach inside the harbour itself. (This is where we used to escape after school.) The town has winding, narrow streets, lined with fishermen's cottages, an old museum, the Marlipins, various pubs and eateries (Shoreham is up and coming), Ropetackle Arts Centre, and a Norman church, (which used to be twice the size), St Mary de Haura.

On the outskirts, is the airport. This is the UK's oldest licensed airport, still in operation. It has an art deco terminal, which is much admired and has featured in several films, most notably Poirot and The Crown. The airport, for some reason, has recently been renamed Brighton City Airport. It's mostly used by light aircraft and private small planes. Magnificent views up the coast and over the Downs, if you can cadge a lift in one - which I was lucky enough to do.

The other place to go for good views, if you don't want to fly, is Mill Hill, on the edge of the South Downs behind the town. There's an excellent panorama of the winding River Adur, the sea, the airport and across to Lancing College. It's mock Gothic chapel is the largest school chapel in the world.

Sompting and its Saxon Church

Sompting is mainly famous for the Saxon Church of St Mary the Blessed Virgin. It's the only church tower in England topped with a Rhenish helm - a four-sided gabled pyramidal cap. It was adapted by the Normans and William de Braose, first Lord of Bramber granted it to the Knights Templar in the twelfth century. This Grade I-listed building sits apart from the village, long separated by the A27 main road and its queues of traffic.

Sompting is also important, as I lived there. in an early Stuart thatched cottage, in the area known as Cokeham.

Worthing and the Best Pier in the Country

Worthing began life as a small mackerel fishing hamlet. It developed into 'an elegant Georgian seaside resort', attracting the well- heeled, in the late eighteenth century. There are still plenty of boats pulled up onto the shingle beaches. Its pier was built in 1862, but has been remodelled several times and is nicely art deco still. It was dubbed the best in Britain, in 2019. I'm unclear why, other than for its art deco. It's quite short and doesn't have much in the way of amusements. Though The Perch restaurant, in what was once an amusement arcade, at the end, does very good fish and chips.

Today, Worthing has a large service industry, particularly in finance - it's the home of banks, insurance and tax centres. It has three theatres, a museum and, almost opposite the pier, one of Britain's oldest cinemas (1911), the Dome (the setting for the film Wish You were Here).

There are plaques celebrating numerous celebrities, especially writers, who have made Worthing their home for various lengths of time: Oscar Wilde, Harold Pinter, Jane Austen and Percy Bysse Shelley. Jane Austen stayed for six weeks (the cottage is now a Pizza Express) and is thought to have based the setting and characters for her unfinished novel Sanditon, on her experiences of the town. Oscar Wilde stayed in the Haven Hotel, now demolished, but wrote The Importance of Being Ernest here, and named one of his most famous characters, Jack Worthing, after the town. Typically, for Oscar, he wrote,

‘It has beautiful surroundings and lovely long walks – which I recommend to other people, but do not take myself.’

Shelley's family built eighteenth century mansion, Castle Goring, on the Downs, just outside Worthing. Oddly, and uniquely, it has a dual façade, Greco-Roman on the south side and Castellated Gothic on the north.

Two pedestrian shopping areas. Montague Street, with what remains of the chain stores (the department stores are now all gone). Pavement cafes and boutiques, on slightly more upmarket Warwick Street. Behind the seafront, Beach House Park, is a famous venue for Bowling and has hosted Nationala nd World Championships. It's often a sea of white on the immaculate lawns. More poignantly, there's also a memorial to the huge losses suffered by the Royal Sussex Regiment in World War I. Adjacent, is the Warrior Birds memorial. This one relates to World War II and commemorates the carrier pigeons who were killed or wounded carrying messages for the army.

When I was a child, Worthing was surrounded by market gardens and Worthing tomatoes were stocked in every greengrocer's shop. Today, the gardens are gone and we buy our tomatoes from the glasshouses of the Netherlands and Morocco. (They don't taste nearly as good.)

On the Downs, above Worthing, the Iron Age hill fort of Cissbury Ring is one of Britain's largest. There are great views along the coastal plain, from its ramparts.

Littlehampton, Arundel's Port

Littlehampton is the westernmost settlement of the Brighton/Worthing conurbation. Its name, subject to jokes, is said to have been given to distinguish the port from the larger Southampton. The area appears in the Domesday Book, as the hamlet of 'Hantone'. The fishing community here grew into a harbour, at the mouth of the River Arun, as the river silted up, preventing easy access to Arundel, up river. But it was still known as Arundel Port.

In the eighteenth century, a familiar story with coastal towns, as Littlehampton developed from a fishing community to a holiday destination, boasting Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Constable as visitors. A railway line with a terminus here, was built and there was even a regular ferry to Honfleur, in France. Apparently, it was even known as 'The Children's Paradise' in the 1920s.

Today, the West Beach in Littlehampton is one of the only places on the conurbation that can claim a sandy beach. (There's sand in other areas when the tide goes out.) To compensate, the East Beach lays claim to most of the amusements in town and a very good sea food café, in a weird architect designed seascape building.

A History of West Sussex

  • For most of its history Sussex (East and West) has been just one area - a kingdom and then a county.
  • Settlement here dates back to the Stone Age. There are Iron Age forts, on the Downs at Cissbury Ring and Chanctonbury Ring
  • The Romans conquered the area and incorporated it into a Roman province, leaving behind Fishbourne Roman Palace and Bignor Roman Villa, together with a network of roads including Stane Street, running from London to Chichester. The Romans used the Weald for iron production, on an industrial scale
  • Then, the Saxons came, in 477, giving the area its name, as they established the Kingdom of Sussex (South Saxons). In. 827, the kingdom was annexed by Wessex and became a county.
  • Later, the county of Sussex was divided into six units known as rapes. For administrative purposes, the three western rapes were grouped together informally, in the sixteenth century. They were governed by a separate county council from 1888, but it was not until 1974 that West Sussex officially became a single ceremonial county. At the same time, a large part of the eastern rape of Lewes (the Mid Sussex district which includes the towns of Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill and East Grinstead) was transferred into West Sussex.

Bosham and King Canute

The coastal strip widens to the west, where a ria - a drowned river valley, gives rise to three pretty natural harbours: Chichester, Langstone and Portsmouth. Bosham is a charming village, on Chichester harbour ,with its own small port, During spring tides, the sea sweeps onto the coastal roads. You have to be very careful where you park.

Bosham has a long history and, accordingly, many attached legends. The site has been inhabited since Roman times - it is is close to the famous Roman palace at Fishbourne. This is one of the many places suggested as the site where Danish King Canute demonstrated that he could not hold the sea back. There's an even stronger suggestion that his daughter was buried in the church here, after drowning in a nearby brook.

There is a child's coffin. in the graveyard, which supports the notion and another containing a richly dressed man. Some hypothesize that this is the resting place of Harold Godwinson. The land here belonged to Edward the Confessor and his family and he, met with Edward here, on the way to meet William of Normandy. They discussed who would succeed Edward to the throne. The meeting, at Bosham is mentioned on the Bayeux Tapestry. The Bishopric doesn't think the evidence is strong enough to exhume the body and check, however.

Finally, there is another legend that Bosham Church was plundered by Danish pirates, who stole the tenor bell. As the pirate ship sailed away, the villagers rang the remaining church bells. The tenor bell miraculously joined in, destroying the ship. The bell is still said to ring, beneath the waters whenever the other bells are rung.

West Sussex Inland

The interior of the county is mostly rural, lush and beautiful. The reason the word bucolic was invented.

Steyning, Bramber and Upper Beeding

Steyning, Bramber and Upper Beeding are almost contiguous (there's a small gap between Steyning and Bramber), north of Shoreham and arrayed each side of the River Adur and its numerous small tributaries. They're an ongoing exhibition of pretty, historical architecture.

Upper Beeding

Upper Beeding straddles the River Adur and developed as a bridging point. It was once just Beeding (and still is to the locals), but the authorities didn't want it confused with the Lower Beeding, 18 miles, by road, to the north. That was established by some monks from the Sele Priory, at St Peter's Church here. They named it after their original base. It was my base too, for several years.

Bramber

The old port of Bramber (Portus Adurni) is set opposite Beeding, on the River Adur, on the northern edge of the South Downs. The main point of interest is the Norman castle, though there is very little of it left behind (except for the attached chapel which is now the local church and the oldest Norman church in the country). There's just a 23 metre high piece of the keep, standing amongst the remains of the bailey walls. This was the administrative hub of the newly created Rape of Bramber, ruled over by William de Braose, the first Lord of Bramber. He built the first bridge over the river and charged hefty tolls to ships travelling upriver to the next port, at Steyning.

The castle later passed to the Mowbrays, who had more luxurious places to live and the building eventually began to disintegrate. In my younger days, I used to fantasise that it had been blown up in battle, perhaps by Cromwell. But nothing so dramatic. Locals stole the stones, over the years, for various building projects, including the current bridge, over the River Adur.

This is a good picnic spot but Sussex has some better castles. When I was at primary school our house system celebrated four of them: Arundel, Bramber, Hastings and Lewes. (The latter two are in East Sussex.)

Bramber today is a thin strip of charming village, hugging the high street. The other notable building, is St Mary's House, a late medieval timber-framed house, with gorgeous gardens and some amazing topiary figures. They regularly hold recitals in the music room.

The old Steyning Line clips the west edge of the village. This railway, from London to Shoreham, arrived in Steyning in 1861, but was closed, in 1966, as result of the Beeching Axe. It's now a bridleway and cycle path.

Steyning

Steyning dates back to Anglo-Saxon times. The church (now St Andrew, but originally St Cuthman) was built by the shepherd Cuthman in 857, at the latest. Legend tells that Cuthman was trying to care for his paralysed mother, after his father's death. Penniless and forced to beg from door to door, he built a wheelbarrow, to transport her. winding a rope round his shoulders to help take the strain. He decided that when his replacement rope broke, he would accept it as a sign from God, that he should stop to build a church. And so he did. (This was the same Cuthman who outwitted the devil at Devil's Dyke.) Steyning is very proud of their saint and his image greets you, as you enter the village.

Steyning rapidly became prosperous, with a market and a royal mint. King Alfred the Great's father, Æthelwulf of Wessex, was originally buried in Cuthman's church, before being transferred to Winchester. After William of Normandy's victory, the local lands were handed over to monks (controlled by Fécamp in France and ultimately by the Pope.) This led to prolonged 'war' with de Braose in Bramber. The king came down in favour of the monks. At one point, de Braose was ordered to organise a mass exhumation and transfer of all Bramber's dead, from the graveyard there, to the churchyard of Saint Cuthman's, in Steyning.

Steyning began returning two members of parliament from 1278, but rapidly became a rotten borough, as the port silted up and the population dwindled. It still returned MPs, until the Reform Act, of 1832. Today, its another Sussex jewel of a village, with plenty to look at in the High Street. When I lived in Beeding it was a perfect Sunday morning stroll away. Gentle, interesting walk up the High Streets, buy a paper and sit in the pub. Perfect.

Henfield

Henfield lies north east of Steyning, another ancient village ( (already 52 households, at the time of Domesday). It's not the prettiest of high streets, but there are old inns and some good cafes. The more interesting buildings are tucked to the west of the High Street, clustered around the thirteenth century church of St Peter. There's the Old Tannery and a teeny triangle of overgrown grass, in front, referred to as Pinchnose Common (because of the unpleasant smell from the tannery).

The far side of Pinchnose Common is the Cat House, once owned by a George Ward, who had a canary. His bird was killed by a cat belonging to the Anglican Canon, Nathaniel Woodard, who lived at the nearby palatial Martyn Lodge. Woodard had acquired fame and approbation by setting up schools for the English middle classes, but that didn't mollify Mr Ward. He decorated his house with pictures of a cat holding a bird, so that the canon would be reminded every time he walked past on his way to the church.

Henfield's main claim to fame is as the location of the oldest Scout group in the country (the 1st Henfield), dating from 1907. But the large attractive common, to the south, is home to one of the oldest cricket clubs in the world- 1771. There are usually whites in evidence when you drive past, in the summer.

The Sussex Prairies Garden

Two miles to the east of Henfield is a modern and unusual 'natural' garden called the Sussex Prairies. Its eight acres were planted with 35000 plants, in 2008 and opened one year later. It's not the most exciting of gardens, wood chip paths, lots of drifting grasses, some rare perennials and dabs of Asian aesthetics. There are even buffalo cut outs. Well, this is the prairies. The highlight might be the pair of rare Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. But it's tranquil and there's a cafe. The Dutch Barn family home was short-listed for Grand Designs House of the Year in 2022.

Woods Mill

South of Henfield is Woods Mill, a restored mill which houses, the headquarters of the Sussex Wildlife Trust. There's a a large area of ancient woodland. However, the. highlight of the nature reserve is a lake, home to variety of insects: damselflies and dragonflies, (such as the scarce chaser and downy emerald), pond skaters and water boatmen.. I've taken several classes of happy children pond dipping here.

Lindfield

Lindfield is yet another tranquil, historic and lovely village. ( I lived here for several years too.) It's surrounded by the beautiful countryside of the High Weald - park and gardens all around and the upper reaches of the River Ouse. The name 'Lindfield' means 'open land with lime trees.' and the place name was first recorded as far back as 765 - as Lindefeldia.

The High Street is a mile away from the old coach road to London, but it follows an ancient north–south track which has existed for thousands of years. It is still lined with lime trees, with over forty medieval and post medieval timber-framed houses. Many of these house shops and restaurants, which change regularly as business increases and declines. Though I still can't used to eating curry in a timber framed cottage. The Bent Arms pub still has the spit roast chains, from the days when Sunday lunch was cooked over an open fire. The parish church, All Saints, at the top of the High Street dates back to 1098, along with Church House, generally known as The Tiger.

This was an important market town, especially for sheep sales. At the bottom of the High Street, is a chocolate box duck pond. Beyond, that is the green stripy Common (and Pickers' Green), still used for fairs, festivals, bonfire celebrations, cricket and stoolball (a Sussex bat and ball game with large 'stool' wickets, unusual in that it was mostly played by women (milkmaids) .

Ouse Valley Viaduct

Moving further inland, the Ouse Valley Viaduct (known locally as the Balcombe Viaduct) is worth a stop for a photograph. It's described as 'probably the most elegant viaduct in Britain'. I'm not sure if that's' a compliment or not. But it's definitely impressive. it dates back to 1839, has been repaired countless times, which has been problematic to say the least, and carries the London-Brighton Railway Line, over the River Ouse in Sussex.

Leonardslee Gardens

West Sussex is replete with gardens, especially on the Weald, where acid soils are ideal for rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias and bluebells. Leonardslee Gardens (Grade I listed) at Lower Beeding, are especially famous for these, along with its colony of wallabies. There's also a nineteenth-century Italianate style house and lodge.

Nymans Gardens

Nymans, to the east of the village of Handcross, is a Grade 2 National Trust garden. The collections of camellias, rhododendrons, heather, eucryphias and magnolias again suit the Wealden soil and there are woodlands with plants from around the world. The gardens were battered and more than decimated by the Great Storm of 1987 and the house has had an even more traumatic history. Messel, who bought the property in 1890, altered the original Regency house, transforming it into a German-style structure. His son, in his turn, replaced the German-style wood-beam house with a mock-medieval stone manor. In 1947, the house was destroyed in a fire. The house was partially rebuilt, but some remains as a garden ruin.

Wakehurst Place

Wakehurst is another Grade 2 Listed National Trust garden, near Ardingly, but this one is leased and managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It's home to a late sixteenth-century mansion, as well as walled and water gardens, woodland and wetland conservation areas.

In December, it hosts the enchanting 'Glow' with beautifully crafted illuminations strung though themed areas of the gardens.

The Bluebell Railway

The Bluebell Railway is an 11 mile heritage steam railway, which runs from East Grinstead to Sheffield Park, with intermediate stations at Horsted Keynes and Kingscote. The railway is mainly run by volunteers and a legend amongst railway enthusiasts. It boasts that it is the first preserved standard gauge steam-operated passenger railway in the world to operate a public service. The first train ran on 7 August 1960, (less than three years after the line from East Grinstead to Lewes had been closed by British Railways under the Beeching reforms).

The company has managed to acquire today, over 30 steam locomotives, the second largest collection in the UK, after the National Railway Museum. The Bluebell also has almost 150 carriages and wagons, most of them pre-1939. So it's an authentic experience that I'm getting, as we chug along. Though it's raining hard, the windows are steamed up and there are definitely no bluebells to be seen.

We decant at Sheffield Park (location of another National Trust garden, this one designed by Capability Brown), just over the border, in East Sussex. This is the headquarters of the company and home to the locomotive sheds and a restored station. There's also a shop, model railway, museum and the Bessemer Arms pub (named after Miss Bessemer who fought British Rail over the closure of the line claiming it to be illegal, and whose victory spurred the movement to save the line). It's a Geek's paradise.

Arundel, The Home of the Dukes of Norfolk

There's considerably more left of Arundel Castle, in Arundel, on the River Adur. And I'm biased. I was in Arundel House, at school. This much restored building (you pay for tours here, of course), has been the home of the Earls of Arundel and the Dukes of Norfolk, since the Norman Conquest. It's visible from some distance, as are the spires of the Roman Catholic Cathedral, which dominates the little town. Although that only dates back to the nineteenth century. (I've been to a wedding there.)

Just along the road from it is the Anglican St Nicholas Church, with its adjacent priory. That puts the cathedral to shame and dates back to 1102. St Wilfrid's Priory, next to that, is a now a care home, in a crenellated castle. Peeping over the wall, opposite the cathedral, are ornate structures like wooden Oberon's Palace, standing in the elegant castle grounds, which run alongside.

Arundel is a rewarding town to visit, listed buildings aplenty, narrow streets, half timbered and herringbone brick houses, antique shops and tea rooms. There aren't as many unusual shops, as I remember. My favourite was a make your own jewellery place, called The Venerable Bede. When you're tired of all of that, there are river walks (and boat hire). Swanbourne Boating Lake is set in Arundel Park. Opposite is the Wetland Wild Fowl Reserve - you can have a quacking good time admiring all the birds on the ponds. There's even more good rambling to be had in the park, with the picturesque Hiorne Tower to admire and views across the Duke's own cricket pitch.

People born in Arundel are known locally as Mullets, due to the presence of the fish, in the river.

Petworth

Petworth is yet another market town which dates back beyond the Domesday Book. In 1086 it was listed as having 44 households (24 villagers, 11 smallholders and nine slaves). Today, Petworth feels affluent. The car parking bays are filled with Range Rovers and there are independent boutiques and delicatessens and butchers. Bijou cottages and cobbled streets. It is cited as one of the best places to go antiques (or upcycling) shopping, in the south east. Petworth Antiques Market is home to 35 different dealers. It's also home to the Petworth Cottage Museum, which is a house belonging to Mrs Cummings that depicts life as it would be in around 1910.

Petworth is probably most famous as the location of the exceptionally grand seventeenth-century stately home Petworth House, standing in Petworth Park. The land is part of the Leconfield estates and has been held by the Egremont family, (descendents of the Percy family), since 1150. The Manor of Petworth has amounts to some 14,000 acres of let farms with 270 houses and cottages, (mostly Victorian) to house the estate staff. Petworth House and the Park were donated to the National Trust in 1947, but the current Lord Egremont, still lives there.

The house is jammed with almost as many paintings and sculptures and expensive curly edged furniture, as the shops in town. It was definitely designed to impress. The highlight is the 20 Turner oils. Joseph William Mallord Turner was very friendly with the Egremonts and often stayed with them, fishing and painting. His landscape showing Tillington Church, on the edge of the park is one of the most well known.

This is why Petworth House may be familiar as the setting for several films. Most recently, the controversial Napoleon was shot here.

But nothing matches a stroll, admiring Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's work. This has to be the prettiest park in the country, with its 700 acres of gentle curves, immaculately placed clumps of trees, glistening lakes, cunning sculptures and follies and the huge wandering herd of dappled fallow deer. (Henry VIII had a good time hunting the poor creatures.) Many of the trees predate the buildings of Petworth. There are three ancient oak trees, one of which was a sapling during the Norman conquest of 1066. And the Deer Park is free to enter, if you can find somewhere to park (there's a National Trust charge for the signposted car resting places).

Pet dogs enjoy it as much as I do, rolling, cavorting and somersaulting in the grass (the dogs, not me). It's glorious.

Midhurst

Yet another delightful market town, Midhurst even has signposts to the 'Old Town'. The settlement dates back to Saxon, possibly Roman times, the church is Norman and the building that draws most attention is the herringbone brick of the fifteenth century coaching inn, the Spread Eagle Hotel. Nowadays it's a spa too. There was a Norman castle but all that's' left today are the foundations and the fishpond. The cross in the Market Square is actually a war memorial.

It's a peaceful wander around assorted architectural wonders and some lanes with quaint names: Knockhundred Row. Although the site might be ancient, the buildings in the Old Town, centred on the Market Square, are mainly Tudor. Even the apparently more modern North Street is lined with Tudor buildings. Its classical and Georgian façades were added later, though there are also a sprinkling of genuine Georgian houses and Victorian and Edwardian terracing, on the outskirts.

Easebourne and the Cowdray Estates

Just across the River Rother, on the edge of the village of Easebourne, is the ruin of the Tudor Cowdray House. This was said to be one of the great mansions of the time. It was built on the site of a thirteenth century manor house. by Sir John Bohun, from Midhurst. He named it Coudreye, the Norman word for the nearby hazel woods. The house and cowdray estate came into the hands of the Fitzwilliam Family (Earls of Southampton) , whose estates grew, to include Easebourne Priory, and even Battle Abbey, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Legend tells that a dispossessed monk from Battle cursed the family and house, 'by fire and water, thy line shall come to an end and it shall perish out of this land.'

The house played its part in several significant historical events. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I stayed here. Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, the last of the Plantagenets and so a danger to the throne, was imprisoned at Cowdray, before she was taken to London and executed. Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, who knew Shakespeare (and might even have written his plays) was born here. Guy Fawkes was briefly employed as a footman.

The Fitzwilliams had become the Brownes, created Viscount Montagues. The seventh Viscount Montague employed Capability Brown employed to modernise the gardens. But, in 1793, during restoration work, a fire started in the carpenters' workshop in the North Gallery. All the family treasures and artwork, including that from Battle, had been stored here to 'preserve them', so nearly everything was lost. Only three weeks later, the eighth Viscount Montague was killed, trying to ride the Rhine Falls. The title was inherited by a Mark Browne who died childless and the peerage became extinct. and so the curse was fulfilled!

Today, the 16,000 acres of estates are owned by Viscount Cowdray. You can easily spot the estates buildings and cottages, around the headquarters at Easebourne, as most are painted in a distinctive yellow paint (called Gold Cup). Apparently, it was chosen due to the first Viscount Cowdray’s connections to the Liberal party. You can rent an estate holiday home, hold your wedding at (the newer) Cowdray House, play golf, go shooting, fish in Benbow Pond (watch out for the black swans) or visit the farm shop and cafe. But Cowdray Park is most famous as 'The Home of British Polo'.

Chichester, the County Town of West Sussex

West Sussex has some lovely towns and villages, but the city of Chichester, the county town, is arguably the most interesting and beautiful. Chichester was founded by the Romans as Noviomagus Reginorum, connected to Londinium by the Roman road of Stane Street. Today's city still sits on the original Roman plan, with much of the city walls remaining (they were topped up in the Middle Ages) and North, South, East and West shopping streets radiating from the central ornate Market Cross. That dates from medieval times, when Chichester was a bustling market town (Alfred the Great was responsible for much of the development) . They still hold the markets here in these streets - blue and white canopies, sheltering all manner of tempting fresh food.

Just a few yards from the Market Cross, is the seat of the Church of England Diocese of Chichester, the twelfth-century cathedral. Inside are (unusually) double aisles, a modern altar cloth and a gorgeous blue Chagall stained window. Outside, you can view 'the most typical cathedral in the country', imposing flying buttresses, cloisters and a green copper roof, with a spire, which is the third tallest in England. It is the only medieval cathedral spire which is visible from the sea. It's not entirely typical - there is a separate campanile (bell tower.) Waving his finger - I'm not sure whether he's admonishing or waving - is St Richard, the patron saint of Chichester. He was a Bishop of Chichester, given a hard time by Henry III, who had opposed his selection, but was overruled by the Pope.

Wandering farther, is the deanery - an enviable Georgian residence (the previous one came to a bad end during the Civil War) and the Bishops Palace and formal gardens. It's a good place to sit and relax. There's not much left of the Norman castle- just a motte in the Priory Park, That's another nice place to rest. The only other building of note is the misleadingly named Guildhall. It's actually the thirteenth century chancel of the Grey Friars of Chichester building.

There are 85 protected Conservation Areas within Chichester District, although these cover the whole of the region. Medieval is always fascinating, but Chichester also has a plethora of Queen Anne and early Georgian buildings, around the main streets and lining the many narrow lanes. Most of the buildings are pristine and some renovated to the extent that their rosy brickwork looks like the buildings you see adorning toy train layouts. Pallant is the most well known area, with the stand out being the Queen Anne Pallant House and the attached, modern (in both senses of the word) art gallery. To the north, leading to Priory Park is Little London.

Tangmere Aviation Museum

Tangmere Aviation Museum, close to Chichester (on the site of RAF Tangmere), has been there since 1982, but I've successfully managed to avoid visiting, until recently. I don't enjoy anything to do with war and fighting. I have to concede that there is some interest in the array of aircraft parked around and inside two hangars. The exhibits cover the First World War to the Cold War and include fixed-wing aeroplanes (a Spitfire, of course), helicopters and aircraft engines. There are simulators, though you have to queue, a control room and map display and histories of the famous pilots, who flew from here, like Douglas Bader (made famous in the book and film Reach for the Sky.) There's also the Hawker Hunter, used by Neville Duke, to break the airspeed record in 1953.

Fishbourne Roman Palace

Fishbourne Roman remains are the largest Roman residence discovered north of the Alps, so it was decided it must be a palace. (It actually has a larger footprint than Buckingham Palace.) It also has an unusually early date -75 AD - around thirty years after the Roman conquest of Britain. Excavation is an ongoing project, as remains are unearthed from under roads and other buildings in Fishbourne village (on the outskirts of Chichester). As a result, it's now thought that the area has been inhabited since 4-5,000 BC. The palace burnt down, in around 270 AD, after which it was abandoned.

There are reconstructed paintings, columns and gardens, but the main attraction is the mosaics - the most famous is of Cupid riding a dolphin. There's a museum, video explanations and a well stocked shop, full of 'Roman artifacts', like soldier's helmets.

Weald and Downland Living Museum

The Weald and Downland Living Museum at Singleton, was known as the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum last time I went to visit it. It's always been a favourite with its displays of 50 or so rescued vernacular buildings (threatened with destruction). There are often displays such as ploughing with horses, a blacksmith at his forge, a charcoal burners camp or 'villagers' tending their fires. I've long nurtured a soft spot for the Bayleaf timber framed farmhouse. And watch out for the ducks. One stole my sandwich from my hand.

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