“Each to his choice, and I rejoice / the lot has fallen to me / In a fair ground – in a fair ground / Yea, Sussex by the sea!” (Lines from Sussex, Rudyard Kipling, 1902)
Such was the effect of the English county of Sussex upon the poet and author Rudyard Kipling that he felt moved to celebrate its beauty in verse. Today, visitors to Sussex will find that the landscapes, sights, towns and villages that inspired Kipling more than a century ago have changed little in the intervening years.
Sussex is one of England’s most historic counties; exceptionally well-preserved evidence of the Roman conquest of AD43 which led to settlements throughout Sussex can still be found at the Roman Villa at Bignor and the Roman Palace at Fishbourne near Chichester, including exquisitely detailed mosaics; some of the oldest in Britain.
Just over a thousand years later in 1066, a decisive victory in battle by invading Normans at Senlac Hill in East Sussex further cemented the county’s place in world history. The town of Battle and its abbey were built upon the site of the Battle of Hastings and offer visitors the opportunity to step back in time and experience the events of this turbulent period of Sussex’s history.
The scene of numerous sieges before and since the Battle of Hastings, Sussex took the business of fortification seriously, and many spectacular castles and strongholds including Herstmonceux castle, Lewes Castle, Bodiam Castle and Arundel Castle still stand proud and defiant to this day.
Much of the appeal of Sussex lies in the diversity of its landscapes. The region known as the Weald in the west of the county is forested land; Ashdown Forest, originally a destination for deer hunting in Norman times is now the largest free public space in the southeast of England and provides spectacular views of a wide expanse of Sussex heathland, a protected area which is home to many endangered species of British wildlife. Ashdown Forest notably provided the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s ‘Hundred-acre Wood’ in which Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and their friends enjoyed many adventures.
Running parallel to the Sussex coastline between Chichester and Eastbourne, the South Downs National Park is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Charming and rustic Sussex towns and villages lie within the boundaries of the park’s bio diverse landscapes, which include arable farm land, river catchments, chalk hills, open meadows and woodlands. The South Downs National Park provides mile upon mile of ever changing scenery, perfect for walking, cycling or exploring on horseback.
The dramatic chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters dominate the coast between the town of Seaford and the resort of Eastbourne, where the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, Beachy Head, provides outstanding panoramic views of the undulating coastline.
Eastbourne itself is one of Sussex’s many traditional coastal resorts. With an excellent sunshine record, award-winning beach, immaculate seafront promenade and attractions, restaurants and accommodation suitable for families of all ages Eastbourne makes an excellent base from which to explore Sussex. For those seeking a more bohemian, cosmopolitan buzz, Brighton with its café culture, vibrant arts scene, innumerable traditional British seaside entertainments and 24-hour party atmosphere is unmissable.
Away from the coast, the winding country lanes of Sussex lead to a host of charming towns and villages such as Lewes, home to the Gothic-styled Victorian brewery of Harvey’s – one of the few remaining purveyors of authentic Sussex ales. More Gothic architecture may be observed in Arundel’s cathedral. The city also boasts a castle which remains the family seat of the Duke of Norfolk. Hosting a monthly farmers market and some of the finest restaurants and shops selling local produce in Sussex, Arundel is the perfect place to explore, admire and relax with a riverside picnic.
Between east and west Sussex there lies an unending procession of historic monuments, delightful stately homes and gardens, family attractions and resorts and welcoming towns and villages. Major cities are few and far between and the emphasis is on relaxation, enjoyment and a simpler, unhurried pace of life. Once you have experienced the myriad delights of this most traditional and inviting of English counties, like Rudyard Kipling you too will be inspired to rejoice in the discovery of Sussex.
This was a guest post by John for the Grand Eastbourne hotel in Sussex – a great base for your exploration of Sussex.