A Holiday Guide To Sussex
Sussex is one of southern England’s most idyllic short break holiday destinations. In addition to a picture-postcard coastline, the Gateway to England comprises the South Downs National Park and the majestic High Wield AONB. This inspiring landscape is populated by an assortment of pretty towns and villages as well as numerous top visitor attractions.
Now let’s explore this beguiling region, highlighting its many places of interest. Let’s begin with the spectacular heritage coast!
The heritage coast of Sussex stretches from Eastbourne to Splash Point. Fronting the English Channel, its iconic high chalk cliffs and wide beaches are a haven for wildlife and of course holiday-makers. The county’s shores still bear the signs of historical tumult. Roman and Anglo-Saxon invaders once landed here, leaving behind a string of coastal fortifications. The Normans left their mark here too with a series of impressive fortresses such as those found at Hastings and Lewes.
The Sussex coastline also features a long stretch of traditional seaside resorts such as Brighton, Hastings, Eastbourne and Camber Sands. By contrast the south-eastern reaches are made up of the lonely north Kent marshes, the Isle of Sheppey and the windswept wetlands of Pevensey Levels.
The Sussex Coast
The South Downs
The impressive Sussex coast is backed by the grassy chalk slopes of the South Downs. The region was recently designated as a National Park and covers around 630 square miles. The park consists largely of chalk down-land, although the Western Weald, with its beautiful undulating landscape of wooded vales and hills offers a striking contrast.
The long-distance South Downs Way meanders across this idyllic region, taking in beauty spots such as Seven Sisters, Devils Dyke and Winchester Hill. It runs for some 100 miles across four valleys through which flow the rivers Arun, Adur, Cuckmere and Ouse.
During the winter, these valleys flood into expansive lakes that become an important habitat for a diverse range of bird species – so important in fact that a twelve mile sweep of pastures and grazing marsh are now protected by the Amberley Wild Brooks Nature Reserve which is also a site of Special Scientific Interest.
The South Downs Way
At around 920ft above sea level is Black Down - the highest point in Sussex. These windswept uplands are owned by the National Trust and form part of a 500-acre plateau covered with heather, trees and gorse. A number of paths and tracks lead to the top such as Tennyson’s Lane which wends its way north to Haslemere. The famous poet resided nearby and was fond of walking to Black Down from his home, Aldworth House.
Between the steep chalk escarpments of the North and South Downs lies the Weald, spanning Sussex, Surrey and Kent. The rolling Western Weald lies in Hampshire and West Sussex while the medieval landscape of the Low Weald fringes the inspiring High Weald AONB.
The High Weald AONB
The High Weald AONB is a beautiful 550 square mile patchwork of flower meadows, wooded ravines, heath land and sandstone outcrops. Remains of the long defunct Wealden iron industry can still be seen, including the hammer ponds that once drove the water-wheels of the forges and powder mills.
At one time this area was largely made up of dense forestry. Today, it is a landscape of stately country mansions, arable farmland and quaint villages. Understandably, the region is a major draw for short break holiday makers seeking a tranquil escape from the nine to five grind. Here are some notable examples of the many idyllic villages and towns found in Sussex.
Amberley is a delightful village near Horsham that’s noted for an impressive ruined castle, a Norman church and a collection of thatched cottages. Set on the fringes of the South Downs, the village overlooks the conservation area, Amberley Wild Brooks. The walls of the 14th century castle enclose an ancient manor house.
Arundel climbs from the River Arun to the battlement walls of its enormously impressive castle. Built to defend against the incursions of seaborne invaders, this majestic keep was constructed in the 1067 century and extensively restored in 1890. Arundel itself is largely Victorian although eighteenth century houses can be found here and there, as well as a few flint-walled cottages from the nineteenth century. The famous high-street coaching inn, the Norfolk Arms, is a must visit.
Set on the northern slopes of the South Downs National Park, Bignor is famous for its stunning Roman Villa which was uncovered in 1811. Spanning more than four acres, these incredible remains feature fine mosaic floors that are graced with depictions of Zeus, Medusa and a Roman gladiator. A half-timbered, thatched fifteenth century house can also be found in the village.
Bognor Regis was originally a medieval fishing hamlet. Its reputation as seaside resort can be traced back to the late eighteenth century. Many regency buildings of this period still remain, such as the houses on Waterloo Square and The Steyne. Bognor remains popular among holiday-makers thanks to its broad, hard-sand beach, traditional promenade and pier. Popular local attractions include the Grade II-listed Hotham Park House.
Once a tiny fishing hamlet, Brighton evolved to become one of Sussex’s most popular seaside resorts thanks largely to its impressive beach. The pier’s jingling arcades and fairground rides offer a sharp contrast to the graceful Georgian and Victorian town houses that dominate much of the town. The Royal Pavilion, with its onion shaped dome and minarets, is perhaps Brighton’s centrepiece.
Chichester is situated in West Sussex and is renowned for its famous cathedral. The site of the modern city was originally a settlement of the Regni tribe before the Romans built a settlement there. Like many parts of Sussex, there remain numerous reminders of its eventful past including a fifteenth century market cross and a collection of fine Georgian houses. The cathedral, begun in 1091, features a tapering 277ft spire and a majestic stain-glassed window in the south transept.
Set on the mouth of the Arun, Littlehampton is another top seaside resort in Sussex thanks to two award-winning beaches and a bustling harbour. It’s considered one of the most family-friendly coastal towns in the county and has a lovely, traditional promenade complete with seafront green and funfair.
North and South Stoke
These twin villages are set on either side of a great loop of the Arun and are connected by a single footpath. North Stoke features a Grade I-listed Norman church while on the opposing banks of the river is and eleventh century flint church that was listed in the Domesday Book. At nearby Houghton is a marvellous sixteenth century inn that’s one of the oldest pubs in all of Sussex. Charles II made a visit there in 1651 following the Battle of Worcester.
A historic market town on the River Rother that’s replete with Tudor buildings, independent shops and traditional country inns. It is set in one of the most picturesque regions of Sussex and is also near Cowdray Park.
This medieval town crowds up to the walls of Petworth House - a warren of narrow streets wind around a tiny market place and a Grade II listed eighteenth century town hall. A few half-timbered Tudor houses still remain as well as a collection of Georgian buildings. The nearby Petworth House was complete by the 6th Duke of Somerset in 1696 and showcases an impressive art collection that’s in the care of the National Trust.
A typical Wealden village on high ground north-west of Horsham with tile-hung houses and inspiring views to Chanctonbury Ring hill fort. Thick woodland surrounds the village while the River Arun runs through the Roman Woods to the east.
A medieval seaside town full of character that’s set on a sandstone hillside overlooking the River Rother. There are steep cobbled lanes and a wonderful array of well-preserved Georgian and Tudor buildings on Church Square and Watchbell Street. This former Cinque Port retains its fascinating heritage – the scheduled monument Ypres Tower, once the home of the d’Ypres family and later a prison, is now a museum, while the timber-framed Mermaid Inn stands as a magnificent monument to Rye’s long and storied past.
A peaceful, attractive little village of flint and brick buildings that affords some impressive views southwards to the sea – much of the surrounding woodland, as well as parts of the village itself, is owned by the National Trust.
Where to Stay?
There are so many different accommodation options; from caravans to camping, BNBs to holiday cottages. Which option you go for really depends on the experience and comfort you’re looking for whilst you’re away. If you don’t want to be cooking and cleaning to much, then an inclusive stay that covers all of your dinings may be the best choice. If however you want to be away from crowds and have a more cosy retreat, a holiday cottage is worth considering. You can find a beautiful selection of Sussex holiday cottages at cottages-to-rent.co.uk which are located near some of the top beauty spots highlights in this article. When making your choice, be sure to read reviews from previous guests first.
1066 Battle Abbey and Battlefield, Battle
This is one of the UK’s most important historical locations and is the site of the famous confrontation between the armies of King Harold and William the Conqueror. Now open on a limited basis following the lock-down, visitors have access to the battlefield and Abbey ruins. There’s also an award-winning exhibition that vividly retells the story of the Norman Conquest.
Fishers Adventure Park, Billinghurst
Fishers Adventure Park is a multi-award winning zoo and adventure park in West Sussex that incorporates a splash area, an indoor soft play zone and a collection of activities aimed at youngsters such as a tractor trailer ride and miniature train. The park is also home to a variety of animals, some of which have been re-homed. Some of the more illustrious inhabitants include chinchillas, lamas and a herd of highland cows.
Royal Pavilion, Brighton
The iconic Royal Pavilion is one of Brighton’s most visited attractions. Built as a seaside holiday home for King George IV, this Grade I listed palace showcases Regency architecture in all of its opulent splendour. Highlights include a banqueting room with a 70-seat table and 30ft chandelier, a music room illuminated by lotus-shaped chandeliers and of course the magnificent gardens which were designed by famed architect, John Nash.
Drusillas Park Zoo, Alfriston
Although relatively small at just 10 acres, Drusillas Park Zoo is considered one of the best in Sussex. It’s inhabited by all manner of exotic species including red pandas, lemurs, meerkats and a Burmese python. The park also features indoor and outdoor play areas as well as a collection of themed-rides for children.
Harbour Park, Littlehampton
Harbour Park is another major Sussex visitor attraction that’s primarily aimed at kids. There are some fifteen rides and activities, including dodgems, water shoots, trampolines and children’s roller-coasters. Littlehampton’s family-friendly East beach is also within close proximity to the park as is the town’s attractive promenade.
Top Five Sussex Visitor Attractions
Did You Know?
Sussex has its own ancient version of Cricket known as stoolball. This unusual game is still played on summer evenings at villages around Midhurst. It was first played in the 15th century and remained popular until the 18th century, when it was supplanted by cricket. The games are similar with 11 players each side. But in stoolball, the ball is bowled underarm, the bat is like a table-tennis bat and the wicket is made from a stool 1ft square that’s mounted on a stake 4ft 8in from the ground. A stoolball player can be out ‘body before wicket’ as distinct from cricket’s leg before.
Why is the Air so Bracing?
The south-east has low rainfall and an excellent sunshine record that’s a match for Cornwall and Devon. The low rainfall and variation between day and night temperatures goes some way in accounting for the region’s bracing air.
Roman Road Remains
A section of Stane Street, a road built by the Romans in AD 70 to connect Chichester with London, can still be clearly seen on the downs near Eartham. A bridle path follows it for three miles over National Trust land towards Bignor Hill.
Common during the Georgian period, the practice of weatherboarding describes the process of protecting houses against rain and gales. Oak beams were fixed horizontally to the walls of a house and then ‘chamfered’ or cut at an angle of 45 degrees at the lower edge. They were then ‘feathered’ or tapered at the top edge for elegance. Weather-boarded buildings can still be seen in places like Rye.