This Green and Pleasant Land: South Downs, Sussex, England

21 May

16-19 May, 2017
Eurostar Paris to Ashford International Station in Kent was over in a flash. A local train to Eastbourne, where sister-in-law Catharine met us, was followed by a quick stop for lunch and to collect groceries ordered online at Tesco. By 2:30pm we were in situ at Beachy Barn cottage, East Deen.

Sussex Heritage Coast on the south coast of England is a new area to us but a favourite for Catharine, so we were happy to have her plan our three-day stay.

East Deen has to be one of the sweetest English villages, a bit Midsomer Murderish, but lovely nonetheless. The Tiger Pub, Walker’s Rest and Beehive Cafe & Deli sit on three sides of The Green, while the fourth is notable for a rose-covered stone house with a blue plaque. It reads, ‘Consulting Detective and Bee Keeper Sherlock Holmes retired here’. It seems Sir AC Doyle based Sherlock’s final home in the country on this house, now a rental property management office. Art imitating life.

The long evening allowed plenty of time for me to walk from the village to Belle Tout lighthouse and on to Birling Gap. The public footpaths are not as easy to spot in this part of the world but as much of the Downs is treeless there is good line of sight.It’s eerie that I serendipitously read Fay Weldon’s ‘Life and Loves of a She Devil’ when in Britanny only to find that the lighthouse she modelled her ‘tower house’ on, Belle Tout, is a few kilometres down the road. It was moved inland from the crumbling chalk cliff in 1999 but is again uncomfortably close to the cliff edge. It is in private hands with unfriendly ‘KEEP OUT’ signs so I made do with a quick peak.

At 5pm the surf was up at Birling Gap. Wetsuited surfers dashed from the National Trust car park out to the aerial staircase and down the long flight of stairs to the shingle beach. In the distance sheer white cliffs rose and fell as far as the eye could see.

Alfriston was our focus next day starting with coffee at Badger’s. The photos don’t lie, this is a destination tea shop and garden. And Vegan Molly Cake!

Alfriston has a magical bookshop too. New and second hand treasures on two floors with reading nooks.We walked from Alfriston Green via the church and the National Trust’s 14th century Clergy House (the Trust’s very first property) through river meadows to Litlington pub, The Plough and Harrow, where Catherine and I left Stuart to his ale and continued the circular walk back to Alfriston.




Siblings at the Clergy House


On our return we found Stu dozing on the beer garden lawn. It’s a good life!

With changeable weather forecast we visited Michelham Priory at Upper Dicker (stop tittering), before venturing up to a ridge of the South Downs for Catherine and I to walk down to Charleston House to meet Stuart who had the car. As you’ve no doubt guessed Stuart’s knee is still not cooperating. He’s limiting his walking until he gets back to Australia to investigate what’s going on.
Whilst Henry VIII’s reformation emptied its coffers and destroyed many of its 13-16th century buildings, what remains of the Priory, including its water mill, moat and gardens, have been sensitively restored by the Sussex Archaeological Society and opened to the public. It was pure pleasure to explore the house and grounds and meet the staff (in character).



A Witching Jug

From the misting rain of the Downs with only sheep and cattle for company we descended into green farmland near Lewes to take refuge in the tea tent of Charleston House before the heavens opened. A literature festival (Barry Humphries is the star talent on the final evening) was about to kick off, marquees were being erected and extensive building works are in progress to expand the estate. Stuart heard a figure of ten million pounds being spoken of.

With Catharine at The Beacon.

As the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, both post-Impressionist painters, Charleston became a country get away for London’s influential Bloomsbury Set, a friendship with benefits group of artists, writers, critics, economists and philosophers, which the sisters, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Wolf, had been integral to establishing.Charleston is open March to October with entry to the house only by pre-booked guided tour. Entry to the garden, cafe and shop is free, as is the parking. The Charitable Trust operating Charleston has a busy annual program of festivals, workshops and other activities. We’ll return to do it justice some time in the future.

 

Squeezing out the last of the lovely coastal England experience we walked along the esplanade at Eastbourne past the Grand Hotel, the bandstand and down to the recently restored pier.

The Grand Hotel





Then it was goodbye to the seaside as we drove to The Griffin pub restaurant in Fletching for lunch en route to London. The Griffin’s beer garden has to be one of the most picturesque and the food was outstanding.Thank you Catharine for a wonderful introduction to this very special part of Great Britain.

 

Final stop London!

2 Responses to “This Green and Pleasant Land: South Downs, Sussex, England”

  1. trevor willis May 21, 2017 at 10:15 pm #

    Excellent article. many thanks. I hope Stu’s knee gets better soon

    • Sharon Tickle May 22, 2017 at 7:26 am #

      Stuart thanks you Trev. Hope you and Marg are still travelling well. Enjoyed seeing your recent exploits. Sxx

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