Sussex & Kent: Possibly The Most Beautiful Counties In Britain
And the above title is a bold statement from a proud Welsh girl. But they don't call it 'The Garden of England' for nuttin.
This summer due to putting all my pennies into setting up my business and moving back in with the folks I couldn't afford a nice sunny holiday abroad so I tagged along with the parents, dragged the boyfriend along with me and hopped on down to East Sussex for a fortnight down south.
We stayed with Mulberry Cottages in a glorious cottage just outside Guestling Green and apart from one rainy Sunday we had the most beautiful weather and the most beautiful time exploring East Sussex, West Sussex and Kent.
As a break from my normal blog posts-here's a travel guide of places to go in the area.
Pett Levels- This oasis of deserted coast line was literally down the road from where we were staying near Icklesham and Guestling and we visited at sunset on a slightly blowy night. Apart from the inevitable British chill a walk along this beach certainly blew away the cobwebs. All shingle and pebbles, it remains relatively unknown to most except the locals, it was purely by chance we were staying near and saw the road signs, and the fact it is so deserted is what made it so mesmerising. Absolutely worth the trek.
Hastings- Home to the world championships of crazy golf right on the seafront, this pebble beached town is quintessentially British with amusement arcades, fish and chippys galore and a high street full of seaside shops full of fudge and sticks of rock. The seafront is uhhhmazing for those with kids, there's a fair ground, the golf, games on the beach, cycling hire and rickshaw rides and for adults there is the fancy looking Stade eatery and cliff railway to the ruined castle on one side and the country park on the other. Shopping wise the old town is cobbled, beautiful and full of high end gift shops whilst a ten minute walk further into Hastings itself, away from the seaside, will take you to your average high street full of mainstream shops and arcades. If you get a chance, pop into the aquarium, wander round the old shipping port and check out the deserted beaches tucked away from the crowds. Just beware the seagulls as we saw them attack people for their grub many a time and actually resorted to hiding in the car to eat our chips!
Brighton- An absolute must if you're visiting the south east coast, it would be criminal not to visit iconic Brighton seafront. It really is something else, it's seaside town status is on another level and everything is clean, white and the ferris wheel makes you feel *a bit* like you're in LA. Crazy golf again, absolute gold, the aquarium is a goldmine of information and knowledge and the pier is non negotiable-if you've made the pilgrimage there, you just have to go. We visited the day before the infamous Pride event but the place was a buzz with anticipation for the carnival, rumours were it was (unsurprisingly) an amazing day. Places to eat are everywhere on the sea front and further into town (a 2 minute walk) but we ate in the Harvester on the seafront by the aquarium and it was wonderful. Only disappointments were the Pavilion was under construction (which can't be helped I know) and the car parking cost TWENTY SIX quid for a couple of hours in the NCP-avoid at all costs.
Eastbourne- Even though Brighton is iconic and is an absolute must, it was Eastbourne that really hit the nail on the head sea side wise for me. All I'd really heard of Eastbourne was that it was full of elderly people enjoying their retirement so I was skeptical if there would be much for me to do there but I was proved wrong and then some. The seafront is compromised of beautiful white grand hotels lining the promenade with glorious flower arrangements on every lamp post, in every planter along the front and the beach stretches as far as the eye can see. One one side of the promenade is the pier (which is partially under construction but still accessible), cafes and gift shops and on the other is the never ending expanse of sea. Each sign post along the front tells you how long it will take you to get to the next check point on the map so you can plan your day conveniently around what exactly you want to see and once again, the crazy golf is magnificent (getting an idea of what we do on our hols?) Back into the town centre itself the closer to the sea you get the more touristy and quaint the shops but the main shopping arcade boasts all your normal high street shops with convenient parking, which doesn't cost £26.00. If you do anything when down on this coast-make it Eastbourne.
Battle- If you know anything about history you will know the Battle of Hastings 1066 was actually fought a few miles up the road in the town now conveniently named Battle. The town itself compromises a quaint red bricked high street with a couple of cobbles thrown in for extra measure and cuteness. Adorable gift shops, antiques, pubs, restaurants, cafes and very up market charity shops, the high street of Battle is very captivating and provides a billion photo opportunities. Also in the town centre itself is Yesterday's World which is a plethora of knowledge and a step into the past and Battle Abbey which is an English Heritage site, museum, ruins and information centre which focuses on a walk round the actual site of 1066.
Rye- The town of Rye, perfect for a few hours out in the afternoon, was almost a disappointment when we couldn't find the shops we wanted to see....only to find out we were reading off a 2006 map we found in the cottage. If you've googled Rye before you get there you will be expecting higgledy piggledy streets, red brick houses and cobbled streets and if you park in the market or in the train station and head into the town centre you would be forgiven for being a bit disappointed. Bear with it, go a bit off the beaten track and you will find the cobbled streets and the cute antique stops and the view points. Make sure you walk the famous Mermaid Street, it is just so gloriously British.
Michelham Priory- This old priory had to do a lot to make this Sunday afternoon out enjoyable for me because the rain was just torrential and was set to stay that way for the entirety of the fortnight we were down south. Luckily it was such a beautiful location with beautiful surroundings and estate it made the rain seem a little bit more bearable. The Priory itself is traditional dark wood panelling and the volunteers and employees who work there are full of knowledge and more than happy to talk to you and fill you in. The grounds are full of sculptures and art and even have bronze and iron age roundhouse reconstructions in the estate. The gift shop is full of beautiful handmade gifts, the cafe sells the biggest slices of cake I've ever seen, they have a HUGE barn set up for rustic wedding receptions and on certain days they have a blacksmith working for them who is so ridiculously talented.
Bodiam Castle- Set in the middle of a moat, Bodiam Castle is one of them insanely impressive medieval castles that loom out of the horizon and just look intimidating. Although the insides are now ruined (something to bear in mind if you're thinking of heading down in the rain), the outside fortifications of the castle are still in tact and the castle is accessible across a new footbridge, slightly off course to the original gatehouse which went diagonally across the moat. Summer is an amazing time to visit the castle if you have children as they have knight and princess school and archery in the grounds. A number of the towers are not in ruins and you are able to climb to the top and view the surrounding area, and take in the magnificence of what is left of the castle itself. Bear in mind when visiting, it is National Trust so it is slightly on the expensive side (joining the society on the day means you get your money from that visit refunded) and a lot of the castle is inaccessible to people who aren't steady on their feet and small children as most of the towers are climbed on very narrow, very steep spiral staircases.
Hever Castle- This was recommended to us by a friend and located (in the middle of nowhere) near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, it was a bit of trek from where we were staying but well worth the car ride. The childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Hever Castle is set in acres of beautiful landscaped gardens, ponds and a moat and even boasts a boating lake which you unexpectedly come across whilst meandering through the Italian style terraces. There really is something for everyone at the castle but especially garden and history lovers. The tiny rough stone cottages surrounding the castle are privately let out as holiday cottages and wedding venues, so expensive you have to request a personal quote but it is the castle itself that really impressed me. I took A Level History at comprehensive simply because one of the modules was Tudor history which I love so much and the childhood home of Anne Boleyn didn't disappoint. Sadly you can't take photos in the house itself but as well as the impressive reception rooms and traditional dark wood interior, there are also lots of exhibitions and information panels about Henry VIII and his wives. Most poignant is the letters between Anne Boleyn and Henry himself which start as love letters when he was trying to woo her and end with the last letter she wrote to him, when she was imprisoned, facing death pleading with him to believe her, not to persecute the men he claimed she had affairs with, and heartbreakingly asking him not to tell their daughters what he perceived she had done. As well as the history of Anne and Henry, the castle also boasts (for a limited time only) the marital bed of Henry VII and a more modern exhibition of the castle since Anne's departure including visits from Winston Churchill.
Bateman's- Home of Rudyard Kipling, for any budding writer and/or illustrator of children's books, the home of the author of (amongst 839023898593 other titles) The Jungle Book is an inspiring place to be. Nestled in the middle of a beautiful estate, the house itself has been partially transformed into an exhibition and partially left almost as it was when Kipling was alive. The study of Kipling himself holds the most emotion and atmosphere having been left as it were and whilst looking at it (including a HUGE bookcase filled with every collection of his work) and listening to the information given by guides, you can't quite believe he once sat at the desk by the window writing his masterpieces. As well as exhibitions into the house itself, his guests and his Nobel prize, the most captivating is the exhibition into the Kipling family during the war. His son at 17 years old was rejected from joining the army due to his poor eyesight but Rudyard Kipling pulled some strings with the influential people he knew and got his boy into the armed forces. Tragically, John died in conflict and Kipling never quite forgave himself for pushing a boy that didn't need to go to war, into the front line. The gardens themselves are stunning-from the traditional vegetable plot that supplied the on site cafe to the mill house and the Rolls Royce hidden away that Kipling owned himself.
Ones To Watch-
These two are by no means dreadful attractions to be avoided when in Sussex and Kent, they were however the more disappointing days out of my holiday. Just reporting my findings people, don't shoot the messenger, I never claimed to be a travel writer....
Port Lympne Safari Park- I was soooo gutted with Port Lympne and that perhaps was because last year I went to Longleat and it was literally one of the best days of my life (I even bought a giant stuffed gorilla). The leaflet and the website for Port Lympne in Kent is a bit misleading for the safari experience you actually embark on when you get into the little trucks lined up for you. You are kind've led to believe the animals are out and about, walking in the plains you drive along and you can get all up close and personal with them. Whilst yes the zebra, giraffe and some deer are out in the plains, the elephant, the rhino and the cheetah are all a million miles away over a fence that you can just about see from the trucks. It didn't help that the day we went, it would appear most of the animals were in hiding which I know isn't the parks fault and it was freezing cold and blowy which they also can't predict but it just felt a bit like it wasn't advertised quite correctly. Also it costs 80 quid for 4 adults to go in and an extra SEVENTY on top to have a personal truck which does let you get a lot closer to the action so we were pretty thankful we used Tesco clubcard vouchers to pay for our entry. That being said, the actual zoo side of the park rather than the safari was excellent. The rhino further down the park are stupidly close to the path, the tigers and lions are impressive and the gorilla house is amazing. I would advise just erring on the side of caution when getting excited for the Kent safari experience before you experience it.
Great Dixter- Gunna throw my hands up here and profess something that might come as a shock- I am not that much of a fan of gardens as attractions. My mother is a massive garden lover and so on holidays since we were little, we have traded one day at a theme park for a day at a gardens. Whilst this year I didn't actually get my theme park, we did visit a gardens and that was the world famous Great Dixter. In all fairness, even my mother was disappointed with this one and me and my father? Well we started playing a game which revolved around a points system of guessing plant and flower names and gaining an extra point if you could recite an interesting fact to go with it (my Dad won 8-2 jsyk). Great Dixter was owned and run by Christopher Lloyd (hugely famous in the horticulture world so I am told) and his method of ripping out the traditional rose border and replacing it with outrageous, colourful planting, cramming as much in as possible has kind've gone amiss since his death a number of years ago. It just feels now like the cramming of the plants is a bit less intentional and just a bit unkempt and messy. The paths are overun, the layout is bizarre and requires you walking round a thousand times to make sure you've seen everything and even the nursery is a bit untidy. The house itself is only open in the afternoons and as it is still a family home, you can only go in 3 rooms which takes about 10 minutes if you're dawdling and seems a bit crazy to charge extra to go in there. Still worth a look and a visit for garden lovers, it is just a shame you can tell how impressive and amazing it would have been if you'd have visited a decade ago when Christopher Lloyd still ran the place himself.
All in all, my fortnight in Sussex was the dream British holiday, exploring somewhere new full of history, seaside, beautiful landscapes and my favourite red brick architecture. I would seriously recommend if you get the chance to go down there because it really is something else.