The motto in this fine county is ‘We wunt be druv’, which makes a refreshing break from having to translate from Latin. It’s Sussex dialect, for, ‘we won’t be driven’ – asserting that people from the county won’t be told what to do or be forced against their will. It’s pretty fitting for a place that’s faced the brunt of most invasions. It’s a place that defies definition – so much so that a name for the people of Sussex, like ‘Cornish’ or ‘Northumbrian’ – doesn’t exist. So, who are these proud people, and what exists in this incredible stretch of countryside and coastline? Follow us on a trail from the heart of Sussex, at Yaffle Treehouse, on a tour around this fair county.
Where: Bewl Water
How long: A whole day
Best for: Families & the active
We could hardly talk about Sussex and not point you in the direction of Bewl Water. The largest lake in the southeast, it’s host to too many activities to mention, but most notable for its open water wild swimming, its water sports – including rowing, canoeing, sailing and windsurfing, as well as paddleboarding. It’s also worth noting, whilst it’s an incredible body of water, it’s also surrounded by 800 acres of parkland. So, if you’re not taking on activities out on the lake, you could be exploring its many trails for the 12.5 miles that wrap around it (with your dog if you have one). The trails are surfaced, so if you brought the bike – and even if not (you can hire), you can set the wheels spinning, and race around the tracks. There’s so much to do here, you may as well settle in and see what you can get done in the day. Cycling the trails takes between 2-3 hours, walking them takes about 6 – so plan accordingly, and if you do it just right, you should have time to take half time at The Waterfront Café, which is open between 9.30am – 4.00pm – and dine with an incredible view of the shimmering surface.
Where: Bluebell Vineyard Estates
How long: 1-3hrs
Best for: Fans of taxi rides
Those that know Sussex already might be familiar with the Seven Sisters Cliffs, an undulating part of the Sussex coast, where bright white chalk cliffs soar out of the ocean. That same chalk, as well as limestone, runs through the county and, on the other side of the sea, through the northern soils of France too. It’s why English vineyards tend to produce wines like Chardonnay, pinot noir or sparkling wines – as these are the varieties that thrive in the northern French terroirs. If you want an incredible spot to taste some of the best of English wine, look no further than Bluebell Vineyard Estates.
Surrounded by bluebell carpeted woods, the vineyard stretches nearly 100 acres, using traditional methods to produce almost entirely vintage and award-winning wines. Depending on how much time you have to spare, you could do as little as a pit-stop to pick up a bottle (or crate) for dinner, stop a touch longer for a tasting, stay a short while for a tour and a tasting, or even settle in for a wine and cheese tour and a tasting. At around the £30 mark, it's incredibly reasonable, at best informative, delicious and fascinating, at worst, a stunning setting for a tipple.
Where: Tenterden Town (Kent) to Bodiam (Sussex)
How long: 2hrs 15m approx.
Best for: Those that enjoy the journey
If your adventures somehow take you across the border, into Kent, then there's the opportunity to ride back in style. If, like us, you love a bit of slow travel, then you should check out Kent & East Sussex Railway for their service from Tenterden Town Station just over the border in Kent, to Bodiam Station back in Sussex. This is, however, no ordinary train ride. The carriage is outfitted with an old fashioned bar inside, and you can choose from a selection of local drinks, with real ale, and cider at the focal point. The Real Ale & Cider Train is small, and its services infrequent -- but if you can get a ride on it, it's well worth the effort. To avoid disappointment, contact the Kent & East Sussex Railway to check when the next service is!
Where: Ashdown Forest
How long: A half day
Best for: Everyone, and especially the little ones
Sometimes you’re in the mood for busy, packed places, or the hard work of an activity. Sometimes doing nothing, or next to nothing, is exactly what you fancy – so why not spend a morning, an afternoon or even a day sauntering about a lovely forest, just taking it in? Credited for inspiring the creation of Winnie-the-Pooh, Ashdown Forest was once the King’s hunting reserve, and now, its 6,500 acres of wilderness is available to all. The best part is, there are ten walks of two to three miles to choose from, as well as a 14-mile circular route that runs through the Scots Pine clumps throughout the forest, and a more accessible route that goes across the old airstrip.
Monuments to Pooh can be found all about in the forest, but one particularly special area is Pooh Bridge, where the game of Poohsticks was invented. If you want to find it, the easiest parking is at the postcode: TN7 4EX (Pooh Car Park).
Where: Hastings, of course.
How long: A day
Best for: Culture hunters
Sussex is packed full of historic towns, little villages and miles and miles of incredible coastline. We would be remiss if we didn’t suggest stopping by Hastings on one of your journeys. Often overlooked, there’s St Leonard’s-on-sea beach, as well as Hastings Beach (and pier). While both are perhaps overshadowed by the rightfully adored Brighton, Hastings is overdue for attention. It’s got a True Crime museum, a walled garden, an art museum – and innumerable green spaces. It’s also got an ever-growing selection of eateries, cafés, pubs and bars to discover. If you’re around for a day, or even just a few hours, try out Stooge Coffee for the fanciest of bean juices, Di Pola Gelato for ice cream you’d scream for, and The Crown for incredible, locally sourced food and great drinks.
If you’re circling the area, but want to remain a satellite to the city, then try out Hasting’s Country Park for 853 acres of stunning nature reserve by the sea, or the nearby Guestling Wood for much of the same. And if hunger strikes whilst you’re in the neighbourhood, then see Wild Mushroom in Westfield for some phenomenal cuisine.