In a quiet corner of Sussex
Just seven miles from Brighton & Hove is the Anglo-Saxon village of Ditchling. It’s a quaint and artistic village in the heart of The South Downs National Park. Brighton is the perfect base from which to explore Ditchling as it is only a 20-minute drive.
Top of the Ditchling list are their prestigious sparkling wine vineyards – the award-winning Ridgeview which is served at Buckingham Palace state banquets and at 10 Downing Street. Then there’s the Court Garden who, in the autumn, host hugely popular opera and wine events. Both Ridgeview and Court Garden do wine tours where you can learn about how the wines are produced and most importantly how they taste.
The sculptor and letter cutter, Eric Gill moved to Ditchling during the early 20th century, and founded an artist guild. This influence has encouraged the artistic community to flourish which is reflected in the shops and celebrated in the Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft. There are several galleries in Ditching worth a visit and where you could meet artists like Rosemary Pavey.
With more than 40 listed buildings in Ditchling, there is history on every corner – each giving insight into a thousand years of Sussex heritage.
Ditchling is a hidden gem encases in a breath-taking landscape, and with its close proximity to Brighton enables an easy day trip, returning to the city for luxury accommodation at hotels such as The Grand Hotel, The Hotel du Vin or the 5* Claremont.
Alongside Ditchling, Brighton is close neighbours with the historic market town of Lewes, with its picturesque views. It’s just seven miles outside the city. Other than the spectacular bonfire and firework celebrations the town is known for, it’s also home to Lewes Castle, built circa 961 AD and the medieval Anne of Cleves house. You can lose yourself in the history of this quintessential British town.
Lewes is a bibliophile’s paradise – especially Bow Window Book Shops and the Fifteenth Century Bookshop, that houses first edition rarities and beautiful leather-bound books – their speciality is children’s books.
Alongside the Harveys brewery, perched on the riverside, Lewes boasts a wide range of traditional country pubs, complete with wooden beams and roaring fires in winter, like The Jugg, which is particularly popular with those walking over the South Downs National Park.
The Depot in Lewes is an award-winning independent 3‑screen cinema with a stylish café-restaurant that holds sustainability at the core of all it does, whilst streaming independent films, world cinema, documentaries and classic films.
With Brighton as your base you could easily spend the day exploring these two beautiful towns during the day and returning to city in the evening to experience fine dining at Michelin recognised restaurants, 5‑star accommodation and leading spas.
The small village of Bodiam’s history dates to Roman times when a settlement and port were established as ships came to trade for Sussex iron. The Roman Road from Hastings to Rochester crossed at this point. Following the Romans’ departure, the area was occupied by the Anglo Saxons who, it is believed, gave the place its original name of ‘Bodan Hamm’.
But it was the medieval period which made the greatest impact on the area. For undoubtedly the most outstanding and much visited feature of Bodiam is its moated ruined castle. It was built in the reign of Richard II between 1385 and 1390 as a precaution against French attack.
Only twice did the castle feature in serious conflict when in 1484 it was captured by Richard III and in 1645 during the Civil War, after which Cromwell decreed that the castle should be made untenable and ordered the interior to be destroyed.
Over the years the castle fell further into decay until in the early 19th century the Georgian squire and member of parliament John (Mad Jack) Fuller of Brightling purchased it for a sum of £3,000. He carried out necessary repairs and saved it from complete demolition. In 1917 the castle was acquired by Lord Curzon, who continued the restoration work and brought the building back to its former glory. On his death in 1925 he bequeathed it to the National Trust, in whose capable hands it remains.
The nearby Castle Inn was formerly known as The Red Lion until it was rebuilt in 1885 and renamed. Its story is linked to the castle and came into being in the 15th century when merchants and tradesmen visited to castle on business. The inn provided the only accommodation for visitors to the village and catered to the canal traffic which, until the end of the last century, reached the nearby bridge.
The parish church of St Giles lies in a picturesque setting half a mile to the north of the castle and is a much restored 14th century building. Inside is the arms of the de Bodeham family. A former rector of the church was once aide-de-camp to the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, and one of the six bells in the tower is named after him.
In 1946 almost 1,200 acres of land in and around Bodiam were leased to the Guinness family brewers and hops were grown. The railway which brought many of the pickers to Bodiam was closed in 1961. Now it’s been restored and the Kent and East Sussex Railway, from Tenterden to Bodiam, is a popular tourist attraction and makes for an ideal route to the castle.
Enjoy both a train ride and river cruise by combining steam engine from Bodiam Station to Northiam with a return river cruise on the Danny Lee from Bodiam Boating Station to the castle. Hire a kayak, rowing boat or paddleboard at the boating station and when your stomach begins to rumble head for either The Hub or Lime Wharf Café for home cooked food using local produce.
Bodiam is sandwiched between two beautiful vineyards, Oxney Organic Estate at Beckley, and Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard. Both run tours and tastings, with a new café at Sedlescombe and Oxney having on site accommodation. For more natural beauty, don’t forget Great Dixter House & Gardens in the very nearby village of Northiam.
There are several places to stay in and around Bodiam, from the beautiful Knelle Dower Studio B&B which offers walking and gardening packages, to a more outdoors camping and caravanning experience at the Bodiam Boating Station. If glamping is your style, head for the Original Hut Company at Bodiam and Swallowtail Hill Farm at Beckley where you can socially distance to your heart’s content!