Inspired British Breaks
East Sussex

Location: Brighton Racecourse, Freshfield Road, Brighton BN2 9XZ

Mon-Fri 08:30-17:30, Sat 09:00-13:00, Sun closed

Car hire in Brighton - Brighton Racecourse

Driving around the South Downs is a wonderful thing. Villages of brick and Sussex flint dot the landscape of undulating, verdant chalk hills which stretch for almost 100 miles, from Winchester to Eastbourne. They form a dreamy backdrop of hazy greenish blue, on a summer day, to the coastline. The A27 traces much of the South Downs National Park, and is easily picked up by anyone heading north out of Brighton (or south, from central London or Gatwick Airport, to the coast).

Yet even the briefest foray, just a day, using part of this road as a rough guide, will uncover surprises. Take Middle Farm, just east of Lewes. Here you can scoop up picnic treats (freshly pressed apple juice, local cheeses and diet-busting scones) for a day walking the South Downs Way, easily accessed from the pretty town of Alfriston, but also buy plants and even hens for your smallholding. The farmshop zings with colourful produce, a fitting hors d’oeuvre to Charleston House, two minutes’ drive away.

Nowhere will have you reassessing your home decor and reaching for a paint chart quite as fast as Charleston House. This is the former home of Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Bell was married to art critic Clive Bell, but moved here with Grant in 1916. Rooms became artists’ studios or simply vehicles for decoration in day-to-day living. From door panels to fireplaces, tables to bedheads, there is barely a surface untouched by creativity equalled only, perhaps, by the unconventionality of Charleston’s various occupants. Writers, critics and artists were drawn here, and visitors included E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry. The exuberant interiors are preserved today, by a charitable trust which opens the house and tumultuously beautiful gardens to the public from June to October.

Just moments away, along the A27, in Berwick, stands the church of St Michael and All Angels. Grant, Bell and her son Quentin Bell were invited to decorate its interior during World War II and their religious murals cover the nave walls and chancel arch. As for the pulpit, it is so vibrant with painted flowers and fruit, it’s unlike any I’ve ever seen. For a family trip, this is one church which will keep kids entertained (and the carrot to dangle is following it with a visit to Drusillas Zoo Park, just minutes away).

Less than half an hour north, in the hamlet of Muddles Green, lies Farleys House, the former home of iconic war photographer and correspondent Lee Miller and her husband, Roland Penrose, the surrealist artist. Its extraordinary contents can be discovered on a timed tour (open Sundays, April to October). Penrose’s paintings are hung on brightly tinted walls in the house along with all manner of artefacts and a selection of Miller’s photographic work is on display in the more sober setting of a gallery in an adjacent barn. It is, quite simply, an unmissable glimpse into their world, inhabited by friends such as Picasso, Miró, Max Ernst and Man Ray, and further proof that life in Sussex farmhouses was not quite as predictable as one might have imagined.

The question, after so much bold colour, is where to stay to keep up the drama. My choice would be historic Pelham Hall, run as a B&B by Manhattanite Matthew Fox since 2014. Plump beds and a restful vibe come with a gratifying side order of ancient beams and American breakfasts of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup or Spanish eggs baked in terracotta with herbs, tomatoes, Manchego and chorizo. The location, in Burwash, in the Sussex Weald (between the North and South Downs) brings the added bonus of nearby Bateman’s, the Jacobean home of Rudyard Kipling, now owned by the National Trust.

Or you can seriously push the boat out at Gravetye Manor, where Michelin star dining and magical gardens make a very special stay – or simply book a sumptuous afternoon tea. Then there is the rustic cosiness of rooms at The Bull at Ditchling. Food is good, as it also is up the road at the White Horse. The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft is a modern gem, and the route from Brighton means a scenic drive over Ditchling Beacon on the Downs so exhilarating it will make your heart sing.

Start your trip

Getting there: Pick up your car from Hertz Brighton location, Brighton Racecourse, Freshfield Road, Brighton BN2 9XZ

Tel: 01273 358310

Or pick up your car from your local Hertz location:

For more on the venues mentioned in this feature, visit:

Middle Farm

South Downs Way

Charleston House

Drusillas Zoo Park

Farleys House

Pelham Hall


Gravetye Manor 

The Bull

White Horse

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

Visit Southeast England

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