South Downs: Always a warm welcome – Brussels In View


Published on March 4th, 2020 | by James Drew


South Downs: Always a warm welcome

Brexit may be done but it is still very much “business as usual” when it comes to travel between the UK and mainland Europe, writes Martin Banks.

The impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has, for now at least, not impacted on the thriving tourist trade between the two.

So, with Easter fast approaching you may be looking for ideas for a short break over in Blighty.

If so, you’d do well to consider one part of England that is sometimes overlooked on the well-trodden tourist trail taken by many Europeans visitors: the South Downs.

Virginia Woolf, in her diaries, called  it “too much for one pair of eyes, enough to float a whole population in happiness.”

Praise indeed but folk have been walking the ridgeline of the South Downs for centuries, all sharing the views that found Virginia Woolf “overcome by beauty more extravagantly that one could expect.”

One good spot for exploring the Downs, one of 15 National Trails in England and Wales, is Pulborough which has close connections to Shelley and Elgar and has something for most people to enjoy.

A great base for exploring the area is The Barn at Banks Cottage, unique as it’s the only holiday accommodation available inside the RSPB Pulborough Brooks Nature Reserve (the visitor centre is nearby).

Boasting quite breath-taking views of the reserve (perfect for bird watching and identifying birdsong), this stylish property, located in Wiggonholt near Pulborough, is really great to experience the bright blossoming of the upcoming spring.

The lovely 2-bedroom accommodation sleeps up to 4 and has been renovated to a fantastic standard. It is especially cosy in the winter and has a pretty patio garden to be enjoyed in summer. There is a pub a pleasant 20 minute walk along the reserve.

The very welcoming owners, Paul and Deirdre, live in an adjacent 14th century cottage. Hard to think now but the barn itself used to house sheep and pigs (see an old photo with the couple’s two sons on the lounge wall to get an idea of how it once looked). Soon after moving here, they converted it to the terrific self-contained holiday let it is today.

A few kilometres south takes you to the market town of Arundel where you’ll find the excellent WWT Wetland Centre, a 65-acre reserve in an idyllic setting, at the base of the National Park.

Wetlands are found across the world, ranging from giant deltas, mighty estuaries and mudflats to floodplains and peatlands that humans have relied on for hundreds of years.

Here you can get up close to all sorts of exotic ducks and geese from around the world, a boat safari and lots of other kid-friendly things like the Pond Skaters Adventure.

After trekking round the sprawling site (and maybe a ramble on the Downs) you may have worked up an appetite and a super place to sate any hunger is the Star and Garter, a short drive away and a good old traditional British pub.

Opened just one year ago, it boasts top notch service, a great atmosphere and, most of all, very good and affordable food, much of it locally produced. Its “field-to-fork” approach involves designing dishes using, where possible, the best local ingredients.

The meat and game, for instance, comes from the nearby Goodwood Estate (famous for the horse racing) while the fish is partly sourced from nearby Portsmouth.

This tastefully-furnished classic pub is (understandably) highly popular locally, not least for its lovely Sunday roast but it really is well worth a visit anytime.

Almost next door is a real “must see” visitor attraction: the Weald and Downland Living Museum, originally launched by architect Roy Armstrong and group of enthusiasts.

The open air museum – which celebrates its 50th birthday later this year – covers a sprawling 40 acres, with over 50 historic buildings dating from 950AD to the 19th century, along with gardens, farm animals, walks and a mill pond. The museum, visited by 150,000 a year, also has a massive collection of ancient artefacts many of which have been restored to their original state and can be viewed.

Backed by a 300-strong army of volunteers, the centre tells the story of rural life in South East England over a 1,000-year period and makes for a fascinating visit, including the reconstructed market hall, dating to 1620. A visit here is both educational and entertaining.

Close by is Petersfield, in the national news recently after the town’s 100-year-old bookshop was inundated with orders after tweeting it had a “tumbleweed” day in which it had not sold a single book. The tweet was retweeted more than 7,000 times and the owner received more than 300 messages inquiring after books and 95 orders.

Located close by (at the heart of the National Park), a lovely place for an overnight (or longer) stay is Pump Meadow at Barrow Hill Barns in the village of Ramsdean, a delightful three bed barn with gorgeous, sweeping views across the Downs.

Built on land that used to house farm buildings, it is freshly built but in a period design and comprises a flint and brick finish and selected antique furnishings.

Furnished to a very high standard, with a subtle blend of old and new, its French doors open on to a stone patio from where you can see the endless  footpaths and bridleways in all directions.

Children and dogs are welcome to run on around the adjacent field which is part of the owner’s historic estate. You’ll actually find more rabbits than people here but if you want some company there are three quaint pubs located nearby.

The farmyard conversion project, actually comprising eight properties (each named after local fields), has been open to the public only since last year. It proved a “labour of love” for its owners, the Luff family, who live on the adjacent farm, but has clearly been well worth the effort.

Both this property and The Barn at Banks Cottage can be booked through the leading holiday let company Mulberry Cottages which has a vast range of assorted accommodation of all sizes (and for all budgets) in the South of England and beyond.

Getting to the region from Brussels and the rest of Belgium couldn’t be easier with the leading ferry operator DFDS a popular choice for travellers from here and mainland Europe.

Northern Europe’s largest shipping and logistics company, DFDS is a winner of the world’s leading ferry operator in the World Travel Awards and has enjoyed a rise in freight traffic and passenger volumes on the Dover-Calais and Dover-Dunkirk routes.

It offers daily cross channel ferry services and operates 30 daily sailings from Dover to Calais all year round and 24 a day from Dover to Dunkirk. For a small extra charge you can upgrade to enjoy the delightful and peaceful on-board lounge and the very useful priority boarding. Worth noting that three DFDS ships on its Dunkerque route have also undergone a multi-million-pound investment.

So, with spring on its way, the flowers blooming and the weather (hopefully) warming up, now is a great time for a short break to this beautiful part of England. Towns like those dotted around the South Downs are lively but more peaceful than at peak season so you can take your time and avoid some of the longer queues for attractions that you find over the summer.

You’re also guaranteed something you cannot quantify: the friendliest of welcomes.

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