“What a lovely place to live,” visitors say about this vibrant, medieval town with its ancient buildings, twittens (narrow one-person wide lanes), small individually-owned shops and beautiful gardens.
Interested in history? There’s an 1000 year old Norman castle and Museum of Sussex Archaeology, Anne of Cleves’15th century house now a museum, ruins of an 11th century Priory of St. Pancras (destroyed by Henry VIII), a 15th century bookshop, once the home of Tom Paine who founded the famous Headstrong Club in the White Hart Hotel and later inspired the American Revolution. Other famous Lewes residents have included Dr. Richard Russell who popularised sea water bathing in Brighton, Charles Dawson who discovered the Piltdown Man, and Gideon Mantell, the 19th century geologist and dinosaur expert..
Interested in shopping? The town is a shoppers’ paradise with small individually owned shops, fashion boutiques and shoe shops, gift, craft and book shops, jewellery and silversmith workshops, art galleries, delicatessens and artisan bakers. It has so many antique shops, they have their own street map.
Interested in eating and drinking? (Who isn’t?) Gourmet visitors are spoilt for choice with a variety of excellent restaurants, cafes with mouth-watering home-made cakes, and over 20 pubs (there used to be 77). The town has Harveys, its own brewery (there used to be seven), which was visited by the Queen last year.
Interested in Festivals? In May this year (2014) the town will be celebrating the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes which in 1264 marked the beginning of the English parliament as we know it today. There will be month-long activities to commemorate this historic event with street processions, plays, music and exhibitions.
Interested in music and theatre? There is live music many nights of the week: jazz, classical, a flourishing folk club and gigs. The Lewes Little Theatre puts on plays throughout the year.
Interested in walking and cycling? Excellent maps (“Cycle in Lewes and the surround area”, “Priory History Trail”, “Lewes Walks, Town and Downs”, “The Lewes Railway Land Nature Reserve” and a Town Map) are available at the Tourist Information Centre
November 5th Bonfire Night. The town’s biggest night of the year and the biggest bonfire celebrations in the country when thousands pour in to see the Grand Procession with members of the town and surrounding villages ‘Bonfire Boys and Girls’ of all ages, in magnificent costumes and carrying flaming torches, march through the ancient streets to commemorate the memory of 17 Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake in Lewes between 1555 and 1557.
The countryside around Lewes is some of the prettiest in England and it is home to many of our village B&B’s, all of which are within easy reach of Lewes.
You will discover historic churches, welcoming pubs, and cosy tea rooms, tucked away among our delightful villages, all of them surrounded with lots more to see and do.
Here are a few ideas for your trips into the countryside around Lewes.
Historic Houses and Gardens
Standen, East Grinstead – If you love the Arts and Crafts movement, and the work of William Morris and Philip Webb then you will enjoy the inspiration of Standen. The house is a tribute to the movement and the excellence and purity of design that it stood for. Unmissable!
Glyndebourne Opera House – Home to the famous festival opera offering a series of six great operas throughout the summer season. www.glyndebourne.com
Charleston Farmhouse – Decorous home of the Bloomsbury Group of artists, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. House and garden open to the public (check the days). Various courses run throughout the year. The highlight being the Charleston Festival held in May. www.charleston.org.uk
Berwick Church – Close to Charleston Farmhouse and well worth a visit – with unique and important paintings and murals within by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant of the Bloomsbury Group.
Monks House, Rodmell – Fascinating home of Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard, an attractive small cottage and garden, Mrs Dalloway written here, many photographs, open to the public (check the days) www.nationaltrust.org.uk/monks-house/
Southease, A near perfect example of a Sussex village, lovely village green, historic church, houses and cottages around the green, beautiful gardens, and then the meandering river Ouse just down the hill.
Sheffield Park Gardens, Brilliant trees and lakes, stunning autumn colours, disabled access and electric vehicles offering ride-around facilities for two.
Nymans Handcross, Childhood home of the late Oliver Messel theatrical designer, and his sister Anne the 6th Countess of Rosse, wonderful gardens, and woodland walks. Remains of this elegant house damaged by fire in the 1950’s.
Wakehurst Place Ardingly, explore 465 acres of country estate with ornamental gardens, temperate woodlands and an Elizabethan Mansion. Visit Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank to see scientists at work and discover how we are helping to safeguard the world’s most endangered plants.
Borde Hill Haywards Heath, Borde Hill Garden is nestled in 200 acres, with wonderful views across the Sussex Weald and the magnificent Ouse Valley. Borde Hill Garden is home to a nationally important collection of rare shrubs, trees and exotic plants.
Batemans Burwash, Home of Rudyard Kipling from 1902 to his death, house set out much as it was in Kipling’s time, including his study where his writing took place. Recently used as the setting for scenes in the TV play “My Boy Jack” about the death of Kipling’s son Jack in the Great War.
Clergy House, Alfriston The very first property bought by the National Trust. The thatched, 14th C timber-framed house is in an idyllic setting, with views across the River Cuckmere, and surrounded by a delightful, tranquil cottage garden full of wildlife.
Coastal and Country Walks and Activities
Birling Gap, Stirring scenery here, along the seven sisters a range of whiter than white chalk cliffs after winter cliff falls. The sea washes up to the fossil rich shingle beach at the cliff base at Birling Gap, accessible by gantry steps when safe to do so. Good car parking and cafeteria services.
Cuckmere Valley, Where the river Cuckmere enters the sea, the river meanders through the wide valley bottom with the chalk downs on either side. A haven for wild flowers, and birds of all kinds. Exhilarating walks alongside the flooded estuary, and on the chalk downland above.
The Seven Sisters, The Seven Sisters range of chalk cliffs lie between the towns of Seaford and Eastbourne, they are gradually being eroded by the sea. The Seven Sisters cliffs are occasionally used in filmmaking and television production as a stand-in for the more famous White Cliffs of Dover, because the Seven Sisters cliffs are truly white and unspoiled, compared to those of Dover. Lovely walks around the country park.
The South Downs Way, You can walk East to Beachy Head and Eastbourne along the top of the Downs from Lewes if you wish to, alternatively you can go in the other direction and walk to Winchester in the West. Stunning in either direction, especially if you stay in our B&B’s en route.
The Royal Pavilion and The Lanes, Fantastic legacy of George IV. His eccentric palace in Brighton is a must to visit, magnificent rooms and settings, lots of chinoiserie. Don’t miss the enormous kitchen of the great French chef Careme, chef de cuisine to Napoleon and later to the Prince Regent. Then for afters, enjoy quirky and fashionable shopping in the Lanes.
The Bluebell Railway, One of the best and most successful steam railways in the country. A great day out for both families and steam enthusiasts alike. Ride the trains, visit the museum, shop and the locomotive workshops. Book in advance to dine and drink in the splendour of an authentically restored Pullman Dining Car for a truly romantic evening dinner and rail trip to rival only the Orient Express.
Drusillas Zoo & Children’s Funpark, Drusillas Park is a small 10 acres zoo near to Alfriston, Its exhibits are targeted towards children between 2 and 10 years old. The zoo is home to both wild and domestic animals, including ring-tailed lemurs, meerkats and penguins. There are many hands-on activities, an adventure play area separated for different age groups, an indoor soft play centre, and a Thomas & Friends train that runs daily. There are also cafes, shops, and a restaurant.
Fine Wines, ‘Breaky Bottom’ lies between Iford and Rodmell. ‘Ridgeview’ is on Ditchling Common, both are vineyards benefiting from the chalky soil, flint and sunshine of the downlands. Wines produced are available for sale at source and appear on wine lists in many of our pubs and restaurants.
Real Ales, Harveys of Lewes Ales are found in most Lewes town and village pubs. Harveys Ales are much favoured by discerning drinkers in Sussex and far beyond. Most pubs carry a changing selection of real ales many of which have local origins, all of which should be tried.