I spent my teenage years growing up in West Sussex and formed a deep bond with both the countryside and the delights of Brighton. What I love most about the region is that it’s a properly rural county (I grew up on a farm), but it’s also really well connected to London and Chichester for when you need a city fix. This place is rural, cultured, artistic, wooded and panoramic – it’s got it all.
Me and my family spend a lot of time in our local woods at Nymans and Handcross. Jumping over the cascades in Nymans’ woods is great fun. They are part of the original early 20th century designed landscape and have been skilfully incorporated into the Site of Special Scientific Interest. We’re also equally happy on the South Downs, overlooking the sea. Wakehurst Place is 535 acres of woodland, botanic gardens, beauty and conservation that shouldn’t be missed.
One of my favourite activities is birdwatching (not twitching!) at Pagham Harbour with my family. Pagham is just off the A27, on the peninsula between Chichester and Bognor Regis, and is owned by the RSPB. You wouldn’t really know it’s there if you weren’t looking for it. If you’re travelling by train, head to Chichester or Bognor then you’ll need to get a taxi that will take between 15-20 minutes.
It’s alive with nature. As soon as you step out into the reserve, you’re beguiled by a symphonic chorus of different bird calls. The sunsets are stunning. The best time to go is on a cold, clear day in late January/early February when every imaginable species of wetland bird will be there.
One of my favourite spots is St Wilfred’s Church in the harbour, it’s an ancient, atmospheric building. I’m not telling you where my other secret places are though! The RSPB run some brilliant activities there: their bird watching for beginners is very welcoming. It’s such a peaceful spot to spend some time as a family.
Nearby is the Crab & Lobster, a pleasant place for lunch or a drink in the sunny garden. It’s a pub with rooms and serves exquisite seafood and fish from the local area, all very reasonably priced. Another one of my favourites is Gravetye Manor near Horsham, I love the discretion and subtlety. It’s luxurious but not flashy. I’m blown away by the way the kitchen garden and chef work together to use everything the garden grows (although dining there is a very rare occurrence!). If it’s coffee you’re after, Artizan in Horsham is the best place by far.
My one piece of advice for visitors to West Sussex? Make sure you explore beyond the A23, there is so much to see here, most of it is off the beaten path, which is what makes it so special.