I’m almost finished writing my second guidebook, Secret Sussex. Hooray! While its contents must remain top secret, with summer on the way and lockdown showing no signs of ending soon, I feel I owe you all this little teaser to give you something to look forward to, whether that’s this summer or in the future. So, let’s start planning our adventure into the countryside for when this surreal situation ends!
1. Feasts in the forest
Sussex is abundant with enchanting places to camp and light fires under the stars, hidden spots for foraging, and wild woodland walking trails. Less available is the opportunity to enjoy all these countryside elements at once – until now, that is, thanks to Fire + Wild, a dining and events company with a twist. Every few months, they transform a secret woodland location close to their base in Lewes, East Sussex, into the magical setting for an epic intimate outdoor banquet inspired by nature and the seasons. Adding to the intrigue, dinner guests won’t know the location of their feast until the day. Instead, they’re given instructions to gather at a specific meeting place, where they follow a Fire + Wild team member through the forest where their table awaits and the experience begins.
Fire + Wild, location: in the woods near Lewes, East Sussex
2. The farmhouse where Picasso once hung out
After the Second World War, it was growing vegetables and cooking which helped Vogue war photographer, Lee Miller – famed for the picture she took of herself in Hitler’s bathtub – get over her experience, when she married surrealist artist Roland Penrose and came to live at Farleys House in East Sussex. Miller and Penrose lived at Farleys House for 35 years, during which time they built up a vast collection of contemporary art treasures, many created by their artist friends, including Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Paul Eluard and Joan Miró – all of whom were known to have visited Farleys at some point, which led to its reputation as the ‘House of the surrealists’.
Find Farleys House & Gallery at Muddles Green, Chiddingly, East Sussex BN8 6HW. It’s open for tours every Thursday and Sunday, 10.30am–3.30pm, April to October
3. A hidden flower-making factory
On first glance, the setting for this intriguing museum might look like an ordinary high street florist. Close up, you’ll see that the flowers decorating the front window and spill out the door are in fact, artificial. This is the headquarters of a curious business known as the Shirley Leaf and Petal Co, a company which specialises in making artificial flowers, petals, leaves and foliage for film and television shows, film production companies, theatre shows and fashion houses.
It was established in east London in the 19th century, but moved to Hastings in 1910, its beautiful old shopfront is a clue it’s been here a while. The shop filled with faux flowers and foliage galore is a gem in itself but, hiding in its basement is a most fascinating discovery called the Flower Makers Museum – a little-known working collection consisting of everything involved in manufacturing fake flowers and foliage, which you’re free to browse unaccompanied and touch anything within reach.
Find Shirley Leaf and Petal Co, 58a High Street, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 3EN
4. Oh, just a pyramid grave hidden in a village churchyard
Brightling is a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it East Sussex village, home to a giant tomb shaped like a pyramid. This 7.6-metre-high Grade-II listed mausoleum was built in 1811 by an eccentric wealthy local man called John “Mad Jack” Fuller. He built it 23 years before his death. You can’t go inside it, but a sign on the gated entrance of the mausoleum makes a fun distraction from this. It encourages visitors to peek through the grille for a glimpse of Mad Jack Fuller in full dress and top hat seated at a table set with a roast chicken and a bottle of wine. It’s an endearing local legend which has seen several versions told over the years, even though it’s known that Fuller is buried in the conventional manner, in the ground underneath the mausoleum.
Find this bizarre grave in St Thomas a Becket churchyard, Brightling, East Sussex TN32 5HE
5. Thai restaurant in a bookshop
The charming Boulevard Bookshop in Hastings’ old town hides a spicy weekend secret, when it becomes the setting for a secret Thai restaurant.
Boulevard Books Thai Cafe, 32 George Street, Hastings East Sussex TN34 3NA
This is just a taste of what’s to come. Secret Sussex is out in summer 2020. Stay updated for its release here.