Ditchling, Petworth and Alfriston are nice. But when all the car parks are full, make a u-turn and head for the smaller, lesser-known, hidden villages in Sussex. These are the villages I like to visit time and again, maybe on a refreshing country walk, or passing through on a drive.
This part of England is packed with pretty villages and they make a great escape from Brighton and London, if you want to get some fresh countryside air. From East and West Sussex to the South Downs and Sussex coast.
Some are so tiny, they won’t have shops and cafes, so it’s best to pack a flask of something, some sandwiches and you’re all sorted! Where they’ve got facilities, like a great country pub, I’ve made a note. So, pour yourself a cup of Earl Grey, and sit back for some armchair village hopping around my 10 favourite hidden villages in Sussex!
1. Streat, East Sussex
Streat is one of my favourite hidden Sussex villages. I love it not only because it’s just over the hill from Brighton, but for its cosy setting in a hidden corner at the foot of the South Downs. Also, despite how tiny it is, it packs in a pretty church, a privately owned Elizabethan manor house called Streat Place which you can peek at through its impressive gates, a secret honesty food stand, and this unique place to stay apartment rental. It’s also near one of my fave campsites, Blackberry Wood with its wild meadow and amazing treehouses for rent. Oh and as I mentioned earlier, depending on what route you want to take, you can also end up at winery – there are a few in the area: Blackdog Hill, Court Garden, Artelium, and Henry’s Marani at Plumpton College, the only Georgian winery in the UK.
2. Litlington, East Sussex
Like Streat, Litlington is small but home to some incredible treasures: the Litlington Horse chalk figure, the Long Man Brewery, for post-walk beer tastings, and Holy Cow which sells incredible ice cream and also has a shop in a hut on Seaford beach. There’s also the Litlington Nursery, complete with tea rooms and a gem store, obviously! It’s a good place to start a walk around the area, to avoid the busy, expensive nearby Friston Forest carpark, traffic through Alfriston or the carpark at Wilmington for the Long Man chalk figure walk which fills up fast.
3. Chiddingly, East Sussex
Chiddingly is home to this incredible farmhouse Picasso visited in the 1950s. It was originally home to Vogue war photographer, Lee Miller, and her surrealist artist husband, Roland Penrose. It’s become known as the House of Surrealists for the company they kept (see my new guidebook for more!) It’s also home to this preserved old shopfront (below), which I think is now a house. There’s a village cafe and shop, and a buzzy local pub with eclectic decor, good pub food and live music It’s small and gets busy. Fun fact: Peter Pan creator, JM Barrie, used to live in a beautiful house in the area called Stony Hill until 1934.
4. Wilmington, East Sussex
I love this village simply for the view you get of the Long Man of Wilmington chalk figure from the free car park. It’s also the starting point for a walk up to it. If you like snooping at houses, although the village is tiny, there are two lovely rows of cottages to nose at, some of them thatched. It’s also home to this unique place to stay.
5. Brightling, East Sussex
This village is so tiny you’d be forgiven for driving right through it. However, if you go slowly, you’ll hardly be able to miss a giant gravestone shaped like a pyramid in St Thomas Becket churchyard. See my new guide, Secret Sussex, for more information!
6. East Dean, East Sussex
This place has a picture-perfect green surrounded by cottages. More bizarrely, it’s known as the fictional retirement home to super-detective, Sherlock Holmes, defined by a blue plaque on one of the cottages facing the green. It’s also a good place to start and end a walk to Seven Sisters Country Park avoiding the crowds of the main carparks. The Tiger Inn pub overlooking the green does good food, has lots of seats outside for summer lunching, and a cosy fire inside if it’s nippy.
7. Telscombe, East Sussex
A visit to this village hidden close to Brighton feels like you’ve stumbled on somewhere otherworldly. Only around 40 people live here and it hasn’t changed since it wealthy racehorse trainer, Ambrose Gorman, took it under his wing in the late 1800s. Until this point, it was a very poor community, but he turned it into a thriving village with horse-racing at the centre. Even when he died, he left his holdings to now the council, to preserve the area and prevent development. It’s home to this incredible hidden campsite.
8. Lurgashall, West Sussex
It couldn’t get more picture-perfect English village than my latest discovery. I spent the whole time I was here, mouth agape, soaking up the setting – a few quintessential old homes set around a large village green, complete with manicured cricket pitch, obviously, and a couple of benches under big trees. Oh, not forgetting a village store AND the perfect village pub with lawn tables facing the green. I even saw a few locals in flat caps, and green Barbour jackets walking golden retrievers to get a paper. Classic! It’s also a great starting point for a walk around the area, if you’re feeling energetic, up to Blackdown Hill which is the highest point in West Sussex. Hidden treasures include the Noah’s Ark pub I mentioned earlier; and the Blackdown Distillery – formerly- Lurgashall Winery which produces various fruit liqueurs and meads.
9. Cuckfield, West Sussex
We stumbled on Cuckfield after going the wrong way on a hike. On the surface, it might look like a pretty West Sussex village. Scratch the surface and you find it has a bizarre history, involving donkey races. This annual event once raised lots of money for the community, attracting up to 10,000 spectators at one point. When it was called off in 1965, angry villagers created the Independent State of Cuckfield. It’s also home to a hidden five-star spa hotel, a bizarre local museum, and a nuclear bunker which you can visit and features in Secret Sussex.
10. Clayton, West Sussex
I usually only drive through this tiny village close to Brighton, but running out of walk ideas during lockdown, we came for a lunch-time wander one day. Turns out it’s good to get out the car, as we meet some donkeys and set eyes on this delight! It’s also home to a railway tunnel entrance – called the Clayton Tunnel – with a mysterious folly built on top of it which someone lives in (see my new book, Secret Sussex, for details).