West Sussex Village Life

Our introduction to England came when friendly little communities welcomed us into West Sussex village life amid the beautiful backdrop of the South Downs.

If you’ve read English literature, you’ve imagined yourself in an English village. Perhaps your mind’s eye places you in Kent along with Pip in Great Expectations, or as a Brontë character in Yorkshire. Maybe you think of Hawkshead or Hampshire, in a Jane Austen or Beatrix Potter kind of way. Whatever your associations, we’re betting West Sussex village life would probably not be the first location that enters your head. It certainly wasn’t ours.


The village of Ashington and several neighboring communities near South Downs National Park gave us our first taste of England. We couldn’t have been welcomed more heartily into a scenic world where legendary history is layered in and around daily living. And now, West Sussex village life is the standard we’ll use in the future when our travels have us returning to Old Brittania.

The island of Britain lies virtually at the end of the world, towards the west and northwest. . . It is ornamented with twenty-eight cities and a number of castles, and well equipped with fortifications – walls, castellated towers, gates and houses, whose sturdily built roofs reared menacingly skyward. – Gildas The ruin of Britain (c540; 19 trans.), History in Quotations – M.J. Cohen and John Major

west sussex village life

Arundel chimneys

Ashington, where we came to house sit for two lovely elderly Labrador retrievers, is a quiet little community of about 1000 households. It lies off what used to be a drover’s path between the seaside city of Worthing and the market town of Horsham. The drover’s path is now the A24 carriageway (that’s a highway if you’re a Yank). In many respects, Ashington is typical of West Sussex village life, or village life in general in the United Kingdom. There’s a smallish grocer, several restaurants, an Indian curry takeaway, a pharmacy, a church dating at least from the 13th century, and a pub called the Red Lion, which is the most popular pub name in all of England.

West Sussex village life - The Red Lion in Ashington

The Red Lion in Ashington

Stereotypically, we wondered how we would suffer pub fare in Britain. Fret no more on what you’ve heard about English food! Ashington Red Lion’s menu isn’t atypical – you can choose from box-baked Camembert or deep-fried Brie, a fisherman’s platter with sloe-gin smoked salmon and shellfish, Italian antipasto boards, smoked chicken liver parfait with brioche and chutney, you get the picture. Walking to the pub served to whet the appetite.

West Sussex village life

Seen in Ashington on our way to the pub

If there was just drinking to be done, we scuttled along the bridle path adjacent to the church close (a sort of cul-de-sac) around to the Ashington Social Club. Club members had kindly waived the usual £5 membership fee for out-of-towners. This was either due to our relationship with Archie, the yellow Lab for whom we were responsible, or the fact that we’re technically homeless. Archie gets on quite nicely all by himself, it would appear. Ambling into either Pub or Social Club on solitary walkabout, he is sufficiently well-known in the village to snag a ride home when he’s had enough. Dogs are welcome just about everywhere in England and we think that’s swell.

Archie

Archie

Ashington church, West Sussex village life

St Peter’s and St Paul’s Parish Church, Ashington. Dates from the 13th century with additions through the 19th. Down the street from us.

Close by Ashington is Storrington, a slightly larger and definitely busier village at the top end of the South Downs boundary. This area is rich in history, part of a large Anglo-Saxon estate awarded by William the Conqueror to a trusted friend. But long before that, Bronze and Iron Age inhabitants made their home on a hilltop between the two. Chanctonbury Ring, the site of their fort along the Washington ridge was abandoned during the Roman invasion, and later made a temple. In 1588, beacons were sited along the Ring to warn of the coming Spanish Armada. Nowadays, it is said to be haunted.

The Romans therefore informed our country that they could not go on being bothered with such troublesome expeditions. . . Rather, the British should stand alone, get used to arms, fight bravely, and defend with all their powers . . . their life and liberty – Gildas (c.540; 1978 trans), History in Quotations – M.J. Cohen and John Major

West Sussex village life

Storrington, with the South Downs on the horizon

West Sussex village life

A gravel close or alley in Storrington

west sussex village life

Summer-y scene in a doctor’s garden, Storrington

West Sussex village life

Workmen’s row doorways in Storrington

Just outside Storrington is Parham House, an estate which is the site of the Sussex Country Fair. This is a weekend long event celebrating country life with exhibits, traditional music, vintage farm displays, shooting sports and working dog challenges.

Further afield within the South Downs proper is Arundel. With its own connection to William the Conqueror, it is dominated by Arundel Castle and St. Mary’s Cathedral. Sitting on a magnificent estate overlooking the River Arun awarded by William to his loyal associate Roger de Montgomery, the castle has been occupied for over 1000 years by the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors.

Arundel Castle, West Sussex village life

The 19th century tower of Arundel Castle from the street

During the 15th through 17th centuries, Arundel was the seat of the powerful Howard family. Howards sailed and prevailed against the Spanish Armada with Sir Francis Drake, offered up their nieces Catherine and Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII in marriage, and one was even beheaded for plotting to wed Mary Queen of Scots. We were amazed to see the written order of Queen Elizabeth I saving said Howard from disembowelment in favor of more humane treatment – “off with his head!” – rather casually framed and displayed in the Duke’s library. Throughout all this drama, the family successfully kept their Catholic faith intact.

Arundel Castle, West Sussex village life

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle, West Sussex village life

Arundel Castle as viewed from its Norman keep. At left is the current day residential wing

cathedral arundel west sussex village life

St. Mary’s Cathedral, Arundel

It seemed to me that Arundel was even more hustle and bustle than Storrington, although it was hard to judge its size due to the number of visitors for the castle. Some called it a village, but most called it a town. What makes a village a village, and a town a town, I wondered? Well, there’s kind of a definition, but it’s confusing:

In the past, a place was usually a town, not a village, when it had a regular market or fair (a market, but not so often). There are some English villages (for example Kidlington, Oxfordshire) larger than some small towns (e.g. Middleham, North Yorkshire). – Britain Express

Got that? :) So part of West Sussex village life is going to town to get stuff that you can’t get in your village. The closest market town to Ashington is Horsham. Located up the former drover’s road now highway, it’s a quick trip by car or bus. Have a look at what hanging out in Horsham was like for us in this video:

One of the most interesting buildings in Horsham is the former Town Hall. What is a Norman-like mini-castle doing in a West Sussex market town? This used to be the town Market House. The lower portion with arches was an open arcade where vendor stalls would be set up on market day. The upper floor was used for civic purposes. When court was in session the lower arcade would be boarded up.

By 1808, Horsham had let the building fall into disrepair and the court justices wanted it demolished. They waited four years for something to happen, and finally they threatened to leave town for Lewes, which had a nice new building. That made Horsham take notice. Enter the Duke of Norfolk (yep, the guy with the big castle at Arundel). He had bought Horsham, lock stock and barrel, for £91,000. Believing that the “Saxon” castle-like style with turrets symbolized English Liberty because it was contemporary with the Magna Carta, he decided to spend another £8,000 for a new Town Hall. During a subsequent remodel in 1888, the Duke’s castle-like facade was kept.

Horsham Town Hall, west sussex village life

Former Horsham Town Hall, now home to Bill’s eatery

Sometimes you’ll be standing there looking at a building and someone will come up to you and start talking about a murderer from 70 years ago, like what happened to us in this video:

When you exit Horsham’s museum behind the Old Town Hall you’ll be on one of the prettiest streets in West Sussex, called The Causeway.

West Sussex village life

Ice cream-colored houses on The Causeway, Horsham

The Causeway leads you to St. Mary’s Church, which is the oldest building in Horsham. Founded in the mid-13th century on the site of a Norman church, St. Mary’s houses the effigy of Thomas, Lord de Braose, dressed in armor befitting his status as a contemporary of King Richard II. Thomas is a descendant of William de Braose, who came to England with William the Conqueror, and was given the lands around Chanctonbury Ring.

St Mary's Horsham, West Sussex village life

The effigy of Thomas, Lord de Braose

What makes a Duke a Duke, or a Squire a Squire, or a Lord a Lord, I wondered? Archie the Labrador’s human siblings had gone to school with one of the Duke of Norfolk’s sons. They related that for a Lord, the kid wasn’t all bad. Wikipedia tells us that a manorial lordship is not a noble title, but rather “a semi-extinct form of landed property.” But a lord could also be called a squire, although originally a squire was the person who carried a knight’s armor.  We still don’t know how everyone gets on, except for the Duke of Norfolk. He, we were told, is next in line for the throne after all the Windsors.

St. Mary’s information tells us Thomas was the last person to live at The Manor of Chesworth in Horsham. Chesworth is where Catherine Howard (the wife of Henry VIII) spent her childhood. Chesworth is also where the Duke of Norfolk who wanted to marry Mary Queen of Scots was arrested for treason. After Elizabeth I beheaded him, she took the house, too. See how everything circles around?

Chesworth, south of Horsham. Photo Credit: atrocitytransmission.blogspot.com

Chesworth, south of Horsham. Photo Credit: atrocitytransmission.blogspot.com

All of this would have likely been very well-known to the average English villager back in the day. Nobles and landed gentry were celebrities whose comings and goings were of great interest to the common folk.


Today, West Sussex village life occurs in and around the vestiges of this history with little regard for the novelty we Americans think it has.

west sussex village life

Arundel Post Office

DiggerNote: We learned that Digger, Archie’s Labrador sibling, crossed the Rainbow Bridge shortly after our stay. Digger was a sweet old gentleman, as only a Labrador can be. We were so privileged to care for Digger and Archie, and are grateful their family had a few more precious weeks with Digger’s company. RIP

Pinnable Images:

Pinterest 2

Pinterest

Practicalities, Tips and Information:

While public transportation is available throughout West Sussex, at times it can be a bit of a challenge, particularly if you’re going east-west. North-south routes are well-covered by train and bus. There are multiple routes for bus and coach (there is no discernible difference here, just the type of company and/or frequency of stops, from what we could tell). There are a variety of ticketing options, including family day passes which run about £15. We’d suggest you consider renting a car to get around more easily, if possible. Free buses run daily to different destinations, designed primarily for shopping and used primarily by seniors. We were pleased to be the youngest passengers on these!

There are wonderful places to stay throughout West Sussex for every budget. Our recommendations will focus on the great pubs we discovered.

The Red Lion in Ashington, London Road, RH20 3DD. Tel. (+44) 1903 892523. Sophisticated and stylish in a 16th century setting, yet still friendly and welcoming. Full restaurant and fixed price menus, 3-course Sunday roast, cocktail and wine specials. Dog friendly.

Photo Credit: The Red Lion, Ashington

Photo Credit: The Red Lion, Ashington

The Crown Inn in Storrington (Cootham), Pulborough Rd, RH20 4JN. Tel. (+44) 1903 742625. Countryside setting, multiple rooms. Several hundred years old with the requisite ghost of a little girl who hides beneath the cellar trap door located behind the bar. Darts, pool, cribbage and golf.

west sussex village life

The Crown Inn, Storrington

The Moon in Storrington, 13 High St, RH20 4DR. Tel. (+44) 1903 744773. Gastro pub in traditional building with contemporary elements. They’re very particular about their burgers here – obtained in a particular cut from a particular butcher, and it was one of the best we’ve had in a long time. Sunday carvery and take-away pizza round out the offerings.

The Bear in Horsham, 17 Market Square,  RH12 1EU. Tel. (+44) 1403 260700. Traditional pub which used to be twice its size until a former bar owner lost half in a card game, or so they said. Friendly local atmosphere and sweet little courtyard garden seating. Hearty pub food, ales and a large stash of prosecco to guard against the shortage.

west sussex village life

View of Old Town Hall square from The Bear

St. Mary’s Gate Inn in Arundel, London Road, BN18 9BA. Tel. (+44) 1903 883145. Classic pub in 16th century former farm building adjacent to St. Mary’s Cathedral. Open log fires, two rooms to let which housed Oliver Cromwell and his guards in the mid-1600s. Requisite ghost story of a guardsman haunting the premises. Dog friendly.

Photo Credit: St. Mary's Gate Inn.

Photo Credit: St. Mary’s Gate Inn.

Comments

  1. says

    Okay, this post is so cute (I mean that in a most sincere way), so picture-perfect that it almost hurt to read it. I love this village you’ve introduced us to and it does look like one of my literary fantasies come to life! You’ve captured its charm in your photos. . .
    Jackie Smith has an awesome blog post here: Singapore: Something Old ~ Something NewMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jackie – Yes, these villages and towns tipped the charm scale right over. We could easily have stayed much longer. Glad you liked. :)

  2. says

    Hi Betsy,

    I’ve really enjoyed this post and the one about La Bomba Tapas and Barcelona anarchists (especially that one since it was such a surprise: starting as a standard, but good, food post and veering off into politics and history). I discovered your blog through TBS, and look forward to reading about your continuing travels.

    Lisa
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  3. says

    Ah this took me right back – I went to Sussex University (the campus is just outside Brighton in the grounds of a stately home in Falmer) and I did a course on English Rural Communities, which focussed on these villages.

    And, I’ve just come back from East Sussex which is equally picturesque and is 1066 country so has it’s own fascinating heritage.
    Fiona @ London-Unattached has an awesome blog post here: Wine Tasting in LondonMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Fiona – What a wonderful university experience you must have had! You’re right, the heritage is really interesting in this region. Glad we could bring up good memories for you!

  4. Bethany Dickey says

    British villages are just so adorable! My family rented a house in rural England when I was 10 and it was incredible.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Bethany – We’d love to return and stay longer. What a terrific thing for your family to do, and a great memory for you!

  5. says

    Thank you for this post. I’ve never been to England so everything I know about traveling there is from other blogs. The things is that bloggers mostly write about London or day trips from London. I’ve never read anything on West Sussex. Now I know how pretty and picture perfect it is. Thanks for sharing.
    zof has an awesome blog post here: Travel Flashback #23My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi zof – Yes, you’re right. This is a less written-about destination for travelers, and it’s so deserving.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Toni – I think you’d really love it. The villages and towns are so lovely in their individual ways. And it’s convenient to get to from London – Gatwick in particular is very close.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suze – Yes, that scene with the car was just so SUMMER! LOL if you’d tried to stage it, it couldn’t have been better.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kami – We’re pretty partial to village life. I bet you’d really enjoy a visit. Friendly people, beautiful scenery, fascinating history. All good stuff!

  6. says

    Hi Betsy and Pete – well done .. an excellent post about our part of the world. Lovely photos and this is an area I don’t know that well. I should visit Arundel and some of those villages … one day perhaps!!

    Definitely a great tourist/travel post … so glad you had a happy time with the dogs and the area … pity we couldn’t meet – I’m not that far away … about an hour + a little!

    Take care and enjoy the rest of your travels – cheers Hilary
    Hilary has an awesome blog post here: Blog Sandwich Update 5 … Sharon; Bomber Command Memorial Eastbourne; Canterbury Cathedral’s Ancestor’s Medieval Windows and some food …My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Hilary – So glad you liked this post. I didn’t realize you were so close. I am so bad with distances and locations, and I really shouldn’t be. We do plan to return so will definitely keep that in mind! And yes, do get to Arundel. We really enjoyed touring the interior and wished we’d had more time to spend on the grounds and in the gardens.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Valeria – It would be a lovely weekend trip from London, especially when there’s a good show or event on at one of the houses or at Arundel.

  7. says

    England is a beautiful country, Sussex is a great part of it and finally someone is doing it justice! I am glad you are liking it there. If you ever plan to go to Essex, let me know. I used to live in England and I can tell you that some pubs have lovely food. I really like the Sunday roast and I like the easygoing atmosphere there. Especially in smaller places :)
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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Claudia – Yes, it’s just a stunning region. We were very impressed, and everyone was just wonderful.

  8. says

    A post with the atmosphere of English Lit and the intrigues of Masterpiece Theater . It’s impossible to connect the dots on a whirlwind tour through any place, so I’ve enjoyed your doing just that with your extended stays and write-ups. Love it!
    Anita has an awesome blog post here: Celebrating Swiss National DayMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anita – Ha! Yes, at times we did feel like we were dropped into an extended story. It all started to make sense once we figured out the connections.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Travelwith2of us – We only briefly passed through London ourselves coming and going, and would like to spend more time there. Weekdays appear to be far more reasonable than the weekends in the city. Thanks, glad you liked the photos. :)

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Michele – I agree, it’s not on everyone’s radar if we’re from “across the Pond.” :)

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suzanne – The village centers and old pubs do look like the movies, or rather, the movies we’ve seen have done a good job. :)

  9. says

    Lots of very evocative pictures of small English towns (or is it villages?) Being more familiar with British TV than English litterature (I am French, remember!), I could easily imagine a TV show being filmed in those towns. Wait a minute, isn’t that Miss Marple about to enter the Post Office in your photo? :) Thank you for a wonderful posting!
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  10. says

    Hi Betsy. I’ve never been to West Sussex, but I think it deserves a long look. I love the architecture, and just the overall quaintness. So sorry to hear about Digger going to doggy heaven. I think it had a great life here :) I’d love to sample the menu at the Red Lion.
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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Nancie – You’re right, West Sussex is very deserving of a stay. You’d probably run into Archie at the Red Lion. 😉

  11. says

    What a charming area. It’s been way too long since I’ve traveled in Great Britain so I may have to get a refresher course on driving on the left and head to West Sussex. I just love those ice cream colored houses and the places covered in ivy – great photos!
    Kay Dougherty has an awesome blog post here: Design in DusseldorfMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kay – The houses are adorable, aren’t they? I’d love to stay in one. Imagine having a cup of tea in one of the wee rooms!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Irene – Yes, just down the road from Ashington is little Washington, too! It all seems strangely familiar because of these links. Thanks. :)

  12. says

    The villages and towns of West Sussex look lovely. We stayed at a town called Bradford-on-Avon (towards Bath) a few years ago, and these pictures remind me of that area. I’m a Brit Lit fan and in places like this I like to imagine how people lived back in the day.
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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Shelley – Bath is very close to this area, yes. We’d love to visit, but were warned by Pete’s barber, who is from there, that it was an entirely different “big city” experience and he much prefers Horsham. 😉

  13. says

    I love that in a quintessential English town that you have an Indian curry takeaway, and did not know that Red Lion was the most popular pub name. It is a great part of travel when you are accepted into a community, albeit the dog gave you the advantage. I think the history of these areas is so unique being as I come from such a young country.
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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Paula – You’re so right about the aspects of community from a visitor’s perspective. And, like you, we’re fascinated with this lengthier history as our country is young by comparison as well. They don’t seem to be holding the revolution against us. 😉

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Karen – Yes, the definition makes sense now that I know it; we’re a little more loose with our designations in the U.S. I was so concerned about getting this post “right” so I’m glad you approve. :)

  14. Carol Colborn says

    You have captured my feelings when I toured the English countryside around Newcastle where my daughter lived for a year. She now lives in London so I will be sure to travel around more of it. The little English garden, the little English pub, etc. Your photos, story, and quotes brought it all back. Can’t wait to go back next year!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Billie – I’ll have to seek out the novels. It would be fun to read along now that I’m familiar with the setting.

  15. says

    Your house-sit in West Sussex sounds like a delightful experience! We used to be “parents” of an energetic Beagle/terrier cross. Sadly, he’s no longer with us, and it’s impractical to own another dog with our travel schedule. To fill that hole, we’ve sometimes looked after a friend’s pet when we’ve been home. Archie looks like he would make a good companion too!
    Sand In My Suitcase has an awesome blog post here: Ooh La La! Going French for the day with Ponant CruisesMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Janice – We love temporarily grandparenting all our pooches. Archie is really a love – we bonded. 😉

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Susan – Yes, Archie and Digger were the perfect pair. We’d go back in an instant, even though it sounds like a new puppy is coming!

      • says

        Hi Betsy and Pete,

        Oh yes, THE puppy has arrived! Your article really does do the area justice and your photographs are stunning. This has made even us fall in love with our ‘home’ just a little bit more. We cannot wait (hopefully) to welcome you back, we were so at ease leaving the ‘pooches’ and our home in your care, the Godmother and Godfather of housesitting – heartfelt thanks.

        PS: Archie misses you and Buddy cannot wait to meet you. ‘GRAND’ PARENTAL WARNING: he has a little more energy than our dear Digger and Arch:) ……

        • Betsy Wuebker says

          Hi Ailsa – Thank you so much for commenting. I was hoping our treatment of West Sussex would pass muster with you! So grateful it has. We would be delighted to return anytime and ensure Archie isn’t overtaxed training up Buddy in the right way. 😉

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Alison – We’re “just” a year into the housesitting thing, and so far, we’ve tried to arrange them regionally. It all began with our first sit in Fiji, which was close to Hawaii. We’re returning to that sit again next week. So there’s no real secret, except for logistics. :)

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