As I whizzed through the Sussex backroads, with an unruly tunnel of cow parsley and bracken tickling my chariot’s sides, I was hit by a sense of nostalgia. Despite being brought up 200 miles away, it is Sussex’s chalk cliffs, trickling streams and rolling hills which had set the scene for many a milestone.
My childhood summers were spent deep in its woodlands, building dens and rope swings and skimming stones across sun-dappled streams. School holidays invited hide and seek in swaying cornfields and epic bike rides spotting oast houses and hop farms as we went. Days spent engulfed in nature were occasionally punctuated with coastal jaunts; jollying around Rye’s medieval cobbled streets and defiantly embracing gales on windswept Camber Sands.
Fast forward a decade and it was Sussex University that had won my heart – and my student loan (laying claim to being the sunniest red brick in the UK may have edged it). Days were spent with new friends, moseying through Brighton’s hippy lanes alive with vegan food, thrift stores, buskers and the smell of incense (at least, I think that’s what it was).
Now, a decade on and Sussex had called me once again but wasn’t the dangerously high UV levels and 70 pence shots that were seducing me this time. It was the promise of getting lost in forests, picnicking in empty fields and relaxing with not so new friends – life has gone full circle, it seems.
Hidden up a bumpy track, on the edge of Ashdown Forest, Medley’s Barn offers a boutique base from which to explore the region. All stripped oak floors and ancient beams, the two-bedroom property has its own tennis court, a rolltop bathtub and is surrounded by flower-strewn meadows and wild woodland. Originally a cart barn on a well-established fruit farm, today Medley’s is sprinkled with botany books, sweet watercolours and various carvings which inject a lived-in vibe.
No sooner had Annika, Zahra and I dumped our bags and we fled to the fields to get our bearings. Each morning, we dined alfresco on the patio, surrounded by thousands of buttercups, humouring herds of deer which spent their days cautiously spying on us from a distant field. After a smash about on the tennis court and a wander around the woods, which revealed an eerie deserted lake fringed by vibrant rhododendrons, we abandoned our rural oasis in search of a decent flat white – no mean feat in the sticks.
Dominated by its Norman castle, the ancient market town of Lewes was the obvious choice for a morning of cake-eating and twitten-walking (local dialect for Lewes’ stick slim Saxon alleyways). Its picturesque streets are rife with independent antique shops and galleries, bestowing it a rah rah artsy clientele. Cliffe High Street’s market was in full swing on our visit, with a string of artisan gin makers, handmade jewellery and craft stalls leading the way to the River Ouse, home to the iconic Harvey’s Brewery.
Flint Owl Bakery’s secret courtyard provided a welcome retreat from the buskers and buzz – the sheeny fruit flan and velvety flat white were a bonus. Suitably refuelled, we hit The Neddlemakers. Originally a candle workshop and later a syringe making factory, today the historic building is a warren of galleries, design studios and workshops. Unfortunately, due to a military style dash back to Medley’s Barn for a champagne viewing of the royal wedding, we didn’t get time to climb the castle tower or visit Anne of Cleve’s much-photographed medieval pad. I guess a return visit is in order.
Having spent hours analysing everything from the dress and guestlist to the kiss and yes, that preacher, it was off to the local pub, The Hurstwood. Distracted by the quaint scenery en route (grand manors carpeted in freshly fallen petals to our left and truffling pigs and booty shaking chickens overlooking a misty valley to our right) unsurprisingly we rocked up half an hour late, but happy, greeted by an unphased trendy looking team who were busy necking their mid-shift limoncellos. Fresh blossom woven around suspended tree branches added a touch of Chelsea glamour to the rustic pub, which has a cracking beer garden, complete with an outdoor piano for live music sessions. Our crab linguine with crunchy fennel and sweet cherry tomatoes was so good that we returned the following night – the succulent lamb was just as pleasing.
We couldn’t flee the area without experiencing Ashdown Forest. Originally a Norman deer hunting area, today it is known around the world as the ‘home’ of Winnie the Pooh. Despite its name, in reality it is more of a heath than a forest, with endless trails, tracks and low-lying shrubs – in late summer its glows purple, carpeted in flowering heather. Abandoning our hiking boots, we decided to explore the forest on horseback, with Ashdown Forest Riding Centre, as our endless dining out had taken its toll – oh, and venomous adders calls the forest home too – poor Pooh.
Having been greeted by a curt instructor, we mounted our steeds; Gerty, Bingo and the aptly named Piglet. Agreeing to take anything our eccentric lead said with a bucket of salt, we relaxed and clip clopped our way deeper in to Ashdown’s famed heathers. Half an hour in and we reached a secluded plain, surrounded by yellow gorse, with endless views towards Brighton. The heather may not have been in bloom, but our spring visit was ideal for taking in the local birdlife, with stonechats calling from their prickly posts and woodlark’s circling overhead.
Back at Medley’s Barn, sandwiched between old friends beneath the warm May sun, our weekend was drawing to an end. Sitting on the lush lawn, with a spritzer in hand, we took in the sea of buttercups which shimmied in the breeze as the deer cautiously popped their heads around the hedge once again. As I took a sip and wiggled deeper in to the grass, I was reminded of something a wise old friend once wrote…
“And by and by Christopher Robin came to an end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn’t stop. “ – Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, 1928
Mulberry Cottages is a boutique self-catering lettings agency with 600+ properties in Southern England. For more information, including details of all properties available, visit www.mulberrycottages.com.
Medley’s Barn sleeps 5 guests (across two bedrooms with a single fold away bed available) and offers tennis courts and pet friendly accommodation. A 3 night stay at Medley’s Barn starts from £523.00.