Travel: Enjoy the best of East SussexBy Sarah Hamilton
November 22, 2011
The landscapes in this part of the world could come from a Jane Austen novel.
You can imagine Mr Darcy galloping over the wildernesses of Ashdown Forest, shirt flapping as he thunders towards Buxted’s palladian Georgian mansion.
Well, I was with my own Mr Darcy – Mr Hamilton – on a visit to two stunning properties in the Uckfield area of East Sussex.
Maybe it was because it was an early morning in November as the mists drifted across the open heathland but there was a very tranquil air as we walked on part of Buxted Park Hotel’s 300-acre estate.
No luck with spotting grazing fallow deer but ducks and seagulls were laughing as we approached two fishing lakes guests can use.
We looked back to the hotel, standing majestically on the hill, a building dating from the early 1700s, which became Lord Liverpool’s home in 1828 and also Basil Ionides’, who designed the Savoy in London.
In 1940, a fire destroyed most of the main building but it was rebuilt and then converted to a hotel in the 1990s. Gregory Peck and Marlon Brando are former visitors as well as Winston and Lady Churchill.
The 44-bedroom building and parklands are Grade II-listed and the estate is part of Ashdown Forest’s Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The hotel has a mixture of traditional and more opulently furnished rooms but I was very pleased with our good-sized, modern quarters overlooking the vast grounds. It had a large, brightly-lit bathroom with, praise be, a huge mirror (small, dingy ones to get ready by are the bane of my life) and very comfortable bed.
Dinner the night before was sublime, with particular highlights of confit duck spring roll with buttered turnips followed by Sussex pork tenderloin with sauteed plums – beautifully cooked and presented.
Throughout our stay, staff were courteous and attentive – even on the night we arrived when a wedding was in full swing. Happily, the restaurant is sound-proofed.
Buxted combines a stunning setting, opportunities for exploration, and assurance guests will be well looked after.
Onward, and our second stop was The Chequers Hotel, in Maresfield, a 10-minute drive away. This hotel was much more intimate but still utterly charming. The former 18th Century coaching inn was recently refurbished and relaunched by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White and hosts one of his Wheeler’s of St James restaurants.
Its design, layout and furnishing make it feel very much like a haven. The restaurant is reminiscent of a French brasserie and the food very good. We had Mrs Lamb’s Shepherd’s Pie with a side order of delicious braised cabbage interspersed with chopped chestnuts. Cambridge burnt cream (creme brulee, essentially) was our scrumptious pud.
Upstairs our room was small but it didn’t matter as it had that snuggly coachhouse feel and looked out on to a beautiful village church. It would have been useful though to have a phone in the room so you could contact reception for things like an ironing board and hairdryer rather than traipsing down yourself.
A car is also useful to have here as there isn’t much nearby in terms of walks or shops but languishing in the inn’s White & Sons Tap Room & Oyster Bar is a pleasure indeed.
Although it wasn’t cold enough for its log fire to be lit when we visited I’m sure it would make a wonderful winter feature. The hotel also has a walled garden and two decking areas, perfect for summer sojourns. Staff are fun, friendly and those at dinner knew their stuff for guests expecting London standards.
For a mix of fine British heritage, good service and inspiring settings, Buxted and Chequers are two great places to stay in beautiful East Sussex.
What to do nearby:
Vibrant Brighton and traditional Tunbridge Wells sit either side of Uckfield for shopping and attractions. Uckfield itself has a number of independent shops.
Visit Bodiam, Arundel and Herstmonceaux castles.
Or all aboard for the Bluebell Railway www.bluebell-railway.com
Their Winter Warmer deal starts from £115 per room, including an overnight stay and a three-course meal and breakfast for midweek stay; for Friday it’s £129 and Saturday £149. Offer runs until March 31