Historic and cultural days out in West Sussex

By Kingfisher Visitor Guides

There’s certainly no shortage of historic homes and gardens in West Sussex. Add to that ancient city cathedrals, Roman remains and reminders of the country’s thriving industrial past, and there’s enough to keep culture buffs happy for weeks!

Historic houses and gardens

It’s easy to get your fill of romantic country gardens. West Sussex has more than its fair share, from enchanting St Mary’s House & Gardens in the village of Bramber to Kew Gardens’ 500 acres at Wakehurst, home to the largest wild-seed conservation project in the world – the Millennium Seed Bank.

Then there’s Nymans in Handcross, described as one of the National Trust’s ‘premier gardens’; Standen House and Garden, an Arts and Crafts home near East Grinstead; the Elizabethan Parham House and Gardens, in Pulborough; and Highdown Gardens, in Worthing – home to The National Plant Collection of the Plant Introductions of Sir Fredrick Stern.

Borde Hill Garden in Haywards Heath has an awe-inspiring Rose Garden, which features 750 David Austin Roses – a fantastic backdrop for a summer picnic. It’s also home to contemporary water fountain Aphrodite by figurative sculptor Brendon Murless. West Dean Gardens, near Chichester, meanwhile, is home to a collection of working Victorian glasshouses.

Founded in 1067, and almost completely rebuilt in the Gothic style in the late 19th century, Arundel Castle offers something for gardeners, history buffs and art lovers alike. There are themed gardens, including a renovated Victorian peach house and vinery; original features, such as the Norman keep, gatehouse and barbican; and an interior that includes paintings by Van Dyck and Gainsborough, among others. The castle runs events throughout the year, including re-enactments and its famous jousting tournaments each summer.

Nestled in the South Downs 12 miles north of Arundel is Petworth House and Park, a 17th-century mansion set within 700 acres landscaped by Capability Brown. It’s home to the finest paintings in the care of the National Trust, including many by JMW Turner, who spent long periods here.

Much more than a stately home, although worth a visit on that basis alone, Goodwood is also home to a racecourse, which hosts the Glorious Goodwood Festival, as well as Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival, a celebration of vintage vehicles and period fashion.

Another venue worthy of a day visit is the Cowdray Estate, in Midhurst, home to Cowdray Park Polo Club. Members of the public can purchase tickets to watch a game during the season, which runs from April to September, the highlight of which is the four-week-long King Power Gold Cup. The estate is also home to the ruins of Cowdray – a Tudor house visited by both King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.

City sightseeing

You’ll most probably need more than a day to check out everything that the county town of Chichester has to offer. For starters, there’s Chichester Cathedral, which was completed in 1108, and the Bishop’s Palace Gardens, which date back to 1147-48 and provide access to the city walls.

Chichester is also home to the award-winning Pallant House Gallery, The South Downs Planetarium and Science Centre and The Novium Museum, an award-winning space that tells the history of Chichester over the past 500,000 years.

Historic sites

To find out what life was like for rural communities in days gone by, head to Weald & Downland Living Museum, in Singleton, near Chichester. The 40-acre open-air site is home to more than 50 historic rural buildings spanning 600 years, from a medieval shop to an Edwardian iron church. Visitors can watch demonstrations of domestic chores and traditional crafts, such as spinning and blacksmithing.

The museum is also home to Lurgashall Watermill – one of a handful of West Sussex mills still in working order. To find out more about the county’s industrial past, head to Amberley Museum – a 36-acre former chalk pit and lime works which has exhibits including a narrow-gauge railway, telecommunications and electricity halls and a printing workshop.

Thirteenth century medieval buildings built of wood, lath and plaster at the Weald and Downland open air Museum, Sussex, England, surrounded by parkland.

Step back in time at the Weald & Downland Living Museum in Chichester

If you want to go really far back in time, you’ll be pleased to know that West Sussex has two Roman villas. Fishbourne Roman Palace & Gardens, in Chichester, is the largest Roman home in Britain and has impressive mosaic floors, underfloor heating systems, corridors and courtyards. You can stroll around the recreated Roman gardens – the earliest gardens found anywhere in the country – and take part in an interactive workshop.

Bignor Roman Villa is the stunning remains of a sprawling Roman courtyard villa, and a great place to learn some interesting history in a beautiful setting – the mosaic floors are particularly impressive.

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Image credits: ©Arundel Castle Trustees Ltd; Ian Woolcock/Kevin Eaves/stock.adobe.com; Jayson Fong/Goodwood; Rob Harris/Pallant House Gallery; Shutterstock.com

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