There is one thing you can’t escape in Sussex, and that’s history. It’s everywhere. But in a county where the most famous battle in English history took place, that’s not surprising. (The Battle of Hastings, 1066, of course.)
Take an audio tour on the site of the Battle of Hastings, where some say English history began, at 1066 Experience –the noise and confusion of the battle is only too real - and see the spot where King Harold fell.
Even before that, things were not exactly uneventful. On the South Downs you’ll find Iron Age forts at Chanctonbury Ring and Cissbury Ring, the relics of warring Celtic tribes. In around the 1st century AD the Romans came, liked what they saw, and conquered, leaving a heritage of straight roads, Fishbourne Palace, several fine villas and beautiful mosaic floors when they finally left five hundred years later.
In towns like Midhurst and Steyning, medieval cottages cosy up to Tudor houses and Georgian coaching inns. Looking like the film set of a BBC costume drama, Arundel was once a busy port, and the High Street is lined with many fine old buildings. Look up, and you’ll find clues about their original occupants – one gable has the chequerboard sign of a gunsmith, another an anvil, the sign of an ironmonger.
Brighton has been popular as a stylish haven of hedonism since the 1780s, when the Prince of Wales fled here to escape his strict father and built the Royal Pavilion. Regency high society followed him for the nightlife, and to take Dr Russell’s revolutionary ‘seawater cure’ – this involved bathing in the sea, and drinking seawater mixed with, among other delights, woodlice. Today the city’s elegant Regency terraces and squares stretch along the prom like the icing on a cake.
Elsewhere on the Sussex coast, which stretches from the cobbled streets of Rye to Roman - walled Chichester, Hastings’ Old Town rises up higgledy-piggledy from the black fishermen’s net huts on the beach, and in Eastbourne and Worthing, grand Victorian hotels line the seafront.