West Sussex Travel and Heritage Guide
West Sussex is a delightful area of superb gardens and historic country estates. The coast is more heavily populated, with a series of small coastal resorts that have blended into one long urban stretch from the outskirts of Brighton & Hove in the east to Bognor Regis in the west.
Inland from the coast, the countryside is dominated by the swell of the South Downs, and the South Downs Way long distance path runs along the crest of the downs on its way from Hampshire to East Sussex, providing excellent walking opportunities and superb views.
In the west of the county, Chichester Harbour provides a popular boating, fishing, walking, and birding area. Boat tours of Chichester Harbour offer visitors a chance to explore this vast inland waterway with its unusual ecosystem.
The city of Chichester itself was built by the Romans at the crossing of two important roads. The remains of a Roman amphitheatre can still be seen outside town, but most people come for the striking medieval buildings, including the Norman cathedral and the Guildhall. Just outside the city is Fishbourne Roman Palace, one of the finest Roman remains in Britain. Superb Roman mosaics have been preserved in the museum, and the original gardens reconstructed.
If you are a horse-racing enthusiast you won't want to miss 'Glorious Goodwood' race meetings every August, but if your tastes turn more to historic buildings you'll want to visit the Weald and Downland Open-Air Museum, where over 35 historic buildings rescued from demolition have been carefully dismantled and reconstructed. Another top attraction is West Dean Gardens, a superb Victorian mix of formal and informal gardens.
Near Hayward's Heath are three more typically superb West Sussex gardens; Nymans, notable for its collection of rare plants from across the world, High Beeches, a lovely place of peaceful woodlands dotted with water gardens, and Borde Hill, a series of linked garden "rooms" each with its own style.
These are just a few of many excellent gardens in West Sussex, yet the county has an equal share of historic houses worth visiting. Start with Parham Park, a marvellous Elizabethan manor set in a deep park. Then move on to Uppark, a classic Georgian house set high on the Downs, or Petworth, a magnificent Jacobean mansion in a 700-acre park landscaped by Capability Brown.
Arundel Castle, towering over the town of the same name, is every inch the perfect medieval fortress, with grey-stone battlements and round towers bristling. The core of the castle contains an authentic Norman motte where a queen once stayed, but that medieval core was enhanced and added to by a 19th century Duke of Norfolk.
One of the highlights is the ornate private chapel, a testament to the staunchly Catholic Fitzalan-Howard family's faith. Just down the road from the castle is the Arundel Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, where visitors can view endangered bird species from protected viewing stations, and explore the natural world of the marshlands.
Boxgrove Priory - on the outskirts of Chichester, this delightful little church stands in a wooded grove near the ruins of its medieval guesthouse. Boxgrove was founded as a monastery in the 14th century, and part of the monastic church lives on as the parish church.
From history to walking, villages to ornate country houses, there truly is something for everyone in West Sussex.