- Carol Duval
Cities, Towns and Villages of the South Downs
Updated: May 22, 2019
Chichester — Nearest to 'home' and so our local shopping town. Cathedral, ancient walls, Roman Museum, buzzing shops—what’s not to love?
What really surprised us was how close Chichester is to the sea. The town centre, Cathedral, museums, theatre and shops seem land-locked yet just a 15 minute walk through town brings you to Chichester ship canal which empties out into the sea amongst a network of mostly unspoilt bays and villages. Of these we had two favourites:
Emsworth — The oldest part of town nearest the water is a pretty town with some interesting shops, a couple of good pubs and restaurants, with a scarily tidal walkway along the shoreline. Some locals had an interesting idea for recycling fishing equipment in their Christmas tree display. Leaden skies are eerily reflected by the leaden waterways. Well, it is dusk in mid-winter.
Bosham — Smaller than Emsworth and a bit harder to get to by public transport makes for a quiet and tranquil village, though admittedly we were there in the middle of winter. In summer it's probably heaving. On our first visit we found a picturesque cafe right on the waterfront but being high tide, we were amused to see we had to wade through shin-deep water to get inside.
Many of the older houses were fitted with water barriers and some had extremely small doorways. Very Enid Blyton. I almost expected to see the Angry Pixie shaking his fist at us as we passed by.
Arundel — A real surprise. The castle is much like Windsor but the whole town is free of tourists and has a real sense of community. On a steep hill dominated by the castle and cathedral and with a river running through the valley below, Arundel is an unspoiled gem.
No chain stores to speak of but rather a host of excellent independent shops and England’s best coffee found at a hole-in-the-wall cafe.
Fab lunch of fresh seafood at the Parson’s Table— popular with locals. Sedate but on-trend and with good energy and so many pretty houses lining the hilly roads. We could live here!
A bit of everything. Seaside tat e.g. Brighton rock and pier with fun fair. Not my thing but could have been worse e.g. Great Yarmouth! We still shudder when we think of that beach front with its never-ending garish carnival rides, fast food stalls, miniature golf and front yards with equally garish garden gnomes and crazy paving. Brighton was a lot more tasteful with rides confined to the pier. Good idea.
History e.g. the Victorian era Grand Hotel, site of the Tory annual conference bombing in 1984.
And of course the elegant domes and minarets of the Regency era Royal Pavilion.
Gay and counterculture hub. Not quite as trendy and sophisticated as we’d been led to believe (mainly via those moving houses and renovation types of programs!) but still great fun. A lot like Sydney’s Glebe or Surry Hills.
Interesting to see a great harbourside makeover with Gun Wharf Quays retail area and low-scale public spaces. Better than we’d expected!
Always a favourite with its pedestrian-only High Street, cathedral, ancient schools and River Itchen.
Favourite spots are the water meadows. the alms house of St Cross and the old water mill. When we visited last summer the National Trust was holding a duck race competition to raise money for its upkeep. Only in England.
We'd avoid the frenetic Christmas market in future, though.