Sleep next to a castle, feast on custard creams, and discover thousand year old battle fields.
I knew I wanted to do a semester abroad at "The Castle" before I even started my first day of university at Queen's and the semester I spent there in my third year was one of the best experiences of my life. It was an incredible learning experience and it sparked my lifelong love for travel. I enjoyed it so much, I spent two summers working on the property as a bartender, housekeeper, and receptionist and I used all my free time to explore East Sussex.
While I would heartily endorse a semester of study to anyone, I appreciate that's not always practical! But it is the perfect place for an extended stop on an East Sussex road trip. Here are my top recommendations for visiting The Castle and planning an East Sussex adventure.
Don't miss these "castle" must-sees
The castle has a fantastic legacy of nobility and drama but if your interests lean more towards science than history, you'll be happy to learn that it was once the home of the Royal Greenwich Observatory and that an active observatory remains on site today.
Beyond the formal gardens are lovely woodlands that are open for exploring. My favourite time to do so is in the early spring when the bluebells cause a riot of color along the shady paths. If you're lucky, you might just see some local wildlife. At the very least, keep a sharp eye for some ducks in the castle's moat. When I was there as a student, there were three white ducks that formed their own little gang and never waddled without each other's company. I christened them Lily, Radish, and Watercress... sadly I believe they all met the same fate at the jaws of a fox :-( but their many descendants live on.
Take some time for Herstmonceux village
Before leaving the area, take the time to visit the charming stone church just beyond the student center and drive a few minutes to Herstmonceux village. You'll also want to seek out the 200 year old restored wooden windmill in the area.
The village is home to several classic English pubs but I retain a soft spot for Eastern Promises, an Indian food restaurant that was one of my first introductions to curry. As for shopping, Herstmonceux is famous for trugs, a special kind of open gardening basket that has been made in the area for hundreds of years.
Head to Hailsham for the Homely Maid
This is the number one spot I recommend to all East Sussex day trippers. I never did manage to go there for lunch but I always, always, always stopped in for some classic English baked goods, like scones. My absolute favourite though were the custard cream tarts! I know you'll love them too!
Take a gentle ramble on the South Downs
The South Downs have several especially striking landmarks that are well worth seeking out. Two of my personal favourites are gigantic pictures that have been carved into the hills, the white chalk lines popping against the green. The Long Man in Wilmington dates back several centuries - and possibly even as far back as the Iron Age, while the Litlington White Horse, equally intriguing, is a more recent creation from the early 1900s.
This is an incredible spot for photography but the area also has a sad history as a notorious suicide spot. The caring community, including local taxi drivers, pub staff, and the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team work hard to reach out to those in need and are an inspiring example of this region's warm and welcoming nature.
"Earthly happiness" in Brighton
First, I head to the water. The beaches of Brighton are fantastic places for people watching, catching a little sun and salt air, and munching on some 'rock candy.' Next, I walk up to Food For Friends, a restaurant that I could eat at every day of my life. They do incredibly succulent vegetarian food (with gluten free and vegan options) and there are decadent desserts on offer too!
A peaceful "battle" site.
Virtually every town and village has a unique connection to this period of history. While Pevensey Castle is my favourite, the communities of Battle and Hastings are also not to be missed.
Tips for hitting the open road
If you're coming from North America, it might feel a bit intimidating to suddenly be driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. Before you pull out of the rental lot, ask the staff for recommendations on a quiet road where you can practice your skills.
Remember that while things may feel 'opposite' at first, the most important rules of the road are universal. Never drive while under the influence of alcohol or other substances and resist the temptation to text and talk on the phone - cell phone distractions can be just as dangerous intoxicants. And last but not least, take care of yourself. Don't drive for more than 10 hours, take plenty of breaks, and share the driving duties with your car mates.
I want to hear all about your East Sussex trip!
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