Travel Review: Petworth and Midhurst, South Downs National Park

The stunning South Downs countryside

The stunning South Downs countryside - Credit: Archant

You can count on British weather to mess with your plans at the best of times, but with a spring as moist as this year’s you’re asking for trouble arranging anything outdoors.

The welcoming Halfway Bridge was impeccable – once we finally arrived

The welcoming Halfway Bridge was impeccable once we finally arrived - Credit: Archant

And so it was on my romantic getaway to the South Downs – it really was torrential – but luckily the warmth and beauty of the UK’s newest national park managed to save the day.

Our room was a converted stable with original beams

Our room was a converted stable with original beams - Credit: Archant

But things got off to a bad start. Not an experienced London driver, I hugely underestimated the monstrous nature of the capital’s Friday afternoon rush hour and a wrong turn in Shepherd’s Bush meant it was full dark before we finally left our smokey metropolis behind.

Our destination was the Halfway Bridge – a lovely looking 17th century coaching inn – nestled between the two picturesque market towns of Midhurst and Petworth.

Although not far from London as the crow flies, this quiet corner of West Sussex is a world away in some respects – notably signposts.

Predictably, we got horribly lost trying to take a shortcut, with the heavens shedding their heavy load, and as we tore through the pitch black countryside I genuinely thought we would have to sleep in the car.

I could sense an argument brewing, but to be fair the pair of us put the bit between our teeth and got on with it; asking directions off friendly locals until we finally got to our destination; soaked, miserable and a good 45 minutes after the kitchen had closed.

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Impeccable

Our mood quickly improved, however, when the welcoming staff told us that as they knew we were coming, they had kept the kitchen open especially for us. Impeccable service.

We were shown to our room – a gorgeous converted stable with high ceilings and fantastic original beams – and after a quick change of clothes we darted across to the main building for our supper.

A lovely meal it was too – with the log fire roaring and a glass of red we had completely dried off and all but forgotten our travel woes by the time our food came out.

The meals were honest, yet surprisingly refined farmyard fare; rich, succulent beef, tender toothsome lamb, plenty of veg and potatoes – even a baked Camembert. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and we drifted upstairs replete and relaxed ready to set out exploring the next day.

Waking up in our cosy, luxurious old stable was a very agreeable way to start the day, although a quick peek through curtains revealed the weather had yet to break.

Never ones to let a bit of precipitation get us down, we sauntered to the main building, armed with complimentary newspapers, and enjoyed a leisurely and very filling breakfast in front of the wood-fired stove.

The lovely little town of Petworth was our destination for the day, which is full of quiet charm and cobbled antiquity.

It’s also chock full of antique shops, many of which contain some absolutely stunning furnishings.

This is reflected in the price, however, most of which had far too many zeros for my liking – suffice to say it was mainly window shopping for us.

But the main event is undoubtedly Petworth House – an imposing 17th century construction that dominates the whole town.

A tour round the National Trust-run property is a must, from the servant’s quarters to the amazing art collection (including work by Gainsborough and Rembrandt, among others); Turner also spent a lot of time working there.

The place is surrounded by stunning gardens, designed by the famous Capability Brown, through which deer roam free and birds soar contentedly.

Relaxing

Unfortunately my dreams of a picnic were scuppered by the rain, but we did spend and enjoyable time wildlife-spotting from the car.

Nothing says a relaxing weekend like an afternoon nap, which is a rare treat, particularly during an inclement afternoon. So we headed back to our cosy retreat, yawning like hippopotami.

Refreshed and ready for a bite to eat, we headed back into Petworth for a curry; Meghdoots Mystique Masala was recommended to us and was quite delicious; fragrant, delicate, yet powerful, it was definitely worth the trip from the snug confines of our accommodation.

As luck would have it, the weather finally improved as we were due to leave. Not that the sun was out, but at least the raindrops abated.

After a pleasant stroll around the lovely buildings that make up the Halfway Bridge, and another incredibly satisfying breakfast, we popped into Midhurst – which is equidistant in the opposite direction from Petworth.

A slightly larger proposition, the market Town of Midhurst is quite a sleepy place on Sunday’s, but the period houses and little lanes made for a nice constitutional.

It’s also home to a rather impressive building; Midhurst Castle which, despite being mainly ruins, is well worth a look around.

This whole nook of the South Down really is delightful; beautiful buildings, slow-pace, cracking countryside. It’s the sort of place that would be lovely in the sunshine, but when the weather draws in it’s perfect for snuggling up, especially if you’re somewhere as nice as the Halfway Bridge.

As ever, a weekend simply was not enough.

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