A food lover’s driving tour in the Sussex countryside

The Sussex countryside is flanked by both the Ashdown Forest and the South Downs National Park, making it a beautiful road trip destination. Along many driving routes in this part of the UK lie excellent restaurants, cosy inns, and local eateries that make it an ideal trip for food lovers in search of countryside stop-offs.

This scenic, 80-mile drive takes you through the Sussex countryside and the South Downs along winding stretches of road from Rye to Goodwood.

Here are my favourite food stops to discover along this route, with the tour starting at the 600-year-old Mermaid Inn.

All image credits (unless stated): Kathryn Burrington

The Mermaid Inn

Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex, TN31 7EY

On storybook-perfect Mermaid Street, the inn is one of many medieval half-timbered buildings that line this enchanting cobbled lane.

Once the haunt of local smugglers, don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a secret passageway behind a bookcase. With suitably atmospheric creaky floorboards, four-poster beds, a superb restaurant and on-site parking, an overnight stay here is a must.

After a hearty breakfast of local kippers, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs or a traditional full English, explore the town’s historic streets. They’re lined with archways and alleyways and a variety of interesting independent shops like McCully & Crane.

Beachy Head (32 miles, 1 hour 10 minutes from Rye)

From Rye, head west along the A259 for a beautiful coastal drive.

Image credit: istockphoto.com/harvepino

At Pevensey, stay on the A259 and at Eastbourne join the B2103, driving along King Edwards Parade before the road starts its climb through the South Downs. After a couple of tyre-squealing hairpin bends, take a left onto Beachy Head Road for one of the most stunning coastline vistas of all.

Be sure to take a clifftop walk and admire the views out to sea – with Eastbourne to the east and Brighton to the west.

Middle Farm

West Firle, Lewes BN8 6LJ (13 miles, 30 minutes from Beachy Head)

Travelling 30 minutes inland, you’ll come to Middle Farm near Lewes at the foot of Firle Beacon.

A working family farm, their farm shop sells a superb range of the finest local produce. Here, you’ll find seasonal fruit and vegetables, cheeses, pickles and preserves – all sourced from small-scale producers mainly from Sussex.

Their on-site restaurant serves delicious homemade food, freshly cooked every day. It’s a great place to stop for lunch or a Sussex cream tea.

The Sussex Produce Company

88 High St, Steyning BN44 3RD (23.5 miles, 30 minutes from Middle Farm)

Continue along the A27 until Shoreham-by-Sea, then head north along the A283 as it winds its way alongside the Adur River. At Steyning, stop by The Sussex Produce Company, a great alternative lunch spot.

It’s the largest stockist of local produce in the county, with over 170 suppliers based in Sussex. Its popular café showcases the products it sells but it’s advisable to book ahead!

Amberley Castle

 Amberley, Arundel, BN18 9LT (11 miles, 25 minutes from The Sussex Produce Company)

 A short drive along the edge of the South Downs will take you to Amberley where a night in the castle awaits.

Before dinner, take a stroll through the 12 acres of gardens, keeping an eye out for the white peacocks who call Amberley Castle their home. Then, head to their restaurant in the Queen’s Room, where the barrel-vaulted ceiling dates back to the 12th century, and take your pick from their excellent menu.

There are just 19 bedrooms in the castle, each uniquely furnished with fine fabrics and antiques. A stay here is a real treat!

Halnaker Windmill

Denge Ln, Chichester PO18 0LX (10.5 miles, 18 minutes from Amberley Castle)

After breakfast in the Queen’s Room continue along the B2139, over the River Arun, through Houghton and along Fairmile Bottom, heading for Halnaker on the A285.

Pull over at Denge Lane and follow the path to Halnaker Windmill on foot. Not only will you be rewarded with 360 degree hill-top views across the Sussex countryside, but the path leads through a truly magical tunnel of trees to get there.

Kingley Vale (14 miles, 40 minutes from Halnaker Windmill)

Working up an appetite is vital on this road trip, and a visit to the enchanting Kingley Vale nature reserve will certainly help.

There’s a small car park in the village of West Stoke. From here, a path heads north to the entrance of the reserve. A three mile round walk will lead you through ancient yew tree groves where the twisted trees are thought to be one thousand years old, past ancient burial mounds and more stunning 360 degree countryside views. On a clear day you can see as far as the Isle of Wight.

Farmer, Butcher, Chef and the Goodwood Hotel (5 miles, 11 minutes from Kingley Vale)

After all that fresh air you’ll be after a hearty meal and the Goodwood Estate’s newest restaurant, opened a little over a year ago, will surely hit the spot.

Farmer, Butcher, Chef’s seasonal menu follows the organic and sustainable philosophy of the estate’s Home Farm by using all their own produce, including the more unusual cuts of meat. The dining area is filled with curiosities and farming memorabilia, creating a vibrant and quirky atmosphere. The restaurant is attached to The Goodwood Hotel, the perfect place to end your food lover’s driving tour of Sussex.

Related articles