The eponymous tea rooms sit in the heart of the historic downland village of Ditchling just across from the ancient church. If you’re looking for somewhere cosy and comfortable for a pot of tea then this is your place. It may be slightly worn around the edges, a bit confused in its sense of decor and with a rather lived-in feel like a comfy pair of slippers but it’s the home of the giant scone. I wonder if this USP will be enough to brave off the stiff competition for a cuppa in a world where latest styles and trends hold sway.
All within spitting distance of the tea rooms there’s the recently opened Mr Magnolia’s coffee shop right on the crossroads as well as the brand new Ditchling Art and Craft museum’s cafe by the pond. For such a tiny village it’s become a bit of a cafe hotspot all of a sudden. Is there a bun fight for the competition or will they all attract their own particular clientele?
We’d taken the train to Hassocks and walked along the small lane past the restored Oldland windmill and then the contour-following footpaths with views to the South Downs before dropping into the village. It’s a restorative 50 minutes walk and and an easy way to escape the city, breath in lungfuls of fresh country air and soak up loads of Sussex village charm.
The original beamed tea rooms have a bakery attached with many of their cakes and a wicker tray of their famous giant scones on show in the period bow window. There’s a lovely aroma from the log fire burning slowly in the grate in the back room. During the summer the walled patio garden is my favourite spot but on a cold winter’s day inside was a preferable warm and cosy choice. They’re very much traditional tea rooms and seem as if they’ve always been here. Although no longer called Dolly’s Pantry, long-standing regulars like myself occasionally slip up in its nomenclature. You can tuck into soups, toasties, jackets and specials of the day and absorb some of its old world allure while facing off the inclement weather outside and refueling for the afternoon’s return walk.
The tea rooms have braved off competition before but the two new kids in the village come with their shiny stylish interiors and the vigour of just-opened new businesses. Only time will tell if there’s room for all three cafes in Ditchling. So even if it’s not buns at dawn there’s bound to be at least a battle of the cupcakes or maybe those giant scones will flatten any challengers.
I often bump into friends in cafes and it’s these unexpected meetings that are often the most enjoyable. On Tuesday having just dropped off some old camera gear at Clock Tower Cameras I was strolling through Pavilion Gardens when I remembered that there was a new cafe through the south archway. The possibilities of somewhere new is always a draw for a cafe lover like myself. Just as I was deciding which tea to have who should walk in but a friend who is a photography lecturer in London.
The Pavilion Tea Co. has taken over the space that used to be occupied by the Pavilion shop which has moved into the adjoining space that used to be the tourist office. It’s on a small, pedestrianised side road that leads onto the Pavilion Estate and lined mainly with other cafes and restaurants.
Loose teas are the speciality here and the look is of a traditional oriental tea sellers. Colourful tea containers in hues of red, yellow and brown are stacked up on dark wooden shelving along the main wall with hexagonal fringed yellow lampshades hanging down. The royal blue velvet seating along by the large arched windows looked very inviting and the bespoke wooden tables and chairs complete the look.
The cakes and savouries all looked delicious and the lunch box deal of one of their savoury tray bakes or quiche with seasonal salad at £4.95 should be a crowd puller.Tea is served in grey cast iron teapots, just like in Hove Museum tearoom, being also run by Peyton and Byrne, and there’s a superb choice if you’re a bit of a tea aficionado.
My friend and I got chatting and soon moved on to photography. Her students were down from London to do a Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’ book cover assignment. I was able to update her on my forays into interiors copywriting with possible accompanying photography and my subsequent digital upgrade. Her wise comment that it’s more about the development of the ideas of the person behind the lens than the camera which is just a tool is worth remembering. It was great chatting photography again and reminded me of my college course taken some years ago.
Clock Tower Cameras phoned later with their quote and it’s just about enough to buy a new digital SLR It will probably take some time to learn how to get the best from it but I’ve always loved taking photos and it looks like a new opportunity is opening up for me. All the better with the support of like minded friends. ‘A happy accident’ remarked my friend at the happenstance of meeting each other. For me too the synthesis of photography, writing and tea too of course.
Find out more about the Pavilion Tea Co. Cafe
As if in retort to the homogenisation of contemporary modern life we have the independent cafe. Just opposite the behemoth that is Hove Tesco and its never ending stream of cars driven mindlessly through the car park entrance is a gem of a cafe sitting on the other side of the road. Quietly confident, knowingly and as if somehow claiming a defiance against uniformity and corporate culture Treacle & Co’s individuality is its singular dissent.
Treacle & Co appeared a year or so ago and is justifiably making its mark on the Hove cafe scene with its creatively designed windows reflecting the season and with its truly amazing cakes. Inside the look is deceptively simple. Alyssa, one of the partners, tells me that the day they uncovered the original tiled walls from the former butcher premises was a special one. The white, blue and cream tiles remaining on the walls from way back in the day were like finding buried treasure.
Vintage mirrors hang around the room with fresh flowers sitting on every table in heritage milk bottles and vases. Wooden tables and chairs are recycled and perfunctory leaving the focus of attention to the cakes and food.
In most cafes I just usually have a tea but whenever I’m in Treacle & Co I invariably succumb to one of their sumptious cakes baked fresh on the premises by Melody the owner. Would you be able to resist such distinctive creations as Pear in Whisky Crumble cake, White and Dark Chocolate, Kirsch Cherry and Lemon cake, Salted Chocolate and Pretzel cake served with caramelised cream or Espresso, Whisky and Chocolate cake with Maple Frosting?
Salted Caramel seems to be in vogue at the moment and this was my first opportunity to sample. Along with my pot of loose leaf Yorkshire tea served with vintage china I was in not doubt that I’d made the right choice in my individual Salted Caramel and Chocolate tart. Gooey salted caramel topped with dark chocolate powder in a tender pastry case is a combination made in heaven. It doesn’t surprise me that Melody now supplies some other local cafes too with her exceptional cakes.
You can get breakfast and lunch here too with all manner of wonderful choices. Last time I got the Welsh Rarebit on Real Patisserie bread with roasted vine tomatoes. With the menu changing regularly reflecting available seasonal produce it’s worth checking the blackboards for the day’s specials.
There is a bit of a buzz about this cafe as people come, chat, drink and indulge before leaving their table for some other lucky customer. The corporates may think they have a stronghold on Britain’s High Streets but the good people of Hove know something special when they see it.
It’s all change again in my household with my teenage daughter back home again after her first successful year at University. I have to adjust to having a teenager around and she has to adjust too to living in a family home rather that in halls amongst her newly made friends. Teenagers are known for their ability to sleep long and sound. So by mid morning, after being up a couple of hours myself, I left a sleeping daughter behind to cycle further into Hove.
At the corner of Pembroke Gardens and New Church Road sits Hove Museum and Gallery. Their tearoom has had a bit of a makeover since my last visit so while I had a look at the menu I took time to see what changes have been made to this classically traditional favourite.
There are still some lovely oil paintings from the museum’s collection hanging on the walls. Chosen and positioned with some care to reflect the tearoom surroundings and overlooking the museum’s gardens. There are some food still lifes and picnic scenes portraits as well as some Sussex landscapes. There are also collections of decorative teapots, jugs and teacups and saucers in glass display cases around the room.
Immediately I recognised the blue colour on the walls as being the same hue as that of my hallway at home. It was a colour inherited on purchase of the house and one we’ve kept as there seemed no reason to change it. I was told by the waitress that the paint colours used are Farrow & Ball Cook’s Blue and Cooking Apple Green. With the dual south and west aspect there’s loads of natural light and the colours work really well to give a warm yet fresh feel.
The shaker style counter is artfully topped with ceramic cake stands laden with a tempting range of cakes and cookies which seemed different from other selections available in local cafes. My tea comes served in an unusual black cast iron teapot with integral strainer chosen from a large selection of loose leaves. The selection of teas include Snow Queen White tea, Pu’erh 9 year, Green Jade Pear amongst many so this is a stop for the tea connoisseur. Other drinks are sourced too from artisan producers like the Chapel Down Curious Brew Lager and the Dittsham Plum Fruit Liqueur.
Looking onto the Museum Gardens through the large windows in this quiet and leafy suburb of Hove, I noticed that the absence of music also contributed to the relaxed feel and allowed a rare appreciation of the sounds around instead.
On my return home my student daughter was up and ready to go out with friends. Staying at my home now for her is just a transitory phase until she returns to her University town. So Farrow & Ball paint colours in the hallway or not, there’s not a lot to entice her to hang around for long. And that was something we’re both just starting to get used to.
It was Tom Hodgkinson of Idler fame who said that the best way to get around housework and cleaning was to keep the lighting dim. That way you wouldn’t notice the layers of dust and grime building up. This strategy works really well until the Spring sunshine sheds a sharp ray of light into previously dull and hidden nooks and crannies. In my house the unscrupulous light has been determined in its search for layers of dust , dropped crumbs and dead insects in shadowy corners, highlighting how little housework I’ve been doing during the Winter months. The dusters and cloths and vacuum cleaners have been out though in the last few weeks and my home is looking a lot better for the elbow grease. Getting out in the Spring sunshine and leaving the chores behind is more what life is about though.
The bluebells were unexpected as we followed the footpath through Blackbrook Wood. After so many years walking in the countryside beyond Brighton its amazing that we can still discover paths we’ve never walked before. The reason for this diversion was a cafe of course. Or more correctly a Brighton Festival Artists Open House on the Ditchling Trail. Jinks McGrath’s converted barn home and studio is renowned for its cakes, its art and its welcome. After a couple of hours walking in the fresh Spring air it felt good to get inside and sit down for a bit. The difficulty came when faced with the awesome array of cakes to choose from temptingly displayed ion glass cake stands on top of a wooden sideboard. I savoured every mouthful of my chocolate topped orange and almond cake while hubby looked very content with his choice of strawberry and elderflower Victoria sponge.
Chatting to a couple of other artists who were exhibiting their wood turning and paintings it all seemed very relaxed and a great way to get started on the Brighton Festival. We had a look around at the artwork on show from the oils to the silver jewellery. The barn itself is worth a look around in itself with its cozy fireplace, upstairs studio and its ancient wooden beams stretching up into the roof space. For a moment I did ponder as to how Jinks gets to do her housework in such a huge space but I didn’t mull over this conundrum for too long as my focus was more on the artwork and my delicious cake and pot of tea. Which clearly testifies that I have my priorities in the right order.
The weather in Britain has been so dreich recently, a Scottish word meaning damp and grey and miserable, that when one sunny day comes along you’ve just got to get out in it. We took the number 2 bus to Steyning, a bustling ancient village listed in the Domesday book, with its main street lined with mainly timber framed buildings. It’s tucked just behind the South Downs so is a great place for walks. We headed west along Mouse Lane out of the village and then on to the footpath that cuts behind Wiston Estate.
You never know quite what you’ll come across when out walking. We’d been along this route a few times over the years and were fairly familiar with it so we weren’t expecting to see anything unusual. However, we came across an old carriage sitting in the long grass which on closer inspection we discovered to be an old tram car. The notice on the window explained that it was the last surviving Brighton tram car and the owners are hoping to renovate it and bring it back to its original condition. We had a good nose around and found the vehicle intriguing and rather incongruous just sitting there in the countryside. I wonder where the owners found it and got it here and what inspired them to undertake such a venture.
The wooded chalk path that takes you up to the ridge of the South Downs Way is steep and a good power walk will take you to the top in about ten minutes. Now out from beyond the trees the land opened up and we were on the ridge-way with fantastic views as we turned round to walk back eastwards. There were white and blue fields of linseed flowers and the Channel sparkled in the distance. All the recent rain has brought out the green of the Downs and the views around us were archetypal Sussex calendar shots. Walking on ridges is probably my favourite type of walking as the path is easy to follow and you get a sense of accomplishment at being up on the highest point.
A few miles later we took the descent down to the village for tea and something to eat. Steyning Tea Rooms is one of the many cafes and tea rooms that dot the main road through this pretty village. One of my favourites is the Tea Rooms to the easterly end of the high street. Its on a slightly raised pavement with gorgeous flower boxes and hanging baskets with summer flowers of pink, red, white and purple. Inside its got a retro feel with its rose patterned wall paper, original fireplace and colourful bunting. Food and drink is served on a variety of floral patterned bone china. The small counter heaves with giant locally made cakes and its hard to make your choice.
As it was so busy inside we opted for sitting out at one of the few pavement tables and were quick to order the special of home-made rhubarb scones with rhubarb jam and cream along with the prerequisite pot of tea of course. The sun was still shining and what a braw day, a Scottish expression for a lovely day out, it was turning out to be.
There are lots of ways to get to the village of Rottingdean from Brighton, the easiest being to jump on a coast road bus. However if you want to get there the roundabout and longer way you take the number 2 bus to Woodingdean and walk round the back along quiet countryside paths. It takes more time but then we had the whole day stretching ahead, the forecast was good and we were up for some brisk exercise. The great thing about this particular ramble is that you start at the top of the hill. The track takes you through a winding valley following a gradual descent with views of rolling downland all around. I wondered at times if I really was in the crowded South-east so quiet is this valley looping slowly down Bullock Hill to Standean Bottom. There is then a short climb up again eventually as the route goes towards Balsdean reservoir at the top of the next hill.
In a scene from a Hardy novel a flock of sheep took over the road as the shepherd moved them from one pasture to another and we had no choice but to stand aside and let them pass. This sort of traffic was the ambient kind and we were happy to give them the freedom of the road as they trotted by.
All this fresh air and walking is thirsty and hungry work and although we already had eaten our picnic our minds were most definitely turning to thoughts of further sustenance as the tea stop in Rottingdean was now within in our grasp. We followed the last leg of the walk downwards with sweeping views of the sea and Rottingdean windmill a familiar landmark against the skyline ahead.
The Grange houses Rottingdean library and museum and art gallery. Cafe lovers also know that there is a lovely flint walled garden round the back which is a wonderful spot for tea and cake in the summer. We fell upon the banana slice and the carrot cake and along with a pot of tea each the bill was just £6. The garden is of ample size and with plenty of dappled shade from the mature trees. There was still union jack bunting up from the jubilee celebrations and lots of colour too from the well tended flower beds. There is something about getting somewhere under your own steam, whether walking or cycling. You really feel that you have earned your treat and ready to devour whatever is on offer. So the direct way along the coast road would have got us there sooner but the point of going the long way round was taking pleasure in the journey there.