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.
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.
Us townies have a particular view of the countryside. The green space beyond our city boundaries we see as for leisure and recreation. For centuries the countryside was a place of heavy labour and food production, and still is, but to a much smaller proportion of the population. To stride out along time-worn pathways and through ancient tiny villages is to converse with the narrative of the landscape.
Not far from Hampden Park station we took a steep path signposted to Jevington. The climb was worth the exertion with fabulous views from the top near the old trig point overlooking Eastbourne and the coast. You could see the Brighton & Hove bus number 12 trundling along the Beachy Head road in the far distance. An easy downhill followed along the well worn track of the South Downs Way into the sleepy valley below and the village of Jevington. When I come across places like this I often wonder if I really am living in the crowded south-east so as the setting is so peaceful and deserted. A picnic stop by the centuries old church in shade of a beautiful tree in full pink blossom set us up for the next few miles of walking.
Just one more climb up out of the valley passing woodlands pungent with sweet wild garlic. Then we crossed over Lullington Heath with its golden yellow gorse bushes in full bloom, one of the last remaining heathland areas on the Downs. Downhill again towards the village of Litlington sitting in yet another tranquil valley and on spotting the church spire from the top of the hill we knew we were reaching the end of our walk.
Apart from the feel-good factor of being in the great outdoors, the other reason for all this rambling was Litlington Tea Gardens. These quaint tea gardens were established around 150 years ago and still retain much of their Victorian charm. The large gardens are surrounded by mature trees and have loads of little nooks and crannies so it’s worth having a bit of a look around before choosing your spot. As well as the tables and benches on the lawn there are plentiful summerhouses surrounding the gardens providing bountiful private seating areas.
Litlington are proud of their cream teas and home made cakes. We sampled some of their chocolate cake and apple and blackberry pie with ice cream washed down with pots of tea served at the table on huge trays. Its the perfect spot on a sunny day. Litlington also have a nursery, crystal shop and gift store all worth a browse before catching the Cuckmere Valley rambler bus back to Berwick station for the return train to Brighton.
I’ve just finished reading That Summer at Hill Farm by Miranda French which tells brilliantly through fiction the dichotomy of living in the Sussex countryside and it’s not all rosy down on the farm. The countryside will always remain for me a place for walking and cycling and not for living in as I’m a city dweller at heart. Though I love to know that the rural idyll is just on my doorstep.
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.