If life in Brighton becomes too hectic, then a few days in Steyning are guaranteed to put things back in perspective. Or so I found this week when the fine weather brought more people to Brighton than I’d anticipated and my ‘quiet’ time became distinctly unquiet, although I did enjoy some fine walks along Brighton beach and along Palace Pier.
One of the prettiest Sussex towns, the Saxon town of Steyning (its history dates back to the 8th century) has more or less everything – a meandering high street, historic buildings, good shops (including an Independent Bookshop) and magnificent countryside all around, the South Downs to be precise.
Steyning had been a trading powerhouse in the early middle ages as a river port for the downland wool trade, but the silting up of the River Adur left it up the creek, so to speak. The Black Death hit the village hard and the competition from other ports added to its economic woes, but the loss to the medieval folk of Steyning is our gain today.
The bypass has also been of benefit in this respect because, unlike many other small towns and villages in Sussex, the High Street has been spared the constant heavy traffic that makes a toll on the roads and creates noise and pollution.
Steyning is pretty well preserved, with many Tudor style half-timbered houses alongside some smart Georgian townhouses.
The preponderance of wood is especially noticeable, from the many old wooden doors to wooden fencing dividing the pavement from the road. Below are a few of the doorways that took my camera’s eye.
There is only one high-street grocery chain in the town and the many independent retailers offer an eclectic range of foodstuffs ranging from organic to exotic: the range of coffee shops/restaurants is truly amazing, many seeming to have a bakery shop as an add-on. Outstanding is the Independent Booksellers in which we whiled away a couple of hours, emerging later with bags full of wonderful books, some bought as Christmas presents. It was the sort of shop where one comes across books one just knows will suit someone, the sort one doesn’t find in the big bookstores anymore. As a consequence of the mix of old-fashioned and modern small shops, shopping in Steyning is easy paced and very enjoyable.
Steyning holds an Arts Festival every year, there is a Museum in Church Street, and in St Andrew’s Norman church in the nearby village of Bramber, where there is also an evocative ruined castle, there are some interesting carvings.
The South Downs Way passes just to the south of Steyning and climbs through the magnificent countryside around the Steyning Bowl, making this a perfect area for walking and cycling. Wonderful country pubs abound in this area.
It has now become my favourite place outside Brighton.