Image: Chris Ison
Voted as one of the best places to live in the UK by the Sunday Times, the quintessentially English market town of Midhurst, West Sussex, has heaps to offer locals and visitors alike.
Where is Midhurst?
Nestled in the heart of the South Downs National Park, just 12 miles from Chichester, Midhurst is steeped in history. Coupled with several good hotels, an abundance of independent shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants – more, in fact, than any other Sussex town – it’s easy to see why this magnificent market town draws such a rating.
With a medieval Market Square, stunning Tudor buildings and delightful mix of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian architecture along wide streets, Midhurst is quite predictably, postcard perfect. But the best kept secrets go far beyond that of any typical market town. With links to Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII and Guy Fawkes, as well as being the home of horology (the craft of making clocks and watches) and literary legend H.G. Wells, there’s plenty to be uncovered.
The iconic Cowdray Heritage – the ruins of one of England’s most important early Tudor houses (it rivalled Hampton Court), sits at the top of Midhurst. The house was largely destroyed by a fire in the 1790s, and has been a picturesque ruin ever since, highly evocative of Tudor times. Before the fire, Guy Fawkes is known to have briefly worked at the house as a footman. After extensive refurbishment, the ruins were open to the public again in 2007 and it's possible to visit the gatehouse and restored kitchens, as well as gazing at the impressive ruins themselves. Nuzzled between a secret walled garden (worth a visit, not to be missed) and the famous ‘lawns’ of Cowdray Park, where polo players gather for the British Open Polo Championships Gold Cup every summer, it’s no surprise that this area is one of the town’s biggest draws.
Even further back in history is St Ann's Hill, the site of Midhurst's Castle from Norman times until the Middle Ages. The Castle was built overlooking the River Rother and a short walk up the hill gives the opportunity to see what's left of the castle earthworks and imagine what Midhurst might have been like a thousand years ago, as a small military town.
The early twentieth century saw, the writer HG Wells apprenticed to a chemist in the town. He attended the Grammar School, returning later to teach there. Midhurst is the setting of many of his books.
Things to do in Midhurst
Midhurst has wide streets, striking buildings, unusual shops and an interesting history, so there's plenty to keep you here.
Midhurst's main shopping strip of North Street is attractive, despite being the principal traffic route through the town. The area around Red Lion Hill, Church Street, Wool Lane and Duck Lane is even lovelier with a really good mix of special and unusual buildings, especially around the Church. The shopping along West Street is exceptional with lots of interesting independent shops to browse.
Midhurst also has a booming scene of local talent waiting to welcome visitors. From local wine and ale producers to chocolate and soap makers, Midhurst is as relevant today as it was in times gone by. Visitors in August can even immerse themselves in the revelry of MADhurst (the Midhurst Music, Arts and Drama Festival), a month of entertainment covering everything from classical music, swing, folk and rock to dance shows, comedy acts, markets and carnival processions, while regular markets and community events take place year-round.
South Downs National Park
The countryside around the town is extremely beautiful. The Rother Valley and the South Downs offer countless opportunities to find peace and quiet and wonderful countryside.
For those who are using the town as a base to explore the delights of the National Park, the range of outdoor activities on offer is extensive. From golf, clay pigeon shooting, fly fishing and horse riding to polo, walking, trekking and cycling, Midhurst really does have it all.
Discover more about Midhurst at the Visit Midhurst website by clicking here.