A 14th-century hall in deepest Sussex lovingly turned into a B&B by a chatty Manhattanite makes a – nearly – perfect bolthole
‘Welcome to our swish bed and breakfast in a 14th c. hall house overlooking the Sussex Weald. Oh my!” says Pelham Hall’s website. I’m a sucker for cool graphics and a chatty tone. Time to drive into deepest, eastest Sussex. Burwash is a delightful cluster of houses-through-the-ages with 21st-century traffic easing its way through the narrow high street.
I’m half-expecting someone in doublet and hose to answer the door of the timbered house, but no, Matthew Fox is in jeans and stripy socks. Grasping my bag, he chitter-chatters me through the hall. I can guess who wrote that home-page text, and the “Oh my!” is explained by Matthew being from Manhattan.
His enthusiasm for England, the house – he and partner Chris have just opened it as a B&B – and the Sussex Weald is infectious. In a room he calls “the inglenook”, I sit on a modern grey sofa beside oak beams and an ancient brick fireplace, surveying lipstick-red shelves full of books, CDs and objets, from pre-Columbian pottery to Hermès porcelain. Matthew brings tea with oat, walnut and chocolate biscuits.
There is a garden room and two connecting rooms upstairs. Mine, Labrador, is a mini-apartment on three levels – sitting area, bedroom, bathroom – accessed via the other upstairs room (if unoccupied) or by a separate street entrance. Antiques sit alongside mid-century modernism. Swish? Fair comment.
I’m starving. The Bell, 10 minutes away in Ticehurst, has a gratifying buzz and I soon discover why. Winter salad of beets and chicory with goat’s curd and walnuts, and the juiciest chicken on a bed of creamed sweetcorn with unctuous “jus” flavoured with tarragon and wild mushrooms, are followed by a pretty apple pie with a teeny jug of custard. Wish my local served food like this.
Back at cosy base, a short bathrobe is hardly better than no bathrobe and, oh, for slippers. I know, I know, it’s not a hotel, but I need something between me and this cold shower-room floor. I love the eco-mimosa toiletries, though. Luxuriating in crisp cotton in the pink-sky morning, I stir when traffic rumbles. A radio would be nice. Ditto teapot. But really, it’s almost perfection, and breakfast is a flourish of homemade granola and plum compote, then herbed baked eggs with chorizo. The recipe, from Matthew’s Nicaraguan mother, is, frankly, the last thing I expected to savour on a winter morning in rural Sussex.
• Accommodation was provided by Pelham Hall. Dinner was provided by The Bell in Ticehurst; three-course dinner around £30