Walking, drinking and being merry in Sussex

Trad pubs, award-winning micro-breweries, British fizz – Sussex’s rolling hills are a thirsty walker’s heaven

Image: Chris Burke

There is no sweeter drink than a pint after a long day’s walking. That’s what years of tramping the Lake District fells has taught me. A cool pint of pale ale in the Newfield Inn or the Blacksmiths Arms – two old-world pubs near my family’s house in the southwest Lakes – tastes like nectar when you’ve spent eight hours climbing. 

I do most of my walking up north, but earlier this summer I spent a weekend walking the South Downs Way, a popular semi‑coastal route that’s blessed with many opportunities for refreshment. 

One of our favourite stops along the way was The Ram Inn in East Sussex. Nestled in the heart of the ridiculously pretty village of Firle, just a few miles from Lewes, this brick-and-flint pub has been watering the local community for more than 500 years. Today, the clientele is more Farrow & Ball than Farming Today, but it’s still got plenty of soul – and lots of original features, too, so make sure you mind your head. 

Just up the road from The Ram is the award-winning micro-brewery Burning Sky, which is well-represented behind the bar here. On our visit we drank Burning Sky Arise, a thirst-quenching IPA that combined peachy, elderflower prettiness with a nice hoppy bite. Burning Sky is also renowned for its tangy saison beers, which it brews from a base of malted barley, wheat and spelt, then pimps with extra ingredients according to the season: gooseberries and elderflower in summer, rosehips in autumn, hawthorn leaves and berries in winter (I very much enjoyed a bottle of this last one at Orasay in Notting Hill in March). 

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Another stop was The Flint Barns bed and breakfast, which belongs to the English winery Rathfinny. The lodgings here are comfy but no-frills – it’s also where the pickers stay during harvest – but the location (in Alfriston) is five- star, with sweeping views of vineyards, meadows and rolling Downs on all sides.  

We arrived looking like a pair of drowned rats – the heavens had opened just an hour before. But after a hot shower we were soon curled up in the drawing room reading the papers with a glass of Rathfinny’s excellent Blanc de Noirs 2015, a ripe, elegant fizz with masses of apple-y freshness. This cuvée made its debut earlier this year alongside a tart 2016 rosé that was also very good. Another one, as they say, for the road. 

 Alice Lascelles is Fortnum & Mason Drinks Writer of the Year 2019. @alicelascelles.

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