Historic Alfriston

The sun was out so we took a ride over to the village of Alfriston for a mooch about. It’s a beautiful place with a narrow High Street heaving with listed buildings, charming cottages, quirky shops and inns straight out of ‘Midsomer Murders’. Throw in a village green big enough to play cricket on, a lovely church and the South Downs Way passing through and it’s easy to see why Alfriston is popular with visitors.

This little interior design shop caught our eye. N was rather taken with the deco convex ‘starburst’ mirror in the window, and for me it was the gorgeous linen curtain fabrics that appealed. As we went in it was hard not to overhear a conversation between the owner and a couple just leaving. ‘Did you get to Chelsea this year?’ ‘No! I was in Rome..’ (regretful voice). This was probably enough information to tell us the shop’s wares were out of our budget, but hey, it’s OK to dream. The shop owner was excited to tell us the departing lady was none other than Olga Polizzi (daughter of hospitality tycoon Charles Forte and celebrated hotelier in her own right) who was about to take over Alfriston’s Star Inn. The poor old Star is in need of a haul up, apparently. Which will be Very Good for business.Although this shop appears to be for sale, so who knows.

Our next stop was the church, overlooking the Tye (village green) and with its church bells interestingly placed in the central crossing.

N. is playing for a wedding here in August, and I’ll be one of the singers, but the couple want the bells to be the main event. So presumably we’ll be coxing and boxing with the bellringers. If they’re ‘ringing her in’ I’m not sure how the bride will process around them. But I’m sure it will all work out!

There’s some nice stained glass in the church, and the big churchyard looks out onto the South Downs.

One thing you must do in Alfriston is have a cup of tea. We couldn’t help notice a new place has opened on the Tye, in a building that used to house a GUN apparently. Hence the name – Shots Coffee House. I loved the interior which is surprisingly contemporary for these parts.

It was a quiet afternoon so we got chatting to the owner Martin who says they specialise in sourcing local high quality foods and in particular gluten/dairy free. They get their cakes from A Taste of Dreams at Glynde.

My chocolate cake was a bit dry and not sweet enough for me, but the lemon drizzle was lovely and moist. N was particularly delighted by the Earl Grey tea and we bought some to take away in a little paper bag.

The view out the door is grand, looking across The Tye.

The very first property acquired by the National Trust is actually in Alfriston – the Old Clergy House, bought in 1896 for £10! Sadly it wasn’t open the day we visited, although we have been there before.

Somewhere we’d seen from the road but never been into is Deans Place Hotel, on the south side of the village. No time like the present, so we strolled in and took a look around. The gardens are lovely and the building itself looks a picture.

We even discovered the swimming pool…

The back of the hotel, round about where the pool is, isn’t quite as glamorous as the front, with what looks like sixties architecture and a bit dingy, but it’s clearly a big venue for weddings and events, with a number of function rooms. It’s nice inside, and no-one minded us having a snoop around. Always a good sign in a hotel I think!

Back on the High Street, I was just taking a photo of a lane and a lady stopped to say “You must visit the bookshop over the road, there are lots of interesting nooks and crannies to photograph there!” So although the shop was about to close, I managed to get some pics. Independent bookshop Much Ado Books is well known in these parts for its extensive programme of events and also as a supporter of less commercial literature such as poetry, so that’s a WIN as far I’m concerned.

Eccentric and great fun – definitely a place to revisit when there’s more time.

Alfriston is lovely but it suffers from one big problem that’s hard to miss. A road runs through it – the only road for miles linking the two main east-west highways through East Sussex, the A27 and the A259. As a result, Alfriston is both a destination for coaches, cars and buses, AND right on a popular cut-through for cars and freight. The perfect (traffic) storm. To give you a feel of it, watch this video I took while I was there – and what you see here is by no means unusual, it happens all the time!

The discussions about what to do to ‘save’ Alfriston have been going on for years, and last year East Sussex County Council ran a trial traffic light scheme which no-one seemed happy with. Despite strong efforts by the local Conserve Alfriston group it looks like the dreaded traffic lights may well be installed permanently. It’s looking very bleak and sad. There’s a whole lot of information on the Conserve Alfriston website including the detailed alternative proposal put to the council (pretty much ignored) which points out that driver behaviour is the number one problem, not ‘traffic management’. Shared space, a kind of human-centric approach to our living spaces, finding ways for pedestrians, cyclists, horses and vehicle drivers to coexist in a safe balance, respecting the environment, the historic significance and culture of a place, has been shown to work spectacularly around the world. Yet there are still ‘transport committees’ trotting out the same old (unhappy) car-centric schemes that have blighted our cities, towns and villages for decades. It seems unbelievable that coaches and HGVs like you see in the above video are even allowed through the village centre, where the road narrows to something like 3 metres.

So if you want to enjoy the atmosphere of historic Alfriston before our motor-obsessed society finally kills it, I suggest you visit soon (and use the large car park – it’s only a short walk into the centre).

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