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South England Suggestions

My husband and I, and our three children (28, 26 and 21) would like to travel to the south of England at the end of September, as part of a trip we’re taking to London and Berlin. We will have three full days and three nights to spend there. Not ideal – but that’s all we’ll have. Things we’d love to do: take hikes lasting two hours or so, wandering around villages and small towns and going to their pubs, and visiting a castle if possible. We’ll be starting our trip to southern England from either Heathrow or Gatwick – not sure which one yet. We have researched renting a car but it’s very costly to rent an automatic transmission car that will accommodate five adults plus luggage. Also, it will be less stressful and more enjoyable for the drivers in the family if we don’t drive. We’re very comfortable taking public transpo, but on the other hand we want to minimize time spent waiting and making connections. We would really appreciate advice about a good base town for this part of our trip, maybe in the South Downs or High Weald areas that aren’t too far west. Also, is it possible to get a driver/ride to take us from the base town to the nearby towns we want to explore and hike from, and therefore not be dependent on public transpo schedules? Based on car rental prices, it seems that hiring a driver on occasion would be less expensive overall than renting a car. Thank you in advance for your help!

Posted by
585 posts

Fly into Gatwick, that puts you right in the south east part of England. Good train links also. Lewes in Sussex might be a good base for you. It’s a historic town, has a Norman castle, a ruined priory, pubs and a brewery founded in 1790! Was home to Anne of Cleeves after she was divorced by Henry VIII. Handy for getting to the coastal towns of Brighton and Eastbourne. Nearby Pevensey has a great castle with Roman walls, Martello towers from the Napoleonic wars, and was used for air defence in WWII - a long history. South Downs Way is close by and lots of other walks up on the Downs. Google search showed a number of car hire firms in Lewes.

Posted by
4292 posts

I think lanlubber above may have meant Lewes-pronounced Lewis. We're staying there overnight in September after landing at Gatwick. We're renting a car from; considerably cheaper than a traditional company. I've never used them before so can't vouch for them.

This is our first trip to South England so I can't speak from experience on sites to visit but we're staying a couple of days in Winchester which I've read has some nice trails along the river. We'll also be staying overnight in Eastbourne and doing a hike near Beachyhead.

Posted by
27407 posts

A few years ago I spent several nights in Brighton so I could explore that city and take (separate) day-trips to Lewes and Arundel. I enjoyed all three places, and the connections worked fine for me via public transportation, but I tend to be OK even if things take more time than they would with a rental car.

A willingness to use trains or buses on the outbound trip and then pay for taxi or the equivalent on the return could be decent compromise, I'd think. However, I'm not sure how easy it will be to find a driver with a vehicle large enough to accommodate all of you. If you have to pre-book the driver, that wouldn't necessarily give you any more flexibility than you'd have, being tied to the bus or train schedule.

Posted by
6113 posts

Lewes is a good option - plenty character, a castle and walks on the South Downs.

Alternatively, there is the New Forest - good for walking, but no castle.

Tonbridge isn’t as pretty as Lewes, but it has a castle, some good short walks from the town and is on a direct rail line to Canterbury for a day trip. Nearby Hever and Chiddingstone Castles have great walks around them and pretty villages.

Being 5 adults is likely to limit the accommodation options, as many B&Bs in smaller villages are only likely to have 2 rooms available.

Posted by
5 posts

Hello. What an exciting trip you have planned!

Quick thought, you can easily get to Oxford and the Cotswolds from Heathrow airport. It's just over an hour away. Is this south enough and what you had in mind?

Public transport to Oxford and Cotswolds is easy. There are airport buses to Oxford, or mainline train to Moreton in Marsh. Once you get here, get collected at the station and take a private tour with your own guide. In the Stanton area of the Cotswolds there is a wonderful horse riding centre, and all of you might enjoy an afternoon exploring the Cotswold countryside.

There are some fabulous walks in this area, great pubs, and everything is pretty close. You want to maximise time on foot exploring, and less time in vehicles.

Happy to help further, just pm me if you want further advice.

Posted by
96 posts

If car-free and arriving at Gatwick, I would suggest Arundel. It is on a direct line from Gatwick and to London. It is a lovely small town with b&bs, pubs, premier inn, and comfort inn. The town has a castle and cathedral which you could visit on your first day.
On one of your other 2 days I would suggest Petsworth, about 30 minutes by train and bus. There is a national trust property with large country estate and deer park. The town is a centre for antiques and has an interesting town centre.
On other day trips you could take the train to Portsmouth ( naval museum ), Chichester ( cathedral ), Winchester ( another cathedral ) or just head to the coast and hike along the beach.

Posted by
28 posts

Hello, fellow travelers.

Thank you for all of your helpful suggestions! Based on your advice, we've made arrangements to fly into Gatwick from Berlin and then train down to Lewes and base ourselves there, at the Premier Inn. Jennifer was correct in that it was difficult to find a B&B to accommodate the five of us, but the Premier Inn has the space and it looks lovely. Victoria, I stayed in Bibury a few years ago with my mother and sister (not the family I'll be traveling with in the fall) and explored the Cotswolds and Blenheim Palace. I absolutely loved it but selfishly I want to visit somewhere else :), even though I know my family would love that area too!

It appears as though we can take trains/buses to many sights in the south from Lewes, but I'm hoping that once we're in Lewes we can find a taxi service or Uber that can take us places directly. If anyone has any thoughts on that score, I welcome the feedback. Thank you again.

Posted by
459 posts

I'm sure Lewes will be great.

I can see they have a tourist website, and seems they have a tourist information office in the town

+In my experience staff at Premier Inns are very helpful and have good knowledge of local transport options etc.

Posted by
28 posts

Thank you Katy! I just signed up for the Lewes newsletter too.

Posted by
2063 posts

Lewes will be a great base and is a very attractive town to walk round. As well as the castle and ruined abbey, there is Anne of Cleeves House (fourth wife of Henry VIII who he divorced and she survived him). Visit the delightful Southover Grange Gardens. Have a read here for ideas.

There is a regular bus service to Brighton - takes about 30 minutes, so making it good for a day trip. The Royal Pavilion is Regency Bling at its best and well worth visiting.

Alternatively there is a regular train service to Rye (may need to change) which is a delightful unspoilt town where it really does feel that lifer has stopped still. Check times and prices here.