Why you should skip the beach this weekend and head to Petworth instead - Article in The Telegraph Travel

Why you should skip the beach this weekend and head to Petworth instead

If you’re wandering around Mayfair this weekend and are surprised to find yourself unnervingly alone, there’s a simple explanation – the resident’s have all upped sticks and decamped to Petworth for a country getaway.

In this small rural town, undulating cobbled streets are lined with chocolate-box houses draped in more wisteria than Hyacinth Bucket could dream of, pretty country churches are fronted by the most well-loved lavender you will ever encounter and there are more antique stores per square foot than there are currently football fans in Moscow.

Sounds a bit stuffy

Not at all. A little like Midsomer but without the murder, Petworth has an air of charming eccentricity to it. The name ‘town’ seems far too large to describe the small jumble of streets, and the community has much more of a village vibe to it – while everyone knows everyone else (and their business), you’ll never feel unwelcome as a weekender from the big smoke.

In fact, if you feel like a last-minute escape, this weekend is the closing of Petfringe, an annual festival inspired by the success of the Edinburgh and Brighton fringe festivals. Drop by on Sunday July 7 and you can catch the grand finale of Comedian of the Year with its whopping £10,001 prize.

Did you say something about antiques?

As you wander around Petworth (pick up a town map or download a copy here), be prepared for a plethora of antique stores – they are on almost every corner and down every snicket. There’s a whole antiques market, in fact – a small warren of treasures includin mirrors at Christopher Walker, copper and ironmongery at Claire Wilson, and jewellery at Bill Barr Fine Art.

If you’ve parked in Petworth Main Town Car Park, you can be at the door of one of the town’s top furniture and antique stores in less than 20 paces. Augustus Brandt is where the residents of Mayfair head to kit out their lavish homes and there’s something for every sense of style, from 18th century Dutch marquetry press cupboards to mid-cen­tury Scan­di­na­vian lounge chairs by Otto Schultz and Illum Wikkelso. The seemingly never-ending store has a (more) affordable gift shop and also houses exhibitions – Through the Eyes of Four Photographers finishes July 14.

Speaking of old, isn’t there a rather grand house in Petworth?

You can’t wend your way through the streets for long without coming across a sign for Petworth House. One of the country’s most famous stately homes, the first thing you’ll discover about the 17th-century building is that it is surrounded by a vast wall, which, if you believe the locals, was constructed to keep the servants in rather than the vagabonds out.

Built in 1682 when heiress Elizabeth Percy, daughter to the 11th Earl of Northumberland, married Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, the house has everything you’d expect from an old British mansion. The staterooms house an impressive collection of art and sculpture, including works by van Dyck, Turner, Flaxman and Blake, while the Servants’ Quarters offer a glimpse of life below stairs.

What about outside?

While the gardens immediately attached to the house are rather small, and are included in the entry fee, one of the best things about the grounds of Petworth House is that you can access a large portion of them – known as Petworth Park – for free.

If you approach the house from North Street, you can enter the park via The Cowyard (look out for the small black National Trust sign). Wander past the interesting outbuildings and pass through the long tunnel to some rather grand iron gates and into the 700-acre park for your daily constitutional (there are also two entrances to be found on the A272, Midhurst Road).

Landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, this vast deer park offers panoramic views and inspired the work of JMW Turner. If you’re eager to explore, visit Walks at Petworth and check out one of the many trails. Be sure to head to the northwest corner of the park to see the Upperton Folly.

For those that want to explore beyond the wall, there are some great walks to enjoy – after all, you are in the South Downs National Park. A favourite among locals is the Petworth and Shimmings Valley and a list of local country walks can be found here.

Deer-Petworth-iStock-484673103.jpg

That’s a lot of walking. Where can I get some sustenance?

Feeling peckish? Not to worry, Petworth has plenty of little restaurants where you can fill your boots, and like any country town worth its salt, the food here is all about fresh local produce.

For a bite on the go, swing by Baytree Bakery and pick up something warm and gooey. If you fancy a brew, head for Tiffins tea room.

For something more substantial, the New Street Bar & Grill is a must. The restaurant underwent a renovation earlier this year and has been transformed from a thigh-slapping man cave into a light, cosy and welcoming spot serving up tender steaks. Start the meal with a glass of Classic Cuvee from the nearby Nyetimber vineyard.

All that fresh air and English wine has made me sleepy

All tuckered out? Never fear, Petworth has quintessential country pubs where you can spend the night. Newly renovated, The Angel Inn is cosy but modern. For something out of town, try The Horse Guards Inn in the sleepy West Sussex village of Tillington.