Tom Goodenough

Forget Cornwall — England’s sunniest county is made for staycationers

Forget Cornwall — England's sunniest county is made for staycationers
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If the prospect of keeping an eye on transport secretary Grant Shapps’s Twitter feed doesn’t fill you with much joy, there’s only one option for a holiday this year: a staycation. So where is the best place in Britain to find good weather?

Of course, no holiday in the UK can be guaranteed to be rain free, but there is one part of the country where you are more likely than elsewhere to find sunshine.

Devon? Cornwall? The answer may surprise you. Sussex is, in fact, the sunniest county in the United Kingdom, according to Met Office records. Over the last 29 years, the western part of the county has averaged 1902 hours of sunshine a year. Not to be outdone, Eastbourne and Hastings, in the east of the county, hold the record for the sunniest month ever recorded: 383.9 hours sunshine in July 1911.

Exactly 110 years on from that record breaking month, Sussex is as sunny as usual - and a good bet for fed-up Brits hoping for some warm weather without the prospect of being stuck in quarantine on their return.

Much of Sussex’s coastline is shingly, but there is plenty of sand for those who know where to look. The obvious choice is Camber, ten minutes away from the ancient town of Rye, which boasts the type of endless sands you would not expect to find in this part of the south coast.

If you’d rather not laze around on the beach, then the county offers plenty of other things to do. Beachy Head, which rises up over 500 feet from the English Channel, is the highest chalk sea cliff in the country. The walk from the cliffs across the Seven Sisters to the beach at Birling Gap numbers among one of Britain’s finest coastal treks. For first-time visitors, don’t be surprised if the views are oddly familiar: the cliffs have formed the backdrop to films including Harry Potter, where it was the setting of the quidditch championship.

The rooftops of Rye, Sussex (iStock)

The cliffs are easy to access from Eastbourne, a seaside town which has tried hard in recent years to shake off its reputation as ‘God’s waiting room’. There are two big highlights in the town’s calendar: June, when Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park plays host to a pre-Wimbledon tournament, which offers tennis fans a good chance of seeing top players in action if they miss out on the Wimbledon ballot; and August, when wing walkers, Battle of Britain planes and modern-day fighter pilots take to the skies for a free airshow over the seafront.

A short drive along the beach takes you to Hastings. The town has changed little since its heyday in the Victorian era, and its outskirts make the area’s ranking among Britain’s most deprived areas plain to see. Unlike Brighton, the town has failed to attract a flood of Londoners looking for a spot by the sea, but this is no bad thing; it has helped Hastings retain its character.

The Old Town is full of quirky shops of the type you once found in Brighton. Hastings is also home to some truly outstanding fish and chip restaurants. Maggie’s Fish and Chips on the aptly-named Fishmarket Road is one of the best in the country; it sources all of its food from within a 20-mile range.

But not everything about Sussex is worth writing home about. The county is home to Bognor, one of Britain’s most derided seaside towns. It has been the butt of jokes ever since King George V uttered his immortal phrase ‘Bugger Bognor’ 90 years ago. Does it deserve its reputation? Unfortunately it’s hard to disagree with Bill Bryson’s verdict that this is a town on life support. But of course if it’s sunshine you are after then Bognor is still worth a visit: it was ranked top in terms of sunniest staycation spots for Britain, according to an analysis of Met Office data.

The Bolney Wine Estate, Sussex

If you prefer windswept solitude to packed seaside resorts like Bognor, then Sussex still has plenty of options. For peace and quiet, it’s hard to find a better spot than Norman’s Bay near Pevensey. Sandwiched between Hastings and Eastbourne, the shingle beach is close to the spot where the Normans arrived in 1066. The beach is hard to get to but worth the effort: apart from on the busiest days in summer you’ll have the windswept, dramatic seafront all to yourself. And if you stay in the area, you’ll wake up to nothing other than the sound of the waves and fisherman arriving early. There are some other visitors who you may have to share your holiday with: a family of seals is known to bob along the coast here, feeding off river eels which pour into the sea from the Pevensey Levels.

For those who think a holiday in England means missing out on sampling some decent local wine, think again. For a county soaked in sunshine, it perhaps isn’t much of a surprise to learn that Sussex also has plenty of vineyards. The region’s favourable weather and limestone chalk soil match those found in the Champagne region, meaning that there Sussex is home to plenty of fine english sparkling wines. The most famous are Bolney Wine Estate and Bluebell Vineyard Estates, both of which are open to visitors.

Not far from the vineyards, Sussex is also home to Bateman’s, a 17th century Jacobean house, now owned by the National Trust, which Rudyard Kipling brought with the proceeds of his book sales. It’s fitting that an author famed for his depictions of tropical far-flung colonial outposts of the British empire wrote that the ‘spot’ he ‘beloved over all’ was Sussex by the sea. It’s not hard to see why.

Seven nights at the Fisherman's Cottage in Normans Bay near Bexhill-On-Sea is available from £447 with Sykes Cottages

Written byTom Goodenough

Tom Goodenough is online editor of The Spectator.

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