Review by Fiona Duncan, published 20th October 2010.
What a quiet delight. Not because it's perfect, but because it has charm, a quirky past, a sense of place and, above all, a sense of peace. Originally an 18th-century hunting lodge and later a rectory, Burpham Country House is embellished with an ecclesiastical entrance porch and a wooden veranda picked out in sky blue and decorated with hanging baskets.
"We see people's shoulders drop as they come inside," says owner Jackie Penticost. "Many of our guests live quite nearby – Brighton, say – but love the fact that they can relax so close to home. They'll stay for a few days and pop back in the middle to do the watering."
That's what a good country hotel should achieve: allow you to change gear, to wind down. But even before you walk in, you'll find that the village of Burpham itself has had a calming effect. Its flint-walled houses, century-old cricket pitch and picturesque pub are seemingly suspended in time at the end of the road that winds up from the water meadows of the River Arun to the sunny chalk grasslands of the South Downs.
The Penticosts are just the right people to run Burpham Country House. "Cut me in half and you'll find Sussex in the middle," says Steve, whose family has lived in the area for more than 400 years. After fast-paced careers that saw Jackie commuting to San Francisco ("we used to hand over the children at airports") they decided to wind down themselves, buying the rundown hotel five years ago.
It's been a hotel for more than 70 years, with aristocratic shooting parties accounting for a large proportion of the guests. Remodelled in Victorian times, its most famous resident was the Reverend Tickner Edwardes who, as well as parish priest, turned his hand to a seminal book on bee-keeping (The Lore of the Honey Bee) and another on hitchhiking (Lift-Luck on Southern Roads), plus several acclaimed early romantic films in which local girls had starring roles.
None of these facts make Burpham Country Hotel the pleasing place that it is, but they help. There are two sitting rooms, one with television, the other with an honesty bar, and an attractive dining room leading off the elegant hallway. Chickens peck on the lawn and the stately house cat plonks itself wherever it may. The nine modest, comfortable bedrooms are all different, decorated in mild country house style, with an assortment of furniture, fabrics and ornaments.
In other hands this place could have become boutiquified, with scary prices, but the Penticosts have kept things down to earth. Steve is the self-taught chef, and excellent by all accounts (I wasn't able to dine there).
My big gripe came at breakfast, when I wished for good coffee and proper jams rather than those beastly mini-pots, and even beastlier sachets of mustard. Surely this isn't the place for such things, modest or not. But it's a calm, friendly, unpretentious hotel in an exceptional place that everyone ("from dukes to dustmen") can enjoy.
- The Street, Burpham (01903 882160; burphamcountryhouse.com). Doubles from £90 per night. Access possible for guests with disabilities.
WHAT TO SEE
Amberley Working Museum (www.amberleymuseum.co.uk) is a 36-acre open-air site dedicated to the industrial heritage of the South East. It’s also home to craftspeople working to traditional methods. Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve, near Chichester, includes ancient woodland and one of Europe’s finest yew forests, with 2,000-year-old trees. The reserve also has great views of Chichester Harbour.
BEST LOCAL WALKS
Walk directly on to the South Downs Way from Burpham, along Rackham Banks and down to the Bridge Inn at Houghton Bridge, then south along the river to South Stoke and North Stoke medieval churches, returning across the river to Burpham. Or follow part of the 615-mile Monarch’s Way, which passes through Arundel, with its great castle and cathedral, and then on to the pretty local village of Warningcamp and Wepham Woods. You can loop up on to the South Downs Way to make it a circular walk back to Burpham.
The Bridge Inn (www.bridgeinnamberley.com) at Houghton Bridge, Amberley, is a lovely pub that welcomes walkers and offers great modern European and Greek food plus fine beers (Harveys of Sussex and regular guest ales); serves a good Ploughman’s, too. The George and Dragon(www.georgeanddragoninnburpham.com), in Burpham, is a picturesque and excellent gastropub, also well placed for walkers.