A stay in zany 16th-century East Sussex inn The Bell, where the guest rooms 'blend madcap with chic'

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Great British boltholes: A stay in a zany 16th-century East Sussex inn, where the guest rooms ‘blend madcap with chic’ and the ‘yummiest’ eggs are served up for breakfast

  • Richard Mellor checks into The Bell in the village of Ticehurst and finds that ‘exuberance is the word here’
  • His ‘vibrantly hued’ guest room features a window seat, a vintage dentist’s chair and a silver-birch trunk 
  • Four-time Chelsea Flower Show gold-medallist Jo Thompson designed the ‘fragrant’ rear gardens 

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Spike Milligan would have loved The Bell. The comedian once lived in Ticehurst, and his wacky but ever-charming humour is echoed in its exuberant pub.

And exuberance is the word here. Dating from 1560, this former coaching inn pairs ancient features with zany modern touches. 

Take its main bar: the original, low-beamed ceiling appears at first to be held up by a wobbly-looking column of books. 

Richard Mellor checks into The Bell (above) in Ticehurst, East Sussex, a former coaching inn that dates from 1560

Richard Mellor checks into The Bell (above) in Ticehurst, East Sussex, a former coaching inn that dates from 1560 

The pub's dining room, where classic British cuisine is served with'occasional French influences'

In the inn’s main bar the ‘original, low-beamed ceiling appears at first to be held up by a wobbly-looking column of books’

In the gents’, upside-down tenor horns have become urinals. In an adjacent snug, bird sketches and a Graham Sutherland self-portrait typify the inn’s eclectic artworks.

The Bell is rather like a beloved aunt or uncle – the sort who wears kooky clothes and bakes incredible brownies.

Four-time Chelsea Flower Show gold-medallist Jo Thompson designed the rear gardens. Summer cocktails may be sipped under a mulberry-tree canopy, beside fragrant rosemary bushes. 

Come winter, the focus at The Bell is on indoor fun: comedy shows, art classes and live music.

The bedrooms differ wildly in size, says Richard, adding that seven in the main inn'blend madcap with chic'

The bedrooms differ wildly in size, says Richard, adding that seven in the main inn ‘blend madcap with chic’

The bedrooms differ wildly in size. Seven in the main inn blend madcap with chic – mannequins here, pendant lights there.

Our vibrantly hued double/twin features a window seat, a vintage dentist’s chair and even a silver-birch trunk. The shower is hand-held and curtain-less, but the medley of surrounding tiles is so pretty that this is forgiven.

Three slicker and more spacious lodges with oasthouse-like roofs dot the garden. The larger, two-floor Love Nest throws in a pub-facing balcony. Three more rooms are due next spring.

Ticehurst itself feels buoyant. Its 14th Century church overlooks enticing independent stores and red-brick cottages up flowery lanes. Everyone we meet seems fond and proud of The Bell.

The property'pairs ancient features with zany modern touches', according to Richard

The property ‘pairs ancient features with zany modern touches’, according to Richard

The Bell hosts comedy shows, art classes and live music during the colder months of the year

The Bell hosts comedy shows, art classes and live music during the colder months of the year 

Four-time Chelsea Flower Show gold-medallist Jo Thompson designed the inn's rear gardens

Four-time Chelsea Flower Show gold-medallist Jo Thompson designed the inn’s rear gardens

There’s much more to like in this corner of Sussex’s High Weald: pick your own fruit at Maynard’s farm, fish at Bewl Water, or visit National Trust-owned Bateman’s, the preserved home of Rudyard Kipling, and Pashley Manor and its lovely gardens. 

We dined in The Bell’s cosy bar, alongside exhausted walkers and older couples enjoying a weekend away. Classic British cuisine with occasional French influences is offered, courtesy of newly installed head chef Mark Charker. 

Sussex-landed cod with broad beans, lovage and fish veloute sits alongside Bodiam cote de boeuf on the menu, but it’s several notches above gastropub prices, with pie and mash with braised lamb and vegetables coming in at £20.

Delicate puds include English strawberries with white chocolate and basil sorbet accompanied by pepper tuille, and tayberries with lavender shortbread, pistachio cream and yogurt sorbet.

Next morning’s mini-croissants are regrettably tepid, but my cooked English breakfast stars perfectly fried bread and the yummiest eggs I’ve ever scoffed.

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