The Royal Oak, Hooksway
This traditional 16th-century pub with a pastel-pink façade in the tiny village of Hooksway, a few miles north of Chichester, is a great spot for those walking the Devil’s Jumps, a set of five large bronze age barrows almost a mile away on the South Downs Way. It has a large, sloping front lawn and the homemade food is unpretentious and delicious, like chicken and ham puff pastry pies and jacket spuds heaped with cheese. The Royal Oak also serves local guest ales regularly.
The Cricketers Arms, Berwick
The tiny village of Berwick, nine miles east of Lewes, is best known for its church decorated with a series of striking, colourful murals painted by Bloomsbury artists Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Quentin Bell, who once lived at nearby Charleston. It’s also home to this cottage-style pub, an alternative to the busier watering holes in nearby Firle and Alfriston. It’s set in two small, 17th-century brick and flint houses, with a pretty front garden, an inviting spot in spring when it’s in full bloom, and there are South Downs views and benches in sunny and shady spots. It’s owned by local brewery Harvey’s, so ale is served straight from a barrel in the cellar room behind the bar. There’s a small menu of good-quality pub favourites, like local ham, egg and chips and ploughman’s lunches, and classic desserts, such as sticky toffee pudding.
The Eight Bells, Jevington
This thoughtfully renovated 350-year-old pub is set on a quiet stretch of country road, a pleasant five-mile/two-hour walk from Birling Gap in the Seven Sisters country park, which – although beautiful – gets rammed in summer. The shady, gravel-terraced garden overlooks the gentle slopes of Hayward’s Bottom valley and Folkington Hill beyond. On the menu, alongside substantial dishes like beef bourguignon puff pie with creamed potatoes, Jevington wild garlic risotto and Sunday roasts are snacks that take bar food to the next level – bacon, leek and cider Scotch egg, for example, or cheese and beer pickled onion tart (both £4). Holy Cow! ice-cream made in nearby Seaford is also available. An outside bar and grill serving hot dogs and burgers is set to open from 11 June.
The Half Moon, Plumpton
Next door to the famous Plumpton College and two miles south of Plumpton train station is this laid-back, family-friendly pub set in a beautiful 19th-century coaching inn. Its paved backyard terrace makes a quiet week-night spot for a crisp, chilled glass of Ashdown rosé from local producer Bluebell Vineyard Estates. The pub’s most distinguishing feature, however, is a sprawling paddock garden beyond the terrace and car park. There are benches, a play area, swings, and two rusty old tractors of mysterious origin that are slowly being reclaimed by nature. The covered bar here is open at weekends for alcohol, as well as hot drinks and cakes.
Abergavenny Arms, Rodmell
Most tourists drive straight past the Abergavenny Arms, perhaps because it’s on a bit of an awkward bend along the busy road between Lewes and Newhaven. Unless of course they’re visiting Virginia Woolf’s home, Monk’s House, in the same village, or hiking the Ouse Valley or South Downs Way, which cross paths here. Those who do stop here find an unpretentious, friendly place with a loyal local clientele. There’s a peaceful paved garden out back surrounded by tall trees, reached via a gated side entrance cut into a hedge. Food includes Sunday roasts, starting at £14, and the popular “Sussex longhorn” beef burger with all the trimmings.
The Ginger Fox, near Henfield
Located on the fringes of the South Downs National Park, seven miles north-west of Brighton, the Ginger Fox is the closest country gastropub to the city. It’s set in a lovely, thatched building – note the fox on the top – with a secluded garden overlooking the distant Newtimber Hill. Food is beautifully presented and seasonal, made with ingredients either grown on site or sourced locally: think stream trout with watercress, candied hazelnuts, celeriac remoulade and pickled apple, followed by chocolate delice, with pecan and sea salt brittle and banana ice cream. It’s also renowned for its Sunday roasts, which start at £16.50. The drinks menu includes Sussex wines by Ridgeview and Albourne, and beers by local breweries Bedlam and Long Man. There’s a small children’s play area at the end of the garden, and cycle racks out front.
The Three Moles, Selham
This tiny red-brick inn built in 1872 occupies an idyllic woodland setting along a leafy lane in the heart of prosperous polo country, three miles from Cowdray Park Polo Club. While other pubs in the area have boutique rooms and fancy menus aimed at the spectator crowds, the Three Moles is more down-to-earth, and a regular haunt for the polo players, patrons and grooms. It was also voted Pub of the Year in 2019 by readers of the local newspaper, the Chichester Observer. There’s a newly landscaped three-tier beer garden at the back, with an outdoor pool table, and games like cards, Jenga and dominoes available to play. In summer, the owners organise beer walks to pop-up bars set up along the route through the nearby woodland and barbecues. Only children over 14 years are allowed in the pub.
The Foresters Arms Inn, Graffham
Built in 1609, this is an inviting, unpretentious pub loved by locals. There are a few benches for watching village life play out, and a small, secluded back garden. It might not offer sweeping South Downs views, but it’s convenient if you’re pitched up at Woodfire Camping a couple of miles away, or hiking around the heathland at nearby Lavington Common and through the woodlands of Lavington Plantation, both National Trust nature reserves. There are sandwiches for lunch, and more filling dishes, like fish and chips, pie and mash. (Note: closed on Monday and Tuesday).
The Three Horseshoes, Elsted
Views over the South Downs landscape don’t get much better than from the garden of this 16th-century inn. It’s a memorable spot for a light summer lunch – smoked salmon, prawn and avocado salad, perhaps – while you gaze east across fields towards Midhurst and contemplate a hike up to Harting Down, a few miles away. This Site of Special Scientific Interest is famous for rare species of flora and fauna with interesting names, like cheese snails and cuckoo bees.
The Duke of Cumberland Arms, Henley
Like the Royal Oak in Hooksway, this is another South Downs country pub so hidden, it’s unlikely you’d pass by accident. To find it, you have to take a sharp turn off the main road (the A286 between Haslemere and Midhurst), down a tiny little track that you’ll doubt looks right. Go with it and eventually a red-roof inn emerges on the left, obscured by trees and hedges. There’s a lovely, tiered lawned garden, with fire pits for chilly nights and a water feature running the length of it. Daily dishes use local ingredients like Selsey crab and South Downs lamb.