The South Downs National
Park only briefly touches the coastline of the English Channel, at Beachy Head
and the cliffs known as the Seven Sisters. And this is a pity because the South
Downs themselves end at the sea. The problem is that almost all of the
coastline from Eastbourne to Portsmouth has been built on, even overdeveloped,
in the twentieth century. The one exception outside the National Park is the
unblemished beach at Climping, and this is where Bailiffscourt sits.
Bailiffscourt is only five miles south of where the national park ends, just to
the south of Arundel Castle. It is a perfect seaside gateway into the South
Downs National Park if you want to stay overnight on the coast.
only there because of the vision and sheer bloody-mindedness of Walter
Guinness, Lord Moyne, a member of the famous brewing family, and his wife Lady
Evelyn Erskine. So much of the British landscape we admire today is,
thankfully, the result of stubborn men and women who prized our countryside
During the 1920s
the wealthy Guinness family enjoyed yachting, keeping a family home known as
The Huts near the beach at Climping. To their horror they found out about plans
to build on what they thought of as ‘their’ beach, so they bought the land, all
750 acres of it so that not only would their beach access be preserved forever,
but no modern development would be visible from Climping. The purchase must
have cost a fortune, but it worked. Even today if you stand on the pebbled
beach south of Bailiffscourt you can see no buildings west and just one tower
block erected recently in Littlehampton to the east.
Having bought an
estate they never expected to own, the Guinnesses embarked on a most
extraordinary project. Because Lady Moyne was fascinated with medievalism, they
bought a number of ancient English houses, barns and gatehouses that were taken
down and reconstructed on this estate that they quaintly named Bailiffscourt.
Each building, and sometimes an amalgam of several, was put together by Amyas
Philips, the son of the owner of a Hertfordshire antiques shop whom Walter
Guinness met and liked. Philips, a self-taught architect, created for his
patrons a faux medieval coastal village of buildings that look convincing
individually, even if their orientation does not. Upon arriving at
Bailiffscourt today it does feel that you are in an ancient Sussex village
until you wonder, where is the church? Where is the village green? Why are all
the buildings linked by roads on which you can drive cars rather than by paths?
It is a lovely
fantasy, however, and inside these old buildings (to be honest, new buildings
rebuilt with old stones, doorways, beams and floors) are many public rooms and
bedrooms, most with working fireplaces. In the winter it is possible to sit in
front of the medieval fireplace in your room throwing on as many logs as
the room requires. This is the ultimate English getaway, not just from the
stresses of contemporary life, but from life since the Renaissance kicked in.
The food in the Tapestry Restaurant is excellent with such delights Sea Salt
& Rosemary Focaccia, Chateubriand Steak and a Gin & Tonic Sorbet.
Guests can also dine outside in the courtyard in good weather.
is more popular than ever. This is a destination hotel for many people. It is
not unusual for guests to helicopter in for lunch [that happened last time I
visited]. Tellingly, as soon as UK pandemic restrictions were first relaxed in
2020, a lady arrived by private helicopter to pick up the hotel’s scones and
jam to take with her back to London. She’d missed them so much.
is not quite in the South Downs National Park but it should be. And even if it
isn’t, it’s just five miles south of it, so you can enjoy a walk on the beach
in the afternoon and drink whisky in the evening in your warm mediaeval room and
then the next day head inland to explore the national park.