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Visit Sussex's grand stately homes and ride the Bluebell Railway
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The Sussex countryside is some of England's prettiest, home to the famous South Downs National Park - a vast expanse of green fields and grazing sheep stretching to the sea. Many aristocratic families have chosen this romantic region as the setting for their grand homes over the centuries, with impressive mansions and castles dotted across the classically English landscape.
Taking in its beauty while chuffing along on a charming steam train is a wonderfully relaxing experience, and you'll do just that on this four-day heritage break for Prima readers. You'll ride on the Bluebell Railway, which was recently voted England's best stream train. It was one of the UK's first heritage trains to be preserved, and has an amazing collection of vintage steam locomotives and carriages.
The track runs from Sheffield Park to East Grinstead, and along the way you'll stop off at Horsted Keynes station, which has been maintained in its original 1930s-style, and fans of Downton Abbey will recognise it as 'Downton' station.
Your tour also includes visits to two National Trust properties with impressive Lancelot 'Capability' Brown-designed gardens: Petworth House, which was built as an English 'Versailles' to rival the palaces of Europe and has a collection of works by Turner, Reynolds, Blake and Van Dyck, and the 18th-century Sheffield Park, with its series of four descending lakes that were further developed in the early 20th century by its then owner, Arthur Gilstrap Soames. Also on your itinerary are Lancing College's extraordinary chapel and a boat cruise around bustling Chichester harbour to spot the resident seals.
Reasons to book
Ride the Bluebell Railway
Stay at Avisford Park
National Trust properties
Chichester harbour tour
Tour Arundel Castle
- Three nights' stay with breakfast at the four-star Hilton Avisford Park hotel near Arundel
- Dinner each evening in the hotel's Cedar Restaurant
- Round trip on the heritage Bluebell Railway, plus a guided tour of Sheffield Park station, museum and engine shed
- Guided evening walk around the ancient market town of Arundel
- Visit to Sheffield Park and Garden
- Visit to Petworth House
- Guided tour of Goodwood House
- Visit to Arundel Castle and Gardens
- Chichester Harbour boat trip
- Visit to Lancing College Chapel
- Visit to Parham House and Gardens
- Comfortable coach travel throughout your short break
- Services of a Brightwater Holidays tour manager
Day1Petworth House and ArundelArundel, United Kingdom
We depart by coach from London and Gatwick and travel into West Sussex where we will visit Petworth House. We will have an opportunity for lunch on arrival (not included) before exploring the mansion, along with its 700-acre deer park landscaped by none other than Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. The house itself is in possession of arguably the finest collection of art in the care of the National Trust, including works by Turner, Reynolds, Blake and Van Dyck.
Following our visit we continue to our hotel, the 4-star Hilton Avisford Park, Arundel. All rooms are en-suite with television, Wi-Fi and tea/coffee making facilities. The hotel also has a pool and sauna
This evening we will enjoy a drinks reception after which dinner will be served. We will then be treated to an evening walk around Arundel in the company of our tour manager.
Day2Bluebell Railway and Sheffield Park and GardenHaywards Heath, United Kingdom
This morning after breakfast we depart for the station at Sheffield Park, the starting point for our journey on the Bluebell Railway, which has been voted as the Best Steam Railway in England. It was one of the first preserved heritage railways in the country, resulting in one of the finest collections of vintage steam locomotives and carriages, many of which were preserved straight out of service from British Railways. Recreating trains from the 1880s through to the 1960s, the Bluebell is popular with film and television productions and Horsted Keynes station has been seen regularly on television and in films, including Downton Abbey. Our train journey will take us at a leisurely pace over the 11 miles to East Grinstead and back to Sheffield Park, where we will enjoy a special guided tour of the station, museum and locomotive shed.
In the afternoon we visit the nearby National Trust property of Sheffield Park. There is something dream-like about Sheffield Park and it is certainly one of the most memorable of all gardens. The house sits on an eminence at the head of a broad valley, with a series of four descending lakes extending far into the distance, attributed to a plan devised by Capability Brown in 1776. The appearance of the garden today is due to Arthur Gilstrap Soames who bought the estate in 1910 and embarked on a great programme of planting, especially rhododendrons. Leading away from the lakes are paths edged with herbaceous planting - ferns, gentians, lilies, primulas and trilliums.
Following our visit we return to our hotel where dinner will be served this evening.
Day3Lancing College Chapel, Chichester Harbour cruise and Arundel Castle and GardensChichester, United Kingdom
This morning after breakfast we visit the breath-taking Lancing College Chapel, an architectural masterpiece which attracts several thousand visitors fascinated by its attractive interior, in addition to its regular worshippers.
We then head for Itchenor where we join our boat for a leisurely cruise around bustling Chichester Harbour and if we are lucky we may see some seals.
In the afternoon we travel to Arundel Castle and Gardens where we enjoy a guided tour. Set high on a hill, its aspect gifts it with spectacular views across South Downs and the River Arun. It has been home to the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors since its founding in the 11th century.
From here we travel the short distance to our hotel, where dinner is served in the evening.
Day4Parham House and Goodwood HousePulborough, United Kingdom
After breakfast this morning we begin with a visit to Parham House and its award-winning gardens. It was featured in Simon Jenkin's England's Thousand Best Houses, where he wrote that "nothing at Parham is superfluous, nothing unloved. It is a house of magic."
We conclude at Goodwood House, where we will have a guided tour. Here, the glamour of the great English country house is tempered by the warmth of a family home, that of the Earl and Countess of March. Don't let the cosiness fool you though, Goodwood House is also home to one of the most significant private art collections in the United Kingdom, and the State Apartments remain a paean to the opulence of the period in which it was built.
Following this we will return to our original departure points in the afternoon.
18th-century manor house converted into a Hilton hotel with a golf course, pools, sauna and restaurant
Retreat to the beautiful English countryside at the elegant Hilton Avisford Park, Arundel, one of the UK's most historic destinations. This quintessential Georgian manor house, first opened in 1756, is set on 89 acres of picturesque land between Chichester and Arundel, 51 minutes from Gatwick Airport. Explore old Arundel touring the Castle grounds and botanical gardens or the huge Gothic Cathedral which flanks the hillside over this riverside town.