Step back in time and visit Alfriston
IMAGINE a village or small town that isn’t home to a major supermarket giant, a leading chemist or soulless gastropub, a place where stores close for lunch and fully observe Sunday as a day of rest.
Difficult isn’t it? We live in a time where the above is a rarity and practically unusual.
Even in the quaintest of villages and towns across the UK, chain stores are king and are accepted as part of our day-to-day lives.
So imagine my surprise when earlier this summer, I did indeed visit a village free of commercial restraint and entirely independent and, most importantly, successful.
Alfriston is a tiny place in the heartland of Sussex and is by far one of the most interesting little places you will ever come across.
It’s a blink and you miss it kind of place, nestled within the winding network of country roads, about a 40-minute drive from Brighton.
To arrive in Alfriston is akin to taking a step back in time – so leave the Blackberry and iPad at home. Here you will find distinctive shops and restaurants; from a traditional sweet shop to a convenience store, and old-fashioned newsagent to an amazing little kitchen shop.
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There is a well-known book store, Much Ado Books, which picked up an award for Independent Bookshop of the Year – an Aladdin’s cave of literature and, for book lovers, a place to relax and rummage for hours. There is also Music Memorabilia, a tiny traditional record shop, which boasts an incredible collection of blues and
rock ‘n’ roll.
The aesthetics of these stores are completely in keeping with the area, so no bricks and whitewash. Instead the stone walls, wooden floors, low ceilings and beams characterise each building in the village, and external advertising is limited to the odd sign so visitors know who they are. All are nestled in a small cobbled street where traffic is virtually non-existent and the people – and visitors – are considerate and polite.
The village history runs deep and there is evidence that its origins derive from prehistoric times. It certainly was in existence during the Saxon era and a burial site from this time was built beneath the grounds of the village church.
However, Alfriston is most prominent for its reputation as a resting place for travellers and at the centre of this, is the Star Inn.
Its origins date back to the 13th century and, these days, it trades as a bar, hotel and restaurant in the heart of Alfriston. Once run by monks, the Star became an inn in the early 16th century and was distinctive for its wooden figures which were said to watch over the travellers who pass by. They included the soldiers of the Napoleonic wars and, later, smugglers.
It is here where I stayed with my partner during our visit to Alfriston. The bar area has maintained many of its original features and the low ceilings and large wooden beams are a comforting reminder of its past.
There is further preservation upstairs, above the bar, where many of the hotel rooms are, including the feature rooms. And moving with the times, there is an extension beyond the old inn where there is a wing of rooms and the critically-acclaimed restaurant.
To move from the distinctive character of the bar area to the open-planned breeziness of the new wing is a stark change and you wonder if it could have been merged with more uniformity. But it’s a small gripe for what is largely a very special place.
We enjoyed a hearty lunch in the comfort of the big sofas in the bar and later experienced the marvellous a la carte cuisine in the restaurant. It came as no surprise that, a few weeks after our visit, it was awarded an AA rosette for its exceptional food.
We stayed in the feature room which was the height of luxury: king-size bed, sofas and chairs, a pristine spacious bathroom and plenty of storage.
The perfect surroundings for us to enjoy the final episode of Doctor Who before dinner.
The staff at the Star were wonderful – friendly and non-intrusive but extremely helpful.
To complete your relaxation, spa treatments are available for both men and women.
The beauty of the Star – and indeed Alfriston as a whole – is that it is a place where you can leave behind your worries and relax.
The place is laid-back yet fascinating and the hospitality superb.
If you’re looking for a hideaway for romance and even with the family, this is the perfect treat.
And, of course, you are likely to walk away with a history lesson beneath your belt.
Alfriston is near the Cuckmere Valley in the heart of the South Downs National Park.
The Star, High Street, Alfriston, East Sussex
Tel: 01323 870 495
Fax: 01323 870 922
o The Star is a hotel and restaurant which offers a range of accommodation, award-winning food in its restaurant and bar meals. There are also conference facilities, and there is availability for banqueting and weddings.
Much Ado Books