Regional & Seasonal: The Bell, East Sussex
Guests gather near the fire to enjoy food at a charming 16th century Sussex pub full of quirky curiosities
AS DAWN BREAKS, pale light filters through flocculent clouds of a steely-grey sky, bathing the landscape in a gentle glow. Delicate fringes of crystalline frost sparkle on the bare branches of tangled woodland woven into the rich tapestry of patchwork fields. In those early hours, a hushed silence permeates the landscape, pervaded only by the tippling of nearby streams and the soft trill of migrating birds.
Nestled amid this arable farmland and surrounded by quaint buildings built of red brick, a 16th century pub is beginning to stir. In the old inglenook fireplaces, open fires are being lit to allow their warmth to emanate through the oak-beamed rooms, ready for the first guests to appear and new visitors to arrive. Soon, the building will become a hive of activity as beds are made, and food is prepared, with smells to tickle the taste buds wafting from the kitchen and mingling with the comforting fragrance of wood smoke.
This is the Bell, in Ticehurst, East Sussex, a quintessentially English pub in the heart of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with provenance and local produce at its heart. A former haunt of English Victorian poet and writer Rudyard Kipling, the pub lies just five miles from his Jacobean home, on the boundary of Kent and Sussex. Named after the single bell housed in the village church, it has been owned by a number of tenants, serving every purpose, from an alehouse to a saddlery.
“The current owner bought the pub in 2008, and we finally opened in November 2011 after a long renovation,” says Philippa King, the creative and marketing director. “The design is eclectic in the truest sense of the word. The building looks as if an eccentric nobleman has travelled the world and stuffed his house full of curiosities from his travels.”
The interior is a careful blend of old and new, with unusual details, such as a lampshade fashioned from bowler hats, mismatched chandeliers, eagle cuckoo clocks and walls adorned with oil paintings and prints in keeping with the idiosyncrasy of the building. In the dining area, a delightfully haphazard stack of vintage books appears to support the oak-beamed ceiling. “The result is quirky and utterly charming,” muses Philippa.
Steered by the seasonal produce available, the regularly changing menu is as befitting of the building as its furnishings. “The head chef, Oscar Fonesca, creates original dishes, which
make the best of what the local countryside provides,” she explains. Fresh ingredients sourced from local farms and suppliers come to the fore in the sweet and savoury dishes, with fish from the Kent and Sussex coasts, bread from the village’s own Lighthouse Bakery and game from Newington Estate, just a stone’s throw away. “The menu features ingredients that show respect for the seasons, livestock and local producers, and remains part of our ethos.”
The Bell is now closely tied to the heart of the community. “Ticehurst is a vibrant village, with lots of independent shops, which are all doing great business. Our pub brings customers to them. We are so lucky to be on the border of two counties, with amazing walks, fabulous gardens and National Trust properties close by. You would be hard pushed to find a better location.”
As the pub whirs into life for the day ahead, Philippa reflects upon her time in the village.
“I have lived here for 22 years, and the Bell has been a big part of my life for nine of those,” she explains. “It is a wonderful place to meet to enjoy a delicious Sunday lunch after an exploration of everything the surrounding countryside has to offer. It is very special.”