|Reprinted from MailOnline|
|Why I just love to live in Chichester|
Alexandra Bestedo September 2007
American novelist Philip Roth, who was staying with us, was the first to point out the headline in the local newspaper. It screamed: Goldfish Found Dead In Pond.
My heart sank - if this was the main news of the week, how would I, a confirmed Londoner and inhabitant of modish Chelsea accustomed to muggings and police sirens, possibly be able to contemplate living in such an uneventful town as Chichester? It was marriage that had brought me to the place as, shortly after we were engaged, my husband Patrick Garland was appointed Artistic Director of the famous Festival Theatre, which was put on the map by Laurence Olivier.
However, our friends were London habitués so we resolved to rent a house in Chichester with sufficient bedrooms to accommodate their overnight stays and spacious enough to entertain all the actors and board members who visit after first nights. We were fortunate enough to find a classic Georgian house in the historic area of the Pallants in the centre of the town, an added bonus being that it was a stone's throw from Marks & Spencer, indispensable for last-minute hospitality.
Omar Sharif, Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom and Alan Bates, among others, extolled the virtues of Marks' chicken Kiev which, in haste, I often passed off as my own. The festival publicity claimed Chichester as the Theatre For All Seasons, but we always thought of it as the Theatre Of Romance as there were so many summer love affairs.
On a more permanent note, Liz Robertson married Alan Jay Lerner there, Christopher Timothy wed Annie and Penelope Keith wed Roddy Timson, a local detective inspector. During the two years that we lived in the centre of Chichester we became very fond of the town.
Since it is built on top of an extensive Roman settlement, new construction is frequently disrupted by the discovery of archaeological remains. Whenever contractors dig the foundations for a new petrol station or supermarket, they invariably find the relics of a mosaic floor or amphitheatre. Chichester is a compact, exceptional walled city built around a cross consisting of North, South, East and West Streets.
West Street is dominated by the magnificent cathedral (first established in 1108) where we were married and the ornate Bishop's Palace where we held the reception. The cathedral contains beautiful stained glass windows, one by Chagall, Lambert Barnard's beautiful Lady Chapel ceiling, and the monument of the Earl and Countess described by Philip Larkin in one of my favourite poems 'An Arundel Tomb', which begins 'Side by side, their faces blurred, The earl and countess lie in stone...'. Off East Street, Pallant House in North Pallant contains the remarkable art gallery, fast establishing itself as a major centre for contemporary British art on the South Coast with paintings by Auerbach, Peter Blake and Lucian Freud.
In June, July and August the city becomes very busy indeed. People come from far and wide to experience the steeplechase at Fontwell and the racing at Glorious Goodwood, arguably the loveliest racecourse in all of England with a view of the South Downs on one side and the sea on the other. The Festival of Speed takes place at the Goodwood motor circuit, and the Sculpture Park at Goodwood, set in a garden of twelve acres, is at its stunning best.
The boats from the sailing clubs of Itchenor, Birdham, Chichester, Bosham and Dell Quay harbours skim across the Solent, and the Festival Theatre and the Chichester Festivities are in full swing. The Festivities this summer are featuring major singers such as Willard White, orchestras, bands, exhibitions, celebrity talks and a military tattoo.
There is hardly a hotel room to be had in the high season, but my favourite hostelries are the Ship Hotel on North Street - with its magnificent staircase - where Nelson stayed, the Goodwood Park Hotel with its luxurious spa, Roman-design swimming pool and pastoral golf course, and the rural Woodstock House Hotel at Charlton. Chichester is well served with a variety of restaurants - some eighty-four in all.
After two years in Chichester, we reluctantly had to move out of our statuesque house in the Pallants to make way for our landlord who was retiring there. However, the enormous plus was that our friendly estate agent found us a 17th-Century picture-postcard farmhouse, complete with traditional barn, in the farmland known as the Manhood between Chichester and the sea.
It is the traditional garden district of Sussex and the area is occupied on a large scale by greenhouses. The reason being that the juxtaposition of the mainland with the sea, the Isle of Wight to the south and the Downs to the north forms a microclimate. Nicknamed 'God's Little Apron', it frequently has a circular patch of blue and sunshine overhead while clouds abound on all sides. Once removed from Chichester, we lived a more rural, relaxed life and were able to explore the wonderful coastline from Selsey to East Head which has two major nature reserves resplendent in wildlife.
We also discovered the many individual hill villages, each with a separate identity. West Dean Gardens, created by Mrs Edward James (a mistress of Edward VII), with its extensive landscaped gardens, inspires the imagination of most gardeners, while the Weald and Downland Museum nearby is a museum of historic buildings and rustic life with antique interiors, cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, fields and gardens.
My favourite day is in July, when the annual Rare Breeds Show is held. Stansted House at Rowland's Castle (rumoured to be the seat of the inspiration for PG Wodehouse's Lord Emsworth stories) is also well worth a detour and is set in 1,750 acres of glorious parkland with strutting peacocks and woods full of pheasants. One of the most popular harbour villages is Bosham, where King Canute got his toes wet and where his daughter is buried in the local church.
The coastal village of West Wittering with its grand seaside houses was recently dubbed the Sussex 'Hamptons' by Tatler magazine, but my preference is for the more down-to-earth neighbour East Wittering. It remains an unspoilt traditional English village where the shop-owners greet you by name and the villagers pause to chat and pass the time of day.
My favourite walk is around East Head which starts with a view of the sand dunes and the yacht basin and progresses to a panorama of the sailing villages of Bosham, Itchenor, Apuldram and Dell Quay across the water with the Goodwood racecourse perched on Trundle Hill beyond. One then comes round to Hayling Island - with, on a fine day, the Isle of Wight visible in the distance - and back in a circle to where one started.
As a treat, we often finish up at the café, near the beach, where we sit outside looking across the fields to the water enjoying an extensive brunch in the sunshine and pretending we're in the South of France. It is so often frequented by the Festival Theatre actors that we call it Chichester's version of The Ivy.
Return to live in London? A visit maybe, but I'm afraid I couldn't possibly exchange Chichester's old English refinement and lasting serenity for the cosmopolitan frenzy and ceaseless crescendo of the grid-locked streets of London town.