Home to celebrities Hugh Bonneville and John Bishop, Midhurst is a historic market town that dates back to the 12th century. Tucked away in the west of West Sussex, there are plenty of things to see and do in Midhurst, from ghosts and ghouls to craft beers, tree bathing, and some compelling sculptures.
I know you expected me to start with something a little more conventional but… forest bathing sounds so delightful. And not just any forest bathing, but forest bathing organised by The Spread Eagle Hotel and Spa. They hold monthly events hosted by Swedish teacher Helena Skoog followed by a delicious two-course lunch. Forest bathing is the practice of slowing down and totally immersing yourself in the forest atmosphere. This is inspired by the Japanese art of Shinrin-yoku which draws on the therapeutic powers of nature to reduce stress and impart you with a profound sense of peace. I love this idea so much, I’ve signed up for a session next week and I’ll let you know how I get on. Meanwhile, why not also book yourself in for some more me-time at the hotel spa or their “Midweek Spa Escape with Dinner”?
The Midhurst Museum
The Midhurst Museum describes itself as possibly the smallest museum in the world. You’ll find it in the Knockhundred Market and it’s 8’ 6’’ by 8’ 6’’. That’s small! But they change the theme of the display (all Midhurst related) every month and it’s a museum packed with information that they use to commemorate notable events or periods in time. Well worth a visit!
A trip to Cocking!
Just under three miles from Midhurst is the action-packed village of Cocking. I say action-packed because although you might miss it if you blinked when driving this way, there are three very good reasons to visit Cocking. The first is that it is home to the workshop of sculptor Philip Jackson, known for a number of notable works including the statue of Terence Cuneo at Waterloo station, the Bobby Moore statue at Wembley, Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square and the statue of Elizabeth II, in Windsor Great Park. His work is quite remarkable and it’s worth contacting his team via his website because you may be able to arrange a visit. I visited the Sculptures in the Garden and Studio Gallery last year and they were both mesmerizing and one of my favourite finds of the year.
Another reason to visit Cocking is the Church of St Catherine of Siena which dates from the 11th century (although it was subsequently altered in the 12th to 14th and 19th centuries). From the graveyard, you can see teasing aspects of Philip Jackson’s beautiful garden. When you’re finished, head to the Blue Bell pub which is owned by the local community and serves local produce and ales, is dog friendly, has a garden, and is an official South Downs Information Point with cycle repair facilities on site.
The Cowdray Estate
Well, I can’t write about things to do in Midhurst and not mention the Cowdray Estate which is one of the big guns in the Midhurst area. If you don’t know it, you soon will when you visit Midhurst and you can spot properties owned by the estate by their distinctive yellow paintwork. The Cowdray Estate is home to the magnificent Cowdray ruins, a fantastic farm shop, a polo club, golf, shooting, and some great walks. Look out for the beautiful horses head sculpture by Nic Fiddian Green (although I haven’t checked recently to see if it’s still there).
There is also a famous tree called the “Queen Elizabeth I Oak” which was allegedly visited by Queen Elizabeth I in 1591 and was already old then. The size of its girth makes it the second thickest tree of its kind in Europe whilst it’s thought that it could be up to 1,000 old! And while you’re exploring, keep your eye out for ghosts, and particularly the lady in white who allegedly haunts the ruins and is thought to be Lady Montague!
Meditation at Chithurst monastery
Just a short drive from Midhurst, down a narrow country lane, you’ll find Chithurst and Chithurst monastery. At this Buddhist retreat, you can join the monks to either immerse yourself in their way of life or just for some of their daily routines and practices, such as preparing a meal or practicing meditation.
Uppark House and Gardens
About 10 miles west of Midhurst is Uppark, a National Trust property and another of my favourite places to visit. Although it’s not that far from Petersfield, it feels magnificently remote and commands majestic views. Decorated with exquisite French furniture, delicate Dutch porcelains, and captivating Italian paintings, it’s riddled with interesting stories such as Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh’s famous parties with guests including the Prince of Wales and the notorious Emma Hamilton who is said to have danced naked on the dining table. There was also a horrendous fire in the 1980s. It has fascinating servants’ quarters, a unique 18th-century dolls house, and a summer trail.
Explore local walks
You cannot visit Midhurtst without getting out and about to explore the local countryside. The South Downs Way runs south of the town and if you’ve been to Uppark, then you should also visit nearby Harting Down from where you could walk back to Cocking along the Downs. Alternatively, you could walk part of The Serpent Trail which starts in Haslemere, passes Midhurst and wiggles on to Petworth or try the three-mile Woolbeding Walk along the River Rother.
Less than 2 miles northwest of Midhurst are Woolbeding Gardens (owned by the National Trust), comprising of a total of 1102 acres, of which 26 acres are devoted to the gardens. The gardens consist of two distinct sections: an area of formal garden rooms and a less formal Pleasure Ground. The garden rooms each have a different colour and theme and include a vegetable garden, well garden, fountain garden, herb garden, pool and orangery. There are also follies, a ruined abbey, a Chinese-style bridge, a Gothic summer house and a River God grotto.
Midhurst has its own festival which is making a return this year after Covid and will run from the 1st to the 28th August. It’s a music, arts and drama festival which showcases a variety of entertainment over the month to celebrate local creativity. If you’re not going to be in the area in August but still want some culture, you might want to browse some of the town’s art galleries instead such as the Midhurst Gallery or the Brett Gallery.
Visit the Farmers Market
On the first Saturday of every month, from 9.00 am to 2.00 pm, the market has a whole heap of local produce and artisan goods. It’s held (unsurprisingly) in Market Square, but the Old Library on Knockhundred Row also has local craft, gift and tabletop stalls.
Midhurst appears to be a bit of a Mecca for great quality craft beers! Your starting point should probably be The Crafty Pint in West Street where they know a thing or two about local beer and stock a great selection. Then there’s Langham Tap Room halfway (ish) between Midhurst and Petworth which has its own taproom. They also do tours.
We’re heading back west soon to see if we can sniff out some more things to do in Midhurst. In the meantime, if you liked this post, you may also like: