Quirky, romantic bolthole – The Bell Inn, Ticehurst
At the start of November I spent a week living in a shoebox of a hotel room with a plastic shower ‘pod’ in London’s Docklands while I, somewhat ironically, reported on a travel show.
After days living out of a suitcase I decided it’d be great to do it all again… well, for one more night and somewhere a lot less functional, so I pounced on a deal I saw for the Bell Inn in Ticehurst.
It was the quirky decor that caught my eye when I booked and since staying this is still my favourite thing about the place.
The style could be called rustic/shabby-chic – think distressed furniture and vintage bits and bobs (our room had an old dentist’s chair). There’s even a trademark lump of tree in each of the rooms.
Each also has a flatscreen TV (ours was in a picture frame), free wifi and a comfy handmade mattress on the bed but they all have different style quirks.
One of the staff had called beforehand to check if we had any special requirements, which made a good first impression. The room inclusions were also thoughtful. There was mineral water, a good selection of tea, and slices of cake left with the welcome letter. There was also a handy list of recommended local attractions and businesses in a folder. You can book in-room treatments if you really want to indulge, including a Japanese ko bi do facial, which sounds intriguing.
The latest additions to The Bell are three lodges and the Love Nest (see above) at the back, set round a garden with firepit that look very cute.
We were there on a Sunday night and slept at the front of the building, facing the road, which meant the traffic noise was bothersome in the morning so I’d recommend asking for a back room or upgrading to a lodge if your stay covers a weekday.
The Bell has plenty of heritage. The building has existed in some form since 1296 but became an Inn in 1645. Rudyard Kipling (whose home Batemans is now a National Trust property a handy 15 minutes away) wrote the poem A Smugglers Song there, about how locals allegedly turned a blind eye to black marketeers.
The ‘Stable with a Table’ function room encourages banquet style feasting (I had a peek and it’s a lovely cosy space)
While the Big Room can be hired for film screenings with food to fit the theme – think burgers for Grease, Champagne and canapés for Breakfast at Tiffany’s – which costs £25 a head for adults or £14.50 a head for children’s parties.
There’s some interesting art on the walls in and around the bar and restaurant including a lithograph by Henry Moore and a limited edition Picasso print. I think I also spotted a signed Banksy.
In the gents you can even have a tinkle in a tuba but for some reason my husband refused to take a photo of a row of urinals. Spoilsport.
Dinner was in the cosy dining area next door to the bar. First up was a mackerel fillet with horseradish breadcrumb coating that was so sinus clearing I had to scrape it off and look enviously on at my husband’s bruschetta. I chose fish pie with pea puree for the main and that was great – stuffed with seafood, including a generous amount of scallops. I continued with the comfort food and the sticky toffee pudding went down a treat and wasn’t too sickly.
I like that The Bell uses local suppliers and shouts about it. There is even a fish shed on the premises on Saturdays that serves pavement paellas in good weather.
The lighting was all very low and atmospheric, which didn’t make for good food pics, so here are some of the Bell’s own that do the food more justice…
After we’d eaten we lingered on in the bar and had a whisky in front of the gorgeous open fire.
Breakfast was another hearty affair. OK there was muesli and fruit, no one forced me, but I went for the Eggs Royale while nearby guests were tucking into a full English. Kippers were among other options.
Alas, the village has something in common with Mexico City – no, not Aztec ruins and mariachi bands – most things are closed on Mondays (Sundays too). I’ll just have to make a return visit soon.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: A romantic weekend away, especially in the new lodges; foodies; celebration meals; events (check out their What’s On section for comedy nights, debates and more); parties in the function room. It would be lovely for a low-key wedding (it has a license). The Bell can also arrange stag and hen weekends with local activities.
Not so good for: If you love minimalism and smart, functional living then obviously The Bell wouldn’t be your bag.It’s not a place you’re likely to stay with children, though there are sofa beds in the lodges and I can see them happily tucking into a family Sunday lunch. If you live locally it’s a great bet for children’s film and food parties though.
££ Foodwise, starters are mostly around £7.50, mains a more reasonable £11.75-£17.50 with several down the lower end of that range. They also do £7.50 baps at lunchtimes. Rooms this month and next are currently starting from £75 for a double room or £175 for a lodge on a Sunday night and from £120 for a double, £245 for a lodge on a Saturday night but beware, Saturdays sell out early.
I got a deal through Secret Escapes and I’ve seen The Bell on there a few times so it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled.
The Bell Inn, Ticehurst, East Sussex, TN5 7AS 01580 200 234 firstname.lastname@example.org thebellinticehurst.com