For the most part (the major development round Gatwick Airport is one of the few exceptions), West Sussex remains an essentially rural landscape dominated by the South Downs, a magnificent range of chalk hills. The South Downs Way, a 100-mile bridleway along the crest of the hills from Winchester to Beachy Head, offers panoramic views across the Weald to the north and the sea to the south. It traces the long history of this area along ancient trails, passing Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age hill forts. On the coast, Chichester, the county town, once a busy haunt of smugglers, is now a thriving sailing centre, while the small fishing villages of the past are quiet holiday resorts like Littlehampton, Bognor Regis and Worthing. The ancient woodland of the West Sussex Weald is now a landscape of pastures and hedgerows and small country villages. The trees were felled for fuel to drive the furnaces of the iron industry, which flourished here for centuries. The legacy of this prosperous industry can be seen in the wealth of elaborate buildings, particularly churches, built from the profits.
Evidence of early human habitation and culture abound in this area. The Romans settled in Chichester in the 1st century, and it later became a great medieval religious centre with a fine Norman cathedral. At Fishbourne, the Roman remains of a splendid palace built for the Celtic King Cogidubnus were discovered in 1960. At Arundel, the original Norman motte and double bailey design of its magnificent castle is still visible, as well as the alterations and additions of subsequent generations. Norman churches are everywhere, often little altered over the centuries. In the tiny village of Sompting, there is a Saxon church with a pyramid capped tower, unique in England. Near Ardingly, Wakehurst Place is the striking Elizabethan mansion of the Culpeper family, with a magnificent collection of trees and shrubs. Wakehurst Place is also home to the Millennium Seed Bank, a project that aims to ensure the continued survival of over 24,000 plant species worldwide. Petworth House is an elegant late 17th century building, reminiscent of a French château with a garden landscaped by Capability Brown. Close to East Grinstead, the remarkable Victorian country house, Standen, has been sensitively restored to its original Arts and Crafts Movement style.
Many great artists and literary figures have found this region inspirational. Turner loved to paint its landscapes and harbours. H G Wells, Anthony Trollope and Tennyson all lived here. The composer Edward Elgar wrote his famous cello concerto at Fittleworth in 1917. And at Hurstpierpoint, at the Elizabethan mansion, Danny, Lloyd George and his war cabinet drew up the terms of the armistice that ended World War I.
Within easy reach of London by rail or road, but not so near as to suffer too much from commuter belt blight, served by an international airport and close to channel ports for travel to the continent, it is no surprise that many notable people continue to make their homes here. Few places so elegantly combine 21st century convenience with the unspoiled charm of a rich historic heritage.