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All Nature, No Bunkers

Trevor Ray Hart A different breed: member Simon Radcliffe and his playing partner Leo.

Photo: Trevor Ray Hart

Trip Planner: Ashdown Forest

Where to Play

Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club Old Course: ****1/2
Architect: Rev. A. T. Scott, 1889. Yardage: 6,463. Par: 72. Greens Fee: $110. Contact: Chapel Lane, Forest Row, East Sussex; 011-44/1342-822-018, royalashdown.co.uk.

West Course: ***
Architect: W. R. Lee, 1889; Horace Hutchinson, 1932. Yardage: 5,606. Par: 68. Greens Fee: $55. Contact: Same.

Where to Stay

Less than a ten-minute drive from the golf club, the Ashdown Park Hotel (ashdownpark.com; rooms from $335) in Forest Row is the best base for exploring the area. The cavernous stone mansion has changed hands several times over the years, its interior most visibly influenced by five decades as a Catholic convent. Elite Hotels, however, has added all the modern amenities, including a spa and fitness center and even an eighteen-hole par-three course.

Forty minutes down the road in the village of Cuckfield is Ockenden Manor (hshotels.co.uk; rooms from $335), an almost toylike country house that dates to the early seventeenth century. Of its twenty-two cozy rooms, many still have their original fireplaces and detailing intact.

Where to Eat

For a formal evening, the Anderida Restaurant at the Ashdown Park Hotel and the Michelin-starred Ockenden Manor restaurant are both paragons of gastronomy. But it's the country pubs that best capture the area's spirit. Often located on back roads in converted farm buildings, they are hubs of social life where locals gossip over pints of bitter. Dried hops festooned from the rafters lend interiors a warm, rustic charm, and they all feature fine cuisine and solid wine lists. My favorite, the Coach and Horses (011-44/1825-740-369) in Danehill, even received the Michelin "Bib Gourmand" for its French-inflected fare—the highest accolade available to pubs and informal restaurants. In Hartfield, the Hay Waggon Inn (011-44/1892-770-252) offers homemade pizzas alongside traditional fare such as Yorkshire pudding. At the bustling Hatch Inn (011-44/1342-822-363) near Forest Row, try the Angus steak with mushroom sauce and crispy leeks.

Other Attractions

Opera lovers cherish the summer-long Glyndebourne Festival (glynde bourne.com) held at one of the world's most prestigious opera houses. Picnicking in the gardens at intermission (which lasts ninety minutes, so the "picnic" is an extravagant meal) is a smart way to spend an evening.

Garden and manor touring is also popular, and there are scores of well-preserved historic piles from which to choose. The two I visited, Gravetye Manor (gravetyemanor.co.uk) near East Grinstead and Great Dixter (greatdixter.co.uk) in Northiam, were remarkable. The former is an Elizabethan mansion once owned by William Robinson, who advanced the "wild garden" in opposition to Victorian ideals of order in nature. The latter was the home of Christopher Lloyd, who wrote a garden column for Country Life for forty years (he died last year). The house is a palimpsest of styles from medieval to modern, and the colorful gardens highlight the interplay of the formal and the experimental.

And be sure to take your kids—or the kid in you—to the attractions of Pooh country.

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