Chichester, West Sussex
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Review of "Chichester, West Sussex"
Ciao for now
Having lived and worked in Chichester (or nearby) for the last 20 odd years, I think I now know the place well enough to write a half decent review on it's main sights and attractions. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Chichester is a town situated in West Sussex on the south coast of England. It's an elegant and historic town with some lovely examples of Georgian architecture and there's plenty to see and do. The main landmark is Chichester Cathedral (more on that later), which is over 1,000 years old and whose spire can be seen from many miles away.I'd describe Chichester as a rather elegant town, but you do need to know the place fairly well in order to find all its hidden treasures. Chichester doesn't give up its secrets easily - it's full of surprises, but they're pretty well concealed and mostly unflaunted. You can regularly be surprised by a hidden archway or a wrought iron gate leading into a previously undiscovered public garden or park. Having worked on the south side of the town for many years, I changed jobs and started working for a firm located in the northern part of town; I was amazed to discover new aspects to Chichester I'd been walking past for many years unobserved and unknown - Priory Park (see below) being a prime example.
~~~ A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY ~~~
Chichester can trace its ancestry all the way back to 44AD and Roman Times. The layout of the town has changed very little since those times, and the main streets (North, East, South and West Streets) are still laid out in exactly the same way as they were when they were first built. The city walls surrounding Chichester were first constructed in the 3rd century in order to protect the town from attack and invasion. They've obviously been patched and reconstructed over the centuries, but they can still boost over 2,000 years of history. Although the remaining walls (which now only partially surround the town) are actually medieval, they're still standing on the old Roman foundations. You can still enjoy a leisurely stroll along the remaining city walls - it takes about an hour at a leisurely pace and is about 1½ miles in distance. It's a superb way to see the town and there are loads of interesting views from the more elevated vantage points.And Chichester is a town well worth exploring. Roman foundations and medieval walls aside, there are some lovely examples of Georgian and 19th century architecture to be found if you just wander around. Not forgetting, of course, the famous Cathedral (on which building first began in 1091) and the Medieval Market Cross in the very heart of the town.
~~~ CHICHESTER CATHEDRAL ~~~
The cathedral is arguably Chichester's most famous landmark, and its majestic spire can be viewed from miles around. Never fear getting lost walking your dog in the surrounding countryside, the spire is a beacon to point you back in the right direction! Founded in the 11th century, the cathedral thrives today despite having had to weather two fires, collapsing masonry and a damaging thunder storm. The Cathedral is unusual in that it has a separate bell tower a few metres away from the main building, rather than being integrated into it. Chichester Cathedral can be described as Norman with Gothic additions. Inside it has a fine example of a section of Roman mosaic flooring, a stunning stained glass window designed by Marc Chagall and many lovely works of art and hanging tapestries. The Cathedral hosts a variety of musical events throughout the year, as well as all the usual religious services. June sees the annual Corpus Christi event with an absolute stunning carpet of flowers laid out for all to view. Regretfully, I've never managed to attend either a religious service or a concert there, but I've wandered through the grounds many a time, and they are lovely, peaceful and welcoming. I've also attended a job interview there (and was unsuccessful!), and taken part in some brass rubbing. There's a lovely glass fronted cafeteria with a nice outside seating area/garden within the Cathedral grounds that is a veritable oasis of calm and tranquility in the height of the summer tourist season. Further details about the cathedral can be viewed at http://www.chichestercathedral.org.uk/
~~~ CHICHESTER CROSS ~~~
Chichester Cross or the Market Cross (because it was once the site for a city centre market), sits in the heart of the city and is at the intersection of the four main roads of the town. The cross was built in the 15th century and is a stunning piece of medieval looking architecture. East Street, North Street, East Street and West Street all radiate out from the Cross and are the main shopping streets of the town (the streets are mainly pedestrianised). Calling the four main streets after points of the compass does make differentiation rather difficult, and unless you know the town really well, you tend to try and remember what the street contains shops wise to get your bearings. For years, we referred to North Street as Woolworths Street or WH Smith Street, just because we couldn't remember which compass point it laid at. East Street was always Marks and Spencer Street, until M&S moved their ladies department into a separate store in North Street and thus had two stores in town!
~~~ THE ARTS ~~~
The arts are well catered for in Chichester. There's the prestigious Chichester Festival Theatre, which was built around 40ish years ago. The building looks pretty dated now, but I'm sure it was a stunning piece of architecture at the time. It's sort of hexagonal in shape and quite imposing. You look down on the stage from a hexagonally shaped auditorium, and that tends to make plays and musicals feel a lot more interactive. I've attended several plays (The Importance of Being Ernest) and musicals (Joseph, Pirates of Penzance) at the theatre and they always put on a good show. More details at http://www.cft.org.uk/
If art rather than acting is more your thing, there's Pallant House Gallery, which reopened its doors in 2006. This gallery houses a stunning collection of British Modern Art and an ever changing programme of exhibitions. Pallant House is a beautiful Queen Anne town house with a lovely pair of iron wrought gates topped with sculpted dodos. You can view works by Picasso, Nash, Sutherland, Moore, Piper and Matisse. I'm not really all that into art, but I'm reliably informed it's well worth a visit. Further details at http://www.pallant.org.uk
~~~ PRIORY PARK ~~~
Priory Park can be found just off North Street and I think it is the veritable jewel in Chichester's crown. I had worked in Chichester for nigh on 15 years before I found this park….to my eternal shame and regret. It's a fantastic place to sit and ponder and watch the world go by. It's also bounded by the ancient City Walls to its north and east, so it's a good place to walk in as well. The Council really do a good job of upkeep and gardening in the park, and there's always something to admire all year round. One of the latest additions is a sensory garden, which is lovely and fragrant when the lavender is in bloom (and there are no people person trailing wafts of Silk Cut by smoking nearby) The park is also the focus of the Chichester Real Ale and Jazz Festival (http://www.chichester-rajf.co.uk/) every July - well worth a visit.
~~~ SHOPPING ~~~
Most of the main shops are located in the pedestrianised North, West, East and South Streets. You have many of the usual high street names on offer in Chichester such as Boots, Next, New Look, Woolworths, WH Smiths and Marks and Spencer (larger electrical retailers, supermarkets and DIY stores tend to be located well out of town - where the rents are cheaper I guess). However, what makes Chichester more special for me is the number of smaller, independent retailers who offer something a little bit different to the normal fayre. There are many unique jewelers and boutiques scattered amongst the streets - all offering something that little bit different (and with prices to match I hasten to add!). Wander off down into the little side streets off the main thoroughfares and you're more than likely to find a charming little shop selling all manner of curios and interesting knick knacks. Sadlers Walk at the end of East Street has a particularly good range of unusual shops like a cake decorator, a camera specialist, a sandwich shop and many others. North Street is home to Swallow Bakery who produce some of the yummiest and creamiest cup cakes I've ever tasted - I defy you to manage more than one! South Street is full of interesting ladies boutiques like East and Max Mara. Opposite the Cathedral in West Street is Chichester's one and only department store - Army and Navy. The Army and Navy can always be relied on to source that difficult outfit you've been searching for, but the store is best avoided during a heat wave or on a Friday. Housed in an old Georgian building, the store lacks decent air conditioning and extraction, so it's like a furnace in the height of summer (I pity the poor staff that have to work in those conditions come July). And Fridays are when they fire up the deep fat fryers for the battered cod and chips…and with no extraction system, the whole store stinks of eau de deep fat fryer!
Friday mornings are also a good day to stay out in the open, as there is a Farmers Market held near the cross and radiating out into North and East Street. There are dozens and dozens of stalls there selling bakery, meat and dairy products as well as garden plants and toiletries. You can buy locally ground flour, organic honey or locally harvested lavender products… to name but a few.
~~~ FOOD AND DRINK ~~~
You'll be spoiled for choice eating wise in Chichester - there are many, many lovely cafeterias, tearooms, restaurants and pubs. Some of the bigger chains tend to be located a short way out of the city centre (i.e. Nando's, Frankie and Benny's, McDonalds and Harvester). However, there is still plenty of choice in the city centre itself. High street names such as Café Rouge, The Slug and Lettuce, Zizzi, Ask, Pizza Express, Wetherspoons and Prezzo all have outlets there. There are also a variety of smaller independent traders scattered in and around the main shopping areas. St Martin's Tearooms does a wicked afternoon tea if your budget is flexible and your pockets deep. The Ship Hotel in North Street serves very nice lunches and dinners, as does Woodies in St Pancras (bottom of East Street). Pubs wise, I recommend the George and Dragon in North Street, although Wests in (spookily enough) West Street is nice too; housed in an old church, it makes an interesting venue for a drink…but the food is nothing to write home about.
I promise to keep this section short, but it's definitely worth mentioning all the legions of different things there are to see and do just a short hop, skip and jump from Chichester. To the west you have Fishbourne Roman Villa, with some lovely mosaics. There is also the seafront picturesque village of Bosham, where King Canute reputedly instructed the tide to go back (a more detailed description of the charms of Bosham can be read at http://travel.ciao.co.uk/Bosham_West_Sussex__Review_5521435).To the north, there is the Goodwood Estate with its renowned hill top Racecourse, Motor Circuit track (home to the renowned Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival Meetings) and Goodwood House itself. At the bottom of the downs is the lovely Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton. This is a museum which comprises of a large collection of restored historical buildings - some over 500 years old. It's a truly lovely museum and well worth a visit. I've been threatening to write a review about it for years as it really does merit one all to itself (….maybe in 2009……).
To the south, you have Chichester Harbour - a haven for yachting types. There are also the popular seaside villages of East and West Wittering - queues to reach their beaches stretch for many miles when the summer strikes.And finally, to the east, you have the historical town of Arundel (and if you're interested you can read about Arundel at http://travel.ciao.co.uk/Arundel_West_Sussex__Review_5734642)
~~~ RECOMMENDATION ~~~
I'd describe Chichester as compact and bijou - it's well worth a visit and taking the time to discover its secrets. Officially Chichester should be called a "city" as it houses a cathedral. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a "city" as "a large town" or "any town in the UK which has a cathedral". Well I'm sorry, Cambridge English Dictionary - Chichester really is, and always will be, more of a town in my opinion. It's just too small (and quaint) in size to really be described as a proper "city". It's definitely a town for exploring, as you're likely to discover something new everytime you go there. Indeed, you can work there for ten years, and then discover something new…just like I did! With its Roman Walls, medieval cross, Georgian architecture and Gothic Cathedral there's plenty to keep your historical enthusiast interested. And even, it you're not all that into architecture and history, the streets of Chichester hold plenty of other charms.
The high street presence of the major chains is good, but there are plenty of one-off boutiques and outlets to keep a more discerning shopper interested. Throw in a decent theatre, musical concerts at the Cathedral, several Arts Festivals and a sparkling new modern art gallery, and there's something to keep the artist in you entertained as well.On the downside, it's a pig to park in and the prices can be on the high side, but both of those are a small price to pay to be surrounded by such lovely architecture and clean, safe streets.
All in all, Chichester is a lovely and quaint town with something for everyone and it comes highly recommended.
~~~ HOW TO GET THERE ~~~
Chichester is easily reached via the M27 (and A27) coastal road which links Sussex, Hampshire and Kent. From London the town is best reached via the A29 or A24. Car Parking
Car parking in Chichester is a particular nightmare. With so much of the town being built well before cars were even dreamt about, there's not much provision for town centre parking. Indeed, any property situated within the city walls with parking commands an absolute premium pricewise! It's best to park at the bottom of one of the main streets and then walk into town. There are largish pay and display car parks at the bottom of North Street (The Festival Theatre car park), East Street (the Market car park) and South Street (the one and only multi-storey car park in Chichester).
~~~ FURTHER INFORMATION ~~~Chichester Tourist Information Centre
29a South Street
Tel: (01243) 775888
~~~ WEBSITES OF INTEREST ~~~
Product Information : Chichester, West Sussex
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City: West Sussex
Listed on Ciao since: 10/10/2008