My favourite Sussex: entrepreneur and author Vanessa Branson

Vanessa Branson. Photo: Leila Alaoui

Vanessa Branson. Photo: Leila Alaoui - Credit: Leila Alaoui

The arts patron, writer and hotelier is the sister of Virgin Group founder Richard. She reveals her favourite ways to unwind in the county

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In 1999 I bought a farm just south of Chichester and moved in with my young family. Millennium celebrations were in the air and we immediately set to work on planting a wood to mark the event. Tree-planting has become one of the biggest joys of owning land and over the past two decades we have planted more than 2,000, the latest wood consisting of only fruit and nut trees.

Your earliest memory of Sussex? I grew up in the land-locked village of Shamley Green, five miles south of Guildford. My mother craved the adventure of the sea. My first memory of Sussex – in fact one of my first memories ever – was sneaking off to West Wittering beach with Mum – on a school day!

Where do you go to unwind? To be honest I can unwind anywhere when I leave my laptop behind. The family beach has been an unadulterated joy: we can spend hours there with my 95-year-old mother sheltering from the wind nursing a whisky and soda while the great grandchildren build sandcastles. We paint, we eat, drink and marvel at the sun setting over Hayling Island - it doesn’t get much better than that.

Favourite Sussex walk?

Kingley Vale at dusk. Anticipation builds for the first mile, as you walk from the car park into the heart of the Downs and the dark, dark woods. Owls sweep the corn fields on either side of you and then you enter. The ancient yews never fail to transform your thoughts from the everyday into worlds of awe and wonder. Then the mighty bowl, the steep climb topped by the prehistoric burial mounds and the stupendous views of the south coast and the spire of Chichester Cathedral.

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Where is your favourite place to shop?

East Wittering has everything a girl desires ..the pound shop is full of knick-knacks but also useful household goods, lighters, candles, mugs and fun gifts. There are a couple of excellent vegetable shops and of course Something Fishy - the area’s go-to fishmonger.

Best Sussex night out?

Pre-Covid I considered London to be my cultural hub and Sussex was where I immersed myself in the great outdoors. I try to see every show that Chichester Festival Theatre produces of course. My favourite evenings are spent with friends and family, around our fire pit under the stars.

Best place to eat or drink in Sussex?

We are extremely fortunate to have an excellent local – The Lamb in Birdham.

If you could move anywhere in Sussex where would it be?

I’m happy to stay put. Anywhere on the Manhood Peninsula is magical – the joy of having the different environments of the harbour and the beach so near by, and all within 15 minutes of the glorious South Downs.

Your Sussex life in three words?

Adventure, challenge, sunburn.

FIND OUT MORE Vanessa’s book, One Hundred Summers: a Family Story (published by Bloomsbury), is out now.

She will appear at The Petworth Festival Autumn Special including the 10th Anniversary Literary Week which runs from Friday 16 October-Sunday 1 November.

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