Annie Morris and Idris Khan’s guide to West Sussex
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We landed in West Sussex purely by chance. In 2021, we decided to leave London, and found a barn to rent near Petworth, on the South Downs, initially for a few weeks. But the moment we arrived, we fell for the place, and since finding an isolated pair of 18th-century workman’s cottages, hidden in a forest between Petworth and Pulborough, we return most weekends. The light in and around Petworth is so magnificent, you can see why JMW Turner felt compelled to capture it so many times during the early 1800s. Very little has changed in the landscape since.
The longer we stay, the more we discover how many friends we have here – including the architect Adam Richards. Our cottage, which overlooks a trout fishing lake, was once home to the Mitford family. It’s a project – we’re now building a garden studio.
A trip here typically starts at The Horse Guards Inn, which sits on a hilltop right next to the church in the tiny village of Tillington. It’s the friendliest, cosiest, most welcoming pub, and they have biscuits for our dog, Pencil. Saturday is often spent pottering around Petworth. It’s a charming little market town, best known for its antiques. It feels untouched; most shops still close on Sundays. We’ve always loved antiques and flea markets – nothing in our house is new – so we couldn’t have picked a more perfect place to live. A favourite dealer is John Bird, who we’ve been buying from for years – our kitchen table in London comes from there – as well as more recently, a wrought-iron garden gate and a gothic bench. Petworth Antiques Market is great for random pieces of furniture, antique children’s books, Lloyd Loom wicker furniture, ceramics and jewellery for our daughter. We also love Austens hardware store, which has everything we could ever need – paints, presents for the kids and all the supplies required for the five-day electricity blackout we experienced when we first moved here. And there’s a lovely florist called Spriggs with panelled walls painted in the most fantastic bright, glossy colours.
While in town, we usually pick up ingredients from The Hungry Guest, a deli and butcher. It also has the best coffee and cheese. On the way home we’ll stop at Charlie’s Farm Shop, where you can fill your own bottles with milk and get frozen Yorkshire puddings.
Petworth is surrounded by great little towns and villages waiting to be discovered. We often visit Midhurst Antique and Collectors Fair and Spencer Swaffer Antiques in Arundel, where we go for more traditional and folk art pieces, then head to Arundel Castle, which is magnificent. Amberley Castle, a hotel and restaurant in a 900-year-old crenellated manor house, makes a fantastic stop-off.
Much of our time is spent going for long walks. One favourite begins in the 700-acre deer park and Capability Brown-designed gardens that surround Petworth House – a 17th-century baroque-style mansion filled with Turners – three miles across marshland to the village of Duncton. Most walks start or finish at a pub. There’s The Half Moon in Kirdford, which does the most amazing cauliflower cheese; Badgers is very sweet; The Noah’s Ark, right on the cricket green in Lurgashall, is a classic English boozer; and we like The Black Horse Inn in Byworth for drinks. We often walk from our village into Petworth via The Welldiggers Arms.
We’ve lived in the same house in Islington for more than a decade. We hate change, so shifting our lives towards Petworth has been a huge deal for us. Being here, we’re surrounded by wild garlic, bluebell forests, daffodils and, come summer, incredible walls of bright pink rhododendrons. Noticing those fleeting moments in nature has sparked a creative shift. We’re two very distinct artists, but as soon as we arrived here we both began making new work.
Recently, we’ve been working on a joint exhibition at Newlands House Gallery, a beautiful 18th-century townhouse in Petworth, featuring some of the sculptures, watercolours and wall drawings we’ve been inspired to create since living here. It’s a space – and a show – with a domesticated feel. There’ll be tapestries and decorated armchairs, and we’re even painting the walls the same colours as our cottage. For us, it’s a chance to engage with the local community and to welcome them into our world.
Two Worlds Entwined: Annie Morris and Idris Khan is at Newlands House Gallery, Petworth, from 11 February to 7 May