Escape city blues in soothing Sussex

Claire Spreadbury
Escape city blues in soothing Sussex

Benjamin, George and Gertrude are chatting away on the front lawn, oblivious to us earwigging on their conversation. They come here every day to chill out in the East Sussex sunshine, waddling off every now and then to explore the area.

It's a pretty charmed life around here when you're a duck. Or a human, come to that.

With a beach within walking distance, family-friendly pubs and attractions every which way you turn off the A259, it's safe to say holidaying in the UK's southeast is a delight.

While Brexit blues are being fed to us on a daily drip, a staycation can feel a bit like a safety blanket. A better-the-devil-you-know, tangible week of days out with the clan, while relaxing in a pad with home-from-home self-catering comforts.

In fact, by the end of our week away, we find ourselves nosing in estate agents, pondering a rash resignation and a relocation to somewhere calm and quiet, where we can sit on a pebbly beach having deep-and-meaningfuls, while soaking up some much-needed vitamin D.

We stay in Winchelsea, a quiet seaside town near Rye, in a freshly decorated bungalow called Forget Me Not, available to rent via Kent & Sussex Holiday Cottages.

Nearby Rye has cute, cobbled streets and pretty, old buildings, such as 12th century pub The Mermaid Inn, where you can feast on scrumptious food with a European flavour and sup pints beneath wooden beams threaded with hops.

If you're happy getting in the car and driving for up to an hour, there's masses of family fun to be had.

Over at Leeds Castle in Kent (a 60-minute drive), you can easily spend a day amid the hulking trees, lush green lawns and sprawling lakes.

Beautiful black swans and their baby cygnets swim silently as we make our way to the castle, stopping to picnic on the grass under the shade of weeping willow trees.

Our kids zip under shrubs shaped into archways and pose for pictures amid daffodils and giant daisies lining the woodland walk, as branches decorated with delicate blossom wave in the wind.

Even if you don't make it inside the castle to learn about its 900-year history, there's so much to do here.

The adventure playground is an obvious hit for kids, as is the maze and grotto (which is surprisingly easy), the Black Swan Boat ride and the falconry displays (be sure to duck down as birds of prey are sent soaring incredibly close to hundreds of heads).

In Herne Bay - near Canterbury - is Wildwood (again, about an hour away), where you can explore 16 hectares of ancient woodland, discovering all sorts of British wildlife and great conservation work.

Among the 200-odd animals, our girls stare wide-eyed at wild boar, black storks and bison, before seeking out Arctic foxes curled up around a tree and velvety feathered ravens, as black as the night.

High up in the trees, my legs tremble slightly as I wobble along a thick old rope, trussed up between nets, forming a walkway bridge. Below, two big, brown bears - rescued by Wildwood in 2014 - pad around eating grass, all fat and healthy compared with the pictures of their former selves, when they were cooped up in tiny concrete cells, as part of a disused bear breeding station in Bulgaria.

There are squeals of excitement as we stumble across the massive adventure playground and the biggest drop slide I've ever seen. Big kids are throwing themselves over the vertical drop and whooshing down the slide, and despite being just seven and four, my girls are determined to queue up behind and do the same.

They release themselves from the edge and as their bodies drop, so do their smiles. They manage to style it out but secretly reveal afterwards it was a "bit too fast".

In just 20 minutes from Forget Me Not, you can drive along winding roads to Camber Sands, spotting the sheep that dot the horizon like hay bales in a field. Once at the beach, we watch surfers get ready on the shore, kids fly colourful kites in the breeze and families hoof footballs around a makeshift sandy pitch.

The sun glistens on the crashing waves as the blue sky stretches as far as the eye can see, smeared only with a few cotton-wool cloud formations.

There's traditional beach fare for those who've brought their pocket money - a bulging bouncy castle, seesaw swings and a big shop selling everything needed for hapless beachgoers like us, who turn up with only a cool bag of snacks.

The call of seagulls blends into the swoosh of the sea and the sound of happy families, and my seven-year-old declares this is "the best beach ever" due to its mix of soft sand, patches of pebbles and grassy mounds.

No one's pretending it's warm enough to parade any itsy-bitsy bikinis and all moobs are under the respectable cover of T-shirts and hoodies.

Back at the bungalow, we skip what's become our regular routine of strolling to the beach and skimming stones into the sea as the sun goes down, and take a half-hour walk into Winchelsea centre - all beautifully old (apparently, Henry III described it as "a pretty town" in the 1260s), with a handful of shops and a lovely pub. The New Inn serves us well with its enchanting, higgledy-piggledy beer garden and a cracking array of craft ales, not to mention the ice cream.

The town itself is quainter than quaint. There isn't a duff house to be seen and undulating hills or beach views stand proud in every direction you look.

Once again, we find ourselves pondering property. This is the sort of place that makes you seriously consider jacking in the city in exchange for a life of calm. Or at least a holiday home...