The next leg of my mission to finish the southern Beer Guide counties took in Hailsham and Lewes.

You can see Lewes lying like a box of toys under a great amphitheatre of chalk hills … on the whole it is set down better than any town I have seen in England.

— William Morris (1834-1896)

Even without its brewery it would be an essential visit. I’m surprised Lewes isn’t better known, or better served by budget hotels. There is nowhere that can’t be improved by a Premier Inn and Beefeater combo, perhaps in Lewes on the site of that derelict castle.

I did a heroic trip round the Harvey’s pubs a few years back, and recommend Paul Bailey’s blog if you want more detail on those. Paul doesn’t mention the Chinese takeaway (in my Top 10) near the Lewes Arms though.

Each year sees a new Beer Guide entry, and this year it’s a Greene King pub. You wouldn’t know that from the frontage, or the South-East London pubby feel, or the beer range.  I’m not a fan of GK pubs, but they do have a few crackers new to the Beer Guide this year (e.g. Duncombe in Hertford, Carlton in Pontefract), and they’re not all Local Heroes either.

Floral Lewes

The pub had a good mix of lunchtime drinkers, but I can only put the quality of the Burning Sky Plateau (NBSS 4, a rarity) down to cellarmanship. Burning Sky make great beer, but it needs to be served as cool and sparkling as this was.

I’d been looking forward to a Harveys in Hailsham, and the King’s Head is as close to a basic Harveys boozer as I’ve seen anywhere.  I had to wait an hour though, as the pub has joined the ranks of those giving up on lunchtime opening (the landlady shamed me by listing her morning chores undertaken while I dossed about).

Unless you’re doing food (only weekends here), drinking only starts mid-afternoon now There are, of course, exceptions to that rule;

Hailsham’s Wetherspoons, the refuge for noble morning drinkers

The wait gave me the chance to explore Hailsham. Apart from that excellent Wetherspoons It might seem a bit of a let-down if you visit after Lewes, but there are some gorgeous buildings including this;

The culture

OK, they’re mainly pubs. I did find the town very friendly though, including a second cheery Costa in a week.

Almost as cheery as the King’s Head, where the buzz of chat started pretty quickly after I barged in on the stroke of 3 (is there an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t stand at a pub door waiting for opening time ?).

Just the one beer, but as some of our best free houses know, a good Harveys is hard to better. This pint was up there with the one at the Resting Hare (NBSS 4), and wiped memories of some fairly dull halves last week from my mind.  A one-beer pub as basic as this probably wouldn’t get in the Beer Guide in some parts of the country.

QUIZ TIME – How long, to the nearest 5 minutes, did it take to walk back to Hailsham’s railway station ?

So that’s East Sussex for another year then. Any county with Hastings and Brighton is always going to provide some of the best pub walks of the year, but Hailsham may have just provided the best beer.

BRAPA point. I thought the King’s Head looked familiar, and the CAMRA award banner (from 2011) was a further hint that this wasn’t a Beer Guide first time.  But it wasn’t till I got back to The Spreadsheet that I realised I’d already done this.  A great return visit.

14 thoughts on “HARVEYS IN HAILSHAM

  1. Lewes is a very pretty place with a lot of pubs. We loved the Brewers Arms and the Snowdrop. Two very different pubs with very different clientele. I too am very surprised it is not more visited. There is a lot to do between the pubs, brewery and historic sites. However, I did not find conversation common in the pubs. People seemed to keep themselves to themselves. Did you find that?


  2. I will take a stab with Berwick Station which is about 5 miles from the King’s Head. Time would be approximately 100 minutes. Cannot wait to hear what route you took.


    1. That’s the sort of info I like Richard ! Cake tips. The pub at Berwick is superb.

      I did walk from Polegate, took 45 mins (google maps said 55 normal). Berwick a good route.


  3. Very pleased to learn about the improvements to the Black Horse in Lewes. My friend and I spent a night there, back in 2008, whilst walking the South Downs Way, and let’s just say it was “interesting”!

    We arrived, soaked to the skin, after walking across from Alfriston, with the conversation from breakfast, that morning, still ringing in our ears. “Where is your next stop?” The landlady at our Alfriston B&B had enquired. Her face dropped when we told her. She informed us that she’d had a couple of German ladies staying a few nights ago. They’d been walking the SDW in the opposite direction, and were far from impressed with their night at the Black Horse.

    I won’t elaborate further, apart from saying that it reminded me of the episode from Fawlty Towers, when the exasperated American visitor turns to Basil and says, “You know if this was back in the States, I wouldn’t board my dog here!”

    Looks like someone (GK?), has spent a fair bit of money improving the place. Glad to hear it.


  4. Okay Martin, you’ve set me a challenge, and as the pub has obviously now changed hands, and been radically improved, there’s no harm now in revealing a few of the gory details.

    The first thing that happened after we arrived was the barman asking us to remove our boots. We wouldn’t have minded, but after walking through torrential rain they were as clean as a whistle. My friend remarked afterwards that the carpet was far dirtier than our footwear, and that really set the tone for the rest of our, thankfully short stay.

    Our accommodation was a dingy and not terribly clean, garret room with windows which were bolted shut. There were no signs indicating a proper escape route in the event of a fire. The single toilet and rather unpleasant looking shower were down a staircase and along a corridor; small wonder the two German ladies were unimpressed.

    We ate and drank elsewhere in Lewes and as our stay was only for one night we weren’t overly bothered. We were however, rather annoyed about the late breakfast. Despite desiring an early departure, we were told breakfast would be served at 9am, as the pub had a long-term resident (must have been crackers), who always took her morning meal at that time. Even then, the breakfast took an age to arrive, and the late departure had a knock on affect on our schedule for the day.


  5. Indeed Paul that it superb.

    Martin, I have had refusals of pre-09:00 breakfast before, in Cardiff. In fact, the actual presence of staff apart, the Black Horse sounds a lot like the B & no B near the Cayo, itself a shadow of its former self.


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