My cultural time out on the Sussex Artwork Shuttle | Sussex holidays

I’m on a bus, hurtling over the hills at exhilarating velocity. An oxbow lake flashes into view: whereas geography was by no means a ardour, the sharp curves of the meandering river because it reaches the ocean at Cuckmere Haven demand my full consideration. The arresting view has featured in work by Eric Ravilious in addition to a Hollywood movie or two.

Beautiful surroundings and its creative illustration are one of many attracts of the Sussex Artwork Shuttle – the bus’s official title – a brand new service that transports guests between Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery, the Seven Sisters Customer Centre simply exterior Seaford, the picturesque villages of Alfriston and Litlington, Charleston (former dwelling of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant), and the brand new Charleston gallery in Lewes.

The initiative, launched by the enterprise consortium Sussex Fashionable final weekend and working till 17 December, ties in with the Turner prize, which opens on 28 September on the Towner, the centrepiece of the gallery’s centenary yr. “Guests who come by prepare into Eastbourne need to see the countryside as effectively,” says Towner’s CEO, Joe Hill who, together with Charleston’s director, Nathaniel Hepburn, is driving the route with me. “The Sussex Downs is certainly one of England’s most lovely landscapes and latest nationwide parks. This service connects it with our cultural heritage.”

At £2.50 for a hop-on, hop-off ticket, the 16-seater minibus affords good worth, working 4 occasions a day in every path from Friday to Sunday. “Greater than 98% of our guests come to Charleston by automobile in the intervening time,” provides Hepburn. “So, it’s been a key aspiration for us to decrease this determine.” Admirably, it’s additionally run by volunteer drivers from a neighborhood organisation referred to as Cuckmere Buses.

The E book Bower in Alfriston’s A lot Ado bookshop. {Photograph}: Stephen Emms

Earlier than we depart, Hill whisks me previous the Towner’s hushed galleries, at the moment closed prematurely of the Turner prize, whose 4 shortlisted artists – Jesse Darling, Ghislaine Leung, Rory Pilgrim and Barbara Walker – work in media starting from movie and drawing to efficiency and sculpture. After gawping on the gallery’s dazzling geometric exterior, designed by Lothar Götz, we hop on the equally vibrant minibus. As we climb excessive into the nationwide park, Hill and Hepburn enthuse about how the area has lengthy attracted artists, from the Bloomsbury group to Peggy Angus and Grayson Perry. However the space’s ecology can be fascinating. “This chalk grassland has as a lot various life in it because the rainforest,” says Hill.

Medieval Alfriston is our first cease, the place we alight on the market cross, certainly one of solely two remaining in Sussex. We tumble into the A lot Ado bookshop, which has two flooring and a “e-book bower” within the again backyard stuffed with discount volumes. Its homeowners, Nash Robbins and Cate Olsen, who moved from Massachusetts 20 years in the past, present me framed Vanessa Bell drawings and uncommon Victorian scrapbooks.

I may fortunately keep right here for the entire two hours till the following bus, however lunch is looking, so we stroll to The Star, constructed as a non secular hostel in 1345. We haven’t time to go to the close by Rathfinney winery, however I strive its acclaimed pale pink fizz: dry and frivolously fruity. The meals menu contains smoked haddock croquettes, beetroot carpaccio and hen Milanese.

The Star, Alfriston. {Photograph}: Stephen Emms

Again on the two.28pm bus, the following cease is remoted Charleston, the farmhouse the place the Bloomsbury group frolicked, and the place two new exhibitions open on 23 September to coincide with the Turner prize. One is by the British-born South Asian artist Osman Yousefzada and the opposite is a brand new Hockney exhibition exhibiting not often seen early drawings.

The final cease is Lewes, the place a stark new Charleston arts area opened final week in a former council workplace constructing. Alongside a free present by the modern artist Jonathan Baldock, the primary exhibition Convey No Garments: Bloomsbury and Trend explores the “affect and legacy” of the Bloomsbury group on immediately’s trend. It options work, letters, private objects and clothes from EM Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, Woman Ottoline Morrell and Duncan Grant, alongside catwalk creations by Dior, Burberry, Erdem and Fendi.

The new Charleston gallery in Lewes.
The brand new Charleston gallery in Lewes

Curated by the style author Charlie Porter, it’s participating and academic, with enlightening captions, significantly for Grant’s eroticised portraits of his lover Paul Roche. “I used to be serious about the queer, non-binary and trans communities that discover such a welcoming dwelling in East Sussex,” Porter tells me afterwards. “I wished to make a present that spoke to the previous and linked it to the longer term.”

It’s 5pm and the final bus of the day is ready. On the hour-long return to Eastbourne, I watch sheep grazing as we rattle up and down steep winding roads, earlier than the ocean comes into full view exterior Eastbourne.

The resort is buzzing with an autumn of art-related happenings, together with Eastbourne Alive, a collection of public artworks and interventions by a dozen artists from Nadina Ali to Nathan Coley. On the design-led Port Lodge, the place I’m staying, an exhibition within the minimalist sea-view bar shows prints from the Turner sponsor King & McGaw’s assortment, together with former Turner prize artists Howard Hodgkin, Patrick Caulfield and Fiona Rae.

A sea -view room at the Port Hotel
A sea-view room on the Port Lodge. {Photograph}: Stephen Emms

The city’s palm-lined seafront and backstreets are dwelling to extra high-quality consuming and ingesting choices than I bear in mind on earlier visits. As dinner just isn’t served on the lodge, my boyfriend and I devour rustic plates of crisp-skinned mackerel fillets and rosy native steak on the packed Skylark within the enticing Little Chelsea space, with its cafes, record-shop-cum-bar Vinyl Frontier (35 Grove Street), stay venue Printers Playhouse and secondhand bookshop Camilla’s (full with pet parrot). Close by is the native taproom Beerarama and an acclaimed artisan bakery, To The Rise.

What’s subsequent for the Artwork Bus? The hope is it’ll be the beginning of a everlasting service. The Towner is utilizing the challenge to trial a cultural training centre, Black Robin Farm, within the South Downs (opening 2025), having secured funding from the levelling up fund. “It’ll be a 30-minute uphill stroll from the gallery,” says Hill, “and the bus will likely be essential to get individuals there in a visitor-friendly manner – so it is a good method to take a look at if there’s an urge for food.”

Lodging was supplied by Port Lodge (doubles from £85 room-only). Journey was supplied by Southern Trains (singles from £6). Extra in regards to the Sussex Artwork Shuttle at Sussex Fashionable