As you approach Arundel on the A27 (coming from Worthing), you’ll be greeted by a scatter of hill-top houses – an appetizer to the hearty main course of the West Sussex town’s celebrated castle and cathedral. Heading further towards Tortington, you’ll pass farmland and South Downs countryside vistas accompanied by brilliant birdsong. Soon after turning into Priory Lane, a sign marking Tortington Priory Barn will invite you down a drive where you’ll be transported into a different land – a place of white gravel driveways, stunning 12th century ruins and a barn with as much rural character as it has history.
The car park, which easily accommodates twelve cars, is flanked by a field of sheep with this year’s lambs who graze among the remaining stonework of the 12th century Tortington Priory. As you enter Tortington Priory Barn, a sizeable yet charming reception room, shafts of light cast mystical shadows on the original flooring between lofty beams and the pleasant, intriguing atmosphere will capture you and your imagination – something that writers the world over long for in an inspirational setting.
Through the barn is a Mediterranean-dream of a courtyard, a suntrap of baked stonework surrounded by the beautiful bay windows of the modern living quarters that marry harmoniously with the surrounding history. It’s a place where you’ll conjure images of terracotta pot plants, trailing vines and dream of a long, cool crisp glass of white between nibbles of bruschetta and goddess olives – well, it will if you crave tranquillity and good food in equal measure as I do. The birdsong here is amazing too and the longer you sit, the closer the wildlife dares revealing more to see and hear.
Then, inside to the kitchen, where on the first weekend of July homemade quiche, cakes, scones and preserves will reign supreme when a buffet lunch and cream tea – with all the trimmings – will be served to the attendees at this year’s Writers’ Retreat. On to the meeting room which is not your perfunctory board room but instead is sunlit with a view over the courtyard and topped with wooden beams – inviting and inspiring. It even features a wooden spiral staircase leading to a platform under which the property’s 12th century remains can be viewed in awe.
Another room of note, and just one of the indoor areas where free writing time can be enjoyed, is the conservatory-style extension which is surrounded by eye-pleasing views. From the comfortable rattan seats you’ll see: the viewing platform and the fabulous staircase, up to a small Mediterranean style terrace, out to the lavender garden and across to the office and writing space of author Cathy Watts. Children’s writer Cathy, who provided a creative writing workshop at the second Writers’ Retreat in 2013 and who will inspire guests again this year, inherited the beautiful Tortington Priory Barn and thought it would be the ideal venue for Chichester Copywriters’ Writers’ Retreats.
Up and out to the terrace and then along a secret pathway you’ll find a treat for the senses. When Katy visited the lavender garden yesterday, foxgloves and roses peppered the foliage while a mesmerising Philip Jackson piece waited patiently for the main event to stage. As a long wet winter has encouraged this year’s florae a little early to the party, Tortington Priory Barn’s lavender should be in full, heavy-scented bloom – much to the delight of writers and bees alike – for the Writers’ Retreat on 5th-6th July.
Next you could enjoy a walk amid the sheep across to the wild ponds. Through a gate, you’ll enter a world of iridescent dragonflies hovering above silvery water lilies and reeds accented with golden flag iris. Beside the pond is a quaint blue potting shed, a creative hidey hole that’s full of promise and pleasure. It was this very hut that inspired Cathy Watts’ latest children’s book The Woodies by the Ponds and once you get a taste for the magic of Tortington Priory Barn’s wild ponds you’re sure to understand why.
Wander towards the trees where you’ll find bird boxes teaming with new life (there was a family of blue tits when Chichester Copywriter visited) and cross the wooden bridge before strolling beside the pond or perching on the bench for two, between the shed and the wildflower bank. Both options offer fabulous views across the pond with the field in the background and the Priory Barn beyond.
On the Sunday, when you’ve enjoyed a cup of tea, reflected on your weekend and it’s time to drag yourself away from the serenity of Tortington Priory Barn and all its wonderfully inspiring nooks, make sure to drive along Priory Lane, through the 12th century woodland, and back towards Chichester. Here’s your chance for one last dalliance with Tortington’s natural beauty – you’ll find an avenue of ancient trees offering a refreshing mojito glow as the lowering sun dances between the branches.
There’s an album of photos on Chichester Copywriter’s Facebook page but here’s a taste of Tortington Priory Barn in pictures:
Do you feel like writing? If you’re anything like Katy, you’ll leave Tortington Priory Barn with a satiated soul, a brimming brain and a pen that’s poised. You can find out more about the writing workshop and publishing talk schedule at this year’s Writers’ Retreat on Chichester Copywriter’s Writing Workshops and Retreats page. To book a place call 01243 533421 or contact Katy online.
Once you’ve visited Tortington Priory Barn at the Writers’ Retreat in July, there’s no need to worry if leaving the beauty of the place behind makes your heart a little heavy. This could become a regular Chichester Copywriter writing workshop venue that continues to delight and inspire us all…